Chapter 20: Preparations
“We need to talk,” Victoria said as she waited for her family to return home from feeding. She stood up in the dining room as William and the others entered the room.
“What’s going on?” James asked as he took a seat at the table in front of Victoria.
“It’s Alastor Boucher,” Victoria explained. “He’s in charge of the Hunters. I don’t know how but one of his constituents confirmed it tonight.”
“Was that the woman you were talking to?” Eleanor asked. While the men had been hunting in other establishments, Eleanor had accompanied Victoria to Blush for the evening.
Victoria nodded. “Her name was Kate. She was sent here to observe us and find a way into the estate past the barrier. She came to warn me about the book Mama Eshe had given me and the ritual it contained, but then I found out who her boss was.”
“What does Alastor want with us? He may have created us but we haven’t seen him since that night all those years ago. Why would he send Hunters after us?” Matthew inquired.
“Did she say if they wanted us dead or alive?” William asked.
“I didn’t stay that long to find out, unfortunately. Hunters aren’t really the company I was looking for tonight while I was trying to seduce a human to feed from. I was more than a little spooked, you could say,” Victoria admitted.
William sighed. “That was a good call, Victoria. What else did this Kate say?”
At this point the Ashford family chose to appear within the dining hall. Henry stood beside Victoria and leaned down to give her a quick kiss before taking a seat beside her. The others stood around close by. Ebele set the conjuring book down on the table in front of everyone.
“Nice of you all to appear,” James muttered.
“We wanted to speak with all of you,” Thomas began.
“I think I know what this is about,” Victoria interrupted. “It’s about the ritual to reunite you with your bodies, isn’t it?”
Mary sat beside James at the table and inhaled deeply. “I’m not sure what Victoria has told all of you about this book, but it contains a ritual that could save our souls. As much as I’d love to be alive again, nothing good will come of this ritual. Not only will it bring down the barrier, the only thing protecting this estate and our families, but it’ll also unleash a malevolent deity that wants nothing but to watch all of this burn.”
William placed his hands on the top of the high backed wooden chair at the head of the table. Victoria could tell that he was struggling with his decision to save his family or to have it destroyed by denying her the opportunity to save the man she was falling in love with. Taking Victoria’s hand in his underneath the table, Henry leaned over to her ear.
“Leave with your family,” he whispered. “This may be your last chance for survival.”
Her head pivoted in his direction as her gaze settled upon his eyes. His words were spoken as a way to protect her and her family, something she had once told him to do as well. She couldn’t blame him for wanting things to be easy for her but with him now taking root within her life, things weren’t as they were.
“Ebele,” Victoria started. “Kalfou is a trickster. So how do we trick him?”
“Do you have the ingredients for the ritual?” she asked. Victoria took the pouch out of her purse and set it down upon the table.
“I have most of them, but I’m missing one,” Victoria stated.
“The blood of the enemy,” Ebele said. “It won’t be easy to gather it.”
“You mean from Adrian?” Eleanor asked.
All eyes set upon her as if she had grown two heads. William was the first one to speak.
“Is there something we should know?” he asked her.
“I can get close to him,” Eleanor revealed. “I suppose it’s a good thing our enemy is a vampire and still has blood to spare.”
“Yes, indeed,” Ebele commented.
“What’s your plan?” William inquired.
“I’m pretty sure she has her ways,” Matthew stated as Eleanor slapped the back of his head.
“The link that Mama Eshe had placed within its contents has been removed. Kate revealed to me that Kalfou wanted to possess a vampire body as a way to heighten his abilities and remain immortal,” Victoria explained.
“That would make sense,” Ebele began. “Someone will have to offer themselves to Kalfou for this curse to be lifted. He’s the only one who can undo what has been done.”
“There’s no way around that?” Eleanor asked. “Regardless of what we do, someone will have to die?”
“Not die,” Ebele informed them. “They’ll become a passenger within their own body while Kalfou drives. While a vampire body would be ideal, he may take another if willingly offered during the ritual.”
“What’s to say Kalfou wants anything less than a vampire? He’s a deity and this is his ritual. He can ask for whatever or whoever he chooses,” James pointed out.
“No, he has to abide by the laws of nature. He could take a vampire body and deal with the internal struggle of always having to fight their will to take over control or he could come back in the body of one of us without expending that kind of energy. There would be no fight,” Ebele concluded.
“So who will that be?” William asked.
“You’re not serious about sacrificing one of their family members here, are you?” Eleanor asked, surprised at her brother’s curt question.
“They wouldn’t be willing to tell us about this if they hadn’t discussed this scenario previously,” William stated. “Which one of you agreed to this?”
“I’ll do it,” Thomas spoke up.
“I wasn’t aware of any of this,” Henry said.
“I don’t need your permission, brother. I rounded up everyone after you left the meeting and Ebele told us the rest of the story. This is my life and I’ve been trying to find a way to save this family for over a century. I’m doing this,” Thomas affirmed.
“Mary,” Henry pleaded, realizing he couldn’t convince his brother to go back on his decision.
“I’m sorry, Henry,” Mary began. “This is our only chance to be happy. For both of us to be happy.”
Mary glanced over at Victoria and gave her a little smile, an acknowledgement that warmed Victoria’s heart.
“Once you do this, you know that we’ll have to stop Kalfou,” Ebele commented.
“I do,” Thomas answered. “When Eliza died, so did I. I’m not afraid of death anymore.”
James stood from the table and walked over to Thomas, taking his hand in a firm handshake. William and Matthew did the same as they understood the sacrifice Henry’s brother was making for the sake of his family.
Martha hugged her grandson, tears flowing from her eyes. Victoria suddenly realized that this gathering was turning into a true funeral. Henry stood up beside her as Thomas rounded the table to face him.
Thomas smiled as he placed his hand firmly on Henry’s shoulder. “You’ve got one hell of a woman there, Henry. I can’t let you live without her.”
“Thomas…” Henry begged, his face flushed.
“I had the woman of my dreams and she was amazing. I want you to have that now, with Victoria,” Thomas continued. Thomas pulled his brother in for a hug and let him go before turning to Victoria. She rose from her seat to face him.
“Take care of my little brother,” Thomas said. “I’m glad he met someone like you.”
A tear spilled from Victoria’s eye as she tried to hold her composure in front of his family. She could only imagine what the rest of them were feeling.
“We need to prepare,” Ebele declared. “Victoria, come with me.”
“We’re doing this too,” Eleanor stated. “I’m not letting my sister do this by herself.”
“Good,” Ebele replied. “Because there would be no way to do this without the rest of you present.”
“Why?” Matthew asked. “What do you need from us?”
“Your energy. The ritual requires enough of it to conclude itself, something that we lacked in our mundane forms,” Ebele continued. “We need each of you to stand in the place of our own bodies to help us pass through and back into our physical forms.”
“At what point will Kalfou appear?” Victoria asked as they followed Ebele out through the French doors onto the back porch of the estate.
“He’ll appear as soon as he’s summoned, midway through the ritual. During that time, he’ll want to make his deal with you, Victoria. You need to be wise in your choice of words. He’ll try to find flaws in order to wiggle out of anything binding that would benefit you,” Ebele warned.
“Is no one a little worried here that the blood of our enemy is a vampire? What if he tries to create a link to Adrian instead like Mama Eshe was trying to do with Victoria?” James questioned.
“Adrian would have to be present for the ritual himself and since the barrier is still active, I doubt he would be able to make an appearance,” Ebele stated.
“So Kalfou doesn’t have power that extends past the gates?” Victoria asked.
“He has some power in the form he’s currently in, but beyond that, no. His state is a weakened one,” Ebele confirmed.
“From what I heard from Kate, he was able to burn down Mama Eshe’s shop,” Victoria pointed out.
“An amount of energy he most likely expended. He cannot create energy, only use it from the body he possesses. I doubt his host conducted a ritual as massive as we are about to undertake. The energy will attract him to our location,” Ebele explained.
The group followed Ebele out to the cemetery through an old wrought iron gate. Walking among mausoleums and crumbling statues, they made their way down winding dirt pathways in between the tall trees, Spanish moss swaying from their branches on the gentle breeze.
As they approached a mausoleum in the heart of the cemetery, Ebele ascended the steps towards the door hidden between the pillars of carved stone. The mausoleum was butted up against a small hill near the edge of the back of the property covered in old thorny vines.
“Is this your family plot?” Victoria asked Henry.
He nodded silently as Ebele took a key from her skirts and unlocked the heavy door, revealing the ornate entryway. The inside was larger than what Victoria had originally anticipated. Along the walls were stacks of coffins covered by engraved stones of the names of previous family members. Dried flowers littered the floor near the edges underneath the memorials.
Ebele approached the back of the mausoleum and ran her hands down the stone wall. Pressing a collection of stone bricks, Henry and Thomas helped push the wall forward to show a dark, dirt pathway through the hill in the back of the mausoleum.
“What was the purpose of this passage?” William asked.
“The hill used to house the original mausoleum of the Ashford family. Once those graves were filled, it was extended outward to house more bodies of the deceased, thus the part we’re standing in at the moment,” Martha explained.
Ebele stepped across the threshold into the tunnel as everyone followed closely behind. Another wooden door laid at the end of the tunnel. Twisting the handle, she pushed open the door to a circular room with more graves along the walls. However, they weren’t as well maintained as the ones in the previous chamber.
The walls composed of dirt and stone, open for them to see the coffins laid within them. Heavy wooden beams lined the ceiling to keep it from caving inward. Victoria and the others gazed upon the bodies of the Ashford family, the cinnabar sigil faded with time. Candles were alight within the room.
“Have you been here recently?” Eleanor asked, noticing fresh footprints upon the ground around the bodies.
“We visit every day,” Mary said quietly as she knelt beside her body on the ground.
“That must be an awful reminder…” Victoria mused as she walked around the bodies, stopping as she reached Henry’s. They were laying in a perfect circle around the altar that Ebele had conducted the ceremony upon long ago. She stepped through the circle and peered within the cauldron half expecting the bubbling black liquid to still be there.
“It’s still inside us,” Thomas answered as if he knew her question.
“What is?” James asked as he picked up a stone from the window sill behind them in the back of the chamber.
“The potion that Ebele made to link us to the ritual and keep us from crossing over,” Mary explained. “It’s the only thing keeping our bodies preserved. If it wasn’t for Ebele’s thinking, we would all be dead by now.”
“We will conduct the ritual tomorrow night. Victoria and I will prepare the space according to the conjuring book. Eleanor, we’ll be waiting for you,” Ebele said.
Victoria nodded as Eleanor left them to head back to the mansion with the others. Only the Ashford’s remained.
Victoria stood in the center of the circle and faced Ebele. “Where do we start?”