PROLOGUE II : 32 BCE
Nothing remained so painfully sweet as seeing her smile. She was one now, his little Cassandra, and already the spitting image of her late mother. What with that little moon-shaped face, bright and keen with her unadulterated delight for affection. Her flesh was lighter than her mother's- barely tawny, warm and rekindling in color- and yet flushed with the earthy familiarity of life. Her rosy cheeks complimented such a sweet laugh, the very emanation of everything Nefertari would have adored. This beautiful child was hers in each and every way, if in all but the eyes. Nay, those metallic-gray belonged to her father.
She lay fast asleep against him, nestled to his chest in slumber. Like many things in his life of late this would be a last; he would not hold her again for some time. Constantine kept hot on the tail of who had been responsible for the gruesome assassination of his wife, his sources finally bringing him to pinpoint the barbaric Lycan Horde. The more Constantine thought on it, the creature could hardly be considered a queer culprit to have; though common in origin, the Vempire and the Horde had been terse with one another if not completely hostile. The last Horde King, Darius, once made it his duty to wreak havoc within the personal lives of the Royal Vempire Family. Though recently fallen victim to hunters, according to the rumors, the late Darius left his son to inherit his murderous monarchy. Ambiguous to the Societies, Demetrius was new to his crown and had yet to make his bones in the fashion of his father. And while it could not be certain this successor had any such intent to follow the paved path, Constantine saw no reason why he should exclude this lycan either. Certainly not now.
"She'll be in good hands, you know."
Constantine glanced up at the hushed assurance posed within the doorway. He spoke nothing in reply, not right away; even by his sister's work he could not rest. After all, what good was one's word these days? He himself had promised his Nefertari they would be reunited, and such an oath had landed nowhere. If anything, he was deemed incapable of keeping anything spoken sacred.
Taking a seat upon a luggage chest, the raven-haired Helemis watched her younger brother recline upon the cushions of the bay window. No moon arose tonight, the bedchamber filled to the brim of black, rusty shadow. It was no place for a child, particularly one as lively as Cassandra. With Helemis' expectations to take leave for Athens by tomorrow evening, however, the babe would soon be surrounded by clean, contemporary night once more.
As it should be, he knew. He had kept the child consumed within his misery for long enough; she ought to have the exposure of wholesome family, and who better than his own sisters?
"You've spoken to Father?" she prodded.
He nodded again, still wordless.
Not awaiting an invitation, Helemis swiftly tucked away the sleeping child from her father's grasp and into her own arms. She set a light kiss upon that warm little cheek. "Have you spoken to him about what we discussed? About the res-"
The pair exchanged precarious glances for but a moment. The darkness of the bedchamber opened the clarity of their nocturnal sight, accentuating the all-too grave features upon Constantine's countenance. A precarious subject, what his sister had proposed yet again. It had taken him a great deal of patience to even bear the issue with her. Despite the slicing insistence, however, she remained stern.
Helemis strode with light feet away from his stiffened posture, gaze now intent upon Cassandra's placid countenance. The gentle wisps of midnight air matched the pattern of her slumberous breathing, lips slightly parted as she lay with her head against the vampiress' bosom. For all her liveliness she slept with complete stillness, oblivious to the unnerving conspiracy surrounding her little head of soft mahogany curls.
"Shame on you," she began tacitly, eyes fast where they sought contentment upon the child. "For thinking she is without the need of her mother. Never for a moment should you doubt we love this child, Kosta. But not one of us can rightfully replace the station of her mother, regardless of what she was."
"Have you stopped to consider why you are the only one concerned with Nefertari's absence?!"
He stood abruptly then, faltering on his feet before grasping the ledge of the wall. The sister's nimble solidity provoked his bristling vexation - hardly a secret, she realized, as his irritable hands released the wall and rushed to delve themselves in the lackluster mass of his hair - of which he struggled to keep from fretting over. Every aspect of that mortal's memory purged him of natural sense, consuming what had once given him the simplest reason to pursue even the desire to live. Helemis had, along with their sisters and, to a most restrictive extent, their ethnocentric mother, poignantly observed as Constantine submerged deeper into the cavernous abyss of a sorrow he had swallowed since his mate's butchering. And while the controversy of her mortality was of greater concern to the Vempire than the fashion of her actual demise, his devastation altered no less. The mortal had meant too much to him, and rightfully so.
"And so what matter is it if I am?" she countered, soft and yet so unmistakably austere. Helemis cradled the child's head, sure to protect her ears from what her subconscious might overhear. "Someone in this family ought to be troubled with your affairs, Constantine. Satan forbid you had decided against returning home with your daughter, lest she would very well have been left to her own devices. You are in no worse a state to care for a child."
"I'll decide what is best for her."
"Will you? If I recall correctly, it was only at the insistence of Inkesi that you even abandoned your pursuit of guilty blood in Egypt to bring Cassandra here." Helemis sniffed, turning to glance with her own iridescent gaze out into the ambiguous night. "You can hardly decide what is best for yourself, let alone your own daughter. If you did you would do as I said and bring forth her mother's spirit. You have the favor of Isis' High Priestess in your palm; she would not hesitate to commence a reincarnation ritual for the sake of your ple-"
Both were silent at the abrupt creaking of wood from beyond the doorway. Dangerous business, their conversation; tampering with the lives of unbitten mortals, whether deceased or living, threatened apostasy. While Helemis seemed to rest upon the placement of their station as royalty to protect them, her brother remained less confident. Nothing could promise protection from the pain of death without the assurance that Constantine would ascend to the throne. Too many of the bloodhouses wanted their heirs to take the crown.
At the exchange of a knowing glance, they silently proceeded to the next room of the chambers, Constantine giving a final look toward the threshold from which that unsettling noise emerged. He pushed the slab of wood through the fastener in the wall, bolting them in.
He had not turned before his sister's arms embraced him. It was strange for her to do; and yet, he had always been the only of the three other siblings to ever receive a speck of what little compassion she was capable of displaying. Despite this he could simply stand there, taking what she gave without any will to return.
After moments he finally whispered, "What you ask of me, sister, will take Cassandra from me before she sees her next winter. Nevermind my loss of the throne. Father will take my child from me!"
She gripped him closer, nails embedded within his flesh. Only then did she dare abandon her sense of sight to tears, wrapped within the momentary fear with her now sobbing brother. Their foreheads pressed together, desperate for the moments that would pass.
"Damn you, my brother. My poor, cursed little brother... you cannot speak of such things with such assurance, for it is blind. Whether or not our father will intend to sacrifice you or not is not the trouble, for by the time he and the rest of the bloodhouses discover what we have done your bride will already have taken her final breath as a mortal." She quieted him, hushing his sobs. "This woman that bore your child... she was the one of forgotten lore, don't you remember? No mortal has ever conceived of a nosferat seed, much less brought one to life. Your Nefertari was destined for your love, brother! She was meant to make her station within this world as you take the Vempire throne. Listen to me," Helemis held his head to face her, tone grave as it suddenly severed from compassion. "I will leave with the child to Inkesi and Maharet at nightfall. If I return within a fortnight, will you await my company so that we might seek the high priestess together? Will you, brother?"
A bile fought its way within the empty bowels of his belly as he moved away in decided slowness. He could no longer wait for this. Helemis would never speak on it again, surely, if he held out from absolution any longer. And while he had always been the first to discredit the riffraff of the muttering, accursed dark clerics who so purposely titled themselves Scuro of the Fallen, Constantine could not ignore his sister's truth; there were none like Nefertari had been. Whether that be the poor girl's malediction or a twisted blessing in disguise would be of her making in the time to come.
His spine straightened as though a foreign strength had rekindled his will, the silhouette that belonged to him elongating against the moonlight spilling from behind blackened sky.
"Make it a week," came his word. "The longer we wait, the shorter my hold at the Vempire becomes... my crown." Constantine turned to his sister, still cradling the slumbering child in one arm. Her nod accepted all he needed.
The soul of Nefertari would be revived and, with it, the Vempire itself.