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present

 

CHRONICLES OF DARKNESS

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BOOK TWO

HEART OF AN ANGEL

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CHAPTER THREE

 

MOLFAR

-Magician-

 

 


 

In a dark, wet cemetery vault, Azrael and his followers had found a new hideout during their travels.

 

"Pitiful, awfully pitiful," the dark lord exclaimed disgusted as he walked in the light of torches between coffins and sarcophaguses, looking at his quarters. His new residence did not meet his approval in the slightest, but he knew that it would have to do for the moment.

"How I hate it! How I am fed up to have to hide in the darkness like a common woodlouse! Cemeteries, tombs, vaults..." His tirade was interrupted as he looked down. A little brown-furred creature was sniffing with its pointy nose on his black leather boot.

His face contorted in disgust and he kicked it aside.

The animal squeaked and raced away to disappear in the darkness.

"Where there is one are always more. Set up traps and catch these nasty beasts! They carry and spread sicknesses."

At these words a few of his followers looked at each other in astonishment. There was only one brave enough to voice his thoughts about Azrael's remark. "Why is that of any concern for us? We are vampires and immune to sicknesses." But it wasn't courage that made him say it out loud; it was his nonexistent knowledge of his master's anger. The vampire had not served Azrael for a long time yet to know when it was best to just keep one's mouth shut.

Shortly after these words left his lips, he found himself pressed into a wet wall and the mighty, glove-covered hand of his master was wrapped around his throat. His fearful eyes found Azrael's black-brown ones, which where blazing with fury. "Did I ask for your opinion, guy?" Easily Azrael's hand pressed harder and lifted up the other vampire, holding his throat.

His hands shot out and clawed at Azrael's arm.

"Are you disobeying me?" The dark lord's voice was dangerously soft, but in the depths of his eyes the cold anger was flaring up.

The other vampire tried to say something but he could not get out one word. Finally he shook his head.

"For this impertinence I should destroy you right away. But you are new so I will give you another chance. Do not gamble it away lightly or your existence is through. Did I make myself clear?" Azrael asked in a velvety voice before he let go of the other vampire, who slid back to the ground. "Yes, master, I understand," he gasped and let some of the others help him up.

The rusty squeak of an old lantern drew Azrael's attention to the vault's entrance.

Two people came down the stone steps. They had the hoods of their cloaks pulled deeply into their faces to hide their features. The smaller of them wobbled and stumbled helplessly after the other person, who held the small hand in a tight grip. On the last step the small person nearly fell. Quickly the other released the lantern and grabbed the cloak of the smaller one to keep it from having a painful fall.

The lantern dropped to the ground, its glass bursting and the candle inside was extinguished in the draft.

Meanwhile, Azrael had stepped forward to welcome the new arrivals.

Chalice pulled the hood off her head and bowed nervously. "Please, forgive the delay, master."

The dark lord said nothing. He pulled off his gloves and placed them on the lid of a sarcophagus at the vault's entrance. Then he went to Chalice, looked deeply into her eyes and raised his right hand.

Expecting a harsh slap the blonde woman jerked back at the gesture, but no slap came. Instead she felt a loving caress of his cold hand on her cheek. She closed her eyes and snuggled her face longingly against his palm.

Unmoving, the other person was still standing beside Chalice, her own, small, pale hand still held tightly by the blonde woman.

"I'm very proud of you, Chalice," Azrael said, his voice deep and soft.

Her brown eyes opened and she beamed at him. "It makes me so happy, my master, when I can satisfy your wishes."

"You just kept her from falling. It seems to me that you finally understand how important she is for me."

At these words Chalice's smile faded a bit. It now looked fake and forced. "Master, I..."

But he was not listening to her. His attention rested on the person next to Chalice and Azrael slowly pulled off the hood.

Skylar's pale face with the hollow cheeks appeared. Her green-brown, bloodshot eyes stared emptily into thin air.

"Welcome in our new home, little lioness," Azrael announced and laughed. Lovingly he brushed the freshly washed hair off her forehead and felt her temperature. "You still have a fever running. From now on Chalice will take much better care of you, won't you, Chalice?"

A feeling of extreme jealousy conquered her dark heart and only with a mighty effort did the blonde manage to make a smile appear on her face. "Of course, master. Your wish is my command."

"I know that. Make sure that she gets nourishment. She is completely weakened." He pointed to the back part of the vault.

Chalice bowed a last time and led the weak girl in the direction Azrael had showed her. The jealousy was still boiling wildly inside her and her hateful eyes slid once more to Skylar's expressionless face.

Azrael turned to his bunch of followers. "What are you waiting for?!" he thundered immediately. "I told you to catch the rats! We may be immune to sicknesses such as the plague that destroys the humans, but my bloodslave is not! I really would like to keep her alive a bit longer! So, get to it now! And then make sure that one can actually live in here. The stench of decay creeps into every pore. It is just disgusting, as is the wetness that crawls up the clothes and gets on my nerves. Make sure that my books and parchments stay dry. I don't want them to go moldy. Bring my sarcophagus back here."

Without saying anything the other vampires hurried to carry out their master's orders.

Azrael crossed his arms in front of his chest and observed amused and grinning the hustle and bustle that went on around him. From time to time he shouted impatiently a few words as to how something should be carried out, or he got mad at one of his servants when he thought they were not careful with his precious documents and books. At the end the vault had been decorated that Azrael thought he could actually live awhile in this hideout, while he waited for his spies to report.

 

*****

 

 

Kyrian didn't know where he was. Pulling on Nightshade's reins, he stopped him on a hill, somewhere north of the Alps . He buttoned up the collar of his jacket to protect himself from the winds that blew sharply in these heights. Low and fast the clouds raced over plowed fields. A little river made its way in wide curves through the green valley. Light and shade varied, but this spectacle of nature was of no interest to the young rider.

His eyes rested solely on the village in the middle of the fields. During the past years Kyrian had taken up the habit to observe a place first from a distance, because mostly the inhabitants were not so welcoming to strangers. As far as he could see there were nine big farms that surrounded a spruced up church in the middle of the village.

"It seems to me we are in luck, Nightshade. This place looks kind of prosperous."

In this moment the blanket of gray clouds drifted apart and Kyrian squeezed his eyes shut because the strong sunlight blinded him. He shielded his eyes with a hand and recognized a group of wagons at the outskirts of the village.

With a determined expression on his face Kyrian whispered, "The gypsies. For so long I have been searching for them and now I finally found them."

Their wagons and tents formed a circle around a big fire and there was also a small wooden stage.

"It is of no use, Nightshade. We have to go to this village to get supplies. Under different circumstances I would make a wide berth around those people, but you know we don't have a choice."

He clicked his tongue and the stallion galloped to the village street.

As they reached the first houses he slowed down their pace and rode calmly along the street. Kyrian stopped his horse because right in front of him was a brutal fist fight going on. He recognized the situation right away since he had seen it happen so often.

Some young men from the village had gotten together and under lots of shouting and yelling they were now beating up a gypsy.

Normally Kyrian would have gone on without interrupting, but not this time. Quickly he jumped off Nightshade's back. He made sure that his sword at the saddle was well hidden from view. Pulling his hat deep into his face, he strode over to the fighting group.

The gypsy was lying on the ground, nearly unmoving. Still the others kicked him.

Kyrian cleared his throat and asked quietly, "What did he do?"

One of the boys turned to the young hunter. His face a mask of anger, he spat on the ground and hissed, "It is none of your business, stranger! But since you want to know, this piece of scum is a thief and now he gets what he deserves!"

Kyrian noticed that he was merely a child. "Is this the truth?"

"No, no..." the boy lying on the ground whimpered, spitting blood as he tried to speak.

"They are all liars!" shouted the man, who had spoken with Kyrian and kicked the boy in the face. "Riffraff... all of them are the same. They lie, they betray, they steal and they are doing deeds for the devil!"

"Do you have proof of his guilt?"

"Do you want some trouble too, stranger? Who are you to talk with us like that? A judge?" the young man gibed and his friends roared with laughter.

"Do you have proof of his guilt?" Kyrian repeated calmly.

His face now red with anger the leader of the group screamed, "We don't need that! But it looks like you want trouble, huh? Good. You can have that!"

The group had totally forgotten about the gypsy boy. They now surrounded Kyrian and scowled at him. Their leader grinned impudently at Kyrian and said, "Now we are going to shut your big mouth, stranger." At his sign the whole group attacked the young hunter, but he knew how to defend himself. With some quick movements he had the men where he wanted them, on the ground. He swiped their feet from underneath them or turned their arms on their backs at lightning speed. The whole fight was over very fast.

Limping and groaning the attackers fled with busted egos and bruises.

Kyrian bent down to the gypsy boy, who stared at him with sparkling eyes. "How did you do that?" the boy asked in awe, showing a big gap where once a front tooth had been.

"Do you manage to go back to your people on your own?" Kyrian asked instead of answering the boy's question.

"Yes, but I'm sure my family will want to meet you. We don't often meet somebody, who defends a Roma." Pleadingly he looked at Kyrian with his dark brown eyes. "Please, come see us this evening. Drink and eat with us. Be our guest, in thanks for your help."

From the corner of his eye Kyrian noticed a young woman that came running down the street, yelling, "Leonid! Leonid!"

The young hunter was already back on his horse as the woman reached the boy. At first she stroked and kissed his head and in the next moment she grabbed his ear roughly, yelling at him. Finally she supported his frame and together they went back to their camp.

Just as Kyrian was about to leave, she turned around and looked at him. There was something mysterious in her gaze and her chestnut colored eyes sparkled at him hotly. Then she turned back to Leonid and dragged him merciless by his sleeves away from the village.

 

 

*****

 

Motionless Skylar sat on some straw. Due to Azrael's order it had been placed in one corner of the vault. She had pulled her bent legs tightly to her chest and had wrapped her arms around them. Her pale face rested on her knees.

A few rats and mice that had not been caught by Azrael's vampires yet, were snooping around in the straw, searching for something to eat. The bravest of its kind sniffed at Skylar's boot.

The girl didn't notice the rodent. She didn't notice anything that went on around her. Her once so sparkling green-brown eyes stared sightlessly ahead.

For five years she had been living in this nightmare world that Azrael had created, daily tortured by Chalice, who saw her as her own personal toy on which the blonde could vent her frustrations, anger or dissatisfaction whenever the mood struck her. But mostly Chalice did it because she liked and enjoyed to do it.

Skylar's body was still alive but her mind had fled and found shelter somewhere else. Far away from Chalice's brutal methods of torture or snide remarks, she had retreated into herself. To a place where fear and pain didn't rule. A place that had nothing to do with the dark lord and his craving for power. Skylar had created a place in her head to which her mind and conscience had retreated.

"Skylar?"

Her name, spoken in this familiar, soft voice made the girl come out of her rigidity. She raised her head and saw her mother kneeling next to her on the straw.

Helena looked concerned and reached out with a delicate hand to gently caress her daughter's cheek, soothing her. "My child, you have to hold on. You must not give up now. The Phoenix ... wait until the Phoenix will rise..."

Skylar didn't say anything. She snuggled her face against her mother's hand. The girl knew that she would soon disappear into thin air again and the warm, safe feeling would fade with her, only to leave the cold reality behind.

"Listen to me, my child. Listen to me carefully now. The Molfar knows the way and you are the key to wake up the Phoenix . Do not forget that."

Completely confused Skylar looked deeply into Helena 's warm, brown eyes. "The Molfar knows the way?" She didn't know the word 'Molfar', she had never heard it before.

The Huntress cupped her daughter's face tenderly with both hands and repeated urgently, "The Molfar knows the way and you are the key to wake up the Phoenix . The Molfar knows the way and you are the key to wake up the Phoenix . The Molfar knows the way and..."

"Mama, what is a Molfar? Who is the Molfar?"

Helena just smiled. "Soon, my precious child. Soon the Phoenix will rise."

Skylar felt a painful sting in her heart, as she saw that Helena began to fade and with her the feeling of warmth and safety. "Mama, don't go... please..."

"The Molfar knows the way... wait until the Phoenix will rise... you are the key..."

Skylar could hear footsteps that came closer. She knew exactly to whom they belonged.

Chalice was on her way to the girl.

Without giving it much thought, Skylar turned her mind inside herself. She left her body behind and her conscience retreated to the safe place inside her head. Her chin sank back down on her knees. Her face became expressionless. And her eyes that had been filled with life a moment ago became cold and empty. A shadow fell on her.

Chalice was now standing right in front of her, but Skylar stared right through her. With an evil smile, Azrael's closest confidant looked at the youngest member of the Leosol family. "Time for the chair, little one," she announced in a honey-sweet voice and two vampires carried a massive wooden chair in. They put it down and left the vault quickly.

Chalice rubbed her hands in excited expectation of the event that would soon follow. "Let the fun begin." She regarded Skylar for a moment and felt again the jealousy stirring inside her. She could not understand what was so special about Skylar and why Azrael insisted to keep her alive. Why did he not just drink all her blood at once and be done with it? Why was he forcing her, Chalice, to care for the girl day and night? She had to wash Skylar, feed her and dress her wounds. Chalice hoped that all this would be over soon. If only Azrael would finally make her his true mate, then she would have a better life. At least that's what she told herself. She took a deep breath to regain her composure and bring some order into her thoughts. The feeling of jealousy, that somehow Skylar could be more important to her master than she, was still there.

 

 

*****

 

Night had fallen as Kyrian was on his way through a grove, which parted the gypsy camp from the village. The gypsies were in a good mood and celebrating while everybody at the village was sleeping. Slowly, Kyrian drew closer in the darkness. Then he slid off Nightshade's back, grabbed his bridle and led the stallion for the rest of the way, while he scanned his surroundings.

The horse-drawn vehicles were painted in all kinds of colors and adorned with flags and pennants. There were nearly a dozen heavy, high wagons with wheels that were as tall as a man. There were tents and in front of each was a little fire burning and a big fire was in the center of the camp. A big, polished, copper cauldron hung above it.

Kyrian pulled Nightshade to the improvised paddock, took off the saddle and let him run free. The young hunter took a seat on a log between some racks. Furs and blankets had been spread out for drying there.

Soon after that, a fiery-eyed, dark haired beauty came towards him with cat-like movements. Her flirting glances didn't have the desired effect. Kyrian's face didn't betray any emotion and was expressionless. She hid her features behind a purple veil but her smoky, deep voice betrayed that she was in her middle ages as she told him her name, "Zarefah."

With gentle hands she touched his thighs and bent over, giving Kyrian a good view right down her dress.

He looked up again and his face still had the same serious expression, showing no emotion what so ever.

A velvety but shocked voice saved him from further advances. "MAMA! What would Papa say to that?"

The owner of said voice came up and Kyrian noticed the similarities, which showed that indeed these two were mother and daughter.

The woman that had been flirting with him let go off him and turned to her daughter, "Can I not have a little fun once in a while? He is such a handsome boy, Amara." With a wink to Kyrian she left them and walked away.

Amara stepped out of the shadows and sat down beside the young man.

Kyrian finally recognized her as the young woman he had seen in the village earlier that day.

She apologized for her mother's behavior. To him her velvety voice was like a temptation. "Here, I brought you something to eat and to drink." She gave him a filled wine skin and a piece of fried meat.

Kyrian thanked her with a short nod and began to eat.

Amara waited impatiently until he was done, but before he talked to her he took some big sips from the skin to quench his thirst. "It seems that you are about to die to ask me a question?"

"Who are you?" she hissed, angry about his arrogance.

In the eyes of the gypsy he took an awful lot of time to answer, "My name is Kyrian."

"That's it? 'My name is Kyrian.' you don't have anything more to say?" Amara asked visibly annoyed by his taciturnity.

"My life is mine and of nobody's business," he replied coldly.

After that Amara jumped up with her head held high in pride. She disappeared quickly into her wagon, clearly offended.

A corpulent, older man came to Kyrian. Instead of a belt he wore a wide sash and looked quite dignified with it. A smile grew on his lips as Amara rushed past him.

"Good evening, young man. My name is Ruslan and I'm the head of this tribe."

The hunter rose, holding out his hand in greeting. "I'm Kyrian."

"Please excuse my daughter's temper," he continued, "I don't know what happened but these women just cannot be understood by men of this world."

As he noticed that Kyrian was not joining into his laughter, Ruslan cleared his throat and respectfully changed the subject. "Thank you very much for helping my youngest child. That was very honorable of you." He wanted to go then, but added, "Everybody can stay with us, though they have to work for it." Then he left the young man and disappeared inside the wagon next to Amara's.

Leonid appeared shortly after that and Kyrian sighed, because he felt slightly disturbed by the constant coming and going of people. At first the boy hesitated until he finally said, "Kyrian, you have to believe me, I didn't steal."

With a firm glance the hunter looked at Leonid. "I don't care what you did or didn't do. It just was unfair that a bunch of brawlers attack a helpless child."

The gypsy boy was deeply hurt about Kyrian's words. "I'm not a child! And I sure am not helpless. There just were too many. If it only had been one or two, I would not have had any problems taking them down," he bragged loudly.

The young hunter knew this reaction well. He himself had often had it in another time and he felt a sting in his heart. He understood Leonid and he wanted to calm him with some nice words. But in this moment an unnaturally tiredness overcame him and wrapped itself around him like a thickly woven veil. Kyrian sank to the ground and slept deeply until the next day.

 

*****

 

Chalice paced restlessly up and down the part of the vault, which Azrael had given to her and Skylar. She was still tortured by feelings of jealousy.

The girl had been bound to the chair, so that she wouldn't have a chance to make another attempt to flee. Skylar's chin rested on her chest and her eyes still stared sightlessly ahead.

Chalice crouched in front of her and lifted her chin to be able to look directly into her eyes. She sneered at the helpless girl and said, "You know, I don't think that the ropes are there to keep you from running away. They are there to keep you on the chair. Without them you would probably just slide off the seat, because you are so weak."

Chalice waited for the effect of her words, but nothing happened. There was not the tiniest reaction from the girl. No rising of defiance, no trace of fear, no tears, be it sorrow, be it anger, nothing. It seemed as if she didn't even notice the presence of the blonde woman the way she was just staring right through her.

Chalice cocked her head and drew her eyebrows together. "Mighty huntress of the family of the Sunlions. You sure don't look powerful at the moment, pale, thin and sick as you are. What would your mother say if she could see you right now? I bet she would be very disappointed in you."

Before her last try to flee, every word about her mother had caused the girl to burst into tears. But now, she just hung limp in the ropes that bound her to the chair and her empty eyes stared at Chalice's face.

The blonde woman snapped her fingers in front of Skylar's eyes. Not even that got her a reaction, not even a tiny blink. "Say, are you sleeping with your eyes wide open?" She observed her closely for a moment, but the girl didn't move. Chalice placed a finger under her nose and then pressed two fingers to the girl's throat. "You are breathing and you have a pulse, which means you are not dead. At least not yet." As soon as those words had left her lips, she laughed madly about her own comment. "Even though from the way you are acting one could think you are not among the living anymore. It is like having a conversation with a corpse." More laughter followed until somebody cleared their throat loudly behind her.

For a tiny moment Chalice was scared to have caused another outburst of fury from her master. She released a relieved breath as she turned around. It was not the dark lord with an angry face that stood behind her, just one of his servants with a pale and emotionless expression.

"What do you want?" she snarled, showing that she was annoyed by the sudden, unwanted interruption.

The vampire pointed in direction of the bound girl. "Lord Azrael wishes that she eats," he explained in a monotone voice, placed a tray on the loamy ground next to Chalice and waited.

The blonde woman rolled her eyes. "You can go. I will make sure that she eats."

The vampire nodded shortly and quickly left the vault, his cape wafting behind him.

Chalice watched him until he was gone. Then her eyes slid to the tray that he had brought and to the things that were upon it. Her whole face lit up with a smile as she saw the dagger with the richly decorated hilt. Immediately her hand shot out and grabbed the elegant weapon. On the tray were also a bowl with porridge, a simple wooden goblet with water, an empty golden goblet, a fine napkin and a piece of cloth.

Chalice regarded her reflection on the polished, gleaming blade. "What do we have here?" she whispered reverentially. "An old friend. That wakes up some memories, doesn't it, Skylar?"

There was still no reaction from the girl but Chalice firmly believed that she would be able to get an emotion from Helena 's daughter. "How much fun we had. You, I, and our friend of steel here... before the master mentioned that we should not waste your precious blood like that... because it is so valuable... But your scars will always remind you of that, just as much as I will always remember how much fun I had doing it." Chalice looked at Skylar's face, which was still not betraying any emotion. The blonde woman was astonished and wrinkled her forehead. She could not figure out that nothing, absolutely nothing she did or said was able to force a sound or a tear from the girl. "For how much longer do you think you can keep this up?" she asked and almost pouted.

Another moment of silence went by and Chalice finally had enough. "This is really getting stupid. You don't want to play with me today? Fine, then don't. I don't care. I can find something else to keep me interested. But you... you are going to die from boredom soon, I swear."

She put the dagger aside and took the porridge bowl from the tray. The gray mush was now cold but Chalice didn't care about that at all. She placed the bowl on Skylar's lap, took a spoon and put some of the porridge on it, before forcing Skylar's mouth open and shoving it inside. Chalice fed the girl and Skylar just swallowed until the bowl was empty. After that she made her drink the water and then returned the bowl and the goblet to the tray. From that she took the golden goblet, the napkin and the piece of cloth. She also retrieved the dagger.

Almost gently she wiped Skylar's mouth with the napkin. "There you go, sweet one. Such a good girl, you didn't even make stains on your shirt," the blonde woman praised before she returned to the mad giggling, which always erupted when she was really excited about something.

Now a special ritual was supposed to take place and that always caused her an instant gratification that she felt seldom in her life. "Well, since I've been taking such good care of you I'd say it is time for my reward, don't you think so too, Skylar?

She was not expecting an answer and she didn't get one.

Basically it was not a reward for Chalice, but a privilege of her master. Still, nobody knew what the blonde woman secretly did each time after she had filled Azrael's golden goblet with Skylar's valuable elixir of life.

Carefully she untied Skylar's left arm. She pushed up the girl's shirt sleeve and let her thumb run tenderly over the small, pale wrist. Then she placed her master's golden goblet on the chair's arm rest and held Skylar's wrist over it. Chalice gave her another smile. "As always this will hurt you more than it will hurt me," she announced and placed the sharp tip of the dagger against the small wrist. A quick, precise cut and the metal blade opened a crack in the skin. Blood came out and dripped into the goblet.

Chalice's eyes followed the movement of the red fluid as it made its way inside the golden vessel. From time to time she looked at Skylar's face, but still Helena 's daughter stared sightlessly ahead.

Azrael's companion waited patiently until the goblet was half way filled and then she put it aside. With practiced skill, she took the piece of cloth and wrapped it tightly around Skylar's still bleeding wrist. "For today you have fulfilled your purpose," Chalice whispered into her ear, before she loosened the ropes, lifted the girl off the chair and carried her to the straw bed. That did not take much effort since Skylar was so emaciated. Chalice laid her down and felt her forehead once more. "Still running a fever. That is not good. The master won't like this. Rest now, your blood needs to regenerate."

Unmoving and apathetic, Skylar lay and Chalice covered her with a moth-eaten blanket.

The blonde woman took the golden goblet and a happy grin appeared on her face. She lifted it in front of her nose and fanned her hand above the rim to smell the scent, as if she would test a wine. She dipped one fingertip inside and guided it to her lips to lick up the drop from her finger. The metal taste of the fresh blood stayed awhile on her tongue and she relished it. "Soon. Very soon indeed I will do this every night... after the master finally made me his one and only mate." Chalice smiled and reveled in her fantasies of the wonderful future she would have with Azrael, one dream more colorful than the other.

A deep thundering voice, which called her name, forced her back to reality. "I'm on my way, master," she shouted back. Chalice put the golden goblet and dagger next to the other stuff on the tray and left the vault with it. One last sharp glance at Skylar showed her that the girl had not moved an inch.

 

*****

 

Early in the morning Kyrian awoke. His tongue felt numb. He got up. Confused, he scanned his surroundings. "How did I end up here?"

The young man was in a small tent in which only he and his meager belongings fit. The ground was covered with blankets and furs. Nightshade's saddle was lying beside him. His mind finally had caught up with the situation and quickly he searched among his things. Relief was clearly visible on his face as his hands wrapped around his sword and he saw that his crossbow was also still there. Another thought came to him and he reached with one hand under one side of the saddle. His fingers fumbled for the hidden place where he kept his diary. Kyrian breathed deeply as he found the book, took it out and held it in his hands. The leather band was still knotted and tied around the book as he always did it and even the small quill was in its place, stuffed in the hollow of the book's back.

A feeling of indignation rose inside him and carefully he put the diary back in its hidden place. He was about to exit the tent when Amara was carefully peering inside.

She saw that he was awake and entered, but the young man greeted her unfriendly, "You have been snooping around in my belongings! There was sleeping powder in the wine skin, wasn't there?"

Amara confirmed the accusation. "We have to know with whom we are dealing here, or did you seriously think that we are that gullible?"

Kyrian snorted angrily and ground his teeth. Then he gave up, because he knew that the gypsies had a right to be suspicious of strangers. But still, he was grieving over the fact that he had been so unprepared and walking blindly into this obvious trap.

"What do you do for a living," the young gypsy suddenly asked, her voice rough.

Seeing that Kyrian did not want to answer, Amara added, "I have seen your sword." After another short pause she continued, "And your crossbow. A very beautiful and unusual weapon."

Kyrian's brown eyes flashed and he said, "I'm a hunter."

"What are you hunting?" Amara asked forcefully.

"My prey," he mumbled.

Her impatience grew. "What prey?"

"Creatures of the night." With these words the young man ended the conversation and pointed at the tent's exit.

Amara left it at that and was about to go, but then she said, "You are highly distinguished among my tribe since you have saved the life of one of us. Today we will go east. It is your decision if you want to come with us." She left Kyrian alone in the small tent after that.

Thinking hard, he ran a hand through his long, black hair and tried to calm himself with the words, "I always have to remember one thing. I'm only doing all of this because of one reason." Then he left the tent to search for Amara.

His eyes darted all over the camp and found Nightshade, who stood peacefully next to the gypsies' horses and munched on some green grass. "At least you are well taken care of, my friend."

Then he noticed two tall men that supported a wagon with some logs and changed one of the iron covered wheels. As if the wheel was as light as a feather, they pulled it off and while one of them brought it away, the other man put on a new wheel.

Kyrian marveled about their super human strength, but he could not watch them work any longer. His stomach made itself known rather loudly. So he went on to find something to eat.

In the middle of the camp, next to the now extinguished fire, there was a long wooden table. He found his breakfast, consisting of fried meat, bread, cheese and fresh, clear water to wash it all down. Now that his stomach was satisfied, Kyrian's mood improved. Again he took a look around the camp. This time, he noticed a gypsy wagon that stood a bit apart from the others. Compared to them it also looked run-down and shabby. While he gazed at the wagon the little shutters suddenly closed and a pair of eyes disappeared behind them.

During the last years, the hunter had gotten a feeling for extraordinary things and to him this wagon, or better whatever was inside that wagon, seemed to be such a thing. He wanted to go and have a closer look, but the two tall men stepped into his way with crossed arms. They were at least two heads taller than Kyrian and their gazes were grim. Next to them Kyrian appeared rather small and he swallowed hard faced with these giants, that looked like twins. "Good morning. I am Kyrian and you are..."

The two looked at each other and the grim expressions of their faces faded. At the same time they slapped Kyrian's shoulders, making him feel as if he was driven into the ground. They laughed and then one of them said in a deep voice, "I am Vitali and this is my brother Vladimir. We wanted to say thank you that you helped our little brother."

The other giant nodded in agreement.

"Leonid is your little brother? That must mean that Amara is your sister?" Kyrian concluded.

"That's right. Are you trying to tell us something with that?" Vladimir asked suspiciously.

"No, no. It is great when one has such a big family."

Vitali clapped his brother's shoulders and said, "Come on, we have to take care that the tents come down and get packed away. And you, Kyrian, if you don't have anything to do yet, go to Amara. She will give you some work." Laughing, they left the young hunter standing there and Kyrian went on his way to search for the young woman.

 

The young hunter finally found her. Amara was about to saddle her horse and Kyrian blurted, "I will travel with you, gypsies."

Coldly, she answered, "Good, but remember what my father said, who eats and drinks with us also has to work with us."

"What shall I do?" Kyrian asked, motionless.

For the first time Amara looked up from what she was doing and smiled, "You can hardly wait to get started, huh? Carrying water buckets, splitting wood for the fire, feeding the horses, craftsmanship..."

"Alright, alright, I understand," Kyrian threw in and lifted his arms in defense.

The young woman tied her horse to a pole and then looked deeply into his eyes. "There is one more thing... never again call us 'gypsies'. It is a nasty word and means nothing more but traveling swindler. Do you think of us like that?" Her eyes flashed, lusting for a fight.

Kyrin took one step back and shook his head. "No, of course not. I didn't know any better..."

She interrupted him sharply, "Of course you didn't know. Nobody wants to know, but we are Roma, a tribe of traveling people." Sadness was heavy in her voice as she added, "People without a country." As she saw Kyrian's pitying glance, she quickly got herself under control again and found her old strength. She took a rolled up whip from the saddle and put it on her belt. Proudly she threw back her long hair and continued, "Our nomadic life makes us free and strong. People pay us for our skills, but after a short while we have to travel on because they chase us away. Because they are scared of us." Amara laughed and showed her beautiful, white teeth.

"Why are they scared of you?" Kyrian wanted to know.

"We know the old stories, legends and myths." She steered the conversation in a different direction after noticing the weird expression in Kyrian's eyes. "We don't have any more time to waste. Take care of the paddock. We will soon depart." Then she went back to her wagon.

Kyrian watched her go, icy coldness visible in his eyes. "That is the one and only reason I'm here. I will get you to reveal your knowledge. Even, if I have to force you all," he swore, his voice rough and merciless. Finally, he made his way to the paddock to carry out what he was told to do.

 

 

*****

 

Bored, the dark lord sat on top of his stone sarcophagus, holding the golden goblet with Skylar's fresh blood. One of his spies had just returned from the castle of the Dragon Clan and Azrael was listening to his report.

Intimidated by Azrael's evil charisma, the vampire knelt in front of him at a respectful distance. He started to speak in a thin voice, "My master, I bring you good news."

"Speak, finally, you worm!" Azrael thundered impatiently.

Scared, the spy continued, "Zephriel and Ajatarah, the heads of the Dragons received an urgent letter. Once more it was brought by a raven. Unfortunately, the sender is still unknown to me. The only thing I could get a glimpse of was the seal. It showed a rising bird. I have never seen it before. But I'm sure it had to be one of those secret messages again."

Azrael was furious. "And these are supposed to be good news?! This is even less than nothing, you idiot! How useless you are! I'm only wasting my precious time with you!"

His subject tried to save himself, "Please, my Lord! I made a sketch of the seal. Please, take it." The parchment shook in his hands while Azrael calmly emptied the goblet, threw it behind him and rose.

He ripped the paper from the trembling vampire's hands. "How special can a bird be?" Indifferently, he looked at the drawing, but then he suddenly realized which symbol he held in his hands. A symbol, he believed to be dead. "The phoenix!" he whispered, inaudible for the others that were present.

"Don't you have anything else to report but this ridiculous drawing of a child?" he snapped acidly at his spy and crumpled up the parchment.

Staring at the floor, the vampire stuttered and searched for words. "I... I t-think...t-that wherever...t-the letter came from... i-is the... s-same place w-where the daughter o-of the D-Dragons is h-hiding."

"Interesting," Azrael mumbled. Until now he had been unaware that Lilith was at a secret place. "But not interesting enough to satisfy me." He began to circle his submissive vampire. "There is only one possibility to prove your value to me or else you are lost for me."

"How, master?" the vampire asked hopefully and looked up.

The blazing flames of greed in Azrael's black-brown eyes were the last thing that the vampire would ever see. "Give me your blood, as evidence of your loyalty." Shortly after these words had left Azrael's lips, he was already drinking his blood, gaining more strength and power. After he had finished his meal, he said delighted, "One after another I will find all members of all clans and then they will be sacrifices to quench my thirst." His demonic laughter echoed throughout the cold walls.

TO BE CONTINUED...

 

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