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“Hey, Duzie, how will you know who Phelios is when you find him?”

Duzell blinked and stretched his paws across the bed before transforming back to his human form. He grabbed his coat quickly from the edge of the bed and covered himself with it.

“I told you already. I’ll know when I taste his blood.”

“I already knew that, silly.” Ishtar smiled, closing her book and looking at the vampire king. “What I mean is, how would you know it’s his blood? Does it taste different from normal people’s blood? Was my great grandfather different?” she tilted her head and gave him a look that meant she will keep asking until she got an answer.

Duzell stared at the princess, his face blank. “No,” he said calmly. “Your great grandfather was very much a normal human.”

“Then how-”

Duzell stood. “I’m going outside for a bit. Stay here.”

“But--” Ishtar started to protest, but Duzell had already opened the door and closed it without another word.

Ishtar sat there with a frown on her face. She knew this would happen, she wasn’t blind. Every time she brought up the subject of her great grandfather, Duzell had a tendency to cut the conversation short or avoid it completely. Many reasons came to mind, but none she could actually grasp and theorize on. Duzell was here for revenge; to kill Phelios’s reincarnation; it shouldn’t be such a big deal to know a little more about them, right? There were so many things she still didn’t understand; so many things Duzell still kept secret.

*****

“Your Majesty?! Your Majesty! Where do you think you’re going?”

Phelios froze at the door, then turned slowly and smiled. “Out for some fresh air, Diaze. I can’t even remember the last time I went out.”

“Your Majesty!” Diaze half whined, half blurted. “You mustn’t go out! The king of the vampires has declared war! The sun is setting!”

Phelios rested a hand on Diaze’s shoulder. “I’m not going outside the gates, I’m not going into the woods, and I’m not going to search for the vampire king. I think it’s still safe to walk around my own castle.”

“I’m sorry, my prince.” Diaze said reluctantly as he stepped forward and blocked the door. “I can’t allow you to leave, it’s too dangerous.”

“But-” Phelios started, sure he’d make Diaze understand that if he stayed inside for another hour he would start screaming. He couldn’t stand it anymore, and he just wanted to do something simple - to take a walk - and it was perceived at dangerous which a walk clearly wasn’t.

“Is there a problem here?”

Phelios turned towards the new voice and paled. “Grandfather,” he said, bowing his head a little.

“What is going on here?” The old king asked.

“My king! The prince just-“

“I was trying to go out for a walk,” Phelios cut the Diaze off, receiving a glare from his grandfather in return.

“You know you’re not allowed outside,” the old king said sternly. “Your coronation is in a week, it’s too dangerous; we are at war if you’d forgotten.”

“I haven’t forgotten,” Phelios answered with a hint of bitterness. “But it’s just a walk.”

The king blinked. Diaze still blocked the door.

“Go back to your room, Phelios.”

Phelios frowned, exchanged a glance between his grandfather and Diaze, then turned around and stormed down the hallway up to his room.

He slammed the door and kicked the foot of the bed. Coronation, coronation. That was the only word he’d been hearing for months now. Why did they kept reminding him? It’s wasn’t like he was going to forget he was becoming king. Ever since his father died that was all he’d been listening. Luckily, once he was king they wouldn’t be able to lock him up like a child. It just wasn’t fair. Why did it matter if he was king yet? Why couldn’t he leave the castle out for a simple walk?

Phelios searched through his armory; surely something here would work. He was determined not to follow orders. After a few minutes he had what could pass for commoner’s clothing’s - a worker’s maybe. Making a quick plan he waited an extra two hours, long after the castle had fallen silent. He was sure there were guards at his door, so he silently opened the window, took a slow gulp of the night's cold air, and without thinking about it twice, jumped out. He landed on a balcony from the floor below and two jumps more landed him on the garden below his bedroom.

Phelios grinned and smelled the air, which was largely scented with the lilies and roses of the gardens. It was wonderful and simply free. There was a full moon out and plenty of stars, so it wasn’t hard at all to make his way through the dark. It was chilly, but he shook that off easily. His first stop was by the stables to visit his favorite horse, a proud black stallion. He wouldn’t let anyone but Phelios ride him.

“Hey there, Beast.” Phelios patted the horse affectionately. ‘Beast’ was the name it had come with, following its reputation as untamable. Beast let Phelios pet him and barely moved when the prince took a brush and started combing its hair.

“I jumped out the window,” Phelios told him. “Been planning it for weeks, always though I was going to break a leg trying it, but it was surprisingly easy. Still don’t know how I’m getting back though. I’ll try to go through the doors and distract the guards. If they catch me, I’ll just take whatever punishment my grandfather gives. I don’t really care. I just couldn’t stand it in there anymore.”

The horse whinnied in reply, making Phelios smile. “Next week,” he continued solemnly. “I won’t have much freedom after next week.”

Beast whinnied again, this time reeling back and shaking itself away from Phelios. “Hey! Calm down, Beast. It’s just me. Calm down.”

The horse stomped the ground restlessly and stepped back even further, making distressed sounds. “You’ll get the guards attention!” Phelios hissed, trying to calm the horse down. “Calm down, Beast!”

The horse snorted and stepped back again, and from the entrance of the stable came a crashing sound as something fell and struck the ground loudly.

“Who's there?” Phelios called. Leaving Beast’s corner and rushing towards the noise, he found a pile of old, rusty buckets lying in the ground with the stable doors half open. He rushed out immediately without thinking. ”Who is out there?!” he yelled, not caring if the guards heard him. There was a rustle of leaves nearby and Phelios reached for his sword, only to find it gone. He remembered he had left all of his weapons in his room, and suddenly had a sense of foreboding. He had completely forgotten he was unarmed when he went after what was probably a thief. He couldn’t stand the thought of someone sneaking around his home and stealing.

“Who is there?” he asked again with a little more apprehension. Turning towards where he’d heard the leaves ruffle, Phelios saw nothing, just leaves, and attempted to relax. This ended as he turned his gaze towards the castle and found himself staring into a pair of crimson eyes. Phelios jumped back, startled, swallowing the yelp at the tip of his tongue. He straightened up, reacting as he’d been taught. “Who are you? You’re not a guard. How did you get pass the walls?” he asked quickly, reminding himself that if the man before him had wanted to attack him, he had missed the element of surprise.

The man stood still for a few moments, and Phelios noticed the pallor of his skin and the whiteness of his long hair. Yet, the man seemed young, maybe a little older than himself. The stranger tilted his head slowly to the right, regarding Phelios. The white-haired man was just a few inches taller than the prince, but enough so that he had to glance down to meet his gaze. “Are you a stable boy?” he asked.

Phelios blinked, looked down at his garments for a second and stuttered. “Ah, yes, yes. I was just on the stables, feeding the horses.” He frowned at himself for defending himself so soon. This man was a stranger, he was the one who had sneaked pass the palace walls. He was the one who should be stuttering to questions.

“So late at night? Do you know what time it is?”

“Late enough for there to be no visitors roaming around castle grounds, sir. Are you an overnight guest?” Phelios asked in the manner a stable boy would have been directed to handle the situation.

“No. I just came to see. I wanted to meet someone,” the man answered in a wistful tone as he glanced towards the castle.

“The gates are closed now, they won’t open till morning.”

“I know,” the man said as he looked at Phelios again, and moved calmly around the prince. This set all of Phelios's inner alarms and made the hairs on the back of his neck stand. The young prince turned with the stranger, not showing his back to him. Why did this man made him so uneasy? “The gates were already closed when I came in.”

Phelios blinked. “How? That’s impossible, sir. The castle is surrounded by walls and the main gate is constantly guarded.”

The stranger chuckled and stepped aside. Leering. Bright red eyes shining. “I jumped over the wall,” he said, calmly picking one of the roses from a nearby bush.

“Jumped?” Phelios asked with disbelief. “That’s not possible, the walls are-”

“Twenty feet tall,” the stranger finished. “And it’s not impossible if you-“

“If I what? Learn how to fly?” Phelios tried to make it a joke; surely the stranger was trying to make a fool of him.

The stranger’s brows rose for a moment which Phelios didn’t notice. Then he leaned close to the young prince and whispered in his ear, “If you’re a vampire.”

The smile died on Phelios face, slowly replaced instead by the horror of everything that he’d heard about vampires ever since he was a child.

“The vampire comes out at night and if you’re not careful it’ll snatch you up and feast on your blood.” His mother would tell him every night before bedtime, until she became ill and passed.

“The vampire king has declared war! People are no longer safe at night.”

“Monsters.”

“Evil.”

“Vampire!” Phelios jumped, reaching for his sword just to remember again he had none. He was defenseless. The vampire leaned close, a hand appearing from under its cloak and stretching towards him. Phelios backed away swiftly and turned to run in the opposite direction. He knew he had no chance against a vampire, especially with no weapon. His best chance was to run. He managed one step before a cold hand wrapped around his wrist and yanked him back. Phelios struggled, but it was clear that the vampire was stronger than him. “Guards!” The cry for help didn’t get very far as the vampire's second hand clasped over his mouth, muffling the sound. Phelios struggled against the vampire, his eyes widening at the creature’s smirk. It spoke.

“I hunger. And even though you’re not the one I was searching for, I guess you’ll have to do.”

Right then, Phelios realized that he was going to die. He would be found in a few hours time on the floor, pale and dead, without a single drop of blood left. He would never be king now, he would never get to do anything again. He’d always thought he’d died of old age or at least bravely in battle, not because he had been stupid. He hated the fact that he was going to die just because he couldn’t stand getting grounded. He hated it.

Phelios waited for the sharp pain on his neck as the arm around his waist got stronger. It failed to come. Instead he felt the vampire’s breath on his ear, a whisper. Hold on tight. The arm over his mouth lowered and closed around his neck. There was a sound of surging air. His feet had left the ground. Phelios eyes widened and his voice demanded he’d screamed but nothing came out; his voice was gone. They landed on the roof and after a moment the grip on his waist loosened, the hand on his neck disappeared and he was released. Phelios turned around instantly.

“You might want to watch your step there, it’s a bit slippery,” the man said calmly. “And don’t try to scream, no one will hear you hear, stable boy; trust me,” he finished with a grin.

“Please stop calling me stable boy,” Phelios demanded. “If I am to die, it will be with respect for my name.”

“And what is your name?” The vampire said nonchalantly.

Phelios glared and stood as tall as he could. “My name is Phelios; crowned prince of Pheliosta; heir to the throne. What is your name?”

Amazement. The vampire’s eyes widened and his mouth slightly opened. “Phelios…” he breathe out; barely a whisper; but as soon as it came it left.

Suddenly, long fingered hands grabbed Phelios’s, pulling him so close that the price could see those red red eyes and for a moment he got lost in them.

He blinked and tried getting away. “What…let go…”

The vampire said his name again, Phelios… Almost wistfully so, then answered the prince’s question.

“My name is Duzell. I am the vampire king.”