Chapter One -- Request

Valerie came to me.

I was definitely caught off guard because I haven't seen her in many, many years. We had parted in friendly terms but I thought our days of adventuring together were long gone. She looked the same after all these years though a bit more worn than usual. She was dressed for the weather, but her blonde hair had become dull and tattered. Her pale skin had become dusty, her lips somewhat cracked and battered by far off winds. It seemed she had traveled all across the world to find me. That was definitely possible, since I didn't like to have any visitors, and while in seclusion, I had not met a single person in ages.

The first words out of sly, smiling lips were "Dear Anne, I need your help."

She had always needed my help before. Whether it was something trivial or life changing, I seemed to be the first person she went to. One would think that she depended on me, but I don't blame her. After all, she made me what I am today and in good faith. I didn't say anything to her at first but took her inside the house. We sat down at a table across from each other. One of my dogs barked at her but I settled him down.

"He doesn't seem to like you," I said. "I guess he doesn't know the meaning of the word company."

"What's his name?"

"Jonathan."

"Cute," she said with a smirk.

"So what brings you back? Lantian affairs?"

"The war has been at a stalemate for some years now. I believe both sides had agreed to a temporary ceasefire. However, the Isis Ring has been lost."

"Imagine that."

"Yes. And you know how they are. The nobles are at odds with each other, and they will not do anything until a new ruler is declared. It's really affecting the war as well because the support from the nobles is nil."

"You know where I stand. I do not wish to participate in the war."

"Yes, of course. But the situation now is very dire. It's no longer a human problem. The mainland has already been overrun by demons and other strange creatures, and it won't be long before they uncover the gateways, if they haven't found them yet. If the Isis Ring is recovered, than the nobles' influence will benefit greatly."

"Why would I care? This world or that, it doesn't matter to me."

She paused for a moment, as if she didn't believe what I had just said. It was true though. I had nothing else to lose so I could have cared less if the only life on the planet was demented and unnatural.

Finally, she said "I thought all these years alone would bore you. Would you like to linger here until time itself fades out of existence?"

"My imagination hasn't failed me yet," I replied. "Why would I want to put myself in such a position when I can always dream up something much more grandiose?"

"Because it isn't real."

"Oh, don't try that game again."

"Wouldn't you like to save the world one last time?"

"Oh please, the world has been saved so many times now, there should be at least ten different ones."

"You really have to understand, Anne," she said softly. "Demonic blood isn't the same as human blood. It changes my very soul. The thirst comes often and can't be suppressed. It is not a good thing."

"Poor mother. It must be hard not having your food wait on your doorstep"

"Not the finest. But enough to keep me going from day to day."

"How many of you are left anyway?"

"Enough to keep demonic death squads out in full force. They think of us as traitors and hunt us day and night. Unfortunately, not all of us are able to move in daylight."

"What are vampires still doing in Lantis if it has been overrun by demons?"

"Our chances for survival are simply better still at Lantis. We were never trusted by humans, and now it's much worse trying to survive in human territory. In the case of elders, we can't blend with humans as easily as before." She pulled her long hair away from the sides of her face to reveal her ears. Not quite the same as a human's, they had grown longer and pointier, almost like an elf's.

"How cute!" I thought.

"Not in the slightest."

"When do I get mine?"

"You don't."

"What a shame."

"It's an evolutionary process. The body changes to accommodate its needs. But since you don't have a body at present, there is nothing for you."

"I definitely don't miss it."

"You don't miss being alive?"

"Why would I? I don't have to care about anything just being here."

"You're missing out on so much."

"The cons outweigh the pros."

"Do they really? Don't you get bored of having the same old dreams again and again? Wouldn't you like to start over and experience something new?"

"You can't trick me with that this time."

"I'm not tricking you. Every day is a new day for me. What do you have here besides your own thoughts? Your imaginary characters that you can't even feel? That you don't really love because they aren't even real? What do you really see when you close your eyes? I'd like to know."

"I see friends from long ago."

"Happier times?"

"Sometimes."

"When you were alive?"

I didn't answer.

"And when you open your eyes, what then? This bleak solitary existence?"

"You don't know what it's like."

"What is?"

"Being the way I am. The way you made me."

"It's for the better."

"And how is that exactly? How do you feel when you're the only one left? After so many years?"

"I learn to deal with it. As you should, instead of wallowing away here. All these years by yourself haven't done much to your mind, has it Anne?"

"I'm not as cold and unfeeling as you are. Keep in mind that my life was very normal until your precious nobles decided to play their little games. I never wanted this…these powers…and everything."

"Yet you are still being their pawn right now. You had the power to end the game in your favor, but you chose not to play. And now you're doing exactly what they want you to do. Not playing."

"It's hard to play when they go by different rules. And change them whenever they wish."

"It's not something you can't control. If you know the simple rules of the game, you can manipulate them in your favor. Right now, we have one advantage that they don't have."

"What would that be?"

"You. Or rather, your soul. You have noble blood in you. With that, you have the right to take the Isis Ring. If you take it up, you have power over the nobles. By blood, you have claim to the throne but with the Ring, they will recognize you."

I shook my head. I didn't quite understand what she was saying, as my soul has always been my own. "Why would I want power over them anyway? I don't want anything to do with them."

"Controlling the nobles gives you control over the world. Over reality, and over time. Wouldn't you like to have that opportunity? To have the existence of everything at your fingertips?"

It was tempting but I did not care for that kind of responsibility.

"Just think," Valerie continued, "you can be human again, as if nothing happened all those years ago."

I did not care about being human, but the last part of what she said sounded very interesting to me. I did not miss being human, but I missed having a "normal" life of a much happier time, regardless of what I was. Immortal then as I am now, but ignorant of the madness that corrupted my life. I often dreamt of those times, and every now and then, I wished there was somehow a way to have it all back. If what Valerie was saying was true, and I had for the most part trusted her with my life, then it was definitely possible. The nobles controlled reality itself through their ancient magic. Time was one of the things they commanded, though to what extent they used it to their own agendas, I did not know. But I did remember a few times when I had the privilege to travel through time, for one reason or another, and as experience has it, it was possible to twist fate if one calculated every possibility. The question however remained, was I willing to toy with such devices?

"I don't know anything about their magic," I finally answered. "How would I be able to control it?"

"The throne offers much to learn. In time, you would find your way."

"Would you help me?"

"First, you have to let me help you."

"We need the Isis Ring," I said.

"Yes. Would you help me recover it?"

"I suppose I'll try," I replied. "No harm in doing so, I guess."

"Excellent," she said. "I was hoping you would. I am glad you are. The opportunity is too real to give up."

"Why aren't they looking for it?"

"Oh they are, just not themselves. They're too proud to do that. The Ring is nothing without noble blood, so they don't care who retrieves it, as long as they know where it is and if they can get it."

"So it's possible someone already found it?"

"Yes, but it doesn't do them any good. Once retrieved, it must be in the hand of a noble to do any good, like I said. And the nobles have few confidants in their allegiance. Me being one of them. If it had already been found by one of theirs, it would have been known by now."

"Interesting…what if another finds it first to give it to them?"

"Hopefully they won't. I have enough friends within to steer most of them away. At present, the Ring is believed, by them, to be located deep inside demonic territory, which is not for the faint of heart. However, I have enough reason to believe that is not the case."

"So if we find it first?"

"Then you will be crowned."

"How does that work exactly?"

"What do you mean?"

"How do I have this noble blood you speak of?"

"I'm not sure. But it is documented that you are in line to the throne, though not very high on their list."

"So you're going by a list? I wonder…"

"The nobles are very accurate when it comes to these things. At any rate, we should get started. As soon as you are ready, we can begin the ritual and have you alive again in no time."

"Wonderful," I said unenthusiastically. "I guess I'm ready."

"Great. I will see you soon then." She stood up and reached for my hand as if to shake it. Then she smiled and went out the door.