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 ONE

 

PREMONITIONS

 

 

 

 

In a constant order made of humble fear and a desperate readiness to sacrifice, there are those sleeping that never shall awaken.

But the insatiable longing of lonely hearts for a better world or just the fear of a slow and cold death is calling them back.

Not to bring peace to the tormented souls of mankind, which they are longing for, but to spread fear and horror.

 

 

Europe 1598

 

 

The rooftops of countless houses were glowing in the red light of a slowly fading sun. The twin towers of the cathedral of Notre Dame, which rose above all, were reaching for the stars of the night-time sky.

"Paris," Helena reflected, calmly, stopping the carriage on a little hill, and looking at the town at her feet. "But, it is a deceptive idyll that opens up in front of us."

A mild breeze was playing with her long blond curls as her son Kyrian arrived at her side, sitting on his black stallion."This depraved den of iniquity is just an assembly of unsuspecting victims, whose blood those creatures strive for. But, I know that we will turn the vampires to dust," he sneered.

This earned him a warning glance from his mother. "My son, watch your mouth! Remember to beware of holding such an exaggerated opinion of yourself, unless you want to be easy prey."

Kyrian didn't oppose his mother because, in his heart, he knew that she was right. "It will be a mission like any other," he added.

Their conversation was interrupted by a hearty yawn from inside the carriage. Skylar's sleepy face appeared and the girl sat down beside her mother. "Are we there yet," she asked after looking around and yawning again.

Helena smiled and lovingly caressed her daughter's soft cheek. "Why the impatience, my dear child?"

Overtired, Skylar leaned back and groaned. "We've been traveling night and day since the messenger gave you the mysterious letter. You don't allow us, or the animals to take a rest, and still you don't utter one word about the paper's contents, which seem so important."

Helena gave Kyrian a meaningful glance, that wasn't missed by Skylar. Indignantly the young girl leapt up. "Oh, I see! You told Kyrian! I don't think that's fair! I'm already 13 years old! I can read, write, and I'm good at figures! But you two always treat me like a little child!"

Her brother came to her side, laughing roguishly. "You are still wet behind the ears, and way too young to be concerned about these special matters." He galloped off to lead the way.

Clicking her tongue, Helena pulled at the reins and the horses started to move again. Skylar sat beside her, pouting with crossed arms. "Why does Kyrian pick on me? He isn't even that much older, only 7 years! I'm a member of this family too! I bear the sign!" To demonstrate that fact, she took hold of her long blond hair, and pulled it away from her neck. "Can you see it, Mama? Do you see the lion head that symbolizes our hunter family?"

Helena sighed, loosened the reins a bit, and put one arm around her daughter. "One day you will be ready for the hunt, but it is not your time yet. Enjoy your youth while you can. It will be over faster than you think."

Without listening to her mother's words, Skylar kept begging. "Please, tell me about what's going on and why we had to come here."

Helena sighed again. "I've been told by a very influential family, of the French high nobility , about unusual occurrences. I am to investigate these strange occurrences, because it seems as if the creatures of darkness are responsible for them."

Skylar wanted to ask more, but Helena made it plainly clear that she wouldn't allow any more questions. "And now, stop asking, until we reach our destination."

Discontented, the girl grumbled a bit, leaned back and looked with indifference at the beautiful landscape, which consisted of productive fields and blossoming vegetation.

In this moment of stillness, Kyrian came back to report. "We have nearly reached our destination. I asked one of the peasants about the estate of the count Victor de Bouchardon, and he said to turn right at the next crossing. After we leave a little wood behind us, the palace should be right in front of us."

Relieved, Helena took a deep breathe. "I'm glad that we will reach the estate before nightfall."

Following the peasant's description, they arrived at the palace of the noble family. Slowly the head of the hunter family steered the horses through the archway that was surrounded by high brick walls. Its copiously decorated iron gates were opened wide. The falling darkness let the chestnut grove appear unreal. The widespread avenue led directly to the palace, and the strong branches of the old trees arched above the paved way, where they entwined at a giddy height. Long flower beds and little box tree hedges surrounded the way that led to the main portal of the old palace. Helena stopped the carriage right in front of the steps . The pebbles crunched beneath their leather boots, as the three of them strode toward the stairs.

They were greeted by a middle aged and very corpulent man, who went to Helena, and took off his hat. "I've been anxiously waiting for you, Madame. Welcome to 'Quiportebonheur' "He looked down, and mumbled under his breath. "What a fateful name. This place certainly didn't bring any luck to my lord and lady." The man cleared his throat and went on, formally. "My name is Bernard Delacroix . I'm the caretaker of this estate of the Bouchardons, and I was chosen to tell you everything about the unfortunate incident that came to pass. But…oh, where are my manners…would you please follow me to the dining room? I took the liberty and had a meal prepared, because I'm sure your journey was very exhausting."

Helena nodded politely. "Thank you very much for your efforts, Monsieur." They went inside, and after a little while Kyrian and Skylar followed them to the rooms of the palace.

Skylar drew her brows together at the emptiness which greeted them inside. "This doesn't look like a baroque palace, more like an abandoned castle."

Kyrian glanced around. "Maybe the family left after the unspeakable tragedy. I'm only thinking about getting something to eat. My stomach has been growling for a while now."

His sister protested. "How can you think about food in a moment like this? I want to know what's been going on with this family. Don't you think that the caretaker is strange?"

They finally arrived at the dining room, where a little fire was blazing, giving the room a pleasant atmosphere. The hunters took a seat in the big armchairs they were presented with. "You are seeing ghosts, Skylar," Kyrian whispered to the blond girl. "He is only of secondary importance."

Skylar shot her brother a pointed look. "Well, if somebody, of my family, would tell me what this was all about then I wouldn't have to speculate, right?"

Kyrian wasn't listening. His eyes wandered over the food-laden table in front of him. "Hmmm, the French sure know how to get one's appetite going. I've got to taste all of this. Everything smells delicious, and looks so exquisite."

Bernard was happy to hear that, and lifted his glass with red wine to inaugurate the dinner. "I sincerely hope all will be to your liking. After dinner, I will give you a detailed description of the tragedy that came to pass in this house. I know the letter I sent was short, but I'm sure that your respectable family will understand...um...how should I say this...the need to investigate this affair, as quickly as possible, in order to bring the truth forward." Bernard Delacroix seemed to be very burdened by this secret. He reached into his pocket, took out a wrinkled handkerchief, and dabbed the sweat from his forehead.

"There is no reason to be nervous, Bernard," Helena said to the caretaker . "May I call you Bernard?"

The shaken man took a large sip of his wine and nodded.

"You can tell us everything. You must, if we are to help this family. So, please tell us about the strange occurrences that happened on 'Quiportebonheur'." Helena suggested.

Bernard was dismayed. "You want to hear it now? In front of the children, and while we are eating?"

Helena apologized. "I'm sorry. But, I've been instructing my children, and teaching them everything they need to know concerning the hunt for so long. I don't keep anything from them. Besides, I think we're finished with the meal...so...you may begin with your tale."

Bernard gave in. "As you wish. But, you need to be very discreet about the whole situation."

The head of the Leosol family reassured him. "Yes, you can be certain about our discretion in this matter."

And, so the caretaker started to talk. "It was one of those nights. The moon was shining brightly and the sky was starlit. At this time Monsieur le Comte and his wife Margarete were in Paris to watch a new play at one of the theatres, and to spend the night with their friends. The servants had the night off, and only the three children of the Bouchardons were sleeping in the main building."

Helena interrupted. "Three children?"

With shaking hands Bernard poured some more wine into his glass, then answered her question. "Yes, three. Two daughters, Luise and Joséphine, nineteen and sixteen years old, and the youngest member of the family, Philippe, only eight years old." Thinking about the children, he swallowed hard. " I should add that I live in the adjoining building beside the stables, as are the other servants. For hours it had been quiet in the house, and the children were already sleeping. The big windows of the second floor were wide open because of the sultry heat. I still can remember how the light curtains were drifting around the window frames. Everything seemed so calm and peaceful, but then..."

Bernard stared into the blazing flames, wiping his eyes with one hand. "This night will forever be etched into my dreams. I awoke to a blood curling scream, that made my skin crawl. It sounded like it was Luise, who had been screaming. I leapt up from my bed, jumped into my clothes, and grabbed my pistol, which I have, because I'm scared of being attacked. At this point I still believed that some robbers had forced their way into the house, searching for money and other valuables. But, when I reached the main building I was quite surprised to see all the windows and doors closed, and there were no traces of a break-in. I had to force my way through a little window to get inside the house."

"What happened then?" Helena asked with restrained breathing.

Bernard continued, "Nothing. Only deadly silence. My heartbeat was racing, and I feared that something had happened to the children. I didn't know what to expect, so I tiptoed up the stairs, as quietly as possible. With my pistol in hand I slowly went to the nearest door. It was Luise's bedroom. She was lying in bed, fast asleep, or so it seemed to me, and I thought I had only imagined the scream. I went nearer, because the curtains of the bed were blocking my sight, and I wanted to reassure myself that everything was as it should be. I brushed the curtain aside, and there was Luise, in her lily white nightgown. She was dead. Her light brown hair was disheveled, her skin deadly pale and then I saw the marks on her throat. It was a bite mark, because I could recognize the imprint of two teeth. In this moment I felt the anger burning inside of me and without thinking I ripped open the connecting door, that leads to the room of her sister. And, then I saw him! This creature out of the worst nightmare! This vampire stood there, in the middle of the room holding Joséphine. Her delicate body lay lifelessly in his arms, her head was bent back, and I could see the fear she must have felt in her eyes. My body froze at the horrible sight, but the scenario didn't end."

" 'Who are you, monster?!' I demanded. He looked up from his bloody deed, directly into my eyes. The piercing gaze of his brown black eyes burned its way into my heart. He smiled at me! The devil actually smiled! It was unbelievable, and the whole time he was stroking Joséphine's fox red locks, and then he kissed her blood drained lips..."

Tears were streaming down Bernard's face, as he continued his story of that night's terrors. "But, the most abominable thing was how he flirted with her death. He grabbed her waist, and started to dance. Right in front of my eyes, he danced with the soulless girl, and I couldn't move."

"It wasn't your fault," Helena said. "The power of a vampire is unpredictable, and you were under his spell. You couldn't have foreseen this kind of manipulation."

Bernard shrugged his shoulders. "Thank you, but still I failed as a protector."

Helena urged him to go on. "What about the boy? What happened to Philippe?"

"Philippe. Little Philippe," Bernard said, as if he were in a daze. "His happy laugh amused the whole family, especially in summer when the children were romping through the gardens."

"Please, concentrate on that night," Helena begged him.

The caretaker was brought out of his thoughts, and went on with the story. "After the dance, he let her sink down on the bed and then he spoke his first words, not to me but to the dead girl. 'In the silvery light of the moon they seem like innocent angels, but deep inside their hearts their poor souls are screaming for redemption.' His cruel expressions had me choking with fear. This vampire was acting as if he were a poet, and not a cold blooded murderer. And, as if nothing had happened, he adjusted his elegant clothes and dabbed some drops of blood from the corner of his lips with a silky handkerchief."

Helena nodded knowingly. "It is a peculiarity of vampires, with noble heritage to wear beautiful clothes, and to surround themselves with wealth."

"I wanted to make him pay for his crime, but I couldn't do anything. We stood a few paces away from each other, but still I could feel his ice cold fingers as they wrapped themselves around my throat, choking me."

Helena was dismayed. "You must have met a very powerful one of his kind."

"Oh, he wasn't alone," Bernard added. "There was someone with him."

At this, Skylar, who had been following the story with great interest, leapt from her armchair. "You've just been proven a liar! Vampires always hunt alone!"

A warning glance from Helena was enough to silence her daughter.

Surprised, Bernard looked at Skylar, and opened the top buttons of his shirt, to be able to breathe better. "I forgot to mention that he had a female companion with him."

Now it was Helena's turn to be surprised. " You want to suggest that there was a woman with him, a human?"

Bernard gazed at their astonished faces. "Why? Is this an odd occurrence?"

"Actually, vampires are loners," Helena explained. "They are never in company of mortals. They avoid contact with humans, except for feeding."

Bernard fanned himself with a napkin. "Human or not, she scared me even more than the vampire."

"Go on, Bernard," Helena said, clearly alarmed.

Bernard continued, nervously, "I got dizzy, and I thought that my life would finally be over, when a door creaked open, and the vampire's spell was broken. Wheezing, I fell to the floor, looking out at the long corridor. The wind picked up, and a summer storm was drawing near. The bright moonlight shone through the disheveled curtains, painting deceiving shadows on the high walls, but little Philippe wasn't bothered. Happily he let his wooden horse roll over the parquet. This terrible fury sat next to him, amused by his innocent playing."

" 'Isn't he a honey sweet boy with his short red curls?' She reached for him. 'Come here, my little heir. Come to your Chalice.' And without suspicion Philippe went to her, and she hugged him tightly to her chest.

'Don't you dare touch the boy,' I screamed.

But she only grinned, demon-like, and kissed the boy's forehead. 'What if I do?' she asked.

The vampire came out of the room, reprimanding her. 'We don't have time for your games! Get the small chests, so I can finish my work.' "

Bernard went on, " I was shocked. 'What are your intentions, monsters!?'

'Be quiet,' he replied. 'I want the hearts of my angels, the residence of their souls, to always be with me.'

My thoughts tumbled with shock. 'You spawn of hell! They are dead! Now let them rest in peace!'

He pointed a finger at me and I was thrown into a corner of the corridor. 'What do you know about death?' he screamed at me. 'For how long will you be walking this earth? For 50 or 60 years, if you don't get sick, that is. What is this compared to immortality, that none of you will ever gain? But I'm in a gracious mood tonight. I want to show you how much you humans are clinging to your restricted beings. The empty shells of the girls, for you and the vivacious boy. It's your choice!'

Frighteningly, he stood in front of me and, subdued, I chose life. That of Philippe and mine. I had the terrible feeling that I made a pact with the devil himself."

"It was the right thing to do," Helena said. "Otherwise, he would have killed you, too."

Bernard shrugged his shoulders. "It's a miracle he didn't. Anyway, I scrambled up from the floor and snatched Philippe from the demonic woman. Reluctantly, she let go of him. Then she reached inside a bag and pulled out two small silvery chests. Together, with a wicked gleaming knife, Chalice gave them to the vampire. I didn't dare to imagine what he planned to do. They went inside Joséphine's room, and the big doors closed behind them. When that happened, I couldn't stand it anymore. I pressed Philippe against me, and ran down the stairs, as fast as my legs could go. We spent the rest of the night inside the stables, hidden beneath the hay. Only after the sun had reached its zenith, did I dare to go outside with the boy. What we found was just plain awful. The hearts of Luise and Joséphine had been neatly cut out."

Bernard sighed, tears visible in his eyes, "So, it's understandable that the family left this place. Now, they are living in Versailles, at the court of the king. The Bouchardons never want to set foot on this place again, and they asked that you, Helena, are to have the servants, and the whole estate at your disposal, until you and your family want to leave France. It is your decision how to proceed but Monsieur le Comte demands a complete solution of the occurrences of the mysterious murders."

Helena responded, "We will do everything that's humanly possible to defeat this vampire, and his companion, Chalice. But now, please excuse us. We need to take some rest.

Bernard got up and showed them to their bedrooms. "I hope it will be to your liking. I had the rooms on the first floor prepared for you, because I wasn't sure if you would want to sleep on the second floor."

"Thank you. How very thoughtful of you," Helena replied.

Bernard bowed, as he took his leave of the hunters, "I'm going to ride back to Paris. Tomorrow, in Versailles, I will tell my lord and lady about your arrival."

At the main portal, Bernard put his hat back on, and straddled the brown horse the stable boy had prepared for him. With the torch, the boy gave him, the caretaker galloped down the chestnut avenue, and disappeared into the night. The Leosol family went back inside the castle to prepare for bedtime.

Meanwhile, Helena showed Skylar to one of the bedrooms and, after she had tucked her in, she carefully closed the door. "She's asleep. It was a very strenuous and long day for her."

Kyrian stretched. "We all are exhausted and tired."

Both sat down in front of the fireplace thinking about the evening. Until late in the night Kyrian and his mother were talking about Bernard's tale.

Helena reminded her son. "Kyrian, you know about your father's view of killing a vampire. He didn't want a slaughter and, with that, a tormenting death, instead it should be painless, and quick, with a wooden stake right through the heart."

"How can you say that?" Kyrian opposed. "You heard about the cruel fate of these randomly chosen girls, just like I did!"

Helena continued to admonish her son, "I want to keep on with our fighting traditions, like your father wanted, because most vampires were once breathing and sympathetic humans. And, this fact you should never forget. I don't think that the girls were chosen randomly."

But, Kyrian didn't want to listen, and he wasn't convinced about his mother's ways to hunt and kill. "What about those that were born a vampire?"

Helena gazed deeply into his eyes. "Hope and pray that you never have to come across one of those ancient vampires."

Kyrian was furious, and started pacing the room. "Vampires are creatures of the night, and every living soul fears them, because of their insatiable hunger for warm blood."

Helena tried to change her son's point of view. "Vampires are far more than merciless monsters, with an unrestrained thirst for blood. They are as complex creatures as humans are. To declare a vampire a weak-willed and soulless undead would be a fatal mistake. They are immortal creatures, who are cursed to exist at the expense of the blood of others for eternity."

Kyrian remained furious, and didn't want to change his mind. "The animal, the beast, that lives inside them turns them into an abominable monster, that only strives for fresh blood."

Helena interrupted calmly. "...while the good part of their soul tries to break free. Many vampires are very sensitive and human-like. It depends on how much power the beast inside has gained. But, the time spent in loneliness can turn even the most romantic and noble vampire into a horrible creature. In this you are right, my beloved son." She brushed some of his long dark hair out of his face. "There is so much you've got to learn about the life of a hunter. For many generations our family has had the holy duty to hunt, but that doesn't excuse a lack of humanity."

Kyrian jerked away from his mother's touch, and responded, angrily. "For me that means we should have sympathy for their victims, the humans, and not the tormenters!"

Helena let go of him and went to the window, gazing out at the night. "Nobody is demanding that of you," she said, her voice sad. "Of course we have to find the vampires, and defeat them, but the most important thing is how we do that. The name Leosol has to be honored forever. It doesn't matter which fate will come to pass for our family."

Lost in thought, her mind went back to happier times, when her beloved husband, and the father of her children was still alive. Unconsciously, her thumb was running over the fine silver bracelet, which was dangling from her wrist. "Your father gave this to me on our wedding day. That was nearly 20 years ago and, now, he's been dead for over 3 years." Tears were streaming down her pale cheeks.

Kyrian stepped behind his mother and hugged her. "I share your pain, Mama. I miss him, too."

Helena leaned against his chest. "And, because of that, the three of us have to stick together, and we have to protect each other. Kyrian, you have to promise me, that, no matter what, you will always be there for your little sister."

Without hesitation, the young man promised. "I swear by our holy war cry 'sol invictus', that I will always protect Skylar."

 

*****

 

Scowling, the tall man stood on the balustrade, and looked down at the stormy sea, the waves were clashing against the rocky coast of South England. His gaze wandered over the canal, that separated the British Islands from the mainland, and his uncovered hands were gripping the cold, moss covered stone. A delicate, pale hand appeared at his shoulder and immediately the tension left his body. "Zephriel, my husband, what dreary thoughts are torturing you in this early hour? The devil's shine just disappeared," an enchanting voice breathed into his ear. "Our beloved daughter started her long journey weeks ago, with an escort. I'm sure by now she arrived at Sadden's castle."

He turned to his companion, took one of her cool, delicate hands in his, and kissed it. His concerned eyes gazed at her angel-like face, which was framed by wavy dark hair, and her deep sea green eyes looked at him questioningly. "My beloved, I'm not concerned about Lilith, I know she will face all dangerous situations proudly, and with great courage." A smile appeared on Ajatarah's face and, relieved she put her head against Zephriel's strong shoulder.

"No, I'm worried about the creatures of the night. They are in an uproar, and I can feel a quaking in our basic principles. The old power of the order is falling apart, and a changed era is dawning. For so long, I've been observing the slow changes, but now the evil is spreading faster and faster. We vampires are deeply rooted to our civilization, but there is a change among the common, those that don't belong to any clan, those we don't have anything in common with except immortality, and the need for blood. There is a conspiracy of unknown dimensions taking place among the renegades, and I'm sure the traitor is of our own kind."

Dismayed, Ajatarah looked at him. "And, there is no doubt? They seem like creatures of incapacity, existing without any order or sense of community."

Zephriel wrinkled his forehead. "No, the dark presence I feel is very strong. They have a very influential ally who's leading them. That was the reason I sent our daughter to Sadden. Since the destruction of her clan, Sadden doesn't care about the concerns of this world. Her seclusion will protect Lilith."

Ajatarah was worried about this development. "It seems absurd that the old values, that protected us for so long, are falling apart. Is there anything we can do to stop the downfall of our culture?"

Zephriel took her hand, and softly kissed the back of it, looking deeply into her eyes. "As long as you, my soulmate, are with me, the victory will be our's."

Ajatarah nodded. "Eternally, I'll stand by you, and despair will never take hold of my heart."

 

*****

 

The door to the heavily decorated parlor opened on it's own, and the light of a burning candle illuminated the adjoining bedroom. The young baroness lay dead on her king sized bed. Satisfied, a man in elegant clothes came out of the room, and without hurry he put on his black leather gloves. An unbearable stench of guts disturbed his acute sense of smell. Disgusted he placed the back of his hand over his nose, turned around and opened a window. With revulsion he looked at the scene of a slaughter. The nanny, his companion was supposed to take care of, moaned on the blood stained carpet. Her dress, ripped to shreds, hung off her body. The supporting corset was ripped apart, her abdomen opened with one vertical cut. Bloodied, the young blond woman sat in between the guts and gore, rubbing the still beating heart of the dying woman against her cheek.

"Chalice! What is the meaning of this slaughter?!" Azrael asked.

"Look, I gave you a heart," Chalice whispered.

Azrael was repulsed, but Chalice didn't stop. "Her heartbeat...it's fading..." Lovingly caressing the heart in her hands, she looked at it from all angles.

"What the hell are you trying to do? To bring attention to my being?" Azrael screamed furiously. "So that all of Paris will hunt me, and I'll be unable to finish my investigation here?"

Dumbfounded, Chalice stared at the raving vampire.

A nearly inaudible whimpering interrupted them. "Monsieur, help me..."

Nerve-racked Azrael bent down to look at the face of the nanny. "Did you just dare to speak to me?" He rose and paced the room, starting to pity himself. "I really don't know why humans always whine so much. Your life is just fantastic! You worms are ruling the day and, even at night you are running around outside! What does that leave for me? Don't I have the right of freedom? You unworthy creatures of God, crawling on the earth, soiling it like an illness that's spreading like a growth!"

Filled with hate he stared at the woman, who was about to take her last breath. "...please..."

Azrael lost it then, and with a powerful kick to the face he silenced her. "Shut up, you dirty piece of scum!" Without remorse he looked at the dead body at his feet. "Oh no," he wailed. "Now, she got blood on my new boots!" He turned to Chalice. "You! Go and wash yourself! And, don't come back until you are clean! And, if you ever, ever again, disregard any of my orders, I'm going to send you back to the gutters where you came from! Do I make myself clear?"

Intimidated, Chalice went to a little basin in the bedroom, and started to clean herself. "I'm sorry, master. Please, don't be mad. I promise I will never do it again," she said grinning, maniacally, as she happily immersed the little knife she used into the blood red water.

Azrael's anger about the humans was still in full force, and so he raved on. "It is about time to break free of the old, dusty traditions, and to create new values. I will lead the civilization of the vampires to a better and greater era! I will take care of it, and the long time of starving in the shadows will be over! The former hierarchy of the order will fall apart, I will declare a new order for the world! Blaze and glory will be mine!" Feeling strongly about his plan he relished the view of his future, where he would rule over every creature on earth.

Meanwhile, Chalice was done with cleaning herself, and she interrupted his thoughts. "Aren't you forgetting about something? The slab and it's secret we still couldn't solve?"

Grinding his teeth, Azrael thought about the old inscription they had found in the ruins of Babylon. After he searched for it for centuries, he always took it with him on all of his journeys. In his mind he went over the vague translation of the Sumerian cuneiform...

 

If day and night are the same

If the blood of the golden lion dries up

The heir and epitome of Utus will appear

The portal will open and the shine of the phoenix will rise

 

He curled his hands to fists and growled. "This cursed inscription is driving me crazy, because it seems to be insoluble!"

Chalice tried to cheer her master up. "But, thanks to you we now know that the destroyed tomb, where we found it, was the inside of the phoenix castle.

Azrael grinned diabolically. "Yes, I'm sure Lisander's clan knew all about this secret. But, they all died when humans burned down the place. That was centuries ago, but still I can feel the presence of the phoenix, and it gained power over the last decades on this earth."

"Maybe a member of the clan survived the horrible fire?" Chalice asked.

Azrael thought about the destroyed castle. "This massacre?...Hmm...I guess anything is possible."

 

*****

 

Patches of mist fell around the timber forest of the southern Carpathians, and the wind blew ragged clouds along the night-time sky above the 4 big, black carriages, which forced their way along the serpentine road to the secluded valley. Ghouls, a silent attendant folk, whose only purpose was to serve, steered and accompanied the carriages. The main carriage was pulled by six black horses, eight ghouls were sitting on the wagon. The tiny windows were covered with black fabric, which was brushed aside and a pair of disgruntled, deep green eyes appeared. "There it is. My secluded prison, where I have to live now."

The muscles of the man rippled beneath his light colored shirt, as he pulled the string to open the heavy brocade curtains, which had covered the big windows. After his strenuous work, his concerned gaze fell on the valley, that spread out in front of the castle. In the distance the wolves could be heard howling, and Andrej shuddered. "The wolves are retreating to the woods, which means bad luck is coming, Sadden."

"Don't tempt fate," Sadden's low voice answered, calmly.

"Why do you have to be her teacher? It is way too dangerous to have a vampire come to us! This is a small valley, you know that as much as I do. And, as your friend I'm warning you to be careful, and not take unnecessary risks." Andrej protested.

Pensively, Sadden gazed at nothing. "Andrej, I greatly value your concern about me, but I couldn't refuse Zephriel's request to accommodate his daughter. I want you to go to your rooms until I can tell our guest about your presence."

Andrej agreed and left.

With mixed feelings, Sadden looked through the window to the main portal. The carriages crossed the small stone bridge, at a fast speed, and stopped in front of the castle.

Sadden turned from the window and sat, in her high, ebony armchair, waiting for her guest to arrive. Lilith's foot-steps echoed through the dark corridors and stopped in front of the reception hall's door. Two ghouls opened it, Lilith entered, and the door closed behind her. She went across the room towards Sadden, her head held high. Lilith bowed respectfully. "Lady Sadden D'Azoon." After that, she let her gaze travel over Sadden, who rose, and stood in front of her.

Sadden's gracious appearance radiated a high nobility, which was underlined by her exceptional body size. Enclosed in the finest dark purple velvet, her skin gleamed a bright white. Her night black hair fell in waves over her naked shoulders, down to her small waist. But, what got Lilith's attention was her face. Her beautiful carved features, and incredible pair of sapphire blue eyes were, quite simply, stunning. Her piercing gaze was torturing Lilith's psyche, and the girl turned away. She didn't like it one bit that it was so easy for Sadden to look into her mind.

"Don't try again to read my thoughts!" Lilith said, furiously. "I won't let that happen! I hate it when somebody tries to intrude into my world!"

Unmoved, Sadden watched Lilith. "So, you are my protégée. Heiress of the mighty dragon clan, whose education I am to attend to."

"Phhh...as if I would need to learn anything," Lilith replied arrogantly, and lifted her head proudly.

Sadden wasn't impressed by this comment. "Tomorrow night we will talk about why you are here. For today, it is enough. You may retire to your rooms."

"Never!" Lilith opposed. "I prefer my coffin to these unprotected walls! I don't trust this place!

Sadden respected Lilith's decision. "As you wish. My servants will prepare a crypt for you, down in the catacombs."

Lilith was relieved. "Dutifully, I brought a present." She clapped her hands one time, and the door opened. A young woman, with a pretty face, entered and dropped to a curtsy. "Mistress."

Lilith beckoned the girl to come forward, then turned back to Sadden. "This is Madeleine. I met her in Belgium, and her wish is to become one of us."

Sadden was surprised. "What?"

Lilith nodded to her servant.

Madeleine knelt under Lilith's watchful gaze, and begged Sadden. "Please, Mistress. It is my only wish to become an immortal. For so long, I've been thinking about ending my miserable life, because I have nobody to call my own. I'm so unimportant as a human, but then I met Lilith." With shining eyes she looked up at the young vampire, who smiled down at her.

Excited, Madeleine went on. "She told me about the great solidarity among the folk of the darkness, and my longing was awakened. I...I would serve you well..."

Faced with this generous offer of subservience, Sadden was astonished. "Vampires don't serve each other. You should be careful what you wish for. It would be better to think it over."

Lilith wanted to change the still hesitating Sadden's mind. "I could blood baptize her myself," she said in a calm and flattering voice. "You can't fight it. Drink. She's doing it of her own free will. She wants to be yours. She will satisfy your hunger, you know you can't live without it. Her blood is calling to your instincts."

Sadden couldn't fight the overwhelming desire anymore. So fast that it was nearly impossible for the human eye to catch it, she slid to Madeleine, and bent over her. Sadden was lost in a haze of senses, as her hidden eyeteeth appeared, and pierced the tender skin of the young girl's throat. Madeleine wailed, as Sadden sucked the life from her. The dying body arched one last time, before it went limp in Sadden's arms. Carefully, she lowered Madeleine to the floor and beckoned Lilith to keep her promise.

But, the young vampire took her time. Pain was etched into Madeleine's face, while the girl was squirming in death's clutches. But, instead of releasing her, Lilith started to philosophize, about the true relationship between vampires and humans. "We exist between times, on the way to never-ending darkness. Souls fall victim to us, and the desire for their blood keeps us alive. Immortality is lonely. Only the screams of our victims illuminate the night. But, we, the soulless, don't feel any pain. We can't lie to the humans, but there will never be hope for them. Don't wait in vain. We don't cry a tear for you and you can't have any mercy."

Unmoved, Lilith looked at Madeleine, whose life was fading. "I should bite you so Sadden won't feel any twinges of remorse. But, for my own sense of well-being I won't do that." She wrapped her hands around the face and neck of her maid. Without fighting back Madeleine welcomed her fate, and with a powerful jerk Lilith broke the girl's neck.

Slowly the dead body slid out of her arms and came to rest on the cold, white marble floor. For the young vampire, this demonstration was only to test Sadden, because the behavior of the older woman puzzled her greatly. But, for Sadden it was about the precious life of a human being.

The fire gleamed in Lilith's eyes, as she gloated. "We will get along well, I'm sure of that." She turned to leave. "My journey has been very exhausting so I will retire to my crypt until tomorrow night. After a restful sleep, I will get up to explore my new home."

"I won't tolerate such behavior in my presence," Sadden warned.

"They are only humans, nothing more," Lilith answered, her back towards Sadden.

Before the young vampire could leave the reception hall, she was grabbed by two slim hands, turned around, and pressed into the wall.

Lilith wiggled in Sadden's tight grip, but couldn't get free. "Let go! Right now!"

"No!" Angry blue eyes were staring into her own, and Lilith felt a small trace of fear. Sadden's voice was dangerously low, as her nose nearly touched the one of her student. "And, now you will listen to me, Lilith of the dragon clan! Humans are more than just food for our kind! They are thoughtful, sympathetic creatures, and you will pay them the respect they deserve! And, as long as you are here, I will ensure that you will behave properly!"

Lilith was too surprised to talk back. Never before did anyone dare to speak to her in such a manner. But, then she lost control of her fiery temper, and exploded. "I won't be ordered around by you! You are not my mother! And it wasn't my will to be here in this secluded area!"

Sadden released her. "You are free to go, anytime you want to. Nobody is forcing you to stay here."

Lilith sneered in response, "It was the wish of my father! If I had known what would be in store for me, I would have protested more strongly! But, I will write to him, and I will let him know how rudely I am being treated here!"

While Lilith was raving, Sadden sank to her knees, and pulled Madeleine into her arms. Carefully and tenderly she closed the girl's eyes. "I'm sorry, " she whispered. "I'm so sorry we betrayed you. You came to me hoping for a new life, and what did I do? I brought death to you. Forgive me, Madeleine."

Silence fell on the hall.

While Sadden was hugging the lifeless body to her chest, Lilith could do nothing more than stare, unbelievingly, at her new guardian. "She actually feels sorry for a worthless human?"

"Human life is not worthless," Sadden said, without taking her eyes off the dead girl in her arms. "Yes, I feel sorry for her, and I'm repulsed by what I did. And, you should be, too."

Furious about the fact that Sadden had, once again, invaded her private thoughts, the heiress of the dragon clan stormed out of the reception hall. Powerfully, she opened the door and crashed into Andrej, who was about to enter. Angrily, she shoved him aside. "Out of my way, you stupid moron!" Cursing and muttering, she went down the stone stairs to her crypt. "I hate this place! Just why did father send me here?!"

Filled with unspeakable sadness, Sadden stared at the blazing flames of Madeleine's funeral pyre, that she had built in the garden of the castle. Andrej joined her, placing one hand on the vampire's shoulder.

"I wish I could undo the incident," she said, her voice a hoarse whisper. "Her death was unnecessary. I should have resisted more. It wasn't time."

Andrej wrinkled his forehead. "What are you talking about?"

"I answered the call of her blood even though it wasn't time yet." Sadden explained, sadly.

"Sadden don't. Don't take the blame upon your shoulders." Andrej responded.

Sadden shook her head. "I'm just as guilty as if it had been my own hands that broke her neck."

"How did it happen anyway?" Andrej asked.

Sadden sighed. "Lilith wanted to demonstrate what she thinks of humans. And, I played directly into her hands. Madeleine...she wanted to become one of us. I couldn't withstand the calling of her blood. I saw the vein pulsing on her throat, and the hunger awoke inside of me. Lilith said she would do the blood baptism herself, but before I could interfere..."

Andrej interrupted. "I know how much this is tormenting you. Your sympathy for others is so strong, and I know it breaks your heart every time you have to follow your instincts. You have more empathy than any human I've ever known."

Sadden smiled, sadly. "Yes, this is the curse that was placed upon me. I have to kill others in order to live. But, after every feeding, my conscience tortures me. Who ever heard of a vampire with a conscience? I've been walking this earth for many centuries now, and I guess it should be easier as time goes by, but it isn't."

Andrej nodded in understanding. "What are you going to do now? I mean concerning our guest?"

"We will have our hands full, that's for sure. Let's wait and see what time will tell. But, I'm certain of one thing. Lilith of the dragon clan will learn to respect humans!" Sadden declared, fiercely.

"Alright. But, if nothing comes of it we could still spank the snooty brat to get her to behave," Andrej said, grinning widely.

Sadden couldn't suppress a little laugh. "I have to admit, that thought has crossed my mind, too."

Andrej nodded, then took his leave. "I'm going to retire to my rooms, unless there is anything else I can do for you?"

"No, but thank you, Andrej. I think I can manage." Sadden answered.

The young man went inside the castle. The vampire's gaze turned back to the funeral pyre, and a lonely tear rolled down her pale cheek. "Now you are free, Madeleine. May your soul find the peace it deserves."

 

To Be Continued...

 

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