The Devil's Gift

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XXVII

I hit the ground without the slightest of noise and looked around me. I was in the rear quarter of the Vatican gardens. I looked up at the window from which I had just leapt from, it was easily twenty thirty feet high. I watched as a number of different heads poked out from the window, searching frantically for the book thief, but of course, being humans, they could not see us all the way down here through the gloom, though they tried nonetheless. Reyjak was stood a few feet away, brushing down his outfit and adjusting the straps on the leather satchel that was holding the book. I opened my fist to find I was still clutching the key which I then pocketed.

‘Come on, that was too close.’ I said, Reyjak agreed strongly. We took off at a run, watching the dust motes spin and dance before we passed through them. I still loved the exhilarating sensation that which only running could bring me. We whisked past the Egyptian obelisk centring the piazza and whistled past buildings and carts, houses and shops until they became scarce and were replaced with the empty expanses of green fields and thick, overhanging trees. We soon reached the border of the great forest that encircled the castle. Here, we slowed to a walk, savouring our victory.

We walked peacefully through the forest, the leaves and twigs beneath our feet cracking and crunching with each step. I looked around at the tightly packed trees, shrouding the castle in privacy, allowing a whole colony of vampires to thrive in the shadow. Perfectly situated close enough to the city to provide a usually quick and satisfying meal, yet far away enough you could not see it from inside the city walls. Of course, being able run faster than any living thing this world has ever seen, a few miles was nothing. The canopy of leaves above us allowed the moonlight that was only just breaking free, to spill onto the floor, creating beautiful silver pools of light at our feet.

‘I wonder what the significance of an empty book is.’ Pondered Reyjak. Though I knew it had to mean something, hearing the words aloud made it sound rather silly to regard this as anything worth investigating further, but I was adamant I would find out its secrets, for I was sure it held many.

‘I don’t know,’ I replied, ‘but it must be important, the cardinals were shouting about the book’s disappearance as we left.’

‘Good.’ Reyjak snorted. I had to agree on that, ever since the war began some months ago, I had always felt that Deus had the upper hand, we were thwarted each time, always one step behind. But no longer, now we had something valuable to them, we just needed to find out what and what it could mean. We broke free of the surrounding trees and were now crunching our way through the gravel, up the path and through the giant oaken doors that swung open to admit us. A feeling of elation appeared to be filling me, it was only now becoming clear what we’d just done. Not only had we infiltrated the Vatican of all places, we’d done it alone, without bloodshed, without discovery. A smile spread across my face, I was unable to stop it.

‘Sire?’ Said Reyjak who walked readily beside me.

‘We’ve just infiltrated the Vatican.’ I said simply. A smile spread across Reyjak’s face too.

‘Indeed we have my lord, I’ll be honest, I doubted your plan slightly. It seemed the odds of success were very slim, but you were right.’ Replied Reyjak.

‘You performed admirably my friend.’ I said.

‘Thank you my lord. I cannot help but wonder, however, how we are going to find out what secrets this book is hiding… Providing, of course, it is indeed hiding something, I don’t see how it could be, it’s just a blank book.’ Said Reyjak.

‘On a level, I see your point and it would be foolish to disagree with such logic. But then you must ask yourself, based on your knowledge of logic, is our race logically possible? If you answer no, then you must assume that some things in this world will not be logically correct, but that does not mean it is not real, nor does it prove it cannot ever be discovered. Logic cannot explain everything and so we must keep an open mind if we are to begin to unravel the mysteries that hide within our lives.’ I said wisely. ‘Basing your life on logic will do nothing but hold you back and keep you from ever stepping outside into the unknown.’

‘You’re right, of course. I suppose then it is silly to assume just because things may not appear to us straight away, that it will not ever become apparent.’ Agreed Reyjak intriguingly.

‘Precisely.’

We strode through the corridor and into the large open living room where a great number of vampires were seated comfortably. Many eyes turned toward us as we made our way through the throng and up the dark wooden staircase. There, we made a left and whisked down another corridor which was lined with many candles that hung in brackets fixed to the walls. The flickering candlelight brought our shadows to life on the floor and they danced at our feet as we reached the last door on the right. I gave the door ring a turn and it swung open revealing a large study, home to many resources and important documents regarding the influence we hold over numerous people, the contacts we have inside many large networks and of course, documentation of the notable works that have been carried out by vampires along with other numerous linked files.

The most important files I kept in a large oaken desk, decoratively carved and embossed with the clan’s emblem, two vampire teeth encased in moonlight which was also embedded on my signet ring that which adorned my right middle finger. I crossed the office in a few large paces and motioned to Reyjak who handed the thick book. I set it down carefully on the desktop and studied the cover once more. I had more time now, a proper chance to find out something on our enemy, anything. I opened the book’s cover and flicked through the pages one by one. Each one was blank though I felt a small pull of anticipation with each page I turned, each time hoping to see some obvious black ink staring at me, I was greeted with no such sight. Every page was just a blank canvas waiting to be marked by the hand of an artist.

‘Curse it!’ I spat, why did everything have to be so trying? Was this some sort of test perhaps? Maybe Reyjak was right, maybe there was nothing to it at all, perhaps the symbols that adorned the cover only felt familiar because I was hoping to find something important. Maybe, subconsciously, I was making it familiar so the risk that we took was not in vain and provided me with some success, however small or insignificant.

Even as these thoughts processed in my mind, I knew they were not true, I didn’t subconsciously do anything, the feelings I was experiencing were as real as the desk in front of me, there had to be something to this book. I stared at the book, as if hoping something was to magically jump out at me. Ten minutes passed in silence and Reyjak decided to leave, I let him go, he’d been excellent tonight and I assured him he would be well rewarded for his services. He was also instructed to inform Sophia, Markus, Oceana and the other vampires that were to accompany us back to the Vatican that we had returned and fill them in on the details.

I, meanwhile took a seat in the study, behind the desk, in front of a large window that had a thick heavy curtain drawn shut; this provided perfect and full protection from the sun, yet allowed me to open them and let in the light when night had fallen. I stood up and opened the curtains, allowing the gloom to penetrate and seep into the room. Above the castle, thick rain clouds hovered ominously, promising an oncoming downpour which it did not fail to deliver a few minutes later. The rain battered the castle and washed down the windows causing small black shadows to run down the floor as their droplet dribbled down the window panes. The shadow of the rain ran down my outfit and over my desk. I stood up grumpily, the elated feeling had quickly dispersed and left me drained of all happiness and hope.

I strode over to a long wardrobe that was propped up beside the door, opened the doors and withdrew a fine silken robe, black as the night outside. I changed slowly, it felt nice to be in light clothing, something comfortable and familiar. I had purposely left it in here, knowing I’d come straight here with the information I’d procured and also foreseeing the wasting away of hours as I pored over the newly acquired information. I stuffed the leather outfit untidily back into the wardrobe and took a seat again at my desk, listening to the thunderous downpour that allowed me to relax slightly. The book was laid open in the centre of the desk and I watched the shadows run down its empty pages.

As the rain began to ease back, the clouds began to part revealing a crescent moon that was bright and silvery. The moonlight shone through the open window and flooded into the room, spilling onto the desk and the blank pages. But the pages were no longer blank. Before my eyes, a dark black, hand drawn map became visible, slowly weaving itself across the page. Mountains drew themselves beside a great river and forests. Though they were simply drawn, I stared disbelievingly at the book that was now filling itself in, like some invisible person was drawing it in right before my eyes. But the map did not stop at the mountains nor the forest, not even at the river. Above them all, a large city had begun to draw itself, if it was anything to scale, the city would span for miles.

But there was more, a word was beginning to form beneath the city, it wrote The Kingdom of Scientia. The mountains too were now being written upon, Mountains of Ardua. I watched closely as too, was the forest named, Forest of Nex. Lastly, the lake that spanned for miles and miles was now named, Lake of Absconsus. At the bottom of the lake, the farthest point from the Kingdom of Scientia, was a little symbol. It was small, but it was easily depicted as an arrow pointing up. Finally, the map began to write a final word, larger than the rest across the entire middle of the map. I stared incredulously at the word, unable to take in the information that was so clearly shown. My breath caught as I strained my voice to work.

‘Agartha.’ I choked out.

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