She was covered in blood, her clothes ragged and loose. Dark brown, shoulder length hair flew wildly behind her, free from its normal bun. She was running barefoot, exhausted, but unbroken.
She had managed to escape, but in doing so she had killed four men. She scoffed angrily, upset at herself for feeling even a momentary pang of guilt. Those men deserved what they had gotten.
They underestimated her as easy game and consequently paid the ultimate price for such a grievous error. In place of gold or silver, detached limbs were her spoils.
Even then, there was no time to gloat with victory. Distant sounds of barking grew louder, and the woods did not offer as much cover as she would like.
The night was dark and cold, the winds howled and the trees swayed as if they knew her time alive was numbered. The moon hung high above the sky, a testament to her belief that there was always light in the darkness.
She would soldier on, would run until her lungs could and legs could take no more. After all, escaping was the easy part of her months' long plan.
She could hear loud hooves stomping mossy grass and sticks in the distance. Ferocious dogs howled in the night, picking up the sound of her labored breathing, and the scent of her sweat.
Dozens of riders astride the swiftest horses in the land chased after her. Such action should have rooted her to the spot in fear, but she was no ordinary woman, and those were no ordinary horses. They may as well have been related to the hounds of hell with the way they bleat and charged through the thick brush.
She estimated that there were four, maybe five horses and the men that rode them in total. Nikolai probably sent only his marginally experienced scouts.
She scoffed then, frowning as she thought of the man who plagued her still. He continuously underrated her abilities but it would be to his own detriment.
She could take out the first wave of fighters, but she needed to reach the Stone of Galahad in order to finish the ritual that her ancestors started. Her grandfather's scabbard rested comfortably in her capable hands, but her hands shivered regardless, signaling her nervousness.
She could handle at most, four or five men, but a battalion was another story altogether. Her only option was suicide, or surrender.
Neither option was amenable, nor was she willing to rest just yet, but she needed time and movement. Time allowed for thinking carefully about her next steps should anything foreseen happen.
Movement of course, relaxed her and gave her a feeling of relief as she journeyed farther and farther away from Nikolai and his forces. Though he was a vampire, she wounded him enough to force him into recovery for a fortnight. Unfortunately, she had grossly underestimated his healing capabilities.
She had been running for two days on near empty, but while her body was ready to succumb to slumber, her mind was a sharp as ever. The Stone of Galahad was a good seven miles away, and without a horse, she'd never make it there in time.
Worse yet, the sound of the enemy's horses crept closer and closer to her. She found a low lying ditch, resting briefly, but not allowing herself the pleasure of a short nap. If only he couldn't smell her scent. She had doused herself in garlic, and other scents displeasing to his nostrils in the hopes that it would knock him off her trail.
She couldn't rest now, especially when she knew that she would need to use every last ounce of strength against Nikolai. After a few minutes in which her lungs could breathe easier, and her body stopped shaking, Verona slid from her hidey hole.
She withdrew her blade from its sheath, her breath caught in her throat when she heard the sharp 'ping' of metal hitting metal. Before the blade swung down behind her, she dropped to the forest floor and with a scissor kick to her left, she incapacitated her opponent.
Just as she was about to deliver a killing blow, a thick heeled boot struck her abdomen sending her to the ground.
"Verona, did you honestly think that I would allow you to escape?!"
A deep voice hissed in her ear. She scowled, twisting in her captor's arms angrily.
He roughly turned her around, only to be spat in the face. She smirked with satisfaction as her spittle dribbled down his chin. She knew that he wanted to slap her, degrade her, and force her to prostrate herself before him because he was also in heat... He was an alpha, but not of her race, and was therefore an incompatible match.
"You'll never take me back alive Nikolai. I will never be your mate. I can't."
He frowned slightly, as something akin to anger and disappointment crossed his face. He stood up, holding his hand out for her like a true gentleman would. Verona pushed his hand away, and stood on her own.
"We, of the vampire clan ask not for mates but for wives, life partners."
He muttered, his pearl white fangs shining in the moonlight. Verona would have rolled her eyes had the situation not been so serious. Nikolai was no gentleman, and all of Calledon knew that much.
Crossing her arms disinterestedly would have to suffice. Nikolai's jaw clenched at the rudeness of her gesture. It was no matter, for he would have her body and her mind obedient to his will.
"You can and will be my bride. You are mine, you will always be mine. Accept your fate. It was written in the Book of Destinies. Guards, restrain her. Let us head back to the castle. I grow weary from the chase."
His men leered at her with faces of anger and lust. No doubt, they too desired the virginal body of the legendary Eamon's daughter. Some were disgusted with his choice of a life mate because she was of the drow, a well known, but less superior race.
Struggling amongst her captors, Verona kicked the men restraining her in their groins, delighting in the sound of her steel toed boots cracking their pelvic bones. Verona broke free once more, managing to take a sword from the waist of an inept soldier.
The poor fellow must have been green behind the ears, but then again, Nikolai knew not to bring his vampire brothers with him for they may have been liable to try her as well. He must have been new to the battalion because she had never had such an easy time of snatching a weapon.
"I can't say that I'll miss you, because it will be a pleasure to rid myself of you once and for all, Nikolai."
She held the blade to her neck, knowing that the threat of suicide would keep Nikolai at bay, if for but a moment. Though she couldn't finish the ritual of her forefathers, she could escape to the world where her beloved father had fled. His disgrace had shamed her entire clan, and the irony of her act was not lost on her. Her beloved mother, the gods rest hers soul, would not have to bear witness to what she was about to commit.
She was the last of the Sheafson clan, and despite being a female in a male dominated world, Verona knew that beyond the hills, valleys, and lakes of Calledon lay a destiny yet unfulfilled.
She removed the small pouch that she had placed in her bodice, expertly hidden from view by the roundness of her breasts. She placed the arsenic poison on her tongue, clenching her mouth shut as blood gurgled in her throat.
The blade fell to her side, as she sunk immediately to the ground. She collapsed then, knowing that death was only a matter of minutes away.
Nikolai was on her in an instant. He knew as well as she did that there was no cure for what she had just ingested. The God of Death would retrieve her spirit in moments. Nevertheless, Nikolai hoped for a miracle. He cradled her head in his lap, crying tears of sorrow as her body convulsed in his arms. He brought his hands over her still beating heart and sent his life's essence into her bloodstream, praying that the gift of his chi would rejuvenate her.
It wasn't enough, because though she may yet live, her body would be sent to the dimension of her father for rebirth. Her fingers were already losing their warmth. Bereft of that pleasant sensation only made Nikolai more eager to have his once and future love.
"Why, Verona? What misery have you placed upon us?"
He stroked her hair, knowing that her death was only minutes away. Her nutmeg skin had already become a sickly ash color, as the pallor of mortality seeped deeply into her flesh.
Nikolai's tears fell in fat, salty drops upon her face as he wept in front of his loyal men unashamed. His soldiers had never seen their lord so full of despair, and the death of his wayward, would-be lady would most likely leave him a broken man.
"No one decides my fate but me. I will never be with you. If death is the only escape than I shall grasp it with both hands."
None among the crowd doubted the love that their leader felt for this woman, but many of them questioned his adulation for such a troublesome wench. Verona of Sheafson was one of the strangest, head strong women to ever set foot in Calledon.
She wrote poetry, studied arithmetic, astronomy, music, philosophy and all of the liberal arts. She wanted to be treated with respect due for a lady of her stature, yet she insisted on engaging in acts obviously meant for the men folk.
"You are such a foolish woman! I have said this before and I shall say it again. You are mine. You will always be mine and you shall never escape me. I will find you in the next life, and every life you live hereafter."
She gave him a mirthless smile, showing red stained teeth. Though she was a drow and the potential for reaching immortality, she would still rather die than be mates to the man who caused her family so much pain.
She reached up to clutch his tunic, pulling him down closer to her with waning strength. Perhaps if she had never been told her so called destiny she would have accepted this handsome man wholeheartedly.
He was attractive, smart, wealthy and absolutely in love with her. But he was also selfish, possessive, and completely beholden to the Book of Destinies, and therefore no good for her.
Her hands left bloody fingerprints on his ivory skin, as if her heart was staking a claim on him. Grey, cloudy eyes stared at her with an unreadable expression.
"It is human nature to bargain and plead, but it is unbecoming of a king, Nikolai. You will not have me in any life I lead. I have begged the gods to hide me from you and they have heard my plea. Farewell."
He hated to hear such words from his beloved's mouth, but he would allow her this comfort. She was dying that much was true, but if she thought that they were over she was more naïve than he thought. After all, death was only the beginning.
"Lord Drayden has already informed me that I would leave this dimension." said Verona. "There is nothing you can do Nikolai. For once, you have no control over me or the situation."
Her head rolled to the side, and her body ceased to move. Her normally dark skin was now a dull gray. She had lost her smooth brown flesh, and the light in her eyes was now permanently dimmed.
Her labored breathing stopped and her golden eyes were now dark and dull. The eyes of the dead stared at him in an unforgiving manner. He kissed her forehead, cradling her as he would a child.
"You forget my love. I am not human. I will find you, even if takes me lifetimes."
Nikolai vowed, clenching his fist as he watched her body vaporize. She would be reborn in a new dimension, on a new planet, but as long as she existed somewhere, there was still hope.