How to steal a demon's heart
and get away with it
The first book of the "How to demon"-series
As expected, the area where he assumed Lariza's actual abode was a lot less run-down than where he lived himself. The gardens were larger, the fences higher and the buildings behind them impressive and in good condition.
He didn't walk completely aimlessly through the wide avenues - a strange feeling had taken possession of him. And he had learned in his long years as a demon hunter to listen to and follow his instincts. Something...happened. It was in full swing and he couldn't really name it.
He continued to follow the direction in which his intuition led him. Finally he could sense Layla's familiar presence. Weak at first, for despite Lariza's seal whose energy signature etched her, she was little more than human- but she grew increasingly intense.
She approached him, and quickly.
So fast that she nearly collided with him running out of one of the cross streets. Her breathing hitched, she stopped in front of him and gasped. "Dante!" she gasped.
"What happened Layla?" he asked worried. He measured her with a cursory glance. She appeared unharmed, but his keen sense of smell caught the faint whiff of blood clinging to her. He routinely measured their immediate surroundings, but he couldn't see anything suspicious. And yet there was still this oppressive, almost overwhelming feeling. He gently grabbed Layla's shoulders. She was shaking with exhaustion and excitement.
"You have to help me, please." She grabbed his hand and started to pull him in the direction she had come from. "I knew you would come to save her."
“Save Lariza? Before what?” He'd gotten the impression that she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself. "A vampire. He attacked us."
Layla nodded vigorously. Her hand, which had closed tightly around his, felt clammy and it didn't take the look of panic on her face and posture to know how much she feared for Lariza. He could smell the fear in her.
He reluctantly gave in to her demand, because he couldn't assess Lariza's abilities at all. If Eldwin killed the vampire, he would not know what she really wanted from him and why she had tried to manipulate him. He quickened his pace as Layla ran faster.
"What does he want from you?" He actually assumed that Eldwin would stay as far away from Lariza as possible.
“His mate came to Lariza this morning and she gave her…shelter.”
Since it was about Lariza, Dante had a good idea of what she was referring to and how things had gone from there.
Layla led him to a spacious garden that enclosed an imposing building. He paused for a moment and took a deep breath of the tingling air that seemed to weigh heavily on him. There was something spooky about the whole property.
"She cast a spell to keep strangers away," Layla explained in response to his unspoken question. "So nobody's going to barge in to ask unwanted questions. No matter what should happen."
She hurried down the ornate stone path that meandered through the grass and opened the green-lacquered portal. Behind it stretched an entrance hall whose staircase to the upper floor was lined with a splintered railing. Deep furrows ran through wooden wall panels to the parquet floor and he could already hear the sounds of battle.
"You have to stop him, please." Layla's voice was urgent. No matter how he had assessed her relationship with Lariza up until now, the young woman seemed genuinely worried about her.
He turned to the sound of shattering glass.
"Stay back," he instructed Layla firmly. A door connecting to a narrow corridor leading from the antechamber shook with a concussion. He opened them warily. What had he gotten himself into? It wasn't like him to meddle in the arguments of others, especially two vampires he barely knew. And yet Ceres was involved - that didn't leave him many options. He couldn't risk Damian losing her before he had a chance to find out how he felt about her.
A spacious conservatory stretched out behind the door. The autumn sun filtered through what was left of the domed panes, bathing a still life of destruction in golden light.
The devastation was devastating, but there was no sign of the vampires. Glass crunched under the soles of his boots. The floor was littered with broken glass and paint splatters. An overturned easel lay in the midst of the chaos, along with a tattered canvas. In passing, Dante was irritated to discover that the subject on it was him. And about Ceres. What the hell happened here?
He followed a massive trail of blood that ran across the old-fashioned, ornate tiles. It looked like someone had been dragged across the floor. No wonder Layla had panicked. But his fine senses told him the blood was Eldwin's.
The door to which the trail led hung crookedly on its hinges. He approached it warily to open it and step through. On the other side was a small library that Damian would have been delighted with. Glancing over his shoulder, he was displeased to see Layla trailing behind him at a distance, but he knew it would be futile to try to correct her. She was driven only by fear for Lariza's life and in fact he didn't see himself in a position to protect her from anything.
The library largely escaped the traces of destruction. Only when the bleeding had stopped did the injured vampire fight back and the next room was all the more devastated. Furniture had been smashed, shelves overturned, shards of shattered windows lay everywhere. And he was just in time to witness Lariza pulling a splintered table leg out of her chest.
"Definitely not one of the more amusing penetrations of my life," she groaned, rubbing the sore spot. "Speaking of the devil." She glanced at Dante before focusing back on Eldwin.
Both were not a good sight. Her clothes were tattered and smeared with blood. As he had already suspected from the destruction they had inflicted, they traded nothing in their fight.
But what worried Dante even more: he could neither see nor perceive Ceres.
"Where is Ceres?" he addressed the two vampires.
Lariza shrugged. “Why does everyone keep asking me about Ceres? Nobody comes in here, sees that this madman wants to kill me and asks: “How are you actually, Lariza? Is there anything we can do for YOU?" Maybe someone would be so kind as to pass me a damn wet wipe so I can at least clean up some of the blood. But no, everyone is only interested in Ceres.” She nimbly dodged Eldwin's next attack, jumping over a fallen box. She crouched at a height of about two meters and grinned at him. “What is it about her that makes you all go nuts? It's like my lost virginity. A mystical creature that no one has seen in person lately, but everyone seems keen to discover."
"What have you done to her, Lariza!?" Eldwin snapped angrily.
"Nothing she didn't want. I don't even know what your problem is”, the vampire replied offended. “May I point out that you broke into my house uninvited to simply insult me and wreak havoc?”
Dante measured the spacious, high room, looked at the wood paneling on the walls, what was left of the paintings and then turned to Lariza. “Speaking of house. Nice you have it here. So different from the place you invited me to yesterday."
"Oops," Lariza said, at least having the decency to grin guiltily. "In my defence, I never said I would live there." She wiped the still wet blood from her forehead with the back of her hand.
"What game are you playing, Lariza?" he asked suspiciously. "What have you done? And why all this?"
The vampire landed in front of Dante with an elegant leap. For the first time since he'd met her, she didn't seem relaxed and in control of herself and the situation. Anger sparkled in her deep green eyes as she looked up at him. "You should ask Eldwin that," she snapped. "Come on! Ask him what he did."
Dante broke eye contact with her to give Eldwin a critical look. The vampire seemed unaware of any guilt.
"Oh, he acts so hypocritical, posing as the great patron and savior of every fair damsel in distress, but the truth is quite different." Her soft voice sounded imploring as she tenderly stroked Dante's forearm. "Please believe me. Everything I do to him, he deserves."
And he felt deep down that he believed her. And not only that, that he wanted to believe and trust her so much that it almost hurt. She looked so lost, so innocent, that something in his soul tightened. He just wanted to protect her, hold her, kiss her, feel her skin on his.
He took a step away from her and broke away from her touch. "I don't like it when people try to manipulate me," he explained coolly. Was that her ability? Her power was absolutely frightening.
"You're finally coming to your senses," Eldwin's voice said behind him. “Get out of the way so I can finally finish this. This is centuries overdue.”
Dante only half turned to him. No matter how shady Lariza's motives were, the vampire was no better.
"It's okay, Dante." With a soft sigh, she gestured for him to step back.
"Wait a moment," he held her back as she tried to push past him to accept Eldwin's provocation.
"What's wrong?" she asked impatiently, but complied with his request.
"What you just tried to do to manipulate me, to make me emotionally attached to you..." He swallowed hard. The thought was still too troubling to say out loud. “Is that what you do to people around you? Is that what you did with Noah?"
She raised an eyebrow in irritation and the look of confusion on her face was genuine. “Noah?”
"You tracked him down to contact me."
Recognition flashed in her eyes. "Oh, your little friend. I didn't do anything to him."
Dante didn't understand what she meant by that. "But he's completely obsessed with you."
She shrugged her shoulders. "I didn't do anything actively with him," she stressed. “I promise you that on high and holy. Well, as holy as I can promise." She gave Dante an encouraging pat on the shoulder. "Don't worry, he'll be back to normal soon. This happens to all people after a while, when they are no longer in my sphere of influence."
Eldwin interrupted their conversation, drawing their attention back to himself. "Come on, Lariza. So that you can't blame me for not defeating you fairly, I'll give you the opportunity to arm yourself. A fair duel, just you and me."
Lariza chuckled at Eldwin's words. "Eldwin, my dear, you know very well that unlike you, I am not a warrior."
Eldwin tightened his grip on his sword and braced himself, ready to attack. “Don't be ridiculous, Lariza. I've seen you rip your clanmates' heads off with your bare hands."
The vampire scraped dried blood from the back of her hand, ignoring it. "I said I wasn't a warrior. But I've never denied that I'm a murderer," she replied casually. “You bore me, Eldwin. It's always been the same with you for centuries." She danced gracefully between the fallen furniture as he charged at her.
"You fall in love with a girl, turn her into a vampire, and then your morbid obsession ruins everything for you." She playfully smacked him on the back of the head as she dodged a jabbing in progress and allowed him to land a side hit. "And I'm always the scapegoat. Do you know what they call such recurring behavior? Pathological." Her hand pressed to the deep cut in her side. Dark, viscous blood spurted out between her fingers.
"You should never have turned my mates away from me into your perverse hobby," Eldwin retorted angrily.
Dante frowned and took a sidestep as Eldwin was thrown past him.
The vampire followed him immediately, breaking his breastbone with a well-aimed blow.
"If they're so willing to get involved with me, am I really the problem? You know women usually have free will?” Lariza hissed. Eldwin struggled to his feet. His breath came in gasps. She bent over him to glare at him angrily. "I know your family, or mine for that matter, is only too happy to overlook that." Eldwin's hand tightened on the hilt of his sword before launching another attack which, as intense as her attention was transfigured by her anger and dislike for him, could not miss. She groaned as he pierced her chest and fell to her knees. With a jerk he pulled his blade from her chest and gasped to his feet.
"Saying you of all people, whose favorite pastime is manipulating others," Eldwin replied. “You are arrogant as ever, Lariza. And careless.” He wiped her blood off his sword in disgust. “Or have you forgotten that I wield a blessed weapon?”
Lariza laughed softly. “How could I ever forget that? The weapon of the righteous." Already the unpleasant stinging and burning sensation that had accompanied the slow healing of the previous injuries had reminded her sufficiently. “How very fitting for someone for you. But I forgot, you were always better than me, noble savior of helpless maidens." She laughed mockingly. She struggled to get up again, pressing her hand tightly to her wound until the hot stream dried up and only a dark, wet stain soaked her dress. The pale skin peeking out from under the perforated fabric was completely flawless.
"Lariza." Layla's voice was flat, just a silent cry of shock and concern.
"Stay back, Layla. This is only his and my business,” she instructed the young woman sternly. She raised her hand to her lips, licking the blood off her skin with a crooked grin. “Eldwin is right for once. This is centuries overdue."
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