A/N: Here it is now, the last chapter of my not so short short story. Although, only eight chapters, that's short enough, isn't it? Anyway, I'm glad that some readers found their way to my story, which contains only very few canon characters. Thanks to everyone who followed and favored it. I want to especially thank you, Rose, Nola Stark, tadah2 and That's Balderdash for your reviews.
Maybe there will be a sequel to this one, but first I want to continue writing my other stories. They have been waiting far too long to be continued...
But now have fun with the epilogue. :)
Chapter 8 ~ Epilogue
Sixteen days, four hours and thirty-seven minutes. That's how long my body had lasted since the end of the second night of the birthday party. I admit, I was a little proud of it, my body had shown only a few signs of failure so far. That has given me enough time to release all the servants into a new life well equipped. But now the time had come – with my last strength I had dragged myself on the fire rock in the middle of the lake. The sun above me couldn't be warmer and the bright blue sky smiled down at me.
Suddenly the slight numbness throughout my body and the dizziness inside my head increased which had tormented me for hours and showed me irrevocably that I was coming to my end. Slowly I laid my head on the pleasantly warm rock and closed my eyes for a moment.
"Yes, Karina. It won't be long now."
"Okay. I'm ready too."
My faithful Karina. From the moment I pulled her out of the lake here so many years ago until now, she has been faithful to me. I only wish she could have a different life after here too.
"Are you really sure about it?"
My voice sounded fragile and I felt my blood pressure drop. Still, it was important to me that she didn't make a mistake. Hearing her laugh quietly I felt Karina's soft fingertips combing through my sweaty locks of hair. With some effort I opened my eyes and saw her smiling face above me.
"Absolutely. Back then I had already made the decision and you were the only reason why I kept going on for so long. When you are gone, I too will go to sleep. But don't worry, I've been told the cyanide works very quickly."
"Mistress, I'd be fair game out there. They know I'm alive, and once they know you're gone, it would be my death sentence anyway. To go to my death together with you is a much better alternative."
Her hand continued to caress me and I closed my eyes again with a sigh.
"So be it. Let us take the last journey together."
I felt Karina lie down again as well, but our hands found each other and we interlocked our fingers without hesitation.
I must admit that it wasn't as bad as I had imagined. Of course I felt myself getting weaker and weaker by the minute, but I had come to terms with it by now and had made peace with my fate. And so I could enjoy the warmth of the sun on my skin without negative thoughts.
When suddenly a cooler spot appeared on my cheek and I slowly opened my eyes to see how a snow-white cloud moved in front of the sun. The frayed edges reminded me a bit of cotton candy and that made my hunger even stronger. My body tensed up automatically and I hardly felt Karina pressing my hand soothingly.
I had to distract myself somehow, because if I let it get to me, hunger would drive me crazy before I was gone! And I wasn't allowed to let it happen! If my will wasn't strong enough I could tear Karina to pieces. And we had sworn to each other to fall asleep peacefully side by side! Well, as far as one could fall asleep peacefully in our case...
But how could I distract myself? I could have counted birds, but watching them being carried elegantly by the winds would have only awakened an avoidable wanderlust within me. So what could I do?
The good soul next to me finally helped me finding something – Karina began to hum a slow melody. It was quite monotonous, almost like an incantation. With a smile I opened my mouth and let my heart sing soft words to it.
"Never was a night so deep and black, never so cold, so numbing, and so empty. The life I knew is gone; so darkness I welcome you, I won't fight back…"
"Under the wide canopy of heaven we will sleep and no one can ever hurt our souls again," Karina joined in my singing.
"Death will bring us peace, it's our lot. Come to us, we long for you, Gevatter Tod."
"He will have to wait a little longer for you."
A strange voice made my heart beat faster and I tried to sit up automatically. But my arms gave way beneath me and I groaned in pain. My good Karina bent over me in the next second and held a dagger against the strange woman – ready to defend us both. I tried to turn to the side so that I could recognize the stranger and felt ancient, my bones ached so much with every movement. But even after successfully turning my head, it still didn't get me any further for my eyesight had diminished so rapidly in the last minutes that I could hardly see anything but shadows. All the more I was surprised that the figure seemed to stand in a kind of ring of light. Especially prominent was a snow-white spot in the middle of her and I realized with a horror that it was her inner fire! But that would mean-
"You're a vampire!"
There couldn't be any other explanation. Humans had a different kind of glow.
"Stop, don't come closer!" Although Karina trembled slightly at the sight of the stranger vampiress, she still kept her dagger raised.
The soft splash of the waves against our rock also told me that the stranger was approaching us.
"Do not be afraid of me, my children."
"Who are you?"
"All things come as they come."
That sounded strangely familiar, and when she was close enough to kneel beside me, I could make out the outline of her necklace. Seeing it, my breath faltered, my heart pumped even more adrenaline through my weak body and I felt the wet tears that colored my cheeks red.
I saw her smile more clearly as she leaned closer and felt her hand which wiped my tears from my cheeks with her thumb.
"Yes. I am here to offer you an opportunity, Livia. Your time has come. The blood of your maker has disappeared from your body and before nightfall you will not be who you were. Tell me, child, did you like what the Celt offered his Viking so many centuries ago? I know you saw it."
"Livia?" Karina's voice sounded unsettled, but before I could say anything to calm her down, she started to laugh.
"Put the dagger away, young fae. Neither you nor Livia have anything to fear from me. On the contrary. Livia." Her face turned to me again and tender fingers stroked my forehead. "Do you want to be by my side from now on? In your thoughts you have made peace with your end. But your body betrays you – you know who I am, you see me and know what I can offer you. Since you have realized it, your body resists the approaching death. Turn your thoughts back to life and come with me. You are a fighter, always ready to learn and still have so much to do. Let me quote you – the world needs your fire."
"Forgive me. But you're... blind... how can you know all that? How do you do it?"
"Young fae, I'm almost four hundred years older than the Celt. During such a long time, you learn to see with all your senses. In fact, eyes actually take only a fraction of all the impulses and stimuli that is put into your brain."
"With age comes wisdom too, young one. But this is irrelevant here and now. Livia. Make a choice, my child. Your heart is very, very weak. You don't have much time left."
My thoughts whirled around in my head so quickly that I became even dizzier. How could that be? Was I already in a state of delirium? For so long I had wished to have the honor of meeting her. I had prepared so many questions for such a meeting. But now only one question was important to me...
For what felt like an eternity she looked at me with a penetrating gaze, and if not every movement had hurt, I would certainly have been writhing with embarrassment. But when she finally spoke I could see nothing but honesty in her face.
"You are like me. You see that, don't you?"
Automatically, I wanted to nod, but such human gestures were meaningless to someone like her.
"I see that you too aren't bound by the night. But that doesn't answer my question! Why me? Why do you want me as yours, but ordered the deaths of the other half vampires who existed before me?"
I admit my angry tone was definitely not respectful. But as one about to die, I couldn't care less at the time. She didn't seem to resent it, though, but resumed a full smile.
"Oh child, you forget that I see the future. The others would have done considerable harm in this world. You, however, are different."
"Yes, I'm Frankenstein's monster. I already know that."
"Well, I don't see you as a monster. But let's ask young Karina here." With that she turned to the young woman who had lowered her arm, but was still holding her dagger. "Dear child, does your mistress here look like an ugly and frightening creature that spreads fear and terror? For that, according to my information, is the definition of a monster."
"No, of course not!" My Karina spoke without hesitation, squeezing my hand. "Livia is the most affectionate person I've ever met! She wanted to save my life, without worrying about her own. She has shown us nothing but kindness and has always tried to protect us. She has suffered with us. She-"
Now it was up to me to squeeze her hand reassuringly when her voice failed her. At the same time the smile of our guest turned back to me.
"You see, Livia, you are more than just a DNA cocktail of various supernatural beings. However, should it be your wish to actually die here today, I will respect that. But I assure you, your otherness will be needed. I want you to think about this: No one ever made a difference by being like everyone else."
I wanted to think about it. I really wanted to, but an irregular throbbing was spreading in my head that made me moan in pain. In addition, I suddenly had an indescribable tightness in my chest and was afraid I would have a heart attack. Could half vampires die of a heart attack? I had no idea. It was only on the edge of my painful consciousness that I overheard Karina talking urgently to her.
"Madam, please, if you can, save Livia. I don't know if she can still speak for herself – her skin is all grey and is getting bloody everywhere!"
What a joy... then I guess I won't die of a heart attack after all, it will just be the normal vampire way of dying...
With an internal smile I thanked this unknown sharp-tongued inner voice for the last bit of cheerfulness I will probably have in my last minutes. Then I noticed that I no longer felt that I was lying on a hard surface. I also didn't feel the wind and the sun on my skin anymore and... I didn't feel Karina's touch anymore either. So that was it now. Very weakly I thought that I should feel fear. But with the loss of my tactile system the pain was gone too. And that made me grateful. Oh yes... I was thankful for so many things in my life – my mother, even though it turned out that she hadn't been my biological mother at all... all my brothers, even though Nikolai had mostly been an arrogant bastard towards me. But he had been the one who first suggested that I shouldn't only read books, but also train with weapons. All my protégés, Tanaka sensei, Lady Tatarou and... Godric. Thinking of him, the deep pain in his eyes and cold blue flame of life burned itself into my mind and the feeling of peace was instantly washed away. With a tearful sob I opened my mouth one last time. I knew that these would be my last words – I simply had no more time!
"I want to live!"
For two seconds nothing happened after my barely audible plea. But then I felt two daggers pierce my throat and the rest of my weak life force was sucked out. Then something wetted my tongue. But I had no strength left. My mind kept slipping down a dark tunnel and then... nothing more...
Melodic sounds were the first thing my brain noticed. Drums... a violin... the sounds were enchanting and literally challenged me to wake up and feel myself. Because my skin was vibrating under the melody my ears heard. It was a song unknown to me, an old song, as if I was listening to a song for the gods in a sacred grove. In fascination, I opened my eyes and saw... I couldn't think of any description for the bright lights above me in the firmament. Billions and billions of stars, which gave warmth above me in cold, endlessly distant worlds.
"She is awake, Mother."
"Yes, I feel her, Athena. As weak as she was at the end, she clung to life and now she is strong in our bond."
The violin was silent now, but the drums kept pulling me closer. Only reluctantly I wanted to turn my eyes away from this endless beauty above me, but a whisper in my mind made me sit up slowly and listen attentively.
The whisper spread and became warmth in my chest, a feeling of having arrived. Of… home. Where I was, I had no idea. With a quick glance around me I saw that I must be on some kind of plateau. All around, mountains shone in the pale light of the moon, and far away I heard the splashing of a waterfall. But then I turned my eyes again to the three beings before me. Two of them looked eerily familiar to me, but something seemed to be wrong with my memory. I couldn't focus and my vision was also a little blurred. Confused, I blinked several times and tried to straighten the blurred picture.
What do you see, daughter?
"Flaming light," I answered without hesitation and saw the bright white light coming closer.
"Don't try to change it. Your view of the world is unique, my Livia. Your eyes will soon get used to it. Give yourself time."
A smile lit up her voice and at the same time I felt the warmth spreading in my chest the closer she came to me.
"Who are you, Mistress?"
With a calm and very elegant movement she settled down on the bed of moss and flowers where I was sitting.
"Not mistress, Livia... Feel inside you who I am. You slept for so long. I was worried I had been too late. But now you're here, and I know you feel it inside you."
My eyes fell for a moment above her shoulder on the other vampiress and I found myself unable to turn my gaze away from her. It was like I was somehow drawn to her and felt we would be good friends. I must have known her from somewhere; otherwise I couldn't explain this deep feeling. But where could that have been? As if lost in thought, her palms kept touching a drum, playing a slow and gentle melody that was in harmony with the sounds of another drum which were in the hands of a male. But I felt as if it wanted to distract me from something – something that was bloody and past. It lurked near the surface, but I couldn't really grasp it. Then the vampiress suddenly turned her head and looked at me, looked right into my eyes and it was like a door opened in my head. Time stretched out, reversed and then my past life was replayed like in a super fast movie in front of my inner eye. When it ended in darkness, I had to gasp for breath.
"Hello, Livia," she smiled at me. "I'm glad I could see you again."
Could that really be true? Was I not dreaming? I focused my gaze back at the vampiress next to me and seeing her blind eyes which rested upon me I felt how tears welled up in my eyes, realizing and accepting what happened.
Her smile became radiant and she held her arms out to me invitingly. With a faint sob, I leaned against her chest and let her embrace me. Warmth... protection... family...
The feelings I felt in my chest tightened my throat and I could hardly breathe.
"It's okay, little one. Let it out. No one here is going to punish you for your emotions. The dark days of your existence are over."
Enjoying her words and warmth, I could feel her hand stroking soothingly over my hair. Then I also noticed that the drums had stopped. Instead, now tender harp sounds whirled around me through the night. When I curiously sat up in mother's embrace, I saw the third vampire slowly approaching. He plucked the strings of a hand harp and was of a dark beauty. A wild splendor of black hair surrounded his angular face and an equally black, short trimmed beard framed the underside of his head. His eyes were of a deep brown with fascinating green pigments in the iris and were directed at me.
"Hello," I greeted him shyly.
"Hello, young sister. Welcome to the family."
"You already know Athena. This is my firstborn, Antares. Don't let yourself be belittled by him, Livia. Sometimes he has impulses to treat us women as he did in his time."
"Uh, how old are you then?"
I saw the corners of his mouth start to twitch and then he laughed cheerfully.
"You tell me, dear sister. I've heard that you're very well-read." He considered me for a short moment with a superior expression in his eyes before he continued in a lurking voice, "When mother found me and let me walk by her side, Egypt had just been annexed by Rome."
"Son! Livia has just woken up. Give her time to get used to the new situation..."
But my brain was already working at full speed. It was as if I could feel the electrical signals bouncing between my synapses. It was so insanely different from my first awakening as a vampire, well, half vampire. Inevitably, I asked myself whether I would still be able to walk in the sunlight or whether I was finally a full vampire. But all in due time – if there was one thing I had learned from my old Japanese teacher, it was patience. I turned to my savior in appeasement and let my smile sound in my voice so she could hear it.
"I don't mind, Mother. I've honestly never felt so alive."
I looked into her white pupils and gave her a quick chaste kiss on her cheek before turning to Antares. A broad smile was plastered on his face and urged me to reveal my conclusion.
"If I remember correctly, Egypt was annexed at the end of the Hellenistic era. That was when Octavius took Alexandria. Uh, 40 B.C.?"
"Very good, but that was 30 B.C. when Gaius Octavius advanced there. I am surprised you know that name, since he is known to most people only by his imperial name of Augustus."
"Well, as you yourself have said, Antares, I am very well-read."
Crouching down in front of me he roared with laughter.
"My. My new sister is feisty. I like it. But now I must excuse myself and leave you for the moment. My own progeny demands my presence. She doesn't yet dare feed alone."
"What do you expect, Antares? Karina is only two days old!"
Hearing that name something contracted in my chest and I froze. Karina...
My new siblings had a brief exchange of words, but my ears were deaf and could hear nothing. My Karina...
A hand stroking my cheek with a loving gesture released me from my rigidity a felt eternity later and slowly the voices around me returned.
"Explain it to your sister, my son."
"Of course, Mother." Still crouching before me, he took my hands and guided them near his nose. His nostrils flared and I knew automatically that he was scenting me. "I hope you can forgive me, Livia, for making Karina mine without your permission. But I couldn't help it! When I saw her, my undead heart was hopelessly devoted to her."
Gods help me I didn't want what I did then. But at his words, an angry beast awoke in me that I had never known before. Without a warning, I jumped up and pounced on him. Completely surprised by my attack, he didn't resist and I pressed him to the ground with my body while I held his arms with my left hand over his head and threateningly held my right hand over the spot in his chest where his hopelessly devoted heart was located. I growled menacingly at him and was ready at any time to thrust my hand into his chest to end him for what he has done.
"How dare you," I snarled at him. "Do you have any idea what Karina has been through in her life? How dare you come near her and take her? I don't give a shit what your heart tells you, what about her heart?"
If I could have had a clear thought, I might have noticed that he showed no fear, nor did Athena and mother intervene to stop me. It should have made me realize how easily he could have freed himself from me. But I didn't realize that until later, when I would reflect on the situation...
But at that moment my new brother humored me by just laying where I had pinned him down. For a short moment he closed his eyes and I felt him sending out a call in our bond through our maker.
"Livia, calm down."
"No, mother! I have sworn to protect her from all harm and then he comes and steals her from my side when I cannot prevent it! Karina has suffered enough! She-"
I would have recognized her voice anywhere. I looked up immediately and couldn't believe my eyes. My Karina wore nothing but a snow-white robe held in place by an elaborate belt that wrapped around her hips. Her hair was loose and she looked good, radiant and her flame was full of life. But in her eyes I saw fear.
"Please, Livia, don't hurt him."
Immediately I let go of Antares and was next to her only a second later. I embraced her firmly, but then looked at her with concern.
"Did he touch you? What did he do to you?"
But instead of accusing him with words, I saw her slightly blushing. Surprised, I took a step back and looked at her questioningly. She didn't look at me, but at Antares with a gentle expression. Then she turned to me again and I could see nothing but love in her eyes.
"Believe me, he didn't steal me. He... We… uh... It didn't look good, you know? It's been eight days and nights now since you've been at death's door. But I had faith that you would make it. Antares helped me take care of your body after we arrived here, and well, in these three nights, we fell madly in love."
"I can't believe it," I said incredulously.
"I know, neither could I at first," she agreed with me. But then she took my hands and gifted me with the most joyful smile I had ever seen.
"'We only talked, we didn't even have physical contact and yet it was as if my world axis shifted from my worry for you to him. I, um... I can't describe it any other way."
Could it be? Could there really be some kind of soul mates who were just made for each other and knew it when they met? I had come upon that topic only once in my many readings and the source had been more than vague in its descriptions. Questioningly, I looked at mother and saw her smile knowingly.
"Both of them had asked my permission first, child. It was done by mutual agreement and you know Antares couldn't influence her in this decision with a glamour."
"Did you know? Is that why you didn't demand that Karina had to be taken from her hiding place by Athena and killed?"
"No, I didn't foresee that. I confess that I would have given the order. But then Godric gave you his word that she would be safe. With that my hands were tied because I wouldn't have jeopardized the friendship we had with an order that would have broken his word. This Celt is very dear to me."
"I know what you mean…"
For a few seconds I looked at her dreamily, but then I realized what I had just said. I felt heat rising inside me and my cheeks started blushing rapidly. But mother only laughed softly.
"All in good time, daughter. You are far too young for me to send you out into the world and meet others."
Then her face took on a serious expression and she rose from her seated position.
"Your first lesson as a Tatarou is to internalize that I will not allow any bad blood to linger between you all. This little touch of bloodlust may be forgiven for today, since I know how much my grand progeny means to you. Nevertheless, you will apologize to your brother and also thank him for not exercising his right to put you in your place himself, him being your elder."
Her words caused my body to stiffen. My mind felt nothing but affection from her, but the years of physical rebukes by Dragan had obviously burned into my body's memory. I couldn't move except my hands were shaking slightly. Mother stood motionless before me and waited expectantly for me to do like she had commanded. But I couldn't, no matter how hard I tried. A deep feeling of shame flooded my veins – should I fail already in my first night as her newly awakened child? Again my vision blurred due to rising tears, but then I suddenly found myself in the arms of my- no, she was no longer my Karina. But I felt that we would still have a strong connection forever.
"Please don't be angry with Livia, Milady. Dragan is still in her bones and spirit, and only the gods know what he did to her all those years behind closed doors."
Her touch did me good and grounded me a little. But the shame I felt was unbearable to me. I had to close my eyes. I hadn't seen much anyway thanks to the bloody tears and my still somewhat unfocused gaze due to my inability to change my vision of the flame light of those surrounding me to my normal vision.
I felt Antares standing beside me, felt how he put one hand on Karina's shoulder. His voice sounded calm, without anger and I managed to lift my gaze and look at him.
"Neither mother nor I are like this Dragan. As I have heard, you already have received a proper education. I'm sure Athena is quite eager to test your fighting skills. Rest assured we will hold you to the mistakes you will inevitably make. But we are neither cruel nor unfair in our punishments. That goes for you as well, my dear Karina. You will have a lot more to learn than Livia. But all that can wait until later on. Now we'll have dinner together, and when you're ready to fulfill mother's first task and come to apologize, you can be sure I'll offer you a blood bond."
"A blood bond? Between siblings?"
"Oh youngling, it seems you have much to learn after all. A blood family as small as ours is very rare and we take very special care of each other. Even if mother wouldn't allow it, I would insist on a sibling bond with you as I did with Athena. Because I feel it is my duty to protect you all. After all, I am the man in our line."
"And that's exactly what I meant, Livia..." mother sighed in theatrically played despair and I couldn't help it. My lips formed a smile and just like that I was able to completely relax in Karina's arms.
For another minute or two we just stood and held each other. Our new family proceeded with happy chattering and let us enjoy this moment. The last time I had seen her, I was about to die and Karina had been ready to follow me into the realms of death. Now we were both dead and at the same time we were not... We had infinity before us. Infinite possibilities and certainly also infinite responsibility. But we would learn together what it meant to be a Tatarou. Learn what it meant to be part of the blood family of Pythia, the very head of the High Council of the ancients.
With smiles we looked at each other, clasped hands like young children we were now in the eyes of other vampires, and began moving towards our new life…