Authors: Rebecca Maizel
Tags: #Love & Romance, #Girls & Women, #Vampires, #Horror, #Boarding schools, #Fantasy & Magic, #Fiction, #Supernatural, #High schools, #Schools, #School & Education, #Juvenile Fiction
To Mom and Dad: Every word.
Every single one belongs to you.
You always light the way.
And my sister, Jennie,
who always has the right words.
There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance;
Pray you, love, remember.
–OPHELIA, HAMLET, ACT 4, SCENE 5
I release you…
I release you, Lenah Beaudonte.
Believe…and be free.
Those were the last words I could remember. But they were formless, said by someone whose voice I did not recognize. It could have been ages ago.
When I awoke, I immediately felt a cold surface on my left cheek. An icy shiver rushed down my spine. Even with my eyes closed, I knew I was naked, stomach down on a hardwood floor.
I gasped, though my throat was so dry I made an unearthly animal sound. Three heaving breaths, then a
—a heartbeat. My heartbeat? It could have been ten thousand fluttering wings. I tried to open my eyes, but with each blink there was a flash of blinding light. Then another. And another.
“Rhode!” I screamed. He had to be here. There would be no world without Rhode.
I writhed on the floor, covering my body with my hands. Understand that I am not a type of person who usually finds herself naked and alone, especially where sunlight shines down on my body. Yet, there I was, bathed in yellow light, sure that I was moments away from a painful, fiery death—I had to be. Soon flames would erupt from within my soul and turn me into dust.
Only, nothing happened. No flames or imminent death. There was only the smell of the oak in the floor. I swallowed and the muscles in my throat contracted. My mouth was wet with…saliva! My chest rested on the floor. I pressed down on my palms and craned my neck to look at the source of my torment. Luminous daylight streamed into a bedroom from a large bay window. The sky was a sapphire blue, no clouds.
“Rhode!” My voice seemed to swirl in the air, vibrating out of my mouth. I was so thirsty. “Where are you?” I screamed.
A door somewhere near me opened and closed. I heard a wobbling step, an uneven shuffle, then Rhode’s black, buckled boots stepped into my eye line. I rolled onto my back and looked up at the ceiling. Gasping. My God—was I breathing?
Rhode loomed over me, but he was a blur. He leaned forward so his hazy features were within inches of my face. Then there he was, as though coming out of a mist, looking as I had never seen him before. The skin over Rhode’s cheekbones stretched so tight it looked as though his bones would break through. His usually full and proud chin was now a thin point. But the blue of his eyes—they were the same. Even in the haze of that moment they pierced me, down to my soul.
“Fancy meeting you here,” Rhode said. Despite black bruises that ringed his eyes, a twinkle, from somewhere deep within, looked back at me. “Happy sixteenth birthday,” he said, and extended a hand.
Rhode gripped a glass of water. I sat up, took it from him, and finished it in three large gulps. The cold water trickled down the back of my throat, flowed down my esophagus and into my stomach. Blood, a substance I was used to, trickled, but its absorption into the vampire body was a lot like a sponge soaking up liquid. It had been so long since I’d had a drink of water….
In Rhode’s other hand was a piece of black cloth. When I took it from him, the cloth cascaded out to reveal a black dress. It was lightweight cotton. I pressed up from the floor and stood up. My knees buckled, but I steadied myself by throwing my arms out for balance. I stood there for a moment, until I was firmly planted to the ground. When I tried to walk, a small vibration shook me so hard that my knees touched.
“Put that on and then come into the other room,” Rhode said, and lumbered unevenly out of the bedroom. I should have noticed that he had to hold on to the door frame when he walked, but my knees and thighs trembled and I had to try and find my balance again. I let my hands fall back to my sides. My brown hair unfurled and, like seaweed, strands stuck to my naked body. Longer strands reached my breasts. I would have given anything for a mirror. I took a few breaths and my knees wobbled again. I looked around for a corset, but there was nothing. How curious! Was I meant to walk around this place with nothing to hold me in? I slid the dress over my head and it stopped right above my knees.
I didn’t look a day over sixteen, yet if someone had calculated on that particular day—I officially turned 592.
Everything was so crisp and bright—too bright. Beams of light trickled minute rainbows across my feet. I looked around the room. Despite waking up on the floor, there was a mattress in an iron bed frame covered by a black comforter. Across the room a bay window looked out at full leaves and swaying branches. Beneath the window was a seat covered in blue, plush pillows.
I ran my fingertips against the textured wood of the walls and couldn’t believe that I could actually
it. The wood was layered and I felt the raised and jagged parts under my smooth fingertips. My existence as a vampire meant that all my nerve endings were dead. Only by remembering what things felt like as a human would my vampire mind understand whether I was touching something soft or hard. The only senses a vampire retained were those that heightened her ability to kill: The sense of smell was linked to flesh and blood; sight was super sight, detailed down to the minutiae, its sole purpose to find prey within an instant.
My fingers fluttered over the wall again—another rush of shivers rolled up my arms.
“There will be time for that,” Rhode said from the other room.
My heartbeat echoed in my ears. I could taste the air. As I walked, the muscles in my thighs and calves seemed to burn, twitch, and then relax. In order to stop shaking, I rested my body weight on the doorway and crossed my hands over my chest.
“What century is this?” I asked, closing my eyes and taking a breath.
“The twenty-first,” Rhode said. His black hair, which reached halfway down his back the last time I saw him, had been cut short and now stood up in a spiky hairstyle. Around his right wrist was a white medical bandage.
“Sit,” he whispered.
I sat down on a pale blue couch that faced the lounger. “You look terrible,” I whispered.
“Thank you,” he said with the barest glimmer of a smile.
Rhode’s cheeks were so sunken that his once masculine, carved features now clung to his bones. His usual golden skin had yellowed. His arms quivered as he lowered himself into the chair, holding on to it until he was almost fully sitting down.
“Tell me everything,” I commanded.
“Give me a moment,” he said.
“Where are we?”
“Your new home.” Rhode closed his eyes. He leaned his head back onto the chair. He gripped the armrests and I noticed that the rings that had once adorned his fingers were now gone. The curling black snake with emerald eyes and the poison ring for emergencies (which meant it was always filled with blood)were missing. Only one ring remained on his pinkie finger. My ring. The ring that I had worn for five hundred years. Only then did I notice that my own hands were bare. It was a tiny silver band with a dark, black stone—onyx. “Never wear onyx unless you want or know death,” he once told me. I believed him. Besides, up until that moment, I was confident no vampire enjoyed creating death more than I did.
I tried to avoid his gaze. I’d never seen Rhode so weak.
“You’re human, Lenah,” he said.
I nodded once in acknowledgment, though I looked at the lines in the hardwood floor. I couldn’t respond. Not yet. I wanted it too much. The last interaction I had with Rhode, before waking up in that bedroom, was about my desire to be human. We had an argument, one that I thought would last for centuries. It did, in a way; the argument had happened a century before that moment.
“You finally got what you wanted,” he whispered.
I had to look away again. I couldn’t stand the cool blue of his eyes appraising me. Rhode’s appearance was altered as though he were withering away. When he was at his fullest health his square jaw and blue eyes made him one of the most beautiful men I’d ever seen. I say man, but I am not sure of Rhode’s age. He could have been just a boy when he was made into a vampire, but through the years he’d clearly seen and done so much it had aged him. Vampires as they move into the maturity of their existence become so ethereal in appearance that it is nearly impossible to guess their age.
Making sure to keep my eyes away from his, I examined the living room. It looked as though he had just moved in, though the atmosphere of the room felt like Rhode. Despite a few boxes piled next to the door, everything seemed to be in its proper place. Many of my possessions from my vampire life decorated the apartment. Specifically, items from my bedchamber. On the wall, an ancient sword was held to a metal plate by golden clasps. It was one of Rhode’s favorite pieces, his longsword from his days with the Order of the Garter, a ring of knights under King Edward III. It was a special sword, one that was forged by magic, outside of the brotherhood. It had a black leather grip and a thick base that tapered down to a deadly and distinct point. The pommel, the wheel-shaped counterweight on the top of the sword, had an engraving circling its perimeter:
Ita fert corde voluntas,
the heart wills it.
On the wall, on either side of the sword, iron sconces made to look like roses linked by vines and thorns held unlit, white candles. White candles should be burned in a house wishing to dispel evil spirits or energy. Every vampire had them for protection against other darker magics. Yes, there are worse things in the universe than vampires.
“I forgot your human beauty.”
I looked back at Rhode. He wasn’t smiling, but his eyes sparkled in a way that I knew he meant it. Seeing me now in my human form was a personal fulfillment. He had done what he had set out to do hundreds of years before.
HATHERSAGE, ENGLAND—THE PEAKS
OCTOBER 31, 1910—EVENING
My house was a stone castle. There were halls with marble floors and painted ceilings. I lived in Hathersage, a rural town known for its rolling hills and gorges. My castle was offset from the road and watched over endless fields. That night was
or, in English, Red Night. Once a year, vampires would come from around the globe and occupy my home for one month. For the thirty-one days in October,
brought vampires of all races to my home. Thirty-one days of opulence. Thirty-one days of pure terror. This was the last night before everyone returned to their respective hauntings.
It was just after dusk. Above me the stars sparkled in the twilight—they glinted gold light off glass goblets. I pushed past guests sipping on blood and dancing to a string quartet. Rhode followed me out from the back of the castle and onto the stone terrace. Men and women, dressed in top hats, corsets, and the finest silks from China, laughed and crowded Rhode’s way. At the back of the house, a set of stone steps led down into the gardens. Two white candles stood tall on either end of the steps, their wax dripping tiny archipelagoes onto the stone. The yard spread out wide and then down, out into the sweeping countryside. I was wearing an evergreen silk gown adorned with gold piping, and a matching corset beneath.
“Lenah!” Rhode called, but I was darting through the crowd. I was walking so fast that for a moment I thought I would spill out over my corset.
“Lenah! Stop!” Rhode called again.
It was just after dusk. I ran the length of the gardens down the sloping hill into the start of fields.
I led Rhode down the hill, out of sight of the vampires in the castle. I stood at the foot of fields that spread out for countless miles into the distance. Back then, I looked different. My skin was pale white, no shadows under my eyes or wrinkles on my skin. Just white, clear skin, as if my pores had been buffed away.
At the crest of the hill, Rhode looked down at me. He was dressed in an evening suit, with a top hat and black silk lapels. He held a cane in his right hand. When he stepped down the side of the steep hill, the wispy grass that stretched for hundreds of miles bowed under his feet. I turned to look out at the fields.
“You have not said a word to me all evening,” Rhode said. “You’ve been completely silent. And now you run out here? Care to share with me what the hell is going on?”
“You don’t understand? If I uttered a word I would not be able to conceal my intentions. Vicken is unnaturally gifted. He could read my lips from five miles away.”
Vicken was my last creation; that is, the last man I made into a vampire. At fifty, he was also the youngest vampire of my coven, though he didn’t look a day older than nineteen.
“Dare I think that this might be a moment of clarity?” Rhode asked. “That perhaps you realize Vicken and your band of ingrates are more dangerous than you anticipated?”
I said nothing. Instead, I watched the wind trace patterns over the grass.
“Do you know why I left you? My fear,” Rhode spat, “was that you had truly lost your mind. That the prospect of infinite time had started to eat away at you. You were reckless.”
I spun around, our eyes meeting immediately.
“I will not let you fault me for creating a coven of the strongest, most gifted vampires in existence. You told me to protect myself, and I did what I had to do.”
“You cannot see what you have done,” Rhode said. His strong jaw clenched.
I stepped closer to him. “I feel the weight of this existence in my bones. As though a thousand parasites are eating away at my sanity. You told me once that I was what kept you sane. That the curse of emotional pain released you when you were with me. What do you think happened to me for the 170 years you were gone?”
Rhode’s shoulders fell. His eyes were the most blue I had ever seen—even in five hundred years. The beauty of his slim nose and dark hair always shocked me. The vampire essence heightened a person’s beauty but for Rhode it radiated from within and lit up his soul—it made my heart burn.
“The magic that binds your coven is more dangerous than I would have ever thought possible. How did you expect me to feel?”
“You don’t feel. Remember? We’re vampires,” I replied.
He gripped my arm so hard, I was sure he would break a bone. I would have been frightened had I not loved him more than I could articulate. Rhode and I were soul mates. Linked in a love bound by passion, the lust for blood, death, and the unfaltering understanding of eternity. Were we lovers? Sometimes. Certain centuries more than others. Were we best friends? Always. We were bound.
“You left me for 170 years,” I said through gritted teeth. Rhode had only returned from his “break” from me the week prior. We had been inseparable since his return. “Do you not know why I brought you down here?” I asked. “I can tell no one else the real truth.”
Rhode dropped his arm and I turned to face him directly.
“I have nothing left. No more sympathies,” I whispered, though there was an edge of hysteria in my voice. I could see my reflection in Rhode’s eyes. His dilated pupils overwhelmed the blue, but I stared into the blackness. My voice quivered, “Now that I know you have the ritual…Rhode, I cannot think of anything else. That my humanity—that it might be a possibility.”
“You have no idea how dangerous this ritual is.”
“I don’t care! I want to feel the sand beneath my toes. I want to wake up to the sunlight pouring through my window. I want to smell the air. Anything. Anything I can feel. God, Rhode. I need to smile—and mean it.”
“We all want those things,” he replied in a calm manner.
“Do you? Because I don’t think you do,” I said.
“Of course. I want to wake up to blue waters and feel sunlight on my face.”
“The pain is too much,” I said. “You could try again. Concentrate on me—loving me,” Rhode said gently.
“You, who leave.”
“That’s not fair,” Rhode said, now reaching for my hands.
“Even loving you is a curse. I can’t really feel or touch you. I look at the humans we take and even they can feel. Even in their last minutes of life they have breath in their lungs and taste in their mouth.”
Rhode held my palm in his and the warmth, the feeling of his passion for me, swept up through my hand and into my body. I closed my eyes, relishing the momentary relief from the countless tragedies resting within me. I opened my eyes and took a step away from him.
“I am losing my mind and I don’t know how much longer I can bear it.” I took a moment, careful in my wording. “Ever since you discovered the ritual,” I continued, “it’s all I can think about. My way out.” My eyes were wild, I was sure of it. “I need this. I need this. God help me, Rhode, because if you don’t, I will walk out into sunlight until it scorches me to flames.”
Rhode nearly lost his top hat with a gust of the wind. He ripped his hand out of mine. He still had long hair then and it fell past his shoulders and onto his topcoat.
“You dare to threaten me with your suicide? Don’t be petty, Lenah. No one has survived the ritual. Thousands of vampires have tried. All—every single one—have died in the process. Do you think I can bear to lose you? That I could part with you?”
“You already did,” I whispered savagely.
Rhode pulled me close, so fast that I wasn’t prepared for the force of his mouth against mine. One deep growl from him and my bottom lip split open. Rhode bit into me. I could feel a rhythmic pull as he sucked the blood from my mouth. After a moment, he stepped away and wiped his bloody lip on his jacket sleeve.
“Yes, I left you. But I had to find the magic and science I needed. If we ever try this ritual—I needed to make sure. I didn’t expect you to fall in love when I left.”
There was a silence. Rhode knew as well as I that I believed he was never coming back.
“I do not love Vicken as I love you.” I said every word so it was clear and calculated. After a moment, I added, “I want out.”
“You do not know what will come to you if you choose human life.”
“The air? Real breaths? Happiness?”
“Death, sickness, human nature?”
“I don’t understand,” I said, stepping back again. “You have said yourself that humanity is what all vampires crave. The freedom to feel more than constant pain and suffering. Do you not feel this way?”
“It consumes me,” Rhode said, and took off his top hat. He looked out at the fields. “There are deer, there.” He pointed. He was right. About ten miles away a herd of deer grazed silently. We could have fed off them, though I did love my dress and blood would not match the green silk. Besides, I hated the taste of animal blood and would only feed on them if I was in a dire situation. With the creation of the coven, I had ensured that would never happen.
Rhode slipped his hands around my lower back and brought me even closer.
“Your beauty will be a powerful force in the human world. Your human face may betray even your best intentions.”
“I don’t care,” I said, not quite understanding and not really caring either way.
Rhode reached out and ran his index finger down the thin slope of my nose. He then gently rubbed his thumb over my lips. His furrowed brow and piercing stare. I couldn’t have looked away even if I had tried.
“When I took you from your father’s orchards in the fifteenth century I saw your future laid out before me,” Rhode confessed. “Swashbuckling vampire linked to my side for all eternity.” There was a pause. Somewhere behind us music from the party echoed down into the fields. “I saw my own dreams.”
“Then give me what I want.”
Rhode’s mouth was a thin line. He furrowed his eyebrows and looked out at the deer. They galloped deeper into the grassy hills. I could tell from his still mouth and dark expression that he was formulating a plan.
“One hundred years,” he whispered, but still looked out at the deer.
My eyes widened.
“Starting tonight you will hibernate for one hundred years.” Rhode turned back to look at me and pointed up the hill. I knew he was gesturing toward a cemetery. It was to the right of the terrace and protected by a wrought-iron gate topped by spiked points.
Hibernation only occurred when a vampire rested in the ground. The vampire sleeps and deprives herself of blood—there are a series of spells so the vampire remains in a meditative state, almost to the point of death. On a prearranged day a fellow vampire revives her. But only with magic is this possible. Only very brave (and some would argue very stupid) vampires have done this.
“The night before you are supposed to wake,” Rhode continued, “I will unearth you and take you somewhere safe, somewhere you cannot be found. Somewhere you can be a human and live out your days.”
“And the coven?” I asked.
“You leave them behind.”
My heart throbbed, a familiar pain that I couldn’t help but recognize. The magical binding between the coven and myself would force them to search for me. Just as I knew I would love Rhode until the end of the earth, I knew that the coven would search for me. I nodded once but said nothing. I watched the deer nibbling at the grass and licking their fur.
“You are not afraid to die?” he asked.
I shook my head. Rhode turned to face the house. I stopped him from walking up the hill by gently grasping his fingers. He turned to me.
“Will you be there?” I asked. “If I die and we fail, will you be there?”
Rhode’s fingers lightly grazed the top of my hand. He turned it over, touched my palm, and whispered, “Always.”
“How did you do it?” I was spellbound. Back in the dark apartment, my back pressed into the pillows. My fingers wandered over the fine velvet. My fingertips skimmed along the softness of the couch, which produced a wave of goose bumps over my legs. Before, I would have known the couch was soft but it would only have meant the fabric. It wouldn’t have meant comfort or safety. Just soft.
“That night. The last night of
You went to bed…,” Rhode started.
“After killing one of the maids,” I admitted, remembering the young, blond girl I caught off guard in the attic.
Rhode continued with a slight smile. “I told Vicken that you had decided on your hibernation. That you would sleep for one hundred years and that I was to wake you on that year’s
“Why did we decide on one hundred years? I never asked you,” I said.
“Simply? Time. Vicken would be distracted enough that I could take you from your hibernating plot in the cemetery. All I had to do was wait for a night when he wasn’t watching your tombstone. When that night came not long ago, I took you away.”
“So it’s been one hundred years?” I asked, eager to place myself within space and time. “Since I was last above ground?”
“Just shy. It’s September. I spared you a month or so.”
“And you performed the ritual two days ago?”
“Two days,” Rhode confirmed.
“What about the coven? Do they have any idea I’m gone?”
“I don’t think so. Vicken still thinks you are buried. Remember, I told him you wanted to be buried—to make it official. He thought it was a wonderful idea. He wanted a chance to rule your coven.”