Chapter 21

 H.M. Ward

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By the time the King's men realized what they were tracking, it was too late. The sun was already high in the sky. It was well into the day after the King had fled the palace and he was running out of time. Bellowing from the back of his car, he exclaimed, "It's nearly noon, and we aren't any closer than we were this morning! It's like that demonic girl is running in circles! How is she still alive? The storm last night should have killed her." The King was growling by the time he finished speaking, his voice low and menacing. He rubbed the back of his hands, resisting the urge to strangle the person sitting nearest to him.
The Tracker, Celticad was a large man with dark stubble on his massive jaw. His arms were the size of hams and covered thickly in dense hair. He clutched a live rabbit and held it in his lap. Celticad was a fearsome sight when he was human. After he turned vampire, not even his own kind wanted him around. He had too much power in those muscles, too much strength in his body, compared to the rest of them, but there was reason for it. The King had kindly slipped this Tracker extra vials of blood since the famine began. It was foolish to allow his guard to become weak, but that was unpreventable. Too many vampires receiving extra rations would be noticed, but one loner, freakishly large vampire, much less so.
Celticad was aware of the King's strength. While he fought viciously and feared no one, Celticad feared his King. There was something about the King that was different, stronger. The King's skin didn't have that sickly yellow tint, his eyes were cunning - always plotting, always thinking - and his wrath was swift. This particular setback was not Celticad's fault, however the King had no one else to blame.
"There was no way to know, your Highness." Celticad would not apologize. They tracked the item that the King told them to. While he would never say that this was the King's doing, Celticad wasn't about to take the blame or throw it on his men, either. The King stared furiously, straight ahead, fuming. His fingers rested on the door. He pressed so hard into the plastic handle that it snapped under his palm. Celticad did not acknowledge it. Instead, he continued, "The tracking device was contained within another animal. She must have realized it was there and removed it. There was no way to know we weren't tracking a human."
"No," The King said calmly, "of course not." Turning his golden eyes on the Tracker, he lifted his palms, like he was being reasonable, "There was no way to notice a change in body temperature or heart rate, no indication whatsoever that the chip was in a goddamned rabbit!"
Celticad refused to cringe. He sat against the seat, his back perfectly straight, clutching the rabbit in his lap. The animal shook fiercely when the King yelled. Celticad stroked it softly, trying to keep its heart from exploding. Quite reasonably, Celticad repeated, "As I said, my King, the anomalies with her temperature and pulse could have been for any number of reasons. No one suspected that the girl would take a knife to her back, remove the chip, and put it into another animal."
The King had underestimated Kahli, again. There was no way she removed that chip on her own. William helped her. The King fumed thinking about it. He couldn't return to the palace without the girl. He couldn't return without Will. In a sudden display of rage, the King turned toward Celticad. Grabbing his jacket, he roared in his face, revealing his fangs as his anger exploded, "Do you see these, Celticad? Do you see my power? My fangs?"
Celticad nodded. While he feared for his life, he did not fight back. To fight the King meant certain death. "You are the most powerful vampire in the world, my Lord."
He shook the large vampire once, and released him. Celticad slunk back into his seat, his hand smoothing over the rabbits trembling body. "Then why is it that I am out here and she is back there?" He screamed, pointing his finger behind them, out the back windshield. "If I am the most powerful vampire in the world, why do I have to run from my own wife!" It was a question that wasn't meant to be answered, but Celticad cleared his throat, indicating he would respond. The King's fierce gaze lifted and flashed a warning not to speak, but Celticad didn't listen.
"You don't have to run, "Celticad said brazenly. Quickly he explained, "Queen Sophia does not realize how powerful you've become. There is no other vampire with fangs, none that drinks blood straight from a warm body, none that can compel without a true name - except you. You can do all those things, my Lord, and yet, we chase this wild girl, a token of the Queen's. The girl was the one who ran, and therefore, the Queen's wrath will fall on her, not you. You could say that you did not harm those other girls, Kahli did. She killed them, spilling their blood before attacking you and killing members of your guard. You can return to the palace and resume your place at Queen Sophia's side without the wild girl. But - "
The King cocked a dark brow at him, "But, what?"
"But, I believe you had another reason to return in mind. You can easily overpower the Queen if you return. You can kill her and her guard, and yet, we sit out here in the wild." Celticad paused, and ran his thick hand through his hair. "I'm not a fool. I know the girl's worth, why you want her - but the player who makes the first move is the one with the upper-hand. If you plan to eradicate the Queen, now is the time, whether the girl is in hand or not." Celticad knew he'd spoken too openly, said too much, but it was a risk he had to take. If the King was slaughtered, beheaded by the Queen, then all who assisted him today would also feel her wrath.
The King worked his jaw as he listened to Celticad. When the vampire first spoke, the King planned on decapitating him at his last word, but the longer the brute spoke, the more the King agreed with him. Finally, the King glanced at him out of the corner of his eye, "That was extremely foolish, to speak out just now."
Celticad responded, "Or brave. It depends on how you look at it."
"Apparently so," he considered Celticad for a moment and nodded, "So be it. We will return to the palace. I will seize the throne, and if that girl is still alive, I'll hunt her down myself when this is over." He grinned, revealing his pearly fangs, thinking about sinking them into her neck again. Kahli was still alive. He could feel her heart beat, feel the steady pulsing of blood circulating her body. That blood was his. He would have her yet.
The King reached forward and took the frightened rabbit from Celticad's hands. Grabbing it by the scruff of the neck, the King held the snow white rabbit up in front of his face. The little ball of fur trembled, its bright eyes darting from side to side, looking for a way to escape. The King spoke to it gently, "There's no reason to fear, little one." He smiled at the animal. With a flick of his wrist, the rabbit's neck snapped. The sound of bone breaking echoed in the King's ears. "Here," he handed the lifeless ball of fur back to Celticad, "Skin it and strap its pelt to your belt. Every time you look at its soft fur, remember the sound of its neck snapping. Remember that is exactly what will happen to you if you ever again make a mistake of the magnitude you made today. Next time you will not survive. Never forget it."