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 TWO

 

MEMORIES

 

 

 

 

 

Morning broke, and the first light of the new day chased away the cold air of the night, as the town Paris awoke, to start its daily work.

Only in one abandoned house, in the Quartier Latin, silence still reigned. The palais had 4 floors, and was run-down. It had been abandoned a long time ago, looked like it would fall apart at any moment, and in some places the facade was crumbling. The big windows had been nailed shut with boards, and heavy iron bars made sure that nobody could enter. And, that was just what Chalice wanted, as she lent this place, for a low price, for her master.

She stepped out of the tiny back door, and took a look around, making sure that nobody had seen her. But, at this time, not one human soul lurked, in this secluded alley. She took one last searching glance at her present home, turned the rusty key and put it under her cloak. Grumpy and tired, she put on the hood of her dark-green cloak. "He's sleeping like a baby in his coffin. And, I'm not allowed to get any rest. Day and night, I'm searching out new victims for him. And, his silly wishes don't make it any easier. Virgins, beautiful and noble they have to be. Pah, as if there are a lot of girls like that around here! I'm not allowed to have any fun at all. But, I'm not the one, who will give us away! He will! With his special wishes! If our hunters find out his pattern of prey, they will find us, and then we will have to vanish, quickly."

After walking through some of the alleys, she came upon one of the new boulevards, which had been built by the king, instead of big fortification walls. The old night watchman extinguished the last street lamps, and Chalice watched the early hustle and bustle of the civilians of Paris. The first customers were already haggling with the merchants, and the traders showed off their goods from foreign and exotic countries. The maids and servants came from their villages, to sell or buy fresh fruits and vegetables on the daily market. Chalice picked up a red apple from one of the carts, and disappeared in the increasing crowd.

"How I despise this town! I hate living here! I hate it!" Chalice growled, as she took a bite of the succulently sweet fruit.

The flow of the people led her directly to the Île de la Cité. For awhile, she stood at the bridge Pont Neuf, gazing thoughtfully at the dirty water that flowed beneath. Chalice got lost in the horrible thoughts of her past...

 

"Maman! Maman," screamed the six-year-old girl, tears streaming down her cheeks as she tried to glance over the railing of the bridge to the other side. Two policemen ripped the rag-covered girl away. One of them picked her up, and Chalice was able to cast a glance to the embankment. Horror was evident in her innocent eyes, as the cruel picture was forever burnt into her memory. Without any clothes, her young mother laid there in the mud of the Seine. Her bruised body was covered with numerous wounds, a totured expression on her pale face.

"Maman! Maman! I want my Maman!"

But the policeman carried her out of view of the crime scene, and put her down on a bench next to his colleague.

"What are we going to do with the little brat? Orphanage or workhouse?"

"Neither. The little one has an aunt, Marie Colbert, she and her mother were living with. This woman identified the body."

"Do we know anything about how it happened?"

"Just the usual. It seems the prostitute got stabbed by one of her customers. So, no real case for us. She's going to be buried somewhere out of town, with the other poor people, since her sister doesn't want to spend any money for a real funeral. But, she can't refrain from taking the girl in. We are going to deliver the little one, and the Colbert woman can take care of her."

Chalice was brought out of her thoughts, as the man grabbed her arm to drag her along, and she started to fight him with all of her might. "No, no, no! I don't want to go to aunt Marie! I want to see my Maman!"

The officer became frustrated, and pulled her along the street. "Accept it! Your mother is dead! She's not comming back!"

Gazing back again and again, Chalice tried desperately to hang on to the picture of Pont Neuf that started to fade. "MAMAN!"...

 

Chalice shook her head to clear her mind, and came back to the present. Fatigued, she turned around, and leaned back against the railing. She looked at the cathedral of Notre-Dame, and said, scornfully, "Our virgin Mary as a monument of stone. Epitome of our mother church. I spit on it!"

The sun climbed behind the building to take her usual seat in the sky. Chalice closed her eyes to little slits, and blinked against the morning sun. "But, maybe I should go inside the cathedral. I'm going to be Azrael's lifemate soon, and then I won't be able to set foot on sacred ground, ever again."

Optimistically, the young woman hurried along the street, and soon she reached the place in front of Notre-Dame. On the stairs, she slowed the speed of her steps, and, confidently, she entered through one of the three west portals underneath the big Sainte Chapelle Stained Rosary. The street noise faded, and a feeling of uneasiness came over Chalice. She strode through the empty rows right to the high altar, with a painting in the center. Her foot-steps echoed mercilessly through the high room, and she looked around distrustfully, but only some church servants were around, who didn't seem to notice her. Chalice's concentration went back to the altar room and the big, gothic windows with their colorful, Christian motives. She couldn't deny the awe-inspiring beauty of the building. But, this feeling fled, and in it's place a tremendous and long accrued hatred awoke. She stood in front of the altar cross, and screamed at the top of her lungs, "Who allows you to own such magnificent buildings?"

Chalice hesitated, and listened as if she was waiting for an answer. But, then she went on furiously. "What have you done for us to deserve such glamour? You left me all alone! You left a little girl to cruel fate!" Exhausted, she slumped on the steps in front of the altar and sobbed. "It's not fair!"

Concerned one of the church servants came over, wanting to help her.

Chalice mood swung again, and she was overcome with fear. "W-What am I doing here?" Angry about her own behavior, she looked at the man. "I'm not a slave to your belief! I see the truth!" Calice's body was trembling as she grabbed the terrified man, by the neck of his robe, and pulled him towards her. "The humans are listening to him with absolute humility, but they are just stupid to submit to his arbitrary rule!"

Whispering, and with eyes wide open she added, "Isn't that madness?"

The fear in the man's eyes increased, as did unbelief at what she said. "That's blasphemy, Mademoiselle! Please, consider your words, or I will be forced to let the administrative body of the church know about this incident!"

Chalice chuckled, and her laughter echoed, throughout the marble structure. "I'm not scared of you! Not anymore! I'm far above you ignorant people, looking at you with great disdain! Do you hear me, God? I hate you! I HATE YOU, DEADLY!!!"

The servants were crossing themselves, and then something unbelieveable happened. The picture of Mary and her child fell from the altar. The frame split, as it came to rest on the altar slab. Shocked, Chalice leapt up, staring at the face of Mary, while the servants tried to undo the destruction. Chalice's tormented soul awoke in her heart, and she retreated slowly. Searching for help, she looked into the eyes of a servant, but he said, "That's a sign from our holy mother!"

Chalice's breathing gained speed, and she felt like a trapped animal. Scared she turned around, and fled the church in a hurry without looking back. Breathing heavily, she stumbled on the steps. She didn't notice the scratches and bruises she received. "I've left my old life behind me. How can this incident affect me so? I have to get myself together." Painfully, she grasped at her heart. "Why does it hurt so much? I don't want to feel the pain. Never again." Under the watchful eyes of some civilians, she got up and left the Île de la Cité.

Lost in heavy thoughts, Chalice reached one of the poor quarters of Paris. The alleys became more angled, unpaved, dusty, and dirty. An unbearable stench floated from the waste water canals, between the tiny huts. With difficulty, she walked past the Chlochards, and day laborers, but refrained from making direct eye contact with the beggars. They reminded her of her childhood, and that touched her painfully. "Why do I always have to do the dirty work for the fine Monsieur?"

She was brought out of her self pity by three dirty, little girls, who were playing and singing a tune she was very familiar with. "Frère Jaques, Frère Jaques..."

Chalice stared at the children, without intention, and the peaceful picture started to fade...

 

A strict voice called for her. "Chalice! Have you been stealing apples at the market again?"

Caught, Chalice turned around. "Maman?" But, in front of her was a stocky middle-aged woman with, wrinkled hands, and face, from years of hard work . "You crazy child! How often did I tell you not to get caught? One day you are going to end up in prison! But, maybe I should be glad about that. Then, you wouldn't cause any trouble for your uncle and myself. Sighing, she shook her head, and went back to her work, washing clothes.

Chalice followed her to the cramped, dark backyard. "I'm sorry, aunt Marie."

Unimpressed, her aunt scrubbed some sheets over the washboard, and continued nagging. "Kind like I am, I took you in, even though we don't have enough to eat for ourselves, and what do I get? I only get small thanks, because you can't even steal like a good girl! Célestin left me really a great inheritance. Good for nothing!"

The hard words of her aunt made the girl sad. "Aunt Marie."

"There is no need for you to pout! Go and do something useful! You know what will happen when your uncle comes home, and hears about your mishap."

The little girl swallowed and thought about the leather belt, and the beatings she received on her naked back. Marie pushed her to the street and ordered,"You've got a pretty face. Use that. Go to your cousins at the boulevard, and help them begging. And, don't you dare come back without some money!"

As the years of Chalice's childhood went by, she hardened and submitted to her fate. As she became older, she needed to find another way to earn money, and in her situation there was only one way to accomplish that...

It was one of those cold and wet autumn nights, and Chalice had just turned 13, but nobody remembered, even she didn't. Covered with a threadbare, blue cloak, she strode through the dark alleys looking for work. Sniffling and coughing, she ran into a tall man, who was completely wrapped in dark clothes, and only his eyes could be seen. That was Chalice's fatal meeting with Azrael, the vampire.

"Looking for some pleasure?" Provocatively, she lifted her dress, showing the naked lower part of her body.

Nerve-racked, Azrael groaned, and sized up the small, ill looking form. "Whore, you may cover yourself. There is nothing I want from you." He turned away, and added,"Besides, you stink to the high heavens, and you look like you are carrying sicknesses around."

Faced with the man's behavior, Chalice became angry. "Hey, you! I have to make a living somehow! But, some pompous, rich bastard, like you, wouldn't understand that!"

But, Azrael wasn't impressed, and continued his nightly walk, the furious girl followed him. "All of my life, I've been rejected one way or the other! But, I'm not going to let myself get belittled by an arrogant ass like you!" Defiantly, she waited for the man's reaction.

Azrael stopped, and turned to her. "Beware, little girl! You are trying my patience, greatly, and I don't want to waste my precious time with a hussy like you!"

Chalice hesitated, for the blink of an eye. "Then what are you looking for, here in this bad part of the town? What kind of dark business led you here?"

"I'm warning you, if you are going to continue questioning me I will end this conversation right now. And, in a deadly way for you!"

The girl looked at Azrael supiciously. "So, you are one of those perverts that kill helpless women?" Without feeling, Chalice added, "If that's the fact, I don't care."

Surprised, the vampire gazed in empty eyes, void of the familiar vividness of the humans, and he thought, "No spark of life or will is illuminating her weak heart. Only pure hatred exists inside. Never before have I seen a nearly souless heart. It fascinates me greatly.Will I be able to extinguish the human soul completely without ripping her from her body through death? I only have to nourish her hate, and watch how she will turn into my tool." Audibly, he said, "You will submit to a dangerous game, but your reward will be incomparable. If you surrender unconditionally, I will make all your wishes come true and you will get the life you deserve."

Azrael's engaging charme had the desired effect, and Chalice became a willing prisoner in his world...

 

Suddenly, Chalice was brought out of her thoughts by the loud screaming of a man, "The bull is loose from the wagon's chain! Get to safety!"

The wild animal moved, in his rage, at full speed, directly towards the group of playing girls. Two of them found shelter in another alley. The other girl froze, with fear, in the path of the bull.Without thinking, Chalice dashed to the girl, picked her up, and pressed her against the house wall, shielding her with her body. As soon the danger had passed, Chalice put the girl down, and knelt before her. "Are you alright?"

"Thank you, thank you, Mademoiselle! You just saved my life!" Then the girl noticed the expensive dress beneath Chalice's cloak. "You are a real princess, aren't you? I would like to be a fine lady, such as you are."

Chalice shook her head sadly. "Be thankful, that you are not." She gave the girl a golden coin and got up. As she left, the girl called out, "May God protect you, Mademoiselle!"

 

 

 

*****

 

Carefully, Skylar opened the big door, and peered through the little crack inside the darkened room. Slowly, she stepped inside, tiptoed to the bed, and gently brushed the silky curtain of the bed aside. Grinning wildly she looked at the big lump beneath the covers. With a mighty pull on the string, she opened the other curtains, and the bright sunlight of the new day streamed into the room.

"SOL INVICTUS," screamed the blond girl, at the top of her lungs, and jumped onto the bed. "Wake up, dear brother! Come on, sleepyhead! If you were a vampire I would have killed you by now!"

A head with long, dark and disheveled hair, worked it's way from beneath the covers, and, finally, Kyrian's sleepy face appeared. Still tired, he rubbed his eyes and blinked in the sunlight at his sister, who was beaming at him, happily. He streched and yawned. "Well, then, I'm really glad that I'm not a vampire, oh Skylar, mighty huntress of the mighty family Leosol!"

"Now that's a sound for sore ears! You may continue singing my praises!" Skylar giggled.

"Yes, you would like that. By the way, do you have any idea how late it is, little one?" Kyrian asked.

Skylar shrugged her shoulders. "It's not dark anymore."

Kyrian scratched at his beard stubbles. "It is right after dawn, and you should still be asleep."

"It's not dark anymore. And, Papa always said, 'The early bird will catch the worm.'" She started to pull on his arm, to get him to leave the bed.

"Hey, hey! I need this arm!" Kyrian protested.

"Then get up already!" Skylar said, stomping her foot impatiently.

Kyrian grinned, and lay back down. "And, Mama always says, 'Patience is a virtue.'"

The blond girl crossed her arms, and pouted.

"That won't get you anywhere with me, you know that, sweetie," Kyrian responded.

"You are so mean!" Skylar delcared.

With lightning speed, Kyrian turned his sister on her back, and started to tickle her. "You take that back this instant, you little pain in the neck!"

But Skylar was laughing so hard, she wasn't able to say anything, until her brother stopped. "Since I'm very much awake, now, may I offer a suggestion?"

Expectantly, Skylar looked at her brother. "What?"

"While I'm dressing, how about you going to the stables and saddling Nightshade?" The dark-haired young man suggested.

"We're going for a ride?" The 13-year-old asked, excitedly.

Kyrian nodded, and laughed, as Skylar hugged him happily.

"You are the best brother in the whole wide world," she announced, as she hurried from the room.

 

*****

 

Unhurried, they were riding through the woods. Skylar, who sat in front of her brother on the dark horse, was deep in thought. "Kyrian, do you think it could be possible?"

"What are you talking about? Could what be possible?" Kyrian asked.

"That story Bernard told us yesterday evening." Skylar responded.

Kyrian snorted. "Of course. Why should he make up such a story?"

Skylar rubbed her chin. "I just think it is strange for a vampire to work together with a mortal. Wouldn't one of his own kind be better?"

"Hmm. Yes, the whole thing is strange," the young man remarked. "But, still, it is possible. We don't know anything about this Chalice, and why she's with him."

Skylar nodded. "That's true. But, there is another thing that's peculiar. Why does he cut out the hearts of his victims, and take them with him?"

Kyrian thought about it. "You know what Mama is always saying, how the heart is the seat of the human soul?"

"Yes." Skylar nodded.

Kyrian continued. "And, I think it gives him some kind of perverse pleasure to know that, even after their deaths, they will never be free, as long as he owns their hearts."

The blond girl wrinkled her forehead. "But, if he is that cruel to humans, how can the woman stay with him? I don't understand that."

The young man stroked his sister's long, blond hair and said, "Don't wrack your little brain with such heavy thoughts. We're going to find him, and we're also going to take care of his companion, so, the inhabitants of Paris will be able to sleep again, without fear."

"Maybe the woman doesn't want to be with him. It could be possible that she too is a victim, and under his spell," Skylar threw in.

Kyrian shrugged his shoulders. "It could be possible. But, after Bernard's tale, I don't think so."

"It was just a thought," the young girl added, quietly.

 

*****

 

A pot of steaming and delicious smelling herbal tea was added to the bread, cheese and fruit on a tray. Monique dried her hands on her apron, and adjusted the little white bonnet, that covered her light-brown curls. She took the tray, heading for the chambers of her new mistress. But, as she turned around, she got a fright, and the tray slipped from her hands. The china crashed to the floor, and burst into a million pieces. Trembling, Monique grasped at her wildly beating heart. "Are you totally out of your mind?" she screamed, at the person opposite her. "You scared 10 years off me!"

Chuckling, the tall man took off the horrible mask, that had covered his face. "Aww, come on. Don't be like that. It was a joke."

She pressed her hands to her hips. "Joke? You call that a joke, Jean? It is a miracle that my heart didn't cease to beat!"

Jean rolled his eyes and sighed. "You always have to exaggerate."

"Lord almighty in the heavens! You are nearly 30 years of age! And, still you're behaving worse than a little child!" She smacked him with a towel.

He ducked, and laughed. "I just wanted to remind you that there is a festival today."

"I know that there is a festival today," she grumbled, still angry about his prank.

Jean bent to her face, and waggled his eyebrows. "And?"

Monique wrinkled her forehead. "And what?"

"Will you go with me?" He asked, gazing adoringly at her with his big, blue eyes, and the cook started smiling.

"Be careful with your eyes. They might pop out of your head. Besides, you know my answer to that question." Monique answered.

Jean pretented to be ignorant. "Your answer? I should know it? Well, I don't remember. You've got to help my memory."

Monique swatted at him, playfully. "You know that I will be going with you, and now get out of my kitchen! I need to clean up the mess you caused!"

Jean laughed, heartily."Oh, I love it when you take command!"

Monique took hold of a wooden spoon, and swung it, threateningly. "Disappear, and get on someone else's nerves!"

Still chuckling, he left the kitchen. "See you later, sweetheart!" At the stairs he came upon Helena, and greeted her politely," Good morning, Madame."

The blond woman smiled, and greeted back, "The same to you." She entered the kitchen, where Monique was busy cleaning up. As the cook saw her, she leaped up from her task, and dropped to a curtsy. "Good morning, Madame."

"Good morning, Monique. Are my children awake?" Helena asked.

Monique responded, enthusiastically. "Oh yes, that they are. I think your daughter was the first of the household to greet the new morning. Such a sweet, little thing, if I may say so, and so well behaved."

Helena smiled. "Oh, thank you very much. I'm doing what I can. And? Where are they?"

"They went out with the horse." Monique turned to the stove, and stirred something in a big pot.

Helena nodded, in understanding. "Ah, riding through the woods."

"Yes, Madame." Monique answered. "They set out shortly after dawn. They should be back soon. Where does Madame wish to dine?"

"Here." Helena said.

Monique was astonished and turned to Helena. "You mean here? In the kitchen?"

Helena arched her blonde eyebrows. "Is there a rule against this?"

"Please, forgive my openness, Madame. But, it isn't right for a lady, such as yourself, to dine in the kitchen." Monique explained.

Helena chuckled. "I don't want to be treated like a noble. Have you eaten?"

Monique shook her head. "No. Usually, the servants eat later than the Lordship or Ladyship."

Helena smiled. "Well, I guess we have to change that. From now on, we're going to have meals together. So, bring it on. I have to admit it smells delicious. And, sit down beside me. I'd like to have some company."

The cook blushed slightly. Never in her life had she been treated like an equal. "That truly is your wish?"

Helena nodded.

"It is my greatest honor, Madame." Monique smiled, broadly.

Helena's smile widened. "It is the same for me, Monique."

The cook gave her a beaming smile and sat down beside her at the big, wooden table.

"May I get Madame a cup of milk? I need to brew new tea because I had a little mishap, but..."

Helena put one of her hands on the cook's arm. "Please, don't go to any trouble. I would like to drink some milk."

Monique filled Helena's cup from a pitcher. "It's fresh from the cow, Madame."

The huntress nodded. "Thank you."

Silence fell, as they were enjoying their breakfast, until Skylar and Kyrian entered the kitchen.

Smiling happily, the girl ran to her mother, and embraced her effusively. "Mama! Can we go to the festival?"

Helena looked at her daughter. "How about a little 'Good morning' first?"

"Oh, yes. Of course." Like a good girl, Skylar sat down beside her mother. "Good morning, Mama."

"The same to you. And, to you, too, my son." Helena smiled, fondly, in her son's direction.

Kyrian hugged her, and then took a seat at the table, too. "I'm so very hungry!"

"Oh, that was your tummy that's been making the growling noises. And, I thought it was a hungry bear chasing us," Skylar giggled, grinning widely.

Monique got up, went to the stove, filled two wooden bowls with porridge from the pot, and put it in front of the children. Kyrian took his spoon, and started to eat enthusiastically. Dumbfounded, Skylar gazed at the white, steaming mass in front of her. With her innocent green-brown eyes, she looked at the cook, and asked, "What is that stuff?"

"It doesn't matter," Kyrian threw in, his mouth still full, " the most important thing is, it's delicious!"

Monique patted Skylar's head. "This is porridge, my little one. It's good for you, so you will be big and strong one day."

Kyrian couldn't suppress his next comment. "Yes, that's just what the tiny dwarf needs."

"Haha, you show-off," the girl answered, sticking out her tongue.

"Thanks, but no thanks." Kyrian shook his dark locks. "You may keep your tongue, I got one of my own."

Just before Skylar could reply with something inappropriate, Helena interfered. "Enough! Both of you! Stop fighting and start eating, before it gets cold! We don't want for Monique to have cooked in vain, or do we?"

Bravely, Skylar dipped her spoon into the porridge, and after the first bite she was very surprised to find, that it didn't taste as bad as it looked. Monique noticed that, and leaned over to the girl to whisper in her ear, "When I was your age I didn't like this meal either. I mixed in some honey to improve the taste."

Skylar smiled, and whispered back. "Thank you. It is delicious."

The cook winked.

Turning to Helena the girl asked, "Mama?"

"Yes, my child? What's on your mind?" Helena answered.

"Can we go to the festival?" Excited, Skylar went on, without letting her mother answer, "Jean was telling us all about it! It is so great there! With acrobats, and musicians, and dancers, and..."

"Oh yes, Madame. You must not miss it," Monique threw in. "It's taken place every year, in front of Notre-Dame. There are lots of amazing, odd, and interesting things to see. Everyone will be there. It is a very exciting event!"

Helena was skeptical. "But, we are not here for amusement."

"Please, Mama," Skylar begged, "please, please, pretty please, pleeeease?"

"It would be a great opportunity to get to know some people that could be of value for our investigations," Kyrian added.

The huntress tapped one finger on her chin. "Hmm. You could be right about that. Alright. Skylar, tell Jean to get the carriage ready. We are going to town to a festival."

 

*****

 

"Look over there! And there! And there! Isn't this just amazing," Skylar exclaimed, pointing with her finger in every direction where she found something, that she considered interesting. The family Leosol had arrived in front of Notre-Dame, where lots of civilians were already gathered. The people crowded around the colorful wagons and tents of the showmen and acrobats, tumblers and clowns, who showed off their talents.

Skylar was practically dancing with excitement, now. "There, Mama, look! A tightrope walker!"

Helena's eyes followed the arm of her daughter, to where a giddy young man, in a colorful checkered costume, was moving across a rope, high above the ground.

"Well, there are enough people to catch him, if he should fall," Kyrian remarked.

Helena laughed, and pulled her children along. "Come on. There is even more to see."

Passing fire-eaters, men who could swallow swords, and jugglers, they reached a little stage, made of boards, that had been nailed together. "Come forward! Come forward," shouted the little, stocky-built man, who stood there. "I proudly present, Ivan! The strongest man, that ever walked the earth, who has never been defeated!" He pointed to the tall, blond, Russian man, that stood beside him, scowling at the audience. "Who, from all of you, has the courage to face him?"

He swung a little leather bag around, in which the sound of clicking coins was audible. "This bag, full of gold pieces, will belong to the man, who is able to defeat Ivan! Is there anybody, who will show his power, and challenge his luck? Anybody, maybe one of the men in front of me?"

Ivan had taken off his shirt, to better show off his muscles, which rippled from time to time.

"What a show-off," Kyrian said, and turned up his nose scornfully.

"You are just envious, because next to him you look rather slight," his sister snidely remarked.

"Slight? I do not look slight!" Kyrian protested. "I could beat this guy with one hand tied to my back!"

Skylar chuckled. "This I have to see! You have to prove that, my dear brother!"

"Fine! Watch carefully, so you won't miss anything!" Kyrian forced his way through the crowd, to get to the stage. At first, Helena wanted to hold him back, but then she decided against it. Maybe getting defeated would get her son to forego his exaggerated opinion of himself.

"Ah! There comes a brave one," shouted the man on the stage. "Tell me your name, my boy."

"Kyrian Leosol!" The brave young man shouted.

"Oh! What a heroic name! Now, let me hear it for Kyrian, the Sunlion!" The audience cheered.

Skylar got scared, when she saw her brother and the tall, muscled man take their combat positions.

Ivan scrutinized his opponent, up and down, and came to the conclusion that the fight wouldn't be a long one. "Have you thought this through, you little goblin?" he snarled. "I won't show any mercy! You're going down!"

"We will see," Kyrian said, and grinned boldly.

Ivan scowled at him. "You're brave, boy. I've got to hand you that."

Skylar pulled at her mother's sleeve. "Mama! Please, he has to come back! That man is going to kill him!"

"It is too late now, sweetheart. Kyrian made a decision, and now he has to see it through." But, deep down Helena was praying for her son to come out of this unharmed.

"I don't want to see him get hurt!" Skylar's wish was lost, in the crowd's cheers, as the fight started.

With great dexterity, Kyrian dodged the massive fist of his opponent, and ducked, skillfully. At the same time, he delivered a mighty punch to Ivan's solar plexus, and the Russian bent over, with the unexpected pain. Kyrian's other fist crashed onto the tip of the man's chin. Ivan's eyes rolled back, his knees buckled, and the whole stage shook, as six feet of heavily muscled Russian crashed to the ground, unconscious.

Kyrian bowed, before the cheering audience. He collected his winnings, and went back to his family. "So? Did you see everything, my dear sister? I may look slight, but you need more than muscles to defeat another man." He tapped a finger on Skylar's forehead. "You also need to use your head, and you need to know the weaknesses of the human body," he explained, and winked at his mother, who smiled and nodded.

Suddenly, the voice of a news crier broke into the victorious atmosphere. "Extra! Extra! It's not over, yet! Another murder was commited! He was at it again!"

Helena looked around, and found the little boy selling the papers, who was announcing, loudly, that another murder had taken place. She turned to her children. "You wait here. I'll be back in a minute." She went to the boy, and bought a paper. "Oh my God! It's horrible," she exclaimed, after reading the article.

The dark-haired, bearded man next to her cursed, and crumpled his paper.

"Monsieur? Is everything alright?" Helena asked him.

"No! Nothing is alright! We are absolutely helpless!" the man spat. There is nothing we can do against this bastard, who's been spreading fear and horror for weeks now! If it goes on like this, and if I don't catch this lunatic soon, I might as well give up my position as chief of police, and hang my uniform back in the closet!" Furious, he threw the crumpled paper to the ground.

"You are the police chief of Paris?" The huntress asked, amazed by this discovery.

He offered his hand, and Helena took it. "My name is Michel Dutroit. And yes, I am the police chief of Paris."

The huntress smiled. "What a coincidence to meet you here. I'm Helena Leosol."

"Oh! You are Madame Leosol? It is a pleasure and a great honor to meet you!" the man smiled, broadly. "I have been told a lot about you! I'm really glad to have found you. I know that you are currently working on another case, but maybe there is a connection between this one and all the other murders that have occurred, frequently, over the last few months. Last night, another of these horrible deeds was commited. I'm on my way to the crime scene, and it would be my honor if you would accompany me. Then, maybe you will be able to bring some light to this darkness, because, frankly, I'm at the end of my rope. I have no idea how to protect the nobles, any longer."

Helena wrinkled her forehead. "The nobles?"

"Yes," the police chief continued. "This bastard only kills girls with noble heritage, who are 'untouched', if you know what I mean. Be that as it may, last night, he killed the baroness Simone de Francois, and her nanny, Colette Lescoit. And, like I said, I'm on my way to the crime scene. Will you accompany me?"

Helena nodded. "Of course. I just want to tell my children that I'm leaving."

"Yes, do that. I'll be waiting here for your return," the chief said, still wringing his hands, nervously.

 

*****

 

"What do you think, Kyrian? Where is Mama going?" Skylar asked, curiousity over-whelming her.

Kyrian shook his dark locks. "I don't know, Skylar. But I guess it's important."

Defiantly, the blonde girl crossed her arms. "That's so unfair! Of course it is something important, and we're not allowed to be present, again!"

"Little one, we are at a festival and are supposed to have some fun. Mama will tell us everything, I'm sure," Kyrian reminded his sister, and dragged her along after him. "Come on! Let's see if we can't find something interesting. Look! There are musicians and dancers! And, If I'm not very much mistaken, there is a puppet theater."

With the words 'puppet theater', Skylar's eyes brightened with happiness. "Well, what are we waiting for?" Radiant with joy, she stormed ahead, Kyrian was right behind her.

During the puppet show, Kyrian's stomach was making itself known, loudly . He leaned over to his sister, and whispered into her ear, "I'm going to look for something to eat.You will stay here, and you won't go anywhere! Understand? Not even when the show is over! You will wait for me, did I make myself clear?"

Skylar nodded. "Umhmm."

"Good girl," Kyrian said and patted his sister's head. He left the theater to search for some nourishment. But, he didn't know that Skylar was too engrossed in the story, to hear one word he said.

 

"And the moral of our story,

may you be a beast or not,

real beauty is found within.

 

Love is the greatest force on earth.

Don't let her run dry in your heart

and you will always be able to beat evil.

 

Well, my good people.

That was the show, today.

Thanks for listening."

 

The puppeteers bowed on the stage, to the thundering applause of the audience. Skylar turned to speak to her brother, and discovered that he wasn't siting next to her anymore.Wrinkling her forehead the girl let her gaze sweep the room, without finding him. "Where could he have gone?" She got up and left the theater. "This is just great! How am I supposed to find him in this crowd? Maybe I should start with the food tents."

 

*****

 

Kyrian was horrified when he returned, and not one soul remained at the theater. "Damn it all to hell! I told her to wait for me!" He dashed into the crowd, searching for his little sister."SKYLAR! SKYLAR, WHERE ARE YOU?" Panic gripped his heart, his eyes darted around, desperately seeking the little blonde head somewhere, anywhere, but it seemed to be all in vain. "Damn! Damn! Damn! Mama will be furious if something has happened to Skylar. I shouldn't have gotten so distracted by the female dancer! Then, I would have been back before the show was over. I have to find her!"

He forced his way through the crowds, asking each person, again and again, if somebody had seen a little girl with long, blonde hair, and green-brown eyes, but nobody could help him. Finally he reached a little tent, set aside from the others. Kyrian entered, and was surprised. On the outside the tent had looked very shabby and old, but on the inside it was heavily decorated with carpets, silk and velvet. In the middle, hanging from the ceiling, there was a little vessel made of metal, with light, blue steam floating out of it. The air carried the pleasant scent of incense. Most of the room was taken up by a big, round, wooden table with a crystal ball, and a tablecloth of dark-blue velvet. While Kyrian was taking a look around, a voice croaked behind him, "What can I do for you, my boy?"

He turned around and came face to face with a wrinkled, old woman.

She coughed and limped to her chair, where she sat down, moaning and groaning. "Dear god, but my back is aching."

Kyrian couldn't help but stare at her.

"What is wrong, boy? Didn't your mother ever tell you that it is impolite to stare? Or is it that a cat got your tongue, or that you have never seen an old woman in your life?" She chuckled, and that ended with another coughing spree.

Kyrian blushed at the old woman's reprimand. "I beg your pardon, Madame, it wasn't my intention to..."

The old woman waved one of her bony hands. "Bah, nonsense! You are looking for someone. Am I right, Kyrian?"

The dark-haired young man paled, noticeably, at the use of his name, by a complete stranger. "H-How do you know my name?"

The old woman smiled, and winked, mysteriously. "Ah, Madame Zynora knows everything. You are searching for your sister, Skylar, is that her name?"

Kyrian was too amazed to answer, so he just nodded, dumbly.

"Don't worry. You two will be together again, before the day is over." The old fortune-teller assured him.

The whole situation scared the young hunter. How could the old woman know all that? "Um, yes...uh...thank you very much, kind lady...I 'll leave...it was a pleasure..."

With lightning speed, Madame Zynora leapt from her chair, and grabbed his arm with her narrow, wrinkled hands. "Sit down, boy. I want to tell your fortune, by the cards."

Kyrian cleared his throat. "Thank you, but that isn't necessary."

The old woman increased the strength of her grip, then pushed the young man into a chair. "I insist! I tell the fortunes by the cards for everyone that enters the tent of Madame Zynora.

Finally, Kyrian relented and welcomed his fate. "What does it matter? I'm going to listen what this old, crazy, lady has to tell me, before she tries to break my arm."

Madame Zynora sat down on the other chair, shuffled a deck of colorful, well-worn cards, took 2 out of it and put them down in front of Kyrian, the picture covered. She pointed to the left card. "This one will show you an encounter in your near future."

Kyrian turned the card around, it was the Queen of Chalices.

The old woman coughed so hard, that the hunter feared she would injure her lung, at any moment. "Be aware, my boy! Be aware of the Queen of Chalices! She will seal your fate!"

The young man drew his brows together. "Why? What will happen?"

"Turn the other card and you will see!" Madame Zynora explained.

Terror struck Kyrian's heart, and his hand trembled, as he reached for the card. Slowly he turned it around, and he felt as if his heart missed a beat or two, as he looked with eyes wide open at the picture...Death.

Kyrian leapt from his chair, and slowly he retreated to the tent's exit. Unbelievingly, he shook his head, his heart beating wildly, his hands cold and wet. "No! No, I don't believe one word you said! This is not going to happen!"

Madame Zynora just stared at him with dark eyes, and repeated, "Beware, Kyrian Leosol! Beware of the Queen of Chalices!"

He stumbled out of the tent, tried to clear his mind, and get himself under control again.

 

*****

 

At the same time, Skylar was forcing her way through the crowd, in front of Notre Dame. "I'm never going to find him. There are too many people here! KYRIAN! KYRIAN!" She jumped, and stretched up on her tip-toes, hoping to somehow catch a glimpse of her brother.

A man, in a red-white checkered costume, with stilts stalked along, beside her.

"I need something like this. Then, I could overview the whole place. Hmm, I need to find a place that's higher than anything else."

Her eyes gazed around, and stopped at a wooden pole, where a lot of colorful pennants and garlands, on a rope, stretched across the whole area. Skylar grinned. "That's exactly what I've been looking for. Dexteriously, she climbed up the pole. "Wow! The view is great from here!"

A mere heartbeat later, she found Kyrian among the others. Skylar climbed down, and ran to her brother. In her hurry to get to him, she tripped over a loose cobblestone, and crashed into a woman, whom she flattened beneath her.

"Oh Mademoiselle, that...I'm so very sorry! Wait, I will help you get up." Skylar hurried to scramble to her feet, and assist her hapless victim.

Chalice sat up, and brushed her long, blond hair out of her face. She scrutinized Skylar up and down, with her dark brown eyes. "Can't you pay more attention to where you are going, child?"

"I-I'm sorry...I was in a hurry...because, it's...my brother...and..." Skylar stuttered, nervously.

"Alright, alright. I'm still alive. And, nothing happened, except that all my purchases are scattered on the street." Chalice spat, disgustedly.

Skylar knelt down, and started to pick up the packages. As she did so, her loose hair slipped to the side, and the nape of her neck became visible. Chalice bent over the girl, to get a good look at the tattoo. "Hmm. The head of a lion. I've seen this sign before. But where?"

Chalice jerked back from her thoughts as the girl, happily smiling, showed her the now filled basket. "See, Mademoiselle? Everything is back where it was before."

"Skylar! Thank you, God! I finally found you! Where the hell have you been? I was so very worried about you!" Kyrian exclaimed, holding his sister tightly.

"Where do you think I've been? I've been searching for you everywhere! One moment, we are sitting in the puppet theater watching "Beauty and the Beast" and, the next you're gone, without saying a word!" Skylar indignantly explained.

"I told you that you needed to wait for me!" Kyrian retorted, angrily. "I was just looking for some nourishment! But, that doesn't matter anymore." The young man's anger faded, somewhat. "The most important thing is, that I found you." Then, he noticed the blond woman, who was looking at them, completely enraptured.

"Madmoiselle? Is something wrong," Kyrian asked.

"Wha...what..." Chalice stuttered, still caught in her trance.

The hunter was concerned. "Are you alright? You seem to be quite confused. Is there something I can do to help you?"

Chalice shook her head, came to herself, smiled, and declined. "No, everything is fine. I think it's just the after-effect of the little crash and fall I took."

Skylar blushed, embarrassed, hung her head, rubbed her neck, and whispered. "I'm sorry."

Kyrian drew his brows together, narrowed his eyes, and looked at his sister. "What have you done, now?"

"Monsieur, please, I assure you, I'm fine. It was just a little mishap," Chalice replied, giving him a big smile.

"Oh, alright. That puts me at ease," Kyrian said, and returned the smile.

"Well, it is late, and I have some more errands to run. Goodbye." She turned to leave, but hesitated when Kyrian asked, "May I have your name, please?"

Chalice flashed the handsome young hunter her most flirtatious smile. "I'll tell you mine, if you tell me yours."

The hunter grinned. "I'm Kyrian Leosol, new to town."

"Splendid, Kyrian Leosol, new to town. My name is Christine. I hope to see you again, soon." She waved goodbye, winked at Skylar, and disappeared into the crowd.

Skylar looked at her brother, who was staring after the woman with a silly grin on his face. "Kyrian?"

"Christine," he sighed, "what a beautiful name...and, it fits such a beautiful woman perfectly."

To Be Continued...

 

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