I sighed, tears forming in my eyes. It has been so long since he left; is he ever coming back? I pushed the covers away from me, and opened my coffin. I glanced around the room before getting out and heading outside. According to my internal clock, the sun was setting about this time.
Walking to the Food Halls, I ran into Kurda Smahlt. I groaned; I hated this guy. There was just something about him pissed me off. I hoped one day to beat the crap out of him on the bars, but he was too much of a pacifist, so he would never challenge me. The wimp!
"Good morning, Arra," he told me, putting his blonde hair up into a ponytail.
"Morning," I replied stiffly.
"Did you hear the news?"
"Oh, you didn't hear?"
"Concerning I said 'what news;' I'm pretty sure that means I haven't heard anything!" What was the matter with this guy?
"Maybe I shouldn't tell you."
"What? You brought up news, so you are obligated to tell me!" I stopped in front in him. Every time he tried to move past me, I would block him. He sighed, and a triumphant grin spread across my face; I knew he was going to give in. "Larten is coming back." My grin faded from my face, my eyes glistening at the sound of his name. "Arra?"
"Are you serious?" I asked. He nodded. "You better be serious." I grabbed him by his collar and pulled him until our faces were almost touching. "If you're lying to me, you know what I'm going to do to you?"
He gulped. "W-what?" He stammered.
"I am going to come into your room in the middle of day when you're sleeping and stick a big stake through your heart," I said, growling.
"It's not a lie!" He shouted, fear rising in his throat. I relaxed, letting go on him. He fell to the floor, trembling. "M-Mika told me the news. Talk to him if you need any more information." I didn't move, letting him past me into the Halls. Breakfast will have to wait, I told myself. I need to find out more for myself.
I tromped up to the Hall of Princes. Vanez stopped me to ask if I wanted to come with him to the Gaming Halls, but I refused, sending a streak of shock across his face. I told him I had something to do, but I wouldn't tell him what. He knew better than to pry into my personal business. I took a deep breath, composing myself. I didn't want to appear emotional in front of them. I gently rapped on the door, waiting and hoping for admittance.
"Enter," said the voice of Paris Skyle, the oldest living vampire.
I nervously opened the giant mahogany doors, and stepped forward. The first one to notice me was Mika; he was my mentor, the one who blooded me. He used to have a thing for me. I wonder if he still did.
"Arra Sails," he said in a drawling voice, which didn't tell me anything about his feelings. I know if someone likes me if he talks to me in a soft, caring voice. Larten used to do that. "May I ask why you have come to the Hall of Princes?"
I knelt down before him; everyone had to do that to show their respect for the Princes. My stomach churned at the thought of having to do this for Kurda.
"Kurda Smahlt gave me news concerning Larten Crepsley," I replied, my voice growing softer after every word. "He informed me that he is coming back to the Mountain." I didn't want to sound hopeful, but in truth, I was.
"That is true," Arrow replied. "He has blooded a child, and so he is required to come for a trial."
He blooded a trial? Larten blooded a child? So, that's why he's coming back. He's coming back because of a stupid decision he made. Not for me. I held my tears in.
"Yes, he is coming back," Mika said bitterness in his voice.
That made me want to laugh. Was Larten still his rival? I bowed again, getting up, and leaving the Hall of Princes.
This time I went to the Food Halls. I sat next to Kurda and Seba Nile, Larten's mentor. He seemed to be in a good mood.
"So, are you excited for his return?" He asked me.
"Not really," I replied. I was at first, but when I found out the reason….
"He's only coming because he blooded a child. He's not coming for me, so why should I be excited?"
"Arra, do not doubt that he is thinking about you right now," he told me firmly. "I am sure he was planning to come back someday."
"Yeah, right," I said. Before Seba could say anything else, I left; I wasn't feeling very hungry anymore.
My heart was beating about one thousand miles a second. Sweat trickled down my face. Darren kept asking me what was wrong; I merely told him that I was a tad nervous about the council, since I have not been there in so long. It was not exactly a lie. She was at the council, and she was the reason for my discontent.
"How much further?" Darren asked, following closely behind me.
"Stop your complaining," I said. "It is about another couple of days."
"Another couple of days?"
"Darren, settle down!"
He quieted down, thank the vampire gods, and we continued walking up onto a cliff as the snow began to fall. I groaned; I hated getting snow in my hair.
I could tell Darren wanted to say something, but thankfully, he kept his mouth shut. Everything was silent until he let out a yelp. I turned around to see him slipping off the edge of the cliff.
"Darren!" I yelled, reaching for him, but I could not.
"I got him!" A hand shot out of the darkness and caught Darren's wrist. Darren dangled from side to side as he focused on his savior.
"Gavner!" He smiled.
"What's up?" Gavner asked, winking.
Gavner pulled Darren up and joined us on our journey. He ran to catch up with me.
"Hey, Larten," he said.
"Hello, Gavner," I replied. "There is a cave we can stay in."
We went inside a cave only to discover the coffins were destroyed and there was blood everywhere. Gavner and I studied it while Darren watched in horror. The Little People watched from afar.
"Vampire blood," I concluded. "Something has happened here, but I am not sure what?"
"So," Darren asked, voice trembling slightly, stepping forward. "Are we going to stay in here?"
"We have no choice," Gavner replied, "unless we want to sleep in the snow."
"I think under the trees would be a better idea," I suggested.
No one argued with me, so we went underneath the trees, eating whatever was in our packs.
Darren grew tired rather quickly; he took out his blanket and wrapped it around himself. The Little People, especially the one with the limp on his left leg, stayed close by, as though keeping guard.
I thanked the vampire gods that Darren fell asleep, so I could speak privately to Gavner. I turned to him, grabbing a grape from the pack and eating it.
"So," I said, "ready for the council?"
"I'm always," he replied, grinning. "How about you?"
"You're not exactly worried about the council itself, are you? You're more worried about seeing her." Damn you, Gavner; you can always read me like a book, even though we are illiterate.
"How is she?" I asked. "I know you have not seen her in a while, but you have seen much more of her than I have."
"She's grown better, but you could tell she's still bitter about you leaving." I shifted guiltily. "Believe it or not, she still loves you. And what about you?"
"Do you even have to ask that? Of course I still love her. I think about her all the time."
"How cute! You guys were the cutest couple ever." He laughed. I felt my face flush. "Eh, don't worry about anything. It will turn out alright in the end."
"I hope so," I replied, gazing into the red fire.
I couldn't sleep for days knowing that he was going to be here. Even though I was angry for his reasons for coming, I still couldn't stop thinking about him. I soon realized that it doesn't matter why he's here… At least he's here. Maybe he wants to become mates again. My heart tugged at my thought; I hope he wants to. I want to.
Gavner probably met up with Larten and the kid, so they'll probably come together.
I giggled; I wonder if he still speaks without contractions. I loved that about him. He always sounded so dignified.
I sighed; it's time to bury the hatchet, Arra. No matter how many times you tell yourself you despise him, you know it's not true. You love him… You still do, and nothing can change that. Unless he does something really stupid, I'll consider… No, no; I shook my head. Even if he does the stupidest thing in the world, like blooding a child, I will still love him. I just hope he has a good reason for doing it. Because even though I'll harbor the same feelings, that won't stop me from beating him up.
A knock at the door pulled me out of my thoughts. I got out of my coffin and opened it. It was Kurda.
"What do you want?" I asked, scoffing.
"I just wanted to ask if you felt any better," he replied blushing a little.
"I'm fine," I told him. "Larten's coming; that's all that matters."
"How long have you been waiting for this day?"
"Ever since the moment he left. I'm going to the gaming halls, okay?"
I went past him and went to the gaming halls, where my territory was.
I picked up my staff and went on the bars, awaiting a victim. A few burly vampires came up, believing they had the strength to best me. In about five minutes, I proved them wrong. I laughed loudly. Vanez clapped for me.
"Good job!" He called.
"Thanks!" I winked.
"It's good to see that this Larten business hasn't vexed you so much that you would be unable to keep your footing on the bars," Vanez said when I landed next to him, thrusting the staff into his arms.
"Believe me, Vanez," I said, "I am very vexed. I'm very nervous about seeing him again."
"I don't blame you."
"Do you think he still loves me?" I asked. Vanez stared at me with uncertainty.
"Of course he does," he told me. "Why would you ask something like that?"
"I don't know," I replied, staring at my feet. "Seba told me the same thing, but I didn't believe him."
"Arra, you must believe him." He gently patted my shoulder and offered me the staff again. To my surprise, I shook my head, took my hair out its tie, and left the halls.
Today was the day.
We neared closer to the mountain, the snow falling heavily.
One Little Person lost its live on the way here due to a mad bear. The other one was still alive. To our surprise, he had the ability to talk and knew of stuff about the Vamapaneze Lord. His name was Harkat Mulds.
"So, Harkat," Darren said, "do you like being a Little Person?"
"It has… its… ups and downs," Harkat replied. "Well… mostly… downs. I… do not… have any… taste buds… which is why… we don't mind what… we eat…"
"About the Vamapaneze Lord," Gavner spoke up.
"I have told you… I do not… remember much…."
"Just let him be," I told Gavner. "We are almost there."
Gavner sighed, but let it go. I knew he was anxious; so was I. I was more an anxious about my meeting with Arra, but anything concerning the Vamapaneze Lord vexed me as well.
Darren peered intently at the base of the mountain.
"Where's the palace?" He asked. Gavner and I took at him. "Where the Princes live." We began to laugh. "What's so funny?"
"Do you not think a palace would be too conspicuous?" I asked, restraining my laughter.
"Oh, you're right," he said. "Then where… It's inside the mountain?" He gasped.
"I was kinda hoping for a palace." He shrugged his shoulders. I smiled, patting him on the shoulder.
Gavner, Darren, Harkat, and I said our goodbyes to the wolves Darren had befriended and made our way inside the mountain.
I glanced around, remembering every little detail.
"Larten, is that you?" A familiar voiced asked. Seba Nile, dressed in his red robes, approached me. He put both hands on my shoulders, a smile spreading on his old face.
"It is good to see you again," I said.
"Who is he?" Darren asked, peeking from behind me.
"This is Seba Nile, Darren. He is my mentor."
"This is the one you blooded?" Seba asked, stepping toward Darren. He shook his hand, smiling warmly at him.
I glanced over Seba's shoulder.
"She's not here," he told me.
"You know who. She's in the gaming halls at the moment."
"I would've expected that," Gavner said. "She's always itching to kick someone's butt."
"Who's she?" Darren asked.
"Well, Darren," Gavner started with a huge smile until I hit him upside the head. "Ow… Larten, what the heck?"
"Shut up," I said. "Darren does not have to know anything."
Darren looked at me, hoping for some kind of an answer. I nodded curtly to Seba and walked through the familiar halls, Gavner and Darren tagging along. We left Harkat with him; he needed to talk to the Princes.
"Familiar, eh?" Gavner asked, catching up with me.
"Yes," I replied. "Everything."
"Remember that tunnel?" He asked, pointing to a tunnel on our left. "That's the one you left in." I stopped in my tracks. "Sorry, buddy."
"Did you have to say that?"
"Sorry," he said again. "Just glad you feel guilty about it."
I groaned, rubbing my eyes with my knuckles. "Darren, here is your cell," I said, opening it.
"Cell? What is this, prison?" He asked, stepping into the dark room. "It's a coffin."
"Very observant of you."
"I don't like coffins."
"You're a vampire!" Gavner screeched. "You have to like them!"
"Half-vampire," he corrected. "I don't feel comfortable. I don't sleep in these often. Evra and me had hammocks."
"Your grammar is atrocious," I said, but he did not seem to listen. "Anyway, I will see if I can get a couple of hammocks for you and Harkat. You do not mind if he stays with you, do you?"
"Of course not," Darren answered.
Gavner parted with us to his own cell. I stuck around with Darren, casually resting my back against the wall.
"Dawn is soon," I told Darren. "You better get some sleep."
"I'm not sleeping in that thing," Darren said, pointing to the coffin. I sighed, exiting the cell and running into Vanez, the gamesmaster. Thank the vampire gods he was not in the gaming halls at that time.
"Larten, so good to see you," he told me.
"Good to see you as well," I replied, suddenly interested in the cuff off my cloak.
"Do you want to go to the gaming…?"
"No. I just need to get a couple of hammocks for my…" I cleared my throat. "Pupil… and his friend."
"So, you have no desires to see her?" He asked.
"Of course I want to see her," I said. "But, you and I both know how she is. She is not very forgiving and truth be told, I am rather apprehensive about crossing paths with her again."
"I don't blame you," Vanez said, smiling. "So, you need hammocks? Why?"
"Darren is not willing to sleep in a coffin. I think he is trying to stick to his human side."
"Ah, hold on." Vanez left me for a couple of moments, and returned with two hammocks. He handed them to me.
"Thank you," I said, taking them from him. I turned around and headed toward Darren's cell.
"Arra knows you were coming Larten," Vanez said, stopping me.
"Somehow I do not doubt that. Do not tell her I have arrived. She is bound to figure it out sooner or later."
Before Vanez could agree or disagree with my requests, I was already walking away.
"Here," I said, thrusting the hammocks into Darren's cell.
"Thanks," he said, catching them. "But, what are we going to do with the coffin?"
I grabbed it and hauled it out of the room.
After the coffin was safely stored in the storage room, which was just the same as it was when I left, I retired to my own cell, drifting off into a dreamless sleep.
I woke up the next night, comfortably in my hammock. I was glad I didn't have to sleep in a coffin. I'm sure one day I will, but I want to stay human as long as I can. I glanced around the room, looking for Harkat, but he was nowhere to be found. I expected he was still with the Vampire Princes; I wonder when I'm going to see them.
I walked nervously through the corridors, expecting to be challenged by some random vampire and lose horribly.
I ran into Mr. Crepsley and Seba Nile at the food halls, which took me forever to find. They were wearing matching red cloaks; they looked just like father and son! I sat down next to them, resting my head on the table.
"Darren, are you alright?" Mr. Crepsley asked.
"Yeah," I muttered. "Tired… and a little overwhelmed." I laughed, lifting my head up.
"Do not worry," he told me, laughing slightly. "I was the same way. Come with me."
"I need to go to the storage rooms and retrieve a new cloak," he said, looking down at his. I could see why; it was tattered and ripped because of the snow and all the trouble it's been through on the way up here.
I nodded, waving at Seba Nile, who smiled warmly at me.
Mr. Crepsley led me to the storage room, where the coffins were from yesterday. I shuddered.
I watched as he took off his cloak, stuck it in a wastebasket, and retrieved another from a small closet. It was another red one; what was up with him and red?
He put it on, adjusting it to his liking.
Then, there was a loud noise. The storage door burst open and someone came in, panting heavily. He had long blonde hair, pale skin, and three scratches on his cheek. When he saw us, he cleared his throat, pushed his hair out of his eyes, and tried to look as dignified as possible; it didn't work.
"Kurda," Mr. Crepsley said, nodding.
"Hello," he replied, gasping.
"This is Darren, my pupil." He gestured to me.
"Ah, the blooded one?" Kurda asked, kneeling down to get a better look. "Hello."
"Hi," I replied. He seemed nice.
"This is Kurda Smahlt, Darren," Mr. Crepsley explained. "He is a Vampire General much like Gavner, but he is much higher up. He is going to become a Vampire Prince."
"Oh, really?" That was cool.
"Yes," Kurda told me. "However, I keep getting bombarded with questions regarding the Vamapaneze Lord. It's very disturbing." I gasped. "Is something wrong, Darren?"
"Your cheek!" I shouted, pointing to the scratches. There were the mark of the Vamapenze.
"Oh," Kurda laughed. "As my duties, I have to try to mitigate the tensions between the vampires and the Vamapaneze. I would prefer not to go to war with them. The only way to do that is by being with them and studying them. The only way to do that was to gain their trust."
"Ah," I said. That made a lot more sense.
"Well, it was nice seeing you, Kurda," Mr. Crepsley said, heading for the door. "Have fun hiding."
"I shall," he laughed. "Goodbye, Darren."
Mr. Crepsley and me left the storage room and headed back to the food halls.
Well, it is better to get my fears over with sooner rather than later. If I do not see her during the council, I could never live with myself.
I stepped through the corridors, taking small steps and trying to calm my heart. Darren walked close by me. He actually got to see her before I did. He had a rather respectful duel with her. I was glad to hear that he was defeated; it meant that she had not changed at all these past years.
"The trials are going to be scary, huh?" He asked me.
"Hmm? Oh, yes," I replied. "I was afraid of them, but I had a great deal of help with preparing. I am sure someone will help you."
"Vanez told me he would. But, I still can't being frightened."
"I do not blame you."
As we were walking, a tall female was standing at the end of the corridor, her black hair tied up in a high ponytail, wearing black pants and white collar shirt. My heart almost stopped.
"Arra!" Darren called out, waving madly. He ran towards her; I was only able to take small, nervous steps.
My mouth became dry and I could not speak. She stared at me with those eyes that continued to haunt my very existence.
"Hey, there, Darren," she said. "I'm sorry for what I said in the Hall of Princes. I don't believe we should go easy on anyone, regardless of age. I hope you don't hold it against me. Are we still friends?"
"Of course," Darren said, shaking her hand.
"I can help you out if you want," she said. His eyes lit up. She laughed a soft, melodious laugh that pierced through my chest. Now, I am sure her laugh was not soft or melodious, but after years of being away from her, it seemed that way to me.
"Thanks!" He shouted.
"You are very kind, Arra," I said, bowing. "We appreciate it."
"Generous as ever, Larten," she said. "And as handsome as ever."
"And you are as beautiful as ever," I replied.
"I know." She smiled, turning away and walking from us.
I continued watching her, even when she was out of sight.
Darren seemed to notice and a smirk formed on his lips.
"What?" I snapped.
"Nothing," he said. "An old girlfriend?" He grinned, irritating me to no end.
"If you must know, Arra used to be my mate," I nervously admitted, coughing into my fist.
"You never told me you were married! Did you get a divorce?"
"Vampires neither marry nor divorce as humans do. Instead, we come up with mating agreements and agree on a set time to be together. Usually, it is around ten or so years. When that time is up, the couple can resume mating or quit."
"I see," Darren said. "So, do you still have feelings for Arra?" I gulped.
"I admire and respect her," I said quickly.
"That's not what I meant." Of course that is not what you meant. "Do you love her?" And those words caused my face to change color. It went from its usual paleness to a soft red.
"Let us not waste any time, Darren," I said, walking quickly. "We have much to do." I could swear I heard him chuckling behind me.
Wow, that was… weird. I tried to act as casually as possible, and I think I pulled it off, but it still seemed so strange. He looked nervous; I would've expected that from him.
I sighed, pushing my hair out of my eyes; no time to worry about this now. I had to be prepared in case Darren asked for my help during his trials.
As I stepped into my cell, I realized someone had broken in. Opening the door, I saw Larten, sitting in my coffin, legs crossed, and his blood red cloak hanging off the sides. I quietly closed the door.
"What are you doing in here?" I asked.
He glanced at the corner of the room. "To talk."
"About what?" I asked. "You've nothing to talk about."
"I think we have plenty," he replied. He patted the coffin, gesturing me to sit by him. I sighed, giving into his demands. "I know you are still bitter concerning the thing that happened a few years back." I was about to retort with my usual sarcasm, but he held a hand to stop me. "However, I just wanted to say that I am sorry for that. I know apologies are just words and they mean nothing unless the person saying them actually means it. Arra, I mean it. With all my heart and soul, I mean it when I apologize for my mistakes. Yes, I admit it was a mistake. I said I needed to get out, live my life without the stress of being a General. Well…" He cleared his throat. "…I realized that my life is nothing compared to yours. I would continue being a General and absorbing all that stress and trouble just to be with you." My eyes softened.
"Larten…" I said, but once again I was quieted when he put his index finger over my lips.
"I know it is a little too late for me to make amends, but I could not come back. After our last meeting, my courage failed me completely. I was terrified of spotting the hatred blazing in your… gorgeous eyes." He smiled slightly, bringing his hand to brush against my cheek.
"Can I talk now?" I asked, impatiently. He chuckled.
"You do not need my permission," he said calmly. "You are our own person. I will never try to rule over you." And this is what I loved about this guy.
"I forgive you," I said. "I was stupid and afraid. I knew I shouldn't have acted like I did. And… I don't ever want you to tell me that your happiness is not worth anything compared to me. It means everything! I don't blame you for leaving."
"You were just frightened. The nightmares still keep you up?"
"Does anyone try to come in and help?"
"No. They've all gotten so used to it; they just tune me out when I have a fit."
"Well, that is sad," he said. "You do not have to worry about anything. If you have a nightmare, I will be here."
I smiled as he took my face in his hands and beckoned me closer. Our lips were within kissing distance. A few more inches… and we would be…
My fears have been overcome. Here I was, here she was, our lips so close to having that fateful meeting I have been waiting for so long. Her breath was warm against my lips as I closed my eyes and readied myself.
Just as we were about to kiss, there came a loud crash.
The door opened, and Darren staggered in; he looked like hell.
I felt sorry for the kid, but it did not stop me from resenting him at the moment; I was so close!
"What are you two doing?" Darren asked, looking from Arra to me.
I turned red, scowling. "Mind your business, Master Shan," I told him. "What is wrong with you?"
"My training with Vanez didn't go as well as I had hoped," he said, looking down at his bruises. "Ow."
"You'll be fine," Arra said, getting off the coffin to tend to him. I smiled. "Does that hurt?"
"Here." She gave him some cream and wiped it on his bruises.
"Wow," he said in amazement. "That really works. It's already going away. Thanks."
"No problem," she said.
"I'm going to get going. Harkat's finally out of questioning, so I'm going to hang out with him for a bit." Darren reached the door and stopped, glancing over his shoulder at us. We stared back. "You guys can get back to what you were doing."
"Go on," I said firmly, pointing to the door. I continued glaring at him as he laughed and left the room. Arra took her place next to me again.
"Don't be so harsh on the kid," she said, laughing.
"He deserves it," I said in my defense. I was ready to kill Darren if he was not in such a bad condition already. Thanks to his interruption, my heart has been beating at five times the normal rate and my fears came back. "I apologize if I did anything to make you feel uncomfortable."
"I think I may have come on a little too strong," I said, getting up.
"Larten," Arra said, pulling me back down by grabbing onto my sleeve. "I'm not uncomfortable. Like you, I've been waiting a long time for our reunion."
"Have you?" I asked. "I would think you would have moved on. I do not think I am worth this."
"You are worth so much to me. I know I'm such a feminist and one would think I would never be so romantic with a male, but you're different. You're not just any male, Larten; you saved me from my nightmares. You saved me from my one weakness."
"I suppose cockiness does not count as a weakness?" I asked, laughing. She laughed too. "I love you," I said, bringing my lips to her cheek.
"I love you, too," she replied, taking my face and forcing our lips to meet.
Heaven… Absolute heaven…
I had been waiting what seemed like an eternity for this. Never has she left my mind, never has she left my heart.
She laughed when she pulled away
"Did you like that?" She asked her flirtatious smile on her lips.
"Y-yes," I stammered.
My face began to heat up as she pressed closer to me, batting her eyelashes.
"A-Arra, what are you doing?"
Arra did not say anything; she only placed her hand on mine.
"How long have you waited for this?" She asked.
"Since the moment I left," I replied, staring into her eyes. "Arra, my nerves are a little on the high side right now." She placed her hand on my heart, laughing when she realized just how fast it was beating.
"You're just as nervous as ever," Arra remarked. "You never change, do you?"
"I guess not," I said.
"Remember how you were on our mating night?"
"Please, do not remind me."
"Alright; I won't." She winked. "Darren knows, you know."
"Knows what?" Now, I am not a simpleton; I knew exactly what she was talking about it; as I have stated before, my nerves hindered any meaningful words.
"Our feelings," she replied, staring at me with a perplexed expression. Well, she caught me; she knew that I knew. Hopefully, she does not bring it up.
"I would not put it past him. He is a clever young man."
"He's going to do well in the trials, Larten," she told me. "I'm sure of it."
"I know he will."
Arra rested her head on my shoulder; I automatically wrapped my arms around her, feeling extremely lucking to be having this moment once more. Then, she pulled away. The hurt was visible in my brown eyes.
"Don't be hurt," she said, waving me down. Arra once again brought her lips to mine, barely brushing them against each other. I told hold of her shoulders and kissed her, savoring every moment.
"I love you," I said again. I hoped she was not annoyed with my constant professions of love. "I love you more than anything. Please, do not forget that."
"I will never," she vowed, staring up at me.
Despite being beat up, I was almost running with joy. They almost kissed! I could tell by Mr. Crepsley's blushing face. They almost kissed! My hunches were true; he still did love her. He would never admit that to me; he's so secretive, but I know it's there! I just know it!
Mr. Crepsley and Arra! They make the best couple!