The Devil's Gift

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XXXII

As we entered the forest, it was as if the lights had gone out, everything seemed dark and the air was thick with a smell that reminded me of corpses. A lingering mist hung about the roots of the trees that swirled around our feet with each step we took. Around us, the silence seemed more pronounced than it did outside the treeline, where there was the sound of the breeze and the slapping of the lake water on the rocks, here there was nothing of the sort, not a sound reached my ears. The silence seemed so loud and all of a sudden, I was very conscious of how loud I was breathing.

‘Anyone else getting a creepy feeling?’ Armaita asked.

‘You’re definitely not alone there.’ I whispered, I don’t know why, but it didn’t feel right to speak very loudly and I was concerned something might be listening. I began to get a strange feeling as if someone was watching me. I cast my eyes around the darkness of the trees that were tightly packed, searching frantically for any sign of life or creature of some sort that would explain the anxious feeling. Unfortunately I did not see anything and the uneasy feeling lingered on as we walked slowly keeping to the path that was just noticeable. I listened cautiously as a twig snapped beneath my foot. It sounded like a bolt of lightning in the silence, reverberating around the surrounding trees. I rustle to my right made me stop, as did the others.

‘What’s the-’ Oceana began.

‘Shh!’ I cut her off. Everyone remained silent as the noise became apparent to them too. The rustling of the leaves on the floor, somewhere out of site, lurking behind the trees, keeping to the shadows was something that was definitely alive and moving. I hoped beyond all hope it did not know we were here but I was remotely convinced by the thought. The rustling became louder, any second I expected to look around and see a giant creature strike form the shadows. I kept on my guard. Sophia squeezed my hand tightly as the rustling ebbed away to the left of us, whatever it was, the creature, it was on the move. I hardly dared to breath, the eerie setting was not making me feel better. Slowly, but obviously, the rustling became fainter as the creature slowly moved away from us and the silence once more filled my ears but I remained rooted to the spot.

‘Is it gone?’ Sophia whispered nervously.

‘I think so.’ Armaita whispered back. It took us a good few minutes to regain our composure and muster enough confidence to set off once more through the forest. It was still dark, I had no idea how long we’d been walking, nor how much daylight was left, and I didn’t want to know. The consciousness of our vulnerability hit me hard after the close encounter though I did not voice my concerns to the group, the last thing I wanted to do was cause panic. I kept Sophia close to my side as we walked at a steady pace. I suggested increasing our speed but I was reminded of Sophia’s state and that she was not really suitable to walk much quicker. I kept forgetting that the pregnancy had drained her powers that much that she even got fatigued when walking, however this was not always the case.

I thought back to the other month when Sophia and I ran with Venator, a fantastic sight, as we hunted for Klomano is the mountain ranges. She was quick and kept pace easily. I hoped at this point, Sophia would indeed have her powers returned to its fullest capabilities as they were before. The darkness pressed upon my eyes and I found it difficult to look elsewhere other than at the swirling mist by my feet.

I proceeded further into the forest, well I’d hoped it was further, everywhere looked identical, dark, creepy and misty. The silence pressed on still and we walked further still, our eyes peeled for any sign of life, be it man, or beast. As the hours trickled passed in silence, none of us dared to speak too much, the burning in my throat began to get hotter and hotter, I’d not fed properly in days. I looked to Oceana who seemed to be wearing the same pained expression as me, evidently her throat was raging too. I found it difficult to keep my mind occupied on something other than the thought of blood, there was nothing to look at, nor anything to listen to keep me distracted. Oceana seemed to be finding this too; her eyes kept darting around the woods more frantically and frequently than they had a few hours previous.

‘Armaita, Sophia,’ I began, straining to keep my voice level and normal, ‘just back there, I think I dropped the key, would you go check for me? I just need to check something.’ I asked, hoping they would fall for it. I was very grateful when they agreed to check for I quickly motioned Oceana to open her bag. With rapid speed, Oceana had already pulled out the blood and we were quick to swig from it before they got back. I could still see the angels in my vision, though their back were turned to us providing a very gratefully accepted, discreet way to sate our hunger for however short a time. The blood supply was rapidly decreasing and I could tell from her eyes, Oceana was concerned about it.

‘We’ll be fine, just keep calm and restrain yourself as much as possible, I know it’s hard but we have no other choice.’

I will, don’t worry about me.’ Oceana said as we conversed in quick, hushed tones.

‘It’s alright, I’ve found it.’ I said to the angels who muttered something inaudible but I guessed it was not a compliment. I rolled my eyes and turned back around, what my eyes fell upon did not make me feel better.

Towering over us was a giant serpent, at least thirty feet long and thicker than a dozen ropes lashed together. It swayed over myself and Oceana, Sophia and Armaita were frozen behind me, fear paralysing them. I found myself staring straight into its eyes, they were the size of my fist and were a deep crimson. Its thick scales were black and glossy and it was covered in scars. I remained frozen as it towered over me, surveying me, daring me to move first. I did not break eye contact, I did not know why, but I felt as though breaking eye contact would anger the serpent. It flicked its tongue and hissed a slow, long hiss. It began to open its mouth, baring its eight inch teeth that were dripping with venom. Still I remained locked in eye contact. I saw it coming a fraction of a second before the snake struck, it launched itself at me, the force of the bite just missed me and the snake ploughed into the dirt.

It raised its head and shook it before the snake launched at me again. I narrowly avoided the second strike and I began to hope I could just dodge each attack before it would render itself unconscious. I was left disappointed when the snake struck the ground a further five times, each time rising from the dirt with added anger. It struck again, this time, not into the ground but into a tree behind me. Its teeth sunk straight into the trunk and it pulled with as much force as it could, shaking the tree, to try and get free. Oceana wasted no time in watching, she sped on over, faster than I’d seen her move before took the knife that she kept tucked into her right boot, and plunged it into the snake’s neck. The snake’s tail thrashed around wildly, hitting Armaita square in the chest and send her careering into another tree. The force of her impact shook the tree violently. The snake began to hiss, its fangs still embedded in the tree as Oceana wrenched the knife free and proceeded to stab the snake a further four times in the neck before it finally gave into death and went limp. The giant serpent hung from the tree with thick black blood dribbling down its scales and creating a large pool on the ground beneath it.

Oceana dropped the knife and blitzed through to where Armaita had hit the tree, leaving Sophia, shocked and terrified, alone on the path. I rushed over to her.

‘Are you alright?’ I asked her. Without a word, Sophia began to break down into tears. I said nothing as I held her close and allowed her a few minutes. As I held her, Oceana and Armaita appeared through the trees.

‘How are you?’ I asked Armaita.

‘I’m fine, that tail is something!’ She exclaimed but, thankfully, she smiled. I smiled back as I turned to Sophia whose head was buried in my chest. I lifted her head up and looked at her face.

‘What’s wrong? Everyone’s fine, you’re safe.’ I reassured her. She sniffed wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.

‘It’s not that, I just can’t help feeling the baby will be in so much danger if we have it in a world like this. Even on the surface, there are dangers everywhere. Say we managed to stave off the attack and the baby is born, what good will it do? Do you think Deus will ever stop hunting us? No, he will try and kill us just the same, it’s no world for a child.’ She said, her voice rattling still.

‘You’re right, you’re absolutely right. But we’re not just fighting for the sake of the child, we’re fighting to give the world another chance, if we don’t do this, our death’s will mean nothing, God will have his war and he will destroy this world. It will be no world for any life, be it mammal or nature. This is a whole lot bigger than just us. We have no choice, we must keep fighting.’

‘I’m sorry, I’m just scared, this isn’t the life I’m used to, the world used to be a nicer place.’ She said. I nodded.

‘I know, it did, and for some reason, God believed I was a threat, I watched my children die, I looked upon the remains of a burning church and the whole world flipped upside down and I was given the chance to make things right. To do the right thing, not just for me, but for the world. I discovered the truth about God and made it my priority to unveil that truth for all to see. I was branded evil, and maybe I am, but I will never stop fighting for justice, for truth or for our child. No matter what it takes, I will have it known that I did everything in power to stop God from destroying this world. Sometimes, we have to make bad choices to do good things. That doesn’t make us bad people.’ I said as I Sophia wiped her eyes once more and took a deep breath.

‘You’re right, it’s not just about us, we’re doing this for all of mankind.’ I nodded once more as she looked around.

‘Which way is forward?’ She asked slowly. I looked around too. Everywhere looked the same as it did before. I tried to pinpoint something that would reveal the direction, but nothing of the sort came into view. I couldn’t even tell which was which with the snake that was pinned to the tree, but wait, the snake wasn’t pinned to the tree. Actually, the snake wasn’t there at all.

‘Where’s the snake?’ Asked Oceana quickly, panic rising in her voice.

‘I don’t know, it was just there!’ I said and I noticed that my voice too, was beginning to secrete an edge of panic.

‘Well it has to be around here, you only just killed it for heaven’s sake!’ Armaita said, frustrated. She wasn’t the only one who was frustrated, we were now lost in a forest that seemed to go on forever, with little chance of escaping. It wasn’t long before the group began to panic, the realisation of what was happening was beginning to sink in properly.

‘I could’ve sworn this was the way.’ Said Armaita pointing in one direction.

‘I disagree here, I think it’s that way.’ Oceana contradicted, pointing the opposite way.

‘We’re not going either way until it’s clear exactly which way is correct. We can’t afford to lose time by backtracking. Oceana, come with me, Armaita, stay with Sophia.’

‘Where are you going Roconn?’ Asked Sophia nervously.

‘To try and find any clues as to which way is forward, but as we don’t know, I can’t risk us falling prey to any other beast, so you stay there, we’ll check on ahead and signal if it’s clear for you to join us.’ I noted the jealous look that seemed to be spreading across Sophia’s face but disregarded it, now wasn’t the time for that conversation. We made our way down the hill that were stood one, though I didn’t remember seeing a hill five minutes ago, and slid down onto the muddy path. I began to search the ground.

‘What are you looking for?’ Oceana asked curiously, watching me scan the mud on the floor.

‘I’m looking for snake tracks, if you remember, the snake was in front of us, if we can find the snake tracks, we can find our way forward.’ I told her and resumed the scouring. Oceana joined in too, her eyes now fixated on the mud beneath her feet. I tried not to walk too far, I didn’t want to disturb any tracks that I might’ve missed and cost us dearly. It took me a few minutes but I finally found what I was looking for, thee in the mud, was a thick, wide groove that I was sure belonged to the snake.

‘It’s here, I’ve found it!’ I told Oceana and beckoned her over. I needed a second opinion.

‘That’s got to be it, the snake was about that size and over here,’ she pointed to the left of the track where there was churned up mud, ‘there was a struggle there, that’s got to be where the snake thrashed around.’ I felt a huge weight rise from my chest. Relieved, I called over Sophia and Armaita who came over quickly.

‘We’ve found the way, it’s this way.’ I pointed up the path, engraved with snake tracks. Sophia let out a huge sigh of relief, putting her hand on her stomach,

‘There, we found it, don’t worry.’ She whispered to the child that seem to, astonishingly, acknowledge its mother’s voice and respond with a little kick. After a quick moment to allow Sophia to drink, we headed on through the forest that was still as creepy as before the attack. It seemed like after so many hours of walking, we weren’t getting anywhere and I still managed to find myself unable to shake the feeling of eyes upon me. I attempted to distract myself and began thinking about how Oceana had been turned.

The night was warm but not a breeze passed down an old lane in Rome. I studied the buildings, in the year eight hundred and ninety four, and admired their craftsmanship. The ground beneath me was smooth and unpaved. The hard earth was cracked due to drought and I faintly picked up a voice that was shouting at someone else. Though they must have been a good mile away, the woman’s voice floated on the breeze and I listened to the heated conversation with a considerable amount of amusement.

I proceeded slowly up the path until the voices became much more distinct.

‘Look, I don’t care whether you’re sick, get on with the work or I’ll find someone else that will!’ The cold female voice shouted. A few wheezing coughs filled the silence that had fallen. I edge around the corner and noticed a young woman, who I would later come to learn as Oceana, belittling the life of a sick man that was clearly in need of rest and medical attention. He had so many large pustules over his face and neck that they seemed to join and become one giant pustule. He had red and inflamed patches of some horrible rash over the remainder of his skin that was on show. Oceana looked down, disgusted, at the man in her presence.

‘I can’t,’ the man managed to choke out between heavy, constricted breaths, ‘I need, I need…’ With that, the man clutched his throat as his breath caught in his throat and he fell to the ground. He tried to gasp for breath but no air seemed to be able to fill his lungs. He began to turn bright red before he passed away, his movements becoming weaker. He made a futile attempt to take a swing at Oceana who kicked his arm away from her.

‘Filthy man! Get off me!’ She looked down on him with a pitiless stare, disgusted the man had the nerve to die in front of her. After it became clear he was dead she scoffed and turned around, completely at ease after watching a man die right before her eyes. It was then I realised I needed someone like her in my coven, someone with leadership and would make the right decisions no matter who needed to die.

I rounded the corner fully and for a moment, we locked eyes. After a second, her eyes went from the dead man on the floor to me and back to the man again. Without a word of warning, she withdrew a vicious looking dagger and charged at me, swinging wildly. Of course, she missed, I was far too quick and her blade never made contact with my skin. Quick as light, I grasped her hand that wielded the knife as she brought it down, intent on slicing my carotid artery, and restrained her from making any further attacks.

‘That’s not the smartest move.’ I said, my voice soft. I could almost feel her anger radiating from her very skin and she looked at me, a look of purest loathing etched on her face.

‘My apologies.’ She sneered, sarcasm heavy on her voice.

‘Drop the knife.’ I said. Though my voice was still soft, there was an unmistakeable tone of authority. She hesitated a moment before she agreed, and dropped the knife, it clattered to the floor.

‘What now? I guess you’re going to have me locked away, ready to await the hangman’s noose?’ She asked, though she didn’t seem particularly bothered.

‘No. I have a far better use for you. Scream and I rip your throat out.’ I threatened as she went to open her mouth.

‘What are you going to do with me?’ She asked, though she pretended not to care, there was a hint of fear still evident in her voice. After a very brief conversation, where I learned her name and how she works as the owner of a mining company, I offered her the life of a vampire. I explained who I was and what I was and waited for her response.

‘So you’re a vampire?’ She asked sarcastically.

‘Yes.’ I replied simply. It was at that moment she demanded proof. I wasted no time in delivering her just that in the form of a thirty foot jump to which she responded by simply opening her mouth. Her tone of voice changed dramatically.

‘Oh my lord, I mean, wow, I never believe vampires ever exited, it seemed like nothing more than a myth to scare children.’ She breathed. Her voice was shaky and she made no attempt to disguise her fear now.

‘That was the intention.’ I told her.

‘So you’re offering to make me a vampire too? Why?’ She asked, her voice still trembling.

‘I notice things, I survey people and how they act, based on the information I collect, I chose whether they either become my next meal, or become my next subject. I believe you have the qualities that would fit a high ranking subject in my court. So, I offer you my gift, if you decline, you will never be offered it again and we will part ways.’ She thought on this. She tucked her thumbs into the thick leather coat she was wearing and looked down at her boots.

‘I accept the offer Mr?’

‘My name is Roconn Romano but you will refer to me as “my lord” or “sire” or something similar.’ I instructed her.

‘I’m sorry, my lord, I accept your offer sire.’ She said. I, with great satisfaction, noticed the struggle it took her to acknowledge she was beneath me. She was clearly not used to bowing down to anyone.

‘Come, walk towards the darkness and allow it to fill you up. Surrender your soul.’ She took a deep breath and walked over to me. I listened to her heart beat, it began to increase with each step and was soon beating like a drum.

‘I’m ready.’ She whispered. I looked down at her, she offered me her neck so easily and I leant in close, inhaling her scent, listening to the blood flowing through her veins, my eyes trained on her carotid artery.

‘I hope you have a strong will. This is going to surpass your worst nightmare.’ I whispered in her ear. The sound of her heart beat quickly in my ears as she gasped, I could smell her fear, I succumbed to my natural instincts that was raging me on. I opened my mouth, tasting the venom that was secreting from my canines, and plunged my teeth into her skin.

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