The Devil's Gift

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XXI

After spending the day waiting in eagerness to be off, the moon soon shone brightly and Zaichari, Oceana and I were soon being punted up the river to the heart of Venice where we would hire a carriage driver to take us as far as we could go and then a vessel that would take us the rest of the journey to Italy, where I would return to Sophia, uncover the traitors and put a stop their treachery. Well that was the plan at least.

We soon were seated on the caravel, when Zaichari informed us of the sunrise, Oceana and myself were engaged in polite conversation and merely acknowledged this with a nod. Zaichari remained silent for the remainder of their journey and rummaged through a sack in which he kept his belongings. After a moment he withdrew a heavy book, parchment and quill, and began copying the contents of the book onto the page. I was unsure as to what he was writing, but he looked lost in thought and so I left him undisturbed, until we reached the port. Thankfully the night was upon us by this time, the cold air flapping the ship’s sails forcing it to lean to one side as the caravel docked. We clambered onto the main deck and soon found firm footing on the concrete. Zaichari admired the scenery briefly. After a number of stops where Zaichari and Oceana fed, with me ushering them on, we were soon crunching our way up the familiar gravelled path.

I noticed Sophia, emanating grace and beauty in a white dress, very much like the one she wore in the vision she showed me. She caught sight of me, Venator lurking in the shadow of the door which was left ajar, and came sprinting up the path flinging her arms around my neck. I hugged her back, glad to be home and in Sophia’s company, but more than anything, glad to see she was safe and would now remain so. I quickly ushered Sophia inside and then explained how our journey went as Zaichari and Oceana were escorted inside by a few members of the guard that were making a routine perimeter check. The clan had all congregated around us when we took a seat, a few hours later, in the living area, by the training room. Though only one extra person had been added, the castle felt full to bursting point with faces that turned inquisitively everywhere I looked.

The room filled with a silence that pressed upon us all. I broke the silence when I announced to the room that there was a traitor amongst their ranks. All faces now bearing masks of shock at this. I allowed Zaichari a moment to speak.

‘I have come here as aid to a good friend and mentor to us all. During my stay here at Castle Blackmoor, I will be not only be a guest at the request of our leader, Roconn, but I will also be aiding him in rooting out these traitors.’ He spoke loudly, his business-like voice reverberating around the room. All tensed faces gazed up at him. ‘Should anyone have information regarding these traitors we invite them to see either myself, Roconn, Oceana or Sophia and we will reward any persons that help put an end to this treachery. If anyone has any information about this treachery and fail to come forward, let it be noted that they will be treated equally with the traitor and receive the punishment that befits traitors. That is all.’ He finished. The vampires before us began to murmur in hushed tones as we left the living area with a strong feeling that we might have made a bit of progress.

Over the next few days, and after consorting with Reyjak, Zaichari had three strong suspects in mind. Carlo, Giovanni and Serena. I didn’t know a great deal about them but I knew they kept to themselves much of the time, but would never have suspected them for treachery. Still, I had Reyjak bring them to the torture chamber. Giovanni and Carlo looked at a loss for words, each of their stubbled face twitching as their eyes darted around the room and to where I sat, observing a rusted serrated blade. Carlo’s hazel eyes looked frantically into Giovanni’s blue ones. Meanwhile, Serena looked almost bored, her gleaming green eyes looking at nothing but the floor as Reyjak marched them in the room, closing the door after his departure. The room had never been visited by the three vampires that stood uncertainly before me. It was a decent size, its look reflecting my mood. The walls were stone, and on them hung a long line of crosses, some adorning the skeleton of a human and each of them wearing a thorn-encrusted crown. The tables had been set in no particular order, just carried inside and left there. Each table was littered with tools and hooks, knives and chisels. Carlo had just begun to notice the dried blood that had failed to be wiped from the torture-tools, when he heard my voice that reverberated around the room.

‘I hear things,’ I began, my voice like ice, ‘many things. Some say you work with an enemy. Klomano.’ They seemed unable to move, paralysed by fear. None of them spoke as I stood up and leered over them, piercing them with gaze that made them wince. ‘Tell me,’ I continued slowly, ‘who would dare to turn traitor, turn against the clan, turn against… Me.’ Giovanni fell to his knees, his large, muscular body shaking violently as I bared down upon him. My plan to inject fear into my subjects appeared to be working rather well. Neither of the three suspects rose any kind of defence as I interrogated them. An hour later, the small figure of Serena lay curled in a corner sporting large cuts. Giovanni quivered alongside Carlo as I removed, slowly, a long, blunt sword from Giovanni’s shoulder. I wiped it carelessly on Carlo’s blood-stained, white cloak, taking care to dig the edge of the blade into his skin. Around them, the chamber rang with the petrified, pained screams of Giovanni. I swung my arm, swiping my hand across his cheek, cutting off the terrible, agonised screams. ‘Are we ready to talk?’ I whispered in Giovanni’s ear as I bent over him. He yelped and finally spoke for the first time, his voice hoarse,

‘Ok! I’ll talk, just please don’t hurt me anymore!’ I felt satisfied and asked the question I was buzzing to know the answer to,

‘Where is Klomano hiding?’ Giovanni’s face contorted in pain as he scrambled to his feet and leant against the wall, his chest rising and falling with every pained breath he took,

‘Klomano, he hides in a cave, in Corno Bianco, in Piedmont, under Puio gully, in the cirque where the two lakes, Thaily are located. He descends into the villages below to hunt and steal.’ I had heard what I wanted to hear, but Carlo and Serena seemed equally unhappy at the fact Giovanni spoke. They both brought up the courage and strength to rise onto their feet and then rushed toward Giovanni in a last attempt to keep any remaining secrets that he still had, secret. I had already foreseen this, their actions impeded by their wounds, it made them slow, predictable. I extended my leg, planting it in Carlo’s stomach, sending him careering into Serena. They both hit the wall a sickening crunch and fell to the floor, unmoving, covered in lumps of concrete that had been blasted off the wall upon impact. I retreated into the main hall, sealing the door shut behind me. Giovanni would stay there in case I required further information from him. It was time, I would find Klomano, and end this. I decided he would leave the second the sun was down, and after telling Sophia, she agreed to accompany me.

‘I am far stronger than any of you understand. I can handle myself’ she snapped when I told her to stay behind. After a pointless discussion, I finally agreed she could go with us but strictly told her to stay close by any means. Of course Venator was coming too, he was never far away from Sophia. I was beginning to get annoyed, this was very quickly escalating to a gathering! How was I supposed to approach Klomano secretly without him suspecting anything? I saw many flaws in this plan, but a better one, I did not have. This must be stopped right now, before anyone dies. The moment the sun had dipped, myself, Sophia and Venator left the castle and strode into the forest. It became apparent we were not alone when a mystical fog rolled through the trees and engulfed us. I now recognized this fog. Lucia was coming. I quickly racked my brain for an explanation, but was saved the trouble when the large, slender figure of Lucia became visible through the haze.

She seemed to float towards us, arms outstretched, and came to rest facing me. We all made to bow, but she waved the courtesy off.

‘Roconn,’ her voice was but a whisper, filled with the grave sound of relaying terrible information. ‘I have foreseen the future, I have foreseen a child, unborn, that grows in the womb of Sophia. Your child.’ She pointed slowly towards Sophia’s stomach. She gasped and covered it with her hands, as though trying to shield herself from Lucia’s pointing.

‘No, it can’t be true.’ She whispered, horrified.

‘But it is true, Sophia, you of all people know what I see to be true.’ She replied

Sophia started to stammer when I interrupted her.

‘How can this be, mistress?’

‘It matters not how. The only question is when.’ She seemed to be speaking in riddles. ’When the time comes, you must fight, and you must prevail. Should you fail, the life of your unborn child will be taken, and the race of the vampires will be no more. You must prevail. It is your only hope of salvation.’ I understood. I would protect Sophia at all costs. This was the time to take Sophia back. I would handle Klomano myself. She would not be in harm’s way. The only thing I did not understand was how the race of vampires would dwindle to extinction should I die. Klomano would still live, and that of his clan. As if to answer this unspoken question. Sophia doubled over and fell to her knees. Her hands flew up to her head and she placed her fingers to her temples as I knelt beside her, panicking and trying to fathom it all out.

‘Sophia!’ I screamed, I shook her as if trying to wake her. She seemed detached from reality right now, and I did not know what to do. I looked to Lucia for guidance who merely closed her eyes slowly, indicating me to wait. This I did not want to do but obeyed nonetheless. After a few moments, Sophia’s hands fell to the ground and she sat weeping on the muddy floor. I immediately asked what happened to which Sophia responded,

‘They are coming for the baby. Roconn, the angels are coming!’ I felt the blood drain from my face. Fear took over me as I thought of the angels from Sophia’s past. Beautiful and terrifying. I could not believe it. No this could not be happening. My lover, my unborn child. And God was going to take them away from me, he was going to do it all again. Well this time, the odds were more in my favour, I myself am a vampire and that of my allies, and we have a werewolf. I would see to it that would not happen. I suddenly formed a brilliant plan, many of the clan would not agree with me, as a matter-of-fact, I didn’t particularly relish the idea. But there was no choice, this could wipe out the entire vampire race. There were more important things than squabbling over the throne.

‘Sophia, we must join forces with Klomano. Together we can save us all.’ I said, hating myself for needing that traitor. Sophia nodded grimly and Lucia gave a warm, encouraging smile. The fog receded and Lucia was taken with it, leaving the three of us quite alone. Panic rushed through me as I thought of the fall of the vampires. Somehow it did not seem real, unimaginable, but quite possible. I seemed unable to imagine the world without vampires, it was like trying to imagine the world with no trees, or people. Sophia explained how she saw God in his study, speaking with the archangel, Gabriel. He had ordered her to inform the others, they would go to earth, they would tear the foetus from the womb if necessary, at all costs, the child must be killed. Sophia told me of how God saw the mixing of the blood between vampires and angels an abomination, it could not be allowed, and would be stopped. I wondered briefly whether Klomano would set aside our differences and come together for the battle between vampires and angels. I had played the battle in my mind many times over, but not once did the fight involve me and Klomano on the same side.

Well, if we were going to set off we might as well do it. So without further ado, Sophia, myself and Venator sped off into the night, leaving a swirling mist behind us. Come to think of it, I had never seen Sophia run before, and I was shocked when I saw how easily she kept pace with me. I fixed my gaze on her, she seemed to skim the ground, barely touching the leaves and the mud. I let my other senses take control, in truth, I did not need my eyesight to know where I was going, and so I made good use of it as I watched Sophia with a stunned expression. Her soft white dress flapped and fluttered as the speed of her sprint blew the cold air onto her. Though she could feel the cold unlike me, she seemed unperturbed by it. On and on we ran, Venator hot on our heels, bounding along on all fours. He was not even close to being graceful but he still looked a magnificent site, the ultimate predator, running as fierce as a lion, his shaggy fur stretching back onto his body. The chill breeze blew even harder as we left the concrete labyrinth with which we had entered just minutes after leaving the surrounding forest. The buildings became fewer and the trees and bushes dwindled as we ran further afield. I did not recall ever passing this way but felt safe with the company that ran with me.

Soon we sprinted across the open plains where wildlife thrived. We passed a large array of species, though only for a split second as we darted past them. The ground started to turn yellow, scorched by the blazing sun, as the large mountain of Corno Bianco became visible. We slowed to a walk and took in the incredible sight.

‘Wow,’ Sophia sighed. She stared, eyes wide at the mountain, its peak covered in a white dusting of snow. The mountain was colossal, with huge mounds of rock covered in trees, others, submerged in thick snow. We took a moment to plan the route.

‘Right,’ I rounded on Sophia and Venator who was panting hard, ‘We will take this in a straight line, dangerous but also the quickest. We start,’ I said, pointing to the base of the mountain, ‘here, at the trees,’ I then traced my finger over the route as I spoke, ‘we will then ascend into the gully and if we’re lucky, reach level ground by dawn. I intend to have a camp set up before sunrise. Then at dusk, we will continue to the summit and should hopefully reach Klomano before sunrise. It shouldn’t take long to track him with three of us.’

This was the best plan, and the only one, we had, but it was solid enough. The cliff faces were nearly vertical but with three immortals climbing, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. We set off again, Venator keeping pace superbly. I entered the cluster of trees, the bursting of leaves and twigs were crisp, my perfect eyesight keeping me from ploughing into them. Sophia dodged them almost like she danced past, and Venator ripped past them, digging up dirt behind him, like a wild animal, fixed on his prey. Thinking what we must look like if any adventurer caught sight of us, I smiled to myself, it felt good to smile, to think that we might actually have hope of surviving. The trees whipped past us as the ground became rockier. We had already eaten into an hour of our allotted time to reach safety and I started to panic we would not make it in time. A boulder seemed to spring out of nowhere and I was caught off-guard. I took leap into the air, just managing to pass through the thick branches of the trees around me, before I landed back on my feet, and running still, and surprisingly, at full speed.

Finally, after another few painful minutes passed, we reach the edge of the cliff. We stopped and paced through the trees for a moment, scanning the rocky terrain for the easiest path into the gulley. Sophia beckoned me over. Here, I saw the entrance to the gully, it was full of loose rocks and large boulders. I spared a moment for doubt to cloud my mind before realising it was too late to change plans now. I began the ascent, Sophia and Venator behind me. Venator seemed better suited for this terrain, his huge form designed for climbing on unstable ground. The climb was tricky, even for a vampire, the rocks were loose and crumbled beneath my feet. Still, we ascended quickly. In front, I noticed a large rock formation which would suit for climbing onto to gain steady footing. I poised myself and sprang into the air, glancing behind me. The drop was very far and made me feel uneasy, nevertheless, I judged correctly and landed safely on the rocks.

I let out a little sigh just as the rocks started vibrating, and not a second later began sliding down the gully gathering speed at an alarming rate.

‘Roconn!’ Sophia screeched, her voice ringing with fear. I knew if I fell, I would not have the time to ascend once more before sunlight. I jumped from the rocks, not a moment too soon before they tumbled at high speed, splitting and shattering as they fell. I aimed for a close ledge, but in the panic, was not as fortunate to judge the distance correctly. My fingertips just scraped the edge of the ridge and I knew it was too late. I looked over at Sophia, a look of disbelief on her face, before a hand grabbed my own, and pulled me up onto even ground. I stumbled as I set myself steady. I looked into the gloom around me and saw a figure standing not five feet from me. I looked into the man’s hazel eyes, a feeling of surprise and anger crept into me. As Sophia and Venator joined me. I could do nothing but stare in shock for a few seconds. Venator broke the silence as Sophia hugged me. His low, intimidating growl brought me sharply back to reality.

‘Klomano.’ I whispered. Yes, I had planned to meet with Klomano anyway, but to have it sprung on me, when I was unprepared for it, just made me more annoyed. I kept a cool head.

‘I have not come here to make war.’ I said. Klomano looked at me sideways, his shaggy hair slightly covering his face. ‘I need your help.’ I must admit, I found it difficult to say, but I knew it was no use prolonging it and so went straight to the point.

‘Why should I help you?’ Was the response I got, even if it was a little aggressive. I thought for a moment, I could probably do with without his help anyway, did I really need Klomano? Surely I could just lean over right now and kill him. Sophia stepped in front of us, bringing me back.

‘There is more to this life than your squabbling. If you wish see it, you need to work together.’ She said, looking back and forth to me and Klomano.

‘Maybe,’ Klomano started, ‘we should discuss this under shelter, the sun will rise soon.’ I begrudgingly agreed, though the thought of behind in a confined space with the man who killed my wife only made it more difficult to accept this invitation. Venator and Sophia beside me, I followed Klomano round the corner, who rolled a large boulder away from the cliff face, revealing an entrance, shrouded in darkness.

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