“With a hint of good judgment, to fear nothing, not failure or suffering or even death, indicates that you value life the most.
You live to the extreme;
you push limits;
you spend your time building legacies.
Those do not die.”Criss Jami
A few weeks after their world tour spanning many months, countless countries, even continents, had ended resoundingly successful, Everett and Maeve returned to Windenburg with their son Blaine to surprise Everett’s parents, his brother Declan and family with a new home, build and designed specifically for them to live in together and large enough to hold their entire family for festivities. After some initial shock and resistance, relocations commenced.
With a laughing and a crying eye the young and old Camerons left their old homes, along with them the proverbial ghosts from the past, of those they lost who had been larger than life and still ever-present even if no longer in the flesh.
Brendan, Natalie, Declan, Rory and the twins moved into the sprawling property together.
Introducing: The Cameron Estate.
Located in a spot that could not be more scenic and serene on the Windenburg isle, the property spanning almost the entire side of the small island, with views to die for from every angle.
Anastasia and Riordan left Del Sol Valley and moved into the now vacant old home by the lake in Windenburg, Anastasia’s childhood home and the place where Riordan spent most of his time growing up.
While still beautiful, now in her late 60s, Anastasia was battling her own demons of doubt, as despite her tedious and tireless attempts to counteract it, she was well aware of the now undeniable and blatantly obvious visible age difference to her unofficial husband Riordan’s seemingly ageless appearance, even though he was technically older than her by mortal count, yet as a vampire he was frozen in time somewhere in his late twenties.
Vampires aged significantly slower than mortals, and at some point would stop altogether. When exactly that would be, depended on various circumstances but no one currently living would last long enough to see any notable change in Riordan.
With his mother and father now moved thousands of miles away and no plans to have more children apart from their son Kai, Riordan and Anastasia’s humble and kind son Finn and his wife Jana Camore didn’t want the huge mansion he was raised in anymore, so he traded homes with Everett, Maeve and Blaine, who – while not new to luxurious living and all the creature comforts money could buy – needed quite a while for the realization to sink in that they now owned the biggest, most awe-inspiring home in all Del Sol Valley, as it sat atop the highest hill, sparkling white and illuminated like a castle in the sky, its residents looking down the hill into the valley as if greeting their humble subjects. Naturally, some extensive remodeling was necessary to customize it to their needs, but it was a labor of love, section by section.
The Cameron Mansion.
Everett was in seventh heaven.
His aunt and uncle’s former home had been a key factor in his life, the first safe place he and Maeve found after being robbed just when they had arrived in Del Sol Valley, still only friends then, the first place he realized how much he had already fallen for her, made painfully clear to him when she swooned about his cousin Finn, the first place she ever held him, comforting him when he was beating himself up about failing right at the start and a place with the most stunning view across Del Sol Valley, a landmark in his heart and a home he had wanted to own for a long time.
Now he felt that he really had achieved every single dream in life, leaving him with a true legacy to hand down to his son one day in the very distant future.
Windenburg Cameron Estate Brendan and Natalie Cameron's 65th birthday celebration A few months later
Once everyone was settled into their new abodes, the whole family got together at the Cameron Estate for the first time in a while for Brendan and Natalie’s 65th birthday party, since their birthdays were close together they had celebrated together since they were teens, this landmark birthday was no different.
The party also served as a sort of belated housewarming, officially welcoming everyone to the new estate, since getting the place furnished to a degree that it didn’t feel too bare had been a challenge for the two households. This would likely be an ongoing process for some time to come.
A few days after their parents’ birthday party, brothers Declan and Everett sat together out back watching their family in the pool while sharing a cold beer, both of them slightly melancholic.
“Can you believe we made those?” Declan was the first to break the silence that had fallen between them temporarily, pointing at their kids playing together in the pool.
“Nah, I can’t. I often catch myself watching Blaine wondering how it can be that I have a kid. I feel like you and I are still about their age and should run and play with them. They seem pretty cool to have as friends, if I may shamelessly plug my own genes here.” Rett chuckled.
“You may. And I agree. They’re like us, brothers by birth, but friends by choice, goes for them being cousins too. Those three are good together and good for each other. Our rough spots growing up made us raise solid children. But I cannot believe mom and dad are 65 now. I cannot believe I am 40. I feel like I just got out of college. How did that happen so fast?” Declan pondered.
“I can’t believe that either, you old fuck! Just messin’ with ya, I am not even two years behind ya, but then again, I live in Del Sol Valley. There is no such thing as age there. Only half-truths, hair dye, Botox and cosmetic surgery.” quipped Rett.
“I can’t believe you and Maeve gave us this house. I still swallow hard and double check the address when I come home from somewhere. It must have cost a fortune! Never in a million years would I have ever imagined myself living in one of these.” Declan told his brother.
“Well, it wasn’t cheap, but it was money well spent! Look, I had just as much a problem as everyone else walking into the old homes, too many memories everywhere. I am okay to visit aunt Ana and uncle Ri for a few hours, but I could never live there, so how can I expect our parents to? I knew they would never move to a giant home alone, and there just are no vacant properties in the area of this magnitude, so I thought you and Rory wouldn’t mind living with mommy and daddy again. Besides, ‘Rett & Reed’ are a world famous act now, we got ourselves some decent pile of dough, so no way I can have my parents and brother live like Wal-Mart. You guys need to represent! Big ass mansion or bust, Dec-Man. If there is one thing I was sure of, it was that getting you all to move to another city would be impossible, so here we are.”
“Ha ha ha, well, I’ll admit I am happy to ‘represent’ then. And you are right, I can never see myself living anywhere but Windenburg. Maybe that’s why Rory and I love to travel so much. That is the part we envy you and Maeve for the most, all the travel you get to do. But this house is more like a palace and almost counts as a day trip to get from the bottom to the top. I just hope the taxes won’t kill us. Or the insurance. Or god forbid there is ever damage to the roof or something.” Declan worried.
“Jeeze, listen to you. Always looking for the hair in the soup. Just eat the fucking soup for once and enjoy it, for Christ’s sake! It’s all taken care of by your awesome little brother and his wife. Just live it up, you whiner! And the kind of travel Maeve and I do is nothing worth being envious of. There is never much time for sight-seeing, and if, you always run the risk of being followed by stampedes of fans and paparazzi. We could really do without that!”
“Well, thanks again then. My lil brother has always been pretty awesome, even long before he bought us a quasi castle to live in. Mom and dad are so proud of you, for you achieving all your dreams. We all are. This was really a nice thing to do for them. They can retire and actually live like a king and a queen now, while still young enough to fully enjoy it. Plus, between you and me, Rory and I really enjoy the live-in babysitters. Man, it is so nice to just ask mom and dad to keep an eye on the monsters and go somewhere again when the mood hits without all that planning and calling ahead.”
“Well, you’re welcome again and I have to thank you, too. You really stepped up when we needed help with Blaine. I cannot believe that kid is an A student now. We tried and tried, nothing but Ds. You and Rory fixed him up with ease. I tip my hat. But we are glad to have him back. As aggravating as he can be, we really missed that kid and judging by how clingy he was for weeks after we took him home, it was mutual. Made me feel good. Although now we have to listen to how he misses his cousins. Wives and kids, can’t ever truly make ’em happy, can ya? But you need to send those kids of yours over for a while, summer break is soon, Maeve and I can watch them and you and Rory get to let loose. I can tell you are itching to travel again.”
“You’re right, we are and we already have our eyes set on Selvadorada this time. A sort of unofficial treasure hunt, but for real life treasures. Hiking, climbing, swimming, we get to do it all, but it would be a longer trip, at least 14 days since getting there and back already takes almost three days each way. It’s not really a place for kids, and also potentially a little on the dangerous side if you’re not careful, so we really don’t want to take two eleven year-olds along, mom and dad would kill us if we left them alone with them for several weeks, so we may take you up on that offer. Don’t have to ask the twins, they would die to stay at your mansion for longer than an extended weekend. I used to tell Rory that the experiences we give our children are our legacy, since we have nothing else, no fortune, estate and fame. Of course then you go and gift all of us a giant home, but still, the Cameron legacy has always been love, music and laughter. Remember the stories grandpa used to tell us, about that at times those three things was all the Camerons had to their name, yet, our family always prevailed.”
Forgotten Hollow Vatore Mansion
With a serious expression, Vampire Grand Master Elder Caleb Vatore, the highest ranking vampire on the continent, shook his head, then told his nephew firmly.
“My answer is and has to be a resounding no. This is not some office job you can quit whenever you please. You are my Vice Grand Master Elder, a rank of honor and duty, and that means something, not only to me and the Vatore family, but also all the other vampires we are responsible for. I am certain we can talk about whatever behooved you to come to me with this nonsense about quitting but I will never agree to this utter rubbish!” Caleb roared, contrasting his usual near stoic calm composure.
“Uncle, I cannot remain in this position in good faith. There is something I am going to have to do, very controversial and even illegal by our codex, it would reflect very badly on you, and I cannot let that happen. You worked very hard to keep structure among our kind and ongoing peace with the mortals, this could null and void all. I must go. I came to you out of courtesy, you have been like a father to me, I love and respect you greatly, but I have no choice.” Riordan labored out.
“Ah, I see. I bet I can guess what this is all about then, it appears you wanting to quit was only the tip of the iceberg, hiding even greater idiocy beneath it. To put is as delicately as I can, I will just tell you that I strongly advice against that foolish plan brewing in your head. Nay – I downright forbid it! If you respect and love me half as much as you say, you will heed my request and plea. Do not do this, Riordan.” Caleb’s words were firm.
“I have to, uncle. I must. You now have an heir of your own. Start preparing Cullen for training. You did a great job raising and training me, but after losing Viktoria, the only mother I ever knew, I realized I cannot go through that with Anastasia. Especially not with Ana. She already had one heart attack after the death of her parents, she had a mild stroke a year back, I can see how much the difference in appearance bothers her, she is killing herself trying to look younger for me, even though I keep telling her it’s not necessary. She is still as beautiful to me as she ever was. But she doesn’t believe my words, so I will need to follow with actions. It’s the only way I can see.” Riordan’s facial expression underlined the battle within.
“Riordan, boy, stop and think about this soberly and sanely for a moment! If you turn Anastasia against her will – because I’d wager that if I know her at all she will never willingly agree to this – all you would achieve is the exact opposite of a solution to your problem, only magnify it a hundredfold and most certainly lose her for good! There is no perceivable scenario in which this foolish plan could end in anything but disaster and heartbreak for all involved. All the ramifications of becoming a vampire aside, if she is unhappy with her appearance now, this will not fix it and you know it. You cannot turn back the hands of time, she will forever be as she is now. Turning someone who is not willing and ready is one of the worst transgressions our kind could administer. I have made that mistake once in my life, a very long time ago, back when I was still a young vampire myself, hopelessly in love with a beautiful mortal, but she had fallen ill, it were different times back then in the late 16th century, there were no known cures back then. Frightened of losing her, I turned her against her will, which only resulted in her hating me more than I ever thought possible. She was miserable as a vampire for almost a year, avoiding me, until she took her own life by sun exposure, a cruel and painful death. I found her too late, could only watch her perish, still screaming her hatred at me. Had I let nature take its course she may have died as well, taken by disease as mortals were prone to in those days, but I would have memories of love, instead of looking back on tragedy, knowing I am to blame for the worst of it. I know you often found me too strict, cruel even, but there is a reason I am the way I am, and for the choices I make and the rules I enforce, Riordan. It really is for the greater good, most of all for your own protection. I love you like a son, Riordan, and do not want to see you hurting, but some things cannot be changed and have to be faced in due time. Your Ana is a strong woman with a strong mind, she would never forgive you if you did this. You know I am right. She will take her own life with hate for your in her heart like it has happened to me, the memory will then will loom over you as a dark shadow of regret for as long as you exist.” Caleb’s softer side showed, a rare occurrence among his always so carefully guarded demeanor.
“Uncle … I did not know about any of this. But … still … I cannot imagine myself ever living in a world without Anastasia. I just cannot. Besides, back after her first marriage to Chase failed for good, around the time we accidentally created the twins, I promised her I would go when she goes. Together. Have to sun take me. It seemed a perfect solution and romantic in a Romeo & Juliet kind of way back then, but I cannot do that to my children and grandchildren. Losing Ana would be so hard, but losing both of us at once when they grew up expecting me to always be there would be nothing short of cruel, it would break their hearts and I just cannot do this to them, I love them too much. I am stuck. Turning her is the only way, uncle, the ONLY way.”
Riordan looked miserable after opening up like he had, had it been Viktoria before him instead of his uncle, he would already have flung himself into her arms for much needed comfort, but he knew his uncle just wasn’t like that. Not with anyone past child age. But he did notice a pained expression softening Caleb’s eyes.
“It is the curse of our kind, the other side of the coin, to lose, over and over again. Every vampire has or will at some point care enough for a mortal to face this, and it is only then that we realize the hands of time that seem so cruel upon mortals, are really only punishing us, as unlike them, we always remain to remember, for eternity. This is your first time going through this, Riordan. You had your first taste when we lost Blaine and Viktoria, I know it affected you greatly, as it did me. I cannot recall a time I had closer and more dear friends than them, and they are the type that leave a mark on our souls for the ages. The pain you felt about losing people who raised you like their own though is nothing compared to losing your soulmate. Once you have lived as long as me, you will have gone through this many times, watched friends, family and loved ones die along the way. You will become stronger, find new love, but it will always hurt. Mark my words, my boy, unless they ask you, never ever turn anyone. There is a good reason why I made that a law of our codex and why it is so vehemently enforced. It is not even really to protect the mortals, but our people, Riordan. There is no greater pain than watching love turn to hate after you did what you shouldn’t have done, what’s almost always irreversible. I also do not have to tell you that nothing is more dangerous than a vampire with a heart full of hatred. You do not want to see what havoc they can wreak, knowing all those deaths would be on your conscience as well.”
“Uncle, it hurts so much. What if she has another heart attack and doesn’t recover. She is almost 70, uncle. To us that is nothing but to mortals it is the winter of their lives. What do I do to stop the fear and the constant pain of knowing what’s ahead, uncle?”
“There is nothing you – or I – can do, but love her. Yet, the pain you feel right now is nothing compared to an eternity of regret if you make the biggest mistake you could make. Go home and spend as much time as you can with her, until she gets sick of you and begs for some time alone. Continue to have fun with her, make whatever time you have with her enjoyable for both and never let on what you fear. Ignore the little signs of aging in her. Make those years you have left with her count. It will be over in the blink of an eye, but you will have the memories and nobody can ever take them from you. One day she will breathe her last breath, and you will have given her the greatest gift anyone, mortal or vampire can give another: wonderful memories of a lifetime of love. You and I both know, you two have some memories like no other. I only know some of it, but can guess the rest and you two had a ride, and you are still not done yet. You speak of her as if she were some feeble, fragile old lady, but we both know Ana still has a lot of spunk in her. Change your mindset, Ri, be grateful for the chances our kind has that mortals won’t ever know. You will get to watch your grandchildren grow up, and their children after them, and their kids after that, you will always see a little bit of you and Ana in them down the line. That, my boy, is priceless. People die, memories and legacies do not.”
“Thank you uncle. I mean it. Thank you for talking candidly to me, being honest with me. I see now – clear as day – that you are right, that I almost made a terrible mistake. I cannot do this to her, must not, so I will have to do as you recommend, enjoy all I can while secretly bracing myself for the day that will be the hardest of my life, past, present and future. I realize now that this is MY sacrifice to make, not hers. You have my word that I will not turn her. Besides, I never realized it until our talk, but Ana and my children are mortal, as are our grandchildren. Were I to turn Ana, I would have to turn them all or face with them what I avoided with her. It would break her. Not to mention her brother Brendan and his family. They are close, especially now that we moved back to Windenburg, and he is still my dearest friend. It was his advice that ultimately allowed Ana and me to beat the odds and be together. In a way I owe all I treasure so much to him, uncle. I would literally have to turn them all. Man, what a mess! I am now very glad I came to speak to you rather than just go through with my plan and then ask for forgiveness later. What a disaster this would have become.” Riordan’s facial expression matched the weight of his words, belated shock and relief mixed into one.
“I am glad you came to your senses, you are correct, I will attest this would have been detrimental. But know this, my boy. Over the course of you watching life renewing itself over and over again, you will realize mortality is not always a sad curse, sometimes it is a blessing, even for us. It makes moments more valuable, and despite the heartache of loss, I have always sought connections with mortals, as they never let me forget how precious time is. It is a common affliction of vampires who only keep to their kind to lose their emotions, their compassion, everything that makes us human, turning them into cold creatures. I never wanted that for me. Your mother was heading down that dark path, until I realized I needed to interfere. Unfortunately it was too late for you to have a mother worth your while by the time I did, but Lilith has changed, a loving wife to her husband Draven, doting on their twin girls as it should be. Maybe one day you can find it in your heart to forgive her.”
“Hard pass. I have no use for a fair weather mother, after all, I am technically over 70 years old now, by the count of mortals. Little late to play happy home, don’t you think, uncle? She missed my childhood, missed my children growing up, missed a good chunk of my grandchildren growing, two of them are teens now, I see no reason why I should now show interest in my half-siblings. I have met her and her husband, briefly, we manage to be civil, that has to be enough. The only mother I ever had, when I really needed one, was Viktoria. I am happy for Lilith and glad for her children that they seem to have what was denied to me. Maybe I would have given her a chance, had she come to Blaine and Viktoria’s funeral, like you have. But she didn’t and that was the final straw for me.”
“You are mistaken, my boy. Your mother wanted to come, it was me who advised her against it. Truth be told, I downright asked her to stay away, knowing that the last impression she left on Blaine and Viktoria had been a terrible one. I am sure by now you are aware of what really happened. I felt having her present for their last rites after she had not seen them in almost a decade had potential to be seen as ill intend. I should have told you this, but whenever your mother comes up, you are very volatile, Riordan, we were both hurting, so I let it go.”
“It doesn’t matter anymore, uncle. I have no use or room in my life or heart for her or her family or that of my late father’s. None of them were there when it counted, even worse, both denied and despised me, and now it’s too late. Not all can be forgiven and blood does not always run thicker than water. Sometimes the family you choose, or who chooses you, are the real kind, while the blood needs to be kept at bay. But one question remains: if I stay on as Vice Grand Master Elder, what about Cullen then? Shouldn’t he be your heir one day? Or am I only biding my time until he comes of age?” Riordan asked when he noticed his uncle’s wife Breana carrying little Cullen up the stairs behind them for his nap. Caleb had two children now with Breana, a little girl about 10 years old by the name of Scarlett and a 4 year old son, Cullen.
“Of course not, what a silly idea! You are whom I chose, then and now, even when you were a little boy, barely older than my Cullen now, I felt you were special and would be perfect to lead with me, and you have done nothing but proven me right. In order to do this job well and just, you have to be strong, willing to sacrifice but also retain kindness and humanity, something many vampires lack. You are and have always been like a son to me, Riordan. Besides, my son is only 4 years old, Ri, it will take 30 years, maybe longer, until he finishes his training. You know as well as me that peace and justice can never have too many guardians. Cullen will get training once he comes of age, it will be you and me training him, together, like I once trained you. Together we all will keep the calm among our own kind, to keep the peace with the mortals, always hidden in the shadows. You know as well as I do that the world is not ready for the truth about vampires, it may well never be, so we are still best off keeping our kind the myth mortals think we are. It takes lots of strategy to keep this secret, and I need all the help I can get to assure those like us are always reminded how important it is that they all tread lightly and remain hidden in plain sight. Make this the legacy of your love to Ana, remembering how difficult any relationship between our species is. You know first hand now that vampires and mortals are too different to simply be accepting of each other, and until the world changes drastically, we may never be able to be real to them unless we want to run the risk of creating a war of the species.” Caleb’s monologue resounded in Riordan’s head.