The Prophecy Of Hope
By Kelly Hall
The cold stone floor bit into Rebekah’s bones as she rolled over in a daze. For a moment, she thought she was back in Arcadius until she opened her eyes and saw the white gauzy curtains hanging nearby.
Still wearing her clothes from the night before, she sat up, and her world began to spin, her brain growing foggy until she regained her balance. Have I been hit on the head? She raked her fingers through her hair but didn’t feel any lumps, and there were no sharp pains from being struck; no blood.
One minute, she had been prepared to climb into her silk sheets, and the next, she lay on the hard, stone floor in a strange place.
A large ornate bed stood not two feet away, and she wondered for a moment if she had fallen out of it, which was entirely possible. Rebekah took a deep breath and slowly got to her feet, determined to force away the fog and fight through the dizziness. Have I been drugged? As the room came into clear focus, she didn’t think so. Just a bit out of sorts, but where am I?
She reached for her weapons, but they were gone. In her mind, she had just sat on her bed to take them off but hadn’t gotten that far. While she knew that her enemies would have a hard time dealing with them, she could also feel that Stella wasn’t so far away. But being stripped of her weapons was worse than being stripped naked in public, and equally humiliating.
The nearby bed was still made, the pristine white duvet was smooth and unwrinkled, and every one of the pillows seemed to be perfectly in place. She hadn’t fallen off the bed after all. On the wall over the bed, a painting depicted nymphs luring a young man to the water. Naiads.
To her left was the door, and while she already had a feeling it wasn’t going to open, she tried it anyway. She could break the thing down possibly, but before she went barging out into an unknown situation or let her captors know she was awake, she needed to figure out where she was.
She listened carefully and heard nothing but the trickling sound of water. When she looked across the room to find its source, she saw how it opened up, leading to what appeared to be an atrium of sorts, with a large windowed ceiling that let in light to an array of plants. They surrounded a large garden-style tub which was filled with waterlilies, the water brown and unclean. A deep inhale of breath revealed the faint trace of a familiar scent that lingered in the air.
Her nose led her back across the room and over to a small vanity where she found a silver-handled brush. Pale blond hair, shimmering and pearlescent, was stuck in its bristles. Talia?
The sound of the lock as it disengaged and a rattle of the knob brought her head around and put her on alert. When the door opened, revealing her captor, a different level of rage went through her.
“Ah, you’re awake, Tauntress.” Kayne walked into the room like a force of nature, his presence more effective than an electric charge. His suit was black with blue stitching and had been tailored perfectly for his muscular frame. Rebekah cursed herself for taking notice.
“You couldn’t even lay me on the bed?” He had left her on the cold floor instead, just to be an asshole. She didn’t know why that had been her first reaction, but his response came as no surprise.
Kayne’s black eyes met hers as he stepped forward, crowding her. “I could bring you to mine right now if you like.”
Pig. She didn’t have time for the angry, flirting thing he liked to do and took a step back, her legs hitting the bed behind her. That served as a grim reminder that she was in a bad position. The Church had sent her out on an impossible task, and Kayne had beaten her to the punch. “What am I doing here?”
“I heard the word of your release and your sentence. That was days ago, and yet I haven’t seen you yet. I figured you were scrambling for a plan. It is, after all, a terrible position that Church of yours has put you in.”
Rebekah didn’t want or need his advice. “They were never my Church. I don’t own them.”
“Clearly. But they own you, don’t they, Rebekah? They have finally pushed you aside and now are attempting to take everything you’ve worked so hard for. It must sting a little.”
“My first priority is my hunters and keeping my Fellowship strong. You and I are Immortals. We have all the time in the world for strategy and war, don’t you think?”
“You have none, though. Am I right?” His arrogance was more insulting than his words. “We both know someone without a plan cannot lead. You’re liable to lose them all before you figure it out.”
The threat of that happening did sting, a lot, but she wasn’t going to let Kayne stop her from keeping what was hers; her Fellowship. “If you think for one minute that my issues with the Church are anything new, or a shock to me, then you haven’t been stalking me as badly as this would appear. As for my men, they’ll stay loyal to the blood that created them, just like yours, and if they don’t, then they can die traitors. But I will not let anything or anyone stop me from proving to my hunters that I’m not what the Church has accused me of.”
“You mean being in bed with the enemy? And yet, here we are, alone in a bedroom. It would be so easy to seduce you right now and prove you wrong.” He stepped closer, giving her a smoldering look.
But she was stronger than he estimated. “Wishful thinking won’t make it happen, Kayne. Do you really think I’m so weak that I’d fall that easily? Or do you think you’re that charming?”
He moved toe to toe with her, whispering close to her ear. “If I’ve proven anything today, it’s how easily I can take you.”
He had known she was back home at her castle, and she wondered if he had a direct link into her mind as she often suspected.
“I just thought you should see what an impossible task you’re facing,” he said.
“Do you really think I don’t know what kind of fool’s errand they’ve given me? The only thing I’m out to prove is that I will remain loyal to my Fellowship, and if that means proving that I have no interest in you, all the better.”
“You are so concerned with clearing your name that you’ve left yourself vulnerable. Do you know how easy it was for me to come in and take you, Rebekah? To see when you’re vulnerable and strike at my whim?”
“You’ve proved your point. Just get out of my way so I can go home.” She tried to push past him, but he gripped her arms and turned her so fast, she didn’t know what happened until her back was against the wall and his body was pressed against hers.
She relaxed for a moment, and when he did the same, a growl ripped from her throat as she pushed him back and pinned him to the floor. She straddled him, gripping his thighs with hers, and she held his throat, baring her teeth as she looked into his eyes. She wasn’t some weak little girl.
His cold, black stare turned to blue, and the world seemed to still around them. She never understood how that happened with him, but it made her wonder if there was more to him than anger, hate, and cruelty.
Kayne looked into her eyes. Rebekah was so goddamned beautiful, and having her above him, if only in anger, he couldn’t help being turned on. Her full lips, that pouty fucking mouth. He could imagine the taste, and before he knew it, his hands were twined in her long, black hair, and his mouth was only a breath away from hers. This time, he would take what he wanted.
“Don’t.” The word escaped her pretty mouth just before his lips touched hers, but it was too late. He wasn’t going to stop.
As their lips mingled, Rebekah made no struggle to get away. She knew he wouldn’t listen, but if she didn’t at least try to protest, it was the ultimate betrayal to herself and her hunters. As she relaxed against him, kissing him deeply, she could feel the guilt building in her heart. It wasn’t fair. Why did it have to be this way?
But like it or not, Kayne was her enemy. She pushed away, and Kayne, in one swift movement, picked her up and put her on her feet. She straightened her clothes and stepped back, punching him in the arm.
“Why did you do that?”
He wasn’t fazed by her soft tap. “Because you wanted me to.”
“Why would I? Stop being Mr. Cryptic Vampire, and tell me what you meant back at Arcadius.”
He walked over to sit on the bed, and Rebekah knew better than to join him.
Kayne looked up at her, knowing that there was so much she’d been kept in the dark about. He could have Ignis’s head on a spit for being such a dick. “You’re a smart girl, Rebekah. I really thought you’d have figured it out by now.”
“Figured what out?” She knew the room was designed to make her wonder, but she wasn’t about to let on. She was curious as to why Talia had been seeing Kayne, and she was trying to push aside the sting of what could be jealousy from her mind. She had learned in the days with Ethan that jealousy only made you weak, and she was anything but that.
That asshole Ignis hasn’t told her a damned thing, Kayne thought. “Now I know why Ignis chose you to be the Immortal Huntress. You are the beauty, and he is the brains. It’s easier to keep you in the dark, knowing you trust him.” He hoped to be insulting, and Rebekah’s expression didn’t disappoint.
“If you’re trying to stir up trouble between Ignis and me, you’re wasting your time. But you know that. So, what’s your game, vampire?” She spat the word out like she had chewed it up first.
“You don’t have a plan, do you?” he asked. “You’ve thought about it until you’re blue in the face, but you can’t figure out how to deal with me. I’m only pointing out how ironic it is. Ignis has never had any problems. Perhaps you should put him in charge of strategy.”
“What are you saying? That you and Ignis have made deals?” She knew Ignis had a long past before they met, but if he had a friendship with Kayne, he would have mentioned it. And he probably wouldn’t have wanted to design a weapon like herself to kill his old friend.
“My Immortal,” he whispered, shaking his head as if he pitied her. “He really does keep you blind.”
“No blinder than you have. Tell me, do you hear my thoughts? Can you look into my world as easily as you can drop in?” She wondered just how much of an invasion she had to deal with.
“Why would I tell you such things when you’ve made it clear we are enemies? It’s not like I’m your best friend, someone who had been with you since the beginning, by your side, acting as your faithful sidekick and companion.”
She wasn’t impressed as he reduced Ignis to a pet puppy. “What the hell is going on? Do you think I don’t see what you’re trying to do? All beauty, no brains? Is that what you think of me?” He had not only brought her into a room that proved he had some type of relationship with Talia, but he was going out of his way to discredit Ignis. She remembered what Talia had said about bargaining with her blood. What kind of bargain had they made?
“No,” he said. “I don’t think that at all. But I would be sure that your beloved mage doesn’t think that. His actions speak loud to me.”
Her blood boiled. “That’s it. I’ve heard enough of your shit for one day. I want my weapons. I know Stella is close. I can feel it.” She wasn’t even concerned with how he had managed to disarm her. He probably had used his mind for that too. If not, she hoped it burned one of his little, fanged minions to a crisp.
Kayne smiled and held out his hand. “Come with me.”
She rolled her eyes and gestured to the door. “After you.”
“Actually, we’re going this way.” He walked over and pushed against the wall, which opened up and led to another room.
Rebekah walked in behind him to find it dimly lit, not bright and sunny like the room she’d just left. The smell of sex and the coppery scent of blood stung her nostrils. Her vision quickly adjusted. The candles that burned around her were all on large candelabras, and a huge black-iron bed jutted from one wall, with red sheets that puddled like blood to the floor. They matched the crimson walls, which were interrupted by heavy black curtains that darkened the windows. “Is this your room?”
“One of them, but yes. I spend most of my time here. The dark helps me think.”
“Why put me in the other room? So that I could see Talia comes to visit? Do you think I care?”
“Surely, a woman like you of such great strength and confidence wouldn’t trouble yourself with something as petty as jealousy.” He could see the look in her eyes. She had daggers for him, two of them, and they were not Stella and Luna.
Rebekah’s teeth clenched, and if she had fangs, she’d bite him. “Not in the least.”
His eyes narrowed, feeling her aggression. “She hasn’t come in ages. I keep the room as a reminder.”
She knew he was only leading her to ask, so she released a long breath and looked up at him, sighing to show her boredom. “Go ahead. Tell me. A reminder of what?”
The corner of his mouth turned up in what was almost, but not quite a smile. “She did this thing with her tongue.”
Rebekah huffed. “Give me my weapons.”
“I was going to say, it wasn’t at all as special as what you just did with yours.” His lips peeled back, revealing his fangs.
“You disgust me.”
She was such a terrible liar, and her words brought a smile to his face. “Tell me, how did I taste? Like the blood of your hunters? Or the weak, little humans you protect?” He hoped to make her angry. He fed off her anger in a way that quenched his hunger.
“Not as good as the last man I kissed,” she lied. “But you probably already saw that, right?”
His eyes grew even blacker, his anger so intense that he felt the urge to rip out every man’s heart until he got the right one. “And yet you gave into me, melted against me like a lover.” He searched her eyes, trying to see if she was bluffing, but her jaw was set tight, her eyes trained on him with determination.
“Surely, a strong, angry, badass vampire bastard like yourself isn’t going to trouble yourself with jealousy. Especially over a weak little human like me.” He needed reminding that while she was remade into something much more powerful and strong, she was still, at her very core, human.
He turned and went to a large wardrobe across the room and opened it up. Then he picked up Stella and carried it across the room. “Luna is back at your castle.”
Rebekah’s eyes went wide when she saw that he handled her blade with no issues, and even after he placed it in her hand, she watched his, wondering if it would rot away and turn him to a pile of ashes.
But nothing happened.
Kayne had gotten the reaction he expected, and when her eyes trained on his hands, he knew he had proven his point. “Is something wrong?”
Rebekah wasn’t sure she should say anything or not. “My enemies cannot touch Stella and live.” She had seen what it could do to all of her enemies, and while the legends said that no one could touch them but her, she knew the truth was more specific. She hadn’t ever thought to correct the gossip because it kept others from touching her weapons. Stella knew every intention of every man or woman, shifter or vamp, friend or foe, and had its own way of handling them.
Kayne’s black eyes met hers. “I’ve told you many times, My Immortal. I am not your enemy.”
Liam ran through the castle with Jarreth, opening doors and peeking into dimly lit rooms and shadowed corners and corridors. He hadn’t thought that exploring the castle would pay off, but it sure cut down on their time spent searching for Rebekah.
Ever since the weird guy, Ignis, had found her missing, the house had been on high alert. Everyone had jumped up and grabbed weapons, all ready to fight if necessary for the beautiful young leader. He knew it was an opportunity to show them all he was ready to be a part of their team. Their Fellowship.
For the first time since his parents died, Liam felt like part of a family, and now that he would be able to train as a hunter, his life had purpose and meaning again.
He had thought all hope was lost in that vampire den, but now that he had a chance to become something strong enough to fight back, to get his vengeance, he wanted it more than anything.
“She’s not here,” said Liam, closing the door to the last room of the east tower. They had already searched the north tower, which was where Rebekah had renovated and built her home. The others were scattered about, searching spaces that hadn’t been touched since the previous owners lived there.
“And you’re sure that she wouldn’t have gone into the south tower?” asked Jarreth.
“Father Timms was going to search the parts that were accessible, but it was destroyed so badly at some point that even I couldn’t make my way in to explore. There are too many stones, and it looks unstable.”
Jarreth thought about Ignis and his ability to turn into the blue mist. “I know someone who can get inside there. Let’s get back to the north tower and see if Ignis wants to take a look.”
They hurried down to the main level, and when they crossed the courtyard, they ran into Delilah and Mace. “She’s not in the chapel or any of the old buildings in the courtyard,” said Delilah.
Mace dusted off her jeans which were so ripped up that a little dirt would only add to the look. “She’s not here. Couldn’t she have just left for the store or had a midnight craving? She’s a grown woman, and maybe we’re overreacting.”
“The closest city is still an hour away from here,” Jarreth said. “And what could possibly make her go out in the middle of the night instead of waiting until morning? Not to mention that Luna and Stella’s scabbard were left behind, which means she must have gone after something in the castle. She wouldn’t just leave us all wondering. She would have at least told Ignis.”
Delilah shook her head. “Ignis said she wouldn’t have left Luna behind. That’s not her fighting style. She must have only had time to grab Stella.”
Canter and Katie walked up and joined them. “She’s not in the west tower.”
“Have you seen Ignis around?” asked Jarreth. “Liam says the south tower is not searchable, but I thought that Ignis might be able to get in there.”
Canter nodded. “He’s already on it. Father Timms was going to try and look in the rubble, but Ignis insisted he’d handle it.”
A bell sounded. The low tones echoed through the courtyard and bounced off the castle walls.
Mace turned and walked away without saying a word. The hunters could excuse her lack of etiquette because she wasn’t exactly a hunter, but they couldn’t just abandon their mission at the sound of a bell. They had a missing Huntress to locate.
They exchanged a look, not sure what to do.
“What does that bell mean?” asked Katie. “Did they find Rebekah?”
Liam spoke up to explain. “That’s the dinner bell. Breakfast is ready. Lulu is in love with that stupid thing, and she makes sure to ring it three times a day, and sometimes when she bakes extra sweets.” Liam started for the north tower and glanced back over his shoulder. “I wouldn’t ignore it. Puts the old lady in a shitty mood.”
They headed in behind the boy. Canter put his arm around Katie, and Delilah walked hand in hand with Jarreth, their weapons still drawn. They put them away when they walked in to find Lulu and Frankie standing in the front room next to an open door on the back wall. It led to a large dining room with a banquet-sized table that could easily seat twenty people and high-backed chairs that were as ornate as thrones.
“I’m sorry she interrupted your search,” said Frankie, giving Lulu a scolding look. She wore a beautiful pale blue dress that had a floral print and would have concealed the roundness of her tummy if she had not rested her hand on it.
Lulu put her hand on her hip. “These young’uns are useless with empty stomachs. Besides, the Huntress wanted a breakfast gathering. I am just following my orders.”
Frankie sighed. “That was before she went missing, Lulu.”
Father Timms walked in behind the young hunters. His long gray hair was a mess, loose strands fell out of the ponytail, and his dark beard was full of cobwebs and dust. “It’s okay, Frankie. The search is over.”
“Did you find her?” Frankie craned her neck to see Ignis walk in behind the father, but he was alone.
“She’s not in the east or west towers or the courtyard and chapel,” said Canter to the mage.
“South wing is all clear,” said Ignis. “Let’s clean up and have some breakfast while we regroup. There’s no sense in letting Lulu’s fine food go to waste.”
“Careful, Ginger Man. I don’t want to like you.” She gave a scowl and shuffled away on her little fuzzy slippers.
Ignis grimaced as she left, but he had a lot more important things to worry about than the old woman’s opinion of him.
As everyone scattered for their rooms to get cleaned up, Ignis walked into Rebekah’s suite and looked at Luna. It was still in its scabbard and attached to the baldric that held Stella’s empty scabbard, lying on the bed as if Rebekah had just left them there, which she wouldn’t normally do if she were heading out with any amount of preparation. Even the small impression of where she’d been sitting was still visible on her duvet like she’d sat down there to take them off. He got her when we came up to go to sleep.
Perhaps if she’d heard a noise, she might have drawn Stella, but then they would have found her in the castle somewhere, investigating.
He went to her private bath and washed his hands, looking to see if there was anything else that would give him any clues. There wasn’t anything. She was there one minute, gone the next, and there was only one explanation that made sense.
The vampire had most likely come to take Rebekah before she could do something foolish and come after him, which would only force Ignis’s hand into doing something drastic.
Ignis wasn’t afraid that Kayne would physically harm her. It was his other interests in her that had always bothered Ignis He should have known that one day, Kayne would make good on his threats. With the Church backing her into a corner, perhaps Kayne had finally made his move.
Ignis had moves of his own. And he’d pull out every stop to make sure that Rebekah was okay. First, he had to go down to breakfast and see what her merry men and women were thinking.
He hurried down the stairs, and when he walked into Rebekah’s dining hall, the others were gathering at her large table, chatting about their guesses as to where their fearless leader had gone. She would have been pleased to see that the table she’d spent months waiting to be custom-built was finally getting some use. The only problem he could see was that the priest had taken his chair to the right of what would normally be Rebekah’s. Ignis walked to the head of the table and reluctantly took Rebekah’s chair.
Lulu made her way in, carrying another tray of food. Three others were already on the table in front of them. Two platters had bacon, ham, and scrambled eggs, while another had an assortment of flavored pancakes, waffles, and French toast. She placed the fruit tray right in the middle and slapped Liam’s hand as he reached for an entire cluster of grapes. “I’ll be right back with the beverages.”
She scampered away, and Ignis sighed as the hunters exchanged a few glances and then dug in, serving themselves.
Canter, who had his chair moved so close to Katie’s she was practically sitting in his lap, reached across the table for a pancake, stabbing it with his fork before putting it on Katie’s plate. “I say we split up into groups and check out some of the local enemy hot spots.”
Jarreth leaned in and stabbed a piece of ham. “I like the sound of that.” Jarreth was ready to stab something other than his breakfast.
Ignis knocked on the table to get their attention. “I know this has been a much different morning than we expected, but before we go creating more problems, we need to wait and see if she or anyone else reaches out.”
Canter pounded the table, causing Katie to jump back. “Come on, man. I know you’re not really one of us, but sitting around waiting is not really what we’re good at.” He couldn’t help but think about how Rebekah had been taken before by the enemy.
Ignis tried not to be offended at the not one of us remark, but he’d had a rough morning too. “First of all, fuck you. I’ve seen more battles than you ever will in your lifetime, no matter how long your mortal life gives you, and furthermore, if you think this is the first ravenous group of your kind I’ve seen with a hard-on for revenge, you’d be mistaken.”
Father Timms cleared his throat, and Frankie put a hand to her stomach as if his vulgar words might upset the baby’s delicate, fetal ears.
Ignis sighed. “My apologies, but I know how these things work. If someone has her, they’ll be glad to reach out and let me know about it, and if she’s not lost—”
The front door burst open so wide it hit the wall, creating a terrible noise that had everyone’s attention. Rebekah marched in with Stella tight in her grip, her teeth bared and her gray eyes beaming on Ignis.
“She’ll barge into the room looking like she wants to murder someone,” Ignis finished, getting to his feet.
Father Timms stood too. “Where have you been, Huntress?”
She waved her dagger at the priest dismissively. “Long story. I’ll tell you later.” Rebekah had one thing on her mind, and that was figuring out what the hell Ignis had been hiding from her.
One minute, she had been shocked by Kayne’s ability to hold Stella unscathed, and then everything had gone black again. She had woken up on the road to her castle.
“Come in and have a seat,” said Frankie, going to the other end of the table as Liam got up and pulled out the chair next to him.
“Thank you, but I’m not hungry.” She turned and looked at Ignis again, her chest heaving with anger that was dark enough to rival Kayne’s. Maybe we are more alike than I think, she thought.
Lulu walked in with the beverage cart. “It’s good of you to join us at your party, Huntress.”
Frankie glared at the old woman before turning toward Rebekah. “There are chocolate chip pancakes and fresh strawberries and cream.”
Rebekah felt bad that she’d interrupted their breakfast. “Please, don’t let me stop you from enjoying your meal. I’ll just go upstairs and freshen up and be back down later.”
She waited as the others all took their seats, and then she turned and took two steps toward the door. “Ignis?” Her tone was sharp, and Liam’s eyes widened as if he knew the mage was in serious trouble. “We need to talk.”
Shit, thought Ignis. What did he fucking tell her?