DISCLAIMERS: See Part 1

 

FIUR and VLAMME

 

present

 

CHRONICLES OF DARKNESS

----------------------------------------------------

BOOK ONE

SHADOWS AND DUST

------------------------------------------------------------------

 

CHAPTER THREE

 

INVESTIGATIONS

 

 

 

 

The castle blurred in the melancholy moonlight, with its dark surroundings, and veiled itself with the rigid silence of the mighty mountains. Two riders appeared, and slowly made their way down to the valley on the long and stony path. Due to Sadden's special wish, it was Lilith and Andrej who went to the village.

Without talking, they guided their horses through the deep woods, the trees were standing so close to each other that the moonlight barely reached the ground. Andrej was relieved when they left the dark passage behind them and safely arrived at the outskirts of the village. He jumped off his horse and attached the reins to a branch of the nearest tree. Andrej reached for Lilith in order to help her off the saddle, but instead of using his helpful hands the young vampire threw her cloak back, and slowly slid to the ground. It was then that the white robe beneath the blood red velvet of Lilith's cloak caught Andrej's attention.

While Lilith was leading the way, looking completely disgruntled, towards the village, Andrej was furtively gazing at her from the side. "Her appearance bears the shine of innocence, as if she wouldn't be a day older than twenty summers. But Sadden is right. I mustn't get deceived by her lovely appearance, not ever! She is and will always be a cold blooded murderer."

Then Andrej cleared his throat, and with a small touch of sarcasm in his voice, he announced, "Welcome to Ardeal, a little village in the majestic Carpathians."

One look at Lilith's face was enough to tell him how much she was interested in this place. "What am I doing here," he thought to himself. "I'm showing a hungry vampire the living space of her next victims. Sadden, how could you burden me with this kind of responsibility, me a mere human?"

Andrej shook his head to clear his thoughts, and when he looked up Lilith had vanished. Concerned, he took a look around, and in front of the inn he discovered someone in the moonlight, long black-brown hair and her dress ruffled by the wind. It was Lilith, who seemed to be staring through the tiny windows, and for a long time Andrej wasn't able to take his eyes of her. Suddenly, he came back to his senses. "This is just great," he mumbled. "She's probably taking her choice. I have to prevent the inhabitants from seeing her, or even worse, prevent one of them from becoming her next meal."

Hurriedly Andrej went over to the vampire and tried to get through to her,"Not here! Not in this village!"

He got no reaction from Lilith. She didn't even take her eyes off the inn.

Andrej tried again. "I know about the order Sadden gave you, which you can't ignore. The people in this valley are put under taboo for your Highness," his voice became harder, because Lilith's indifference began to make him angry, even though he usually wasn't a man who lost his calm. "This meaningless, staring gaze...as if I'm from another world that doesn't exist for her..."

Suddenly the inn's door was kicked open, and a young man came out, swaying drunkenly. From inside, the host called after him, "The next time you try to plunder my pantry I'm going to kick you and your buddies out!"

As an answer, the host got mocking laughter, and the inn's door was kicked closed again."We were thirsty and looking for beer, old man, and it's not like you would want to tangle with the mayor's son! Can't a man celebrate his twentieth birthday with his friends?"

Andrej knew the man who had his back to him, and so he hurried to stand in front of Lilith. Without taking his eyes off the young man he whispered to her, "Go, I will try and distract this unpleasant fellow."

But his words were lost because, Lilith had already disappeared. Andrej turned to the spot she had been standing just a moment ago, and cursed, "Damn! Where did she go now?" His eyes swept his surroundings, searching for the vampire.

"Hey, Andrej! Say, you poor fool, are you talking to yourself? It seems like the loneliness finally caught up with your head, huh? So, I guess it's no wonder that everybody thinks you're crazy," the drunken man slurred.

Andrej took a deep breath and turned around, "Rouven," he acknowledged. "What a pleasure to meet you."

Scrutinizing him up and down Rouven asked, distrustfully, "What are you doing here, at this time of the night? Looking for someone in specific?"

Andrej rolled his eyes and thought about Lilith, especially about the things she could be doing right in this moment. "I'm sorry, Rouven, but I've got no time to waste with you."

Staggering the mayor's son took a step toward him. "Is that so? The master of the bewitched castle thinks the soon-to-be head of the valley unworthy of his presence?"

Threateningly, he pointed his index finger at Andrej's nose, and looked in his light blue eyes with great hostility."I will keep you in my sight! And there is another thing, my father only tolerates you here, you should never forget that!"

Unimpressed, Andrej looked at him from above. "I won't, because I know you will remind me every chance you'll get!" Then he just left Rouven standing there, turned around and went back to searching for his much bigger problem. Somehow he had a feeling where he would find the vampire, and so he hurried along. Andrej crossed the market place, which was the only paved place of the village, with a square shaped well in its center and a group of figures carved from beech, showing a shepherdess and her animals. In her wooden hands she held a pitcher, fresh water flowing out of it and into the well.

Andrej's thoughts circled around Lilith and the moment when she had been standing in front of the inn, when he couldn't move. "What happened? Was I somehow under her spell?"

Audibly he said,"I could do nothing else than stare at her! Of course the little bitch was somehow affecting my senses. And Sadden did warn me of her skills! Question is, how will I get the situation well in hand? I've never met another vampire besides Sadden, but it is obvious that there is more to this strange, young vampire than meets the eye."

Meanwhile, he had reached the place he thought he might find Lilith, an old, austere church, built of grey stones, witness to the hard life of the people, who lived here, in the seclusion of the mountains. Andrej made sure that nobody had followed him, and looked to the little vicarage, which was not far from the church. He was relieved to notice that no light was on there. "The old priest is sleeping tightly in his bed, probably dreaming of the sermon he will give tomorrow, while I'm visiting the graveyard..."

At that moment a door creaked, and Andrej turned in the direction of the sound. He noticed that the church's door was open just a crack, and with his heart pounding he slowly walked to the entry. Carefully he peered inside, but his fears that somehow the church's interior had been violated were unfounded. He released a heavy sigh, as he heard a long, drawn out "Meow". A grey cat came out and nestled against his legs. Andrej smiled, and stroked the cat's head. "Hey, you little loafer. Are you searching for mice?"

After the cat went her own way, Andrej stepped onto the graveyard. Simple wooden crosses and rough stones adorned the majority of the graves. Most names were

weather-beaten or covered by moss, so they became unreadable. The grassy ground was slippery, because of the dew, and Andrej had to hold on to an old, gnarled tree to keep from falling. He couldn't believe his eyes when he discovered Lilith. There she was, like a dream, not burdened by mortal concerns or fears, dancing and effusively spinning around between the tombstones. Faced with this sight, Andrej's heart nearly ceased to beat.

"Is she floating above the graves?" he mumbled, disbelievingly.

Just after the words had left his mouth, Lilith literally disappeared into thin air. The white and very cold mist that had developed slowly gathered around Andrej, and then floated away in direction of the mountains.

 

*****

 

"Attention! The police chief in person has arrived at the crime scene!"

All policemen present stood to attention, greeting their highest superior with a loud and clear, "Bonjour, Monsieur Dutroit!"

Unnerved, he answered,"Oui, oui. Proceed, gentlemen."

The policemen looked on in surprise, as one of them led the chief and Helena to the place of the horrible deed. In front of the room's door, the man cleared his throat and said, "The room hasn't been entered since we discovered the dead women.To us the situation seemed quite...um, delicate. Everything is still untouched, Monsieur Directeur."

Impatiently, Monsieur Dutroit responded,"C'est bon. But, please, open the door now. Don't keep us waiting any longer."

The policeman fetched a long, iron key from his pocket and unlocked the door of the room, that was still dark because of the closed curtains. A horrible stench, reminding human senses of a slaughter house, escaped from it. Immediately the three of them covered their faces with their arms, to keep from becoming overwhelmed by the smell of death.

"Open a window, right now!" Monsieur Dutroit panted. "The stench is unbearable!"

The policeman hurried to carry out the order of his superior, and pulled the curtains aside. The warm, red light of the sinking sun, which floated into the big room, couldn't attempt to veil the horrible scenario, that was spread out in front of their eyes. Helena became sick to her stomach, even though she had encountered many such revolting scenes in her life.

Monsieur Dutroit articulated what the huntress merely thought, "Mon dieu! What kind of monster is able to do something like that?" Six eyes gazed upon the poor soul at their feet. This first look was enough to have them turn away, to flee from the inhuman picture. The police chief went to the window that had been opened. His whole body was shaking, and he couldn't bear to turn around again. "I've never seen anything like this in all my years as a policeman," he choked out of his dry throat. "Just what is happening to our beautiful Paris? What is happening to make cruel things like this possible?"

The other policeman fled the room, sounds of retching and spitting could be heard.While Helena pulled out a handkerchief to protect her somewhat from the smell, Monsieur Dutroit untied his neckkerchief and wrapped it around his mouth and nose. "These young fellows today," he snorted. "They can't take anything."

Both turned to the body. "Well, this has to be Colette Lescoit, the nanny. At least I think it's her from the rest of her clothes. Not much more to say, I think...she's been totally gutted..." Stunned he leaned forward to look at her head. "There is not much left of her face, it looks as if she got run over by a cart. This is scandalous, truly scandalous!"

Helena was more interested in the nanny's throat and any marks left behind, but she couldn't detect any traces of bites. The huntress tried to fit the puzzle pieces together, to get on the trail of the murderer, but everything seemed confusing and disconnected.

The police chief interrupted her thoughts. "Are you looking for anything in specific, Madame?"

Helena shook her head. "No, no", she answered, embarrased. "If you allow me I would like to have a look at the baroness."

The bearded man nodded. "From the report, I gather that she is lying in the bed of her room, and she wasn't treated as badly as her nanny was."

The blond huntress opened the connecting door, and stepped into the room, examining it, and searching for clues that would lead her to the criminal. She could hear Monsieur Dutroit talking to his men, "Yes, I looked at her and you can carry the body away. By God, what are you doing? Cover her with a sheet! I don't want people to make a big fuss about this! And I want to know, how it was possible for the press to know about this? This was supposed to be top secret!...What?...Then put it in a bucket! I want everything taken for further investigations! And, damn it all...do something about this stench!"

Compassionately, Helena looked at the bloodless female on the bed. "Simone de Francois. Poor child, so young and beautiful. You didn't deserve such an early death. Your life had just began." Gently Helena brushed the hair aside and uncovered the dead woman's throat. And there she found them, the bite marks she had been searching for.

The huntress remembered Bernard's words and repeated, "In the silvery light of the moon they seem like innocent angels." She paused and then added,"You all would be angels in garden Eden if he hadn't outwitted you." Slowly Helena lowered the girls night gown a bit, her face hardened as she saw stitches in the place where once a heart was beating. "Neatly cut out," she whispered. "Just as I thought."

Now more determined than ever, she made it her one objective to kill the vampire as soon as possible. Concentrating, she looked around the room. "Everything in here seems to be untouched...but the parlor looks like a battle field. Bernard told the truth, there are two of them..." Helena glanced at the little basin, her reflection stared back at her from the surface. "Hm...Water mixed with blood...but nothing that refers to the vampire's whereabouts. It's no use, I have to start from the beginning. I need the names and addresses of all noble girls who live in and around Paris. It's time to get one step ahead of the murderer. Monsieur Dutroit mustn't know the true background, but I need his help to find the estates of all the noble girls. Hopefully he won't get suspicious. We hunters operate secretly, because nobody should know about the dark folk. I need to hurry and warn my children. We have to act, quickly and carefully. The vampire and his companion mustn't detect our presence here. I will instruct Kyrian and Skylar not to leave the castle after dusk, until I'm sure where the vampire hides. Nobody else needs to be endangered."

Helena left the room, and went out to the street, where the police chief supervised the loading. He shook his head and said in a bitter voice, "The window was already open. It seems like the murderer couldn't bear the stench either. And one of these fools closed the window!" Monsieur Dutroit ran a hand through his dark hair. "I didn't know that such a horror would await us here. Will you help us, Madame?" he asked.

Helena nodded. "I will do everything possible," she responded, firmly.

 

 

*****

 

 

Sadden looked up from her book, as Andrej entered the room, which was dominated by a big fire place that bathed the whole room in warm light. Calmly Andrej took off his gloves and cloak and put both on the little table near the wall. "I took care of the horses and brought them back to the stables." When he didn't continue, Sadden's first question was, "Where is Lilith?"

The tall blonde man sat down in a big armchair, visibly exhausted. "She did what you told her, and went up to the pass to make use of the merchant's route. At least I think she did...she kind of...vanished...in this direction."

Immediately Sadden noticed his grumpy tone. "You are talking about her quite negatively. You know I do it the same way, so please don't blame her for her need."

Andrej ran a hand through his hair, leaned back and put his legs on the little foot stool in front of him. "You never told me anything about this part of the family. I mean...you know what I mean. I don't like reminding you of the past."

Self-controlled, Sadden set her book aside, got up, walked to Andrej, and put her hands on his broad shoulders. "I never thought I would connect with the immortal's world ever again. But as you can see, even with all my decades of experience, I can be wrong."

Contemplating her error in judgement, she gazed into the burning fire, the blazing flames reflecting vividly and dangerously in her cool, unapproachable eyes.

Andrej broke the silence. "She is so...so different. Not at all like you."

Greatly irritated he looked at Sadden, who sat down in the armchair next to him.

A light smile appeared on Sadden's face, and with a bit of amusement coloring her tone, she remarked, "Be lenient towards Lilith, Andrej. She was brought up by kindred souls, and doesn't value the company of mortals as I do."

Andrej nodded and replied, "But still...I do not understand her behavior, nor will I tolerate it. Because this..." He was searching for the right words to describe Lilith without hurting Sadden's feelings. "...this...um...brat played me for a fool, and I have to admit I feel like I'm at her mercy. I know that your powers and skills are far greater, but..."

"That was a long time ago, Andrej," Sadden thought. "A long time ago."

"...when I'm in your presence I never feel helpless. Because I know I'm respected as an individual. We are equals and we can trust each other. There is no way I will trust Lilith! She's here for an uncertain amount of time, and I think she is a danger for myself and the population around here."

Sadden took his objections seriously. "There is no doubt that you are right, and I won't tolerate her rude and thoughtless behavior towards you, but, this is not a matter of trust. It is a matter of obedience. I'm her master. I'm responsible for her education and development."

"That's no honor, it's a burden. I will never understand the rules of your people," Andrej answered scornfully.

Sadden knew that a mere human would never understand the culture of the immortals, which was essential for eternal life. "Our strict principles have always been reliable, and they are the base to our bond. But please let's talk about this some other time, because right now I don't have the calmness."

Andrej nodded, and Sadden asked,"How about a game of chess to end this night?"

The man shook his head and rose. "I'm totally exhausted and wouldn't be able to think straight."

Sadden looked at him with compassion. "Good night, my friend."

Andrej's hand rested on the door handle as he paused and said, "Your origin set aside, please don't forget what Lilith did when she first arrived here."

"I will not forget, my friend, neither will I forget forget my family," she replied in a low voice. "Because you, Andrej, are my true family."

Andrej didn't need to see her eyes to know that what she said was the truth.

After her good friend had left the room, Sadden went back to her reading.

 

*****

 

 

At a late hour a person was creeping, silently, through the narrow byways of Paris, always careful to avoid the sparse light of the street lamps and sticking to the shadows, unacknowledged. She pressed herself against cold house walls, peered around corners to make sure that nobody could see her. Some moments later she reached her destination. The imposing size of the police department of Paris was right in front of her. Priority now was to be very careful. She could hear foot steps approaching her, and also the ringing of a little bell. At lightning speed she hid in a house entry and waited with restrained breathing to see if the steps would go away.

It was the old night watchman, who was ringing the bell and announcing the time. He calmly trotted along, without seeing her and she let go of a relieved sigh. "Alright then," she whispered to herself, her warm breath visible in the cold night air. "It's now or never." Dexteriously she tiptoed to the back of the building, climbed over the high fence and landed safely in the backyard. She ducked and keeping low she went to the back door. It was locked, of course, but she wouldn't let a fact like that keep her from things she wanted to accomplish. She noticed an open, half round cellar window. "That should be enough."

She lay down on her stomach and slowly slipped through it, feet first. A wet-cold, moldy scent drifted up to her and she could hear the scratching of tiny claws on the bare, stony floor. "Great," a thought formed in her mind. "Probably rats! Eww, how I despise those ugly, brown-furred rodents!"

For a moment she was suspended motionless in the air, until she let go of the windowsill, and dropped, nearly soundlessly, to the ground. In the sparse light that fell through the tiny cellar window, she made her way to the well-worn stone stairway, and climbed up step by step. When she arrived at the door she carefully pressed down the rusty handle. She was relieved to notice that the door creaked open without a hitch, and she found herself on the first floor of the building. Candlelight illuminated the main corridor, as Helena Leosol came out of the cellar.

But suddenly, at the end of the corridor, the night porter came around the corner, making his hourly rounds. Helena became frightened, as she saw the old man approaching her.

Slowly he shuffled along the hallway, with his head down, and passed by the burglar, without suspicion. After his steps had faded, the huntress peered carefully from behind the long curtain, where she had hurriedly hidden, and went back to her search.

"Now, I need to find out where the inhabitant archives are," Helena mumbled to herself, grabbed a candlestick with a lone candle, and continued walking. Even though she knew it was the only way to get the information she needed, she didn't like it and her conscience stirred. "I don't like it that I'm betraying the trust of the police chief, and that I broke into the building, but that fact can't be changed now. Only preventing the vampire from doing other horrible deeds is of importance."

The rest of the house was ruled by darkness, no sparkle of light could be found. For awhile Helena wandered around the big building, until she came upon a door with a brass sign, stating in bold and flourish letters 'ARCHIVAR'.

"Maybe my luck will hold," whispered the huntress, and reached for the door handle. To Helena's astonishment that door opened right away, too. Indignantly, she remarked, "Not locked! This really is a great negligence of the police! A break-in could happen any time..." Shaking her blonde locks, she closed the door behind her and found herself in a room, that was so wide and high that the light of her candle wasn't enough to illuminate it fully. "This is just great," escaped Helena's mouth.

She put the candlestick on a big wooden table and waited a few heartbeats until her eyes were used to the sparse light. Then she started to search for the documents."I suppose the files of the nobles are stored somewhere else and not in the same space as the common people." Because of all her years working at night time her eyesight had intensified and she had no trouble reading the name tags on the files. She couldn't find anything in the lower rows, so she climbed upon the staircase to reach the upper rows, where she found what she was looking for.

Confidently, she pulled the big wooden drawer with the label 'Noble Birth Certificates' open. "Lucky strike!" she announced and grinned wildly. Her fingers ran over the papers, and she picked up a bundle of scrolls. "Some nice soul saved me a lot of work...the births of all noble girls of the last 25 years." Feverish she went through the entries, realizing much too late the sound of approaching foot steps that didn't fade. In the blink of an eye Helena plunged flat to the ground. "The keyhole...the candlelight can be seen outside..."

Listening closely she kept carefully hidden, the bundle of certificates directly under her face, as the door opened, and the porter entered the room. Dust from the dry paper whirled up, as Helena breathed in. She felt her nose itching, and pressed one hand to her nose and mouth to stifle her impending sneezing attack.

The man adjusted his glasses and grabbed the candlestick. "It looks like one of the policeman forgot to extinguish the candle. Tsk...could have burnt down the whole place!"

He wanted to leave the room, but suddenly he stopped. He was now right below Helena's hiding place, thinking out loud, "Maybe I should have a closer look..."

The huntress scrunched up her face. "Oh, no! Please, go, please!" Helena's mind screamed.

"Ah no," he decided. "My back is hurting me again. I will go and take a little nap. It's just a night like every other, anyway."

The door closed behind him and Helena released a deep breath. Her head sank down on the documents and, exhausted from the close call, she said, "That was close. I have enough for today. I have to go home and get to bed."

 

*****

 

Kyrian and Skylar sat in front of the big fireplace. While the blonde girl was reading from a big book, the young hunter was staring, dreamy eyed, into the dancing flames, his thoughts far away.

Tired, Skylar rubbed her eyes and looked at her brother. "I'm off to bed," she announced, and rose from the armchair, putting her book to the floor. When she got no answer, she used her index finger to poke him in the shoulder. "Kyrian?" she asked. "Is everything alright?"

The young man jerked back from his fantasies, and stammered, "Wh-What is it?"

Skylar smiled, slightly. "Where have you been with your thoughts, little dreamer?"

Kyrian cleared his throat, clearly embarrased, and said briskly, "That's none of your concern!"

Skylar stared at him, making him even more nervous.

"What is it, now?" he asked, suspiciously, and drew his brows together.

The girl was grinning wildly now. "Something did happen to your face."

Stunned, Kyrian touched his cheeks. "What's wrong with my face?"

"You...are...blushing!" Skylar exclaimed, laughing loudly.

"You are talking crazy," he replied, and glared at her.

"Out with it! Who were you thinking about?" his sister gibed. "Come on, tell me! I swear I will never tell another soul. Hunter's honor. And, if I do then a lightning bolt shall strike me down!"

Kyrian crossed his arms, shaking his head effusively. "You can wait until you are blue in the face. You won't get a word out of me."

But, Skylar was totally unimpressed. "Have it your way then. I already know, anyway," she declared and with a roguish wink, fled the room to head to her bedroom.

Kyrian jumped from his armchair, and ran after his sister. He caught up with her on the stairs, and stretched his arms out to prevent her from leaving. "What do you know?" he asked.

Skylar beamed at him, happily. "I know that you are in love with the blonde woman from the festival," she said, while ducking under his arms, and hurrying to her room.

Kyrian was hot on her heels. "That's not true!" he shouted, angrily.

Meanwhile the blonde girl had reached her room, which was illuminated by warm candlelight, slipped into her bed and adjusted the warm, soft, cover over her tired body.

Her brother sat down on the bed's edge and scowled at her. "I am NOT in love with Christine!"

Skylar laughed. "Oh, you even remembered her name! Now, I'm impressed!"

"You stop this foolish talk, right now," he ordered, threateningly pointing his index finger at her nose.

"The more you deny it, the more I know I'm right," she replied calmly.

Kyrian was furious. "What does a little smart-aleck like you know, anyway? You have absolutely no idea what you are talking about! And, now stop with this foolishness or..."

Challenging him, his sister arched her brows and asked,"Or whaaaaaat?"

Kyrian wracked his brain for a suitable response to destroy Skylar's suspicions, but he couldn't come up with one. "I don't know yet, but when I do you better pray to God to have mercy on your tiny soul," he replied.

Skylar couldn't help but laugh, heartily. "Oooh, now I'm scared to death. Can you see how badly my little knees are trembling?"

Kyrian became aware of his own very silly behavior, and gave up. A chuckle escaped him and soon he was laughing happily along with his sister."You are going to drive me insane one day, you little devil," he said and tenderly brushed some hair off the girl's forehead.

Silence fell in the bedroom, and the situation turned serious. "It is so very late now, and Mama still isn't home yet. I'm starting to worry a bit, because usually she tells us when it takes such a long time," Skylar admitted quietly. "What if the vampire discovered her already?"

A little pause followed, while Kyrian searched for words to reassure his sister. "No, don't think like that, little one. Mama can take very good care of herself, you know that," he responded, trying to cheer her up.

There was a little tremor in Skylar's voice. "Yes, I know that, but still I can't help but think that..." she began, her voice breaking, as tears gathered in her green-brown eyes. "Papa died because of the vampires. I don't want to lose Mama, too." A helpless, little sob escaped her chest.

Faced with his sister's tears Kyrian felt his heart clench, and pulled her into his arms, consoling her as best as he could, and trying to calm her down. "Never fear, Skylar," he whispered into her ear. "Nothing will happen to Mama. She will be back soon. Just wait and see."

After her brother had made her lay back down, he adjusted the covers around her, tenderly. "Sleep now, and you will see that Mama will be home soon. Now, if you close your little eyes and go to sleep I will show you how to use the crossbow, tomorrow. Would you like that?"

Skylar couldn't keep her eyes open much longer. "Is that a promise," she asked sleepily.

"You can bet it is," he replied, smiling broadly. He rose, and extinguished the candles one after the other. "Good night and sweet dreams, little one," he whispered, left the room and gently closed the door behind him. The hunter went back downstairs and took a seat in front of the fireplace. Kyrian ran both his hands trough his long, dark hair. "It really is late. Where are you, Mama?"

 

*****

 

The cast-iron oil lamp swang on the low ceiling, creaking in the draft, which blew through the coarse slits of the closed shutters. Chalice's gaze was glued to the flickering flames, which danced in the half bowl. She was deep in thought. For hours she had gone through her master's books and parchments, searching for the mysterious lion head, which the little blonde girl from the festival wore on the nape of her neck. Chalice was sure she had seen this sign in Azrael's documents. Still, she hadn't been able to find it.

"Where is it? Where can it be?" she asked, frustration evident in her voice.

Chalice unfolded another scroll, throwing it, furiously, into a corner when she couldn't detect anything of use in it. A book followed. "I can't believe it's not there!" she exclaimed angrily, and tore at her hair.

Her little temper tantrum was interrupted as a scratching sound came from behind her.

"The master," she whispered, nearly breathless with anticipation, and an evil grin formed on her face. "He has awakened..."

She jumped up from her chair and headed to the coffin, which was set up in one of the room's corners. Long, bony fingers slipped through the small crack of the lid. Chalice hurried to help her master, using all of her strength to push the heavy granite lid to the side.

The dark lord opened his eyes, and gracefully rose from the black silk he had been resting on all day. He adjusted his elegant clothes, and his eyes darted around the room. With great disdain, he noticed the mess his companion had made of the records and documents he had collected over the years. Azrael's angry, brown-black eyes were glued to Chalice's face. "What is the meaning of this," he asked, his voice calm, too calm. "Why is there such chaos among my belongings?" Azrael walked to the table, gazing at the books and parchments that were spread out carelessly and sloppy.

Chalice was overcome with fear, because her master's fury was unpredictable. She wanted to beg for forgiveness. "Master, I...please forgive me..." she stuttered trembling with fear. "Please, forgive the disorder...b-but, I was trying to get information."

The vampire looked at her, questioningly. "Information? To serve what purpose?"

"To understand you and your kind better. And, I wanted to know about our enemies." Reverently, she dropped to her knees, crawled to him, and hugged his legs.

Tenderly, Azrael placed a hand on her head, and patted her soft, light blonde hair. "I can understand that. But, why does the whole house look like a battle field? Why are my books and scrolls scattered around, or laying in the corners?"

Azrael grabbed Chalice hard, and pulled her up to look directly into her eyes. "Why are you doing that, when you know how much I despise disorder? You have jumbled up all my investigation documents!" he screamed, outraged, and increased the strength of his grip.

Chalice wanted to cry out from the pain but she knew that would make him only more furious. "Please, master, I didn't mean to cause such a mess. And, I wanted to put everything back where it belongs. It seems that I lost track of time, while I was engrossed in the books. I nearly even missed your awakening," she tried to explain subdued, as she lowered her gaze to the floor, shaking with fear.

Azrael sighed. "Well, you are forgiven. But, don't let it happen again. My patience with you is beginning to wane."

Chalice was happy to have deflected his fury, and released a relieved breath. "Oh, thank you very much, master. You are so nice to me..."

"That's enough!" he interrupted her rudely, pushed her roughly away, and sat down in a comfortable armchair. "So, you wanted information abour our enemies?"

Chalice took her seat on a low stool opposite Azrael, and looked up to him. "Yes, master. What can you tell me about the hunters? Do they live in clans like the vampires do? How many of them are there? Have you met, or even killed some of them?" Chalice asked, looking at Azrael expectantly.

Azrael grinned, diabolically. "Of course. I have killed many of those freaks, who were out to kill my unique, immortal soul. But, none of these unworthy creatures succeeded. I triumphed over them all."

"I didn't expect it to be any other way, master," Chalice said, flatteringly, and smiled.

"Definitely, there aren't many of them anymore," the dark lord continued, his voice thick with complacency. "The last clan that hunted me paid a bitter price...their extermination. As far as I know, at this time, there is only one clan of hunters that could be dangerous for us, if they were to discover our trail."

Chalice leaned forward. "Who?" she asked, with restrained breathing.

Azrael stroked his beard. "The family Leosol."

Hearing this name, Chalice remembered the siblings she had encountered at the festival. What did the young man said his name was? Has it not been Leosol? Yes, she could clearly remember his words, "I'm Kyrian Leosol, new to town."

She came back from her thoughts as the vampire went on. "I haven't had the pleasure to meet a hunter of this clan yet, but this family has existed for many centuries now. I think they even walked the face of earth, before I came to be. What makes them so dangerous is the knowledge they have, and which they pass on to their descendants, generation after generation."

"But, you will defeat them, master, won't you?" she asked. "If they ever cross your path you will kill them all," Chalice rubbed her hands, gleefully, giggling amused at this vision.

"Certainly. There is no doubt about that," Azrael answered, in his usual arrogant tone. "Alright, enough of the history lesson. I feel a greedy craving, that I need to take care of. Get our things. I have a date with a virginal baroness, who is waiting for me in her chambers. Time for feeding!" He laughed and put on his fine, black leather gloves.

"I wish to know one more thing about the hunter family," Chalice interrupted reluctantly. "Do they have a clan symbol they can be recognized by?"

Unmoved, Azrael wrapped himself in his black cloak. "Yes, they bear the tattoo of a lion's head at the nape of their necks." He left the room, and his companion followed him.

A maniacal grin formed on Chalice's face, as a thought crossed her mind. "The hunters have arrived. I'm sure life will soon get interesting."

 

*****

 

Helena smiled warmly, when she entered the room. Her son was curled up in one of the armchairs, fast asleep. The glow of the fire made shadows dance across his face. Slowly the head of the Leosol family walked to the table, placing the bundle of documents on top of it.

A piece of wood popped loudly in the fireplace, and Kyrian awoke with a jerk. His mind still dazed, he looked around and finally discovered his mother. "Mama, there you are," he said, his voice hoarse from sleep. "We were worried. Where have you been for so long?"

Instead of answering his question she asked, clearly concerned, "Where is Skylar?"

"In her bed. Sleeping," the young man responded.

Helena took off her brown leather coat, and hung it over the back of an armchair. Then, she left the room and climbed up the stairs to look after her daughter. Carefully, she opened the bedroom's door, tiptoed to the bed and sat down on the edge. For a few heartbeats, she gazed at her sleeping daughter in the pale moonlight, which fell through the window. "If anything like what I've seen today were to happen to you or your brother, such a cruelty...God, no, I couldn't bear that. My heart would burst inside my chest," she whispered, tears gathering in her eyes, her thumb gently stroking Skylar's soft cheek. She placed a little kiss on the girl's forehead, and then went back to her son.

Meanwhile, Kyrian had detected the parchments on the table and began reading them. The young hunter looked up as his mother appeared downstairs, came to him and asked with great interest, "So? How was the rest of the festival? Did you two have fun?"

"Yes, sure," Kyrian answered, absentmindedly. "Skylar will tell you all about it tomorrow. I would like to know where you have been and what these documents contain," he said, pointing at the scrolls he had been busy perusing.

Helena sighed, and took the documents from him. "These are lists with names of every noble family's daughters. I also have a file with the current addresses of their estates."

Kyrian wrinkled his forehead. "And, why do we need this information?"

"To find the next victims of the vampire and to ensure their protection...before it is too late." Helena responded.

"Mama, how is that possible? What are you trying to tell me?" he replied.

Helena felt the beginning of a headache, pounding at her temples. She rubbed her temples and pinched the bridge of her nose, trying to find the energy to explain things to Kyrian. "My son, it would be best if I start at the beginning," she began, simply.

Kyrian nodded. "I think so, too."

The hunters took a seat, and Helena began her tale. "The man from the festival, who asked me to accompany him, is the police chief of Paris. His name is Michel Dutroit, Be that as it may, he led me to the crime scene of a horrible murder, that took place last night. And, he told me that other murders have occurred, frequently. God, Kyrian I've never seen such violence...such cruelty like in this case. And, this only leads to one conclusion...Bernard was right, the vampire doesn't operate alone."

"What's making you so sure of that," her son wanted to know.

"There were two bodies," his mother explained, patiently. "The virginal baroness bore the usual marks on her throat, her rib cage was opened, the heart cut out, then neatly sewn close again. The body of the nanny was battered badly. I will spare you the details. Let's just say she had to suffer a horrible and painful death. Now, it is time to be very careful. Not only do we have to fight against a dark lord, but there is also a very disturbed human mind on the loose, and that has me quite worried."

"But why the lists of the nobles?" Kyrian asked. "Where is the connection?"

"It seems that our vampire refrains from drinking 'common' blood, he prefers that of the upper class, he especially likes to feed from untouched, noble, young girls, while his companion takes out her sick mania on others. We have to be on guard, because the danger has doubled. And, that is the reason I want to ask you for something."

Kyrian's mind went to the strange conversation he had with the old fortune-teller, Madame Zynora. He shuddered with the thought that the Queen of Chalices could be the vampire's companion. Didn't Bernard say that the name of the 'terrible fury' was Chalice?

"My son, are you listening to me?" his mother interrupted his heavy thinking.

Kyrian started. "W-What," he stuttered.

"I said, I wish that you and your sister would not leave the castle after darkness fell," Helena said in a determined tone.

Helena saw her son wanted to protest, but she shot him a pointed look, and with a brisk motion of her hand, silenced him. "This is not open for further discussion, Kyrian! You will accept my wishes and comply! Do I make myself clear?"

The huntress seldom raised her voice, but when she did Kyrian knew it was of no use to oppose her in anyway.

"Yes, Mama. I will not forget it," he said, his eyes lowered to the floor.

"Good," Helena replied. "I'm glad to hear that you will listen to me...this time."

For a short moment an awkward silence reigned. The huntress rose and stretched her tired body. "It is very late," she announced. "We will continue our talk tomorrow. Now, it's time to get some sleep. Good night, my son." Helena brushed a hand through his long, dark hair. "I can't wait for Skylar to tell me all about the adventures you experienced at the festival."

Kyrian smiled, slightly. "Sweet dreams, Mama."

After his mother had left the room, his eyes returned to the dancing flames of the big fireplace. The picture of Madame Zynora's second card wouldn't leave his thoughts...Death.

He shook his dark locks. "No, I will not dare to believe that! The old, crazy, fortune-teller couldn't know the truth! That is just impossible!"

To Be Continued...

 

Return to the Academy