Chapter 59 - Wings
Marcus reached into his pocket to retrieve his coin pouch, and the priest held up his hands.
“You have given enough,” he declined, and Marcus laughed as he put four gold coins on the table. “The church disagrees Father. Why don’t you use it to fix your parish?” Marcus said and added a few more coins. “Maybe feed your poor?” He suggested.
“Why do I suspect those are ill-gotten gains?” The priest guessed with shrewd intuition.
“Pried it right out of the greedy hands of dead pirates, and yes, we ate those,” Marcus responded, and the priest became still for a mere moment.
“Then you better add a few more coins so that I can pray for their souls,” he smirked, and Marcus laughed as he dumped the rest of the small bag on the table.
“This has nothing to do with our dark friend?” The priest asked, and Marcus became sober.
“We may be the undead, but we have no wish to be dead, dead. This is pirate loot, and they got what they deserved. Ask Sera or her father, or any of the others on our boat,” Marcus replied with sincerity, and the priest nodded.
“I rarely meet any of your kind that I do not end up having to kill,” the priest stated without preamble, and they hesitated. That’s what they sensed about this man in the first place; he was a vampire hunter, “but it was an honor meeting you,” he admitted, and his eyes betrayed only honesty in their eerie directness.
“You’re free to go, and if you survive your quest, you are free to visit me. I promise you won’t recognize this town. This money will do good, I will see to it, but I will warn you that you chose a dark path, my friends. One that may claim more than you’re willing to give,” his warning made the hair on the back of their necks stand on end.
“This creature kills all in his path. He didn’t annihilate this town only to avoid drawing attention to himself, but to leave his memory. It would stand to reason that he expected someone to follow,” the priest warned and for an instant, his eyes became a brilliant, shining white.
They greeted him at the door, and only after they walked some distance did they turn to see if they imagined it. Something white and shiny reflected from inside the doorway where the priest still watched them leave. Just as their minds concluded those were wings, the church disappeared from their sight. It was still there but hidden from them.
“Was that?” Rowan couldn’t bring herself to ask if the priest had been an angel.
“He told us all about his mother and his mentor, but he didn’t say much about his father,” Alena reminded, and they couldn’t believe what they saw. What were the odds of vampires meeting a half-blood angel who is both vampire slayer and priest?
They had a very distinct impression that they were the first to walk away from him unscathed, and that he spared them on a whim.
“That was unexpected,” Alena said, and they were all grinning when they reached the rowboat. They would rest on the ship and return the next evening. They glanced back when they boarded the ship, and the dark coastline seemed somehow more forbidding than it did before.
The road the priest said they would find, led inland, away from the safety of the ship. They would be on their own again, and this time they might encounter their nemesis.
His warning still rang in their ears when they woke from a restless slumber, filled with ominous dreams, and dark things. They were silent on their way to shore, and even more so as they followed the faded path that snaked its way to the castle.
The wind whispered in the trees, small animals crashed through the undergrowth, odd noises startled them, and with every step, the notion of some sinister presence stalking them, and flitting through the trees beyond their sight, intensified. They heard no footsteps, detected no smells, but the sensation remained. Something unnatural spooked the animals and disturbed the night.
Marcus hastened his steps, and the girls hurried to keep up with him. They emerged from the trees below the castle. The moon peeked from behind dark clouds to illuminate their path and the stark beauty of the landscape. The light lifted their spirits and somewhat alleviated their unease.
They waited a few moments for Byron, Sera, and two others to catch up to them. He emerged with his people close to him, and from the look on their faces, they too experienced the odd presence in the trees.
The humans doused their lanterns and followed Marcus up the steep road to the castle. Rowan followed behind with Alena in the rear. She noted with unease that nothing grew in a large area that surrounded the castle.
The trees below the castle teemed with life, and after all these years, nature should have reclaimed this edifice of humanity. It wasn’t natural, and it intensified her sense of foreboding. Something horrific happened here. It had the same desolate, haunted atmosphere of ancient battlefields; as if the souls of the dead still dwelled in this place.
A shiver ran down her spine, but she ignored it. Instead, she studied the castle, and she had to admit that it must once have been a thing of beauty. The lines, the workmanship, the layout, and the size impressed her. In her vision, she saw only the massive gateway, the courtyard, and the ballroom.
The oppression returned when they approached the castle. It made the humans jittery. They stepped through the archway that once housed the doors to the outer wall, and the shadow of the gateway fell upon them. They quickly lit their lanterns and stared at the play of shadows on the walls with trepidation.
Twelve paces later they were in what was once the courtyard. The light of the moon seemed somehow less bright, and the air acquired a chill to it.
“Here we are, people. Byron, you and yours stay here, keep a lookout. Give us the lanterns, and we will go inside. This place is dangerous. The walls are unstable, and I will not risk your lives. Take some of the debris and start a fire. We won’t be more than an hour,” Marcus instructed Byron.
“Yes, master,” Byron agreed with his eyes on Sera. If she were not present, he would have offered to risk going with them.