The Devil's Gift

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V

As the days passed, Maria and I whiled away a number of hours debating the best possible entrance and method to infiltrate the Vatican and infect Pope Gregory XII. Having the Pope as a vampire would be especially in tearing down religion from the inside. It was going to be difficult, there was a great risk to this job. It was not something that could be done alone. If the citizens of the city got wind that vampires were here, in Rome, I dared not to think of how fast we would be hunted. It took me no time to realise the man for the job was Reyjak, he would assist. Faster than anything I’d ever seen move before, we needed that kind of stealth. But first, there was something else I needed.

‘Reyjak, summon the council, I want them here tonight.’ I spoke to the open room. I did not wait for an answer; I knew he’d heard me.

This was a difficult operation and it would take time and patience. I summoned a courier to deliver a letter to the cardinals, one that instructed them to procure a detailed layout of the Vatican’s interior. HE left quickly and a great deal richer than when he arrived. There must be a way, of that I was sure. I wanted the Pope changed, once we’d accomplished that, there would be no stopping the vampires and our influence would spread even further. This would ultimately be one of our final moves against God, the possibility of moving against him personally was very slim, but if we took away his influence and his followers, his power over the people would be destroyed with it. Killing the Pope would be too easy; another would merely replace him, but turning him in to a vampire would be the most effective way to exact revenge really.

‘We can only do so much here, we need to go to the Vatican.’ The excitement of, after a hundred years, seeing the end in sight, was evident in her voice.

‘We’ll leave as soon as the meeting’s over.’ I replied. I too, was eager to see the end.

The hours trickled past, which was unusual, but not unexpected. Trying to keep my mind occupied was difficult, every minute spent away from the plan felt like a minute wasted. I was frustrated, eager to be off. A loud commotion caught my attention and I rose quickly from the throne and swept across the room. I wrenched the doors open and hurried to the source of the noise. It was coming from the entrance. The hubbub of conversation quickly dissipated as the council members watched my approach. In unison, they each fell to one knee and gave a short bow.

‘My lord, we arrived as quickly as we could.’ Spoke one of the women at the back. There were twelve council members including Reyjak. Each one dressed in fine clothing and had an air of importance and elegance about them. The eight women all wore a dress, each different from the next but equally as formal and expensive. The men each wore a dark suit that varies slightly, but nonetheless, looked exquisite.

‘Very good,’ I murmured, ‘Maria waits for you in the council chamber, she’s not in the most generous of moods so I would suggest you make your way there quickly.’ They each nodded and a number of them thanked me before sweeping down the hall. The meeting was brief, but necessary, we spent an hour discussing every possible opportunity we could and firing down most of them. Each and every plan seemed flawed, frustratingly so. After a heated debate between two of the members, an ageing woman and a middle-aged man, we finally agreed the best idea was to wait and see what the cardinals bring back and then we’d talk further.

Though the meeting seemed like a waste of time, I did not linger on this too long; the time had come for Maria and I to leave for the city.

One hour later, after taking the time to set our affairs in order, we strolled towards the moonlit Vatican. Even shrouded in darkness it was an impressive sight. A huge concrete ring of pillars, topped with various statues of men encircled us, casting long shadows on the path before us. We headed side by side towards a large concrete obelisk with eight, white lines protruding outwards from it toward the encircling pillars. We admired the building and its architecture for a few moments, it was really something. Of course, its use was something we did not admire. We reached the obelisk and waited. After a few minutes which was spent talking quietly about the various entrances, nine cardinals appeared out of the shadow, one from each section created by the markings on the floor, and one from the Vatican. The nine cardinals bowed in a circle around Maria and I.

‘My lord,’ announced a cardinal who was walking from the Vatican. He addressed me with great respect.

‘You have the plans, I presume?’ I was taken aback by their speed in procuring the documents, they could only have received the order within an hour prior to this moment.

‘My lord, I apologise with the utmost sincerity. I recovered the plans just as you had asked, but his Holiness saw me with them. He asked why I needed such documents and demanded I hand them to him at once. I had no choice but to oblige, or risk being banished from the Vatican, which I know would not have helped you, my lord. I apologise once again sire.’ The cardinal finished, bowing deeply.

I hesitated momentarily; I was infuriated that I’d arrived to find a quivering cardinal, full of snivelling apologies and an empty hand.

I was disappointed, but knowing that I couldn’t have got this far without my cardinals to serve me, I bit my tongue and remained, with great difficulty, calm.

‘I understand,’ I replied at last.

The cardinal quivered; he was not expecting me to be understanding, it was not something they were used to seeing.

‘Then we will just have to get them back,’ said Maria, who was equally as unhappy.

The moon shone ever brighter and the wind whistled in our ears.

‘Yes my lady, I will look for a way to recover the documents immediately.’

‘I should hope so, for your own sake,’ I spat.

I turned away but did a double take. I had glimpsed a quick movement out of the corner of my eye; a figure moving incredibly fast from one of the pillars, encircling thus. A breeze blew and I caught the scent of an unfamiliar vampire. Beside me, Maria tensed, she had smelt it too.

We spun around in time to see a dark figure dispatching the last of my cardinals. They all lay dead at the hooded figure’s feet, a long blade glistening with blood clutched in his right hand. I felt a surge of anger and hatred. We dashed towards the figure. I noticed a stone on ground and kicked it hard toward the figure. It struck its mark with perfect precision. The figure dropped the blade as the stone hit it with incredible force, yanking out of his grip. I was already over at the figure and ready for my first strike but he, too, was ready, and extremely skilled. He dodged my punch and retaliated. The hooded figure aimed a kick at my ribs but I saw it coming. I hooked the man’s leg under my arm, grabbed him by the throat with my free hand, and threw him towards the obelisk.

The figure slammed into it about halfway up, sending shards of rock flying in all directions. Maria was now upon him. She grabbed him by the throat as he hit the ground, forcing him down with further force. She threw a well-aimed punch at his jaw, but he was no novice when it came to fighting; he was prepared. He blocked her punch, grabbed her wrist and leapt quickly into the air. Maria struggled against his iron grip. He kicked her hard in the torso and sent her rocketing towards the ground at incredible speed. She smashed into the floor with such force that the surrounding concrete blew out around her and uplifted the cobbled path, indenting the ground.

I sped towards the vampire and swung another punch with my right hand. This time the figure was not so lucky. My fist made direct contact with his jaw, the force of which sent him careering in to one of the statues standing on top of the pillars. The hooded figure hit the statue, and burst straight through it, obliterating it into shards of stone than fell heavily.

Maria sped over to me and we tentatively searched the surrounding area. Clouds blew in front of the moon, extinguishing the brilliant light. Out of nowhere, I heard a faint whooshing sound as the hooded figure hurled a statue from the top of another pillar. As we turned, the statue hit us hard. It shattered as it made contact but there was still plenty of force behind it. We were knocked into the obelisk and were battered from all sides. I gave a little nod to Maria as we lay on the floor, smothered in white dust and bits of rock. In the blink of an eye, I grasped Maria threw her toward the hooded figure, still perched on top of the monument. He was definitely not prepared for that one. When she hit him, she spun around and climbed on to his back, leaping into the air. They began to fall, hurtling toward the ground which must have been at least fifty feet high, and held him face first, in front of her as they fell. The hooded figure’s face slammed into the concrete, cracking it and scattering debris everywhere.

Maria pinned him firmly into the ground, with her foot on the back of his head, and folded his arm behind him, restraining him.

‘Wait! Please don’t kill me,’ cried the hooded figure.

‘Who are you?’ asked Maria sharply. When he didn’t respond she twisted his arm until it cracked. He screamed in pain.

‘My name is Rosse. I am a vampire, created by master Reyjak.’ He said quickly with a low voice. I could not understand this.

‘Well?’ I shot at him, pressing him for more information.

‘I ran away. I trained for years to find you, to kill you. I thought there was no one I couldn’t best, but I was wrong. Forgive me, allow me to serve you and you will not regret it,’ he said at once, his voice hopeful. I scoffed and grabbed Rosse’s other arm and ripped hard from his shoulder, throwing it somewhere into the darkness. The clouds slowly drew apart and Rosse’s body was illuminated as Maria tore off his other arm. His scream echoed in the night. There would surely be people in the Vatican wondering what the screaming was, but that didn’t matter, to them, we were just another shadow in the darkness. She pulled Rosse into a kneeling position and pulled back his hood. He was a young looking man with big bushy eyebrows, deeply-set green eyes, and scars covering his face. He looked gaunt, like a soldier who’d seen too many deaths.

‘Why did you murder my cardinals?’ I asked.

‘Anyone in league with you deserves death,’ spat Rosse dropping all allied pretences.

‘He’s all yours, my love.’ I said.

Maria smiled, grabbed his head by the hair and, with an almighty wrench, tore it from his neck. She held it up with a triumphant look spreading across her face. His armless body fell to the ground with a thud. I knelt down beside Rosse’s body. I fumbled around inside his black robes and my hands fell upon a sheet of rolled up parchment. I withdrew it, and from the light of the moon, unfastened and unrolled it. It was a detailed layout of the Vatican. How it had fallen into Rosse’s hands I did not know, nor did it matter now. The cardinals had fulfilled their purposes, anyway. It was time we found shelter, for dawn could not be far away now. The sky was beginning to lighten and the bodies would soon be discovered, along with myself and Maria had we not chosen that moment to leave.

We quickly located shelter in the form of a nearby shack where we slipped in, unnoticed by the townspeople, who were slowly stirring from their slumber. After a hundred years, one day felt did not seem at all long. As we waited for the day to pass, I unrolled the map onto in the small building. The walls were bare and the only furniture was that of four chairs and a wooden table.

As we took a seat and bent low over the table, we studied the drawings. There were so many routes and passages, things that I’d not foreseen, but no matter, I had the information now, and that was what was going to get us inside and back out without being seen. I needed Reyjak, he could help. First, we needed nightfall, the cover of darkness, and that came with relative haste.

The dawn quickly turned to dusk and we exited the shack, shrouded in darkness. We walked briskly to the scene where the fight with Rosse had occurred. The bodies of the cardinals had been removed and all the evidence of a fight had been cleared up. Apparently the guards had covered up the brutal murders of nine cardinals and the damage to the obelisk, because there were no wanted posters. It would take a while before the damage to the obelisk and surrounding area would be fixed. I looked around, there was no ash pile; I guessed that it had blown away in the wind that had been howling most of the day.

Overnight, we had studied the layout of the Vatican and memorized it. Lit by someone of the city, the smouldering embers of a large fire was glowing in the crater that Maria had caused beside the obelisk. A number of unrecognisable items had also been thrown into the fire and the remains of bits of steel glowed white hot in the fire. I walked over to the fire and added the map to it; I could not risk letting it fall into the wrong hands lest my plan be discovered. This was an opportunity that would only come around once and there was no room for mistakes.

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