Sunday, June 12, 2011
Vampire Hunters: Prelude - Chapter 4
“No!” Darrien cried, burying his spurs in his steed, and racing downhill.
I squinted my eyes as the farms blazed, fiery tendrils stroking the ebony sky. Charred bodies punctuated the dirt streets and fields. As the wind surged, the vampire propped me up, ensuring that I could not evade the acrid stench of burnt flesh. I coughed again and again, my eyes stinging from the relentless barrage of smoke and ash.
“Did you miss me, Lawson, as I’ve missed you? I must confess, I’ve lusted for this moment.” Delilah embraced me. “Perhaps you thought me wicked for my hand in the destruction of the Canterbury Coven? Secretly I was hoping you would pay me a visit. Why didn’t you?” When no response came, the shadowling sighed, and rested her head on my shoulder.
A watchtower in the distance collapsed, igniting the field around it.
“You would have done well not to arouse him. Disclosing your intentions would have spared you his wrath. But this…” Her voice trailed off. “He will torture you gladly, cut off pieces if I wish, just like the unfortunate souls before you.” She pulled me closer. “Darrien cannot afford to appear incompetent in the eyes of the Holy Crescent. Cross us, and what is left of your family will fertilize our crops.”
The horse galloped downhill, breaking into a sprint, and cutting through smoldering fields on either side.
“What’s wrong, Lawson? Never conversed with an enlightened before? Or is it some inane code you hold dear?”
I mumbled, struggling to shape sound into words.
“Fragile creature.” She stroked the back of my head with her long, dark nails. “Be thankful my husband didn’t kill you before I convinced him otherwise.”
Two corpses lined the side of the road, hands interlocking.
“A pity your daughter Elena recently met her end. I understand she died in a fire much like this.”
“You lie,” I managed.
“And you speak,” Delilah snickered.
We emerged from the field, navigating a maze of blackened limbs and bodies. A few had fangs, but not all of them. Hopefully someone in this village was worth my tears.
Two-dozen residences bracketed an array of narrow buildings, representing Avarié’s humble urban core. Golden fields surrounded the village with a few bare trees sprinkled in. A dirt road cut through its heart, continuing to a large manor farther uphill.
Structures crumbled around us, horses and livestock squealing in their stables. Sensing the discord in the land, they struggled to free themselves from their refuge as the flames drew near.
I sagged in my saddle, unable to process all of it, sensing opportunity in the moment of despair, but unable to capitalize.
Darrien charged forward, and cracked his whip. He snared my neck with the leather cord, ripping me from Delilah’s glacial embrace. I fell forward, landing on my head. As I shook off the cobwebs, the priest jumped off his horse, and struck me with his bare fists, cutting me with the edge of his ring. I could feel little of the onslaught, but in truth, I hadn’t felt anything since my wife and daughter were taken from me. Finding her was the only way to thaw this icy core, and until then, I was little different than the corpses I pursued.
“Need I remind you?” Delilah got off her horse. “Steady yourself, for my sake. You nearly took an eye.”
Darrien ignored the remark, and rolled me onto my stomach. As he tied my wrists behind my back with the whip, my extremities began to tingle.
“Your sins against Avarié shall not be forgotten.” Darrien dragged me by the hair, and tossed me down a well. I clipped the side with my shoulder, and slammed into a shallow mix of mud and water below. The wind knocked out of me, I spit out the fetid water, and slowly fished myself from the muck.
“Do not bleed him just yet,” Delilah’s voice echoed.
“What now, dear?” said Darrien.
“‘Tis not wise to put him so close to the stores.”
“They will tend to him while we seek his accomplice,” he replied. “Swallow your discomfort, dear. I’ve been farming blood for some time now. The burrowers only take what the host provides, and not a drop more. It will not be the end of him.”
Suddenly the earth shifted below me. I shot up; surprised I could move at all. I backed away, shaking the murky water from my glasses. The shallow pool bubbled over, and then all was quiet.
Delilah peered over the ledge. “It always amuses me to see them wriggle.” She flashed her fangs.
My knees shook as I backed against the wall, and worked my way up. As my thigh brushed against the jagged edge, I could not help but grin. Though the vampire and her underling had commandeered my projectiles, they failed to secure the hunting knife concealed beneath my pants.
I sawed the leather cord with the edge of the pit, but to no avail. Quickly I dispensed of the idea, focusing on the knot instead. Fortunately Darrien was a preacher not a sailor; too much slack occupied my restraints. As I toiled, a large shape burst out of the water. It pinned me against the wall with its multitude of forelegs, and sunk its fangs into my chest. I squirmed as it knifed deeper, struggling to use the wall to scrape it from me. Finally my hands slipped free, and ripped the parasite from me.
Blood poured from my chest as a second isopod sprang out of the mud and snatched my leg. As I grabbed the knife, my arm wilted. They’d struck an artery; I was losing too much blood too fast. I gaped at the river flowing from me as the insects piled on top, and reinserted their fangs. My heart steadied as they drank from me, my glasses splashing into the crimson water. I slumped against the wall, Delilah’s laughter swirling around the chamber as consciousness gave way to dreams.