ALTHOUGH HE HASN’T revealed our destination, I’ve
known from the start of our adventure where Lucius is taking
me. Still, the utter blackness in front of me—the tall, narrow slit
in the side of the mountain—makes me pull back a little.
Lucius doesn’t hesitate, though. Without a word, he steps
inside first, and because our hands are linked—and because I
want to follow—I let him guide me into the constricted passage,
so small that Lucius has to walk ahead, slightly bent, his arm
stretched behind himself to reach me. We move at a snail’s pace,
feeling our way along, because there’s no hope of our eyes adjusting
in such a complete subterranean void.
I want to ask him why we couldn’t have brought a flashlight
or at least a candle, but something tells me not to talk.
I’m scared . . . scared of being in a tight space underground,
in darkness that almost certainly hides creatures that would make
my skin crawl if I could see them. And I have irrational fears,
too, like that the ground might drop away and our next step send
us tumbling into empty space. But I’m also excited, and know
that Lucius is familiar with the tunnel.
As if on cue, he turns—not easy in the cramped space—and
rests his free hand gently on my head, protecting it as he guides me
past a turn where stone juts down from above. “Careful here,” he
whispers. “The rock is sharp.”
Yes, it’s quite obvious that Lucius has been here many times.
As I round the bend, ducking low, I see a faint glow in the
distance, and my anticipation grows—along with a new
Is someone else already here? Are we meeting somebody?
If Lucius is surprised, he doesn’t voice it. He just continues to
draw us down the curving corridor and toward that light, and
my eyes finally begin to pick out details around us. The passageway
is actually very dry and smooth, not as scary as I’d thought in the
dark. The walls appear almost cared for. I glance down and see
that the dirt floor seems swept clean, too. And the air, though
musty, smells like spice . . . maybe some kind of incense. I take a
deep breath, thinking the smell is vaguely reminiscent of the
unusual cologne that I first began to associate with Lucius back
I walk close on his heels, wondering if he chose that cologne
because it reminded him of this spot.
The light grows stronger and my heart starts to pound. I am
about to see what is probably—no, definitely—the most
significant place in my life.
We take a few steps more, and the ceiling rises higher, so even
Lucius can stand upright. At the last moment—just as we pass
under a crude wooden support that separates the passage from the
chamber that lies at the end—he draws me to his side and then
steps aside, allowing me to walk through first and telling me,
voice hushed with reverence, “This, Antanasia, is where our
parents promised us to one another.”
As I step into that hidden cavern, lit by a row of simple
candles arranged on a wooden table, like an altar . . . that
honestly is the first time it really strikes me that I’ve been here
before. That the infant I sometimes picture being offered up at a
subterranean betrothal ceremony was actually me.
That child . . . she always seemed like a stranger. No more
real than a doll.
But of course that baby was . . . me. My eyes have witnessed
all of this before. Maybe I was placed on that table . . .
And Lucius . . .
I turn slowly to face him, and see that he looks both happy
and suitably solemn as, clearly understanding what is running
through my mind, he says, “Yes, Antanasia. This — this place — is
where you and I really first met.”
He stays near the entrance, giving me time to take everything
The cave isn’t large, but like the tunnel, it’s clean and
obviously maintained. Along with the table, wooden benches are
arranged in rows, almost like a classroom or a church.
“This is where our ancestors made all of their most important
decisions,” Lucius explains. “The Elders and senior vampires
would gather here to debate. Still do gather, for the most crucial,
I look at him and see that his gaze is traveling around the
space, as if he’s seeing it anew as well.
“And they sought refuge here, too, right?” I ask. “When
vampires were being purged?” A chill runs through me—and not
because the cave is cool. Our parents were destroyed in the last
purge. Will there be others...?
“Yes,” Lucius answers my spoken questions. “This has always
been a safe haven. Its location is highly guarded.” He meets my
eyes, adding, “Destruction awaits the vampire who reveals this
spot to a human. That is the penalty, with no hope of clemency.
I watch Lucius coolly stating this fact, and although I know
that he’s prepared to rule, I’m a little bit in awe—and slightly
unnerved—to think that the vampire who just protected my
head with a gentle hand wouldn’t hesitate to carry out that kind
Uncertainty grips me. Will I, as a princess, actually be
responsible for handing down such a sentence? Am I responsible
for doing it now, if a Dragomir breaks the code of secrecy?
I stare hard into Lucius’s eyes. Has he already served as judge
and issued a decree like that?
I start to ask him—but change my mind. Maybe I don’t
want to know . . . not right now. So I ask another question that’s
bothering me. “If this is a safe haven, why didn’t our parents...
But Lucius is already shaking his head. “Rulers do not ‘hide,’
Antanasia,” he reminds me. “Especially not leaders such as our
parents were. Such as we will be. Kings and queens do not cower
in caves, even to save their lives.”
I swallow thickly, a queer feeling in the pit of my stomach,
and not only because I doubt my courage in the face of destruction.
Lucius has also just elevated us to “king and queen.” But he and
I are barely a prince and princess. At least, I’m barely a princess.
And to rise up to be queen requires a vote of confidence by all the
My concerns must be plain on my face, because Lucius steps
closer to me, smiling in a reassuring way. “Don’t look so alarmed,
Antanasia.” He takes my hands in his and bends to rest his
forehead against mine. “Nothing bad is happening tonight!”
As we stand together in the quiet cave, the worry that I did
feel dissipates. “I’m not scared,” I promise him.
“Good.” He clasps my hands together and presses them against
his chest so I can feel his heartbeat. “Because the last thing I want
you to feel right now is fear.”
After a few seconds, I realize that Lucius’s heart is beating a
little more quickly than usual—just slightly faster and harder
than its familiar slow, almost imperceptible pace. I raise my face
to his, wondering what’s causing the change.
I see then that there’s something different in his eyes, too. A
flicker that tells me something is happening. Something more
than just Lucius showing me the cave where generations of
Romanian vampires have come to seal pacts and forge treaties
and sometimes hide from persecution by humans.
Out of the corner of my eye, I catch sight of the candles
flickering, too, and I have my second revelation of the evening.
Not only have I been here once before, but Lucius has prepared
this spot for us this night.
The footsteps scrambling down the mountain . . . that was
almost certainly one of his two guards, returning after getting the
cave ready for our arrival.
And the fact that we’ve made this journey in the dark, when
it would have been so much easier in daylight...
I study Lucius’s dark eyes, wishing more than ever that I could
read his thoughts as well as he seems able to read mine, and
asking him, “Lucius...why are we really here tonight?”
And his answer...it isn’t what I expect at all.
Continue to Chapter 12...