Frost sparkled on the rocks around him as he sat on the shore. In front of him, moonlight shimmered on the still, dark river. All around him, everything was blanketed in silence. He gazed up at the almost full moon. “Two more nights until its full,” he thought to himself. “Two more nights until they’re back.”
Sub-consciously, he touched his cheek. Four ragged gashes ran from the corner of his eye down into his bearded jawline. Blood still oozed from them.
He had two nights to put things right.
A fire burned in the grate, its flames sending shadows dancing across the stone walls of the chamber. Both women sat in silence watching the flames, almost as if they were seeking inspiration in them.
“We tell your father the truth,” said Meryn softly. “Tell him everything.”
“Everything relating to Anna,” replied the older woman. Smiling, she added, “Maybe keep the truth about your depth of feelings for my son quiet for now. Let’s see what fate he proposes for our friend first.”
Silently, Trine nodded.
A tray of food lay untouched on the table. With a sigh, Meryn got to her feet, crossed the chamber, and poured them both a full goblet of blood infused wine.
“Here,” she said, offering the cup to the Ice Maiden. “Drink this. We both need to keep our strength up.”
“Are we on trial?” asked the younger woman anxiously.
“No,” Meryn assured her calmly. “We may both be reprimanded but tomorrow’s court meeting is not a trial. If we both tell the same truth, we’ll be fine.”
“And what will happen to her?” Trine paused then almost whispered “And to Jem?”
“Time will tell,” began Meryn, sipping thoughtfully on her wine. “I expect Stefan will demand that we bring Anna to him. We can argue that she’s still not strong enough to stand trial. She’s still unable to hunt. Unable to care for herself. She needs to be fit and well to face the Court of the Elders, Trine.”
“And Jem?” she repeated.
“He’ll be expected to honour the deal he struck with Stefan.”
“And then my father will honour his deal and…”
“No!” interrupted Meryn sharply. “I will not allow that deal to be honoured.”
“Can you prevent it though?”
“I’m working on it,” promised the older vampiress warmly. “Everything’s going to work out, my dear. Trust me.”
Alone on the beach, Jem reflected on the events of the day. The sun had barely set when his mother and Trine had been summoned back to the Court of the Elders. There had scarcely been time to say goodbye before both women vanished. From the shadows of the heavy curtain that served as a door to his bedroom, Anna had watched the entire scene.
Pausing to pick up a small blue tipped feather that had fluttered to the ground as Trine had been transported back to her father’s castle, Anna had walked across the room, her injured wing dragging uselessly behind her. Twirling the feather round between her finger and thumb, she commented, “Well, it looks like it’s just you and me, Son of Perran. Just like old times.”
“If you say so,” he muttered sourly.
“You’ll never be able to do it,” purred the dark angel, stepping towards him. Gently, she ran the feather down his cheek. “You don’t have it in you.”
“Don’t I?” he challenged, staring at her intently.
“No. You don’t,” she stated with a smug smile.
“Well, all we can do is wait till Trine or my mother returns,” he replied, swiping her hand away. “We’ll see what Stefan has in store for both of us then.”
“No, I don’t think so,” she said coldly. “I think I’ve out-stayed my welcome here. I’ve imposed on your hospitality for too long.”
“You’re going nowhere,” he growled angrily.
Letting go of the feather, the dark angel reached out as she murmured an incantation. Her fingernails turned to steel blades in an instant and before he could move to defend himself, she’d slashed his face then vanished in a swirl of smoky green light.
A purple tipped feather lay on the floor beside the blue one.
Staring out into the darkness, the runner deliberated what to do next. Did he wait until he heard from Trine or his mother? Or did he try to re-capture the dark angel before they returned?
Breathing heavily, the dark angel lay in a crumpled heap on a leaf littered, stone floor. She’d acted on impulse with merely a split second to determine her destination. Glancing round in the moonlit shadows, she knew she’d missed her mark but how far off course was she?
Standing side by side outside the door that led into the Court of the Elders, both women waited in silence. Sensing the younger woman’s fear, Meryn reached out and took her hand, whispering, “Trust me.”
Before Trine could reply, the door swung open, and they were ushered inside. Flanked by Michael and Alessandro, Stefan sat behind the oak table. His face betrayed no emotion; his hands were folded in front of him.
“Good morning, ladies,” he greeted them, keeping his tone even. “I trust that you are well-rested.”
“We are,” replied Meryn, her own voice cold and emotionless. “Cut to the chase, Stefan.”
“Such impatience, Meryn,” he commented. “But, fine, I’ll cut to the chase.” He paused to stare at each of the women in turn. “You have both lied to me. By lying to me, you have lied to the Court of the Elders.”
“Neither of us has lied,” interrupted Meryn bluntly. “We may not have revealed the full truth but there were no lies.”
“Well, let’s start by revealing that “full truth” now then, shall we?” he suggested. “Can you both please advise this court how you came to be living with our errant sister, Anna, instead of bringing her here to face trial? Can you perhaps explain why your son did not kill her on sight as agreed, Meryn?”
“We were nursing her back to full health to bring her to you, father,” explained Trine, her voice shaking with nerves. “I fought with her almost seven moons ago. I thought I’d killed her, but Jem found her lying injured three moons after the fight. She was too weak to face trial or to travel. I asked Meryn to come to me. She came to my aid without knowing who she was to heal.”
“Care to start this tale from the beginning,” said Stefan calmly. “Include all the details. Leave nothing out.”
It took several hours but finally, as the candles around the chamber burned low, Meryn and Trine finished their account. The three male vampires had listened intently, occasionally interrupting to seek clarification. When they’d told their tale, Stefan bowed his head. He sat deep in thought for a few long silent minutes then said, “I believe all that you’ve testified here today to be true.”
For the first time since they’d entered the chamber, Trine felt a glimmer of hope.
“How confident are you that she remains incapacitated?” asked Alessandro, his Italian accent echoing round the otherwise silent room.
“Confident,” stated Meryn. “She’s unable to fly due to her injuries. She’s barely able to get out of bed un-aided. She can’t hunt.”
Alessandro nodded then commented, “You’ll recall Anna trained with a mage in North Africa some time ago. When her training was complete, she drained him of life. How confident are you that she’s lost the skills he taught her? Does she still possess that magic?”
Exchanging anxious glances, the two women stood in mute silence, unable to truthfully answer the question.
“Have you placed your son in danger by leaving him alone with her, Meryn?” asked Michael softly. “Anna has never shown any signs of compassion. What’s to stop her from killing him now that you’re not there?”
Meryn paled visibly. It was Trine who found her voice first.
“I don’t believe she’ll kill Jem,” she began. “She loves him too much.”
Stefan nodded slowly, “I believe you’re correct, daughter, but your mate may still be in grave danger left alone with her if that magic remains intact.”
“Then send us back there tonight,” proposed Meryn. “Together the three of us stand a better chance of controlling things than my son does on his own.”
“You both need to feed first. Hunt tonight and you may return to them at dawn,” stated Stefan, his tone leaving no room for debate.
Using some of the medical supplies he’d procured to help with the dark angel’s wounds, Jem cleaned the four deep slashes on his cheek. They were ragged and deep and should probably be stitched but he had nothing to close them with. He would have to take his chances that they would heal without leaving him too badly scarred.
Instead of going to bed at dawn as he usually did, he threw some more logs into the wood burner, poured a large glass of blood infused wine, and sat staring into the flames, seeking a solution to the key Anna dilemma – where had she gone?
Using her magic had drained the dark angel of all of her limited energy. She had crawled into the corner of whatever ruined building she had landed in, covered herself with leaves to disguise her presence from prying eyes and slept from dawn til dusk.
When she awoke, she was still weak, but she found the strength to get to her feet. In the fading light, she managed to work out that she’d transported herself into the ruined chapel beside the main house in the grounds of the estate that lay to the north of the village. Her aim had been less than accurate, but she was less than a mile from home. If she could get back there, she could use her magic to try to restore her damaged wing.
First though she needed to feed and in her current physical state she was unable to hunt. Cursing her damaged wing under her breath, she walked across the chapel to the doorway. There were sheep in the field beyond. A possibility but they were likely to run the moment they sensed her. In the field across the driveway to the south, she could see that there were horses gathered together under one of the old oak trees. They were less likely to run if she approached.
Keeping to the darkest shadows, she walked slowly across the field, trailing her wing through fallen leaves and mud. As she suspected, the sheep scattered as soon as they sensed her in their field.
Car headlights approaching up the driveway sent her scurrying for shelter in the dark shadows behind a huge oak tree. With her heart pounding and her legs trembling, Anna watched as it continued its way up to the “big house.” Satisfied that it was safe, she continued her journey to the field where the horses were still gathered beneath a tree, munching on the contents of a hay net. There were three of them, two chestnuts and a grey. None of them flinched as she walked down the grassy slope towards them. It was decision time. A thick prominent vein in the grey’s neck caught her eye. That was sign enough for her.
As the two chestnut beasts fled in terror, the dark angel drank greedily from the pale coloured horse, draining its life from it swiftly.
Shortly before dawn, Meryn and Trine were summoned to Stefan’s private study. When they entered, they found him sitting alone, gazing into the depths of the wine goblet in his hands.
“Are you ready to take your leave?” he asked without looking up.
“Yes,” replied Meryn. “As soon as you say that we can.”
“You can on one condition,” he began, looking up to stare at them. “Bring Anna to me no later than one week from today.”
“As you wish,” agreed Meryn calmly. She paused before asking, “And Jeremiah?”
“Bring him with you. I have a lot to discuss with him.”
With that he clicked his fingers. Both vampiresses felt the air shift and, the next thing they knew, they were standing on the path that ran along the front of the beach hut. The sun was just beginning to rise and the sky to the east was streaked with red.
“Red sky in the morning, sailors’ warning,” said Meryn absently. “My grandmother used to say that. Come on, my dear, let’s get inside. Its too cold to stay out here watching the sunrise no matter how pretty it looks.”
A welcoming warmth greeted them as they entered the beach hut. Looking up, eyes wide, the runner gasped, “Trine! Mother! You’re back!”
“So it would seem,” stated the older woman somewhat sarcastically.
Sensing that something was amiss, Trine went straight across to the bedroom, drawing aside the heavy curtain. The bed beyond was empty.
“Where is she?”
Turning to face them both, he said simply, “She’s gone.”
“Your face!” gasped his mother. “Anna did that?”
He nodded, “Right before she fucked off in a puff of green smoke.”
“Guess that answers that question,” sighed Trine, crossing the room to inspect his wounds.
“Our friend trained with a mage a long time ago,” Meryn explained. “Her magic would appear to be intact.”
“A mage?” he echoed, looking confused.
“A witch,” said Trine by way of explanation.
“Actually, a warlock,” corrected Meryn with a smile. “The same mage who trained me but let’s keep that between the three of us.”
“Would one of you please tell me what is going on here?” demanded the runner bluntly.
“Plenty of time for stories after I’ve looked at those wounds,” declared his mother sharply.
With his wounds freshly cleaned, the runner sat and listened while the Ice Maiden and his mother told him about their appearance before the Court of the Elders. He was relieved to hear that Stefan hadn’t punished them, seeming to understand the need for the dark angel to be in full health before meeting her fate at his hand.
“So, now what?” he asked, running his hands through his hair.
“We rest,” said Meryn calmly. “We have a week to find our friend, but I suspect that tonight’s full moon offers us our best chance.”
“Do you have a plan?” asked Trine quietly.
“I do but I’m too tired to explain it right now. All I’ll say is this. Jem, you’re going to have to trust me completely.”
Before he could reply, she disappeared into Trine’s room.
“Help me put fresh linen on the bed,” said Trine. “Your mother’s right. We need rest.”
Smiling, the runner got to his feet, took her hand, and said, “I can think of something else we need too.”
Giggling, Trine allowed herself to be led from the room.
The full moon was living up to its name as it rose. The temperatures had plummeted as dusk fell. All around the beach hut everything was glittering with a thick layer of frost under the glow of the Ice Moon.
When Trine and Jem entered the living room, they found Meryn already sitting by the stove, sipping a glass of wine.
“Are you both well-rested?” she enquired casually.
“Yes, mother,” replied her son. “So, what’s the plan here?”
“We…I need to use magic to trace magic, but I need a conduit. That’s where you fit in, son.”
“A conduit?” quizzed Trine as she poured Jem and herself some of the blood-infused wine.
Meryn nodded, “When a vampire creates another, they leave a trace behind. A little bit of themselves. Their maker’s mark so to speak.” She paused to take a sip from her glass. “I’m hoping that our friend has left a little of her magic behind in that trace.”
“And how do you propose to find it, mother? I assume its not a physical mark like my tattoos.”
“I need to scry your mind back to the point when she created you.”
He had suspected as much.
“Remember there was a partial transformation first that failed,” he prompted before drinking deeply from his glass.
“Do you trust me, son?” asked Meryn plainly. “I promise to probe no further than that partial transformation. For this to work, you’ll need to open your mind willingly to me.”
Knowing he had no choice, he nodded his consent, “No further than that. You promise?”
“You have my word,” she answered sincerely. “But I intend to use my own magic to seek out Anna’s in your mind. This will feel different to any other attempts that have been made to probe your memories. I need to locate that trace then feel through it till I connect with her.”
“Will it work?”
“Only one way to find out,” answered the older woman. “I need to draw on the moon’s energy, so we’ll do this outside.”
The rocks were glittering as the three vampires settled themselves down out of sight of the path. They’d walked a little further east of the cottage to find a suitably secluded spot where the light was also right. Sitting facing her son, Meryn looked into his deep brown eyes and smiled. “Try to relax. I’m going to place my fingers on your cheek bones and jawline. I’ll try to avoid those cuts. I need to use an incantation. All you need to do is let me in. Don’t resist the probing. There might be intense heat or intense cold. I won’t know which until I find the connection. It depends on which type of magic she used.”
“And if you don’t find any?” he asked.
“I’ll find it,” she said confidently. “Ready?”
With a quick glance towards Trine, he nodded.
Closing her eyes, Meryn placed her fingertips along his well-defined cheek bones. She positioned her little fingers on his jawbone below his ears then nestled her thumbs among the wiry hairs of his beard at the centre of his chin. Whispering words he couldn’t decipher, she moved her thumbs together to touch. The instant they connected, he felt an icy piercing pain shoot through him. It seemed to curl through his mind carving a frosty trail as it twisted and turned. He resisted the urge to scream as his mother probed deeper and deeper into his soul.
After a minute or two, he felt her hesitate then the energy shifted slightly. A vision began to form in his mind. The scene was misty at first but slowly cleared to show Anna lying on a leaf strewn stone floor. He could see tall stone walls surrounding her. She was swathed in moonlight, but it was coming from a gap in the roof rather than the small square windows that were high up in the walls.
He felt the icy magic being repelled then the world went black. As he lost consciousness, he felt his mother’s touch retreat as Trine’s arms wrapped round him to prevent him from falling backwards.
“Jem,” he heard his name being called through the fog in his mind.
“Jeremiah! Wake up!” Immediately, he recognised his mother’s sharp tone.
Groggily, he muttered, “Awake.”
“Are you ok?” asked Trine, her voice filled with concern.
“I think so.”
“Did you see her?” demanded Meryn, looking pale and exhausted by her efforts.
“And do you know where she is?”
As the world came back into focus, he looked his mother in the eye and nodded.
“Can you get to her tonight?”
“Yes. She’s not far from here,” he said, sounding surprisingly calm.
“Where is she?” asked Trine curiously. “Back at her mausoleum?”
“No. She’s lying in an old stone watch tower. It’s in the estate to the west of here. Less than two miles away.”
“We’ve no time to waste, son,” said Meryn. “Go and fetch her before she moves on. Bring her back here.”
“Do you want one of us to come with you?” offered Trine, concerned that her mate might be heading into danger.
He shook his head, “I need to do this on my own.”
Before either of them could stop him, he got to his feet, spread his majestic, green-tipped wings, and soared silently into the night sky.
In less than five minutes, he was perched, crouched down on the top of the crumbling wall of the tower. Some thirty feet below him, he could see the dark angel sprawled on the floor, her damaged wing lying at an awkward angle. Soundlessly, he jumped down, landing sure-footed as a cat beside her.
“Son of Perran,” she murmured without opening her eyes.
Laying a hand on her shoulder, his heart filled with sadness. She suddenly seemed so frail and vulnerable. Before his emotions could get the better of his common sense, he lifted her into his arms then wrapped his wings around her. She lost consciousness in his arms as the world went dark.