The House of the Seventh Minuet CVIII

When I woke, there was a man sitting in the armchair beside my bed, long legs crossed, hands folded neatly in his lap. He was dressed in clothing from well over a century ago, and what little skin wasn’t covered was pale. He had delicate features and long, silvery hair that cascaded down his body in subtle, elegant waves.

“Ah, the warrior prince awakens,” he said. His voice was all grace and and nobility.

I glared at him. “What are you doing in my room?”

“Oh, Stefan,” he replied, as though he had all the time in the world to get his point across, “you have it backwards. You are a guest in my castle, meaning that you are in one of my rooms.”

Your castle?” I asked as I sat up.

“Yes. My name is Damien Averel Thorne. I am the master of this bloodline, and of this castle.”

“Then you’re the one who ordered Leila to be kidnapped,” I growled, eyes narrowed.

“I never used that word,” he replied. I didn’t appreciate how smug he sounded. “I simply asked for her to be brought here so that she could help us. Those I have sired are simply efficient and fulfilling my requests.”

“Yeah, your lackeys serve you so well.”

He smiled. I wanted to slap that self-satisfied look right off his face; I never did appreciate how nobles acted like they had all the time in the world and nothing to worry about.

“They know very important it is that she help us.”

“And you couldn’t just ask us?” I snapped.

He make a soft laugh and shook his head. “Erik did try that. Jean-Marc, of course, would not even consider it, and I am quite certain that even if he did, you would crush that idea in an instant.”

I couldn’t deny that he was right about that; I didn’t want her going anywhere near vampires. It was hard enough accepting that they actually existed.

“So then tell me: what do you need her for?”

“Oh, Stefan, I believe you’ve worked it out by now.”

My arms crossed over my chest. “How about you stop the games and just speak plainly?”

He grinned at me and inhaled sharply. “Such hot blood you have. It makes me wonder why Leila is so entranced by you. Well, you are lovely to look at.” He looked me over at added, “And you are gentle with her in a way that nobody else gets treated to.”

“If I agree with you, will you take me to her now?”

There was that self-satisfied grin again. He was toying with me, and he knew it. He also knew that I knew it. I wanted nothing more than to punch him and go find Leila myself.

“Your need for her is like nothing else,” he said, as though he were giving me a revelation. “I suppose I should deliver you to her so that she can quench this thirst you have and keep you from being consumed by the flames in your heart.”

“You’re so full of shit,” I growled.

He got up from the chair and offered me his hand. “Despite what you say, she has asked for you, and I can no more deny her what she desires than you can.”

I scowled at his and and got out of bed on my own. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Only that all the world would kneel before her if that was her request.”

“Heh, that’s where you’re a fool: she wouldn’t let anyone kneel for her sake.” I headed for the door.

“And she is all the more beautiful for it.”

He followed me out into the hall, where Larsa and Killian were already waiting.

“Åh, hej Stefan, jag är glad att du är vaken!”

“Larsa,” I groaned, “keep it down, would you? What are you so excited about, anyway?”

“What do you mean? We’re in a castle, Stefan! Isn’t that cool? And there are vampires– but they’ve been really nice.”

“Ummm…. sure, whatever you say, Larsa.” I looked to the vampire lord. “Can we continue on to where Leila is?”

“Did you know that Lord Thorne knows a lot of languages?” Larsa asked as we headed down the hall. “Even Swedish.”

I ignored him, hoping he’d drop it and let me focus on Leila.

“Not Sámi, though. Even he knows I have magic!”

I was a little curious as to what he could do that the little stones he’d used a few nights ago, but that wasn’t the time to ask. Instead, I focused on following the vampire down several hallways. I was surprised when he didn’t take us up or down any stairs; he just stopped outside a door that looked much like all there other ones and knocked.

“Grand-master,” a soft voice intoned as the door opened.

“Claire,” Lord Thorne replied. “I brought visitors.”

The door opened wider, revealing a modest room with a single bed and humble furnishings. My view of the bed was partially obstructed by an armchair, but I knew from the way the blankets were rumpled that at least one person was lying there. Lord Thorne walked further into the room, to the far side of the bed.

“Lady Moss, how are you feeling?” His voice was smooth and low, and I did not like the seductive overtones he was using.

I followed him, feeling my heart pound the closer I got. Her back was still to me, and she was wearing a full, formal gown, and had jewels in her copper hair. Why was he dressing her like this? Why was she letting him? My breathing quickened as my frustration grew.

“I’m all right,” Leila said, speaking calmly, softer than usual. “I think it’s starting to help them.”

“Leila,” I gasped, choking on her name. I walked closer, past Lord thorne, ready to hit him if he tried to stop me.

Leila looked up at me when she heard her name. “Stefan!” Her face brightened; she looked so happy to see me, so surprised, but she remained seated on the edge of the bed. She reached one arms for me, but the other stayed where it was, close to one of the women lying nearby.

“Oh, Leila!” I wrapped my arms around her, needing to hold her, to be surrounded by her scent, to feel her touch. When I felt her return the embrace with only one arm, I tried to lift her up, only to hear her gasp in pain.


I froze. “Leila, what–” I looked down at her arm and realized that the pale woman, whose blonde hair had become limp and dull from days without washing, had her mouth on Leila’s wrist. More than that, Leila seemed to have offered it to her freely. I leaned in closer and notice a thin line of blood running down into her palm.

Leila looked up at Lord Thorne, the smile she’d had upon seeing me gone. “You said you’d prepare him for this.” She sounded annoyed and disappointed.

He gazed back her for a moment as though in thought. “I did want to,” he told her, “but he was far too intent on seeing you to listen to me.”

“Leila…” I breathed, gazing down at her wrist, “what… what are you doing? Is that–”

“That’s Ingrid,” she told me. “Look just sit down, okay? I realize you would have freaked out regardless of how you found out a bout this.”

I blinked and watched the vampire wrap her hands tighter around Leila’s arm. When I didn’t move, Leila pointed to an opened chair and asked me again to sit. As dazed as I was by what was going on, the sternness in her voice was enough to get me into the chair. I hardly acknowledged Erik, who sat in the armchair on the other side of the bed, even though he was watching my every move.

“First off, I’m fine,” Leila said, her tone certain. She look from me to Killian and Larsa. “I agreed to help.”

“Wow…” Larsa breathed. “You’re feeding her? But isn’t… isn’t that the one who drain Sir Maël?”

“It is,” I all but growled. I met Leila’s eyes. “Why would you do this?” I wanted to yank her arm away from the vampire, to get Leila out of that room, but Erik looked ready to lead from his chair if he didn’t like what I did, and Lord Thorne stood right next to my chair; I was in no position to test him.

“They need my help,” Leila said.

“Leila, ye heard the story Sir Maël told us,” Killian reminded her. “He couldnae sustain them; she was ne’er meant tae turn Brielle.”

“Is that Brielle?” Larsa gasped, pointing to the woman sleeping beside Ingrid. “Oh no…”

Brielle hardly looked alive– or as a live as a vampire can be. He skin was pale and ashen, her frame thin, as though she’d been starved. To be honest, the only reason I didn’t think she’d completely perished was because the other people in the room weren’t weeping and mourning.

“You see now why we sent for Lady Moss,” Lord Thorne said. “We cannot allow Tierney Ríocht’s cellist to die, and nothing else we’ve done has helped.”

He glanced around the room, then asked Erik, “Has Matthias still not returned?”

Erik shook his head.

Lord Thorne scowled. “We may have to send his master to drag his back. He cannot abandon his fledglings like this.”

“Where did Matthia go?” I asked.

Erik muttered something under his breath and shook his head. Leila, at least, was kind enough to give me an answer. “He hasn’t been seen since very early this morning. The only reason we can think for him to leave is that he’s upset I hadn’t agreed to help Ingrid and Brielle.”

“You mean he left because you said no?” I asked. “Basically rage-quit?”

Leila shook her head. “I hadn’t given any answer, actually. By the time I made up my mind and Lord Thorne brought me here to tell them, he was gone.”

“He was here when I left with Xanthus to retrieve our guests,” Erik added. “When I came back to check on him, he was gone.”

“Maybe he needed to go hunting?” I suggested.

“He’d be a fool to do so that close to dawn,” Lorne Thorne said.

“Not only that,” Erik went on, “but all of us let someone know when we’re leaving the castle. He’s been telling Ingrid, or at least leaving a note, when he so much as goes to bed. Disappearing like this isn’t normal for him.”

I would have replied to him, but I was distracted but the fact that Ingrid was still firmly attached to Leila’s wrist. I gave her a worried look. “Leila, how much have you given her? Hasn’t she had enough?”

“It’s all right, Stefan,” she said. “She’s drinking slowly. I can’t be drained in a matter of minutes like in the movies.”

“But– Look, can’t you just stop for a few minutes? I can’t watch you do this, Leila.”

“What?” she replied with a sort of laugh, as if I were being absurd. “Stefan, we’ve given blood together plenty of times before.”

“This isn’t the Red Cross, Leila.” I gave her a serious look.

“Think about it Stefan. They take blood donations for crises, right? Well, Tierney Ríocht is in a crisis– and it’ll get a lot worse if we lose Brielle.” There was a sense of urgency about her, and a desire for me to truly understand. “I’ll be okay. Lord Thorne and Erik are watching over me to make sure I take breaks. Ingrid is being gentle, too.”

I shook my head. “But Leila…” I croaked out, my throat feeling very dry.

“She’s a strong woman,” Erik pointed out. Again I had the desire to knock him out. I didn’t want him near her, I didn’t want him talking about here– I don’t even want him to know her. “She has the imagination and strength of will that allowed her to come here. She cares about this world even though she’s only just learned about it– and that includes us.”

By ‘us,’ I knew he meant the vampires; possibly other creatures of the shadows, too. Of course she cared– she was the same way back on Earth, always friendly, thinking the best of people. She wasn’t a fool about it, though, and I kept trying to tell myself that. Apparently she’d taken a long time to consider the vampires’ request for help– and I still hadn’t gotten to ask why it had to be her– so I believed that she hadn’t just rushed into this. Still, I couldn’t shake the desire to want to take her away from all of this.

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The House of the Seventh Minuet CVII

This chapter is told from the viewpoint of Stephan Nilsson.

Another early morning. The only reason I wasn’t complaining more about it was that Brom had let me join him and some of the others in the room furthest from the one where Larsa made love to Killian well into the night. The breakfast was good, but getting some extra sleep was even better.

We’d arrived in Rosenthal Village the previous evening. Brom had located someone who could deliver a message to the castle for him, then to us to each and bed down early, as the reply to his request would probably come before dawn. He’d been right, of course; the invitation came, and Brom started waking us and letting us know to get breakfast and make ready to meet the envoy at the gates at the appointed hour.

Thankfully, Rosenthal Village was used to operating in both night and day; it saw as many vampires and other creatures of the night as it did anyone else, and its shops and services worked in shifts to serve all of its customers. I was able to get a large breakfast, with sausages and eggs and biscuits, not just porridge and fruit. Somehow, Larsa and Killian didn’t look exhausted; I don’t know how they managed to be so cheerful even with that little sleep.

After we’d all eaten, we packed up the carriages and animals and head up the hill to the wrought-iron gates that kept unwelcome visitors from getting too close to the castle. The closer we got, the more were wolves I saw. Some followed behind us, and others flanked us. Evander didn’t seem bothered. even when I pointed out the one close to his heel.

“There are countless werewolves in this part of Tierney Ríocht,” he told me. “We cannot expect them to avoid us.”

He didn’t mention anything about the werewolves who’d died while helping the vampires kidnap Leila. I decided that it was better for me not to ask about them. I had no idea whether the ones surrounding us had been part of that battle, and if not, whether they’d heard about some of their kind being wounded or killed, and I wasn’t about to call attention to myself.

The gates were closed when we got up to them, but there were people there, waiting for us in that pre-dawn gloom. I recognized them: Xanthus and Erik. The vampire was on a pitch-black horse, glaring down at us as we approached. The satyr stood closer to the gates, flanked by a pair of especially large werewolves. They had darker fur then any of the others, and their eyes shone. I glanced over at Evander, but he didn’t have any commentary for me.

“Let me ride ahead,” Brom told us, his voice low and serious.

Nobody argued with him. He urged his horse to walk a little faster, and when he got to the gate, he addressed Erik first. They spoke for a while as we continued our approach. I wasn’t sure if we were supposed to stop a little way back, but neither Evander nor anyone else signaled for that, so we kept going until we caught up with Brom.

“You really did bring everyone, didn’t you?” Erik said as we looked us over. “Even the magic little boy.”

“He is one of Lady Moss’s close friends,” Brom told him. “Is your master’s invitation not open to him?”

“It is open to all your entourage,” Erik replied. “I merely thought him too innocent to be brought out this way.”

“Is he talking about me?” I heard Larsa ask Tobias in a hushed voice.

“Yes, young one,” Erik called to him. He chuckled when Larsa looked surprised that he’d been heard. “I’ll need that bag of magic stones from you if you are to enter the castle.”

“Do you plan to collect everything from us?” Brom asked. “Magic items, weapons, all of it?”

Erik took his time in answering. “That would hardly be practical, would it? I merely need to protect my master from the most… unpredictable factors here. Once we’ve established that we can proceed peacefully, the items will be returned.”

Larsa gave the leather bag containing the magic stones to Brom, who passed it through the gate to Xanthus, and from there it was given to Erik.

“I need every single one of your axes,” Erik said next, staring coldly at me.

I stared back.

“Lady Moss herself would appreciate your cooperation,” he added, “though I’m sure you’re questioning my words already. Grand-master Thorne knows who you are to her, and he will not allow you to continue without you turning over your weapons.”

My glare turned ice cold. “You haven’t even proven to us that she’s okay,” I growled.

“I don’t have to. You came to our doorstep, fully armed and ready to take her from us. If you’d like to be invited in, you can cooperate just as your young friend did.”

“I’m not letting you leave me defenseless.”

“Do you really believe,” he replied wearily, “that w would harm Lady Moss’s consort?”

“I’m not–“

“Stefan,” Brom cut in. His voice was firm, maybe even frustrated. “We don’t have time to argue. Give me your axes.”

I narrowed my eyes at him. “First I want to know why they kidnapped Leila.”

“Isn’t it obvious, barbarian?” Xanthus snapped. “We needed her help.”

“If you’re going to lie, at least make it believable,” I replied. “What help could vampires possibly needs from a woman from Earth?”

“You’ve heard enough of the ballad to be able to deduce the answer to your question,” Erik said. “Now then, will you be joining your friends in the castle, or would you rather stay out here with your precious axes?”

I handed Brom the large double-headed axe first, snarling the entire time. I didn’t want to give up a single one of my weapons, but if it was a choice between them or seeing Leila, the choice was basically made for me. I gave him the bandolier of throwing-axes next, hoping that we weren’t being drawn into a situation in which we’d be imprisoned rather than treated as guests. I glared at Erik as they were passed to him.

“Xanthus,” Erik said, holding my gaze, “you may open the gates.”

Xanthus took the key he’d been wearing around his neck and unlocked the gates. They swung open, and he and the werewolves stepped aside so that Brom could lead the caravan through and up the hill towards Thorne castle. Erik drew his black steed up beside Sleipnir.

“If you ever hurt me again,” he slithered, “you will have a horde upon you, and even Lady Moss will be unable to stop them.”

“If you don’t hurt her or my friends,” I replied, ” I won’t have to hurt you.”

“We are in agreement, then,” he said, and then he took off to the front of the procession.

Once everyone was through the gates–even the werewolves who’d been flanking us– Xanthus closed and locked them. Then he mounted the back of one of the larger werewolves and let him run past us to the castle. The moons were still out, glowing behind clusters of thick gray clouds that made me wonder whether is would rain in the next day or two. It was cold on that part of the world, and wolves running through the trees gave me an uneasy feeling.

Thorne castle stood at the apex of a tall hill; some might have called it it a small mountain, but the distinction didn’t matter to me in comparison to making sure Leila was safe. The closer we got to it, the more I could smell the salty air of the sea. Killian and Larsa agreed that there seemed to be an ocean nearby, though we couldn’t be sure, given the forest blanketing the hill and surrounding both sides of the road.

I didn’t have time to ask anyone else about it though, as we were led not to the front of the castle, but to the massive wooden doors closer to the stables. Xanthus and the werewolves had opened them, and they were shut and barred as soon as all the animals and carriages were inside. Sleipnir huffed and shook his head.

“What is this…?”

“Think of it like a garage,” Erik told me. He dismount his horse and patted its flank. “It gives us a safe place to get into and out of carriages if we have to travel during the day.”

I hopped down from Sleipnir and looked around. “How do the animals get to the stables, then?”

Erik looked to Xanthus. “That is one of the ways our acolytes are for. Our castle is not run by vampires alone; we have many humans and other beings who serve us. Sleipnir and the other animals you’ve brought will be properly cared for.”

“Fine,” I said. “How soon can you take me to Leila?”

Erik raised his brow. “You are a hasty one, aren’t you? I should caution you, however, not to mistake our hospitality for submission. It would not be wise for you to be making demands while you are here.”

I grunted and decided to ignore him. I turned and got my pack from the carriage, and helped pass down some of the other items to whoever would be carrying them. Evander and Larsa helped Sir Maël out and kept him steady. I caught Erik sharing a knowing looking with Maël, though I could only guess at what it meant. Killian carried his bassoon for him, and I wondered what good bringing it would do if he was too weak to play it.

We were taken up several flights of stairs and given our rooms. Some, like mine, were simple, single rooms, while other were more like suites; Jean-Marc and Brom shared one with Sir Maël so they could look after him. Erik had food sent to his room right away, apparently intent on helping him recover. Tobias and Aubré took a room next to Killian and Larsa, who were blissfully far from my room.

Even before everyone else was settled in, I asked where Leila’s room was. Erik refused to talk to me about it. He reminded me again that I was in no position to be making demands. Not only that, but dawn was breaking, and as the sun bathed the castle in light, he and the other vampires needed to sleep. The acolytes would see to our needs for a while, mostly in regards to food, but otherwise we were to keep to that part of the castle and not disturb anyone.

Once I was alone, I laid down on the bed and stared up at the canopy if indigo and silver brocade. I was in the same castle as Leila. She might be down the hall, or downstairs or upstairs, but I would be able to see her soon. I could keep her safe. And, I thought as I started to drift off to sleep right there in that velvet comforter, maybe I could finally find the strength to tell her…

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The House of the Seventh Minuet CVI

Lord Thorne gave me some time to myself. At first, I spent it perusing the books in my room; it seemed that he’d brought over quite a few from Earth, all hardbacks, mostly first-editions. Many of them were in English, some in their original language. I tried reading a couple H. P. Lovecraft stories, but found that I simply couldn’t focus.

My attendant came and went, sometimes bringing me tea or water or snacks, other times stoking the fire or asking if I was warm enough sitting out on the balcony. It was cold on that mountaintop, what with it being autumn, and the breeze coming in from the sea. I say mountain, but that wasn’t entirely accurate. I looked like a mountain when one approached from Rosenthal Village, but from the back of the castle, it was more like a cliff that reached out over the beach.

I wondered whether I would be allowed out of the castle, and under what conditions. I also wondered what they had planned for me if I refused to feed Ingrid; they could have simply held me down and let her drink from me, so why go about it as though it were any other request? Additionally, how often would I need to share my blood before they were done with me? What would happen to me afterwards?

My mind was still racing with questions when the attendant appeared in the doorway leading out to the balcony. “Lady Moss…?”

I looked up from the book in my hands– I had stopped focusing on it ages ago. “Yes, Claire?” I insisted on calling her by her name, not ‘girl’ or ‘servant.’ I think it unnerved her that I didn’t want to be served, but I wasn’t going to change my mind.

“Milady, are you all right? You seem… troubled.”

I shrugged. “I have a ton of questions is all.” The I looked out at the horizon, where the sun had just set. Claire was still human, so it made sense that she’d been assigned to me; it made it so that I was allowed out in the daylight. “Will Lord Thorne be back soon?”

“Yes, milady. Dinner has arrived as well. Shall I bring it outside, or would you like to come in?”

“Out here, please. I’m enjoying the fresh air too much to go back in now.”

Claire bowed and went back in to get the food tray. I had tried telling her that she didn’t need to bow to me, but she refused to be any less formal, so I let her do what she needed to do. After the way the werewolves had taken me, I was worried that I’d be in some sort of cell or locked room. Instead, I was being treated as an esteemed guest. I could even leave my room– I was followed when I did, and warned away from certain areas, but still, the freedom was nice to see.

Lord Thorne arrived soon after Claire had my food set out before me. He walked onto the balcony in graceful, sweeping strides, and bowed to me.

“Good evening to you, Lady Moss,” he intoned.

I paused in buttering my toast and looked up at him. “You, too. Did you manage to get some sleep?”

“I did, milady, thank you.” Then he gestured to the chair nearby. “May I?”

“It’s your castle,” I told him. “Sit down, take a load off.”

He gave me a half-smile as he sat down. “Your generation has such a different way of speaking.”

“Don’t all generations?” I pointed out.

“Well… yes, I suppose. But you are so… informal. And your phrasing is idiomatic.”

I nodded. “Yet you still understand me.”

“I do. I visit Earth quite often, actually.”

“To feed?”

“Among other things. If you’re worried about me killing people, it is rare that I drain anyone completely. I much prefer to establish partners from which to feed now and then.”

“Do they–“

“None of them know what I truly am. I show them a good time, as you might say, and I take care of them. When I see them again, they are pleased to know that I will be giving them pleasure.”

“I see…” I glanced his way, then back at my soup. “What else do yo do there besides feeding? Do you ever find fledglings there?”

He gave me a sultry grin and steepled his fingers, then crossed one leg over the other and relaxed in his chair. “I very rarely take a Terran as a fledgling, Lady Moss. The same is true of the rest of my bloodline. I might add that very few of them have leave to visit Earth, and most only go when they are at my side.”

“So… You… what?”

He thought for a moment before answering. “I marry, from time to time. Unlike some of the vampire stories traded around on Earth, I am able to father children.”

“You have kids…” I paused as I processed what he’d told me. “But you don’t sow your wild oats; it’s not about getting your genetics out there, is it?”

He shook his head. “When I marry, my wife takes my name, and we give it to our children, who pass it on.”

“I see, so you like to pass your name down.”

“I would even go so far as to say that I need to, Lady Moss. Just as Tiernan has his descendants, so too do I.”

I nodded. “That means you have two bloodline, right? One of vampires, and one of family…”

He gave me a faint smile. “You have a keen mind, milady. I should also add that I’ve read some of your work.”

I felt my cheeks flush. It was strange to think that some of the types of subjects I wrote about were reading my stories.

“You needn’t be shy about it, Lady Moss,” he went on. “Your belief in magic and mysticism is part of why you are here. Tierney Ríocht is lucky to have someone like you coming here; I have no doubts that you will keep things interesting.”

“‘Interesting,’ huh? I Don’t know whether to feel flattered or worried.”

He smiled again. “To think, that you would be here, in my castle, and not demanding to be released. You may very bring about change for the better.”

“Brom and Jean-Marc mentioned something about that,” I said. “There was something in the ballad about me being different. Do you… do you have taht part of the ballad?

Lord Thorne expressed changed to one of mild surprise. “They haven’t read all of it to you?”

“Well… No. A lot of it, yeah. Just not the later parts. It’s a lot to take in at once.”

“How disappointing,” he said. “While I understand the reasoning, you should know what is written bout you.”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “so do you have a copy of the ballad?”

“I do,” he replied with a nod. “But you’ve asked me so many questions, Lady Moss, and I would appreciate a chance to ask one of my own.”

“Ummm…. okay. Yeah, that’s fair. What is it?”

“Have you given any serious consideration to helping Ingrid and Brielle?” he asked, his voice going deeper, the gravity of the situation evident. “To be clear, I mean to ask you whether you will share your blood with them.”

“Well…” I turned away, gazing out at the sea.

“I was hoping to hear your thoughts on the matter before your friends arrived and tried to influence your decision.”

“What?” I gasped. “My– You mean Stefan?!”

A knowing grin crossed the vampire lord’s face, and he nodded slowly. “The blond one with the axes? He is a mighty warrior, I daresay. And he is not alone; the other musicians are with him, and two darling young Terrans. They’ve just entered the last stop before the gates to the castle: my village of Rosenthal.”

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The House of the Seventh Minuet CV

This chapter reverts to the viewpoint of Leila Moss

I stood in front of the full-length mirror and sighed. Then I turned again to the attendant who had hardly left my side for the past day. “Do I really have to wear this? I’d be fine in simple simple.”

“Milady, the master insists that you are shown respect and given clothing appropriate to your station.”

“But I don’t want that!” I reminded her for probably the forty-second time since I’d arrived. “Can I just have a plain chemise and gown like what you have?”

The attendant looked flustered at my suggestion. “Lady Moss, Grand-Master Thorne would not allow me to dress you as a servant.”

I scrunched my mouth to one side and shook my head. “Can I at least take out the jewelry? I really don’t need all this gold.” The attendant looked worried, so I said, “Never mind… I’ll wear it. I just don’t feel as fancy as I look. I’m just a girl, you know? He thinks I’m so much more than that.”

Judging by the way she was looking at me, she wanted to counter what I’d said, but she knew she wasn’t supposed to argue with me.

I turned back to the mirror and looked myself over. Lord Thorne had prepared an entire suite of rooms for me before I was brought to his castle. It was a lovely gothic-era castle, and it had all the shadows and style of a vampire’s abode, and I was trying to appreciate the beauty of it even though I’d been brought there against my will, and there wasn’t a safe way for me to leave. Even if they let my walk right out the front door, what was I supposed to do? So I was stuck there, playing dress-up until Lord Thorne saw fit to speak to me.

My gown that evening was made of ample amounts of green velvet and lined in black and gold brocade. It was plush and comfortable, I had to admit, but it was far too extravagant. The skirts was wide and worked in detail with black lace and golden beads. I just wanted to get out of it and ask for simple breeches and a tunic. There were even matching shoes, which were lined in pine green silk and had tiny gold buckles.

There was a knock at the door, and the attendant hurried over to open it. “My lord,” she intoned, and then opened the doors wider. She back away and lowered her gaze. “Lady Moss, Lord Thorne has come to see you.”

I looked over to the doorway and crossed my arms over my chest. I noticed that Matthias was with him, but wasn’t sure why he hadn’t been announced. The vampire grand-master was dressed regally in a late-eighteenth century style, with dark fabrics and polished jewels. His hair shone beautifully; he looked like he’d spent all day being styled and tended to. I didn’t know why he wanted to be so formal, but I also didn’t seem to have a choice.

“Milady,” he said with a bow that swept low and nearly had his hair touching the ground.

Matthias, rather stiff with worry, followed suit, but bowed even lower. He swallowed hard once he stood back up, and I wondered what was bothering him.

I took the risk and decided not to bow. “Did you come to make sure I was still trapped in here like your little Odette?”

He chuckled a little. “My dear Lady Moss, you have far too fiery of a spirit to compare yourself to a swan. A princess, perhaps, but not a frail one in need of rescuing.”

“Says the one who gave the order to kidnap me,” I snapped. “And I didn’t expect you to understand the Swan Lake reference.”

“Didn’t you?” he asked coyly. “I am curious, then, whether you believe that your ancestor Tiernan was the only one from this world to visit Earth.”

“Wait– you mean you did, too?”

“Is that so hard to believe? Jean-Marc played in one of symphonies you attended, did he not? And the faun was there…”

“Okay… but how do you get there?”

“I admire your curiosity,” he replied, walking closer to me. His pale fingers caressed my cheek as he looked down into my eyes. “There are, however, things that I cannot divulge to you.”

I pushed his hand away. “Don’t get familiar with me. I’m not got to court my kidnapper, so that better not be what I’m here for.”

“A shame,” he murmured. “It would be interesting to see what would happen if our bloodlines were to mix. Ah, but perish the though, milady, for I would never force such things. Really, I had hoped that Jean-Marc and the others would be more willing to hear my request.”

“You want to be heard? Okay, I’m listening.”

Lord Thorne smiled. He seemed truly pleased, but it was still unnerving being around a vampire, especially one like him. He was so sure of himself– and it wasn’t exactly arrogance; he knew he was powerful and experienced, that he didn’t need to put on airs.

“We appreciate that, Lady Moss,” he said. I think he meant it, too. “If I may escort you to another room…?” he offered an arm for me to walk with him.

“I’ll follow you,” I told him, “but not arm-in-arm.”

“Very well, milady.”

Lord Thorne turned with practice grace and walked out of the room. Matthias watched me follow him, but didn’t start walking until I’d passed him. We went down the length of the hall and around a corner before he knocked on another door. There must not have been a servant inside, as Matthias stepped forward to open it.

“Master,” a female voice said from inside.

Matthias entered the room and moved away from the door to allow Lord Thorne and me to come in as well.

“G– grand-master!” the woman cried, and I saw her fall to her knees before him. “Lord Thorne, I’m so sorry! She is still not well, even though I have drunk from everyone you sent to me, and I have nearly drained myself in feeding her.”

“Calm yourself, fledgling,” Lord Thorne told her, his own voice low and soothing as though to demonstrate the calmness that he wanted to see in her. “You may go back to her side.”

“Tha– thank you, grand-master,” she said. She was shaking, on the verge of tears, as she sat on the edge of the four-poster bed that took up much of the room.

“Lady Moss,” he said, his tone exuding nobility, “this is Ingrid; I am sure you’ve heard of her by now. She is Matthias’s fledgling, and hasn’t even been a vampire for ten years yet.”

I looked between them and nodded. “Sir Maël mention that she wasn’t supposed to turn anyone at this stage.”

“You are correct,” Lord Thorne said. “Both Matthias and I warned her not to do it, no matter how much she loves Brielle.”

“But she did it anyway,” I finished for him.

“That she did,” he said with a nod. “The woman lying pale beside her is Brielle DeChanson, cellist of Tierney Ríocht. Ingrid has drunk more blood than any other fledgling her age, and has passed it all on to Brielle, but it hasn’t been enough to sustain her.”

“Why not, though?”

“The simplest way to explain it would be to say that there is a certain factor in a vampire’s blood, something akin to power. I have more if that factor inside my body than all of my bloodline combined. It would take very little of my blood to sustain any of the fledglings. Even Matthias here would feel incredible strength from just a drop of my blood.”

“Okay… So does it get weaker as you go through the generations?”

“In a manner of speaking, though I prefer to explain it as being more dilute. Erik is quite strong because I sired him myself, but I and stronger yet. The ones he sired are just a little less powerful, and so on.” He glanced over at Matthias. “He is only a little over one hundred years old. Nearly ten years ago, I gave him my blessing to take on a fledgling. He drank from me– just a little– and I helped him choose someone I believed would serve him well. She thrived as a vampire up until she met Brielle.”

I nodded as I listened. “I just… Sir Maël tried to explain some of their relationship to me. Why couldn’t they be together without turning Brielle?” I looked over at the woman sleeping on the bed. She was pale and gaunt, and I worried that she would waste away.

Lord Thorne glared at Ingrid, who looked away in shame. “Yes, that has been quite a point of contention ever since Ingrid brought her body here.” He sat down on the edge of the bed, opposite from Ingrid, and leaned in to gaze down at the cellist.

I crossed my arms over my chest. “Are you not going to tell me?”

We he looked back to me, his expression had changed. He looked work by time, and maybe even a little sad that I didn’t understand. “You are a story-teller,, Lady Moss,” he reminded me. “You know about literary themes. You know that stories can sometimes do a better job of conveying the truth about the world than any professor could.”

“Okay, and…?”

“You know countless stories, do you not? You read and you write, and you read some more. Therefore, you know about the eternal struggle between light and darkness.”

Matthias pulled over a chair so that I could take a seat nearby. I nodded my thanks as I sank into the thick cushions.

“The ballad says that music created light first,” Lore Thorne said. “It doesn’t say it in words, but as the land was formed and the light shone down, shadows formed behind all things.”

“But you say say that like shadows have substance. Light is made of photons,” I told him, “and shadows are just where the light can’t go. It’s not like there are particles of darkness.”

He looked slightly disappointed. “Yes… that is the scientific explanation.”

“What do you mean?” I replied with a weak laugh. “Tierney Ríocht couldn’t have defied science so much that it has shadow particles.”

“I wouldn’t look at it in terms of defiance, milady. Whatever it is, the shadows here have substance, and there are many beings borne of them.”

“Like you?”

His gaze turn downward. “In a manner of speaking. My own master came from the shadows.”

“Wait– you have a master? A vampire master? But I thought you were the grand-master…”

“Of my own bloodline, yes.”

“There are others?!”

Lore Thorne nodded. “My master sired four of us before going back to the shadows. Matthias, recite theirs names.”

Matthias looked surprised at first, but he quickly nodded and stood up straighter. “Grand-master Damien Averel Thorn, Grand-master Edgar Philip Raven, Grand-master Lucius Antony Draco, and Grand-mistress Anaïs Mireille Lyon.”

“Wow… okay, those are some really noble names,” I replied. “What about your master’s?”

Matthia’s eyes went wide; it seemed that this was privileged information. Lord Thorne simply shook his head. “I cannot tell you.”

“Okay… is that because you’re not allowed, or because you don’t know it?”

“You have a keen mind, Lady Moss,” he said. I could tell that he was avoiding the question. “If only Ingrid had your wit, she might have better understood her limitations.”

“Sure, but that doesn’t explain why they couldn’t be together.”

“Ah, yes, the light and the darkness. The night they met, the musicians were performing at a mid-winter festival. They had the forest lit up, rather like Yule or Christmas on Earth. But a lovely as it was, we of the shadows do not appreciate being chased away.”

“Oh… I see. So the people of the light keep trying to bring light everywhere, to chase away the darkness, but those of the shadows…”

“Just want to survive,” Matthias finished for me. I wondered whether Lord Thorne would be up at him for interrupting, but when I looked his way, he only nodded.

“As you can imagine, we are affronted by their attempts to case away all shadows,” the vampire grand-master said.

“But what if they don’t realize that what they’re doing hurts your kind?”

“I recognize that it is a complex situation, milady,” Lord Thorne replied. “As you were asking about Ingrid and Brielle, allow me to say that Ingrid was still getting used to living in the shadows and honoring our ways. Brielle saw her watching the musicians perform from among the trees, and went to speak to her. Matthias eventually found out and warned her not to get involved, but his words went ignored.”

“So… is it sort of like how it went in Romeo and Juliet? They weren’t supposed to be together because of… well, because of their families?”

Lord Thorne nodded. “That is an apt comparison, I daresay. And like the lovers in the play, Ingrid and Brielle could not be kept apart. It seemed like such a fleeting fancy at first…”

“Thankfully they didn’t take poison or use daggers,” I said, “but it looks like Brielle is barely surviving this transition.”

“Had I realized just how serious they were about each other,” Matthias said, “maybe I could have done something better… something so that they wouldn’t run away together and make such a rash decision.”

“Well, what’s done is done,” I told him. “but what are you going to do so that Brielle doesn’t have to stay in bed like this? Won’t bad things happen if she can’t play cello?”

“She needs more powerful blood than I can give her,” Matthias replied. “I drank from the grand-master before I took Ingrid as my childe; she was not given that.”

I looked over at Lord Thorne. “You could solve all of this easily,” I pointed out. “Just give Ingrid what she needs, then she can share it with Brielle.”

Matthias looks surprised, yet again, at my suggestion.

“If that were all it was,” Lord Thorne said, “I might do it. But Ingrid disobeyed us, and instead of pleading the sincerity of her feelings for Brielle, she ran away with her, and when she heard that she was being searched for, she turned her as means to avoid being separated from her. She knew that any other fledgling would have been forsaken, but that Brielle could not be allowed to die.”

“You’re not saving her because of disobedience?”

“There is power that comes with my blood, Lady Moss. It isn’t just that Ingrid is unworthy of it; she is still too reliant on her own master to drink from me. I cannot explain to you all of the intricacies of the bloodline, but trust me when I say that I would have rather fed her myself than let her drink more heavily from our acolytes than any fledgling has ever been allowed.”

“Then why not Erik?”

“Its is a possibility,” Lord Thorne admitted, “but he requests that I first exhaust other avenues. That is why you are here, milady.”

“Do you realize that you sound petty and stubborn?”

“I suppose we might, Lady Moss. If admitting that will help your choice in what I have to ask you, then I do so gladly.”

“Wow, okay… So what do you need? I hope it isn’t music, because I don’t even have my instrument with me.”

“Not at all,” he replied. “Lady Moss, my blood isn’t the only kind that is potent. Moss’s blood was, too, and the seven musicians are also rich and nourishing. There are also those beyond Tierney Ríocht… What I mean is, the people of Earth feed us far better than the creatures of our own world.”

“Wait, you want my blood?” I asked. “Why not–“

“Why not have Ingrid feed from any other Terran?” he asked for me. “She is too young to go to Earth. Even Matthias has limited ability to go there. Still, he has tried to gorge himself of Terran blood, so that he could feed Ingrid. It did her good, but Brielle did not benefit from it nearly as much.”

“So– wait, there’s more to me, isn’t there? I’m a Terran, but also…”

“A descendant of Tiernan Moss,” Matthias added. “Not only that, but you are a writer, a creator, and a musician.”

I looked rapidly between him and Lorne Thorne. “You– but– listen, I don’t–“

“I would rather you not decide right now,” Lord Thorne interrupted as he got up from the bed. “I only wanted to introduce you to Ingrid and Brielle, and share with you a bit of information.”

Matthias tried to follow Lord Thorne to the door, but the grand-master shook his head at him. “Stay with them, Matthias. I shall return to you after some time with our decision.”

Without waiting for Matthias’s acknowledgement, Lord Thorne ushered my out of the room and back to my own.

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The House of the Seventh Minuet CIV

We arrived in a village large enough to actually have an inn well after sunset. I would have been fine with camping out, but Tobias had said something to Brom and Jean-Marc that convinced them to rest in proper beds. I had a feeling I knew why after they paid for the rooms and and gave out room assignments.

“Why are you giving Killian and Larsa their own room when the rest of us are bunking four or five to a room?”

“It shouldn’t be that hard to understand,” Aubré told me, “even for you.”

“Because they’re a couple?! Do we really have to cater to them? Those two would spend all day in bed together if they could.”

“And why shouldn’t they?” Aubré retorted. “They’re in love, and if you understood the importance of it, you’d be bedding the woman you love just as often.”

“Excuse me?!” I snapped. “What the fuck do you think you’re talking about?”

The elf shrugged. “Keep denying it, and you’re going to lose her to someone else.”

“Who the hell–“

“I’m not blind, Stefan!” Aubré shouted. “And none of us are so stupid as to believe that you’re not madly in love with the woman you just killed — what was it? Six? Seven werewolves? — and almost a vampire for.”

“You’re fucking insane,” I growled.

“Heh, at least I have that. You’re not even fu–“

Nikolai shut him up by patting him on the back. “Take it easy on him, Aubré,” he said in a gravely, almost fatherly tone. “You know it’s hard to admit stuff like that when it could mean losing a friendship.”

Then he turned to me. “Come on, Stefan, let’s go practice with those axes.” Nikolai took my arm and led me outside.

“There’s nothing to admit,” I muttered as I walked with him to a field beyond the stables.

“I didn’t bring you out here to argue,” he told me. “I just want to blow off some steam.”

We practiced with the throwing axes for quite a while, until my aim got even better, and I felt more focused, and less angry. By the end of it, I went from annoyed at Nikolai to thankful that he’d pulled me out of the argument with Aubré and given me a better way to channel my energy. I was still irritated that they thought they had any right to say anything about my friendship with Leila, but I wasn’t going to bring it up again.

Once I felt better, Nikolai walked with me to the tavern so that we could get something to eat. Everyone else was nearly done, and Killian and Larsa looked more interested in devouring one another than their dinner. Aubré wouldn’t talk to me, but Tobias said that the more we let them be together romantically, the better it was for Larsa’s Magic. I thought that seemed pretty stupid, but Tobias just asked that I let them be, and to trust in them. This was a different world, and love and magic were just as intertwined as music and magic were.

After dinner, I went back to the inn and laid down on the bedroll Evander had laid out for me. It seemed to take forever to get to sleep. Larsa was in the room next to the one I shared with some of the men, and he tended to get loud when he was excited. I had no way to let out my own frustrations, and even the mead I’d drunk wasn’t helping me doze off. I was considering going over there to yell at them when they finally finished.

My dream that night didn’t make any sense. I showered in a waterfall high up in a mountain, somewhere isolated and forested. When I went back ‘home,’ it was a stone tower on a mountain peak. The place was old and dusty, and I didn’t believe that my dream self was stationed there in any official capacity. There was a fireplace in the main room, and I stoked the fire before heading upstairs to pick out some clothes; apparently I was so alone up there that I walked to and from the waterfall with only a towel and simple shoes.

The bedroom was just as run down as the rest of the tower. The bed was worn and unmade, and the wood was probably cracked here and there. The table and chair looked ancient, too. Really, the only thing not worn-out in the tower was a tall mirror in an ornate frame. It was clean and polished to a high shine, reflecting everything clearly and perfectly. Once I was dressed, I sat in front of it to brush my hair.

My clothing looked… medieval? Viking? I couldn’t be sure; it might have been post-Renaissance for all I knew. But the pale linen shirt and brown leather pants certainly weren’t modern. They were soft and well-worn, but not quite thread-bare. Better off than the tower, but not as treasured as the mirror; I didn’t even know if that signified anything.

After a while of smoothing out my golden lock with an old comb, the room darkened, and my image in the mirror faded. Then, like a figure stepping out of the shadows, a woman appeared. She was dressed in a green velvet gown, and her hair floated around her head in copper ringlets. She placed her pale palm on the glass and looked at me through emerald eyes that looked as though they’d seen weeks of sorrow. She was worried– or maybe scared– but I didn’t know how to help her. I got up and placed my hand on the glass, too, whishing that we weren’t separated by it, that it wasn’t only magic allowing me to see her. She had to look up to meet my eyes then.

Her lips moved, but I couldn’t hear anything. I sighed and started to turn away, but only upset her. She looked ready to cry as her fit pounded on the glass. What was I supposed to do, though? I couldn’t break through the glass to get to her. I hate to admit it, but my dream self walked away from the mirror. I tied my hair back, pulled on socks and then boots, and then headed out of the room. The last thing I saw in the mirror was a crimson stain and a spider-web of cracks, Other than that, it was completely dark.

I woke to Larsa shaking my shoulders. Killian was next to him trying to tall him to calm down, but Larsa didn’t listen to him. I groaned and shoved his hand off of me, then rolled over and pulled the blanket over my head. The curtain were open and daylight was streaming in through the window.

“No,” I complained in Swedish. “No, you don’t get to keep me up late and then wake me up early.”

“It’s not early!” Larsa replied, also in Swedish. He was acting like an excited puppy, and I wasn’t interested in it. “Evander said to let you sleep in, and we did, but the innkeeper says it’s time to go if you don’t wanna pay for another day.”

Had someone given him coffee? Did Tierney Ríocht even have coffee? He was way too energetic, and was talking way too fast. I decided that I was going to camp out the next night even if the village we ended up in had an inn. I needed to be able to sleep.

“Get up, get up!” He urged. “Brom was going to toss you in one of the wagons, but Sleipnir won’t let anyone right him beside you and Leila, and we don’t want him to wander off.”

“He could wander off any damn time he wanted,” I groaned. “If he didn’t take off in the middle of the night, why do you think he wouldn’t follow our caravan?”

Larsa shrugged. “I dunno. Just get up, okay? You gotta eat breakfast so we can get going and make it to where we need to be tonight.”

“Let’s make it a little easier on him, lad,” Killian said. The light dimmed a little, and I peeked out from under the blanket to see that he’d closed the curtains.

I turned to look up at Larsa. “What is that thing you’re wearing?”

He looked down at the new pendant he had dangling from a thick leather cord. It was a blue shell, something like what a nautilus might have, but I couldn’t tell whether it was real or clay. “Isn’t it it pretty?” he asked, holding it out so I could see it better. “Tobias and Aubré took us to the market while you were sleeping. We traded some of the silver-pears for this and some coins. Those things are so valuable! Oh, but we kept a couple of them. Want one?”

“Wait… slow down. You bought a necklace using pears?”

“The special ones!” Larsa practically shouted. He nudged my shoulder. “Come on, wake up, pay attention.”

I looked up at Killian. “What is going on?”

“Did ye forget about those rare pears we found yesterday?”

“I… No, I just…” I shook my head. “I just had some weird dreams last night.”

“All right,” Killian replied. “Well, they’re really rare around these parts, and they’re just shy of bein’ magic so they’re really valuable. That pendant Larsa traded for is actually magical.”

“I can breath underwater!” Larsa announced before I even had a chance to ask. “I mean, I can’t breathe water, but it’s like having a big bubble around me.”

“Hey, woah, you’re just going to breathe some random shopkeeper?”

“Nae Stefan, it’s real. Tobias could tell it was magic before we made the trade, and Larsa’s already tested it out. It’s a handy pendant tae have.”

I narrowed my eyes at Larsa. “You had time to have breakfast, go to the market, and go for a swim?” He didn’t even look we anymore.

Larsa nodded excitedly. “It’s so cool!”

Evander appeared in the doorway then. “Good morning, Stefan. I see Larsa was able to rouse you.”

“Yeah, Evander couldn’t budge you at all,” Larsa added.

I sighed and go up from the bedroll. “Do we have many more nights to go?” I asked the faun. “I can’t sleep if these two are in the next room, free to do whatever they want.”

I noticed Killian’s cheeks flush and he realized what I was referring to. He flashed Larsa a dissatisfied look, but Larsa only grinned proudly and held his hand.

“If we make good time today,” Evander told me, “we should be able to get to Rosenthal Village tonight.”

I nodded. “Okay… and how far is our destination from there?”

“Not far at all,” he replied. “Rosenthal Village is the last one before the gates that bar the way to the vampire lord’s castle. If we can make it there tonight, we can send an envoy to request his hospitality.”

“R-request? And there’s gates?” I was having a hard time processing all of this. “Is he likely to just let us invite ourselves over like that?”

“He may,” Evander replied. “He’ll likely need your assurance that you won’t harm anyone in his castle, and that you’ll respect his home, but it’s not as though he’d refuse us without any thought.”

“And that’s where Leila is now?”

Evander nodded. “I doubt that Erik and the others stopped as often as we have. Xanthus can be out in the daylight, meaning that he can drive the carriage while the vampires sleep. The werewolves, too, need not avoid the day. In all likelihood, Miss Moss is in the castle, already enjoying the vampire lord’s hospitality.”

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The House of the Seventh Minuet CIII

This chapter is told from the perspective of Stefan Nilsson.

I slept in Leila’s bed on the night she was taken. I wouldn’t have slept at all, but fighting the werewolves and chasing after Leila had taken a lot out of me. It was a good thing that I was so exhausted that I passed out as soon as my head hit her pillow, because otherwise I would have laid there, paralyzed by guilt. If I hadn’t insisted on going with her through the secret passages– or if I hadn’t subsequently demanded to he allowed to get my axes– Laila might not have been caught.

Aubré was quick to point out my foolishness. He said I should never have gone into the secret passages, and that if I’d waited and listened to him, I could have stopped Erik from giving the werewolves her clothes to smell. He was also angry that I was the reason Erik had drunk to much from Jean-Marc. Evander and some of the others had tried reassuring me that they probably would have found her no matter what, but I argued that I could have helped him guard her if I’d stayed with them. Besides, what was the point of secret passages if it was so hopeless?

After I woke and dressed, Aubré kept making remarks about how poorly I had handled things the night before. Jean-Marc did what he could do get him to shut up. but he was till weak; not as weak as Maël still was, but enough that it was discussed that they should both stay behind while the rest of us made the journey to rescue Leila

“We’re staying together.” Jean-Marc insisted. “I’ve already made arrangements with my staff to get started on the clean-up and repairs.”

As Jean-Marc explained it, the people of Tierney Ríocht tended to come together to make sure the musicians who protected their world were had safe, comfortable homes. We didn’t know how long we’d be away from the manor-house, but he seemed to think that the repairs would be done around the time we returned. Aubré seemed less hopeful that we would return at all, but that sounded counter-intuitive to the idea that the musicians were not to be harmed.

“You guys really need to stop fighting,” Larsa said when he could get in a word. He’d been filling up on breakfast while waiting for a chance to speak. “Leila wouldn’t like it, and it’s not going to help us find her.”

“You’ve been a lot more help than he’s been,” Aubré told Larsa, gesturing to me.

Larsa’s mouth scrunched to one side as he looked between us. “All I did was throw pebbles. Stefan was the one so nearly took down Xanthus and Erik. But I don’t want to listen to you guys argue anymore, okay? Leila’s probably really scared, and she’d be even more worried if she knew you you were fighting.”

Tobias looked proud to be hearing the way Larsa spoke. “You’re right. young man. Tierney Ríocht needs us to cooperate for the sake of both Leila and Brielle. Pointing the finger at who may be at fault isn’t going to bring them home.”

In our discussions, Jean-Marc and his fellow musicians had explained that Matthias and Erik were both vampires from the same bloodline, meaning they served the same lord, though from different points in that bloodline. Erik had been sired ages ago but their grand-master, making him more powerful and respected. Matthias was much younger, separated by several generations, and had only taken his first fledgling less than ten years ago. That very fledgling was the one at the heart of our problems with Brielle: Ingrid.

It was obvious, then, that if Ingrid’s master had come to take Leila, and that he’d come with Erik, Xanthus, and a good many werewolves, the grand-master had approved of this venture. It was no secret where their castle was, and the journey was perhaps a couple days long, but the vampires had the advantage of being able to travel safely even at night. They would have arrived long before us even if we could have followed that very night.

Jean-Marc diverted some of his staff from cleaning to help us pack and load up the animals and a couple carriages. The decision of where Leila was to begin her journey through Tierney Ríocht had basically been made for her: instead of looking for the person she’d be teaching to play oboe, or the palace she’d be calling home in this world, she would be journeying to Lady Brielle DeChanson. I wouldn’t be letting her be there alone, and the others were on board with being by her side as well.

I would be riding Sleipnir, and Killian and Larsa would be of the moose Evander had brought from his homeland. Argos would take Nikolai, and another centaur would carry Evander, and the others would take seats among the two carriages. We could switch off as we pleased, of course, but Larsa wanted to be out in nature, and I could not be expected to sit still inside a carriage; it was going to be difficult enough not riding ahead.

It was nearly noon by the time we were actually on the road. I had wanted to to leave much earlier than that, but preparations seemed to take forever. They were even bringing their instruments, which made me worry about just how long they planned to be at this vampire’s castle. It felt strange that I didn’t an mine with me, or that Leila didn’t have hers; Once this matter with the vampires was settled, she would have to find a way to get back to Earth to get our oboes, or else we wouldn’t be able to do what we were really needed for.

The day was bright, and the forest full of life. Whatever monsters had lurked in there the night before, they were gone now. Evander told me that while there were usually shadow creatures roaming at night, the vampires– especially the older ones– could make the shadows even deeper, and could summon more of the things that thrived in the darkness. They were weak to the sunlight, however, and would retreated to darker places.

There where many paths through the forest– the Croíceol Woods, according to the map I was given– and we passed a few travelers here and there. We were maybe a mile away from the northern exit when we pulled into a clearing for lunch. There wouldn’t be a village for quite a while even after we were out of the woods, and the clearing was a pleasant spot near a wide pond. Brom and the others unbound their horses from the carriages to let them water the clearing to enjoy the grass, herbs, and flowers that grew here are there.

“Larsa,” I heard Killian call as I relaxed on a sloping patch of clover, “I know ye like the moose, lad, but ye’ve got tae rest fer lunch!”

I looked over to see the moose walking away from the rest of the group, right towards the pond. Larsa had been part-away off of it, and he had to scramble to get back on and try to steer it over to the greens that the horses were enjoying.

“Woah, hey Elan, you’re supposed to let me down first,” Larsa told the moose, who walked straight into the pond away. “Oooooh, and I really wanted that sandwich.”

Evander chuckled as he watched them. “Looks like Elan worked up quite an appetite getting you this far,” he told Larsa. “Pond lilies are one of his favorites.”

Larsa sighed and resigned himself to sitting there while the moose ate several lily pads, flowers and all. I offered to try going out there with Sleipnir to rescue him, but he declined.

“We’re gonna check out the island in the middle of the pond!” he called back to me. “I bet that tree has some pretty good fruit on it.”

“Aubré, does that look like a silver-pear tree to you?” I Tobias ask.

Aubré looked up from his meal to gaze across the pond. “Hard to tell from here. It would be quite a find if there was one this far from the fae lands– of course it’s way out on that little island, where not much can get to it. We’ll see what the boy finds if he can get the moose out of the water.”

After a while of letting Larsa try to get Elan moving, Tobias flew out across the pond and landed beside the tree. From what I could tell, it was wide and thick like an oak, but its bark was lighter and had a faint pink hue to it. He stepped under the thick, branching canopy and reached onto the branches to pick one of the fruits. When he stepped back out, he had the largest pear I’d ever seen in his hands, split open and dripping with juice.

Elan sniffed the air, then rushed over to Tobias to take the half-pear from him. Larsa had to duck down low to keep from getting a face-full of leaves. He was close enough to the branches that he could grab hold of one of them and climb up into them.

“Killian, these are amazing!” Larsa yelled after a couple minutes. He couldn’t find a place to stick his head out, so he went with calling as loudly as he could. Larsa passed a few of them down for Tobias to fly over to share with us.

“Silver pears are highly sought-after,” Evander explained and Tobias split the fruits and passed out the halves to anyone who wanted some. “They’re not overly sweet, but their flavor is unforgettable. They’re very good for you, too.”

I nodded as I accepted it from him. The juice was already dripping down my fingers, making he hurry to lick it up, then to suck down some of the extra juice from around the flesh. It reminded my of pears back on Earth, but more bold, like the way pineapples and oranges make their flavors known. It was also a little sticker than Terran pears. The outside shimmered, parts of it rosy, other areas more silver, rather than the dull yellow-green peels we were used to back home. They were almost crystalline on the outside. The flesh was tender, sweet, and juicy; before long, I had eaten down to its core.

“There are plenty of silver-pear trees in the fae forests,” Tobias explained. “We love to fill up on them when their fruit is ripe.”

“Which is most of the year,” Aubré added.

“Do they grow in the elvan forests, too” I asked.

“A few of them,” he replied, “but not nearly as many as in the fae lands. Out here in the human kingdom, they’re incredibly valuable.” The he turned back to Tobias. “Are there enough to harvest?”

The fae man grinned and nodded excitedly. “I’ll get a couple satchels and help Larsa gather them.” And he flew off to do just that.

“Heh… Just be sure Larsa doesn’t eat them all while he’s up there, I commented.”

Aubré looked back to me, the frustration evident in his expression.

“What?” I asked.

“If you knew what he could do, given the right training, you wouldn’t be holding him back so much.”

“What are you talking about?” I scoffed. “Larsa used a magical item–”

“Which he could not have done were there no magic within him,” Aubré told me, his tone making it clear that he didn’t appreciate my lack of faith is my cousin. “You should treasure his abilities more, Stefan. You are all force and muscle, but there are times when the situation is better suited for magic. Let him eat as much as he wants; silver-pears are great for enhancing latent magical abilities.”

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The House of the Seventh Minuet CII

The next time I woke, everything was dark. The crystal was glowing only dimly, and I could barely see the outline of Erik’s body in the corner of the seat. There was a small pillow protecting his face from the side-wall of the carriage, and Xanthus leaned alongside him. They were both sound asleep, and Matthias was nowhere to be seen; I assumed they’d traded off driving. I felt groggy and a little sore, as well as hungry.

I sat up slowly and tried doing some stretches to ease some of the soreness. Since it was so dark inside, I tried to focus on the smells and sounds coming from outside. The carriage was traveling on a dirt path, and was pulled by what I assumed were horses, or at least something tangential. There were also several… I don’t know, somethings, running along side and behind. Maybe the werewolves were still nearby, because they sounded heavy. They brushes through the foliage now and then, but I was certain they were trying to avoid having their traveling cause a ruckus.

The air smelled of soil and moss. It was fresh and cool– cold, actually. It was also a little thin, as though we were at a higher altitude. There was moisture, but I couldn’t tell whether it was because a waterway was nearby, or if it was rain. I wish they’d had the forethought to give me a blanket, especially considering that my dress as so badly torn. All I could do was adjust the fabric a little here and there and sit with my knees close to my chest, hoping that we didn’t have much further to go.

My mind wandered as we traveling, trying to process what I know about Tierney Ríocht and– well, everything else that was going on. Stefan had been raging the whole time he’d been trying to protect me, and I hoped he was okay– and not taking unnecessary risks. I appreciated him wanting to help, but if he got hurt, that would only make it worse. Larsa had been trying to tell me something about his behavior lately, but Stefan kept shutting him down, which didn’t help matters.

My thoughts were eventually pulled back to the present when the carriage came to a stop. It rocked slightly as someone climbed down from the driver’s seat, and a minute or two later, the door opened and moonlight streamed in.

“Is this our destination?” I asked, trying to see past Matthias; all I could make out were the night sky and the shadowy tree branches.

“Not quite,” Matthias replied. He stepped inside and gently roused Erik. “We’re at the gate, sir.”

Erik looked around slowly and eventually nodded. Then he shifted Xanthus into the stop he’d been in, and Matthias sat down on the other side of the bench-seat. Erik turned to look at me, trying to appearing stoic and mysterious instead of sleepy. I gazed back up at him.

“What gate?” I asked. “Is it magic? Where does it lead to?”

“It is merely a metal gate as you might find anywhere else,” he explained wearily. “This is one of the few roads leading up the master’s castle, and we keep it locked.”


“Enough questions,” he said in a tone of finality. “I would invite you to sit with me on the last part of our ride, but the danger you’d be in if you attempted to run away is too great.”

“I don’t even know where I am,” I harrumphed. “Where would I run to?”

“You’re a resourceful young woman,” Erik told me, almost complimentary. “You’d find a way to get to where you wanted to go. The problem lies in the risk though; you are more likely to die trying to flee, or at least incur substantial injuries. I promised to deliver you to my master safely, and I cannot break my word to him.”

“Safely?” I scoffed. “What about all these scratches? And I’m sure I have at least one bruise…”

He gave me a long, silent look. “Werewolves are not known for being gentle,” he eventually explained. “You shall be treated when we arrive. For now, please do not annoy Matthias, and trust that we shall be at the castle soon enough.”

Erik shut the door, and I heard some sort of locking mechanism turn. There were footsteps leading away, then the flint clinking of metal. Erik called out something I couldn’t hear clearly, and I heard the sound of werewolves running by. The carriage moved forward a little before stopping again, and it took a couple minutes for Erik to close the gate and climb up to the driver’s seat.

“So I’m your poisoner, then?” I asked Matthias once were were moving smoothly.

He narrowed his eyes at me. “Eric thinks you intelligent, but I do not,” he said coldly.

I started at him for long moments, uncertain whether to call him out for insinuating that I was stupid. He didn’t bother to offer me an explanation. “What’s stupid is this situation! I’m sitting here on a hard floor, my clothes are town, and it’s cold, yet I don’t even get an explanation?”

“We’re almost at the castle,” he reiterated.

“So what? Why should I wait?”

Matthias glared at me. “You wasted no time in becoming annoying.”

“Ha! Wanting to know what’s so important that you guys tore apart Jean-Marc’s house and put me in a rolling cage is annoying?”

“It’s better that you see what’s at stake rather than hear about it.”

“It must be something big if those werewolves went in knowing they’d suffer losses.”

“You know the ballad, don’t you?” he snarled. “By all the shadows, you are dense.”

“You’re wrong there!” I snapped back. “I’m new to all of this, so give me some credit for trying to get my bearings first. Besides, I don’t know the entire ballad.”

“We don’t have the luxury of being able to wait for you to understand.” He voice was like acid.

I sat back and watched him for several moments. He was really upset about the thought of me not thrilled about being there. And bringing up the ballad– the document that spoke of how Tierney Ríocht was to be rescued from peril? Something was hitting really close to home for him.

“Does this have something to do with Brielle and Ingrid?” I asked him after a while.

Matthias’s eyes narrowed, and he seemed to be breathing harder.

“Sir Maël made it back to Jean-Marc’s house,” I went on when he refused to speak. “Well, barely. He was almost drai–“

“Stop. I cannot explain anything to you now. The master has asked that it all be left to him.”

Matthias refused to talk to me after that. No matter I said, he wouldn’t look at me, and he wouldn’t speak; he wouldn’t even nod or shake his head. Eventually, I worried that Xanthus would wake up and decided that I should stop before it got to that point. I wished there was at least a window I could look out of if I was to sit in silence.

The carriage finally came to a stop after traveling a short distance over a cobbled road. I heart what sounded like large wooden doors being shut and barred before Erik climbed down and spoke to someone outside the carriage. Their voices were too soft for me to hear what they were talking about, but they did seem a little formal. Matthias sat up straighter and nudged Xanthus be for giving me a serious look.

“Be respectful to our master,” he warned me in a low whisper.

I gave him my coldest ‘or else what?’ look; they weren’t going to do anything that would hurt me. Whatever they had planned, Matthias too the ballad seriously, and that meant he was worried about the fate of Tierney Ríocht. This master of his had to be worried, too, even if he showed it differently. Matthias did not look pleased to see that I was far from the submissive type.

Erik opened the door to the carriage and stepped aside to let the man beside him look in. I assumed this was their master. He was slightly taller than Erik, lean and elegant, with an ancient sort of grace. His skin was deathly pale, his hair silver and impossibly long– mostly straight with only the most subtle waves– and he looked me over with crimson eyes that had seen millennia come and go.

“Lady Leila Moss,” he began in a voice and rich and smooth as velvet, “welcome to to my castle and home. May I begin by apologizing for the forcefulness with which you were brought here? I understand that it is hardly a consolation now, but I intend to offer you my full hospitality now that you have arrived.”

I didn’t respond right away; I stared at him for long moments, trying to gauge how I wanted to respond to him. “I’m not so sure that any amount of hospitality is going to make up for what happened at Jean-Marc’s house.”

He didn’t react in anger. Someone else might have, but he’d been around far too long to not have the self-control to consider my perspective and react in a way that didn’t make things worse. “It seems that there is much to tell, Lady Moss. Before we speak of such things, however, may I show you to the room I have arranged for you? You could change out of the dress the wolves have torn, and my nurse can treat your wounds.”

I looked from him to Erik, wondering whether he was being sincere or putting on an act of nobility in order to charm me into doing what he wanted.

“Erik, she’s had a rough journey,” his master said when I didn’t speak. “Let her out of there.”

“Master, if she ru–”

“Matthias, you were not asked for you opinion on this,” the older man said. As calm as he sounded, there was something in his tone that told Matthias that there would be hell to pay if he made any other protests.

He kept his mouth shut and climbed out of the carriage to kneel before his master. Xanthus followed suit, and they were dismissed just as quickly as they’d moved to kneel. Erik, meanwhile, stepped over to the back of the carriage. I heard him fiddling with something, then a metallic click. A wide panel in the back wall soon opened up, and Erik held his hand out for me.

“Lady Moss.”

I accept his hand and scoot over to the edge of the carriage, then leaned into his arm as I climbed out. My body was stiff and sore, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted first: food, rest, or a hot bath. The master stepped up beside Erik and held open a massive cloak of dark gray fur, the inside lined with matching silk.

“I should have reminded them to bring things with them to better care for you,” he said. “Please give me the chance to show that I am note entirely barbaric.”

He wrapped the cloak around me, and I could do was nod stiffly. “Y-yeah… sure… but you know my name, and I guess where I’m from and what that means, so isn’t it fair that I know your name, too?”

“Of course, Lady Moss,” he replied as he led be through a pair of guarded doors. ” I am Damien Averel Thorne, lord of this castle and grandmaster of the vampiric bloodline living herein.”

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The House of the Seventh Minuet CI

This chapter reverts to the perspective of Leila Moss.

I did not appreciate how rough the werewolves were with me, and that’s putting it lightly. Their claws tore my dress and pierced my skin, and they gripped me too tightly. I nearly threw up from the smell and the way my body was shaken as they passed me between them and ran around.

To his credit, Evander did his best to protect me. we managed to evade several werewolves and vampires before they managed to corner us. whatever was going on in the main part of the house, they were enraged. Jean-Marc’s house was wrecked, and I had no idea who was hurt or how badly.

I was tossed rather unceremoniously into a strange carriage; it was sectioned off by metal bars so that I was caged in. A man sat across from me, lean and fairly handsome, by most standards, but otherwise very common. Except, that is, for the unusual air about him and the demeanor he showed. As the carriage took off through the pitch-black forest, the young man only stared at me with a lack of interest.

“Are you the one who wanted to see me?” I snapped when I grew tired of his silence.

“No,” he replied flatly.

“Then who is?”

“You’ll meet him soon enough.”

“No,” I growled, “if you went to this much trouble to get me, and you hurt my friends, you can tell me who this is all for!”

Still appearing disinterested, he looked away. I noticed that the windows were all covered by curtains, and that the only light was that given off by a magic crystal set in the ceiling.

“Are you a vampire?” I asked him, my tone still demanding.

“You are so direct,” he replied.

“You noticed, huh?” I grumbled. “I’m not just some helpless girl like in days of old. So, are you a vampire?”

He flashed me a grin that reveal long, pointed fangs, then looked away again.

“Hey, what’s this attitude you’re giving me? What did I ever do to you?”

He narrowed his eyes at me. “You could not possibly understand the inner workings of my bloodline.”

“Heh, that line is so old and worn,” I scoffed. “I can understand a lot more than you think. Come on, tell me why you’re doing this!”

“Stay silent,” he commanded, then looked away again.

I couldn’t get him to talk to me after that. We rode in silence for a long time, me leaning against the bars, basically on the floor, and him poised gracefully on the velvet bench seat across from me. Most of that time, I was too angry to rest, but after enough silence and the steady rhythm of the carriage, I started to doze off.

The dream I had was dark and eerie. It felt like walking through a cave– somewhere ancient and quiet, and somehow magical. I could see two figures up ahead of me, dressed in black and holding hands. One was tall and strong, with dark hair down to his thighs. The other was thin, with shorter hair, but I couldn’t make out any other details. It was nearly impossible to see in there, so all I got were brief glimpses.

“It’ll be okay, Leila,” one of the figures said after a while. “You’re not alone.”

“They won’t hurt you,” the other voice said, that one deeper and richer. “They need your help too badly to truly harm you.”

In the dream, I tried to reply, but I couldn’t speak. The harder I tried, the less I could even think about what I wanted to say. Then it was hard to even think, and then I drifted off into another dream.

Eventually, I was shaken awake. I rubbed my eyes until they focused enough that I could see Xanthus standing above me. There was a faint light outside, and judging by the rich smells of earth and moss, we were in a forest.

“Have you come to tell me what’s going on?” I mumbled. I looked around, but didn’t see the vampire from before.

“We’re under orders not to discuss it with you,” he replied, his tone indicating that he would not be arguing the point. He dropped a cloth bag next to me. “I only came to give you some food. We’ll get moving again in a little while.”

“Wait!” I called when he turned to leave. “Where did that vampire go? And where are we headed, anyway?”

“Matthias and Erik needed to sleep,” he told me. “Once the dawn progresses to later morning, we can continue on.”

“They couldn’t just sleep in here? And who is Erik? Is he–”

“You ask too many questions,” he snarled. Then he hopped off the little step of the carriage, closed the door, and supposedly walked away, muttering to himself the whole time.

I sighed and resigned myself to opening the bag of food to find out what they’d given me. It was morning, and I was feeling a little hungry. There was bread, cheese, dried meat, a couple apples, and a water-skin. Once I finished them off, I tried to reach the windows to see what was out beyond the curtains, but all of them were well away from the bars. I laid down grumpily, not able to do anything else, and saw that there was a trap door in the ceiling above me. It was out of reach, of course, and probably locked from the outside.

After a while of being alone with my imagination, I dozed off and had another strange dream. That time, it was Sleipnir, racing through the darkness, followed by a wolf and a pair of ravens. He was swifter than I’d ever seen him in my dreams before, and his neighs eventually began to sound like Stefan calling my name.

That was all I could remember, because the sound of the carriage door opening woke me up. It was a heavier door than I’d expected any carriage to have, and even its locking mechanism was noisy. The light outside was dimmed by the forest canopy, but I was still sure that it was enough to coax any vampire into shelter. Two men climbed inside, holding their cloaks close around their faces and necks.

“I’ll get the tent packed away, and we’ll be off shortly,” Xanthus told them before shutting the door.

Once they sat down and got themselves comfortable, I could see that one of them was the man from the night before. He gave me a narrow-eyed look, then proceeded to ignore me. The other man was taller, with more refined features and red eyes that spoke of centuries of experience. His short black hair looked as though he usually kept it neat and in control, but a night of fighting and then sleeping in the forest had left it mussed. He gazed at me through bleary eyes as he ran long, pale fingers through his hair.

“There’s no way you’re not a vampire,” I noted as I looked him over. “Are you Erik?”

The man from last night gave me a bitter glare. “Where did you hear that name?”

“Matthias,” the red-eyed man said, glancing his way only briefly. His eyes spoke volumes, and his voice was commanding. “There is no reason to be inhospitable. She is to be our honored guest, after all.”

Then he looked to me. “You are a keen observer, young lady. You’re already renowned for your creative talents, you know, even in our corner of the world.”

“Is that why you kidnapped me?”

For a moment he looked affronted by what I’d said. Then he must have realized that I had a point, because his visage softened.

“I suppose you would see it that way,” he sighed. “I would answer all of your questions, Lady Moss, were I not under orders to keep quiet about our plans.”

“Why, though?” I pressed. “You know where I’m from, right? And you know what that means? So I can’t be harmed.”

“Neither should Tiarnán have ever been hurt,” Erik replied, “but surely Jean-Marc and the others have already told you how that ended?”

“Tiarnán? Who’s that?”

“Tiarnán is the name that Moss used on Earth,” Erik explained.

“Why are you telling her so much?” The younger-looking vampire complained.

Erik shot him a look that could have frozen boiled water in an instant; Matthias backed away from him. “Once we return to the castle, Mattias, I shall see to it that you are properly educated. Until then, I suggest that you defer to me.”

Matthias swallowed herd, them nodded. He dared not speak anymore.

“Moss?” I asked. “The Moss from the ballad? The one from here, who went to Earth and brought back a family?”

Erik nodded. “The very one. He couldn’t have managed without a full name, so Tiarnán Moss was what he took.”

“I see…” I sat thinking for a moment, then asked him, “Did he know there were vampires here?”

“He did. There have always been creatures of light and beasts of darkness in Tierney Ríocht.”

“Is that how Earth got the idea for vampires? Did some from here cross over like Moss did?”

He gave the sort of smile one gives a student who is trying to surpass the master, but is nowhere near ready for it. “The ballad didn’t know how right it was that you would be a spirited and cunning young lady. Impressive as you are, however, I cannot answer that question.”

“Okay… So whose castle are we going to?”

“You shall learn that this evening, milady.”

I huffed, then asked, “What’s the explanation for this carriage, then? Was this cage added just to bring me in?”

“You’re more observant than that,” Erik replied. “Surely you’ve noticed that those bars have been in place for quite a long time.”

“Yeah… okay, I get it; the wear and discoloration are pretty consistent. But why would you have a carriage like this?”

“I suppose it would make more sense to you if you’d been dealing with angry werewolves and hungry vampires for as long as we have.”

When I realized what he meant, I couldn’t help but laugh. “Oh, man! Oh, that– You could only contain me in the same cage you use for them?” I laughed again. “Wow, I’m almost proud of myself.”

Matthias then had a worried look on his face. “Is she delirious?” he asked nervously.

“Not at all,” Erik told him, smiling with something akin to contentment and pride. “Lady Moss is from a new era on Earth, Matthias. She is headstrong and willful, but also sharp and imaginative. I have a feeling that she will serve Tierney Ríocht well, even even if she does, as the humans say, keep us on our toes.”

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The House of the Seventh Minuet C

The closer I got to my room, the worse the destruction got. My heart pounded at the thought my scent had led them right to the secret door I’d come out of. My bed was a mess of splinters and shredded cloth. There was a werewolf still clawing at the mattress; he ran away as soon as I lifted my axe.

“Great Æsir…” I breathed as I took in the ruins of the wall.

It hardly looked like it had been a wall at all, and the door barely hung on its hinges. the hallways that were supposed to be hidden were a mess of scraps, and I could hear the yelps and growls of werewolves among the screaming and shouting further away. Larsa followed me as I tracked the sounds of Leila’s voice. Another scream had me running even faster.

“That was her, wasn’t it?” Larsa asked in Swedish.

“Yeah,” I replied. “She–” I gasped, trying to choose which hallway to take next.

I didn’t hear the claws scraping on the floor behind us. I don’t know how Larsa noticed it, but than the Æsir he was with me, because there was a werewolf approaching us from behind. Larsa reached into his pouch and tossed the small object he pulled from it into the air. It hit the ceiling and burst into a small rain-shower.

“Water?” I asked him incredulously. “That’s hardly going to stop it.”

“Hey, I don’t know what all of them do!”

As much as I wanted to give him credit for that, the werewolf was already shaking the water off like a wet dog. It was growling, too. I positioned myself between it and Larsa and readied my axe. It snarled and lunged at me; I rose my axe swiftly to meet its leaping body. In the same moment, Larsa tossed up another of his magic items– I would have to ask later what they were made of– and dozens of stones of various sizes rain down on it. The werewolf whimpered and fell to the ground.

“Let’s go!” I said, still in Swedish.

We ran through the halls, following the shouting of Leila and Evander, and eventually reached the top of a narrow stairway. There were two werewolves there, one whose for was more brown, the other mostly gray. They snarled at me.

“Out of my way!” I commanded them.

They didn’t seem to care about my axe. Nor my anger. They thought it was enough that they were each bigger than me. Well, I didn’t care are their size; I was going to defend Leila.

Larsa sent up a beam of blinding light, and when the werewolves cowered and his their eyes, I charged. The brown werewolf whimpered an collapsed. I turned to the other one to find it enraged– drooling, teeth bared, growled at me in fury. I didn’t have time to raise my axe before it leaped on me. I heard Larsa scream as I fell backwards onto the stairs. The wolf snapped at my face, only missing because of the flames that erupted with the next magical item Larsa through.

“Lord Stefan!” I heard Evander call.

I tilted my head back to look down at him. Seeing him upside-down was dizzying, and my body ached where the wooden stairs dug in. The werewolf’s weight made it hard to breathe, and the fire would soon make that even worse.

“Larsa,” Evander called, “find a light blue gem! It will look just like ice, for that is what it creates!”

“Ice,” Larsa repeated nervously. “Ice… yeah… okay… royal blue is water, light blue is ice…”

It took several anguished moments for him to find what he was looking for. The werewolf drool and snapped at me, and I squirmed to avoid it as best I could. Then I realized that I was blanket in translucent light, shades of blue in the form of magical crests covering my body. Evander held his cane towards me somewhat like a wizard’s staff, focusing whatever ability he had on me.

At last, Larsa threw up the gem Evander had told him to, and a spear of ice plunged through the werewolf’s body. It yelped and and fell stiffly against the wall, where frost spread out from its frozen body– which also managed to put of the small flames. Evander’s magic had somehow prevented the ice from affecting me, so I was left gasping on the stairs.

As I tried to catch my breath, I saw that this part of the hidden passages let out into the main foyer. It was as wrecked as the rest of the house. Brom was rushing down the main stairway towards Evander. Jean-Marc was draped weakly over his back, barely conscious.

“Larsa,” I croaked, reaching up a hand for help.

He came down a few steps to take my hand, and Evander came up to help support me and get me to my feet without falling the rest of the way down. Once we were on the ground floor, together, I looked around.

“Did Tobias find you guys?” Larsa asked. “He was going to take him a healing potion.”

“He did,” Brom confirmed with a nod. “I found him next to Jean-Marc, who’d been left on the floor.”

“What about Erik and Xanthus?” I asked.

“I have no idea; they were already gone when I got there.”

In an instant, I turned back to Evander. “Did they came down here? Where is Leila– they didn’t take her, did they?!”

He shook his head. “It was the werewolves.”

“The werewolves took her?!” I was practically screeching. “Is she okay? Where did they go?”

He glanced over at the broken front door. “They won’t hurt her, if they can help it. Whatever they want with her, they’ll need her alive and unharmed.”

“Are you just letting them take her?! Why are you need following them?”

Evander met my look of fury evenly. “It happened just as you met those werewolves at the top of the stairs.”

Outside, several werewolves howled together, and then more joined in, and then even more.

“Great Æsir, what is going on out there?” I dashed outside in mere seconds. I didn’t care who did or didn’t follow me; I was going to go after whoever had Leila.

Nearly two dozen werewolves occupied the open field that spread out before the manor house. Some were running, others positioned strategically so that they could attack where they were needed. I could hear Leila’s screams coming from the cluster that was running down the road.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck!” I run towards the stables, moving faster than I’d ever moved before. I burst through the doors, shouting out my demands. “Sleipnir! Get me Sleipnir!”

Within minutes, we were outside, galloping after the werewolves. I didn’t have time for a saddle; I could ride just fine without one. As we raced after Leila, another pair of werewolves drew up on either side of us. I looked to my left and saw Erik on the monster’s back; Xanthus rode the one to my right.

“Dammit,” I muttered to myself.

“You want her so badly that you’ll dive into any sort of danger,” Xanthus noted in his arrogant tone. “You’d walk through fire for her, wouldn’t you?”

“Shut up,” I snarled, and focused on urged Sleipnir to run even faster.

In my periphery, I noticed that the centaurs had taken to the field as well, some of them carrying Brom, Aubré, and the others with them.

“If you know what it means to burn for someone, you’ll understand why my master needs her,” Erik hissed.

“You have no right to force her into anything!” I shouted at him.

Xanthus directed his werewolf to try getting in front of Sleipnir, which backfired immediately; they were knocked over and left to roll in the grass until their momentum was spent.

“Stop him, Erik!” Xanthus called as we went on running. “The wolves need to get her to Matthias!”

“I shall not fail my master,” Erik hissed. He leaped from the werewolf’s back and onto mine.

Sleipnir almost stumbled from the change in weight and force, but managed to recover. Try as I might, I couldn’t shake the vampire off.

“Such a powerful smell,” Erik seethed as his arms wrapped around my shoulders and torso form behind. He pulled my hair away from my neck and buried his face in it. “I shall enjoy drinking from such a strong, hot body.”

“Get off!” I demanded.

He didn’t listen, of course, and went on licking my skin before piercing it with his teeth. I screamed and twisted my entire body, forcing both of us off Sleipnir’s back. Erik hit the ground first, his back slamming down hard in the dust and pebbles of the road. He still held my body against his, bringing it down on himself. The jarring landing gave me the chance to break of of his grip and scramble a few feet away. Blood was gushing out of my neck, and I pulled a handkerchief from one of my pockets to compress the wound.

“Oh, that was delicious,” Erik said. he got to his feet slowly, fluidly, watching me as he moved. “I must have more!”

“No!” I forced myself to get up and move away from him.

Eric followed, laughing at what must have seemed to him to be frantic reactions. He was starting to move faster when I notice a creating running towards us from the direction of the stables. It was hard to tell at first, with the dark of the night, but when it got closer, I realized it was the moose I’d seen earlier. Evander and Larsa were both on its back, the faun directing it and Larsa preparing magic gems to throw.

The earth beneath Erik shook, then cracked, then shifted again, preventing him from getting closer to me. Another gem, and vines burst from the ground and wrapped around his legs. He tried to pull free of them, but more grew out, and soon his wrists and waist were also entangled.

Evander pulled the moose to a stop next to me. “It’s much harder to look out for your safety when you rush out so suddenly, Lord Stefan.”

I glared up at him. “I don’t care. You should be chasing after Leila, not me!”

“I can’t let you fall in this battle,” Evander told me and he slid off of the moose and accepted one of the vials from Larsa. “Erik would have utterly consumed you if he could; he doesn’t regard you the same way they do Leila. Come, let me see your wound.”

Evander ignored my cold look and placed a hand over mind. He gently pulled the handkerchief away from my neck.

“He only got enough to get a taste of me,” I grumbled.

“I see,” Evander murmured he opened the vial of rosy potion and placed a couple drops on each bite mark, then had me drink the rest of it. “He wants more, I’m certain. We’ll make sure he doesn’t get any, though.”

The wounds tingled where he’d put the potion. I felt the blood stop flowing and the pain subside, and looked to him in surprise. “I thought I had to drink it for it to work.”

He smiled warmly. “When you drink it, the potion heals the parts of your body that need it most. Applied directly to wounds, it works much faster.”

“Topical and ingestible… heh.” I felt the soreness of my bruises start to fade as well; getting knocked over several times that evening had not been a pleasant experience, especially with all the stairs involved. “Okay, I’m fine now– let’s focus on Leila!”

I looked up and gazed around the field. The last few vampires and werewolves ran out of the manor house, chased by Nikolai and a couple guards. Closer to the woods, wolves were howling, and most of the ones still in the field started heading that way, leaving behind their fight with the centaurs and other men. Sleipnir had curved around to come back to me, and I leaped onto his back.

Evander had already formed a magic barrier around Erik; if he managed to get out of the vines, he still wouldn’t be able to do much unless Evander released him.

“Larsa, can you ride the moose and follow Stefan?” the faun asked.

“Yeah,” Larsa replied with a nod. “It shouldn’t be too different from the reindeer I’ve ridden back home.”

“Be careful; protect him, but don’t try to fight. Just keep the wolves off of him so he can get to Leila.”

I didn’t give them any more time to talk. Sleipnir and I were already charging across the field, and I threw axes at the wolves who tried to get in my way. As I got closer to the woods, I saw that there was a carriage waiting just within the tree-line; the group of werewolves that had Leila were headed strait towards it. I had to make sure they didn’t get her there.

Xanthus had gotten up and was riding one of the werewolves to follow Leila. When he saw me, he leaped off and ordered the wolf to pounce on Sleipnir. It snarled and leaped, but Sleipnir had already risen onto his hind legs. The werewolf arced back down, and Sleipnir came down, cracking his ribs. He gave one last yelp, and was left behind as Sleipnir ran on.

“You beast!” Xanthus screech at me.

He started running after us, and I threw an axe back at him. “Faster, Sleipnir,” I urged him. “Leila needs us!”

Another shriek passed over the field like a sonic wave. It felt as though it pierced through my skull, and Sleipnir slowed down when he heard it. There were flashes of light behind me, which I assumed were Larsa using the magic gems. Up ahead, werewolves were disappearing into the darkness of the woods. Several of them surrounded the carriage, and I could hear Leila screaming.

“Almost there,” I told myself.

The carriage began rolling into the woods. I shouted for them to stop, to wait, but they ignored me completely. Another cry crossed the field as the last few wolves and vampires slipped between the trees, and the forest seemed to become infinitely darker. Sleipnir carried along the road, determined to follow the carriage even through the darkness, but stopped when Argos blocked his path.

“What the hell are you doing?!” I shout at the centaur whom Sleipnir had narrowly stopped himself from trampling. “I need to help Leila!”

“Not in the weeds at night,” Argos replied. “Look closer.”

I peered into the shadows, trying to figure out what he meant. Larsa followed my gaze, even using white gem to try shedding light into it. There was a brief glimpse of wild animals and hidden monsters, and then the light faded far faster than it should have.

“What…” I breathed.

“It’s shadow magic,” Argos explained. “It’s stronger at night”

“But… You have to have someone who can fight it!”

Evander and some of the others caught up to us as we spoke.

“We’d hardly make any progress through the woods if we tried passing through at night,” the faun said. “It’s best that we avoid the heavy losses it would cost us and go after them in the morning.”

“That’s hours from now!”

“It would take us hours to get through that,” Brom replied, pointing to the forest. I noticed a grayish, cloud-like entity floating through the branches. “We can’t even touch some of the things in there with what we have now.”

“Leila…” I gasped, staring longingly into the darkness.

“She will live,” a voice behind us growled. “Your woman’s life is not at risk, yet you could have killed him!”

I turned around to see Erik approaching, Xanthus leaning on him, half-conscious. My throwing axe had struck on of his horns.

“She didn’t want to go with you!” I seethed.

“Maybe she would have,” Xanthus groaned, “if you’d let her hear us out.”

“First Brielle, and now Leila?” I asked.

“Yes,” Erik said. “Your inability to understand is tiresome. Go back to Earth and let us handle this.”

“Not without Leila!” I snapped.

Brom walked up to Erik and Xanthus. He managed to pull the axe out of his horn. “Tell your master to expect guests,” he told the vampire. “We’re not letting you have her unattended.”

Erik narrowed his eyes at him. “He won’t appreciate the deaths your berserker caused.”

“Why are you point at me?!” I asked “You attacked Jean-Marc’s house!”

Erik scoffed but otherwise ignored me. “My master will expect that you and yours show him the utmost respect.”

Brom seemed unmoved. “Just keep Leila safe he said.”

After that, Erik and Xanthus disappeared into the forest. I tried to follow, but even Sleipnir wouldn’t go.

“Leila…” I whispered. The quiet of the night was starting to sink in, and I could feel my body trembling.

“Is she really going to be okay?” Larsa asked. “What did they take her for that you’re so sure won’t hurt her?”

“I have a few ideas,” Evander told him, “but we shall discuss them later. Lord Stefan, you should come down from your steed.”

“What? No… I…” Then I realized that I was light-headed. My shaking felt worse, by vision blurred, and my body…

Evander’s sigils of light surrounded me even as I felt my body begin to slip. It seemed as though the magic crests carried my down to the ground as gentle as a cloud. They let me lie in the grass ask I tried to catch my breath, but between the cold night air and the way my heartbeat felt as thought it could cause earthquakes, I thought that would never happen. My chest felt tight, and my head was foggy.

“Give him some space,” Larsa told the others as he knelt down beside me. “I think it’s shock or a panic attack or something.”

I felt his hand rubbing my back as he spoke soothing words. I couldn’t hear them clearly anymore. I could hardly even see them. I called Leila’s name one last time before my body became wracked by sobs to bad that I could hardly breathe. They had taken away my light, my queen, and no matter what shadows I was willing to brave for her, I couldn’t rescue her that night. Knowing that, how could I possibly be worthy of her affections even when I did get back to her?

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The House of the Seventh Minuet IC

I glared up at the vampire. “Get. Off.” My voice was hoarse, and I found myself barely able to talk.

He laughed at me. “Oh, I could never– not even if I wanted to. My master put Xanthus in command of me, and he’s not someone who takes disobedience lightly.”

“Neither am I,” I growled out, still struggling against him.

He applied pressure to both my wrists. “I am allowed to bite you if you keep fighting,” he told me in the same tone he might have used when explaining manners to someone he considered uncivilized. “Maybe I should do so now, seeing as how you’ve hurt several of my friend.”

“They smelled bad anyway.”

He slapped me across the face, then pinned my wrist back down before I could even process what he’d done. “You’re no better!” he hissed. “You smell like horses and who–”

“He we go, boys!” Xanthus appeared at the top of the stairs with loads of clothing and blankets in his arms. “Come get a whiff is this beautiful scent!”

Jean-Marc tried to protest, but with a glare from Xanthus, the men gripping him– whom I new assumed were also vampires– yank him further back. Several werewolves hurried up the stairs and started sniffing the clothes. In their excitement, their teeth and claws ripped much of the fabric.

“Stop it!” I screamed. “Leave her stuff alone!”

“Here,” Xanthus told one of the werewolves as he handed it a wad of fabric, “take this, share it with the others.” The first werewolf ran off with the clothing, and Xanthus handed another piece to the next one.

“What the hell?!”

Xanthus dropped the pile of fabric unceremoniously and gestured for the other vampires and werewolves to take what they wanted. Then he walked down the stairs, staring down at me with disinterest. “You’re so brash and aggressive,” he said, sounding disappointed and condescending. “If it weren’t for that pretty face of yours, I wouldn’t know what Leila sees in you.”

“Fuck off!”

He crossed his arms over his chest as he leaned against the railing nearby, then shook his head. “You are in no position to be giving orders.” The arrogant bastard sounded almost bored. “And don’t worry about the clothes; my lord has already ensured that she will have plenty of lovely things to wear once she gets to his castle.”

One of the werewolves dashed down the stairs and paused beside me to stiff the air. It turned towards me and started sniffing my clothes, too.

“Get away from me!” I snarled, but no matter how I squirmed. the vampire still had me pinned.

“He’s a strong one, Xanthus,” the vampire told him.

Xanthus tilted his head a little, as though in thought. “I suppose he would have to be impressive in order to get her attention. It won’t matter, though. Wolf, follow his scent and get moving!”

The werewolf snarled but obeyed nonetheless. He ran along the hallway, apparently communicate with others of his kind, some of whom came back to also smell be before taking off in different directions.

“Why would you mess this up?” I growled up at him. “If you hurt Leila, your world is in that much more danger.”

He smirked and shared a look with the vampire holding me down. “None of us are going to hurt her,” Xanthus told me, speaking as though I were a complete fool. “Not even my lord wants to hurt her. He–”

“She’s not going to play music to someone who kidnaps her– or has her kidnapped.”

He laughed and shook his head. “Music? Oh, you’re still stuck on that?” He stared down at my face for long moments, then squatted down close to me. “There’s so much you still don’t know, Terran. It’s too bad Jean-Marc didn’t do a proper job of explaining the way our worlds interact.”

“Then you explain it!”

“Me?” he chuckled. “Oh, certainly not. Especially after how you’ve treated me and the wolves.”

There was a loud whine from one of the werewolves further away. I turned my head to see smoke billowing out from one of the halls– it looked like the one where I’d left Tobias and Larsa behind. Another wolf snarled, and then an arc of glittering light curled through the smoke. Some sort of small object hit the floor, and there was an explosion that reminded me of tiny fireworks.

“Damned faerie magic,” Xanthus grumbled. He stood up and started shouting orders to the forces he’d brought with him.

The house delved further and further into chaos. Vampires were chasing after guards, werewolves were being tracked through the hallways, and each side appeared to be causing a lot of damage. I think I caught sight of Brom at some point, and then Nikolai dragging a tied-up vampire into one of the rooms. Another tiny object flew threw the air and burst into light that sparked and sizzled like lightning, knocking the werewolves it touch unconscious.

Aubré ran screaming out of a smoky hallway, bow aimed at another werewolf. No sooner had he shot an arrow than arm wrapped around his neck from behind and pulled him out of sight. Tobias emerged from another hall, Larsa still in tow, and ran in the direction Aubré had gone. Maybe my eyes were deceiving me, but I swear that I saw Larsa reach into his leather pouch and pull out something that he tossed ahead of them, after which light an wind flowed down the hall ahead of them.

“I think I’m getting the hang of them,” I heard Larsa say before he was out of my line of sight again.

Then I heard wood breaking. And roaring. And also more shouting.

“I hope they’ve finally caught her scent,” Xanthus muttered to himself. “The sooner we’re out of here, the better.”

More wood snapped and crashed, and the vampire mover ever so slightly in the direction of it, as though curious about the progress the werewolves were making. I took that opportunity to slide my wrist free, grab one of the throwing axes, and lodge it in his side. He screamed in agony, and I shoved him away.

“Erik!” Xanthus cried when he saw what I’d done.

I got to my feet, taking the axe with me, even as he went to the vampire’s side.

“You…” Xanthus growled, glaring up at me in utter hatred, his hands already soaked in the vampire’s blood. “How. Dare. You!”

I gave him an uncaring glance and hefted my battle axe. “Don’t send your little pawns after me,” I muttered, “and I won’t have to cut them down.”

Xanthus was already giving some sort of first aid to the vampire. “You have no idea who his master is!” He sounded panicked. “Stupid Terrans, attacking those they know nothing about.”

“I could say the same thing about you, satyr.” I didn’t stay to hear his reply; I had to get to my friends and figure out where my help was needed the most.

The hallway leading back to my room was completely destroyed. Walls were clawed, paintings and tables knocked over, rugs torn in some places and bunched up in others. It looked as though the werewolves had continued to tear up Leila’s clothing and blankets, leaving scraps of it here and there. I picked up a torn piece that I knew came from one of her T-shirts.

“Stefan!” I heard someone call as I stared at the scrap and wondered how we were going to get Leila to safety with all of these werewolves tearing through the house

I looked up to see Larsa at the other end of the hall. He ran towards me, hopping over chucks of wood and knocked-over furniture. Tobias followed more slowly behind him; Aubré had his arm around his shoulders, limping as they went.

“Hey, are you okay?” he asked me. “Is that your blood? Do you need a healing potion?”

I chuckled and shook my head. “It’s from the werewolves,” told him, realizing then that I probably stank from the blood and slobber.

“So you’re ok? And hey, don’t laugh! Tobias gave me a bunch of magic items, and the healing potion really helped Aubré.”

I looked over at the elf. He looked wounded– bitten and clawed, more specifically– but the blood was mostly dried and the wounds were in various states of healing, some scabbed, others mostly scar tissue, but none that I could see still leaked blood.

“We meant it when we said this was a world of magic,” Aubré groaned.

“Want another potion?” Larsa asked him.

“Give him a little more time,” Tobias told him. “You’ll waste potions if you don’t give them enough time to work.”

Larsa nodded; he was really into this.

“Do you have red ones for health and blue for mana?” I joked.

Tobias raised a brow.

“It’s not like in video games,” Larsa told me. He pulled a vial from the bandolier– which was made of lavender-stained deer hide and etched with flowery designs– and showed it to me. “Healing potions are pink! Well, except for the purple ones, but those are super strong and I’m only supposed to use them for emergencies. Tobias doesn’t have MP like in the games.”

“You learned all the in the short time I was away?”

“He is an eager and lively young man,” Tobias chimed in. “Quite intelligent, really.”

Larsa beamed at him. A little praise went a long way with Larsa; and Tobias was right about him being smart. Some people didn’t realize it at first, because he could come off as naïve and playful sometimes, but I couldn’t deny it.

“What’s happened that made the werewolves go so wild?” Aubré asked. He let go of Tobias and started standing on his own.

“Xanthus go into Leila’s room,” I explained. “He gave them a bunch of her clothes so they could get her scent.”

“He got in?!” Aubré repeated, suddenly in a panic. “Damn– that means–“

“Brom and Jean-Marc…” Tobias breathed, worry overtaking his expression.

“I saw Jean-Marc being held back by a couple of vampires,” I said. “He wasn’t looking good at all. Brom was… somewhere on the other side of the house. I didn’t get a good look at him, but he seemed mostly okay, I think.”

“They were supposed to keep Xanthus out of her room,” the elf groaned. He look around at the destroyed walls. “This is bad… they’re going to tear down the walls in the course of following her scent.”

I sighed and shook my head. “I couldn’t stop him either. “He sicced some vampire named Erik on me. That bastard is strong!”

Both men’s eyes went wide. They looked to on another, then back at me.

“Erik? Are you sure?” Aubré asked. “Red eyes? Short black hair? Pale as the moon?”

“You realize that describes a lot of vampires in the stories back on Earth.” That seemed to piss him off, so I added. “Yeah, that also describes the one who pinned me down. You know him?”

“We know of him,” Tobias replied. “He’s an older vampire, and a vicious one, too. Cold-hearted, relentless, and powerful.”

“If he’s here with Xanthus,” Aubré added, “then it was Erik’s master who sent them to get Leila.”

“You’re lucky you managed to get free of him,” said Tobias.

“I stuck an axe in his ribs while he was distracted.”

“And Xanthus didn’t immediately kill you for it?”

I stared at Aubré, he looked terrified at the implications of what I’d done.

“Do I look dead?” I asked.

But They didn’t look amused.

“Jean-Marc!” Aubré cried as he took off in the direction of where I’d left Xanthus and the vampire.


Tobias gave me a worried look. “Erik is one of Xanthus’s lovers. Or, it may be more the other way around. Whichever– he’s also a very prized childe of the vampire lord. I don’t know how badly you hurt him, but if he feeds, he can probably heal, and Xanthus will make very sure he feeds.”

“Uh-oh,” Larsa said.

“You think he’ll feed on Jean-Marc?!” I glanced in their direction, though I couldn’t see anything through the haze. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back that way after angering those two– especially when I was better off protecting Leila.

“No,” Tobias replied, hefting his spear, “I know he will. Larsa, you’ve been a great help thus far, but I think it best that you not meet this vampire. He won’t drain Jean-Marc dry, seeing as how he’s a musician, but…”

Larsa nodded emphatically; he knew when it was best to stand down. “I- I think I’ll just stay with Stefan. Here,” he added, handing Tobias one of the purple vials, “for Jean-Marc.”

Tobias thanked him and soon disappeared down the hall after Aubré. Larsa looked up at me worriedly.

“Did you get hurt at all?” I asked him. Larsa shook his head, and I went on. “Where’s Killian?”

“He’s with Sir Maël. There’s some other hidden room; not great if someone’s after you and can chase your scent, but it’s out of the way of the fighting.”

“Killian let y–“

I was interrupted by the howling of several wolves. More wood was breaking further away, and I could hear more shouting. I immediately took off in that direction. Larsa followed; he knew I would stop when Leila was in danger, and I was certain that these walls being broken down was a bad sign.

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