Loud pounding on the door of his room was what woke him early that next morning.
“Lord AshHand, the healer managed to stabilize your guest late last night. She just woke up and is asking for you.”
“Oh, yes. I’ll be over in a moment.” Wiping sleep off of his face with the pass of a hand, he lifted the already very much awake
infant off of his chest and slowly sat up.
Waking up quickly in a provisional encampment was never difficult, but on the rare occasion that he found himself afforded with the opportunity to sleep in a real bed it usually took him a handful of tries and good few hours before he managed to peel himself from the mattress. But today he simply didn’t have that kind of time.
Eros could only be thankful that his charge’s teeth were still fairly small, given that he had taken quite a liking to the gold locket which was currently sticking halfway out of the child’s mouth as he carried him quickly down the hallway and over to the correct door. Knocking once, he pushed open the door and went inside. The young woman, though bruised and in evident pain, was sitting up in bed and looked up when he entered.
“You’re awake,” with a gentle smile, he handed the child over to its mother. “Those animals hurt you pretty badly last night, but I’ve been told that you’re going to be fine. Are you feeling alright?”
“I...yes, I’ll be fine thanks to you.” She told him, pulling the baby close once it had released its hold on the locket. “Thank you. For saving me and for looking after my son.”
“It’s not a problem; I’m happy to help.”
She stared at him for a moment before, almost hesitant and in an apologetic voice, pointing out “I’m sorry, he’s drooled all over you.”
Eros glanced down at the front of his shirt. “Well, it’s a good deal better than what I usually end up covered in in my line of work; it isn’t a problem.” Pulling up a chair, he lowered himself into it. “Now, Ms., could you please tell me why it was that you were hiding in the back of that cart? Are you running from something?”
“Running? Yes, you could say that I am.” She looked away from him, tugging gently on the fabric of his sleeve. “You’ve done more for me than I have any right to ask from you, but I need another favor. Please, contact the Order.”
“You’re speaking to a slayer now. I am the current Lord of the Order, Eros AshHand.” He contained most of his amusement at the shocked surprise that spread across her face; no doubt she, like most others, expected that the infamous Slayer Lord would present as either some grizzled war veteran or prove to be himself an ArchAngel with wings spread wide, not a thin young man with hair cut unevenly at his shoulder and the smile of a thief. His expression was kept carefully business-like as he leaned forwards slightly in his chair. “Now, how can the Order be of service to you?”
“We’ve always known that the Hoia Baciu Forest was a place of ill occurrences, but recently a monster-a dragon-has laired there! The beast comes into the village at night in the form of a man to prey on the children! Infants stolen from their beds and found the next morning drained and lifeless at the forest’s edge! I fled because I couldn’t allow my son to meet that same fate!” Her dark eyes were filled with tears when she raised her face to him again. “It cut our village off from the rest of the world by blockading the only road in and out, but I managed to escape to find help and reach safety. I know that yours is an order of Vampire Slayers, and not dragon hunters, but-.”
“He isn’t a dragon. Not really.” The chair shrieked as he returned to his feet, beginning to pace the room. “Do you know what he looks like?”
“N-No, I’ve never seen him for myself. But others have! You know of him?”
“Of course I know of him. I know of all of Lilith’s sons.” The locket clicked softly against his chest as he came to an abrupt stop. “If I am correct, the fanged Demon you’re describing is known as Aser Bleak Heart: a cruel sadistic child-killer and the Dark Mother’s favorite son. You were right to come to me with this.”
“So you will help us, Slayer?”
Eros nodded. “Yes. I will go to your village and do what I can but I cannot guarantee that I will succeed in slaying him.” He told her. “He is a Lord of the Night, one of the original Dhampir from whom all others are descended, and the strongest amongst all his brothers and as such it is very possible that the one who ends up slain will be me. By that coin, it’s best you not return until you’re sent word that the beast has been felled.” Pulling a handful of coins out of the small wallet at his belt, he handed them to her. “This room has already been paid for for a number more nights, but this should help cover food and transportation for at least a short time after that. I believe that I know where the village you’ve described to me is; I’ll head out immediately and should reach it within the week. If I succeed, someone will send word to you.”
The woman offered him a watery smile. “Thank you, Lord AshHand. You are an honorable man.”
“You’re not the first to have said such a thing to me, but all the same I thank you for the sentiment. Be safe, both of you.” With a final small smile, he left the room and headed back down the hallway on his own.
Eros changed quickly into his bloodied clothing from the day prior in order to give his wet shirt time to dry out before returning his golden armor to its proper place and securing his sword to his back. Checking through the small pack that he carried with him to make sure that he wasn’t forgetting anything, he buckled it shut before proceeding back down the staircase and out towards where he’d left his horse.
Glory raised his head from the barrel of oats that it had been buried in and snorted at him, swishing his silky tail sharply to swat at a fly.
“I know, I know, but it’s not as if spending the night here had been something that I planned.” But the horse side stepped when he reached for this reins. “Sorry old friend, but they didn’t have a stable at this inn. You’re fine simply being tied to a tree whenever we’re out on the trail, so why are you being so difficult about it now?” If it were possible for a horse to glare, the side-long look that the stallion was shooting him now would have been what it would look like. “Sometimes I swear that you’re more spoiled than I am, and I was born the heir to a throne!”
After a ten minute long ordeal Eros finally managed to catch hold of the animals reins, but though he’d won the battle the war was far from over and it took him another twenty minutes of coaxing, cajoling and prodding to direct the prideful beast to the nearest store.
“If I don’t tie you up you aren’t going to run off on me, are you?” the nicker he received in reply spoke to no promises but Eros left the reins dangling freely anyway and headed inside.
An inch thick layer of dust coated the surface of the floor and shelves, leaving the early morning light which filtered in through the high-perched windows weak and choked with swirling motes. The heels of his sabatons tapped softly on the wooden floorboards while he perused the aisles, picking up what supplies he felt that he needed to replenish-food rations, mostly- for the journey ahead.
“You headed off to join an army or something?” The merchant, a fairly young man though a good deal older than he was, asked eyeing both his purchase and his attire as Eros set down the appropriate number of metal pieces.
“Something, yes.” Rearranging his belongings in order to accommodate the newly acquired items inside of his small bag, Eros bid the merchant a polite farewell before heading back out of the store onto the street. Once outside he called out to Glory but the horse refused to acknowledge him and didn’t budge from where it had wandered over to the far corner of the building.
“Come on Glory, don’t be like that.” The slightest twitch of an ear was his mount’s only response. Turning away from the animal with a dejected sounding sigh and a well hidden wicked smile, he pulled the carrot from his pack and waved it in the air for the horse to see. “Well, if that’s how it’s going to be I guess I’ll just have to eat this myself.”
It was a few seconds later that the quiet clopping of hooves approached and the horse pushed its muzzle into his hair before attempting to reach over his shoulder and steal the vegetable from his hand.
“I thought so,” he snorted, relinquishing the treat. “The minute that I introduce a carrot or an apple into the equation everything’s all better; I’ve had you since you were a colt, and I’ve got your number.” Glory just shook of his mane before at last allowing his rider to climb up into the saddle without a fight. “We’ve got a bit of a ride ahead of us before we reach out latest assignment, so we should get going” he told the animal, patting it gently on its neck once he’d righted himself on its back. “I know that the original plan was to return home but there’s another village that is in desperate need of our assistance and regardless of how much I’ll be ribbed for making them all worry once we get back I think we should go. If I am correct and it is Bleak Heart menacing them, those people need us!”
The stallion whinnied loudly as if in agreement and the two headed off at a brisk canter out of town.ns 188.8.131.52da2