Hunting is what I do. Since they hunted us, killed my brothers, I spend my time hunting those that still seek us. Now they have left me a protection detail, keeping me bound to the castle. She wants to run from me and I want her to run. I want her to run so I can catch her and claim everything she is.
He lurks around every corner. Always goading. Taunting. Tempting me. Pushing me to run.
I want to run, the question is will I run away... or to him?
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THE VAMPIRE KINGS SERIES
Copyright © 2023 by Rhiannon Futch
All rights reserved.
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Cover by sunsetrosebooks.com
Also by Rhiannon Futch
About the Author
My eyes pop open and I am wide awake, excitement coursing through my veins like a drug. Squeezing myself out of the cozy nest between Knox and Malic I crawl to the end of the bed and off. What to do first? I need to see Dagma, Kalina, and Katerine. My stomach growls up at me, apparently I also need food. I grab my robe from the back of a chair and slip it on as I walk to the door. Holding my robe closed I open the door enough to stick my head out, “Hi, can one of you go find Dagma, Katerine, and Kalina? Ask them if they would have breakfast with us in the garden? Have food and a table with chairs set up out there?”
The guard on the left smiles at me, “I’ll go. Any specifics for breakfast I should let Cook know about?”
“No, I’m sure whatever he makes will be great. Thank you!”
Turning around, I yelp as Knox snatches me up into his arms and nuzzles my neck. It feels really good and has my body waking up to ideas other than what I need to do. Only when he heads for the bed do I come back to the reality that I need to get a handle on my magic before bad things happen. Putting my hands on his shoulders I push and it is completely ineffective. I could push a boulder just as well. “Knox! Knox, I can’t right now. I have work to do.”
That’s when I feel Malic’s hands stroking my back and his teeth nipping my shoulder. Knox is kissing his way down the vee of my robe as he says, “Work can wait.”
Malic whispers into my ear, “What is it that presses you so this morning my queen?”
A shiver runs through me and formulating words is hard for a moment but I get there, “Magic! My magic. It’s not ok, hoooo my, you have to stop Knox, I can’t think like this.” Knox pulls his lips away from my now very heated skin and some of the blood returns to my brain, “I didn’t want you to worry last night but the fact is that I have to get control of my magic really quick or…”
Malic leans around to look me in the eye, “Or what?”
“Or bad things will happen. I am kind of a ticking bomb until I get some control of my magic. Without that control it goes crazy and well, it could be very explosive.”
Knox stands, “Very well. If you explode, that is not how we want it to happen, it sounds rather permanent and painful. Is there anything we can do to help you?”
Shrugging I tell him, “The best thing I can do right now is to go have breakfast and talk to Dagma before she and I go train. Hekate gave us each our own books. We need to read them and train.”
Malic has watched very closely as I spoke. He looks suspicious as he says, “What are you leaving out?”
“Dammit Malic, I didn’t want to talk about it.” He and Knox cross their arms over their chests, standing there watching me. “Fine. I am the most powerful witch there will be in this time. If I don’t get control of my magic it isn’t just bad. It is the worst possible thing. Especially since she said I am the key, whatever that means.”
Malic sets his hand on my arm, “My queen, you can’t keep things like this from us. We are here to protect you and had you not told us this we would have been hindering you instead.”
I lean into him, “I know. But I am unused to trusting anyone with all the information. I tend to keep most of it to myself. I need you to be understanding about that until I can get to a point where I trust you enough to just keep you in the loop on all my plans and goings on. You could help with that by remembering that I am an adult and whether or not you agree with something I plan to do, it is still my choice and you don’t get to gainsay my choices.”
Malic smirks and says, “We are still your kings.”
My hands fly to my hips as I lean toward him, “Am I not your queen? The key? And the most powerful witch in all of this world? You keep this attitude up and the first thing I will learn is how to hang a vampire in mid air by his ankles!”
Knox starts laughing as he tugs me toward him and kisses my forehead, “We will do our best to be less dictatorial with you. Old habits die hard and we haven’t had anyone our equal beyond each other in a very long time. Come, let us shower and then we will go have breakfast with your family.”
A smile spreads across my face when he says that. “Yes, we’ll go have breakfast with my family. I love the sound of that. Malic, are you going to stand over there and turn to stone or get over yourself?”
He frowns at me, “I don’t need to get over myself. I,” he shoves his hand through his hair and leaving it spiked out at odd angles, “I just worry about you and I need to protect you all.”
I take the two steps over to him and wrap my arms around him, “You can protect us without stifling me. I am going to be in danger, there is no way around that. I have been in danger since the day I was born. I need you to have faith in me, to trust that I will do my best to come back to you or to stay alive until you can rescue me.”
He sighs as he puts his arms around me, “I will do my best.”
“Good,” Knox says clapping his hands together, “Now let’s get showered before our little time bomb goes off.”
Malic and I laugh as we all head for the bathroom, but I can’t help thinking I am a danger to them.
* * *
It doesn’t take us long to get ourselves ready now that they are fully aware of why I need to get on top of my magic. What they don’t know is how terrified I am that I won’t be able to, that I will suck at it as much as I have at so many other things. Walking to the gardens we meet up with Dagma and the two K’s on our way. We chat about inconsequential things because I don’t want to tell them about all this until they have at least had some tea.
Getting seated and tea served takes so little time. Knox and Malic are both watching me so I take a breath and say, “Dagma, what, um, what would you say if I told you that you had magic buried in you?”
She studies my face for a time before asking, “What is going on Valdís? If you need to tell me something, just get on with it.”
I nod, “I called our Goddess to me last night. She told me that I am a witch, a direct descendant of her. She said that the shelves where I found the book that told me how to call her to me are filled with the books that will teach me, and you, how to control the magic that is inside each of us.”
Dagma presses her lips together briefly and then sips her tea. Straightening she says, “Very well. I know you wouldn’t lie to me and you aren’t given to hallucinations. The kings here have been waiting for you to make an announcement so they are aware as well. We have shelves in the library?”
I could cry with relief but I manage to control myself, “We do. And one more thing. I have to tell you her name, all of you,” I look to the two K’s who are completely focused on the conversation for once. “You may have a reaction to it. Are you ready?”
The three of them look at each other and back to me, nodding. I take a deep breath, hoping this doesn’t break anyone, “Hekate.”
Dagma puts a hand over her mouth and closes her eyes, a single tear running down each of her cheeks. The two K’s gasp, and then the garden freaks out. I can feel the two of them spilling magic all over the place and the entire garden is crowding in on us as I lean forward and say, “Katerine! Kalina! Focus! Deep breath, pull the feeling back inside.” They look terrified and I calm my voice, speaking soothingly as I can, “Breathe with me, slowly in and pull all that feeling that is overflowing back into a nice well, yes! A nice deep well. Breathe out and steady yourselves. Breathe in, calming the flow and pulling it in where it can wait in the well for when you need it. There you go, keep at it. You can do it. Very good. Yes, almost there.” I exhale my own shaky breath as they get themselves under control. A nervous chuckle escapes me, “I was not prepared enough. I feel like I didn’t study for my test and somehow passed anyway.” Kalina is the first one to start laughing, Katerine follows and the two of them laughing is contagious. When we have all calmed down I ask Dagma, “Are you all right?”
She nods, “I am. I remember everything she told me in my dreams and it was just a bit to process.”
* * *
My face hurts. Checking the mirror once more, I straighten my jacket and wince as the cut on my shoulder lights up with pain. What was I thinking? Having all of us get drunk and then beat each other up so it looks realistic today? Not my brightest idea. It is done though and we are all quite bruised and battered. Even freshly showered with a just pressed suit I look a bit like a ruffian.
I suppose it will be all that much more convincing. Now, off to pick up that awful woman. Admittedly, if she hasn’t gotten herself beat up well enough I would not mind helping her to get to the right look. As I head toward the waiting car Pelos falls in step with me, “Hello Father, you look dreadful.”
Refraining from making a face that will hurt I simply tell him, “That was the plan Pelos. We need to look as though the king was violently attacking us without cause. Are you ready to play your part?”
“I am father. Will we be very long? Mother is looking worse by the minute and I want to be there…”
“I hope to be no more than an hour, two at most. If it runs longer I will send you home- you know, I will send you home after an hour whatever is happening, with the excuse that one of us should be with your mother. She is so very ill and the time I had with her this morning was short indeed before I had to ready myself for speaking today.”
Pelos nods, his jaw tight. I can imagine the kinds of things going through his mind. As long as he keeps his thoughts to himself they will be tolerated.
* * *
The ride to the area in front of the drive up to the castle is short, even with picking up Eirene and Eumeleia. There is quite the crowd waiting as we arrive. The other lords are waiting for our arrival, as they should. I make sure to be courteous and respond to people as I walk toward the podium they have set up for us today. It is no hardship to walk painfully as my ankle was twisted during the brawl. Lord Judda gestures toward the podium as soon as I am on the platform and I go directly there.
“Hello my good Atlanteans! I come to you today with the sad news that our Valdís is still locked away in the castle behind us,” I gesture toward it and wince when I feel the cut on my shoulder open a bit. The crowd eats it up. “You may have noticed that my friends and I, along with the good widow Eirene Potentus, are all a bit more worn than the last time you saw us. I am sorry to report that this is because we went to our kings and asked them to release Valdís into the care of her family. King Knox became immediately enraged, attacking the good widow.” I hear Eirene start crying behind me and I am impressed, she is quiet but projecting really well. “The other lords and myself protected her and got her out of there at no small cost to ourselves, but this behavior from the king that should be protecting us makes some things very clear. First, the kings are not our protectors any longer, if they ever were. Second, our families are not safe even in our homes. We have not seen our Valdís since she was ripped from my home just days before her wedding should have happened. With kings like this, some mythical enemies from the dawn of time are the least of our worries. It is time for a new leadership. Our small continent deserves better. I ask you to work with us as we try to find a solution, a way to bring about a new way of life for us all.”
The crowd cheers for me as I back away from the podium and Lord Judda steps forward to give his speech. Once the eyes are on him I turn around to find my seat only to see my son comforting Eumeleia. How interesting.
I look away from the conversation as I hear Epaphras nearly running out to us. Excusing myself I step away to meet him a bit away from the table. I know Knox can still hear us but he won’t be sharing anything with the ladies still seated around the table with him. Epaphras skids to a stop in front of me, “Sire, your assistance is required. We found them, but they are in bad shape. They can’t walk on their own currently and the soldiers were carrying them but there is a crowd and they feel certain that coming up the direct way will cause problems.”
“A crowd? Problems? Spit the rest out Epaphras.”
He sighs, “There is a rally taking place at the end of the drive to the castle. They are talking about replacing you.”
“Replacing us? What? Are they insane?”
“Possibly sire, but that isn’t the important thing right now. What we need right now is help getting the two injured people up here through the woods. The guards can carry them but they can’t sneak up here while carrying them. You and Knox however, can. And since these are our people we don’t want to make war on them.”
Knox speaks up from next to me, “We will be right there Epaphras. Of course we will come and get those two up here where they can be treated.”
Epaphras turns, taking off back to the castle at a fast clip. Knox puts a hand on my shoulder, “We’ll deal with whatever is going on down there later, right now, we need to go get them up here. One of them is Valdís’s brother. Whatever you are feeling right now, put it aside while we take care of the ones that need us.”
I nod, “Make excuses for us, I need to change out of this. I’ll bring you something else to wear. Meet you in the entry.”
I hear him saying something to them as I leave but my mind is replaying the last time there was unrest in our country and the words are unclear over the screams and the blood of my memories. I put on the speed and make it to change in moments. A stop in Knox’s room and I have clothing for him. By the time he makes it to the entry I am pacing it. The two guards are waiting outside when we step out. We follow them through the woods and we can hear someone giving a speech in the distance. I try not to listen, focusing instead on where I put my feet. All too quickly we come upon them. Our guards are trying to patch them up as best they can but these two, I don’t know if they will make it no matter how fast we get them back. The woman, my Goddess, why were they so vicious with her? I look at Knox and he says, “Let’s get them back to the castle now.”
I walk over to the woman and the guard tending her steps away. I don’t know if she is conscious or not but I tell her, “I’m going to pick you up and take you to the castle. I’ll be as gentle as I can but it’s probably going to hurt some.” She moans a little, perhaps trying to agree or tell me no, I can’t be sure. I am as gentle as I can be but I can tell I hurt her and I want to tear the people that did this to her into tiny pieces and dance on the remains.
Once I am standing with her I look to Knox and he has Lommán in his arms as well. He looks strained and I know it isn’t from the weight of the man. We follow the guards back toward the castle through the woods stepping as carefully as I can so as to keep from jostling the woman in my arms.
Then I hear it. The crowd in the distance is chanting, “Down with the kings.” I freeze, a killing rage running through me. It’s the same shit they chanted when my brothers were murdered. Knox steps up next to me, “Malic, we have to get them back to the castle. Remember that these people are being manipulated by the outsiders. The two we have in our arms are injured and need us. Finish the mission.”
I look toward the sound but nod my understanding and agreement. Knox walks on and I grit my teeth to follow him.
The library always feels like home. Most people stay away from books, treating them like they are the bane of civilization. Luckily, Eirene was one of them, as were her lackeys. So the library was a safe haven for me where mostly I was left alone. I trail a finger over some of the books as I remember the many happy hours spent reading while hiding behind the furniture in the library of our home.
The solace those books gave me, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Well, anything other than growing up without someone trying to kill me my whole life.
Dagma is already perusing our shelf when I get there. I hear giggles from a couple rows away and I know the two K’s have found their books. I still have the first book with me and I place it back where I found it. It has served its purpose. I don’t know what book I should start with though. Studying the titles doesn’t help, they all look fascinating. I rest the fingers of one hand on a book at the end Dagma isn’t on and close my eyes whispering, “What book should I start with?” Trailing my fingers along the books till I reach a partition between the shelves I am looking at and the ones Dagma is perusing. Moving down a shelf I repeat the process till I get to the far end. I am back near Dagma on the third shelf down when I feel it, just the tiniest little tingle as my fingers touched a book. I slide my hand back across the spines at a snails pace till I feel that tingle again. Opening my eyes I run my fingers along the spine to the top of the book and gently tug it from it’s place.
The book is a good size, not a thick tome but weighty. My book in hand I wander off to find a spot. The chair I sat in before was good but, I want to have Dagma and Katerine and Kalina in with me so I keep walking. Maybe they have rooms in the library? The regular library did. They let people use them for study groups and book meetings and that sort of thing. About halfway down the back wall I see a door. Trying the knob I find it isn’t locked so I push it open and find the light switch. The room lights up with soft lights, bright but not glaring. There is a large table with padded chairs surrounding it and I just know this room is meant for me. There is no sign or anything but it feels like mine. I leave the door open behind me as I walk over to a chair facing toward the door and settle in to peruse the book.
Within a few minutes the others have joined me and we are all deep in our chosen books when Epaphras runs in, “We found them! Oh I am too old for this. We found Lommán and Quorin! But they are in terrible shape, I don’t know if they will make it.”
Dagma and I stand in unison, “Take us to them.”
The two older women in our group also stand but it is slower, when we start to jog we quickly realize we are going to leave them behind. Then my two guards step out of the shadows. “Ladies, we could carry you and keep up with them, if that would help?”
Both Katerine and Kalina smile at the offer and I feel certain these men are about to be mildly traumatized. They each pick up one of them and we take off, dashing across the castle to the infirmary where they have them each laid out on their own bed. There is so much blood. My kings are with them, blood all over their fronts and I know they must have brought them here.
* * *
If it was so important for me to get home why didn’t anyone meet me at the dock and why in the hell do they have some nasty ass bush surrounding the place? It took me a fucking hour to find the one damn hole. The guards are really slacking here inside the castle, I haven’t seen so much as one. Is this why Malic needs us home now? As I come to a crossing of corridors I watch Epaphras run by followed by two women running behind him and two guards carrying two old women. There are women in the castle? Running around like they own the place? Then a scent hits me like a punch to the gut. Oh sweet Goddess, it smells so good. I was smelling little bits of it before, faint traces, nothing more. But this, this I need to find. I need to devour it, make it my own. My feet are guiding me to follow the group that ran by before I consciously decide to do so. I don’t care, whatever that scent is coming from, it’s with them.
I smell the blood before I get to the room they are in. Strange that I didn’t smell it till I got close. The other scent, that one is in this room too. I see my brothers in arms standing near one of the women, the two older ones hovering near the end of a bed with a man in it. One of the women is leaned over talking to him in a low voice, telling him he is going to be ok. I think maybe that she is his mother. The other bed holds a woman. The only ones to have seen me are the guards standing behind Epaphras, one nudges him and he sees me, “Hello King Chance, so good to have you home without the least bit of a warning as to when.”
He scowls at me but I don’t care, the woman is staring at me and I can’t seem to look away from her as I ask, “What is that fucking scent?”
Malic scratches his chest as he and Knox walk over. Knox says, “We need to go talk privately.”
Just then the old ones gasp, the woman standing over the man has her hands on his chest and they are glowing. The glow is spreading through his body. The other woman whispers, “Healer, she’s a healer,” in a voice that sounds like I want to listen to her forever. What the hell is wrong with me?
Malic pushes me toward the door, “Come on brother, we need to tell you some things.”
They hustle me away from the action and that delicious scent. Down the hall to a room with some couches where Knox tells me, “The Outsiders have returned. They are trying to take over our big island again.”
I stand, “Ah, then I’ll just go hunt them down and we’ll be done with it.”
Knox steps in front of the door, “You can’t. There was a rally today and half the island is against us.”
Shrugging I respond, “Then thats the half we don’t need. Move and I’ll go start the removal.”
Malic snarls at me, “Sit down and listen Chance.” I watch as he scratches his chest some more, what the hell is that about?
Knox sighs, “Things are about to get so much worse. You aren’t the only one we called home. Everyone is on their way.”
That delicious smell is suddenly stronger and I watch a woman’s hand rest on Knox’s arm for a moment before he moves to the side for her. She walks right up to me and I know the scent is her, before I can say anything, before I can grab her up she looks up at me with those brown eyes and she says, “Hekate.”
The word echoes in my mind as memories hit me hard and fast. My brothers catch me as my legs give out under the weight of all of them. She says something else and I watch her figure walk out of the room through eyes that won’t quite focus. What did she do to me? My brothers toss me on a couch. I hear them seat themselves on their own couches so I settle in to wait for my world to right itself. A few minutes later the world rights itself and I sit up, “Did she do this to you?”
Knox chuckles, “Not immediately. She told me off more than once and tried really hard to stay focused on her mission to help her people. I was not as steadfast. It also wasn’t quite so dramatic for us as we were already seated and talking with her. In the queen’s suite.”
My jaw drops, “How the hell did she get in there? And what were you doing in there with her?”
Malic laughs, “I felt the same way.”
Knox says, “I had suspicions that I needed answers to so I figured it couldn’t hurt to let her try to open the door. I thought it would remain locked and I would laugh at myself. Enjoy her for a time and be done. Then the door opened for her.”
“She can’t be. It’s a trick. How does she know the name we were made to forget so long ago?”
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