AN: After what has to be almost a year, here we are again! The sequel to "Eternity in Green" :)
Disclaimer: If I owned Amelia, she would have gotten much more screen time, and the Elders would have their own TRILOGY. As it is, I don't, and they don't either :(
She sits down on her father's throne, still shaking slightly, and attempts to regain composure. The pain from minutes before still echoes in her mind and she can feel the skin of her neck regenerate over recent puncture wounds. The feeling is not something she has experienced before and serves as yet another reminder of what she has just done.
"As I'm sure you've noticed, my Lady," Markus starts, staring at her with freezing blue eyes that clash with his red locks, "beasts also roam your lands."
She resists the urge to roll her eyes because she knows, thank you for the information, and eyes him carefully, torn between distrust and impatience because it is taking him too long to get to the point. His arrival in Viktor's domain was too timely, almost to the day when the plague assaulted his villages. Even as the monsters have moved to her domain, his coming is much too conspicuous, although this time Viktor rides at his side. Viktor, who was said to lie on his deathbed just the past week, now examines her with sharp eyes, sitting to her right.
"I have," she replies to his previous question, unnerved by Viktor's scrutiny and willing to move the conversation to more relevant topics so that he will be distracted.
In a gesture that perfectly explains his political expertise, or rather the utter lack thereof, Markus questions, "And how much longer will you hide in this fortress, my Lady?" He takes a step closer to her, "How much longer will you be able to take the humans under your wing and offer them protection?" He opens his arms in a gesture he assumes to be inviting and that she correctly interprets as the start of some grand speech she most definitely has no patience for. "Your people are dying. Your army can not control the beasts, regardless of how big it is."
She glares at him. It is not smart to question another's rule, let alone when in their territory. He must believe he enjoys some sort of protection and can not be touched.
"If you have something to say, my Lord, I suggest you do so now." She is losing her patience, long nails tapping on the stone of the armrest.
"Amelia," Viktor interrupts warningly, and she understands. Markus' allegiance with the old warlord provides him protection, credibility and, most of all, a more diplomatic approach. He is supposed to smooth over Markus' political blabbering, as Markus knows Amelia will not disregard Viktor's opinion so quickly.
"You have a sharp tongue, princess," Markus begins. "It is true that we could converse for years. We, after all, have the time. But do they?" He points to the door, "Can they spare another month, another week? We need you. We need a united front. And I have no army of my own." Ah. So this is the reason for the meeting. Viktor's armies have, after all, diminished their numbers as of late, without the warlord to guide them into battle.
"So," Amelia interjects before he can continue his tirade, "you come begging to me for forces, bringing along an old ally to bargain for you," she looks at Viktor with an air of reproach and the answering glare is not lost on her, "and nothing to trade in for my help?" Her voice is loud and echoes off the walls as she waits impatiently for a reply.
"He has granted us the gift of immortality, just as he can grant it to your people. He can grant a life free of sickness and death, and the strength to not only survive, but to retaliate against this horde of beasts." Viktor still stares at her with cobalt eyes, a shade lighter than Markus', apparently still unnerved by something in her appearance. "Come with me, princess, and I shall show you. We will hunt Lycan."
"Very well," she replies after a moment, and Viktor walks out the door of the hall to ready the horses and armor. She is left alone with Markus, and tries to avoid his gaze as much as possible. When his scrutiny continues, she huffs quietly and leaves the room as well, looking for the maids to arrange rooms for her guests. When Amelia returns, Markus is pacing the throne room and, upon seeing her again, asks politely, "Do you have cattle you can spare, princess? I find myself in need of sustenance."
He explained his feeding habits before, and Amelia remembers that it will be soon that she, as well, thirsts for blood. She nods and tells him she will have a goat taken up to his room later. "No need," Markus answers with a smirk, "it will be easier if i get it myself. There will be fewer questions." She nods, surprised by his manners. She had expected she would not see the handmaiden again. Markus leaves for the barn and she retires to her quarters to wait for Viktor.
After closing the door, she makes a beeline for the mirror in order to examine her features, curious about the reason for Viktor's stares. Her skin, she notices, seems paler and softer, without the dark, bruise-like coloration Markus sported around the eyes. She assumes it indicates the need to feed but, as her body is taking its nourishment from her still human blood, she gives the matter no importance. Her eyes have a deeper quality to them, but she remains the same person. Her senses are, however, another matter entirely. She concentrates, closing her eyes, and can hear the creaking of wood three floors down, as someone opens the big oak door of the fortress. She can hear the footsteps down the long hallway, presumably to announce that the horses are ready. Knowing she has a moment, she opens her eyes and turns towards the window, making an absentminded observation to the fact that she will have to place drapes in front of it to avoid the now deadly sunlight. Looking out, she revels in the fact that she can now see further than she could, and focus on tiny details she simply knows were impossible to see as a human, like the tracks Markus and Viktor left on their journey towards the fortress.
There's a soft knock on the door and the stable boy announces that her horses are ready. She thanks him and heads towards the stables, where Viktor waits for her already. Both put on their armor and arm themselves, Viktor with a longsword and Amelia with her preferred choice of bow and arrows. They ride out silently, wandering for some time until Viktor stops. She halts next to him and as he whispers "Do you smell it?", she wrinkles her nose in distaste at the stench. They dismount and walk until they can also hear the beast, the sound of snow crunching under considerable weight. The beast is clumsy, probably recently turned and still unused to its proportions, and it is that which makes it all the more dangerous. Amelia believes she can almost sense its fear, picture its ungraceful movements and hear the quiet growls. She and Viktor break out into a run, nearing the beast with no subtlety, as if alerting it to their presence. Finally, it appears before them. Viktor remains behind to stare with mild curiosity, but doesn't intervene. With a smirk, she deliberately lets the first arrow fly past the beast's head so that it rears its ugly head, snarling teeth and all, towards her. She's suddenly reminded of the deep hatred she harbors towards the creature, part of a feral bunch of enormous wolves that move about in its hind legs in mock-intelligence and that wreak havoc across her lands. One of the animals that had killed her father, as well as many of her people.
As the wolf growls, the hatred overpowers her and she decides she doesn't want to kill it from afar. In an almost instinctual fashion, she discards the bow and reaches for a knife, breaking out into a run at the same time as the wolf. They circle each other as the Lycan falls to all fours, probably finding it easier to pounce like that, and more hissing follows. Amelia's vaguely aware that she's the source of the noises, but can't bring herself to care since then, her gums retract a little painfully, making way for the fangs. She decides to examine that new feature later as the wolf lounges for her. She charges quickly, enjoying the advantage she holds over the beast since she's more graceful.
"How do I kill it?" She snaps at Viktor while tangling with the beast in a macabre imitation of a dance.
"The head," he replies simply and she nods. The fight quickly advances to a mess of arms, legs and paws and the feeling is exhilarating. It is over within seconds. She has been scratched several times, but has inflicted almost equal damage on the wolf. As it opens its mouth to growl at her, she finds the chance to drive the knife into its throat and pull its head back. The monster crumbles to the ground, decapitated, and she drops the head she had been holding by the hair on the scruff of the beast's neck.
Viktor is staring again, with the same curiosity and subdued anxiety he had looked at her when she had first awoken. This time, however, she can also see the reason. Reflected in his eyes and his armor, she can see green eyes staring back at her. This vexes her as much as it does Viktor because, aren't Vampires supposed to have chilling-to-the-bone cobalt blue eyes? As her breathing slows down, the color of her eyes bleeds back to brown. She doesn't comment on this, and neither does Viktor.
"Fair enough," she replies, clearly unwilling. The three of them are, once again, inside the throne room, and it has been two days since the arrival of the Vampires. Amelia has postponed answering Markus' request for an army before, but this time she decides to acquiesce, if only because she can't put the decision off any longer. She can't sit still, so instead, she paces around the room. "On two conditions," she continues, locking eyes with Markus, who seems to be the one who requires an answer. "My army will be asked whether or not they wish to be turned. This decision will be respected. Secondly, I will be the one to turn them." Her voice softens and she adds, "If I will be the one to bring about the end of their mortal life, they at least deserve that I do it myself." Her eyes dare Markus to respond, to allow her to deny his request with a clear conscience, but surprisingly, the complaints come from another front.
"And what, pray tell," Viktor says, his voice viciously sarcastic, standing from his seat to come to stand before Markus and Amelia, "do you suggest we do with those soldiers who refuse to be turned? Let them live with the knowledge of what we have become?"
Amelia can't help to fight sarcasm with sarcasm and, with a smirk on her face, retaliates, "If I am to understand you'd rather your resting place remain unguarded during the day, whilst you lay vulnerable, I will begin to doubt your sanity, my Lord."
"Placing our trust in humans seems out of place, wouldn't you think? Furthermore, what protection can they offer in the event of a Lycan attack?"
"The Lycans are the least of your concerns," she counters. Viktor's eyes widen at her words and, out of the corner of her eye, she sees Markus shift as well. She continues before either can interrupt. "An army of immortals led by three of the most powerful rulers of these lands will not go unnoticed for long, Viktor. We won't die of old age, but we can be killed. Our immortality has boundaries. Were the life continue to go in within the fortress during the day, not only would you delay the moment of discovery, but would, in the event of an attack, find my soldiers and their unwavering loyalty more than enough to handle humans." As she finishes, she can see the idea grow to reality in their eyes. The zealous look that crosses over Viktor's gaze is, while fleeting, quite unsettling, but she chooses to ignore it in favor of making her next point.
"Shall I inform my generals to come to be turned?" The question is phrased innocently enough, but she revels in the safety that, without her, they have no army whatsoever. Viktor seems to detect the edge of a dare in it, however, and growls his reply with a smirk on his lips.
"Do as you please, Amelia, but you will most certainly not be the one to turn them."
Markus intervenes then. He has stayed silent until now, content to let Viktor explain and bargain, but he seems to have reached a limit of sorts. "Viktor," he says, making the older Vampire turn his head, "you know we can not afford to waste time."
"Patience, my friend," he says softly, and Markus falls quiet. "I believe if we're to lead this army," he starts, his eyes turning towards Amelia in a manner that suggests to her he believes himself in control of her forces already. The thought does not sit well with her, "we should establish some measures to see to it that any thought of rebellion is banished." This doesn't exactly surprise her; the lack of trust he has in her is almost tangible, and one of her eyebrows rises if only to defy him, but she understands. Her army is loyal to her, but unlikely to be true to Viktor and he clearly fears Amelia will rise against him.
"And those measures would be which, exactly?" she acquiesces calmly.
"From this moment on, none of us will directly create more Vampires. We will choose someone to perform this task and they will be killed afterwards. This will ensure we remain more powerful than others." The way his eyes connect with Markus' leaves no doubt that, in Viktor's eyes, she should have been submitted to the same treatment, but Markus looks back just as fiercely and Amelia allows herself to hope that he will keep Viktor on a tight leash.
"Remember the reason I turned you," Markus addresses Viktor, "this is not a matter to be toyed with. I won't have it."
In a sigh, Viktor responds, facing Markus, "My friend, you will admit that we can no more trust our lives on mere words," his eyes flicker to Amelia and she rolls hers, quickly tiring of the way Viktor seems to think less of her, "than we can stop trying to capture your brother. Both would lead to the same situation eventually. This is a risk we have to take."
Amelia knows what they're talking about, even if they barely discussed Markus' brother before she agreed to let him turn her, since the rumors have reached her ears. It is a pity, she thinks, that William, the more intellectual of the Corvinus twins, has been reduced to this mindless, rampaging beast. She will, however, not hesitate to defend her people, even if that entails, as it does now, opposing Viktor and his new pet. She has known Viktor long enough to realize that, for all his placating efforts and advice towards Markus, he's the one manipulating the other Vampire.
"While the beasts can not return to their human form," Markus' sentence pulls her out of her thoughts, and her attention returns to the conversation that has continued without her input, "I'm sure my brother retains…"
"He doesn't," Viktor interrupts and, for a moment, Amelia actually believes he's saddened by the fact. The illusion doesn't last, though. "Your brother is as much a beast as their kindred and he will, in time, be captured. We can only make sure that he's safe, but he must remain in our custody."
Markus seems to deflate at the words, and shrugs off the hand Viktor had placed on his shoulder. He meets Amelia's questioning gaze and replies, "My family's former castle is being reinforced as we speak. William, though wolflike, only rampages on the night of the full moon and the night before and after it. He will be imprisoned there and be allowed to live with his kind. We will see to it that the Lycans are well fed but will otherwise leave them to their own devices within the castle. They will have no way in or out." His voice is flat as he says this, as if he has rehearsed this little speech. "As for his kindred, once he is safely in the castle, they will have to be dealt with."
His sad eyes reach Amelia somehow, making her want to agree with him, to pull him out of Viktor's lying clutches and help him because, for all the chaos he has caused by coming to the fortress, she can see how lost he is. She understands, too, how it feels to lose your family and suddenly be expected to know what to do when thrust into a position of power. It's the helplessness she can remember the most, and she can see its depths in the dark blue eyes Markus stares at her with. She gives one last sigh and nods at Viktor before walking to the door.
Few minutes later, and at her command, the fourteen generals her father's army still had file in to stand before her. She sits at her throne again, trying to ascertain her superiority once more since the earlier discussion has made her feel she has been questioned enough. Markus and Viktor stand at her side, and the generals bow before her until she nods so that they rise. The explanation in short and to the point, and five of the men decide they wish to remain human while the other nine wish to be turned. She sends two of the humans to gather the villagers and alert them to retreat to the fortress, where it has been decided that they will live for the time being. The rest, she tells to arrange for a system to provide food and housing for everyone and to tell the soldiers of their decision.
"Inform them that regardless of their choice deserting from the army, as well as exposing us, will be henceforth punishable by death." Once dismissed, the human generals leave, the last one closing the door behind himself and glancing at her with a look that has difficulty settling between deep concern and utter terror. The remaining generals look at her with similar expressions, until the stable boy she has asked to come up pokes his head timidly around the door. The young one, no older than fourteen, approaches slowly but with determination, and gulps only slightly when she approaches. Amelia concentrates on passing on her strength, her gift, and it is a process so intimate that she is happy she has been allowed this request. She knows this is more personal and feels less guilt about the whole ordeal. Once the transformation is complete, she relays the basic information on turning someone to the boy and lets him approach Thomas, the first of the generals.
As the man writhes on the floor and the other generals do what they can to ignore the screams and look away, the boy makes his way slowly, meticulously down the line until, at the end, nine slightly shaking new Vampires stand before Amelia, doing their utmost to compose themselves after what must have been the most bizarre thing they have ever experienced. She can see a couple of them becoming acquainted with their new anatomy, arms flexing and tongue running over sharp teeth. The last, she does not recommend. Her own mouth still tastes coppery after she nicked her tongue on one fang while feeding last night. She explains the basic information of what they are and what they will need to know, and refers them to their soldiers, who still stand at the ready, prepared to defend her should Markus or Viktor still be a threat.
Amelia looks at the stable boy, who stands still, his back ramrod straight, and trembles with giddy excitement at the blood he has consumed. She allows herself to close her eyes for half a second, knowing what she must do next and coming to the realization that she can't. She can't cut his life short. Turning away, she says, "Viktor-"
She doesn't need to say more, for he is at her side, nodding at the words she can't bring herself to verbalize. The boy still gazes up at her expectantly, and she turns her back on him, unwilling to look. Behind her, she can hear Viktor dragging the boy towards the wall and slamming him into it face first.
"M'Lady?" the boy asks in huffing breaths that meet the wall only a few centimeters from his face. The voice pleads for explanation but his only answer is a hiss from Viktor in his ear. In that moment, his eyes widen and he pleads again, "M'Lady?". This time, though, there is a hint of apprehension and fear in this voice. When his mouth opens again, he yells at Amelia, "Help me!". She's still got her back to the scene and closes her eyes then. Her breath starts to come faster and she bites her lower lip, still not daring to look. As Viktor sinks his fangs into the boy's neck, the screaming intensifies. It lasts only a minute and then, Viktor retreats, letting the mangled body of the boy drop onto the stone floor. The boy's eyes, however, open again and Amelia, hearing him breathe-still alive, still alive!- can't help but feel sickened by Viktor. Letting him live after that is bordering on torture.
"Coward," the boy laughs weakly, and it's the sound that stings Amelia the most, but she stays quiet, feeling she deserves it. "You won't even look at me when I die."
Markus, standing behind Amelia, starts to approach the stable boy, his face contorted in rage. She stops him with a raised hand and finally turns to meet the boy's glance. He sighs as Amelia approaches, trying to avoid the blood pooling under him. He doesn't resist as she pulls his body into her arms and holds him in an upright position.
"Please," she starts, her voice broken, "forgive me."
The merciless laugh comes again, cut off by a cough that floods the kid's mouth with blood. "No," he says, "you do not… deserve… forgiveness." His eyes blink closed but he forces them open once again. Amelia can hear and feel his heart slowing. "You let them… come here… and gave them… our lives. The only thing I can do… is make sure… you don't forget it. Take care of us… Don't let us… die… in their hands…"
He would have said more, she's certain, if his eyes hadn't closed at that moment and not opened again. Her teeth draw blood when she bites her lip. She puts him down on the floor gently and stands, ignoring her bloodstained hands and clothes. A lone tear runs down her cheek. She makes her way over to Viktor and slaps him without warning. When his face turns back, his eyes are an icy blue, though he makes no move to retaliate. "You had no right," Amelia tells him, her voice low and trembling with rage, "to make him suffer that long. Have you no pity?"
She doesn't wait for an answer and walks out instead, finding a maid and telling her to prepare the rooms again, and to assemble the population of the fortress tomorrow night. Then, she walks back inside, noticing the cold glare Viktor greets her with, and picks up the corpse by the corner. She leaves again with no more than a cold "Good day," carrying the corpse upstairs. Once on the roof, she places the body so that the sun will burn the boy's remains. Tired, she returns to her chambers.
The first thing she does upon arrival is to slam the door shut, and pace around the carpet with clenched fists. Amelia has never been one to give in to rage or anger, but she indulges in self-criticism quite often. Now, though, she would rather question Markus' sanity than question her own humanity, or lack thereof. She can't afford to, now that she's signed her allegiance to both of them. She can't fight them, and the feelings of incompetence and uselessness gnaw at the edges of her conscience. She can do no more than sigh and turn away from the door. That morning, she waits until she can feel her skin prickling to indicate sunrise, and sends a quiet prayer for the boy as his body burns. Immolation, she thinks, is fitting for his brave soul.
AN2: DESPERATELY looking for a beta since I know my style can be confusing at best… I use too many commas…
Also, I tried to make the stable boy be less educated but I think I failed miserably. If I ever rewrite this chapter again, I'll fix it.
Lastly, I'm pretty much playing around with the narrative perspective and tense here so please, give me some feedback to help me figure out if it worked! :) (basically, please Read & Review, as per usual)