"Your examination was to test your strength, efficiency, and leadership. You passed fairly well." the Supervisor, Tasha, said. "Yesterday may have been easy-"
Easy? She couldn't be serious. I refused to believe it.
"-but each one of these tests increases in intensity and difficulty."
I nodded. "I'm ready for anything you give me."
Tasha cocked an elegant black brow. Boy was she beautiful, dressed in her body-hugging, one-piece leather suit. The way her black hair was twisted perfectly at the top of her head. She was so fierce and lethal. All of that just added to her loveliness.
Despite having a pretty exterior, she was not a woman you crossed. If you did, you'd be dead…at her hands. Literally. The Supervisor had the power to execute any vampire, excluding the king, on the spot. That included the Royal Guards, Palace Guards, Soldiers, and Civilians. Luckily, I was on good terms with her. Hopefully it stayed that way.
"All right, since you are so ready for anything, then we'll just get right into the test, shall we?"
I swallowed on a dry throat, feeling stupid. "We shall, mistress." I gave a slight bow.
Tasha pulled out a pair of handcuffs and threw them to me. The instant my skin touched the metal, I gasped, feeling power drain from me. Titanium.
This was probably the only thing that I wasn't prepared for. That was dumb of me. You should always come prepared, ready for any trick of the book to be thrown at you.
"It dulls all of our senses and powers. You're no stronger than a human, which is exactly what the second part of The Seven Trials call for." Tasha said. "Your strength will be put to the test Rose, but not that of the physical kind."
I followed her underground the palace and into the dungeon. Though my sense of smell had dramatically dulled, I still picked up what was down here: Old dust, moss, urine, blood, rotting flesh. A rat scurried across my foot. I barely managed to stifle my scream.
The dungeon was absent of all light. Temporarily blinded, I kept close behind and used the sound of Tasha's footsteps as a guide. It wouldn't look very good if I couldn't even get to the getting there part.
There were several sets of shackles attached to the cobblestone wall. The fourth set detained something out of a horror movie: skeletal remains.
"That's what happens when you don't pass." Tasha informed me. "He's been here for the past four years, absolutely starved. When he got to be so skinny and helpless, the rodents came and fed off his body. Maggots crawled in his lungs, devoured his eyeballs. He just screamed through the agony until his bones collapsed and fell to the floor. Matter of fact, he's still alive."
My stomach churned violently.
The Supervisor nudged the ribcage with her combat boot. "Heart is still beating. It must be miserable for him. He can still feel everything, and will continue to."
The skull moved and looked directly at me. The jaws of the thing moved up and down, silently pleading for help. A scream escaped my lips.
"You can't just let him suffer like that," I growled, my chest aching for the man that had been through such otherworldly pain. The urge to bite into my wrist, feed him my blood, and watch as his body reconstructed itself to the way it once was, was nearly overpowering.
"Don't touch him," hissed Tasha when I stepped forward. "He quit The Seven trials, defying our kingdom. He will spend the rest of his mortal life like this as his punishment."
I bit my tongue, wanting to scream again out of frustration and limitation. "Of course, mistress. Allow me to express my deepest regrets."
I obeyed. Titanium snaked around my throat and ankles and wrists, and I felt dead, lower than any human. The minerals poisoning my skin made moving difficult. Unlike silver and wood, titanium wouldn't kill me. But I would weaken to a vegetable state.
As lethargy flooded me, I gave every ounce of energy to keeping my head up. There was an Ancient in my presence. I had to respect that at all costs.
"Rosemarie Hathaway, beloved daughter of the fallen Janine and Ibrahim Mazur, I wish you luck in your journey, as it will be the hardest of your mortal life." Tasha traced her finger along my cheek, a strange softness to her usual chilling ocean-blue eyes. "Use your wisdom, control, and sanity, for it is your strongest assets and key to survival."
The first twenty-four hours weren't so bad. I occupied the time by thinking of stuff that made me happy: memories of my mothers home cooked meals, my dad's contagious laugh, Bertie's sour face the first time I'd tricked him into tasting a lemon, cherry-flavored Seven Up, sleeping in, ice skating, pictures of sunshine, hot guys, Harrison Ford movies, hot guys at the gym, chocolate. I even wasted a couple of hours singing some of my favorite tunes like I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor and She's a Rainbow by the Rolling Stones. Despite having a fantastic attention span, it got old really fast. My limbs ached from the pinching of the restraints. My stomach roared with hunger. My throat burned with the need for blood.
Most of the time, I thought of my parents to quiet my restless mind and pass the hours. I was bombarded by memories I would kill to forget. It's a terrible thing when the bad is so great it's hard to remember the good.
When I was six years old, I had witnessed my parent's brutal murder at the hands of a Hunter—a human slayer, whose sole purpose in life was to exterminate the vampire race in order to protect their own sorry behinds.
I could only remember the smells and sounds of the shooting. Maybe this was my brains way of blocking out the pain, I wasn't sure. But it certainly was a pain in my badonkadunk.
The fact that I couldn't remember the face of the Hunter haunted me everyday. Perhaps if I hadn't froze on the spot and actually done something—anything—then maybe they'd still be here today, as beautiful and alive as ever.
As the years go by, my memory gets worse. The more I try to get a grip on it the harder it is to. I continue to forget more and more of what happened that night until I'm grasping at little details of the slaying, which were fading fast. Blessedly, I could still remember the sound of a trigger being pulled, the human male's voice, the sour smell of gunpowder. Cursedly, I could still remember the sound of my mothers scream as she called out my fathers name in pure anguish before the titanium bullet pierced her heart.
Though cautious and quiet by nature, I wouldn't hesitate to jump right in and do anything to destroy the Hunter if I ever crossed paths with him.
Without warning, a wail pierced through the air. At first it was annoying, but as the high-pitched sound grew louder until it shattered the bordered windows in the dungeon, it was deafening and I felt wetness pool out of my ears. Blood. Both of my eardrums had ruptured. As they healed and ruptured over and over again, and I experienced the pain with a new level of agony each round, I lurched forward and vomited. Unfortunately, I didn't get far, thanks to my manacles, and the mess got all over my clothes, staining it with the putrid smell.
I wasn't one to cry much, but I balled my eyes out during those moments the alarms were weeping and the red lights flashed repeatedly.
"Make it stop!" I screamed uselessly. "Please! I can't take it!"
What felt like an eternity later, the torture and screaming sounds finally snapped off.
Vicious sobs racked through my body and the tears were unrelenting. Without the noise, it was almost worst. The ringing in my ears and brain was horrible, sending my body into involuntarily spasms.
A dim light flickered on. I blinked and squinted, temporarily forgetting the agony I was in.
That was until the light grew brighter and brighter until all around me was a white beam. I closed my lids, praying that would help ease my migraine.
It was absolutely blinding in the dungeon, like staring directly at the sun, or so I'd heard. I had only seen pictures. It felt as if a thousand tiny miners were picking at my skull and brain with their pickaxes, and for a moment, I'd wished I would die already. This pain was too great and I couldn't bare it.
My last thought before I blacked out, was God, please don't let me have six more days of this misery. Each day in the dungeon represented a test of The Seven Trials.
As predicted, the next week was hell on earth. Deafening alarms and blinding lights were shone unexpectedly, like when I was asleep and recovering from the last attack. It drove me to the brink of madness. After awhile, everything became a mind game. I didn't know which way is up or down, the time, or who I was for that matter. Reality and imagination blurred together, unrecognizable.
But the test required me to fight back and not lose myself, and that's exactly what I did, even during the times I was only given a tiny amount of blood to sustain myself, tittering with Bloodlust lunacy.
My break came when The Supervisor strode into the dungeon, released me from the titanium shackles, and drug me up stairs.
Like a complete Nancy, I passed out on the way up, the pain in my body so strong my mind couldn't comprehend it.
I was not so politely woken up with a bucket of ice water dumped on my head. Gasping, I shot up and looked around, finding myself in a fancy room with white fur rugs, fireplace, polished hardwood floor, an ancient mahogany desk—
I was in the kings headquarters, I realized with a whole lot of Holy Crap.
"I apologize, your grace." That was murmured quietly with my head down as I scrambled to my knees and bowed deeply.
"Get up," Julian's voice was sharp as a blade, telling me he wasn't the happiest camper.
I climbed to my feet, swaying only a little bit before the Royal guards steadied me with a shove of their shoulders.
"Raise your eyes and look upon me, my child."
Slowly, hesitantly, I tilted my neck and stared at his aristocratic, disturbing beauty.
"Although it is displeasing how much blood you required and the amount of time you spent unconscious…" Abruptly, he smiled and opened his arms. "You've passed the second part of The Seven Trials."
When he hugged me, all of the breath left my lungs. No on ever touched the king. No one. And yet, here he was, embracing me. It only proved how crazy he was.
"Thank you very much, your grace."
"Now for your final assessment of The Seven Trials,"
My heart dropped into my gut. "So soon, your grace?" My body was healthy, but I wasn't sure I had the strength to go on.
"Of course!" Julian clapped his hands once. "This is when you are at your weakest, darkest hour. There is no better time to do this than now."