DISCLAIMERS: See Prologue

 

FIUR and VLAMME

 

present

 

CHRONICLES OF DARKNESS

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BOOK TWO

HEART OF AN ANGEL

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CHAPTER SIX

 

MOONLIGHT ENCOUNTER

 

 

The door flew open with a bang. Andrej looked up from the book he was reading. His eyes widened in shock.

Sadden stormed past him, without a word of greeting.

Lilith looked up. If the condition of her teacher shocked her, her face didn't show the slightest response.

Sadden was a horrible sight. Her dress was dirty and torn in some places. Dry, shriveled leaves and small twigs clung to it. The lower half of her face was covered in blood and several red-brown spots of dried blood stained the fabric of her dress. Tears were trailing down her pale cheeks, mixing with the blood and dirt.

“Sadden, what happened?” Andrej didn't get an answer to his concerned question.

With her cloak blowing behind her, she raced past him and Lilith. Quickly, she disappeared into her chambers.

The vampire bolted the door, before she sank down to the carpet, sobbing. Once more, the monster, which lived inside her, had taken control.

A bit undecided, Andrej stood in front of the door that led to Sadden's chambers. Then he raised a hand and knocked hesitantly. “Sadden?”

Trembling, her thin voice floated to his ear. “Please, Andrej, not now. Please go and leave me alone,” she begged, pressing a hand against her chest. Even if there was no heart beating there, it was still the place where she hurt the most.

Andrej sighed. He knew it would be in vain to try and get through to the vampire in this moment. Sadden was fighting herself, battling her dark side and like it or not, she had to sort out her feelings on her own. “If you... when you want to talk about it... you know where you can find me.”

“Thank you, my friend,” Sadden replied in a choked sob. Then she leaned her back against the wooden door, listening to the sounds of his footsteps that slowly disappeared. She closed her eyes and tried to calm down in order to regain her composure. For a while, she kept sitting like that, unmoving. Only the pain of her soul was plainly visible on her features.

Finally, Sadden rose and went to her chest of drawers. Her hands were still shaking heavily as she took the plain, white pitcher and poured fresh, clear water into the big wash bowl that stood beside it. She didn't need to look to know that her fingers had left a dirty and bloody print on the porcelain. Also, she tried to ignore how the water in the bowl turned more and more red, while she was cleaning her hands and face.

Sadden dried herself with a soft towel, took off her dirty, ripped dress, which quickly turned to a little pile of ash after she had flung it into the blazing flames of her fireplace.

The vampire felt better as she put on a clean nightgown, liking the feel of the smooth silk against her own cool skin.

 

*****

 

As soon as Andrej had left the room to follow his friend, Lilith had gotten up and walked towards the door through which Sadden and the young man had disappeared.

The candle-lit corridor was empty. Still, the vampire lifted her nose slightly to catch a whiff of the bloody smell that hung in the air. Unfortunately, the scent was almost gone. Frowning, Lilith mumbled, “I am unable to tell if it was the blood of an animal or a human. It had already dried too much.” Her brows furrowed even more as she thought of the horrible sight that Sadden had presented. “Her victim must have been a human. Otherwise, she would not have acted like this. She had been covered in blood.”

A smile appeared on Lilith's face. “Could it really have happened that Sadden broke her self-applied renunciation? Should my teacher have lost the control that always meant so much to her?” Contemplating, Lilith walked through the room. “Of all people, she has to go and pick Elea Sophia, the daughter of the priest to quench her lust and kill her.”

A chuckle escaped her. “Yes, everything fits. From the very beginning Sadden had a very special interest in that girl. Besides, Anatol told me that ‘something like a shadow' had been with her and it must have been Sadden.”

Restless, Lilith continued to pace. “I need to know for sure.” Walking over to the patio door, she opened it. The wind softly caressed her face as the vampire stepped into the night. One glance at the sky was enough to recognize that a new day was about to dawn. “There is not enough time, even though I really would like to see the dead girl.”

Sighing, Lilith turned around and froze suddenly. Whirling back around, she fixed her eyes on the sky, discovering a tiny black shape there that grew steadily. “Hraban!” Lilith shouted with all her might and stormed forward to the parapet.

The raven drew closer and closer until she finally landed exhausted in the vampire's arms.

She was so relieved to have the bird back and secure that she fell to her knees. Lilith held Hraban tightly and tried to loosen the message that was tied to the bird's leg, thinking it was a letter from her parents. Carefully, she rose and returned to the room.

Safe, Hraban rested on Lilith arm while Lilith used her free hand to hold up the parchment to read it. Her face darkened more and more with each word she read.

A sudden scraping noise made Lilith jump and Hraban flew off her arm. Croaking, the bird landed on the backrest of a nearby chair. The vampire hurried to fold the letter and shoved it under the top of her dress.

At the same time, a hidden door opened in the wall across from her. The abominable stench of the new arrival floated up to Lilith and she wrinkled her nose in disgust, wishing for once that her sense of smell wouldn't be that strongly developed. The scent of old blood, dried excrements and sour sweat filled the air. There was only one person that radiated these horrible fragrances. “Veljanov.”

A moment later the ghoul appeared, wrapped up in his usual rags that he called clothes, holding a candle in one hand. His murky eyes rested greedily on Hraban until he forced himself to turn away from the bird. “Ready?” he asked the vampire, who nodded and the ghoul entered the tunnel again.

Lilith turned to her raven. “Stay away from him at all times,” she told her. “He is sly.” Then she followed Veljanov into the tunnel and the gap in the wall slid shut behind her.

 

*****

 

Sadden had been standing still for a while, trying to calm herself. Turning around, she froze as her eyes fell on the oil painting of the priest's daughter. With sad eyes, she regarded Andrej's artwork. Slowly, Sadden walked towards the canvas, stopping right in front of it. The vampire stared into the painted emeralds and felt another wave of sadness rise inside her, because she knew that these windows to the soul would never look into her own. They would never be filled with love and warmth while looking at her. If they should ever come to rest upon her face then probably only to regard her with an expression of outmost fear, like Sadden had seen it not so long ago; in the deep brown eyes of the deer.

After she had fled from Elea Sophia's room, Sadden had been stumbling through the woods. The vampire inside her was screaming for blood, and she couldn't fight the greed for the red fluid of life any longer. After Sadden had seen and overpowered the animal, their eyes had met for a tiny second before the vampire plunged her teeth into the animal's throat and the deer took its final breath in the deadly embrace.

Distraught, Sadden shook her head and her thoughts turned back to the present. “I cannot allow that the beast inside me touches you, not even for a moment. I have to protect you, my angel of light,” she whispered, slowly reaching out with one pale hand. Her fingertips tenderly traced over the painted face on the canvas. “You shall never look at me with fear. There is only one thing to do... I can never see you again. I could never forgive myself if I were to lose control in your presence. It is for the best... for all our existences.” It was the hardest decision she had to make in a long time, but she knew there was no other way.

Tired and exhausted, she sank into the soft pillows of her bed and turned on her side. Even though Sadden couldn't see the sun from her chambers, she still could feel the close arrival and knew that it was time to rest.

The vampire closed her eyes and whispered one last wish. “Please, I know I cannot be with her... please, at least let me see her in my dreams. At least during that time I want to be able to love her and feel the happiness of being loved in return.”

 

*****

 

The usual silence had fallen over the castle, as it was always the case so close to dawn.

Veljanov had just told her that the castle had been built upon the foundation walls of an old monastery, a fact that didn't exactly destroy Lilith's suspicions about the castle and its inhabitants.

“You know quite a lot,” Lilith said. “Tell me more.”

Veljanov grinned roguishly, exposing his rotting teeth. “Favor for knowledge… share bed…” salvia dripped out of his mouth, leaving a trail over his chin.

Lilith stomped down on the feeling of sickness that rose. Angered, she answered, “I give you another suggestion. You tell me what I want to know and I will refrain from killing you right this instant for your impudence!”

Not dwelling on the matter, Veljanov grumbled, “Alright.”

Shortly after that, Lilith and the ghoul exited the secret pathway. They were now in the big hall, in front of the kitchen. Their steps echoed through the barren room because there was nothing but an empty, sooty fireplace.

Walking straight up to it, they stepped inside. Tense, Lilith and Veljanov were standing in front of the back wall, not noticing that they left footprints on the dusty ground.

Veljanov broke the silence. “That exact fireplace,” he declared proudly.

The wind whistled through the outlet, carrying off his words.

To Lilith his voice appeared to be extremely loud and distorted under the outlet. Reprimanding, she scowled at him. “You said the same thing about the other fireplaces!” she hissed in a whispering voice.

Veljanov shrugged his shoulders.

Nerve-wracked, Lilith examined the wall, searching for a hidden button or lever. Finally, she came upon a loose stone and smiled. “It is always the same trick.” She pushed against the stone and a crack appeared in the middle of the fireplace's back wall.

Expectantly, Lilith stared in the deep darkness that lay behind. She was already through the crack and down the stairs before Veljanov followed her with the candle.

The stairs wound down almost endlessly until Lilith had reached the end, deep inside the catacombs. Total darkness was all around the astonished vampire. Instead of the usual moldy stench one would expect in a place like that, the air was dry and scratched in the throat when inhaled.

Sometime later, Veljanov came stumbling into the room, panting heavily.

“There, to the left and the right are two bowls with coal. Light them,” Lilith ordered the ghoul.

Veljanov did what he was told and soon the fires made the room glow in an eerie dark red light.

Greatly fascinated, Lilith scanned her surroundings. The room was approximately 10 meters times 10 meters and had been chiseled directly out of the mountain. The ceiling arched like a dome. It was supported by 4 columns and in the middle of the room was a big sarcophagus with a thick layer of dust on the heavy lid.

Lilith's eyes shone with excitement as she took all this in. Her fingertips trembled visibly as she ran them across the figures that adorned the marble and covered the whole sarcophagus in a predict order. “Yes, tell me your story,” the vampire whispered greedily.

Veljanov chose that moment to cough slightly, trying to get her attention. Spittle flew from his lips as he raised his hoarse voice that sounded quite fearful, “Mistake to search the place. Leave!”

Lilith's reacted instantly. Using the side of her hand, she chopped it quick and hard against his larynx.

Wheezing for breath, Veljanov fell to the ground. His disheveled hair had fallen into his face and blinking, he raised his head. The ghoul could barely see Lilith's face, but he could feel the fury and anger that came off her in waves. Writhing, he covered his face with his hands, greatly frightened. This aggressive reaction had come unexpected.

“Meanwhile, I have gained the knowledge to explore and discover the secrets of this castle. I am no longer bound to you for that,” Lilith told him, her voice as cold as ice. “You are just a piece of disgusting scum and no longer of any use to me.”

Whimpering, Veljanov lay there. The sudden stench that floated up indicated that the ghoul had soiled his rags in fear.

The vampire's posture relaxed and she turned back to the pictures on the sarcophagus. “Don't ever bother me again.” Feeling a strange power that pulled her in, she studied it from all angles. On one side, in the upper middle, she found an empty space. There, where once had been the name and the age of the dead, the inscription had been erased and had been replaced by another one. “Believed to be dead, now awake again due to the blood that he gave to you.”

Lost in thought, Lilith traced her fingers over the inscription. “Undeveloped, obviously done by a child and still I am sure I have seen writing like this before. The vampire's face bore a very confused expression as she said in disbelief, “The human.” Defiantly, she still refused to speak his name but she had identified the writer clearly. Anger rose inside her as she hammered her fists against the lid. Tiny clouds of dust flew up with each hit. “No! That cannot be true! Every time that it seems I am getting closer to my aim, another new, unexplainable obstacle rises in front of me!”

She contemplated all the other possibilities she had left and came to one conclusion. Lilith decided to take a step that could lead to dire consequences.

 

*****

 

Satisfied, Elea Sophia dried her hands on a kitchen towel, brushed a strand of blonde hair off her forehead and pushed it behind her ear.

Meanwhile a week had gone by and although the dreams had not stopped, she felt better and rested when she woke up each morning. She was very grateful for Granny Ana's valerian roots, but at the same time, she felt as if she was missing something very important. The longing for the person, who she saw only once she entered the realm of dreams, was deeply anchored in her heart. She also was aware of the fact that the longing grew stronger with each passing day, as well as the wish to stop drinking the valerian tea. Fear stirred inside her. She was worried that the longer she didn't dream, the more the memories of the one person, who had awakened so many new feelings inside her, would fade.

“You have to stop with these silly wishes,” she mumbled to herself. “It is not good to get lost in fantasies and forget about reality.”

Her gaze wandered through the shiny clean kitchen. It had taken her almost all day to clean up the whole rectory from the tiny cellar up to her chambers under the roof. By now it was late afternoon.

Elea Sophia nibbled nervously on her lower lip, thinking. “Work is done, Father is still going to be at the church for a while...” She opened the drawer where she had been hiding the linen bag with the valerian roots. Slowly, she pulled out the empty bag.

“I should go to her now... as long as...”

Elea Sophia didn't get to finish her sentence because there was suddenly a knock at the front door. She jumped in surprise, placed a hand over her heart and quickly stuffed the bag back into the drawer. ‘Who could that be?' She hurried to the door to open it.

Her eyes widened as she recognized Rouven and Mikahel. The men were supporting Everon, who could barely stand on his feet and was panting for breath.

Rouven spared her only a cold glance. “It's about time,” he grumbled and went past her, groaning a little bit.

Mikahel gave her a friendly smile and greeted her with a polite nod of his head.

Shocked, Elea Sophia looked at Everon. “Father, what's wrong with you?”

Everon's face was bright red and he panted and croaked, unable to answer.

“He suddenly broke down, having trouble to breathe. It's a good thing that Rouven was there,” Mikahel answered. “We brought him home immediately.”

“He needs his medicine!” Elea Sophia said, looking reproachful at her father. “You are supposed to always carry it with you.” Waving her arms wildly, she exclaimed, “Bring him over here. He has to sit at the table so that he can support himself with his arms.”

Mikahel and Rouven did as they were told and guided the priest into the kitchen. Carefully, they lowered the older man to a chair. Elea Sophia hurried over to open the small window wide and to give him his medicine.

Slowly, the old man calmed and his breathing turned back to normal after he had taken the herb tincture. He relaxed and his face turned back to a more healthy color.

Mikahel cleared his throat. “Alright, we will go then. I hope for a speedy recovery.”

Everon nodded gratefully.

Elea Sophia accompanied the men to the front door. “I'd like to say thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Mikahel bowed slightly and gave her an encouraging smile before leaving the rectory.

Her eyes turned to Rouven, who was still looking at her coldly. “Thanks to you too. If it wouldn't have been for you, my father might have died.”

“I only did what every other good Christian would have done in my place,” he responded shortly. “See you.” With that he turned around and left.

Confused and a bit hurt by his rude behavior, she watched him walk away.

“My child, come to me,” her father croaked from the kitchen, bringing her out of her heavy thoughts.

“Are you feeling better?” Elea Sophia asked, sitting down beside him and wrapping an arm around his shoulders.

Everon coughed a few times, spat some clear slime into a handkerchief and nodded. “I'm so sorry that I scared you,” he said. “When I left the house this morning, I forgot my medicine. That was a stupid mistake, which could have cost me my life. If Rouven had not been there I wouldn't be able to talk with you now. Instead, I would look into the face of our Lord and creator.”

Elea Sophia swallowed hard. “I beg you, Father, please, don't talk like that. Everything is well...”

One of his slightly trembling hands enclosed one of hers. “No. Unfortunately not everything is well. The next attack could mean my end...”

“Father, please...”

“I have one last wish.”

“Father...”

“It would really make me very happy if you would marry Rouven.”

Every bit of color drained from Elea Sophia's face until she was as white as a wall.

The priest continued, “He is a good boy and he will be a wonderful husband. I know he would take good care of you. You wouldn't be missing a thing. Think about it, my sweet daughter. I don't want to force you. I just want you to be taken care of, when my life is over and I'm no longer here.”

“I know, Father,” she whispered depressed. “You have to rest now. Why don't you try and sleep some while I'm preparing our dinner?”

Everon nodded and let his daughter help him to bed.

She covered him with a blanket and placed a kiss on his forehead.

“You know,” Everon said, “I think that was the reason why Rouven found me. I think that he was on the way to me to ask for my blessings. A sign from our Lord.” He smiled happily.

“Whatever you say, Father. Sleep now.”

“He really likes you. He really likes you a lot, Elea Sophia.”

Even though she had doubts, she answered, “I know, Father.”

Everon closed his eyes and sank into a light slumber.

 

*****

 

After dinner, Elea Sophia had retreated to her chamber under the roof. Thinking about the empty bag downstairs in the kitchen drawer, she felt like a liar. Trying to calm her conscience, the priest's daughter folded her hands like she did during confession. “If only I would have had more time these past few days. Then I could have gotten more roots from Ana.” Not only was she feeling like she had betrayed herself, but also Ana, her father and even Rouven.

Lost in heavy thoughts, she went to bed. “Did I not do it on purpose?”

Elea Sophia sighed and turned on her other side. She was now facing the open window through which silvery moonlight and cool air entered her room. Another sigh escaped her throat and she turned on her stomach. Squeezing her eyes shut tightly, she hoped she would finally be able to go to sleep. She didn't know for how long she had been lying awake, but it seemed like an eternity.

“If only I could have gone to Granny Ana...” But the missing valerian tea wasn't the only thing that burdened her and was keeping her from finding rest.

The wish of her father to see her married to Rouven was echoing through her mind. Sure, he was a respected, young man and every girl of the village would have given her 10 fingers and toes to get noticed by him or talk with him. But there were a couple of things about him that the priest's daughter just couldn't accept. For example his fondness of hunting, or that he spent every evening at the tavern to drink or play dice. Also, she really didn't like how he and his companions were always treating poor Anatol.

Then again, Rouven could be very charming, giving Elea Sophia the feeling that he would carry her on his hands and bring her the stars from the sky, if she would only ask.

Their encounter today had been very cold. It was obvious that the mayor's son was still suffering from having his pride hurt, unable or unwilling to understand that animals should be treated with respect as well.

Elea Sophia exhaled sharply while thinking about the pros and cons in her mind. Well, it really was a weird matter, this thing called love.

The thought had just left her and she blushed brightly. Had she really been thinking about love? Was that what she felt for Rouven actually love? Could she love this man?

She thought about the feelings that rose inside her whenever she saw the stranger from her dreams and the feeling of warmth and safety it enclosed. The longing, which had been growing with each dream, stirred in her chest and she turned her eyes back to the window.

She listened to the sounds of the night and jumped as she heard a scream. This outcry of a tortured soul touched her deeply. Elea Sophia rose and looked out of the window. Although she couldn't see anything, she suddenly felt very restless. Something out there was calling for her. It was like on the day she first arrived in Ardeal, when she had seen the mysterious castle.

Taking another deep breath, she made a decision. “I need to get to the bottom of this.”

 

*****

 

At the same time, Lilith returned to the castle. She had used Anatol not only to quench her thirst but also to gain valuable information about everything that was going on in the village. A few days had passed and the vampire had recovered from the shock that the priest's daughter was very much alive and in good health. Also, Sadden had not been back to pay the girl another visit.

Lilith entered the small parlor, knowing that it was one of Andrej's favorite places to spend time. The vampire thought it was the perfect moment to talk with him about some important matters.

Andrej sat in an armchair in front of the fireplace. He didn't even look up from the sketches he was working on as the vampire stepped into the room and took off her cloak.

Lilith sat down into the armchair opposite from him and said matter-of-factly, “It is a dreary eternity that Sadden chose, here in this bleak seclusion.” Sighing, she leaned back, waiting patiently for his answer.

Andrej put the paper aside and took a sip of red wine. “Do you have to start that again?”

“Oh, what else is there for me to do but to have conversations or read and study my surroundings?” she asked innocently. “Without any fun it is just boring and dreary.”

“It is a life in atonement,” Andrej replied, going back to her original question.

Lilith knew that he would defend Sadden and had expected an answer like that. Smiling, she remarked, “I think that this part of her life is over. No, better said, I know for sure that it is.”

The words had hit their mark. She could tell they had hit hard, as the frown appeared on his face. Minutes passed in silence, until she continued, “Did you know that dreams are a very intimate way for two individuals to communicate with each other? We both know that Sadden has always been very interested in the mantic arts. It would be easy for her to enter the fantasy and soul realm of a dreaming person.”

“No, never!” Andrej replied strongly. “She wouldn't…” His breath caught. “How did you come up with that?”

“Believe it. Sadden is using her powers to visit a certain human that she chose. But, oh, did she not swear to stay away from the humans?”

Andrej's hand shook as he emptied his wine glass.

Lilith bent forward, sneering evilly, “Though Sadden leaves the castle every night, she is not visiting the priest's daughter anymore. I really wonder what is going on.” Again, she leaned back to wait for his reaction.

Andrej was shocked. “She visited Elea Sophia?”

Folding her hands calmly, Lilith answered, “You did not know that? Oh, I guess I spoiled the surprise then? And here I thought you two do not keep any secrets from each other and talk about everything.”

The young man jumped up, turning his back to the vampire. His breathing was harsh. “How… what…”

“You knew that something was going on with Sadden,” she accused him angrily. “Did you really think I would be here for 5 years and twiddle my thumbs? These walls, as well as the inhabitants, are loaded with secrets and mysteries that need to be discovered.”

Slowly Andrej turned around, fixing her with a suspicious glare. Could it be?

“YES!” she yelled, leaping out of her chair. “Yes, I did see the sarcophagus!”

The only noise that could be heard after that confession was the crackling of the lit fireplace. Nodding in resignation, Andrej returned to his seat and Lilith did the same. “Veljanov came to see me,” he began. “You gave him quite a souvenir during the last little trip you took with him.”

“So, the rag collection immediately ran to you to cry on your shoulder, did he not?” Lilith snapped. “Do I need to feel bad now and regret what I did?”

“You have to deal with that yourself, it's your conscience.”

“I read the inscription and I know that it is from you. Now, tell me, who gave their blood to awaken her?”

Andrej was surprised that Lilith had recognized his handwriting. Calmly, he responded, “I'm not going to tell you.”

“I will eventually find out anyway. So, tell me!”

Shaking his head, the young man took his sketches.

Annoyed, the vampire fixed her eyes on the dancing flames. Her features softened and quietly she began to talk. “The pictures tell her story… everything that happened as the Clan of the Phoenix lost its power and fell.”

Andrej looked up. In the flickering light of the fire he saw how tender the vampire's face could look. Instantly, he started to draw.

In her mind's eye, Lilith could see the pictures that had been carved into the marble. They mixed with the shine from the fireplace. Suddenly it seemed to her that she could hear the horrible screams of death that rang out a long time ago. “The humans burned down the castle and everybody died a torturous death. She lost her soulmate and even her baby. Sadden was the only survivor.” A heavy tremor rocked Lilith's body. “And then she did the only right thing. Getting vengeance and killing all the tormentors.”

Andrej swallowed hard. Then he knelt in front of Lilith, grabbed her shoulders and shook her. “No! It wasn't the right thing! Sadden almost wiped out a complete region. She was so blind in her fury, she didn't even spare women and children. So many innocents were butchered by her hand!” He couldn't believe that Lilith just stared at him, uncomprehending.

“Were the vampires guilty? I would have done the same,” she answered.

Shaking his head, Andrej let go of her and rose. “Don't you or won't you see where this leads? It will end in a never-ending cycle of violence and returned violence. Sadden needed to sleep and to be hidden. Otherwise some of the survivors would have killed her, sooner or later. They wouldn't have stopped before they would have been holding her head in their hands.” Desperately, the young man tore at his hair.

Lilith pricked her ears and a thought slowly took form but she didn't voice it. Instead, she asked, “Why did she wake up?”

“I don't know,” Andrej responded hesitatingly.

The vampire knew that wasn't true but she kept silent.

Suddenly, he changed the subject. “I saw that Hraban returned. Did she bring you a message?”

“No,” was all Lilith meant to say but she added, “Nothing important, just greetings.”

Andrej nodded. “I'll go to bed.” With these last words, he left the room and shut the door behind him.

Pain filled the vampire's soul as her thoughts turned to the letter and the frightening message it contained. “The Serpentes have been wiped out… Apophis and Mehen are no more…” Tears welled up in her eyes as she thought of the clan's leader and his companion. “There is only one survivor, Azrael. It is strange how the events are so similar to each other. If only I were with my clan, safe in the Dragon Fortress.”

A drawn out sigh escaped her throat. “And if all of that is not bad enough, the big Gathering is supposed to take place here. This Azrael is going to arrive sooner than the other guests, who will get here a few nights before the actual gathering. What am I supposed to do? I cannot rely on Sadden and the human is just as untrustworthy as the ghoul.”

Lost in thought, her gaze slid to the papers that had slid from Andrej's knees as he had knelt in front of her. Lilith bent forward, regarding the sketches. Her eyes widened in surprise as she recognized herself in one of the pictures. She took the paper and threw it into the fire, watching in satisfaction as the greedy flames burnt it.

 

*****

 

Sometime later, the priest's daughter crept out of the house, after having made sure that her father was asleep.

The dark night sky was cloudless and the many sparkling stars gave enough light. She could see the way without needing the use of a torch or candle.

She fetched her mare Dawn from the tiny stable, which Rouven had built for her a couple of weeks ago. Holding on to the reins, she guided the horse to follow her.

Now, Elea Sophia realized that she was a getting a bit scared and she started to doubt if it was really such a good idea to go into the forest in the middle of the night. But something inside her encouraged her. A little spark of curiosity did the rest to destroy all of her doubts and fears. “What could happen? If it gets dangerous, I'll ride off like the wind. Right, Dawn?”

The mare snorted quietly, trotting tiredly behind her.

Elea Sophia stopped as they reached the edge of the forest. “The cry came from somewhere here. I am sure of that.” Pricking up her ears, she listened closely to the sounds of the night.

Impatiently, Dawn scraped one hoof across the ground.

“Stop it,” Elea Sophia whispered, gently patting the horse's muzzle.

The mare's ears twitched nervously.

“You heard it too, didn't you? There... it sounds like sobbing... maybe it's only the wind... or maybe...” She stopped as the feeling of longing in her chest became overwhelming. As if pulled by invisible strings, the priest's daughter entered the woods, her free hand holding on tightly to her silver cross while the other pulled on Dawn's reins, indicating to follow her.

 

*****

 

The outcry of a hunting owl pierced the silence of the forest and the bird sat down on a branch. Despite its excellent hearing and sharp eyes, the animal didn't notice the presence of a person that leaned against a tree in the shadows.

Sadden was wrapped in a dark cloak, its hood covering her head. She had her arms wrapped around her legs, which she had pulled to her chest. Her face was buried at her knees and sobs shook her frame.

Carefully, the white horse lowered his head, tenderly brushing his muzzle against the vampire's shoulder.

Sadden looked up and a tiny smile flickered briefly over her face. She reached out with her hand and stroked his soft nostrils with her fingertips. “Stardancer.”

The stallion snorted quietly.

“The longing is going to drive me crazy,” she whispered, staring at the ground. “I want to see her again... how I wish I could hold her in my arms...”

Stardancer jerked his head restlessly, his ears twitching nervously.

Sadden sighed and turned to her horse. “Yes, I know. The time of night is passing by quickly and morning is not far away.” She rose and used a part of her cloak to wipe the tears off her cheeks.

The vampire was just about to mount Stardancer as she suddenly stopped. Letting go of the saddle's pommel, she pulled her foot out of the stirrup. She cocked her head and listened. A loving smile returned to her features. “Somebody is singing... and they are coming closer...”

At lightning speed, the vampire retreated, hiding in the shadows between the mighty, old trees. Curious, she waited there, wanting to see who the singer was.

Stardancer shook his mane, standing in the bright moonlight of the clearing.

 

Pure and clear, the sensual voice sounded through the night.

 

“An owl calls

night falls

the moon shines bright

and bathes my body

with its silvery light

I have no choice

I can hear your voice

your lips soft and warm

whisper gentle words of love

not meant to harm

 

Who are you

my beloved

my soul is crying out for you

can't you hear it

can't you see it

can't you feel it

I search for you.“

 

The words hit Sadden's lost soul like a thunderbolt. Unable to move or even think, she stood there, listening to the wonderful voice that slowly came closer. It was as if she had been captured by a magic spell.

 

“When dawn breaks

the new day awakes

and golden sunlight kisses my hair

I reach out for you

but you are not there

all I remember are eyes so blue

the sky must be jealous of you

I long to see your face

but every time I try

it gets lost in a shadowy haze

 

Where are you

my beloved

my heart is crying out for you

can't you hear it

can't you see it

can't you feel it

I search for you.“

 

Hidden in the darkness of the forest, Sadden could barely believe what she was hearing. What was revealed to her in that song, were the innermost thoughts of a soul that was calling for its companion.

Carefully, the vampire peered from behind the rough bark of a tree. Her sharp senses allowed her to see what any human eye had been unable to capture in that moment.

The singer that came closer was no other than Elea Sophia.

 

“I know it's a sin

but I wait for the night to begin

only in my dreams you come again

you hold me tight

my soul is yours to claim

the stars are sparkling and shining

there is no need for denying

you set my body on fire

I feel such strange desire

 

I will find you

my soulmate

somewhere

somehow

someday

and we will be together

for eternity.“

 

Overpowered by a wave of great euphoria that swept through her whole body, Sadden leaned her back against a tree. So often she had wished that the priest's daughter would return her feelings. With every word of the song, the vampire felt her hopes grow that her lost soulmate had returned in Elea Sophia. It couldn't be any different. All her made promises and resolutions disappeared and were no longer important.

 

“Oh, Dawn. Look,” Elea Sophia exclaimed delighted as she entered the clearing and discovered Stardancer.

The white stallion stood on the low grass, eyeing the newly arrived with unmasked curiosity.

Sadden peered out from her hideout, doing the same.

“What a magnificent animal.” With a hand stretched out, Elea Sophia slowly walked up to the horse. “Where are you coming from, huh? You're wearing saddle and reins. Did you run away or did you just lose your master?”

Stardancer closed his eyes, relishing the tender caress his head received from her gentle hand.

Dawn began to prance nervously on the spot.

Elea Sophia turned around to her mare and said, “Don't be scared. See? He is very nice.” She patted his muzzle. “He can't be from the village. Nobody there owns such a beautiful horse. Not even Rouven.”

Dawn shook her head, scraped a hoof across the floor and snorted, which sounded very contemptuous.

Elea Sophia grinned broadly. “No reason to be jealous. You know that to me you are the most beautiful being ever. But, I really would like to know where he came from. His owner must be beside themselves with worry.”

“No, she is not,” sounded a soft voice behind her. Sadden pulled back the hood of her cloak and revealed herself.

The priest's daughter jumped in fright and whirled around. Automatically, one hand reached up to her chest, holding on tightly to the silver cross.

Sadden was as much surprised about herself. In the blink of an eye, she had decided to show herself. She had stepped out of the shadows and was walking slowly towards the girl. The vampire put a hand on the neck of her horse and smiled at the priest's daughter. Looking at the youthful face in front of her, she realized that it would be impossible for her to let her soulmate go.

Elea Sophia could only stare at the woman, wide-eyed. Thunder-struck, she just stood there, her mouth agape as she took in the long, black hair that framed a beautiful face, which bore the most beautiful blue eyes.

Sadden proudly held her head high and her whole posture screamed dignity and nobility.

For Elea Sophia it was hard to guess the woman's age and it seemed to her that she was ageless, which confused her greatly.

“You are not mistaken,” the stranger said as if she could read Elea Sophia's mind.

The girl still stood as if frozen to the spot, awestruck.

Meanwhile, Sadden watched her. She liked how the silver gleam of the moonlight enhanced Elea Sophia's beauty and the golden hair that hung in gentle waves around her soft, youthful face. Smiling at her, she felt great happiness spread through her as she saw that smile returned and the girl's green eyes sparkled like precious emeralds.

“You know,” Sadden began, the corners of her mouth twitching because she had trouble to keep from laughing. “I think you can stop staring at me as if I were an unbelievable miracle.”

Elea Sophia blushed, feeling ashamed. “I... it... I... I r-really am ve-very s-sorry,” she stuttered finally. “I... uh... I was just so surprised to actually meet somebody here. I r-really didn't mean to stare… uh… Milady.”

Sadden's eyebrows rose in astonishment as she caught the last word. “Milady?”

Elea Sophia was about to faint from embarrassment. First, she had stared like a stupid little child and now she had clearly offended the other woman. Once more her eyes ran over the fine dress, the embroidered cloak and the magnificent horse. All of that meant that she was obviously facing a noble lady and she flushed even brighter. Trying to explain herself, she finished her stammered apology with a slightly crooked curtsey.

Sadden was still trying very hard to keep from laughing. She had confused the poor girl tremendously with her sudden appearance. “I am not a noble lady,” she explained gently. “I have to admit though it honors me that you think that.”

Greatly relieved, Elea Sophia exhaled. “Thank God. And here I was thinking I had offended you beyond belief and would soon find myself cast into the darkest dungeon.”

Now Sadden laughed and Elea Sophia thought it was the most beautiful sound that her ears had ever received. Never before in her life had she met somebody whom she liked immediately.

“But what... what are you doing here at this time of the night?” the priest's daughter asked. Her curiosity was in full force.

“Well, I could not sleep so I thought I would go for a little ride,” Sadden answered, turning slightly away from her.

“Isn't that dangerous? Are you not scared, all by yourself?”

Sadden smiled. “I could ask you the same. You are here too, all by yourself, in the middle of the night.”

Since Elea Sophia wasn't willing to reveal the reason why she was here, she quickly changed the subject. “So, is this your horse then?” She pointed at the white stallion that was butting Sadden with his head again and again.

The vampire nodded. “His name is Stardancer. He is the trustiest animal that I ever had.”

Stardancer grew more and more impatient and was now shoving his mistress.

“What's wrong with him?” Elea Sophia wanted to know.

Sadden's gaze slid into the night. A new day was about to dawn. She had to go back to the castle. “He wants to go home. We really need to go.”

“Oh.” It sounded very disappointed.

The vampire was torn. She wanted to stay and talk with her because Elea Sophia's presence filled her with warmth and happiness that she had not felt in centuries. But, she had to return to her castle and she didn't want to leave the young woman here all alone. “We will see each other again,” Sadden promised, carelessly.

The young woman's smile showed relief. “I would really like that. We haven't been introduced properly yet. My name is Elea Sophia Valeanu. I live with my father in Ardeal.” She held out her hand to the vampire.

Sadden hesitated for a heartbeat. She wasn't wearing her gloves and she didn't want to frighten the other woman. In the end, she took the small, offered hand and held it carefully. “Sadden D'Azoon.”

“You really should go home,” the young woman said concerned as the slender, pale, cold fingers closed around her own. “Your hand is like ice, so cold. You could catch your death out here.”

For a brief moment, an expression of pain flickered over the vampire's face. ‘If only you knew…' Regaining her composure, Sadden looked deeply into the emerald eyes and Elea Sophia felt her senses disappear before she was wrapped up in darkness.

Dawn neighed as she saw her mistress fall to the ground.

“It is alright,” Sadden calmed the upset animal. “She is just sleeping,” she added, lovingly regarding the relaxed face of the young woman that she held in her arms. “She does not look like a human of flesh and blood. She seems like an image from a dream.”

Again, Stardancer begged impatiently for her attention.

“Yes, I know. Let us bring her home.”

 

Carefully, the vampire lowered the limp body of the priest's daughter to the bed and covered her with a blanket. “We will see each other again,” she whispered into her ear and saw that the lips of the sleeping woman formed a smile.

Then, she escaped through the open window and guided Dawn to the stable. She freed her from saddle and reins and made sure that the horse had everything she needed.

For a last time, she looked up to the window of Elea Sophia's chamber. “Yes, we will see each other again.”

Quickly, she climbed into Stardancer's saddle and galloped back to the castle. She had to hurry because the sky had begun to turn gray, announcing the dawning of a new day.

TO BE CONTINUED...

 

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