Drake (Book 1)

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[25]-Eptesicus

Bordeaux

6:42 a.m.

Sullivan Grundy’s tip led Lyn to a small abbey in the countryside. She migrated through a vineyard filled with fresh grapes ripe for harvesting. Plough marks left deep tracks in the earth from the heavy farm equipment. The sun peeked over the horizon and insects chirred. A crisp morning breeze caressed her green summer dress and hat. She stumbled upon the abbey.

Lyn pulled out the weathered picture of an old building and compared it to the one before her. Their similarities reassured her, and a grin formed on her lips. She tucked the picture away in her handbag and walked up the small dirt hill leading to the entrance. The hill was much steeper the further she walked, though from a distance it looked less formidable. Heels were not her friends in this case, and she opted to leave them at the abbey’s entrance.

She whined from her aching feet and pounded the cast iron door knocker. While she waited, she took a moment to capitalize on the abbey’s beauty and simplicity. Towers made of stone stood in the background with plain, undivided windows. Flags blew from the wind in long red streaks. Trees and lush green lined the abbey’s outside perimeter, separating its boundaries from the vineyards.

Morning dew grazed the blades of grass and left the smell of spring with it. She studied the entrance, which was made of tall wooden doors with iron bolts and latches much like Drake’s mansion. Vines crept their way around the entrance and in between blocks of stone, some of which bloomed green roses. She heard iron latches unlock from the other side as a nun pushed open the door.

The nun’s face was skeptical but curious at the sight of Lyn. She stood formally before her, in black and white robes with a transparent veil covering her face and hair. A golden cross hung from her neck. The woman tilted her head and parted the veil that covered her face, revealing kind gray eyes and high cheekbones. Despite the woman’s age, remnants of her beauty remained. Though it mattered not, as she devoted herself to God in favor of a life of abstinence, religious duty, and servitude.

Lyn bowed. “Bonjour.”

“Bonjour,” the woman replied. “You are a French woman?”

“Qui…”

The nun smiled. “What brings you here?”

“My sister...”

6:45 a.m.

She followed Sister Catherine through the abbey as they passed a group of nuns on their way to morning prayer. More nuns performed menial tasks, such as sweeping the floors or preparing breakfast. Though she had to admit, the abbey’s interior was flawless and pure. A bell rang from the central tower in three subsequent booms. Then the cloister, filled with more nuns as the abbess (the senior nun that ran the abbey) prepared to deliver a seminar to the younger women.

“Have you ever considered leaving your old life behind and devoting it to God?”

Lyn made a face, her eyes softened. “No, not really…”

She thought of her parent’s and neighbors’ screams. Blood-curdling cries that haunted her forever. In her eyes, God abandoned them. Who was this nun to tell her otherwise? And now Drake was taken from her, too.

They took a flight of stairs to the second floor. Iron candle holders lined the walls of the long, narrow hall. To their left were archaic cells where the nuns slept and lived. To the right, stone arches offered a clear view of the surrounding complex. Most notably, the chapel directly across. Faint sunlight drowned the second floor, that matched the shape of the arches as it manifested on the floors.

Sister Catherine stopped at an archaic wooden door at the end of the hallway. She took out a set of keys and struggled to find the right set. After a bit of fiddling, she unlocked the door but didn’t open it.

The nun sighed. “This is as far as I go. I can’t promise that she’ll remember you. That girl is in God’s hands now.”

“Thank you…”

Sister Catherine stepped aside as Lyn opened the door. She peeked inside the cell. White stone made up the walls with a single bed in one corner and a wheelchair. Towards the back was a paneled window with a few plants and a desk. A lone cross stood on the desk and a segment of the wall had been carved out to house a kerosene lamp and incense.

A woman sat on the bed, staring blankly at the ceiling. Her dark violet hair and amber eyes were irrefutable. She had finally found her. After all these years, Ella Valeska was still alive and looked much the same. Ella wore a black skirt and plain white blouse that struggled to accommodate her wide bust.

Lyn sauntered towards her and knelt by the bed. She cupped Ella’s hands in her own. “Ella, do you remember me?”

Ella continued her stare, but it was as if she was looking through Lyn.

“Ella?”

Ella spoke, “Big sister?”

Lyn’s eyes widened. “I finally found you…”

“Lyn? Don’t you know what time it is? Mama and Papa will be upset if we come home late again.”

The blood drained from Lyn’s face, and she stifled a gasp. Her face shook and was visibly wounded. She tried to cover her mortified face, but the tears overpowered her. Ella picked against her dress as if harvesting berries.

“Ella, what are you doing?”

“I’m picking berries from the trees again-”

She lunged towards Ella and grabbed her shoulders. Ella’s body became limp in her grip and she drooled at the mouth. Lyn continued shaking her. Ella continued to pick at her dress. Lyn formed a grimace and released her. Her eyes were puffy and bloodshot.

“Ella! Mom and dad have been dead for years and they’re not coming back! That place with the blueberries is gone!” she cried. “The Germans burned it all down. They burned down everything!”

Ella released a soft chortle and hymned.

“Frère Jacques

Frère Jacques

Dormez vous?

Dormez vous?

Sonnez les matines

Sonnez les matines

Ding ding dong

Ding ding dong”

Lyn took a deep breath. She sat next to Ella and caged her within her arms. Then she rocked her back and forth ever so gingerly. She wiped her tears and ruined mascara stained her arm and ran down her face. They sang together as quiet as a mouse until Ella fell asleep. Lyn cherished this moment though it only salted her wounded heart further. Then she placed Ella’s head on a pillow and stroked her braids.

“We’ve been doing everything we can to make her comfortable,” Sister Catherine said.

The nun stood at the doorway, her face filled with lament and sorrow. Lyn rose from the bed and tip-toed out of the room. She closed the door behind her that made a slight creak.

Lyn crossed her arms. “How much longer does she have to live?”

Sister Catherine sighed. “We don’t know. Someone left this girl at our doorsteps about thirty years ago. I was just a junior nun then. She had nothing except-” She handed Lyn a withered rose. “But this girl hasn’t aged a bit in the last thirty years. And she could walk at first. But now, it’s almost as if she’s forgotten how.”

“Her body is rejecting the Aegean strain,” Lyn muttered.

The nun looked astonished. “Beg your pardon?”

Lyn shook her head and forced a smile. “Sorry, I was just talking to myself…”

A thought crossed her mind. But only a dream. Perhaps if she drank Drake’s blood.

As Sister Catherine led her back to the entrance, the nun gave a last gift.

“What’s this?” Lyn asked, accepting a modest watch with a leather strap.

“Allegedly, when the timer on this watch runs out is when she’ll die. I thought you should have it.”

Lyn closed the watch in her hand and headed down the steep hill. “Thank you…”

The nun formed a glorious smile. “God bless you, child.”

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