The Devil's Gift

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VII

The night was young and the moon was shrouded behind thick rain clouds that showered the long, winding road to Venice with light rain. Maria sat patiently in the coach of a wooden carriage, pulled along by two chestnut horses that trotted briskly. The carriage would sway now and then as a crosswind hit the sides. The uneven road was filled with puddles and sloshed with dirt that splashed up the side of the carriage. A large dip appeared in the tree-bordered road. The carriage made a large jerk as the back right wheel lodged itself in a large pothole. The carriage driver, unaware the lady in his coach was in fact a vampire, shouted behind him,

‘’scuse me lady.’ he apologised. His grunting voice was loud to make himself heard above the howling wind that whistled past the carriage.

‘Don’t worry, just keep going.’ Maria responded, she was aware the road was pitted and she was not bothered by the swaying and jerking; she was just glad to be under the cover of the wooden carriage that sheltered her from the wind and the rain. The horses made another jerk as they pulled the carriage out of the pothole, spurred on by the man who was now soaked and visibly unhappy. Though he was not in the best of moods, he had been paid a great deal to transport Maria safely to Venice where she would meet with Klomano. The driver yanked on the reins and the horses and the carriage lunged forwards, keeping at a steady pace, as the rain began to fall heavier.

A few miles down the road, the lantern that hung on the end of a large pole became almost useless as the rain fell thicker in an almost horizontal sheet, flooding the path and making it increasingly difficult for the driver to see the road ahead. The horses slowed as the wind blew hard, swinging the lantern that was emitting a dull orange glow that made the driver’s soaked face shine. His sopping grey hair that fell just past his ears, blew into his face and stuck to his cheek. His thick beard dripped continuously and his drooping eyelids were squinted as he peered through the rain. The driver slowed the carriage further to little more than a trot that aroused Maria’s curiosity.

‘Driver, why have we slowed down? I need to be in Venice before sunrise!’ She shouted, a tone of urgency evident on her voice. The driver tilted his head toward the carriage, only just picking up her voice that was rendered almost inaudible by the deteriorating weather.

‘I’m sorry m’lady, my light is almost gone and I’m finding it difficult to see the road!’ He shouted back through the wind and rain. The light of the fading lantern began to ebb away until the flame flickered and went out. The horses, barely moving, began to become unsettled. The driver attempted to soothe the horses until they came across a branch that had fallen from a nearby tree and into the road, blocking their path. The driver stopped the carriage and leapt down. Maria drew back the curtains and peered out of the window.

‘Driver, what’s the problem? Why did we stop?’ She asked irritably. The rain hammered down onto the carriage that thundered in Maria’s ears. The driver trudged through the sludge and rapped on the door which Maria opened instantly, splattering her with overspray and blowing her hair across her face.

‘M’lady, there is debris in the road, I’ll try and clear it then we’ll be off. It shouldn’t take me a second ma’am.’

‘Fine, make sure you hurry.’ She snapped. He nodded quickly, closed the door with a snap and hobbled toward the branch, bowing his head against the brisk wind and icy rain. A long rumble of thunder echoed through the dark sky. Within moments, a bright flash of lightning zapped across the sky, illuminating the road and reflecting off the puddles. The lightning struck just off the treeline and Maria’s gaze was caught momentarily by the outline of a figure. She could hear nothing but the pounding of the rain and the steady drumming of the driver’s heart. Suddenly the heartbeat became louder as he approached the carriage which bounced slightly as he clambered back onto his seat, grasped the reins and with a yank, the carriage lurched forwards once more into the darkness.

The horses were slow and the weather was still becoming gradually worse, thunder rolling and lightning flashing only seconds apart. Maria would be glad when the storm passed; it made her feel uneasy. She had always disliked storms since the day in the church. The horse’s hooves splashed through the puddles and the wheels creaked as they rounded a long corner. Having just entered the treeline where the path wove its way through, the raindrops fell harder and the sound became almost deafening to Maria who was, at present, anxious to reach her journey’s end. Once more the carriage rumbled to a stop and before Maria could even ask, the carriage driver had already answered her question,

‘Another branch again, m’lady, won’t be a minute. This one looks a little bigger than last time. Say, I’ll be glad when we get out of this storm!’ He shouted to her, little knowing she could hear him perfectly fine. Ten minutes passed that Maria spent listening to the driver’s racing heartbeat as he attempted to move the fallen tree from the middle of the road. She had no choice, it was evident he was never going to move it and so, she clasped her black robe around her chest, pulled up the large hood, and muttered,

‘Humans…’ With dislike in her voice before she flung open the wooden door and stepped out into the darkness. Strong winds lashed at her face and the rain battered her but she stood strong against it, her stone form unaffected by the storm. She cast her eyes in front of the carriage; the driver was still pushing with all his might to move the tree trunk, but to no avail. As she took a step away from the carriage and into the open space toward the trunk, a whistling sound, unlike that of the howling wind and raging storm, sounded quietly in her ears.

Before she could even react, a crossbow bolt tied with thick a thick metal chain, soared toward her and pierced directly through her wrist. She let out a yell of pain and the carriage driver spun round to see what the commotion was. As he neared closer, a single bolt, without a chain, embedded by his feet. He gave a start and ran as fast as his legs would allow him through the trees until the darkness swallowed him. Maria looked down to her pierced wrist, fear and anger already burning wildly inside her as another three bolts pierced her again, this time, pinning her to a large tree. She screamed once more and struggled against the chains. It was difficult, they had punctured her body four times and was now weakening her. Nevertheless, she struggled against them, snapping one of the metal chains that whipped round as a dozen vampires flooded the area.

‘Again, again, keep firing!’ Came a startlingly familiar voice, Klomano. More bolts zoomed past embedding themselves into the tree after piercing Maria’s body. She screamed again, it was a scream of pain and anger. She wrenched against the restraining chains that bound her and more of them snapped, whipping one of the traitorous vampires across the throat. His necked split open and blood belched out, staining his sopping robes a deep scarlet.

‘I want her restrained!’ Klomano shouted, fear apparent in his tone as he called for more bolts. At his orders, another four bolts were fired and she could struggle no more. The remaining vampires rapidly wrapped the chains around her body and tied the crossbows together. No matter how much she struggled, the eight bolts embedded in her body that pinned her to the tree, had weakened her greatly. Klomano stood a few yards from her, not wanting to get to close.

‘You traitorous coward!’ Maria spat at him.

‘I recall a time where I thought you and your pathetic husband were truly the best leaders this world could have.’ He began, hatred on his voice. ‘It appears I was wrong. There is only one leader who can bring the vampires to greatness, to see the miserable humans bend to their superiors.’ He said. The wind whipped through the trees and howled through the branches. The rain lashed the ground and every soaked vampire stared from Klomano to Maria and then back again, hardly daring to believe that they had truly restrained her.

‘Roconn will find you, and when he does, I hope he rips every limb from your worthless body, one by one.’ She replied with deep loathing.

‘I am counting on him finding me, because when he does, I’ll kill him.’ He said, a twisted smile on his face that set Maria’s anger soaring ever higher.

‘Roconn is ten times stronger than you, you’ll never stand a chance.’ She gave a hysteric laugh, though there was nothing amusing about the situation she was in. Thunder rolled once more through the sky and once again another lightning bolt flashed yards from them, shaking the ground.

‘Oh yes, he is isn’t he? But what if he was met with equal power and equal skill? What if, should the unthinkable happen, that someone would dare drink the blood of an ancient vampire, one of the first?’ Realisation dawned on her as she realised he was about to feed on her. If he should succeed, the power that flows through her veins would then be transferred to Klomano, making him equal in power to Maria. Klomano noticed this realisation.

‘Yes. I will overthrow Roconn, I will have the element of surprise. He won’t stand a chance.’ Klomano said as he began to edge closer. Maria struggled more against the chains but they would not give, she couldn’t move. Again thunder rumbled over head as heavy rain fell in icy sheets upon them. Lighting struck once more, but this time, it struck Maria. Instantly, she burst into flames. The electricity ran through the binding chains, setting four of the vampires alight. Maria’s blood-curdling screams resounded through the trees. Klomano’s face dropped, as the force of the explosion lifted him clean from his feet and sent him blasting through the carriage and out the other side. He sustained heavy injuries but nevertheless, managed to upright himself in time to see his plan fall to pieces. The remaining vampires were all stood a great deal closer, and they, too, were lifted off their feet and slammed into the surrounding trees. Most of them died instantly.

Maria’s screams began to fade until they cut off completely, leaving nothing but a small pile of ashes on the ground and a gold wedding ring that fell on top. The chains that bound her slinked down the tree as Klomano edged closer to Maria’s remains. He cursed as he cradled his heavily seared arm.

‘Sire, what happens now?’ Asked one of the two surviving vampires.

He did not reply immediately, he looked around at the bodies of the vampires he’d lost in this now pointless plan. He’d killed Maria, a vampire leader and soon, he’d be hunted and he had no way of matching that power. There was no blood to drink, no chance of redemption. His plan had been torn apart.

‘Now,’ he replied slowly, ‘we run.’ With this, Klomano and his two remaining allies fled into the treeline as the storm began to gradually lift until it passed completely.

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