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The chaotic mess left by the two hunters dissolved around Sadiq, shifting into the top of a staggering mountain. The wind lightly danced around his boots, the fresh snowfall spinning in little twirls against the sun. His back, exposed by the cut in his silk shirt, stiffened against the cold.
He gritted his teeth, his fangs still protruded. That damned hunter tore one of his favorite shirts. He had healed almost instantly. But how could anyone, hunter or not, stun him like that? On top of it all, Darren – that coward – had skipped out right when the attack had happened. Sadiq had met many of his kind throughout the centuries, but none as spineless as him.
Sadiq took a deep breath, the air freezing his lungs. It was refreshing in a sense, even if he didn’t need to do so. He let his fangs shrink away, hiding as regular teeth once again. He didn’t want to worry his Mistress.
He made his way up the mountainside, feet barely sinking into the snow. The sunlight tinged with a slight pink hue, making his olive skin a little darker in tone. It was one of the effects of the barriers that surrounded this place. They weren’t there to ward off humans. The unbearable climate did that. It was others of his kind that his Mistress and he were hiding from at the moment.
As Sadiq climbed, scattered bushes started to break up the snowy landscape. Bit by bit, they clumped together, sparse trees joining them. But Sadiq didn’t register the familiar scene. He was trying to wrap his head around the last few minutes.
He had been speaking fervently with Darren concerning the Trade and his Mistress’s orders when screaming had erupted from downstairs. Sadiq went to see what it had been and had found a hunter in the hallway. He did what any vampire should have and attacked her. But when he started to drink her blood, a sharp, cold pain had torn down his back before a fire had burned his spine. Sadiq couldn’t move when the hunter and her friend had run. And then, a moment later, he had been back to normal like nothing had even happened.
Sadiq was baffled. Something he hadn’t been for a long, long time. There were few hunters who could take down a vampire with such precision. though the blood he had taken had been intriguing, he hadn’t been distracted. It was as if his attacker hadn’t even been there until right before the weapon struck him.
The skittering sounds of wildlife brought him back to the forested confines he had just entered. Glowing eyes peered through the thick walls of trees. They were abominations – shapeshifters who could never shift back to their human forms, results of being too weak for his Mistress’s experiments. Some were ferocious beasts, while others merely cubs of their former selves. They were smart to leave him alone. One wrong move and Sadiq would kill them outright.
A crow cawed.
“A new one, I see,” Sadiq said to the trees, rubbing his thin-lined beard.
He glanced up. Even for him, the creature was hard to make out. Though it was larger than normal crows, its usual black feathers were bleached perfectly white and melted into the snow. He wondered what had gone wrong with this one.
“You there,” he said. “Come down.”
The white crow hesitated before gliding down, a little lopsided at first. It perched on his outstretched arm. Sadiq looked it over and noticed even its eyes were white.
“Can you not see anymore?”
Its caw was low and rumbling as if it wanted to growl instead.
He brushed its feathers with his hand. The crow leaned in and closed its eyes.
“Hmm. You must have been a wolf or great cat at one point. But you’re not much use to us blind.”
Sadiq curled his fingers around its neck and snapped it. The crow squawked, but then fell limp. Sadiq laid it down against a tree.
He walked on.
But, then, a low growl hummed in his ears. The vampire cocked his head back. The white bird was tumbling back to its feet, its body whole once more.
Sadiq smiled. “Now this will be something to tell my Mistress.”
He walked faster and the forest grew denser, darker around him. He maneuvered over heaved up roots and under low branches with ease, knowing each step by memory. After a while, a group of three trees came into view, which twisted around and through each other to reveal an oval opening between them. The greatest defense his Mistress had installed.
Sadiq touched each side of the opening, and the world rippled into a clearing. He stepped through the barrier and was greeted by large, overbearing iron gates. Before he was even at their feet, they opened wide enough for him to slip through. The gates closed behind him. Now his presence was completely cut off from the outside world. He was home.
The spring air welcomed him as a towering castle gleamed in the bright sun. Its dark blue roof contrasted well with the light grey bricks, while the closed windows glittered as the bright sun hit them just right. It was a sight of beauty, one fitting for no one else except his Mistress.
But his gaze wasn’t on his home. It was on the well-kept gardens that lay in front of the castle. The cold pain he had felt from the hunter’s attack was nothing compared to the chill that now ran down his spine. His Mistress had been gardening. She must be furious.
Sadiq searched for her, but she was nowhere in sight. If she was still enraged, then she must have been in the side gardens or the conservatory on the top floor of the castle.
Sadiq rushed towards the castle, being wary as to not run. He couldn’t see anyone from out here, but he knew the others would be watching. They were like him, loyal to the Mistress and her goals for their futures. But they also despised him for his talents and closeness to their liege. He knew if he slipped up, they would take that chance to act against him. Sad for them, he never made a mistake. Though, in times like this, he wished there was no pesky defense spell that disabled his teleportation abilities. He would rather be by his Mistress’s side right this instant than to do the menial labor of walking.
The castle doors opened before he made it up the steps. Will o’wisps, gifts from one of the Fey royalty loyal to his Mistress, greeted him. The little balls of light bounced lively around him and urged him down one of the many halls off the parlor. He followed, knowing they would bring him straight to his destination.
They led him down winding corridors, up the four flights of stairs, and right to the entrance of the conservatory.
“My, my.” A sickly sweet chirp greeted him. “Look who it is.”
Sadiq paid Pitch no mind. Not until the man stepped in front of him.
“Out of my way.”
“Pardon me-” the man held an ornate, golden sleeve up to his lips- “but the Mistress appointed me here to act as her guard.”
Sadiq peered down at him, glad he was a head taller than the other.
Pitch was an annoying bug, to say the least. Sadiq had despised him ever since the Mistress had picked him up in the Khmer Empire a few centuries ago. But with his flawless tawny complexion, impeccable beauty, and ruthless nature, there was no doubt why he was here in Mistress’s castle and not decomposing in a grave.
But Sadiq knew that was the only thing Pitch had going for him.
“You have no power over me. Now stand down.”
“I don’t. But Mistress does. And she has ordered me to allow no one in.” Pitch smiled, a fang protruding from between his lips. “And that includes you.”
The shadows snickered, scaring off the will o’wisps.
Sadiq hated those creatures. They would slither in and out of dark corners to spy or attack the unsuspecting. Effective, but not his style of hunting.
From their snarling noises, he knew those creatures were having fun at his expense. He never liked giving them a show. But in this case, why not make their handler look like a fool.
“Fine,” Sadiq said. “Once she learns it was you who kept her from learning about her order from the Trade, I’m sure she’ll take care of you. Then maybe I’ll get some peace around here.”
Pitch chuckled, though Sadiq could hear a slight break in it. “You don’t scare me.”
Sadiq whispered, “It is not me, but my Mistress who should scare you.”
Just then, the door opened. Pitch jolted.
“What are you two arguing about now?”
A small woman stepped out, shutting the doors behind her. Her petite form hid under ruffles of black lace. That along with her pale skin and black bonnet made her look like a living marionette more than anything else.
“P-Perle?! How did you-“ Pitch stammered.
“I walked in when you were looking into your compact,” Perle said in her monotone voice. “Mistress wanted some tea.”
“How is she?” Sadiq asked.
Perle had always unnerved him. Not because she was a threat. But due to her oddly quiet nature, she could even sneak up on vampires. It had something to do with her Fey powers and witch blood. Still.
Perle looked up at Sadiq and bowed her head. “She has calmed from her latest failure. However, any good news you could supply would aid her temper.”
With Pitch fawning over Perle, Sadiq walked past and into the conservatory.
The room was warm, humid even, to ensure the tropical plants could flourish. But he could still feel the deathly chill of his Mistress’s fury.
Sadiq stepped lightly as he passed dozens of flowers, vines, and trees. Then a flash of white caught his eye. He went around the bushels of Snowdonia Hawkweeds and saw a hunched figure in white hacking away at some unfortunate weeds.
Sadiq knelt down behind her. “My Mistress. I have returned.”
Her spade stopped midair. “And do you have a new subject for me?”
“I’m afraid not. There are no new products at this time. And before I could demand more, hunters had crashed the meeting-“
The spade shot for his head. Sadiq didn’t flinch. He let it fly past him as his Mistress wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled herself closer. He fell back and hit the wet floor. Radiant curls and waves flung over his peripheral vision, bright beams of the sun surrounding him.
Mistress’s twirling purple eyes threatened to burst. “My sweet fledgling! What are we to do now?”
“Mistress.” He raised a hand to cup her cheek and wipe a silvery tear away.
Even through the tears, Sadiq fell in love with this woman all over again. He had heard stories of her remarkable beauty when she was mortal, one that could rival that of Aphrodite’s. Yet that beauty came with unrivaled intellect and daring cruelty.
He asked, “What has made you so distraught?”
“The last subject – that defective crow – couldn’t even withstand its earthstone taken out. Right before I could cut it away from the spinal cord, the crow transformed and stayed that way.”
“The crow? You mean the albino one?” So it wasn’t a wolf or cat.
Sunbeams shook as she nodded. “Its body gathered all its power to the earthstone and damaged the creature. Now there’s nothing I can work with!”
His Mistress glowered at him, puffing out her lower lip. “What’s so funny?”
“You have nothing to fear. I had a passing with that crow. I snapped its neck since it was blind. Yet somehow it regenerated.”
“You’re amazing, my sire. You’ve created a creature who can regenerate almost as fast as us.”
Her eyes twinkled a brilliant amethyst. “Carpe noctim! That is wonderful.”
She jumped up and twirled around her gardening tools, the ruffles of her white, gauzy dress floating up.
Sadiq let himself enjoy the moment. It was rare in these modern times to see his Mistress this happy about anything. Ever since her greatest experiment had gone awry and destroyed nearly everything they had worked for, she was not always in the best of spirits. But if he could help her regain what she had lost . . .
He stood up and dusted off his pants. That’s when he noticed they were not alone.
“Did he get out of his cage?”
Mistress stopped and followed his gaze to the boy laying near where she had been a few minutes before. Dark curls hid his pale face. His clothes were torn and clumped with dirt. A dark metal necklace hung limp, high around his neck – the boy’s collar.
“Oh, yes.” Mistress laid her arm upon Sadiq’s shoulder. “I let him run out the front door.”
“You did?” Sadiq lifted an eyebrow. “How forward of you.”
She chuckled. “Too bad he didn’t realize the stone wall is electrified. Or that his collar would react in such a . . . painful way if he got too far from the castle.”
Sadiq grimaced. The boy tried to escape again. “How did he end up here?”
“I told Perle to fetch him. Though I should have had her take him to his room. No sense in lecturing him if he is comatose- oh, what’s this, then?”
Sadiq shuddered as his Mistress traced along the rip in his shirt, her nails slipping down his skin.
“What happened to your shirt, my dear?”
“A bold hunter.”
“My, I’d say so. And did you dispose of him?”
“I apologize. But that is what I wanted to ask you for.” He turned and knelt down once again. “I would like permission to hunt him down and capture him for you.”
She patted him on the head. “Please stand, my dear.”
Sadiq did so.
Mistress beamed up at him. “If you think you can do better than that silly Trade, go right ahead. Remember to stay out of sight from anyone that might recognize you. Your friend is one thing, but the rest of them must not know. Not right now.”
“Yes, my Liege.”
“Good.” She spun around, walking away. “And please take the boy back to his room. I don’t want him getting a cold.”
And with that, his Mistress danced away, heading back to her lab with vigor and excitement in each step.
Sadiq watched her until she disappeared into the greenery. When she was completely gone from his sight, he turned to the boy and nudged him with his boot.
The boy, Talos, had been a gift for his Mistress from Darren, the Trade’s founder and leader. The boy had been the only slave-turned-experiment to not be completely morphed into a useless creature or a brain dead servant. Instead, he kept up his defiance at all times. Mistress was bemused and kept him around as a pet. She loved to toy with him.
Sadiq, on the other hand, only felt pity for the boy. He could imagine Talos might have had a very common, ordinary life outside of these walls. One way or the other, though, he had been sold off to the Trade. It was only the boy’s abilities as a magus that kept him alive here. But it was those same abilities that had been his downfall. Just like when he was child. Yet, Sadiq was sold off because of his beauty, not a special ability. The one who had saved him was the Mistress. For that, if she wanted a toy, Sadiq would gladly get her one.
Sadiq nudged Talos once more. The boy stirred a bit. Hazel eyes blinked open before shooting up at him. The boy scurried back against the plants.
“Get up. Now.”
Talos stumbled to his feet, keeping his distance as far away from Sadiq as he could.
“I heard you were trying to escape again.” Sadiq revealed his fangs. “You must have had a shocking realization at the wall.”
He chuckled as the boy touched his collar.
“Maybe if I try hard enough, I will leave this hell hole-”
Sadiq shot his hand out, grabbed the boy by the metal collar and pulled him close. “You should watch what you say. Unless you want to play some more, child.”
“T-Talos. M-my name is Talos.”
“And I care?”
Sadiq tried not to care. And definitely made sure not to show it. If this boy believed he had a friend, it would be Sadiq’s downfall.
“A-and I’m not a child. I’m sixteen.”
“And I’m as old as Byzantium.” He let the boy go. “Now get back to your room or I’ll have to escort you there. Again.”
The boy shrunk back, but his eyes didn’t waver.
“Did you hear me, boy? Or do I have to clean your ears out too?”
He bit his lips down.
“One. Two. Three-”
“What is that smell on you?”
The boy’s ability. He could smell energies and even differentiate between creatures down to the subspecies. A rather odd ability to develop in a magus; but then again humans with any kind of power were odd.
“What smell, boy?”
“A-a witch’s.” The boy pointed up to Sadiq’s lips.
Sadiq already knew that. He had felt the witch’s energy flow through her blood as he fed on her. It had been rather odd. Something had tasted familiar about her blood . . .
“But that-“ Talos pointed to Sadiq’s back- “I can’t figure out. It’s not human, but it’s nothing else I’ve smelled before.”
Sadiq tilted his head, eyebrow raised. “You don’t know what it is?”
Talos contemplated for a moment before shaking his head, matted locks flying.
Sadiq grinned. “Well. This will be interesting.”
© E.N. Chaffin 2019. All rights reserved. Any reproduction without author permission is against the copyright laws of the United States of America.