It was a cold night in the Forest and the moonlight barely filtered through the thick mist that had settled above the trees. Most of the castle was asleep, and only the servants were running around cleaning and making sure everything was perfect enough to meet the queen's standards. The kitchen was wild awake doing the dishes and preparing for the next day. A page ran out of there after the chef caught him stealing leftovers. He launched himself in the dark hallways and though his steps were heavy and loud, he didn't wake anyone, not even the vampires that resided there. Only one vampire heard him, and it made him pause as he wondered if he were trying to run away from a dangerous situation.
"Did you hear something?" Mackenzie whispered in the dark.
"It's nothing," he assured her as brought her closer to his chest.
The silk of her red nightgown collided with his silk black shirt and the feelings of being tangled in her bordeaux silk bedsheet convinced her that she hated the material. It felt cold on her skin, but she stopped shivering when he joined her in her bed.
He almost scared her as he appeared at the doorstep of her bedroom. It was unlike him not to knock but it was his understanding that a servant would usually be present to open the door and announce any visitor, and that it wasn't too surprising that she hadn't heard him come in from where she stood in the other room.
Nightmares were his reason to visit this late. He was pleased to hear she had less of those since Klaus took him away from her, but she was pleased to hear he wanted to spend the night with her anyway. He took her in his arms, wrapped them around her as he brought her back to his chest and rested his chin on the top of her head. He seemed a little sad, but he assured her otherwise before he changed the conversation back to the previous dinner.
"He's in good shape for someone who's over seven hundred years old."
"You're one to talk."
"I'm a vampire," he reminded her. "His… unwillingness to age is… a mystery to say the least."
"I didn't dare ask him."
"Me neither. It seems like… such a rude question to ask."
"Maybe I'll gather the courage to ask him tomorrow night."
"Is it going to be just the two of you?"
"Dinner," she nodded. "At his… manor or… castle or I don't know where he lives," she chuckled.
"Are you going to be okay?"
"I'll be fine. I mean… I'm expecting to learn some crazy things about my ancestors and in exchange I hope he'll answer my questions."
"Maybe you should make a list," he joked.
"That's not a bad idea, actually."
"Could you ask him what he knows about Avery Alemaund? I don't even know when he was alive."
"That's already on the list."
Mackenzie brought a hand to her mouth as she yawned then st arted to rub her eyes.
"It's been a long day," the vampire said. "You should rest. I'm sure no one will blame you if you oversleep."
"Fine," she sighed. "Good night, 'lijah."
"Good night, Mackenzie," he said before he placed a gentle kiss on her temple then turned off the light.
"You look beautiful."
"I look ridiculous!"
Elijah laughed as the ultimate turned around herself like a cat trying to catch its own tail. She was wearing a light green dress and getting her into that corset had been a nightmare. The servant that had been appointed to her did an amazing job at dressing the elemental, but all Mackenzie wanted was to get into a pair of jeans and sneakers.
"It would be rude not to wear the dress he sent you."
"I could always say I never got it."
The vampire raised an eyebrow. "That would also be rude."
She sighed and whined. "I hate it, I can't breathe in this!"
"You'll get used to it."
"Says the man who never wore a corset, ever!"
"Well, that's true," he admitted. "It's only for tonight, you'll be fine."
"I can barely move."
"You're invited to a dinner, you won't have to move much," he reminded her with a grin.
"What are you gonna do?" she asked as she tried to pull on her corset.
"Alexander agreed to show me the library, I will be reading."
"Well, you have fun," she mumbled.
He chuckled before he took a step forward and took her face in his hands. "You'll be fine," he repeated gently before pressing his lips on hers.
The gesture surprised her. She was not used to it. He seemed to do it like he had done it a thousand times before, or had wished to. She gave him a shy smile and hoped her cheeks weren't as red as the walls. He stroked her cheeks with his thumbs before placing a kiss on her forehead.
"Have a good night, Mackenzie."
"You too, Elijah."
She hugged him tight for a few seconds before walking away from him. She turned to give him one last look before she disappeared in the hallway.
The manor was small compared to the land it rested on. The car stopped in front of stone stairs on which two servants were waiting. The black Mercedes seemed out of place here and Mackenzie felt weird as one of Cornelius' men, who was wearing a uniform so green it almost seemed black, opened the door for her like she was some kind of princess.
"Thank you," she shyly said to the man who didn't even dare look at her.
"Lady Alemaund," the other one greeted her with a bow, "please follow me. My Lord is expecting you in the dining room."
She followed him without a word, her eyes capturing images her brain had difficulty to make sense of. She felt the electricity of the house as she walked pass lit candles and below a chandelier heavy with diamonds. There were plants everywhere, huge vases of fresh flowers on almost every shelves and old wooden drawers that seemed to belong to another century. The manor was similar to the Forest or even Margo's castle: a mix of the last five centuries.
She entered the dining room, the servant bowing again before leaving her there, in the vast room where Cornelius was waiting for her at the end of the large wooden table. She counted 16 chairs but only two plates had been placed there, along with dozens of plates of sweets and other confectionaries of all colors.
Cornelius smiled as he saw her and quickly stood up, pushing his chair away in a loud and unpleasant noise. He was wearing a light green vest with dark green trousers and brown loafers. His hair was as radiant as it had been the day before, and somehow seemed even longer.
"Mackenzie!" he greeted her. "Welcome."
She awkwardly smiled at him as he approached her and let him put his hands on her shoulder as he kissed her left cheek first then her right cheek, the gesture leaving her quite surprised.
"Good evening," she managed to say.
"How have you been?" he asked as he led her to the table, "how are you liking the Forest so far?"
He pulled her chair and gestured her to sit and she wordlessly obeyed his silent request.
"I… I've been fine, thank you," she replied as she sat down. "The Forest is… curious," she chuckled nervously.
He laughed. "You'll get used to it."
"So I've been told," she smiled politely.
"Now, now, my dear, I was sorry to hear about your mother's passing, and if I had any idea as to where you were I'd have come to you right away."
"My mom's told me about you. She said you helped her while she was here… nineteen years ago."
"She's talked to you?" he asked with a raised eyebrow. "I wasn't aware… that Aella had told you about your powers before she died."
"Oh, she didn't," she said and that confused him even more, "I… I saw her… after. She's in the Other Side."
"Ah, is she now? Poor Aella, I was hoping she had managed to move on… I suppose one cannot find peace when one leaves a daughter behind this young."
"I… suppose not."
"My apologies," Cornelius chuckled. "I'm sure she's very proud of what you've become. Alive, that is," he laughed awkwardly. "It's a miracle you've managed to live this long. And accompanied by an Original vampire no less. Other ultimates have not been so lucky I'm afraid."
"How many have you met?"
"Two. The first one, very powerful, he was in his sixties when I met him for the first and last time. He was an Engelbrecht. He told me that night that, when he was 8, he had set fire to the wooden horse he was playing with. His father had first suspected his wife to have cheated on him and that he wasn't really his son, but one of the Hayes boys living next to them. I wish I'd have seen his face when the oracle of their village told him his son was an ultimate."
"You've never heard of oracles? They're very powerful witches, though they're not talented at spells or potion making, they have one gift many 'regular' witches wished they had: divination."
"They can see the future?"
"Yes. Among other things," he nodded. "Some say it's a gift and that one is born with it, others say you can work for this power, though I've never met an oracle who 'worked' for her gift."
"I… I'm sorry to ask but… Can I ask…"
"What is it, my dear?"
"Well, I don't mean to be rude but…"
"Oh," he laughed. "Of course, you'd want to know my age, everyone does. Well, like your godfather, Alexander, said, I am your 20th great grandfather, now, if you do the math, I am…"
"Over seven hundred years," she cut him off.
"That's right," he laughed.
"How are you… still alive?"
"Ah well, that's a secret I'll never tell," he winked at her, "not even Her Majesty the Queen knows."
"Mom said she suspected Marg… Queen Margo helped you with… a spell or a potion."
"Well, I've only known her for five hundred years, so I had to fend for myself way before that."
"Alright," she cleared her throat, "you said you were the eldest Fay alive, which I have no problem believing," she said and he laughed, "but are you the last Fay?"
"Oh no. There a few Fays here, in the Forest. My children are all dead, I'm afraid, but I watch over their descendants. Their resemblance is uncanny sometimes," he said as he drank from his cup of wine.
"And… what about Alemaunds…"
"You father, my dear, stays a mystery to me. Your mother refused to tell me anything about him."
"Margo said she's met him."
"Maybe. I doubt it. She's probably seen a picture."
"Mom never talked about him…"
"To be frank, I haven't met an Alemaund in centuries. The last one was Robert, or maybe that was his brother? I don't remember. But he was an ultimate. He was in his early thirties. Good looking but not so good behaved I'm afraid."
Mackenzie was surprised to hear he couldn't remember the name of one of the two ultimates he had ever met. But what he said next helped her make a little bit more sense of it.
"There were twins, but they hated each other. Jealousy is a terrible thing. Let's say, for the sake of this conversation, that the ultimate was indeed Robert and that his brother's name was Roger, yes, I believe that's right. Well, Roger hated, even despised his twin brother for having more power than he did. When Robert was confirmed ultimate, Roger was furious that he wasn't one himself," he paused, then scoffed. "Alemaunds were never sane, I'm afraid. Power hungry little fellas. I'm glad to see you inherited the soft heart of your mother. Us Fays have always been the heart of elementals."
"I was told Avery Alemaund was… crazy."
"Oh, of course you were told that," he chuckled. "Let me guess, a witch told you so?"
"… warlocks… yes?"
He laughed again. "Yes. Witches hate our kind, it wasn't hard to convince them that an elemental, an Alemaund, had sequestered several witches and forced them to create a whole new species."
"Are you saying that's not what happened?"
"My dear… Avery Alemaund never existed."
Mackenzie's eyes grew big as she breathed out: "What?"
"Have you ever heard of Pandora and Ambrosia?"
"I…," she shook her head in an attempt to recollect herself, "yes, they're sisters. They helped my mom when she was pregnant with me."
"Yes, they are very helpful," he chuckled. "I believe they are about three thousand years old. They were born in Athens. Their mother was a slave, their father their owner, and Ambrosia is no doubt the owner's son's daughter. But the probability that they may only be half-sisters never posed problem to either of them. They were born of rapists, that they were certain about. As their owner had no use for them, he sold them, to some Roman pervert who preferred young girls. They were 16 and 14 at the time, Pandora being the eldest one. But as they were on their way to Italy, they were rescued by a coven of witches. They lived with them in the forest for a few months but all they wanted to do was to go back to their mother. As they found out that they were witches themselves, the coven took them in and taught them everything they could. So, when they went back a year and a half later to get their mother, they'd also be ready to kill their previous owner. Unfortunately, when they arrived there, they learnt that their mother had died after a particularly brutal beat up. So, they burned the whole house down with the masters inside. It is speculated that their power comes from their rage. They are, no doubt, the strongest creatures I've ever met."
"Stronger than ultimates?"
"That stays to be determined," he smiled at her.
"So… what? What does that have to do with… Avery Alemaund?"
"Well, I lied just know, Avery did exist, he just never sequestered anyone, nor was he crazy. In fact, he had nothing to do with the creation of your kind. So, no, the Avery Alemaund you were told about never really existed."
"Did he know Pandora and Ambrosia?"
"He did not. I mentioned them because they are the ones you were told about. They are the witches who created ultimates."
"Of their own free will?"
"Indeed. The eldest you are, the wisest you get," he said with a laugh, "or so we're supposed to. Though, I doubt they ever had a problem with elementals. They wanted to help, you see, after several elementals begged them to. They needed to be stronger than witches, they needed the fight to at least be fair, so they gave them the same weapon the witches had: witchcraft."
"What about… the other elements? The element of darkness?"
"Ah yes, the element of darkness," he repeated as if it were funny, "well, you see, in a fight, it is also very ideal to disarm your opponent, do you understand?"
She nodded. "An ultimate can steal other people's magic away."
"When word got around that an ultimate had been created, rumors started to spread as well, and I'm not surprised witches still believe, to this day, that an elemental had forced a witch to make them more powerful."
"So… they never were an element of light or darkness."
"No," he shook his head, amused. "Witches are so gullible."
"Wow…" she breathed out. "When… when was that?"
"Mmh, let me think… It was before the Forest was founded… and after my birth as I remember the day I was told an ultimate had been created like it was yesterday… I would say… about six hundred years ago."
"But… they were Alemaunds… the first ultimates?"
"Five ultimates were created that day. One from each family of elementals, do you know them? The Alemaunds, the Fays, the Hayes, the Dallimores and the Engelbrecht. Only Alemaunds managed to produce more ultimates, I'm afraid. At least, that I know of."
"So… the Dallimores are elementals of water, right?"
"What if a Dallimore and a Hayes had a child? Would they control water or fire?"
"Both or only one," he replied. "Very rarely both. Only Alemaunds had multi-talented children. In fact, when a woman married into another family and her child was multi-talented, it was the custom that the child in question would take their mother's name, Alemaund. That's why you'll never meet a Dallimore that can control fire, they'd have taken their other parent's name, Hayes," he laughed as if it were funny. "Actually, my mother was a Fay, my father was an Engelbrecht, but I could never manage to control the wind, I'm afraid."
"Are all Fays related?"
"Yes and no. Honestly, I couldn't tell. But there are so few of us left now that it doesn't matter. You'll be lucky if you meet another elemental outside of the Forest."
"How many elementals are there here?"
"Only a few hundreds, I'm afraid. But of all families, I'm happy to say."
"I was told elementals were extinct…"
"Well… we're on our way there," he said sadly. "But enough of this," he waved his hand. "Please, eat. I like to start with dessert," he told her as he took a pink macaron out of the mountain in front of him, "you don't mind, I hope?"
"Not at all," she smiled back at him.
"Then, bon appétit."