The Devil's Gift

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A huge, derelict-looking castle was encased in a dense shadow, it protruded from a forest looking unoccupied and intimidating. Castle Blackmoor was surrounded by a ring of dense forestation that looked as though they guarded the castle. The turrets towered above the surrounding trees though a number of them lay in ruins. A crow circled the tip of the highest turret. Its caw ripped open the silence in the dead of night. This is where I perched precariously on the very edge. I felt as though I were a part of the castle, standing like stone, silent and still. The breeze blew gently around me fluttering the hem on my black silken robe that obscured my feet. The robe was not only worn for comfort, it was symbolic, with gold trimmings around each opening and elegant symbols and swirls adorned the fabric in the same golden thread. Up until her untimely demise, the clan queen, Maria, my wife, also wore one similar, it stated our leadership and that our right to rule ran through our bloodline.

I’d seen over a hundred years pass, though my skin was smooth and free of imperfections. Vampirism had a curious way of keeping me remarkably fresh and preserved over the years. My quick eyes located the bird that broke me from my reverie, picking up all of the tiny details in my eyes’ unmatched clarity, capable of looking on for miles unclouded by the world’s natural haze that distorted a human’s vision. I studied the bird, the way its wings beat up and down, catching the wind. Another caw opened the silence that had filled my ears once more.

I looked away, allowing my ears to relax as I inhaled a deep breath, expanding the range of my senses. The tips of the trees all seemed to move in unison, swaying like large poles. I watched as the clouds parted, spilling moonlight onto the tops of the trees. I watched the way the moon cast down silvery beams on the castles chipped stone-work and the way the trees would rustle slightly as a breeze failed an attempt to pass through.

The air was damp and cold and as I inhaled a lungful, I tasted the fresh water on my tongue, though it had a slightly sweetened tang to it. I watched with black, cold eyes; they had seen the deaths of many, including those of my wife and children.

I followed a beam of moonlight until my eyes fell upon a dark granite slab. The pigments inside glittered in the light and I read the engraved words:

Maria, this garden is dedicated to you, may you never be forgotten.

The slab lay buried in the ground, near the border of the forest, surrounded by roses of deep crimson and creamy white. I stared longingly at it as a single petal seemed to fall to the ground as if it were slowed down. Though it surely would not have made a sound, I distinctly heard the soft thud as it touched the damp ground.

Suddenly, memories swamped my mind like a flood. I recalled the times where I would look upon Maria, with her beautiful, soft, face and the way my heart would beat twice as fast as I stared into the unending depths of the emerald-green pools her eyes seemed to be. I could lose myself in them.

I closed my eyes and let myself drift away inside my memories. At once, I felt myself slipping back into the days where my life was simple, easy and bliss.

I walked with Maria, hand-in-hand down the streets of my old village, Greyton a few years after our marriage, some seven hundred or so years prior to the present-day. The evening sun was warm on my face. The road was uneven and pitted. I dressed smart, in a white coat and black shoes. Maria walked steadily beside me, keeping pace. She seemed to be gazing across the field, an ocean of wheat, the wind creating waves across its surface, bobbing like the sea. The sun started to set, its emanating light, a lake of beautiful colours that flooded the path before us. A warm breeze passed down across the field, fluttering the leaves strewn across the path.

Maria gently squeezed my hand, it was warm and soft. I looked into her eyes and she looked back in mine. She dressed in a deep sapphire-blue dress that fluttered around her ankles. A woven bracelet adorned her wrist, my anniversary gift to her. She batted her eyelids in the sun’s warmth, I felt my heart thud twice in one beat and I closed my eyes too.

When I opened them again, the warm evening sun had gone, replaced instead by the chill of the night. The light too had gone and now only the darkness pressed upon my eyes. Funny thing, though. Ironic. The light and fire that had once burnt fiercely in my heart, now lay cold and unlit by the unyielding darkness that now consumed me. I stared bleakly at the plaque, wondering how everything could be going so wrong. I bowed my head to her memory feeling the emotional pain starting to rise in my chest, becoming a lump that rested in my throat.

In the next moment, I pitched forwards, flying from the turret. I felt the familiar adrenaline surge through me as the cold wind whistled past my ears and whipped my black hair as I fell. My eyes followed the tiny moths and critters, their wings beating fast, spiralling away from me. The ground seemed to rush towards me and I landed silently on the damp grass, near the plaque. I walked towards it and scooped up a red rose that I clutched to my chest.

‘My love, I don’t know how to explain how I feel. I cannot seem to find the will to carry on any more. This existence, it seems so pointless, so unreal without you.’ I mumbled. I listened carefully as my voice reverberated around the silence, ricocheting off the trunks of the trees. I looked up, casting my eyes around the gloom searching for any sign of life. My throat burned suddenly and fiercely, ripping up from my chest. The only way to cool my raging throat was blood. I was momentarily distracted by the discreet sound of soft footsteps on the sodden grass behind me, they were approaching cautiously and slowly. I tensed, sensing the figure behind me.

‘My lord,’ I recognised the deep voice that seemed to be accompanying a tone of sympathy. I struggled to lift my gaze to Reyjak, whose large body was covered in a thick black robe. My eyes had become heavy, unable to look upon the face of my most trusted ally and closest friend, the man who I had known for centuries, who I saw like a brother. I couldn’t face him in this state and so compromised by looking up to the sky instead. Reyjak spoke again.

‘My lord, the sun is due to rise soon.’ That was the Reyjak I knew, always readily available to notify me of things that I was unable to see, or rather subconsciously, unwilling to see. I shifted my gaze across the sky. Above the canopy of trees, a very faint, warm, glow could be seen pushing its way across the sky. I finally looked at Reyjak.

‘Very well.’ I spoke, my voice hoarse.

Reyjak looked at me and I noticed the subtle look of pity. Before I could thank him for his constant support, Reyjak had turned on his heel and was gone within less than a blink of an eye, disappearing inside without a sound. He had a curious way of manipulating the air around him to seemingly vanish. No one else I knew, not even myself, the first and most powerful vampire, could seem to disappear with such speed.

I decided to wait for sunlight to come and go, in the solitary confines of my study, a secret and hidden room in the castle accessible by those only who knew how to enter. I reluctantly turned away from the grave and rushed to the side of the castle. My speed was second only to Reyjak. A human travelling at this speed would surely not see a thing, the speed distorting and blurring the scenery. I, on the other hand, was more than capable, my powerful body and senses able to pick up all the minute details as I sped past them. The passing objects did not blur or distort, I saw them as if they were slowed to walking pace. Less than two seconds had passed before I had reach the south facing wall. I stood before a door, a secondary entrance, concealed in the hard stone that looked just like the rest of the castle’s walls.

I traced my fingers over the rough stone, submerged in hanging green ivy that spread up the side of Castle Blackmoor. I felt around until my fingers found a familiar small, hidden lever. I gave it a gentle pull, hearing the complex mechanism inside tinkle and clunk as the large slab of concrete slid down into the earth revealing an opening lit by two flickering candles either side.

The candlelight bathed the small, square room in an orange glow that distorted the shadows in the wind. I proceeded inside. The study filled suddenly with the sound of scraping as the large concrete door slid seamlessly back into place. The room was small and cramped with dark-pine tables on either side of the room. Over the centuries, I had acquired a large assortment of small daggers, darts and knives. My favourites were placed on top of one of the tables pushed neatly against the wall on the left. I looked at an evil-looking dagger with a serrated edge that was still coated in its owners dried blood. A suit of shining steel armour, taken from the corpse of a fallen enemy, was worn by a stand that stood by the door to the right. A large oak desk, topped with inkwells and quills, bits of screwed up parchment and stacks of notes was placed below a large ornate mirror in the centre of my study. The chair for the desk was found next to a long bookcase adorned with old books, texts, manuscripts and ancient volumes with their spines old and frail. Just to the left of the door, placed on the seat of the chair, lay an old, tattered journal.

I peered at my reflection in the mirror as I got closer. I was reminded of another memory that swam before my eyes. It was another day in the church, where I lived a simple, easy life as a priest and father, devoted to both. I was performing another christening as I had done many times before. The day was cold but promising, with the whole of Greyton clustered and cramped into the church. As I said the prayer, holding a small baby girl. A storm brewed above us. Rain washed the windows and hail battered the walls. The wind was fierce and soon, a tornado had started to spiral towards us. It was God, he had forsaken our village and sentenced its villagers to death. Minutes later, the roof of the church had been ripped clean off leaving nothing but a destroyed church, clouded in dust, fog and debris. I was the only one safe, I was forced to look upon the lifeless bodies of my friends and my children, their white eyes haunted me. I wondered now, if I had acted quicker, could I have saved them? I shook my head to clear the image from my mind. When I finally managed to emerge from the ruins of the church, my dying wife in my arms, I found refuge on the lawn outside whereupon, I was greeted by the Devil who had offered me a gift unlike no other. True immortality.

But all that had changed when Klomano, the leader of the Venetian vampire clan overthrew Maria and took her from me. I shook my head, clearing my mind once more of a vivid image that was forming. I moodily dragged my chair to the desk where I fell into it and pulled a sheaf of parchment towards me. I thought for a moment before dipping my quill in the inkwell and beginning to write.

Sophia, I hope this letter finds you well. Our last encounter was one that sparked my curiosity. I would like to meet with you again. I hope this letter does not seem too forward to ask for your company under more civil terms. Roconn.

I re-read my letter, ignoring the guilt that threatened to engulf me, and folded it neatly. I pulled open a drawer from which I withdrew a stick of wax. I pulled one of the lit candles from the sconce by the door and placed it on the desk. I held it over the flame, melting the end. I dripped the hot, melted was onto the seam of the letter. I looked at my ring, the emblem of two vampire teeth encased in moonlight and pressed the ring into it, leaving its identical print behind. I rose from my seat and put the letter inside my pocket, snuffed out the candle with a sharp blow and withdrew from the confines of my study and outside once more. The concealed door slid impenetrably shut behind me.

The sky was now lighter.

I knew had little time, minutes in fact, before the sun rose completely, how long I had sat at the desk I was unsure. Time wasn’t something I accounted for, days felt like minutes. I sprinted at full speed along the side of Castle Blackmoor, propelling my legs with each step. I reached the huge oaken front door and hesitated for a moment. Just as I thought the doors would not open, the prolonged creak hinges of its rusted filled my ears. I stepped over the threshold, the entrance was cavernous, its ceilings high.

A long red carpet had been rolled out from the door and snaked its way through the depths of the castle. Every ten feet, a flickering candle was fixed to the stone walls either side, keeping the entrance lit. As I stepped inside, the heavy doors swung shut, swallowing me in the darkness, all except the dim, flickering gloom of the candles.

As I walked, I listened to my footsteps echoing in the chasms of the castle. I passed a few tables further down the hall. On each of which stood a small crystal fountain, oozing blood from the top and flowing down like a waterfall around it. I took a right turn at the end of the hall where an oil painting of myself hung. It was a great likeness but somehow did not capture the sinister look in my eyes, that which I had always relied on for extracting information. After seeing the final result and spotting the mistake, I had the artist killed. In truth I was rather pleased with the portrait.

As I neared the end of the hallway, it forked into two turnings, each with a door at either end. Behind the door on the left, was a large room, one of the largest in the castle. It contained hundreds of years’ worth of treasure, jewels and gold, it was highly protected and no one would enter unless they carried a letter from myself baring my insignia. I strode to the door on the right. Stationed either side, were the guards who protected the castle. They dressed in thick overcoats tied roughly together by strips of leather across their bulging chests. From these strips of leather hung an assortment of small knives and darts. Each of them carried long, intimidating spears. They were spread throughout the castle, though most of the time, went unnoticed by its hosts. They stood aside immediately, allowing me to enter.

I opened the doors and marched in. The room was large and business-like. A long, dark-brown oak table, with three blood fountains set on the top was placed in the middle of the room. A number of large candles were flickering contentedly along the table and was the only source of light in the room. In front of the table, and overlooking the room was a large golden throne. It glistened and sparkled slightly in the light. None but the clan-king was permitted to sit upon it. To the side of the walls, underneath the wooden panels that obscured the windows, a few wooden benches lay unused and dusty. Above the table, a large metal chandelier hung unlit and covered in cobwebs.

The room was empty and I took a seat on the throne, my mind elsewhere.

‘Reyjak.’ I spoke to the empty room, my voice barely audible. I listened and faintly heard Reyjak rise from his chair in his own study. Not half a second later, he appeared before me. His face bore a mask of apprehension.

‘Yes my lord?’ He asked. I reached inside my cloak, withdrew the letter and handed it to Reyjak who took it without question.

‘Find a courier. I want this to be delivered to Sophia, the lady from the Vatican.’ Reyjak looked uncertain but bowed respectfully and vanished through the open doors without another word. I rose from my throne and walked slowly to the large table, placing my hands upon it as I did so. Closing my eyes, I delved into the ocean of my memories once more, they swam clearly before my eyes.

A number of years had passed since the day in the warm sunset. I walked by Maria’s side who this time, dressed in a plain, brown dress, the woven bracelet still upon her small wrist. I marvelled at the contours of her face, she was still exceptionally beautiful though a few lines were set by her eyes and small mouth. She was a little plumper than before, but still, she looked very pretty. I walked by her side dressed in my priest’s robe, having just finished a service.

The morning was chill but blissfully sweet, the scent of flowers and dew on the grass, sweet on my tongue. I let the scent fill my lungs. I was truly happy, little knowing that happiness would be over in a few years. It was still early as we walked the cobbled path of Greyton, in the morning sun. We passed the church and I looked over to its graveyard and lawn flourishing with flowers of yellow, pink, blue and red. The plants and trees thrived in the soil and the bushes and flowers needed pruning fairly often, I saw to that. As we passed under its massive walls that towered over us, we were thrown into its colossal shadow.

‘I love you.’ Whispered Maria softly in my ear.

‘As I love you.’ I whispered back. She smiled a perfect smile, my smile, the one that made my stomach back flip. It was after this moment, we decided that we would start a family of our own. We had a small house but it was perfect for us.

‘What shall we call our child?’ Asked Maria. My brow furrowed, I thought for a moment, the warm breeze blowing my hair, I recalled my mother’s name.

‘Charlotte’ I spoke. Eventually, after some disagreements we both agreed on the names. Charlotte for a girl and Benjamin for a boy.

My eyes flew open, I found my fingernails had penetrated the wooden table leaving long gouges in the wood. At that moment, to my surprise, Oceana, the new leader of the Venetian clan, one of my old friends and trustworthy allies, came bursting through the castle, exploding with fury at the guards who stood in her way to see me in the main hall.

‘Get out of my way you incompetent fools!’ She bellowed. The guards exchanged wary glances as Oceana opened her mouth again to scream at the guards once more.

‘Ah, Oceana, do come in.’ I told her, attempting to conceal my pain. At once the guards stepped aside. Oceana threw a dirty look at the guards before storming in. She was, in truth a very pretty woman, looking around her mid-twenties, though she was much older. She flipped her curtain of chocolate brown hair that fell past her shoulders as she strode in.

‘My lord.’ She stopped dead before me and knelt to the ground before returning to her agitated self.

‘My lord I have had word, from spies in the city, you have met a woman, Sophia. My lord I do hope you realise who she is?’ My face twitched with irritation.

How could she know about Sophia? I was unsure though my face was impassive, unreadable.

‘Yes, and I believe it’s not your concern who I meet with.’ I kept my voice cold. With a small rise of satisfaction, I noticed Oceana’s face flicker with fear.

‘Of... Of course my lord... I... I.’ She stuttered, at a loss for words.

’A word of caution, my dear, do not let your new station cloud your judgement as to your position in my court. I am the ruler of this coven, not you. Where I go and who I go with is not your concern.’ I spoke firmly, hoping to hide my irritation and, dare I admit it, fear from her. Oceana was at loss for words and just merely stood there.

‘Yes my lord.’ She finally managed to choke out. I thought for a moment pondering the meaning of her words

‘I do hope you realise who she is?’

I had to know what she was aware of. What does she know about Sophia that I don’t? She stood and made for the doors, her face sullen and impassive.

‘Oceana.’ I held my hand to the air as if to grab her by some magical force. She stopped, apparently not after a re-match, turned on her foot and remained silent.

’What do you mean by the words ‘I do hope you realise who she is?’ Though I tried my best to hide it, the inquisition in my voice came up a bit more eager than just plain curiosity. She noticed.

‘My lord, the woman. Sophia. I’ve seen what she does, where she goes. I asked around with… Contacts, sire. During my err… Investigations, I managed to uncover her true identity. She tries to conceal it from the public but I managed to find out.’ She almost boasted. Her eyes flicked around the room, unable to meet my gaze. Apparently she had been dying to tell me this information since she first found out herself, but now the time is here, she seemed unable to finish.

‘And?’ I pushed.

‘Well,’ she took a deep breath, apparently thinking it would be less traumatic if she said it quickly. ’I found out that she advises the Pope! Sire, she is a woman of God, a woman of which you took an oath to destroy… Roconn. I’m so sorry.’ She seemed almost close to tears and for a moment, I wondered why. Then with a slight twinge of guilt, I realised why. I had been building this coven globally for centuries, always in the need of revenge against God, against Christianity. And here I am, sending letters to none other than the Pope’s advisor. I pressed her, trying to make it look as though I was unaware of this information.

‘How did you come by this information?’ I asked her.

She seemed to relax a little, evidently aware I wasn’t about to scold her once more. ‘I spoke to my contacts throughout the city. I had people follow her home and record her schedule.’ I felt my stomach sink. So it had to be true, she advised the Pope. She was Christian. After everything, I finally found a woman who I just connected with, and she is religious. An enemy. No, not an enemy. In the wrong company. I thought this through, trying to convince myself I was not consorting with an enemy. No, my intentions were true and honourable, there were no ulterior motives other than the fact I was curious about her. Having not entirely convinced myself, I turned back to Oceana.

‘Thank you, Oceana, you may leave.’ She looked totally perplexed at my lack of response, but when she realised I was not going to discuss it any further, she took one last, exaggerated bow, before sweeping from the room, refusing to look at the guards as she passed.

I took some time to evaluate the situation and so retreated the comfort of my bed chamber, Reyjak following after I expressed my wish to speak privately with himI motioned him to sit at a small table set in front of my bed. I only had the bed for decoration so at times, when I felt my lowest, I could come here and feel like a human again. Reyjak sat without hesitation, and I took a seat opposite him. I tried to find my words but none seemed to come out, so for a moment I just sat there opening and closing my mouth. He looked curious as to why I asked to speak to him, but sat patiently nonetheless. I put my hand on the table watching the light glisten off the gold ring that once belonged to Maria.

‘This was Maria’s wedding ring. I proposed to her when she was eighteen. She said she wasn’t ready.’ I spoke, more to myself than to Reyjak. ‘After some years of us getting accustomed the seriousness of our relationship, I proposed again, this time, I was ready too. She cried and told me she would be delighted to.’ I looked him in the eye, ‘That was one of the happiest days of my life.’ Reyjak’s dark face looked unreadable but he shifted his weight on the chair and spoke to me,

‘Did you really ask to speak to me for this reason, my lord?’ I shook my head, but he didn’t seem to need an answer anyway. For one time I just wanted to be another person, not a leader, not a vampire. Just a person, a citizen that was totally in the dark, oblivious to all the strange happenings of the world. I looked at him seriously.

‘I speak to you here, not as a leader, but as a friend, and I wish your judgement as so.’

Reyjak nodded and listened intently. After a while I had finished explaining the dilemma I was in with Sophia and he studied me carefully. He didn’t speak at once, but when he did, his voice was smooth and understanding.

‘Roconn,’ He said. ‘You and Maria are like my parents, you gave me a life, a debt I can never repay. I too was devastated at Maria’s passing.’ My cold, unbeating heart seemed to nudge longingly as I heard her name. ‘But you have to move on. Terrible things happen all time to every single person, and as much as it may hurt to hear it, you are no different.’ I thought on this, it was true, though it may feel different to me, this would have happened eventually. I managed to get another six hundred and fifty odd years more than if I were human. I should be grateful but all I felt was grief. ‘Maria was one of the nicest, most caring people I’ve ever met. She was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, she would want you to move on. If this lady, Sophia makes you happier. Go. I’m on your side.’ He finished. I heard what I needed to hear. That was Reyjak, always looking at the best in people. I stood up and Reyjak stood too. I clapped him on the shoulder.

‘Thank you my friend, not many see best in people as you do, and for that, I am grateful.’ He nodded and made for the door. ‘And Reyjak,’ I spoke, his hand on the door handle, ‘I’d be grateful for your discretion regarding the conversation we’ve just had.’ He agreed to tell none and left the room.

The rest of the day was uneventful and I waited for my reply eagerly, impatience threatening to consume me. Alas, the moon shone bright once more over Castle Blackmoor illuminating its turrets like it was on fire. The forest was alive with wild animals as I retreated to the comfort of my garden. I made sure it was constantly pruned and looked after. It was spacious and comfortable. After Maria’s passing, I had spent many hours here, revisiting my memories, relaxing, enjoying the solitude. The sound of the birds, ants and spiders relaxed me.

During the days I was constantly bombarded with the hubbub and menial tasks of a leader’s life. But during the night, I would retreat outside, to my space. No one seemed to come out here whilst I was there, I was grateful for that. They had my undivided attention during the day, and so I was a responsible leader. But at night, not only would many scour the forests and city to hunt, I would sit here alone, with Maria. I found it comforting. Tonight was different though, tonight I sat here almost primed and prepared to leave Maria’s side, eager to find Sophia directly. Of course, this plan was flawed and risky, the thought of Sophia discovering who I really was seemed unbearable.

The night seemed to drag, which was curious but not altogether unexpected, I had seen many nights come and go like they were seconds, but I was anxious to be off, to hold Sophia’s reply in my hand. My thoughts drifted to the consequences of my coven discovering who Sophia really is. Some might be ok with it, but others would more than likely exacerbate things. This made me think, how many are still here purely because they are loyal, and how many just enjoy my protection? This didn’t help my mood.

Reyjak, yes he is loyal, like a brother to me, perhaps Noster? No, I wouldn’t say so. He was a good soldier and capable fighter but I fear he would turn against me if he thought I was practically betraying the coven. I spent the next few hours unmoving and silent, sitting on a stone bench built in Maria’s memory, thinking this over. Suddenly, the scent of human blood wafted through the air and brought me crashing back to realityith a burning desire for blood along with it. My throat suddenly burnt like a raging fire, though it was admittedly worse than usual as it had been a while since I had tasted the sweetness of blood. The taste started to come back to me but it only made my throat worse. After a moment, I could not stand it and my rage started to boil once more at my clan. I had told them several times not to feed so close to Maria’s grave and yet they blatantly disregarded my orders. My blood felt as though it might boil with built up anger; I was always so angry since Maria’s death and it took next to nothing to set me off anymore.

I stood, and in an instant, was belting through the grounds, my mind focused on confronting the feeding person. The person I saw, though, brought me up short and for a moment I forgot what I was going to say. I stared blankly at the person, stood outside the front door, sipping gently from a crystal goblet half-full with red, thick liquid. Oceana sat neatly on one of the benches near the entrance.

‘My lord.’ Oceana spoke with a soft tone, sympathetic somehow; I was taken aback. For a moment I did nothing but stare blankly at her, Oceana of all people. I gestured to her goblet but she just took another sip, smacked her lips, and give me a little wink.

‘Sire, I have had word from one of my spies based in Venice.’ She said waiting for a response that was not given. It was only when I raised an inquisitive eyebrow did she speak.

‘I had Klomano followed to the border when he left Venice. I gravely tell you he is now gone, my lord. He escaped Venice with a large congregation of rogue vampires that remained loyal to his cause. He believes that you are not worthy to lead.’ My anger started to bubble once more at his name, this was obviously noticeable as she quickly looked away. ‘Not that I agree, of course, my lord.’ she added sheepishly.

‘Klomano free? After murdering my wife, he escapes!’ I started to shake with anger. I thought of her and my blood seemed to go from boiling to freezing without delay. I put my hand inside my robe and groped around until my fingers fell upon something cold and hard, something I carried with me always, something I had removed from my finger whilst I was impatient to see Sophia, the guilt got the better of me. I removed the hard object from my pocket, laying it flat on my hand. Maria’s ring sparkled in the moonlight.

It was small and golden, with a diamond set in the middle. I traced my thumb over it, I wished she were here now, everything would be perfect if I could just be with her. The ring was my most prized possession, without it I would be lost. I had acquired a great many, valuable treasures in my time, yet I would gladly trade all the wealth I owned if it were a choice of that or the ring. I closed my fist and held it tight.

‘Right, you are dismissed, call Reyjak, I have need of him.’ Oceana left me without another word.

I resumed my position on the stone bench the fire in my throat calming slightly as I waited for him. I knew it wouldn’t be long but nevertheless, I closed my eyes and began to think, though this time not of Maria but, guiltily, Sophia. Her long hair soft and shiny, shimmering in the light, her soft round face, so beautiful, that unlike any I had seen before, her peachy blush. I was drawn from my vivid imagination suddenly by the uneasy feeling of eyes upon me.

I opened my eyes expecting a tall, dark, man to stand before me, creeping impossibly quietly as he did so often. I was surprised, then, when I opened them to find Reyjak was not stood before me at all. In fact, no one appeared to be standing there and only the night pressed upon my eyes as I scoured for the mysterious source that was making me feel like I was being watched. I scanned through the dim light thoroughly. Through my vampiric eyes, the night was illuminated, but still, I was yet to find the answer. The only movement came from the trees that blew and shuddered from a light breeze drifting over Castle Blackmoor and its grounds.

Suddenly Reyjak appeared. Well, more materialised so it looked. I turned my attention to more pressing matters. I wasted no time in recounting the problem with Klomano’s escape and had immediately thought up a plan.

‘Reyjak, I want you to contact my spies, have them run a sweep of the area within a few mile radius, I want regular reports on all goings-on, I will not be unprepared. Should Klomano return you can be sure his spies will be out there too, but he will not anticipate my knowing of this for we are confident Klomano was unaware he was being followed out of Italy. This gives us the advantage.’

‘It will be dealt with at once, sire.’ Reyjak paid the utmost attention to my orders.

‘And Reyjak... Keep this between us, we don’t want everyone knowing our plans.’ I added cautiously.

‘Of course, my lord.’ He replied loyally. I blinked and Reyjak was gone. Yes, I sat musing to myself. I will seek out Noster Colback, head of my spies in the city, and Reyjak would inform him of my new orders. Noster was in charge of all news being delivered and he also kept an eye on dealings, movements and whereabouts of political and public affairs. I was keen to hear more about Klomano’s dealings and where abouts he was, and I was sure the answers were not too far away. I thought on this for a while. A bird began clicking its beak somewhere in the forest just as a breeze blew again though this time it also blew me to my memories.

I walked a familiar path in Greyton, alone this time, wearing a black cloak that fluttered in the wind. It was a cool night, the moon was strangely bright on the path before me. I had taken this path many times in my three year marriage, whilst Maria sat at home with Charlotte and the newly born Benjamin. I was often found walking alone around the outskirts of my little village. I enjoyed the peace and time I had to myself as I often tired of sitting in the house and preferred a nice moonlit walk in the cold; it took my mind off the pressure of fathering children.

The path was cobbled and uneven, I had to take larger steps here and there to avoid a twisted ankle in one of the many hidden dips and potholes. I knew by now the main ones to avoid and second-naturedly stepped past them. I took a small mirror from my pocket and gazed at my reflection, noticing a few stray greying hairs on my head. My hair was untidy and blew in the wind. Though it was cold, it was nice. It was relaxing and allowed me to think more clearly. I side-stepped and skipped over some loose cobble and made my way to a familiar tree stump, its remaining trunk rotting in the field behind the path.

I took a seat, groaning a little as my joints wearily protested. I was getting on in life, I knew my years were numbered. I had never really thought about dying before but I had hoped it would be painless and quick. I never really saw myself as ageing and getting old. I enjoyed this life and did not want it to end, but my day would come, and when it did, I would be safe forever in Heaven, waiting to meet my ancestors. I hoped my family would not be there to see my death. Rather selfishly, I hoped I would be the last to die of my family, I could not bear to see them die, but I regarded my wife and kids’ feelings higher than my own. I hoped they would never have to suffer through the pain it would cause them, I would make sure of that if I had but a single breath in my body.

Rather ironically that hope would soon come into my life not too far into the future.

A strong gust of wind blew me back to the garden. A billion stars twinkled above me, the moon shrouded behind a cluster of thick rain clouds. I noticed a very slight change in the air, unnoticeable by a human. It had a strange taste, dull, yet sharp and sweet at the same time. This was a familiar taste, and I was not wrong in predicting what happened next, rain was approaching. I enjoyed the rain, I would normally close my eyes and listen as it fell, my ears picking up the tiniest sounds as the rain bounced off objects, painting a clear picture of my surroundings in my head. A singular drop fell from the sky and using startlingly fast reactions, I reached into the air above my head. I lowered my hand to my eyes.

I opened my hand and in my palm, lay the raindrop. It was perfectly still in my hand. I touched the drop with my other hand transferring it to my fingertip. I raised my finger and stared at the drop. I looked through it and saw, magnified, the silhouette of a small, slender woman, gazing at me. I lowered my finger as quick as the snap of lightning, but the woman was gone. I stared at the place where the woman stood for a moment longer, the largest turret on Castle Blackmoor, where curiously, I had sat not a day ago, presiding over the grounds.

I was startled but nevertheless, and for some unknown reason, I passed it off as a figment of my imagination. Well I had been reliving my memories for a while now. Yes, that was definitely the case. I heard, sensing it moments before it happened, thunder rolling in the clouds above me, a blinding flash of lightning lit up the sky moments later. The storm brewing was just overhead. The sky grew darker quickly as the clouds rolled in, extinguishing the stars like someone had covered them with a blanket.

Rain started to fall, the noise was peaceful. It splashed on my robe and the stone bench started to darken as the rain fell harder upon it. Rain ran down the surface of the granite plaque, soaking into the mud beneath it. The petals from the roses fell with loud splashes as the thunderous rain started to fall in icy sheets. The noise was deafening and I closed my eyes as the rain showered my robes and soaked my hair. It was mentally cooling, as if it were cooling my overheating brain. I let go of all memories and merely relied on feelings and senses.

I listened to the way the rain splashed off certain crevices in the castle’s rough stonework, the way it splashed at different angles on the turret’s tiled roof. The way the rain splashed and bounced off a figure that stood watching me on the turret. My eyes flew open and was immediately trained on the turret. I was not satisfied with scanning any longer, I had to see for myself. This could not possibly be my imagination. I stood up fast, sending the congregated rain on my lap flying into the soaking grass with as much noise a bucket of water. I focused on my target, bent my legs slightly and flexing the diamond-hard muscles in my legs, leapt thirty feet into the air, gliding towards the turret, my black, sodden robe flapping in the wind.

Lightning flashed once more illuminating the sky above as I landed in a silent crouch on the turret. I searched for a moment but there was nothing. Nothing but the sound of a thunderous downpour and the scurrying of animals in the forests as they took shelter from the stirring storm. I couldn’t relax, not even a fraction, I was still aggravated and alert, and I could not switch off now. I stood silent and unmoving atop the turret scanning the forest as far as my eyes would allow me to. A few moments later, I had to give in and accept the fact the person was long gone. I listened to the cheered voices in the castle below. They had not really been affected by Maria’s death, they did all pay their respects to the clan queen, but I guessed it was more to do with the fact they were unsure what I would do to them if they decided not to.

I cast my eyes around the forest taking in the scenery as rain ran down my gaunt face, the consequences of not feeding for weeks.

If I am to remain a true leader, I must start acting like one, firstly, I must feed. The other clan members had clearly noticed this new blood starvation phase I was going through, and would undoubtedly be talking amongst themselves discussing their blood starved king whom they so readily looked up to for guidance and admiration. I inhaled a lungful of air, it was tainted by the scent of the storm and so no use for tracking animals nearby. I was not completely up for the bustling street hunting I used to enjoy. So much had changed since Maria died, I was but a shadow of my former self. The rain that started to ease off, had clearly washed away any tracks and therefore, the chances of finding a ready meal so close to me dwindled into single digits.

I decided to admit now there was no other option than to find food somewhere further afield. I took a step toward the ground, falling like a feather, but as strong and precise as a rock. I landed lightly on the tip of my toes a few steps away from the main door on the flooded gravelled pathway. Hearing this, Oceana came out to stand beside me. She eyed my sodden clothes with a look of utmost disgust, she was very much up for keeping dry and clean and did not entirely approve of being in the company of one who was soaked to the bone. She herself had changed and now wore a sophisticated silken dress, deep turquoise this time embroidered with golden thread around the collar and sleeves. In truth she did look very attractive, she was a friend, yes, and a good ally, but not one that I wished to be with.

‘Going somewhere, my lord?’ She asked softly.

‘Yes, I am going to hunt, do you care to join?’ I replied. I felt as though I had been rather snappy towards her and she didn’t really deserve it, but I was determined to make amends for my rude behaviour. Oceana seemed taken aback by this friendly gesture but nevertheless took me up on my offer and we were soon entering the quiet streets in search of a meal.

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