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 FOUR

 

FAMILY TIES

 

 

 

 

The long scarf , with embroidered roses slid from her white shoulders and floated to the floor when Sadden reached out to take a book from a shelf in her library. She put the book aside, picked up the scarf and wrapped it around her shoulders again before turning back to regard her student.

Lilith sat at a little table, elbows on top and her head propped up on her hands. Deeply lost in thought her gaze drifted into nothing until Sadden said circumspectly, "Homesickness is natural. Every creature on earth can be taken over by it and it will never really fade."

She was waiting for a snotty comment, but dispite Sadden's guess Lilith answered sadly, " I miss my family, especially my parents and the wide sea in font of my eyes. I miss them...Everything is so different here, so far away from home."

"I'm sorry that you still think of my home as strange," Sadden said and looked at her regretfully. "It shall be your home, too." With these words the vampire took her student's hand and placed a gentle kiss on her high forehead. "I want you to be happy here at my castle even though you will have to learn first to submit to my methods."

Instantly Lilith fiery temper rose and she pulled away from her teacher. "Never will I give in to your absurd teachings! I'm the daughter of the high and mighty Zephriel, head of the most powerful and valued clan of the dragons!" the young vampire said arrogantly and her head held high. Her inner fire was blazing and mercilessly she fought her master with evil words. "I know what you are trying to get at, but I won't stand by inactive while a human is living like an equal in our presence! I will never understand how you can tolerate him! A human is as worthless as a stupid dog! He should be sleeping outside the door and be grateful when his master throws him a bone from time to time!"

As an answer to that comparison Sadden slapped her hard across the face.

Speechlessly, Lilith's hand went to her cheek and she stared at Sadden.

Without looking at her student the dark-haired vampire said in a cold voice, "All creatures of the night should be able to respect the ways of others! Our lesson for tonight is over and you may do what you want. I've decided that Andrej will teach you the basics of natural science and all other essential things you need to learn, in the following nights."

Anger rose once again in the young vampire but this time she smartly suppressed her ire . Instead she said sweetly, "Do you really think that he wants to spend any time with me? I have this vague feeling that he doesn't like me at all and you don't want to force him, do you?"

Sadden persisted even though she herself didn't know how Andrej would take the news. "You will learn to adapt, for peace's sake."

Reluctantly Lilith left it at this compromise, but decided to poke and prod another sore spot she had found on her mentor. "I have a question for you and maybe your answer will satisfy me for tonight. What is your friend's opinion about you coolly sucking the life out of others of his kind?" she asked.

Never had she been confronted with such impertinence and Sadden would have liked to attack Lilith again, but she decided against it. "If it interests you so much, my dear, go and ask Andrej yourself. And now leave me alone!"

Disgruntled Lilith indicated a bow and left the library.

 

Reflecting upon the agreements made thousands of years ago by her folk the master vampire said thoughtfully, "Everyone that lives by the rules is protected by them. They are for the well being of all creatures."

These old words called to Sadden's conscience, tortured her with her own horrible memories ; she stared at the dancing flames of the fireplace. "I didn't stick to the rules and now I'm paying a high price for my unscrupulous handling. How will I be able to make the basics of vampirism plausible to Lilith?"

With great effort she turned from the fire and restlessly she wandered through the room. "I wish I would be numb and unfeeling...or better yet would suffocate on the guilt...I can never atone for my victims!" Tormented she fell to her knees, tears of sadness running down her pale cheeks. "Let me forget! Oh, please...let me forget!" she sobbed. For a long time she kept up this humble position until her mind darkened and the ever present hopelessness returned. "I will atone for my crimes with my immortality. And the never fading memories will be my penalty, I'm condemned to remember everything for eternity. That's how it was, that's how it is and that is how it will always be."

 

 

*****

 

The big table, made of old oak wood, was covered by countless letters, their artful seals had been broken in great hurry. Soberly, the man leaned back, tiredly running a hand through his dark-brown, shoulder length hair. "Each and every member of the highest clan council spoke against taking any form of action," Zephriel announced, while looking at his companion.

Ajatarah left the niche of a window, sat down beside him and looked down at the letters, which contained the refusals. "During the long peaceful time they built up a protection wall around themselves with ponderous insensitiveness and now, the old can't see the danger that has risen..."

"...or maybe they don't want to see it. But ignoring the matter won't banish the danger," Zephriel finished. "Besides, this wall is unreal and only seems to give protection," he added, angryly. "In the end, we can only count on our community, but they won't see that with their high-handed, superior thinking!"

Ajatarah agreed with her husband, "The clans are hiding, thinking they are safe because it has been so long since the last battle the vampires fought. Too long ago, it seems."

Zephriel ' s eyes flitted over one of the letters, condemning it's indifference. "Even Gryphos, leader of the griffons, whose clan was known for its unyielding fury , prefers to rake in gold and jewels instead of arming himself to determindly face the danger!"

Ajatarah was at a loss and regarded her husband, trying to find words to ease his disappointment. "As it seems, your wise friend Apophis has not answered, yet."

"Yes, his reply is missing. But, I'm sure that the powerful snake clan won't refuse it's support," he responded, confidently. "Apophis has enough foresite to know the seriousness of the situation, even though he is no friend of the humans. Only thing is, it's been a long time since we last heard from him or the other Serpents. I will send a messenger again to tell him about my presentiments and to arrange a meeting with all clan leaders."

Worry reflected on Ajatarah's face when she answered, "He will be our last hope. Even the old Martiya Khvar, head of the mantichores has abandoned us. In his message he declares that our vigilance is exaggerated and useless and he won't take any precautions."

Bitter resignation was heavy in Zephriel's next words. "Just what did happen to the all mighty 'Order of Five' during the last decades, my beloved?"

Ajatarah was searching for the right words to describe the calamity. "The order lost sight of the world's importance, completely missing the never ending development of the earth," she tried to explain.

In the end her mate found only hard words to describe the misery. " For t oo long we didn't care. For t oo long we let it happen. Now it is time to do something, to find the evil and destroy it before the whole world is facing it's downfall."

 

*****

 

The strong wind was howling loudly, carrying the first cold air over the high mountain tops to the old castle in the valley. But despite that, Andrej was standing on one of the countless balconies, his sleeves rolled up, gazing thoughtfully at Lilith, who was standing on another balcony, some distance away and beneath him. She was turned in direction of north-west and listened with closed eyes to the wind's voice.

"Sadness is spreading around you, just like the mist you can transform yourself into. You seem nearly lost and compassion stirs inside my heart but..." He was so engrossed and didn't notice Sadden joining him. She glanced over the low balustrade, her night-black hair was blown into her face, covering the disappointed expression of her sapphire eyes. Sadden's voice was unusual thin when she started to talk. "I think I have lost the trust that I woke in her again . My reaction, led by my own impatience and fallibility, was wrong. It is all my fault."

Andrej's eyes wandered to Lilith, then to Sadden and finally back to the young vampire. "I don't know what happened between the both of you, but are you sure that there was one tiny spark of trust she could feel for you?" he asked, skeptically. "I mean, right in this moment she seems to be unhappy, but Lilith is Lilith," Andrej added after a slight pause. "This is just a phase, which will be over soon. And you, Sadden won't be able to change that, ever."

"We will see," the vampire responded, calmly. "Everybody can change. We just have to find out how Lilith will accomplish that."

Andrej stopped short at that and suspiciously asked, "Did I just hear you right?" Alternatly, he pointed his index finger at Sadden and himself. "Did you say 'WE'?"

Carefully he retreated a step, gently prodding her for more information. "Just...just what do you have in mind, Sadden?"

"I thought about that you could take Lilith with you when you go on your nightly walks through the mountains," Sadden announced suddenly and without any forbearance.

The man was speechless and his light-blue eyes grew wide. "When I go on my walks through nature I do it to relax! Do you think that Lilith's presence will be very relaxing for me?" he asked, as he finally found his voice again.

Begging, Sadden looked at her friend. "Please, Andrej. I want for us all to live peacefully under one roof. That's why it is so important that you two get to know each other better. You both need a second chance."

Andrej didn't answer and so she enhanced her request. "I already talked to Lilith and she didn't oppose."

The young man didn't know if he should believe Sadden's words, but in the end he relented to her wish. "Alright ; even though I don't feel happy about it. I haven't forgotten the last visit to Ardeal."

Sadden released a relieved breath. "Thank you." Seriously she continued, "Besides I won't leave my chambers for awhile now. It is time to do penance again."

Confusion was written all over her friend's face and his voice trembled slightly with worry. "For how long this time? Has Lilith something to do with this? Is it her fault? Sadden, don't do it! One day your self-starvation is going to kill you!"

"No, Andrej. She has nothing to do with it. And now, please come inside before you catch your death out here in the cold." The vampire led the way and Andrej followed some paces behind her. He glanced back at the balcony beneath them , but Lilith was already gone and nowhere to be seen. "It's always the same, how she appears and disappears. It's r eally creepy. Just for you, Sadden and because of our bond I will concern myself with this devilish brat. But, believe me when I say, from this moment on I won't be squeamish anymore," he mumbled, his words nearly inaudible in the howling of the wind.

 

*****

 

Meanwhile patches of mist were floating around the dragon castle on the British isle, as Zephriel was standing in front of an open terrace door, feeling the air's cold wetness. His mood darkened further and his enthusiasm left.

"Under the full moon, delusion can become the sweetest moment of our love. In a night like this, ever y thing seems obscure and clear at the same time. 'From shadows and dust our ruin will be born.' So it is written in the Chronicles," the leader of the dragon clan mused.

Ajatarah took her husband's hand. "My beloved, don't become one with these disastrous words," she warned. "The downfall is not sealed. Victory will be ours as long as we still believe."

Tired, he placed his head on her chest and gently Ajatarah started to stroke his clammy hair, her melodi ous voice whispering in his ear, "There is one thing that will make us always look forward...the certainty that our only daughter Lilith is safe, far away from the lurking dangers of this time. And we will fight, for her future as well as ours."

 

*****

 

Aimless, Lilith roamed restlessly through the long, dark corridors of the castle. Her dress rustled with her hurried steps across the bare, stony floor until she entered a big hall, with nothing inside but emptiness. In her confusion she began to talk to herself. "My dear parents, why is it that your presence is dwindling? Something is distracting your minds from me. Your voices are fading in my mind."

Unease made her pace the big hall up and down. "Why do I find myself thinking about it so hard ; what's preventing you from communicating with me? You would tell me if something did happen, would you not? Oh, this uncertainty is torturing me, and nobody of my clan is here with me. Who shall help me? Who shall guide me?"

Footsteps sounded behind her and Andrej's imploring voice drifted to the vampire's ear. "The answer is Sadden. Your master is Sadden."

Displeasure was heavy in her voice when she answered. "You dared to talk to me...human?"

"I'm not one of your ghoules!" he replied, greatly irritated. "I'm your...teacher." A small smile stole across his handsome face when he announced that.

"Are you laughing about me, human?" the vampire asked, her back still turned to him.

"I would prefer it if you would call me by my name," Andrej replied with the same cold arrogance as Lilith did before. His heart rate picked up when the vampire turned around and walked towards him. And for the first time their eyes met. Andrej shuddered. "A sea of fire is reflected in her eyes ; a true hellfire, which is able to burn every living thing."

Caught up in her presumption Lilith whispered to the man, "I will always be superior to you. Always! And you can't change that ; n ever... human."

"We just have to wait and see, don't we...vampire?" Andrej declared firmly after Lilith had walked out proudly.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

It was one of the last beautiful days at the estate in France.

A happy laugh escaped Skylar's throat when she followed her brother out of the castle and into the warm late summer's day. Recklessly and as fast as her legs could go she ran over the last blossoming flowers. Skylar didn't care about artful and symmetrically built flower beds of the French style, as she indignanted called out to her brother. "You promised that you would practise shooting the crossbow with me!"

When she reached the big wooden gate, which was the exit of the big garden, she stopped a minute to catch her breath. Straining she scanned the fields which laid in front of her in all their fruitful glory.

The servants of the estate were busy with the hay harvest while a happy song drifted from their lips. The men swung the scythes while the women raked the sweet smelling grass together. Jean stood on top of a cart and adjusted the hay with a pitchfork when he discovered Helena's children. In a happy mood, like always, he waved at them and announced a break from work. The other servants were grateful for a moment of rest.

After Kyrian had reached Jean, his little sister joined them and jumped on the back of the surprised young man, snaking her arms and legs firmly around his body. "I told you to wait for me a nd not to play catch with me!"

Jean laughed. "I always thoug h t that siblings should be nice to each other and stick together."

"We do that, Jean," Skylar answered, innocently. "Can't you see how I cling to Kyrian?" She increased the strength of her hold.

"Hey! Stop that, before you suffocate me!" Kyrian cried.

Jean scratched his head, smiling slightly. "Well, Skylar, sweetie, I didn't mean it quite like that but, if your brother likes to carry you around then that's fine with me. Just, why are you two running as if chased by the devil himself?"

Skylar slid from her brother's muscled back. "Shooting with the crossbow is lots of fun. But, Kyrian doesn't want to practise with me anymore, and I don't know why. Even though he did promise he would!" she explained.

Kyrian took out said black crossbow, running his fingers softly over the fine silver inlaid work. "This special weappon was carved from pure ebony."

Jean was quite impressed and acknowledged, "Ebony...I've never seen ebony in my life. It is one of the most beautiful but also very expensive wood s of the world."

"It was a gift from my father," Kyrian added, proudly. "Ebony is a very hard wood and that makes it difficult to work with it. A master cabinet-maker made it during the time our family was traveling through Africa. And, as you can see, when one knows what to do you get an unusual smooth surface like with no other wood. And the arrows that go with it are also carved from ebony, their tips enhanced with silver and they have raven feathers at their ends."

Jean whistled loudly through his teeth. Then slightly embarrassed he cleared his throat and innocently asked, "But, why would you need such a precious and unusual weapon ?"

Silence fell and Kyrian made an awkward face.

Instantly Jean apologized for his frankly spoken question. "I beg your forgiveness, young master. It was inappropriate and nosy to ask you that. Please, forgive me." The tall man bowed and continued in a more submissive tone. "I'm needed, we have to finish our work and get the hay harvest done." He went back to the others and they went on with their work.

Skylar looked after Jean and then she turned to her brother. "Why did you let him go like that?"

Kyrian struggled to defend himself. "And what should I have told him? Hey Jean, this is a necessary, special weapon for the hunt of vampires because it's the only way to kill them?"

Skylar shrugged her shoulders. "You should have made up something ; an excuse. That was an uncomfortable situation and now who knows what he thinks."

Meanwhile, Kyrian put the arrows away. "I just didn't know what to answer him. To lie to people, about what our family does, is hard for me. I know there is no other way but I don't like how I feel when I have to lie."

Skylar sighed. "I know what you mean, Kyrian. It is the same for me...Hey, what are you doing? Why are you putting the arrows away?" she asked and a pout formed on her lips.

Her big brother found his happiness again and smirked. "Did you really think I would let you shoot around our valuable arrows? Do you know how long it took me to find them all again the last time you used them?"

Shamefully, Skylar hung her head, one foot drawing circles in the soft earth. "That was just a misadventure, but I promise to be more careful." she replied in a small voice.

Kyrian remembered that day clearly and gloated. "One of the arrows flew through the open kitchen window and nearly hit Monique!"

"Now you are greatly exaggerating!" Skylar was outraged about her brother's words. "She was never in any danger! The arrow penetrated a flour sack that sat right beneath the window! She just got a little fright, that's all!"

And finally Kyrian relented to the arguments of his sister. "Fine. But I came prepared. Early this morning, I carved some arrows for you. They are made of willow wood, they are soft and flexible, so you won't be able to hurt anyone."

"You are acting as if I'm not sane!" she grumbled , angrily.

But, as she finally held the crossbow in her hands her sour mood flew away.

Kyrian explained everything about how to handle the weapon to his younger sister, just like a teacher would. Concentrating, she did everything he asked but it wasn't enough for him. Impatiently and under the girl's protests he took the weapon from her hands. "Here, I will show you how to do it right. Look, over there. I will aim at the handle of the pitchfork and hit it."

Kyrian put the crossbow into the right position, closed one eye and took aim. But suddenly he got distracted and he lost sight of his aim. A fairy-like creature, with light-blonde, long hair, wrapped in an ankle-long, sleeveless, pale red summer dress, walked slowly down the flowery hill, and caught all his attention.

"Christine," he breathed and smiled dreamingly. His whole body relaxed, and his thoughts filled with love as the crossbow slowly slipped down a bit. The woman waved happily at the young man, smiling winningly and showing off her pearly white teeth. Her big, innocent, brown eyes were firmly fixed to the young hunter while she strode down the hill.

With his heart beating a mile a minute Kyrian repeated her name. "Christine..."

Just in that moment the arrow shot from the crossbow and approached it's new destination. Skylar called out ; her brother turned around and horrified he followed her gaze. His eyes widened and at the top of his lungs he screamed, "JEAN!"

But, the warning was to o late and the man, who had his back turned to the siblings, got a painful surprise. He was bending down as the arrow penetrated the fabric of his working pants and stuck fast in his behind.

Skylar and Kyrian winced when Jean jumped and then buckled with a pained expression. With a mighty pull he ripped the arrow from his trousers, disbelievingly looking at it. His questioning gaze fell on the siblings and without further thought, Skylar furtively pointed her finger at her brother.

Kyrian swallowed hard as he saw Jean's unmoving face as the tall man took big steps towards them. He wanted to flee but fear froze him to the spot and he couldn't move. Finally Jean reached them and with his large, strong hands he grabbed Kyrian's shoulders. The young hunter was afraid his bones would be broken in the next moment.

Fearing for her brother's life Skylar wanted to bravely step between them, but unexpectingly Jean started to laugh, while slapping his hands hard on the shoulders of the very puzzled Kyrian. "Well, I think it will take some time to sit without pain, and my walking will look quite funny for awhile. But, don't worry. Something like that is not going to kill me."

The young hunter released a relieved breath. "I'm so very sorry, Jean. I just got distracted for a tiny moment...it certainly was not my intension to hurt you in any way."

Jean laughed. "Well, young master, only my pride is hurt. And as long as it is not bleeding I won't think of it as a life-threatening wound. It will be best to forget about the whole thing before I become the laughingstock of the servants." He winked at Kyrian and stiffly limped back to continue with his work.

Skylar looked at her brother and the twitching of her mouth's corners indicated that she had trouble to suppress a face-splitting grin.

Kyrian pressed his hands to his hips and glared down at his little sister. "Don't say a word! Not one word!"

Not the slightest bit impressed, the girl replied dryly, "I think you are the one who needs to practise." She shook her head and continued, "Just imagine this would have happened in a real fight. A tiny moment of carelessness could have resulted in your death. Vampires will show you no mercy. They just would have coolly sucked the life from your body." Skylar grinned and was a proud of herself. She had just repeated word for word the same lecture her brother had given her the last time they had practised shooting with the crossbow.

Chalice reached the siblings before Kyrian could counter with a snide remark. The hunter turned from his sister to the young, blonde woman, who smiled at him adoringly.

"Christine, what a nice surprise to have you visiting me again", the dark-haired man said and returned the smile.

"Yes, it is, isn't it? I thought, because it is such a beautiful day, that we could take a walk and have a nice picnic," Chalice replied, slightly lifting the cloth which covered the basket she held in one hand. "And as you can see, I brought everything we will need to do just that."

He took her free, slim hand and guided it to his lips.

Skylar, who at the moment felt very out of place, went back to the workers, her head down and her shoulders slumped.

Kyrian didn't care about it. He only had eyes for his Christine and breathed a gentle kiss agains t the knuckles of the hand he was still holding. "A picnic? That's the best idea I have heard today." His heart beat faster when he thought about spending a beautiful afternoon in the presence of this enchanting, young woman. For weeks his dreams were ruled by Christine and he couldn't think about anything else than being alone with her.

"Wait just a moment. I'm going to get my horse."

Chalice smiled and ran a finger along his chin. "But don't keep me waiting too long. Every second without you seems like an eternity for me."

The young hunter shuddered slightly at the gentle touch.

Chalice's gaze followed him as he hurried to the stables to saddle Nightshade. "Men are so predictable," she mumbled to herself. "A nice smile, a gentle touch and they are yours. It will be easy to get the information. The boy is practically eating from my hand. The master will be grateful and proud of me. And then he will finally make me his lifemate." She took a deep breath and a furtive grin flitted across her pretty face. "Yes, I can feel it, already. Immortality is close and reachable. It won't be long now. Soon the whole earth will tremble and will fall on its knees before Azrael and myself."

Kyrian came back, leading Nightshade by his reins. "So, Mademoiselle Christine? Are you ready for a little ride?"

Flattered, Chalice put a hand on her chest, batted her brown eyes and responded, "Oh, how could I say no to that, coming from such a nice, charming man as you are. It would be an honor to follow you to the end of the world, Monsieur Kyrian."

The young hunter walked her to his horse and wanted to help her in the saddle, but the dark stallion nervously retreated. Nightshade snorted and threw his head from side to side. Kyrian was trying in vain to calm him down. "Easy, boy, easy. Everything is alright. Calm down." But as he tried to reach for the reins, Nightshade reared up on his hind legs, neighing loudly and kicking his fore hooves .

Protectiv e ly, Kyrian placed himself in front of Chalice, raised his hands, but the horse wasn't about to be calmed down. "Nightshade! Just, what is wrong with you, boy?"

"I have the feeling that he doesn't like me much," Chalice mentioned while peering at the stallion from behind Kyrian's muscled back.

It was obvious that the hunter was quite embarrassed about the way his horse behaved and disobeyed him. He tried again to get the wild horse under control, but Nightshade retreated more and more. "I don't understand it," Kyrian said, looking at Chalice apologetically. "He never behaved like that."

"Now, don't let that disturb our good mood. I know of an idyllically place, not far from here. A beautiful, silent lake and believe me when I say, the place was made to have a picnic there. Come, follow me," Chalice declared and pulled at Kyrian's arm, who was staring disbelievingly at his black horse that was standing some feet away and now happily munching on some grass.

"Come on, Kyrian," the blonde woman repeated, again pulling at his arm. "When we walk we can reach the lake, too. We don't need a horse to carry us there."

"Alright, just give me a moment and then I'm all yours," Kyrian answered, bent down to carefully pick up the ebony crossbow that had slipped from his hands a short while ago. He ran to his sister, who was sitting somewhat dejectedly in the grass, looking at Jean and the other workers, who were busy with the hay harvest.

The young man crouched beside her and placed the valuable crossbow on her lap.

Dumbfounded Skylar looked into the warm, dark-brown eyes of her brother.

"I have a very important task for you. And I'm trusting that you will do your best to fulfill it," he announced and smiled at his sister.

Skylar nodded eagerly, her dark mood flying away in the face of the trust her big brother was bestowing upon her.

"I want you to look after our crossbow. You have to promise to guard it like the apple of your eye. Do you think you are up to that quest?"

"You can count on me! I will not disappoint you," the 13-year-old replied firmly.

Grinning, he disheveled her long, blonde hair. "I knew that, my little sunshine. And that is why I have another task for you, too. Could you please take Nightshade back to the stables and take care of him? You know, I don't like to let others take care of him but I trust you to look after him."

Skylar blinked, her mouth hanging open. She nearly couldn't believe what her ears heard. But then she hugged her brother effusively. "Yes, I will do that for you. I will guard the crossbow and take good care of Nightshade," the girl promised.

"Thank you," Kyrian said, relieved and pecked her cheek. "See you later, little one." He rose and strode back to his adored Christine.

Suspiciously, Chalice was observing the siblings from a distance, her brows drawn together. An unsettling feeling stirred in the depths of her dark heart ; j ealousy.

 

*****

 

 

The head of the Leosol family sat in one of the overstuffed chairs in the castle's library. Her attention was held by some very old books and ancient parchments that were spread out in front of her. She pulled a well-worn, plain piece of paper from beneath some scrolls. Old memories came back to Helena while she gazed at the fading colors of the heraldic animals, which slowly started to flake off and made deciphering them difficult. "This little piece of paper is the oldest inheritance of our family. It is the only document which shows the symbols of the great five vampire clans." Carefully she smoothed the corners of the paper, regarding the signs and engrossed she repeated the names of these clans. "The griffons, the mantichores, the dragons, the snakes and..." Helena hesitated for the blink of an eye to say the name of the fifth and most powerful clan. "The clan of the phoenix." She shivered slightly as she looked at the black sign with the blazing flames. It looked as if it had been drawn just yesterday. "The colors of this symbol are still shining so brightly. So different from the other pictures. Even the real gold of the phoenix, that rises from the flames with wide spread wings, didn't lose any of its splendor."

Lost in thought the huntress leaned back in her chair, her eyes never losing contact with the paper that rested in front of her on the table. "Is it irony of fate? Since the beginning of our time my ancestors know about the extermination of this noble clan and still..."

Just then Helena was interrupted and her lips formed a smile, as she heard the door open behind her. Whoever had entered the room was trying to be as quiet as possible. But Helena knew there was no danger to be expected from this person, at least no danger to her.

"Skylar, my precious. What can I do for you?" Helena asked and finally turned around. Only with some effort she managed to suppress a laugh as she was looking at the dismayed face of her little daughter.

"Mama, how did you know it was me? I was trying so hard not to make a sound ." Skylar answered in a small voice, poking out her lower lip.

"Oh, darling. There is no reason to pout. Your sneaking technique is getting better and better. But it still needs some work. And besides, a mother can feel it when one of her children is near," the huntress declared and winked at her daughter. "But, tell me, why are you carrying our crossbow around? I thought your brother is showing you how to handle shooting with it?"

"Yes, we wanted to practise, but, something came up." After a pause the blonde girl added, "Or dare I say, someone."

Helena reached for her daughter and pulled her towards her until she was standing right beside her chair and the huntress could wrap an arm around her. "Skylar, sweetheart. I don't understand what you are trying to tell me. Where is Kyrian?" she wanted to know.

Skylar sighed. Then she looked at her mother and rolled her green-brown eyes. "In the throes of passion, I think, where else would he be? Every time this Christine appears he is totally different. Nothing else matters except his adored one. I mean, sure, she is kind of nice and all but...but...he behaves so weirdly. You know what happened just awhile ago?"

"No, I don't, my precious," Helena responded and smiled. "But I'm sure you will tell me."

"Kyrian was boasting that with the crossbow he could hit the handle of a pitchfork. And just as he was taking aim, Christine appeared and Kyrian was so distracted he didn't notice that he had pulled the trigger," the blonde girl gushed with sparkling eyes. "And then, the arrow got stuck in Jean's butt." She giggled.

Helena's eyes went wide. "Oh my god! Is Jean hurt? How often did I tell you not to play with the crossbow when other people are present?" she exclaimed, not the slightest bit amused.

"No, Mama, no," Skylar replied, gently stroking the arm of her mother, that was still wrapped around her. "We are shooting with arrows that don't have dangerous tips. Kyrian carved some from willow wood, just so we can practise. Jean is not hurt very badly...he...he is...just walking funny now." Skylar pressed her lips together tightly to keep from laughing out loud.

Helena sighed and was relieved. "Well, that puts my heart at ease. And now, please, put the crossbow back where it belongs. I don't want any other servants to see it and unnecessary rumors to rise, if it can be avoided. And I hope that you apologized to Jean?"

"Yes, Mama, we did. And he is not mad at us," Skylar answered and stowed away the crossbow in its wooded case. Then she went back to her mother, her eyes falling on the books, parchments and scrolls her mother was studying. "Mama? What are you searching for? Can I help you?" she asked with great interest.

"I'm afraid not, sweetheart. I'm trying to find clues such as to which clan the dark lord , whom we are hunting belongs. But there is nothing, absolutely nothing about his behaviour that fits in any pattern." Helena said, resignation heavy in her voice.

"Well then, maybe he doesn't belong to one of the big four main clans," Skylar threw in helpfully. "As if anyone would like to belong to the clan of the dragons, griffons, mantichoras or snakes." she finished the thought in her head.

"Either that, or he wasn't born a vampire, and that's what I think. After what Bernard told us, it is obvious that he is extremely powerful. So, if he wasn't born a vampire, he must have been created a very long time ago. And that makes him a member of his creator's and also mentor's clan." Helena's mind was working feverishly, while she was trying to put the pieces of this more than complex puzzle together. "It seems that our vampire has forsaken all rules and laws of his kind. The killing and drinking of blood is not just a necessity anymore, it gives him pleasure. He feels superior to the humans ; plays cat and mouse with them and relishes it. It wouldn't wonder me if even his mentor lost control of him."

"In other words, he is just as crazy as the madwoman who is with him?" asked Skylar, looking at her mother with furrowed brows.

Helena shook her head. "No, not crazy, more a devilish genius with the powers of an ancient bloodsucker. Something big is happening here. This is not just about the deaths of some nobles. But, no matter how I turn it and look at the facts from different angles I still can't grip it. Again and again it pulls away from my imagination. But, whatever game the bastard is playing, we have to defeat him!"

Their conversation was interrupted when it knocked on the door and Monique walked into the library. "Madame Leosol, the police chief is here and wishes to talk with you."

Helena nodded. "Thank you, Monique. Please, send him in."

"As you wish, Madame," she responded, dropped a curtsey and left.

Michel Dutroit came in and greeted the huntress with a firm handshake. "Madame, I bring bad news," he announced a bit dejected.

Questioning, Helena arched her brows and looked at him expectantly . "Go on, tell me what happened?"

"He...um...he got away, again. He slipped through our defenses."

The huntress closed her eyes for just a moment and rubbed her temples. Another strong headache was making itself known.

 

*****

 

The room of the abandoned mansion was dark when Chalice entered. She was soaked through to the bones. The dress was clinging tightly to her body and her long, blonde hair hung in wet strands from her head. In the dim glow of the pale moonlight, which fell through the coarse slits of the shutters, she felt her way to the table and fumbled for the matches. Hastily she scratched one of them over the uneven tabletop and with a hiss the white phosphorus lit up. Chalice brought the dancing flame in contact with the oil lamp above her head and the room was illuminated in a soft light.

"Master? Master, are you awake?" she asked with a slightly trembling voice, but, silence was her only answer.

She sank to the floor, pulled her legs to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. Chalice started to rock her body from side to side while her eyes flitted restlessly across the room. "The master is not here, but he will be back soon and he will unleash all his fury upon me, oh yes, he will. I'm sure he will do that," she whispered chokingly. "Unforeseen, just like the thunderstorm. I shouldn't have listened to the hunter. No, I shouldn't have done that. I wish I had not followed him inside the barn! There, I spent precious time with unimportant, silly banter! Why have I done that? Why did I trust him? I don't know, but, it was wrong! Yes, wrong!" Her rocking grew faster, the madness in her eyes became more and more visible, and her mood turned from fear to aggression. "But, he will pay for that, the little hunter's man! He will pay, he and his family! He prevented me from doing my duty for my master! He twisted my head and made my thoughts tumble with beautiful words! He woke feelings inside me, feelings for him, feelings I don't want to have!" she screamed in the silence of the room and hit the carpet with her fists. For awhile she remained like that until she had herself back under control. Then she rose, took off her wet clothes and slipped into a new, clean and dry dress. Chalice grabbed a delicate ivory comb and ran it through her blonde locks to get some order into her disheveled hair. "I will be beautiful again, beautiful for my master, so that he will forgive me," she said and slowly a tiny smile formed on her pale face.

"Now, look who decided to come home," a dark voice sounded behind her and Chalice's heart leaped painfully in her chest. Filled with fear she whirled around and was confronted with Azrael's angry face. Unmoving he stood beside the door and his brown-black eyes burnt with unrestrained fury and forced the young woman to fall on her knees. Her whole body trembled with fear and she couldn't move.

"Where have you been?!" the dark lord thundered dangerously, and took a step towards the pathetic, crouching figure at his feet.

Chalice couldn't answer, because the fear had not only frozen her body, but her mind, too.

To Be Continued...

 

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