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 TEN

 

DECEIVER OF HEARTS

 

 

Kyrian spurred Nightshade on. He was in a hurry. Again and again he looked to the east, where the sun rose on the horizon, greeting the new day. The dark stallion snorted irritated through his nostrils. White foam started to form around his mouth and Kyrian could feel his sweat-soaked skin. He patted his horse on the neck and said, "I'm so sorry, my loyal friend, but we have to be back before the others get up. Mama must not know that I have been spending the whole night in Paris."

 

Soon after, Kyrian reached the castle and galloped across the pebbly way to the stables. Quickly he leapt off his horse. His nervous gaze went to the windows of the main building but everything was calm and silent.

"It seems that everybody is still asleep," the young hunter whispered into Nightshade's ear and released a relieved breath.

The stallion scraped his hoof impatiently across the pebbles and butted Kyrian with his head.

"Easy boy, easy. I will take care of you, now." He took Nightshade's reins and led him to his box, before taking off the bridle and rubbing him down with some straw. Finally Kyrian filled the trough with fresh hay and gave him water that Nightshade guzzled greedily.

After the black stallion had quenched his thirst, Kyrian awaited him with a special treat. "There you go, my friend. I cut some carrots for you." One piece after the other he fed the vegetable to his horse. While Nightshade was munching happily, Kyrian stroked his broad back, but his thoughts were on something else. "I have been to the Quartier Latin, as was written in Mama's notebook. I'm sure I have explored every angle. Still, it was an unsuccessful search. But Mama is never wrong, and that's why I will go on searching until I find the vampire's hideout. I am going to impress Mama with my success." The young hunter smiled at the thought of his plan. "And the best about it all is I can combine searching for the vampire with meeting Christine."

He didn't notice as time flew by. Suddenly a voice brought him out of his deep thoughts. "What are you grinnig at?"

Startled, his eyes went to the box's entrance where his sister leaned against the boards and looked at him questioningly. "Are you thinking about Christine?"

"Skylar?" Kyrian replied in surprise. "You are up already?"

"It is a wonder that you are up already," she responded cheekily.

Her brother patted Nightshade's neck one last time. Then he left the box and went to Skylar. "Well, I just wanted to take care of Nightshade a bit earlier today," he lied to his younger sister.

"Ah." Skylar wasn't convinced and said, "That does not exactly answer my first question."

Disgruntled, Kyrian buried his hands in his pockets, while they left the stables together. He took a lot of time for his answer but eventually he said, "No, I'm not always thinking of Christine. I wonder what would the world be like if there were no vampires."

For Kyrian this answer seemed honest enough without telling his sister the truth.

"Oh," Skylar responded, drawing her brows together. Then she laughed softly. "That would be great."

So they walked next to each other until Kyrian queried, "Why have you been to the stables anyway?"

Skylar slapped her hand against her forehead and said, "I was sent to look for you...breakfast is ready."

"Mhh, breakfast...who arrives first at the kitchen, wins!" he announced and sprinted off.

"Hey!" his sister cried in outrage and ran after him. "That's not fair! You had a headstart!" She could hear him laughing loudly from the distance.

In his hurry to reach the kitchen before his sister, Kyrian almost collided with Jean, who was about to leave the house in order to fetch some wood from a nearby barn. "Good morning, young master," he greeted him warmly. "Where are you off to in such a hurry?"

Kyrian gasped for breath before answering, "To the kitchen. My stomach is demanding a big meal. I am hungry like never before."

"Well, well. I am sure Monique will be more than happy to hear that."

Meanwhile, Skylar had reached the two, jumped on her big brother's back and wrapped her arms and legs tightly around him. "Ha ha!" she crowed triumphantly. "I got you now, dear brother. Did you thought you could escape me, huh? Remember, nobody can escape Skylar Leosol, the greatest huntress of all times!"

Jean just shook his head, smiling about the words Skylar used. He left the siblings and went back to carry out his work. "See you later."

Kyrian hooked his arms underneath his sister's knees. "Oh, I am trembling in fear. Tell me, oh greatest huntress of all times, now that you have caught me, what do you intend to do with me? But please, show mercy."

Skylar giggled. "Alright, I will show you mercy. Bring me to the kitchen and I will grant you freedom, " she declared and Kyrian carried her the rest of the way to the kitchen.

Monique was waiting with the breakfast. She looked up as the door opened and a big grin appeared on her face as she saw Helena's children enter.

Skylar beamed happily, while Kyrian winked roguishly at the cook. He went down on his knees. "We have reached our destination, Milady Leosol, the kitchen. I have fulfilled my part of the bargain. Now, fulfill yours."

The blonde girl slid off his back. "I set you free," she declared and placed a tiny kiss on his forehead.

"Thank you, Milady. You are lovely," he replied, hugged her tightly and stroked her hair for a moment. Then both began to laugh and rose from the floor.

Monique smiled and shook her head. She hadn't seen it often that siblings got along so well as Kyrian and Skylar did. "These two...always fooling and joking around with each other."

"Since I had to carry such a load today," Kyrian began with a wink in direction of his sister, who scowled at him at these words. "I really think it's time to get my strength back."

Skylar rolled her eyes. "One day you are going to burst from eating so much. Just wait and see."

Her brother just declined. "So what." Quickly he took his seat at the kitchen table and began to shovel fried eggs and a piece of dry bread. Kyrian praised Monique's cooking skills, nearly choking on his meal.

The cook smirked and said proudly, "A good meal is worth anything."

Skylar was still standing beside the door und looked disbelieving at Kyrian.

"What's wrong with you, Skylar?" Monique asked. "Don't keep standing there. Take a seat beside your brother. You know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. So, you should hurry before there will be nothing left, " she added smiling.

The blonde girl grinned, hurried to the table and sat down next to Kyrian.

 

*****

 

Helena sat in her room in front of her mirror, brushing her curly hair. Her thoughts were circling around the mysterious vampire and his companion. "There was never a hunt that was so complicated and long as this one. I have accomplished nothing. The population of Paris still has to live in horror and fear." Helena put the brush aside and looked into the eyes of her reflection. "I failed." Pain was evident in her voice as she said, "If only you were still with me. Everything would be easier for me." Helena took the silver bracelet her husband gave her and closed it around her wrist. "So much easier..."

Restlessly, she rose and began to pace. "I met a nice man, but I can not share my thoughts and wishes with him. With you I could share everything, but nothing is for eternity. All I have left are our children."

Firm determination shone in her eyes as the huntress came to a decision. "I just said it myself... nothing is for eternity. I made too many mistakes. From now I will concentrate only on killing the vampire. I will not rest until I have wiped him off the earth's face."

Thirsty for action, she took a seat on a small desk and wrote a short letter. "Why did I forget to ask Bernard for it? I should have realised sooner that I need a drawing of them." She folded and sealed the letter. "Then I will finally know the truth. Especially in the case of Chalice and my suspicion."

 

Quickly Helena left her chambers and gave the letter to Jean. "I trust you with this message, Jean. Ride to the king's court and give this letter personally to Monsieur Bernard Delacroix. You will not leave his side until he either gives you a letter or another message. Understood?"

Jean nodded dutifully and put the letter in the inner pocket of his jacket. Then he left the castle under Helena's watchful gaze.

 

Some time later the huntress joined her children. "Good morning, Monique."

"Mama!" Skylar cried happily, leapt from her chair, ran to her mother and hugged her effusively. "Oh, I am so happy to see you!"

"Good morning, Madame." The cook dropped a curtsy. "Breakfast is ready."

Helena nodded thankfully before she turned back to her daughter. "I wish you a good morning too, sweetheart," the huntress said smiling and returned Skylar's warm embrace. "And to you, too, my son." Helena hoped that their fight from last evening had been forgiven and forgotten.

Chewing, Kyrian waved and responded to her greeting, "Good morning, Mama."

Helena was relieved. He was talking to her, which was a good sign.

Still keeping a tight hold on her mother, Skylar whispered into her ear. "Mama, I really need to tell you something." There was a trace of nervousness in her voice and Helena became concerned immediately.

She looked at Kyrian, who motioned with his chin to his younger sister and his lips formed a word. Helena felt her heart clench as she saw it. Nightmares. Compassionately, she stroked her daughter's long, blonde hair. The gift of prophecy. One human in each generation of the Leosol Clan had it. Dreams that sometimes came true. For some people it was a gift but for Skylar it was a curse, because up until now the young girl wasn't able to distinguish between truth and dream among the dark pictures that haunted her at night.

Helena's soft, brown eyes scanned the kitchen and came to rest on Monique's also concerned face. The huntress knew they had to wait until later, when they would be undisturbed. She took Skylar's face in her hands and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. "We will talk later about it, when we are alone, alright?" Helena whispered in a small ear.

The blonde girl nodded, took her mother's hand and led her to the table where they sat down.

Monique prepared a plate for Helena and left the kitchen as the doorbell rang.

They took the rest of their breakfast in silence, everybody seemed to be lost in their own thoughts.

While Helena and Skylar were still eating, Kyrian was overcome by weariness. He slid more and more down on his seat and his head grew heavy. Yawning widely he supported it on his arm.

Seeing that, Helena wrinkled her forehead. "Did you not sleep well, my son?"

Caught, Kyrian opened his eyes wide. "Why? I am wide awake!"

Before the huntress had the chance to question him further Monique returned to the kitchen and cleared her throat.

Helena looked up and the cook said, "Madame, I truly am sorry to interrupt your meal, but Monsieur Dutroit has arrived. I left him waiting in the library."

"This early? Well, Monique, would you please tell him that I am on my way."

"As you wish, Madame," Monique replied and went to inform the police chief.

Kyrian rolled his eyes and snarled, "What does he want now? I am beginning to wonder how that guy managed to become police chief. He always comes running to you, asking for help to solve trifles."

Helena decided not to answer in order to avoid another useless discussion. She wiped her mouth with a napkin and hurried from the room. "It has to be something important if Monsieur Dutroit wants to see me this early. Maybe there are some clues pointing to our culprit. It might be that the observing of the D'Ardenne twins gave us another trace to follow," she thought to herself.

 

Helena entered the library and found Monsieur Dutroit, who was standing close to the window, his back to her. Straight out he said, "Bonjour!" Finally he turned to her and went on without giving Helena the chance to greet him. "At the gate I met your stable master. Jean, n'est-ce pas?"

Helena wanted to answer, but Michel continued, "He was acting mysteriously. His chest puffed out, he said he had to carry out an important mission for you, Madame."

The police chief waited for a reaction, but the huntress bit her lip, not saying anything.

Michel prodded on, "The guy behaved strange towards me."

Eventually, Helena relented to Michel's persistence. A wry smile on her face she said, "Well, it seems that Jean is a bit overzealous. There is no reason for you to grow suspicious of him." Helena pointed to a comfortable chair, but Michel shook his head.

Friendly she asked, "Can I get you something to drink?"

Again, the man only shook his head. Instead he inquired, "You are evasive, Madame. Is there a reason for not telling me the meaning of my rather strange meeting with Jean?"

Helena suddenly felt unwell and cold. In her presence Michel had never acted so brisk and straight forward. "I am not avoiding your questions, Michel. Jean is just doing me a little favour."

"What kind of favour?" His voice sounded dangerous.

Helena retreated a step, puzzled by his tone. "Well, Michel, today I am truly wondering about your curiosity."

Instantly his voice was normal and polite as usual. "Forgive me, Madame, but it seems that you are keeping something important from me. Something to do with the murders. You know, I am also interested in solving these matters."

When Helena wasn't answering he added charmingly, "I am concerned about your safety, my Helena."

For a moment the huntress doubted Michel's words, but she brushed the thought aside as he stepped closer and smiled at her. He took one of her hands and whispered, "You are trembling, my dear." Compassionately he caressed her fingers.

Helena swallowed hard and retreated some more steps. Her breathing grew faster and she noticed his surprised glances that followed her.

Unsure and embarrassed she said, "You are so unusual frank."

A self-confident smile formed on Michel's lips. "I always thought you are unshakeable, my dear Helena."

"You just caught me of guard," the huntress defended herself. "To get back to your question, Michel, Jean is contacting Monsieur Delacroix, the caretaker of this estate."

Michel drew his brows together.

"Monsieur Delacroix is the only eye witness. He knows what the intruder looked like." Helena's eyes fell on Michel, who kept silent.

With deliberation she didn't mention his companion Chalice. Then she continued, "I would like to have a picture of the cold blooded murderer."

Michel paled with fright, but Helena drew the wrong conclusions. "Do not worry, Michel. You know that I can take care of myself."

"Of course, but shouldn't we protect Monsieur Delacroix? I'd like to have him under my personal protection."

Helena contemplated his words. "I don't think that the murderer is concerning himself with getting identified."

"How can you be so sure of that, Madame?" Again his voice sounded different, lurking.

Their gazes met and Helena thought she could read something in his eyes, something strange. Her senses kicked in but she didn't know how to classify this feeling and so she brushed the objections aside. "Arrogance," she said abruptly.

Michel cleared his throat and replied, "I don't think I understand you, Madame."

"Do not underestimate the culprit's arrogance. He is so sure of himself that it doesn't matter to him if he gets caught."

"Are you trying to suggest he wants to get discovered?"

"Yes. He is tired of his own game and now he wants to end it."

" That is outrageous!" Lost in thought Michel stroked his beard. "And it is changing everything."

"I fear, now I do not understand you."

"Madame, from this moment on I will not leave your side."

"What? Impossible..."

"No argument," he interrupted roughly, "You are in great danger!"

Helena was speechless. She didn't expect this reaction. Before she was able to say something Michel added, "This morning I have to take care of a pressing matter but I will be back soon, my dear. Please, excuse me." Monsieur Dutroit bowed politely and left the room.

The huntress was thunderstruck. "That can not be true. Now that I am so close to the truth." Brooding, she sat down in a chair. "What am I to do? If Michel follows me everywhere I can not do anything."

Eventually she came to a decision and went to search for her son.

 

*****

 

Kyrian threw his head back, his fingers fumbling for the towel. "Ugh, the water is cold." He dried his face and pushed the washing bowl aside. Then he looked at the mirror and grinned broadly, telling his reflection, "I am going to meet Christine again. I will just put on some fresh clothes and then I am off to see my beloved." Kyrian blushed a bit at his own words. Humming, he busied himself with his clothes, as a knock on the door interrupted him.

"Enter," Kyrian called and his mother stepped into the room.

"Mama?" he asked in surprise. "Can I do something for you?"

"Indeed, you can." Helena closed the door. "But, as I can see, you have plans already."

"Um...no... I just spilled something and have to put on new clothes," he lied, and turned his gaze ashamed to the window.

There was a long pause and Helena felt a bit helpless, before she said, "I know we had some differences, but I do not want to fight anymore." Tense, she waited for Kyrian's reaction.

Slowly her son turned around. "I do not wish to fight with you, too."

Before the young man could mention the topic of Christine, Helena announced, "If you are interested I have a mission for you."

"What kind of mission?"

"Monsieur Dutroit made the decision to stay at my side."

Kyrian rolled his eyes and groaned.

His mother responded harshly, "Save the annoyed glance, my son. He thinks he has to protect me from the 'Heart Taker'." Helena sighed, "And no matter what I say, he will not leave."

She placed her hands on Kyrian's shoulders and locked their gazes. "That is why I want you to go to the Quartier Latin. Look for old, abandoned houses. I am suspecting this quarter is where the vampire spawns hide."

The young man was astonished faced with his mother's openness, but he didn't dare to tell her that he had spent the whole night in the Quartier Latin.

Helena grabbed his shoulders harder, admonishing him. "I want you to write down the addresses of any suspicious looking buildings. And no heroic acts, understand? I will trust you to do as I said, alright?"

Kyrian shook off her hands, grinding his teeth. "Yes, Mama."

"Good. That is what I wanted to hear. Then go right away."

Helena was already on the door when she turned around. "Thank you."

Kyrian ran a hand through his long, dark hair and nodded.

 

*****

 

It was late afternoon and Helena sat in the library, going through some documents. Monique entered and announced the arrival of Monsieur Dutroit.

The huntress groaned in annoyence, but she didn't show her feelings as the police chief stepped into the room.

"Excuse me, Madame, but I bring bad news."

Helena rose, inwardly restless.

"I came to tell you that Bernard Delacroix is dead."

The huntress was thunderstruck. Disbelieving she looked at Michel. "Bernard is dead? How..."

Michel continued sympathetically, "An unsolved crime. This morning he was found dead in his private chambers, strangled with a belt."

Helena tried to process the words. "But where is Jean?"

Calmly Michel strode to the armchairs and sat down before giving his answer. "He is at my office in Paris. My men are questioning him." He noticed Helena's shocked expression and placated, "As an eye witness."

Helena began to pace the room. "I have to talk with the boy, Philippe. I will ride there myself."

"Impossible," Michel countered, his voice unusual harsh. "His parents will not allow their child to be disturbed. Not after the weird occurrences that took place in that certain night in this castle."

Helena pricked up her ears. "How can Michel know about that? Bernard said that nobody knew, especially not the police..."

"You know, the murders of the daughters," Michel added before the huntress could think about more.

"Yes, still..." Helena began hesitatingly, but Michel interrupted her again, lying coldly, "My men found some of Monsieur Delacroix's notes that he kept like a diary."

Alarmed, Helena pressed on, trying to sound as indifferent as possible. "Indeed? What kind of notes did you find?"

A small smile formed on Michel's lips. "Nothing important to help us catch the 'Heart Taker'."

Helena was relieved to hear that Bernard hadn't written anything about a vampire. To Michel she said, "Too bad." She returned to the table where she had worked before.

Some time went by in absolute silence. Once in awhile Helena glanced at Michel, who seemed to be engrossed in a book.

"This can not go on." Helena got up and said friendly, "Evening is about to arrive and you look exhausted. Would you like to have a cup of tea with me, Michel?"

"Very much, Helena," he answered and stretched his tired body.

"I will go and ask Monique to brew some tea. Please, stay here, I will be back shortly. Do not leave, yes?" The huntress forced a winning smile on her face and left the library. Outside she released a deep breath. On her way to the kitchen she told herself, "I have to do something. Michel is becoming a burden." She turned around and went to her chambers, fetching a small glass tube, which contained some white powder. With that she went to the empty kitchen. Helena set up a kettle with water and searched the tea. "I hope we do have tea." She found some dried mint leaves hanging from the ceiling of the storage room. She returned to the kitchen and went to the window. Her gaze fell on the herb garden. Helena frowned. "Was there moving something?"

Suspiciously she went outside and listened.

Suddenly the huntress heard little cracking sounds and her eyes fell on the woods that lay right behind the herb garden. "It seems that there is someone hiding and observing me." Her sharp gaze picked up another movement and Helena ran to the wood's edge.

"YOU?" she exclaimed horrified, as she discovered the girl she knew as Christine behind a big oak tree.

Stunned the young woman looked at the huntress with innocent, brown eyes.

"Have you lost your voice?"

Defiantly, Chalice just stared and kept silent.

"What are you doing here? Are you waiting for somebody?"

"And what if I were?" came the snotty reply.

"Kyrian is not here and I do not want you around him."

Chalice crossed her arms. "You can't keep us apart. We love each other."

Helena became angry. "Love? That is a big word and I do not think you know the meaning of it! I am warning you, stay away from my son!"

"Why? That's not your decision to make, but Kyrian's," Chalice retorted harshly, but her nervousness rose.

"You are taking advantage of his inexperience and trying to use him for your own purposes."

"You are smothering him and don't want to share him, that's all, but I'm honest. With me he gets everything he wants."

"Well, then be honest with me, too. What were you doing in the Quartier Latin that one night? I am sure you remember. You were standing beneath a street lamp."

Chalice paled in horror and Helena saw it. "Yes, I have seen you, just as you saw me. So, tell me, what kind of game are you playing?"

Chalice retreated a bit, trying to get some distance between herself and the huntress. "I don't know what you mean."

"That one night is burned into my memory. I am asking myself what a nice girl like you could have been doing there so late, in one of the town's notorious quarters no less?"

Fear rose inside Chalice and she didn't know what to answer. Finally she stuttered, "I... I'm not a prostitute... if that is what you mean..."

"No, no, I do not mean something like that. I mean that you shall tell me to whom you belong?" The huntress looked at her intensely, trying to gauge her reaction.

Beads of sweat formed on Chalice's forehead. "To... to whom I belong?"

"Are you going to deny that you have been to this house before our family arrived here?" Helena's eyes hardened.

"WHAT?" Chalice screamed, fear written all over her face.

"Is it not true that you are flirting with Kyrian to spy on me and sabotage my work?"

"What... what are you talking about?" Chalice's eyes darted nervously around.

"WHO ARE YOU REALLY?"

Nothing could keep her back now and Chalice bolted, running as fast as she could. Helena followed her, hoping that the young woman would lead her to the vampire's hideout. But in the deep forest she lost her trail and the huntress had to return to the castle unsuccessful. "I do not have much time. I need to act right now."

 

Helena didn't notice that Michel had watched the scene from the window. He smirked and waited calmly for her return. The candles and the fire had been extinguished in a wonderous way. Motionless the police chief stood beside the window and stared at the fading sun. "Tonight, my huntress, we will finally meet. It will be the beginning of the end." He straightened his coat and left the library. In the hall he said goodbye to a very surprised Monique, before walking to his carriage and driving back to Paris.

 

*****

 

Chalice was crouching badly upset in a hole beneath a fallen tree. She panted for breath and her face was red from exertion. Sharp pain in her sides tortured her and one thought echoed through her mind. "She knows it... she knows it... what shall I do?"

Her whole body trembled. "I have to talk with Kyrian before his mother does." Gasping, she crawled out of the hole and stumbled on to find the young man on time.

 

*****

 

Helena hurried up the stairs to the library, carrying a tablet with the tea utensils. She put on a friendly face and entered. The scent of freshly brewed tea filled the room. For a moment Helena was confused. "Why is the fire out and where is Michel?" Helena sat the tablet on the table. Her gaze fell to the window and she realised the great view one had of the garden. "Hmm... Michel must have seen the scene. He probably thinks I am chasing her. Hopefully he will not do anything thoughtless. Now I am wishing he would have stayed here for his own safety." Restlessly she began to pace. "I have to wait for Kyrian in order to get some news. He should have been back until now."

With quick steps she left the library and went to her chambers to prepare for the upcoming night.

 

*****

 

After having spent the whole day at the Quartier Latin, Kyrian was making his way back to the castle. He rubbed his eyes in disbelief because just a second ago he had been thinking about Christine and there she came running towards him on the street that led to Paris.

Dexterously he slid off Nightshade's broad back and ran to her.

Chalice fell right into his arms and hugged him tightly.

Harsh sobs shook her body while Kyrian held her. His fingers combed through her long, blonde hair and he tried to calm her down. "Christine? What happened?"

"Your mother... oh, Kyrian... she hates me... even though I never did anything to her..." she managed through her tears. "She said things... horrible allegations... why does she hate me so?"

"I do not think she hates you. She does not know you." Kyrian soothed.

"No, no... she hates me, I know it... I've seen it in her eyes..."

The young hunter grabbed Nightshade's reins and took her hand. "Come on. I will escort you home."

"I... I don't have a home."

Kyrian stopped walking. "What do you mean? You have to live somewhere, sleep..."

"I'm an orphan," Chalice admitted in a small voice and looked at him innocently.

Kyrian felt his heart clench. "But where are you spending the nights?"

Chalice looked at the ground to hide the wide, triumphant grin. She knew she had him. No matter what she would say he would believe her. Quickly she put on a sad expression as Kyrian lifted her chin to look into her eyes. "You can tell me. I will not judge you," he promised lovingly.

Hesitatingly she said, "At the Quartier Latin. The rooms are cheap there. Sometimes I carry out tasks for people and they give me a place to sleep." Chalice noticed his horrified expression and added, "Believe me when I say that I'm not proud to live like that."

"That is not it. My mother was right. She saw you there," the young hunter explained.

"Yes, I was there," she admitted. "Some dark creatures were chasing me. I've never seen anything as weird and scary in my life. I don't know what they wanted from me and then they just disappeared."

"Why didn't you explain it to my mother?" Kyrian wanted to know. Holding hands they slowly followed the road to Paris.

"Because she wouldn't let me!" Chalice blurted, unintentionally fierce.

Silence ruled after her outburst and Chalice tried hard to come up with something to say to break it. She let go of Kyrian's hand, wrapped an arm around his waist and leaned her head against his strong shoulder. "I don't want to be alone anymore, Kyrian. With you at my side I feel safe."

Hearing this words his heart jumped for joy and he placed a small kiss on her head. "I will protect you. Come what may, against all odds."

"What... what about your mother?" Chalice inquired softly, inwardly tense about his answer.

"Leave that to me. I will take care of it. Go to the Quartier Latin and get your things together. I will come soon and get you." With a serious face Kyrian climbed on Nightshade. In the fading light he didn't see the sneer on her face, nor could he hear her thoughts. "It's done, master. The Sunlions are turned against each other."

"How are you going to find me?" Chalice asked, looking at him like a lost child.

Kyrian wrinkled his forehead in thought, so she gave the answer, "Wait for me at the abandoned Palais? You know which I mean?" Gently she placed her hand on his leg.

The young hunter shook his head. "No, this place is too dangerous at this time of the night, Christine."

Chalice took his hand and kissed it softly. "Don't be concerned, nothing will happen to me. You are going to back soon, promise?"

"Promise," Kyrian answered. He pulled hard at the reins and Nightshade rose before they galloped back to the castle.

For a moment Chalice looked after him until he was out of her sight. She giggled madly and went on her way to Azrael. "Everything is happening as you wish, master."

 

*****

 

Carefully, Skylar opened the door to her mother's chambers and peered round the corner. Helena stood at her table, reading a letter. Casually she said, "Come in, Skylar. The corridors are cold and drafty."

On bare feet and wearing a white nightgown her daughter padded to the bed and jumped in, snuggling deep into the soft covers. "Are you going away tonight?" Skylar asked fearfully.

Helena folded the letter. "Monsieur Dutroit just sent a messenger with a letter. I do not understand..."

Skylar guessed her mother's thoughts. "You mean because of earlier, when he was gone so quickly?"

"Not only that. He was acting so different, so strange... He writes that he wants to meet me at midnight in the Quartier Latin... at the abandoned Palais. He must have discovered something. Maybe he managed to do what I couldn't... to follow Chalice and find the hideout..." Lost in thought she looked at her daughter, who gazed at her questioningly. Helena didn't tell her that she thought Chalice and Christine were one person. Instead she mentioned, "I fear that something will happen to the police chief."

Skylar's fear increased. "Maybe he found out something and now he does not know what to do with his knowledge?"

"You mean he knows about the existence of vampires?"

Skylar nodded and wrapped the warming blanket tighter around her body.

"That would be disastrous. It could mean the end of his life," the huntress said seriously and fisted her hands impatiently. "If only Kyrian would come back. I am worried about him."

Creaking sounds came from outside but as Helena left the room to investigate there was nobody there. Restlessly she closed the door and made a decision. "I will ride to Paris now to prevent a tragedy from happening.

The huntress fetched all the important utensils she would need. Finally she put on her weapon belt and took the holy sword.

Upset, Skylar watched her every move. "Mama, please, don't go," she whispered fearfully. "I have a bad feeling..."

Helena sighed, went to her and sat down on the bed's edge. She reached out and tenderly stroked Skylar's hair. "I will be back soon. And if your brother returns do not let him leave the house again, yes?"

The girl nodded obediently.

"You are my good girl." Helena smiled and kissed her lovingly on the forehead. "You can sleep here in my room, sweetheart. Goodnight, my precious child and dream something nice for me, alright?"

Skylar forced a small smile to her face. "Goodnight, Mama." She watched her mother leave the room and whispered, "Please, be careful."

 

*****

 

Covered in black from head to toe, Azrael strode through the dark streets of Paris. No one was about in the alleys except for some beggars, prostitutes and other creatures of the night, because come nightfall everybody sat entrenched in their houses, fearful of more attacks from the 'Heart Taker'.

His ebony cane's metal tip clicked on the cobbled street and an icy wind blew around the corners, but the vampire didn't mind the cold. Azrael entered the abandoned house that served as his hideout. He took off his cape and gloves. From beneath his vest he pulled out a small, carved marionette. It had the form of a skeleton with a big read heart painted across its chest. The marionette was a souvenir from the puppeteer's daughter, whose blood had quenched his hunger tonight, at least for the moment. Azrael twined the strings around his fingers. Waggling and twisting his hand he made the skeleton dance. "The 'Heart Taker' strikes again!" he announced and laughed loudly. "As soon as they realise that I am the only leader that will guide the vampires to a better world, the clans of the mantichores, griffons and dragons will become loyal to me. With them my army will be truly invincible and then we are going to subjugate mankind for all time!"

Azrael threw the puppet aside and walked to the chest where he kept his sacred relice, the old inscription once found in Babylon. Carefully the vampire lifted it from the chest and his eyes slid over the cuneiform. "If only I knew the meaning of the words. Hmm... If the blood of the golden lion dries up... golden lion... heir and epitome of Utu... Utu... of course, the Sumerian sungod..." Azrael's mind worked feverishly and then he had an idea. "Sungod... golden lion... as golden as the sun... maybe there is a connection somewhere..." The vampire reached for some parchment and a quill to write down his thoughts. He dipped the quill into the black ink and began. "Sun...sol, lion...leo." Azrael stared at the words and finally he put them together. "Sunlion...Leosol... well, it looks like I solved a part of the riddle." A demonic grin spread across his face and his eyes glowed in a deep red.

A small cough sounded behind his back and surly he turned around.

Chalice stood at the door and asked bashfully, "May I interrupt, master?"

"What is it?"

Carefully she came closer.

"Did the huntress get my message?"

Chalice nodded, her heart beating wildly, and she answered, "Yes, and I think she will be here soon. As will Kyrian, our reconnaissance patrol discovered him when he left the castle shortly before the huntress. They are both on the street to Paris."

"Good, good... what about Michel?"

"He is waiting at the castle."

Azrael didn't answer and so Chalice blurted, "My master, what if the hunters arrive at the same time? Our whole plan will go up in smoke!"

The vampire rose and smiled cooly at his subordinate. "What gives you that impression? You did play the orphan in front of this guy, didn't you? You told him about this place?"

Chalice nodded and Azrael was satisfied. "He won't go to his mother. His pride would never allow it."

"What happens then?" Chalice voice trembled.

Azrael stroked the young woman's face. "Aww, did I forget to tell you about the second part ob my brilliant plan?" He asked sweetly. "No need to tremble, Chalice. You won't have to do much." His hands slid down and closed around her wrists. He pushed her gently in direction of the bed and lowered her on it. Azrael let go of her hands but kept their gazes locked. "It is something you are good at."

Confused she looked at his smirking face, while he wrapped shackles around her wrists and bound her to the bed. "WHAT?" Chalice demanded, furiously.

"Shhh... you will like it, I'm sure. Take your time and relish it. Play the little, lost girl. You are so good in that role." Azrael showed her the keys to the shackles and placed them in a small chest at the table. He took his cape and cane and turned once more to the desperate Chalice to blow her a kiss.

After he had disappeared, an enormous activity started all over the place. Some of Azrael's already loyal servants cleared silently and thoroughly the building, leaving only the bound woman and the bed.

Silence fell and Chalice heart grew heavy. Small doubts started to rise in her.

 

*****

 

Helena arrived at the Palais' locked gates shortly after the last vampire had left the place. She leapt from her horse and scanned her surroundings. There was no sound. Her watchful eyes slid over the closed shutters and after she made sure that she was alone she went to a small door, where something flashed in the moonlight. A knife pinned a piece of paper to the door. The huntress pulled it from the wood and read the short message. "Michel's handwriting... in blood..." she whispered. "A good night to lose one's heart..." Helena's eyes widened as she realised the purpose of the words.

"Skylar, Kyrian, my beloved children... it was a trap!" Instantly she straddled her horse and galloped back to the castle.

To Be Continued...

 

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