The Devil's Gift

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IX

The following days that led up to the party were stressful and I still found it difficult to cope; I couldn’t even begin with the grieving process. The plan was going ahead. The night was nearly upon us and each men readied themselves for the coming mission. I found it hard to concentrate, this was not easy to do with my mind elsewhere. I spoke to nobody as the vampires preparing for the infiltration donned their appropriate uniforms. When everyone was ready, I gave a nod and we all headed out into the courtyard where ten carriages waited eagerly for us.

We were soon pulling up in the Vatican City where we departed from the carriages and took to the rooftops. A thousand twinkling lanterns lit up the Vatican courtyard where many a cardinal were celebrating the Pope’s unofficial birthday. We ran quickly and silently toward the source of a growing noise that had become audible from at least a half mile away. The sky was dark and filled with light clouds that hovered above the great building. I signalled half-heartedly to the men beside me who took their positions on the edge of the rooftop, facing the Vatican, each wielding small throwing knives. I could see the archers, as Reyjak had informed me, there were six of them, each one clutching a longbow, but none of them looked as though they were paying much attention. Reyjak, who was currently on the ground, let out a sharp breath, a low humming noise only audible to vampires. Instantly, six knives whisked through the air with a prolonged whistle. Six archers fell dead, each with a small knife protruding from the bottom of their throat. A faint gargling sounded as they clutched at the knives, scrabbling to remove it, before they each fell to one side.

I saw instantly something was going wrong, the sixth guard, who appeared to cling onto life for just a split second longer, began to stumble and trip. With a loud clatter he lost his footing and slipped down off the roof and into the throng of cheerful cardinals below. I cursed as the volume of the party increased but was now filled with panic-stricken voices. I heard a loud clattering as guards rushed to investigate the area.

‘Get the Pope to safety, now!’ Roared one of the guards. Instantly, the papal guards, who were luckily replaced with my own men began ushering the Pope away from the crowd. Things were turning bad, one of the patrols had spotted us on the rooftop and had called a dozen more guards to his aid. They drew back their bows and began firing at us. They were good, the arrows would’ve struck their mark had we not been quicker. We dodged the arrows that whistled past us and descended to the floor.

‘Take the patrols, I’ll handle these.’ I ordered to my men who darted off at my word. The guards exchanged furtive looks but faced me nonetheless. Most of the party’s security was now trembling slightly before me. Though they looked panicked, they bared down upon me using their fear to spur them on. Most of the men clutched long falchions but a handful wielded big, heavy, two-handed broadswords. I dodged easily and parried with a long katana, Excessus, my personal sword, encrusted with decorative jewels along it handle, and a dragon’s head pommel. I brought my sword down, slicing at the hand of one of the larger, burlier guards. His broadsword clattered noisily to the floor and I faced my next opponent. Already, they were hesitant but took a wild swing at me. I side-stepped and parried with precision, offsetting their balance. I used this moment to strike them down with one, clean swipe of the sword. Their bodies crumpled as I turned and faced the remaining guards who looked positively terrified.

‘My fight is not with you.’ I told them sternly. They each exchanged a quick glance and with that, scramble round the corner and out of sight. I sheathed my sword quickly and nimbly wended my way through the cardinals who blocked my path. I shoved past them over the sea of red cloaks, I noticed a familiar white hat. I barged the cardinals out of the way and, with rage quickly building inside of me, I made my way to Pope Gregory XII. I burst through the crowd and saw the pope, alone, quivering beside an old statue. The time had come, he was going to become one of us. I made my approach slowly, knowing every step I took was for revenge. For Benjamin, Charlotte, Maria and for all those that lost their lives in Greyton at the hand of God. Revenge was nigh. The Pope watched with fear at my approach. There was chaos behind me, guards fighting blindly at vampires, cardinals scrabbling to the exits.

‘You,’ I pointed, my voice seething with hate, ’it’s time you embrace the darkness, you will serve, or you will die. The choice is yours to make, I could care little which one you choose.’ I spat. I bared down upon him as he began to stutter, backing away. Before I could speak any further, a woman emerged from the shadow but I did not remember seeing her there. She stood directly between us. Her crisp white dress flowed around her and she faced me, placing a restraining hand on my chest. As I went to knock it away, I felt something that stopped me. It was as though, for a split second I had a heartbeat once again. I stared into her eyes, they were a startling green. They were so familiar, I’d married a woman with those eyes. Maria’s eyes. Grief consumed me and snuffed out my rage like a candle in a storm. Her face was thin; she looked like a vampire, perfect, yet she was human; I could smell her blood, hear her heartbeat. She stared at me, plea etched on her face,

‘Don’t do this, please.’ She whispered, her voice soft and gentle.

‘Who are you?’ I asked. I was startled to hear my voice was so calm.

‘I am Sophia.’ She said. I looked back to the Pope who was cowering behind her like a pathetic old man.

‘You deserve to die.’ I spat. With that, after one final gaze into Sophia’s emerald-green eyes, I turned on my heel and sped out of the courtyard that was now empty. I had no idea why I was leaving, why I listened to the pleas of a human, but something in me had stirred at her touch. Something I was not aware still lived inside of me. I don’t know what it was but I was eager to find out. I was back at the castle with the hour, night still very much upon Rome. I did not head inside, I took a left around the courtyard and into the grounds where I pondered sadly upon everything that had occurred.

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