C3 Chapter 3

I stand frozen in place, stunned by what has just happened. Even if Darius does loosen his grip, I won’t be able to move.

“And now, the ceremony,” Vladimir says.

The three eldest vampires begin to chant, softly and quietly, and the rest of the temple falls silent. Aside from the king and the Ancients, every vampire crosses their arms in an X over their chest and stares down at the ground. The uniformity of it is impressive, like they’ve been running daily prophecy fulfillment drills for hundreds of years. Shit, maybe they have.

Just as Vladimir takes in a deep breath, ready to launch into something terrible, Darius interrupts. “Father, do we not first wish to bless the mother and child, as the prophecy reading would dictate. Lest we waylay our plans entirely through improper planning.”

Vladimir holds up a hand, pausing the chanting. “You are quite right, son. It seems thousands of years of waiting have me acting rashly. We would be remiss in taking any shortcuts on this most auspicious occasion. Priests, bring forth the unholy waters for anointing.”

Unholy waters? Oh hell no, are these dead assholes trying to give me and my kid a reverse baptism? My Catholicism has long since lapsed, but even I don’t want to mess up my afterlife chances, especially with how frequently my child and I seem to flirt with death.

Two priests in long gray robes step forward holding small pewter bowls filled with--apparently--unholy water. I don’t even want to know what makes water unholy. I also have questions about what makes these guys priests.

As one moves toward Rain and the other toward me, they chant together in a strange, ominous language. When each priest arrives at his mark, they draw water from the bowls and use the pads of their thumbs to paint a half circle with a dot in the center on our foreheads.

I don’t expect to feel anything but annoyed, but a zing pulses in my spine, then fades, and I shudder.

What did they do to me? And more importantly, what did they do to Rain?

Darius keeps his grip on my arms, and I start to pull against him, ready to die if it means I go out trying to save my baby girl. No matter how hard I strain, he keeps me still. I doubt he’s even putting in much effort.

“The mother and child are now duly blessed,” Vladimir says as the priests walk back into the shadows. “We may begin.”

The chanting resumes, now accompanied by a low hum from all the vampires who continue looking at the ground with their arms crossed.

I stop fighting against Darius when it’s clear I’m just wasting my strength, and I turn my attention to Timót. No one else is paying any attention to my father, as he’s pretty dead looking. Maybe it takes a long time for the transition to happen, or maybe all Vladimir did was kill him for good. In any case, the vampires pay Timót no mind, so when his body twitches, I’m the only one who sees it.

My eyes dart around the room, trying to gauge where we are in the process. Vladimir still stands away from Rain, and all the vampires have intensified their humming. The vigor of the ceremony is really ramping up, as is my heartbeat.

When my eyes shift back to Timót I fight the urge to gasp as he blinks. His eyes slowly focus on me... and then he smiles.

Daddy is back, and now in addition to magic, dragons, and an army, he’s also got access to all the cool vampire tricks.

He looks toward the opening in the ceiling. He has a vampire on either side of him, but they have their arms crossed and their eyes closed. To the vampires, this ceremony is about the survival of their kind, so commitment levels are very high. That makes it easy for my father to sneak the tip of his wand out of his sleeve and point it to the sky. I try to blank out my mind in case the king might be looking into my thoughts.

Fortunately, Vladimir is entirely focused on Rain, now walking toward her with a shimmering dagger in his right hand.

“From the beginning,” the vampire king announces to the room, “we have been shunned by our creators, and feared by the other creations. Our powers were seen as a plight on the world, not a gift. Our demands for respect were met with calls for our heads. No more.”

He continues his slow walk toward my baby, his stare frighteningly entranced by her presence. I sneak another glance at Timót and see that his lips are subtly moving while a tiny speck of light drifts from his wand toward the open ceiling.

“The Fates gave us life in death, they created the prophecy for all to see, and now we will make our realm absolute.”

At the edge of the altar, Vladimir raises the dagger over his head. The humming from the room grows louder, and a scream that has been brewing in my knotted stomach is about to leave my mouth when Timót shatters the silence.

“Excuse me,” he says, getting to his feet and brushing off his knees like someone who just tripped and is apologizing for creating some commotion. A collective gasp ripples through the temple, and the rage on the king’s face can be felt by everyone.

“You dare interrupt?!” Vladimir spits.

“Sorry, just woke,” my father says, feigning ignorance. “Has the ceremony started?”

The king’s lip curls and his disgusting fangs extend, making it clear what he wants to do to Timót. “I should have killed you the moment you arrived.”

“Perhaps,” dad says with a shrug. “A bit late for that now.”

“There are still ways, you fool. Bring him to me!”

The vampires at either side of my father reach for Timót, but with equal deftness he steps back, grabs them by the arms and throws them to the ground. In the same instant, Darius has released me and is on top of the fallen attackers, keeping them away from Timót.

The king glares at his son, surprised and appalled by his actions. “What are you doing?”

“He’s only taking precautions,” Timót says, his wand aimed at the king. “As he knows what comes next.”

Right on cue, an ear-piercing roar echoes through the room. All faces turn upward in time to see dozens of nose-diving dragons fly through the opening in the dome, swarming the temple.

My eyes immediately shoot back to Rain, completely exposed in the center of the chamber. Vladimir stands next to her. I see terror in his eyes as more beasts flood in through the open ceiling. As the vampire king moves out of the center of the room, I sprint to the altar, practically throwing my body over Rain in case a burst of fire is about to hit. As soon as she’s wrapped in my arms, someone lifts me and starts to carry us away. I expect to see Darius, or perhaps Timót. Instead I’m shocked to see Emerus rushing me off to the sidelines. He tucks us into a small recession in the stone wall, out of the reach of the dragons and hopefully unseen by the vampires.

“The child cannot die like this.”

Adding the qualifier “like this” takes away from the kindness of the gesture, but I’ll take what I can get. Emerus flashes away from me, presumably to save himself.

I look above to see that Timót has mounted his dragon, but the creature stays on the ground, marching over to the three Ancients who are pinned in the corner. A few vampires run to their defense, only to be lit on fire by the scorching dragon breath. There’s a strange moment where the elderly vampires seem to accept their fate and bow their heads. I wonder briefly if Timót might spare them, but that thought dies more quickly than the Ancients as a stream of fire erupts from the dragon’s mouth and consumes them.

While the undead relics flail, Timót turns his attention back to the altar where Rain had been. The look on his face is one of unbridled power. His plan has worked and his life is eternal. He believes he’s the most powerful man to ever grace the universe... and there’s a chance he’s right.

He steadies his wand and aims it at the altar--an ancient piece of stone built for the sole purpose of staging my baby’s death. In this moment, I’m one-hundred-percent team psycho dad.. I want him to wreck that goddamn thing. Don’t leave anything behind but dust. And then take that dust and make it more dust until it’s microscopic. Then scatter that to all the worlds so this monstrosity can never be rebuilt.

“Elpusztítani teljes,” he yells, and a ripple of red light bursts forward and into the stone. There’s the briefest pause before the altar explodes into tiny particles, floating into the surrounding space and coating everything nearby in tiny flecks of debris.

Good goddamn riddance.

Timót gives one last look at the spot where the altar used to be, admiring his destruction, before turning back to find his next target--King Vladimir.

The vampire leader has been carefully dodging flames and alluding fighters, but making no move to escape the fray. His fangs are out, looking longer than ever, ready to kill anything that comes near.

“I’m sorry things haven’t gone quite to plan, Vladimir.” My father approaches the king, his dragon ready to do its worst. I wonder if someone as powerful as Vladimir might be able to survive a blast of dragon fire. The way his eyes keep jumping between Timót and the giant creature’s nostrils makes me think he’s not feeling too confident.

“What shall you do?” Vladimir asks. “Run off with the child? Hide away until the vampires find you? Don’t think for a second that we won’t.”

“But whatever for?” Timót says with a laugh. “You’ve no altar. No Ancients to perform your rituals. Your poor interpretation of the prophecy has no chance for fulfillment.”

The king snarls, taking a step closer to my father and the dragon. Maybe I was wrong about him being afraid. Maybe nothing can kill this old monster.

“Altars can be rebuilt,” he hisses. “Songs from old lore can be rediscovered.”

Timót nods, a pompous smile on his face.

“That’s all true. Perhaps things will go exactly as you say. But you certainly won’t be around to see it.”

His face turns from cocky to crazed as he wrenches back on the reigns around the dragon’s head and a massive swath of fire circles around the king. I watch as Vladimir stands in the fire, his body not moving. He’s either invincible or welcoming death, and I won’t know until the flames subside.

But that might never happen.

The dragon continues to scorch the king, moving closer as the hot blue fire wraps around the vampire. Now I can hear Vladimir’s screams, though his body is unmoving. The dragon leans closer still, now practically on top of its target. Timót keeps his grip on the rains, not letting up at all.

With their faces inches apart, the dragon fire finally stops. I hold my breath as I wait to see what’s become of the king, but I’m never given the chance. In one swift, gruesome motion, Timót’s giant creature takes the vampire king into its mouth, its colossal teeth shredding charred flesh and crunching through old bones.

No more wondering about the vampire king.

I duck back into my hiding place as Timót looks around the room. I’m not sure how much more killing he wants to do before he starts searching for me.

The vampires have largely fled from the room. The fiery attack has forced them away, and only a few fighters remain. I glance around, looking for Darius, and while I can’t see him, I feel him more strongly. I feel less anger, and a sense of calm. The timing feels odd, what with dragons everywhere breathing out fire and ending the previously endless lives of vampires.

Where are you?

I don’t know why I ask, because I hate him. Still, something about the change has me wondering enough to ask. I’m not sure I’ll get a response, so when I hear the words, and the voice that puts them in my brain, tears of hope and joy burst out of me.

He’s with us, love. We’re coming for you.

Libre Baskerville
Gentium Book Basic
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