A knock on the door halted Tenes mid-sentence, drawing his gaze towards it. “Enter,” I called out.
Miri, a reserved magic user who had been my personal assistant for ten years, stepped into the room. Her long dress swished as she walked silently to the large desk I was sat behind. “Sorry to interrupt, sir, but I’ve a message from the King. He wishes to see you immediately.”
Tenes brows arched. When was the last time your Father summonsed you immediately to anything?
As young vampires, we’d found a book on blood rituals and decided, in our ultimate wisdom, it would be a fun thing to mess with. We’d both gotten into serious trouble from our parents for toying around with that type of magic, but they’d been a little late in stopping us. The pair of us exchanging blood whilst performing one of the rituals we’d found resulted in Tenes being eternally connected to me as my blood brother. One of the side benefits, which we’d initially kept secret from our families for fear of reprisal, was the ability to communicate telepathically. Eventually, as we got older, it just didn’t seem relevant any more.
I can’t remember.
“Thank you, Miri. Where is he?”
Her head bobbed. “At Dreemskerry, Sir.”
“Have Issa bring the limo to the side door, I’ll slip out the back. Don’t want to get caught up with anyone else before I can escape!” Each day, a part of my morning was dedicated to listening to and trying to resolve the never ending complaints vampires, shifters, magic users, and the occasional human had against my people. As the son and heir to Dreemskerry, the thirteenth and ruling Principality over the other twelve Principalities, it was my role to assist in keeping the balance between our species and the others.
There was only one problem with that. Vampires weren’t the most reasonable in accepting they could be wrong. It was a perpetual headache, one which I complained to my father of regularly. His response was always the same. As future King, I needed to be prepared, so stop whining.
The sigh inside my head drew a chuckle from Tenes as he got up in a silent, fluid motion. He towered over Miri, who took a step back, as he straightened his suit jacket and tugged on the white cuffs of his shirt, the gems in his cufflinks flashing.
The man was a fashion whore and was impeccably dressed in a black suit, tailored to fit his broad shoulders. His jet black hair, which matched the colour as his eyes, gleamed in the light coming through the large bank of windows that overlooked a landscaped garden below. The two of us had often been mistaken as actual brothers, due to our similarities.
With a nod, I dismissed Miri, who left as quietly as she’d arrived. I picked up the files lying over my desk and opened the drawer, slipping them inside. I preferred everything around me to be ordered and tidy.
Standing, I removed the suit jacket from the back of my leather office chair and slipped it on. “Are you coming? Or do you want to carry on listening to the remaining petty squabbles?”
Tenes was my most trusted advisor and always worked alongside me when dealing with these grievances. His rich laughter echoed off the walls.
“When you put it like that, I think I’ll come with you. If I have to listen to that nasally fuckwit, Pontus, once more about how shifters living close to his property is a crime, I might be forced to go and find some rhodium and kill the whiney ass.” Although he was smiling, there was no amusement in his tone. The glint in his eyes suggested he was deadly serious.
Rhodium was rare and the only known precious stone that could be used to pierce a vampire’s skin. The ritual table of the Principalities was one of the only places that I knew of where rhodium could be found. There were thirteen spikes embeded in the table, each one carved out of rhodium, one placed at each seat designated to the thirteen ruling vampire families. There were thirteen ruling Principalities worldwide. The thirteenth, Dreemskerry, was the seat of the Vampire King and ruled over the other twelve.
Walking to the wall behind me, I pressed my palm to a panel within it and a door slid smoothly open, revealing a staircase descending into darkness. Pontus was an ass, but a harmless one. Or as harmless as any vampire could be. He was too lazy to do anything other than move his lips to complain and I said as much. “Pontus is harmless, it would be like killing a fly.”
Ceiling lights illuminated the stairway as I stepped onto it, Tenes slapping my shoulder as he followed. “He’s a vampire, he is anything but harmless. You’ve been stuck in your ivory tower too long, my friend.”
“Maybe, but the amount of meetings I’ve had with him, I’m sticking with my opinion.”
“Whatever.” We got to the bottom of the stairs and I once more pressed my palm against a sensor pad. The door slid open and we were met with the warmth of the sun. I reached into my pocket, pulling out a pair of sunglasses to shield my eyes. Vampires weren’t night creatures per se, like some still believed, though our preference was for the night.
Sliding into the back seat of the waiting limo, Tenes took the seat next to me. Working in the closest town, Riverdon, which was in Principality twelve, by the border of Dreemskerry, I had a driver on call twenty-four-seven. “Issa, please can you take us to Dreemskerry?”
Issa, a magic user who was more a part of the family having been with my father for so long, nodded. He was not a man of many words, which I rather liked about him. When spending a lot of time with people who wanted to do nothing but speak, as I do, the silence can be very refreshing.
I rested my head back against the seat and shut my eyes. A sense of unease trickled through me and the secrets I held from everyone were there, waiting for me to acknowledge them. Has Father found out?
“Are you planning on returning the call of that cute shifter who was all over you at Danizella’s party? He had the most amazing ass.”
Eyes opening, I glanced sideways, a slow grin spreading over my face. “Is that all you’re interested in? Ass?” The shit eating grin was his answer. “Miri has his number if you want it.”
“I’m starting to worry about you. When was the last time you got laid? Every party we attend you must end up with at least ten invitations,” said Tenes.
“Twenty, but who’s counting?” I shut my eyes again, knowing Tenes wouldn’t give up. I could feel his concern. “They’re only after mating with a future king. I’m in my thirtieth cycle, about to reach maturity. Forever immortalized as I am.”
There was a nudge to my shoulder and I sighed and glanced back at Tenes. “What’s this? Is hitting your thirtieth cycle worrying you? I can tell you it’s no different. Painless in fact.” Tenes had reached his own recently. He was older than me by half a cycle.
“You don’t have the weight of being king one day hanging over you.”
“Ahhh, thanks for rubbing that in,” he groused good humoredly.
My eyes narrowed. “Yeah, whatever. You don’t want it any more than I do.”
He shrugged, looking unrepentant. “Your Father has no plans to step down, so you could have centuries before you need to worry about this.”
He spoke the truth, but the growing unease inside me wouldn’t be quelled, increasing as each day passed and I got closer to reaching my thirtieth cycle. “You’re right.” I changed the topic back to the cute shifter. “You going to add the cute shifter to your list of conquests?”
He fluttered his long, dark lashes at me. “This is me you’re talking to, of course I am. His ass was meant to be worshipped.”
“And you’re just the vampire to do it,” I scoffed.
The good humored banter continued for the two hour drive to Dreemskerry, which was set in two hundred thousand acres of beautiful woodlands. Over time, huge homes were erected to house the soldiers and magic users who protected the King and the palace.
Wards of all kinds hummed through the air, making it vibrate and sing with the strength of their magic. The centuries old palace sat in the heart of the land. Although the place continued to resemble a mediaeval castle that was so often attributed to our kind in folktales by humans before they accepted our existence, the inside, fortunately, had been renovated by each King. My father had added in plumbing and heating systems, which I was eternally grateful for.
As the car drew to a stop, the large oak doors with huge, gold gargoyle heads opened and Father stepped out.
To the goddesses, what is this?
Never once in my existence had Father ever come to the door himself to greet me. His attire, a suit much the same as Tenes’, said he had no plans to meet with anyone formally today. For those occasions, he wore silk robes with the thirteen Principalities depicted down the lapels. It was a sign of honour for the king to wear them when he entertained.
Once I was out of the car, Father glanced over my shoulder, his brow furrowing. “Tenes, this is a private matter. If you would be so kind as to take your leave?”
Holy fuck! Did you do something I don’t know about?
A ball of anxiety sat right where my secret was.
Tenes bowed his head. “Of course, Sir. I’ll go and pay a visit to Elazar. It has been a while since we’ve spoken.” Elazar was the head of the palace guard and was Tenes’ older brother. He got back in the car and I was left with no option but to walk up the stone steps to my Father. The breeze carried the scent of spring and the sounds of the forest animals. This was normally a comfort but today it did nothing.
Father didn’t move as I reached the top step, his brow remaining furrowed. “It might be best to take a walk around the grounds.”
Oh this is not good!
Was he worried about being overheard? My unease escalated and I slipped my hands into my trouser pockets, to hide how they trembled. There were rooms within the palace that had been warded to prevent conversations from being overheard. So why were we outside?
I stepped aside to allow Father to walk down the steps, as was customary. When no sign of his personal guard appeared, if I’d a beating heart I was certain it would have burst out of my chest.
The warning look he aimed at me kept me silent as he passed. Following, my mind ran through what I might have revealed. The silence was only broken by the whisper of the wind through the trees as we headed deep into the woodland.
I was unused to the silence that stretched uncomfortably between us. Father, though reserved, was loving and we had a good relationship. This, right now, was sending out so many mixed signals I wasn’t sure what to do about it.
When we eventually stopped, we were standing next to the large waterfall that me and my siblings had learnt to swim in. The water rushed over the stones, creating a cacophony of sound that would mute any conversation no matter how good a vampire or shifter’s hearing was.
Father took hold of my hands, his expression grave. “I need you to listen and do as I ask without question. Do you understand?” His hands squeezed mine as his gaze swept the trees.
When his gaze came back to mine, it was filled with sorrow, pain, and something I couldn’t define. “You must go to Old Isle and travel to the Dragon cliffs. At the base are caves. There is something there I need you to retrieve for me.”
“It has to be you, son. This is your quest. I’d hoped that I would have more time.”
“Time for what? What Quest?”
“What did I say?” The lash of power directed at me muted any further questions. “Listen, I know you have questions, and I will answer them. But first, you must do this.” He let go of one of my hands to reach into his suit pocket, pulling out a silk envelope with our family insignia waxed into the back.
The mark was held with magic, one that spoke to me on a level that brought instant concern. “Fatherꟷ”
“No,” he snapped, before releasing a sigh full of regret. “Go now and do as I ask. Go alone. This is for you and you alone to do.”
Icy dread curled inside me as he swung around and raced back through the woodland toward the palace, not waiting for me.
I glanced at the silk envelope and growled when the magic contained within sent tendrils up my arm, causing what I’d hidden my entire life to be set free.
What was this magic?
And what did it mean to me?