The Devil's Gift

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XX

Rain fell in an icy horizontal sheet as the wind blew hard, battering the castle. I and Sophia were in the training room watching as the clan members perfected their fighting skill. This had been going on for about a week now and had increased dramatically after my speech. Following the discovery of Klomano’s spies, I had them captured and brought in for interrogation.

‘When is he going to strike?’ I had bellowed as a mouthful of saliva and blood was spat at me from a captured spy. Hands bound and his legs strapped to a chair, the spy was unable to move as I bared down upon him, wielding a large silver knife threateningly in my right hand. Oceana, who had burst through the doors to assist me, marched straight up to the bound spy and toppled his chair backwards.

‘Tell me everything you know right now or as Satan as my witness I will cut you down and feed you to the werewolf!’ She spat. This seemed to stir something in him, for his cut face twitched as he heaved a rattling sigh.

‘Ah,’ He coughed, ‘Yes, the werewolf. Klomano is fully aware of your new pet, have no fear.’ He countered. I scoffed as I took over the interrogation, standing the vampire’s chair upright. The spy coughed more fresh blood down his bare chest, merging with the congealed blood and dirt that had built up during his capture. I knew he must be bluffing and so I took the knife and slashed it downwards, opening a cut that belched thick blood down his face. The spy screamed as the pain seared across his face. The scream quickly turned into a fit of maniacal laughter. This laughter only infuriated me further and so I resorted to questioning him more.

‘How would Klomano know of the werewolf?’ I half-spat at him.

The spy did not respond but merely cackled, his eyes rolling back into his head. I could see the informant was rapidly becoming useless, he would not respond, and after an hour of asking the same question, the spy would just laugh, oblivious almost, to the amount of pain he received. I asked the same question again and got the same response, for the last time. I drew the knife across the spy’s throat, gushing blood like it was water. As the man’s head lolled to one side, I had the werewolf come in and clean up the mess. I turned to Oceana who wore the same concerned look as I did and we both knew the spy was indeed telling the truth, we had a traitor amongst us. Together, we was going all out to root them out.

In the training room, things were going well, the clan members fought well and fought fast. The speed of their attacks were seemingly impossible. I picked out a few notable fighters who could, providing they were kept alive, assist greatly in making our clan the victor against that of Klomano’s. Still, we had a traitor problem, and I was no closer to finding them than we were when I found out about it, three days previous. I had voiced this new information to only Reyjak, Oceana and Sophia, the only three I was certain I could trust.

Everything had changed dramatically in the period of a few months. My wife dead, my clan turning against me, Klomano antagonising me at every step. The days were becoming increasingly stressful as I strived to uncover the identity of the traitor, that’s only assuming there was one. Who knew? There could be two, three, twelve or the entire clan against me, setting me up for my own death. All I could be sure of right now was that Sophia was in danger, I could trust hardly anyone in these troubled times and if I didn’t discover the traitor, I could be handing the crown to Klomano very shortly. Over the next few weeks, Sophia and I doubled our efforts to reveal the traitor, to no avail I hasten to add.

‘I just don’t know where to look!’ I said, frustrated as always. I was conversing with Oceana in the council chamber, aggravated by the fact no matter how hard I tried, the traitor could not be uncovered. I had even taken to using code when speaking around the clan. Not that it seemed to matter, none of them seemed to pay even the tiniest attention to my mutterings or sudden outbursts in anger.

‘Sire, maybe we should seek help, from my own clan, someone who we can trust. Might I suggest Zaichari? He is trustworthy, he helped you discover the plot when Maria… you know, when it happened.’ Oceana had been present at this latest outburst. It was a good idea, and maybe being distant from the confines of the castle would help clear my mind that was so often clouded. I had almost forgotten Oceana was the leader of the Venetian clan, she was more often than not, found at my side. I agreed it would be a good decision to seek help. Also, I mused, if the traitor was to act on Klomano’s orders, he would soon need to leave to deliver information that the great clan-king had discovered there was traitor amongst them but was unsure as to who it might be. They would use the time in my absence, no doubt, to relay the information to Klomano.

Thinking as such, I had ordered Reyjak to accompany me as I strolled through the forest, relaying orders to keep an eye on those who leave and enter the castle in my absence. This, Reyjak was more than happy to do, adding,

‘I will also see if I can’t uncover a number of people acting strangely.’ As myself and Oceana prepared to leave, just as the sun dipped below the horizon leaving an orange pool in the sky, Sophia strode out into the gravelled courtyard out front, followed closely by a number of hand-picked guards, who I felt the least likely to involved in treachery, and of course, bringing up the rear, Venator.

‘Roconn, be careful, I know why you must go but I urge caution, with you gone, the traitor may reveal himself and in your absence, could succeed in his task.’ This I was already fully aware, but what choice did I have? I needed outside help, and Zaichari was my best option right now. Well, my only option too.

‘Don’t worry, my love, I will be back soon, keep to Venator, do not leave the castle unguarded.’ I told her. But when she began to stammer something inaudible, I merely planted a soft kiss onto her cheek and whispered,

‘You will be safe, I have given orders to Reyjak and he will assure your safety.’ Knowing Reyjak would be in charge of security whilst I was away seemed to settle her fears slightly. Or at least calm them a little. As I bade farewell to Venator, who growled affectionately, a large black cart, pulled along by two deep-brown horses, pulled up beside me. With my long travelling cloak buttoned, I gave one final kiss goodbye to Sophia, allowed Oceana to climb in the cart first, and then followed behind, closing its door behind me with a snap.

The journey to Venice was a long and quiet one, both Oceana and myself preferring to keep silent as we mulled over the hours ahead of us and how we were to act accordingly. After what seemed like a lifetime, the horses stopped trotting and the carriage slowed to a stop. The carriage driver rapped on the door. I was pleased to hear those words I had been waiting for, we were here. As I stepped out into the night, the cold sting of the wind bit at my bare skin. Unfazed by the low temperature, Oceana and I decided to take a stroll for a few moments, gulping down lungful’s of fresh air, glad to be out of the stuffy carriage.

‘Ah, a marvellous site.’ I announced, my eyes resting on the long river Piave and the way it held the gondolas that punted slowly up and down its surface, causing it to ripple and distort the natural light of Venice at night. We made a path for The Den, the hideout of the Venetian clan. We passed the town, its busy streets still teeming with life. Men, women and children of all ages, were chatting happily, or else purchasing fruits and vegetables that were still sold shortly after sundown. The clouds ahead rumbled, threatening to rain. The townsfolk heard the rumble and began to disperse, eager to beat the coming downpour. Within minutes, the lively residents had dissipated and left nothing but empty streets that would soon be swamped with icy-rain behind them.

I felt the familiar change in the weather as the air seemed to dampen slightly. Rain. A few moments later, the rain began to fall, lightly at first, becoming thicker, falling faster and soon, the rain fell hard, its deafening sound resonating through the streets as it bounced off walls and hit the floor, flooding potholes. My travelling cloak was drenched as was Oceana’s. Neither of us sped up or even acknowledged the rain as we sloshed through the puddles and down to a little river where Oceana signalled the gondolier to take us to The Den. At what looked like a dead end, the gondolier stopped to allow us to exit the gondola.

As Oceana pushed a large rock away, concealed behind it was the entrance to The Den. Oceana simply strode in and I followed suit. She had certainly changed The Den’s appearance since Klomano’s reign had ended. She had added a large quantity of paintings, with ornate golden frames, the vases that had once lined the bookcases and shelves had now been taken down. Instead, the bookcases were lined with fighting manuals and old texts that would be worth a small fortune on their own. The shelves were topped with shining silverware and brass candelabras. The marbled flooring was clean and shiny, and the whole place had a polished look. Of course, this very much suited Oceana’s lifestyle, her elegance and stunning clothes. She detested the look of unkempt hair and a filthy attire. Given her way, she would have probably made this punishable by death, for this, I was grateful that I alone led the vampires.

The spacious room was half-filled with members of her clan and what a difference there was! The vampires here seemed much more sophisticated, each sipping from a crystalline goblet filled with thick, red blood. There was no petty arguments or disagreements of any sort, and all of their clothing they wore were made of the finest silk no less, and they each sat in a cream leather arm-chair. As all eyes turned my way, which I felt they did much more often now than a few months ago, each vampire, as sophisticated as they were, knelt before me.

‘It’s wonderful to be back in Venice, a pleasure to see you all once more, and on more pleasant circumstances than before.’ I put on a smile that took more effort to force than it should have. The golden throne, I noticed, had gone, replaced instead by a comfy, red-leather armchair. Typical Oceana, never rating herself above others, leader of a clan or not. An upsurge of respect rushed through me as she mingled with her clan, greeting them after some time apart. Greeting them like equals.

‘Oceana, where can I find Zaichari?’ I enquired as she withdrew from a group of clan members that was obviously very glad to have her back.

‘I think he would most likely be in drawing room, he’s more often than not in that room, poring over texts and manuscripts he’s collected.’ She chuckled. After a word of thanks, I proceeded through an oak door to the right of a large pine bookcase. Inside the small room, where the walls were bare, but bookcases were an abundance, was an oak desk, littered with crumpled paper and sheaves of parchment.

‘Zaichari, it’s good to see you again my friend.’ I announced to a man sat at the desk, whose back was turned to me, unaware I was stood directly behind him. He turned around, his thin, pointy face giving me a look of deep surprise.

‘Sire, why are you here, in Venice?’ I pulled up a seat from beside the desk and sat down to face him. Zaichari placed his chin on his fingertips as he listened.

‘I have come for your help, there is a certain… problem I need dealing with and I feel your help would be most beneficial.’ Zaichari inquired as to what sort of problem with which he could assist, and so I told him the lengthy explanation of Sophia, Lucia, Klomano and their spies, and how and what Venator is. Zaichari looked as though he might interrupt as I explained my passion with Sophia, but kept quiet and listened intently until I was finished. After I had finished explaining, Zaichari remained silent, contemplating everything that had just been said. After neatly stacking a sheaf of parchment, Zaichari finally spoke,

‘Well it seems, sire, we have no time to waste. The traitors will be need to be rooted out quickly, before they can deal more damage. When do we leave?’ Relief flooded through me as I told him we would leave after sundown, tomorrow. His well-built body flitted around the room, a bluish haze of his silk robes, as he gathered the necessary belongings from the corners of the drawing room, unsure of the duration of his stay at Castle Blackmoor. I returned to the main hall, taking a seat in a comfy armchair, gratefully offered by Camilla, a young, red haired woman that stood out from the crowd, her red, long dress glittering in the light of the numerous number of candles fixed to walls around us.

Oceana had sparked up a conversation with a bright-eyed man with a curtain of flowing dark hair. She seemed to lose track of the conversation as she sat, transfixed, staring into the endless pools of his blue eyes. I watched the man and the way he would use subtle flattery, making Oceana giggle nervously. He wore a deep purple suit that gave him a smart, dapper look. I tore my eyes away from the handsome vampire wooing my loyal friend, and took a moment to relax. It had been the first time in a while that I had really relaxed. Sophia was more than adequately guarded and I would be leaving tomorrow as soon as the horizon dragged the sun under its surface.

Before long, Zaichari joined the throng of vampires congregating in the main hall. It was a little cramped, with many of the clan members eager to catch a glimpse of their leader. I greeted and shook hands with a large number of people as Zaichari sidled up to me,

‘My lord, I have everything I require. A number of the clan has been asking why I am to leave, I was unsure what to tell them and so remained silent.’

‘Yes, it’s a good idea to inform none of our plans or destination, this clan may be infiltrated too.’ I mused.

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