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Chapter 362: A Stranger At The Door

 

  Callum paced around his bedroom, muttering under his breath. It had been several hours since his dinner with Elise, the sun had already set, and he was still no closer to finding a way to warn Stryg and his friends about his sister.

  Callum laughed bitterly. As if I could warn my friends? I can’t even leave this damn room.

  He had tried, several times actually. But the enchantments on the room had been changed, probably thanks to Elise’s expertise in brown magic. The same enchantments that had been used to keep intruders out had been reversed to keep him inside the room, a prisoner in his own home.

  Elise had also made sure that the guards had confiscated his sword and any potions he still had on him before locking him in the room.

  Even worse, his cabinet of potions and alchemical ingredients had been emptied. Not even a single vial was left. His sister had expected him to not betray his friends and had planned accordingly.

  He hated to admit it, but his sister knew him well.

  Callum glanced at the windows. They were reinforced to withstand the spells, magical arrows, and blunt force. If he was a master mage like Stryg he might have been able to cast a concentrated light beam to melt a hole through the glass… If. If was a big word. And one he couldn’t make possible.

  Callum sat on his bed and hung his head in defeat.

  I’ve got nothing. Father and Carmilla are dead, probably killed by dragons. Feryd and Ava are dead, killed by my sister.

  The thought of his father laying dead somewhere amidst the hills beyond the city walls felt like a dagger slowly sinking into his chest. It didn’t feel real. It felt like a dream. A terrible dream. A nightmare. One he couldn’t seem to wake up from.

  Maybe I should just give up…

  He gripped the blanket underneath him and shook his head.

  No. I just need more time to think.

  He sighed.

  Maybe some sleep first. I’m exhausted.

  He fell back on his bed and closed his eyes.

  I can’t remember the last time I had a good night’s rest.

  A quiet knock rang on his door.

  Callum cracked an eye open. He had forgotten. His sister promised to send his maids up to his room to keep him company.

  Or to spy on me.

  Either way, he had to admit, he had missed his maids. The constant fresh supply of blood was always nice. And having someone, or several someones for that matter, to warm your bed was also very nice.

  Ah, the perks of being the son of a Great House. Beautiful women and being imprisoned by your sister.

  He supposed it could be worse. He could be in a cold cramped cell in the city’s prison, waiting for the inevitable day when they would sacrifice him to the shades of the wall.

  A second knock rang on his door, this time slightly louder.

  He really did miss his maids.

  Callum groaned and forced himself to get up. He dragged his feet across the polished wooden floors and reluctantly opened the door.

  Gian stood in the doorway, a dark cowl drawn over his bearded face. His scarlet eyes glowed softly in the darkness and his expression was hardened.

  Callum frowned, “Uncle Gian? What are you doing here— Ow!”

  Gian shoved him back into the room without a word.

  “Hey, what was that for!?”

  The elder vampire ignored Callum’s words and glanced around the room. “It’s clear.” He stepped inside and closed the door behind them.

  Callum took a step back, fear creeping into his expression. “What’s going on?”

  Had his sister sent the Sword Paragon to finish the job? Had she decided to simply end his life here and now?

  Gian’s hands suddenly snapped out and grabbed Callum by his arms. He lifted the boy with ease and shook him like a doll. “Did you tell her about him!?”

  “I-I don’t know who you’re talking about!” Callum squealed in terror.

  “Did you tell your sister about Stryg?” Gian hissed. “Does she know who he really is!?”

  “W-what? N-no. I didn’t tell her anything.”

  Gian sighed with relief and dropped him to the ground. “Very good, well done, lad.”

  Callum’s knees wobbled and it took every ounce of strength he had to keep himself from collapsing. After a few shaky breaths the icy fear in his chest melted away. He slowly looked up at the elder vampire, with a confused expression. “So you’re not here to kill me?”

  “What? No, of course not. I’m here to break you out.”

  “Oh thank Bellum,” Callum wheezed in relief. “Wait, why did you ask me about Stryg?”

  “You know why.”

  “… Are you saying you… You know who Stryg is? Or at least, what I think he is?”

  “Mm. The Blue Rose was my half sister. Once I met Stryg it was obvious. Their resemblance was uncanny. Stryga’s skin and eyes were darker, but she and Stryg have the same exact nose.”

  “So Stryg really is a… He really is a Veres, then?”

  Gian nodded, “I believe so, yes.”

  “If that’s true, then that would make Stryg…?”

  “It would make Stryg my sister’s heir and the last known living descendent of the main branch of House Veres. He would have the greatest claim to the Veres Throne.”

  “I guessed as much,” Callum smiled wryly. “Does anyone else know?”

  “No one outside this room. Which is why I’m here to help. I appreciate your discretion regarding Stryg, but sooner or later your sister will grow impatient and she will send a purple mage to come and extract the secrets from your mind. We need to get you out of the city.”

  “And how are we going to do that? I don’t mean to insult your skills uncle, but there are countless guards patrolling the manor, including several other Gales. Surely some of them will notice my escape and sound the alarm.”

  Gian smiled, amused, “Trust me, I can take care of the guards unnoticed.”

  “You’d kill other Gales? Your own family?”

  “No, they should not be punished for their loyalty to your House. My family members will simply wake up in the morning with the worst headache of their lives.”

  Callum’s eyes lit with hope, but he quickly grimaced, “But if you do that won’t Elise suspect it was you who helped me? I mean, who else is powerful enough to quietly defeat several Gales without killing them?”

  “Let me be the one to worry about that. Besides, as far as your sister is aware I’m still in the Trade District procuring the funeral provisions. I insisted I oversee the funeral arrangements myself.”

  Callum smiled sheepishly, “I’m sorry I underestimated you, uncle.”

  Gian sighed, “It’s not as simple as it sounds, Cal. The real problems begin once I get you out of the manor. You won’t be safe out there.”

  “What do you mean? No one can touch me if you’re by my side,” Callum boasted proudly.

  “As I said, it’s not that simple. I can’t go with you… I spoke with my niece, Gale VIII. She told me of the dangers you all experienced in Undergrowth. Coupled with the losses of our armies and both our Houses leaders, I need to stay here to ensure our Houses are safe.”

  “But… But what about my sister?! She killed my siblings!”

  “She is still a Veres and the leader of your House. This is not the first time Veres have killed each other… and it will probably not be the last. It is the duty of the Gales to protect the Veres, not to kill them.”

  “She killed Ava…” Callum mumbled helplessly. “Ava may not have liked me, but she was a good person. My little sister was innocent. She didn’t deserve to die.”

  The elder vampire placed a comforting hand over his shoulder, “I am sorry, Cal. I failed to keep your siblings safe from Elise, I will have to live with that for the rest of my life. But that does not change my oaths or our circumstances. I cannot betray the head of the Veres family, I cannot move against Elise… not until Stryg returns…”

  Callum’s eyes widened, “You mean…?!”

  “That is for another time, perhaps. For now, focus on the present. After you’re out of the manor head towards the Commoner District. There you must find a tavern and do your best to stay unnoticed. Once Elise learns you’ve escaped she’ll send her men to search the Bourge and Night Districts’ taverns first, so you’ll have a bit of time to find a discreet tavern.”

  “But they’ll eventually find me, right? Why don’t I just stay in one of my family’s safehouses instead?”

  Gian shook his head, “House Gale is dedicated to protecting your family. Several of our members know the locations of each hideout. They will not hesitate to inform your sister of their whereabouts.”

  “The Gales would betray me?” he muttered in disbelief.

  “First and foremost House Gale is loyal to the Veres Throne. They are loyal to your sister. And as far as they are aware, they’re only trying to keep you safe by bringing you back here.”

  “Wonderful,” Callum said glumly.

  “Now is not the time to get caught up in your emotions. Listen to me, shades will be swarming the outer wall until daybreak. But once the sun rises you need to make your way outside the city gates and get as far from Dusk Valley and the coming war as possible. Perhaps Frost Rim. Vampires are treated well in the Northern Lands. You’ve been there before so you’ll do fine. Once this is all over, I’ll send for you.”

  He nodded reluctantly, “I understand…”

  Gian took off his cloak and threw it over Callum’s shoulders, “You’ll have to keep a low profile. There aren’t many vampire commoners in Hollow Shade. You’ll stand out in the taverns. Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do about that.”

  “What if there is?”

  “What do you mean?”

  “I may know someone who lives in the Commoner District who could hide me until daybreak.”

  “Can you trust this person?” Gian raised an eyebrow.

  Callum winced, “Kitty may still be angry at me, but yeah. I trust her with my life.”

  “Elise will send Gales to search for you in all your friends’ homes, including most likely this Kitty individual.”

  Callum shook his head, “I doubt it. One of the perks of having an overprotective sister is that Elise knows everything about me, including how Kitty and I had a falling out. Elise knows I wouldn’t go to Kitty’s place after that, but my sister doesn’t know Kitty like I do. Kitty has a good heart, she’ll help me, even if she hates me, I know she will… I think.”

  Gian weighed the options in his mind for a moment then nodded, “It’s risky, but I’ll let you make the call.”

 

~~~

 

  Kithina sighed and looked up at the ceiling, “A long journey through frozen lands filled with countless creatures that want to kill you. A path so dangerous that no one in their right mind would wish to travel, if it wasn’t for the fact that the literal fate of all the Null Realms might be at stake.” She smiled, “Sounds like one of the quests of old where the heroes went off to save the world. I’m lucky my mage duties don’t start until autumn.”

  Lysaila perked up, “Are you saying…?”

  Kithina grinned, “When do we leave?”

  “Tonight.”

  “I’ll grab the tea.”

  A sudden knock rang on the door.

  Kithina frowned, “Did you invite anyone else?”

  Lysaila narrowed her eyes as she stared at the door. “No, I didn’t… but I recognize that heartbeat.” She slithered to the door and swung it open, “What are you doing here, Veres?”

  Callum looked up from beneath his dark cowl, an expression of surprise etched across his face, “Lysaila?”

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