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stranger in this land

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~The New World, Norse Settlement, 1001 AD

 

Kol Mikaelson loses his magic the day he dies.

That’s nothing new, for all witches lose the ability to perform magic the day they die. When the heart stops and the soul departs, the flesh and blood body can no longer be a conduit for nature. Bones and sinew decay and return to the earth, but the soul, the soul goes to the other side. Valhalla or Heaven, it does not matter what name the after takes, the dead merely become fuel, the spark that helps the living work their own magic.

His story does not end this way. No, his story ends with stolen life, hands formed into claws that clutch into the raw earth, eyes boring into the feathers of a dead turkey, falling like snow off the fresh corpse, and his mouth stained with blood. Though he tries, every inch of his being poured into the type of concentration he rarely allows himself to undertake, the feather’s remain stubbornly and utterly still. He sobs, the foreign blood bubbling up the back of his throat, coating his tongue with its metallic tinge, The smell of it combined with the burning wood in the distance, as well as the oak and pine of the trees, is sharper than it has ever been before. He can hear things he shouldn’t, such as the call of Thor in the distance, rumbling through the trees and the vibrations of the earth, or the shouts and revelry of the villagers in the distance, and the beat, beat, beat , of a creature’s heart as they move.

A few days ago he’d thought that Loki, the trickster god, was surely playing some trick upon him and his siblings, but now, as he continues to hide from the light of the sun inside their family’s hut alongside his brothers and sister, he knows with a knowledge deep in his bones that the Æsir have nothing to do with this. No deity would ever deign a human to be so strong, or so fast, almost a Áss, without envy or disdain.

A loud shout echoes from his throat right before arms wrap around him, the sound of blood running like a river in his ears, the music of a warm heart pounding, and the feel of hands stroking through his sweaty hair. It’s a cool day, but his futile efforts have taxed him towards bone deep exhaustion, and he longs to swim in the river as he has for years, wash the grime and the blood away, but there are too many people there, even at night.

They can not be trusted around people, not since Rebekah attacked the village boy the night they burned the white oak tree to ash.

Finn, too, has already killed Astrid, his wife. Just last night, they’d set her body alight in secret to hide the murder. Kol and his siblings watched as the fire consumed her body, her clothes, and the blonde hair that Finn had adored, but Kol felt nothing towards her absence. Nothing like the rage, the grief, and the emptiness where Henrik used to be—where his power used to be. Though she’d been a constant presence in his life since Finn married her when his older brother was sixteen years old, neither Kol—nor Nik, it seems, if the glances he’d shot at his brother during the funeral were any indication—could bring themselves to care.

Móðir warned them it can be any of them next, and so Rebekah avoids the village boys she loves to flirt with, and Elijah hides himself away while Móðir works on fixing their new aversion to the sun. It’s been three weeks, but a lifetime nonetheless.

“Shh, child,” whispers a soothing, familiar voice.  Dark fingers wipe the sweat from his brow, and then she cradles his head against her shoulder, her dark hair brushing the sides of his face. The tears continue to shake his body even as he curses himself for a weakness that only a child shows. “Calm yourself. Calm yourself. My little Loki.” She begins to sing in a language known only to her, but the syllables and intonations are familiar. These words have rocked him towards sleep since he was a crying babe in arms.

“Ayana,” he says, the sound of her name breaking in the middle. His voice is hoarse and rough from screaming and taxation. The attempts to force nature to bend to him have left him drained and he slumps into her body. “It’s gone. I am no longer a häxa.”

The whispered confession sounds like the darkest of crimes, as if he’d organized a shot of mistletoe to pierce the heart of the most beautiful amongst them.

“I know,” she replies. Never one to deny the truth, though her voice cracks as well. She’s been more of a móðir to him than his own has, and certainly more of a teacher, making sure that his budding gifts took root from the time they first sparked. His own móðir could not even conceive teaching her son the ways of seiðr , never mind that Rebekah does not care to hear the call of nature and the spirits. “This is a burden you shouldn’t have to carry,” she continues, voice sharp and bitter and angry , “but it is yours all the same. You must not let it consume you.”

Kol laughs at that, remembering bright red curls and dark, blank eyes. Ingrid, his childhood playmate, who’d tasted divine. Blood like a Valkyrie , he imagines, and better than any food he’d ever had. Too late for that.

Ayana’s grip tightens, and he looks up to see her mouth set in a thin line. “Your brøðurs and systir will never understand. This alone is your trial.”

“What did I do?” he says. The spirits have always loved him. During bonfires, he’d made the flames twist into shapes for the amusement of his sister and younger brother, though Finn considered it frivolous and Móðir a waste of raw energy. Faðir was inconsequential, for Kol had never been much more than an extra in his eyes, seen only when his mischief got to out of hand and beatings eminent.

“You were cursed,” she tells him, and explains that nature needs a balance. He will never again cast a spell. He grits his teeth, his hands forming into fists and his nails digging into his skin, and curses his own móðir .

She is still a häxa , he thinks, and rage begins to build. His eyes narrow, the well of his tears causing the shape of the woman holding him to blur. While I am nothing. For the briefest of moments, he imagines Móðir in Astrid’s place, in Ingrid’s place, before the thought fades.

She is still the woman who gave him life.

The rage makes the beating of Ayana’s heart sound as if it is louder and he feels his teeth begin to itch, the poison in his blood running down from his eyes, and his skin tightens. A growl forms in his throat and, for a second, he imagines her warm blood in his mouth, before he is off her in a flash, back hitting a tree. He stares to her kneeling form, breath coming out in harsh pants, her eyes wide and terrified , before he looks away.

“I’m sorry,” he tells her. The leaves rustle as she moves, twigs crunch under her feet, and her heartbeat gets closer. “You should stay back.” He does not know if he will stop next time.

He is so hungry.

She levels a fierce look at him. “You can control this, child.” Her hands are on her hips and it is almost as if she’d just caught him stealing porridge. “And you will.”

She’s only two inches or so from him. It wouldn’t even be a second before her body hit the ground, at one with the rocks and the leaves. There is dirt on her dress from where she’d been kneeling, and blood on her shoulder. He stares at it, fixated, his mouth watering.

Snap . The distant sound drags his concentration away, and for a few moments, both of them are still. Then, a small form comes from behind a thick clutch of trees, the bottom of a dress worn only for sacrifices brushing the ground, and her hair braided back from her face in a half-style.

Móðir ,” she says. There is a smile on her face. “Kol. Why are you two all the way out here? I’ve been looking for you all night.” She skips closer to them and takes one of his hands in her own. He freezes, staring at her. She’s so small, so fragile. Smaller, even, than Henrik had been. Like a bird. He’d never noticed before. “The bull is already dead and the ale is flowing. Come on.”

“In a moment, Beselot,” she tells her daughter. She gently pulls him and the little girl apart. “Go find your bróðir and systir . Where is your faðir ?”

Ayana’s Viking husband, Alfr, is a brute of a man, tall, muscled, and scarred. He’s more often lost in the woods hunting wolves than caring for Ayana and her children. Kol hates him. Hates him for the bruises on Beselot’s dark skin, for the neglect in Tariku’s eyes, and the dismissive way he treats Genat like chattel to be sold.

A man that deserves death , he thinks. They have power in their veins that the pathetic man could never even begin to dream

Beselot shrugs, her small shoulders like needlepoints. The beat of her heart is strong, a siren song. He digs his nails into his palms. He held this girl the day she was born. He will not hold her the day she dies.

Ayana sighs. “Let’s go find him then,” she says. She shoots a cautious look to Kol. He looks down, uncurling his fists. His own blood is red and bright underneath his fingernails, across his palms, but he can already feel the itch as the small wound begins to heal. “Come on.”

It is a test, he knows, but he follows them anyway. She’s never been a gentle teacher. She’d once told him that the only way to learn was to do, to fail, and to do again. As they come to the village, the fire burning high in the sky, a bright light in the dark, people dance around with curved horns in the hands, the bitter scent of ale sharp in the air. It’s mixed with the heady scent of semen from the intoxicated villagers, the bitter herbs and mushrooms, and the metallic stench of the buck’s blood. He watches a young couple for a moment, two girls barely older than Rebekah. They devour each other’s faces, lost in their own world and the twilight haze of ritual.

He stands there, still, and steels himself, then jumps as Ivar, the blacksmith’s son, comes to shove ale into his hand. “Kol,” the young man says. He is shorter than Kol by an inch or two, but much burlier. He’s gifted with arms built like tree trunks, and his long, blonde hair is braided almost down to the small of his back. Loosely, he holds one arm around his new wife, Dagný, a pretty and slender woman with curls of dark, russet red. She is smiling widely at Kol, a flirtatious look in her dark eyes, swaying slightly on her feet. “We’ve been looking for you. Your bróðir is making quite a show of himself.”

He looks around the villagers and sees that, indeed, Nik is making a show of himself. Elijah is leaning against a tree with a disapproving look in his eyes as he watches their brother wrestle with the villagers, attention split between his scowling and pushing away an intoxicated blonde woman, Tatia nowhere in sight. There are beaten men all around Nik that grumble in displeasure, shooting both Mikaelson brothers dark looks.

“I see that,” he replies, then takes a deep swig of the ale. Ayana’s disappeared from his side, and with it, her grounding presence. The beatings of the villagers’ hearts sound like drums in his head and he cannot help but lean towards Ivar, almost as if he were drunk himself. “Why were you looking for me?” he asks, though it is no secret. He licks his lips and watches the couple’s eyes follow his tongue as he traces a path around his own mouth.

The part of him that’s still feels alive, still him , grins inwardly. He’s always been a handsome one, the resemblance to his older brother Elijah striking, but where Elijah holds himself still and tight and noble, Kol is wild and reckless. Elijah would never think to take them up on their offer.

He follows them to a grove of trees secluded away from the villagers. Dagný’s hand is small and soft in his, while Ivar’s calloused fingers run up and down his arm underneath his tunic. They stop every few seconds, placing kisses upon flesh here and there, the three of them stumbling around in a daze. They share ale and mushrooms. Heat, flesh, and life fills his senses as they play around with one another. He’s young, still, and the enthusiasm of youth begins to overcome the control he’s desperately attempting to cling to, temporarily overshadowing the rage.

At one point, Kol trips on a root, before Ivar steadies him, his arm coming to wrap around Kol’s waist. Dagný pouts, her mouth cherry-stained and blood red, so Kol brings her closer, brushing curls away from her collarbone and bending down to kiss it with a smirk.

His fangs scrape lightly against her flesh and her pulse jumps delightfully.

Later, when wood digs roughly into his palms as he moves, thrusting Dagný up and up against the thick tree trunk, Ivar behind him, mouth sucking bruises into his flesh, hands rough around his waist, the three of them dancing in sync, he doesn’t think.  He simply follows the siren call of the blood, as his teeth sink into soft flesh. With hazy eyes, she moans and whines and slumps down when he lets her go, his right arm coming behind him to hold Ivar in place as he swirls around on instinct, body sated but still ravenous , somehow. The blood drenches down his marked up neck, over his collarbone, past his pecs and down to catch in the curls that nestle his penis.

Their hearts beat once, then twice, before they stop. His arms raise to his sides without thought, as the bodies fall gracelessly to the ground. Throat tight, he arranges them both against the tree, their warm flesh cooling underneath his fingers, pale and still. He brushes their hair back from their features, tracing the puncture marks.

“Fuck,” he whispers, before he leaves them there, hoping that the wolves will come to hide his crimes away. The next morning, he walks out into the sun for the first time in days, holding Rebekah’s hand in his, rings clashing together, as Dagný and Ivar’s bodies are placed in the square to the shock of horrified and angered villagers. Ayana makes her way through the crowd, bending down to inspect the corpses, and shoots a look to Kol and Rebekah.

He looks away.

 

Two months later, and a day after his móðir dies, murdered at the hands of her husband, Kol stands on the bank of the river and watches Ayana and her children set Alfr’s body, drained of blood, in the boat. Ayana chants and, for a moment, Kol imagines himself chanting the words with her, the syllables like home against his tongue, power flowing through her, and watches as the boat catches fire. Beselot’s hand is warm in his, her lips trembling as she looks to the body, and he squeezes her little palm.

Only Ayanna knows that Alfr’s fatal wounds come from him.

The village is miles behind them, panicked, lost, and forgotten amidst the chaos, and Kol is still hungry. He follows Ayanna as if he is a baby duckling, stopping to sequester himself away every couple of hours, chasing rabbits and deer and birds, stomach filled to bursting with fresh blood to keep his veins pumping and the lust under control.

Only the Æsir know where Finn, Rebekah, Elijah, and Nik are. He runs and runs from the white oak tree they’d burned to the ground, from death, from life. From the man who killed their móðir. From the angry villagers left, and all the massacred wolves.

Runs as if he can actually still die.

They head north, towards the lands of the native tribes his villagers had always managed to avoid. Ayana is looking for help there, though the foreign ways and the foreign tongue will make it difficult. Kol lingers as he walks and wonders if he should turn around, but each time the thought flits through his mind, she stops and sees and keeps him moving forward.

That night, after the children have gone to sleep, he sits before the small campfire, hands outstretched towards the flames, feeling his skin burn. Ayana says nothing as she sits beside him, both of them watching as his pale flesh turns red and burns. In and out, red and white, over and over again, he continues.

 “If you stay with us, I will help you control it,” she tells him again. She’s been saying it for months now and Kol wishes it were true. Nevertheless, there is something savage inside him. It’s uncontrollable. A beast that ripped into Ivar, Ingrid, and Dagný’s necks without remorse and without pause, holding their lives in his hands as if they were nothing. If he stays, he will rip open the veins of those he loves and drink the marrow of their bones as if it is fine ale.

Yet he cannot go. He has nowhere to go.

Therefore, he nods and pretends to agree. Both of them pretend as if she hadn’t had to make his head nearly burst from his neck to wrench him from her degenerate husband’s body. Both of them deluding themselves with the thought that he hadn’t enjoyed it.

When the blood rushes from their veins and into his, when the light fades from their eyes, he feels power again. He craves that more than the blood, more than sex, more, even, than he craves his family.

Her pulse jumps in her neck when he looks to her. She seems old, her skin drawn like ancient tree bark, broken and brittle. Her hair is lying in tatters and there are rips in her clothes. Her jaw clenches. “You will control it,” she tells him with steely resolve.

He nods again. When she falls asleep, he slips away, runs through the trees, and devours the blood of a bear. He imagines the Æsir looking down on him, Odin and Thor and Freya and Loki, and laughs as he dances around from the high caused by the hunt. He does not sleep that night.

The highs fade quickly, and the children grow thin. He hunts for them, too, bringing Ayana gifts of wild game, skinning and feathering his kills, roasting them over the fire. She watches him as he works, as he hands portions of the meat, but does not partake of it himself.

Each night, Ayana repeats the word “control” and holds her bleeding arm out to him. Every time he steps forward to drink, he falls to his knees, his arms coming up to cradle his exploding head, his only emotion growing anger at the sight of the visible worry in her eyes.

Thirteen nights after, he sits on a log while Ayana weaves magic for the amusement of Beselot and Tariku, whose wide eyes appear to be almost popping out of their hollow faces, while Genat comes to sit beside him.

He hears the sound of her skirts ruffle as she fixes herself, his eyes focused upon their shadows cast by the glare of the campfire. She sighs, a little huff, and then says, “You’ve been quiet. It’s unsettling.”

“My móðir has died,” he reminds her. He sounds hollow, blank even to his own ears. The apathy he feels for this situation is strange. Should not a son care when his móðir is gone? Should not a son grieve, curse, and burn his móðir’s body with ornamentation and ceremony, hope that she has made it to Valhalla, though she’s not gone in childbirth or died a glorious death?

He thinks a son should, and so he knows that he is a poor excuse for a son.

Perhaps this is the reason for my rejection, he thinks, not the bloodlust and the cravings. Not the curse and the immortality. Perhaps I am unnatural because I do not care.

“She is on the other side now,” Genat says, “and she will guide us to safety.” There’s a tremble in her voice and he knows she’s recalling fire and blood and rage. She is too young for this, only twelve. He glances up at the other two children. They are all too young for this.

“Beselot loves when you make things change shape,” Genat says with a bit of wistfulness to chase away the dark. “It helps her sleep at night. Why don’t you join Móðir tonight?”

 His stomach twists, and the skin of his face tightens underneath his eyes, preparing to draw back. He refuses to look at her, and turns away. “Nature has turned from me.”

Óvættr ,” villagers had screamed at the wolves, their neighbors, after Henrik’s death. “ Draugr ,” Kol’s victims call him in the seconds before the light fades from their eyes. Knives, axes, and swords swung, but nothing, not even scars, remain upon him. In the face of his own savagery, he is untouchable. Next to him, Genat’s heart is racing, the rhythm making her blood rush through her veins, underneath her smooth, dark skin.

His tongue sweeps out, catching on the bits of metallic blood still caught in the corner of his mouth. He bites down on the soft flesh of his bottom lip, and digs his nails into his palm.

“Perhaps you just need a partner,” Genat suggests. Her voice is low. He thinks that she is looking at him from underneath the sweep of her dark eyelashes, her round face bright and shy, her dark eyes innocent. He imagines them cold and lifeless, the power drained from her body and into his, while he lifts up bloody hands to turn twigs into flowers for her móðir and siblings.

She wants to marry him, he knows, or she did once. Alfr and Mikael never thought the idea a good match. For one man, Kol was too wily, too twisted, too ergi ; for the other man, Genat was nothing but the child of a bondswoman, not good enough for the son of a wealthy landowner, though Ayana had traveled from the Old World to the New with them.

He shakes the thoughts from his head and breathes deep. The smell of smoke and charred remains settles deep in the back of his nostrils, and finally, he is able to face her. “I do not believe that will help.”

At least, Ayana certainly thinks so. He glimpses her weaving nature through her fingers, making it bend to her whim, and wants that more than he wants anything.

Genat reaches, bending at the waist, and grabs at his hand before he thinks to pull away. She smiles, her teeth charmingly split, and says, “Try with me.”

Though they stay there, still in their concentration, until the others are asleep, not a single leaf or twig flies from his hands, and the rage, a rumbling river inside him, begins to build into a wave, and alongside it, he craves .

 

It is almost a fortnight later that Nik finds them. They are just a mile or two outside of the encampment of one of the native tribes. Ayana and the children have gone to gather berries and nuts, and Kol finds himself relaxing against a tree, his fingers tracing the rim of his daylight ring, basking in the light of the sun against his skin, when the twig snaps.

His body uncoils from his position with the speed of a striking serpent. One moment he is still, the next he has his brother pinned by the throat to a tree. It would take little effort to crush his windpipe, see him gasp for breath. It would take less effort for Nik to heal.

He is taller than his brother is, though a couple of years younger, but not stronger. In a blur, the blonde has reversed their positions. Kol’s head smacks against the bark, rough wood scraping at his scalp and pulling at his braided hair, so he growls in retaliation, his fangs bared. His brother’s face is all black veins and drawn skin.

“Calm yourself,” Nik says with a casual tone. Kol shoves him hard, pushing him away. The other man stands there with a smirk and straightens his hair. “Took longer than I thought to catch up to you, little bróðir.” His white tunic is rust brown from dried blood, and the stench of a fresh kill—a fresh human kill—clings to his brother like a shroud.

 “How did you find me, Nik?” he asks. He wonders how long they’d looked and why they’d even bothered. He doesn’t know where Finn is, doesn’t care really, but he remembers the brief glimpse he’d caught of Nik and Elijah and Rebekah, and last he’d seen them they’d been all three together holding hands and swearing vows. A perfect little pack of killers, with him forgotten, before he’d dragged himself away to feed on Alfr.

Nik looks to him with a hint of derision. His brother is a scornful bastard. “Just follow the trail of carrion and the cries of the hawks. Rabbits, bróðir?” Nik tsks with the tip of his tongue against the roof of his mouth, a click in the silence of the woods. “You’re better than that.”

The blonde spreads his left arm forward like an offering, a welcome invitation gesture into the bosom of a warm hearth. “Come on,” he says to Kol, whose eyebrows scrunch with confusion. “I’ve left Rebekah, Elijah, and Finn by the lake. They’re waiting.”

Kol laughs. “I’m content where I am.”

Nik’s lips tighten, his nostrils flaring, but then the smirk is back. “For how long? How long do you think you’ll be content with these meager offerings? How long until you snap?”

“Like you?” Kol retorts, but he is not thinking of his brother’s violent actions, but rather his own. He thinks of Bjorn, a nine-year-old boy in the village, his pale throat ripped down to the bone, and then he thinks of Brynhild, Hilde, and Turid, all young and bright and women he’d once dallied with. All dead and gone, dust, bone, and sinew from the tips of his fangs. He remembers Leif, his best friend, his hunting partner, his body left as food for the foxes in the forest.

 Nik shrugs. “I suspect it will be soon. Perhaps the native villagers, first, but what happens when the food source runs low? Will it be Beselot next? She’s so young; she wouldn’t even be fun to chase.” His words are low and taunting, but Kol still pictures it. Pictures mowing her small body down, wrestling it to the earth, and ripping open her jugular, delicious red liquid spilling out of his mouth like ale overflowing from a horn. He grits his teeth to banish the thought. “Then the boy, next, and then the eldest daughter.” Nik’s smirk widens. “How much would Ayana want to take care of you then?”

“That won’t happen,” Kol tells him. It’s a lie. Even now, he sees it as clear in his mind as the sun in the sky.

 Nik steps forward, reaching out to grip him by the back of the neck. Their foreheads meet. “It will,” Nik tells him, eyes unbelievably soft. “You are not like them anymore. They are not your family. We are. Always and forever, the only ones who will ever understand—” with his other hand he gestures to the open space between them, to the open space above them, and to the open space behind them, “— this hunger.”

 “She’s teaching me to control it,” Kol tells him. Nik laughs and brings his own wrist up to his mouth. Red ripples over pale skin, the smell sharp, and Kol acts on instinct, mind gone, hands coming up to clasp his brother’s wound and drink. Euphoria runs through him, power runs through him, wild energy and lust and violence grips him. A hand runs through his hair as he feeds.

 “Yes,” Nik tells him mockingly. “Such control. How long will her guilt over móðir’s spell and the loss of your abilities last?” The hand comes up from the nape of his neck to grip his hair hard and forces Kol to meet his brother’s eyes. “You’ve never been very good at control.”

 Blood wells in his mouth and he swirls it around his taste buds, until the viscous liquid spills out the corners of his lips to drip down his chin, over his Adam’s apple and into the hollows of his collarbones.

 “Come home,” Nik whispers. It is this, more than the blood and the mocking, that breaks him. Home , he thinks, the allure of being included, being wanted, a not unfamiliar feeling. Therefore, when he looks to Nik, there is victory, unmistakable in its triumph, in his blue-green eyes, and Kol is not surprised. Although it is not the first time that he resents the other man a win, it is the first, and perhaps the last, time that he experiences regret over it. As they walk, his mind turns back once or twice to the ones he’s leaving behind, but as he spies the rest of his siblings standing by the bay, he pushes the regret down, and shakes away the last traces of his childhood.

Chapter Text

 

Serenìsima Repùblica Vèneta , 1122

 

The first woman Kol turns, in 1076, is solely due to her beautiful voice. Her name is Bogdana and the rest of her is as plain and illiterate as her voice is magical, but she stays with him for the next ten years, until angry villagers near the border of Rus turn her to dust with a stake fashioned from a table leg. He reduces them to nothing but broken bones and shattered skulls, and then turns a man a few months later. He does not admit it, but he does so out of loneliness. Though he only stays with his sirelings for a few years at most, every time they are gone he feels the brief sting of abandonment that he wrestles into the back of his mind, left over after his family’s flight from France.

He roams around the European continent for over a century, basking in his own violence. He paints his hands red, smears viscera on the walls of villages and towns, gathers scrolls and grimoires about magic, and spends his nights dancing next to the macabre demons that run amok in his mind. When accompanied, he brings them to festivals and parties, then leaves them for hours of compelled tutelage from priests and rabbis and learned men in the countries he visits, soaking in new languages and philosophies like a sponge. He’d been quick before, as a human, but his mother’s curse makes it so that their minds absorb everything faster , better , and more cunningly than any human’s ever will.

 He finds them only by chance in Italy, right before the Five dagger them and Kol learns what it means to truly die . The experience, cold, broken, and utterly still, lost in a seemingly unbreakable sleep, is haunting, and he finds himself spending hours trying to find where Klaus has hidden the cursed daggers, but it is useless. His brother must have found a witch to cloak them. Sometimes, when he angers his brother to the point of broken necks and punctured wounds, he thinks about leaving, before he ends up like Finn, forgotten in a box, but the pull towards his siblings remains stubborn and inescapable.

 “Well,” Rebekah says, breaking him from his musings, “That was dissatisfying.” The woman on the floor is old, a maidservant of some noble or other, and his sister is staring down at her with disdain.

 Kol shrugs and slinks over towards the jug of wine, pouring himself a generous helping to wash down the taste of diseased iron coating his tongue. His own meal had been decidedly less than dissatisfying. He shoots a scornful look at the young man. “What do you expect, Bex? The body and blood of Christ?” he tells her, waving a hand mockingly towards the crucifix fastened on the wall and the rosary beads clutched in their victims’ palms. “I do not believe we’ll be getting that in this backwater hovel.”

 She sniffs. “It’s a nobleman’s manor.” She steps over the corpse with delicate feet, avoiding the blood. She’ll kill and rip apart all manner of people, have stains drip and soil her elaborate gowns and blonde hair, but the gods help them if she gets her footwear dirty.

The manor smells of fish and rotten fruit. “With no nobles.” He flings himself into a wooden chair and lifts his muddy leather boots up onto the table, knocking off bushels of parsley and knobs of garlic. “Therefore, we are left with the dregs.” He lifts up his glass to her and then downs the rest of the smooth, red liquid.

In response, she rolls her eyes, and uses one hand to bunch her skirt up, lifting it from the ground, before she moves to the door, telling him to hurry up. Inwardly, he pouts, for his little sister has been no fun since the fiasco with Alexander.

He reclines for a few moments before the silence of the room breaks with a slight, barely noticeable creak. He smirks as he looks up to the ceiling, nearly slithering out of his position as he moves out of the room, past a myriad number of servant corpses, and up the stairs. Quietly, he checks all of the rooms on the second floor, finding nothing but dust and empty beds. At the end of the hall, there is a narrow break, and when he gets closer to it, he sees it is another set of stairs, fragile and wooden, with a cracked door at the top.

  An attic , he thinks, smirk widening. Why do they always flee to the attic ? The stupidity of people astounds him every single day. The faint stirrings of a low, female voice hit him as he goes up the stairs, and he feels intrigued as the words begin to take root. A chant , he thinks, not a prayer. He’s heard too many Christian prayers to ever make the mistake of thinking the words he hears are one.  

The second he opens the door is the second he flies down the steps. He lands hard on his back, skull cracking against the floor, before he is up and running into the room in a blur. He hits a barrier, as if he’s not been invited into the manor, and sees a small young woman holding her arm out, palm outstretched, glaring at him.

“Stay back, Diabolus ,” she yells. Her face is pale as she chants in the folk tongue of the people of Venezia, the effort of holding him back clearly straining her.

Kol chuckles with amusement and stills himself. He holds out his own palms in a gesture of contrition and surrender. “Lucifer?” he says. He smirks at her and then jokes, “I’m not him. Though, I’ll look forward to meeting him one day.”  

Despite the force keeping them separate, Kol feels a thrill of pure and unadulterated delight at this girl. He spies herbs and a mortar and pestle next to the bleeding form of an unconscious young boy. She’s one of the Cunning Folk, a healer, which explains why he’s not down on his knees with a headache the size of a kraken right now with the kind of power she’s wielding.

“How long can you keep this up, little malefica ?” he asks, using a Latin word for häxa . He bounces on the balls of his feet with excitement, which makes her eyes narrow until they almost disappear behind the lids. She grits her teeth and chants louder, while blood begins to drip from her nose. “Not much longer, I think.”

“Long enough,” she spits out in between chants. For a few minutes, she struggles, while he paces back and forth, a predator in wait. He studies his fingernails, picking at the dried blood underneath them, and then looks to her again, always with a smirk. She’s lovely, hopped up on all her raw power, red hair a mess of sweat and curls and green eyes dilated until they are almost nothing but black pupils. The loveliest creature he’s seen in a long, long while.

“It’s been some time since I met one of you,” he tells her with a casual tone. He leans up against the wall, resting his head back, the wound already healed. He crosses his arms loosely against his chest, and then his legs at the ankles. “Fifty years or so. You’re doing well, but your technique needs work.”

Despite her intentions, he’s sure, she stares at him in offense. “What do you mean, demon?” she asks him brusquely. Her voice is coming out in harsh pants now, alternating with hoarse whispers. “You will not get in.”

He shrugs lightly. “For now. But you are tiring and I am not.” With a lazy push using his left foot against the wall, he slinks forward. Her lips are losing their pink hue, becoming gray and cracking, as if the power is sucking her dry. “I will not harm you.”

It’s not a lie. He does not intend to harm a witch knowingly. Her glare grows stronger, and she staggers protectively in front of the bleeding boy. He’s got red hair, too, and a faint, freckled resemblance to her. A relative, perhaps. He adjusts his words. “I will not harm either of you.”

Whether she believes him or not, in the end, it does not matter for she collapses under her own exhaustive efforts. Slumping onto her knees, the barrier falls, and he quickly moves to hold her up, pushing a curl away from her face. Witches are immune to compulsion, so he knows he cannot make her trust him, but he steadies her anyway, ignoring her weak motions attempting to push him away. She curses at him in a string of fast words, all unintelligible, but no doubt naming him all manner of horrors and folk monsters.

He looks over and studies her attempts to heal the unconscious boy before he’d happened upon them. She’s got belladonna, basil, and a few other herbs mixed together. She’s untrained, probably the first in her family, completely lost when it comes to the intricacies of her craft. When he’s certain that she will not keel over, he quickly bites down into his own wrist, the sensation sharp and piercing. The sight of his black veins and fangs causes her to scream, then the when he shoves his wrist to her patient’s mouth, forcing the blood down his throat, her tired leg kicks out towards him. She manages to land a fleeting blow to the back of his kneecap, but little else.

The boy is inconsequential to him, but if there is one thing that is easily manipulated, it is family. Perhaps he has a modicum of power of his own, as well. She cries out when the boy sputters, chest jumping with the effort of breathing through his healing lungs, before he sits up weakly, clutching his ribs. “Nera?” he says, looking to the two of them with confusion. “What happened?”

Nera cries, brittle and broken. “Luka,” she whispers, crawling past Kol to get to the redheaded boy. “ Fratello ,” she whispers, moving the soaked tunic out of the way to see pure, unblemished skin, not a wound in sight. She shoots a look of suspicious, amazed gratitude to Kol. “How?”

A brief twinge of jealousy hits as he watches the two interact, the older sister dotting and fawning over the little brother. He ignores it, and answers, “Demons have their uses.” The boy quickly crosses himself, at that, but she does not. He lifts himself up off his knees, cracking the back of his neck, and moves to the window. Looking down, he sees Rebekah pacing outside, shooting dark, agitated looks in the manor’s direction.

“As you will find out,” he tells Nera when he turns away from the window to face the two humans again. They both wear identical expressions of terror, but in her eyes, he can see the stirrings of curiosity. He widens his smirk, bending down to push away the same curl he’d touched earlier. “I will see you soon.”

Her brother’s parting gasp is the last thing he hears from them that day as he blurs out of the manor, trampling ruined corpses as he leaves. Rebekah huffs at him and rebukes him for the time she waited, then wraps her arm around his as they trek back to the lovely cabin his family’s commandeered for the time being. As she chatters on, bored and over-dramatic, he tunes her out, preferring to picture all the spells and curses he can teach to the little witch left in the attic. The smirk never leaves his lips.

 

 

A few days later, Kol bites down on an apple, licking at the juice running down his chin, when he spots her. He tosses the fruit over his shoulder and weaves his way around various people in the village. He bumps into an old woman who shoots him a vicious glare, so he flashes black veins at her for a brief bit of wicked amusement. She blanches, crossing herself and tumbling back, completely silent in her surprised horror. Two seconds later,  he silently comes up behind Nera. She’s got her red curls tied back with a dull, brown scarf, and her wool dress is threadbare and faded. She is clutching a basket with a small loaf of bread, cheese, and some olives like a lifeline. An alm, perhaps, from the church, or stolen, for there is no indication that she has coin about her.  

Leaning down, he whispers in her ear, “Miss me?” In response, he receives an elbow to the gut, causing his breath to trip for a moment, before she spits on the ground. He laughs, truly finding this girl intriguing.

Monstro ,” she says, but it lacks the heat of their first meeting.  Again, he laughs, plucking at one of her curls. It is soft underneath his hands. He takes a moment to study her. She is younger than Rebekah, physically, no more than fourteen or fifteen years of age. Old enough to marry, at least. The two of them do not appear so odd to the villagers, he knows, a handsome young man and a pretty young girl, most likely courting.

He reaches down and pulls a flower out of the ground, presenting it to her with a movement that is all flourish and charm. Over the years, he’s come to embrace his brother Elijah’s techniques, luring a victim in with class and honor, and then ripping them apart. Well, that’s all his own. Elijah’s methods are far more debonair in style. People rarely find Elijah’s corpses strewn across villages.

She scowls as she takes it, mindful of the curious looks they are receiving. “I want no part of your hedonism.” She puts the flower in her basket, and then she tries to speed up. It’s futile, because the pace they are going is barely a crawl for him. Sighing, she glances at him from underneath her eyelashes. “Will you not leave?”

“Why not out me to the village?” he asks, genuinely curious. Usually, this is about the time when one who is aware of what he is sounds the alarm and he needs to take care of the problem. Rebekah, Elijah, and Klaus will be pissed, of course, for they find this part of the Italian peninsula charming, but he can always take the witch and leave them. It will be a few weeks or so before they catch up to him, and by then Mikael will have already been drawn to the massacre, so the problem of the witch girl would go, if not unnoticed, then less prioritized.

“And have you kill them all? You and your whore?” she says. With surprise, he raises an eyebrow and tries to remember the last time he had sex, or been accompanied by a woman outside of a tavern. It takes a second or two for him to figure out that she means Rebekah . “I think not. I may be a sinner, but I am no murderer.”

He ignores most of her words, noticing only one. “A sinner? Why is that?” He hopes he’s not going to have to break her of any ill-conceived thoughts concerning witches needing to be exterminated. That verse of their holy books has caused him no end of grief over the last century. But then again, when one fears and lusts for power, what will one not go to stamp it out , he thinks bitterly, reminded of the unwanted stripping of his own abilities.

She shakes her head, and for a second, he wonders if she’s forgotten what he is. She talks as if she is in the confessional with a priest, told either to say her prayers, or whip herself and fast in order to be clean. “What I did,” she whispers harshly, “I did to heal. Only to heal. And to protect. For Luka, I will bear the burden of that sin.”

Was that her first time? he muses, feeling a bit of awe at the notion, since she was able to keep him at bay for at least five minutes. He wonders, too, who in the manor house she’d learned the spell from that tossed him down the stairs or the way to produce the barrier.

Outwardly, he rolls his eyes with exasperation. “I am sure that God appreciates the nobility of that sentiment.” Her scowl deepens, and her fingers twitch, as if she is thinking about tossing him through the air for all around to look upon. No matter how she deludes herself, she wants the power. She’s had a taste, and he knows that the craving for it never goes away. Therefore, he sidles closer, close enough to appear a gentleman, but not a lech. “Would he not appreciate it if your protection for your brother, your noble intentions, and your admirable loyalty to your family was stronger?”

She steps back and laughs bitterly. It’s sharp, tainted and full of scorn. He revels in the sound of it. “What would one such as yourself know of God?” she asks.

More than you ever will, he thinks, remembering the ways in which he used to conjure illusions like Loki, dance with thunder, rain, and fire at the tips of his fingers as if he was the son of Thor. Remembers the countless scrolls and texts he’s poured through, an undead Odin walking among men on Midgard, and the spirits who’ve turned against him. His childhood gods or her God, it makes no difference.

His playful smirk fades as he says,  “Nature and God are the same. Two sides of a coin, if you will, or one side of a larger design. Power.” She shakes her head. Heedless, he continues, “With that power comes the means to do whatever you want. Be whoever you want.” He scrutinizes her, taking in the flush of red on her pale cheeks, her rapid heartbeat, and her short gasps of breath. She’s scared, or fascinated, perhaps both. “God kills. Call plagues and murder the hands of the devil, but everyone dies and your religion calls that God’s will. I act with my own will in the same manner.”

“You compare yourself to the Lord?” she says with contempt, and a hint of wonder at his seeming audacity. She steps back from him. “What do you want with me?” The wind ruffles her curls, tossing them about her face, and for a moment, he thinks the spirits are talking to him, warning him away. Red against pale flesh , he muses, blood against snow .

“To teach you,” he tells her. Despite herself, her face gives her away. Her eyebrows lower, curiosity in her eyes, longing even, clear in the way the corners of her mouth twist, then open as if to speak. He bends down and places a kiss upon her hand before he leaves, knowing that he’s won.


 

Two days later, on the eve before May dawns, Kol sets a bonfire in the yard alongside his siblings. It’s a memory of their childhood days, and that night they act as if nothing has changed. They dance, sing, and slit the throat of a goat, throwing bits of flesh and blood into the fire. After an hour, Kol finds himself sitting on a log next to Elijah, nursing a cup of wine and watching as bits of parchment with wishes written as secrets in ink crisp and burn in the flames. “Witches Night,” his mother and Ayana called this festival once, long ago, back when childhood dreams were fun and innocent.

 Mood souring, he drinks deeply of the wine he’s holding. I never want to be vulnerable again , he thinks, recalling the cold darkness of the dagger’s grip. He looks out from underneath his eyelashes to Klaus, smirking and twirling a laughing Rebekah, both of them moving around the fire as if they are one with the flames themselves, drunk on blood and ceremony.

They expertly maneuver around the impediments in their way. Several fresh kills lay strewn about, one for each of them. “Lepers,” Klaus said when he found them, at first terrified, then compelled. “They won’t be missed.” He’d shot a telling look to his younger siblings at that, to remind them of their screw up with the manor house, the one they’d had to compel the entire village to forget about. They had to be the only serfs in Europe without a lord. It angers Kol, nonetheless, his brother’s tone, as if he himself has not driven Mikael onwards a dozen times over.

  Hypocrite , Kol thinks disdainfully, nails digging sharply into the cup. As long as he holds that dagger I will never be safe . He thinks of the coffin in the cabin. No, I will not let that be me . Especially not with the curse that’s screwing with his head . The hallucinations Klaus has been experiencing since he killed the hunters are violent, ruthless, and spring up during the least opportune moments.  

Though, admittedly, he’s been in one of his more lucid periods in the last month or so. Kol’s only had three fights to the point of broken bones and punctured organs with him.

 Elijah’s voice breaks him from the dark turn of his mind. “Something troubling you, brother?”

 He turns to him with a smirk and lifts the cup again. “Merely wondering how long the fire can burn, ‘Lijah. I have got things to do.” The smell of the burning wood and the heady scent of blood in the air create a potent mix for intoxication, but even that does not cloud the darkness of his melancholy.  

Elijah sighs heavily. “One night with your family is all we’re asking, Kol.”

Strictly speaking, they hadn’t asked at all. Rebekah’d simply thrown the logs at him and commanded him to spark the fire. He’d no idea they’d even been planning this at all. He doesn’t bother to point this out to his brother, to used to the delusion that Elijah holds wherein they include him more than they think they do.

“No one said the whole night,” he jokes. “I’ve got a beautiful woman waiting on me in the tavern.” He grins as he thinks about the tavern wench, most likely the owner’s daughter, with her long, dark hair and shadowy eyes. He’s been flirting for weeks now, and he thinks about how sweet the payoff will be.

“How long will this one last?” Elijah says idly. His brother takes a sip of his own wine and they fall into silence. There is a pang of sorrow at the fact that he so easily succeeded in redirecting Elijah’s worry, but he crushes it before it can take root and make his night worse.

 “Oh, you know me, brother,” Kol replies. “Until I get bored.”

Three hours later, after Rebekah and Klaus have collapsed under the weight of their own debauchery and Elijah has hauled their comatose bodies to their beds, Kol’s boredom does indeed drive him to go to the tavern and flirt with Lucretia. He finds her hard at work, bending down to pour ale into a cup for a paunch-bellied man with a face like a slug, whose hand is trying to snake its way to her ass.

Irritated at the sight, Kol moves without thinking. An audible crack echoes through the room, then a moan, breaking the man’s fragile bones in his own grip. “Did she invite you to touch her there?” Kol asks, tone low and dark. Lucretia lets out a worried sound behind him, a cross between a yelp and a moan, and he can feel her small hands trying to pull him away.

“Did she?” Kol asks again, using compulsion to force the answer. The man shakes his head. “I thought not.” He bends the man’s wrist further, smirking at the harsh, ragged groan it drags from him. Lucretia is telling him to stop, but it’s truly only the thought of not getting the chance to train the witch that keeps him from killing the man. Mass murder at the tavern will not be as easily covered up.

“You will forget this,” he says, compelling both of them into believing that the man fell and broke his own wrist. Then, after Lucretia’s father tosses the deviant out gracelessly to bed down with the pigs, Kol turns to invite a now smiling Lucretia to join him for a drink, a charming grin on his lips. He starts with surprise when he sees that she’s leading him to a table that’s not unoccupied.

“You are unexpected,” he tells Nera. She’s sitting at the table as if young servant girls usually go out to taverns at night and drink ale unaccompanied. She sends him both a glare and a scowl as he drapes his long body into the seat next to her. “That’s going to become fixed to your face,” he whispers to her when Lucretia moves away to gather cups and a new jug of ale.

 “Kol,” Lucretia says when she comes back, preventing Nera from spewing whatever insult she’s conjuring in her mind, “this is my father’s goddaughter. She’s staying with us until her wedding.”

 “Wedding?” he says, tone higher than he intended. His eyebrows shoot up and he glances between the two young woman. Composing himself, he asks, “Who is the bridegroom?”

 “My uncle,” Lucretia answers. Kol nods and glances underneath his eyelashes to see Nera glower into her ale. Her fingers dig into the cup, and he knows that if she were alone the vessel would be nothing more than broken shards. For the next twenty minutes, he shoots sly glances at both women. Next to him, the witch stays silent next to him, while Lucretia flirts and chatters inanities, and he drinks ale and pretends to be completely invested. He takes in the way Nera’s eyes follow the flick of Lucretia’s tongue as droplets of liquid spill out of her lips, watches the way her eyes linger on the young woman’s throat, and the  jealous flash in her eyes as the brunette looks to him with coy smiles.

Eventually, the sound of an old drunk lures Lucretia away to work. She leaves with a pout and a promise to seek him out later, but he has already forgotten the allure of her lips and curves.

He fixes his gaze on Nera. “Have you considered my offer?” He traces his middle finger around the rim of his empty cup.

Her jaw clenches. The beat of her heart is causing a tick, her pulse point jumping. A brief smile flits across his face, before it’s gone as he waits for her to answer. “What’s in it for you?” she eventually replies.

“My own personal witch,” he tells her truthfully. “I help you, you help me.”

A scornful laugh is the first response, and then she says, “Sell my soul to the devil? No deal.”

He leans back, almost shoulder to shoulder with her. The wool of her dress brushes against the skin of his arm where his tunic rides up, and she flinches a bit. “Already established I’m not Lucifer, Sappho.” Her eyebrows scrunch with confusion at the nickname, but Kol’s not going to explain his interpretation of another so-called sin or the origin of the nickname. “Are you saying you’d rather marry a man twice your age and be his broodmare?”

“That is a woman’s place,” she mutters, her tone sad and mournful, yet filled with religious conviction. It’s sickening.

He lets out his own scornful laugh. “You are too powerful to believe that. To settle for that.” His own people, barbarians though these Christians may believe them to be, at least venerated powerful women with the respect they deserved. He thinks of his own mother’s sadness when it came to her only daughter’s desire to settle down with the life of a family as her only virtue, and then he thinks of the two shieldmaidens in his village. They’d fought like wildcats, and he’d always enjoyed watching them put fierce male warriors on their backs.

Her lips tighten into a thin line. She is silent for long moments, her eyes never leaving Lucretia as the maid works, sidestepping another drunk buffoon, and then Nera turns to him. “One lesson,” she says, a note of steel in her voice, “and if I don’t like what you’re teaching me, that’s it.”

Though she means it as a threat, there’s nothing she can truly do. He nods anyway, drops some coins onto the table, enough to pay for his and her drinks, and then leaves. On the way back to the cabin, he stumbles over the hideous pile of human waste stewing in pig shit, and without thought, he slams his fist into the man’s cheekbone, cracking it in order to rouse him. When the man’s eyes are open, he bends down, compelling him not to scream, and then rips into his chest cavity viciously, the beat of his heart pumping once, then twice, in his grip before it stops.

 

 

 

Six months later, Kol wakes up with the light of the full moon, and screaming in his ears. Downstairs, Klaus is raging, vomiting out threats directed towards them all, chained to a chair with vervain-laced iron and off his gourd. Kol loops his legs off the side of the bed, displeased with the reality that, due to the racket, there will be no returning to his slumber.

Running down the stairs, he stops in front of his brother. “You look like shit, Nik,” he says idly. Rivers of sweat clumps curls to his brother’s forehead, the blonde strands almost fading into brown. The open head wound from where Elijah threw their brother into a tree earlier is healed, but the dried blood still sticks to Klaus’ face, over the bridge of his nose and crusting his eyelashes. Black veins show prominently underneath pale skin, the sign that he’s lost control.

“Shut up, you disobedient miscreant,” Klaus snaps back. “How long will you and our sanctimonious brother leave me chained here? A month? A year? A century?” Klaus’ head falls back with frustration, his chest heaving. “ Rebekah!

“Bekah’s not here,” Kol says, pulling up a chair, sitting just far enough away that his brother, although chained by the wrists, elbows, and shoulders, cannot try to make a grab for him. “To answer your question, though, I have truly no idea. How long until this curse ends and you stop wanting to kill us all, as well as yourself?”

Klaus’ eyes are fixed on some point behind his head, not even sparing him a glance. The ghost again, Kol figures. Alexander and his brothers are such a riot to have around when dead , he thinks sarcastically. He wishes he’d killed the men himself, for a brief moment, then watches his brother twist in agony in his bonds and thinks he’s better off having not had the pleasure.

“Then fix it,” Klaus replies in a tone that is ninety-percent threat and ten percent pleading. It’s the voice that occurs more than three-quarters of the time they converse lately.

Kol points with one finger to his chest, right above his heart. “Me?” He throws his own head back, then his arms up into the air, before he slams his palms down on his knees. “What am I going to do? I am not a häxa anymore.” If he were, he’d have tried snuffing out this blight a long time ago, if only so he can sleep at night without a sword under his pillow. “I can do nothing but watch you suffer through this.”

There’s a niggling, asinine urge to try to comfort his brother, one that Kol’s surprised by. Nevertheless, there is truly something horrifying in watching his proud, malicious brother break down in the face of phantoms. He grits his teeth and says softly, “It’s not as much fun for me as you believe it to be.”

Klaus probably conjures images of him holding bacchanalian festivals, and that he toasts this curse with giddiness every morning. As if in confirmation, his brother laughs bitterly, and Kol looks away. “Then why not ask your witch friend to fix me?”

Quickly, he swivels his head to stare at the blonde. “Have you been stalking me, Nik?” He makes a tsk sound with the tip of his tongue. “Truly, brother, the eyes you keep on all of us are beyond the call of familial bonds.” He’s shaken, despite his words, shaken that he’d never noticed his brother or any potentially compelled minions following him to his training sessions. He makes a mental note to change their meeting spot and to kill all those peasants he knows have fallen victim to his brother.

“You’re not nearly as stealthy as you believe yourself to be, little brother,” Klaus responds mockingly. “And how do I know that you were not plotting against me? You’ve left before. Who knows what mischief you conceived of in the East.”  

Indignation rises, hot in his chest and he has to strongly resist the urge to push the poison chains harder into his brother’s flesh. “I think that your curse is deluding you as to the reality of that night.” He leans his elbows onto his knees. “You three ran, waited for Finn to catch up, but not me, and I was left by myself.” He pointedly does not inform his brother about the nature of his arrogant assumptions which equate striking out on one's own as a nefarious plot against one’s family.

Another bitter laugh. “Which you were already planning on doing. Or have I conjured delusions in my mind about the myriad times you suggested we split up?”

Kol cannot help the bitter smile.  A truth he cannot deny, though whether his motives had been selfish, jealous, full of wanderlust, or honorable, he no longer cares to remember. “Truly, there is no reasoning with you in this situation, Nik.” He leans back and deflects, casually saying, “You have a witch or two under your employ, I’m sure. Why not use them?”

“They’re useless,” Klaus admits. So you’ve tried, then , Kol thinks, and waits for his brother to continue. “You’ve always been cunning, brother. I’m sure you can come up with something .” More pleas, buried underneath the rage and the simmering insanity.

Kol shakes his head, truly at a loss. Nera’s strong, yes, but she will not help in this, nor does he really think she can . The raw energy it would take to banish the ghosts from Klaus’ mind, that energy is nothing short of suicide. Those ghosts cling with all the stubborn tenacity of a viper, and it would rip her apart. He’s invested too much time into her to throw her into a fool’s errand.

“Always out for yourself,” his brother says accusingly, slumping back in his chair with defeat. As he moves, the hiss of the vervain burning his skin is an excruciating melody. “At least I am assured that there is no way you can ever gain that power for yourself again. The undead are forbidden to be witches, after all.”

With those last bitter, parting words, Klaus leaves again, mind retreating, eyes blank and staring at the unknown. Kol growls, and kicks the leg of his brother’s chair, tossing it back almost into the fireplace, but then—

I can’t be this and be a witch , he ponders, but could she ? Unbidden, as if the tiny sparks were only waiting for the kindling to ignite, the idea forms.


 

Just as the sun rises, he enters the cathedral that stands in the larger town a few miles away from the village. Barely stopping himself from rolling his eyes at the worshipers on their knees receiving communion, he quickly scans the room, flitting over the heads of veiled women and shaggy-haired men until he finally spots what he’s looking for.

There . He forces himself to walk at a sedate pace, until he is inches away from the boy. Luka startles, staring at him with wide, suspicious eyes. Kol smirks as he kneels down next to him, pretending to be invested in the words of the Lord.

“Tell them to go to hell,” he says, using compulsion. Nothing happens. Luka merely shoots him a disdainful look and a muttered expletive—blasphemy in the house of the Lord, these two never cease to delight him—and then stares to the priest.

Good , Kol thinks. She’s tapping him . He reaches out and grabs the boy’s wrist, using just enough strength so that it stings. It’s a threat, and he hears Luka moan with pain. “I don’t think you understand,” Kol tells him, dragging the two of them up. “You’re coming with me.” Luka protests loudly, but Kol doesn’t care about the scene they’re making. “Don’t worry yourself. God will forgive you.”

As soon as they are out of sight, he lifts the boy up by the waist and slings him like a sack of grain. Running, he ignores the weak punches to his shoulder blades, and says, “Your sister is being threatened.” True enough. “By a creature even worse than me.” Also true enough. His brother’s name causes hysteria wherever it’s heard these days. The boy stills, at that, which makes Kol certain he’ll cooperate, so he puts him down. “I need your help.”

Forty minutes later, he raps loudly on the backdoor of the tavern. It swings open to reveal a visibly huffy Nera. “It’s not even time to break fast. What are you doing here?”

She might be his pupil, but that hardly makes their relationship one of sunshine. It will take the flames of hell to thaw the ice in her heart towards him. “Hello to you, too, Sappho,” he tells her, pushing his way past. She growls at the nickname, now fully aware of the connotation behind it. She’s given him a headache or two because of it, but he doesn’t have time to deal with her denial, so he turns on his heels and tells her, “How would you like to not marry your betrothed three days hence?”

“What? How are you going to stop that?” She shakes her head, curls flying, blood red against white skin and he sighs at her answer.  She frowns, looks down, and then asks, “Why are you bleeding?”

He steps forward, striking faster than she can react to, not that she would have. Their deal is such that harm from him doesn’t factor into it, and she’s come to relax around him, certain of his forcefully docile intentions. It’s to her own folly.

 “He can’t marry a dead woman,” he tells her, right before his fangs dip into her neck. Although her head and back crack violently into the wall with the force of his action, he drains her gently, softly, pulling the blood from her fast enough that she’ll feel less pain, but not harsh enough that it will be excruciating. He shoves his wrist towards her mouth, looking up through the gaps in his eyelashes to make sure she drinks it, and a few minutes later, he cradles her while he waits for her to wake up.

When she does, a couple of hours later, she is confused. She pushes at him with weak hands, eyes hazy, and asks, “Kol? What is happening?” Her face is pale, wan, and her teeth catch on her lip as she talks.

 “You’re in transition,” he tells her. No need to beat around the bush. Her eyes grow wide, and then she curses, spitting and hissing, calling him all manner of names she’s not used in a while. He’s almost missed them. “Yes, yes, I deserve that. Now, listen to me, you can choose to die, but I have a feeling that you won’t.”

“Why wouldn’t I? I will not damn myself to hell,” she tells him. Her teeth are clenched, jaw tight, shoulders straight. She lifts herself up from her seated position.

“Sappho, you already did,” he says, reminding her of her own religious beliefs. “And do you want to damn little Luka as well?”

She stumbles forward, panic in her eyes. “You would not.”

Kol looks to her softly. “I’m fairly certain you know I would.”  He holds his arms out. “If you listen to me, though, Luka will be fine and happy and live a long, long life.”

 “Lead me to him,” she orders, spittle flying from her mouth.

He runs around the huts that make up the peasant dwellings, and leads her to the cemetery just outside the village. “If you drink from another witch, you brother in this situation,” he tells her, ignoring her angered gasp, “while you’re in transition, then the overflow of magical blood might create a new form of balance. Nature is all about balance.” He shoots her a look. “You’ll keep your powers.”

“And how certain are you of that?” she asks him, stepping in front of him. Her nostrils flare from the force of keeping her anger at bay. She can’t hurt him, but she wants to. He can almost taste the bloodlust growing. He doesn’t blame her, for if anyone did to Rebekah what he’s currently doing, he’d rip out their spine and use it for a harp.

So he lies. “One hundred percent.” Nera growls in response. Lowering his voice, and telling the truth this time, he promises that he will stop her if things get out of hand.

Luka smiles to see them. He’s under the impression that Kol is taking them far away from the demon after them, after all. Nera runs forward and clutches him tight, whispering soothing words in his ear and stroking his hair. Throat tight, Kol looks away for a moment. He shouldn’t care, really, for this is not even the worse deed he’s ever done. Nevertheless, he finds that he feels almost guilty .

Clearing his throat, he says, “Nera.”

She sighs with every inch of scorn and rage and hatred that she can. “Give me a moment.” She’s shaking, he notices, with the effort of holding herself back, though whether that’s from feeding or finding a piece of wood to jam into his heart, he’s not certain.

“Close your eyes, fratello ,” he hears her say, moments before Luka screams as his sister’s teeth rip into his throat with a fierceness that shocks even Kol. He steps forward, intent on pulling her back, and grabs at her arm. She’s fed, she’s had enough, he tells her, words unheeded, and in his own shock he’s taken off guard. One harsh shove and he flies back, while the little boy continues to scream. He rises with a shout on his lips, going to pull her away again, but then someone is grabbing his arm.

“Blessed Virgin,” a woman screams. He glances to his right and sees that it’s Lucretia. Her face is drained of all blood, ghostlike, even as she stares with dawning horror to her friend. Distracted, wondering where she’d come from, Kol takes a moment to snap her neck, but that moment is all it takes. Luka, only eight years old and slight for a boy, falls lifeless to the ground.

When Nera turns to look to him, he actually feels afraid. There are tear tracks mixed with the blood coating her mouth, her nails embedded with red and foreign skin, and she steps over her brother, moving fast towards him.

He grabs a thick branch from the ground and swings it, hitting her with a sharp smack. Moving backwards, he holds her back as she wrestles way her forward, jumping him and trying to crush his windpipe. She misses his throat and grabs at his hair, pulling it from the roots, nails clawing against his flesh like daggers. He really doesn't want to knock her out and force her to follow, so, although he realizes the foolishness of his own actions, he refrains from snapping her neck. Instead, he rears back and strikes her hard across the face. She falls several feet back with a groan and a sickening crack.

He steps back, sighs, and wonders if it's the bloodlust that keeps her from casting a spell at him, then blurs straight towards the village. She’s hot on his trail with shouts on her lips. Curious villagers emerge from their fields and their hovels, but quickly their curiosity turns to panic. He bowls his way through them, uncaring of watching his own strength, their bodies falling to the ground like rag dolls. His mind is a one-way road, the focus set on getting back to the cabin where Elijah and Rebekah will surely be to help him subdue his pursuer.

A few moments later, he slams into a brick wall, and then feels something sharp and nasty pierce his chest, before everything goes black.

 

 

When he wakes up, it’s on a boat, with a frowning Rebekah looking at him from the edge of a cot. “What—” he says, before he sputters. She’s holding one of the cursed silver daggers in her right hand.

 “It’s been a week,” she tells him. “Klaus wanted to keep you under until we arrived in Africa, but I simply could not wait another moment to chew you out for this latest butchery. What were you thinking?”

 “A rather lot of things,” Kol tells her tiredly. He slumps back against the cot. It’s hard, and he believes the mattress is probably stuffed with rocks. He looks down and grimaces. There is no mattress. “Which did not go as planned.”

 “I’d say not,” she says bitterly. “I loved that village.” There’d been a man, Kol recalls, handsome, with dark curls and laughing eyes. Francisco, or something like that. “Because of you, it’s gone.”

 “It’s not the first,” he reminds her. She reaches out and smacks him across the back of the head like an insolent child. Closing his eyes, he paints a picture of chaos, imagines red streams of blood and the savage artistry of body parts strewn across green grass. Though it hadn’t been his hands that wreaked it all, the havoc is his doing nonetheless. He wonders if Mikael has already caught wind. Then, he asks, “And Nera? Is she—?”

 Rebekah cuts him off. “Alive? No.” Kol nods, not surprised they’d staked her. A witch turned vampire is deadly in a way most will never be, the snap of the cord between nature and their souls a loss that drives most mad, and they had no inclination of his attempts to keep Nera’s powers intact. “Undead, yes.” Kol laughs sardonically and thinks, apparently not, then . Rebekah laughs, too, but harshly. Her hair is frizzy, braid not done nearly as neatly as she usually prefers. “She’s a bitch out of her mind. Tried to get past Nik to rip you apart. He threw her into a coffin and buried her in the ground.” He remembers the pure hatred in Nera’s eyes as she looked at him, standing over her brother’s broken body. “She might get free. She might not. As if we need another enemy.”

“Well, I will promise you one thing, Bex,” he says with a sigh. Although he attempts to smirk, he can’t quite bring himself to manage it now. He feels an odd sense of numbness unlike anything he’s felt before. There is something broken inside of him, dark and wicked and jagged like a shattered arrow. Perhaps I am the devil , he thinks. “I’ll never sire another witch.”

He should have known better. Envy had driven him to this, he realizes, and lust. Lust for something he’s lost and will never have again. He accepts the offering of blood straight from his little sister’s veins, and curses himself inwardly. The harsh rocking of the boat, jolting them both on the uncomfortable cot, feels like both a mockery and a judgement, and, deep in his soul, there is the unshakable, inexplicable belief that he’s damned himself to his own twisted form of a hunter’s curse.

Chapter Text

 

~ Damascus, Syria, 1289

 

It took over a century for Kol to leave Europe (at least, awake and aware) after he fled with his siblings from Morocco, alongside seven compelled bedouin bodyguards to fight off Mikael and a human bride he’d acquired as an accident. He can’t recall her name, now, but after seven months of distant relations, she’d left him to run away with a fruit seller. He’d wished her all the blessings in the world while celebrating his freedom from matrimony by visiting a whorehouse in Constantinople.

In his twenty year separation from his siblings, he’s spent a lot of time in various whorehouses. For ten years he flits around the Mongol Empire, studies Confucianism and looks for traces of magic, and fights on horseback alongside the famed and feared warrior people. He leaves the Empire unwelcome, an escape in the dead of night from being rug trampled by horses, punishment for sleeping with one of the Khan’s wives. Soon after, he finds his way to Nihon , a small, isolated island kingdom, and meets a kitsune in an experience he never wants to repeat. Compelling the locals to ignore him had been tiresome enough, let along doing the bidding of a malevolent fox spirit. After that, he spends five years traveling through the southern most corners of Asia, another two traveling the coast of the Indus River, eventually arriving in Damascus.

On that morning, Kol wakes up in another random whorehouse with a blue, silk veil over his face and two naked bodies curled into his sides. He rubs his eyes to chase the last lingering traces of sleep away, then rolls out of the bed, jostling one of the women with his elbow. He stretches sore muscles as he walks, not bothering to lift his feet to avoid the scattered garments on the floor, and winces with pleasure as he feels a couple of bones pop. When he reaches the window, he pulls the dark curtain back to look down into the alley. A few men mill about, heads aimed toward the ground in shame as they return to their homes and dutiful wives, but other than that, the small street where this house of vice is hidden remains empty.

The room still smells like stale sex and old blood, covered by the faintest, lingering traces of incense, and he’s got no money on him, so he quickly gathers up his clothes. He throws on loose silk pants, and a black robe, covering his face with the hood, before he leaps out the window, landing on his feet without a sound.

As he makes his way to the bezar, he whistles, and thinks back to his dream. He’d been human again, though perhaps not quite. He’d been himself, but more. A witch. The more time he spends in this city, the more the longing grows. He passes a portly spice seller, whose stand contains saffron and cardamom and turmeric, and then another selling pomegranates. He compels the owner to graciously gift him one of the fruits, and digs his fingers into the red and white treat, juice dripping as he gathers seeds, and walks back towards the street he’s been staying in since he arrived two years ago.

It’s vibrant, decorated with silk canopies to shield its inhabitants from the elements, and painted arches of bright orange and flawless white, shielded by the practitioners who live there to repel any that mean them harm. He’s not the only blood-drinker, there are several men and women who he thinks are probably from Elijah’s line, part of the Strix, but for the most part, he leaves them alone. His purpose in the city is something greater than his older brother’s exclusive stick-up-the-ass club.

The house he stops in front of is the largest on the street. It’s archway is a deep, burnt orange, the door made of expensive wood. There are several large rooms with expensive rugs and cushions in every corner, as well as a bedroom for each member of the family, unlike most inhabitants in Damascus. He makes his way past the first three rooms until he comes to the dining area.

Ibrahim, a forty-something year old practitioner of a dark art called Kemiya, greets him as he walks into the house. The man’s unruly beard is gray more than black, and his hair is long and matted constantly.“Good night, little jinn ?” the man asks. He never refers to Kol by his name, preferring to refer to his guest as a spirit,  rather than a man. It’s better than ghul , though at times he finds it exasperating, being reduced to simply a monster. His wife, Fatimah, whose face he rarely ever sees behind her colorful veils, rolls her beautiful, dark eyes, and shoves a bowl of lentils into Ibrahim’s hand.

Sitting next to him on the cushioned floor, groaning and holding his dark-haired head in his hands, is their nineteen year old scruffy son, Ali. His brown skin looks pale and sick, clearly nursing a headache. Kol chuckles, throwing himself onto the cushions to eat breakfast, and the young man shoots him a glare. “You mock now,” the boy says. Even his voice sounds sick as he croaks around the words. “But later, I will have you on your ass.”

Fatimah scoffs. “You both look a wreck.” She moves and hands Kol an expensive gold plate. “Fix up before you do anything today. The neighbors will talk.” She’s right , he thinks with a pained expression. The kohl around his eyes has migrated from smooth lines on the bottom of his lids to smudges above his cheeks, and there’s dried blood crusted on the corner of his forehead. His shoulder length hair’s loose, and he sees the ribbon twisted around a strand or two. He reaches and pulls it out, along with some hair tangled into the cloth, throwing it down onto his lap.

“You should stay like that,” Ali retorts, voice rough. He wipes his face with a cloth his mother hands him. “No disreputable woman will sleep with you again.”

“Should I start looking for honorable women then?” Kol retorts. Ali’s eyes narrow, at that, and Kol knows he shouldn’t play with fire, but it’s just too much fun. He waits for the inevitable headache, barely a twinge but still annoying, and he sees Ibrahim and Fatimah go stiff.

“None will give their daughters to you,” Ali says through grit teeth. He’s tense, and so is Kol, given that the last nine months have been filled with a lot of headaches and strife.  

As if the spirits summoned her to make the situation more volatile, she walks in, carrying a sack of grain. Layla, Ali’s fifteen year old wife, and already pregnant. Her face is covered with a black veil, so that only her own kohl-rimmed eyes are visible, but she freezes in the doorway, looking to the four of them. She doesn’t speak, merely hands the sack to her mother-in-law, then retreats. Kol resists the urge to rile Ali up by following her with his eyes.

Ali’s younger brother, Abu, follows her in. He’s tall, for a thirteen-year-old boy, and he’s got a hint of red to his dark brown hair. He claps Kol on the shoulder, not one to be afraid of their malicious house guest, sits down next to him and takes the bowl of lentils out of his hands. “I overheard the name Elijah in the bazaar,” he tells them, then scoops some lentils with a piece of flat bread.

Kol breaks his staring contest with Ali to look to the younger brother. He raises an eyebrow. “A common enough name.” There are Elijah’s everywhere, even in Damascus.

Abu nods. “Yes. I also overheard the name Niklaus.”

Everyone tenses. The entire family knows who Klaus is, even before Kol’d arrived. His name travels in some dark circles, and it took weeks for Kol to get Ibrahim to trust him enough to let him near his sons, let alone inside his home. The promise of Kemiya, a shared goal, and a powerful blood oath bound with magic that he’d never harm one of Ibrahim’s own has been enough to keep the two men allies these past years, but Kol knows the mere mention of his older brother is enough to break any truce.

Ali leans forward. “You overheard who?” His long hair brushes the top of his knees.

Abu shoots a look to Kol. “Some foreigners. Couldn’t understand the rest of what they spoke.”

Fatimah smooths her youngest son’s hair back. “No matter. Whoever they are, they can not enter this street without permission. They will go away soon enough.”

Kol wishes it were that easy. If Klaus is involved, if he’s here, his brother will never go away. He’ll set fire to the whole street and watch with glee as the witches around him burn if he so desires. Ali seems to be of the same mind, for the glare he turns to him now is laced with more than jealousy over Layla’s admiring look to Kol on the wedding night; it’s laced with a distinct glint of distrust.

Ibrahim rises and clears his throat, shooting a warning look to the both of them. “The sun’s been up for hours now. Clean up and meet me in the other room. We’ve got work to do.” The way he speaks makes it clear he’s talking to all three males in the room.

Kol lifts himself up lazily, bare toes scrunching into one of the soft rugs that lay everywhere in the house. He heads to the small, curtained alcove that’s been serving as his “room” for the time he’s been here, grabs a bowl of water from the table next to the bed, and rubs away the kohl from his face. As he washes himself, he’s conscious of the heartbeat he hears, fast-paced and jumping, faint labored breaths, and he keeps himself from turning around. Deliberately, he pulls up the white cotton shirt he’s wearing, then tosses it onto the bed.

He smirks at the crash that follows, faint to human ears, and the sound of small feet moving away. He chuckles to himself, then reaches to grab the bag he keeps under the bed and changes into a different set of clothes.

When he makes his way to the backroom that’s curtained off from the rest of the house, warded by spells in order that those not privy to the contents inside are kept out, he finds only Ibrahim there. The man stands over the table, different mixtures in various mortar and pestles around him, and a small spark fire burns unknown ingredients in the cauldron hanging above the center of the table. The human glances up when he comes in.

“You shouldn’t bait him,” Ibrahim says, not bothering with niceties. “You’ll lose that fight and I know how you hate losing. Unless you fancy burning alive?” Kol grimaces, the left corner of his mouth curling at the reminder that he can’t physically harm any of the members of this house. Regardless of the lack of death that occurs from burning, that happy circumstance isn’t on his to-do list at the moment.

He makes a mental promise to himself to seduce young witches next time, rather than charmed help out of seasoned ones.

Kol shrugs and goes to the pitcher of water that is nestled among the herb bushels. He pours it into a cup and, before he takes a sip, says, “I was unaware that your son became so sensitive around the time he received a large bridal dowry.” He circles the table to stare down at the most important object in the room. It rests on a pillow, long and slim and deceptively lacking ornamentation, the sharp, gleaming silver metal of the dagger promising freedom. He lets his hand hover over it and listens to the human scoff behind him.

He takes another sip of water just as the man says, “You’ve never been in love, little jinn . You cannot possibly understand.”

This is true. He’s not privy to some secret knowledge concerning bought brides and the seconds it takes to apparently lose one’s mind over them. His brother Finn hadn’t even appreciated his wife until they’d been married for a year, let alone love her. He resists the urge to point out that Ali’s reaction is more like possession , and focuses on the activity in the room.

He tenses, listening to the movements of stirring herbs, Ibrahim’s robe rustling against the table, and then, a hand on his shoulder. He grits his teeth to keep himself from lashing out at the contact, the reminder that he hasn’t fed in hours suddenly sharp with the sound of blood pumping through delicate veins so near.

He shrugs off the man’s hand with impatience, not wanting to listen to a “fatherly” lecture from a man centuries younger than him, and says, “How much longer?” He turns around to look to the sewing needle that rests on the table. Jutting his chin towards the object, he says in a tone full of frustration, “Anything?”  

“Making dark objects is not like praying to Allah,” Ibrahim says with the air of a frustrated adult talking to a small, unintelligent child. It angers Kol, but he keeps his mouth shut. As much as it galls him, he needs this man. Taking the time to foster a new relationship with a practitioner of Kemiya in another city appeals to him about as much as desiccating at the bottom of a river.

“It takes time. Power.” Ibrahim sighs. “Effort. Trial and error.”

“In other words, the needle is defunct,” Kol says through grit teeth. He musses his hair, uncaring of the mess, and begins to pace. “If your son is right, and Niklaus is near, failure is not an option.”

Not for the first time, he finds himself on the end of a hard, scrutinizing gaze. Those dark eyes might be dull with age, but they’re no less calculating. “What is it about your brother that you fear so?”

He answers, “My relationship with my brother is my own business,” as he says every time this question is asked. Ibrahim smiles with indulgence, as if he’s just waiting for the day Kol breaks. He’ll be waiting a long time for that.

“The spirits will work as they will work,” the man tells him. “No faster and not at your behest.”

Kol smirks. “If they did, I would hardly need you.” He brings the cup of water up to his lips, downing the rest of it just as Ali and Abu walk in, cleaned up but still scruffy, the elder with a dark scowl on his face, the younger bouncing on the balls of his feet. He’s so young that the prospect of even failed magic is exciting to him.

Ab , what if you tried with something more—powerful? Worth something?” Abu suggests. He goes to sit up on the edge of the table, swinging his legs back and forth.

Before Ibrahim enters into a long and boring lecture concerning the practical uses of a sewing needle (a habit Kol is all too familiar with by now given the man’s aptitude for imparting life lessons while attempting to use dark spirits to make truly vile objects) the pale brunette cuts him off by tossing the dagger to him.

“He’s a clever boy,” Kol says with an impish grin. “Even if the sewing needle gets thrown into an eyeball and pops out the victim's vision, a ghul just needs to wait to grow them back.” A painful and excruciating process, but a strong enough and old enough creature can outlast that pain.

No doubt still smarting over earlier, Ali scoffs, leaning against the wall and stares at them with an inscrutable expression. “Set the ghul on fire, rip it apart, shove wood so deep into its heart that the splinters remake everything it ever was. The sewing needle is useful.”

Kol stares coldly at the young man and his lips curl into a sneer. “Two days past you mocked your own mother for mending a shirt of mine with a sewing needle.” That article of clothing had been torn in a brothel debacle that ended with a cup embedded into a man’s brain stem and a rather lot of compulsion. He holds up his right fist to his shoulder, rolling his fingers back and forth. “What was it you claimed? That the only use for a needle was to do menial tasks that men were not fit for?”

Ali pushes himself off the wall. He puffs out his chest like a peacock, eyes wild. Kol blurs forward, then stumbles back due to the blinding headache that overtakes every nerve in his body. Someone, he’s not sure who, shouts, “Enough!” He’s sucked back, landing against the opposite wall. When his head stops pounding and his eyes refocus, he sees Abu trying to block his brother.

Ibrahim stands in front of him and shakes his head with shame. “Both of you, walk it off.” He mutters something low, a plea or an entreaty to Allah to give him strength. “Ali, go to your uncle’s. I have need of his expertise.” The young man opens his mouth to protest. “Obey me!”

A mortar and pestle goes flying against the wall, cracking into tiny shards, before Ali leans with an angry snarl. Kol rolls his eyes, conscious of the black veins he knows are visible, and runs out of the room faster than an arrow flies. A few minutes later, he’s kicking up weeds in the small garden Fatimah’s magic manages to grow, growling under his breath various scenarios in which he introduces the bastard to his guts as a hanging rope.

“Your face will get stuck that way,” a low, female voice suddenly says. He spins on his heels with shock, too caught up in his rage that he didn’t sense her near him. It’s shameful. The veil covering her mouth is a deep, dark red, her nose and her dark eyes peak out, and fringes twisted with jewels hang over her forehead, attached to her black headscarf. Her heavy silk dress hides her form, and for a moment, he’s absurdly reminded of the sack dresses Rebekah wore as a child.

“Hard to mar perfection,” he tells her, his throat tight. He looks around, but Fatimah, who usually hovers crowlike most of the day around her son’s wife, is nowhere around. They are alone.

Layla makes a small noise that might be an aborted chuckle, before she catches herself. He watches as she freezes, and he knows that she’s realizing her forwardness, approaching him out in the gardens and speaking so candidly. He wishes he could see her face, her expressions, and not just her eyes go wide and shocked. As vexing as it is, he forces himself to stay quiet, waiting with as much patience as he’s ever managed to possess.

“You and my husband and his father, what do you do in there all day?” she finally says, voice almost as quiet as a mouse in a field. The question takes him off guard.

Still, he quickly gathers himself together. Not for the first time, he muses about the intricacies of humans. His own people considered magic the place of women, the men who practiced it seen as less than; feminine, unnatural, and weak. Kol’d hid the extent of his own abilities from everyone except his siblings and Ayana’s family; even his own mother had never quite realized how powerful he’d been becoming. Here, in this land, to these practitioners, the women were shut out, their power left fallow, rotting away on the inside, the secrets of the spirits left for men and men alone.  

“Dangerous things,” he replies to her. “Forging magical weapons, harnessing dark powers. Does that shock you?” Her hears her breath hitch at the same time that her heartbeat, oddly, slows. Her nerves are calming.

“Thank you,” she tells him. Again, he finds himself stunned. He’s not used to gratitude from people, especially for something so simple as telling the brutal truth. She takes one tentative step forward, her shoes crunching against the grass. Her right hand lifts up, smooths over her stomach, where the tiny spark of life grows, and then back down. He watches her motions, slightly transfixed. She looks to him cautiously, not ignorant to the type of man she’s talking to, but she’s more relaxed now than he’s ever seen her.

He moves towards her like he would a skittish lamb, conscious that if he approaches too fast she’d might startle and run. The air smells heavily of jasmine flowers, and the sun is bright, the light catching the hues of her dark eyes and making the color shine.

“My people are called Vikings by many,” he says to her, though the term mainly referred to seafarers. He barely sees her dark eyebrows scrunch under the fringed jewels. “Pagans. Heathens, to your people, obviously. They worshipped many gods. Played around with nature, and, at times, human sacrifices.”

Not that the people of this land were any better before they became Muslims, but that was a minor detail. Not even sure where his story’s leading, he continues, “My mother wielded great power in my village. Everyone looked to her for help to heal their ills, enrich their fields and grow their crops, give them enchantments to help them conceive. To take life away. Even the elders worshipped the ground she walked on.” He smiles at her, eyes crinkling. “My people did not believe in coddling women, to cut them off from the realities of the world or their own bodies.”

He senses the potential of great power in her. Only the sheepish reminder of his folly with Nera so long ago keeps him from helping Layla unlock her powers right then and there. He needs to approach that carefully.

“Why tell me this?” she asks, confusion dripping in every word.

“I find it such a shame that a woman of your caliber is not allowed to be yourself,” he answers. Then, he lifts up his right shoulder, as if to make it seem more casual and dismissive then it really is, before he bows to her with all the courtesy of the nobleman he’s not. When he’s done, taking a second to pluck a flower from the ground and present it to her, he flashes out of the garden, eager to find something to take his mind off the encounter.

 

 

Sunset that night finds Ibrahim sequestered in the backroom and a magic barrier barring both Kol and Ali from entering while the older human man and his brother work, muttering dark incantations and dubious spells. Kol and the young man eye each other with contempt, before the human shoulders his way past. Kol doesn’t see where he goes off to, nor does he care, but he only catches the sound of six heartbeats in the house that night, instead of seven, and deduces that the prat will be nursing another massive headache from whatever hookah herbs he smokes in the morning.

He’s getting ready for bed, worn out and irritated with a growing sense of urgency the more he frets over Abu’s handy eavesdropping earlier, when he hears the soft pad of bare feet upon the stone floor of the hallway leading to his alcove making their way towards him. He tenses, shoulders straight, back tight, as the curtains rustle and then—

“How old are you?”

Layla.

Her turns around to see her standing hesitantly, one arm holding the curtain up, the hallway behind her empty and dark. She’s wearing her face veil, indicating that she’d not been to bed yet, but a long, dark curl is peaking out from underneath the headscarf. In her other hand, she’s holding the flower from earlier, twirling it between delicate brown fingers.

He takes one step and smirks. “Eighteen,” he replies. “Give or take a century or two.” Not much older than she when he died and become this lustful creature that craves blood, craves the rush of seeking out chaos, and the envy—

Her next query breaks him from the dark turn in his head. “Can you take me away? When you leave?” She says it low. A shameful whisper. He remembers her fear the day she’d been brought to the house as a young bride meeting her new husband on the day of their wedding. Silent, tearless sobs in her eyes, clear in the way her body shrank back and trembled as the rites were performed.

“If that’s what you desire,” he tells her. The tension in the air grows, her heartbeat fast not with fear but anticipation. Kol chews his bottom lip.

My time in Damascus is almost at an end, he thinks. Why shouldn’t I ?

Once he starts, he doesn’t care about the consequences. He’s burned hundreds of bridges before, what’s one more? It’s not like it will be the last. Within seconds everything changes. One minute, she is speaking, the next, she is gasping as he reaches up to draw down the veil covering her face. It’s been ages since he’s seen it, but he remembers the full lips, the button nose, and the high cheekbones, and can’t find the desire to restrain himself anymore. He is one of the strongest creatures in the world, and he’s weary of holding himself tight and pandering to the whims of humans, even witches.

She freezes, but doesn’t pull away when he bends down to kiss her. It’s gentle at first, a mere press of lips, and then harder as he uses his tongue to coax open her mouth. Walking backwards, she allows it, one small hand finally coming to grip the back of his neck. All she needs to say is stop and he’ll be off her in a second, but she doesn’t say anything. Instead, her tongue joins his, and suddenly she is kissing him as if he were an oasis and she’s been denied sustenance for months.

Her head falls back, the silk veil sliding off of her curls, as he lays her down onto the bed. Running his hands up her legs, he caresses the smooth skin of her legs, lifting the fabric up and up. She’s got her small hands tangled in his hair as they breathe into one another’s mouths, nipping and biting. His skin tightens, veins going black, even as her hand goes to slip under the waist of his loose pants.

He turns away at the same time that her small hand encloses him. When she squeezes, working her fingers over his dick, he lets out several loud, ragged moans in response, and then she whispers in his ear, “I trust you. Do it.”

He doesn’t have the wherewithal to process this, before his pants are around his knees and she is pushing him , maneuvering him so that he is on his back, her long legs coming around to straddle him, and then he is encased in warm heat. She bends down, curls tickling his face, and she whispers, again, “Do it.”

In a flash, he buries his fans in her neck. She lets out a loud gasp, and then both her hands cradle the back of his neck, holding him there, as she undulates. He’s being stimulated everywhere, the feel of her tight around him, and the feel of her blood rushing over his tongue, delicious and warm and more powerful than any vermin he finds off the streets.

He pulls away the second before he cums, collapsing back on the bed with a wordless shout, and then he feels her pulsing around his softening dick, back bending before she, too, collapses, landing on the mattress next to him.

A few minutes later, he reaches up and fixes her sweaty curls. “Isn’t there something in the Qu’ran about coveting?” he teases, not able to resist reminding her of all the times she’d spied on him changing or washing up.

“Yes,” she admits. Her cheeks begin to flush a delicious red, even with the lack of blood. He bites his wrist, and offers it to her, but she pushes him away and says, “And do not wish for that which Allah has made some of you exceed others. For men is a share of what they have earned, and for women is a share of what they have earned.” She breaks off. “Adultery is also forbidden, bit I am far from a righteous woman.”

As if in answer, she kisses him again. Her movements are sluggish, and he finds it amusing that the line she won’t cross is drinking his blood.  

“Take me away from here,” she whispers one more time, before she sits up, straightens her garments, and slips out as quickly and as silently as she came.

 

 

A few hours later finds him full of manic energy and unable to sleep, so Kol wanders up and down the street, lost in thoughts. He stares at the stars that appear like fireflies in the dark, makes a game of seeing how many constellations he finds, amuses himself with the stories behind them, and digs his own fingernails into his palms.

When he can find no more stars, he looks down to see his pale skin sticky with blood. Even his sinews are visible. His palms ache, sharp and excruciating, but it's not enough.

Distractions fading, he thinks, I need that dagger done . Needs to know that it works, that his time here playing the good and safe little undead jinn isn’t in vain. He throws his back towards a wall, slamming his head against brick, and groans.

The heartbeats of the men and women sleeping on the street sound like the beat of ritual drums. He tries to lose himself in that noise, that music, tries to bring himself back to a time when he didn’t have the desperate need to flee from Nik the second he got the chance. A time when he didn’t see Mikael’s threats as a gift, the allowance that gives him the opportunity to slip away from his controlling siblings and just be .

He closes his eyes and screams, losing himself in incivility, in the primal instinct that even humans feel when they have nowhere else to turn.

Then it’s broken.

“Kol Mikaelson,” an unfamiliar voice calls. He freezes, body tense, every muscle ready to spring. He stands up straighter, more predatory, and slowly turns his head to look. There are twelve men in front of him. All of them tall and extremely well-muscled, dressed in armor and carrying a slew of weapons; swords, axes, whips and bows.

Kol smirks. “Gentlemen.” He looks at each of them, taking in their blank eyes. “You have me at a disadvantage. You know my name, but I have no idea who any of you are.” He speaks it in Arabic first, but none of the men acknowledge his jibe, so he takes a moment to study them. They’re white , extremely so. Foreign. Their blonde hair looks like straw and they’re not dressed to blend in. Obviously the men Abu ran into earlier.

Despite the lack of communication, the leader, an ugly man with a face like moldy bread, steps forward. When he opens his mouth, Kol catches sight of bared fangs. “Your brother has a message for you.” He speaks in a language Kol knows well, though he’s not had cause to speak it in centuries, and some of the words are different.

“Nik went through the trouble of sending all of you from—” he stops, waving his hand. “Where?” he asks the smallest one, who is still a good three inches taller than him. The man doesn’t answer, merely raises his arms and crosses them, emphasizing the strong muscles in his arms. Clearly not the brains of the operation, then. Kol sighs and asks again, using compulsion this time.

Noregr ,” a different man answers, a man with a shaved head and a pointed beard, clearly annoyed already. He’s fingering his axe and looks like he dearly wants to bury it in Kol’s face.

He keeps his eyes trained on all of them, making sure none of them move. He doesn’t move, either, but he’s ready to spring the second it becomes a necessity. “How kind of you to travel from your frozen wasteland all to find little old me for Nik.”

I’m not going back into that coffin , he thinks. Not again .

The leader holds an arm back to keep one of the men from attacking him. That one has a face like a mottled peach, and truly none of these dullards were blessed with looks from the gods. He wonders how they managed to make it so far, because their charm leaves much to be desired.

“Niklaus wants you to know that it's time to come home.”

Kol holds his arms out. “He’s going to be disappointed.” He makes it clear with the dark, threatening tone he uses to reply that he’ll not be going down easy. His skin tightens and he bares his fangs, before he runs forward. He grabs the axe from pointed beard, then throws it at the face of another man, burying the sharp metal into his nose. Blood splatters, and pointed beard throws a punch at him, but Kol manages to catch him by the wrist, snapping it back. His neck tingles, and he spins around, throwing pointed beard at the shortest, knocking both men into the brick wall, smashing their skulls beyond all recognition.

After that, five men rush him. He gets a sword to the gut, and manages to rip it out, gritting his teeth with the pain, and chops off two men’s heads with it. He buries his fist into another’s chest, ripping out his heart, and gets a chipped tooth in return at the man head butts him before he expires. There are four arrows laced with fucking vervain in Kol’s back after that, ten more caught and tossed to the ground, and he hisses, hand going back to pull the others out. He gets at three, but as he goes for the one sticking from his shoulder blade, one of the men manages to sling a chain around his neck. He moans as his skin burns.

The man holding the chain wrenches his arms behind his back, and then manacles snap around his wrists. He has to hold himself back from screaming from the sensation of more vervain tainted metal, sharp little spikes driving their way down to his bones. He feels like he’s been placed into a bonfire. The leader moves forward with another poison arrow trained on him. “You will be coming with us.”

“Is this the way you need to get some action? I know you’ve got a face the gods would weep at, friend, but whores can be bought for enough coin,” Kol manages to spit out. Amusement sparks at the anger in the man’s eyes, before he’s being punched in the face. He winces as his jaw bone cracks.

The man behind him dares to bite his earlobe. “I heard you’ll sleep with anything, so I think it's best if you don’t piss us off. We spent years going from one festering shithole to another looking for you.” The chain goes tight around his neck, choking him. “We might deserve compensation for our time. Your brother said he wanted you back, he didn’t say it had to be in one piece.”  

Despite his wheezing, Kol smirks darkly at the delusion this oaf holds that Nik would ever tolerate his blank-eyed, odious minions to lay a hand on him and live without dying an extremely painful death. Or that Kol would let them. They’d be lucky to die in the end, begging for it, and he would relish every plea even as he made them bend and twist under pain so great their ancestors would be screaming in agony.

“We’re not here for that,” the leader says, clearly more intelligent than his companion. Nevertheless, he steps closer anyway. Kol struggles despite the searing pain, hearing a few of men chuckle.

“How did you even get in here?” Kol asks. The protections around this street keep out uninvited demonic forces and no witch can be compelled.

The leader smirks, reaching forward to grip his hair harshly and draw his head up. “A little witch helped us. Very eager to get rid of you.”

Not as intelligent as he should be , Kol thinks, and in a flash, he kicks out with all his strength. The motion lifts both of them off the ground, the leader flying several feet away, and Kol’s back slams hard into the solid chest of his captor. He slams his head back, enjoys the way bones break underneath the force and reaches up to grab the man’s arms, then twists, straddling the man and using the neck chain to burn his eyeballs from his sockets.

The man screams and the sound pierces Kol’s ears unpleasantly. He slams his fist into his opponent’s forehead, smashing through bone and brain. Two of the remaining men gather their limited wits enough to come for him, but Kol swings the chain like a whip, the force strong enough to loop their heads off their shoulders.

Blood spatters against his shirt, the ground, and the walls, and he hears feet rushing towards him. He turns around, ready to take care of the leader, but then—

The man freezes, right arm outstretched with an arrow in his hand. He gurgles, mouth open, eyes wide, and looks down. Kol does, too. There’s a silver dagger poking a hole through his gut. Kol takes a second to blink, before the most hideous sound he’s ever heard echoes across the street, and the man’s body is torn to shreds. Blood and organs and flesh fly like snowflakes and scatter all around him.

“What the—?” Kol says hollowly. A shocked scream answers him. When he raises his eyes, he sees her.

“Layla?” he says. She looks like a ghost, arm outstretched and shock setting in.

Time stands still. Then, suddenly, she groans. her hands going to cradle her stomach. He reels back at the smell of blood in the air, heavy and strong, and both look at the same time to see red on the ground. Instinctually, heedless of his own lingering pain and his protesting muscles, he catches her just before she falls to her knees, limbs shaking, moans and pants the only sounds she’s capable of.

Her eyes are wide as she looks to him. He bites his wrist, shoves it at her mouth, and forces the blood down her throat. It doesn’t stop it. Her screams bring out the inhabitants of nearby houses, men and women horrified and yelling. He’s pulled away by a man, a physician, who attempts to staunch the blood and comfort Layla. Her eyes grow distant, lost in the pain as her baby is forcibly ripped from her body.

He stumbles back, away from the carnage and the overwhelming stench of blood, uncaring as he bumps into the gathering crowd.

When it’s over, when she’s carried back to the house by the healer and two women, her grief and sorrow clinging to her with her silence, he bends down to pick up the dagger. The blood’s turned it more red than silver, more rust than metal. He studies it, numb, catching the pads of his fingers against the blade. Nothing happens.

Nothing . He grits his teeth, body rigid from rage and pain, and clenches his fist. The hilt shatters.

His ears pick up the sound of desolation. A distant sob. As he stands, leaving the remnants of that night scattered bloody and broken across the street, he remembers one lesson he should have taught her.  

Magic comes with a price.

Chapter Text

 

~ Mt. Elgon, 1312

 

To say that Kol’s shocked when he arrives in Buganda and finds he’s expected by a coven of witches is an understatement. The woman who finds him is older, with lines etched into her face like mountains, and baggy eyes. Her gray hair twists together into long, thick curls and he finds there is something familiar about her. Perhaps the way she moves or the feel of her magic that tugs at the dormant pit inside as she bids him follow her; it’s like coming home . It's unsettling, uncontrollable, emotions he hates and he’s unable to control his reaction.

With every inch of vitriol in his body, he says, “If you wanted my attention, darling , there are easier ways.” His feet move of their own accord, as if his insides are on a leash. The woman walking in front of him didn’t seem to be paying much attention. She stops, looks up at the sky, to a vulture circling an antelope dying, and then continues to move, dragging him along through tall, green grass.

The sore soles of his feet sting with blisters from walking bare upon the ground for hours. He gets a few odd looks from various people picking through the grass with woven baskets, and considering he’s not wearing a shirt , he doesn’t blame them. Each time, he spits out various curses in every language he knows. Arabic, Latin, Hebrew, Norse, a handful of Slavic tongues, even Aramaic. No one gives any reaction. Then, he passes a child, about five or six, who points at him. Seeing that, mixed with the absurdity of this situation, sparks anger, so, in an attempt to gain some measure of control, he flashes fangs.

All that serves is to cause the boy to run after them, babbling in a language Kol doesn’t understand.  

As if this week can get any worse , Kol thinks. Fleeing from Ethiopia in a wooden box and starving during the journey took a lot out of him. Therefore, he’d spent most of it recovering in the recently vacated huts of a couple tribal people alongside his newest companion, an Almeh courtesan he’d turned in Cairo five years before. Fucking Nik and his merry band of compelled minions .

He yells to the witch woman again, “I’m perfectly capable of walking on my own, darling, if you just tell me what you want.” And then I’ll snap your neck, he thinks furiously as they make their way into a village.The inhabitants stare at him with wide eyes, scared but calm at the same time, as if he’s a tamed lion. The dwellings are all made of wood, long thin shoots of the material, and round, with grass roofs, except for the largest dwelling at the end of the village. The design is more of an oval shape, longer and clearly built for ritual purposes. Two women with bone earrings and burning sticks that smell distinctly herbal stand outside, staring and chanting in a soft sing-song tone.

Sprinting ahead of them, the boy runs into the ritual house. Kol tries to steady himself, dig his feet into the ground, but the invisible tether refuses to release him and he’s drawn into the smoky hut as well.  As soon as he enters, the door swings shut behind him with a resounding bang. It stinks overwhelmingly of fire and ash, combined with bitter herbs that leave a horrible taste in the back of his throat, and there is almost nothing in there but a long, straw-woven basin filled with water, and a fire burning in the center of the room. There are also three distinct heartbeats.

The woman turns around to stare at him. She’s silent, her eyes bloodshot, and there is a long, thick stream of blood flowing from her nose without pause. Dragging his unwilling arse to this armpit of the land had not been any easier for her than for him. The boy runs to her, squeezing her hand as if to comfort her, or perhaps offer some of his own energy in an attempt to speed up healing.

Kol smirks despite the fact that he’s not in control of most of his limbs. “Need help with that?” he asks sarcastically. He wants to wave his wrist towards her mockingly, but unfortunately, whatever chanting the two women are doing outside, it's effectively keeping him immobile.

For now , he thinks darkly. Unless everyone in this village is a witch, eventually they’ll lose the energy. Intriguingly, though, none of the women have made a move to harm him, yet, and now that he’s away from dozens of eyes, a kernel of respect begins to grow. It calms him enough that he looks around the rest of the room, before his eyes rest on the corner where he can hear the third heartbeat.

The man there is ancient, body twisted and bent and better off in the ground decades ago, let alone still walking. He has tiny, thin wisps of white hair on top of his bald head and rheumy eyes that are distant and unseeing. Blind though he may be, Kol knows that the man is aware of exactly where he is. There is no expression on his bland face, nothing to physically indicate it, but as soon as Kol’s eyes meet him, a nagging whisper begins in the back of his mind.

“What?” he says, before the witch in front of him crooks her fingers and everything goes dark with a sharp, painful snap .


 

The world he opens his eyes to seems real, but it is not. There is a distinct air of illusion to it, the lack of smell, the way the air seems to vibrate and fade away the more he tries to focus, and the fact that the tree he finds himself in front of is made of white oak. A tree gone and burned for centuries. He places his palm flat on the ground and feels nothing, no dirt, no grass, nothing concrete, yet he lifts himself up all the same. He opens his mouth to breathe, but his lungs pull in no air. He spins around, frantic with alarm, but all he sees is the white oak tree, and then—

“Kol,” he hears. His muscles stiffen, and he doesn’t dare look behind him. His stomach twists, his throat tightens, and his heart seems to squeeze in on itself. “Son of Mikael, Son of Esther.” He grits his teeth, wondering if this place is a chambre de chasse , but there’s nothing here to represent him.

Nothing but the tree. Burned to ash, a volatile ingredient used to destroy him. And the details aren’t right.

The voice continues, “Younger brother to Freya, Finn, and Elijah, half-brother to NiNik, older brother to Rebekah and Henrik.”

“Shut up, phantom,” he says. He flips through all the possibilities, every magical trick and trade he’s ever learned, but nothing fits. Even as he speaks, his tongue feels heavy in his mouth and there is a suspicious, prickly feeling at the corners of his eyes. “Be gone, for when I find my way out of this prison, I will—”

“My little Loki.”

At the sound of his childhood nickname, something inside breaks. As if he’s let loose a bow and arrow, pulled back the notch and set aim towards a void, emotions seem to bubble to the surface all at once. An odd mix of rage and sorrow and disbelief clash into a rickety storm. It feels like his blood is boiling, like the worst headache of his long life, as if every single dark, rotting part of him is drawn out of the depths of his decaying heart and stuffed back into something raw and red and bleeding.  

He closes his hot, wet eyes, as the phantom says, “Look at me, child.”

I can’t , he thinks. As if she can hear him, and maybe she can, she repeats her words.

“Am I am in Hel?” he asks without meaning to. Faintly, he asks another question, “Has Nik found a way to kill me?”

This causes his stomach to twist and wrench itself into unpleasant knots. It’s grief, a feeling he’s not felt since Henrik’s death. Sharp and broken, hollow and bitter, all at the same time.

The hair at the back of his neck stands on end, then his skin tingles, and when he opens his eyes, she is there. The ghost looks exactly like the last time he saw her. That day so long ago when she went off to collect berries, dark brown dress stained with the dirt and grime of travel, her eyes soft and wary at the same time. Her hand hovers a scant inch above his cheek. “No,” she tells him. “He has not.” He sees, but does not feel, her hand make contact with his face. A sob threatens to escape the cage of his insides, but he holds it back. “As for Hel, in a sense, yes, you are. Those of us here call it the Other Side. A resting place for the supernatural. Separate from humans. We cannot enter through the doors of any other place than this.”

“Then I am dead?” Kol says. Fitting, that this is his afterlife, a place so bleak and unable to connect. Ayana’s ghost—or her hallucination, an illusion conjured up to trick him, he’s still not sure what, or if he even believes her, confusion threatens to drown him—shakes her head.

“I called and brought you here,” she replies. “Which means we only have moments.” A sad smile flits across her face. “You will wake soon, my little Loki.”

“How?” he asks. Everything he knows is screaming that a dead witch can’t contact an undead creature. Ayana’d taught him this very lesson. He studies the weakness of it, the incomplete landscape, and notices how limited the Other Side is; it is nothing more than a projection, a dreamscape, and he knows that he is not fully there with her.

“Through me,” a harsh, guttural voice answers. He speaks in a language that Kol does not know, but somehow, in this place, understands. Kol turns his head to the side, looking to his right, to see the blind man. Shaman , he thinks, the blind shaman . The man holds up his left hand where a thin slash of red crisscrosses his wrinkled skin. Kol looks down to his own hand and turns his palm over. A similar slash, faint, but there, is present.

“A binding link,” he says, picture becoming clearer. He resists the urge to lean closer to Ayana, for he cannot feel her, and steps back instead. “He is one of your descendants.”

She nods. “Beselot’s.” she answers simply. “But that is not important.”

Kol nods, too. “Why have you called me here? It’s been three hundred years. I doubt it’s for a warm reunion.” As nice as that would be, he knows that Ayana, dead or alive, is reluctant to meddle in complicated living matters. The only option for this is that she fears something terrible.

“Silas,” comes the answer, but not from her. The blind man stares at him stone-faced.

Kol raises an eyebrow. He’s heard that name a lot since he’d left Palestine on a ship bound for Alexandria. The stories from the practitioners of the dark arts he’s followed through Egypt and Ethiopia have left a lasting impression, to say the least, if only for their imaginative brutality and viciousness. But tales are all they are, something to pass the time on long journeys and scare children into behaving.

Therefore, he scoffs and looks to Ayana with disbelief.  “The ghost story?”

“He is no myth,” Ayana says. Her tone is harsh, her back straight as she stands up tall. She looks the same as she did whenever she’d use magic to push back something malevolent, usually rabid werewolves during the full moon. She grabs for his hand, her finger curl over his, and the lack of sensation buries itself under the urgency in the gesture. “He is real.”

Her eyes are wide, and if this is truly Ayana, not some phantom illusion (and he knows she is real, for the shaman would have no means to know his childhood nickname), then her words cause a shock of ice to trickle down every nerve in his body. He looks to their hands again, and notices that the slash is fainter.

“What are you asking of me?” Kol says, and, as she reaches to draw him closer, draw him down to whisper in his ear, he knows that her sad expression is the last memory he’ll ever have of her face.


When he comes to, he’s naked and freezing in a basin filled with water and herbs. The fire’s died, leaving the temperature in the room low, especially since night’s fallen, the temperature drop palatable. He grits his teeth, shivering as he rises. Water drips off his bare flesh in rivulets, and shakes his hands through his sodden hair, pulling out various slimy herbs. In the corner, curled up with its horned head upon the ground, is a bleating goat.

“You’re my dinner?” he asks no one in particular, before he flashes forward and silences the animal.

When he is done, he pulls on the white pants, white tunic, and white robe folded neatly next to the dead fire. The second he finishes, the curtain opens, and the blind shaman is led inside by the little boy.

Kol’s eyebrows fly up to his hairline when he understands the man’s greeting, and then at his next words, “Your companion is making quite a fuss. We had to chain her up. Should we fetch her for you?”

“My comp—Bast?” he says, surprised. He honestly hadn’t thought the woman would come after him after he saw her taken down by the witch the day before. He’d thought her too smart for that, and too self-serving. “Yes,” he answers the man. “She’s not going to do anything.”

The shaman nods a signal to the boy, who then runs out of the hut. “Your grandson?” Kol asks, breaking the silence. “I can see the family resemblance.” He waves his hand in the air. “Same eyes.” He shoots a mocking smile to the shaman, and receives a slight headache in return.

He groans and clenches his fist. “Take it the sense of humor didn’t travel down the bloodline.”

“Come,” the man says, and holds out his hand with an air of expectation that Kol’s going to comply. Kol lingers, and he imagines, rather than hears, the shaman’s answering sigh. “We have much to do. Or will you disappoint her a second time?”

“Going to tell me your name, friend?” Kol says, before he concedes, taking the man’s rough, calloused hand in his own. His skin is thin and brittle, almost like sandpaper. Kol can’t remember the last time he’d touched a man this aged. He prefered his meals not to be rancid. “Or am I going to have to make up one myself?”

The man opens the curtain and Kol blinks to see the beginnings of the sunset. Reds and oranges and hues of purples are painted across the sky and, for a brief moment, he thinks of Nik’s paintings and longs for the siblings he hasn’t seen for around fifty years. He shakes the feeling off as quickly as it comes, skirts around chickens and children milling about the village, and lets the blind man lead him.

“Tiresias?” Kol guesses, hoping for a name. No response. He rolls his eyes and tries again. “Typhoeus?” His voice goes up jovially with his next guess. “Metope?” Any hoped for response is a waste, since the man only tugs on his elbow, leading him away from the cluster of huts and back towards the fields where the inhabitants gather supplies. “Oedipus it is, then, friend.”

The newly-coined Oedipus stops in front of a woman. She’s crouching on the ground next to grass almost as tall as Kol. Her hair is more sweat clumps than strands of black, there is a wan cast to her face, and she’s clutching her stomach. “Help her,” Oedipus commands.

Kol’s left eyebrow raises. “Me?” He lifts his wrist to his mouth, but it's pulled down before he has a chance to bite into it.

The man says again, “Help her.” Then, he pulls a bowl from somewhere inside his robe, a pocket or satchel, and a cured skin that, when Kol opens it, contains a brownish-green paste of some sort.

“You’re aware I can’t do magic anymore, I assume?” Kol says sarcastically. He glares at the shaman. “If you want me to help her, then this—” He waves his wrist in the air. “—is the only way it can happen.”

“You must learn,” Oedipus replies in a matter-of-fact tone. “One day you will need it.” And with that air of finality, Kol takes the paste and feeds it to the woman, waiting and watching, until her moans and groans stop. The illness is not cured, no, but her legs pick themselves off the ground and she continues on, nodding to the two men.

One she’s gone, the boy returns with a sneering Bast. She curses in Arabic, shaking off his hand, and then straightens her long, silk headscarf on her dark curls. “Fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into,” she says sardonically. She gives him a glare strong enough to wither. “The both of us into.”

“You didn’t have to follow me,” he replies with a shrug. “You’re an educated undead woman. I’m sure you’d have made your way.”

Unlike many women of Egypt, she’d been from an established family. She knew the basics of reading and writing, had skills with mathematics, and the power to seduce any man she came across with a finger, either undead or human.

She rolls her kohl-lined eyes, though the dark paint has smeared it’s way past mere smudges and down to shadow her nose to the tips of her nostrils. “ Al'abalah ,” she says with a sign, then moves over to kiss him. Silently, the boy and Oedipus let the two harshly reunite with a battle between tongue and fangs.

When she pulls back, she slaps him. It barely stings, but he pouts nonetheless. “Do not think I do this because I love you.” She smirks darkly. “You are a phenomenal in bed.”

Kol chuckles, and out of the corner of his eye, sees the boy opens his mouth with curiosity, but the shaman cuts him off, “Now that this task is done and your companion settled, come.” Oedipus holds out his hand again, bidding Kol as if he’s a dog on a leash. The brunette growls lowly under his breath, but takes hold of the man again. “More to learn. Much to learn.”

He wants to learn more about Silas, but if Oedipus is anything like Ayana, anything that he knows will only comes when he wants it to. For the next five or six hours he follows without complaint, administering and mixing at the man’s behest, and tries not to lose himself in the bout of nostalgia the man’s teaching gives him; the sad, sharp pang still present in his stomach, refusing to go away.

 

 

~ Athene, Greece 1354

 

Names hold power, so Oedipus refused to reveal his for a long time. In order to keep track of people, Kol and Bast nicknamed everyone in the village various monikers. The witch who dragged him across the mountain became Artemis, the young boy Pan, and the handsome warrior that Bast falls arse-over-head in love with, then proceeds to turn, became Orion. During their time with the tribe, Kol learned about numerous medicinal herbs and remedies. The two, later three, vampires fed off members of enemy tribes at night. The people came to accept them, the men invited him to join with them in dances and songs during celebrations and feasts, and the women took Bast’s lead in learning the undulating, rolling movements of the stomach muscles that first charmed Kol.

It takes fifteen years, on the night that Kol leaves that village, for him to learn the shaman’s name. A deathbed confession.

“Goodbye, Akello,” Kol said, surrounded by the man’s sons and daughters, their husbands and wives, and the children and children’s children after that. They consecrated the shaman’s body and buried it within the earth, and the second the deed was done, Kol packed, ruffled Bast’s curly hair with a twinge of sadness, and made his way south.

He spent a few years making friends and traveling with witches through the southernmost tip of Africa, then headed north. By summer of 1354, he’s in Greece alongside a crossdressing whore bought for three nights worth of coin named Antonius. They stand in a crowd of sweaty, intoxicated mortals and watch a mummer’s farce of foolish vagabonds butchering the brilliant, manipulative history of Emperor Justinian and Theodora. The “Empress” on stage, another boy that’s dressed in silks and veils and a gorgeous gown of damask, is seducing the bearded fop in a gilded gold costume laughably, when Kol suddenly tenses, hands tightening around the boy’s wrist. Antonius shoots him looks of concern.  

“Long time, brother,” a voice says. “I began to believe that I would never set eyes on you again.”

“Elijah,” he says with a grin and an air of nonchalance, though inside he couldn’t be more of a mess. Panic and confusion and happiness floods through him all at the same time, and he lifts his glass of wine to hide his face. Before he sips, he tells him, “A pleasant surprise.” He lets go of the whore and claps a hand onto his brother’s shoulder. Elijah looks immaculate and well-bred, as usual. “How long’s it been? Ninety years?” He looks pointedly next to his older older. “Are you alone?”

“Eighty-five,” Elijah answers. The corner of his mouth uplifts a little, and it's the closest to a smile that Kol ever expects from him. Elijah’s own hand comes to clap up his shoulder, too. “You look well, brother. Not aged a day.”

Kol smirks and sardonically replies, “You’re looking a bit peaky. Stress lines?”

“That tends to occur when one has cause to worry whether one’s family is desiccating in the sea,” Elijah replies with a sarcastic edge. “Not even one letter home. Rebekah’s quite upset.”

“Where is home? Should I have told the carrier pigeon to follow the scent of Original?” Kol says, equally sarcastic, though his tone is more abrasive, as well.

Before his brother has a chance to answer, Kol spins on his heels and compels a curious Antonius to go find some fun for the night, then turns back to his brother. Elijah’s classic look of disappointment and sanctimonious hypocrisy begins to appear in full force.

Kol inwardly applauds himself for his ability to piss off his older brother not even two minutes into reuniting after decades. He smiles impishly and says with his arms extended in invitation, “Come, have a drink with me ‘Lijah. It’s been too long.” He slings his right arm around around his brother’s shoulders, steering him away from the crowd towards a small bar area stocked with various liquors in the back of the theater. There is wine, of course, but also tsipouro, a pomace brandy from Macedonia, various beers, and amber liquors that make humans see stars and sprout their love to piles of refuse the more one consumes.

“It is difficult to share a drink when you’ve been off playing the vagabond,” Elijah says as he follows him around the crowds of people watching the drivel on stage with enraptured expressions.

“Don’t forget rogue, dear brother. Or should I use a different word? Miscreant?” Kol shoots him a wapish smile. “Reprobate? Villain?” He nods to the bartender and indicates a bottle of alcohol with his finger, compelling the man to pour it for free. “Did I miss one?”

The seller hands them tumblrs full of thick, dark bitter liquid and Kol turns his back to lean against the bar. Elijah is sipping at his, stiff and formal in his rich robes, the attire elaborately decorated with jewels and bright colors. He’s wearing purple, the marks of royalty or wealth, appearing to all as a nobleman. Kol catches several of the common people and whores study his aloof older brother with interest. It’s a quality intrinsic to Elijah, his ability to charm people simply by his own distant and unapproachable manner. The victim finds that they want to unwrap the unattainable, get to the meat and the grit of it, and then blanch as they get to the core of horror that beats within.

In contrast, Kol is chaos and vibration, maneuvering his way through the crowds and charming them with his tongue and his wickedness, his skill at games and his seemingly benign congeniality. He’s like a snake, with the quick ability to change his skin, shaking off the old to adapt with the new. He’s dressed in a tunic of beige, with loose black pants made of lower quality, not poor, but not rich. A merchant, they’ll think, one who can afford decent company and drink for the night, but not one who, with the very wave of a hand, can decimate their entire lives and possess their lands. Simply put, though, it amuses him to play the common man. Despite the time they’ve been apart, Kol’s sure it’s been years since Elijah’s been comfortable living in squalor, instead of the riches the Original family's become accustomed to.

Elijah’s nose crinkles ever so slightly at the bitter flavor of the drink. “Did they make this in a hole at the bottom of a volcano?” his brother says, staring at his drink with disgust. Still, he sips anyway. Waste not, want not, and all that.

Kol shrugs. “A used-up chamber pot, perhaps.” He downs the drink, loving the burn and the way the bitterness coats his tongue. It sticks itself to his lungs, his ribs, rests in his stomach, and covers up the confusing emotions being near Elijah causes.

“You failed to answer my question,” Kol says after a few minutes of idle chatter where they both mutually disparage the bad acting on stage. “Are you alone?”

“For the moment,” Elijah replies, elusive as always. “Rebekah, I believe, is in Thessaloniki. NiNik is attending business.” His face is as smooth as marble, and Kol cannot tell what it is, but there’s something there underneath the words. Perhaps it is his own paranoia, spending years evading Nik’s minions, but the fact that Elijah doesn’t reveal more than this puts him on edge. Unconsciously, he straightens, neck stiff, but feet bouncing back and forth, and his fingers close around the cup in his hands just hard enough to make it shatter.

“And yourself?” Elijah asks, and this time he gives him a look that reminds Kol distinctly of their mother. As if he’s checking to make sure his brother is healthy and feeding himself.

Kol smiles wickedly. “Brothels are very accommodating.” He jerks his chin towards Antonius, who, one-hundred feet away, flirts with a muscular, bearded young man who, even from here, Kol sees possesses lovely eyes of vibrant blue.

Elijah makes a disparaging noise. “We’ve been staying in a perfectly comfortable manor. There is room for you there. Come home with me.” There’s a distinct air of command in his voice, a tone that indicates that Elijah’s not meant to be disobeyed in this.

“I’m good where I am,” Kol tells him anyway. He both loves and hates the scowl his brother aims to him. The childish part of him, the one that wants only to belong , is clinging to the illusion that his family desires him near, but the other, saner part of him, remembers the three times Elijah’s allowed Nik to use that dagger on him and drag him about the world without a word of protest. “Always fresh blood on tap, lots of pretty young things to have a splendid time with. What more do I need?”

Elijah purses his lips and takes a long sip of his drink. “Indeed,” he replies with skepticism. “The allure of family means little to you over painted catamites with no wits in their heads.”

Kol holds a hand over his heart and smiles, fluttering his eyelashes. “That wounds, Eli.” He smirks as Antonious begins to whisper in his conquest’s ear, then turns all of his attention to his brother. “My recurring fucks are more than just pretty faces.” Smoothing the expression on his own face, he asks, “How is Finn? Still with the dearly departed?”

A flash of guilt for the briefest of moments, before Elijah looks composed again. “You believe that I would allow that to happen to you?”

Kol raises an eyebrow, pushing down the anger that begins to churn in his gut. He laughs bitterly. “You’ve never stopped Nik before.” He shrugs. “As long as Nik is—well—Nik, I’m fine on my own.”

Elijah steps forward, and places a hand on his shoulder. His brother’s fingers drift over his pulse point soothingly, comfortingly. “We’ve heard of your massacres, brother.” A sigh, burdened and hard, comes next. “I cannot simply all—”

Screams echo throughout the theater as Kol quickly snaps his brother’s neck. The inhabitants begin to run, and a few well-meaning souls attempt to stop the murderer in their midst, but as soon as they come near, Kol compels them to go after their fellow entertainment seekers instead, making them believe that any brunette in the room is the killer. He strolls out of there with a whistle, before he runs at top speed back to the brothel he’s been stashing his stuff.


 

Antonius finds him five days later at an inn. Kol’s compelled the owner to let him stay in the largest room free of charge. He drinks from the inn keeper’s wife out of a wine glass and spends his days pacing around, jumping at shadows. He almost stakes the kid with a fire poker, before he realizes that his visitor is not Elijah or Nik. When the boy finds him, dressed in a tunic and a robe, he shoots the kid a disgruntled look, “Didn’t I tell you to have some fun?”

“Yes,” the boy confirms. “And there’s something I think you need to see.”

Kol rears back, taking his hand off the human’s throat and throwing the fire poker to the side with dawning realization. There is only one reason that the whore is here.

In the few days Kol’d been spending time with the boy and not fucking him, the whore’d contented himself with looking through the grimoire’s the bloodsucker owned. Kol’d suggested that if anything magical stood out then the boy was to find him immediately and let him know.

It’s dark outside, the only light in the twists and turns they walk is the sliver of the moon and the torch that Antonius holds in his right hand. Kol’s got a black hood over his head and a large cloak that brushes the cobblestones as they walk. The night air smells like smoke and heady meals cooking in pots, succulent scents that drifts for humans’ windows.

The place that they eventually come to is in a small, dead-end alley cloaked with magic. The air feels hot and smells like incense, and he hears raised, chanting voices coming from behind the painted yellow door. There are odd, swirling symbols that Kol thinks he recognizes strewn across the door, but he cannot pinpoint where from, and the bearded brunette from the other night is leaning against the wood, appearing to be waiting for them.

The man greets Antonius with three kisses, one on the right cheek and two on the left, then proceeds to do the same to Kol before he can protest. He then introduces himself as Leonidas. Despite the muscles, Kol thinks there is nothing lionlike about him. He has a simpering voice, and an odd gait as he walks, a limp in his right leg. An old wound, probably, given the strife in the area because of the warring Turks.

He keeps his hood on as they enter into a room that sounds overwhelmingly like a heartbeat choir. There are dozens upon dozens of men and women bowing and scraping on their knees. In the corner of the room, a painted woman with blonde curls plays a harp, and cushioned pads lay in rows upon the stone floor. In front of each human is a gold goblet that smells like a thick, bitter wine. The chanting nearly overtakes the sounds of their hearts and, as he follows the two men to cushions in the back of what he he realizes is a temple, and then his eyes are drawn to the woman at the altar, set in the head of the room.

She wears linen that’s so white it reminds him of falling snowflakes, held up at the right shoulder with a clasp of pure gold and sapphires. Draped across her body in the style of a toga, she’s got golden bracelets strapped around her forearms, and a large, heavy amulet rests between her collarbones. Her eyes are lined with kohl, her mouth as red as a cherry, and her long, thick hair falls to her waist. Atop her head is an elaborate headdress; a wolf’s head frozen with fangs bared. She is a dark vision from the depths of a monk’s worst wet dream.  

As he kneels down, he waves away a man dressed head-to-toe in white silk from giving him a goblet of wine, and studies her. She’s got a melodious voice, the kind that ropes men in and keeps them there until it strikes, devouring one whole. Keeping the hood down to mask his face, he lowers his chin just enough to escape notice, but with still enough of a vantage point that he can see.

Tuning into her words, he hears, “—will bring about the end. He will come and the righteous shall die, the sinners shall die, the wicked and the meek alike, all shall be gone. The world will be remade, in his image, until there is no more death.”

An amused smirk flits across his face as he thinks, Have they brought me to a cult that worships the devil ? That might provide some fun. Dark magic is rare, rarer than any other kind, and witches who practice it are easier to convince of his regard towards them than others. At once, the candles in the lanterns scattered along the walls in a row light on fire, bright and high, the flames erupting volcanically.

She continues, but rather than entertain him, her next words make him freeze. “Silas is the answer. Silas will provide us with the means to inherit the earth. Immortal, immutable, forever.”

His throat tightens, a lump growing like a boulder, and he looks to his left, to Antonius, a lowly whore, enraptured by her words, and then to the other man on his right. His eyes are dazed, crazed and glinting with the picture she paints where kings and thieves and vagabonds become dust and these wackjobs are rewarded by the demon they pay homage to.

Well , he thinks, this won’t do . He listens to her for nigh on an hour and, though he’s never been one for reason and diplomacy when ripping hearts is just as effective, finds himself almost saddened with the realization that there’s nothing to deal with this situation but good old-fashioned butchery. Perhaps it is the reality that Elijah is near. Elijah the stalwart hypocrite who will be ever so disappointed by his actions. One that will no doubt convince him that his out-of-control brother needs to be reined in.

But, there is no doubt in his mind that they need to go. Ayana’s warning rings clear, as well as the other numerous witches he’s met since that day. The woman at the altar is mad, a fanatic in the worst sense of the word; one who not only believes in every word she spews, but hell bent on achieving it. Hell on earth, as if widespread chaos until nothing remains, not even ghosts, is the most brilliant idea in the history of Miðgarðr .

While gullible little Antonius sucks in every drop of vile poison, Kol wills himself to stay his own hand with patience he doesn’t possess, then slips out unnoticed, mind racing and frantic as he plans.


 

He attends their meetings cloaked and silent for three weeks, watching and recording their every move, until the night he’s gathered everything he needs. He pulls Antonius to the side and gives him one last, lingering kiss on the lips, and then goes to the servant that pours out the wine.

Handing the man several vials of liquid, he compels him to pour it into every casket of fermented grapes they possess. Then, hood obscuring his face, he waits, knees on a cushion all the way in the back of the room. He’s in the middle of his row, with six worshippers next to him, all on the edge of their sanity waiting for the priestess to begin.

The first sign that his plan is falling into tatters comes when she doesn’t light the candles by magic. Instead, walking with sandaled feet away from the altar, she takes the large stone jug of wine from the servant's hands, slashes a cut into her palm and allows the blood to drip and mix with the intoxicating elixir, then begins to pour it into the goblets, her hand on the top of each supplicant’s head. She chants and prays as she moves.

Kol’s eyes flit back and forth through the crowd. His ears can pick up the faint sounds of stomach groans as the overdose of aconite, infused with magic spells from a dark practitioner he’s found, begins to take immediate effect. In ten minutes, they’ll all be dead. She moves slowly, slothlike, taking time to bless each and every single one of Silas’ sycophants. He grits his teeth, mouth straightening into a line, and tries not to growl.

Come on , he whispers, over and over again. A mantra. There are lamentations coming from the crowd, tales of woe, and the sounds of more and more people beginning to sicken, perceptible only to his ears. She hasn’t noticed yet. Come on .

She comes to the last row. As Antonius drinks, there is not even a pang of regret. He’d been a means to an end, after all. Then she comes to Kol. The poison will be irritating to him, but only mildly, and there’s the added bonus of her blood. Witch blood is a rare treat that makes his head sing and his nerves dance. He waits for her to pour it into his own goblet.

Instead of a hand on his head, soft fingers grip his chin, and then his eyes meet seemingly fathomless depths of darkness. One finger skirts across his chin to caress his bottom lip, light and fleeting. There is a curious smile on her face that leaves him unsettled. A strange craving for something begins to build in the dark pits of his soul, drawing him in, bait caught in a trap.

He looks away before he drowns.

“You are a stranger,” the priestess says in a sing-song tone. “A wanderer. A creature without a home.” The blood-laced poison wine makes his stomach growl, the need to consume beginning to ravage his fragile tendrils of control. Her words, too, strike a cord in him. But it’s far from the reception she hopes. Bitterness wells up and the spell she’s weaving starts to fade, pushed to the back of his mind.

“Always,” Kol replies before he flashes forward. The feel of hot flesh pumping in his hands, then the squelch of blood joins the sounds of people groaning, dropping dead from the aconite, and their irritating, breathless chanting even as the reaper comes to greet them. The servant man whose heart he’s just ripped out falls down dead.

In the next second, he is down on his knees as five or six cultists still with full faculties rise, their hands outstretched and chanting in Ancient Greek. His head feels like an axe is embedded in it and his blood is on fire.

Her smile is still there, he sees, as he narrows his eyes through the agony and focuses on her. She is standing utterly still and infinitely calm. As if her followers expire every day.

“I see death around you. It is in your aura. A stain covers it, black as pitch. It’s fuses into your bones and wraps around your heart like a suctioning tentacle. Nothing, not time, not absolution or penitence, will erase it. So why fight us? You are a killer.”

He growls. There is truth in her words. It didn’t matter what he did, flipping the switch to full on apathy or not, his mother’s actions marked him indelibly. The reckless and rebellious core of him, though, scoffs at her words, and he’s able to take out the worshipper closest to him by using all his strength to throw a hole into the man’s chest with the wine goblet.

Still, she continues, “Everything you are is seeped in ashes and blood.”

“Do you never shut up?” he manages to mutter through the excruciating axe sensation burying itself into his skull. He glares at her, noting the eerie fascination in her eyes and wonders if she’s going to attempt to sacrifice him.

She’ll be in for a rude shock , he thinks.

But no, instead, a manipulative smile spreads across her lovely face. “He can give you all you desire. Chaos. Power. Family .”

This sends him over the edge. With a single scream, he pushes past the agony, snapping his legs up and, head spinning, moves.

Snap. The spell lifts at the same time as her neck is freed from her body, jolting the cultists into a state of disbelief. He lops her head at one of them, a makeshift shotput, then reaches into his belt and throws a large, sharp dagger into the throat of another. Leaping over the body of one of the kneeling, poisoned corpses, he uses both arms to snap the neck of the third, then backflips and kicks through the nasal bone of another, bits of bone acting like shards into the brain. The fifth dies at the end of his fangs.

Walking through the carnage, he makes sure that each and every one of the poison victims push up daisie. He sighs when he’s done, satisfied and weary. Then, with his mouth dripping the sticky residue of post-feeding, Kol goes back and bends down next to the headless priestess. “Terribly sorry, darling,” he tells her with a dark, lazy grin, “but I’m not quite ready for Ragnarok to come.”

 

 

When he gets back to the inn, he hears movement long before he enters the room. The door is barely open when his intruder says, “My, my brother don’t you look savage. Positively gruesome.” Kol freezes. With a wicked smirk, the other man continues, “I believe you’ve got a bit of brain matter in your hair.”

Nik reclines in the plush, cushioned chair, and pushes a glass of wine back and forth between his hands. “I think you've overstayed your extended getaway, brother,” the blonde continues in a patronizing tone. “It’s clear that you simply cannot be left alone.” The smirk widens. “Poor Elijah will be so disappointed.”

Kol growls with irritation. He tosses the blood drenched robe onto the floor, and stalks past his brother, waiting for Nik to make a move. Every inch of him is poised to attack, though he projects an outward appearance of calm. He dips his hand into the basin of water he’s got next to the bed, keeping eyes on his brother. Nik watches him as if he’s a side-show, silent and sneering (for a few minutes at least), the entire time.

As he turns around to lean his lower back against the nightstand, he rubs at his bloody mouth with the rag. “Elijah pretends that we are not monsters,” Kol says with a curl of his lip. He drags the reddened rag through his hair and notices, unpleasantly, that there is, indeed, bits of flesh and other unknown substances sticking to the brown strands. “He possesses his own little delusion winch cage. He’ll pull up the savagery when it's necessary, then shove it back down, until it benefits him again.”

He tosses the rag towards Nik. The other man wrinkles his nose with disgust as it lands in front of him, next to the goblet of blood he’s nursing, probably acquired from one of the all too willing maids or patrons of the inn. “And yet I do not see him here. And ‘Bekah, I hear, is out of your sight. Tell me, Nik, why am I the one who suddenly needs a nanny?”

Nik spreads his arms out to the side. His lips turn up in that fake smile of his, but his eyes are dark. Wrathful and venomous, tainted with something deeper, an emotion Kol can’t pinpoint. “Can I not just miss my brother?” Nik asks mockingly.

Kol laughs. The sound, even to his own ears, is brittle and piercing. “I was unaware you had cause to miss Elijah, Nik. He’s tied to your bootstraps, after all.”

The smile is off Nik’ face in an instant. The expression that follows is dark, features twisting into a look so savage Kol wonders if this is the face that Nik’ victims see; the ones he reviles more than others, the ones for which there is no escape from the torments and misery his brother will put them through. Rather than send a shiver of fear through him, though, it makes him alert, and he stands up straighter. There’s a window in this room, a few feet from him, and if he leaps over the bed he can make it in time to dive out before Nik has cause to move, but the alley outside is a dead-end, and chances are his brother’s got minions skulking in wait.

There’s no escaping this , Kol thinks reluctantly. But I’ll be damned if I’m going happily .

Nik leans back, muscles loose, and though it should be out of place with the violence that’s just below the surface, it’s not. His brother knows that he holds the upper hand.

“If you come with me willingly, brother,” Nik says, and a dark smirk forms, “then I won’t have to use this.” His right arm goes down, under the table, and when he comes back up, there is a familiar silver dagger in his hands. Nik throws it up in the air, it flips, and he catches it by the pointy end. Kol’s heart jumps.

Endless sleep. A cessation of his immortal existence, as if he’s a child whose toys need to be taken away, but, instead of a momentary time out, there is simply nothing for an indefinite amount of time. Neither short nor long. Absolutely nothing, until his brother deems his punishment at an end. He thinks of Finn, for a brief moment, and fears a similar fate.

A lump forms in his throat.

“You’re out of control. You can’t be left alone,” Nik repeats. He spreads his arms up, again, and it reminds Kol of an eagle—a blood eagle. Warily, Kol watches him. “I’m just two days in this city and already one of my minions has gone and told me you’ve made a mess.”

Not one to keep his mouth shut and out of the fire, Kol snaps back, “Yes, your little minions. I must say, Nik, it’s tiresome to have to keep killing them all the time. Perhaps I should have sent you their heads back as as care package.”

Suddenly, Nik rears up, and there is a loud crash as his fist slams into the table, upending the goblet and several books stacked there. They fall to the ground in a graceless tumble. Kol watches this display unimpressed.

“You think I had those vampires following you for my amusement?” Nik screams. Then, as he is apt to do in his temper tantrums, his brother flips the table. It crashes against the wall, splintering the wood, and shards fly across the floor. Kol keeps his eyes focused on their silhouettes, cast by the candle light against the opposite wall, for a moment or two, morbidly fascinated by their shadows. Focusing on his brother again, Kol refuses to cow as Nik stalks forward. “I did it because it’s not safe! You’re not safe. You—with your lusts and your petulance and your violence. You’ll draw him right to you!”

“That’s ironic,” Kol replies, before he flashes to his right, leans over the mattress and grabs the dagger he’s got hidden under his pillow. He throws it, knowing that Nik will catch it before impact. Using that as a distraction, he tackles his brother, tumbling them both to the floor, Nik underneath him. He lands a hit, then a second, before his brother bucks him off. As he falls back onto his heels, he spits out, “Mikael’s more concerned about you than me. And it’s not my name I hear people whispering in fear.”

Nik growls and comes towards him. Kol sweeps his legs out, then grabs his brother as he sways, throwing him into the bed. His hits one of the posts of the frame, and the curtain comes down on top of him. “If I’m the beacon that’s going to draw him, why try to find me? Better off to keep me far, far away.” He picks up the dropped dagger, stabbing his brother in the gut as the older man rushes him, flicking the fabric that clings to Nik’s back onto the floor.. His brother groans in pain. “Face it, Nik, this isn’t about safety. It’s about cont—”

Kol’s head impacts the wall with a sickening crunch, cracks appearing to his right once he blinks the stars out of his eyes. His brother’s got him by the throat.

Kol chokes, hacking his lungs out as the pressure increases. “If I have to control you, then I will,” Nik swears darkly.

His vision goes black and Kol thinks his brother end this right then and there, kill him and drag his body through the streets of Athene for all to see. Before he fades into the sweet lure of darkness, the pressure loosens, and he slides down the wall, legs trembling and weak. Distantly, he catches the sound of arguing, another voice he thinks he knows, but he can’t make out the words. Struggling to come back to himself, he opens his eyes and, then, his head explodes, something hard and heavy against his temple, and nothing but black follows.

Chapter Text

~ Toledo, Leon-Castile, 1400

 

Kol grimaces and watches the bare hints of the sunlight fade into red and orange, then disappear into black. It reminds him of Nik’s latest painting, the one decorating the living room of their compelled estate within the city. It’s a Thursday, the alleys and streets empty for the moment, and the bloodsucker paces up and down the cobblestone street as he waits. The air smells of spice, of almond trees and candle wax and all manner of warm things, and, as he lingers, breathing in the fragrance of the night air, he notes how narrow the streets are. It’s similar to most of the city, and the buildings are made out of the same type of bricks and stone in a tone of warm brown.

Everything about Toledo is brown and brick, or yellow and rust red, but there is life and vibrancy in this city that sings within his blood. The colors, the spice, the hills and mountains, all of it appeals to him more than any other place he’s ever seen in his long life.

When the sun finally sets, he waits for another twenty minutes, before he sees a cloaked figure finally emerge from the shadows. The figure’s head is turning this way and that, warily looking around at the few men who’ve wandered outside of their homes before he finally comes up to Kol. “Bloody hell, darling,” Kol says, slightly irritated, when Juan takes down his hood and greets him with a nod, standing an inch or two from him. “If I was human I’d have died of the frost by now. It’s frigid out here.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Kol notices a young boy of about thirteen eying him warily. He smiles charmingly in his general direction, an attempt to seem friendly, but he knows that most of the people in this city are suspicious of strangers. He doesn’t blame them, exactly, since the psychotic and zealous preaching of the Catholics makes the situation for many inhabitants precarious, but, nonetheless, it irritates.  

Juan hoots some people a look that causes them to relax slightly, their heartbeats slowing from a rapid drumbeat to a smoother staccato. He’s a tall young man with a comforting, comely face. His body is muscled in the lean way of one who studies more than he fights, and has never had to pick up a sword or an axe. His hair is a dark brown, highlighted with red tones, and his eyes are greener than emeralds, his lips curved, and his olive complexion unblemished. He is by far one of the more arresting humans Kol’s seen this century, and one who’s perfectly aware of his charms.

“My sister Eva is to be betrothed. I could not simply abscond as soon as the blessings concluded,” Juan says, then he reaches up to fix his hair, displaced from the hood. “My own intended was also there.” He smirks at the jealousy that Kol doesn’t even bother to hide. The thought of Sancha, a young woman he’s never met, sends sparks of anger through him. Juan reaches up and brushes back an unruly strange of Kol’s hair from his forehead, his fingers lingering tangled up in the lock. “Besides, I was leaving with one of my father’s scrolls. He wanted to know what I intended it for.”

Kol sighs, then thins his lips into a line. Replying in Castilian, a language he’s picked up quickly due to months of studying with Juan, he says, “I’m sure he’s thrilled to know you want it to help a bloodsucking demon with a dark spell to talk to ghosts.”

The young man looks away, for a second or two, as a flash of shame takes over his features. The practice of necromancy is dark , a magic so vile, usually, that no witch who believes in the balance of nature will perform it.

Then, his expression smooths, and he smiles softly. “Yes. In this you’re right. Which is why he does not know.” Within moments, he turns around again, bidding the vampire to follow him. As they walk, Kol contemplates this conundrum of a witch, a twenty-three year old scholar he’d come across at the Universidad de Murcia while looking into the secrets of some of the deepest, darkest magic hidden so well it’s like prying water from the desolate sands of Arabia. For some reason, though, this young man seems to find something about Kol trustworthy, or perhaps just intriguing, for in the studiousif not particularly devoutyoung man, Kol’s found an unlikely ally.

And more , Kol thinks, even more puzzled by that aspect of their relationship, new as it is. Juan’s moods tend to shift, as mercurial as water, and he drifts back and forth between bitter and thoughtful, horrified and elated. During the darker times, Kol’s bereft of the witch for a few days, but the man always seems to find his way back.

“Probably for the best, darling,” Kol says proudly. Despite this, he feels oddly on edge, contradicting his usual defiant attitude towards rules and authority. He tugs at the hem of his sleeve. “Where are we going?”

Juan gives him a look over his shoulder and Kol can hear the eyeroll. Benefit of being a vampire and all. As the years go by, he and his siblings grow stronger, strong enough that even the most minute of sounds or movements becomes a flashing beacon to them.

“Do not be foolish,” the witch tells him. “It does not suit your age.”

They walk uphill for a few minutes until they arrive at the small, private apartment that Kol’s compelled out of a seventy-year-old human man. Elijah, Rebekah, and Nik remain unaware of its existence, since he’s had to come sparingly, lest one of his brother’s compelled minions follow him and out the place to the grand poobah of paranoid overlords. It’s been decades, but still, Nik’s attempts to control both his and Rebekah’s every move is tedious, especially combined with a rather new tendency to wake up in cold sweats during the night from dreams he’s unable to interpret.

There’s only one room in the flat, covered with wooden desks and scrolls detailing all manner of delightful magic. There are also a myriad amount of candles, beeswax and tallow, white and black, tall and thin or thick and short. Juan snaps his fingers, mutters an incantation, and, instantly, every candle in the room is lit, giving the shadows an eerie glow.  Kol looks to single the window, where a thick, black curtain is pulled shut, and then to the bed, the only other piece of furniture in the room. Resting in the middle of the linen duvet is the cat Kol’s been pandering to, a small and skinny orange thing he calls Trjegul. The lazy, arrogant feline looks up lazily, gives a single mew , and then proceeds to go promptly back to sleep.

“Affectionate creature,” Kol says sarcastically, going over to pet the cat behind the ears. He allows it for a moment or two, before his claws come out to swipe.

Juan smiles with hesitation at the animal. “I do not know why you keep him,” the witch bemusedly tells him. He throws his cloak and the scroll that’s been hidden inside one of the inner pockets onto the bed. Trjegul moves to inspect it curiously, sniffing and batting. “He’s a vicious creature.”

Kol smirks. “As am I.” He darts around the bed to kiss the witch deeply. He tastes like candied almonds and baked fish and something heavy, the aftertaste of wine, but underneath it all, blood . All of it, luscious and zinging under his veins, the small little vessels everywhere beneath supple, soft skin. “Cats are efficient killers and spectacular hunters. And they only give their affections to ones who are worthy.”

Unlike horses , Kol thinks with a fair amount of derision towards his brother, Nik’s, beloved steeds. Once you break them, they are yours. But not a cat . Pulling away, he grins wickedly. “The Ancient Egyptians used to worship them.”

Juan rolls his eyes, his tongue darting out to lick at his lips. “They also believed that a male god, Set, could get pregnant. ” A tiny grin forms. “As did your own people. Strange tales. Far as I know no magic has achieved that .”

Kol shrugs and jumps backward onto the bed. It creaks underneath his weight, not the best quality or the most sturdy, and groans louder as Juan joins him, sitting cross-legged and opening the scroll. Kol’s right leg swings over and rests right next to the scroll, and he pulls down a pillow to lay his neck onto. After a few moments, though, he needs to move. The words on the parchment are intelligible from this angle, though, so he shifts, comes up behind the witch, and places his head on his shoulder, using the abandoned pillow as a footrest.

As they both read, he wraps his arms around the other man’s waist, his breath tickling red-brown curls, displacing them so that they brush against his own skin. Green eyes speed read over words and incantations, but before long the young witch grows tense with agitation in his arms.

Letting out a growl of unadulterated frustration, Juan leans his head back onto Kol’s shoulder, removing the purpose of using him as a body-pillow. “This is worthless,” the witch nearly spits out, waving his hand towards a passage that talks about spirit possession. “The only thing of worth is a blood connection.”

Which I already knew , Kol thinks, growing irritated himself. He bites his bottom lip, chewing at it with ferocity. “Unless Nik gets possessed by an imp of kindness tomorrow, I doubt I’m running into any witches of her bloodline in the next century.”

Juan rubs the back of his head against Kol’s shoulder, and his eyelids flutter shut. “Well,” he says, “unless you want to call one of my ancestors we need to find another book. And I doubt my father has it.”

“Back to the drawing board,” Kol mutters. The witch’s pulse jumps tantalizingly underneath his skin but, instead of fangs, he places a kiss there instead. “Might as well have fun with our night then, darling .”

A wicked grin forms on Juan’s face, and then Kol allows his supernaturally strong body to be tackled onto the bed. The impact almost knocks into Trjegul, who hisses angrily and jumps off, tail fluffed like a prized shrubbery bush, to sulk.




 

Elijah, Kol thinks as he leans into the uncomfortable wooden chair their compelled hosts have in the dining room, can really be the most boorish man in the world . His eldest walking brother is, as ever, prim and proper in his demeanour, his clothes pressed and perfect, and even his accent beyond measure. He’s treating the humans as one might treat royalty —which, Kol supposes, they distantly are, being nobility and all—but in such a way that it’s becoming sycophantic.

Rebekah, likewise, flirts with eldest son of the couple who owns the house, Señor Andres and Se ñ ora Taresa. He’s pretty enough, but there’s not a brain cell in his head, especially since he’s been made to agree with every inane word that comes out of the blonde’s mouth. One of the servants, a young girl of about thirteen, comes up behind Kol, wrist bleeding into a cup to offer it to him. He takes it and waves her away, eying Nik, who has another servant on his lap for an actual meal, who looks mockingly back at him.

Elijah’s back is turned to them, but he’s stiffer than a tree with no branches, and no doubt plotting ways to burn them all alive or bury them in dark tombs until their desiccated flesh turns to ash for maggots and they’re living skeletons writhing inwardly with so much pain they might as well be in hell. Kol should know, he’d once spent three weeks chained at the bottom of the Jordan River as an experiment.

Finn’s in some room or other, dead to the world, as usual. Kol looks away from his half-brother, than to Rebekah, but the disgust he feels towards her nauseating display threatens to make him expel his drink, and so he  tries to focus on Elijah instead. With his left hand, he begins to tap a rhythm on the dinner table, then he sighs loudly , causing his sister to turn to him with an angry look. “Be quiet,” she says in a tone too low for the humans to pick up.

Kol smirks at her and retorts, “Stop being such a strumpet.” Without warning, an eating knife comes flying towards his face. He catches it in between his middle and index finger, flips it, then embeds it into the table. Gazing up from underneath his eyelashes, he sees the horrified expressions beneath the compelled motions the host couple make at the destruction of their no doubt ancestral heirloom, as well as Elijah’s poisonous glare. Nik merely chuckles around the blood in his mouth, his outfit a mess of red, red, and more red, rather than black and gold.

Turning around, the noble brother gives all three of them a piercing stare. In a tone that makes it clear he’s attempting to be calm, Elijah says, “Behave yourselves.”

“Come now, Elijah,” Nik says. The woman on his lap slumps to the floor, eyes distant. Kol hears how slow her heart beat is and figures she has a few seconds before it stops. He tears his eyes away from her and to his brothers. Nik rises from his chair with his arms spread. “You can’t blame them for being wapish. It’s been rather boring here, hasn’t it?”

It’s been three weeks of monotony stuck in here with you lot , Kol thinks, longing for his own apartment and the stray cat and his witch. Juan’s busy in Cuenca, to visit with another coven there, and the bloodsucker is reluctant to admit that he misses him. It’s strange and unusual, given Kol’s propensity to screw and leave people, even witches he enjoys learning from or teaching to. He’s four hundred years old, he can’t be blamed for forgetting about most of the people he’s met, not when he’s got an eternity to look forward to of people fading in and out, the only constants that remain his brothers and sister.

“You’re just now gathering this fact, Nik?” he asks, distracting himself from his wandering thoughts, and lifts his leather boots up from the floor to place them deliberately on a golden plate. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Elijah’s glare deepen, making him grin. “I must say, you’re a bit slow on the uptake, brother.”

Nik shoots him a look, and now Kol’s got three siblings glaring at him, Rebekah still stinging from earlier. His sister’s always known how to nurse a grudge. Nik, though, quickly shakes off the outward signs of his frustration, and gestures to three servants, compelling them to go find instruments and play them some music for entertainment.

“Niklaus,” Elijah says with more than a note of exasperation in his voice. Nik waves his hand, dismissing their older brother’s concerns. The two compelled owners of the estate stand there, silent and submissive, and for all they can do right now they might as well be gargoyles set atop a church roof.

“It’s just a bit of fun, Elijah,” Nik retorts with a wide, wicked grin and a viscous look in his blue eyes. His blonde hair is ruffled, coming out of the ribbon he’s got pulling it back, and his doublet almost completely unbuttoned.

As soon as the servants come back with three harps, Nik turns to look at the compelled couple’s son. “Rodrigo,” he says with mocking affection in his voice. “Dance with my sister.”  

The young man rises like a marionette doll, compulsion pulling invisible strings. A brief look of distress flicks across his sister’s face, before it is gone, and Rebekah is drawn up from her chair, the two of them swaying to the music. Elijah steps forward, but then Nik compels one of the servant girls to “distract his noble brother for him,” and another girl is sent over to Kol. She’s pretty, with blonde curls and freckles on her olive skin, and she grabs his hand without invitation. As he moves, the plate crashes to the ground, a slight ding on the stone floor, and he grabs at a bunch of candied almonds with his free hand. He pops them into his mouth, and then he’s dancing next to his sister.  

After a few minutes, Kol looks to Elijah, who is half-dancing and half-prying his girl away from him. All he succeeds in doing is shuffling her like a limp doll across the floor to get to Nik, who’s got the mistress of the house as his partner. The two brothers are arguing over the music, but Kol doesn’t care to hear the words. It’s the same as the last five hundred times this has occurred, with Nik’s lack of concern for the humans they compel and Elijah’s carefully crafted facade clashing once again until either Elijah resigns himself or Nik grows numb.

He’s drawn out of his thoughts when he feels a small hand on his neck. He jerks back a step, nearly crashing into a 9th century Moorish vase on display, and then says, “None of that now, darling.” She looks confused, and Kol tries to think of what his brother might have told her to do, because she tries again, this time standing up on her toes to kiss him. He lets go of her and flashes around the table.

“Nik!” he yells, coming around to stand next to Elijah, who nearly tosses his own compelled partner at him. “Tell her to stop that!” Elijah’s partner gets up off the ground, and reaches for his stoic brother. “Both of them.”

He’s abhors the fact that compulsion can only be undone by the one who performs it. The blonde girl is in front of him again, and Nik chuckles heavy with mirth. “Come now, brothers, you two have been so—well—stiff as a corpse lately, even you, little brother.” He lets go of the mistress and spreads his arms out, again. “Let out some of the tension.”

Kol growls and lets out the tension by snapping the blonde’s neck. Her body crumples next to his feet, as lifeless a puppet as she was mere seconds before. An amused look flashes across Nik’s face, a bothered one on Elijah’s, but Kol figures it’s about ten minutes or so before the other brunette does the same.

Without a word to anyone, Kol leaves, rolling his eyes at the taunts about “escorts and bodyguards” that follow him out the door.




 

A week later, Kol wakes up with a gasp. In the brief moments between awareness and oblivion, he recalls the sensation of burning, of drowning lungs and scalding nerves, the jeers of a thousand enemies, and then focuses on the soft knocks reverberating against the door. He shakes his head, hair flying every which way, and shoots up from the bed, displacing a disgruntled Trjegul.

“Fuck,” he mutters, and rubs at the crust in the corner of his eyes. Hand drifting, he scratches at his collarbone as he moves to the door, ready to rip out hearts if it’s one of Nik’s toadies, and swings it open with a flash of fangs.

The man at the door draws down his hood as soon as their eyes meet, and a wide grin stretches his lips. “Do you greet everyone that way?” he asks, indicating the naked state Kol occupies.

He opens the door wider for Juan to come in, and then shuts it, leaning up against the wood and stretching his arms above his head, popping his muscles for show. “Shouldn’t deprive people of this work of art, darling.”

“Careful, any bigger and your ego won’t fit through the door,” Juan jokes. He takes off his cloak and throws it onto the bed. The cat slinks from the shadows beneath the frame and jumps back onto the mattress to submerge his body in the fabric. “I’ve been knocking for three nights. Your brother got you on a leash or something?”

“He’s been hosting parties,” Kol replies, and lets his his right hand caress the muscles of his stomach. “And I have to shake my ‘bodyguards.’”

Juan’s eyes follow Kol’s hands, his tongue coming out to lick at the corner of his lip. “I don’t understand why you simply don’t rip their heads off.” One hand begins to unlace his wool tunic. He’s not dressed up, just a simple pair of breeches and shirt, so there are tiny goosebumps on his olive skin from the cool air.

Kol waves his right hand. “Nik’s a paranoid bastard,” he says. He uses his left foot to propel away from the door, coming closer to the witch. Hot breath ghosts over his skin. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he lines them all up into formation as soon as he’s got Rebekah and I within eyesight, then counts them all.”

He probably keeps them in a pen like livestock, too.

He lets as sly, seductive smile form. “Enough about my brother,” he says, and he reaches to brush the other man’s tunic off his shoulders. It pools to the floor. “He really does put a damper on my mood.”

No more is said before Kol draws them both over to the bed, in efforts to reacquaint with the taste of skin underneath his lips, the feel of blood running through veins. They lose themselves in a haze of sweat and screams and the creak of old, fragile bed frames, and the sight of wide-eyes when it all ends. Afterwards, he sits up with his back against the wall, rubs his fingers gently against Juan’s collarbone, before he finally asks, “Did you find anything?”

Juan sits up straighter. His hair is a mess of curls, and there is a large, dark bruise on the right side of his neck. Matching ones litter his chest and hip bones. He places his hand on the mattress, and cranes his head over his shoulder, places his chin down on a bit of sharp bone, to look at Kol through his fringes.

Finally, he says with hesitance, “There is a spell.” His fingers move idly on the ruffled covers, and his jaw clenches.

Kol’s brow furrows and then asks, “Then what’s wrong?”

Juan sighs and gets off the bed. The sheets fall back, showing miles of naked skin, and then he bends towards his discarded cloak to draw out a thick piece of parchment, which he hands to Kol. The vampire quickly reads the list of ingredients; mugwort and wormwood, the blood of a witch, an object owned by the ghost in question, a black obsidian mirror, and the skull of a living being burned together underneath the light of a new moon.

“Unless you have anything of Ayana’s after four-hundred years,” Juan tells him, “then I think maybe you should find a way to stop the dreams. Or else it’s going to drive you mad.”

“I’m already mad,” Kol replies absentmindedly. He rubs at a ring of plain iron that is on his left hand, a fraternal twin to the daylight ring of lapis lazuli on his right, and his teeth worry at his bottom lip. “Will this do?” he says, finally, after long moments of contemplation. Juan looks confused as he holds up his hand, iron ring facing outwards.

“Your ring?” Juan says and looks at him as if he’s suddenly developed the inability to comprehend basic words. “It needs to be—”

“Hers, yes,” Kol says, “and it was once. She gave it to my mother as a wedding gift. Then my mother gave it to me.”

Intrigued, Juan pulls his hand closer, his fingers lightly tracing over the band. He’s searching for something, not magic, because that’s easy to find, but ownership, perhaps, or maybe something else. After a few minutes, he says, “There’s no guarantee. It’s been in a lot of hands.”

The words are an understatement, given that Kol knows the ring passed from dozens of her ancestors before Ayana gifted it to her best friend, but the chance to contact her, even as slight as it is, quells the frustration that’s been building and the bleak terror he has of sleeping at night with the promise of the dreams to come. He’s close, he can sense it, and he just needs to be patient.




 

The ingredients take time to acquire. At the very least, the black obsidian mirror is the most expensive and so elusive that even Kol’s contacts are limited. The skull is easy enough once he digs up one of the graves in the cemetery, and the herbs are stocked by every witch worth their salt. Until Kol’s old contacts come through, though, they’re stuck waiting. They pass the time in the apartment with sex and poetry, interspersed with long moments where Kol watches Juan practice magic. One day, hypnotized by the gentle, swaying motions of Juan lifting feathers up and down, he drifts into darker thoughts.

Nik grows angrier because of the amount of time Kol spends away from the compelled estate, but he can’t muster the energy it takes to give two bothers about it. Let him try to dagger me again , Kol thinks, I’m tired of him and his self-aggrandizing. Even Elijah’s showing signs of visibly getting upset with Nik’s rapid and recurring mood swings. His hybrid brother has never been the most stable, especially not since their mother cast the curse that bound his werewolf side, but the last few weeks have been a massive headache.

Furthermore, their compelled estate is proving to be precarious the longer they stay. Rodrigo is dead, and Rebekah’s grief is fresh and raw but, alas, it’s a pain that she’s accustomed to. She still thinks of Nik as the brother who made her toys and calmed her hurts, but he barely recalls the time when Nik was his favorite brother, both of them the products of Mikael's scorn, outsiders and unworthy in their father’s eyes. He doesn’t look at him and see sword-fighting in the woods or pranks on Elijah and Finn. No, his familial love is buried underneath cold and wrathful hatred that erupts like a volcano into periods of savagery the longer he lives, accumulates the more slights his brother casts upon him, the more Nik ruins and controls his life. Every time Nik’s paranoia and obsession clouds who he used to be, twisting it until all that’s there is this maniacal bastard that uses even his own family as toys , the more Kol wants to stab him in the heart and be free of him. Everytime he watches Rebekah grieve over another lost love, only to forgive Nik and run back to him, coddle him as if he’s an innocent, or Elijah follow his every move hoping to save him, Kol’s set adrift into the outskirts of the family, the only one still bleeding.

And underneath it all, one constant, unconscious thought prickles at him. Why aren’t I worthy of that attention ?

A few days after, a moment of curiosity hits Juan, as they eat manchego cheese and bread dipped in oil. The witch asks Kol about the foods he’d eaten as a child, and it's the first time that the vampire recalls anyone caring about something so banal. Upon the table, there is wine and grapes and olives, and a hundred candles waiting for the attempt at the ritual.

He twists his daylight ring, and remembers the maize of his homeland, the bread made out of barley and amaranth and eating sunflower seeds roasted over a fire with his sister and little brother. Remembers the soup made of beans and squash and maize that their neighbors taught them to make, and the wild raspberries picked during the height of the season, dipped in honey and bursting with sweetness. The tart cranberries. Peppers and pumpkins, wild rabbits and venison, flavours as distant as the moon to him as he eats human food in Toledo.

“My village doesn’t exist anymore,” Kol replies. “So there is no use in dwelling on it.” He pops an olive in his mouth, and almost cringes at the salty flavor of it he’s never cared for.

The next day, an undead former witch he met in Lisboa twenty years before finally comes through. One the night of the new moon, he evades four of his brother’s minions in a wild goose chase around the city, while carrying a large and awkwardly shaped package underneath his arm. When he and Juan open it later, they stare at it open-mouthed with bemusement.

“She couldn’t find anything smaller?” It’s not just black obsidian, but a mirror made into an idol of a god-like creature, one that Kol doesn’t recognize. “That’s going to be a pain to melt.”

There’s a note in a scrawling script attached as well. Kol, you owe me for this. I spent a lot of money getting this across the ocean a few years ago. Love, Yaretzi .

Juan frowns and eyes him with a hint of jealousy in his eyes. “How did you meet her?”

“We both wanted to feed off the same whore in a brothel,” Kol tells him, not missing a beat. He’s intrigued, though, by the mention of across the ocean. Far as he knows, most people don’t even believe his homeland exists. The Northerners who went there have failed to go back, most seem to pass off the tales as myths fit only for sagas, and those that live there haven’t bothered establishing trade with the Old World. He finds himself wondering if she’d hailed from the land, recalling her dark skin and darker eyes.

Juan sighs and sits in the middle of the bed. His tunic is undone, showing smooth muscles, and he’s in a simple pair of linen breeches. With a muttered incantation, all of the candles in the room light themselves, and then the young witch is instructing him to place the bowl on the ground.

“You’re going to have to hold that thing while it melts,” the witch tells him a bit apologetically. Kol shrugs, and grits his teeth as the young man lights it on fire, voice growing louder and louder. It singes horrifically, and the smell of his flesh burning is unpleasant, mixed with the blood coming from Juan’s nose, it creates a potent stench to the room. Once it’s been melted into black goo, Juan waits for a while, needing to gather his strength, drinking wine like it's a lifeline, before he asks Kol to put the rest of the ingredients in the bowl.

As he takes off Ayana’s ring, an ornament that’s been a part of himself for centuries, a sense of reluctance hits him. It’s almost as if he is throwing her away, rather than finding her. Juan puts a hand on his shoulder, holds him with a gesture of comfort, and then the ring disappears into the black liquid with a plop. The witch picks up the bowl and brings it over to the middle of the floor where, throughout all this, the cat’s been sleeping without a care in the world.

Juan’s eyes close, and his mouth forms the words of a mantra, the incantation breaking through the air like jagged metal. The words are rough and savage, the intonations harsh, and the energy that begins to surround them feels off, feels wrong; hard and cold and hot all at the same time. Blotches of red appear on the witch’s face, skin breaking out from the onslaught of the spell, of nature repelling his actions, and Kol bites his lip, pacing around the room.

He hovers, and has to stop the urge to end the spell at the moment that it happens.

“Kol ,” a voice says. A voice out of the shadows, behind the veil; a voice unseen, but clearly heard, it echoes in the room like a church bell. All of the hair on the back of his neck stands on end and he freezes, a rush of excitement pumping through his veins.

But not for long.

The parchment with the spell drops out of Juan’s trembling hands. “I did not believe it would work.” His face is white as a sheet underneath the fever patches, all of the blood seemingly drained from his body, though Kol can hear it in his veins all the same. His heartbeat is jumping, then stopping, with shock and, then, despair, as his face seems to crumble in on itself. Eyes wild with both despair and ecstasy, the man says, “That felt evil.”

Kol flashes in front of him before he can drive himself into a frenzy. Reaching out, he places a hand on the witch’s cheek and strokes his finger across the edge of his cheekbone under his eye. The other hand comes to grasp his shaking limbs. “Those dreams are being sent to me for a reason. Perhaps it is to prevent a far greater evil.” Bending down slightly, he kisses his forehead.

Juan pulls away. “I need to get home. My father wants to talk to me.” It’s not a lie, for the young man mentioned it when he arrived that night. It’s probably about the fiancee (who, admittedly, Kol imagines ripping apart, though, not, he is sure, out of envy), but Kol doesn’t pretend not to know that the witch is shaken. He needs to be alone. It’s a feeling Kol recognizes, which is why he doesn’t protest. Nor does he pretend to think that Juan won’t come back. He knows he will. So, he stays and does not follow him as the witch leaves and, then, the days turn into over a week, and Kol stands on a precipice of worry as he waits for the witch’s return.




 

By the third week, Kol’s taken to pacing the apartment up and down, stalking the city and looking for distractions. At the estate, he eyes Nik over the rim of wine goblets and ponders whether or not he’s had a hand in something nefarious.

Nik is acting smarmier than usual, toasting their compelled hosts with a goblet of their own young daughter’s blood, He turns to Kol with a large, vicious smirk on his face. “Brother, Señor Andre was telling me about some rather intriguing treatise concerning the routing out of witches earlier.” Kol freezes, his jaw clenching, and his hand tightens around his own goblet, filled with wine. The urge to upend it over the blonde’s head strikes. “What was it called again?”

The Señor answers in the most animated voice Kol’s heard from him, indicating that even under the compulsion, this is something he feels strongly about. “The Directorium Inquisitorum .” A long explanation follows, one which Kol doesn’t care to hear about given the mistaken impression about witches these people have, but he doesn’t need to.

He really thought he’d shaken off all his brother’s tails, but apparently there’s at least one good enough to follow him. It’s shameful, and he feels a sense of self-disgust, but the irritation bleeding into rage makes those feelings moot.

The hatred towards witches their hosts hold is not what NIk wants him to be aware of. He stares, hard, at his brother, his lips pursed into a line. While the man continues on his rant about the evil of witches and the hell that will surely await them, his own fingers close tight around the goblet, until it shatters, wine staining the white linen of his tunic into a deep blood red.

As soon as the man has been dismissed, Kol turns a furious, accusatory look onto his brother, who stares back with a similiar damn expression. “What are you playing at?” he demands at the same time that his brother asks, “What kind of of con are you playing with that witch?”

Kol is grateful that Elijah is nowhere to be found. He doesn’t need anyone holding him back when he rips his brother’s spine out. “Nothing, you paranoid bastard. Not everything is about you.”

He dodges the knife thrown at his head, hearing it embed itself  deep into the wall behind him. “You will cease this nonsense right now! Or I swear to you, I will let the Señor know about your little friend and watch as he hunts down not only him but the entire family he spawned from.”

The chair crashes into the floor with a bang as Kol catapults over the table, tackling his brother onto the ground. Nik kicks him off, and his back smashes into the wooden edge, but then he grabs the goblet of blood his brother was nursing and smashes it into his left eye. With a howl, his brother stumbles backwards, momentarily blinded, and then Kol grabs one of the gold plates on the table and smashes it onto his brother’s head.

His brother growls again, and Kol is knocked to his knees as his brother does a side-swipe. Their scuffle continues for several minutes, with the blonde nursing a head wound, a gaping hole in his side, and a bleeding eye socket, while Kol’s got four fingers broken and a bleeding wrist bite.

“You two are barbaric,” a sudden, unwelcome voice says from the doorway, stopping Nik from hitting him with a fireplace poker. They freeze and look to their sister, who stares at them with such a dull and distasteful gaze that Kol feels almost small from it. “There was someone at the door for you, brother,” she continues, looking to Kol, making it clear she is addressing him. “Handsome man with lovely russet curls. Looked quite desperate. Said to tell you usual place.”

As if she wasn’t listening outside in the hall and knows that the self-same man is who they are fighting about. Kol ignores the lurch in his heart, panic and relief mixing him up into a puddle of confusion, while Nik glares.

“Well,” his brother says with that contemptuous Bite to his voice, “when you go there, you will tell him that you are hereby rescinding your relationship, whatever kind of devil’s bargain it is, and that if you see him again it will be the last moments he’s breathing air.”

Kol laughs spitefully in response. “I most certainly will not. Despite what you believe, brother ,” he rolls the word with hatred coating both syllables, “I’m not fourteen-years-old.”

“No, you are not,” Nik replies with a dark look. “But you are treading very close to ending up in a coffin, little brother, so unless you want to spend the next five centuries sleeping in lined-lined wood knowing that you’ve gotten your witch friend murdered, then I suggest—” his brother cuts himself off, breathing deeply, black veins showing through pale skin and eyes red, before he screams, “that you bloody well listen to me!”

He doesn’t. He’d not been Nik’s lackey as a human, and for four hundred years he’s been refusing to roll over and show his belly. Nothing is going to make him do so now. Later on that night, when Kol arrives at the apartment to find his witch waiting for him already, feet pacing up and down the floor and a suspicious orange cat glaring at him from the bed, he draws him into a deep kiss, stealing the breath from his body.

The witch doesn’t offer an explanation for where he’s been, and Kol doesn’t elaborate on the nature of his brother’s threat. Both of them are content, for a moment, to forget about the world outside the apartment. The witch’s freak out, the existential crisis of morals or honor or bleeding heart syndrome for nature, or maybe the longing for a high, for a thrill, the addiction that the sweet song of darkness causes, that doesn’t concern Kol. He pushes his brother’s anger down so deep into a state of denial that he might as well have cast it off into the rivers of Egypt.

Afterwards, with an impish grin on his face, Juan kisses the pulse point of Kol’s neck and asks, “Your sister seems—” The witch cocks his head and takes a moment to think. “—nice. And she’s been with mortals, right? I’ve heard your rants about it, how you chastise her for debasing herself.” He crawls up to whisper in Kol’s ear. “What makes me different?”

Kol laughs and thinks, I’m not sure , at the same time that he  draws him in for a kiss. “Simple, darling. You’re a witch,” he answers, and he’s not sure which is the truth and which is the lie. He’d been with humans, of course, whores and virgins alike, and even a nun or two, but they’d all been rather more of a distraction, a means to an end, the only goal pleasure and manipulation, and he grows bored with their dull humanity easily. There is nothing there, nothing to challenge him. He can’t understand his sister’s fascination with them.

“And is that the only reason?” the other man asks, the mood shifting, and Kol doesn’t know how to respond. So he doesn’t. He rolls onto his side and blows out the candle, listens to the breath and the heartbeat of the man next to him, and stares into the darkness of the room. The cat comes up and jumps onto the mattress, cuddling between the two of them, and still he stares, unable to sleep, with nothing left to distract him from the fury of his thoughts.




 

Kol wakes up two days later to find his brother, Elijah, staring at him from the edge of the bed with an expression of deep regret on his face. He sits up, confused, since his oldest brother doesn’t normally come to him, at all, and more so because of the soft voice his brother uses when he tells him to get dressed. Puppet-like, Kol does so, and when they’re out in the hall, he asks, “‘Lijah, what is it?”

Elijah places a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry, brother.” Kol opens his mouth to ask, but it's clear that Elijah will not answer. They both flash out of the house, moving through the narrow streets, slowing down to walk at a sedate pace among crowds, before returning to their previous speed until they reach a small, orange painted home that Kol doesn’t recognize.

Even from the outside it reeks of blood, and something else. Something like organs and viscera, mixed together with the beginnings of decay, and it’s putrid. “A slaughterhouse?” Kol inquires of his brother, with an attempt at a grin, but, still, Elijah does not answer.

He opens the door, and walks straight in. Kol, too, steps in, lingering in the foyer, the barrier that keeps him out sans invitation void. The owners of the home are dead. There are two rooms, one a living area, and the other most likely the small kitchen, and as he rounds the door into the living area, he freezes at the sight of the five corpses.

“What?” he whispers, in a small, faint voice that he’s not sure is even his own. His throat seizes, his whole body does, too, and then—

Then he’s screaming. The sound shocks Elijah, who steps back, but it surprises him more. He’s not quite sure where it’s come from, this brutal, savage sound that’s more beast than man; more him than he’s been in a long while.

He drops to his knees, and goes to the first corpse. Underneath the blood on his face, he’s recognizable, Hands shaking, he reaches over to hold the limp head, his palms sticky from the blood in the witch’s russet colored hair. “This is no witch hunt,” Kol whispers, low, and this time it’s as if he truly has no voice; as if the scream stole it away and left it somewhere adrift. He looks at the body in his arms.

Juan is pale and icy and stiff. Blood circles his mouth, and more across his chest, gathered around a large rip in his clothes, and a clear set of puncture wounds on his neck. He hadn’t gone down easy. Amidst the carnage, his two sisters lay together, curled up and eyes blank, gone from this world, while his parents’ bodies are contorted into a sitting position, holding each other. All of their necks are attached to their bodies by mere tendons .

Hunters would have imprisoned them, tortured them, put them on a rack or drowned them. No, he needs no admittance of whose work this is.

Elijah gives it to him anyway, his hand coming to rest upon his shoulder again. A gesture of comfort . Of condolence. “No,” he says with a heavy sigh. “It was not.”

Kol shrugs him off. He wants to curl in on himself, and he wants to tear the rest of the house apart. Tear the entire city apart. He shudders, and then tears his eyes away from the corpses, to look to a chair in the corner instead. There’s a wedding suit draping it, splattered with the iron rust hues of blood.

Kol is aware of one thing. And that is that he feels like he’s suffocating. He’s been hung and drowned and choked to death with vervain-laced chains, but he knows now that not once has he ever felt like he needs to struggle to breathe. Something like a sob, like a prayer, like a curse, bubbles up and locks deep in his throat, refusing to move.

His heart, dead and black and fallow in his chest, is a throb, dull and persistent.

“Brother,” Elijah whispers, pushing his hair back from his forehead. He’s bent at the knees, his hands steadying his younger brother, a soft, sad look on his face. “Brother, we must come away from here.”

Numb, he nods, a puppet again, and lets his brother pull him away.




 

Rebekah comes to him that night after they’ve ordered the servants to pack, ready to set off in the morning on Klaus’ orders. Elijah’s sent compelled servants to Kol’s apartment to clean it out, apparently completely aware of the perceived secret hideaway.

But then , Kol muses numbly, a goblet of blood in his hands, my secrets are never secrets, just lies I tell myself to make it seem like I hold any cards at all . He finds himself longing for the escape of his horrible dream world, desiring the feeling of burning flesh and filled lungs, if only to feel something. And then, he finds himself desiring nothing but emptiness, if only so he can stop feeling.

His sister joins him on the bed, and wraps an arm around his shoulder, as if he’s a child, but she’s always wanted to be the maternal sort. Normally, he’d scoff at her delusions and attempts, but tonight, he simply places his head on her shoulder and stares blankly at the wall.

“You will be alright,” she tells him, rubbing his right shoulder in a gesture of comfort. “This pain will pass. Believe me, I know.”

She thinks I’m in love , he tells himself, but she is wrong. What he feels, it’s not it can’t be love. Love is something that calms you, that makes you better , settles you and gives you a light in your life, or so the poets claim. He can’t remember the last time he’d held something close without breaking it, without desiring to rip it apart into its most base parts, until everything that’s light and beautiful inside it turns into something dark and terrible and rotting. He’s a broken, brittle creature and he is made for the shadows. Made for ruin and hurt. He’d brought about the destruction of that family simply by being around.

“No, sister,” Kol tells her with a scowl, keeping his eyes fixed on the drawing of a longship Klaus created, placed above the fireplace in his commandeered bedroom. “You do not.”

No one in this wretched family does.



 

~ London, England, 1942

 

 

He bounces impatiently on the balls of his feet as he waits in the woods, and resists the urge to peek around his hiding spot. She’s late , he thinks with irritation. Comes here every bloody night, but tonight, she’s late .

He wants a drink, and a meal, but there’s nothing around except owls and insects.

Then, finally, he hears a twig snap in the distance from the gentle pressure of someone’s sole. A few moments more, and the sounds get closer, louder and harsher. She’s trampling the earth upon which she treads. As soon as she is within his sights, Kol rushes out from behind the clutch of trees, and grabs her about the waist, a hand going to her mouth as he pulls her back into the shadows. As soon as they are out of the eyeline of anyone else, he releases her, then compels her not to scream for help. Her eyes widen with horror. “Who are you?” she asks, a hand coming up to her mouth, tracing her lips.

Kol stares at her for a second. Up close, she does look identical to Tatia, and he finds that it unsettles him. He’d never really believed in the concept of a doppelganger, not this kind. Yes, there were identical twins in the world, and he’s seen remarkably similar people over the years, but this? A woman born so far from where Tatia had lived and died? Separated by centuries? When had the people in their village gone back to the Old World? Was she really descended from Tatia or just distantly related, an off-branch that lived in the area now known as Ottoman Bulgaria for hundreds of years?

This defies explanation, and so that must mean there is only one explanation for it: some deep, dark magic is at work here.

He shakes the questions away. It doesn’t matter , he thinks, and the wretched part of him that still thrives, buried underneath all the apathy, sparks. If I can’t have what I loved back, then I’ll be damned if Klaus can flounce around and lord more power over the rest of us . We’re both just going to have to suffer this curse .

Zdravéy, Katarina,” he greets her with a charming smile. “My name is Kol Mikaelson, and I think there is something you need to understand about my brothers.”

Chapter Text

~~ København , Danmark , 1508

 

A few years after leaving Spain, the dreams stopped haunting him. Mainly due to a passing witch of the Traveler variety he’d fished out in Bulgaria who locked them up deep into his mind, soon after Klaus’ rampage and eradication of the Petrova bloodline, but he sometimes still ponders their meaning. Despite this, he no longer seeks out witches to contact the dead, and, instead, preferred to think of the happier outcome to the whole doppelganger fiasco. He often finds himself still drinking toasts to his brother’s oversight and ill-thinking. Klaus hadn’t even stopped to consider that another doppleganger might pop up like Katerina, but his brother's never been one wise in the ways of magic. And Kol’s never been more content then he is with the knowledge that his brother’s curse is still active.

Lately, though, the seemingly lack of friction between his siblings has caused a period of peace within his family, however brief it will end up being as, inevitably, they’ll come to blows soon enough. Over the past year or so, Klaus’ been content to paint in the new, revived styles springing up out of the Italian city-states, while Rebekah pursues yet another love affair—this time with a musician —and Elijah pushes all his pain down about the fate of Katerina by haranguing Strix members and immersing in noble society. Kol often steps into universities, and looks for witch covens hiding from the frenzy of superstitious neighbors, living in a city that speaks the closest to his childhood language that he’s known since he left home.

It’s strange. There’s a sense of detachment when he hears the words, as if his human life is lost to another type of hazy fantasy realm. As if he’d conjured it into being, for he has been this nightime creature so long that he no longer remembers what it means to truly be human. His siblings, too, seem divorced from it, his brothers as stony as a walled-city, his sister as lost as a sinking ship. At home, they speak English with each other, rather than the language of their childhood. They’d spent decades living relatively unencumbered on the small island, not a hair or a stake of their father’s in sight. The easiest decades of their immortal existence, gone in the blink of an eye due to Klaus’ rage. Even so, the words come out naturally, as uninhibited as breathing air, though they are careful to speak Danish among the locals. Conning members of the nobility into believing they are one of them is best left when wearing a native coat.

The sound of a loud, grating laugh brings Kol back to reality, his feet moving independently of his mind, and he blinks, gaze falling on a horse-faced woman in a powder-pink dress opening her mouth obnoxiously five feet away from him. He sighs, and wonders just how, exactly, he’d ended up at the court of a rather high noble, dancing with a beguiling young witch to the sounds of a virtuoso singer crooning a love song. He vaguely recalls compulsion being involved, but no remembrance about why he’d decided it a good idea to crash this party. His head is dizzy with the amount of intoxicating alcohol he’s consumed, and his partner is red-cheeked and giddy, far lovelier by half than most of the unfortunate souls at this shindig.

He looks away from his golden-curled partner to the violin players and his eyes land on a familiar figure. Right , he thinks, and stares at the young, blond-hair young man. He’s tall and pretty, just his sister’s type, and oh, so human. That one . As much as I adore music , a human scrounging for coin is not fit to lick her boots . He looks through the crowd of elaborately adorned Danish nobles, and the servants skittering about trying to remain invisible, keen to find even more familiar blonde-hair.

He politely excuses himself when he spots his sister standing next to a table decorated with flowers. The flowers were shaped into various, different types of animals, and the gold, jeweled bowls on the table next to the flowers were filled with fruits; piles of apples and pears, oranges in a separate bowl, and bushels of bananas. She’s swaying slightly, dressed in a gorgeous gown of blue and silver, and staring with laser-focus at the blonde musician. Swiftly, Kol maneuvers his way through the crowd, grabbing two glasses of red wine, then slips to stand next to her, bending down to whisper, “How long is this one going to last, sister?”

With a scowl, she cranes her neck to look to him. “Piss off, Kol,” she says with no small amount of irritation. “Go back to fondling whores in an opium den.”

Kol chuckles, hands a glass to her, and takes a large sip of his sweet, fruity wine. “Now, sister, I haven’t done that in at least a year. Truth be told, I’ve been spending most my time learning the harp.” From various different harpists, as his patience with them runs out quickly. Pretty soon, and he gleefully imagines the nobles of this city will have to start importing their musicians.

Her expression turns from straight irritation to irritated skepticism. She takes a sip of her own wine, and says, “I’ll believe that you’ve been keeping quiet and learning something so banal the day I believe our dear brother Nik is an angel.”

Kol shrugs. “Suit yourself.” He leans back against the table, uncaring that one of the fruit bowls titters from the force of his action. A few apples fall to the floor and some of the dancers stumble on the unexpected rolling fruit, causing him to chuckle. “Humans,” he continues with scorn. “Pathetic.” A man falls backwards on one of the apples, sputtering and turning his already unattractive face more hideous with the blotchiness caused by the impact with the floor.

“It wouldn’t hurt to show a little humanity yourself, brother,” Rebekah says with scorn in her voice, too. His sister’s never dared turn off the switch, though time has made her colder, sharper, more prone to the fits of rage common in his family. It’s turned her cruel. Kol, though, has spent the better part of a century almost completely not caring about his actions.

It’s refreshing, to say the least, to not want to drive a dagger into his brother’s heart every time he looks at him. The flipped switch negates the all-consuming anger and hatred, ejects the tendency to brood in fits of sadness with concerns for his own loneliness. The lack of the heightened emotions made him simply live, take in the advances of the last decade, and consume it all without fear or thought to consequences. Still, there is a lingering nostalgia for favorite pastimes. He can never fully give up the grimoires he’s collected from all over the globe (most acquired through black market contacts, and he’s never been more thankful of an invention than he is of the printing press).  And, at times, when he’s so bored with existing that not even death and destruction will entertain him, he learns a new craft.

Boredom, one emotion he can’t seem to shake. Age, it seems, hinders the ability to turn towards a state of emotionless purity. “Nor would it benefit me,” he points out. He grabs an apple out of one of the bowls on the table, loudly crunching into it. All around, servants pick up the fruit on the floor, so he quickly consumes his own bounty, and then tosses the core down. One bedraggled redhead shoots him a disgruntled glare.

Rebekah, too, gives him one of her own. “You’re going to get us thrown out.”

Kol rolls his eyes. “Who would be capable of that? Those men with swords standing in the corner?” Aforementioned men look half-dead on their feet and are swaying with wine and beer. “We’ll just compel them away, sister.” He looks at her from underneath his eyelashes. “We are the ones with the power here.”

She scoffs and opens her mouth, but before she replies, they both notice that the music has stopped. The musicians change, and, then, the blonde musician is coming towards them, eyes fixated on Rebekah.

“My lady,” the man says with a deep, over-practiced bow. Kol rolls his eyes, again, as his sister curtsies back with a wide smile on her face. “May I have the pleasure of your company for a dance?”

As his sister goes off to the dance floor with her musician, Kol looks around for the witch he abandoned and spots her on the arm of a rather sullen looking nobleman. He wrestles with whether or not he wants to rejoin her. Lost in this dilemma, he doesn’t hear another woman approach him.

He startles, though, when on his left a voice suddenly says, “Without a partner? How unlike you.” The tiny hairs on the back of his neck stand on end instantly, every inch of him tense and on edge. There is something too familiar about this voice.

He looks over his shoulder. Only hundreds of years of practice keeps him from showing any outward signs of shock when he sees who is standing next to him sipping delicately from a wine glass. She looks the same, underneath the gold and gilded embroidery. Her dark curls are piled on top of her head, a jeweled hair net with square-cut rubies at the top adorning them, and a large, ornate choker of diamond around her neck. There is a dark, dangerous look in her eyes, focused intently upon him. Her dress is crimson, made of silk and the most expensive fabrics, emphasizing her figure flatteringly.

Buongiorno, Sappho,” he says with a dramatic incline of his head and a sarcastic bow. “ È passato tanto tempo .”

She smirks, a sharp knife grimace across her face, quick and fleeting. “ Si, it has.” Her long fingernails are sharpened into a point that resembles a talon, and they dance spider-like across the table, then pluck an orange out of a bowl. Peeling it, she says, “Imagine my surprise to see you here, Kol. How long’s it been? Two hundred years? Ethiopia was such a lovely country. Shame you left.” She begins to peel the orange, her nails digging into soft flesh, stabbing the rind, juice running over her fingers in acidic rivulets.

“Yes,” Kol answers sarcastically, “because a fire and a horde of angry humans is perfectly warm and welcoming.” He shoots her a glare, reminding her that she is the reason he left, since she’d informed all the humans around them of what he was. He and Bast barely escaped without nursing some serious third-degree burns. Why he hadn’t tracked Nera down later and killed her afterwards is still beyond him. “Still working with witch-hunters, darling ?” he asks, rolling the last word with a slight hint of contempt.  

Whereas Kol’s transformation into a creature of the night had only caused him to venerate witches, even, to some extent, those that did not deserve it, Nera’s made her anger and jealousy turn inwards, the pit inside her where once nature used to nestle becoming a void, and her preferred victims were untapped servants of the earth. He’d even heard that she willingly starved herself almost to the point of desiccation when she found no appropriate humans to dine upon.

“Do not pretend it’s not the kind of greeting you prefer,” she remarks acerbically. Her gaze turns to his sister and the dancing musician. “Your sister looks lovely in that gown.” There’s a hungry look in her eyes, and it strikes him as eerily reminiscent of a vulture. He lets out a little growl. “Oh, hush, I would not dare hurt your sister. I draw the line at bringing in the family.” There’s no small trace of mockery in her voice, and even more anger. She shoots him a dark smile. “I’m here to bury the hatchet. Offer the—how do you say it—white flag?”

Not for a second does Kol believe this. He’s spent centuries avoiding this woman’s vendetta (as justified as is is), and he knows there is not even one spot in her undead soul where she is capable of giving it up. She’s playing at something, so he might as well play along. “Are you?” he replies with just the right amount of intrigue and suspicion in his voice. “Forgive me, Sappho, if I find myself unconvinced of your amicability.”

The dark smile widens into something impish. “I suppose being hung by a tree will give you some right to doubt me. And then there was the drawing and quartering incident. The screams were positively wonderful.” There’s a dark glint in her eyes. Those particular memories clearly still help her sleep at night. “But our discord is your fault. I did not create this strife between us.”

She’s right, but Kol’s like Klaus in many ways and his ability to nurse a grudge is one of them.

“And I suppose you’ve re-found God, then? Forgive thy enemy and turn the other cheek?” he retorts sardonically. He grits his teeth and he keeps his eyes on her, conscious of any sudden movements lurking, even though he is reasonably sure she won’t play her hand this soon. She’s smart and calculating, and ten times more patient than anyone he’s ever met.

She bites an orange slice, the juice running in a straight line over a single dark freckle on the bottom of her chin. “Something of that nature,” she says. Her teeth gnaw at the flesh of the fruit like a shark, ripping into it as if it were harder quarry. Then, her tongue comes up and wraps itself around one of her two front incisors, slithering over it and removing remnants from her teeth. “We’re both residing in this city. I don’t care to leave it anytime soon and—” a smirk flits across her face and he dreads her next words “—from what I’ve gathered you’re a dog on a leash, so, rather than spend countless years tearing each other apart,” she holds up a hand before he can protest, “which is utterly ineffectual on my end, it seems, why not declare a truce?”

He raises an eyebrow and lets a small smile spread. “Yes,” he says in a tone of agreement, “why not?”

At the very least, waiting for the cannon to fire will provide amusement.




 

After leaving his newfound witch, Frida, with a hand-kiss and a charming smile, he walks out of the enormous manor home with an invitation to join her later that week during her coven’s meeting. He tosses a coin in his hand as he compels a carriage to take Rebekah and him home, as well as her pet human, and hums as he settles back against the silk cushions. The trot of the horses as they run across cobblestones and grass lulls him into a trance, so much so that it almost drowns out the inane conversation his sister’s engaging in.

He shifts and then slings his long legs over space in between the two opposing cushions, placing his feet onto Rebekah’s lap. She shoots him an angry glance. “Kol,” she says, a hint of warning in her voice. He smirks at her, narrows his eyes in an attempt to provide her with his most doleful expression.

He also ignores her and turns his stare to the blonde human. “So, Espen—”

“Erik,” the man corrects, but looks nervous all the same. His mouth shuts tightly, his muscles tense, and heartbeat begins to beat faster, causing Kol to smirk.

“Right, Ernst,” he continues, deliberately waving off the correction. If it angers the human, he doesn’t show it. Kol does wonder, though, why he appears so threatening to the musician. Surely Rebekah hadn’t reveal their secret so soon ? He shoots a suspicious look to his sister. She just stares back with fury in her eyes, and he’s certain if she didn’t have to appear ladylike and dignified he’d already have a comb stuck into one of his limbs. “How did you meet my beloved little sister?”

Hopefully as her potential dinner , Kol thinks, but the human dashes those hopes. With a besotted smile on his face, the man turns to his sister and says, “I saw this vision of loveliness walking in the the halls of the Christiansborg Palace when I was invited to play there. I’d never seen a more enchanting woman in my life.”

Kol raises an eyebrow and sarcastically replies, “Yes, I’m sure she enchanted you, Enok.” Rebekah sighs heavily, but her pleasure at the musician’s answer shows in her red cheeks and small smile. His sister happy is a wonderful sight, but so far there’s nothing but air in this man. Not even a worthy prospect to turn. “And what are your intentions for her?” he asks, and lets a slight bit of a threat enter his voice.

Rebekah swipes his feet off her lap and snaps, “Stop it, Kol. I get enough of this from Nik.”

Kol rolls his eyes. “Only protecting your virtue, love. From those unworthy of you.” He jerks his chin towards Erik. “Are you unworthy of my sister, Elias? Musicians live on a paltry sum, do they not? Did you see her fine gowns and her fine figure and think a fortune will come?”

It’s what human men do. Leech off the wealth of women taken by flights of fancy, the birds dreaming of marrying for love and happiness rather than an arrangement. He can’t say he blames them, their lives are so strict and regulated they really just need to let go, but he’s not having that type of swindle happen to his little sister.

The man actually has the gall to glare at him, bristling like an overstuffed pigeon. “Of course not,” he protests, offense in his tone. “I assure you, my intentions towards Lady Rebekah are nothing but honorable. I come to your home only to introduce myself to your family and ask that I might call on her more often.”

“Then we should have no problems,” Kol says, exuding an air of friendliness as he waves his arms outward in a gesture of welcome. Then, his smirk widens. “I will not say the same for Niklaus, however, Edvard—”

“Erik,” the man corrects again, seemingly more comfortable now that Kol’s not threatening him. It’s almost pathetic how quick the prey backs down when the predator appears to them as an ally.

“Erik,” Kol concedes, then continues, “our lovely elder brother is, shall we say, overbearing. And rather violent. He’s not so easily won.”

He studies the man for any outward reaction. A jaw tick, as well as a vein in his forehead which bulges a little, but other than that, he appears calm.

Rebekah, when Erik looks away, flashes a bit of fang to him. “A face you know well, brother,” she says in a waspish tone. “Or did he not toss your latest harlot out by her braid?”

Kol shrugs. “She did try to steal the good silver.” That her braid had been attached to her headless corpse went without saying when it came to Klaus.

The man’s heartbeat jumps, once. And then it jumps again. Inwardly amused, Kol leans back and spreads his legs apart to get comfortable in the cramped carriage, flipping the coin in his hands back and forth between his fingers. He doesn’t say anything else for the rest of the ride.




 

Needless to say, Klaus is not pleased with Erik. He nearly breaks both the man’s hand and wrist upon introduction, and then proceeds to take him up to the room set aside for Finn. Kol listens eagerly and, when the human asks about the coffin, grins wickedly at his brother’s answer.

“It’s where you’ll be residing if you dare to place even a sliver of your pinky nail on my sister in a way meant to harm, dishonor, or charm her.”

Rebekah, listening in as well, flashes up the stairs, no doubt to screech in a shrew-like manner at Klaus. Elijah sighs heavily from his arm chair, not even given the chance to rise at their entrance before Klaus took over, and sets his eyes back on the treatise he’s reading. Kol flops into a chair across from him and looks at the manuscript, the title is De Nobilitate.

“Braccciolini?” Kol says with no small measure of judgement. “On virtue? You’re so predictable, Eli.”   

Elijah doesn’t even look up. One finger flips a page and he says in a level tone of voice, “What would you prefer I read, brother? Dante? Christine de Pizan? Malory?”

Kol shrugs. “Perhaps an instruction pamphlet on how to divest oneself of thy hairshirt?” A crash resounds from upstairs and Kol lets his eyes drift to the ceiling. The dulcet tones of his little sister follow, the human ineffectively trying to calm her down and keep Klaus at bay.

Kol mockingly smiles and says, “ Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate .” The poor musician had, after all, entered the house of the most wretched creatures to have ever walked the earth.

Elijah shoots him an unimpressed look over the top of his book.  “Have you no ounce of compassion for our sister’s plight?”

Kol shoots him a lazy smirk. “I don’t see you moving to help.” And it’s true, Elijah hasn’t. Perhaps he believes that Rebekah will get Klaus to back off before it turns to torture and homicide, but that strategy’s often failed before. More than likely, his brother is simply tired of cleaning up Klaus’ temper-tantrums for the night. He’ll feel guilty about it in the morning, poor deluded sod, but there’s nothing to fix his eldest brother’s self-righteous complex.

“You used to be such a kind child,” Elijah says. His face is twisted with disappointment, as it often is when looking at Kol.“I remember all the animals with broken bones and hurts that you’d beg mother to fix, and,when you found power of you own you did it yourself. Now you take pleasure in ripping life away, playing with hurts and ills for twisted amusement and a vile relish for havoc.”

There is another crash, and then a door slams. Kol catches a flash of blonde hair and nasty disposition flashing out the door, but hears his sister’s voice upstairs, so he knows it’s Klaus this time.

After the front door closes, Kol looks to Elijah and shrugs again. He ignores his brother’s woeful expression, apathetic to the sorrow in his brother’s brown eyes, and doesn’t ask, are you looking to save me now, too, brother? because he knows that Elijah’s not. There has only ever been room for one redemption quest in the family. “I imagine the same thing that happened to us all, Eli. I simply do not care anymore.”



 

A week later, Rebekah’s thrilled that Eric’s still courting her, due to the miraculous machinations of Elijah, and Klaus is threatening to catapult the young man off the highest point of the manor by his toes. Eager to escape, Kol’s taken the witch from the other day up on her invitation, and now he’s watching the coven in the woods, leaning against the tree with his arms crossed. His blonde, Frida, looks at him over the rim of a bowl for a spell they’re cooking up to better the crops in the area, with a suggestive smirk. Next to her there is an older, though not ancient, dark-haired woman with a batlike gaze whose eye contact he avoids every time he responds to Frida with seductive glances.

Something about that other woman unsettles him, though he can’t put his finger on it. The rest of the coven ranges in age from sixty to only eleven. The eldest, a white-haired woman with a stooped back, gives him continuous glances of distaste, but she allowed him to take stay after he introduced himself, no doubt having heard of the efforts that he’s been going through to keep some witches away from the eyes of witch-hunters. The young girls shoot him looks of both awe and disgust, the natural repellant most witches feel around him as an abomination of nature still there, but tempered, less than many of them show around his siblings. Certainly, too, less than what all witches show against the rest of the members of the undead horde.

The women chant in Latin, the standard language, it seems, for most European spellcraft. Sure, there are folk spells and local customs that shape the flow of power within dialects and various languages, but the practice is dying out, the more and more that magic seems to be centralized, an erroneous attempt (in his opinion) at forging community under persecution. He believes it's painting a target on their backs, but far be it for him to interfere.

Once the spell is done and the candle wicks have burned the last remnants of the sage-speckled tallow to smooth liquid, he kneels down neck to Frida, and tucks a strand of long hair behind her ear. “Care to join me for a stroll through the trees?”

Her face flushes a lovely, sensuous red. The crow next to her shoots him a look of suspicion, but he cares nothing about the disapproval of any of the women here. He smirks at her, instead, and then takes Frida’s hand when the blonde rises, helping her up and watching her dust off the dirt from her white, linen dress. It’s long, but form fitting, and only one layer. Kol lets his eyes follow the smooth lines of her body as she moves. Fully aware of his actions, Frida puts on a show, bending down just enough that he sees she wears no undergarments underneath.

Once she’s done, they set off. The trees smell deeply of spruce and the wind rushes through the trees, creating an eerie howl, and the full moon is high in the sky, the light breaking through the cover of the leaves to illuminate slivers on the ground. He pulls her closer to him as she shivers in her thin clothes, and listens for the sounds of wolves in the distance. There is nothing.

“—studied a lot of magic?” Frida asks.

“Pardon, love?” he says, and tosses her his most charming smile. She rolls her eyes with a smile of her own, a clear indication she knows his mind wandered, but it seems either she’s eager to pick apart his brain or she’s infatuated enough not to care.

“You’ve had to have come across all kinds of different spells and curses during the years, right?” she repeats.

Kol shrugs. “I’ve been around.” He smirks and steps in front of her, taking her hand in his and playing with her fingers. He shifts the tips of his own fingers across hers, a light, teasing sensation. Her heart jumps, blood rushes, and red rises flatteringly upon her pale cheeks. “Are you asking for my secrets, darling?”

Frida smiles. “Maybe a little,” she replies. The tip of her tongue peeks out to lick at her full bottom lip. “I brought you to my coven, after all. A relationship shouldn’t be one-sided.”

Kol’s smirk widens and he steps closer, placing a small, light kiss, more of a brush of lips than anything else, to her mouth. Whispering, he says, “Is that how you got the leader of your coven to accept a vampire to watch your rituals? By promises of all I can provide to them?”

She laughs. “Of course.” She standing with not more than an inch between them, the beat of her heart almost against his own chest. “Our newest member, Dahlia, showed up three months ago and she’s only been allowed to participate in the last three weeks.”

“Dahlia?” he asks, with an air as if he’s interested, though he’s not. Their names are inconsequential. His unoccupied hand comes up to play with her hair, twisting it around his finger.

“The woman standing next to me in the circle,” she answers. His nose wrinkles. “She’s looking for her niece, Freya. Poor girl disappeared a few months ago.” A worried look crosses her face. “I do hope she didn’t come across any hunters.” As quick as the look comes, though, it goes, and she is back to smiling at him with lust in her eyes. “You know, I heard you’re the most violent member of your family.”

Kol kisses her hand. “Slander, I assure you.” His arm slips around her waist, tugging her that last inch, right before he smashes his lips against her’s roughly. Her arms wrap around his neck in response.

As they fuck, the girl writhing and moaning against the trunk of one of the spruce trees, he has enough presence of mind to wonder just how much this coven knows about his supposedly elusive family. So much for fading into the shadows, Klaus , he derisively thinks.

Later on that night, as he runs back to the house at a speed that would burn his lungs to gasping if he were human, he wonders just how far into anonymity his family really can sink. The old undead, the ones turned personally by them, know they exist. Even if they’d never revealed much about themselves—and Kol knows he hasn’t but he can’t be sure about the rest—the knowledge that a few vampires have of the Mikaelson family being the Originals will keep them as figures of importance. Klaus desires for them to fall into myth, but how can one ever become a true legend when people are still alive to twist them back into flesh-and-bone idols. They can’t be Medusa, hiding in caves waiting for the thrill-seekers and naive heroes to find them, nor can they be Hades, doomed to a life hiding in the dark, manipulating the threads of fate, cutting it from a distance.

Klaus will do what Klaus will bloody well do, Kol thinks, slowing down once he’s reached a populated street, boots clicking against the cobblestones. But why should the rest of us fade into obscurity with him ? His fear of Mikael will be all our undoing .

The streets are crowded enough that the myriad of heartbeats lull him into a false sense of security when it comes to the musical melody of pumping organs. A woman with her corset on the outside bumps into him, giving him the eye, and then a clearly intoxicated man nearly careens into his side and, after he snaps at them to watch where they’re going, he feels the familiar , sharp pain of his muscles snapping out of place, bones breaking, and then darkness.

Coming to an indefinite amount of time later, the fabric over his head yanked off with little grace, Kol sarcastically asks, “What happened to the white flag?” He quickly notes his surroundings, and the chair that he is chained to. It’s bolted to the floor of a festering, dripping dungeon that smells like mold and rat droppings. “Or was that the blindfold, darling?” A hiss follows his statement, but it’s not a human or animal voice. It’s the sound of his own flesh burning under the irritating sting of vervain.

Blocking out the pain, he also notices that she’s disrobed him. How charming , he thinks amusedly.

Nera inspects her nails, blowing at them with her mouth, and then shrugs. “I found I could not contain my disgust for you. I was simply incapable of it.”

“You never were one for the long con,” he agrees. Though he had thought she’d last a bit longer, a month or two more before she tried to murder him again .

She smirks and shrugs. She’s wearing a gown that’s cut to wrap securely around her bosom, sharp shoulder blades visible. Vampirism has given her a confidence she’d lacked as a human, too bogged down with the thought of hell and all its devils. He’s actually kind of proud she’d managed to get one over on him, though it’s mostly in the class he deems irritated fondness. He pulls at the chains, gritting his teeth as he does so. The back of the chair seems to be laced with it as well, as it sizzles the skin of his back.

She reaches into the pocket of her cloak, and pulls out a set of ornate rosary beads. They’re gold and sapphire and probably stolen from some princess or queen. She rubs her fingers over them in a mockery of a prayer and, then, she strikes him across the face. They shouldn’t hurt, not even with all her strength behind the blow, but it seems she’s laced everything . He hisses as his cheekbone crackles, and says, “Not the face, darling.”

She bends down to scratch her long nails across the cut. He winces. “Oh, il mio diabolo , when I’m done with you, you’ll be begging for it to just be your pretty face.” She pouts playfully, then moves over to the floor where there’s a sackcloth bag.

The next thing she pulls out is a flogger. The type he’s seen penitents use for public acts of contrition to God. Since his back is blocked by the wood of the chair, she strikes at his shoulder first. He flinches at the impact, but retorts, “You know I’m not the begging type, darling.” She strikes again. “How many Ave Maria’s should I recite?” he says mockingly. The whip slashes him across the throat, choking him for a long moment, before he continues, “ Áve María, grátia pléna, Dóminus técum. ” Another strike, again across his shoulder. He pushes back a hiss, her dark glare growing. There is an almost fanatical gleam in her eye.  “ Benedícta tu in muliéri —”

She cuts him off with a hard, vicious strike against his forehead, one that nearly goes into his eye. Blood runs down from his hairline and fuzzes up his vision. Undeterred, he continues, “ et benedíctus frúctus véntris túi, Iésus .” His hip, then, and next his left wrist where there is free space between the chains. “ Sáncta María, Máter Déi, óra pro nóbis peccatóribus ,” he spits out both words and blood as she surges forward, dropping the whip and striking him across the mouth with her nails. “ nunc et in hóra mórtis nóstrae. Ámen. ” He ends with a flourish.

“What’s next?” he asks. He watches her stalk around the room, clearly agitated. Her back is straight and all of her muscles tense. “An indulgence?”

She spins around on her heels, a dagger flies through the air, and the sharp tip embeds in his right pectoral. It stings, and he has to close his eyes to blink back tears, as the blade rips into skin and muscle.

They continue like this for a few minutes. His hair is soaked with blood and sweat, his face covered in the evidence of torture by the time the door open. Blinking back tears, he sees the shape of a man flitter into the room. Kol waits for him to come towards the dim lighting of the lanterns mounted on the wall before he chuckles, and a smirk widens on his face, pulling at cracked lips and torn skin.

Erik’s eyes are blank. What Kol’d mistaken for a lack of personality is merely the effects of badly done compulsion. Mockingly, he juts his chin towards the human. “Not your usual type. A bit too much cock, isn’t he?” Then, he turns to the human. “Erika, I see you’ve survived to live another day after courting my sister. Should give you the rule of a small country for that impressive feat.”

Both his captors ignore him. “Have you acquired it?” Nera asks. Her tone is frantic and hungry, eyes roaming over him, flitting towards every tiny part of clothing he can possible stash away a hidden item, as if he’s a table stocked with manna and she’s about to devour him whole.

“Yes, my lady,” the man replies. He sounds even more bland than before, which Kol hadn’t believed possible, but then again he supposes Nera had to instruct him to have some charm in order to woo Rebekah.

Poor Bex, Kol thinks with a hint of genuine sympathy, but she really needs to start choosing better men.

The torture continues for a few hours. She’s gotten rather inventive in the past two centuries, he’ll give her that. There are tiny nicks and cuts all over his body from dinner knives, and stinging sore places from clothing pins she’s yanked off parts of his body. About ten minutes before, she’d sent Erik out, and she’s staring at Kol with death in her eyes by the time the human gets back with a fire poker in his hands. Half of it is burning bright red with heat, the rest of it pure rusted metal.

Kol raises an eyebrow. “I do hope you’re not planning on Edward the II’d me, Sappho.” That might ruin some of his favorite aspects of sex for the next, oh, four bloody centuries.

Tiger-like, she growls, veins prominent and eyes black. The blonde human walks to stand just behind him and loom like a vulture. She stomps forward and signals to Erik, who unceremoniously shoves the hot poker into the back of his neck. The smell of burning hair and flesh enters the room and Kol grits his teeth, digging his fingers and nails into the wood of the chair.

She growls, again. “You will not even give me the satisfaction of hearing you beg?” She indicates for Erik to continue, and the blonde places the vervain-soaked hot fire poker onto his right thigh, next to his groin. He grits his teeth near to cracking, all his nerves burning along with his skin and his muscles, but doesn’t make a sound of agony.

She wrenches his head up by his sweaty hair that’s come loose from it’s ribbon amidst the struggle and torture. “I know you’re not a mute, Lucifer.” Then, for good measure, she yanks at the hair in her hand, several strands coming away when she pulls back, charmingly along with bits of scalp still attached.

His eyes sting, but still he doesn’t even groan. Slowly, he blinks at her, then allows a pained mockery of a grin to form. “‘There is no cure for this pain but to die,’” he quotes, bits of a poem from a Sufi he’d once read, relishing how her brow furrows with confusion. “‘So why should I say cure this pain?’” He chuckles through the blood in his mouth. “Four hundred years old and still no culture. How utterly deplorable.”

A backhand follows. Then the fire poker harshly sears the skin of his left thigh. He can smell the acrid scent of burning hair mixing with the iron tang of blood and charred flesh. “It is true I cannot kill you.” She’s staked him once before, after all, and even tried lighting him on fire. She’s seen that normal methods of killing the undead do not apply to him. Her veins show black under her skin, and for a second he feels fear. It’s fleeting, but the emotion still serves to unsteady him.

Quickly, she wrenches the poker out of Erik’s hands and then drives it straight down. He throws his head back, a tooth comes loose under the force of holding back a scream, and his lower body twists into a writhing cage of agony. Still, he remains silent, though the effort of preventing it leaves him drained when she finally pulls the metal away.

She’s pleased by his pants. Her fingers come up to caress his right cheek, gently, like a lover might. He almost flinches as her nails ghost along the bridge of his nose, then his lips, and down his chin, before her entire hand wraps around his throat with a squeeze.

She quotes a different poem back at him. “‘But thou shalt ever lie dead, nor shall there be any remembrance of thee then or thereafter, for thou hast not of the roses of Pieria; but thou shalt wander obscure even in the house of Hades, flitting among the shadowy dead.”

Sappho , he thinks fondly. “Lovely verse. Translation, please, darling ?” He spits out blood as he forces himself to speak past the constriction of his throat, head dizzy and vision almost black.

She lets go of her grip. Then she holds out the same hand, palm up, to the human man. “The dagger, please, Erik.” Sputtering and coughing, Kol looks up through rivers of red to see an all-too familiar blade.

His heart stops.

“How?” he asks, voice faint with horror. “How did you—?”

“Know?” A wicked and triumphant smirk flits across her face as she drops her hand, daggerless for the moment, to revel in her victory. He wrenches against the chains, desperation driving him to ignore the burn of the vervain. Even though the fucking chair is bolted to the floor, he’s an original and these chains shouldn’t be able to hold him.

Are they spelled , he has time to wonder, before she answers her own question, “I’m not the only enemy your family has, Lucifer. Word travels. And when I heard about these oh so lovely daggers, well, it’s a fitting punishment. Death of a sorts.” She bends down to kiss him on the forehead, as if she is a mother and he her child. Or a sister to a brother. A flashing memory of Luka flits through the panic, and a shiver goes down his spine from terror at the thought of the dagger. “Don’t worry. I know about the ash as well. Once it is in, I will bury you in the sea. You will never walk on this earth again.”

Still wrestling with the chains, he mocks her, refusing to show his fear. “You think Klaus and Rebekah and Elijah won’t look for me? You’ve not met them. They will look for me unto the ends of the earth, and once they find me, they will come for you.” He glances down at the chains and sees his skin is gone , arms nothing but tendons and muscles. Soon, there will be just bone. Still, he pulls. “My brother is not a forgiving man. And neither am I.”

She pets his hair and smiles. “Do you truly think they care anything for their screw up little brother? From what I hear, Klaus uses this as a punishment.” She tsks and shakes her head, reminding him of the one time he’d mentioned his discontent regarding his family's always and forever vow to her. Her face turns contemptuous. “Go to hell.” She holds her hand out again, the silver of the dagger bright against her skin. She grips it, raising it high, then jabs it low and hard. The blade starts to pierce through his flesh, into his heart, and then—

He dies but only for a mere second or two. Head spinning, still he sees her jerks back, her own eyes wide and petrified. Flame, high and bright and hot, sparks out of the dagger, and a few catch in his hair and fly towards the human behind him, who screams, and then the fire spreads. Up her arm, over her shoulder, even into her hair. It consumes her, blisteringly hot, as if a coat of hell’s most gruesome inferno has erupted. Her skin blackens, her eyes melt into a pungent, viscous liquid, and her lungs probably shrink into ash before she even thinks to shout.

Within seconds it is over. Her body ash quicker than should be possible, as if the veil’d been pulled back and hell’d entered the dungeon for the briefest of moments. Stunned, he watches as the dagger drops, unharmed , to the floor.

“What the fuck?” Kol whispers. The human behind him whimpers, the smell of urine adding to the rest of the stench in the room. Gehenna probably smelled better than this , he thinks, a sad attempt at humor. His own burning flesh is secondary after that spectacle.

The human moves to look at the remains and makes the mistake of gazing at him. “Unchain me, give me that dagger, and then find a bridge to jump off of,” he tells him. The human quickly does so.

With the chains removed, his healing begins to stich his body back up, turning the wounds into a mix of a maddening itch and excruciating sores. He bends down to the pile that was once Nera and runs the tips of the fingers of his left hand over the gritty substance. “I’m sorry it came to this,” he says to nothing and no one. Maybe it’s to the Other Side, though he’s not sure she can hear. “I truly am.”

He thinks there should be relief that he’s escaped the wretched fate of the dagger, but there isn’t. Remorse, though, that is there, as unfamiliar as regret, and stranger than guilt. It’s small, barely more than a needle prick. Stranger, too, than anger or rage. Something about the sight of her burning, consumed by flames, almost like a witch tied to a stake with faggots sparking around her, as if the blade itself had chosen the most vile manner of death it could give, has flipped some of it back. Bile rises up from his stomach and into his throat, before he pushes it back. He stares at the dagger in his right hand, turns the blade over, and then over again.

Just what did those hunters do to these bloody things ?




 

There is a crow standing on human feet at the edges of the old and abandoned church when he emerges from the dungeon. She looks away from the building, half-torched and rotting, to smile chillingly at him. “Well,” she says with an oddly familiar accent. “This is a savage sight.”

He growls at her. “Were you following me, witch?” He’s aware that he looks a contradictory mess, covered head to toe in blood with no visible wounds, especially since the clothes he’s wearing are free of tears. This woman, though, is fully aware of what he is, so he’s not waiting for her to sound the city alarm. No, he gathers there is something else here, something hidden beneath her polite mask. He realizes the look in her eyes had been there earlier than night.

He’s not sure what it is, however, and that unsettles him. He stalks forward, straightening his shoulders, his face set like a stone. “Because, and I don’t hate to tell you this, that won’t end well for you.”

He doesn’t even blink when she disappears. There’s no swish of air, no vibration or blur indicating a mirage-like figure, but somehow, her incorporeal form doesn’t surprise him. One second she is there, the next she is gone. An illusionist , he chuckles inwardly , I haven’t come across one since—Mother.

“I am perfectly safe, I assure you,” the voice says. He turns around, slow and steady, to look at her. Wherever she is, it’s miles from him. He raises one eyebrow a fraction of an inch, and then his mouth half-curls at the right corner.

“Hiding away in a tower?” he retorts sarcastically. She’s as stone-faced as a gargoyle with no smile. There’s something, though, something in her eyes that makes him feel like he’s being inspected. As if he’s a diamond and she’s looking for cracks, tiny little indications of worthlessness. Not one to be cowed, he continues to mock, “I know I’m gorgeous, but I doubt you’re conjuring up phantoms just to stare at me.”

“Are you so sure about that?” she replies. There is a hint of a smirk forming on her face, too. “Such a pity,” she continues with a look that’s almost akin to sympathy in her eyes, but it’s tainted with something harsh. It also feels a bit like propriety, the glint reminiscent of Klaus looking at manors and horses he wants to own. “Promising young witches become this .” Her last word drips with disgust as her eyes run over his body.

He stiffens and growls louder. The reminder of his loss stings, but not as much as her gall. “You’re lucky that you’re just a spirit at the moment or you’d be joining the rest of them on the Other Side permanently.” His veins begin to show, his control tenuous due to the fiasco and fatigue of the past few hours.

If she feels threatened, she doesn’t show it. Her smirk merely grows, her expression completely and utterly calm. “I would be angry, too.” She nods her head. “We may meet again one day.”

As quickly as she comes, she is gone, leaving him confused, angry, hungry, and still miles from home. He runs, flashing through the forest until he gets to the city, snacks on three streetwalkers, and then goes to find Frida’s home and instructs her to hide the dagger. “I’ll be back for it soon, darling,” he tells her, leaving her with a kiss and a horrified expression—no doubt due to the blood—before he makes his way home.

When Kol gets back that night he finds Klaus throwing stakes made out of table legs into various trembling minions and screaming about the theft. Rebekah sits with a slump in a chair by the fireplace, one hand pressed to her forehead, her chin held up by two fingers, and a scowl on her face. “I have no bloody idea where Erik is,” she repeatedly tells Klaus as he raves.

Kol stalks in with his arms half-raised, palms facing upward and a cocky half-smile, eyelashes fluttering. “I confess,” he says to his siblings, who turn to stare at him with annoyed expressions. “I did it.”

Klaus narrows his eyes. “Did what?” he asks with malice.

“Orchestrated Erik to take a long walk off a very tall mountain,” Kol casually answers. He lets his smile grow. “Well, if he can find one.”

Rebekah screams with anger and frustration (probably because she can’t kill the lying prat herself), Klaus begins to rave about the missing dagger, and then Elijah walks into the room, sees the dead minions, and lets out a long-suffering sigh that Kol figures even the King and Queen of England hear.

“This family makes me want to murder people,” Klaus says, glaring to all three of his siblings. “We’re going to have to move! Again.”

“Just as long as it’s not Siberia,” Kol mutters, and hopes it’s somewhere warm this time. He’s tired of the snow and the cold and the winds that mess up his hair. He leaves Rebekah and Elijah to try to calm Klaus down, strips off his clothes and leaves them scattered about the manor for the servants to find, and slumps onto his bed, face-down, drifting off before he’s even hit the pillow, and dreams of fire and drowning and piles of bodies burned.

Chapter Text

 

~~ Outside of Cap‑Français, Saint-Domingue , 1680

 

Pretending to be a legitimate sugarcane trader after ten years of enjoying life on the high seas stealing and looting from Spanish ships comes with its perks. Outhouses, for one, and plenty of servants and townsfolk to feed on, blood being in rather limited supply among crew members necessary to keep the vessel afloat. He sips some of the rum in his flash, relishing the burn of the drink, swishing it around in his mouth, before he swallows.

The sun is hot and bright in the sky, the air humid and hot, giving the atmosphere a swamp-like effect on top of Kol’s skin. His shirt, cotton and light, is still buttoned, and he resists the urge to undo it, suffering under the restrictive clothes of a rich man. His attention fixes on the crop field of the plantation he’s staying at just outside of the capital the French established on this small, Caribbean island. The working slaves are not faring any better, most tired and sore and sweating from hard labor, while the overseer watches them from atop a beautiful, chestnut stallion, drinking fresh guava juice.

The man, who’s got pudge coming up over his trousers, but powerful arms and shoulders, as well as a receding hairline underneath his hat, yells at a small boy who’s tripped and fallen under the weight of the basket in his arms. Scared, the boy tries to lift himself, but fails. Kol watches as the overseer’s eyes light up with a cruel delight, before the man is off the horse, his hands curled around the handle of the whip attached to his belt. Even as far away as Kol stands, on the porch of the main house, he can hear the whimper that the boy, not more than nine years old, lets out. Behind him, the owner and his wife continue to sip their own guava juice, their conversation lost in the realm of table settings and balls. Their two sons play chess next to them, completely tuned out of their parents natterings, while a young, blonde woman sits next to the governor, quiet and out-of-place.

Kol unemotionally eyes the situation, his shoulder pressed up against a white-painted post. “—Monsieur Mikaelson,” he hears, almost distantly, and he returns a sound of acknowledgement, though he doesn’t bother to turn around. “Will you be bringing a companion with you to the Governor’s ball?”

“Yes,” Kol answers absentmindedly. A tall, young man with powerful muscles and an brave disposition moves to stand between the overseer and the little boy. Kol stands up straighter, muscles tensing, as he watches the situation escalate. The young man’s name is Ronil, the grandson of an intriguing witch-doctor and his wife, whose magical powers are, as yet, almost untapped. He’s sixteen and oppressed, just angry enough to snap, a potent combination for chaos.

And that just won’t do. Not tonight. Without thought, Kol begins to walk over there, lazily, as if it is he and not Monsieur Duval who owns the land. Women and men turn to stare at him with open-mouthed expressions and weariness in their eyes. He hears the Madame of the manor gasp, and the other woman sit up straighter in her chair, while the two boys stop playing chess. He’s become the center of attention to everyone but Ronil and the overseer.

“You’re rather the overzealous type, aren’t you, mate?” Kol says with an air of friendliness as he approaches them. The overseer shoots him a look full of frustration, clearly put out by the interruption, while Ronil and the kid look to him with confusion, concern, and a little bit of suspicion. “Compensating for something?” Pointedly, Kol looks down with a smirk.

The man’s right hand clenches into a fist, drifting from the whip still strapped to his belt, to his pistol. Kol’s smirk only grows, and he brings his right hand up to his chin, scratching at the slight growth of stubble there.

“I do not believe this is any of your business, Monsieur,” the man says with a slight curl of emphasis on the last word, clearly indicating the insult behind his polite words.

Kol flutters his eyelashes a little, just to add insult to injury, since the move irritates the overseer, and shrugs his shoulders. “I’m pretty sure I don’t care,” Kol tells him, before he steps forward. He can hear the heartbeats of everyone around him jump with anticipation and adrenaline.  

A wicked smile forms out of the smirk on his face, and he rolls his shoulders, cracking his fingers as he moves forward, just an inch, not close but near enough to be a threat and says with a pleasant lilt to his voice, “You like flogging people, don’t you, mate?” He stares into the overseer’s eyes, a dull, insipid brown the color of clay, and then tells him, in a whisper so that only those closest can hear, “Use it on yourself, every night, for the rest of you life. And get back on your horse.”

Then, he steps back, and holds his arms out to the side, palms up and fingers curled. “Now,” he says with an seemingly inviting smile to Ronil and the little boy. Out of the corner of his eye, he notices Ronil’s grandparents watch them through the tall stalks of sugarcane. “Are we quite done here?” The young man’s hand is curled into a fist, too, and Kol can feel the way the wind around them starts to heed the witch’s call. He looks to Ronil with an eyebrow raised.

A young woman runs to them. Pretty, not even fifteen yet, with curls and green eyes. Nathaly. “Calm down, love,” she whispers, grabbing the bent hand. “It is alright.” She, too, knows the danger of letting magic grow from anger, then. There is a frown on her face, and she glances to Kol once, then focuses on Ronil, leading him away. The little boy shoots Kol an unreadable glance, then grabs the basket, continuing with his work.

Kol’s first spell was cast against his father, so long ago. He’d been five, watching Nik get beaten once again, and he’d cried and thrust his hand out with an unbelievable surge of power. His father’s head had bled a river from the impact against the tree.

He walks back to the house, and lies charmingly through his teeth to the plantation owner. “I thought I knew your overseer. He looks exactly like a scoundrel that owes me fifty pounds for merchandize. Case of mistaken identity, I’m afraid.”

He doesn’t even need to use compulsion. They nod and take his word for it, then go back to their inane conversation. All except the young, pretty girl. She stares to him with something like intrigue in her eyes, a half-smile on her face.

As he sits down, pouring a generous amount of rum into the glass of juice given to him, she leans towards him and, in English instead of French, says, “I highly doubt that altercation was over looted goods. You run fast, for a—Swede?”

“Norwegian,” he smoothly lies. Not far from the truth, though, considering his mother and father had been born in that area. “And you? An English woman on a French plantation?”

She sounds foreign, accent buried clearly under years away from the island, but it’s there, in her fluency and her pronunciation, words coming out naturally in a way, he realizes, that French doesn’t. This is why she’s quiet , he muses, noticing the glint in her eyes. He’d thought her shy, or embarrassed by her place, but there’s fire in her.

Her smile grows. “Seems we are both far from home, Master Mikaelson.” Her blonde curls are piled up attractively under her hat, a flush on her pale, English cheeks. “Whatever shall we do about that? Trample down the locals?” She’s like a rose, thorns and all, and he leans back, already thinking of the delightful ways he can have fun with her.

Monsieur Duval is looking to them now with a bit of anger in his gaze. Not giving one ounce of care, Kol tells her, “I’m sure we can think of many things, Miss Branson.”  

His time here, at least, will not be boring. He does so dread mundane moments. He lets his eyes drift back to the witch-doctor, Uranie, and his family. No, definitely not boring , he thinks, and then draws himself into the conversation, pretending as if he knows anything of worth about the price of cacao, his own droning a snore even to himself.

 

 

That night, he brings Alexia with him to the hut that Uranie and his family live in. They walk past the sugarcane fields ill-dressed for the occasion, her in a thin cotton shift and a cloak, him in only breeches and a tunic. If anyone sees them, they must look for all the world like a vagabond and a harlot out for a bit of lascivious pleasure, so he makes sure that no one sees them leave the manor, not so much out of care for her reputation (which is already marred), but more because he doesn’t care to charm his way into another plantation when the witches he wants are here.

When they get to the hut, Kol sees that it is home for a coven of three. Uranie and his wife, their grandson, along with one granddaughter, barely a year old. Their sons and daughters all sold, shipped off and never to be seen again, though Kol promises himself he’ll track them down. They are part of Ayana’s bloodline , after all , he thinks, as he lets Alexia step delicately into the hut first, her expensive leather boot leaving little impression on the dirt-packed floor. Chilene holding the door open for him, then shuts it and hustles to provide customary welcomes.  

She shoots Alexia a suspicious, wary glance, but presses a bowl of rice and beans into her hands, and gives the young blonde a place to sit. Then, she scoops up her young granddaughter, Fleur, from where she’s banging her fists against the dirt, and holds her close, moving to the other side of the small dwelling place.

There are two pallets and a cooking pot in the hut, along with various herbs, bones, and other indications of magical practice. On one pallet sits Ronil, hands curling repetitively and practicing chants. Feathers from a plucked chicken float up and down. Alexia’s eyes watch him with fascination, but not fear, her spoon raised halfway to her mouth. Kol can tell she’s no stranger to magic, though she’s no witch either.

A friend, he muses, or a lover. Maybe family .

On the other pallet, Uranie sits with his legs crossed, watching his grandson work with a solemn expression, his eyes dark and distant, almost unseeing, reminding Kol of another witch on distant shores. Without even a glance, the witch-doctor waves his hand to the undead creature in his home, motioning for him to come closer.

“The spirits have told me that you are a friend,” the man tells him, though the look in his eyes is anything but warm. Kol can’t blame him, as the witch knows full well what he is. “But not why you have come.”

Truthfully, Kol’s not sure why he’s come here. He’d been milling about the Caribbean for years now, and he knows it’s time to find his siblings again before Klaus throws a temper tantrum that overtakes the Atlantic, all to hunt him down and put him in a box for the next two centuries. It’d been trying enough to get this time away from his family. But a young cook they’d added onto the crew of the Leviathan a year back had mentioned Silas. Even though Kol’s not heard that name in one hundred years the mere mention of it sent shivers down his spine.

“Heard a bit about Expression magic going on here,” Kol answers, which is true. The darkest and most powerful form of magic of all. The cult in Greece had been attempting to gain use of it en masse before he’d slaughtered them. It will be difficult to kill the witch practicing it, but hopefully not difficult to find them. “Thought I’d see for myself.”

Chilene spits at the ground, her expression hard and cold. “No one here would dabble in that.” Uranie does not look as certain as his wife, and Ronil’s stopped practicing, looking at them all from underneath his eyelashes with curiosity in his eyes.

“What’s Expression?” Alexia asks in lieu of Ronil. Kol’d almost forgotten she was here. There is curiosity in her eyes, too, and a hint of concern. Unlike the rest of them, she’s ignorant about the darker nature of the man she’s accompanying.

“The Devil’s practice,” Chilene answers with a sneer. “Only twisted souls seek it.” She levels Kol with a hard look. “Surely you know none of our line would ever use it.”

He nods to her respectfully. “Of course not.” Then he turns to the men. “But I’ve heard whispers of Silas as well. I gave my word to make sure that man never walked free and I do not give vows lightly.” One of the only traits he’s got in common with his brother, Elijah. Uranie nods, as if this is information he’s perfectly aware of, and given his connection to Ayana, he might well be. For a second or two, Kol contemplates trying to speak to her through her descendant, but then pushes it away.

He’s got no time for old ties. Not anymore.

And besides , Kol thinks, the circle and ingredients needed for that type of magic will surely garner the attention of less than understanding slugs .

Uranie nods in response, a serious look on his face. “I have heard those whispers as well. Words of rebellion, of taking power, of the small crushing the weak and inheriting the earth. Strong words, yet many will perish if the veil comes down. There will be no earth to inherit.”

“Is there anyone nearby with the cause to want it?” Kol asks, though he feels as if the answer is simple.

The witch-doctor’s look turns grave. He’s got grey hair, short and barely wisps around the crown of his head, his eyes dark, but his tall body strong. Here, though, he looks both defeated and emblazoned, a fitting contradiction for a powerful man in a powerless state. “Many. Those who hold the power is the mystery that you will have to solve, I believe.”

With these words, Kol and Alexia are dismissed. Uranie turns back to his grandson and forces him to begin practicing again, while his wife takes the half-full bowl of rice and beans from the young blonde. Alexia lingers at the door as they leave, but Kol turns on his heel and then tugs at her hand and draws her out.

As they move back through the sugarcane fields, the air chilly and fragrant with the scent of flowers and grass, Alexia looks to him with unabashed curiosity. “Are you a witch?” she asks, no hint of compunction in her voice. She’s bold, this one, and Kol finds himself amused by her in a way he rarely is by humans anymore.

“No,” he answers, and then with a smirk he says, “I’m a pirate.”

She laughs delightfully, her head flying back. Her curls are loose, falling to her waist, and they brush against the thin material of her shift alluringly. It’s been awhile since he’s been with a woman, some fifteen years or so, and he finds himself watching her every move like a firefly enraptured by light. “What’s your story, then, darling?” he asks.

She steps delicately on the ground as she moves, as if the dirt were a pillow, soft and yielding. “I was an indentured servant in the Colonies,” she answers. Kol nods, unsurprised. Many are, and it explains the strange pantomime accent she holds. “I met a French man over there looking to trade. The plantation owner, obviously. He took a liking to me and paid off my debt. Now, here I am. His mistress, and utterly bored.” She smiles, wide and charming, her eyes lighting up with a playful glint.

“Such a shame,” he says, and then he catches her hand, drawing her close. He brings his free hand up to her face, caressing the pale skin near her right eye gently with the pad of his thumb. “Boredom does age a young woman. We can’t have that for you.”

An impish smile spreads across her face. “I’m sure you can think of ways to entertain me.”

He thinks of a dozen different ways to entertain her that night, along with himself, and a dozen more besides in the coming weeks. If the plantation owner is miffed at the loss of his mistress and her recurrent invitation in Kol’s guest bedroom, well, the compulsion which makes him house the undead man buries any agitation under well-timed jibes and glares. As Kol looks for any hint of Expression use among the people of the area, he goes to Uranie’s often, ingratiating himself with the man and his family. And, each night at dinner, he turns away, bites the pad of his thumb, and serves a glass of smooth, red wine laced with blood to his charming new companion, all while discussing transactions of sugarcane he will never buy.



 

It’s about three months into his stay at the plantation house that Kol firsts notices the signs of other vampires on the island. He’s not turned Alexia yet, though she’s had a steady, though unknown, diet of blood since he’s decided to, so the vampires responsible for the three dead bodies with the bite marks on their necks, and the several dazed peasants and slaves, are a variable he finds irritating. It’s been almost freeing to be the only one of his kind around, though he’s had to keep a low profile, feeding only on whores and brigands that wouldn’t be missed if their bodies were to suddenly disappear into the ocean.

Alexia drinks her tea with honey and no milk and sits with one leg placed above the knee, her skirt riding up. “It’s quite brutal, I hear,” she tells him. “The lord’s neck was completely torn apart. As if a savage beast had come from the wilderness to attack.”

Kol shrugs. “Perhaps it was a walking shark,” he tells her with a sarcastic smirk. She gives him an unimpressed look.

“You know as well as I that there are far more likely creatures on this Earth behind these deaths,” she says. After a month, he’d gotten her to reveal that her mother was a witch with limited power back in Northern England, before she’d died of a fever when Alexia was eight. If the daughter has any power at all, it’s untapped.

And unlikely to ever bare fruit, though Kol suspects it’s not there at all. Uranie will tolerate Kol in his home, for he cannot get in trouble if he hosts the foreign trader. But the former concubine of his master is quite another matter, as his wife pointed out, and Kol’s since been barred from bringing the blonde along.

They’re sitting on the beach watching the sun set from reds and pinks and oranges into black, the moon rising as its sister falls from the sky. Sand clings to available skin, digging between his toes, and droplets of moisture fall from his hairline to coat his eyelashes. The camp fire he’s made sends sparks into the air, and in the distance animals scurry and people mill about.

“I’ve been to many places, darling. Who are you to say there are not carnivorous fish walking about? I can assure you that someone out there is twisted enough to try transmogrification.” He looks to her roguishly from underneath his eyelashes, lips curling up into an impish smile.

He’d once met a witch in Slovenia who’d tried to make a foul crossbreed of a rabid wolf and a squid carcass that would have had a better fate as calamari. To what purpose, Kol knew not, for he’d taken care of that problem right quick with a slash to the throat. Over the centuries he’s come to believe that some people are just too batshit to let live—even witches.

“Where haven’t you been?” she asks with a teasing lilt to her voice, dropping the more macabre subject for now. She’s persistent, though. She’ll come back to it. Her hair is wet, curls dripping and hanging to frame her lovely face, and her blue eyes glint playfully.

Kol smirks. “New Holland. And the various islands around there.” He should venture there before Klaus drags him back to the European continent. As long as it's not Belaga , Kol thinks scornfully. Why his brother seems to be so attached to the Old World, he’s not sure, considering Mikael’s still bouncing around there, far as he knows. “Such a shame for them to be deprived of my handsome face.” He shakes his head with sympathy for them.

She rolls her eyes. “And your arrogance.”

He waves her off. “Confidence, darling. It’s not arrogance when it's true.”

The sun sets and the world plunges into darkness. He dusts off his knees as he rises, and holds out his hand to help her up, using a stray bit of cloth to gather up moisture from her hair, then tells her to wait by the carriage while he gathers up their stuff. Once he’s sure she’s out of earshot, he flashes down the beach, running through the trees, until he comes upon a group of men arguing about how to roast a fish over the fire. Five minutes later, their bodies are in the water, rocks in their pockets, and his bloodlust is sated. He rejoins her and they arrive back at the plantation a half-hour after the owners have retired to bed.

They retreat to his room and lie back, naked and sweating, on thin sheets, the curtains pulled around the bedposts to keep out mosquitoes and other bugs. Alexia falls asleep within minutes. It takes him a bit longer, as the older he gets, the less sleep he finds he needs, and one day he wonders if he will never sleep at all, lost in an endless cycle of waking hours on repeat. When he finally does fall into unconsciousness, the dreams return, always just waiting on the edge of his mind.

If he makes a sound in his sleep, he does not know it. He reaches, strains for something he can no longer find, wrestles and begs and pleads with voiceless entreaties and still, nothing happens. Just darkness, slipping and slipping, always out of his grasp. He wakes with a gasp, and he can feel smoke in his lungs and fire against his skin, but when he turns around there’s nothing in the room except cool wind blowing the curtains and the sleeping blonde next to him.

The next morning, Ronil’s little girlfriend and Madame Duval’s personal slave, serves them breakfast while Monsieur Duval sips at his coffee and announces that the Governor will be hosting a ball next week. He looks to his sons, shaming them into compliance despite their loud groans, and then his eyes stray to his guests. More and more, a type of awareness is flitting into those dark irises, and Kol knows that soon he’s either going to have to compel them every bloody waking minute, or move on, but he’s not yet found who he’s looking for.

Nathaly gives him a look from underneath her eyelashes, too, as she bends down to pour him coffee. He loves the stuff, bitter and dark and warm, almost as much as he loves rum and all the fun new ways of getting smashed that humans have come up with in the last two-hundred years. Taking a sip sans sugar and milk, he says, “That sounds wonderful.” He stares straight into the man’s eyes, using compulsion. “Miss Branson and I will accompany you, no questions asked.”

Behind the compulsion, there is anger in the man’s eyes. Kol’s had to burn various inquiries and kill several messengers that Monsieur Duval’s sent for as to the true identity of his guest. It’s been tiresome, really, and he hopes he finds the Expression practitioner soon because he’s getting tired of holding himself back from burning the entire plantation to the ground.

Nathaly’s right hand curls around the kettle, deep and strong, her heartbeat erratic as she moves to Alexia, pouring her coffee. Kol furrows his brows and studies her, attempting to find reasons as to why Ronil waxes poetry about her. A former brothel girl, bought by the owner’s wife three years ago, and put to work in the house with full access to books that she clearly knows how to read, if the way her eyes trace the script on the pamphlets arranged in front of the Monsieur is any indication.

She’s got magic, too, but she’s a bit mousey. She shrinks back from him out of fear , not just disgust, and Kol’s dismissed her as a possibility given that he doesn’t think a practitioner of the darkest of magic has the capacity to feel fear, even when they should.

“Of course you will,” the Madam answers for her husband. She, at least, is relieved that Alexia’s been in Kol’s company, not out of any love for her lout of a husband, but for the lack of scandal placed upon herself. It helps, too, that Alexia’s reputation only continues to tarnish the more time she spends in his company. “I’ll have a tailor and a seamstress sent for post haste.”

Kol nods politely, but he nonetheless sends a taunting smirk to the Monsieur.

 

 

On the night of the ball, the Madam looks like a taffeta pink chicken in ruffles, the Monsieur a pig in silk, while the two young boys pallor and pockmarks are emphasized by the fancy clothes. Alexia looks a vision as she comes down the stairs in light blue, the gown clinging to her curves, and the corset pushes up her bosom alluringly. She’s got a necklace that plunges down almost to the tips of her breasts, gold and heavy, with diamonds and sapphires, and curls pinned back away from her face. Kol offers her his arm and helps her into their own private carriage, lifts up the skirt on the way to the ball, and precedes to rumple the curls.

By the time they arrive, men and women with riches and jewels are prancing about, food piled high upon tables that will be thrown to dogs, rather than given to the slaves or the poor, and music plays in the background. The stiff movements that pass for dancing nowadays are performed by bored young men and doe-eyed girls, and Kol is surprised to see Nathaly, dressed in a work dress, talking to several young pale women across the room. He takes a sip of his rum and watches them carefully.

There’s something off about them. Something dark . He can feel a pull of malevolent forces calling to one another across the room. At the same time, the pull is a tug-a-rope that repels him, back and forth like a gigantic wave. He narrows his eyes and ignores Alexia as she prods him.

It is when the women move away, that he sees her , and cannot fathom how he’s missed spotting her within the crowd. She’s not changed. Her posture is still stiff, her dress fancy, though the color of her skin marks her as different among these people, her hair long and pinned back to keep from getting in the way. She’s seen him as well, for there is an irritated frown on her face and a distasteful look in her gaze. Kol inclines his head and lifts up his glass.

“I’ll be right back, darling,” he says to Alexia. She raises an eyebrow, clearly curious, but he moves before she can inquire. He hears her sigh a bit, but she’ll get over it. Or store it, however at this point it hardly matters. Though the women—the witches —have disappeared, he thinks he’s finally making progress in his quest.

“Aya,” he greets when he’s standing two feet from her, bowing low like a gentleman would, but he curls her name with mockery. “I’m surprised you’re still alive. You did so love to cling to my brother’s coat strings last we meet.”

She smirks, too, dark and hateful. “Kol,” she says, “If only someone had buried you at sea. What are you doing here?”

Kol shrugs. “Having a bit of fun, of course,” he answers in a hard tone that implies his real purpose—and she knows he has one because Elijah’s never picked less than intelligent women for paramours—is not her business. “And you?”

She’s to careful and fastidious about kills. Uptight, so she wouldn’t be leaving bodies in the streets for anyone to find. There are others here with her , Kol deduces, and wonders if the entire Strix society is here. The thought of his brother’s exclusive little club, made up of creatures with eternal sticks up their arses, sends a shiver of disgust down his spine. Perhaps they’ve gotten a bit lax in their recruiting over the years .

“She is with me,” a smooth, cultured voice says behind him. Kol turns around and is disappointingly unsurprised to see one of his least favorite sights on this earth.

“Tristan,” he says, smirk falling and body growing colder. One of his brother’s greatest mistakes, he believes, and he’s even more displeased to see the red-headed woman with the unhinged eyes and crooked smile accompanying the former lord. “As dull as ever, I see. Aurora, as—” He lets his eyes sweep over her, “— lovely , as always.”

Aurora’s eyes flash with hatred. None of the French nobles had cared for Kol during their brief stay in the castle over six-hundred years ago. They were too stiff, and Kol’d been a bit out-of-control raving villagers and consuming their serfs. Still, the way Tristan would whip his servants and them proclaim himself noble and honorable, full of valour, always left a bad aftertaste in Kol’s mouth.

Mikael’d been like that.

I may be a monster, but I’ll admit to it , he thinks, looking coldly to the pair of siblings. They’re dressed to impress, that’s for sure, though looking at Aurora’s barely controlled energy, her shifting feet and the way she seems on edge, makes him one-hundred percent certain that she’s the cause of the messy kills.

In a tight voice, she asks, “Are you here alone?” She’s certainly not asking about Alexia, who is dancing with Monsieur Duval and looking extremely unhappy about it. Kol can practically taste the desperation beneath Aurora’s words, the way she’s three steps away from inquiring about Klaus. He watches Tristan’s hand tighten around her arm, the big brother holding back the little sister before she goes loco and stalks around looking for her long-lost love. How very Romeo and Juliet , Kol thinks to himself sardonically, and how pathetic.

“Siblings can’t always be attached at the hip,” Kol answers, then looks pointedly to the two. Aya moves around them, and stands next to Tristan as if she’s his personal guard. Given her disposition and Tristan’s proclivities, she probably is. “I’m sure you understand that after six-hundred years. Or should I just call you Borgia, instead of—what was it—Martial? I can never remember these things.” He waves his hand dismissively, and relishes the anger that flashes through both their eyes at the implication of their unimportance.

Tristan nods politely, though, and replies, “Yes. After six-hundred years one does get sick of reigning in a wayward flock.” Kol grits his teeth, hearing the insult in that as well.  His attention shifts as he notices the witches filing back in, Nathaly accompanying them with a strange smile on her face. This time, she doesn’t startle when she catches him watching her, instead, her eyes narrow and she inclines her head, before moving to pick up a serving platter.

“And those witches? Are they your sheep?” The women are moving towards them, dressed entirely in black, as if they are at a funeral and not a ball. The strange thing is that none of the glittering nobles seem to notice them. He figures they must be cloaked from view, for he knows that more than one vapid woman should have a comment or two on the women’s manner.

“Our coven,” Tristan answers truthfully. Not one to lie, Tristan, though one to always manipulate. Whatever angle he’s playing here, Kol’s not particularly interested in, unless it interferes with his plans to route out the Expressionist. “The Sisters.”

Kol raises an eyebrow, almost impressed. He’s heard that name before, in whispers, from weaker covens. He’s even thought about trying to find them, but now that he knows they’re attached to the Strix, it’s probably best to avoid them. They’ve been tainted by haughtiness.

“Well, best not to let them off leash, if you don’t want to incite a mob,” Kol replies, before he nods to them all curtly, and moves away with an air of clear dismissal, not even bothering with the niceties of etiquette. Not for the first time in his life, he wishes he had eyes at the back of his head, though, just to see the way it galls Tristan.

Alexia gives him an annoyed look when he takes over as her dance partner, and says, “You could have driven him away, you know.” She’s not aware what he is, but she’s perceptive enough to realize that he’s able to manipulate people into doing his bidding. “Now I look like a first-class harlot.”

“Darling,” he says as he dances with her. “You’ve looked like that since the day you first walked on these shores.”

In response, she rolls her eyes, and a few of the more snobbish young girls shoot her condescending glances, gossiping behind their gloves. She makes a rude gesture towards one, which causes Kol to chuckle, and wonder if he should just get the show on the road and turn her already so that she can take her anger out in more colorful ways.

“And them?” she asks, with a jut of her chin towards where Tristan, Aurora, and Aya’d been standing moments before. “What was that?”

“Old acquaintances,” Kol answers and, then, with a shrug he implies the interaction to be nothing of importance. She screws her mouth into a thin line, but the arrival of Nathaly with the serving plate keeps her from prying. Alexia picks up a slice of watermelon with a gracious thank you, while Kol takes a slice of candied pineapple with a smirk and then asks, “Is it poisoned?”

The reference, loose and reaching as it is, flies over the slave’s head, but Kol does catch Alexia roll her eyes again. However, Nathaly’s eyes narrow, crinkles appearing at the corners, and she looks straight to him, back rigid and muscles tense.

“Yes,” she answers, before leaving. Kol’s eyebrows scrunch and he looks at the fruit with suspicion, wondering if the girl’s screwing with him or not, but then the heartbeats all around him, a sound that’s become a litany in the background, begin to speed up, He brings the fruit to his nose, inhaling the scent, sweetness mixed with sugar and juice and something else—

Something bitter . Like almonds, but stronger, overpowering, as if the potency’s been heightened somehow.

Cyanide ? Kol muses, but the poison doesn’t work this fast. Alexia stumbles, suddenly, in his arms, her heart beat jackhammering. Kol catches her and flashes around people swaying, dizzy, on their feet, to places her on a chair. He subsequently compels her to stay still, before he looks around. His fellow undead and the witches are gone, and Nathaly is watching from a leaning position against the wall, a dark smirk on her face.

It’s as if all of her shy nature has been shed away, a snake skin, there one moment and gone the next. Kol avoids people bending over and vomiting into their fancy clothes and onto the floor as he moves towards her, standing tall an inch or two from her face. “What did you do?” he asks harshly. He makes a move to grab her arm, but stops when he hits an invisible barrier, his fingers breaking, then mending, under the pressure.

He grits his teeth. “They’ll kill you. All of you .” He doesn’t mean the Sisters, who no doubt have a way to keep themselves safe, but her fellow slaves. And while he doesn’t care about most of them, or any of the people in this room, really, he will make sure that no one from Ayana’s line is affected by this little girl.

People have started seizing behind him. Their limbs are out of control, crashing into tables and chairs and other people, and collapsing into heaps on the ground. He glances quickly to Alexia and sees she, too, is seizing, though on the chair and out of the way of everyone else.

Nathaly’s smirk widens. “They can’t do anything when they’re dead.” She looks to the deadly spectacle with a sort of absent pleasure, as if the circumstances happening around them are a play. Sadistically, she watches a man whose heart is giving out. As he takes his last breath, she says to Kol, “A scenario I’m sure you know more than your fair share about, demon.”

In an instant, his hand snaps back, bones cracking audibly. He grits his teeth harder. He’s not felt a witch with the power to do that in years. “Ever heard of keeping a low profile?” he tells her, sounding like Elijah bemoaning his and Klaus’ actions. “What did they promise you?”

Anything but Silas , he thinks desperately. Surely not even those dunderheads can be so stupid, right ? Aurora might be a bitch touched in the head, but she has some self-preservation instincts. She has to. And Tristan? Well, hell on earth would ruin his perfect clothes.

“What I want most,” she tells him and he can hear more heartbeats stop. He moves back a little, one step, then two, as the force of dark energy repels him away from her. “Revenge.”

“A noble goal,” he tells her with complete sincerity. “One I understand. They’ve wronged you and you deserve to rip apart their bodies until their innards coat the walls. But the Strix won’t keep your friends safe.”

He stumbles, almost trips over a corpse, and glares at it before returning his attention to her. She smiles at him with vicious amusement. “I think you’ll find that they will.”

She looks away from him, then, and the conversation ends. The desire to kill her is strong with the urge to nip this problem in the bud right now, but the closer he gets, the more the energy forces him back, and he knows that it’s going to take more than his fangs and his strength to pull this off. So he flashes around the corpses, all of the expired nobles that bothered to attend (fortunately for the French it was far from all the people on the island, rather, just a few close friends of the Governor’s), and picks up Alexia’s dead body, knowing that she’ll be out for a few hours before she needs to complete the transition.

He leaves her on the beach, and then makes off for the plantation. It’s not too far from the Governor’s house, given the fact that the men were practically neighbors, and the stalks of sugarcane slap against his legs as he runs through the fields. They’re burning, he realizes, smoke in plumes of gray high in the sky, and the scent of flesh and anger and rage permeates everything.

There are gunshots in the distance, the whinny of panicked horses, the cries of children and women, and the sound of jeering men. The telltale music of a fight, though he cannot make out the victors or victims, but he notices that a slave on top of the overseer beating him with his own whip as Kol makes it to where their huts are lined up in a lopsided row.

Uranie gives him a harried glance he enters. His wife is busy throwing their meager belongings into a sackcloth bag, the granddaughter screaming bloody murder with her little lungs. Ronil is nowhere to be seen. “Did you do this?” Uranie demands angrily.

“As much as I love chaos, this is not me,” he tells them. A loud, resounding bang crashes right outside the door, and he looks to see a dead horse blocking their exit. Rolling his eyes, he kicks a hole through the back wall, and motions for them to follow him.

Caught between staying with their people and escaping the bullets and swords, they choose self-preservation. Kol rips the head off a man with a gun, taking the weapon and shaking it to make sure it’s loaded, before he fights and kills his way through the mob. Uranie and his wife stay silent, except for the occasional prayer and entreaty to the spirits. Though he looks for him, Ronil is still nowhere in sight, and by the time Kol gets them all to an empty clearing, he wonders if it’s already too late.

“He went to look for her,” Chilene tells him with worry in her voice. She’s rocking the infant, though it does little to quell the child’s whining. “Nathaly.”

Fuck , Kol inwardly curses, then sets off back to the plantation without a word, gun gripped tight in his hand. He feeds off several rioters as he moves, looking for his quarry, and sets fire to the plantation house for good measure, since the place had been dreadfully dull. It’s when he’s standing on the porch watching the red flames consume the wood inside the house that he sees them. Nathaly’s stroking Ronil’s face, a loving look in her eyes, and the young man’s back is facing Kol. The two are almost of a height.

There’s a clear shot. Without hesitation, not knowing if he’ll get a second-chance or even if this will work, not even sure if she is a follow of Silas, he aims the gun. Bang! The bullet rips through the back of Ronil’s head, splattering brain and blood and viscera onto her face, before it goes in between her eyes. Her body falls backwards, the bullet stuck inside her skull due to the loss of momentum, and then it’s over.

He tosses the gun onto the porch, and then flashes to inspect the body. When Kol goes back to Uranie and Chilene, dragging an unconscious white man who liked to rape the slave women by his feet behind him, he tells them Ronil is gone and nothing else. If they suspect anything, they keep it to themselves, and follow him to the beach where Alexia is beginning to wake.

“What’s happening?” she asks him as he shoves the unconscious man at her. “I feel—”

“Yes, I know,” he interrupts her, tone short and impatient. He’s gone through this a hundred times. “Listen, darling, because you’ve got a choice to make. You can stay here on the beach and die after a life of tedium and drudgery and judgement, or, you can do what your instincts are screaming for right now, drink that man’s blood, and live . It’s your choice, but I’ve got a ship to find and very little time to do so, so make that choice quick.”

He’d heard whispers of the Leviathan raiding and pillaging on the other side of the island for the past week. They like to move like shadows, though, so he knows they won’t be in port long. He can easily compel all of them places on another ship, but he’d rather one he knows as opposed to one that might take them to fucking Virgina .

Frustrated and angry, Alexia makes the choice by draining the man in two minutes, and then slaps Kol when she gets up. He allows it, though his own eyes turn red, veins flashing. Uncowed, she says, “You better explain this to me.” She looks down with lingering horror at the blood on her clothes. “All of it.”

“Where are we going?” Uranie asks as they leave the beach.

Kol chews his bottom lip, hungry and irritated and desiring nothing more than to find the Strix and rip off all their bloody heads, before he says, “I’m going to put you guys on a ship wherever you want.” As much as he’d like to keep them along as his own personal witches, sooner or later they’ll find out what happened to Ronil. Best not to deal with that drama. “And then me and Alexia here are going on a long, long trip back across the Atlantic.”

If nothing else, Klaus will agree with him that the Strix are a problem, though whether or not he’ll solve it or exacerbate it is up in the air. And, truth be told, a part of him misses his sister, and even his brothers, in the years he’s been away. He thinks of her then as he watches guilt flood Alexia’s eyes, noting how that particular emotion is few and far between Rebekah kills. Baby vampires, so emotional , Kol thinks, with a hint of both amusement and dread, grabbing Alexia’s hand before she wanders away after a drunken sailor. This will be a fun journey back .

 

~ New Orleans, The United States of America, 1821

 

Time is no longer meaningless. After a while, he begins to come back to himself, the soft, dreamless sleep giving way to the realization that he is trapped. Trapped in the cold and the dark, and the hunger. A place where the muscles and organs of his body decay but the inability to expire never ceases, and he can not move to escape from it. A place where his hunger grows, a beast gnawing at every single earthly part of him, and it will never be satiated. The place where he hears but cannot talk; the place where he sleeps but does not wake. Over and over and over again, his mind regenerates in his immortal existence and dies again from the ever present weapon shoved into his heart. It’s an abyss, a place of shadows and inescapable dreams. Kol believes that if there is a hell like the Christians think, then surely the silver dagger is it.

Then, one day, it stops. Everything stops—everything but the rage.

“Welcome, brother,” Kol hears as he opens his eyes, ravenously hungry and maliciously angry, released from that cold and bleak horizon. “To New Orleans.”