Prince of Twilight (Page 17)
Rhiannon dropped to her knees beside Vlad, who lay still in Stormy's lap. She touched his face, and tears rained from her eyes. “My sire,” she whispered. “My beloved friend, my preternatural father. Gods, how I hate to see you go.”
“No!” Stormy shrieked the word, clutching Vlad's shoulders, shaking him. “He can't die. You can't just let him die. Rhiannon, we have to do something!”
“I… it's too late.”
“No. No, it's not. Give him blood. Give him mine, and then we'll patch the wound and keep him alive until dawn comes and-“
“I'm sorry,” Rhiannon said softly. A sob seemed to catch in her throat, and she averted her face. “You've no idea how sorry.”
“Step aside, Rhiannon.”
Stormy gasped at the deep voice that came from the darkness. She'd heard no one approach, but then, she'd been entirely focused on Vlad. The man who stood there was dark, and exuded a palpable aura of strength and power. Stormy had seen him only once before, but she knew him. He was Damien-the once great king, Gilgamesh. He was the oldest, most powerful of them all. The only vampire alive older than Vlad himself. The first.
“Damien,” Rhiannon whispered, rising to her feet. “How did you know?”
Stormy stared at the man. He looked stricken and went immediately to Vlad's side, kneeling there and clasping his hand. “Though it's been years since I've seen him, Iskur is my brother, in a way. Our connection is powerful.”
“Iskur?” Stormy whispered.
“That was his name, before he adopted his new identity. It's the name of-“
“The Sumerian Stormy God,” Stormy filled in. Tears filled her eyes to brimming as she gazed at Damien. “Can you help him, Damien?”
“I don't know. If I can't, there's no one who can.” Damien rolled back his shirt sleeve, unfolded the pocketknife he carried and swiftly drew the blade across his wrist. Even as the blood pulsed from the wound, he moved lower.
“What are you doing? Aren't you going to… ?”
“He's too far gone to drink, Stormy,” Damien muttered. “I only hope my blood is powerful enough to reach him this way.”
He held his wrist, wounded side down, over the wound in Vlad's belly. Stormy scrambled over the ground to tear the shirt away, giving him better access. But that gave her a horrifying glimpse of the bullet wound, and she had to close her eyes. It was too much. Too much.
“By the gods,” Rhiannon whispered. “Stormy, look. Open your eyes and look.”
Forcing herself to obey, Stormy opened her eyes and focused on Vlad again.
“Oh, God, what's happening?” There was mist, or steam of some kind, hissing and rising from the bullet wound as the blood trickled down into it. She'd never seen anything like this. Never even heard of anything like it. “What's happening, Damien?” she whispered.
“I'm unsure. I've never done this before, but it's the very method by which Utnapishtim gave me the gift of immortality. He was no vampire. His immortality was bestowed by the gods. He had no fangs, could walk about by daylight, exist on meat and vegetables. When he agreed to make me immortal, he sliced me open, right across the chest, then slit his own wrist and poured his blood into the wound.” Damien's gaze was riveted to Vlad's face.
“And created a whole new race.”
“I only hope…” He lowered his head, then lifted it again and shook it as if trying to shake away sleep.
“Enough, Damien,” Rhiannon whispered. “You're weakening.”
“Just a bit more,” he said.
“You've given all you can,” she told him, clutching his shoulder. “It will either work or it won't. Bleeding yourself dry won't make the difference.”
He sank back onto his heels, head falling forward, a lock of his hair slipping over his eyes. Rhiannon gripped his arm, rapidly twisting a length of fabric around it and yanking the knot so tight that Stormy thought she would break his wrist. She realized a second later that the cloth had been torn from the hem of Rhiannon's own gown.
Vlad's wound was still hissing, steam still emanating from it, but dissipating now, until it finally vanished altogether. She stared at Vlad, watching his face, praying, hoping, willing him to live.
And then he moaned and blinked his eyes open.
He was alive!
Vlad lay there, blinking and unfocused, clearly confused. Stormy leaned over him, barely able to believe what she had just witnessed. “Vlad?”
He stared at her. “I didn't expect to be seeing you again, my love.”
He lifted a hand, cupped her cheek, and she fell against him, sobbing in relief and holding him. “You're alive. God, Vlad, I thought I'd lost you.”
“So did I.” His arms came around her, and he held her close. “Perhaps… there's a chance for us after all, Tempest.”
“There is,” she whispered. “There has to be.”
Then Vlad's gaze shifted to Damien's and widened. “My king,” he whispered.
“Your brother and friend,” Damien corrected. “I'm glad you have survived, Iskur.”
“Survived?” Vlad's gaze turned inward for a moment. “I feel… empowered beyond reason. Something new is burning through my veins.” He blinked as he took stock and sat up to stare at Damien. “You gave me your blood.”
“And it did the job,” Rhiannon said, reaching down to clasp Vlad's hand and draw him to his feet. “I suppose now that you have the blood of the first running in your veins, you really will be able to best me in a fight.”
“I already bested you with my own, don't forget.”
“Don't fool yourself, Vlad. I let you win that little battle.”
He crooked a brow.
“You two fought?” Stormy asked.
“He demanded the ring and the scroll,” Rhiannon said. “I wasn't sure whether he intended to use them to save you or to kill you.”
“And you fought him? For my sake?”
“Briefly,” Rhiannon said. “But don't get a swollen head, little mortal. In the end I decided to risk your life by trusting in my friend.” She smiled very slightly and turned to Vlad. “I'm very glad you didn't let me down.”
“I'm very glad you didn't fight too hard. I would have hated to have to hurt you.”
“You'd have hated more what I would have done to you, had I truly had the will.”
They held gazes for a moment, then Vlad shifted his to Stormy again. His eyes met hers and stayed.
Damien cleared his throat. “We should take our leave, Rhiannon. These two have things they need to… discuss.”
Rhiannon nodded, reached up to hug Vlad, kissed his cheek, then released him. “There's a boat docked a mile back that way,” she told him. “We'll take shelter there before sunrise.” She looked at the sky. “You have several hours.”
“Is it midnight yet?” Stormy asked. She'd let herself forget for a little while how limited her own time might be.
“Eleven-thirty,” Damien told her. “Why?”
“We should leave them,” Rhiannon said. “I'll explain on the way.”
She sent Stormy a look of sympathy, encouragement and hope. Clearly she realized that if Melina and Lupe failed to free Elisabeta's soul from Brooke's body, Stormy might have only thirty minutes left to live. Then Rhiannon hooked her arm through Damien's and raced away, vanishing in a blur of darkness.
“Did you mean what you said?” Stormy asked Vlad. “That you feel more powerful then ever? You're really all right?”
His smile was slow and full of all sorts of promises. He cupped her face in his hands and kissed her mouth tenderly, but deeply and long. “Shall I show you?”
“Yes. Yes, Vlad. And hurry. Because if Melina and Lupe-“
“Shhh. They're not going to fail. We couldn't have triumphed over all of this only to lose everything now.”
His fingertips brushed over her cheek, then her neck, and her tummy tightened in pure sexual need. She vowed not to think about what might happen when midnight came. She wouldn't ruin what might be her last time with Vlad by letting herself be distracted. If she had to die, she would die in his arms. And die happy.
He loved her.
He closed his arms around her, bending her backward and kissing her as if he would devour her whole.
“Vlad,” she whispered. He was kissing her neck now.
“Don't tell me to stop.”
“If you stop I'll stake you.” She smiled up at him. “I was just wondering if we could relocate.”
He lifted his head, his eyes glowing with passion and hunger. “Where do you want to be, Tempest?”
“The beach. The shore. In the sand. Not here, where-ugly things happened.”
He nodded, and before she could stop him, he scooped her off her feet and began striding away from the trees and boulders toward the beach. “No more delays, Tempest. You're about to be ravaged by a vampire.”
“By the vampire. Dracula himself. And not for the first time,” she said, gasping as he bent his head to nuzzle her breasts right through the fabric of her blouse.
“Nor the last,” he promised.
He carried her down onto the beach, but they didn't get very far. Just beyond an outcropping of rock that gave them a little privacy from the vantage point of the road.
Vlad lowered her to the grassy, stony ground, laying her there on her back. Then he darted away from her, into the surf, where he washed the remnants of Damien's blood from his belly. It took him only a moment. He was back at her side a heartbeat later, sinking to his knees in the sand beside where she lay.
“I love you,” he told her.
“You'd have been stupid not to,” she told him with a teasing smile.
“The stupidest vampire in history.” Then he pushed her blouse up and attacked her breasts as if he couldn't wait for them. It was almost too much, too fast, the suckling and biting. She moved to push at his head, but he kept on, and she didn't want him to stop. Not really. So he didn't. He pushed her jeans down and impatiently removed his own.
She couldn't get enough of running her hands and then her lips over his chest. Oh, God, and his belly. Washboard abs she couldn't stop touching. It amazed her to see no wound where the bullet had torn through him. Only a small pink scar remained. “You're the most beautiful man I've ever seen,” she whispered.
“Then no wonder I chose the most beautiful woman. I've waited for you, Tempest. Centuries, I've waited.”
Vlad pushed her knees up and outward as he lowered himself between them, and he slid into her so naturally she knew he belonged inside her, so deeply he felt like a part of her.
Her brought her to screaming climax twice there on the beach before he let himself achieve release. And afterward he lay beside her, cradling her in his arms as if she were the most precious, most cherished, thing he'd ever held.
Stormy lay there in bliss. But it was still bittersweet. She knew they were both thinking about her mortality, though neither of them had spoken of it. Not yet. It wasn't yet midnight. Only a few ticks of the clock remained. But even if she didn't die tonight, there was still a dark future looming ahead of them, and she thought it was time, now, to bring it up.
“You know… even if Lupe and Melina are successful tonight, this can't last. I don't have the antigen. I can't become what you are. There is a formula that could extend my life… but there's no way to be sure it would work on me, or that I could even get hold of it.”
He was quiet for a moment, and she felt his arms tighten a little, as if in response to the thought of ever letting her go. “I'll love you for your entire life. And even after that.”
She let her head rest on his powerful chest, felt his fingers trailing in her hair. “I'll grow old, but you'll stay young.”
“Not young, Tempest. The body doesn't age, but everything else does. I'm already old inside, though my body remains the age it was when I was changed over.”
“And how old is that?”
He smiled at her. “Twenty.”
Stormy closed her eyes fast and tight. “My God, I'm thirty-six. I'm robbing the cradle.”
“I've been alive for thousands of years, Tempest. I'm the one robbing the cradle.”
“Oh, I know that. But… physically, I mean, I'll age. And that's important, too.”
“Not to me. I've spent the last few centuries believing myself in love with a dead woman, one who had no body at all, don't forget.”
“I'll get wrinkles,” she whispered.
“And I'll love you.”
“My hair will go gray.”
“And still I'll love you.”
“My body will get flabby and saggy and-“
“And I'll love you all the more,” he told her, kissing the top of her head.
She drew a deep breath, lifting her head a little so she could see into his eyes. “I'll die, Vlad.”
He held her gaze steadily, intently. “Then maybe I'll know it's time for me to move on, as well.”
He cupped her cheeks. “I don't want to talk about this now, Tempest. Not now. There will be time enough for all that later. Now, I just want to be with you. To experience the joy you've brought into my life. By the gods, do you have any idea how long it's been since I've felt this way?”
“Happy, Tempest. Truly happy.” He looked skyward and shook his head. “It's heaven. I'm in paradise because of you.”
He kept on speaking, but Stormy stopped listening, because there was a sudden buzzing in her ears. In her head.
Frowning, she sat up and pulled her shirt on. It was long enough to cover her, so she didn't bother with the jeans, just got to her feet and looked around.
Vlad rose, his expression puzzled. He searched her face, spoke her name, but she could barely hear him because of the buzzing.
And then her vision started to close in, darkness surrounding her from all sides.
“What… ?” she muttered, unsure if she said the word out loud, losing the rest of her question before she spoke it.
She saw a woman-and she recognized her. Elisabeta, looking the way she had in the portrait. It startled Stormy terribly at first. My God, had she come back to finish what she'd tried to begin?
But no, she didn't look menacing, or cruel. There was something frail about her, and fear in her eyes. And it hit Stormy all over again how much the young woman's face resembled her own. They could have been sisters. Maybe they were, in a way.
“Beta?” Stormy whispered.
“They're making me go!” Beta cried. “I don't want to go!”
The pain in her voice gripped Stormy's heart and twisted, and in that moment she realized this Beta she was seeing wasn't physical. She was opaque, nearly transparent. Melina and Lupe must be performing the rite.
Stormy felt her throat tighten, her eyes well in empathy. “It's what we all do when we die, Beta,” she told the frightened girl-for she was that, once again. Just a girl. Afraid and confused. “It's what we're supposed to do. Look, look behind you.”
Beta turned slowly and saw what Stormy did. Beyond her, resting on the water, was a glowing, golden light. It had a texture to it like liquid gold, and it pulsed and called to her. There was something incredibly beautiful about it, something magnetic. It drew Stormy. She moved closer, involuntarily, and yet she wasn't afraid.
“It's beautiful,” Beta whispered.
Beta paused, swallowed hard; then she closed her hand around Stormy's. “Will you walk with me ?”
Stormy nodded and found she wanted to move closer to the glow. And as they drew near, something became visible within the light: a woman. She might have been a goddess or an angel, or the blessed virgin. But she felt much more personal than any of those. And she looked…
“She looks like us,” Stormy whispered, glancing at her companion.
Beta had tears streaming down her cheeks. The woman seemed to be speaking to her, but Stormy couldn't hear. The golden woman's expression was incredible; serene and loving and transcendent.
“I know,” Beta said to her in reply. “I know I was supposed to come sooner. But I was trapped. And then I was afraid.”
The woman lifted a hand, holding it out to Elisabeta.
Beta turned to Stormy and blinked back her tears. “I understand now,” she said softly.
“I don't. Who is she, Beta?”
“She's… she's us. She's you and me and all the women we've ever been. She's all of us. Everyone we ever were or will be. She's… our higher self.”
Stormy looked at the beautiful woman standing within the golden light with her arms reaching out, and she heard herself whisper, “I love her.”
As she watched, Elisabeta pulled free of her hand and moved forward. And then the woman opened her arms and embraced her, and it seemed that Elisabeta was absorbed into the light.
Stormy was awestruck, and then she moved closer, too, reaching out her hands.
The woman met her eyes. “Not you, Tempest. Not yet. Not for a long, long time. But at least now you will be complete. The parts of you that were missing, shall now be restored.”
She held out her hands, and a beam of that golden light surged from her palms and hit Stormy square in the chest. It was like being hammered by heat and light. It knocked her backward as surely as a speeding train would have done. And then the light faded, and she was alone in the dark, yet unafraid. And she felt… wonderful.
Vlad carried Tempest aboard the yacht in a state of panic. “Rhiannon! Damien! Help her! “he shouted.
Rhiannon raced forward, meeting him at the hatch that led below, Damien close behind her. “What happened?” Rhiannon demanded. She took his arm and tugged him through the hatch, down the stairs and into one of the cabins. She led him to a small sofa, where he laid Tempest down and bent over her. He stroked her hair, her face.
“I don't know,” Vlad said quickly. “She was fine-and then she just suddenly started walking toward the sea. She was… talking to someone-Elisabeta, I think. She kept saying her name. And then she just flew backward, landing on her back on the ground.” He pressed his hands to his head. “Gods, is it past midnight? Did those Athena women fail to set Beta free? Is she dying now?” He closed his eyes. “It can't be. Gods, I can't lose her now.”
Rhiannon bent closer, touching Stormy, seeking, Vlad knew, for signs of life in her. She was alive, he knew that. But when Rhiannon stood rigid and wide eyed and whispered “By the gods!” he was frightened, even more than he had been.
“What, Rhiannon? What is it? By the gods, tell me I haven't waited all this time for her only to lose her again so soon.”
“Lose her?” Rhiannon blinked her long lashes several times. “Don't you feel it? Vlad, don't you smell it on her?”
Damien moved closer and whispered, “The antigen. Belladonna.”
Rhiannon met his eyes and nodded, then shifted her focus to Vlad.
And he felt it. He sensed it the way a vampire could always sense one of The Chosen. That energy was coming from her-from Tempest.
He lifted his eyes to those of the vampiress he'd made. “But… how can it be?”
Even as he asked the question, Tempest blinked her eyes open and whispered his name, drawing his gaze back to her. She smiled at him. “She's all right,” Tempest said. “Elisabeta is all right.”
He could only frown at her, searching her face.
“Melina and Lupe must have done the ritual. They must have freed her. I saw her, Vlad. I walked with her. God, it was so beautiful. There was this woman, all clothed in golden light. Or maybe she was the light. And Beta went into her arms and they just… they sort of melded.”
Vlad sank onto the sofa to gather her gently into his arms. “I'm glad if Beta has found peace. But, Tempest, are you all right?”
Her smile grew brighter. “I'm wonderful. Better than ever. That woman, she… gave me something. She filled me with… something.”
Rhiannon put a hand on Vlad's shoulder, repeating slowly what she had told him before. “When we die, our souls merge with our collective soul, our higher self. That being is our source. All that we are melds and combines to generate the next soul and the next, and the one after that. Stormy has been missing a part of herself. The part that was Elisabeta. The part that had never melded with her source. She has that part now.”
“And that part includes… ?” he asked.
“The Belladonna Antigen,” Rhiannon whispered.
Stormy shifted her gaze from Vlad's-though it seemed to take a great effort-to Rhiannon's. “What?”
“You're one of The Chosen now, Stormy,” Rhiannon told her. “You can become one of us, if and when you choose it.”
She shot her eyes back to Vlad's. “Is it true?”
He nodded. “I don't pretend to understand it the way a priestess of Isis does,” he said. “But yes-you have the antigen now. And it's not weakened or diluted or different in you the way it was in Brooke's body. Perhaps because it was meant to be in you as it was never meant to be there.”
“Then…” She blinked and searched his eyes. “Then we can be together? Forever?”
“If you want it, Tempest.”
She slid her arms around his neck and hugged him close. “I do. You know I do.”
Rhiannon smiled slowly. “Oh, may the gods have mercy on us all.”
Stormy shot her a questioning look.
“Well, do you blame me? As a mortal you're almost unbearably full of yourself and… feisty. I detest feisty.”
“You exemplify it,” Damien said with a chuckle.
“No, I exemplify arrogance,” she said. “And with good reason. It's not the same thing.”
“I stand corrected.”
“She'll drive us all mad,” she said, turning as she and Damien walked to the cabin door. But she glanced back, caught Stormy's eye and winked.
Stormy took it as a “welcome to the family” sort of gesture.
Vlad walked her to the upper deck, where the full moon hung very low in the sky. It would set before too long, and the sun would rise. Vlad removed all her clothing, and all his own, and then he brought her legs around his waist and entered her. And while she moved over him, he sank his teeth into her throat and drank her very essence into him. He drank until she trembled, until she weakened, until she sank so completely into his arms that it was if they were one. And then he jabbed a blade into his own neck, gently, just piercing the jugular with the tip, and he brought her face to him there.
She didn't move until the blood touched her lips. And then she did. She parted her lips and tasted, and then she latched on and drank, and drank, and drank. He moved inside her as she did, and he bent his head to drink more of her.
They were locked that way, mouths to throats, bodies mated, straining and moving and striving. And he thought that by the time he released his seed into her that their blood had mingled several times over.
She went limp in his arms, and he picked her up, and carried her below into the cabin again. A bed and blankets waited. He lowered her into the bed and climbed in beside her.
“Listen!” she said suddenly. “Do you hear it?”
“What, my love?”
“The ocean! I can hear it… “
“Well, we are in a boat,” he said with a smile, though he knew exactly what she meant.
“Oh, it's different. I can hear… the fish swimming past. And I can smell it-not like before-I can taste it, but it's… “
He nodded. “I know. Your senses are heightened, all of them, a hundred times what they were before. And soon, perhaps, a thousand times. You'll be powerful, Tempest. As strong as Rhiannon. Perhaps stronger.”
“Stronger than Rhiannon?”
He nodded. “Perhaps. In time. My blood is old. Only one vampire lives who's blood is older, and you've got his running in your veins, too, just as I do.”
“Damien,” she whispered.
“Gilgamesh,” he confirmed.
She sighed and snuggled close to him. “I don't care how strong I am, Vlad.”
“You're a terrible liar, Tempest.”
She smiled and kissed his chest. “All right, I care. I'm going to love being powerful. And I'll taunt Rhiannon about that for the rest of our lives and enjoy every minute of it.” She almost laughed at the notion. She liked the teasing, almost friendly relationship she seemed to have developed with the vampiress she'd once considered the haughtiest bitch of the bunch. “But more than that,” she whispered, returning her attention to where it belonged, “more than anything else, Vlad, I'm going to love being with you.”
“You'll be with me,” he promised her. “Forever.”
He kissed her deeply, and when he broke the kiss, she curled into his arms and knew she would still be there when they awoke. And she would be again and again, every sunset, for the rest of eternity.