C1 Chapter 1
Golden rays of sun settle over the naked man in bed next to me, bathing his skin in orange and yellow. I sigh in contentment as I turn the page in my book, my body pressed close to my husband's, the gentle rhythm of his breathing lulling me into a drowsy state as I read. I have a stack of books by the side of our bed. Some fiction, some non-fiction, some from my world, some from this new world I have become a part of in the last several months.
I'm devouring books about the history of Inferna and Avakiri, about the vampires and Fae who populate this new life of mine. It's bloody, fascinating, and full of conflict, like all histories. Whether human, vampire, Fae or other, the core nature of all species seems to be the same. Conquer and make war. I shake my head at the thought of it, and place a leather bookmark to keep my page before setting the book on the pile next to me. Snuggling back under the covers, I press my body against Sebastian's, enjoying the skin on skin contact.
When I married Sebastian in an impromptu Vegas wedding after being turned into a vampire, my whole life changed.
We could have stayed in Las Vegas. I could have kept my job as a librarian. But after being betrayed by my best friend and colleague, and losing my house to a fire while defeating the vampire trying to kill me, it seemed like a good time for a change.
And so here we are, in Inferna—a world of vampires and Fae I didn't even know existed until I met Sebastian. We are the permanent guests of Prince Ace, a vampire lord cursed with the deadly sin of sloth, which ironically makes him the most resourceful, inventive, hard-working prince of these Seven Realms.
It was a lot to take in at first. A whole other world separate from my own that we can travel to via mirror. Seven Realms ruled originally by the seven princes of hell and their father, King Lucian.
The king died many years ago in a great war, as did a few of his sons. Now, King Fenris, formerly Prince of War, rules with his wife, Queen Arianna, who is also the Midnight Star of Avakiri, the Fae kingdom.
I have been learning the history, and reading about the different princes and their offspring. After a brief stay at The Black Lotus, Sebastian and I headed to Inferna, where he introduced me to the vampire prince who turned him and saved his life so many years ago. Prince Ace offered me a job managing the castle library, while Sebastian became one of his Royal Guards. This life has suited us well. I'm learning to navigate a world without technology, and Sebastian and I are discovering the joys of married life, while I work out how to live as a vampire.
That last bit is a lot easier on Inferna, where the sun doesn't harm us. The earth sun will kill me, so I'm less inclined to test my luck on my home world these days, though we still go back from time to time for new books, or to get coffee at our favorite spot. Traveling by mirrors is quite the wonder, and makes me wish I'd been turned before that disastrous trip to Asia a few years ago where my flights were constantly delayed, my luggage was lost, and I ended up next to a drunk old man who wouldn't stop falling asleep on my shoulder, his drool running down my chest, spoiling my blouse. Mirrors are far superior.
Sebastian's breathing changes as his body shifts, his arm wrapping around me, pulling me closer. "Good morning, beautiful," he says in his husky morning voice.
"Good morning," I say, our lips a breath apart.
His eyes, so brilliantly blue I swear I could dive into them and never resurface, pierce my soul as he holds my gaze. Every morning waking up with him feels like a new adventure.
A fire crackles on the other end of the room, warming the cold stone walls and floors. Outside, a gentle snow begins to fall, leaving the mountains and valleys beyond the castle looking like a snow globe dipped in powdered sugar.
Beneath the covers, the heat from Sebastian's body entices me. He erases the distance between our lips, pulling me close, pressing himself against me.
His kiss is soft at first, a gentle exploration of my lips, but as the heat between us rises, as the passion builds, his kiss deepens. I wrap my legs around him, our bodies a perfect fit for this dance with each other. We shift under the covers, his body over mine, my nails digging into his back as his fingers dance over me, finding all the spots that make me moan against him in burning need.
As the world fades around me and fireworks dance in my eyes, as heat floods my body and lightning teases my skin, we become one. Our bodies unite in a primal movement that spans histories, that connects us all, that forms all that is living and breathing in all the worlds. We are transported to a new realm, one of pleasure and love and intimate joining.
Nothing else matters. Nothing else exists, but us.
I drown in his eyes, am lost in his touch, am filled by him and surrounded by him, consumed by him and am undone by him. He screams out my name, and my voice joins his as we ride this wave of pleasure together.
When our passions are spent, we lay together in each other's arms, glowing and happy and so contended I can hardly grasp it all. He kisses the top of my head and I feel the smile on his lips. "My wife. My love. My life."
His arms grip me tighter, and I sigh deeply. Though nightmares still occasionally haunt me, of the night I was turned, the night vampires fed on me, drained me to near death, they are fading in the light of this man's warmth. His love. His protection.
I've never felt safer. Never felt more loved.
"What do you want for Christmas?" he asks, unexpectedly.
The first snowfall of the season heralds the coming holidays. I hadn't given much thought to it, to be honest. This will be my first holiday season as a vampire, I realize.
I sit up in bed suddenly, my heart pounding in my chest. "Gods be damned," I say.
Sebastian is on high alert, ready to fight to the death. "What is it?"
"Christmas is almost here," I say, my voice forlorn.
"Yes. We celebrate the holidays here, if that's what you're worried about. Our queen is from your world, so she has introduced rituals from there as well as keeping with solstice traditions here. We can 'deck the halls' as they say in your land." His tone is light, but his face is worried because I must look a fright.
"You don't understand. We can't celebrate here. We have to go home. To my home. Back to Ohio, where I was raised."
He raises an eyebrow. "Why?"
My shoulders slump. I can't believe I forgot about this. "It's tradition," I explain. "Every year I go home and celebrate with family. It's the only time I see most of them."
"Family?" he asks, scooting out of bed and pulling trousers on. "I thought you lost all your family in college?"
"That's true. But when I was little I lived next door to a girl named Shelly. We were best friends and our parents were best friends. We were practically raised together. Her family was mine. My family were hers. We all celebrated holidays together. Went through high school and even college together. Her family was there for me when my parents died. I've spent every holiday with them since I was a baby. I can't not go this year." I smack my forehead with the palm of my hand. "She's going to kill me. I haven't even told her I'm married. I'm the worst friend in the world."
The last several months have been so chaotic, I haven't really been in touch with anyone from my old life. Between learning how to satiate my vampire thirst without hurting anyone, to getting to know my new husband and this new world, I haven't had a lot of free attention. But of course I have to tell Shelly I'm married and coming for Christmas. "I have to get a letter to her. Can we do that?"
Sebastian nods and hands me my robe. "Write it and I'll have someone take it to your world to mail. It will look like it came from there."
As I slip the robe on and walk around the bed, Sebastian pulls me into an embrace. "Are you sure you want to go? We'll have to avoid the sun, and you will need blood regularly, being so young. It's risky."
"I know. But this is my family. I want them to meet you, and I want to see them. And after everything they've done for me, I'd hate to hurt them by ghosting them."
He nods. "Then we'll make it happen. Write your letter and meet me downstairs for breakfast."
The letter will look very old school, I realize, as I sit at the desk by the window, overlooking the incredible snowy white view. Hand made parchment, a feather pen and real ink, with a wax seal. Nothing odd about that, right? Hopefully, Shelly won't bat an eye, since I've always been interested in the archaic.
I dip the tip of the feather pen into ink and pose my hand over the parchment, thinking.
I decide to keep it simple and sweet. I'll explain the rest when I get there.
How this year has flown by. The holidays are already upon us, can you imagine? We haven't spoken in ages, and I have so much to tell you. To start, I am married! I know this must be a shock, and you'll likely be put out that I didn't invite you. To be honest, it was quite a last minute affair. I'll explain everything when we arrive for Christmas. I assume it's plans as usual? Is Aunt Margaret still alive and kicking? She made quite the scene last year, and your mother swore she wouldn't invite her again, but I know she will. She always does.
At any rate, my husband's name is Sebastian. Sebastian Kingston. I'm officially Ember Elaine White Kingston, which is something of a mouthful, I realize. And... we moved. We've actually been traveling a lot, so if you need to reach me, mail my post office box and I'll have someone check it from time to time and forward my mail to wherever we're staying. It's been quite an adventure, but we will be there for the holidays. I love you and miss you,
Your sister in spirit,
With the ink still wet, I sprinkle a bit of sand over the parchment to help it dry and prevent smudging, then fold it and tuck it into a handmade envelope. With a candle from the desk, I melt a bit of red wax over the opening and use the Kingston signet ring to seal it. On the front, I jot down her name and address from memory, leaving the return address blank, because what on earth would I write?
Ember White Kingston
Prince of Sloth's Castle
We don't even have a proper zip code here. I'm honestly not sure how they have effective communication systems in these realms. It's something I've been talking to Sebastian about, but he doesn't seem to be quite as worried about it as I am.
Hopefully this letter will find its way to her in time.
I set about getting dressed for the day. Not having a mirror has proved the most challenging part of being a new vampire. I've mostly given up on make up, and I keep my hair pulled back or loose flowing. I haven't seen my own reflection since just after I turned, and I've nearly forgotten what I look like, which is such a strange sensation. I'm tempted to have a portrait commissioned of me, just so I can remind myself from time to time. Does that sound odd? It does to me, but then so does not being able to remember your own face. I asked Sebastian about this once, some time ago, when I realized my own features were becoming hazy in my mind, like the way a loved one who has died loses some focus after a while. You have a general sense of them, but can't see the details of them quite so clearly.
Without pictures of my parents, I would have a hard time specifically recalling them. And we can't keep photographs in this world. I'm going to need a really spectacular artist to remake a few of my favorite pictures into paintings, I think. It's a project I've been giving some thought to lately.
Dressed in a fresh blouse the color of ripe plums and black pants that lace up the front, with black leather boots, I make my way down the long halls of the castle, letter in hand.
I still marvel at the wonder around me. The ancient tapestries hanging from the stone walls. The hand-woven carpets that keep the chill out. Globes of soft light that float in the halls, illuminating the passageways with magic. Vampires can't do magic, I learned to my great disappointment. Only Fae can. I asked if there was a way to be turned Fae, but Sebastian just laughed and said, “if only.”
Prince Ace's castle also boasts a lot of failed inventions. They hang from the ceilings and are propped on shelves littered throughout. It's all very steam punk, with metal gears and strange configurations. But so many of his ideas manifest into tools that help all Seven Realms, that even his failures are celebrated as steps on the road to success.
Unless that failure blows up sections of the castle, which happened about a month after we moved in and nearly gave me a heart attack.
Sebastian is sitting in a thickly cushioned chair, book out, reading as he sips a goblet of blood. I join him and he sets the book down and offers me a glass of what is now normal fare for me. We still eat food, though our bodies don't need it the way they once did. It's still nice to have a flavor other than blood on my tongue from time to time.
I hand him the letter to my friend, and he takes it, frowning. "Are you sure about this?"
I nod. "It'll be fine. What could go wrong?"
Famous last words, am I right?