Though the night was cold and dark, the pair walked shoulder-to-shoulder, talking quietly as Cassius sat himself on Catty’s head, nesting in her tawny locks.
“It’s almost as if you’ve never been without him. He looks so…”
“Natural?” Finishing for him, the young woman smiled, their armour clanging together- the tiny noise loud in the vast night.
“Yeah.” Drew grinned- causing her smile to widen and become a small laugh. That hole that she’d talked about before- maybe it was filled up by her tiny dragon companion.
Maybe she should have told him it was more filled by his company, but she couldn’t. Not with the guilt that was weighing on her.
“So, when we get there, will we be…?”
“Oh, no. We’re hunters. Just friends. I’m the brainy one- you’re the weapons-and-killing one. Deal?” Kicking the dirt, he snorted.
“Why do I have to be the dumb-“
“I never said dumb. You’re not, for a fact- it wouldn’t suit you, and you couldn’t do it convincingly.” Blinking at her, the young man stopped, confused. Laughing again- this time louder- she shook her head, causing Cassius to chirp, disgruntled.
“That’s a compliment, Woolnough.”
“Pfffffft- I might take it back if you continue to do that.” She nudged him as they walked, the two of them flashing smiles of merriment to each other.
In her chest, her heart leapt. How much she would give to make him smile like that every day.
To be noticed was a gift.
But then the castle loomed closer- rising from the harsh, unforgiving, dead landscape- equally as vast and as uncompromising as all that surrounded it. Those huge jutting pillars and strange, twisting towers caused Catalysta to hiss, hairs pricking at her neck.
It wasn’t normal.
Calming her by patting her shoulder, Drew continued on- keeping his pace. If he was afraid, for once, he didn’t show it. This made the young woman press closer to him, only allowing herself to falter in step once.
Once, and only once.
As they drew even closer, she told him more of his role.
“We’re old friends- from Grandomina, obviously. I learned what I know off an old mage that used to look after me, and you were fighting rots with your dad ever since you were 12. We know how to fight, hide, hunt and kill.” As she spoke, he nodded, copper eyes on the horizon- on the castle that was looming ever-closer.
It made her heart sink.
“Promise me you won’t ditch me for another man while we’re there.” He joked.
“I promise I won’t leave you.”
If only he knew she’d enforced that with magic with the help of Davey.
If only he knew they were likely to die together.
Upon approaching the door, Catty managed to illusion up two passes, printing their names on small tickets, along with their alignment and profession. Of course, it left the dragon girl a bit breathless, the effort draining her of her magic. Woolnough, the gentleman he was, helped her through the doors and- as their armour clinked- led her through the huge, echoing halls- decorated with the laughter of the many guests.
Soon, she had recovered, and the two waltzed aimlessly to the music, taking in details and whispering them to each other- and then being loud, laughing at the other’s jokes, playing childish games as he spun her.
As they twirled, their games turned not-so-innocent, the young woman near-taunting the vampire, exposing her neck to him every now and then.
Of course, Drew was not to be outdone. Pulling her ever-closer, he grinned, hissing against her pale, unprotected skin.
“Just one taste a night..” It began- but already there were shivers. “.. is never enough to appease me.” Growling in returning, she spun away from him- pulling herself from his arms and wandering, bright eyes on him, head tilted; smirking with a soft hint of lust.
Was she really here for the plan? Or was she here to taunt the young man….?
She didn’t know.
If it was a toss-up between her memories and the boy… what would she choose?
In all honesty- she didn’t know.
Following after her, Drew weaved through the crowd- both still laughing, taunting, teasing-
Until his teeth were at her neck.
It had happened so quickly she’d barely had time to protest- and he was feeding. Gulk, gulk, gulking her life away.
His hands held her wrists carefully against one of the polished walls- her body pressed to one of the spotless patterns that decorated the room. She didn’t struggle.
Tilting her head back, she remembered why she was here.
To set herself and Woolnough as bait.
It made her feel sick.
What had she done?
They’d die side-by-side, here, at the Cardinal’s feet- when they were so close….
A small smirk flitted across her mouth.
Such was the cruel irony.
She’d die before then. Drew would drink her dry and then he would be alone.
He would die alone.
Could she let him kill her…?
Then- suddenly- the vampire boy pulled his mouth away from her neck, coughing and spluttering. As to avoid any untoward glances and whisperings, she guided him to one of the bathrooms- shaky on her legs and weak from the loss of blood. As soon as she was sure nobody was looking, she ushered him in- shutting the door and locking it behind them.
Drew slumped against one of the white walls as Catalysta took deep, deep breathes. If she fainted, they would definitely die.
Today, she decided, she didn’t fancy the idea of death.
“I’m- I’m so sorry…!” Was all he could manage, but she hushed him.
“It doesn’t matter, Drew.”
“But it does! We won’t be able to fight like this!” His protests and worries made sense. But of course, they weren’t meant to fight.
They were just meant to roll over.
“We’ll get caught! Or worse-“
“Much better.” Sitting up straight, Catalysta assessed her neck with careful, glowing fingers- gliding her healing across the broken skin. Without much effort, the puncture wounds healed.
Still, her hands shook.
“You’ll need more than that to make you feel any better.” Woolnough moved towards her and crouched- going to kiss her.
She was so close to what she wanted.
But she refused him- because she couldn’t have it.
She was an animal- and he- he would very shortly be a man again.
A man and a dragon.
It was a simple and sad truth.
“Catty- I don’t understand…” He began- but she silenced him with a gentle gaze and gentler hands.
“You don’t need to. I don’t even know who I am.”
Quietly, she got to her feet- unlocked the toilet and pulled him out.
Again, they went to the dance floor.
For the final time, he spun her.
For the final time, she danced beside him.
Then the Heartataks fell in on them-
They fell down into darkness.
Crilly sat by the long-dead fire, poking at the charcoal with a lonely twig, his ebony wings splayed out like great swathes cut from the night sky. He was calm, but troubled. Davey had informed him of what Catalysta was doing, and it made him unsettled.
Over the short time they’d been travelling, the angels had become accustomed to being surrounded by such friendly faces. What with the Vampire Killers and their laddish humour- the necromancing men which they were already friends with- and then the females. Supernatural though they were, the four oddities had brought such fire to the otherwise all-male group. Holding their own.
It was a remarkable change.
Startling the fallen out of his thoughts, Kier threw himself down by the cold ashes. Under his eyes were already bruised purple-red shadows, the stress showing in the prince’s whole demeanour.
“What is it-“
“I know why she’s fukka done this.” He began, cutting off the angelic and making him huff slightly.
“She knows I fear…. Death.” Grumbling, the flame-fringed prince shuffled in the dirt, but regardless the angel watched- face impassive. “She used herself as bait. Her and Drew. Now we have to go, or they’ll die.”
“Or worse.” Crilly mused, poking at the dust again. “They’ll torture them for information.”
Kier looked as though he was about to be sick. Sighing, the man continued.
“The spell she got Davey to help her with binds his tongue. He cannot speak of us. She can speak of us- but only while he is alive.”
Blinking, Kemp processed the information.
“We have…. Until she breaks….?”
“It won’t be long.”
“It’s long enough.”
Gathering himself, Kier rose from beside the angel- and Crilly stood with him.
“Address your people- and I’ll address mine.”
“When do we move?”
“Gather everybody….. We move when we have a plan.”
Lights danced in the eyes of the great golden dragon, chained- shackles bound around her ankles and weights on her wings, clipping them in effect. She was exhausted. Catalysta- bound and magicless.
With heavy eyelids, she forced herself to look around at the room she was held in. It was huge- and her large form was surrounded by all manner of devices. Cages hung from the ceilings like ugly metal cobwebs, all swaying and chinking in time- playing a mocking tune of cruel tinkling.
“… Drew…?” The beast called out, attempting to raise her head. All she could smell was damp and decay.
It was then she recalled she must be in a torture chamber.
How long had she been here?
In the fog and haze of her mind, she could not remember.
What can I remember? Such was her mind, twisted bitter by the fate that she knew would await her. Does it matter? Unable to recall even her own identity- only her name and who her friends were- that was her curse.
Crumpling, she pressed her muzzle to the ice-cold stone that offered no cushioning.
She was alone.
“Awake again?” Came his voice- and instantly, her tears stopped raining.
“Drew?” Up shot her head, as far as she could strain against her chains. Suspended high above her, the Vampire glowered down at her, his face a mess of smudged dirt and blood, the dark bruises blooming under his eyes showing he had not been partaking in his dreams.
“I’m glad you remember me this time.” He grunted sourly, turning away from the bars- his back to her. Those sad, stormy-grey eyes watched as he turned, her body sinking closer to the ground.
“DON’T. Give me that again.” Snarling, he lashed out at the bars- hands bandaged from where he’d obviously tried to either escape before, or…
“CATALYSTA.” It was so full of venom- the way he spat it. Cruel. Cruel.
“Tell me!” She asked, desperate- but no. Woolnough shook his head, almost sickened. His pale skin was caught in the single torch that kept the dark room flickering with a ghost of warmth, and his eyes had lost their copper shine.
He looked so old.
Inside the beast’s chest, she felt her powerful heart sink.
At every joint, she ached- her mind was still clouded by a haze that couldn’t clear itself, and she could barely stand- but still, she tried forced herself to. For him.
She could not.
“Please… Drew- how long have we been…”
“Three days so far. The Cardinal has been making it hell for you- but keeps making you forget.” His voice was so blunt. Matter-Of-Fact.
“What has he been-“
“You don’t want to know.”
“This is your fault.” His voice cracked slightly, his back still to her- his armour stripped from him, leaving him in nothing but his black undercloth. The young man looked positively ill.
It occurred to the dragon that he could not feed up there.
“I know-“ She began, but he exploded.
“How DARE you?! I TRUSTED you, Catty! I- I BELIEVED in you! And now what? We’re fukka bait! That’s all we are- and we’re going to DIE!” The last words he screeched had a tremor, his hands shaking as they groped at the bars- white-knuckled as he gripped the steel frame. Those beautiful eyes were dull- dull, muddy browns instead of vibrant copper- burning like a starving animal’s.
As he banged and raged in the confines of the swaying cage, the dragon let the words sink in.
He’s a man.
I’m a dragon.
Even if it was sense, it still burnt more than any brand could- more than any fire, more than any torture.
Maybe this was a form of torture.
If it was, then the Cardinal knew- and if the Cardinal knew, he’d end them both in the cruellest way he could. She was becoming more and more aware of the scent of blood, death and despair that seemed to permeate every stone and every steel bar- reeking of the foul stench.
But she knew Drew would be hungry- he didn’t get a full feed. And that lingering waft of alluring crimson would drive him to the point of madness before it choked him of life.
The thirst would kill him, she realised.
Growling, she thrashed as much as she dared- and Drew started to laugh as the chains tightened and caused her to shriek.
“This again? You won’t get out- we both tried.”
Hissing, she snaked her head towards him again- anger now gripping at her confused, befuddled emotions.
“Drew- Drew what’s happened to you?”
“They can’t hurt me or you won’t talk. So they’re starving me. If I die, you won’t talk, true- but he’s hoping you’re in love with me, and won’t let me die.” Rolling his eyes, he seemed to calm and rested his head against the icy black bars of his prison.
“You don’t love me, so I don’t know why they bother.” He spat them. The words- they rolled off his tongue like poison. It hurt more than the lash of a whip.
She attempted to sit, but it was in vain. A bloodied patterned, carved into the stone, held her there- even without the chains, she would be trapped.
Her breaths became shallow.
Suddenly, the great dragon hiccupped-
A mighty creature sinking to its stomach, defeated in one sense.
Defeated not by her enemy, but by her friend.
Betrayed by herself, as much as she had betrayed him.
It took them a moment to realise that somebody else was there.
William, draped his hooded crimson cloak, had kept to the shadows during the dragon and the vampire’s talk. Both instantly stopped, eyes fixed on the newcomer. Even if the pair were weak and chained, they were more than ready to fight to escape- even if actually reaching the outside was nigh-on impossible. Not alone, anyways.
“Relax.” With a soft tone, unthreatening and gentle, he spoke, wading through the heavy stench of death as he walked towards the downed dragon and the hanging vampire. “I will not harm you.”
“Not now, but you could feed back to the Cardinal-“
“Seth and I…. do not see eye to eye. Here- I brought some food.” From under the red-dyed cloth, he produced some meat. Bloodied meat at that.
The first slab he threw to the dragon, who guzzled it in one motion- her hunger shining through her eyes and rumbling at her ribs.
Whistling, the vampire man called his familiar to him. It was a large-ish bat-like creature, more like a little winged demonic with an arrow-headed tail and leathery wings- a short face, tiny eyes and a dome-shaped head, topped by two huge ears. It was a purple-blackish-grey.
She ‘Scraaaaaaaked’ at her master, and he passed her the meat- which she took to Drew and gave him through the bars without hesitation. Even if he was a man, Drew tore into the meat- sinking his fangs in with desperation.
Still, it wouldn’t keep the thirst at bay for long.
“Why are you helping us?” It wasn’t so much a question, as the tone was rather more… accusing. The dragoness twisted- stuck in her animal form, as she discovered the haze in her mind prevented her from changing back- and looked the man up and down.
Reluctantly, Will removed his hood, smiling up at the creature as best he could- curved fangs protruding and sitting just on his slightly parted lips.
“I don’t… Support my brother’s motives.” As he spoke, the dragon snorted and pulled on her chains. Instantly the magic adorned in the blood-symbol began to take effect, and she was hazy and on her stomach again- muzzle against the cool ground. This time, it seemed to yield a little.
“Just trust me. If I can, I’ll help. You’re not alone here.”
Both man and dragon glanced at him, already looking hopeless.
“Look- to escape, you’ll need to concede yourselves, repent what you’ve done and destroy my brother. That’s all. And from what I’ve heard, it shouldn’t be too hard for you.”
Soon, he and his bat-like familiar left-
And there, in the silence, were the dragon and the vampire.
It was not as agonising as before- but it was still pretty painful for both the man and the beast.
Hissing her emotional and physical distress, the dragon pawed at the ground, talons grating against the stone floor.
“If love is death then let me fukka die…”