The sun was sinking below the horizon, behind a city no human had seen in centuries.
"So this is the City of Crusniks, Wyvern…" Abel mused thoughtfully, blue eyes drinking in everything around them.
It seemed like an ordinary city, with ordinary people. Then, again, Crusniks were often mistaken for Terrans, so that wasn't an unusual fact in itself.
"Hey, watch it!" a man snarled when he nearly bumped into them.
"Oh, my apologies…" Abel muttered, moving out of the way.
No one seemed to realize that they weren't citizens, that they were from the outside. Oh well, that would only make things easier.
"This…isn't what I expected…" Seth murmured quietly, observing passing people from the corner of her eye. "This seems so ordinary…"
"Maybe being so isolated has kept them from becoming advanced…" Abel suggested.
"But Ludvik got out and we got in," Cain reminded.
"It's because they're a bunch of cowards…" a dark voice growled in front of them. "We've been like this for so long. By the time we figured out how to control the barrier, several centuries had past and the king was afraid about how much the world had changed. So in here we were stuck. The only way to get out is exile, which I got."
Ludvik, almost forgotten, had apparently been listening and didn't look pleased with being back in Wyvern. The siblings turned their eyes back to their captive.
"So now you want to talk?" Abel remarked.
Ludvik sighed. "What's the point of remaining silent? We're here, aren't we?"
"Wait, you just said 'figured out how to control the barrier'. Does that mean someone else put it up?" Seth asked.
"I'm not telling you anything, runt," he protested, making Seth fume. "Besides, it'll be more fun watching you guys try to figure this out. So, from now on, these lips are sealed."
There was a silence between them. Then they saw Cain reach into his coat, looking a bit steamed.
"Now, now, Cain, truth serum doesn't solve everything. Now put that away before you cause a commotion…"
"Fine…So what's your plan?" Cain growled.
"So, you don't have a plan, and yet you won't let me use mine? That hardly seems fair…"
"Why don't we just ask to see whose in charge here?" Seth suggested out of the blue, getting tired of her brothers' arguing.
The twins stopped their bickering at that, finally having something to try, and followed Seth to a suitable place. "Fine…whatever you say, runt," Cain remarked.
"Cain, you better not pick up anything from him or I swear to god I'll…" Seth snarled.
Suddenly, Ludvik began chuckling. "Hey, this is pretty entertaining. It's better then watching the advisers fight…"
"You stay out of this!" both siblings barked, making the criminal flinch.
"Excuse me, is everything alright over here?"
All four jumped at a sudden voice, the Nightlords more so out of fear that they were in trouble for something.
"No! Everything's fine!" Abel insisted nervously.
The young woman that had addressed them appeared around twenty, like the twins, but had long fire red hair with earth green eyes. Abel had to admit she was a beauty. Then again, Crusniks were known for their beauty, just like Methuselah, so that was to be expected. Still, the priest couldn't help but stare a little.
"Alright…" the woman didn't seem convinced and her eyes soon fell on Ludvik. She gasped sharply. "What are you doing back here! I thought you were exiled!"
Ludvik shrunk back a little in their hold and the siblings struggled to find their voices to explain.
"You see, ma'am, we brought him back…It wasn't very nice to dump him on us," Abel stammered, as if the woman would bite his head off at any wrong move or word.
The woman's expression changed once more, into surprise and caution. "Then…you're from the outside?" she questioned almost fearfully.
The siblings hesitated, their voices caught in their throats. Seth was the first to recover.
"We are, ma'am. When you set him loose in my Empire, he went after the first female Crusnik he could find…Me. My brothers didn't take to that too kindly and caught him. Now, we've brought him back to seek answers about your people, who are supposedly Crusniks like us," she explained.
The redhead seemed shocked. "We had no idea he would cause so much trouble. I am extremely sorry, my dear."
Seth smiled. "You can make it up to us by showing us to whose in charge here. We really want some answers, when, for the past nine hundred years, we thought we were the only ones."
The woman bowed slightly. "Of course. It'll be my honor. After all, as you will find out, we're practically siblings ourselves."
She giggled at the Nightlords puzzled looks. "You'll see. Now follow me, if you will," she invited sweetly.
The group followed as asked and was led through Wyvern, not knowing what to expect next…
"Excuse me, your highness, I bring guests from the outside."
The siblings watched curiously as their guide bowed and spoke with utter respect to the man that was supposedly their king. He did look regal, but there was a hidden, wicked air to him that all three siblings wanted to wrinkle their noses at. But they kept still and silent, waiting.
"These three?" the ruler questioned, observing the visitors critically. He seemed to take to Seth particularly, for a reason they didn't want to know. "Who are they to the outside?"
The redhead was stumped at that; she turned to look at them for the answer. Abel and Cain stepped forward first, the older siblings.
"I am Cain Nightlord, Contra Mundi. And this is my brother, Abel Nightroad, Vatican Priest and more recently, prince of the Empire," the blond introduced.
The king seemed fairly pleased and very interested. "Hmm…But what of your sister, the little girl behind you?"
They hadn't noticed it before then but Seth had been eerily quiet. It troubled both brothers; usually she was only this uneasy when they were in the presence of someone of very ill will. Nonetheless, they snapped her out of it.
"Seth…" Cain hissed quietly and his sister was back to reality.
"Huh? Oh, excuse me…" She curtsied respectfully. "I am Seth Nightlord, or Empress Augusta Vradica…"
The ruler laughed outright at that. "Empress? Oh my, such a high rank for such a little thing."
Seth narrowed her jade eyes but said nothing. Her dislike of this 'king of the crusniks' was very evident; ironical, only the ruler himself didn't notice.
Abel cleared his throat. "Now that that's out of the way, may we ask you a few questions, your highness?"
The king settled back into his throne. "Of course. You have a right to know of your 'distant relatives'," he assured.
" 'Distant relatives'? What does everyone mean by that? I'm pretty sure we were the first Crusniks and they were no others made after us," Abel argued.
The king laughed again, husky and loud. " 'First'? Dear lord, no. We were the first, or our ancestors were. How do you think the nanomachines were so successful when they were used on you? It was because they used it on us!"
"On you?" Cain murmured with surprise, voicing all their reactions.
"Indeed. They first tested the nanomachines on our ancestors and sealed them in this barrier to watch their reactions from afar. Years passed and those cursed Terrans died without releasing us. We've been stuck here ever since," the king went on. "We figured out how to operate the barrier but by that time, the world had changed so much, and we were content in here. So, we stayed, but some of the youngsters are getting restless and long to see the outside."
"We see…" Abel muttered, taking in the story carefully. "But what happens with us? Will you try to contact our lands now that they've already practically sent representatives?"
The ruler sat back again and rubbed his chin; he himself appeared around thirty and had dark hair and eyes. He seemed to be considering this carefully.
"That is probably for the best. We will hold a meeting of these lands here. I will make sure that they will be allowed in, but only them," he informed finally. "For now, we three will be allowed rooms and Ludvik will be kept in prison."
The Nightlords bowed one final time. "Thank you, your highness," they echoed in unison.
The king dismissed them curtly with an almost arrogant wave of his hand. However, Abel thought up one last question.
"Excuse me, but you never told us when this meeting will occur…"
"In three days…"
"A Crusnik city?"
"Well, they seem fine enough. It's the ruler that worries me. He seems power hungry; I don't think it'll be wise to grant him any access to the outside when it all comes down to it," Seth informed gravely. "If we let a city full of Crusniks loose in our world, the Methuselah population will surely drop drastically; I doubt they will show control like us."
Seth stood alone in her conference room, discussing the current situation with the female leaders of the Vatican and Albion, Cardinal Caterina and Queen Ester, via communicator. Ester, still young, still showed signs of inexperience but was doing well enough it seemed. Caterina, on the other hand, was as wise as ever.
"You do have a point. But do you have any idea what they might do if you refuse them? We don't know whether they will declare war and bust in themselves or just remain docile in their city," Caterina reasoned grimly.
The empress wasn't sure how to respond and remained silent, thinking. Surprisingly, it was Ester who spoke next.
"It would be best to wait and see, I guess. Let them make the first move," the young queen suggested softly.
Seth couldn't help but smile warmly at her old friend, whose red hair was as vibrant as she remembered but now wore clothes similar to her own in elaborateness.
"We wait then…" Seth declared. "Have you two thought of who you will be bringing?"
"My brothers will bring Brother Petros as a guard and no one else. On the other hand, I'll be bringing Tres," Caterina informed.
Two strong guards for the Vatican…that should be good enough. They had no clue what would happen; they had to be prepared and bring their strongest soldiers and wisest advisers.
"I think it'll be best if I take Virgil and Vanessa along," Ester murmured, still an uncertain leader in her early twenties.
Seth and Caterina nodded. "A good combination of wisdom and power," the Cardinal agreed.
"But watch them carefully. This is a city of Crusniks that have been trapped for god knows how long. They are sure to be a bit peckish," Seth warned. "I will be bring Methuselah as well, Baybars, Mirka, and Ion."
"Speaking of Crusniks…" Caterina began. "Where is Cain in all this?"
The empress sighed. "He decided to stay out of this political mess and I'm actually glad for it. What does his group care if we get into an impossible war? That's what they've always wanted in the first place."
"It's probably for the best…" Caterina assured wearily. "Now, be sure to prepare yourselves well for this and we'll meet at the Palace of Sadai before heading to Wyvern."
"Right," Both Seth and Ester chimed before the redhead signed off with Caterina and the empress was left to herself once more.
At least for a little while…
A knock broke her silence.
"Seth?" It was Ion; just the person she wanted to see.
"Yes, I'm here. Come in," Seth greeted, her spirit lifted.
The earl opened the door and wasted no time in taking her in his arms. It had been a several years now since they had fallen in love. It was an admittedly strange relationship, but one that was working perfectly in its own strange little way. Somehow, they seemed to be meant for each other.
"How are things going?" Ion asked, observing her carefully for any worries.
"The Vatican and Albion are coming as well. They already have their men picked. All that's left to do is wait for two more days to slither by," Seth informed.
He sighed, perhaps feeling the same dread she was. This was going to be tricky. A city full of Crusniks was not something to trifle with. One wrong move and they could find themselves chest deep in war; three Crusniks were enough as it was.
"What do you think? Can this be done without triggering anything major?" the earl continued.
Seth hesitated. "I don't really know, Ion. The future is so unclear right now. I'm not sure we can pull this off without either surrendering power to them or starting a war. This seems so hopeless…"
At that, he suddenly whirled her around in his arms so that she faced him. His ruby gaze stared into her jade one intensely and his grip on her small shoulders was gently firm. He seemed determined.
"Don't talk like that!" he growled. "Look how much you've accomplished, by yourself alone. With the other powers working by your side, you can't lose. We're all in this one together. You have to believe that peace can be maintained!"
Seth's eyes shimmered; she couldn't help but be touched. That was one of the many reasons she loved him: he was her pillar of strength when she needed him while she was his. With him, she could be human again and with just a few words from her beloved earl, her hope was restored.
Feeling safe in his hold, she wrapped her arms around him and relaxed. In turn, he tightened his own embrace lovingly. Together, they shared an island of peace midst a sea of uncertainty.
"Good luck…all of you…" Ion bid to all the representatives, to Abel, Caterina, Ester, Mirka, Vigil, even to Francesco and Petros, but above all to Seth, his beloved Seth.
Most turned to enter the conference room at that. Only the empress stayed outside a little longer as Ion wished her further luck with a tender kiss.
Abel was the last before her. "When's the wedding?" he teased.
"Hopefully soon…" Seth replied with a happy smile.
Her brother returned a grin. "I agree. I can't wait to see my little sis finally settle down, with a family of her own, nonetheless."
"I could say the same for you," the empress remarked playfully. "Now, let's get inside before the others start to worry."
Abel didn't need to be told twice, for he headed inside almost immediately. Seth did the same after one last loving glance at her earl. He nodded firmly, silently wishing her luck once again.
She would need it…
Inside was surprisingly dim, obviously for the Methuselah's sakes. They all sat around a long table, made of a dark, strong wood. A healthy, almost stifling fire burned in a fireplace nearby and threw dancing shadows and lights around the room.
The guests waited for their host to arrive. When he did, he brought a surprise: a young boy, appearing around the age of eighteen. He was a very handsome young man, black haired and blue eyed, that carried himself graceful and regarded everyone with a kind gaze; he was so different compared to the king.
"Greetings, ambassadors. Today I have brought my only son to help with today's negotiation, which will decide the relationship between our lands," the ruler began the meeting with a powerful tone.
Father and son took their seats at the head. The room remained quiet and no one knew what to say and no one wanted to start. But, as expected, the king started eagerly.
"Now…let's start with our freedom. Will there be any problems with allowing my people into your countries?"
"Yes, a lot actually…" Seth ventured in a firm, wise tone she had used for centuries. "What promise do we have that your people will not utterly devastate the Methuselah race?"
The king seemed at a lose for words, especially when those of the mentioned race murmured softly in agreement. Unfortunately, not everyone from the outside agreed.
"And what problem is that of the Vatican's?" It was no surprise that Francesco stood in favor of the elimination of the vampires. "We could use some natural vampire hunters to keep those blood-suckers out of the holy lands."
There was an instant protest, especially from the 'vampires'.
"Who says they'll stay in the Vatican, or even stay on a Methuselah diet?" Mirka challenged. "I am very knowledgeable with their race and have done experiments with the nanomachines. I've found that, though it is not common, Crusniks may and can develop a taste for Terran blood."
"A few lives are an easy sacrifice for the extermination of your hellish race!" Medici continued his stubborn argument.
"Is this what this is about?" Ester joined. "You're in favor of their people's invasion because of genocide? What prove do you have that Methuselah are such monsters that they deserve such a fate!"
Seth watched with slight annoyance. This sure got off track fast and their true target was just watching as they fought amongst themselves. The empress decided to take charge once more.
"And what do you offer in exchange for your allowance in the outside? Goods, protection perhaps?" she was sure that her question was evidently aimed at the King.
The ruler snapped out of his observing state almost in surprise at her sudden question. "I'm afraid that we have no goods to offer. Protection might be a reasonable choice…"
"Is that all?"
By now, the bickering had quieted down and everyone was listening as great Augusta dug to the heart of their negotiation. Even Francesco was watching appreciatively as she got everyone's focus back.
"Well…our race will surely enrich the other races' bloodlines…"
"You're talking about making crossbreeds, hybrids? Do you even know what results that'll bring?" Seth trawled his poor effort once more. "Surely there has to better reasons then that."
The ruler fell silent, obviously unsure of what to say to convince them.
"You don't have anything to offer us in return?" Abel asked almost sarcastically, as happy as Seth, and probably most everyone else, that this was going in their favor.
"We could send a few men and women out to exchange services and goods. Really, my good people, our people are lost without further materials." It was the first time they had heard the prince speak. "You are our only hope for the future. Please keep that in mind. Our youngsters are getting restless and even violent. Crime rates are increasing because of this. Surely you don't want anymore criminals dumped on your doorstep, cause if you won't do anything to help us with this, we are certainly not keeping them in our peaceful city."
Silence fell; it was a good argument, no one knew how to counter. Finally, Caterina cleared her throat.
"We will experiment with this method, starting with one Crusnik. We better not get any trouble."
The king seemed pleased with his son's victory. "Very well…but there is…one more thing…"
Uh oh…Seth suddenly wasn't sure about this. He had been planning something. She knew it.
"To establish ties, we must be promised power as well. And since our food source is mostly in the Empire," the king began with a small, wicked gleam in his eye. "It would only be right that we have power in the Empire."
"What are you getting at?" Mirka growled uneasily.
The king smiled. "I think it would only be fair that my son receives the empress' hand in marriage…"
With only a few simple words, Seth's world was turned upside down…
A.N: I know, not one of my best chapters. This one was kinda hard to get through so be nice. I promise the next ones will be better.
Reviews? Pretty Please?