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The Blood Empire

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The Blood Empire: Episode. 1

The Blood Rite Saga

Dylan Keefer

Contents

Also by Dylan Keefer

1. Chapter One

2. Chapter Two

3. Chapter Three

4. Chapter Four

5. Chapter Five

6. Chapter Six

7. Chapter Seven

8. Chapter Eight

About the Author

Want Free Books?

Also by Dylan Keefer

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h1=. Also by Dylan Keefer

Series

The Blood Rite Saga

The Blood Empire: Episode One

The Blood Princess: Episode One

The Blood Princess: Episode Two

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The Chronicles of Gandos

The Sword of Light

***

The Aurora Chronicles

Running with Wolves

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Standalone

Lost in Space

The Lone Survivor

Mr. Buddy Bot

Evelyn

***

Kindle Worlds

The 100

The Flame Legacy: The Commanders Codex

***

The Lizzy Gardner Files

Web of Lies: The Spider Lives

***

Extinction Cycle

Hope is False: Humanity’s Last Hope

Hope is Futile: Humanity’s Last Hope

Copyright © 2017 by Dylan Keefer.

***

All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of

America. No part of this book may be used or

reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written

permission except in the case of brief quotations

embodied in critical articles or reviews.

***

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters,

businesses, organizations, places, events and incidents

either are the product of the author’s imagination or are

used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons,

living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

***

For information contact : purplepress.org

***

First Edition: April 2017

I dedicate this book to my friends and family who have always supported in my dream of being a professional author.

Dylan Keefer


***

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h1=. Chapter One

It has been a long, arduous trip, locked in the tiny cage with fifteen others, but all Niu thought about was how she could make this situation the best it could be. She had been shuffled around so much that she met more people than she ever thought possible. People spoke strange languages and wore even stranger clothes. Luckily, one of the guards thought she had a good chance to be summoned to serve the nobles, so he spent his time teaching her Latin. She was highly educated and looked meek enough not to cause trouble. Bringing a slave that could serve in the palace was a big deal, and brought a lot of money. Niu also realized it was one of the most comfortable jobs out there. And slaves in Rome were treated pretty well, having been given legal protection. So she accepted the chance wholeheartedly.

They brought them out of the cage, gave them each a bucket to wash up and new clothes to put on. Then they were made to stand in a line, while men either scrutinized or ogled them. Niu fixed her eyes on four people who all seemed to know what they were doing and weren’t looking for sex slaves. One was a tall wide man with a graying head of hair, the other a short, curvy woman. The third was a slender man of regular height, with dark hair but light blue eyes. He observed the slaves with a hit of sympathy one would give a stray dog. That was better than seeing them as a piece of meat.

“What do you think Crispus?” The man who was selling the slaves clasped a hand on the graying man’s shoulder. “I think I have a few that would interest you.”

Crispus walked between the rows of slaves, and Niu was surprised to see he could easily distinguish between the healthy and not so healthy ones. He asked everyone questions, and if one didn’t speak Latin, he would cycle through many languages until he found the one they spoke. After passing through a row, he would point to a few slaves, and the woman that was with him would walk up to each and perform her own examination. The other man stood aside, not interested.

When Crispus came up to her, he looked her over. “What is your name?” He asked her, guessing her native languages right away.

“My name is Niu.” She spoke in Latin and then bowed.

“Oh, you did well here!” Crispus pointed to Niu, turning to the man selling her. Next, there was a rapid string of questions about what she knew and her abilities. Crispus’s tone lightened with every question. Niu answered calmly, observing the other two Romans without turning to look at them directly. The woman was busy with the other slaves, but the second man seemed more and more interested.

Crispus must have noticed that too. “Do you think we should take this one Aulus?”

“She is smart enough.” Aulus shrugged, but his eyes were smiling.

Niu’s price was agreed upon very fast, and then she and the other slaves Crispus, Aulus, and the woman picked were taken. She was separated along with five others. All six slaves were of varying ages and genders so Niu couldn’t tell what they were meant to do. Each was placed in a separate room.

The room was small but very comfortable and fancy. There were two doors, the one she entered through, and another one on the opposite side. She didn’t know where that one led and didn’t care to find out right now. Since she didn’t want to ruin her chance if they caught her.

Niu sat down on a pillow and waited. She would have prayed if she didn’t think it would make people angry. Then Aulus entered through the door.

When she looked more closely, she realized the man looked like he was much younger than the way he carried himself. He couldn’t have been more than ten years her senior, and yet he looked like a weary old man. Aulus sat down opposite her.

“Now, I need to tell you a few things which I hope you will understand. They pertain to your role here.”

Niu nodded. Aulus raised his hand and pointed to it. In the candlelight, the hand changed. Long claws extended from the fingernails, and the finger themselves became bonier, the knuckles more pronounced. Aulus used that hand to point to his mouth. Niu saw large fangs extending from Aulus’s mouth, curving into an arch, their tips touching his chin.

Niu whispered a few words of amazement in her own language. She had heard of people like this. People who were not human. Ones who could turn to stone or fly, or grow fangs. But she had never believed she would meet someone like this here of all places. Why were they here, and why was he showing her this?

“Most of the nobles here are not human. The ones that are, well, they are only here to keep us safe. Keep people from finding out what we are. We have many names we go by, but those are all connected to rumors. Call us what you wish, it won’t bother anyone. Suffice to say we need human blood to survive. That is your and my others’ role here.” Aulus stopped to pull back his fangs. Niu could tell it was uncomfortable to talk like that. “This is not a death sentence. We know how to drink and not kill you. Once a day or less, depending on how much you can handle, you will be fed on and then left to recuperate. Otherwise, you will have every amenity and kept healthy and well fed. You won’t have to work, but you can’t leave this wing unless summoned. If someone feeds on you after you have been fed or mistreats you in any way you are free to tell the vampire in charge of you. That would be me.”

“And if you are the one that mistreats me?” Niu didn’t know what to expect when she asked that question, but she didn’t expect Aulus to laugh.

“You’re smart. I like that. Well, I hope not to give you a reason, but in that case, you’d go over my head and tell another one of us. You can even talk to the emperor himself. Those types of things are dealt with a lot of severity.” Aulus had retracted his claws before the scratched his chin. “As you might have guessed it would not be in our best interest for us to mistreat and lose our source of sustenance. If anyone asks, you are here to perform house duties like cleaning, or simple companionship. It keeps curious people away.” Aulus started gesturing with his hands.

“I assume no other humans know what you are, besides the ones you feed on?” Niu was hoping she wasn’t projecting her nervousness.

“Exactly.” Aulus was watching her intently.

Niu kept quiet for a moment. It could have been worse. Much worse. This she could handle. She at least had some agency in the matter. She shrugged. “So are you going to feed off me now?”

“No, this day, we’re just going to sit and talk. Apparently, this is how it’s supposed to go.” Aulus leaned back.

“You haven’t been in charge of anyone before?”

“I wasn’t interested in doing it, but the emperor decided that if I was going to do his job one day, I needed to know how this went.”

“How do you mean? Are you his heir? Is he your father?”

“In a way.” Aulus’s shrugged. “He turned me in what I am now. A long time ago. We change every few decades or so, in order to keep up appearances. We live a long time.”  Niu couldn’t believe he was so calmly discussing this.

“I hope I’m not breaking a rule by asking you this, but how do you turn people?” Niu was ready to avert her eyes and apologize.

“You’re not. But I would like to not just talk about me the whole evening. I am curious about your life too.”

“Well, how about you tell me about you, and then I’ll return the favor?” Niu couldn’t deny she was interested in what these people were. She wanted to know everything. And she had a feeling that was what Aulus liked about her.

“Alright. We turn people by drinking their blood, and then they drinking ours. I am not quite sure why it works like that.” Aulus spread his arms. “Ask your next questions.”

“We’re not taking turns?” Niu raised her eyebrow.

“I’m making a list in my head.” Aulus’s eye sparkled. Niu suddenly thought about how attractive he was.

Niu bent her feet under her torso and began asking questions. “How long have you lived?”

“Centuries. It’s very interesting to see how humans form civilizations. You must tell me about your customs after.” Aulus continued, describing the place he was born. At first, he stuck to the facts and avoided sharing any weaknesses his kind had. That was fine with Niu since she did the same thing. But as the hours flowed on, Niu found he was slipping. And she was too. They didn’t stop talking until Niu yawned.

“Oh, right, sleep. You need it,” Aulus said mid-sentence on how he managed to walk in the sunlight in a desert and not die. He got up right away as if he just remembered what she was and left. Before he closed the door, he turned around. “You can sleep either here or in the common room. That door gets you there. See you tomorrow.”

Niu nodded. She decided she wanted to stay with the others tonight. She walked into the common room. It was a circle with many doors and many beds. The other slaves had already come in and were already asleep. She picked an empty one and then settled into bed. She felt safer in a crowd.

The next day was slow. She had never not worked this much, and it was making her nervous. She discovered that she got the most thorough explanation out of everyone else. Two of the people who came with her were scared out of their mind that they were going to die right after they were called for a vampire to feed on them. Niu calmed them down, earning an expression of relief from the vampire sent to collect one of them. That vampire was tall and pale, with dark hair. He also looked younger than he was, but his clothes and tone signified he wasn’t really all that high up in the hierarchy. He said his name was Sergius, but added ‘for the moment’ at the end of his introduction.

As soon as the sun set, Aulus returned. Niu sat down as he talked her through the process. He was going to feed off her neck, and it was important for her not to move too much because the fangs were sharp. Niu wasn’t a stranger to pain, but she was a stranger to the draining feeling that accompanied feeding. She understood why they didn’t do any other work besides that.

When Aulus retracted his fangs, he put pressure on the wound and wrapped a bandage around it. He then gave her some food and water. He worked methodically.

“You have some blood there.” Niu pointed on Aulus’s face as she began eating. He reached over and then wiped his mouth.

“You’re taking this well.”

“You explained it well. It’s food for you. Don’t we humans eat animals? Drink milk? It’s the same.” Niu stabbed a piece of meat with her knife.

Aulus’s face bore a strange smile. He cleared his throat and then got up. “Well, I’ll leave you to rest.”

&“Well, this is a nice turnout.”& Crispus was helping an old man up the stairs. The man seemed to be steady on his feet, but his wheezing showed he was easily tired. He was small, and his skin had spots all over it, the biggest of which were on his bald head. His face looked as if someone had grabbed it and pulled down, his skin sagging past his chin. His hands were wrinkled and looked like the dry branches of an old tree.

He was gripping a withered cane. His hands weren’t shaking. “I don’t particularly care about the turnout. I just want to sit down already. This whole show is tiring.”

“Yes, sir.” Crispus nodded and hurried, lifting the man a little more. He didn’t want to lift him more than that because then he might as well carry him up. And they were trying to make him look old and tired not at death’s door. The humans thought the emperor was eighty years old. In reality, the vampire was sired by one of the very first vampires, the ones who got awakened instead of sired. This man was so old he could tell you how civilization began, and what type of hand he had in helping it.

They somehow got to the top box before the match began and the emperor was taken to his chair. He plopped down on it like he was a sack someone threw in a storage closet and immediately picked up his goblet. He shoved Crispus with it.

Crispus had his back turned but didn’t sway from the emperor’s shove. Instead, he turned around and poured a red liquid one could assume was wine but was actually blood mixed with wine to mask the smell.

The emperor took a deep drink, drinking half of the contents in one gulp, and then put it down with a sigh.

“I don’t really like cutting down on my food like this.”

“It is necessary if you want to wither slowly.” Crispus sat down next to him. “You have the appearance of a dying man down pact, but no one would believe you’re dying if you can run up the stairs.”

The Emperor stared at the soon to be full gladiator ring for a moment. “Well, I do hate acting. How did the slave buying go?”

“We have five new slaves. And they all have people assigned to them.” Crispus was watching the crowd instead of watching the gladiators entering. He found these events boring. Humans couldn’t do the type of destruction that would interest him.

“Good. Now let’s watch people fight each other to death.” The emperor grinned. Crispus mimicked him and then sat back, only paying attention to the fight so that he could react properly. Otherwise, he was entrenched in thought and keeping tabs on how much blood the emperor drank.

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h1=. Chapter Two

Aulus was waiting in the meeting room. He was sitting on a chair, fiddling with a quill. He didn’t know why they asked him to come here after the gladiator match. But he was pretty sure he didn’t do anything wrong. He ran over his conversation with Niu over and over in his head, trying to see if he mentioned or did something he shouldn’t have. Other than that, his days had been routine, so if someone had a problem with him, chances were it was because of the human.

The door opened, and Aulus got up. A woman entered. She was tall, with long brown hair cascading in waves down her back. Her skin was smooth and had a slight pallor to it, and her face was as rigid as stone.

“Oh, it’s just you.” Aulus sat back down, exasperated. “Good afternoon Drusa. Do you know why I have been summoned here?”

“I don’t have the slightest idea why you were summoned, or why I was summoned.” Drusa sat down on the chair and leaned back. She picked up a grape from the table and ate it.

“And yet you are not worried in the slightest.” Aulus turned to face her. Now he really didn’t know why he was here. Drusa didn’t have anything to do with the humans. He felt Drusa was hiding the reason from him just because he wanted to see him sweat.

“That’s because I don’t think everyone should know how I feel all the time. Especially if you are a woman.” Drusa leaned forward, towards Aulus. “I really hope you change that by the way. I’d like to stop pretending I can’t do whatever I feel like doing.”

“Well, when I retire you two can do whatever you want with this society, even if it means burning it all to the ground.” The emperor appeared at the door. Crispus was behind him, his shadow as always.

Aulus got up. “Hello, father. May I ask why we’re here?”

“You don’t have to ask because I’ll tell you as soon as I sit down.” The emperor changed his posture. He straightened up and walked over to the only empty chair in the room with the speed of a twenty-something-year-old man. He sat down and stretched out, cracking his neck. “Ugh, we really need to make up another way to do this. Walking like this is exhausting.” Crispus sighed, a well-known reaction to when a vampire thought they shouldn’t pretend they were aging simply because it was boring.

Aulus cleared his throat. Drusa smiled. “I think you might need to hurry up master before your son’s tension makes him burst a vein.”

Aulus turned to look at her. That was when he realized he had been grinding his teeth so much his jaw and all the muscles in his neck hurt. He realized his father’s first sentence was odd. He usually said that ‘when you are emperor, you can do whatever you want with this society, even if it means burning it to the ground.’  This time he said ‘you two.’

“Don’t worry it’s nothing bad. I just gathered you here to tell you two are engaged as of today. You’ll get married after the appropriate time according to these humans is… how long was that Crispus?”

“A year or so will do. The families are very familiar with each other, and it won’t be hard to fake that you’ve been in love for much longer.” Crispus put his hands behind his back and recited. Aulus sometimes really hated the guy.

“Look, father, I know I need to get married to take over, but can’t I wait until I find someone I actually love?”

“No, it would take too long.” The emperor crossed his arms over. “You already know every single vampire in our circle, and you barely tolerate most of them. If you were to actually fall in love, it would be with someone from another faction, and we do not have the luxury of easy communication with them. So, I am picking for you. Deal with it however you want to. But as long as the outside world is concerned you two are madly in love and are going to have a bunch of kids and lead this country into prosperity. Even if you have to have an open marriage in private. Got it?”

Aulus knew it was useless to argue. And the truth was he didn’t really care one way or the other. He didn’t plan on getting married or having kids. In fact, he was only looking for the first opening he could find to leave this place and travel the world. He kept that a secret for obvious reasons. He wished that his father wasn’t the one who found him in that ruin, wasn’t the one that turned him. He’d be content to have been turned by a random low-level vampire like Sergius was. “Understood father.”

“And you Drusa? Are you going to object?”The emperor turned to look at her. Aulus turned as well. He had never known Drusa to exhibit any emotion, but maybe the reveal that she was going to be third in line now would be enough to crack that stone shell.

It wasn’t. Drusa looked as bored as ever. “Whatever you say, master. You know I obey you no matter what.”

“Oh, I am well aware of that. Now, if you excuse me, I’ll go and ‘take a nap.’” The Emperor got up, smiling. He walked over to the entrance, slowing down his every next step until he was walking as slowly as a man his age should.

Crispus bowed to Drusa and Aulus and left. He looked like he was making sure the emperor didn’t fall over, but Aulus knew he was making sure the emperor didn’t speed up again and ruin the rumors of his declining health. It would take too long to start them up again.

“You must be loving this.” Aulus looked at Drusa.

“Am I loving having to marry you? No. But I am loving the fact I will be the next in line right after you.” Drusa got up and left the room without saying goodbye.

Aulus rolled his eyes. Well, it could have been worse. At least Drusa loathed him. His father could have picked one of the female vampires who tried to suck up to him so he’d like them, or order him to marry a newbie and have her think it’s some sort of sigh of true love. Aulus could live through this. And at least he had a year of freedom.

For some reason, his mind floated back to the human he was in charge of. He assumed it happened because he was hungry, so he left to go feed.

&A Year &&Later&

It has been a year since Niu arrived. Aulus couldn’t stop going to see her. He visited her every day. It wasn’t that her blood was especially delicious, healthy blood was healthy blood. But the woman herself was unlike anyone he had ever met. She talked to him and made conclusions based on what he told her. Those conclusions were more than often correct. She had figured out the vampire hierarchy just by listening to what others said. And she had never tried to make a vampire turn her as it happened to those who were overly ambitious. She had even won over Sergius, who was the vampire errand boy, there to do anything anyone needed of him. Aulus liked him. Sergius had freedom Aulus didn’t and cherished that freedom immensely.

Despite the fact Aulus had been careful to only tell Niu certain things, she had figured out he hadn’t been an only child as a human and the reason her knew how to speak her native language so well. After that, he spent a night telling her things he had never told anyone else, and she returned the favor.

“Going to see the human again? You’re more attentive than I gave you credit for.” Crispus stopped Aulus on his way to Niu. Aulus always considered Crispus a gnat. A very competent gnat that kept Aulus’s father away from trouble and steered away disasters with an expertise no one else had, but a gnat nonetheless. Crispus was involved in everything going on and held such a tight grip on the power he had, Aulus was wondering how he had time to do anything else with his life.

“You told me I needed to be thorough.” Aulus deadpanned. “I am just following your advice. You have watched over slaves your whole life.”

Crispus smiled. Aulus was reminded about the only reason he liked the fact he was going to be in charge. He could diminish Crispus’s reach and rest easy he won’t get overzealous.

“Well, I can’t blame you, she is a nice little thing,” Crispus said, his eyes glazing over with lewd thoughts.

Aulus rolled his eyes. “I don’t go for human girls.” It was true. He treated Niu more like a shiny little bauble than a woman. He showed her around, and every time she made a correct assumption it was like the bauble sparkled. He wasn’t worried that she would find out too much and attempt to escape anymore. He had tried to give her a lecture on that the previous night.

“And here I thought you thought of me as smart.” Niu laughed. “There are twenty vampires in this building alone at all times, and that doesn’t account for the guards who would drag me back, or other slaves whose job is to keep me in line, or the fact this place is intentionally a maze solely so none of us can find our way out. There is no way to escape without dying. And that is not counting the fact there are people around me who are scared enough that they would report any attempts of an escape. My plan is to be alive as long as possible. And that will happen if I take care of myself and keep being useful.”

“That is impressive.” Aulus had never called anyone impressive before. “And here I have been complaining I have seen everything.”

“New things happen every day Aulus.” Niu looked up at the ceiling. “The stars and the moon change every night, and a new sun rises every day. It would be foolish to think this world is not in a constant state of flux.”

Now Aulus was planning on sneaking Niu out. Not permanently. He wanted to show her something, and the only way to do that was to bend the rules a bit. It was easy for him to ask the guards to leave for five minutes and take her out of the room. Then it was just a matter of avoiding everyone.

The garden to the east of the building was one of the more extensive ones in Rome. They had fun walking around and him sharing his knowledge with her. She soaked it up like a sponge. He sat behind, watching Niu’s brown eyes sparkling with excitement and the moonlight reflecting off her skin. Aulus wondered if this was what all humans were like. His head was telling him no. But he was glad he found at least one.

&Niu had put& a pillow over her head and closed her eyes. She would be hitting her head off the wall of her room right now if that didn’t mean attracting attention. Aulus hadn’t come in to feed in over a week. Oh sure he came to see her, but he never stayed long anymore. And she realized she missed him. Missing the guy who actually listened to her and treated her like she had brains and opinions wasn’t such a surprise, but when that same guy only thinks of you like a piece of interesting food was. And now she had to deal with the fact he might be bored. It wouldn’t be so bad if that didn’t mean that she’d most likely be killed. Every single slave she arrived with was gone. They either got too weak or got boring. She was the one who had stayed here the longest.

“I am an idiot.” She muttered in her native language.

“And what happened now?” A voice speaking in her native language reached her ears. Niu removed the pillow from her face and got up. Sergius was at the door, a tray in his hand.

“Oh, hi.” Niu blinked. “You don’t usually bring the food.”

“Eh, Aulus told me to check up on you, so I thought two birds, one stone.” Sergius put the tray down and sat next to Niu. Niu was always surprised at how easy it was to get along with him. It must have something to do with the fact he was younger than any other vampire here, and that they treated him just a little better than a human. And all because they didn’t know who his sire was. He never thought of her as a lower being.

“Come on, speak. Or will I have to guess?” Sergius nudged her, smiling.

“You think you can?” Niu sat up, intrigued. She didn’t really want to verbalize her feelings right now, and maybe if Sergius guessed wrong, she could pretend that he guessed right.

“Hmmm…” Sergius put his hand under his chin. “Well, Aulus hasn’t been feeding on you for the past few weeks, and we all know the dangers of that. Now that might be why you are scared, but it doesn’t explain why you think you are an idiot.” Sergius’s eyes sparkled, and he smirked.

Niu was cursing in her head. She didn’t know how he found out, but she didn’t want to hear it. She got up.

“Aha! I’m right!” Sergius got up to follow her. “You like —”

Niu turned around and clasped a hand over Sergius’s mouth. He grinned. Niu started wondering how a vampire this young could control his fangs so well. She had only seen them when he was actively drinking blood, usually from a cup.

Sergius removed Niu’s hand. “You like him.”

Niu pursed her lips. “And that’s why I’m an idiot.” She started pacing. “Here I am, about to get murdered, and all I can think is that I’ll probably get my neck broken by the only person I actually like in this place!”

Sergius grabbed at his chest theatrically. “Ouch. What am I, leftovers for the dog? You have wounded me so with your words.”

“Oh come on, you know you’re my best friend in this place.” Niu laughed.

“Well, if you’re laughing it can’t be that bad.” Sergius clasped both hands on Niu’s shoulders. “If anyone can deal with what’s coming, whatever that is, it’s you.” He shrugged. “And hey, I spend a lot of time with the guy, maybe I can poke a bit, and if he does plan on killing you, I can smuggle you out in a laundry basket or something.” Sergius gave Niu an encouraging smile and went to do his job.

Niu hoped he was right.

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h1=. Chapter Three

Crispus knew he’d need to drink a lot of blood to heal in time for the meeting. That made him chuckle.

The pile of pillows they got to somehow was now filled with scraps. Drusa’s claws were scratching Crispus’s upper back, while his fang was slicing the skin on her neck. They both finished at the same time, and fell in a tangle of limbs, with the sheets around them soaked in sweat and various fluids.

Every time their bodies touched it felt like lightning. He liked her ferocity, the way she would slice his lip open with her fangs, the way he didn’t need to worry if he would hurt her, because she liked it as much as he did, and gave as good as she got.

Corpus grabbed her hands and slammed them into the wall. Drusa smiled and tripped him up, then landed on top of him. She maneuvered her body on top of his, making sure their lips never parted.

Crispus pushed Drusa up the wall, tearing the dress she was wearing off her body as his lips were covering the lower side of his face and neck with kisses. One of her hands was holding the back of his head, while the other one was clawed and tearing the clothes off of him. Her knee was moving up and down his inner thigh.

The room Crispus and Drusa were currently in was so far from a hallway they could be as loud as they could be and not attract attention.

“Do you think we’ll get to do this after the marriage, or will we need to take a break?” Drusa turned around to face him, the sheet sliding around her slender frame. She brushed her hair back.

“Maybe we’ll need to be a bit more careful about the where and when, but I bet Aulus will try and stay away from you as much as possible.” Crispus rose from his side of the tangle of sheets and pillow remains and looked into Drusa’s eyes. She was always so stoic. Even her blue eyes looked like they were made out of stone. He could stare at them all day and never feel an inkling of fear or anger.

“He does not like this arrangement one bit,” Drusa smirked. “It’s a wonder he didn’t object.”

“This is why we spent a long time maneuvering you into place.” Crispus reached over and ran a hand over Drusa’s arm. “Even if he did, the emperor doesn’t like when someone counters him.”

“How has the bloody wine been treating him?” Drusa asked. “I did some calculations, and we can add two more drops of Vervain in there without him noticing. It would make him weaker but not weak enough that he suspects it. But more than that and he’ll pick it up.”

“I don’t know how you figured that out from just watching him, but I love that you did.”

“Maybe I can teach you sometimes.” Drusa wrapped her hand around Crispus’ s neck and brought his lips to hers. The next moment they had both sunk into each other again.

&Aulus was not used& to being nervous. It had been so long since the last time he had truly feared an outcome. But here he was now, his hands shaking. And it wasn’t over anything one would consider a disaster.

He agonized over and over on whether he wanted to bring Niu a gift, changing his mind maybe five times. In the end, Sergius took the box from Aulus’s hands, put it on the table and pushed him out the room to get him to move. And Aulus didn’t stop walking until he reached the room.

Aulus never thought of humans as anything more than food. But Niu was smart and charming. She was one of the very few humans who survived to be her age while being continuously fed on. At first, he had been impressed and relished feeding on a human so unique. But as she grew in front of his eyes, blossomed into a wonderful shrewd woman, he realized he was seeking comfort in those warm brown eyes more and more. He hadn’t felt like that about anyone in so long. The last time was probably, oh, a few years before he had been turned. Centuries away. Aulus walked into the human common room. He glanced around, making sure only slaves were around.

“Niu, come here.” Damn, his voice was shaking. He would have started cursing in his head right now if he didn’t need to focus. The rest of the humans, both male, and female hurried to leave them alone.

Niu got up and walked up to Aulus. “Do I need to pick up a knife or do are you biting?”

“Um, no, I’m not here for that.” Aulus shuffled, looking at the floor.

“Oh.” Niu sat down. Aulus looked up and was surprised to see she looked defeated. “So I assume you are here to tell me I am going to get killed. That’s nice of you.”

“Killed?” Aulus’s voice cracked. “No. Why would you think that?”

“You don’t feed on me anymore. For a month now. And anyone else assumes I have already been fed on, or have other preferences. You not feeling on me means you’re bored and I’ll get killed. I have seen it before. I have been here a long time. Longer than almost every other human.”

Aulus thought about it for a moment, and he realized she had a point. His reluctance to use her as food could be seen as boredom, and it wasn’t like she could guess the real reason, considering what she knew about him. And for someone whose life was tied to this ritual, he was surprised she was so calm.

Aulus sat down next to her, trying to make himself seem less threatening, which mean hunching over and rolling his shoulders forward. He didn’t want to have her because she was scared of dying. He wanted to have her only if she wanted him to.

“I am not bored by you. I… have discovered I care for you. A lot. I might even love you. I don’t know how it happened. But that’s why I haven’t been feeding on you. I don’t want to force anything on you anymore.” He sat there, waiting for her reaction. He’d bet that if he were human, his heart would be threatening to jump out of his chest. But, as a vampire, he just felt like he couldn’t breathe.

Niu sat there for a moment as if she was waiting for him to say that was a joke and snap her neck. Then she slowly spoke. “You are serious?”

“Yes. But I don’t want to make you respond to me. So, saying no won’t kill you. I’ll still say I feed on you, so you’ll live. You have been a part of my life and made me grow.” He had to wipe his hands on his clothes. “I don’t’ want to erase that no matter how you may feel about me.”

Niu had gotten up by Aulus’s last sentence and approached him. Aulus looked into her eyes as she cupped his face with her hands and then ran them through his hair. She kissed him. It was warm and soft. Aulus wrapped his hand around her waist and sunk into the feeling, trying to savor all of the tastes and sounds he was experiencing.

Kissing a human was different than kissing a vampire. Aulus could feel Niu’s heart beating, the blood flowing through her veins. But he wasn’t hungry. He wanted her but in a different way.

Niu broke the kiss and loosely wrapped her arms around Aulus’s neck. “My life has been about survival. Both back home, and when I was brought here. But this isn’t about survival. You make me feel alive in a time where my life is meaningless. When I thought you were bored and left me to be killed, or even just handed me off to someone else, I felt like falling apart. You feed off of me, but you listen. We talk for hours; you know my name. You care more than one could expect from you.”

Aulus continued kissing Niu, not even caring that someone could walk through the door right now and catch them. But they were smart enough to stop before it went too far.

“We need to stop now. Someone could walk in.” Niu broke free. She was short of breath.

Aulus took a deep breath to settle down. Inside he wanted to cheer. “Should I come back later?” He realized how that sounded and hurried to add, “We can just talk.”

“Yes. When the feeding time has passed. We’ll have plenty of time then. I don’t think I’ll be too drained.” Niu sat back down on the chair she was sitting on before.

Aulus got up. “I’ll find a way to stop other vampires feeding on you. I don’t want you to feel like food anymore, or be that scared again. I don’t know what it’ll take, but I can try. Even if I have to claim you, make you a free person under the human law and then protect you that way. If you want me too of course. I don’t know what else to do. It’s not like my father would let me be with you. He still has that engagement in mind.”

“Don’t worry about that. Now that we both know how we feel, we can do anything we set our mind to. Do whatever it takes.”

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. Chapter Four

Niu had finished settling into her new room in Aulus’s house. She had moved a few weeks ago. She discovered she’d need to spend a lot of time alone in the house, but she didn’t mind. Other people cleaned, and Sergius came every few days with supplies.

She was busy folding her clothes when she heard a knock on her door. Oh, Aulus came home early today.

“Just a minute!” Niu put away the pile of clothes and put away some dishes which were on the nearby table on her way to the door. She opened the door with a huge smile on her face. But when she did, in front of her wasn’t Aulus, but Crispus. The man looked her up and down and got a vague smile on his face. Niu suddenly got an intense desire to shut the door in his face.

“May I come in?” He waited for an answer, but Niu knew the waiting was false. It wasn’t as if she could tell him ‘no, you can’t come in.’ She didn’t have a reason to decline him no matter how much she wanted to decline him.

“Of course, come in.” Niu walked over to the side and gave Crispus the space he needed to enter the room. He walked in and looked around. The room didn’t have a use before Aulus moved Niu in, so now it looked incredibly vivid, with all the colorful pillows, and intricately designed objects sitting around. Niu was glad she had cleaned the entire room just this morning after Aulus left. Vampires had an extraordinary sense of smell, so Crispus would have been able to smell everything if not for her meticulous ways.

“Can I help you?” She put her hands behind her back and waited for a response. The faster she found out what he wanted and gave it to him, the faster he’d have to leave. Then she could get back to her day and not feel scrutinized.

Crispus didn’t respond; he just kept walking around, observing everything with the same look Niu had seen when he had bought her, and many time since then. It was the look Crispus got when he was making conclusions based on what he saw. He observed every section of the room so carefully Niu was certain he actually tired the room out. She could feel herself become more and more nervous. It was if she wanted to find something wrong with it so he could talk about it.

But as she observed Crispus’s behavior more and more, she realized his goal was to see how she’d react. He was waiting for her to be at her more vulnerable point. So nervous that she would forget how to think and inadvertently say something she would regret later. When she realized his plan, she grew spiteful. She wanted to win the game. So she didn’t move from the spot or even have her heartbeat speed up because of nervous thoughts.

Crispus had to speak eventually. He chose to do that when he ran out of a place to scrutinize in this tiny room. “I am here to feed.”

Niu’s eyebrows shot up. Crispus hadn’t fed off her. Ever. In fact, most vampires preferred to pick one or two slaves they liked and feed off them until they either grew boring or died. Niu had a few vampires who came by all the time, but the one who fed off her was Aulus.

“Of course. Shall I bring a knife or are you biting?” She was being careful to say that as evenly as possible. She wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of being nervous.

“Biting.” Crispus pointed to a pillow, and Niu sat down. He sat down and bit her without much fanfare. Niu could instantly feel a difference. He chomped a bit too hard and didn’t hold her in a place like most vampires did. But she sat still as a rock and let him feed, remembering if he went too far he would not only have to answer to Aulus but all other vampires. It was unlikely for him to risk that much out of spite. She kept repeating that to herself when the pain was a bit too much.

Crispus released just as Niu was thinking about asking him if he was going to stop or not. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve and grinned with fanged teeth. Niu was reminded of a bloodhound. He got up and left without a word.

Niu got up and walked over to the place where she kept her post-feeding supplies and put a layer of gauze on the wound to stem the bleeding. After it had stopped, she took a few bites of food to settle her rising stomach. She didn’t want to throw up.

Niu hoped she didn’t have to tell Aulus this herself. It seemed to be a passive aggressive move meant to rattle them both, or even only Aulus. Luckily, that was when Sergius walked in. He immediately smelled the blood when he came in.

“What happened?” He walked up to check her and stopped to check out a few drops of blood on the pillow.

“Listen, you need to find Aulus and tell him Crispus came here and fed on me, but make sure he doesn’t react with any type of panic or anger because I think Crispus wants him to.”

“Just tell me exactly what to say, and I’ll relay it word for word. I’ll make up an emergency if I need to get him away from someone.” Sergius smiled. “I do it all the time; he hates people.” Sergius walked quickly and professionally, and when he got back, he told her that Aulus was going to ask Crispus what he was thinking and what he was going to say.

&Aulus had& to be careful not to break the door he passed by. Sergius had gotten him out of a meeting and told him what happened to Niu and what she had said. He agreed with her assumption because it sounded like a thing Crispus would do. He promised to be calm and settled and made up a plan while he was walking down to Crispus’s room.

“Hello. Can we talk?” Aulus walked into Crispus’s room without knocking. Just because he couldn’t be visibly livid, it didn’t mean he had to respect Crispus.

“Oh, hello, yes, we can talk. Anything wrong?” Crispus looked up.

“You can’t have Niu. For food or otherwise.” Aulus was standing in front of Crispus. Crispus could have been his father if one judged by age. Because both vampires vaguely resembled each other, like cousins. One time, Crispus actually played Aulus’s cousin, but Aulus couldn’t remember what name he used then. Aulus didn’t bother remembering anyone’s previous names. He barely remembered the names he used in the past, let alone everyone else’s.

“Oh, please, food is food.” Crispus rolled his eyes. “You feed on my humans; I feed on yours. It’s how the world works. And it’s not like I harmed her.”

“We are not exactly part of the world.” Aulus held back a growl of exasperation and pushed back his fangs. He remembered that he was going to be emperor soon, and then he could fire Crispus and finally be at peace. Aulus’s father would spend a few decades in obscurity and then get back into the rotation. After that Crispus might have a way back in, but Aulus could stand him when he wasn’t the one in charge. “Look, I have a reputation to uphold. Humans don’t know we feed; they think she’s my concubine. And you walking into her into her room does not help that impression and gives people a chance to make up stories.”

“Are you sure it’s just that?” Or is it that you just don’t want to share.”Crispus started pacing, hands behind his back. “I’m sure Drusa feels the same way. Will you be keeping the human when you two are married?”

Aulus felt the desire to punch him straight in the face. This stupid marriage was the worst idea the emperor had ever had. But instead of burning his bridges, Aulus focused on maintaining his tone. Jokes and sleaziness were the way out. “Can you blame me?” Aulus shrugged. “I have never been good at sharing.”

Crispus laughed, sitting back in his chair. “No, I can’t. She’s a pretty little thing. Oh, fine, keep her, if no one else minds it. It’s one human. She’s going to be dead in a short while anyway. Short life spans and all.”

It took all of Aulus’s strength not to wince. He quickly thanked Crispus and then excused himself, faking pleasure at his decision. When he managed to move away, his expression changed into one of quiet sadness. Crispus was right. In their life, Niu would be a drop of water in an ocean. He lived for an eternity; humans barely lived for three decades. He couldn’t do anything about that.

Or, maybe he could. There was no way they would let him turn her. Turning was heavily regulated, which meant that only a certain kind of person was turned at this point. Someone they had use of, someone with a big ego and a lot of power while they were alive. Aulus was slowly getting more and more frustrated the more numerous that type of vampire became. He was a poor villager when he was turned, and the only reason he wanted to be was to see the world better. He was glad someone took pity on him, and he was in the right place at the right time

But Aulus had also gained something else during his long life. He had enough means for both him and Niu to disappear. He could sneak her out again, but this time they wouldn’t get back. They could go back to her land, or just travel until they reached the end of the Earth. They could be free. That thought gave a pep in his step. With a plan in mind, Aulus didn’t wait even a minute to get to Niu’s room.

Niu was sitting down, rewrapping the wound on her neck with a bandage. The old bandages were on the chair next to her. Her slender frame seemed weak, a complete opposite from her character. Her long thick dark brown hair was braided down her back, and her brown eyes lit up when he came in. She was over a head taller than she was when she came here, and the easy life had made her even more beautiful. Aulus stood there for a moment, imagining her features being like that for eternity.

“Hi,” she smiled at him. Aulus could never understand how she could be so cheerful when she lived the way she was. “How did it go?”

“Let me help you with that.” Aulus sat down next to her and helped her wrap the bandage around her neck. He paid attention to his strength so that he didn’t injure her further. “I have an idea on how we can be together.”

“Really?” Her voice rarely changed when in the company of strangers, but when she was alone with him she showed her full range of emotions. Right now her voice showed happiness. She shifted closer to him. He felt her warmth. It reminded him that if he turned her this would be the last time she was this warm.

Aulus tied the bandage with a light hand and then turned Niu around by grabbing her shoulders. He took a deep breath. “They will never let us be together. Not fully anyway. Which is what I want. I don’t’ want to marry Drusa and play the diligent husband. This marriage is all about other people’s convenience and the right of succession. The point is I want to be with you. Forever.”

“They won’t let you change me.” Niu seemed to know what he was thinking but still needed to make sure.

“I don’t need them to let me,” Aulus observed the way the candles illuminated Niu’s face. She started to speak, but Aulus stopped her. “We can get away. We can run as far as we’re able and just live our life until they get over it. A few centuries should do it. And the ones that don’t we don’t need to concern ourselves with.”

Niu stared at him with a look that stopped him from talking. “Weren’t you the one who said ‘if the vampires don’t find someone, the other creatures will’? Every stone, every animal will look for us, we will be looking over our shoulder all our life. And what about when the world changes? I don’t want to spend my entire human life running away, let alone an eternity. I’m not even sure I want to live forever. It seems more of a burden than anything.”

Aulus looked back on his life. He could understand where that came from. There were times where he was bored with life so much he thought about putting a stake through his heart. It stopped him from being mad that she didn’t want to spend an eternity with him. “So what do you want to do? Sneak around here until you wither away?”

Niu grabbed Aulus’s hands. “I want to be with you. Just live, not spend my life running. I have done that too much already.”

Aulus squeezed Niu’s hands. “I do too, but what do I do about Drusa?”

“Marry her. She doesn’t love you; you don’t love her. It’s a convenience like you said. We can see each other either way. There are ways.” She hugged Aulus and then spent the time they had left to enjoy each other’s bodies, with Aulus carefully trying to avoid Niu’s neck wound and controlling his fangs. Niu wrapped herself around Aulus, carrying a smile on her lips.

Aulus rolled over and allowed himself to get lost.

The only sounds were sighs, and Niu’s smells filled Aulus’s nostrils’ making a bit crazy.

The moment both of them were without clothes both focused on just enjoying each other. Aulus never kissed Niu’s neck. It reminded him too much of feeding, and he never wanted to mix those feelings with his lovemaking. Niu didn’t seem to care either way.

Aulus managed to slip Niu’s dress off her body without breaking contact with her and then worked on his own clothes. Niu was helping him, but was more focused on touching every exposed part of his flesh.

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. Chapter Five

Because of how vampires hid the fact they used slaves as food, Niu had never had a female vampire come into her room. It was the easiest just to pretend you had a different voracious appetite. But now Drusa was standing in front of her. Niu sat down so that she wouldn’t be taller than her. It was strange looking at Drusa’s face. There was something unplaceable about it. It seemed to be made out of stone. Even when it was moving.

“Are you going to feed? If you do you require a knife or are you biting?” Niu put her hands in her lap, ready to move her hair out of the way if that was the case.

“Later. I currently only want to talk to you.” Drusa sat down next to Niu. “I am marrying Aulus. You are his concubine. I’m pretty sure you know why I’m here.”

Despite the fact Niu wasn’t supposed to know anything about Drusa’s motivations for marrying Aulus, she knew a lot. Aulus talked and Niu was observant. So when Drusa said why she was here, Niu knew she needed to be careful. If Drusa was trying to play the love card, Niu was going to let her, and then make sure Drusa didn’t get anything she was hoping she’d get. “I am certain you’re aware I can’t influence Aulus even a little. He does as he wishes.”

“Oh, I don’t want you to influence him.” Drusa waved off the thought. “What I do want is to make sure you don’t ruin my plan. I am marrying Aulus in order to secure my place in the line. Don’t threaten that.” Drusa leaned over. “The others don’t like you much, and I can easily convince them that you are a liability.”

“I don’t see how I could possibly interfere with your plan.” Niu looked down. “I’m just food after all.”

“Oh, we both know you’re much more than that. Let’s not kid ourselves with lies. We both are far too capable for that. I don’t do anything without a reason. And the only reason I’d have is if you were to try and get Aulus to do something that would jeopardize my plan.” Drusa put a hand on Niu’s shoulder. “I’ll protect you from the rabble. As much as a wife can anyway. I’m not going to go out of my way here.”

Niu looked up. She knew Drusa would catch a lie, so she told the truth. “What I can promise is that I will never ask Aulus to leave you, or try and convince him not to marry you. But that is all I can promise.” Niu put her hand over Drusa’s hand. “Do you wish to feed now?”

“Sure.” Drusa let her fangs emerge and then sank them into Niu’s neck. She was a lot more careful and methodical than what Niu thought she’d be. The flow of blood was weaker and easy to stem after, and Drusa didn’t wind up with a face stained with blood after.

&“Oh,& stop being overdramatic! She’s just a human. What can she do?” Drusa rolled her eyes. She was short and slim, and her dark hair fell past her waist. She was reclining on the bed, trying to make Crispus stop talking and have fun in his life already. She didn’t know if she believed he had been this stiff and tense for all of his life, if it was a result of hiding his vampire side, or if he was just an old grumpy man. She also didn’t know which one of those three would be the easiest to crack. He was so different than the wild man she knew he could become if he wanted to. That side of him was the side she liked the best.

“I am not underestimating anyone at this point. Even that annoying sub vampire Sergius is annoying me.” Crispus was pacing around the room, hands behind his back, fangs out. “I thought Aulus was maybe toying with her while feeding, or he just liked having one all to himself, but you two are about to get married, and he still hadn’t let her loose.”

“He doesn’t want me. Why would he let her go? It wouldn’t make sense.” Drusa switched her position a bit.

Crispus stopped pacing. “You’re taking this well. I thought you’d be angry.”

“I don’t like him enough to be angry.” Drusa got up, checking if the door was locked with a glance. She sauntered over to Crispus and put her hands on his chest. “Now, if it was you…” She went to kiss him.

Crispus let her and wrapped his hands around her. His hands were halfway down her thighs, searching for the edge of her dress when he stopped and pulled away. “He’ll do something we’ll all regret. And then our plan will fail.” Crispus stopped and grunted.

“He probably will do something we all regret.” Drusa grabbed a grape from the table. “And then we’ll kill her and banish him. Maybe send him to the living stones? That would be a nice death.”

“We don’t banish our kind if we can stop them from making a grievous error. No matter how much I’d love to do that.” Crispus sat down with a sigh.

“He’s a small, stuck up, egoistic idiot. Everyone wants to kill him. He doesn’t deserve to be the next leader in line. Heck if he hadn’t saved his sire’s life he wouldn’t have been turned in the first place. It would make it easy.”

“I would prefer to kill him myself. To make sure he doesn’t get away. And we can only do that after you marry him.” Crispus leaned back. “I do think I need to have Sergius tracked. His ability to vanish and pop up randomly anywhere is annoying.”

“His appearance is deceiving.” Drusa leaned back. “He knows a lot more than one would think, and I think he has a magical talent.”

“That is rare.” Crispus knitted his brows. “Are you certain?”

“He doesn’t use it often, but I have seen the resident magician ask him some things. Do you want me to snoop?”

“No, you focus on Aulus. I will keep an eye on him.” Crispus ran his hand through his hair. “But I’ll make sure he doesn’t notice it, even if it means I won’t find out as much.”

Drusa walked over to the door. “Maybe if I make sure he thinks I am content to wait till he retires, I’ll be able to convince him to retire early and spend all of his time with Niu.”

“I did plant that seed for a reason.” Crispus waved at her as she exited. He then decided to do some work to get his mind to focus on other things.

&It was night,& and that meant freedom for Aulus. He could move around without the sun burning his skin until blisters formed and his blood smoked, so he could wander around. He enjoyed the starlight moving through the columns framing the building he was in, only to reach and caress his face.

It was boring being cooped up inside. With everyone talking about politics, complaining about their wives or husbands and how to make sure no one found out exactly what they were. And if there was one lesson Aulus had learned from the time he had spent on this earth as a vampire, it was that boredom was never a good thing.

He was supposed to spend some time with Drusa every day, and that just made his day, even more, mind numbing. At least she didn’t pretend to be in love with him when they were alone. She just wanted to be next in line. Aulus was happy to let her. He didn’t want kids with her.

He weaved his way through his palace, avoiding everyone and everything. Truth be told, it wasn’t only because he didn’t want to be delayed by small talk, or asked a bunch of questions that weren’t urgent. He knew no one approved of the company he kept. But instead of trying to stop him in a more direct way, they tried to passively aggressively divert him. It made him angrier than if they outright told him ‘we don’t want you to be with her anymore.’ Even Drusa could be more direct than that. It wouldn’t stop him, but it would be much more honest. He could never stay away from Niu and didn’t really want to.

He knocked on the door. Three short knocks separated by long pauses. The door opened, and he slipped in faster than the eyes could see.

She closed the door. “Took you long enough.” Her chamber was circular, filled with any amenity one could ask for. She had sneakily incorporated a lot of her culture in it, even if the emperor liked to think they had ‘cleaned all of that out her.’ Aulus had always liked listening to what she knew about that history, going up to the current Zhou dynasty.

“Hello, Niu.” Aulus sat down.

“So, how are things? Are they… still trying to make you leave me?” Niu seemed more bored and annoyed than scared and groveling like one would expect. Aulus knew that this night they weren’t going just to make love. She wanted to talk to him about something she thought was going to happen.

“I had to endure five different arguments about you today. They don’t even have new material; it’s boring.” Aulus sat down next to her.

“Good.” Niu scooted next to Aulus, stretching out on the pillows, letting the dress she was wearing move as it wished.

“So what do you want to tell me?” Aulus leaned back to look into her eyes.

“I first need you to explain how your right of succession works. That way I can make sure my guess is correct.”

“Well, it is a blood right. You know that when a human is turned into a vampire, the two are linked. Either as a family or as lovers. That is the basis of the blood right. The child inherits from the parent.”

“What if someone doesn’t have any children?”

“Then the wife or husband is the one to inherit everything. If the partner has children, they are the ones who get the right.” Aulus frowned. “I think I know what your guess was.”

“Drusa wants your throne, yes, but I don’t think she’ll wait for you to retire. Or that they’ll wait the three years the Emperor will take to retire. I also have been talking to Sergius…”

Aulus smiled. “Your friendship is one of the things that gives me hope for the next generation.”

“Sergius is not exactly a typical vampire.” Niu smiled. “Let me continue. We have been talking about what we’ve seen, and I think Drusa and Crispus are together. And working against you.”

“Well, that would suck.” Aulus imagined what that would be like. Both of them were devious and smart, but different types of smart and devious. Crispus knew how to suck up to people, and was good at forging relationships. Drusa was not good at all of that, not wanting to bend herself under someone, but he had seen her working. She had made most of the calculations for when they built the palace, and the emperor ran everything technical by her. “I hope that doesn’t make our life difficult. I don’t want to rule anyway; I hope they can wait for a decade or so.”

“Aulus, even if it does harm us,” Niu touched Aulus’s face. “we have been through so much already. At this point, I simply want to stay alive and comfortable with you.”

“That sounds nice.” Aulus didn’t want to think or talk anymore. Niu kissed him, and then both of them fell backward into the pillows, searching to spend their evening simply seeking pleasure. They explored each other’s bodies while trying to make as little noise as possible to avoid curious ears. He got lost in the smells of her, and for a moment the entire world around them melted away, and they were the only people in the universe.

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. Chapter Six

The year the emperor gave Drusa and Aulus came and went. And then finally the wedding was there. Drusa had the most work to do. Almost all of the ceremonies the humans had invented involved the woman. While vampires weren’t very interested in rituals and customs that weren’t their own, one had to keep up appearances when living in their society. So humans were invited everywhere, and all of the customs were followed letter by letter. But the customs that needed to be done in public were even more important. As long as their rituals didn’t involve symbols that would weaken them too much, they were fine.

The night before the wedding was when Drusa sacrificed what was supposed to be her childhood toys to the family spirits. Aulus chuckled when Drusa ran through the palace, picking up random dolls and trinkets. He couldn’t imagine Drusa as a small child, every time he tried to he could only imagine her grown up form. He didn’t even know how old she was actually, except that she was older than him by at least a decade.

Drusa put on her fire colored veil, the simple white dress and tied the belt in the traditional knot without even blinking. Aulus put on his best clothes and tried not to yawn.  No one’s heart was really in it, not even the people accompanying the bride and groom. Other vampires could fake it but Drusa was too exasperated, and Aulus was too sad. Everyone moved like wooden puppets. Aulus knew it didn’t really matter.

The matron who accompanied Drusa was supposed to be only married once. But the woman who took on the role had been married six times, though all under a different name. Aulus repeated her name in his head multiple times, so he didn’t forget it.

The ceremony began with a sacrifice in the form of food and the auspices. That was when Aulus started thinking about Niu and how much he wanted her to be here. He didn’t even think it would make it easier for him if she were. He would want to drag her up with him and push Drusa to sit in her place too much. He wanted to run away.

Drusa seemed bored, and did everything mechanically, with a polite smile that fit her usual demeanor. Aulus and Drusa, along with the ten witnesses, signed the message contract. When the pronuba took their right hands and placed them together in order to signify the end of the ceremony, both of them looked into each other’s eyes and saw nothing but indifference.

Then it was home for the banquet. The wedding banquet was an easy distraction for Aulus. He could just busy himself with food when he wasn’t trying to be civil. Crispus kept a too close eye on Aulus to be a coincidence. Aulus sometimes would turn to Crispus and grin out of spite. He was also watching for hints of jealousy. He didn’t find any, even when a vampire made a crass joke about Aulus and Drusa consummating their marriage. Crispus, who was standing next to that vampire, didn’t even seem to flinch. Aulus saw Drusa’s fist clench and smiled. He wanted to see her punch someone.

At the end of the wedding banquet came the most annoying thing Aulus had ever had to do. All of the relatives came together, and Aulus had to pretend to wrestle Drusa away from the hands of the person the humans thought was Drusa’s mother. Drusa had to pretend to resist. The scene didn’t last long thankfully.

People laughed and joked around, forming a procession behind them. They were chattering around as three young boys gathered around Drusa. Two grabbed her by the hand while the third one carried a torch which was lit at the fire of the heart of Drusa’s home. Aulus walked next to them. All others were walking around them, hurling jokes at both of them and laughing. Aulus could pick out the vampires from the humans just from their voices. The humans really got into it, while the vampires were more restrained and laughed forcefully. Aulus smiled inside. He knew it wasn’t because vampires were more refined or anything, but because only the vampires were the ones one could get mad at.

The procession led them to his house. The very moment Aulus came inside, his feet kept trying to move towards Niu’s room. He replayed his morning with her in his head over and over to cope. He waited as people covered his threshold with strands of wool and lard. The only thing he could think about that was how long it would take to clean that out of the carpet. He was happy the door was closed because he could breathe in exasperating before he needed to ask the question.

“What is your forename?” He half expected for Drusa to say her name even if he knew it wouldn’t make sense. So when she responded with a feminine version of his name he almost got confused. Then Drusa was lifted over the threshold and carried in. Aulus was always confused by that custom. The belief was that only strangers or members of the household could pass over the threshold and the bride would not be a member of the household until she passed over the threshold. He kept his confusion to himself.

Seeing Drusa be carried by a few men who were trying not to look like it was too easy, was hilarious for him. Then everyone filed into his house, and he felt suffocated.

Aulus sat down in front of his altar and performed his brief ceremony. It only took a few minutes. He even hurried up since he could see Drusa rolling her eyes and sighing.

Then the pronuba seated Drusa on the bed, and Drusa did her prayer to the gods of her new home. Aulus saw the vampires perking up. After this, the humans would leave, and the actual marriage ceremony could begin. And Aulus was instantly sick. Before he made Niu, he was indifferent to it.

As soon as the guest scattered, Drusa dropped the act with a sigh. Aulus didn’t like her, but he still found the way she shed her disguise fascinating. Her timid, rule-abiding mask melted off to reveal her bored, cunning, egoistic reality. Female vampires had the same rights and views as male ones, despite the human world deeming females as lesser. So female vampires had to pretend a lot, and some couldn’t really handle it. Aulus couldn’t imagine the world in which female vampires would accept that type of behavior from male vampires without inflicting a lot of violence. That was the only reason why he was worried about having a female vampire in charge in a patriarchal culture. It might be too much to handle, having two leaders.

The vampires around them lightened up. People clinked glasses and cheered. The music changed to rhythmic drums and couples started dancing all around Drusa and Aulus.

The emperor was soon trying to stand up despite a large amount of liquor he had ingested. Crispus was too busy trying to make sure the emperor didn’t fall down to pay attention to the ceremony. But he already knew the ceremony by heart anyway.

A young human woman was brought in. She was shackled, her face was dirty, and her brown hair was greasy. There were scrapes on her knees from falling down. The vampire dragging her didn’t care if she fell, he kept dragging her by the chain connected to the shackles on her hand. Her small body was covered only in a limp, dirty cloth.

The vampire grabbed the girl by the hair and tossed her in front of Aulus and Drusa. Aulus sighed as Drusa grabbed the girl by the arm, lifted her up and brushed the hair off the human’s neck. Drusa sank her fangs into the girl’s neck, eliciting a cry of fear and struggling. Drusa grabbed the girl’s hands to keep her still.

Aulus didn’t want to do it. But everyone was staring at him and refusing would put Niu in danger. And as much as he didn’t want to kill this girl, he was going to let her die if it meant Niu was safe. He bit the girl on the other side of her neck and drank in. The woman’s body twitched as the blood rushed from her body and her heart stopped beating.

Drusa and Aulus stopped drinking at the same time. The bloodless body dropped down on the floor, the two large wounds on the neck frayed and gaping. The crowd erupted into cheers. Aulus wanted to throw up, but he did his job. He and Drusa kissed. He tasted the blood on her tongue.

After about a half an hour of dancing the vampires filed out. They even picked up the dead girl on their way out. Drusa and Aulus were left alone to consummate their relationship.

“I suppose we have to agree to be civil with each other while living together?” Drusa raised her eyebrows. She was sitting on the bed, in an outfit no human in this time would consider appropriate.

“I do think that the most I can ask from you is tolerance. Same with you from me.” Aulus shrugged. He was seated on a chair in the same fancy clothes. “It’s not like I’m going to act like I love you, or even like you. And everyone knows I’m not going to sleep with you after this first night.”

“I will try not to cry.” Drusa deadpanned. “Come on let’s get this over with before I throw up.”

Aulus grabbed a bottle from the table and started drinking the contents without taking a breath. The liquor washed the blood from his taste buds but didn’t make him drunk enough to forget this event. Aulus slowed down when he thought back to how sloppily his father was moving. He made a mental note to ask how much blood he was consuming. Alcohol shouldn’t have made him that drunk.

He climbed up on top of Drusa and felt her wrap her legs around his waist. He was careful to only touch what he couldn’t help but touching. Her breath was ruffling his hair, and her smell filled his nostrils. Her face was still impassive, and her eyes were unmoving. Aulus would close his eyes, but he knew it would cause memories of Niu to rush to him. He didn’t want to mix her up in this. He wanted those moments to remain untainted.

A few minutes later Aulus was lying next to Drusa, aching for a shower. “Let me show you to your room.” Aulus gestured the way.

Drusa got up and glided across the floor naked. When they were next to her room, she turned around, and with a mocking smile said, “I do need to remind you that your relationship with that human, despite being accepted in this society, should be kept secret. I am not going to be embarrassed by you. You’re free to do anything else with her. But Crispus and your father will kill me if I let you flaunt her in public.”

Aulus tried to prevent his tone from sounding sarcastic. “If you keep your lovers under the covers, so to speak, I’ll keep mine.”

Drusa went inside and closed the door without a word.

Aulus took a deep breath and went to see Niu. He didn’t even knock; he just came in. Niu shot up from her bed and turned around.

“Oh, sorry I scared you. I should have knocked.” Aulus scratched his head.

“It’s okay.” Niu got up and took his hand, leading him to her bed. She sat down and wrapped his arms around him. “I wasn’t sleeping anyway.”

“How did it go?”

“As well as it can go I guess. I feel disgusting, and I think my father is sick.” Aulus put his hand on her shoulder. “Can I just spend the rest of the night sitting with you here?”

“Of course.” Aulus felt Niu smile, and he instantly felt better.

&The words& “I think my father is sick” got stuck in Niu’s head. She didn’t get a wink of sleep that night, cuddling next to Aulus. He didn’t ask her why she didn’t sleep, and she didn’t tell him.

She knew Drusa and Aulus would leave at the same time, and she would be alone for almost half the day. She could sneak in and rifle through Drusa’s things. She didn’t know if the woman was involved in whatever was going on, but it was too big of a coincidence.

Aulus got dressed and waited for Drusa with a frown on his face, tapping his foot. Drusa was supposed to wear a costume traditionally worn by matrons. She could wear her old one since the style hadn’t changed a lot since the last time she was married.

If Drusa was an actual human bent on the tradition, she would have made another offering, this time to the spirits of the family and the larder and then receive some presents from Aulus. Instead, she spent the time getting ready and putting away the things she brought with her. She was ready just in time for them to go to the banquet for the close relatives. Everyone there would be a vampire, which meant that any food there would either be crunchy or it would be blood. Niu didn’t leave her room till she saw Drusa walk through the front door with her head raised high and Aulus walking behind her, slumped over, and trying to will himself to walk.

Niu walked out of her room and sneaked off to Drusa’s quarters. The room was beautifully decorated with intricate designs in all kind of colors. There was a four poster bed with an incredibly soft mattress and pillows, a few oil lamps made from colored glass. What interested Niu was the large desk.

That desk was filled with papers and scrolls. Niu looked around, trying to understand how Drusa organized things, so she could return things back to their place. Drusa organized things first by their purpose, and second by their missions. Niu ran through random notes and calculations she couldn’t understand. But if one read long enough one would know what they were for.

What made Niu stop was a pile of notes about dosage. She sat down on the chair next to the desk and looked through it. The dosages and the mixtures were unrecognizable, but the shorthand was something Niu could understand.

“One part B mixed with two parts RW.” Niu read out loud, murmuring to herself.  “Five drops mixed in two cups’ worth lowers the subject’s capacity by ten percent.” She turned over the page and found calculations about someone’s health.

The more she read, the more she realized these calculations were about the emperor. This subject’s declining health matched the emperor’s declining health. And right now he was drinking twenty drops of Vervain oil every time he drank a cup of blood mixed with wine. The diminished blood intake paired with the poisonous effects that plant had on vampires meant the emperor was both constantly inebriated and his health was declining. If it continued at this rate, he would be easy to take out even with a number of guards who followed them around.

“This is deviously genius.” Niu couldn’t help but say it out loud.

“Why thank you.” Drusa’s voice sounded.

Niu looked up, her eyes wide. Drusa was standing in the entrance, fangs, and claws out. Her stone expression was gone. Now her face was the definition of viciousness.

Niu dropped the papers and tried to run. But before she could, Drusa was gone. The next second she was behind her and had grabbed Niu by the neck. Niu had never seen a vampire move that fast.

“How did you do that?” Niu breathed out.

“High-quality blood. Lots of it too. The banquet was fun.” Drusa whispered in her ear. “Now let us talk. I know a place.”

Drusa grabbed Niu by her arms and tossed her on the bed. Niu scrambled up, hoping this didn’t mean she would die.

“Oh don’t worry, I won’t kill you. That would make Aulus angry, and I don’t want him angry. But rest assured, I can make your life miserable. So miserable in fact, that you kill yourself.” Drusa stalked forward.

“What do you want?” Niu’s eye watered. Drusa was actually scaring her. It was a weird feeling. Niu had lived as a living food storage for years, and yet this moment was what made her knees buckle, and her hands sweat.

“I want you to keep your mouth shut. I want you to lie. I want you to do whatever I want you to do, or I will kill Aulus, and make sure everyone thinks you and that little worm Sergius did it. You both will be tortured, drained of almost all blood, and then you will be tied to him. Then, both of you will be tossed out in the sun and Sergius will burn alive, and take you with him. We’ll even give you kindling. The fire will sear through your flesh, but it won’t kill you, it wouldn’t be strong enough. Then, every one of your limbs will be tied to a horse, and they will be told to gallop in different directions. Your body will be torn apart.” Drusa smiled, her fangs cutting her lips in half. Blood dripped down her chin and onto the bed covers. “Now are you going to listen to my orders or do I need to take one of the stakes you own and don’t think anyone knows about and stab Aulus in the heart?”

Niu wanted to scream, cry and rage. But instead, she folded. She looked down at her hands. “I’ll listen to your orders.”

“Good. You won’t tell Aulus anything you found here. And next week, you will ask Aulus to meet you in your room, and you will entertain him however you please. Then the next day you will comfort him as he finds his father dead. You will know your place as a plaything and not oppose me. Got it?”

“Yes.” Niu didn’t look up.

Drusa chuckled. “Yes, what?”

Niu looked up. Drusa frowned at the askance written on Niu’s face. “What is Aulus to you is what I am to you now.”

Niu nodded. Aulus never asked her to use the term. His claim on her was more for others’ sake. And from all other vampires, only Sergius communicated with her on a regular basis. And he knew that Aulus and Niu were in love. “Yes, mistress.”

“Good. Now go to your room.” Drusa pointed to the door.

Niu ran to her room, only glancing over to see Drusa take her clothes off, a grin on her face.

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. Chapter Seven

Aulus was ecstatic. Niu was glad her emotions were never written on her face. She had made dinner and lit candles all over the place. It would have been romantic for her too if she didn’t know that Drusa was planning on killing Aulus’s father this evening.

Niu needed to keep both Sergius and Aulus busy. Sergius helped her with the supplies, so it was easy for Niu to keep him busy all day. And that meant he needed to do all other things on his list during the night. Aulus was working all day, so she only needed to busy him during the night.

They had dinner, and Aulus was talking about his day and what he planned on changing when he was in charge. Niu couldn’t stand hearing about it, knowing that he would be in charge tomorrow. So she started talking about a book she had read she knew Aulus would like. It worked. They talked about it for an hour.

Later, Niu was hoping Aulus would not ask her what was wrong. She couldn’t keep her excited expression up. They were both naked, cuddling, and the fact Aulus couldn’t see her face meant Niu could be as disgusted with herself as she wanted.

“Is everything okay?” Aulus usually asked that question when he thought he either used too much strength or when he suspected she was sick.

“Nothing,” Niu forced a smile and turned around, kissing Aulus. “I just have a headache. It’s normal at this time of year.”

“Oh, okay.” Aulus brushed her hair away from her face. “You know I love you right?”

Niu smiled. She couldn’t believe that Aulus though she was worried because of his marriage with Drusa. She couldn’t assuage his doubts, but she could tell him what she meant with all her heart. “I love you too.”

&Drusa had given& Crispus the signal fifteen minutes ago. It meant that everyone who needed to be out of the way was. Crispus set a meeting so he could establish his and Drusa’s alibi and then told his second in command to gather the truths.

Crispus had been secretly siring warriors and killers for decades. His line was fast and strong. And each of his sired children had a hand in this plan. When he was the ruler, they would be the next in line. And the old emperor’s line would end with Aulus.

Crispus and Drusa walked into the meeting room, while Crispus’s right hand woke up his brothers and sisters. A horde of vampires, each more vicious than the next, sneaked through the castle, guards for the ones that would do the dirty deed. Each of them had things to do around the castle. Most of them claimed they didn’t know their sire or made up a fake one. So it meant that the curvy blonde one could flirt with the guards and get them away from the door, as an assassin sneaked in and stabbed the emperor in the heart with a stake Drusa provided.

The emperor didn’t give up a fight. He wanted to sure, but as soon as he tired, his strength gave up on him.

He then walked away, and a few moments later the guards, now slightly more tired and a lot more sated. The blonde walked away with a grin, then returned to her room.

Crispus’s right hand returned to the meeting room. That was the signal they had agreed on. Crispus had to work hard on not grinning. Drusa didn’t need to, but she made a mental note to pin Crispus to the wall and celebrate when they were alone.

Crispus walked into the emperor’s room, faked surprise and then raised the alarm. A messenger was sent to Aulus’s house. Aulus got up and got dressed. He opened the door with a grin on his face. He returned to Niu with a broken heart.

“My father is dead.” He deadpanned. Niu got up and hugged him, letting him cry and rage. She let herself shed a few tears. She had never wanted to slit her throat more.

&The next day& a fake emperor was buried. The humans mourned at the fake grave and drank in his name. After that, the vampires burned his actual corpse and danced around it until dawn. The dawn sun was supposed to scald every griever as a sign of respect, but everyone was supposed to hide in the shade before someone died. No one drank any blood for a day after that either, so no wounds healed.

A week needed to pass before Aulus and Drusa could be crowned emperor and empress. The human ceremony was nothing compared to the vampire one. Aulus and Drusa did it speedily and while not paying attention. The night signified the actual ceremony.

The emperor and empress needed to be at their strongest for the ceremony. For that both Aulus and Drusa needed to drink the most blood they had ever drunk. Aulus felt like he was going to throw up. His stomach was too full. Drusa didn’t seem as uncomfortable. Aulus assumed it was because she was used to drinking more blood than him. But as the ceremony was growing nearer and nearer, he was glad to see she was full too.

The blood had some curious effects. Aulus’s senses were sharper, and his hunger was enhanced. He could move at speeds he could never even imagine, and he broke two goblets because he couldn’t control his strength. He even stopped going into Niu’s room so he could not hurt her.

The ceremony was held in the meeting room, the largest room in the palace. Drums pounded and filled Aulus’s ears. Vampires danced in a frenzy, and the few humans brought for a meal were shivering the corner, scared.

Aulus and Drusa’s hands and feet were bound, a symbol of their commitment to keeping the vampires under them safe. Then a human was brought in, and his neck was snapped. After the human’s heart stopped, the human stopped being food. Then a vampire cut open the human’s veins and let the blood wash over Aulus and Drusa. No one of them was supposed to drink a drop, a symbol for the endurance an emperor needed in order to do his job. Aulus glanced over to Drusa. Her lips were shut tight. He hoped she would fail. It was the only way he could shed her.

But that didn’t happen. The blood stopped flowing, and Aulus and Drusa were freed. The vampires cheered. Aulus and Drusa danced the night away. Aulus kept trying to retire, but Drusa seemed ecstatic. Aulus had never seen Drusa so free. She danced away, a grin on her face, her fangs and claws out. Aulus was reminded of a wild cat. He felt even more repulsed by her then and there.

&Niu was throwing& up for the third time that day. Sergius offered to get the doctor, but she suspected it would be a bad idea.

“What do you think it is?”

Niu looked up from the bucket she was throwing up in and frowned at him. She then continued throwing up.

“Wait… you don’t think…”

“I don’t know what I think. Having a baby now would be bad. I also don’t know how to check.” Niu brushed her hands through her hair.

“I do. There is this thing they do in Egypt. It uses barley and wheat seeds. It’ll take a few days, but it’s pretty accurate. I won’t be able to listen to a baby until you’re further along, but then we’ll know for sure.” Sergius was sitting n Niu’s bed, sympathy on his face. Niu was wondering how he could stand the smell of vomit since his nose was far sharper than hers.

“Thanks.”

“Don’t thank me yet. You’ll need to pee on them and make sure no one finds them. If the wheat sprouts you’re having a girl if the barley sprouts you’re having a boy.” Sergius got up and handed Niu a glass of water.

“If I’m pregnant I’ll have bigger problems than my room smelling of pee.” Niu rinsed her mouth out.

A few days later Niu was staring at a bowl of sprouted wheat and cursing. Sergius sat next to her, patting her shoulder, and doing his best to convince her everything will be alright.

“You need to tell Aulus. Are you worried about how he’ll react?”

“No, but I’m worried about Drusa.”

“Why would you be?” Sergius knitted his brows and then when he realized Niu was hiding something from him, he didn’t leave her alone until she told him he’d be in danger if she told him.

“I am in danger of dying anyway. No one likes me. Crispus is basically praying for a reason to kill me. And he’ll find one either way, even if he needs to invent one.”

Niu took a deep breath. “Drusa poisoned the emperor. That’s how someone could kill him easily. I found the calculations on her desk. She caught me and threatened me. She told me she’d kill Aulus and set you and me up, then described the… disturbing way they’d kill us. She then ordered me to keep you and Aulus busy the night the emperor was killed.”

“So that was why you sent me all over the palace that day.” Sergius smiled.

“I’m sorry.” Niu looked down.

“You don’t need to apologize. You didn’t have a choice. And I’m pretty sure Aulus wouldn’t be mad at you either.”

“Don’t tell him.” Niu squeezed Sergius’s hand.

“I won’t, but you need to. Both about Drusa and the little bugger in your belly.” Sergius pointed towards Niu’s stomach.

“They’ll kill me. And they’ll have a reason.”

“No, we’ll get you out of here.” Sergius smiled. “I now need to go work. I expect you to have told him this till dinner. I’ll start on a plan.” Sergius got up and left.

Niu fought her unsettled stomach as she got herself ready for when Aulus came in. She avoided Drusa as much as possible. Drusa didn’t spend a lot of time in Aulus’s home anymore. Niu was suspecting she was sleeping with someone else. But that wasn’t really at the forefront of her mind now.

Aulus came in and instantly frowned. “What’s wrong?”

“Why would something be wrong?” Niu was sitting on the bed, wearing a long red dress.

“You only wear that dress when you need to tell me some bad news.”

Niu hung her head. “Well, I’m not sure if it’s bad news. Just, sit here.” She patted the space next to her. Aulus sat down.

“I wanted to make sure before I told you.” Niu moved away from Aulus and took a drink of water. She put the glass down, not looking Aulus in the eye. “I’m pregnant.”

When she didn’t hear any reaction, Niu turned around. Aulus’s mouth was hanging open.

“Whose is it?” His voice was strained. Niu realized he assumed it was a human because no vampire had ever had a child.

“It’s yours. I haven’t had sex with anyone else.”

It took a minute for Aulus to believe it. That was when he hugged her tightly, then grabbed her shoulders and looked at her. “Am I hurting you?” He couldn’t believe it. He didn’t even think it was possible. He had never heard of it anyway.

Niu smiled. “No, it’s only been a few weeks.” But then she screamed as a dark shape burst through the window and attacked them.

Aulus dodged and tried to keep the attacker away from Niu. It wasn’t hard because the person was trying to stake him. Aulus was holding the stake a few inches away from his heart, and trying to kick what he now knew was a vampire, off of him.

Niu got up, got a wire and wrapped it around the attacker’s throat and then squeezed. The throat was cut, and the vampire dropped the stake. Aulus picked it up and stabbed him in the heart. The attacker dropped dead.

“What… happened?” Aulus breathed.

“Drusa is trying to kill you.” Niu didn’t think there was any point in keeping that secret anymore. Drusa could kill her whenever she wanted now.

“Why?” Aulus wiped his hands from the blood.

“Because she killed your father.” Niu sat down. “That is the other thing I need to tell you.”

p(((((())))))=.
h1=. Chapter Eight

Aulus was livid. But he couldn’t do anything without dividing the vampire community. He couldn’t think about himself alone. But he needed to protect Niu too. He spent all day pacing in his room, with Sergius patiently waiting till he could without Aulus interrupting him constantly.

Sergius’s idea was for Aulus to order a necklace from the court magician. The necklace would help Niu control the baby’s urges if there were any. No one knew what a baby born from human, and a vampire was going to be like.

His baby. Aulus couldn’t help but smile. He never thought he’d be a father, but now that he was, there was a pep in his step.

The spell caster was a vampire. The vampire couldn’t do a lot of spells, but he had a lot of connections with other spell casters. Sergius did a lot of odd jobs for her, so he knew about most of them. She was also pretty greedy and didn’t really care about leaders. Aulus gathered some riches and offered them to her. Her pale eyes brightened up when he offered them to her. He promised her and equal amount after he received the necklace. She promised him the necklace in a few weeks. Aulus made a mental note to drop by.

When he got back, he saw Crispus waiting for him. There was something about the way Crispus stood and the way he moved. There was a sneaky irritation. It gnawed at the back of Aulus’s mind. He didn’t realize why until Crispus turned around and asked to see Niu. The court doctor was next to him.

“Why do you want to see her?” Aulus raised his eyebrows.

“There has been a report about her health. I need to check it even if I don’t believe it. The doctor needs to examine her.” Crispus put his hand in front of him, the same way he didn’t it when he was the emperor’s right hand. Aulus got the desire to jump him and kill him.

But instead, he forced a smile. “Of course, it’s right this way.” Aulus motioned for Crispus and the doctor to follow him. Aulus knocked on Niu’s door.

“Niu, Crispus is here to see if I have gone crazy and hurt you in any way.” Aulus deadpanned.

Niu opened the door. She looked Crispus up and down. “I haven’t reported anything.”

“Someone else has,” Crispus smirked and gestured towards the doctor.

Niu opened the door, and the doctor came in. Both Aulus and Crispus attempted to enter. But the doctor stopped them.

“I do require some privacy, please. I’ll be out in a moment.” The doctor walked in, and Niu closed the door.

“Would you like a drink?” Aulus gestured towards his office.

“Sure.” Crispus walked over. Aulus poured him a drink and they sat in silence. Not even a peep came out of Niu’s room for over an hour. But in the end, the doctor came out.

“She’s in perfect health. No problems, no abuse evident.” The doctor grabbed a drink and downed it. “Now, I need to go and get back to my other patients.”

Aulus saw Crispus’s face fall. But he composed himself and got up. “Alright, I’ll take care of the person who submitted a fake report.”

Aulus waited till both of them left to run to Niu’s room and hug her. “I’m so glad the doctor couldn’t tell you were pregnant.”

“He could. I just convinced him not to tell anything. I told him I had sex with another slave who died, and that you’d help me find a good home for it.” Niu smirked.

“And he believed it?”

“Yes. He even offered to deliver it. Of course, that won’t happen because I now need to run away from here as fast as possible.“Niu broke the hug.

“Now I’m certain that Drusa and Crispus are working together.”

“Don’t let them hurt you.”

“I’ll watch my back if you take care of yourself and our baby.”

Niu smiled and kissed Aulus.

&“They are hiding something,& I know it. But no one can get close enough to find out what.” Drusa was the one pacing now. Crispus was trying to get her to calm down.

“We know they are, but it won’t matter. Not when he is dead, and we rule. Then you can freely kill her off.” Crispus grabbed Drusa by the shoulders.

“Not if they have a way to stop us. Your assassin failed. And you can’t just send one after the other; he’ll get protection.” Drusa shrugged off Crispus’s hands.

“I’ll figure out a way to kill him. We have time.” Crispus looked at her more closely. “He hasn’t said something to you that would make you suspicious? Or something that can be interpreted as a threat?”

“No, but a human I sent to watch him has reported that he went to the old spell caster and asked her for an item. The human couldn’t enter and hear what but she told me a lot of money was offered.”

“You sent a human?” Crispus raised his eyebrow.

“Well, I couldn’t send any of your vampires.” Drusa folded her arms over her chest. “They do not listen to me after all.”

“Wait until we are married. Then everything I have will be yours.” Crispus wrapped his arms around her waist with a grin. Drusa ran a claw down Crispus’s cheek.

“Everything huh?” Drusa smiled and decided to stop worrying. If push came to shove, she could always kill Aulus herself. She wouldn’t mind it; she hated that bastard.

&“I’m being what?”& Aulus whispered.

“Followed. Don’t worry I sent her away. I’ll need to make sure she doesn’t get in trouble for it, but Drusa sent her. Humans can move without attracting attention, especially if they are not the slaves we use for food, but a random cleaner.” Sergius was sitting on a chair.

Aulus was eternally grateful for Sergius’s help. Both men have been busy keeping Niu’s pregnancy away from view, and figuring out what exactly a half vampire baby needed. Niu was throwing up almost all day before they realized the baby needed a small supply of blood as well as food. Niu didn’t mind it, though she didn’t really like the taste. Aulus had to make himself not spend all day next to her. He had meetings and decisions to do. So Sergius replaced him when he couldn’t be there.

The reveal that Drusa poisoned his father made him livid. He because super careful about his food. He wasn’t going to be her next victim. He had also started cultivating relationships with everyone that disliked Crispus. Aulus needed to be ready to boot him out the first chance he got.

The next week he returned to the vampire and got the necklace back. It was a simple soft chain on which there was a pendant. The top of the tear-shaped pendant was rough and felt unfinished. When he turned it around, he saw the initials P. D. on it, the name of the spell caster. He didn’t know why that was there, but he didn’t really care. The vampire told him that the necklace would suppress the child’s vampire senses, and its bloodlust, but keep her immortality if she had it. No one would be able to find her. But the child would need to be delivered before the necklace could be put around her neck. It wouldn’t work on the mother.

Aulus didn’t like seeing Niu in pain. Her stomach had begun growing, and she needed more and more rest.

He had a feeling, a feeling he wanted to fight against. That feeling told him he wouldn’t be able to see his child being born. Or even worse, he would have to send Niu away from him and pray she’d be alright.

Aulus got home and immediately wanted to eat. He saw a goblet full of blood left on the table. He went to pick it up but then saw that there wasn’t an already used cup on the table. He put it down and went to get fresh blood. He couldn’t risk it.

After he had eaten, he came back just as he saw Drusa walk in. He sneaked in behind her. She walked to the table and checked the amount of blood in the goblet. She frowned when she saw that it hadn’t been touched.

“Hello.” Aulus made his presence known.

“Oh, hi.” Drusa gave him a polite smile. “Do you want blood?”

“Already ate, feel free to help yourself,” Aulus smirked and walked away. When he went into Niu’s room, his façade dropped.

“What happened?” Niu got up as fast as her body would allow.

“I think Drusa tried to poison me. We need to get you out of here. I can handle myself, but I don’t think I can protect both of us.”

Niu’s face twisted into a frown, but she nodded. “I don’t like it, but I understand.”

“I’ll ask Sergius if he’d help you leave.”

“You know he will; he’s a good friend.” Niu looked into Aulus’s eyes. “Can we have one more night together before I go?”

“Of course.” Aulus felt his heart break in half.

&Sergius came the next day,& and the three made a plan. Niu and Sergius agreed to run away that very night so that Niu could have the baby somewhere else. Sergius planned on taking care of her until Aulus could free himself of Crispus and Drusa and, then bring Niu and the baby back. Aulus knew it would be far easier to protect himself and play the political games he was sure Crispus would put in front of him, and dodge Drusa’s murder attempts if he didn’t need to worry about protecting Niu.

And Aulus trusted Sergius to worry about Niu. He was impressed by Sergius’s readiness to help them. The man was ready to leave the palace and run and hide with a woman he, admittedly thought of as his friend. Aulus didn’t think Sergius liked Niu like he did it out of the same reason himself did. Sergius treated all humans and vampires pretty much the same. That comforted Aulus. He liked him the first time Sergius talked back to him in private.

Aulus’s job that night was to keep Drusa and Crispus busy, and not die during it. Sergius used his and Niu’s knowledge of the routes to figure out a safe path out of the castle. Both of them were very observant, and Sergius had lived here for a few decades. Sergius’s minute talent in illusion magic would also be of use. He could cloak Niu and at the very least make her harder to see. Niu was worried that the fact she couldn’t walk fast would make it harder for them, but they wouldn’t exactly be inconspicuous if they ran out anyway. And Sergius could always use his enhanced strength to lift her up and run.

In the early evening, Aulus called a meeting. He had a full speech prepared and was ready to drone on for hours if he needed to, and vampires could argue for hours if allowed to, given the right topic. That would clear the halls from most of the vampires. Sergius was excused, but he wasn’t the only one. Aulus narrowed his eyes at the list filled with minor vampires he had seen lurking around the palace. He was certain some of those vampires were Aulus’s henchmen. But he couldn’t be the one to worry about that. He had his task, and he needed to do it well. Niu and Sergius deserved faith.

Sergius was getting ready all day, trying to make sure he had everything he might need on his trip. Niu packed lightly. Only the things she needed and those fit into a small bag. After that, Sergius cast a small invisible barrier around her. It didn’t do much, just made people more likely to look away from her. It was all he could do.

“Alright let’s go.” Niu followed Sergius out. He locked the door and made sure it looked like Niu simply evaporated from her room. Then they walked down the halls in tense silence. The only people they walked by were humans, and they had a habit of looking away when a vampire passed in the dead of night. Even if the vampire was not a part of the noble family and generally friendly.

Niu and Sergius avoided most vampires they saw. They were usually in crowds, but some were alone, walking down the halls randomly. Sergius once even pushed Niu into a side hall.

Then Niu and Sergius spotted the first vampires they couldn’t avoid. They were standing near the exit, almost like they were guarding it. But they had their backs turned and were conversing too much to have been guards.

“Crap.” Sergius mouthed. They both stood and thought for a second, and then Niu had an idea.

She bent down and picked up a small rock and pointed towards the opposite hallway. Gesturing, she managed to get Sergius to throw it that way. Sergius aimed and hit a vase, which toppled and crashed. The noise attracted the guards, and they left that way, to check what was going on.

Sergius lifted Niu up and ran through the exit. He didn’t stop running until he was away from the palace. Niu closed her eyes, hoping no one saw them.

Sergius slid down a hill and into a bush. He put Niu down and checked if she was still okay. “I think no one saw us. We need to keep moving.”

Niu nodded. She wrapped a cloak around herself and took Sergius’s hand. She hoped that sneaking through the streets would be easy and that Aulus would be alright.

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h1=. About the Author

Dylan Keefer is a web designer / developer by day and a writer by night. He’s basically a modern day superhero, using code and words to breathe creativity into reality. On a more serious note, he has been writing from a very young age and has always been pursuing the dream of writing professionally. Everything he does is in pursuit of that dream. He writes light-hearted as well as dark themed stories across multiple genres. His stories involve psychological struggles or moral dilemmas of the human condition. If you like those themes and the idea of questioning what it means to be human, then it won’t matter what genre the story is; he will make you a believer.

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h1=. Also by Dylan Keefer

Series

The Blood Rite Saga

The Blood Empire: Episode One

The Blood Princess: Episode One

The Blood Princess: Episode Two

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The Chronicles of Gandos

The Sword of Light

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The Aurora Chronicles

Running with Wolves

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Standalone

Lost in Space

The Lone Survivor

Mr. Buddy Bot

Evelyn

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Kindle Worlds

The 100

The Flame Legacy: The Commanders Codex

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The Lizzy Gardner Files

Web of Lies: The Spider Lives

***

Extinction Cycle

Hope is False: Humanity’s Last Hope

Hope is Futile: Humanity’s Last Hope


The Blood Empire

An empire forged of blood, a heated romance between a royal vampire and his exotic concubine. An empire threatened. A generation manipulated. A scandalous affair. The vampire built their empire on the backs of those they played like marionettes. Aulus, the heir to the Holy Roman Empire, continued their blood-born legacy until Niu arrived, tempting him with her exotic nature. Bought and sold like cattle, Niu finds herself under the rule of the Royal Family, whom are eager to use her as their plaything. Soon, her long-standing wish to return to Asia begins to fade and is replaced by a growing desire for Aulus, but the notion of love is strictly prohibited. Although they come from vastly different worlds, they can't help but be drawn to each other. They give into desire, only to learn how quickly their illicit affair could cost them their lives. With his future tied to another woman and his heart tied to the beautiful concubine, there's more than love on the line for Aulus. An entire empire rests on his shoulders. Is he ready for the challenge? Sparkly "Twilight" Vampires? I don't think so; this is not a story for the squeamish or faint of heart. This is a tale of both physical and psychological horror it's "The Vampire Diaries: The Originals" meets the gruesome world of "The Underworld Trilogy." The Blood Rite Saga The Blood Empire: One Episode out of Five The Blood Princess: Two Episodes out of Five The Blood Prince: Zero Episodes out of Five The Blood Queen: Zero Episodes out of Five The Blood King: Zero Episodes out of Five The Blood Throne: Zero Episodes out of Five

  • ISBN: 9781370268894
  • Author: Dylan Keefer
  • Published: 2017-08-04 17:51:06
  • Words: 19200
The Blood Empire The Blood Empire