If you haven’t already seen, Reckoning now has a book trailer! Hooray! Check it out at the side bar, or here.
On to the post –
Today’s piece comes courtesy of Our Write Side’s Master Class Monday prompts, as usual. For this one, I decided to go with the “Damned liberty” prompt, as it pretty accurately describes Ariella’s current situation. It serves as overall inspiration for the piece.
It’s a long one, so brace yourselves!
I don’t mention to my father or stepmother that I wrote back to Niklaus. Actually, I’m pretty sure my dad hasn’t made any mention of the letter to her. She probably wouldn’t approve, considering her “leeches” comment from before. Doing my best not to seem too eager for them to sleep, I try to go through my nightly routine. It helps calm my nerves, too, as well as prepare for the worst.
I’m not an idiot, I know there’s a chance (probably the more likely scenario) that he won’t come.
My stepmother has taken to making me cook dinner – a way for us to spend some time together in the small window where all three of us are awake. My father sits at the table, going on about his day while I cook and she cleans. When we finally settle into the table, dinner itself is a quiet affair, with my dad chiming in every now and again in attempts to make small talk. I can’t help but compare it to the dinner with Niklaus’ parents – so vastly different and yet there’s underlying tension here, too. I’m only half-listening until my mother mentions rumors about a neighboring village.
“I heard they might be preparing for another Selection ceremony.” I’m not sure if she means to say it so nonchalantly, but her eyes dart to me. Is she looking for a reaction?
“Oh – guess they need to replace their dead bride.” My heart sinks, even though Nadya’s words jump to the forefront of my mind. Niklaus wouldn’t pick another bride, right? The conversation dies, and I almost miss the look of admonishment my father gives her.
“Do you have any plans for tonight?” He does his best to sound cheery, and I appreciate the effort.
“Not really.” Again, I try to hide the anticipation in my gut. “Maybe I’ll go for a walk or something. It’s a full moon, so I’ll have plenty of light.”
Conversation dies for good after that, with the three of us finishing our meals in complete silence. The minutes drag by until they finally retreat to their room, leaving me alone in the kitchen to clean up after dinner. I think about sitting in my room to wait for Niklaus. Will he show up? And if he doesn’t, will he ever?
I can’t make myself sit still in my room for longer than twenty minutes. Even though I’m “free” now, I’ve never felt more like a caged animal, doomed to a life of being shut up, or at the very least, hidden. At least at the castle I didn’t need to hide from anyone. Out here, in the village, no one is allowed to know I’m alive. What kind of freedom is that? Cursing Niklaus under my breath, I grab my cloak and crossbow before leaving the house.
In the moonlight, the dark outlines of the nearby houses make it clear that most everyone has gone to bed. Still, I keep my hood up and my face in shadow. The last thing I need is someone noticing who I am. Grip tight on my crossbow, I disappear into the nearby woods. If Niklaus does come, I’m sure he’ll have no trouble finding me.
At least it’s a nice night, almost nice enough to get my mind off things. The chill is just enough to make me need my cloak, and I hug it just a little closer after slinging my crossbow over my shoulder. Some leaves are already starting to change colors and litter the ground, crunching softly under my feet. The sound is therapeutic, and puts me in a somewhat meditative state. Before I realize it, I’ve come to the edge of a river a mile or so away from our house, relatively deep into the woods. A nearby boulder is perfect for sitting down to rest, so I relax a bit and remove the hood, sure no one would be out this far anyway.
I kick a rock into the water, not really worried about the noise.
“What was that?” A young woman’s voice – probably around my age – comes from somewhere on my right. I immediately pull my hood back up and slide off the boulder, hiding from whoever might see me.
“Probably an animal or something…” Peeking around the boulder, I try to find the source of the voices. The second one is male, and I’m already getting an idea of why they might be out here. Would I be able to leave without them noticing? A moment later, they emerge from the tree line. I recognize the girl – Layla – as one of the others who were up for selection when Niklaus picked me. However, I don’t recognize the guy she’s with.
“Are you sure?” There’s fear in her voice now, and something about the way she stands makes me think she doesn’t entirely trust him.
But he turns around and reassures her before leading her closer to the river. I feel like a voyeur, but something nags at the back of my mind. Although I don’t recognize the guy, something about him is faintly familiar. It’s not like I can leave, either. Frustrated, I simply settle against the boulder, listening for their movement in case I need to hide. After a splash, they’re in the water, and I venture another glance their way, regretting it almost immediately.
I scramble back, doing my best to forget the intimacy I just witnessed and trying to drown out their voices with my own thoughts. There’s no way I’ll be able to disappear into the trees without them noticing.
For the second time in one night, I curse Niklaus. I should have just stayed home.
The noises from the water get progressively louder, but there comes a point where it no longer sounds like Layla’s enjoying herself. Her cry is one of clear pain and fear, accompanied by frantic splashing. I can’t help but look again, and my stomach twists into knots at the sight. Layla struggles to free herself from the man’s vice grip, and a pair of sharp, elongated canines edge ever closer to neck. The man’s enjoying the struggle, taking his time. He even releases her, letting her get about a foot away before pulling her back. Instinct kicks in and I shove my cloak off my shoulder, readying my crossbow and shooting without thinking twice about it.
My arrow’s metal tip finds its home in his left eyesocket, causing him to drop Layla, his attention snapping in my direction. That hunger I’ve seen so many times is etched in his features, eyes black as coal. Layla scrambles out of the water, shaking in her underclothes, while the vampire seems to forget she exists, his focus on a new potential meal.
“Dammit.” I’m not really sure how many arrows it would take to put the vampire down, and I’m not particularly interested in finding out, but I have no choice. He moves quickly, though not as fast as I’ve seen Niklaus. I shoot again, and this time the arrow lodges into his shoulder. This only seems to make him angrier. Somewhere in the background, Layla continues to shake, apparently frozen in shock and unable to move. Before I can ready another arrow, he’s on top of me, and all I can do is swing with the crossbow, hoping it at least hurts. He shoves it aside, and all I have left to defend myself with is the arrow in my hand.
Unlike with Layla, he has no intention of playing around with me, pinning me to the grass and going in for the bite. I do the only thing I can think of and shove the arrow into his mouth, pushing with everything I have. Before I realize what I’m doing, warmth trickles down onto my face – the arrow tore through the back of his throat – and he’s gasping, choking on his own blood. I manage to scramble away, reaching for my crossbow before turning back to the struggling vampire and unloading as many arrows as I can into his neck, until he stops moving.
I’m panting with exhaustion and strain by the time I realize I’m out of arrows and drop my crossbow again. He must have been young – even by human standards – to have been that relatively easy to kill. Probably only a few decades old. My mind is whirring with questions, theories of why this vampire was preying – illegally – on my friend, until said friend’s whimpers bring my attention back to her.
“Layla…” At this point I don’t really care about keeping myself a secret anymore and rush over to her, shrugging off my cloak and draping it around her still-wet frame. Her shaking has calmed somewhat by now, but she can’t stop staring at the vampire. “Hey…you’re okay. He can’t hurt you.”
I’m not a very comforting sight, covered in the vampire’s blood, but when she looks at me, her eyes soften for a minute before new confusion springs into them. “Ari-Ari…you’re…”
“Yes. I’m here. The vampire prince let me go. I’ve been living at home.” There’s no way I can take her back to the village yet, so I settle in beside her. “It’s a long story, but I’ve had to keep my return a secret – would you be able to keep from telling the others?”
She looks at me like I’ve grown a second head. “Of-of course…you-you just saved my life.”
“Shh… Don’t worry about it.” I start to examine her for injuries. “How badly hurt are you?”
“Just…just bruises.” Her neck is bruised where he grabbed her, as well as her arms. Who knows what other bruises are hiding under her clothes? “N-Nothing serious…you?”
“Just a few bumps – I’m okay.” The night gets colder with each passing moment, and I have no choice but to take Layla back to the house with me so she doesn’t catch her death. After some coaxing, I manage to get her to stand. She holds herself up against a nearby tree while I salvage what arrows I can from the vampire’s body and recover my crossbow. The vampire had carried a hatchet around with him – probably to keep up the human charade – and I find it among his clothes. Lucky, too, because I needed to remove his head in order to ensure that he’s dead. After a few swings, it rolls away from the body. There’s not much else I can do with my limited supplies, so I leave them there and only take the hatchet back with us.
It takes us about an hour to get back to the house after having to make several stops along the way. By the time we get back, Layla is more herself again, calmed down considerably – her shaking now the result of the chill in the air. I give her a set of clothes to change into.
“Who was that vampire?”
“He..he said his name was Daniel.” Layla looks away, self-conscious. “I thought…”
“It’s all right. You’re safe here.” I place a hand on her shoulder. “If you want, you can stay. I don’t sleep at night so I’ll wake you before dawn to go back home.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes – you need to rest.”
After some more convincing, I finally leave her in my room. I’m still covered in the vampire’s blood, and it serves as a reminder that his corpse is still out there. Maybe I should go back to hide it? I gather what I need and leave the house again, definitely more tired that I was before. My nerves are still on edge, though, because a noise to my left makes me whip around, pulling the hatchet up in front of me.
“Ariella?” Niklaus’ voice is unsure, but when his eyes focus on my appearance, any doubt leaves his expression and he rushes over to me. I barely have time to relax my stance before he’s right there, examining my face and making sure I’m okay, gentle hands prodding, turning me this way and that. “What happened? Are you alright?”
“It’s not my blood. I’m okay.” I can’t even bring myself to be properly relieved at the sight of him. Instead I’m self-conscious and try to wipe some of the grime from my face. “A vampire attacked my friend. I stopped him.”
“What? That’s impossible.”
“Fine. Don’t believe me. I can show you his body if you want?” Though I want to think that I don’t know why I’m snapping at him, I know all too well that my anger at him hovers just underneath the surface. Mixed with the lingering adrenaline from my fight, it’s a deadly combination.
“No, I’m sorry – I didn’t mean – vampires aren’t allowed to hunt humans.”
“I know what you meant, and I’m telling you a vampire broke the rules.” This was not how I had planned to see him again – probably not how he had planned it either. He knows enough not to say anything else and simply follow me. We make decent time getting to the body, and it’s still exactly where I left it. “See?”
“You did that?” A part of me is afraid that he’ll react poorly – after all, I killed one of his kind. What I wasn’t expecting was the tone of pride in his words. Was he impressed?
“I don’t recognize this vampire – and he’s young. Supremely young. And definitely not a pure blooded one, either.”
“What? How can you tell?”
“They smell different. It’s subtle, but there. His blood still smells faintly human.” He crouches by the body, examining it closer. “Did you get a name?”
Niklaus stands, face pensive before he turns his attention back to me. “I’ll make sure the vampire council looks into it.”
“Oh? And how will you tell them without letting them know about me?” Again, my anger drips through. I don’t try very hard to hold it back.
“I’ll figure something out.” A deeply uncomfortable silence settles over us, and for a while I can’t even look at him. “Listen, Ariella…”
“I didn’t think you’d actually come, you know…” I dropped my things and went to sit by the river, unable to look him in the eye.
“I wasn’t going to.” He joins me, but keeps a safe distance. “Still don’t know why I came, though I’m glad I did.”
Though I want nothing more than to lash out at him again, I can’t help myself, “Me too.”
That was not how I planned that reunion. Oh well – these things have minds of their own.
As always, think happy thoughts!