The Devil's Gift

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XIX

Sophia lifter her hand from my arm and the vision faded until I was stood back in the forest, staring blankly ahead.

Finally, I understood.

‘I was told she was banished and so I did what I thought was right against what I believed. After I met you, I yearned for the right time to tell you all of this. To tell you the truth about who I really am.’

‘I understand, Sophia. I thank you most sincerely for this. But now, we have more pressing matters, your safety being the top priority.’

‘Venator, make sure she is safe, guard her at all times.’ I spoke to the werewolf that seemed to understand this order by taking a few enormous steps closer to Sophia.

After taking his place as her guardian at Sophia’s side, Venator let out deafening howl that resonated through the compact woodland, shaking the trees, sending birds scattering through the canopy of leaves above.

After returning to the castle, with many fixed looks of panic and confusion as we entered, Sophia and I, escorted by Oceana and Venator, made a path to the council chamber, disregarding the looks of the substantial number of clan members that had congregated inside. Panicked whispers filled the hall as the crowd laid eyes on the enormous figure of the werewolf, thundering down the hall, taking in scents, as it followed its master to the front of the chamber. I caught snippets of conversation as I passed them. It seemed a vast number of the castle’s occupants were concerned as to the purpose of the strange creature, given the werewolf that trudged beside Sophia, had been created only hours earlier.

As I proceeded to the front of the hall, all eyes were now focused on me as I prepared myself to inform the clan of the inevitable attack that would soon be upon us. I steeled myself for their response as the expectant gazes compelled me to speak. Sophia, Oceana and Venator stood beside me as the hall suppressed its noise.

‘My friends, I have grave news to relay,’ I began, feeling it best to tell them straight, as my eyes fell upon them silencing any remaining speakers that were still holding a hushed conversation. ’It seems Klomano and his forces are gathering as they plot an assault toward us. Towards me. He sees himself as clan ruler of vampires. But as long as I stand here now with but a breath in my body, that day will not come. I cannot rely on myself to stave off this attack on my own. It is time, my friends, we work together, to defend this clan and castle. Together we will survive. Together we will ward off our enemies, but we must act as a whole, indivisible clan.’ I finished my speech to cheers and murmurs of the allegiance they would form, despite their differences, to overcome the enemy that bared down upon us.

I retreated from the chamber and into my bedroom, accompanied this time, only by Sophia; the werewolf stood on guard outside, much to the distaste of one of the vampires that guarded the castle. Sophia would stay, as I had explained when members of the clan had inquired to Sophia’s presence, in the castle at all times until the threat was dealt with. This, I saw, would make the fear of losing her, lessened substantially.

Days passed and I was forced to abandon my post by Sophia’s side to hunt. I was sure of two things, if Klomano was to attack, he would attack when she was most vulnerable, away from me. Klomano required leverage, forcing me to pass his leadership over to him, capturing Sophia would provide just that. Leadership of the clan could only be obtained either by slaying the current ruler, or by having the current ruler pass leadership voluntarily, and seeing as I was far more powerful than Klomano, his only option was to have me give it freely. The second thing I was sure of is that if he attacked, he would be highly unaware of the presence of a fearsome werewolf that would guard Sophia with his life, and so, would be taken by surprise. I was certain that if the match was between Venator and Klomano, the werewolf would prevail.

I found myself stalking prey fast, unwilling to leave Sophia alone for too long without a true guard. My long, midnight-black robes (having exchanged my torn ones) embroidered with fine golden thread, covered my feet as I stepped over a rippling puddle. As the breeze blew, a scent was brought with it, my enhanced senses, owing to deprivation of blood, picking it up easily. My thoughts, always somewhere else, finally focused on hunting. I tracked my prey through narrow alleys, past shops and carts, until I finally found the owner of the scent. I bent low over the man, dressed in a thick coat that covered his body like a blanket. His breath reeked of stale liquor and his face was thick with a mane of facial hair, grey and wiry. His wrinkled face twitched in his slumber as he let out a loud snore. The remaining face that was shown, under a bed of matching grey, wiry hair that was thick and matted, was dirty. His bushy eyebrows were set above heavily-lidded eyes.

I gently pulled down the collar of the man’s coat, revealing his neck, dirty like his face, but pulsing with blood. Opening my mouth, I leaned in close and punctured the man’s neck with a pair of razor-sharp canines. The man’s eyes flew open at once as he let out an ear-splitting scream. The man thrashed and writhed under my firm grip, but was unable to escape me. His body went rigid as the blood flowed out of his neck. I opened my own eyes that had closed in the surge of adrenaline that consumed me.

The man’s breath came in rattling spurts as his life ebbed away. I detached myself from the man’s neck and watched as the light left his eyes, leaving them cold and empty as I turned on my heel and left the body. Everyone would assume it was his harsh lifestyle that had ended his life, and no further investigations would continue. As I left, my body pumping with adrenaline and power that which the taste of human blood brought, I picked up the sound of a scream somewhere down the street, not far from my location.

After deciding to investigate, I headed for the direction of the scream. What I found when I arrived, was a woman in distress, weeping on a bench on which she sat in a beige dress, made of fine cotton. The woman was old, wrinkled like the man who now lay dead. Her hair was grey and thin, it blew across her tear-streaked face as I took a seat beside her.

‘Can I assist you?’ I spoke politely. This seemed to startle her and she made a start as she realised she had company.

‘My goodness,’ she spoke shakily, her voice high and croaky. ‘My purse, it has been stolen, a young man took it not moments ago.’ She told me through rattled breaths. I took pity on the old lady and offered my assistance in recovering her purse, which she gratefully accepted and pointed in the direction the thief ran.

Well, I’m sure Venator will be more than adequate to protect Sophia and still, Klomano has no idea I have left the castle, I thought. At this, I left the old lady with promises of returning shortly with her purse. Once out of sight, I took a sniff and was grateful the wind was blowing my way. As I proceeded up the near deserted street, save a few people chatting happily in a small circle at the mouth of an alley, an odour filled my lungs. In my many years of experience I had in the field of hunting, I had acquired a natural talent for learning the gender and age of a person just by their smell, thus informing me of a young male, likely to be the thief, not far up the street.

Even with the enhanced sight a vampire possesses, the thief was nowhere in sight, so I assumed he had changed course and was no longer on the same street. Deciding I required a larger area to scan, I took the roof tops, scaling them with ease. As I took extensive leaps, sometimes completely skipping some buildings and landing on the next, I scanned the ground carefully searching for any sign of the thief. As the clouds parted and the half-moon broke through, the light it shone hit a figure standing beneath an oak tree. The figure, I noticed, was out of breath, his chest rising and falling with every heavy lungful of air he took, the sounds of his thundering heart beat was like drums playing through my ears. As he turned in my direction, a silvery streak of moonlight illuminated his face.

The man was young, early twenties I assumed, and counting a fat purse of coins. The man had rather satisfied look on his thin face, a look one might have if he had just procured a large quantity of wealth, that which he did not own an hour ago. The thief. Fixing my gaze on the thief, into the air I leapt. Even in the times of hardship and uncertainty, still, I was powerless to the exhilarating sensation as the air whipped my face, the walls that appeared to float upwards as I fell, the ground seeming to pull me in. Landing in a low and stealthy crouch, I proceeded to where the thief stood, keeping to the shadows so as not to arouse suspicion.

The thief was unfocused on the present, his interest lay in counting his newly acquired fortune, thus making my approach that much easier. I came up behind him, standing silently in the shadow of the tree, patches of moonlight squeezing through the overhanging branches onto my face, giving me an eerie and unsettling look which I would use to my advantage.

‘That is not yours, I suggest you hand it over.’ I said firmly. The thief’s heartbeat accelerated further as he spun around, startled, to face the speaker. The thief inhaled a sharp lungful of air as he stammered something that sounded much like an insult as he dropped the purse full of coins, sending its contents scattering and rolling away.

‘Now now,’ I began, a cunning smile playing about the corners of my mouth, enjoying the fearful look I was receiving. ‘Hand over the purse, and maybe I’ll let you walk away, here and now.’ The thief gave me an apprehensive look, puzzling if the man in robes was serious. Apparently the thief decided I was indeed serious and meant every word, for he backed up a little and started collecting the stolen coins and returning them to the purse, pulling the laces closed and shakily handing over the purse, which I pocketed.

‘So you’re going to let me go now… right?’ Asked the nervous thief, his dark, greasy hair moving in the wind.

‘Once you hand over the coins you have just pocketed hoping I would not notice… I did.’ I added, my hand outstretched. The thief scowled and reluctantly dug his hands into the pockets of his long, ankle-length coat, and withdrawing three golden coins that he placed anxiously into my outstretched palm. He did not wait for permission to leave this time, instead, he instantly turned on his heel and took the streets and was soon out of sight. I, amused slightly, returned to the old lady that was still sat on the bench, though she had finished weeping and merely awaited my return.

The old lady’s face lit up with happiness as I handed over her purse full of coins.

‘God bless you.’ She said patting me gratefully on the leg as I sat down, though the statement was said purely out of good will and no ill intentions were meant, it still set my blood boiling. I nodded stiffly and forced a smile before leaving.

Back at the castle, the first task I saw too was to investigate Sophia’s safety, and, just as I had hoped, Sophia was waiting for me in the council chamber.

‘Roconn!’ She exclaimed, her face lighting up as she looked upon my face, alive once more. ‘I started to get worried.’ She admitted sheepishly.

‘I’m fine, there was a lady who had her purse stolen, I retrieved it for her and sent the thief home. Untouched.’ I responded to her questioning gaze. She threw a content smile my way which I returned. Venator was keeping guard outside the main door which was the only entrance. As me and Sophia sparked up a conversation, it soon turned to Sophia’s profession as advisor.

‘I would work in the shadow of the Pope, never revealing my position, it’s a highly guarded secret the Pope needs an advisor, someone to make the decisions for him basically, the Pope himself, is weak.’ She explained as I listened eagerly. ‘After I was sent here, occasionally, I would receive messages from God, these I would pass on to the Pope, to guide Christianity.’ This baffled me and so I paused her to ask how she received these messages. ’My head would start to cloud and I would see a kind of vision as if I was looking through the eyes of God himself. Through these means he would contact me and relay orders which I would then forward to the Pope. This I would do for a thousand years until I was worthy to live in heaven once more.’ She said, putting a lot of emphasis on the word worthy. I had to admit I was pleased to hear she was happy to be out of the Vatican.

‘Do you recall, Roconn, the Pope’s party where you threatened the Pope himself?’ I racked my brain, how could I forget? I had a chance to see a vision complete, one that had come with me for many decades, and I did not take it.

The Pope was terrified, an old man, quivering before me for having faith. To which I had sneered at and then told him he deserved to die.

It was a horrible time. One I’d like to have forgotten. A sudden surge of sadness rushed through me as the faces of Benjamin and Charlotte swam before my eyes, this did not go unnoticed by Sophia, who led the thread of conversation quickly away from my wife.

‘Well,’ She spoke quickly, ‘I think I’m going to like it here, the company is infinitely better than the Vatican.’ She chuckled. My ears picked up a light guffaw that seemed to come from Reyjak’s bedroom. Despite knowing the inevitable onslaught was coming, I couldn’t help but feel quite relaxed.

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