[excerpt from The Blood of Cha’Vlad]
His narrow escape from his own prisoner had left Veral both weakened and wrathful. He still didn’t understand how Marvalen, wounded and in chains, had ever managed to get the better of him. The truth of it rankled him to no end.
The twins – whom he now affectionately referred to as Vern and Vera, as he felt names so close to his own would brand them his property – had led Veral to safety. The two childlike ancients rarely spoke aloud, preferring instead to commune without words, looking at each other and nodding every now and then as if in agreement with cryptic, unspoken messages. Sometimes, they made him uneasy. At times, a prickling, cold feeling crept up the back of his neck when he was in their presence.
And sometimes, when they weren’t looking at him with those knowing eyes of theirs, Veral imagined killing them.
He never gave in to this dark desire, of course, but the urge to make the attempt was occasionally strong. If he were honest with himself, he would have to admit that he didn’t really think he could kill them. They were powerful, almost as powerful as their biological father. It was this power that had originally drawn Veral to them; that, and his overwhelming need to cause suffering among the ranks of the Mu’Fai. He probably would’ve turned his concentration to the Li’Khan, but his sister Miera was doing well enough in that arena.
Veral was indebted to the boy and girl now, a fact that made him surly and uncommunicative. He knew if it hadn’t been for them, he probably would’ve been captured and executed by his own people, traitors that they all were. He intended to make them all pay when the opportunity arose, and he knew someday it would.
Presently, he stood in an enormous cavern. The twins had brought him to this dismal, dank place, and although he’d wrinkled his nose upon first arriving, he could feel something within the earth and stone surrounding him. Vern and Vera had spoken of a secret place of power. Apparently, this was it.
He would rest here. The cavern would allow him to restore his power, and might even help to increase it. Unfortunately, it would do the same for the twins, and that worried him. Though he believed he had them under his thumb, things could change in the blink of an eye. If their power grew too great, they might begin to believe that they were in control, not Veral. That eventuality would not be acceptable. Ever.
“We should go deeper into the cave, father,” said Vera. “The force is greater there.” Vern nodded in agreement. Veral merely motioned for them to lead the way.
They were right. The further they traveled into the subterranean depths, the more the air thrummed with energy. Oh, yes, thought Veral. This will refurbish me, and then some!
“We must sleep,” said Vern. “The Gromthor will make us whole.”
Veral frowned. “What the devil is a Gromthor?”
“The Gromthor will awaken when the time is right. Until then, it will hide us, keep us safe.” Vera’s girlish voice was certain, her confidence in this Gromthor unwavering. Veral was too weary to pursue the matter. He’d force the information out of his two little minions when his power returned. Maybe he’d even torture it out of them, just to let them know he was still in charge.
“Fine,” said Veral. “Let us sleep.”
Benjamin’s transformation had not been easy. The wounds from his encounter with Garon and the others had made the change both painful and violent. The Li’Khan thought for sure he would not make it through the night.
But Benjamin was determined to make it. He had more reason to live than anyone. Through the haze of unconsciousness he had heard Benai’s admission that she was pregnant. He was going to be a father. It had given him the strength he needed to survive.
Through the night he suffered. His bones crunched and reformed, but the process was much slower than it was in the true Li’Khan. His body felt as if it were breaking into a million tiny pieces. His throat itched and burned. His vision was tinted with red at times, and hazed with blackness at others. He’d never imagined the progression from human to whatever he was becoming would be so agonizing, but he would go through it a thousand times over if it meant a future and family with Benai. She was his reason for living, the only thing he had to hold on to.
Benai and her mother, Cicera, had remained by Ben’s side since the change had begun. They shushed him with soothing noises when the pain was unbearable. They kept him warm with blankets when his body shivered from the stress of the conversion. With the two of him caring for him, Benjamin knew he would not perish from the Li’Khan infection as some humans had. He would live, and he would become a part of Benai’s family.
When Fahad came to watch over him a few hours after midnight, Ben took his hand weakly and smiled away the torment in his new brother’s eyes.
“It’s what I wanted, Fahad. Deep down, Benai wanted it, too. Don’t look so troubled,” he reassured. “We’re brothers now.” The light covering of fur now covering Ben’s nearly changed body ruffled gently as a light breeze drifted through a window of the small room in which he had been settled.
Fahad returned his smile, clasping Ben’s hand more tightly and blinking relieved tears from his yellow eyes. “I always wanted a brother.”
“You and Benai will teach me to hunt.” The sentence was both a question and a demand.
Fahad frowned. “Well, yes. Of course we will. We can teach you to hunt in a manner that doesn’t involve killing.”
“Good,” Ben nodded, closing his eyes. “I don’t want them dead. I just want them to hurt. Like they hurt me.” He drifted off again, leaving Fahad with a concerned expression on his face.
Benjamin’s uneasy rest was filled with cries of terror from the rabble that had earlier tried to kill him. His lips twitched in a small smile of satisfaction as their crimson covered bodies littered the playing field of his subconscious.
Miera had watched her brother flee to the giant hole in the earth. She was disgusted by his weakness, but afraid to approach the cave in an attempt to take advantage of his disadvantage. She’d felt something there. Something more powerful than anything she’d ever encountered, and she never wanted to face a power of that magnitude, especially if Veral had command of such a thing.
She kept her distance, wondering how long Veral would remain in the grotto with those two strange children. She hadn’t seen them before, but assumed the two were the spoils of one of Veral’s feasts.
Suddenly the ethereal forms of the boy and girl were in front of her, eyes glowing with malevolent power. Miera squeaked in surprise, uncertain if they were real as she could see right through them.
“Leave this place,” they commanded in unison. “Do not return.” Their power blasted into her with real enough force, throwing her nearly twenty feet from where she’d stood. Miera’s eyes opened wide with dawning terror, something she’d not felt in a very long time.
Miera did as she was told. She ran.
Something sluggishly stirred within the earth that night. The twins smiled in satisfaction.