DISCLAIMERS: See Part 1

 

FIUR and VLAMME

 

present

 

CHRONICLES OF DARKNESS

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BOOK ONE

SHADOWS AND DUST

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CHAPTER NINE

 

HIDDEN IN SHADOWS

 

 

Special Disclaimer: Sadden's song "These Eyes" belongs to Fiur and Vlamme. Please, do not use it without permission.

 

 

 

Announcing the impending arrival of winter, clouds were blown over the simple Transsylvanian village. It was the end of November and the inhabitants prepared themselves for a long, cold winter.

 

It was cosy and warm in the small tavern. The smell of fried and roasted meat drifted through the air, a constant jumble of voices, laughter and music filling the taproom.

István Jovovich, a small man with a round belly, which was hidden beneath a leather apron, was busy drying some mugs. Now and again his watchful gaze slid to a group of young men that sat in the back, who were notorious for starting brawls and other nonsense. Among them was Rouven Dimov, son of the village's mayor and

self-proclaimed leader of the youth.

A bit apart from the others sat Anatol. Every village has its outsider and in Ardeal it applied to Anatol. He was slowly sipping beer from a mug as his ears picked up the sound of footsteps, approaching him. With lightning speed his right hand shot forward, grabbed the long skirt of Isván's daughter Ljudmilla and pulled her towards him. The wooden tablet fell from her hands as she lost her balance and landed sprawled in his lap. Anatol grinned, put the mug on the table and snaked his arms around her hips. She struggled in his grip, especially as he buried his nose in her long, dark blonde hair, inhaling deeply. "Hmmm, Ljudmilla. You are smelling more wonderful than any springflower."

"Let go of me, you idiot!" Ljudmilla hissed angered, writhing in his unwanted embrace. After some efforts the young woman finally managed to free herself from his arms.

While Anatol was still grinning at her she fixed him with a furious glare. "What is it?" the young man asked with mock astonishment. "As your beloved, don't I get a kiss from my adored one?"

As an answer Ljudmilla drew her hand back and slapped him hard across the face. "Here is your kiss!" She bent down, picked up her tablet and with a final glare left to go to the table where Rouven sat with his men to fetch the empty beer mugs.

Disbelieving Anatol watched her go, holding his stinging cheek.

Dimitri, a tall man with short, blonde curls joined him. The giant laughed, slapping his shoulder. "Well, that didn't exactly go how you wanted it, did it, Anatol?"

The other man said nothing. His eyes were still resting on Ljudmilla, who was smiling gently while talking to Rouven, giving the mayor's son all her attention.

Dimitri followed his gaze, then shook his head. "Give it up, Anatol. It's a waste of time! Her father would never tolerate or allow it. Besides, it is quite obvious that her interest is for another."

Anatol clenched his hands tightly. "Just because he is the village's mayor's son Rouven thinks he can do everything," he spat scornfully. "But he is not better than any of us simple people, who don't have as much money or influence than the highly valued family Dimov!"

"You shouldn't talk like that," Dimitri admonished him.

"Why not? The girls kiss his feet as if he were a gift from heaven. And why? Is he more attractive or more intelligent than any other man? I don't think so. The guys look up to him and chose him for their idol. Why? Is he a better hunter or stronger than any other man? I'm just as strong as he is!"

"Want to prove to me the truth of this statement?" a deep voice was interrupting them.

Startled, Anatol and Dimitri twisted around. They hadn't noticed that somebody had gotten behind them to listen to their talk. There Rouven stood, his arms crossed. He lifted an eyebrow, sneering down at Anatol. "So? Come on, Anatol. Wanna prove how strong you are?Or have you suddenly lost your voice, big mouth?"

"Go and leave us alone Rouven! It is not nice to butt in on a conversation, unasked," Anatol growled and wanted to turn back.

But Rouven grabbed his shoulder tightly. "Also, it is not nice to talk badly about people behind their backs. What's wrong? Scared of showing some spine?" he snidely remarked.

Meanwhile, all laughter and conversations had died in the tavern, everyone's attention resting on both of the young men.

István demanded from his place at the bar, "If you want to have a fistfight, take it outside!"

"Come on, Anatol. I will give you the chance to prove your strength," Rouven declared, putting his right ellbow on the table, his arm straight up, fingertips pointing to the ceiling, while placing his left arm behind his back.

Suspiciously, Anatil looked at his opponent.

Rouven waggled the fingers of his outstretched arm. "Well, Anatol? Aren't you man enough to armwrestle with me?"

"Pah, of course I'll take your challenge, you can bet on that!" Anatol hissed, then wiped his palms on his pants, before also placing his left arm behind his back, proping his right ellbow on the table and firmly clasping Rouven's right hand in a strong grip.

Some people had gotten up from their seats and a small crowd was building, watching the rivals.

Dimitri placed one hand on the clenched ones of the young men and said, "READY..."

Rouven grinned at Anatol, which earned him an evil scowl.

"...STEADY..."

As an answer for the dark expression Rouven blew him a kiss and winked at him, which made Anatol so angry that his face glowed bright red.

"...GO!!!" Dimitri let go off their hands.

Both men tensed their muscles and the contest began. It would have been easy for Rouven to end the game in mere seconds, but he wanted to play a bit with his opponent. Their hands had not moved even one milimeter, although Anatol did his best while Rouven just held his position against the pressure.

Gradually, small drops of sweat began to form on Anatol's face and Rouven's grin just became bigger and bigger. The mayor's son obviously relished the cheers from the gathered people, meant only for him.

"What's wrong, Anatol? Growing weak already?"

"Stop your silly babbling!" he pressed through clenched teeth, pushing harder against his opponent's arm.

Rouven relaxed a bit, his hand now dangerously close to be slammed onto the table top. "Want to add something to increase the interest?" he asked innocently.

Anatol frowned and his arm began to tremble from the strain. "Why? Are you scared I will beat you?"

"No, I just thought about a little...um...incentive to spur you on," Rouven answered with a smug grin.

"In case you didn't notice, it is your hand that's about to hit the table and not mine!" Anatol retorted in triumph.

Rouven's eyes searched for the tavern owner's daughter. "Hey! Hey Ljudmilla! Does the winner get a kiss from you?"

Ljudmilla glided toward him, placing her slender hands on his broad shoulders. "Since I know that you are going to win I can give you one right now."

Anatol looked up and his eyes widened as the young woman bent down and pressed her lips in a gentle kiss against Rouven's bearded cheek.

The mayor's son used the thoughtlessness of his opponent, abruptly tensed all the muscles of his arm, pressed with all his might against Anatol's hand and sent it crashing hard into the tabletop.

Thunderous applause broke out as Rouvens victory was celebrated, while Anatol rubbed gingerly at his bruised knuckles, his face contorted with pain. Then he jumped up, pointing a finger at Rouven. "I want a second chance!"

The mayor's son rose, staring disdainfully at the man in front of him. "Don't you ever have enough? How many more times will you endure having people laugh at you, you poor fool?"

Dimitri placed his hands on Anatol's shoulders, intending to guide him out of the tavern. "A smart man knows when he lost. Just leave it, Anatol."

But Anatol just shook his hands off, standing proudly and supporting his fists on his hips. "What's wrong, Rouven? Afraid I will beat you this time?" the furious, young man demanded.

Rouven rolled his eyes, sighing pitiful. "You are getting on my nerves, guy! It was a fair contest! I won, you were beaten! Now, get over it and go home!"

Anatol just stared at him, challenging, and Rouven suddenly had an idea. "You are very stubborn, I have to give you that. Alright, you shall have your second chance."

The young man was about to take his seat at the table for another round of armwrestling, when Rouven held up a hand to prevent him. "No, not that. I embarrassed you enough with that. I would suggest the following. You do know about the abandoned huts, up in the woods, where the wolf hunters once lived, don't you?"

Some of their audience grew pale, others crossed themselves in a haste.

Anatol just nodded.

Pacing up and down, Rouven stroked his dark blonde beard. "You will go there."

Whispering and murmuring the gathered crowd protested, "You can not do that, Rouven!...The place is cursed!...The poor boy will die out there!"

"QUIET!!!" he shouted into the round that fell silent immediately. "Like I already said, Anatol. You will go there and spend the whole night there." He looked at him, assessingly and added after a pause, "All on your own."

Anatol's heart skipped a beat, but he didn't show his fear. There was no way he wanted to be humiliated again. "And that's all?" he asked with more courage in his voice than he actually felt in this moment.

Rouven grinned. "It is not enough for you to spend a night in a cursed place? Well, to prove that you've been really there you have to bring something from the abandoned cabins. So? What do you say? Are you a man or are you a mouse?"

"Okay. You're on. Just one more thing."

"Yes?"

"What do I get if I make it?" Anatol wanted to know.

Rouven turned to his second in command, Sergej, who stood beside him. They whispered fo a moment, then he turned back to Anatol. "If you truly make it, you will become one of my men."

The young man thought about it, then extended his right hand to Rouven. "I want your word on it. Here, among all these witnesses, so you can't take it back later."

"Alright," Rouven answered, shaking his hand.

"Good. When will it start?"

Rouven glanced out the window. Dusk had fallen. "Right now! Pack something to eat and some warm clothes and blankets. Since I'm not a monster I don't want you frozen stiff before reaching your destination." He laughed and Anatol left the tavern, mumbling curses.

"I hope it were nice words that just fell from your lips!" Rouven called after him. He went to Sergej, slapping him on the shoulder. "This whole thing is going to be very interesting."

"Yes, I think so too. And above all it will be very amusing," Sergej replied smiling, rubbing his hands gleefully.

"Take Dimitri. You two will lead the idiot to the edge of the woods. From there on he is on his own. You will make camp there and wait until he is back at dawn."

Sergej nodded, "Understood. Come on, Dimitri. Let's go."

Thinking about it, the tall blonde didn't feel so well. "I don't think this will have a good ending."

Sergej looked at him and snorted contemptuosly. "Aww, is smith Mikahel's son scared? You are spending far too much time with granny Ana. You are as superstitious as she is."

"Caution and level-headedness has nothing to do with superstition!"

"Argh, just shut your trap, Dimitri!" Sergej demanded as they left the tavern. "Get your things together, we will meet shortly at the end of the village. I'm sure that Anatol is just burning to show everyone what he is capable of."

 

*****

 

 

Sadden pressed her thighs against her stallions sweat covered flanks.The vampire pulled at the reins of her beloved horse and Stardancer slowed his gait. Finally she brought him to a full stop, sliding gracefully from his broad back. The ice cold night wind played gently with her long dark hair, as she leaned her forehead against Stardancer's neck and closed her eyes for a moment. "Oh Stardancer, my dear one. Just what shall I do? I am trying so hard but I can not think about something else than that dream. Not even a ride enables me to get a clear head."

The white stallion snorted, one mighty hoof pawing the forest ground impatiently.

Soothingly, Sadden stroked his throat's velvety fur. "I can not forget them... these eyes. The color of them... they were shining with endless love just as Lisander's emeralds always did, but I am sure it were not his eyes I dreamed about. Perhaps... perhaps it is only another punishment for my sins... showing me something I will never have... until the longing for it devours me whole, driving me slowly insane."

The stallion pushed his head against her chest, she hugged it to her, gently rubbing her cheek against his forehead. "I do not know how much longer I can bear this miserable existence without losing my mind," she whispered, "but I have to. The dream was a light... a tiny, bright spark of hope in this dark hell of loneliness... and until now, I did not have that beautiful dream again."

Stardancer whined softly and Sadden let go of his head to climb into the saddle again. Holding the reins tightly in her slender hands, she turned him around. "Let us ride home, Stardancer." The stallion reared up once, then raced back to the castle at a full gallop.

 

*****

 

Dimitri and Sergej had made their camp at the edge of the forest. To banish the cold of the night a bright fire was burning where they could warm their hands. Sergej was leaning against a trunk, smoking a pipe. Small, blue clouds drifted from his mouth as he blew out the smoke. He turned to the tall, blonde man at his side, who was busy with a knife, carving a small figure off a piece of wood he held in his hands. "And you truly think that he can do it? I'd say it's a pretty hard task for such a slip of a boy, don't you think?"

Dimitri shrugged his shoulders. "Why shouldn't he make it? Anatol is very stubborn. If he has made up his mind once, he is going to see it through to the bitter end."

Sergej scratched his red chin beard. "Yes, he opened his big mouth and now he has to prove his words. I'm also sure the wolves, if there are any left, will leave him alone. There is no meat on this thin guy." He slapped his thigh, laughing loudly about his own stupid joke, but fell silent when Dimitri didn't join in.

"Hey, what are you carving there anyway?" Sergej asked. "A talisman to protect us from evil ghosts and demons, of whom the old women from our village are so scared?"

Dimitri wasn't able to give the fitting reply that lay on his tongue, because a horrible scream rang through the silence of the night, curdling the blood of everyone who heard it.

Sergej nearly dropped his pipe as he leapt up, gazing searchingly around. "Great God in the heavens! What was that?"

More screams, followed by cracking sounds of splintering twigs came from the woods. Both men reached for their weapons. "There is something coming from the forest! Directly at us!"

Dimitri and Sergej grabbed their shotguns hard with both hands, aiming at the darkness in front of them. Barely breathing, they awaited their fate.

A figure staggered from between the trees, the clothes ripped and smudged with dirt from its neck-breaking flight through the forest.

Sergej nearly pulled the trigger, but Dimitri's shout stopped him, "Don't shoot! It's Anatol!"

Anatol stumbled towards them, digging his shaking hands deeply in Dimitri's coat. His eyes roamed around wildly and his face was pale as a sheet, his breathing harsh and irregular. Now and again he whimpered and mumbled something.

Dimitri took his cold face in both hands, trying to make eye contact with the badly frightened, young man. "Anatol! Anatol! Look at me!"

"I saw it... I saw it... I saw it..." he repeated again and again.

"What? What did you see?" Dimitri questioned.

"It touched me... I saw it... it spoke to me... I saw it..."

"What? Damn it, WHAT, Anatol?"

"I saw it... I saw it... it touched me... I saw it..."

Sergej finally lost his patience, grabbed the young man and pulled Anatol roughly towards him. He shook him hard and screamed, "JUST SPIT IT OUT, GUY!!! WHAT HAVE YOU SEEN AND WHAT TOUCHED YOU?!"

"A demon! A demon straight from hell!" Anatol whimpered, hysterically, now clinging tightly to Sergej's arms.

The man snorted disgusted, "Have you been drinking? Let me smell your breath!"

"Hidden in shadows! The eyes glowing red, burning like the fires of hell! It's pointy fangs gleaming in the moonlight! It touched me... on my cheek... before it disappeared into thin air!" Anatol howled. Suddenly he shoved the other man, who staggered back and fell to the ground. He also evaded Dimitri who tried to grab him. "It is true! A curse! This place is cursed!" Anatol panted before he began to run in direction of the village, as if obsessed by the devil himself. His arms waving wildly he screeched in panic and hysteria, " WE ALL ARE DAMNED!!! EVERYONE OF US IS DOOMED!!! THERE IS NO ESCAPE!!! THE DEMONS!!! THEY WILL COME AND DESTROY US ALL!!!"

Shocked, Dimitri's gaze followed his friend, whom he didn't recognize anymore. What could have possibly happened in the abandoned camp of the wolf hunters? He bent down, helping Sergej to get up. "So? Do you still think that it's only superstitions of old women from the village?" Dimtri asked, quietly.

"Of course!" Sergej retorted. "Do you honestly want to tell me that you believe his absurd story about demons?"

"Well, demons or not, you saw who scared Anatol was. He wouldn't act like that because of nothing, would he?"

Sergej started to pack their things together. He lit two torches for their way home, before extinguishing the campfire's flames with some soil. "I'll tell you what I'm thinking, Dimitri."

The tall blonde crossed his arms, curiously waiting for the man's answer.

"Maybe our good Anatol fell asleep, dreamed some weird stuff, woke up, saw an owl or some other greepy night thing and just snapped. It's as easy as that!"

"But..."

Sergej cut him off with a harsh hand move, interrupting him annoyed, "One lunatic per night is enough for me, thank you very much!" He gave Dimitri a torch. "Just wait until Rouven hears about this. He will laugh his head off, " he chuckled, stepping onto the path that led to Ardeal. "Ah, he probably already knows. I'm sure that Anatol, the idiot, woke the whole village with his screeching."

Before Dimitri followed him, he glanced back to the forest, frowning. "There is something out there..."

 

*****

 

Lilith was in a happy mood when she returned to the castle. Suddenly she felt something, something familiar. "Where is this feeling coming from?"she asked herself, straining all her senses.

Hurriedly she followed this perception that led her to the door of Andrej's chambers. The vampire sobered and already wanted to turn back, as she heard a hoarse croak from inside. Without warning Lilith burst into the room and Andrej jerked a bit. "For heaven's sake, what..."

"What are you doing?" the young woman shouted, running to the table where Andrej stood and a raven sat. "Hraban, what did he do to you?"

The blonde man was outraged. "I took care of the raven. With its last strength it landed on my windowsill, closer to death than life."

Lilith caressed the soft feathers, examining the bird closely. "You are not hurt. If only you could speak to tell me something about my parents."

Andrej was astonished. "The bird came to us from the island?"

"Now we both are far away from home," Lilith sighed, stroking Hraban's head.

The tall man stepped between the two, interrupting the reunion to carry on with his work. "Her beak is covered with salt crystals, "Andrej said, dipping a piece of cloth into luke-warm water and began to free the bird off it. "She flew quite a distance, no wonder she is so exhausted." His voice carried a slight accusing tone.

Lilith didn't care about it and answered defiantly, "Hraban is stronger than she looks!"

The vampire watched as the young man took a willow basket and placed a soft blanket inside, mentioning, "Here she can rest, get warm and get her strength back."

"Have you ever been to the sea?" she asked suddenly, without taking her eyes off Hraban.

Andrej frowned then shook his head, while putting the bird in the small basket.

"Poor fool," came the vampire's answer, shaking her head.

"Tell me about the sea," he responded.

"Why? You would not understand it anyway," the young vampire retorted, disgruntly.

Andrej crossed his arms, grinning down at Lilith. "Well, why don't you amaze me with your unlimited wisdom? Perhaps you will manage to teach something to this poor fool, who is standing in front of you?"

Lilith took on the challenge. "Close your eyes," she demanded of Andrej, who obeyed. "With your bare feet you are standing in cold, wet sand... storm spraying you with salty water... it is horribly raving and beautiful at the same time. In some nights, the sea is calm, black and unpredictable. Lurking and peaceful, and always mysteriously beautiful. Then again free and independent, always moving, white foam crowns dancing on top of the waves. Dark and deep is the water in front of you giving you a strong feeling of wildness. Can you smell the salt in the air, which cleans the body? Giving life and bringing death. This force of nature will never be controlled by humans. That is the sea!"

With that she left him standing there, exiting the chambers.

Andrej opened his eyes, still lost in the powerful picture she had painted in his mind. Then he shook his head and went back to the weakened raven, gently stroking her black feathers. "I will never understand what is going on inside her head. From one moment to the next she is a completely different person."

 

*****

 

Some time later, Lilith was still striding through the castle, lost in her own world, thinking about Hraban. "Your strong wings brought you across the land to me. You did not carry a message, but to me that is message enough. Something is going on I am not to know anything about. But I will find out and I know whom I have to ask."

During her inner discussion, she had forgotten where she was and Lilith truly didn't know why exactly she was following this certain corridor, but she had been walking it for quite some time now. She took the last steps in an uncomfortable, bent position, because the ceiling was so low. Finally she reached a cold, stale smelling room. She was in a low vault cellar where torches were the only source of light. The walls were wet. Lilith touched the stone that was very smooth due to the constantly running water.

"It looks like I have reached the height of the lake. How much deeper will it go?"

The curious vampire scanned her surroundings, but there seemed to be no trapdoor. Only moist, disgusting smelling straw was on the floor and she could see no other path or corridor. "Strange. Why all those corridors and stairs only to end in an impasse?"

Her question was answered as her vampire senses kicked in. Strained, she listened into the empty room. "There is something down here. I can practically smell it and it stinks rotten."

Alarmed by her senses Lilith crossed the room and stopped before the wall. Just as the vampire was about to search for something conspicuous, she heard someone shuffling along on the other side of the wall. She retreated from the wall, but the rotten stench grew stronger, disturbing her fine nose. Finally a mechanism was triggered on the other side and the wall slid open. Something hunchbacked, holding a small lantern in its hand, stepped from the darkness of the corridor behind it, and was just as intrigued as the vampire was. The crooked creature limped towards her, stopped right in front of her and pulled off its well-worn hood.

Lilith couldn't believe her eyes. The simple cloth hanging tattered from its body was made of layers of rags and stained with dirt and excrements. The vampire couldn't tell what exactly it was that stood in front of her, but she also couldn't take her eyes off it.

The hair hung to the shoulders in greasy, matted strands. That what seemed to be the face was covered with deep wrinkles and the big nose looked more like an old, rotten turnip. Its lips were nearly invisible beneath all the dirt and the scarred chaps that probably had been caused by rat bites. The staring, murky eyes were swollen and without life, but still Lilith thought there was something dangerous lurking in their depths. She could recognize the evil, spoiled soul in this body and retreated more. The wretched creature lifted its dirty, scarred hands to touch Lilith's pure, white skin, "Wanna touch something sooooo beautiful," came the scratchy, approximate deep voice of a man, even though Lilith would refrain from connecting the word man with this creature.

He sniffled soundly, drawing up his nose. Saliva collected in his palate and ran in slimy threads from the corners of his mouth.

Lilith was disgusted and instantly she backed off some more steps. "What are you?" she asked in shock. As long as she had been walking the earth she had never ever seen such a creature.

"Veljanov. My name, Veljanov," her opposite said in a hoarse voice, pulling back his bony hand with the claw like fingers.

"What are you?" Lilith repeated unmoved, but more determined.

"Mistress is impolite to Veljanov," he hissed offended and added quietly, "even though he knows her so well."

Lilith didn't miss the wicked glint in his eyes, even if it was only there for a tiny moment before disappearing.

When he realised she wouldn't reply anything he demanded roughly, "She shall go! She disturbs Veljanov!"

His hand making a rude motion he wanted to return to the corridor where he had come from, but the young vampire held him back. "First you will answer my questions!"

Veljanov grinded his teeth, and Lilith wondered how he was able to do that, since he seemed to have only three. "No time!" he whimpered tortured, rocking from side to side, but turned back to Lilith when the vampire snorted impatiently. "You do not look as if you have a hot date tonight."

He sighed like it was very hard for him to speak, but finally he answered her question. "Veljanov, the ghoul."

"Impossible!" Lilith shouted.

Again Veljanov sighed, before he continued, "Veljanov, the ghoul."

The vampire didn't want to believe him and she repeated, shaking her head, "That is impossible! Ghouls are mute. They are silent servants."

"Your belief." He shrugged his shoulders. "My truth."

Lilith fixed him with a piercing gaze, but she couldn't see that he lied. "On the assumption that you speak the truth. WHY can you talk?"

"Oh, bad story. Veljanov forgot."

"Now you are lying. Do not try to play games with me. You would loose," the vampire threatened, openly.

Veljanov hesitated for a tiny moment and then he began to talk. "Mean experiment. Long time ago." Then he waited with restrained breathing.

"Do you not have more to say?" Lilith growled, disappointed about the short answer.

"Wine?" Veljanov suddenly asked, chuckling happily.

"Wine?" Lilith repeated exasperated, faced with the sudden change in topic.

"No? Ew," the ghoul replied grumpy with a sullen face.

Lilith became angry. "What is this about? Are you trying to play me for a fool?"

"Always lacking self-control. Always."

"I never met you before! How..."

Again the evil gleam in his eyes appeared and Lilith guessed what would follow.

Veljanov explained openly, "I am good observer... since arrival of mistress. Mistress also observer... not Veljanov..."

Lilith raved and screamed at the ghoul, "HOW DARE YOU? You dirty, little bug! What makes you insist on that?

"Veljanov knows ways. Worthful ways."

"Hidden corridors?"

"Everywhere in castle. Labyrinth."

"Just made for a rat like you, am I right? You are less than scum! Disgusting and evil! If I ever catch you spying, I will make sure that your eyes will never ever see anything again! Is that understood?" the vampire asked.

Concern was written all over Veljanov's face, but silently he though, 'Never will catch me.'

Lilith was still waiting for an answer that would satisfy her, but instead the ghoul confronted her with a new riddle.

"Lady D'Azoon knows," he said, shrugging his shoulders and then disappeared through the hidden corridor he had come from. It hit the vampire like a lightning bolt. The whole time she was struggling to get her composure back and now she shouted after the ghoul, "And for your information, I am only studying the human!"

She could hear Veljanov's giggles echoing behind the thick walls until she left the catacombs to go back upstairs, with only one wish, to get answers to all her questions.

 

 

*****

 

Burning candles framed the golden edge of the big oriental mosaic, which had been made from many, small, glazed stones. The bright, colorful mosaic formed a circle, showing the heraldic animals of the big vampire clans. The clan symbols were orientated to the cardinal points. The snake's head of the Serpentes pointed to southwest, the fire spitting dragon to northwest, while the manticor pointed to northeast. In southeast was the griffon. Only the rising phoenix had been placed directly in the middle of the mosaic.

On this unique picture, in the midst of the candle ring Sadden sat, her legs crossed. She was highly concentrated, with her palms resting on her knees and her eyes closed.

Quietly she mumbled some words of a long lost culture, of a long lost time, in a long lost language, until she hesitated, a frown forming on her beautiful features. Eventually her eyes flew open. "How is that possible? Why am I not able to get access to my past?"

She could feel someone approaching and spun around. A short moment later Lilith entered. "Sadden, may I have a word with you, please?"

Sadden rose gracefully, looking at her protégée questioningly. "Lilith? Is there something wrong?"

"Why did you not tell me anything about Veljanov?" the young vampire demanded, fiercely.

If the question was taking Sadden of guard, she didn't show it. "Did he give you a scare?" she asked, calmly.

Lilith shook her head. "Scare is not the right word. Let us say he surprised me and..." She searched for the right words to describe the strange encounter with the weird, ragged creature. "...he is disgusting!" she finally spat in disdain.

Sadden's eyebrows lifted.

"You have to admit," Lilith tried to explain herself, "he stinks to the high heavens and he is not exactly attractive. When I think about that this... this... whatever he is... that he creeps through the castle, I am getting shivers down my back."

The vampire walked to her student, putting a hand on her shoulder. "Veljanov is harmless, he..."

"What is he doing here in your castle?" Lilith interrupted her, impatiently. She wanted some answers to the questions caused by her unintentional meeting with the weird guy. "He claims to be a ghoul, but ghouls can not speak. Why is he able to? When I asked him he babbled something about an..."

"Experiment," Sadden finished the sentence. "Yes, that is true. Veljanov is the product of a cruel experiment."

"Who did this to him?" Lilith wanted to know.

Sadden sighed awkwardly, lowering her gaze. "One of the early builders of this castle. He wanted to give the ghouls a voice. You saw the results on Veljanov. The castle had been empty for some decades before I came here and chose it as my estate, but, Veljanov has been here the whole time, hidden in the vaults and catacombs. I never asked him how he was able to survive for such a long time without any help and only spiders and rats for companionship..."

"You should kill him, "Lilith cut her off.

Sadden was taken aback in the face of these cold and unfeeling words. "Lilith! You can not be serious! Veljanov has a right to exist, just like you, or me, or anybody else on this world. He is the victim of a horrible experiment and deserves to be treated with kindness and compassion."

Lilith gazed deeply into the azure eyes of her teacher. "There is something inside him... in his eyes... something threatening... something dangerous. I can not say what exactly it is... but you should not trust him blindly. And I will not tolerate it that he spies on me! He shall stay with his rats and spiders for all I care!" the young vampire stated angered, turned on her heel, leaving her teacher standing there.

Sadden shook her head. She turned back to the still burning candles, reached out an arm, palm pointing forward and fingers spread. Blue eyes closed and a second later the flames were extinguished, darkness falling across the room.

 

 

*****

 

Haunted by anxiety, Andrej climbed the last steps to reach one of the large, hidden roof terraces. Warm candlelight shone from big windows to the flat stone roof, which was covered by moss and dried grass. The stone was weather-beaten due to rain and wind. Even now, a sharp wind blew strongly around the corners of the pinnacles. Andrej was presented a free look and he gazed into the distance where the valley lay. He walked along the roof's edge and glanced down. Impenetrable blackness spread in front of him. The wind pulled strongly at his clothes and Andrej struggled to keep standing so he wouldn't tumble into the abyss. He gasped for breath but the icy wind pushed harder against his face, robbing the young man of all air to breathe. Andrej turned on his heel and froze, as he recognized Lilith who stood right in front of him. Unmoving she looked at him, her pale face gleaming eeriely in the darkness and he took one step back. The young man couldn't make one more thought, because in this moment he lost his balance and was dangerously close to fall. Flailing his arms wildly, Andrej tried to find something to hold on, but his body tilted back more and more. Even though it was only a second to Andrej it seemed an eternity. During all this Lilith didn't move once and still wasn't about to go helping him.

In the end Andrej fell into the depth.

He was already saying goodbye to his life as his fall was suddenly stopped and a sharp pain ripped through his right shoulder and arm. The blonde man bit his lip to keep from crying out. It felt as if his arm had been ripped forcefully from its socket. Slightly dazed, his feet found hold on a small ledge and he looked up, right into Lilith's eyes. She held his right arm in a strong grip and helped him climbing up. Exhausted Andrej slid onto the terrace, rubbing his sore arm. Finally he rose with a groan and was about to say something, as Lilith cut him off and shouted to be heard over the howling wind, "If you are even thinking about to be grateful, I will threw you right back into the abyss!"

Andrej swallowed what he wanted to say and retorted annoyed, "That's what you think! Don't you dare sneak up on me like that again!"

At the moment as both wanted to walk down the stairs they heard a nearly inaudible croaking and spun around. It was Hraban, who had tried to land in this stormy wind. Lilith reached out one of her arms to welcome the raven, but Hraban flew directly to Andrej's shoulder. Lilith was a bit surprised and frowned.

Ashamed the young man tried to shake off the completely disheveled bird. "Hey. Come on, go to your mistress. Go on!" But Hraban just digged her claws more into his shirt to keep her place on his shoulder.

"Well, it seems that she likes being with you more than being with me, " Lilith muttered, scowling first at her raven then at Andrej, who was obviously very embarrassed that the bird had come to him. "She escaped when I wasn't paying attention. I became worried and looked for her. But, she shouldn't be flying around when she is still so weak."

"Great, now she is perched comfortable on your shoulder." Lilith said in an offended tone.

Andrej replied, also offended, "Don't put the blame on me! It's not my fault! Maybe you should think about your behaviour towards others!"

Fury burned hotly through Lilith's veins. "What purpose would that serve?"

"Well, if you don't know even that, you really can't be helped!"

The vampire was completely flabbergasted about the way Andrej talked to her and then just left her standing there. Instantly she followed him and the words of their argument were echoing through the whole castle until the early morning hours.

 

 

*****

 

Lost in thought, Sadden sat on a chair in the music room. Her slender fingers ran over the strings of a with gold decorated, ebony harp. The gently strumming elicted the most wonderful tones. Then, she added her smooth alto voice, so beautiful it would have made even Angels weep.

 

"It has been awhile since

I lay alone in the dark

heavy thoughts burdened my soul

but then I had a vision of emerald eyes

a sparkle of hope

illuminating the night

 

These eyes

will I ever get to see them again

these eyes

which were shining with love for me

these eyes

 

Not so long ago

I sat on the shores of a stream

thinking about the vision

the images began slowly fading

but I still had hope and kept on waiting

for it to appear again

 

These eyes

will I ever get to see them again

these eyes

which were shining with love for me

these eyes

 

Here and now

tears are running down my cheeks

I am nearly drowning in my sorrows

and still longing for the vision that is long gone

despair is gripping my heart firmly

making my soul weak

 

These eyes

will I ever get to see them again

these eyes

which were shining with love for me

these eyes"

 

Slowly her fingers slid from the instrument's strings, and were clinging strongly to the ebony frame. Tears were rolling down pale cheeks. The vampire leaned her forehead against the harp, shutting her blue eyes. "Just once... just one time I wish to see these lovely, sparkling emeralds for real, "she whispered into the silence of the room, her voice choking. A supressed sob of despair escaped her chest. Tears, seemingly not wanting to dry up at all, were still running from beneath her closed eyelids. "But, this one wish will never be fulfilled."

To Be Continued...

 

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