276Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡIqmy5MdJZC
It had been close to a month since the day at the bar with Seoirse and for the first time since she had been in London the night was a quiet one. Night after night they’d scrambled to kill the Malformed and gather any clues that they could find-everything to the scattered layout of various sun-shelter houses to the positions of the monster’s favorite hunting grounds-in a desperate search for where they were coming from and day after day struggling to translate them into something useable. Now, after countless hours of outlining overlapping and triangulating until the geometric curves and corners of triangles circles and squares were seared into her eyes-Kennina found herself sitting with Morrigan in the main room of the London Branch’s HQ precariously balanced atop the back legs of a reared-back wooden chair, feet propped up on the top of the desk before her,tossing a rainbow hacky-sack up towards the ceiling and then catching it again.
“How long are we just going to sit here?”
Morrigan glanced up momentarily from the screen of her laptop. “Until we have something to go after.”
Swinging her feet off of the desktop and allowing the chair to fall forwards back onto all fours with a loud bang she pivoted around in her seat to face the other. “I don’t like it.”
“Neither do I, but we can’t control if and when they’ll hit; whatever the hell it is that’s controlling them has started to wise up.”
“It’s too quiet.”
“We should have boots on the ground! Be out there looking! Hunting down leads! Something!”
“Lane!” The lid of the laptop fell closed with an exaggerated snap. “I think you’ve had more than enough coffee for one night.”
“An’ I think tha’ ya could do wit’ drinkin’ a bit more Morrigan!” Seoirse announced as he came bolting through the door. “Abban an’ I ‘ave cracked it; the bastards laired up in a manor house nae far outside the city. Ma brother’s got a car; let’s go!”
“Looks like you’ll be getting the action that you were hoping for after all.” Morrigan said as she got to her feet. “Grab your weapons! Let’s go!”
Snatching her blades from where they’d been resting on top of the desk and strapping them on, Kennina leapt up and hurried after the other two. Outside a car-a beaten, powder blue Bentley-was idling in the alleyway with Abban at the wheel. The ravenette slid into the front passenger seat, leaving her and Seoirse to jump into the back.
They peeled out of the lot at well over speed limit, wheels bouncing along on the cracks and potholes and jostling them roughly about as they wailed down the narrow curving streets. Suddenly, as they passed by another dark off alley, a black car pulled out and high beams flooded the car.
“Looks like we’ve got a tail!”
“Tha’ it does,” Abban agreed, eyes darting momentarily up into the rearview mirror. “Hold on, we’re gonna try an’ outrun ‘im!”
The engine whined loudly as he punched the gas, tearing out of the city limits and through the suburbs into the countryside. Despite sunset having been only about an hour before out here the night was pitch black, the darkness a solid entity closing in around them on all sides even as it retreated in fear of their headlights. Little could be seen of the country road beyond the fuzzy circle of illumination thrown a few feet out before them to reveal the unlined, single lane road with wide shoulders of grey-white gravel and flattened down dust.
“‘E’s fallin’ behind!” Seoirse called to his brother from beside her. “There’s the turn off; pull off o’ the side an’ shut the car!”
“I know, Seoirse!” A massive cloud of dust was kicked up as the speeding vehicle bumped off of the paved main road onto a long gravel driveway, plowing down a small embankment into a snarl of brambles which effectively hid the car from the view of the road above. The engine cut out, the headlights dying instantly as the shadowed coils of the night curled in around them. “Don’ make a sound, any o’ ya!”
All that she could hear in the silence that descended on the car were the thundering beating of her heart and her own breathing as she turned in her seat to peer out of the rear windshield.
Only a few seconds later their pursuer’s car pulled into view and slowed to a stop, idling in the mouth of the driveway with its high-beams still on: the hearse-like black car which had come to pick her up from the airport on the day that she’d arrived. It sat there for almost a full minute before slowly starting to roll again and vanishing from sight further down the dark main road.
The four hunters released a collective held breath the moment it was gone.
“Bloody hell,” Morrigan said, collapsing back against her seat. “Looks like they definitely don’t want us here, don’t you think?”
“Yeah I do, an’ tha’ means we must be on the right track.” Abban replied as he freed himself from his seat belt. “We’ll head in on foot from ‘ere; tha’ way it’ll be less likely tha’ whatever’s up at this manor ‘ll be forewarned tha’ we’re comin’.”
The night was still and cold and as she emerged from the car Kennina shivered, pulling her coat tighter around her; Seoirse slid out after her and closed the door as his brother retrieved his hammer from the trunk.
The group of four picked their way carefully through the brambles and up the little embankment to the gravel drive. “About how far down this driveway is the manor?”
“An eight minute or so walk, approximately,” Seoirse answered from beside her in a hushed voice. “We’ll be there soon.”
For a while after that the only sounds were the quiet crunching of their swift careful footsteps over the loose uneven rock that scattered the driveway and the rare breath of cold wind rattling the dark trees which crowded around the edges.
The end of the drive opened suddenly, blossoming outwards into a sprawling sloping lawn hedged in by well manicured bushes and littered with numerous weathered stone statues of the type one might expect to stumble across in a graveyard. The manor house itself was a massive affair, Victorian in style and two stories in height with pillars running up along the corners and railing on the roof tops. It was assembled from massive blocks of sandy brown stone, its beveled windows sunken in and set with black glass and doorways elegant and arching.
Stopping in his tracks, Seoirse whistled shrilly through his teeth. “Well, if nothin’ else the place is impressive!”
“Split up an’ spread out; we’ll work our way across the first floor an’ then moved up ta the second.” Abban instructed his team. “Morrigan, take the North Eastern quarter. Seoirse, North Western. Kennina, you cover South Western. I’ll take South Eastern.”
They hurried up the lawn to the entrance of the mansion, pushing open the massive front doors and making their way into the shadowed foyer. The front room was enormous, the floor paneled in dark tile and the walls patterned in floral wall paper; twin stair cases rose along the walls to either side of the room, their ornate cast iron banisters disappearing upwards towards the second floor. Abban, Seoirse and Morrigan quickly vanished down darkened hallways towards their respective corners of the house leaving Kennina to cautiously advance towards the South Western portion of the building on her own.
It was astounding how threatening a decorative end table could appear to someone who found themselves alone in the utter darkness of the lair of a monster.
Pushing open the first door that she came to, Kennina peered cautiously inside before stepping into the room beyond. She found a Boudoir on the other side, the large circular room patterned tastefully in black and gold with a number of antique arm chairs set about at intervals and a powder station pushed up against one wall. The ornate walls were inset with a number of mirrors and on the far side of the room from here were a pair of mirrored french doors.
Her reflection was cast back at her from all sides as she moved forwards towards the little powder station, green eyes roving quickly over the items scattered across the top; a sterling silver hair brush, a pad of long since dried out blush and a jeweled Russian Egg.
Picking up the little glass object Kennina turned it in her hands, hefty it's surprising weight as she took in the red crystal shell and golden adornments of birds in flight. Turning it over she found engraved on the bottom in curling script a note which read ‘To my light, Luciella’.
At the top of the egg was a tiny golden knob which protruded slightly further from the embossments that surrounded it; the slightest brush of her finger against it caused the egg to split into four parts and fall open like a blossoming flower, unveiling the figure of a tiny metal angel which immediately began pirouetting atop a pedestal as a faint melody-melancholy and full of longing-began to tinkle through the room.
It’s a music box. Extremely beautiful, likely hand crafted and clearly very old something about it-about the song that it was playing-wrapped her in a blanket of strange nostalgia, filling her with a distant worry which wasn’t truly her own; the worry for a lover gone off to war, the fear that he would not return and the stubborn hope that she would yet see his face again before the next dawn.
A cold chill passed down her back as her eyes jumped to the mirror before her; instantly, Kennina froze. Reflected in the powder-desk’s attached mirror behind her, standing where she’d been only moments before in the center of the room, was another woman.
Much taller than she herself was and with eyes a much darker green, she appeared to be somewhere in her mid-twenties with long red hair falling in loose ringlets down her back. Her shoulders were left bare by the pure white silk dress that she wore, medieval in style and pooling around her feet with sleeves that fell towards the carpeted for like frozen waterfalls. Her china-doll face was pulled up into a kind, loving smile and in her hands-cupped in front of her-rested a cooing white dove.
She stood there, welded in place by shock and fear, heart pounding in her chest as she regarded the figure in the mirror. She was trained to deal with Vampires, more specifically with the Malformed, not with whatever this apparition was and though the warm energy enfolding her made it clear that her company meant no harm it was still a more than terrifying experience to have to go through.
The unknown woman made no move towards her, simply nodding in her direction before opening her mouth to speak; just six small words spoken in a quiet gentle voice. A plea, really, more than an order. “Take care of him for me.”
Him? Who was ‘him’? What was she? Why was she here? Finally mustering up the necessary courage to force herself to move Kennina whirled around to find...an empty room. Quickly turning back to the mirror she found it vacant but for her own wide-eyed reflection.
Did I...really just see a ghost? Whatever she had seen, it was gone now. The music, too, had fled; the haunting melody gone silent and the little metal angel still. Whatever the figure had been, ghost or trick of the mind, she didn’t have time to deal with it now; closing the music box and returning it to its former position, she quickly left the room.
The remainder of her sweep of the Southwestern quarter of the manor passed without incident and by the time that she made it back to the entrance room the other three had already gathered to wait for her.
“Wha’s wrong Yankee Rose?” Seoirse asked on catching sight of her pale and fixed expression. “Ya look like ya’ve seen a ghost.”
“I’ll be honest with you Seoirse, I don’t know what I saw.” She told him.
“You mean you did see something?” Morrigan asked as she and Abban headed over. “The Dhampir?”
Kennina shook her head. “No, not the Dhampir. Not a Vampire at all, she...looked like me. But older...and taller. She said...it isn’t important, and it didn’t make sense!”
“Perhaps nae now, but it might in the future Lass. If wha’ ya saw really was a ghost an’ the other side went to the trouble o’ communicatin’ with ya it’s anythin’ but ‘nae important’.”
Morrigan raised an eyebrow. “I thought you didn’t believe, Abban.”
“Believin’ in the afterlife and believin’ in a God are two different things Morrigan.” He replied gruffly. “Now Lass, wha’did yer ghost say?”
“...’Take care of him for me’.” Kennina admitted after a moment, somewhat reluctantly.
“‘im?’ Who is ‘im’?” Seoirse asked, looking around at the other three as if expecting them to provide an answer. “An’ wha’ do ya think tha’ ghost girl meant by ‘take care o’ ‘im’? Take care o’ like ‘help’ or take care o’ like ‘off the bastard’?”
“There’s no way o’ knowin’, but it’s likely tha’ this ‘’im’ is someone tha’ Kennina hasn’t met yet. Let’s leave the future to the future an’ take care o’ wha’ we have ta ‘ere tonight.”
“Abban’s right,” Kennina said, quick to shift the subject away from the hair raising events in the Boudoir room. “We need to head upstairs and kill the Vampire responsible for all of this.”
“The Lass is right; ‘e wasn’t down ‘ere so the bastard must be upstairs. We’ve no idea wha’ we might be walkin’ into, so we should stay together now.” He said. “Kennina, on point with me. Seoirse, bring up the rear with Morrigan.”
“Aye; nothin’ ‘ll creep up behind us in the ‘llway.”
They rushed up the stairs, careful to avoid stepping in the centers so as not to cause them to creak and warn the master of the house that they were coming.
A sliver of light cut across the dark hallway from the cracked-open door at the end of the hall. Motioning to the three of them as they moved forwards and spread out on either side of the door, Abban reached out and carefully, quietly, pushed it open.
“I’d begun to wonder when the four of you would get here.” Standing with his back to them facing the wide picture windows looking out upon the grounds, wearing a tailored suit and holding a glass full of liquid too dark a red to be wine in one clawed hand was a man. “I realized some time ago that my...pets had attracted your fancy and figured that it would only be a matter of time before you showed up at my door. If you had given me better warning, I’d have been sure to have a proper meal prepared for you. As it is, I only just saw you coming up my drive.” Draining the remaining contents of the glass, the Dhampir turned towards them and-after setting the empty cup down on the corner of his desk-lowered himself into the chair behind it. “You can put your weapons away.”
“An’ why the bloody hell would we do somethin’ like tha’! We’re here for yer head ya filthy bastard!”
The Dhampir’s eyes-solid black with glowing red slit pupils-observed him with a chilling calm before he smiled, thin lips revealing vicious fangs in place of canines. “My dear boy, we are bound by a common enemy. We can help each other.”
“And how, exactly, could you ‘help us’?” Kennina hissed, bristling like an angered cat. “And if you’re about to spout some bullshit about eternal life, save your breath! We’ve no interest in life as a Malformed!”
Their dark host perked up slightly, head tilting to one side as the grin on his face became even more brutal. “Seems that you’re more of a thorn in their side than I’d anticipated, hunters. Yes, you’re right, I could never hope to turn a mortal into a true Vampire as we are members of two utterly different species. But there are other ways that I can be of use to you; you’ve all been red-lined, I’m sure, given the fact that you are standing here before me. You know about things that Kharon doesn’t want you to. Things that could potentially prove problematic for their operation. But, in the grand scheme of things, the knowledge you have is but a pebble before boulders; almost nothing at all. As such, to you, the information that I hold is worth far more than its weight in gold.”
“An’ you’d give us this information, is tha’ wha’ yer sayin’?” Abban growled. “Just how is it tha’ one hand ‘ll wash the other? Wha’ use could we have to ya?”
“Well, you’re nothing compared to my former Lord back when he was Human that’s for sure, but as far as mortals go-lesser creatures though you are-you’re some of the strongest that I have seen in recent decades.”
“Ya mean ta tell us tha’ you’re a Thyone?”
He nodded. “One of the last remaining, if not the very last myself. I want them dead. You want them dead. My ultimate goal is for this whole world to burn and yours...well, I would assume that yours is different but we can still work together up until the point where our interests diverge. It’s the only way you’ll stand a chance at defeating them.”
“Why should we trust you?” Morrigan demanded of him. “How can we believe a single word you say.”
“Because, like I said, you’re mortal. Lesser. Not worth my time. But, like my pets, you have your uses. If you’d like a sign of good faith from me, I can tell you a few things now?”
The four hunters exchanged momentary glances before Abban nodded. “Right then, let’s ‘ear it.”
“Your supposition-I’m sure that, by this point, you’ve made it-that Kharon is a Vampire himself is very true. He and his five surviving brothers are the eldest and most powerful of us all; the remaining number of the seven Lords of the Night and the direct blood children of the Dark Mother, Lilith. Lilith-.”
The two massive windows set into the wall of the room exploded inwards without warning, sending glass and blood spraying in all directions as the MacanBairn brothers reacted on instinct and dragged Kennina and Morrigan to the ground out of the way of the falling projectiles.
From her new position lying on the rug beneath the cage of Seoirse’s lanky body Kennina craned her neck to take in the sight of the devastation left behind. What had come through the window was a massive metal cross blade approximately six feet in diameter; the four blades jutting out of it-razor sharp and wickedly curved, had sheared through the back of the chair before embedding itself in the desktop, dripping with blood, pinning their host like an insect beneath a microscope.
She stared at the horrific sight, at the contorted face and twitching hands, for the space of two heartbeats before one of the others dragged her back to her feet and started pushing her towards the door.
“Go!” Abban’s voice cut through her shock and confusion as his brother pulled her along by the hand. “Go! We need ta get out o’ ‘ere now!”
With no regard for silence, now, they rushed down the stairs and exploded through the front doors with panic giving wings to their feet. The four sprinted full tilt down the lawn and back onto the drive, Kennina glancing back momentarily over her shoulder to see the dark figure of a man standing silhouetted in the frame of the doors that they’d left standing wide.
Tumbling down the embankment into the thorns where they’d left the car they piled in at random, Kennina ending up in the driver’s seat with Morrigan beside her and the two brothers in the back.
“‘Ere!” Abban tossed theme up to her and she wasted no time in forcing them into the ignition with shaking hands and turning them.
The engine coughed uselessly. Once. Twice.
“Come on! Come on!” Finally the engine caught and turned over, the car rumbling to life beneath them. Kennina exhaled in relief. “Thank God!”
Something landed heavily on the hood of the Bentley in a mass of bared fangs black clothing and leathery wings. She screamed, throwing the car into reverse and flying up the embankment back onto the road with a sharp turn of the wheel, tossing their attacker off the hood of the car and onto the road. Acting without thinking of any potential consequences, Kennina floored it.
The wheels screamed against the gravel and kicked up a thick cloud of dust as the Bentley rocketed forwards, bumping over the prone form before it could rise and jettisoning off into the night.
“Did ya really just run it o’er with a car?” Seoirse demanded, turning to peer out of the back windshield.
“Yes, she did!” Morrigan snapped back. “At least we won’t have to worry about it any more.”
“Nae, it’s gettin’ up!”
The Dhampir, sporting a badly broken arm and a number of bleeding wounds where the car’s tired had ripped away the skin, had peeled itself off of the road with a remarkable speed and launched itself back into the air, pulling abreast of the car in a matter of seconds and skating across the windshield with an expression of wicked glee on its unnaturally beautiful face before vanishing into the darkness.
“It’s gone.” When she didn’t loosen her death grip on the wheel or let up on the pedal Morrigan reached out for her hand. “Kennina, stop the car.” She shook her head. “Lane!”
Abban leaned forward into the front seat and wrenched back the parking brake, forcing the wheels to lock up; the Bentley continued a few feet further down the road before slowing to a stop. “Wha’s wrong with ya Kennina?”
Slowly, with a labored effort, she uncurled her fingers from the wheel and lowered her hands into her lap. “That Vampire that chased us...he...I think he’s the one that picked me up from the airport and drove me to my house.”
“We can’ let ‘er go back there, than. For all we know it could be waitin’!”
“Seoirse’s right, Kennina. You can’t go back to the house that they gave you; not tonight. Not ever.”
“And where else am I supposed to go?” she demanded. “Buying a house or an apartment is hardly a quick process, not to mention that they’ve probably frozen my assets by now!”
“We’ll work tha’ out in the mornin’; for now, it’s best tha’ the four of us stick together for the night. Avoid givin’ them any chances ta ‘divide an’ conquer’.” Abban said. “O’ course, with the damage caused ta the car when the Lass mowed ‘im down it’s probably nae a good idea to hang around ‘ere.”
“Certainly did do a number on it, didn’ she.” The thin metal covering of the hood had crumpled like a wrinkled sheet and copious amounts of thick white smoke was billowing from the engine compartment. “But I think we can still manage ta limp ‘ome from ‘ere. Sleep over at our place, Abban?”
“Aye, tha’s probably for the best. Unless Morrigan-.”
“After what happened last time I had the two of you over, I think my landlord would actually kill me!”
“Oor place, then. Ya alright ta drive Yankee Rose?”
Kennina nodded, releasing the parking brake and easing down on the accelerator again. “Yeah, I’m alright. Just tell me where to go.”
The rest of the drive into the city was mercifully uneventful and they managed to make it Seoirse and Abban’s house before the badly damaged car spluttered its last breath and died on the curb.
“We’ve an extra guest bedroom in the basement; might be a little bit dusty, but it’s liveable. ‘specially for only one night.”
“Thank you, really.”
“We’re a team, Lass. We watch each other’s backs.” The light was flipped on the moment they were through the door, revealing a small front room and a clutter of shoes. “Damn it Seoirse, how many times do I ‘ave ta tell ya ta pick up yer shoes!”
“A couple hundred ‘fore I even consider listenin’; sorry Abban, I didn’ know we’d be ‘avin’ female company.” Scooping up an armful of assorted shoes, Seoirse opened the door of the front closet with his foot and dumped them inside. “There we go, out o’ sight out o’ mind.”
“Until we’re buried alive by an avalanche,” his older brother grumbled removing his own shoes and setting them neatly off to the side of the rug. “Show ‘em downstairs; I’m sure they’re both exhausted.”
“Basement door is right down ‘ere,” Seoirse lead them down a narrow hallway to a wooden door set into the wall of the kitchen. “There’s a guest bath wit’ a shower an everythin’ down there too, so you’ll both ‘ave privacy we’ll wake ya up for breakfast an’ see abou’ wha’ the hell is goin’ to happen from ‘ere on out tomorrow.”
The pair both bid Seoirse goodnight and the younger MacanBairn smiled before closing the door.
“He’s right, you know. We shouldn’t worry about what happened tonight until tomorrow and focus on getting some rest.”
Kennina nodded slowly. “Yeah. That sounds like a good idea.”
The finished basement was carpeted, a large flat screen TV with a number of game consoles hooked up to it and a teetering stack of games piled high beside it stood on a table edged in by leather couches; across from the gaming center on the opposite side of the basement was a pool table, a cue rack hanging on the ball beside it.
“Very bachelor pad.”
“Tell me about it,” Morrigan said with a small sigh. “The guest bedroom is...through this door?” Opening the door in question she peered inside and nodded. “Yes, here it is. Only one bed, though.” The ravenette turned back to her. “Mind if I take the couch? It’s usually where I end up sleeping in my own apartment anyway.”
“If you really want to, be my guest. Personally, I’m a fan of beds.”
“Good night, Kennina.”
“Good night.” The door closed behind her, leaving the shorter woman alone in the guest bedroom.
Kennina was so tired that she didn’t really bother to attempt to take in the sight of the room around her or to even so much as turn on the light.
Finding her way across the room through blind touch, she collapsed on top of the bed and curled into a tight ball beneath the covers.
Her fitful sleep echoed with the distant tinkling of a music box.ns 188.8.131.52da2