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 SEVEN

 

HUNTER'S PREY

 

 

 

 

Haunted by heavy thoughts, Kyrian sat at the stairs which led to the main building. Alone, he relished the silence of the evening. All day long he had not wanted to see anyone or talk to another person, because his feelings were in uproar.

The young man gazed at the big windows, the only ones that were illuminated on the second floor and defiant anger stirred in his heart again. "Mama is getting ready for the hunt and I have to stay home like a little child. If only she could see me fighting a horde of that scum she would change her mind. I could show her that I am just as good a fighter as she is. I don't fear anyone or anything. For me there is no difference between one or a group of these horrible creatures. They are all the same."

Morose and lost he lowered his head and stared at the ground.

Suddenly and at a fast pace two horses came up the chestnut avenue, pulling a carriage. Fallen leaves were whirled wildly around beneath the stomping hooves of the animals until the carriage stopped on crunching pebbles right in front of the young man. The old coachman sat indifferently on the carriage's buck, not moving from his position. Suspiciously Kyrian rose from the stairs, but the expression of his face changed instantly as he realized who was sitting inside the carriage.

"Christine," he called happily and opened the little door.

The young woman nearly flew out of the vehicle and hugged him fiercely.

Kyrian blushed brightly and brought a bit distance between their bodies. But he kept his hands on her shoulders, his adored gaze never leaving her face. "Until now I had no idea why I was so sad, but now I know since I'm holding you in my arms. Christine, I missed you so much," Kyrian said elated, his heart jumping with joy.

Sighing, Chalice looked up at him. "Oh Kyrian, you are making this so hard."

The young man shook his head. "To me it seems very easy. You appear and all heavy thoughts flee. But, it is not a good idea to stand here."

Chalice noticed the glances Kyrian sneaked nervously to the brightly illuminated windows and so the blonde woman pulled him around the carriage, making them disappear from the house's sights. "I don't have much time," she breathed, looking again and again at the horizon where the sun had almost completely disappeared.

"I do not wish to say good-bye," Kyrian answered firmly.

Chalice was about to respond when a second carriage with only one horse came up the avenue and stopped behind Chalice's vehicle. On the carriage sat a man in police uniform who seemed to be very tired because he tried in vain to keep his eyes open.

Another man hurried out of the wagon, not seeing Kyrian or Chalice. He ran up the stairs where Monique welcomed him.

Chalice tensed up as her eyes followed the man and asked, "Who was that?"

Kyrian's gaze was still fastened to the entrance as he answered surly, "The all mighty police chief of Paris, Monsieur Michel Dutroit."

Chalice's eyes widened in astonishment and she repeated haltingly, "Michel Dutroit...the police chief...one of the most influential men in Paris." Still, she noticed Kyrian's disapproval and ran gentle hands over his shirt. "You do not seem to like him much, do you?" she asked matter-of-factly.

Kyrian hesitated briefly before he answered, "He is. . .he is kind of nice, but..."

"But?" Chalice urged with a disarming smile.

The young man felt his face glowing bright red again and he finally said, "It is because of my mother.We have some disagreements and argue a lot...and she likes to spend time with him...but actually..." Nervously Kyrian continued, "It is only because of their occupations. I've said too much already...I...I really don't want to talk about it," he added shyly after seeing the questioning gaze of his Christine.

Chalice reacted right away and horrified she asked, "Disagreements? I hope not about me? I don't want to be the reason that you argue with your mother." Sadly she looked at him with her big brown eyes.

"No, Christine, please do not think like that," he replied and stroked her hair. "Who wouldn't take you to their heart? You are so enchanting and I really like you very much." This admission nearly made Kyrian's heart burst with happiness.

"Is that true?" Chalice whispered, lowering her head bashfully, but only to hide the winning grin from the hunter.

"Of course," the young man exclaimed. "You mean everything to me, Christine."

"Then get it over with and kiss me already," Chalice thought nerve wracked, "I need to get back to my master."

Timidly Kyrian lifted her chin with one hand and gazed deeply into the eyes of his Christine, but he didn't dare to continue. So, Chalice took the initiative. She stretched a bit upward and wrapped a hand around his neck, while the other rested on his chest, and pulled his face towards her.

Without resistance Kyrian let it happen, because part of him longed to kiss those sweet lips as they drew closer to him. Impetuously he pressed his mouth against Chalice's, who was quite amused by his inexperience. "Have you never kissed a girl before?"

Embarrassed Kyrian shook his head, not able to answer.

Chalice smirked, "It seems your mother is protecting you very well."

Like an arrow this words pierced his heart as he realized, "I'm being mothered."

Chalice noticed his stunned expression and relented, "I'm sorry. Please, don't think that I was making fun of you. On the contrary I think it's wonderful, but you are old enough that I can show you what a real kiss tastes like."

Kyrian felt his heart beating faster and louder as Chalice drew near, her eyes closed. Finally she gently brought her soft, warm lips to his mouth. Then her tongue coaxed it open to slip inside the warmth. Kyrian felt so wonderful, he lost thought of everything around him. Even Chalice couldn't fight the impression that she felt more for this young hunter. A new emotion grew inside her and near a panic attack she tried in vain to suppress it until she broke the kiss breathlessly.

Taken aback Kyrian looked at her. "Did I do something wrong?" he asked bashfully.

"I nearly forgot what I wanted to tell you.We won't be able to see each other for some time," she said, panting for breath.

Kyrian felt like being struck by thunder. "Why not?"

"Please." Chalice placed the tip of her index finger against his lips. "I will send you a message as soon as we can meet again."

Kyrian couldn't get out another question because right after she entered the carriage, the coachman urging the horses with the whip to move as fast as possible.

Later, after the carriage had already faded into the darkness, Kyrian stood still looking after it and waved. "Your lovely kiss tasted like golden honey. I wish this moment could have lasted forever." Dreamy eyed his fingertips grazed his lips. "Oh, sweet innocent Christine..."

 

*****

 

Helena returned from the window and went to her mirror. She gathered her long, blonde locks and formed them to a loose braid, while Skylar sat on her mother's bed, gazing at the glowing red of a sinking sun.

"So? Who came to visit us?" her daughter asked curiously, when Helena didn't say anything.

"Michel Dutroit," her mother answered shortly, her thoughts on Kyrian.

"Ohhh," came Skylar's unintentional cheeky reply.

Helena threw her a warning glance and her daughter changed the subject. "It is getting dark sooner and sooner."

"I know, my precious. Now, the vampires can make use of the night's earlier hours," Helena sighed. "Which means they will be able to terrorize people longer. But today some of them will cease to exist. I will make sure of that." A reassuring smile appeared on her face and the huntress pulled two handy, pointy stakes, as long as a common dagger from a drawer. Nonchalantly she let her most powerful weapons rotate in her hands.

Skylar's admiring gaze followed her every movement, until she placed the stakes on her bed. "I want to be just like you, Mama," the girl gushed excited.

Helena put on a black corset around her simple undershirt, lacing it tightly at the front. After that, she slipped into her black calf-high leather boots, pulling them over the pant's legs.

Helpfully Skylar held up the ankle-length, narrow cut coat with large slits at its sides for leg freedom, and Helena slipped inside. In each pocket of the coat went one of the valuable stakes. The huntress went to a chest that stood beside her chest of drawers and opened it. She took out a long, thin dagger and slid it into her right boot. Helena reached for a double-edged dagger and put that into her belt at her back. Finally she took a lengthy, tied up package from the chest and put it on her bed. Devoutly she opened the strings and parted the velvet fabric, revealing a light, nearly dainty sword.

Helena's eyes gleamed as she took it in her hand to practice some swings. "The legendary sword of the Leosols; a trusty and loyal servant of our family."

Breathlessly, Skylar's eyes followed the perfect grace her mother showed while guiding the sword through the air.

"Time and again it gives me a feeling of safety and that I will be able to win every fight," Helena added thoughtful, as her fingertips traced the blade. "Maybe that's a mistake." Finally she cleared her throat as she noticed Skylar, whose mouth was about to formulate a question. The huntress slid the sword inside the scabbard she wore on her hips. "I shouldn't keep Monsieur Dutroit waiting any longer."

Promptly, Skylar jumped from the bed and ran to the door in order to hurry downstairs and greet the police chief.

"I will go alone, Skylar. You will go to the library to practice some French before you go to sleep."

The girl's jaw was about to hit the floor as she responded indignantly, "French? That is so unfair. I would prefer to fight some mean vampires!" Skylar thrust and parried as if she was holding a sword and fighting some imaginary opponents. "That would be much easier than learning French."

Laughing Helena just shook her head, while her daughter shuffled in direction of the library with slumped shoulders. Before her meeting with Michel she took one last look at herself in the mirror. "Helena, since when do you care about your appearance?" she admonished herself. "That's not exactly appropriate right now. There are more important things."

 

*****

 

The candles' flames flickered in the weak breeze that drifted through the slits of the wooden shutters. With a scratching sound the lid of the granite sarcophagus opened as two pale hands pressed against it from inside and slowly pushed it aside. The dark lord stepped out of his stony resting place and his black brown eyes scanned the poorly lit room, searching for his blonde companion.

But instead of Chalice, he only found a piece of yellowish parchment, on which the young woman had scribbled a message for him. His gaze slid over the words in neat handwriting:

Master,

 

If you are reading these lines, then you probably just awoke to greet the new night.

 

Do not be concerned about my absence, but I am carrying out your wishes concerning the twins and the hunter's clan.

 

Victory will be on our side, I can feel it. Rely on me, and you will find everything taken care of to your satisfaction.

 

Wait for my return and I will report everything.

 

Forever yours

 

Chalice

 

 

 

Nodding in satisfaction, Azrael lowered his immortal body in his armchair. A devilish smile formed on his face, as he stroked his dark beard, lost in thought. "The family Leosol. What an advantageous inclination of fate. I can not wait to be face to face with the mighty hunters."

He paused briefly, only to burst into loud laughter. "What am I talking about? 'Mighty hunters'? No, a weak widow and her breed of snotty brats. It should be easy to get them out of my way. But, who knows? Maybe they've got more spine then I give them credit for?"

Azrael rose and strode to the closed shutters. He peered through one of the slits, gazing into the darkness that lay ahead. "An excellent night for a little game. The hearts of Valérie and Véronique on a silver platter for me and as bait for the hunters. Helena...Kyrian...Skylar...the Sunlions. Do you have enough courage to confront me? But not tonight. My followers are just as excited as I am to get to know you."

Azrael closed his eyes, while one of his hands wandered to his throat and clenched around the snake pendant and suddenly all candles went out in the room.

The voice of the dark lord whispered ominously in the darkness, "Leosols, are you powerful enough to match yourselves against the mind of an ancient vampire, who has the combined strength, power and force of a whole clan inside himself? There is only one question left to ask."

His eyes flew open, glowing in a deep, dark red. "Who will be hunter's prey tonight?"

A feeling of cheerful arousal traveled through his body and his hidden eyeteeth appeared. "May the game begin."

 

*****

 

With quick steps Helena came downstairs where Michel Dutroit was pacing restlessly. A small smile flitted across the face of the huntress, while she pulled her coat more over the sword to hide it from the police chief.

Speechlessly he scrutinized her, for a woman rather unusual, appearance. When he finally realized just how openly he was staring at her, he hurried to explain, "I am sorry Madame. I didn't hear you arrive and I have never seen..."

He searched for the right words, wasn't able to find them and so he just shrugged his shoulders.

Helena nodded knowingly. "I am aware, Monsieur, that my appearance this evening needs some getting used to. But unusual occurrences need unusual measures."

Michel took one of her slender hands and guided it to his lips to place a gentle kiss against delicate knuckles. "Madame, allow me to tell you that, even if it is unusual for a woman, your clothes are very becoming. Is it a uniform from a foreign country?"

The huntress blushed slightly and smiled shyly, before her brown eyes lifted to meet the ones of the police chief. "Well...yes, Monsieur. You could describe it as a uniform."

The police chief slightly cocked his head, letting his gaze travel from Helena's boots up to her doe brown eyes. "It seems to be quite comfortable, and not as tight around the neck as our police uniforms are," he stated and pulled at the tight collar of his jacket.

The head of the Leosol family sighed impatiently, but still couldn't suppress a wide grin. "Monsieur, did you come to me at this late hour of the night to have a conversation about the newest fashion?"

He laughed and confessed freely, "Oh, I'm sure Madame Leosol that an extraordinary woman like you are without a doubt could give me some hints concerning fashion, but no, that is not the reason I came."

"I thought as much," the huntress replied friendly. "So tell me, what led you to me?"

The dark haired man cleared his throat. "Well...actually I was on the way to my new assignment, and I thought that maybe you would like to accompany me. Like you said the last time, we do need all the help we can get."

Helena crossed her arms in front of her chest and looked briefly at the floor before she answered, "I am sorry, but I already have other plans. I want to investigate some things concerning the 'Hearttaker', as the press is calling him."

In her mind she patted herself on the shoulder. "That was true enough without telling too much."

Michel was a bit disappointed about the answer but he tried to cover it. Then, an idea came to him. "Maybe we can combine both," he mumbled into his beard, but with her excellent hearing Helena had caught every word.

The huntress wrinkled her forehead. "I am not sure what you are getting at , Monsieur."

The police chief of Paris hurried to explain himself. "It is like this; at the moment a very respected son of our town, Count Claude D'Ardenne is staying here, together with his nieces Valérie and Véronique. Unfortunately he has heard about the horrible deeds of our murderer and that is the reason my men and I were assigned to guard the D'Ardenne twins."

"In other words you have been promoted to bodyguard?"

Michel nodded, "Yes, something like that. Their uncle wants them to live their lives undisturbed and in peace. They are not supposed to know anything about this. Besides, he is trying to find a husband for each and how would that look if there are police men present at every rendezvous. We can not be directly with the girls each moment. It is more like guarding them from afar. So, if you find something while investigating that could be valuable for us, Madame Leosol, then..."

"I will be sure to let you know right away," she finished his sentence and nodded. "But of course, Monsieur Dutroit."

The police chief grinned with relief. "You are too kind, Madame."

"And you are very charming, Monsieur. Such men are seldom found." Her beautiful face flushed right after these words left her mouth, while Michel's chest puffed up and a feeling of happiness coursed through his body.

"Why, thank you, Madame," he said and beamed at her.

Embarrassed Helena rubbed her neck and desperately tried to find something to change the subject, as Skylar appeared on the stairs, looking at her with begging green brown eyes. "Mama? Can I come with you? Pleeeeease."

Helena took a deep breath, silently thankful for the interruption, and Michel took that occasion to go outside. He nodded friendly to Skylar before he turned to her mother, "Madame, if you need to go into town...if you want you could come with me. My carriage waits."

The huntress was grateful. "I appreciate the offer, Monsieur. I will be with you shortly." Then, she went up the stairs and put her hands on her daughter's small shoulders. One last time Helena glanced downstairs to make sure that the police chief had really left the house and that no other servant was present before she addressed her daughter. "Just what is wrong with you children, hmm? Are you ever going to listen to what I say? I thought I made myself quite clear."

Skylar wrapped her arms around her mother's waist, lowered her chin to Helena's breastbone and looked into her brown eyes. Faced with this Helena was reminded of a little puppy dog, that was begging for attention and she fought to suppress a laugh.

"Oh Mama. Learning French is not running away, but the evil vampires will. I want to help you," the girl confessed, pleading in a small voice.

The huntress hugged her daughter tightly, sighed and ran a loving hand through Skylar's long, blonde hair. "My sweetheart..."

Quickly she placed her finger on Skylar's lips to cut off any reply. "Let me finish, honey. Look, during a hunt I can not afford to be distracted by anything, because as you know, every little mistake can end in a disaster. If I were to take you with me I would always be worried about your safety. I couldn't think about anything else or concentrate on the hunt. So, you help me best when I know that you are here at the castle with your brother, where nothing can happen to you. Do you understand that?" she asked lovingly.

Skylar nodded and tightened her embrace. "I love you, Mama."

"I love you too, my precious.You and your brother are the most important things in my life and I don't ever want to lose that," Helena said and brushed a kiss on her daughters soft cheek. "And now, please be a good girl and don't do anything stupid while I'm away, alright? As soon as I'm back I will tell you everything, yes?"

Skylar nodded, let go of the huntress and returned to the library, as Helena stepped out into the sinking night.

 

 

A short while later, the head of the Leosol family and the police chief sat in the carriage on their way to Paris. They passed the big town gates to the east of the metropole.

Michel was telling the huntress a bit more about the assignment. "Unfortunately we don't have specific information for tonight. There are just too many people in town. It seems as if the whole world is staying in Paris this autumn."

"Don't worry, Michel. I will keep an eye on your town." Helena gazed out the open window, back to the bridge they just passed, the breeze ruffling her hair.

In rapt fascination Michel Dutroit studied the huntress' delicate features, as he noticed one of her hands closing around the door handle. Instantly he snapped out of it and became the controlled police man again. He reached for her arm, "What are you doing, Madame?"

Helena smiled at him, "Even though I greatly enjoyed your company I have to leave you now, Michel." Carefully she pulled his hand off her arm.

Michel struggled. "I do not like the idea of leaving you here all alone. There are too many strange people running around the Quartier Latin at this hour."

"Michel, you know that it is impossible to detain me. Don't be concerned about me. The helpless girls are what you should worry about."

"Then just let me stop the carriage! It is dangero..." He wasn't able to finish his sentence, because Helena had already opened the small door and jumped out, while the carriage drove on at full speed.

Shocked Michel gazed back, but the huntress had already disappeared between the dark houses. "What an extraordinary woman."

 

*****

 

Kyrian stepped out of the shadows, long after the carriage with the police chief and his mother had left the castle's grounds. Grumbling he slid his hands into his pant's pockets and disgruntled he kicked some loose pebbles around with his feet. "Just why doesn't anybody take me serious? I am twenty years old and can take care of myself. Why isn't anybody noticing that? Why can't Mama see that? I'm sure that if she would just give me a chance I would be helpful during a hunt and could relieve her a bit."

The young man sighed and lowered himself to the stairs in front of the entrance. He pulled his legs up, placed his elbows on his knees, resting his chin against his palms. "It all is so unfair. Even Christine thinks I'm a child, how embarrassing. I have to prove that they are wrong. But how? How can I do that? How can I show them that I'm a grown man?" He kept this position, while the wheels in his head started turning. "Jean, he is a real man," Kyrian said absent-minded, thoughtfully rubbing his chin. "Should I ask him for advice?" He dismissed that thought right away. "No he would probably just laugh at me. But, there has to be something. Something only I can do to prove to Christine and especially to Mama that I'm a responsible man one can really count on."

More minutes ticked by as he sat brooding on the stone steps. Suddenly his grumpy face lit up, he leaped from the stairs and slapped his right fist into the left palm. "That's it!" Kyrian exclaimed. "The vampire! I will think up a plan and then catch him all on my own. I can't wait to see the look in Mama's eyes after I get him. Then she will finally realize that I can take responsibility and that I can be her reliable partner during other hunts in the near future.

 

*****

 

Helena looked after the carriage and shook her head. "Michel, take good care of yourself. You don't know what this is all about and I am not allowed to tell you. This betrayal leaves a bitter taste in my mouth."

She walked to the bridge they just passed and looked down to the street that lay below. With a jump she landed safely on her feet without having to go the long way and use the stairs to get down. Cold wetness hit her in the face as she went on her way and stepped under the wide arc of the bridge. She listened carefully for any sound as her right hand slowly wandered to her sword. Her hand rested against the sword's handle, while she scanned her surroundings and firmly spoke, "I can feel your presence. Come out and fight, or do you want me to hunt you down first?"

Just in this moment a shadow was creeping along the dark houses and Helena recognized Christine, as the young woman paused under a street lantern and looked around.

The huntress hesitated a second and was about to go over and ask her what she was doing in this part of town at this time of night, as somebody stepped into her way, who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere.

Helena stopped and in the next moment Christine had faded into the darkness. Annoyed the huntress looked at her opponent, who knelt in front of her his head lowered. With the wide cape and out stretched arms he looked like an overgrown bat. Helena couldn't see much of him, because the stranger was clothed completely in black. "You are in my way!" she challenged

"Indeed?" the man answered and rose slowly. He felt self-confident and superior. Finally he lifted his head and a wide grin formed on his thin, pale face, his white teeth gleaming.

"Nice pointy fangs. Truly beautiful," the huntress mocked.

She took her combat stance as the vampire showed the first signs of starting a direct attack. Moving quickly he pounced on her and with inhuman force he pressed the huntress to the ground, but Helena reacted just as fast and had already pulled a stake from her coat pocket. In the middle of the fall she took her attacker down with her and whispered into his ear, so that only he could hear it, "Sol invictus!" Then she rammed the stake through his heart.

One moment the vampire looked at her in surprise, the next he had already turned to dust. At lightening speed the huntress rolled to the side and jumped to her feet. Half a dozen vampires circled her now, licking their lips, longing to taste her blood.

 

*****

 

Chalice's knees were still trembling and her heart was beating a mile a minute as she entered the abandoned mansion. "I hope she didn't see me," shot through her head.

"Everything will be lost if the huntress makes the connection between the vampires and my presence," she whispered to herself.

Fearing the unrestrained fury of her master she decided against telling him that she thought Helena had seen her.

She opened the door of the next room which lay in darkness, she couldn't understand why, because she was sure she had lit some candles before she left to carry out her master's wishes and meanwhile Azrael should have awakened. The blonde woman squinted her eyes and tried to recognize something in the darkness, searching for the matches. "Master?"

She didn't get an answer and so she stumbled on through the room.

But then a deep voice whispered into her ear, "Are you searching for something?"

Chalice whirled around and saw into a pair of glowing, deep red eyes. She was so frightened a piercing scream erupted from her throat and she thought her heart would explode anytime soon for it was beating so hard inside her chest.

At once every candle began to burn and the echoing laughter of the dark lord filled the room. Azrael grinned wildly, revealing flashing white teeth as he regarded the suddenly pale face of his companion. "Why so scared tonight, Chalice?"

The young woman closed her eyes for a moment, breathing deeply to regain control of her senses. Afterward, she smiled lovingly at the vampire. "Master, you seem to be in a good mood tonight."

Satisfied with himself and the world he sat down in his armchair. "You know how it is. A nice little game does wonders for my mood."

Chalice lowered herself on his lap and slowly stroked one fingertip from his hairline, over the bridge of his nose, along his lips, over his throat down to his breastbone, where she let it rest. "Well, then you will be in an even better mood, when I tell you that everything has been prepared. The hunters are occupied, at least for tonight..."

"What about the police?" he interrupted.

"Our beloved police inspector Michel Dutroit and his men have been assigned as protectors for the D'Ardenne twins, but they shouldn't be a problem, since they are only allowed to guard the girls from afar. And there is something interesting I found out. Monsieur Dutroit is often visiting the family Leosol, and my little hunter's man told me that he is working closely together with Helena," she explained calmly.

"Interesting indeed," the vampire mentioned. "Maybe this information will be of use later on. Did anything else happen I need to know?"

"The D'Ardenne twins are awaiting you, master," she breathed into his ear and bent forward to press her hot lips against his throat. "It will be a good night."

"Yes," Azrael responded and smirked complacently, while he wrapped a hand around Chalice's neck and pulled her head back from his throat to look into her eyes. "Indeed, it will be a good night," he concluded and pulled her face up to cover her trembling lips with a fiery kiss.

Lust filled her. Chalice's eyes rolled back and she moaned loudly as the dark lord's tongue slowly slipped into her mouth. Her moment of happiness didn't last long though, because Azrael released her and pushed her off his lap. "Let us go. It is time to quench my hunger."

 

*****

 

The vampires circled the huntress watchfully but didn't attack. They had grown more careful after what had happened to their companion.

"What is up with you?" Helena asked clearly irritated. "Why don't you attack? Are you scared?" She exchanged the stake from her right hand to the left and pulled her sword from its scabbard with her free hand. The weapon seemed to glow with an inner, bright light, even in the murky darkness that ruled under the bridge. At first all opponents were blinded and clenched their eyes shut, but then one of the vampires gathered all his courage to attack Helena. He too pulled a sword and roaring loudly he rushed at the huntress. Even though he managed to get in some strokes he had to jump back as Helena countered with a double combination. She hit his shoulder and lower arm, making the vampire lose his sword.

He screamed in pain, blood flowing from beneath his sleeve and dripping onto the street. Helena noticed the greedy expression in the eyes of the others, who observed everything. Beside that, she saw that his wounds didn't close immediately as she'd thought they would. Almost helpless he stood in the middle and took a desperate leap to the side, thinking that would save him from the huntress.

Some of the other vampires pounced on him but before they could taste his blood, Helena's stake sailed through the air, hitting the injured vampire right in the heart.

He screamed one last time and all that was left of him was a small amount of dust, as the stake clattered to the ground.

The others kept staring at the deadly piece of wood. Hissing furiously, caused by the loss of a quick, strengthening meal, the vampires finally turned around.

Disdain was heavy in Helena's voice as she said, "Trying to feed of your own kind...You are worse than animals, but I will forgive you as soon as I have delivered you from this horrible existence."

"What does a huntress know about the unquenchable hunger of an immortal?" came the answer from a bulky vampire, who stepped out from the shadows. Being two heads taller he towered over her and scowled down at Helena.

With measured steps he walked over to her, while the others gathered behind him, smirking. The vampire eyed her female form and grinning he announced, "Your blood could make me feel better about the loss of our friend."

Helena beckoned him to come closer. "Come on then, so I can wipe you off earth's face!" she replied harshly. The huntress gripped her sword tightly with both hands.

With a quick movement the vampire picked up the sword of his predecessor, forcing Helena to the bridge's wall with powerful blows.

The vampire raised the sword for the final stroke, but at the last moment Helena parried quickly. She disarmed her attacker, the sword slid away, but the vampire wasn't impressed.

He pushed hard against her chest, making her stumble against the wall and she could feel the cold wetness of it against the nape of her neck. Her braid had loosened and she blew some blonde strands off her face.

Instinct had her throwing her head to the side suddenly and the deadly fist that had been aimed at the point between her eyes hit the wall with a crunch beside her head.

"Damn!" the vampire exclaimed, shaking his hurting hand.

Helena used that to grab his arm and twisted it. A well placed kick in the stomach pushed him away from her. Uncoordinated and his face contorted in pain he stumbled backward and fell to the ground. And just as the huntress hovered over him to finish him off with the second stake, another vampire tried to overpower her.

Nobody would have been fast enough to miss being cut by the blade of this new challenger. But Helena jumped back, with the grace of a cat. The vampire took after her but his blows met only empty air. Sparks flew as his sword hit the stony wall, where the huntress stood just a moment before.

Obviously confused he was surprised as he felt a tap on his shoulder and Helena whispered into his ear, "Are you searching for me?"

Dumbfounded he whirled around, but was too late to defend himself.

One well aimed strike with her sword was enough to behead him.

Astonished muttering could be heard from the others as the head rolled to the ground, followed by the body that crashed onto the wet pavement.

Precautionary, Helena plunged the stake through the corpse's chest, calling, "Sol invictus! Never did any of those I beheaded rise again, but who knows what is possible in Paris. Better to be on the safe side."

She knew the others would be easy game, fear was practically written all over their pale faces. But before she had a chance to take care of the bulky one, who had used the distraction to retrieve his weapon and get back on his feet. He covered Helena with blows and strikes she had to dodge. She countered with blows of her own and retreated a bit to get an overview of the new situation. Fiercely he took after her and she fought back matching him stroke for stroke. With renewed force he drove her back again, Helena stumbled and her next blow met thin air.

The vampire took his chance, trying to knock the sword from her hand.

Pulling back her hand and letting go of the sword saved Helena from getting her hand broken by the vampire.

Laughing he kicked the sword out of her reach and closed his hands around her neck.

Helena noticed that his inhuman powers grew weaker, slowly but unstoppable. Giving her the advantage she needed, she kneed him in the groin with all her might. He doubled over in pain, released her from his grip and turned a bit to the side.

But she wasn't finished and slammed her knee right in the vampire's face. Helena was gratified to see the spraying blood, as his nose broke. "You may be immortal, but you are not immune to pain!" Her hand smashed beneath his chin and cracked his head against the wall, making the vampire's legs give out.

He slid to the ground but found enough breath to croak, "We will kill you, wench!"

Helena's answer was painful. She kicked him furiously in the ribs.

Even though he was very groggy he tried to force her down and reached for her ankles. The huntress threw herself on him, her knees crashing into his already broken ribs, reinforcing the pain. "Who commands you?" she wanted to know, while kneeling on his ribcage.

Out of spite the vampire kept silent.

"I know that you bloodsuckers don't flock together out of the blue! There has to be a reason!"

Still nothing from the creature of the night.

The huntress realized it was in vain to interrogate the vampire further, because if they had to they would keep silent till their death. Helena knew many of the vampires' secrets, for example that they could recover faster than any normal human and so it was necessary to kill them all.

"Be thankful that I'm such a nice person and will put a stake through your dark heart before the pain gets unbearable," the huntress stated coldly, and determined did what she just said she would. "Sol invictus!"

Helena's experience showed her that even one tiny carelessness was enough to result in a dangerous situation. That's why she always made sure to divide her strength so she had some reserves she could rely on if she needed to, another advantage she could use.

After ridding the world from the third vampire she turned to the rest of the dark bunch, provoking them, "You may be faster, but I am much stronger and enduring."

Incited by the huntress' words they began to circle Helena again, growling threateningly like dogs suffering of rabies.

During that she lost briefly sight of one vampire who immediately started a surprise attack. She had only enough time to sidestep him and raise her sword to protect her front so the vampire's blade slid along her own, weakening the blow.

At lightning speed Helena turned her sword and disarmed her surprised opponent while she slammed the stake in his chest with her free hand, making him dissolve to dust. "Sol invictus!"

Addressing the others she said, "You saw how you will fare. Tell me, who do you obey?"

Instead of an answer her order earned her another attack. This vampire was more agile than the others before him and he seemed to know how to use a sword. He moved so fast that Helena found it difficult to make out his shape in the darkness as he constantly floated around between floor, walls or the bridge's ceiling.

Soon after Helena found herself backed to the wall, and one quick movement of the vampire's weapon had her disarmed, the mighty sword of the Leosols scraped over the pavement and slid out of her sight.

The vampire stopped a respectful distance away. Then he closed in and placed the blade against her throat, saying, "Nobody."

The huntress snorted contemptuously, giving voice to her disbelief.

The vampire responded with a hard slap across her face. Her right cheek was red and began to swell, blood dripped off her nose and from a cut on her upper lip.

The dark creature's gaze went from Helena's eyes to her blood and she could see how the greed awoke inside him. She used this moment of distraction to gather her strength and push him away from her.

At the unexpected move he lost his balance and fell to the ground. The huntress pounced and bore down on him with all her might, nailing him to the pavement with her legs and slammed her fist right into his face. She hit him again, twice, thrice, until he groaned in pain, barely able to open his eyes.

"You are lying as well as you are fighting," Helena hissed.

The vampire tried to laugh, but as blood flowed from his mouth he swallowed wrong and began to cough. He wheezed and Helena saw that he wanted to say something, but it was hard to understand him as he mumbled with badly swollen lips. Carefully she bent down, putting the stake aside and pressed his head with both hands to the floor to prevent him from getting free.

The vampire opened his mouth, revealing pointy eyeteeth that glistened with his own blood, and wheezed, "You...your children...you all will die...it...is...unavoidable..."

A malicious grin spread across his features and Helena pulled the long, thin dagger from her right boot, cutting his throat with one stroke. Blood splashed across her face but the huntress didn't seem to notice.

She breathed harshly, staring at the red fluid that stuck to the blade. Then, she reached for the stake and rammed it into the corpse's chest, without saying her war cry. The vampire's words echoed in her mind. "Something big is going on here in Paris, something of horrendous proportions...Skylar...Kyrian...oh Helena free your mind from distracting thoughts...and think! What are the vampires planning?"

At a loss she glanced at the small heaps of ash to her feet as the wind picked up to blow away the last traces of the fight. Relieved she retrieved her sword and placed it back into its scabbard; then she bent over to pick up the stakes, wanting to put them back into her coat's pockets. Suspiciously Helena paused in this position and said, "It seemed to me that there were two more of them..."

Right after those words of doubt left her mouth a dark shadow tackled her from above. The huntress recognized a very young woman, whose face was framed by red locks and reminded her of Joséphine, before the back of her head connected roughly with the ground. Helena groaned. Dazed, she saw another shadow that came crawling at her very fast from above, which should have been impossible due to the rules of gravity.

The huntress looked into the vampire's eyes, who hung head first off the bridge's ceiling. Light brown hair escaped the hood of her cloak and Helena thought she was confronted by Luise.

The head of the Leosols clenched her eyes shut, trying to regain her senses, but the illusion wouldn't even fade before her mind's eye. The pictures of the dead girls had been burnt into her memories and were now confusing her thoughts. "These are not the girls. These beasts have nothing in common with the poor children. Their features just resemble each other a bit."

Her concentration slipped, while the throbbing pain in her body grew stronger. Helplessly Helena had to let it happen. The only thing reminding her of reality were the distant, joyful shouts of the vampires. Next, she felt something warm passing over her face. The huntress fought to open her eyes and gazed directly into a pair of deep black ones. For a short moment she was blinded by the black flames. The vampire that had wrestled her to the ground was lying on top of her, savoring the dried blood from the huntress' lip and nose with her tongue.

Disgusted, Helena turned her head to the side and found the second vampire, who looked over the shoulders of the first, obviously delighted by the horrible spectacle, her eyes gleaming with pleasure. Greedy, she licked her lips with the tip of her tongue and pushed her companion slightly, who hovered over the huntress. "Hey! Leave me some! I want to have some fun, too!"

The vampire stopped, turned, and wrapped her lips around the ones of her friend, kissing her deeply. After they parted, the second vampire looked even more hungry than before at her victim. "The blood of the mighty huntress...delicious."

Helena was shocked that the vampires knew so much about her.

The redhead that was still lying on her took the word, "Our creator won't be too happy if we keep the huntress for ourselves."

Giggling amused, the other replied, "We just tell him it was an unfortunate accident."

Helena wasn't able to make another clear thought as a pair of long teeth pierced her throat, searching for the main artery. Desperately the head of the family Leosol arched up, trying with all her might to push the female vampire off her...in vain.

 

 

 

*****

 

Frustrated beyond all meaning, Skylar banged her forehead against the yellowish pages of the book in which she had read only seconds before.

Monique opened the door and entered the library. She had to laugh as she saw the girl. "Well, I guess that means it doesn't want to get into your head, hmm?" the cook asked amused.

Skylar looked up and wailed, "I will never understand it! This language is way too complicated for me!"

"Nonsense," Monique replied, trying to cheer up Helena's little daughter, while she stroked her cheek. "Don't hang your head. You will see, eventually you will understand it."

"I dare to doubt that," Skylar shot back stubbornly, crossed her arms in front of her chest and poked out her lower lip.

Monique realized it would be better to quickly change the subject. "I just wanted to let you know that we are off to bed and I wanted to see if you need anything before we turn in?"

"A bigger brain to get all the French words in. Do you have something like that in your offer?" Skylar asked, quite seriously.

The cook giggled. "No, I'm sorry, but I don't have that. Hey, but if you'd like I could help you with the vocabulary, tomorrow."

With renewed hope Skylar looked at the brown haired woman. "Really?"

Monique nodded.

"That would be fantastic," the girl exclaimed, while a small smile formed on her face.

"Alright, I will see you tomorrow then. Good night, Skylar." After that the cook left the library.

"A good night to you too, Monique!" Skylar called after her. Alone again, the girl closed the French book and put it on the table. During that, her gaze fell again on the scrolls and papers of her mother. "This is much more interesting than trying to learn that bloody French," she decided and engrossed herself into the documents about the vampire clans.

Suddenly the door flew open and a loud, "AHA! GOT YOU NOW!" erupted.

Caught, Skylar discovered her big brother, who grinned and joined her at the table. "Hey, you little rascal. Snooping around in Mama's stuff again?"

"I am not 'snooping', I'm searching for something," she defended herself.

"And for what, if you allow me the question?" Kyrian followed it up, looking over his sister's shoulders.

Skylar showed him the scroll with the vampire clans' heraldic animals and pointed at the golden phoenix. "I have been searching for that. Have you seen this ever before?"

Kyrian shook his head. "A new clan?"

Skylar shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know. Not so long ago I asked Mama about it, but she didn't give me an answer. That's why I thought I go through our notes to find some hints but no. Nothing, not one tiny trace."

"What about the little note book the police chief gave to Mama. Have you looked there?"

"No," Skylar responded shaking her head. "Mama took it with her. She always carries it with her since it has been a present from Monsieur Dutroit and all..."

"Damn!" Kyrian thought to himself. "I need this book. I'm sure that every important note is in there, which I need to catch the vampire."

His little sister was shaking his arm wildly and that brought him back to the present. "Hey, Kyrian! Did you listen to any word I said?!"

"W-what is it?" he stuttered finally.

A bit nerve wracked Skylar rolled her eyes. "I asked you if you have noticed that the police chief comes to visit us quite often?"

"So what? They have a lot to talk about."

"I think there is more," Skylar mentioned and bent to her brother grinning conspiratorially. "I think our Mama has caught the eye of the good Monsieur Dutroit."

Kyrian wrinkled his forehead, regarding the girl questioningly. "What makes you say that?"

"He has a certain expression in his eyes, just like you do when you see your Christine. Aaaaand...I was right about you and her. Right?" she explained knowingly.

"Alright, that's enough now," the young hunter replied, scooped up his sister and placed her upside down over his shoulder.

"Hey!" Skylar squeaked in surprise. "What are you doing? Let me down, right now!" she ordered firmly.

Kyrian just chuckled and carried the twisting and kicking, loudly protesting girl from the library. "Time for bed, little Miss-smart-ass!" he announced and went upstairs.

 

*****

 

In this moment of hopelessness the huntress thought only about her two children. The thought of Kyrian and Skylar gave her the strength she needed to break free. Her fingers reached for her belt and pulled the double-edged dagger from it.

Helena rammed the blade deep inside her opponent's chest. The eyes of the vampire bulged and she began to scream in piercing tones until blood came out of her mouth, silencing her inhuman crying.Unmoving the female vampire lay there, slowly bleeding dry.

Only with great efforts did Helena manage to free herself off the body and get back on her feet. The eyes of the other vampire gleamed with murderous lust and screaming she leaped at Helena. The huntress threw the dagger at her with such force, that it stopped the vampire's attack. The double-edged blade nailed the furious vampire to the wall.

Helena drew a deep breath of relief. "Even a huntress needs to have some luck." Then she ripped a piece off the lifeless vampire's dress and wrapped it around her own bleeding throat; after that, just to make sure that the vampire would never rise again, she thrust a stake through her chest. "Sol invictus!"

Meanwhile the other tried to pull the dagger from her hand, mumbling curses, but the blade stuck fast to the wall's joint. The huntress stood in front of her, as the vampire hissed, "My teeth will pierce your throat, huntress!"

"Is that so? Want to know what I think? I think you are in no position to make such threats. Correct me if I am wrong."

As an answer the vampire spit at Helena's feet.

"You and your kind caused a lot of trouble tonight, and I'm covered in blood. Besides, I have bite marks on my throat, which I don't like in the slightest."

"Pull the dagger out of my hand!" the vampire demanded. "I will show you how much trouble I can cause!" Black fire started to blaze in her eyes again.

Helena pulled the other stake from her coat pocket and rammed it into the screaming vampire's heart. "Sol invictus!" The gray ash fell softly to the ground in front of the huntress' boots, as she pulled the dagger from the joint and put it away. She turned around and listened carefully to the sounds of the night. Her ears couldn't pick up anything unusual and Helena was relieved. "God will have mercy on your poor souls and treat you as what you once have been...humans."

Then she left the horrible place to get home as fast as possible in order to see if her children were safe.

To Be Continued...

 

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