This is what comes of reading Dracula too many times and staying in a castle. Vampires become my default. Don't worry. They don't sparkle. They're not exactly Nosferatu, either, in case you were worried. Please read and enjoy!

The Moon and Roses

The castle loomed dark and foreboding over the twisted landscape, eerily silhouetted against the low, full moon. Misshapen trees stood on the edges of the marsh that surrounded it, casting gruesome shadows over the swampy ground. Scattered here and there were a few tufts of withered grass, and jagged rocks thrust out of the ground like the shattered bones of some fallen giant.

"Remind me again why I'm doing this?" Micah said, looking out over the land with a skeptically raised eyebrow.

"Because you owe me for bailing you out of that nest of vampires last week," Aaron said, raising an eyebrow in return. "You said it yourself, I get one favor. And I want you to go in there and get me the copy of the Egyptian Book of the Dead that they're supposed to have in the library. It might be gone, but if not…" He shrugged. "Bring it out. Either way, we'll be square after this one."

"You bet we'll be square," Micah muttered. "That place gives even me the creeps."

Aaron grinned wickedly at her. "You're also the only person I know who was dumb enough to agree to do me a favor without asking what it was going to be first. So you get stuck with this."

"Wonderful." Micah looked up at the stars. They were muted and dim here, but she could still see them. Even though the moon was still on the rise, she had a bad feeling about this job. "If I'm not out of there by the time the sun comes up, I'll kill you, Aaron," she threatened. "This is just the kind of place I'd hate to have to spend the day."

Aaron frowned. "Can't you go out in the sun?" he asked.

"Yeah, but I can't fly in the daylight," Micah muttered. She took a deep breath and slowly lifted off the ground. "And I won't have a way to get back without that power. See you in a bit." She drifted towards the castle in a resigned manner. The tips of her spiky white hair gleamed briefly in the moonlight before he was swallowed by the fog that had suddenly swirled into existence, cloaking the castle in an impenetrable veil of phantom grey and tattered white.

"Careful, Micah," Aaron called after her, knowing his voice would be muffled by the mist, and that she would hear it anyway. "They say this castle is filled with the ghosts of those who died in the Black Plague, and that they seek to drain the life force out of anyone who enters!"

"Now he tells me," Micah growled under her breath. She looked back to where the shore had been obscured completely, then halfheartedly tried to banish the fog with a silent command. Nothing happened. She hadn't really thought it would work, so she gave up after a second and turned back to the castle with a sigh.

A flash of white on the highest turret caught her eye. She quickly glanced at it, and froze in surprise.

A young woman sat on the edge of the tower, her legs hanging over the side. From this distance, Micah could just see the ripple of her long black hair as it blew gently in a soft breeze that did nothing to stir the fog. Her ragged, fluttering white dress was what had captured Micah's notice. As she watched, the girl turned slightly, until Micah could have sworn she looked right at her.

Then a cloud passed over the face of the moon, blotting out its bright light. When it cleared, she was gone.

Micah let out a shaky breath, wondering what had possessed her to make a deal with Aaron without asking just what it would entail before she agreed.

There was nothing to do about it now, though. She went on.

Luna saw the stranger moving through the mist that eternally cloaked the castle, and was curious. The girl—woman?—was floating, as a vampire would have been, but she had managed to pass through the barrier as though it didn't even exist. Since the two abilities should have been mutually exclusive, Luna wondered what exactly she was. Maybe a faery of some sort, or a spirit. That could explain it.

Luna turned and slipped through the wall, back into the castle itself, and pirouetted gracefully on the flagstone floor. She ignored the giant man-shaped creature that suddenly appeared before her, the copper mask that passed for his face set in a frown.

"I know what you are planning, Mistress Luna," he rumbled warningly. "And I shall not let you succeed in it. I was charged with seeing you remain here, and I shall do just that."

Luna halted her polished turn and stared haughtily at him. "I am well aware of what you were charged to do, Discort, and I will triumph even over you. The one who is coming will rescue me, I know it."

"She will not be able to advance beyond the main hall," the giant thundered, making the stones around them shake. "Mistress Luna, you may not leave this castle. Not while I exist. Your grandfather created me to keep you here and well, and that is what I will do."

Luna gave up all pretenses of respect. She glared at Discort with fiery hate in her eyes. "You will not take even one more week of my life," she spat furiously. "It is mine, and I will live it as I wish, without fear to bind me or walls to imprison me." She spun on her heel and ran back up the corridor, vanishing into the stones at the end of it. Her passage made the rocks around her ripple slightly, as though they were water stirred by a drop of rain.

Discort looked after her impassively. Then he turned and disappeared as well, right where he had been standing. A moment later, a whispering sounded through the passages and halls of the great fortress, awakening the demons that had dwelt there for centuries. They rose eagerly at his call, hungry for blood.

Luna peered over the edge of the balcony as the stranger stepped through the tall doors that led out to the courtyard. They had stood ajar for as long as she could remember, since Discort had seen no reason to repair them. She was willing to bet that he was cursing that oversight right now.

She tilted her head slightly to get a better look at the stranger in the darkness, though her eyes saw well at night. The girl was tall, but seemed only about her age. The top part of her hair was dyed white and left shaggy down to her ears, while some of the bottom was cut short and either dyed or left black. She couldn't have said if it was the girl's natural color or not.

Dressed in a knee-length black coat that smelled like real leather and a pair of well-fitting black jeans, she paused to survey her surroundings. Moonlight flashed on her face, highlighting her golden eyes and the simple black ring in her left ear for a brief second before she went on. Her figure fell into shadow again, but not before Luna saw the short, broad-bladed sword strapped around her waist.

Luna grinned in anticipation. Good. She was a fighter. That would make things even more interesting.

The stranger swore under her breath, looking around the hall as though seeking something. Then she shook her head again and turned, picking a corridor seemingly at random. She made her way through it with steady steps, but she was wary. Luna could tell from the way she carried herself, by the way she kept her hand close to his sword. So she was smart, too.

Luna smiled again.

Everything was going perfectly.

Turning, she phased through the wall and into another room, below where she had been, and perched on top of the fireplace's mantle. The path the visitor had chosen only went to one place, and she had to wait. She just hoped it wasn't for too long. If it took too much time, Discort would be able to break through the barrier she had put up to keep him from finding the stranger. He was stronger than she was right now, and she wouldn't want to test her luck against him in a fight.

She needn't have worried. Before even a minute had passed she heard the girl's booted footsteps on the hard floor, and then the door swung open. The stranger entered cautiously, looked around, and swore again.

"Damn this place to the deepest pits of hell," she growled. "Where is the library?"

Luna stood and laughed. The other girl started violently and spun, her eyes flickering straight to Luna even in the dimness of the room.

Without waiting for her to recover, Luna jumped down from her perch. She landed right in front of the girl, as light as the touch of butterfly's wing, and smiled. The skirt of her tattered white dress fluttered around her, settling slowly from her movement.

The girl took a wary step back, partially drawing her blade. "Who—what—are you?"

Luna curtsied gracefully. "Espoir de le Sang—Luna, at your service. I am the owner of this castle, now that my grandfather is gone. May I ask your name?"

"Micah," she responded curtly, and then looked at Luna a second time. Her eyes were curious, but still guarded. "Was it you I saw on the roof?"

Luna nodded. "I'm the only one here, so it was either me or a ghost." A small smile crossed her face. "The ghosts are usually a bit gorier, so I hope it was me. They can put someone off for weeks after seeing them." In contrast to her grim words, Luna grinned at him, taking care not to flash her fangs, and took two graceful, gliding steps back. She halted like a ballerina, poised as though about to leap away in a drifting dance.

She had surprised the girl. "You aren't a ghost? But I thought no one lived here."

"Well, I do," Luna laughed. She tilted her head to one side, watching the other curiously. "Why are you looking for the library? Do you need something? If so, I can probably find it."

A look of relief crossed the girl's face. "Wonderful, you can help me. My friend wants me to see if you have a copy of the Egyptian Book of the Dead in your library. I'm supposed to bring it to him if you do."

Luna frowned, rocking back on her heels and closing her eyes for a moment, mentally reviewing the contents of the huge room. "I think we do, but I'll have to check. Would you like to come?" She held out a hand with a reassuring smile.

Micah looked at her warily all the same. "Why do I need to take you hand?"

Luna laughed and spun, letting her dress flare out around her in a ripple of white, looking like a ghost's ball gown. "Because the library is three floors above us and a little to the left. The shortest way to get there is to go right through the floor. I can take you there, but I need to be able to touch you to do it."

"Are you sure you're not a ghost?" Micah asked, looking at her askance.

Luna grinned at her, then turned and jumped back onto the top of the mantle. She turned back. "Yes, quite sure. I think my mother would have told me if I was, don't you? But she always said I was a vampire, like her."

"You're a vampire?" She had surprised Micah again. Luna knew why, too. Pureblood vampires didn't seem like their more numerous brethren. They were more civilized and seemed less dangerous, until one got to know just how much power they had. Then everything changed, and the pureblood was either killed so someone could gain that power or reviled as something terrible and threatening.

But Micah didn't dwell on it. "All right, then," she said resignedly. She lifted off the floor until she could stand beside Luna on the marble mantle.

Luna regarded him curiously. "You don't seem like anything else I've met before. What are you, if it's not too impolite to ask?"

Her jaw tightened, and Luna got the feeling she didn't like this question. "My mother was human, but my father was a vampire." When she remained silent, Micah glared at her. "Well? Aren't you going to say it?"

"Say what?" Luna tilted her head again, puzzled. It wasn't as though Micah had been exactly friendly before this, but at least she had been civil. Now she was radiating hostility.

"You know," she spat. "Half-breed, mutant, freak, abomination. That's what all the other vampires say."

Luna smiled brilliantly. "You're a dhamphir. That's great. I've never met one of your kind before, so you'll have to tell me all about it."

"Dhamphir?" Micah asked. There was a note of shock to her voice. "You mean there's actually a name for what I am?"

"Of course." Luna frowned in confusion. "No one ever told you?"

Micah shook her head. "My mother was killed by a vampire hunter shortly after I was born, and he had gotten my father a few months before that."

Luna twirled again, raising her arms above her head and trying to picture a life without parents, even at the very beginning. It seemed infinitely more preferable to her. "Oh, you're lucky. Not about your mother, I mean, but fathers are awful. Mine kept me locked up in here from the moment I was born. This place gets frightfully boring after a while, and I've had enough time for it to become downright dull."

"Since you were born?" Micah demanded, taking a step back. "That's…" She trailed off, not seeming to know what to say, and Luna took advantage of her momentary confusion. She grabbed Micah's wrist and stepped back, tugging the other girl through the wall with her. Micah yelped, but she ignored it, continuing up through the floor and into the great, musty library.

They emerged from the western wall, and Micah dropped to the floor the second Luna released her. Her fair skin was so pale as to be translucent, and her breathing was a bit choppy. Luna giggled and spun where she was. Her long hair flared out behind her, like a black cloak that rippled in the faint moonlight that came from the windows.

Micah managed a halfhearted glare in her direction as she got to her feet, rubbing her wrist where Luna had grabbed it. "Would you mind warning me next time? Your hand is really cold."

Luna stopped suddenly, her hair swirling over her face to veil her expression. She brushed it away. "Sorry, but only Wraiths can walk through walls like that, and one of their Talents is control of cold. I can't use one without the other." She twirled away again. "Come on, I'll see if the book is here. Last time I saw it, it was in the temple room, but things here have a tendency to move around on their own."

"What is it with you and spinning all the time?" Micah asked as she followed her. "Don't you ever get dizzy?" There was a touch of annoyance in her voice.

Luna halted and looked at her with a grin. "When this place is moving around me, it looks more interesting. After the first few years here, I was bored enough to try anything."

There was a moment of silence, and then Micah asked quietly, "How long has it been since you've left this place? A long while, or just a few months?"

"Years," Luna said, pirouetting again. "Years and years and years. Sometimes I feel that this castle is the only thing I'll ever know, that I'll live here forever and ever without any chance of getting away." She spun faster, trying to banish all thoughts of that fate from her with speed and willpower alone.

"Then why don't you leave?" Micah asked with a frown. "There has to be somewhere else you can go."

Luna shook her head, stopping gracefully. "I can't. There's a barrier around the castle, to keep vampires in and humans out. You were able to cross because you're both—and, at the same time, neither one. But I can't even touch it, or the thing that keeps it up. My grandfather assigned a guardian to it, and he's too strong for me to defeat."

She looked up to see Micah watching her with an inscrutable expression. Then the dhamphir girl sighed. "Is the book here or not? I really need to get it and leave before the sun comes up."

Luna nodded slowly. A crushing feeling smothered her, making her want to cry. Micah wasn't going to even try to help. But she summoned up her brightest smile. "Yes. The temple room is this way." She turned down one of the great aisles between the shelves and led the dhamphir to a small door set back in the wall. She pushed it open and went in. Micah moved to follow and stopped dead.

Every inch of the room's circular walls was covered with candles. They were pure white, and filled the space with the scent of roses, casting an immense amount of light on the room. In the center sat a small shrine with ten statuettes on it. There were three of gods, while the rest were goddesses. Seeing the expression on Micah's face, Luna laughed and glided over to them. "This is my little way of telling the castle's guardian what I wish for. It's not like he really gets it, but I can hope, right?"

Micah slowly shook her head. "This night is just getting weirder and weirder. I know I'm going to regret this, but who are they?"

Touching each of the small figures in turn, Luna spoke their names and ranks. "Nemesis, goddess of vengeance; Thanatos, god of death; Mors, god of the dead; Discordia, goddess of dissent; Kali, goddess of destruction and power; Indrani, goddess of wrath; Vrta, god of chaos; Didi Thakrun, goddess of plagues; Malhal Mata, goddess of disease; and Ardra, goddess of misfortune."

Micah grinned for the first time, flashing small, sharp fangs with needle-like points. "Quite a collection. Are you an ardent believer?"

Luna laughed. "I suppose you could say that, but the other vampires wouldn't like it. To them, these are holy objects, but to me, they're just hopeful wishes of death and destruction." She pulled a thick book from the floor under the shrine and blew a cloud of dust off the cover, then handed it to the dhamphir. "Here it is. The Egyptian Book of the Dead. I hope your friend enjoys it. I did. Its view of death is…inspired."

Micah looked at the vampire with her mouth open, just wide enough that she could catch a glimpse of delicate fangs again. "You're just going to…give it to me? No strings attached?"

She nodded once, smiling. "Yes. You were able to come here, when a lot of people wouldn't have even considered it, no matter what bargain they had made or what debt they owed. The Book is yours, to do with as you see fit."

Micah took it slowly, still watching her with surprised and wary eyes. "Thank you. Aaron will greatly appreciate this."

Luna tipped her head to one side. "Won't you take anything for yourself?"

Micah shook her head. "You don't have anything that I need, but thank you. I'm grateful for the thought." She turned to leave the room.

"Wait!" Luna pulled a necklace on a black cord from around her neck. As Micah turned back, Luna slipped it over the other girl's head. "Here, take this. You might need it sometime."

Slowly, Micah picked it up and looked at it closely. It was a tiny charm in the shape of Ganesh, the elephant-headed god of luck. She smiled and bowed to Luna. "Thank you. I'll treasure it. I hope you have as much good fortune as before once it is no longer in your care." And then she was gone, her footsteps just barely audible, even to Luna's ears.

Luna sank down in the center of that brightly lit area, letting the light wash over her. She just wished that the despair growing in her heart would be banished as easily as the shadows in the room.

Around her, the castle began to shake.

Slowly, Luna lifted her head. "No," she whispered. "No, Discort. She actually spoke to me. I will not let you have her." She sank into the stone floor beneath her, the flicker of anger in her eyes suddenly become a raging inferno that blazed out of control.

The castle shook, and Micah was nearly thrown from her feet. She tightened her grip on the book and swore softly. She should have known it wouldn't be as easy as that. There could be all sorts of traps set, and she was so busy wondering about a pretty vampire that she wouldn't even notice them until they went off under her feet.

"Mortal, you have invaded a sacred place!" a great voice thundered around her, and a face formed in the very wall in front of her, rough-featured and obviously angry. "I am the guardian of this castle, and I shall protect my mistress from all harm! She shall not leave this castle as long as I am alive, and I will not let you take her from here!"

Micah tried desperately to regain her footing, even as a huge block of stone shot out of the wall and hurtled at her. There was nothing she could to avoid it, and even her vampire blood wouldn't save her from death by pounding.

And then a sheet of soft, fragrant black hair hit her in the face as a figure hurled itself in front of her. Luna cried, "No!" in a ringing voice as she spread her arms and planted herself between Micah and the block.

Whatever was controlling the castle obviously didn't want to kill her. The stone veered to the side, crashing into a door with an immense boom that once again rocked the ancient fortress.

"Go!" Luna cried over her shoulder. "I'll be able to protect you until you get out of the castle, and Discort won't be able to follow you through the barrier!"

"What about you?" Micah demanded. She tried to avoid being noble, since it only brought trouble, but it galled her to see this girl—small, delicate, gentle, nice—protecting her.

Though she could probably handle herself better than Micah could, she had to admit.

Luna raised her hands, palms out and facing the giant wall, and a thick barrier of ice rose up in front of her, part of her power as a Wraith. It shuddered as something hard crashed into it. "I'll be fine. Discort can't kill me, since he was created to protect me, and I can hold him off for a short time. You can make it through the barrier, but only if you go now."

Micah hesitated for another second, and then grimaced. "All right. Thank you, Luna; I'm in your debt."

"Go!" she snapped. "He gets power from me, and I'll only last so long against him. The sun rises soon. You have to get out of here!"

Micah didn't stop to contemplate her actions. She nodded and turned, running flat-out for the open doorway. As she passed through it, the creature that had attacked her roared in fury, and a second later Luna screamed. Micah glanced over her shoulder just in time to see the rose vines that had been growing outside the window surge in and wrap their thorny lengths around Luna's waist, arms, and legs. She was lifted high into the air, hanging from them helplessly. For a moment, she fought, but then with a whimper she went limp in their grasp. Blood began to run down her limbs and drip to the floor, darkly crimson in the gloom.

Micah swore silently at herself for leaving Luna there in the face of that creature, but going back in right now would be suicide. Maybe…

The thought trailed off as the first fingers of dawn began to reach over the horizon, just barely visible through the thick fog. Micah swore again and turned on her heel, launching herself into the air. Right now, the only thing she could do—

She stopped as the thought occurred to her. Her vampire blood was affected by the sun, but her mother's blood kept most of her abilities intact, even when a normal vampire was helpless. Luna had said that the creature—Discort, she had called him—got his powers from her. If she was vulnerable during the day, then so was he. There was no reason not to go back and get her out of the prison she called a castle.

Micah slowly settled back on the ground, looking back through the doorway. The hall was empty, with only a few shattered stone blocks to show that there had been a battle there moments before. Taking a deep breath, Micah winced. That wasn't all. There were also several dark spots on the white marble floor. Luna's blood, from the rose thorns.

Deliberately, Micah set the Book of the Dead down on the ground. If worst came to worst and he didn't make it out, Aaron would be able to find it there if he came looking for her.

He cast one glance back at the sun as it inched over the horizon and sighed. This was without a doubt the stupidest thing she had ever done, but she couldn't help it. Luna had helped her freely and of her own volition, and that left Micah in her debt.

Besides, she was a pretty girl in trouble, and Micah had always had an idiotic weakness for damsels in distress.

She entered the castle warily, half-expecting Discort to start attacking him again, but the halls remained empty. If she hadn't known better, Micah would have sworn it was deserted. But the tangy smell of fresh blood said otherwise.

Micah muttered another curse. The entire castle was a giant maze. There was no way she would be able to find Luna in it without help. She hadn't even been able to find the library on her own.

"Damn it, Luna, where are you?" she muttered darkly, glaring around the hall as though the answer was hidden in the shadows.

Micah? Is that you? The voice was a weak, gentle touch against her mind, and Micah stiffened. Luna had to be cursed powerful to use telepathy during the day. She hadn't thought Wraiths, vampires with ghostlike abilities and the Talent to control cold, could even use mind-speech, but it seemed they could.

"Yes, it's me," she said out loud, knowing Luna would hear her. Mind-speech wasn't one of her gifts, so she couldn't converse silently, as the pureblood did. "Where are you?"

The roses took me to another part of the castle, Luna said faintly. Her voice was fading with every minute the sun was in the sky. I don't know where, exactly, but it's one of the towers. Take the stairs to your left, and you should reach a corridor of black stone. Follow that to the end, and then pick the left or right. I don't know which one, or I would help you more.

Micah nodded. "I'm on my way. Don't worry, I'll find you."

You have my eternal thanks, she whispered. But I won't be able to leave until the barrier is down. It would be better if you just left.

"Yeah, right," Micah muttered sarcastically. "You helped me for no reason, and nearly got yourself pulverized saving my life. I'm not giving up that easily. But if you tell anyone I did this, I'll kill you."

A hint of laughter echoed down the fading link, and Luna whispered, Talk to me, please, Micah. I have to stay conscious right now, and your voice is the only distraction I have besides the pain. Please, tell me anything.

Micah hesitated for a moment, trying to think of something interesting, then sighed. "All right. I'm not the most fascinating person, but I'll try. Um…Well, I'm on summer break right now from my school, Seraphim Academy. It's a school for Others, like us, those who aren't human. There are a couple humans there, but not that many, and it's mainly a place where we can go to get away from the outside world. We have classes, but mainly it's just relaxed and easy. Still, there are a lot of different species there, and not all of them get along."

That sounds…hectic. Luna's voice was even fainter now, but she was still clinging by a thread. Micah, at the end of the black stone path, looked between the two staircases. She knew she would only have one chance to get to Luna in time.

From the sound of it, the other girl had already lost too much blood, and in a vampire that could be a dangerous thing. If she didn't feed soon, Luna would go into a feeding frenzy, much like a shark scenting a recent kill. During daylight, she wouldn't be able to do much about it, but come nightfall…

Well, Micah wouldn't want to be on the same continent, let alone in the same castle.

"It is," she agreed. "But it's fine most of the time. There are only a few places where we all fit in, all the time, and Seraphim Academy is one of them. Going to school there is pretty much the same as taking a vacation to another dimension, where everyone gets along."

Micah squinted up the stairs to the left, and caught a faint hint of light there that the other stairway lacked. "Can you see the sun from where you are?" she asked.

There was a pause, and then Luna murmured, Yes. I'm in the light right now, and it's warm. I feel tired.

Micah couldn't move for a moment, frozen in shock. That Luna was able to use even this much of her Talent while held in the sun and still suffering from blood loss hinted at an extreme amount of power. She should have been able to get out on her own before now.

"Why haven't you escaped?" she asked, heading up the left-hand stairs at a run. "You have power—"

Not enough to defeat myself, Luna cut her off. Discort was created to channel the powers of my bloodline directly into the defense of the castle and those within. If I use any of my abilities against him, he just gets more powerful.

A feeling of exhaustion swept down the link, and her mind-voice flickered and died as Micah rounded the last corner. She stopped dead.

Luna still hung from the vines that had seized her, held on the far side of the tower so that she was directly in the sun. The rest of the tower was barren, with the feel of a place long deserted. But despite that, there was a certain aura of power around the place, as though it had once been part of something grand, and the bound vampire on the other side of the room only amplified that feel.

The roses wrapped her tightly, the darkly green vines contrasting sharply with her pale skin, white dress, and the crimson blood that still ran from the wounds created by the thorns. Luna hung limply, her head bowed and her dark hair spilling down. The blooms, as red as her blood, added a kind of picturesque quality to the whole scene. It looked like a terribly beautiful, strangely captivating painting one would see in the high-class house of a rich merchant.

Micah shook herself and drew her blade, crossing the tower with swift steps and immediately beginning to hack at the vines. At that point, she doubted they could hurt Luna any more than they already had, and she wanted to get the vampire down as fast as possible.

When the last one gave, Luna pitched forward into Micah's arms, collapsing against her with a soft gasp of pain. Micah sank to the ground and gently turned her over, brushing her hair out of her face with a soft touch. She opened her eyes, and for the first time, Micah saw their color.

Unlike most vampire eyes, which tended to be either red or blue, Luna's were a pale, ethereal lavender. As Micah watched, the color slowly darkened to violet, and Luna blinked. Gradually, she focused on Micah's face, and she smiled slightly. It was a pale shadow of the bright, laughing expression that she had worn before, but it was still a smile.

"Thank you," she whispered, her voice hoarse. "Thank you for coming back for me."

Micah shrugged, grinning slightly at her, hoping it would cheer her up. "Hey, you gave me the book for nothing. I had to do something to repay you. Getting you out seemed like the best way, since I doubt the florist delivers out here."

She laughed, but there was a touch of bitterness about the sound. "You're right, but you came back for nothing. I can't leave the castle's barrier. You can cross because of your mixed blood, but a vampire can't go through, in either direction."

Micah shrugged again, taking care not to jostle Luna from where the vampire was lying in her lap. "Then tell me how to shut down the barrier. I think you've spent enough time here."

Sudden joy flickered in Luna's face, and she slowly sat up. "I'll never be able to repay you for this," she said fiercely. "Not in a thousand years. Thank you so much." She took a shuddering breath and managed to get her feet under her, then rose slowly to her feet. Her balance wavered for a moment before she steadied. "Come on, I'll show you the way. And thank you again."

"Don't thank me yet," Micah warned, following her up. "Not until I manage to do it, at least. And shouldn't you stay lying down? You're hurt."

Luna waved away her concern and took two steps forward. When she didn't fall, she looked back at Micah and smiled brilliantly. "Don't worry about me. I'm fine." She looked down the long flight of stairs and her smile wavered. "Though I wouldn't mind a hand going down to the main floor, if it isn't too much trouble."

Micah shook her head in disbelief. "You're an idiot. Why don't you stay in the tower where it's safe? You've lost too much blood to drag yourself down all of these stairs." With a sigh, she crossed to Luna's side and wrapped one arm around her shoulders, the other under her knees, and picked her up easily.

Luna yelped in surprise and automatically grabbed Micah's shoulders. She eyed first Micah, then the stairs, with a somewhat doubtful expression. "Er…If you don't mind, I think I'd rather walk. This isn't exactly what I had in mind when I asked for a hand."

Micah snorted. "Yeah, right. You can barely stand up straight, let alone walk down an entire flight of steps on your own. And I won't drop you, if that's what you're worried about. I have a vampire's strength, or close to it, even during the day. Besides, you're light. Don't you eat?"

"Not in ten years," Luna muttered as Micah started walking. She turned her head to hide from the sight of the rapidly approaching ground as the dhamphir moved quickly down the steps. "Father and Grandfather made sure that I wouldn't have to eat, just survive, as long as I was in here. They didn't want me to go crazy from hunger and break out at some point in the future."

Micah winced, even though Luna couldn't see it. Personally, she had gotten only a small taste of a vampire's hunger, and it was terrible. To have a hunger that had been years in the making and not react on sight to the nearest pulse—namely, Micah's—Luna was either secretly mad or the most resilient person Micah had ever met. Since she seemed rather sane, even after her lifelong solitude, Micah was betting on the latter.

They reached the corridor of black stone again, and Luna tried to wriggle out of her grip. When Micah didn't let go and simply raised an eyebrow at her, she sighed in defeat and relaxed back. She pointed down the hallway.

"At the end there should be a door marked with blood," she said quietly. "Discort is on the other side of it, and so is the crystal that keeps the barrier up. If you shatter it, I'll be able to leave."

"And Discort is just going to let me walk in and break it?" Micah asked skeptically.

Luna shook her head. "No, but he'll be far less powerful in the daylight, and that room is open to the sun. There are large chunks of the ceiling missing. I made sure of that."

Micah looked down at the top of her head with a raised eyebrow. "You did? What did you do, exactly?"

She could have sworn that Luna was blushing, but she couldn't see the vampire's face. "I had a bit of a tantrum and cracked the ceiling," she muttered. "My grandfather got very mad at me, and created Discort a bit later. He didn't feel safe just leaving the crystal where it was, unprotected."

Micah shook her head slightly and grinned. "What I can't understand is why they never let you out before this. If it had been me, I would have pushed you out the door as soon as I could, just to keep the castle standing." Gently, she set Luna down on the floor, just outside the door that was marked with a streak of dark red blood, still glistening wetly. "You stay here. I'll take care of the crystal."

As she turned away to the door, Luna caught the hem of her black coat. When she glanced back around, the vampire fixed her with eyes that shimmered lavender in the muted light.

"You don't have to do this for me, Micah," she said quietly. "You can leave now, without getting hurt, and I'll be fine. You don't have to do this."

Micah reached down and caught Luna's hand in her own, giving her a slow smile. "You're forgetting one thing, Luna. I want to. That bastard shouldn't steal even another minute of your life here. I'm going to make sure he doesn't."

Luna's eyes widened, and two spots of color rose in her cheeks. She looked down, embarrassed.

Micah grinned at her. "Don't worry. I'll be fine, and you'll be free soon." She pushed open the door with one mighty shove and stepped in.

As Luna had said, the room was flooded with light. Micah had to squint against the sun, peering around until her gaze finally settled on an orb, set into a hollow on the far wall. It glimmered with a thousand colors, but no colors at all, and gave off an aura of twisted darkness that made her skin crawl.

"Guess that's it," she muttered, and took one step into the room.

Instantly, fire erupted all around her, leaping up to the ceiling as the castle's guardian stepped out of the very wall to face her. It faded quickly, but the threat was still there.

"Come no farther, dhamphir," the masked man rumbled warningly. "Mistress Luna must stay here, for her own safety. The outside world would not be kind to her."

"Don't you think you should let her decide that for herself?" Micah asked, tensing and setting one hand on the hilt of her short sword. "Luna seems like a bright girl. I'm sure she can figure out these kinds of things on her own. You're just being cruel, keeping her locked away in here like some kind of fairytale princess."

"This is for her protection," Discort said inexorably. "She will be killed if she leaves this castle, and I was created to see that she never did. I will not be defeated in my task by the first insignificant crossbreed that comes along."

"I'm getting sick of being called a worthless half-breed by a bunch of stuck-up vampires who can't see straight in the sun, while it doesn't affect me at all," Micah snapped as she drew her sword. "Now move. That crystal is as good as smashed already."

Discort gave a roar of fury and lunged for her, changing as he did so. His bronze-masked face became a scaly snout, his neck grew longer, and his body thickened. A pair of bat-like wings sprouted from his shoulders, and a blast of white-hot flame scorched the ground where Micah had been standing a moment before.

Micah rolled away from the newly formed dragon, cursing. She had known vampires could have shape-shifting abilities, but had thought that the power disappeared by day, like any other vampiric Talent. And then she remembered where Discort got his power. Luna and her family were impossibly powerful if they had this many Talents, especially in the daylight. And if Discort was weak right now…

Micah lost her train of thought as Discort shot another blast of fire in his direction, leaping to the side again and dropping down again. She staggered when her foot hit a loose piece of rubble, though, and wavered for a second before she could get her balance back. That second was all that the guardian needed. He opened a mouth full of dripping fangs and lunged forward.

Before Micah could even register what had happened, she was thrown to the side, out of Discort's range. She hit the floor on her side, rolling away from the dragon. Glancing back towards the doorway, she felt her mouth drop open in astonishment.

Luna stood there, one hand pressed to her side, trying to stem the flow of blood that stained her dress darkly crimson; the other was stretched out towards Micah, an orb of lavender light hovering in front of her palm. She had pushed the dhamphir away, using the Talent for sorcery that few vampires had.

"Quickly, Micah," she said, sounding remarkably calm. "I can keep him busy for a few moments, but not long. It's up to you."

Micah blinked for a second, then nodded once and threw herself forward. Discort roared in fury, but a web of purple light erupted around him, locking him in place. Micah looked at the distance between her and the orb and realized that she could never cross it in time. Luna was already weakening from the sun and blood loss, and Discort the Dragon was tearing through the net with a tenacity that would have shamed the most stubborn bulldog.

So, instead of trying to play fair and getting her ass kicked by an angry sorcerer-construct with big teeth, Micah chose to do the smart thing. She hefted his sword in one hand, drew it back, and threw it as hard as she could at the crystal orb.

The blade went flying end over end in a perfect arc, as Micah had practiced so many times. The faery-wrought steel struck true, and the orb shattered into a thousand pieces with a sound eerily like a human scream.

Discort, freed from Luna's net, threw back his scaly head and roared his fury to the sky, shattering the stained-glass windows and allowing pure, untainted sunlight to pour through the gap. He screamed louder, but the touch of that much sunlight was something even he could not withstand. His body wavered as the air filled with the scent of burning meat, and he began to dissolve into greasy grey smoke that writhed on the floor for a moment before vanishing completely.

But Micah didn't look at Discort. Her eyes were focused on something completely different.

When the orb had shattered, the room where she and Luna stood had transformed. Now they stood alone in a place Micah had never seen before. It was a quiet, peaceful space, filled with light as white as snow at noon. She could see nothing beyond the light, no walls or windows, just a vast expanse of brilliance that covered the world.

A carved column of white marble stood before her, wrapped with crimson roses and their emerald vines. A soft wind rustled the leaves and sent a few petals dancing away. They whipped upwards, rising in a twisting spiral around the vampire girl standing on the column.

The gentle wind blew Luna's long hair out to the side, making it dance around her, and ruffled the skirt and sleeves of her white dress. The blood had vanished, leaving her as whole and well as she had been before they had met. She opened her glowing lavender eyes to look down at Micah, and smiled with a peace that she had lacked in the past.

"Thank you, Micah," she said, and her voice was a serene murmur in the calm of that tranquil place. "I am free now, after so long imprisoned. I shall be forever in your debt."

"Luna?" Micah whispered, but the breeze suddenly became a gale. The roses petals streamed into the air, whirling up around the vampire and hiding her from sight. Then they cleared, and she was gone. The light slowly faded until it vanished completely, leaving Micah standing in a ruined room, with nothing left of the vampire or her guardian but a lingering scent of roses.

"Luna!" she shouted, but there was no answer. She was gone.

Micah put one hand up, gently touching the good-luck charm that still hung around her neck, proof that it hadn't been a dream. She slowly shook his head and recovered his sword, then left, picking her way over the rubble from the fallen ceiling and the bright shards of glass until she could walk normally out the doorway. There was a pool of blood in the spot where she had left Luna, and she wondered. Had Luna been a ghost after all? Was that why she had vanished?

She shook her head again, turned, and followed the path Luna had led her on, going back down the stairs and into the main hall. The doors still stood open, and she slipped out the crack between them.

Aaron was standing on the edge of solid land that surrounded the castle, holding the Book. He yelped and jumped as she emerged into the sunlight, then stared at her as though she were a ghost.

"Are you all right, Micah?" he ventured after a moment had passed, where they just stood looking at each other. "What happened in there? I saw a lot of light, and heard a roar, but it vanished a few minutes ago. I was trying to decide whether I should go get some help or not."

Micah turned and looked back at the castle, then at Aaron. "Who was she?"

"Um. Who was who?" Aaron asked in confusion.

"The girl in there. The vampire. She said her name was…" She tried to remember exactly how the vampire had said it. "Espoir de le Sang. But she called herself Luna."

Aaron's eyes widened. "You mean you saw her? Spoke to her?"

When Micah nodded, the necromancer let out a shaky breath and sank to the ground. "I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Espoir de le Sang—that isn't her name, that's her title. The Hope of the Blood, the name given to one Pureblood vampire of a certain line every five thousand years. But…that family died out years ago, hunted into extinction by other vampires, who wanted the power contained in their blood. There aren't any living descendents."

"Then…can vampires leave ghosts?"

Aaron shook his head. "They shouldn't be able to. What happened in there, Micah? You look spooked, and you don't scare easily."

As quickly as she could, Micah related the story. Aaron didn't move for a few minutes afterwards, looking thoughtful.

"I see," he said at last. "The spirit of the girl who was once Luna—her personality, in a way—probably remained behind even after her body died, as did the guardian her father and grandfather had left for her. Magic can outlast almost anything, so that seems like a safe bet. You probably freed her spirit to pass on when you collapsed the barrier. But…"

"But?" Micah prompted when he stayed silent.

"But I've never heard of a vampire leaving enough of a mark to have a shade remain," Aaron said with a frown. "Maybe…there could have been some kind of failsafe on the barrier, so that when it vanished she was immediately whisked off to a safe place. Without further study, or more information, I can't say for certain. Whatever happened, though, you helped her, Micah. I'm sure she's grateful for it, wherever she is right now."

Micah turned to look at the sun as it inched higher in the sky, and smiled slightly. The faint scent of roses blew past them, borne by a gust of wind that put an end to the clinging fog.

"I'm sure she is," she said quietly.

A faint trace of laughter swirled around her for a moment, then vanished into the brightening sky, carried on the fragrant breeze.


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