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III

1.

Although Richard protested against leaving him alone in a city he was not familiar with, Constance had to remove herself from him. She assured him, that even if Nexus was in Istanbul already, he would not attack him, because he needed the information about the stake’s location. Dead historian would be no advantage in the negotiations with Morrigan. She wanted to see her home once more. She was too dependent of it. But, she was fast and she could return to Istanbul in a day’s time.

Constance could not think of ending her life without enjoying in the tranquillity of her lands first. She could die right there and then, and she would not regret it. She has seen everything the world around her had to offer. Nexus was the only threat to her happiness, but she will deal with him soon. She killed vampires in her lifetime, now she could try killing one of her own kind. It won’t be easy, but she was accustomed to making difficult choices and decisions. Constance walked the fields, following the stream. The water was cheerfully accompanying the song of birds, and the sun was spreading its light among the tall, emerald grass. It was a warm, pleasant day. A day worthy of dying. How many great days like this did she experience during her life? Certainly, those were rare.

Out there, by the stream, under the willow, she did not need anybody, or anything, not even blood to feed. She came to the ancient tree and sat on one of the roots sticking out from the ground. The stream was not always there, it was new, but it fitted perfectly with the rest of the scenery. Constance watched the rays of sunlight breaking through the leaves in the willow’s crown. Yellow and green, colours of her home. During the Middle Ages, she was acquainted with the belief of the humans that creatures like her were damned. People said they deserved eternal suffering, as a punishment to their wicked lives. Some humans applied this belief even to the members of their own kind. Morrigan could never understand that. Basics were not evil. At least not more evil than the other predators that inhabited the planet. Don’t the humans kill? Don’t they hunt others for sports? That’s why she had given up on the world. The world she once knew became incapable to face with its own weaknesses, to admit and accept its own mistakes.

Richard was a good man. His help was crucial for her. But, in the end he remained a frightened mortal. She could not blame him. He did not live a life of thousands of years to be prepared to put it in danger. Hopefully, he will have a good rest of his life when he performs his task. If he can ever recover from the stress he has been experiencing during the last week. Just a while longer, and he will be free. Constance felt chill on her skin. A man appeared from the nearby bushes by the stream and grinned. Sunlight was caught in his dark hair. Constance noticed that he was quite well dressed.

“Can’t I have an hour alone?” she asked.

“You know that I have been following you?” Nexus replied.

“How could I not know? You are after the stake and Richard, and I’m the only one who knows where both of them are,” Morrigan said.

“Isn’t it interesting. Here we are, at the place where everything began,” he replied. Constance was not amused.

“Why are you here? There is nothing you and I could talk about,” Morrigan said.

“We have a whole history together. There is plenty of material for us to go through,” he insisted.

“Nexus, there is no point in this,” she said.

“You think you can protect him?” Nexus asked, becoming more aggressive.

“I will do my best to ensure that you don’t prevent me or him from finishing what we have started. Nexus, you don’t understand, you don’t want to. My death is inevitable, because I want it,” she replied.

“Can’t you let me have my revenge after he kills you? Your death will break my heart, but have it if you insist, just… Just let me avenge our people. You’ll accomplish your goals, and I will accomplish mine.”

“I won’t give you a human to play with him. A human who is not guilty for the past.”

“He is guilty of being Philephebos.”

“The war is over. It has been over for more than hundred years. Why do you want to repeat it? Have you forgotten how we suffered?”

“No, I haven’t, but apparently you have. You want the enemy to have the final victory over our kind. And how do you think you will stop me? I know your every move.”

“What final victory? I told you, the war between us and the Philephebos family is no more.”

“Others would be ashamed of you,” he said, disappointed.

“Don’t talk to me about the others. As if I cared,” she quickly pushed him, and exposed her fangs.

“Then why do you care about him?” he replied, showing his fangs as well, pressing his forehead against hers.

“I don’t want innocent victims anymore,” she said.

“And you believe he is innocent?” Nexus asked.

“I’m worried about you. Don’t stand in my way, and I won’t be forced to react,” Constance said.

“Don’t think of me. You won’t be around to see how I end my term,” Nex said.

“This is the way I want my term to end. I’ve lived enough. If I had the right to live this long, then I earned my right to end it if I want,” Constance said.

“I never thought you would be so pessimistic. You’ve always been reserved, but now… You seem broken,” Nex said with a softer voice.

“Don’t start this, Nexus. I’m tired of everything. And stop following me, you won’t find out anything important,” she said and jumped high. When she touched the ground again, she immediately started running fast, at the speed that was undetectable to the humans. Seeing Nexus ruined the day for her. Even her favourite place felt corrupted when he was around. Richard will probably gloat when he sees her coming back unsatisfied and upset. He left the historian in a hotel room with an amazing view at Bosporus. Richard really couldn’t complain.

He had an unpleasant feeling because she was paying for everything. He offered to split the bill, but she refused. Richard was aware that she wanted to compensate for all the trouble and dangers he had been through, but it still couldn’t make him less uncomfortable with the situation. Being around Constance was a very tense experience in the past week, but without her, he was vulnerable. Although his pride tried to hide it from himself, he had to admit that he was only a human tool in the hands of a Basic. His only purpose was to provide Constance with a good death. But, the adventurist side of him actually liked it. He had more thrill in a week, than in most of his life. Richard smiled and ate an olive from the bowl on the table. He went out on the balcony, gazing at the sea, wondering when Morrigan will come back. When she appeared at the door, her appearance revealed to him that she did not want to be asked many questions. Yet, Richard could not resist. He watched as she silently went through the door in the wall, which separated his part of the hotel room with hers.

“You look troubled,” the historian said.

“Nexus found me,” Constance replied, while changing her clothes.

“Did you fight?” Richard asked with a serious voice.

“No, he just showed up to upset me,” Constance replied and put a fresh shirt on, before coming in front of Richard.

“Are you hungry?” she said and opened the refrigerator in the corner. She took two bags of blood and pierced one with the tube through which she drank it. Richard chuckled. It looked like she was drinking a raspberry juice.

“I could have a sandwich,” he replied.

“Do you want me to call room service, or would you like to go on a sightseeing tour that ends with dinner?” she said. She was in a much better mood than when she came to the hotel.

“It sounds nice,” Richard smiled.

“I tried to put some sense into him, Richard. But he just wouldn’t listen,” Constance complained and she turned grim again.

“He is one of those people who doesn’t stop until he achieves his goal. And he can be told it’s wrong hundred times, but he won’t give up. He sees the world differently than you and I,” he comforted her.

“I will have to kill him. I’m not worried about him taking the stake and destroying it. If he wants to live forever, I’m fine with that. But he wants you, and I can’t let that happen,” she said.

“I’m don’t care what he does to me, Constance,” he said.

“He’s ruthless, Richard. If he catches you, don’t think he’ll allow you to have a clean death,” Morrigan warned him.

“Let’s go out. This is a one of most exciting cities in the world. There is certainly something that can cheer us both up,” Richard said.

The night in Istanbul was fresh. The waves of the sea hummed to Jenny as she sat on the rocky shore. Twelve minutes earlier, she dragged a man to the overpass and sucked his blood. She was looking at the water, when his dry face resurfaced in front of her. If this was her future, her eternity, she will hate herself from that moment on. Maybe, she’ll stay up till the sun rises and go back to darkness from which she was awakened. Death, she did not even feel it. When Nexus drank the last drop of her blood, it was like she fell asleep. And then, she was on her feet again. As if someone turned off the lights, and seconds later, turned it back on. Jenny wondered if she would meet any other vampires. Life with Nexus would be interesting, but she was limited in comparison to him. She went back to the house he rented, and decided to wait for him. But, when she arrived, she discovered that he was already there, drinking wine and reading a yellow book, which was almost falling apart. He seemed discontent when he saw her.

“Where were you?” he asked with deep voice.

“I was feeding,” she replied.

“Come, sit,” he said, offering her place on the couch next to his. She sat and put her head on his shoulder.

“His screams are still in my thoughts,” she said quietly.

“He’s not your first killing. Remember your first night as a vampire?” Nexus reminded her.

“I’m not over that one either. I don’t think I’ll ever be alright with what I have to do to stay fresh and fed,” she complained.

“Eventually you’ll start to like it. Isn’t it exciting? The hunting, lurking, the frightened prey?” the Basic said.

“Are we going to finish this soon? I mean, with Richard and that woman, when is it going to be over?” she asked.

“I have seen Morrigan today. And although she warned me not to, I could not help myself, so I followed her. She’s staying at a hotel near the bridge. Tomorrow night, you and I will visit Richard and Morrigan and have fun,” he said, grinning.

“Are you afraid?” she asked.

“No,” he said. He looked confident. Jenny, however, did not share his enthusiasm. She kept thinking about Richard. Constance replaced her quickly in his heart. She promised to herself that she would beat him to death. Nexus wasn’t perfect, but at least he did not waste time on pretending that he cared much about her. He did like it, and she noticed it, but their relationship was more a business one, than an emotional one. Actually, there was little emotion between them. Jenny was a different person now. She thought she was losing a bit of herself every night. The speed, the strength, everything she gained came with a price. Perhaps that explained why Nex was so distant at times. Like he did not feel anything. He would look at her, but his gaze was hollow. His arms were around her, but his embrace was cold. Jenny could not know how adventurous, cheerful, happy he was before Constance started to flirt with Hadrian. Even though he was dead for over three centuries, Hadrian was still a hated incident in Basic’s memory. If he could, he would revive him and kill him again. The wounds of Constance’s betrayal were forever fresh and sore. His entire existence revolved around her until that moment. Living for so long, he was aware that it had to happen eventually. But the probability of it did not have to mean the inevitability. Constance was the first, and Nexus was the last. Between them was Bosporus, and hundreds of years of resentfulness.

Constance and Richard came back from the walk and dinner. The historian was very pleased with the amount of food in his plate. The taste of his dish was quite remarkable as well. Morrigan satisfied herself with a bottle of red wine, which the waiter thought was strange, considering that Richard had so much to eat, and she was only drinking. The historian was very sleepy when he got to the room. He took a shower and went to bed in less than half an hour. Constance, on the other hand, could not rest. She could not wait for the sunrise.

The next day, Constance took Richard to the family where she had left the stake. A boy opened the door when she rang a small silver bell, and he was confused to see two strangers standing on his doorstep. Luckily, his grandmother appeared behind him, who recognized Morrigan from an old photo she was given by her father.

“Come in. It is such an honour,” the elderly woman said and gently pushed his grandson aside so that Richard and Constance could enter.

“Have you been expecting any guests?” Constance asked when she saw three steaming cups of coffee on the kitchen table as she entered. She did not want to bother the woman and immediately wanted to tell her that Richard and she will come back later if she was busy at the moment.

“Those are for you and me,” the woman said to Richard and Constance.

“You knew we were coming?” the historian asked with a self-assured smile. But, he had seen so much in the past week, so why would an old woman who predicted their arrival would be a surprise?

“I saw you through the window. I have been waiting for my whole life for you to come. This photo, I had looked at it since I was a small girl, imagining the way you would sound and act once you stand in front of me,” the old lady said and wanted to kiss Constance’s hand. The Basic moved the hand away and felt uncomfortable.

“You don’t have to,” Morrigan said softly and quietly and signalled Richard to sit at the table. The historian sat and took his cup of coffee, feeling warmth all over his palm and fingers. He tasted it, and noticed that the woman was expecting his reaction. He smiled and nodded.

“It is good indeed,” Richard said. The truth was that it was a bit too bitter and strong for him. It wasn’t the coffee he was usually drinking. Morrigan could tell that he wasn’t honest, but said nothing about it. She suddenly felt a fever coming over her, and a sharp headache.

“The stake is here, isn’t it?” the Basic asked and rubbed her forehead. She could sense it somewhere near, having an unpleasant impact on her.

“It is in the basement. Do you want me to bring it?” the woman asked.

“No, not yet,” Constance said. She knew that she would probably faint if the stake was put in front of her, and she did not want to frighten Richard, or the old lady and her grandson.

“What has made you decide to use the stake? Is this man going to do it?” the woman asked.

“She knows?” Richard seemed confused.

“Of course I know, young man. I grew up with the stories of the Basics and I was taught the importance of my family and this house in the whole matter. I am well familiar with the stake, and what it will do to her,” the old woman said.

“You have to understand, my life is pointless. It has been pointless for about fifty years, but I was afraid to admit it and I couldn’t find a Philephebos, until now,” Morrigan replied.

“But, life is… Life is wonderful. Do you know how many people would want your gift? Live the life you have, don’t be ungrateful,” the old lady said. Morrigan sighed.

“Truly, always does the least deserving get the best out of everything. Isn’t that what you think of me? The stories you heard, did they awaken envy in your heart? Why must you grow old and wake up every morning with an excruciating pain in your back, and I will forever stay young? Why must you die and I can live as long as I want to? I understand you, believe me. Perhaps if our roles were reversed, I would feel exactly what you feel now. Where is the justice in this? There is none. But, it’s my right to govern my life the way I want to, whether it hurts someone or not. My life, and my decision when to end it. Don’t get ahead of yourself human, I won’t answer you for my actions,” Constance replied. Richard had seen Morrigan depressed and worried, but now she was threatening, serious. Her tone was perhaps too strict, but obviously, she wanted to set clear boundaries between herself and the rest of the world. She was different and in that moment, he completely embraced that fact.

“I did not mean to offend you,” the old woman said.

“It’s alright,” Constance whispered. She felt that she perhaps went too far. She looked at the woman’s grandson who was playing with the plastic and wooden blocks on the floor. It wasn’t Morrigan’s fault that he will die eventually. And, Morrigan knew that the woman was aware of it as well. How could she not be? She spent her entire life listening about immortality, watching as death took each of her family members and friends. She heard so much, and yet she could do nothing to seize it for herself. Constance drank her coffee slowly. Richard was looking for a way to keep the conversation alive and avoid the unpleasant atmosphere that was rising.

“How old is he?” the historian asked and looked at the boy.

“He’ll be ten next month. His mother left him, and his father, my son, is not around that much either. He’s my world, and I am his. We get along,” the woman replied. Richard smiled when he saw the gleam of joy in her eyes as she talked about him.

“He must be a very smart boy,” Richard said when the boy just finished building a house out of his blocks. Morrigan also looked at the child and suddenly forgot about the torments that tore her heart. The boy was happy to be concentrated and interested in his blocks only, in his games and tricks. He did not have to worry about the future, he did not have to carry the world on his shoulders. At least not yet.

“He is clever. But, also stubborn sometimes,” the boy’s grandmother commented.

“That means that he has a strong personality,” Richard replied and grinned.

“Do you have a container for the stake?” Morrigan interrupted them. Her mind was focused, set on one object that could bring her salvation. She did not care if she was rude or not. The sooner Richard stabs her, the better. All the centuries and millennia, she could not truly reconcile with the end of it. She only regretted staying in the shadows, standing behind the drapes instead of being on the stage of the world doing something which would provide her an immortality of the name, in addition to that of the flesh. Morrigan did not have any real purpose.

“Of course. In my possession, there is a iron casket in which the stake will be placed so that you can take it with you,” the old woman replied.

“Richard, go with her and take the stake. I’ll wait for you outside,” Morrigan said and got up. As the old woman and Richard went to the basement, Morrigan approached the boy and examined the way he was playing with the blocks. He was quite creative. The child looked up at her briefly, and then went back to his work. Now, it wasn’t just a house anymore. There was also a boat and a tower. Constance wanted to praise him, but she thought it would not matter much to him. She was an outsider. Morrigan stepped out of the house and waited for the two to come back.

The woman and Richard returned, and the historian was carrying a medium sized box, reddish at the edges. Constance tried not to think about the contents of the box.

“This is it,” Richard said and put the casket under his arm. He could not wait to get to the hotel, so he could peek inside. He was sure that the stake wouldn’t disappoint him and that it would be the same as he imagined it to be. Morrigan approached the woman and bowed.

“Thank you for all the service your family has provided. Honestly, I am most grateful,” Morrigan said. She spoke from her heart and the old woman recognized that.

“It was an honour to be a part of your universe. Not all of us mortals are bad and jealous,” the woman said. Morrigan smiled and waved at the woman. Richard silently followed her, and they left the small house in a small street in Istanbul.

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