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 TWELVE

 

L'ÂME IMMORTELLE

-The Immortal Soul-

 

 

Kyrian stepped out of the shadow of a neighbouring building after Helena had left. He had eavesdropped on her earlier conversation with Skylar and so he knew that his mother wanted to come here.

"She didn't find Christine, which means my fears didn't come true. I'm wondering what was written on the piece of paper... mhhh ... I will find out about that later, I'm sure." Still a bit angry at himself the young man returned to the palace to wait for his beloved Christine. Before his thoughts could turn back to his mother, Michel Dutroit and all the other things, he heard a dull sound from inside the run-down building.

"Maybe there is still a vampire inside?"

Quickly he loosened some rotten boards and gained entry. He pricked up his ears but the sound didn't repeat itself. Cautiously he moved further inside. The moonlight fell weakly through the boards that were still nailed across the other windows. Kyrian could hardly breath e because of the stale air that was laying heavy in the rooms. As he reached the old staircase he saw the warm glow of candles shining from the second floor. His heart beating wildly he climbed up the stairs. The rotten wood of some steps broke beneath his boots and he had to be careful not to fall down with the whole thing. Finally the young hunter had reached the floor and stood in front of the door where the light came from. He glanced inside the room. At first the candlelight was blinding him but after his eyes had adjusted he recognized the person on the bed and threw caution to the wind. "Christine!" he cried and stormed into the room.

Weakly the young woman raised her head and Kyrian saw the tears glistening on her pale cheeks. He lowered his body to the bed's edge and gently wiped the tears away, trying to soothe the sobbing woman.

Chalice lifted slightly her bound arms that had been stretched to the bed's head. The chains clanked with the movement.

Kyrian was shocked. He didn't know what to make of the image in front of him until Chalice whispered, "This is the 'Heart Taker's' work."

The hunter paled and stuttered, "D-did... d-did... he do... some-something to you?" His fearful gaze darted all over her body, trying to find wounds or other signs of violence.

More tears fell as she answered, "No, but he scared me to death. Oh, Kyrian. Please hold me." She writhed in the chains until she sank back exhausted.

Kyrian rose and looked around. "How shall I free you?"

Again Chalice responded, "There, he placed the key inside that small chest over there. He thought it amusing to leave the key in my view, knowing I could never reach it on my own."

"Pervert pig!" the young man exclaimed in anger while he took the key. His fingers were trembling as he freed Chalice from the chains. Instantly she fell into his arms and he calmed her, stroking her hair. She snuggled closer, holding tightly to his strong body.

After awhile he asked carefully, "Do you know something about his plans?"

The young woman collected her thoughts before starting to talk slowly. "Well, he didn't say much in my presence. I just heard that they said something about leaving Paris this night to go north."

She pretended to think very hard, trying to remember something really important. "He mumbled something about... the hunters are on my trail... they are near... we have to go..." From the corner of her eye she looked at him, trying to figure out what he was thinking.

"Oh," was the only reaction of the surprised young man.

"Do you know what he meant?" she asked, gazing deeply into his brown eyes.

Kyrian returned the gaze. At this moment he so wanted to tell his beloved Christine everything. But then he answered coldly, "No."

Silence ruled until Chalice pulled him down to her and on the bed. Softly she breathed into his ear, "Do you know that you are my savior, Kyrian Leosol? Without you this house would have become my grave."

The young man was caught in a trance as Chalice placed his head upon her soft breasts, her fingers running gently through his smooth, long hair. Her gaze wandered to the ceiling and her innocent eyes became hard and cold. "I really mean that. Bound by the heavy chains I would have died in here."

Kyrian rose a bit and supported himself on an elbow. The thumb of his other hand traced tenderly her soft and rosy lips. "Stop talking like that, my beloved. It's over..."

"Yes, it's over," she whispered. Her fingers trailed to his vest and pulled it off him.

Kyrian let it happen, his eyes never leaving her's.

Tenderly Chalice pulled the shirt from his pants and slid it over his head. His muscled, tanned body became visible. Her slender fingers ran over his skin, touching everywhere she could reach. Chalice sat up und began to open her corset.

Ashamed, Kyrian looked away. Blushing heavily he tried to explain, "Uh... Christine... I... I never have... before..."

"Shhh... don't say a word. Just let it happen. I love you." Light blonde hair fell across her bare shoulders as she took of the corset.

Kyrian's breathing grew faster as he saw her naked form for the first time.

Chalice took his hands and placed them on her pale skin, showing him how to stroke and fondle. She lay back and pulled him on top of her, kissing him gently.

Not thinking twice about it, the unexperienced man let himself be guided by her as she helped him to take of his pants and her dress. Their naked bodies touched and pressed against each other in perfect harmony as they made love in the flickering candlelight.

 

Afterward Kyrian had fallen asleep beside Chalice, a smile gracing his features. His calm and gentle breathing was soothing the young woman's soul, giving her a feeling of safety she had missed for so long. But still she couldn't give in to it. She freed herself from his tender embrace and left the bed. Silently Chalice put on her clothes and without looking back she headed out of the room. At the door she hesitated, her fingers clawing deep into the wooden frame and a lone tear rolled down her cheek. Her voice shaking she whispered, "I really think I could have loved you."

 

*****

 

The castle was dark and everything seemed peaceful. Then suddenly a light went on in Helena's bedroom. Skylar hadn't been able to fall asleep and after endless moments of tossing and turning she had lightened the candle. Thinking that maybe after some reading she could finally find some rest, the girl reached for the newspaper on her mother's nightstand. Her mouth fell open as she saw the title.

The sound of crunching pebbles drifted to her ears and Skylar went to the window, seeing a shadow that disappeared inside. "That must have been Mama. Kyrian does not have such a long coat." With the paper in hand Skylar stepped into the corridor and saw a dark figure entering the library. The girl ran down the corridor and pressed down on both handles. The doors flew open and Skylar stormed into the library.

"Mama! Have you seen the newspaper? It is saying..." She stopped in shock as she recognized the person that stood beside the window. "Oh, Monsieur Dutroit, you are here? But why are you here? In the middle of the night?"

Skylar frowned when she didn't get an answer and the police chief kept his position, not moving an inch. The girl didn't know what to do nor what to make of Michel's nightly visit. She tried to hide the fact that she was scared and asked matter-of-factly some harmless questions. "Monsieur Dutroit, are you not feeling well? Is something wrong?" Waiting for an answer, Skylar began to light some candles.

Suddenly the police chief turned around and gazed at her with empty eyes.

Unconsciously, Skylar retreated a step. A feeling of fear rose inside her while his dark eyes stayed locked on her.

The play of lights and shadows of the flickering candles made Michel's face appear demonic and the girl swallowed hard. Monsieur Dutroit's mouth formed to a sneer and he started to speak in a strange voice, "Look who is still awake. The little lioness..."

Skylar retreated further, her heart beating fast. The weird behaviour of the man scared her more and more.

Michel took a step toward her. "...so innocent..." He hesitated. "Aww, what is it? Are you scared?"

The girl shook her head, but still retreated until her back hit the wall, the newspaper tightly grasped in her hands and hidden behind herself.

Suspiciously the dark man eyed her up and down. "What are you hiding behind your back?"

Skylar gathered all her courage and countered with a question of her own, "Where is my Mama?"

The police chief went down on a knee. "My dear child, how am I supposed to know that? She wanted to make us some tea and since early evening she kept me waiting for it..." He laughed about his joke. "But it doesn't matter because I'm very, very patient. Why do you ask?"

"Because I have something important to tell her. Alone." She added the last word defiantly.

At lightening speed Michel's hand shot out and grabbed the newspaper. His eyes scanned the title. Again he grinned evily and the girl shivered. Something was seriously wrong here. In disbelief, Skylar could only watch as he tore the paper into tiny pieces in front of her eyes.

"My dear child, such horrible stories are not meant for you. You should leave that to the adults. Why don't you go back to your room and play with your dolls?"

In this moment the door opened and Skylar released a relieved breath as she saw her mother, who entered with a tablet full of tea utensils, behaving like it was the most normal thing to do at this time of night. The scent of mint filled the room.

Michel rose from his place on the floor and Skylar used the chance to hurry to her mother's side.

"Why is no fire burning? It is so cold without it." Helena said matter-of-factly despite the obscure situation the three were in.

Skylar shrugged her shoulders, scowling at Michel, who took the tablet from Helena's hands and set it on the table. "My dear Helena, who needs a fire? Your presence alone is enough to warm my heart and making me feel no cold."

The sharp gaze of the huntress fell on the tiny paper pieces that were strewn across the floor. "Before I am asking what you are doing here at this time, what is the meaning of these pieces?"

Not bothering to answer, Michel pulled her to the table. "The tea, Madame. We should drink it before it gets cold."

"Yes, sure," she replied and smiled a bit embarrassed. "Since I brewed it we should drink it right away... and we have waited so long for it, too long." She turned her back to Michel, whose attention rested once more on Skylar, who was still standing rooted beside the door, in her white nightgown. No one noticed when Helena added the white powder together with a drop of milk to Michel's cup of tea. She stirred the fluid with a golden spoon and gave it to the police chief. Then the huntress made a cup for herself and sat down in an armchair opposite him. Helena supressed a smile as she saw Michel taking his first tentative sips. "Mhh, a strange aroma."

Helena raised an eyebrow. "You think so?"

Michel took another sip. "Well, yes, one can get used to it... kind of bitter aftertaste... still... it is delicious." The police chief frowned as his eyelids grew heavier with each passing second.

"Tell me Michel, what about your new task? I mean the protecting and observing of the D'Ardenne twins?"

Skylar opened her mouth to tell her mother everyting, but Helena's warning glance was enough to keep her silent.

"Everything is going well..." came the slurred answer. His tongue felt numb and he had trouble to concentrate on her question. "Why... why... do... you... ask?" He wanted to know, blinking and rubbing his eyes to get rid of the sudden double vision.

"I thought you might have found something concerning the 'Heart Taker'?"

Michel didn't listen to her anymore. He had emptied his cup and stared disbelieving at the small traces of powder at the bottom of his cup. The police chief scraped his finger across it, rubbing the substance between his fingertips. Accusingly he looked at Helena and screamed outraged, making both Helena and Skylar flinch, "BITCH! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE? YOU HAVE POISONED ME!" He jumped to his feet but his rubbery legs gave way and he went down hard. His eyes rolled back and he lay there unconscious.

Helena put her cup back on the table, gazing at Michel. All her romantic feelings for that man disappeared as suddenly as they had come. She motioned for her daughter to come closer. "Skylar, help me to put him in the armchair."

Together they managed to place the tall man back in the chair. A bit out of breath Skylar asked concerned, "Mama? What have you done to him?"

"Don't worry. The good Monsieur Dutroit is just taking a nice nap."

"There is something wrong with him, Mama."

"Did he do something to you, sweetheart?" Helena asked.

The girl shook her head. "Beside scaring me he only tore apart the newspaper."

"Yes, that is quite weird." Helena drew her brows together, thinking. "Why would he do that?"

"Because it said that the D'Ardenne twins are dead and their hearts are gone."

"WHAT?" The head of the Leosol family was utterly stunned. "But if he was guarding the girls, why did he say that everything was going well? That makes no sense... but his sudden visit tonight makes no sense either. He didn't seem to know anything about the weird message left at the old palace... it could be that..." Her eyes widened as she exclaimed, "Good God! That would explain why he was acting so strange lately and why he wanted so much information... the sudden death of Bernard, the only witness... everything is coming together... it can only mean that he is under the vampire's spell."

"Mama what are we going to do?" Skylar wanted to know, not feeling well at the moment.

Helena grabbed her hand and they left the room. Outside the huntess brought out a key and locked the big doors.

"Mama? What were you talking about? What message?" Skylar asked excited.

But the huntress didn't listen to her daughter. Her mind was working feverishly, trying to figure out what to do now. "No, Michel was not the trap... " Before she could finish the sentence she was interrupted by a loud crashing sound.

Skylar was clinching tightly to her mother, scared to death. "What was that?"

"That was downstairs, in the hall, " Helena answered and pulled her sword.

At the same time Monique and Jean came running to them. The crashing had woken them from a deep slumber. Astonished they stared at the weapon, but Helena took the word before either of them could ask any questions. "Go! Run for your lives and do not come back before the sun is high in the sky!"

The servants looked at her, thinking their mistress had lost her mind, and Jean wanted to laugh. But then they heard footsteps of several persons downstairs. Monique began to tremble in fear.

"Go on!" Helena repeated firmly. "Take Skylar with you and make sure she is safe!"

But the girl protested strongly. "No, Mama! I will stay with you!"

Helena didn't have time to make her daugher see reason because Monique started to scream hysterically before she ran to the main stairs. Without thinking Jean followed the cook.

"No..." the huntress whispered, her arm reaching for the fleeing servants, but it was too late. Helena knew that they would run directly into their enemies' arms.

Sobbing, Skylar buried her head into her mother's chest.

"Come, sweetheart," her mother said, pain evident in her voice and she pulled the girl with her. "We have to find a place to hide you." To herself she said, "Now I know what the trap was. Hopefully it is not too late yet."

Over some hidden staircases they arrived at the quarters of the servants, which were under the roof. Helena opened a small hatch. "You will stay here until I come to get you."

"Mama, I'm scared." Skylar sobbed, big tears running down her soft cheeks.

Helena tried to calm her down. "Nothing will happen to you."

"No, Mama, I'm scared for you. I still couldn't tell you about that dream I had..."

Helena swallowed hard and took her daughter's face into her hands. She kissed her long and tenderly on the forehead. "Always remember, Skylar Leosol, it is our destiny." Helena hugged her child tightly, breathing harshly while trying to keep her own tears at bay.

"Please, be careful, Mama. I love you."

"I love you too, my precious."

Helena left to fight the unwelcome guests and the girl crawled into the small space, closed the hatch and awaited her mother's return.

 

*****

 

Azrael's cane clicked on the marble floor of the great entrance hall, his left arm rested across his back. Some blood was visible in the corners of his mouth and he licked it off with the tip of his tongue. Greatly interested he scanned his surroundings until the other vampires he had sent out returned from their scouting.

Honoring him they all knelt down in front of the mighty vampire. "Dark lord, we could find no one else beside the two servants that tried to run away. But..."

A drawn out groan interrupted them and Azrael saw Michel. The police chief was still numb from the sleeping powder as two vampires dragged him into the hall. "We found him like that in the library, dark lord."

Merciless Azrael looked at Monsieur Dutroit's sad appearance. Now that the vampire had taken the spell off him there was nothing left of the police chief's former, strong self. "My dear Michel, what happened to you?"

Greatly confused the man looked up when he heard his name. He couldn't see anything, his view was blurry. The vampires let go of the police chief, who sank down exhausted.

"You have not taken good care of you lately, my dear Michel. A fact that is unforgivable for a... what's the word you use here? Ah yes... Gentilhomme." Azrael sneered. Then he turned away, ordering, "Light all candles in the hall. I want the perfect scene for my showdown!"

The vampires did as asked and lightened every candle they could find. Also the big chandelier that hung from the ceiling.

Azrael bathed in the candle's light. "You did not find them but still they are here. We saw the huntress entering the castle." Small traces of impatience were evident in his voice.

The sound of an arriving carriage interrupted him. Shortly after that Chalice appeared and stormed into the hall, throwing herself into Azrael's arms. "I hurried back to you as quickly as I could, master."

Roughly the vampire untangled himself. "Did you bind him with the chains so that he may rot in that house?"

Chalice paled and stuttered, "I... I forgot..." Expecting an outburst of fury she ducked away from her master.

The vampire kept his calm.

Chalice used the moment for another confession. "The huntress knows who I truly am..."

Azrael nodded. "I thought as much."

"What? I didn't want... it wasn't my intention..."

"Enough. Everything will happen how it is supposed to, because this night is my night!" He took off his cape and gave it together with his cane to Chalice. "A light was turned on in one of the rooms upstairs, before the huntress returned. It must have been the daughter." An evil smile was on his face as he silently climbed the stairs. "Hello, little girl," he called out sweetly.

No sound was heard and Azrael continued, "Oh, you want to play hide and seek with me? I have to warn you, I'm very good at this game." His eyes began to glow eeriely.

Before he reached the last step, Helena stepped out of the shadows, her head held high. Proud, beautiful and ready to fight she stood in front of the vampire.

Caught of guard by her sudden and silent appearance Azrael retreated back to the hall. Mocking her he took a bow. "Finally, we meet."

Helena held the holy sword tightly in her hands and came down the stairs. From the corners of her eyes she counted the vampires that were waiting down there. Beside Azrael there were eight more. Her accusing gaze locked on Chalice, who couldn't take it and turned away. Then she saw the cowering Michel, who was whimpering and slapping his palm against his forehead. She knew every help would come too late for the man. He had been under the vampire's spell for too long, his mind would never recover and Michel would probably end up in a madhouse. Helena felt sorry for the police chief.

Azrael saw the sympathetic glance, went to Michel and pulled him up. "He is not as innocent as you think he is. He strangled the poor Bernard Delacroix to death with

this belt." With these words the vampire tore the leather belt from the helpless Michel's pants. Humiliating the man even more he pulled down the pants and Azrael's companions started to laugh.

Helena felt her anger rise.

A second later Azrael broke Michel's neck and let him fall to the floor.

The huntress swallowed and for a tiny moment she thought this was the best for the police chief. She shook off the thought but before she could ask another question Azrael took the word. "I am count Azrael the first of the Serpentes clan and as a vampire I am at your service." Laughing he threw his head back and his pointy eyeteeth became visible.

Helena frowned, doubting his words. 'This vampire should be a descendant of the Serpentes? It seems impossible, but still, he is standing in front of me. Not shy of contact, not secluded, just disgusting. Full of greed and without scruples.'

In a firm voice she said, "So, you have announced your title, but I'm questioning that you really are a descendant of the Serpentes clan... Heart Taker!"

"WHAT?" Azrael raged and was close to a fit, because that a mere human, even though it was a huntress, was able to see his lowly descent made him mad.

Faced with his reaction Helena replied, "I knew it."

He pointed his finger on her. "So what? That won't help you much Huntress, because tonight you are going to die for me! The powers of the clan belong to only me! And I will have the powers of all clans!" he screamed outraged, his chest rising and falling quickly.

"You are nothing more than a lunatic that has to be stopped. Your uncontrolled lust to kill speaks for that. A common vampire like you doesn't need to kill the humans after drinking. You could let them live."

"But I want to kill them!" Azrael announced firmly. Proudly he added, "I am not a common vampire anymore. I alone destroyed the descendants of the Serpentes clan. Their powers are within me."

Grinning evily he looked at her and now Helena knew the extent of the danger and the aftereffects for the future. Still she tried to find out about his motive to gain some time. "Why are you taking the hearts of the dead? It is unnecessary to prevent their totured souls from finding rest and peace."

The tall vampire rolled his eyes in annoyence. "Because it is fun... I like collecting things."

Helena did expect that answer.

Azrael began to pace. "I am really fed up with all your questions! I don't have to explain myself to you, you know?" It seemed that he would explode any time soon.

Helena used the moment to ran back upstairs and climbed on the parapet. From there she jumped and landed in the middle of the big chandelier. Slowly it started to swing above the astonished vampires' heads. Provoking them Helena shouted, "Come and get me!"

Not knowing what to do or what the huntress was intending the vampires gathered beneath the chandelier.

Helena flung a dagger to the opposite wall, which cut through the rope that held the chandelier and it came crashing to the floor. The huntress leapt and flipped through the air before the impact. Crystal and metal burst on the hard marble floor. More than half of the dark brood were buried underneath it, impaling themselves on big splinters. Some of them tried to crawl out but Helena quickly put a wooden stake through their hearts. Only three vampires were left untouched.

On the other side Azrael had watched the whole thing. He smiled when Helena's eyes met his over the broken chandelier. The vampire threw Chalice a dagger, which she caught with ease. "Chalice, search for the girl. And, for your sake, get her here alive!"

A scary expression of madness appeared on the young woman's face, who grinned widely.

Helena wanted to intercept her but the other vampires circled her, forcing her back.

Azrael sneered once more. "Oh no, my dear Huntress. You will stay here and die!"

The first vampire started a surprise attack and Helena had to fight hard not to lose her weapon during the onrush. These vampires seemed to be stronger than the ones she had beaten before. A second one tried to get to her from behind and she kicked back so hard she could hear some ribs crack. His body bent over and he screamed in pain, holding his sword tightly but supporting himself on it. Helena turned, pushed back the first and kicked away the other's brace. As he fell down she thrust a stake deep inside his heart. For a last time he screamed and Helena's words, "Sol invictus!" accompanied him on his final journey.

Outraged the third vampire rammed his shoulder into the huntress' chest. Stumbling backward and trying to force some air into her lungs the blonde woman hit the wall with her back. Panting harshly she fought first against the blackness that wanted to overcome her mind and then the sword blows of the remaining two vampires. With a mighty stroke of her weapon she pushed them back, raining blow upon blow on the taller one until her sharp blade met his arm, tearing a heavily bleeding wound. Quickly he changed his weapon from his right to his left hand and continued. The wound healed fast and he switched hands again.

Wanting nothing more than to finish the seemingly endless fight the huntress gathered all her strength for one blow. She trust her weapon deep inside his chest, turned it and pulled it back out to finish him off with a stake. This time she couldn't speak the words because the last vampire pounced on her, hissing and baring his teeth. He pressed her to the floor and she lost her sword. The vampire stood above her and grinned. Sure of his victory he raised his own blade high and thrust down.

At the last moment Helena rolled to the side and the stroke missed her body but tore a hole in her sleeve. She rolled back again and her right leg shot out, kicking the surprised vampire hard between the legs. Howling loudly he bent over and Helena jumped back to her feet. She smashed her fists into his neck and his legs gave out. Groaning in pain he writhed on the floor. Helena pulled another stake from her coat and ended his existence. "Sol invictus!" With the last one gone she retrieved her sword and looked disbelieving at Azrael, who just stood there smiling. He clapped his hands in approval. "Good, very well done, Huntress! Bravo!"

Helena observed him as he took two swords of his fallen companions and twirled them easily in his hands. "Tonight, my beautiful huntress, I'm going to taste your warm blood. And when I drink it, it will give me even more powers, which I will need."

 

*****

 

Kyrian awoke slowly and stretched after his nap. He kept his lids closed and inhaled deeply. The room was still filled with the wonderful, warm scent of his Christine. His hand reached over but found the sheets empty. His eyes flew open and he discovered that the young woman was gone. Confused Kyrian gazed at the sheets beside him before his eyes darted all over the room. There was no trace of her.

"Did my lovely Christine leave me? But why?" Quickly he threw back the blanket that covered his still naked body and dressed. He sprinted to the place where he had left Nightshade. Kyrian lost no time and jumped on his back. At break-necked speed they galopped back to the castle.

 

*****

 

Chalice wandered through the dark corridors. Now that the huntress was busy there was no one to keep her from searching Helena's small daughter. Holding the dagger between her teeth she crept through the rooms. On her way she tore off a curtain's string. She took both ends into her hands and pulled a few times, stretching it. Her nose wrinkled in amusement as she thought about all the things she could do with this rope to the girl. Chalice took the dagger out of her mouth and looked at her reflection on the brightly polished blade. "The master wants her alive? I'm wondering why? What purpose can she fulfill?"

Her eyes sparkled as an idea came to her. "Maybe she can be a little playmate... for me..." She found it hard to supress the mad giggle that wanted to escape her chest. Her nostrils flared in excitement and her heart jumped in joy. "There are so many possibilities... but first I have to find her and get her to come out of whatever place she is hiding. Now the question is, how?"

Tapping the dagger's tip against her chin Chalice thought hard for a while. She knew of the strong bond between Helena and Skylar, Kyrian had told her so many times about it. The gleeful grin on her face became wider as her sick mind came up with a plan.

 

*****

 

Skylar crouched in her hideout, trembling with fear. She could hear the muted sounds of fighting that was echoing throughout the castle. The concern for her mother grew from moment to moment. The girl shut her eyes tightly and prayed that everything would turn out okay, but with each passing second the doubts that reared up became stronger.

"Skylar? Skylar, where are you?"

The girl's eyes flew open instantly and she listened carefully. There it was again. A familiar voice was whispering her name. She wrinkled her forehead. 'Christine?'

"Skylar, your mother sent me," the voice whispered. "I will get you out of here. Where are you?"

Her heart was beating wildly, but Skylar didn't move an inch. Maybe the vampire was just imitating Christine's voice in order to lure her out. Or perhaps she was under his spell like the poor Monsieur Dutroit.

"Please, don't be scared little one. Show yourself. I want to get you to safety."

Skylar was torn and didn't know what to do now.

Chalice's watchful eyes were roaming all over the room, trying to find something in the darkness that would show her where the girl was hidden. 'Damn it. She has to be here somewhere.' She walked around, searching in every corner. "Skylar, please come out. We have to go and find Kyrian, or any other person to help us." Chalice pricked up her ears, but nothing. There was no sound.

Skylar trembled harder, because the voice was so close to her, which meant that the person was directly in front of her hideout.

Chalice lost her patience and decided to play her last card. "Skylar, little one, please, show yourself. Your mother is terribly wounded and I don't know how long she can hold on..."

There, a tiny whimpering sounded behind her. Chalice whirled around and her brown eyes fell on the hatch. She opened it and looked directly into the tear streaked face of Helena's daughter. Chalice reached for her and pulled the pale, shivering girl in her arms. "Hey, everything is okay now, little one. Come with me, we have to get help."

Skylar held her back as Chalice wanted to drag her to the main stairs. "No, we can not get out without him seeing us. We have to find another way."

Chalice pulled her dagger and brandished it in front of the girl's face. "If the vampire tries something, I'm going to kill him!"

All color left Skylar's face and she stared wide-eyed at the woman she knew as Christine. "How do...how do you know that he is a..."

Chalice inhaled sharply after her slip of tongue. "Doesn't matter. I'm tired of this game anyway." At lightening speed and using the dagger she forced the girl against the wall.

"Christine, what's going on? What are you doing?"

Not answering Chalice grabbed her shoulder and turned her around, pushing against her to press the girl into the wall. She took out the curtain string, intending to bind Skylar's hands on her back.

The girl writhed and fought her tooth and nail.

"Stop wriggling so much! You won't be able to get away from me!"

Skylar doubled her efforts to get free and for a moment it looked like she would indeed succeed.

Chalice fisted a hand and rammed it hard against Skylar's kidneys.

Crying out in pain the small girl sank to her knees.

"I told you you wouldn't be able to get away from me," Chalice announced happily, binding her hands without further problems. Then she pulled her up. "Now we go downstairs and I recommend that you behave. The master is waiting for you."

Skylar gazed into her eyes and saw the madness glowing in their brown depths. "Why are you doing this, Christine?"

Chalice grinned widely down at her. "There is no Christine. My name is Chalice."

"You evil snake! You have betrayed us all!" Fury rose inside Skylar and she spit into the woman's face.

"You won't do that again!" Chalice shouted and slapped her hard across the face. The girl tumbled back a bit with the force of the blow. Chalice grabbed her night gown and pushed her in direction of the stairs.

Skylar collided hard with the banisters and lost her balance. With her bound hands she couldn't find a place to hold on and fell to the floor.

Again, Chalice pulled her to her feet and pressed the dagger against her cheek. "Now listen. We will go downstairs to the hall where the master is waiting anxiously for your arrival. Don't try any tricks or else you will have a very painful meeting with my steely little friend here," she said and to emphasize her words she ran the cold tip against Skylar's throat. "You don't want that, or do you?"

Slowly, Skylar shook her head.

Chalice sneered. "I thought as much. Now move!"

With the dagger in her back Skylar stumbled down the stairs, Azrael's companion shoving her roughly along. As they reached the hall and climbed the last few steps Chalice whispered into her ear. "Not one word out of you or I kill you, understand?"

Wordlessly the girl's eyes followed the fight between her mother and the vampire until a harsh push of Chalice forced her to her knees.

 

*****

 

 

Kyrian's heart raced as Nightshade galloped along the pebbled way. He frowned as he recognized the small black carriage. It was the one Christine used when she came to visit him.

The big castle doors were wide open and the candles that burned in the hall illuminated the night. The young hunter saw a shadow on the way and before the black stallion came to a full stop Kyrian jumped off his back. A motionless body was laying there. Kyrian turned it around and his heart nearly stopped beating. It was Monique, the fear was still etched into her features.

The young man swallowed. He looked at her throat and found the cause of death, a huge bite wound. Scared Kyrian scanned his surroundings and found another body on the stone steps of the entrance. Weak from his ride he stumbled over and recognized Jean, whose body was covered with wounds and also had the bite marks. "Dear God, they wanted to flee..."

Slowly it dawned on him in what kind of situation he had brought the castle's inhabitants and above all his own family. His heart clenched in his chest as he thought about his mother and little sister. "Mama, Skylar." Ashamed and scared he tightened his grip on his crossbow. And then he heard the sounds of the horrible fight that was taking place inside. Kyrian gathered all his courage and stormed into the brightly lit hall.

He found his mother clashing swords with an overpowering opponent. To him it was like a nightmare, as if Helena was fighting a black shadow. She had been badly wounded already and Kyrian noticed that she was really fighting to survive. He lost it then and without thinking he raised his suddenly trembling arms, lifted the crossbow and fired. Unfortunately Kyrian missed the target he had aimed for. With a splintering sound the bolt bore into the wood beside Azrael's shoulder. The fight came to a halt as the vampire hesitated.

At the same time Chalice leapt from the stairs she had been sitting on. She cried out in fear, "Master Azrael!" and took a few steps toward him.

"Master Azrael?" Kyrian repeated, looking at the tall, dark and dangerous man with the beard and the piercing black-brown eyes. Now that the hunter saw him for real he gulped hard. "You are..."

"Count Azrael the first from the Serpentes clan," the vampire announced and mockingly bowed in Kyrian's direction.

The young man's eyes were resting on the blonde woman and his voice trembled as he put two and two together, "You are his companion. You are Chalice!"

"Ahh, the light went on, she gibed before hiding behind a marble column.

The arrival of her son had given Helena a moment to rest and now she shouted,"Run, Kyrian!"

But the young man was still like a stone. His world had fallen apart.

The huntress could say no more because Azrael started another attack. He wasn't impressed by Kyrian's appearance and continued to rain blow upon blow on Helena. As good as she could in her condition she used the holy sword to counter his strokes, but she know she couldn't hold on much longer. She just didn't have a chance against Azrael's two sword technique. Helena managed to parry a final blow that was aimed for her head. Because of the force Azrael used for his attacks she felt strong pain running down her arms and shoulders.

Scared for her mother Skylar cried out. "NOOOO! MAMA!" Once more she tried to loosen the ties that held her hands. It was of no use, she couldn't free herself. Tears were running down her horrified, pale face. Her wrists were raw and the rope had turned red, but still the girl didn't give up. Skylar fought the pain that welled up and grinded her teeth, the rough fibers rubbing and burning in her open flesh. Her desperate attempt to free herself didn't go unnoticed.

Chalice turned to her, shaking her index finger at Skylar. "Uh oh, you naughty little girl."

In this moment Skylar managed to slip her hands from the loop, jumped at Chalice and tried to choke her.

Caught of guard by the girl's sudden move the blonde fury stumbled and both of them crashed to the floor. Skylar sat on her stomach and pressed as hard as she could. But Chalice was stronger and threw her off. Panting for breath she hissed, "You naughty brat! You will pay for that!" She glared at Skylar and rubbed her sore throat. Chalice scrambled up and stumbled over to the girl that was kneeling dizzy beside the stairs.

"Do you need a hand to get up?" the blonde fury snarled and Skylar looked up. Before she could give the reply that lay on her tongue, Chalice grabbed her nightgown and pulled the girl up. She shook her so hard that Skylar's head collided with the marble column. Pain exploded in her skull and she groaned. Unconscious she sank down on the stone steps.

"Oops," Chalice giggled and she looked around, but nobody had seen it. Her master, Helena and Kyrian were still fighting. Releasing a relieved breath she said, "That's just my luck that no one is paying attention." She sat down beside the motionless Skylar and continued to watch the fight with interest, looking through the banisters' spaces.

Azrael grabbed the huntress' wrist. A jerk went through Helena's shoulder and she thought her arm was being pulled from its socket. Another strong jerk and she was hurled across the marble floor. A dull, pulsing pain overcame her abused body and Helena felt herself growing numb. She desperately tried to get her strength together but the roaring in her head grew stronger and Helena feared she would black out any time soon. Laying on the cold floor her trembling fingers touched the back of her head and came back bloodied. Groaning she sank down and lay there unmoving.

Smiling, Azrael announced satisfied, "It was a good fight, Huntress. Even though it was clear from the beginning that your resistance would be in vain."

"MAMA!" Kyrian's shout interrupted further words. He took the holy sword and came to stand in front of Azrael on shaky legs.

The vampire laughed. "A child like you wishes to fight me?"

"I'm NOT a child!" Kyrian exclaimed furiously.

The vampire's eyes widened playfully. "Ah yes, of course. You already had time to prove what a man you are. How was he doing for his first time, Chalice?"

Kyrian blushed a deep red, his heart beating so fast it was about to burst. With a scream he went after Azrael, his sword a blur as it came down again and again upon the mighty vampire, who dodged the blows easily. As he grew tired of Kyrian's attacks he ended the unequal duel. With great force he rammed his elbow on the young man's shoulder. Kyrian stumbled back against the wall and slid down, the pain burning in his body. 'I'm not strong enough, I can't do it...' Kyrian blinked and shook his head, trying to clear his dizzy mind.

The vampire left him where he was and strode to Helena, who had sat up. He knelt beside her and pulled her into his arms without resistance.

Helena cried out in pain as Azrael thrust his teeth deep into her throat, making her feel pain like she never had before in her life. Her back arched and she writhed in his grip to get free, but it was of no use.

Azrael's eyes glowed in pleasure with the taste of her warm blood. Savouring the moment he closed his eyes and broke the connection, licking the blood off his lips. Stroking the dying woman's silky, golden locks he opened his eyes once more and breathed in her scent. "I couldn't resist your temptation. The smell of your blood is so seducing, Huntress. So sweet, it's making me hungry for more."

Blood was on her lips and he took his time to kiss each drop away. "It is a pity that I will have to kill you, my beautiful Huntress, but you have to understand that everyone has to bring some sacrifices and I need your blood. Please, don't be upset. Maybe it will be a consolation to you when I tell you that I will take good care of your daughter."

Hearing that Helena's body stiffened and the fear was evident on her face.

In a cold and emotionless voice Azrael went on, "You carried her beneath your heart, you nursed her and she came crawling from your lap. She is the legacy of the old hunter's clan, a descendant of you and from now on her blood will feed me. She is a descendant of the Leosol family and through her I will get all of your powers." Again he tenderly stroked Helena's hair.

Tears welled up in her eyes with the knowledge that she could not prevent it as she followed his cruel words. Death was close and she wasn't able to protect her children anymore. Her mind became lost in the cold embrace of death, her body growing numb until only one feeling was left. The overpowering feeling of love Helena had for her children.

Kyrian still sat frozen to the spot near the wall and stared at the vampire.

As Azrael felt his attention he thrust his fangs once more into his victim's throat. His pointy teeth tore through the main vein and the larynx easily, and Helena released a final blood-curling scream. Her limbs jerked a last time and then she was still. Like a lifeless puppet the proud huntress hang in the vampire's arms. But Azrael didn't stop and continued to drink. Caught in ecstasy his fingernails bore deep into her skin, leaving ugly scratch marks. She had not been strong enough to beat him a fact that did wonders for the vampire's ego. Azrael's dark greed reached for Helena's soul and pulled it from her body.

Kyrian's throat closed in fear. It was the first time he saw how a vampire drank blood and ripped the soul from a human's body in the face of death.

Finally the dark lord had sucked the last drop. His teeth glistened red, his lips were smeared with blood but still his eyes glowed, craving more. He let go of the huntress and turned to look at Kyrian.

The young man's eyes widened in horror.

Azrael rose and slowly he came at Kyrian, as something hit him in the shoulder.

Kyrian had raised the crossbow and fired under tears and great pain.

The bolt had nailed Azrael to the wall. Before the vampire realised what was going on the special bolt began to eat through the tissue around the wound and turned it black.

Kyrian's trembling voice echoed through the hall, "That... that is for my... for my mother... you monster!"

Furiously the vampire pulled the bolt from his chest. It seemed that he couldn't even feel any pain. He went after the hunter, wanting to at least take Kyrian with him on the journey to the underworld, but then he hesitated. Disbelieving Azrael looked at his shoulder where the bolt had struck him. New tissue was already forming and a few seconds later all traces of a wound were gone. His happy laughter reverberated in the hall.

Kyrian was in a panic. "You won't turn my sister into your bloodslave!" He turned his back on the vampire to reach for the holy sword. But before his fingers could wrap around the hilt Azrael had already stepped behind him and asked, smiling evily, "Who will stop me? YOU?" He slammed his fists hard into Kyrian's neck, who crashed to the floor, unconscious. "Hm, who would have thought that the boy would be so determined?"

Hesitatingly, Chalice entered the scene of destruction, coming to stand at Azrael's side. With mixed feelings she glanced at the fallen hunter. "What are we going to do with him? Kill him?"

The vampire looked at Kyrian and came to a decision. "No, not now, that would be too easy. He is an angry, young man and when he awakes he will want revenge for his family. Which means with him in our backs our life could get real entertaining."

Chalice was not feeling well at the thought that Kyrian would awake with the memory of her betrayal. "He will chase us as long as he lives, master!"

Azrael laughed. "You can't turn back time to extinguish your betrayal of the boy. Are you scared he will find you and pay you back?"

Chalice looked at her master with big eyes. She couldn't bear that he was making fun of her but even less could she bear it that Kyrian hated her now.

"It seems you have been too long with him. Is that sympathy I see in your eyes?" The dark lord's question sounded like a threat.

At the same time Chalice realised that it was stupid to pine away for her lost time with Kyrian, because now she was about to face an eternity at Azrael's side. She lowered her head and said, "I belong to only you, master."

"Yes, that's my good girl, that's my Chalice." He held out a hand. "Come."

Gratefully she took his hand and he pulled her in an embrace. "Today you have proved your true worth. I'm very proud of you."

A smile ran over her face and the vampire pressed himself tightly against her body. His hands seemed to be everywhere at once and his face hovered close above her own.

The blonde moaned in arousal as the dark lord nibbled on her lips. He made it easy for her to let herself go and forget everything. "Please, don't let me do that ever again. I only want to be yours." Their kisses became more passionate. Chalice threw her head back and moaned, "I'm addicted to you, master."

While his fingers were tracing over her soft throat he answered shortly, "I know." He wrapped his fingers in her long, blonde hair and pulled her head to him. Her tongue played all over his face, not disturbed in the slightest that it was still sticky with Helena's blood. From this moment nothing else mattered but the eternity with her master.

Abruptly he let go of her and adjusted his clothes. Azrael's face contorted in disgust and he took his cape and cane. To the stunned Chalice he explained, "You smell like the boy. Before you have not washed yourself don't get close to me again. By the way don't forget the little girl. Put her in the carriage and follow me. We are going east."

Chalice blushed ashamed and asked, "But I thought..."

"My plans have changed!" the vampire cut her off.

Silently Chalice retreated to the next well in the courtyard.

Meanwhile Azrael inhaled the cool night air deeply and called out to the dark sky, "Hear me, children of the night, finally I'm on my way to you! I will give you freedom and gain ultimate power for myself!" Loud and deep laughter escaped his chest. Looking to the west, the direction where Paris lay, he thought about the humans with growing hate and said gleefully, "I'm your darkest and most secret fear, that visits you in nightmares... and the best about it... you can not escape!"

 

*****

 

A heavy storm was raging at the southern coast of England. The warming and illuminating light of a fireplace went out. From one moment to the next unnatural cold spread out and a strange feeling took possession of the castle's inhabitants. The intense and pulsing feeling of mighty powers overcame the heads of the dragon clan. Ajatarah sat as unmoving as her soulmate Zephriel and both took in the unknown energy. The vampire felt new strength rise in her and also the tragic origin of the new powers. With sad eyes she looked at the glowing ash and whispered, "A bright, important lifelight was extinguished. Taken by a nameless shadow."

Zephriel contemplated his wife's words for a while until he said, "One sign of the prophecy tells us about the appearance of one without clan and his endeavor for ultimate power. It may be that he is the traitor that is conspirating against us." Thinking, he paced the room.

Ajatarah still sat motionless. "The herald of the apocalypse?"

She had to wait a bit for her soulmate's answer, who was stroking his beard. "Yes. The prophecy also says that we, the ancestors and clan founders, will return to destroy our descendants. There are legends in the 'Chronicles of Darkness' concerning the impending doom."

Angered Ajatarah rose from her chair and went to her husband. "My love, why do you call the common vampires our descendants? Is the existence and the actions of those without clan truly our fault?"

"It is like it is, and so it was written. They are nothing else. When the humans are not killed after the act they will rise again," Zephriel said seriously and firmly.

"You once said that there is no connection between the commons and us, only immortality and the need for blood. Remember, my husband. You can not compare them to us.That would mean comparing them to our daughter!" Ajatarah exclaimed fiercely.

Zephriel turned to her and tenderly stroked her shoulders. Softly gazing into her sparkling eyes he shook his head. "You said it yourself... a nameless shadow that seems to threaten us. May they have come to walk this earth by ignorance or by betrayal. Nobody can say who is at fault, but in the end we will be responsible for their existence and their destruction."

As fast as Ajatarah's anger came it was gone. Calmly she replied, "Nobody is able to tell where the chronicles are. Still, they are our only chance that is left."

Zephriel breathed a gentle kiss on his companion's hand. "The 'Chronicles of Darkness' are the key to the truth. We have to be patient. Time will lay open the future."

Ajatarah leaned her head against Zephriel's strong shoulder and both felt the new strength grow inside them.

 

*****

 

"I don't believe it, you won again," Andrej grumbled and glared at the chess figures. "There has to be a trick, Sadden. What is it? Dark magic?"

Annoyed Lilith rolled her eyes. "That is so typical human. If there is something you can not explain it has to be magic. Awful."

"Did I ask for your opinion, little chick?" Andrej snapped back and instantly the two had another fiery discussion.

Sadden sighed, rose and went to the window to gaze at the peaceful night. Suddenly she felt a terrible pain in her rib cage. Tortured the vampire grabbed at the place where normaly a heart would beat, if she had been human, and sank to her knees. Again she heard the fearful outcry of a little girl in her mind.

Tears fell from beneath her closed eyelids. "The sunlions..." she gasped suffering. The pain faded as quickly as it had appeared and Sadden stood up. As she felt the new force streaming through her she looked at her protegée because she knew that Lilith could feel it too.

Confused Andrej looked from Sadden to Lilith and back. "Do I want to know what just happened?"

"A part of my vision has come true," Sadden explained, shaking slightly. "The mighty lioness is dead..." She left the room and Lilith hurried to follow her.

 

*****

 

After hours of unconsciousness Kyrian awoke. The autumn sun send its first rays over the horizone, plunging the area in an eerie light. The foggy mist of a dawning day crawled across the floor and the young hunter noticed that the nightly cold had taken up residence in his limbs. Frozen stiff he slowly rose from the floor and rubbed his still pounding skull. The memories of the night came back with a rush. Immediately Kyrian stormed to the place where Helena lay and the pain of her loss overcame him. He broke down beside his mother's corpse and burst into tears. Sobbing and whimpering he rocked her lifeless body in his arms. "It's all my fault, Mama. Forgive me! Please forgive me that I've been such a fool. I should have listened to you. Now it's too late... Mama... I'm sorry... I'm so sorry... Mama..."

It took time until his hot tears had dried somewhat. Then Kyrian lifted his dead mother and carried her upstairs to her chambers. Using his foot he kicked open the door and placed her gently upon her soft bed. The young hunter lowered himself to the bed's edge and prayed silently. He felt horrible and in a broken voice he announced, "Mama, I swear that I will not rest until I have found Skylar and rescued her from the claws of the monster. I'm going to destroy them all. All vampires on this world. All of them! I swear to you!" Kyrian kissed Helena's cold forehead and rose from her death bed. He went to the door and looked at her for the last time. Kyrian pushed over the tall, cast irony candlestick, left the room and closed the door behind him.

The fire of the fallen candles quickly burned its way through the carpets and went on to the curtains of the bed. The flames found enough nourishment and soon the whole room was set ablaze and from there the fire spread through the whole castle.

Window glass burst under the heat. All floors were burning brightly and the flames destroyed the whole building, leaving nothing but blackened stones and ash in their wake.

Kyrian walked down the stairs that once led to the entrance of the castle. The holy sword of the Leosols was hanging from his belt. He felt the heat of the inferno in his back, but the young hunter didn't turn around. Nightshade was waiting for him in the sunlight, bridled and saddled. Nervously the black stallion scraped his hooves and neighed loudly. Kyrian stopped. Like a small, unimportant shadow he stood in front of the burning castle. The fire's heat singed his clothes and hair, while he stood rooted to the spot, clenching his mother's delicate silver bracelet in his fist. "Shadows and dust, that's all I have left. The sweet poison of love shall never again seduce me. My fiercely loving heart was killed by it. From now on I live only for my vegeance!"

Tears welled up in his dark brown eyes as he screamed at the sky, " VEGEANCE FOR MY FAMILY! VEGEANCE!!!"

To Be Continued...

 

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