Dawn of Disdain

Wine with a Devil

The river that the barkeep spoke of was not far from the site of his newest kill, close enough that its fresh water scent was drown out by the nauseating smell that he brought with him, that of blood and death. Despite all distractions that surrounded it, however, Alastair could not deny that this particular spot was an anomaly in the otherwise grim surroundings.

Each stride toward the crystalline strip that ran along the forest floor gave it a new series of magnificent gleams and shines visible even beneath the thin layer of fog at his feet, a blessing from that familiar silver eye above that peered down into the clearing of the grove now surrounding him. As he approached it to cross, he noticed three silhouettes dart beneath the surface, perhaps the only creatures ignorant to the wrath of the vampire, and the trickling sound of the water's movements filled his ears. Truly, it was a serenity rarely witnessed in his life, and it calmed even his heart, though the significance of its beauty eluded him.

There was but one defilement of the innocent scenery: the bridge that once allowed passage now lay broken and splintered, one with the riverbed, disturbing its smooth and even flow. He could only imagine the terror that had ensued to lead to its panicked destruction under trampling hooves and paws. Still, it was a common sight on the hunt, for panic and destruction went hand-in-hand.

Without giving the bridge a second thought, Alastair effortlessly leapt high over the river, springing from a crouched stance and dragging loose grass into the air with the force of his movement. After several seconds in the air, he came to a soft, accurate landing on the other side, slowly rising from one knee and continuing his pursuit. His target was but a short walk from the river's edge, and a simple pile of broken wood could not be allowed to hinder his progress.

Stepping beyond the final clearing, the subtle comfort of the river quickly escaped him, and his mission renewed itself within him, embodied atop the nearest hill as the source of the barkeep's tale. There stood an old manor of a forgotten lord, denied any illumination even by the low hung moon, concealed in its own darkness. As the hill rolled upward and nearer the crumbling stones, its grass thinned, withered, and died. Once a monument to a forgotten prosperity and livelihood, this domain now reeked of the vampire's malicious curse. This was his lair.

Though still confident, Alastair found himself hesitant to take another step. In his life, he had faced and killed many enemies, and braved many hazards, but none so foreboding as this. An ominous aura surrounded this senescent estate; he could feel that the beginning of the end of his long journey lay within its walls, but it did not leave him feeling content, only uncertain.

The daze held sway over him for several minutes, and would've remained without any clear end were it not halted by an even more influential sound: the sound of maniacal laughter echoing off of the stones and bellowing from within. That was enough to stir a fury in him that dominated all doubt. To him, that sound symbolized the same cruelty that led to the deaths of countless humans; he could only picture this same laugh and tinge of insanity from Malcom's assailant just before his life was brutally torn from him.

That laugh, that infuriating cackle was enough to refuel his determination. If he were to prove victorious, it would be because the spirit of his brother guided him to glory; if he were to lose his life, then he would do so avenging his lost kin. In his eyes, any outcome would be acceptable, for he could not submit to the end of his quest, or his life, without facing that which stole away everything he held dear. One way or another, it would end with this battle.

In the light of a new confidence, Alastair set forth once more, steadfast in his goal to bring justice to a terrible wrong. With each step toward the fallen mansion, he could feel the wind calm to an eerie stillness, and his skin chilled over with a mysterious cold in the air. What fearsome beast waited within, that even a force as mighty as the wind would stifle at his will? Thoughts like these raced through his mind, constantly deteriorating his impudent, militant demeanor. Still, he had made up his mind, and there was no turning back.

It was as if Alastair had immersed himself into the maw of hell itself; that first step beyond the corridor welcomed him into a den of terror. The main hall was the first sight to greet him, or at least what was left of it. Little light graced the lonely stone tiles before him, barely able to muscle through the filth of ages that littered the windows. Broken remnants of old furniture lay here and there, decorative only in their fading memories of their formal use in friendly visits among the nobles. Once gaudy, shimmering chandeliers now hung from the ceiling, fractured, broken and robbed of their shine. Old carpets, once a royal blue and golden lace, survived the merciless passage of time only to become thin and ragged, as if torn from the hide of a beast long since dead.

It was a bittersweet feeling to see this once beautiful room so defaced. He couldn't even count how many times his late brother and he had gawked at such glorious parties and gatherings from the cold and harsh outdoors. Though it was a mark of suffering and discontent, this room's destruction brought him a morbid pleasure. It was good to know that even the self-proclaimed "superior" were not shielded from tragedy.

Climbing a set of stairs at the far end of the main hall, he turned to his left and started down a long hallway completely devoid of light, a spiral of darkness that threatened to swallow him. Old paintings, stripped of their beauty and color over the passing years, lined the walls. Several doors led to several rooms along either side of him as he proceeded, but most were boarded off. From behind the seals, he was greeted by endless sets of hungry, desperate eyes, those of whom the "shadow wraith" had likely deemed to be failures of his experiments.

The further he explored the chambers of his enemy's stronghold, the stronger the scent of blood hung in the air, and soon, its source became visible to him. The hallway became a canvas, painted a morbid red with the blood of countless victims spattered along the walls, and around a lone, open doorway. Within this room, Alastair beheld a sight more disgusting and detestable than anything he had seen before.

The floor was stained and cluttered with the defiled corpses of finished meals; limbs, torsos and heads parted, the dead lay jumbled about a scattered pile of bones and organs, torn and shredded by unmerciful claws and teeth. It reminded him immediately of his old village; it reminded him of the atrocious results of abductions that he had stumbled upon many times while gathering wood in the forest as a child. No amount of revenge, no amount of any pleasure could erase those nightmares.

Blanketed in shadows at the end of the room, the eye of his distaste was shackled and chained to the wall by its wrists and ankles. It was once a human child, no older than seven, but the only thing that remained to hold his tortured existence was a vicious monster, and none too much could be said for the fate of his soul. He had smelled Alastair's fresh flesh from the moment he had entered the mansion, and he found the beast writhing and struggling at the limit of his restraints' length.

New muscles rippling to the surface of his every limb, the new sentinel of the vampire violently jerked at the chains in a desperate hunger, a primitive drive. He was not the colorful specimen that he once must have been; his hair was graying and unkempt, and his skin had grown pale and thin, veins now visible beneath. His clothing was ripped and tattered, barely draping from his body anymore. He stared at Alastair with a hellish rage from under bedraggled bangs strung over his eyes, baring gleaming canines as he breathlessly grunted and growled. In essence, he was just another cold-blooded animal, just another wretch begging to be put out of its misery.

With that sight, his reason for fighting all those years had finally become clear to him. He had seen and slain many turned in his years, but never before had he seen a child turned so early in his life; that boy did not deserve to suffer so. It was not to protect those undeserving humans, to represent his race. It was to protect life itself. The vampire race could not be allowed to spread their taint across the world's innocent any longer. It may not have been stopped with this battle, or even his efforts alone, but his soul could not rest without at least doing what was in his power.

Within his final few steps down the hall, his target came into vision. Despite all he had done, all the pain and suffering he had caused, all the chaos that had ignited within his wake, the monster had the nerve to live lavishly in these dying surroundings. He sat at the end of the study in a well-cushioned chair, adjacent to another identical to it, as if expecting a visitor. Finishing a sip of wine from a goblet held in one hand and closing a book held in the other, he slowly turned his head to acknowledge Alastair's presence.

"Ah, there he is," the demon spoke, "the mighty, valiant hero come to vanquish the damned and spare his species from oblivion. There have been quite the lot of your type fluttering into my flame in these recent years." He said in a light chuckle. His sarcasm spoke well of his intelligence, but also of his snide, condescending persona.

"So, you're the master of this haven, are you? Or, at least, if you'd call it that." Alastair spat in a returned sarcasm.

"I like to think of it as my little seat in the balcony as I listen to the lute of life sound its final tune." He replied. Alastair could hear a smile on his lips, though his face was not visible in this melancholy darkness.

The vampire telekinetically lit a candle on a table to his distant right as he finished speaking. The light brought no warmth to such a site of travesty, but at least Alastair could see his enemy in a defining clarity. Upon first glance, he'd have appeared as a young man, no older than nineteen or twenty. Alastair knew better, however. Age and wisdom carried a younger face for the vampire.

His skin was as pale as snow, but his face carried a personality higher than death, and a cocky one at that. His hair hung low over his shoulders and down his back, a deep ebony with a beautiful sheen. He was a thin, lean cut of a man, chiseled abs visible from beneath a black, open long coat. His pants were a dusty, faded black, and his leather boots of a similar color had seen their use as well. Most defining, though, were his crystal blue eyes as he stared up at the hunter with a look both repelling and welcoming in his confidence. Within any human child, they'd have been a charming sight, but he made them mysterious and menacing.

"Join me in a drink?" The vampire asked, greeting Alastair as if they were old friends. Without replying, Alastair sat across from him. He saw no harm in the gesture. If this were to be his final confrontation before the end of his quest, why not end it with a share of wine? It was a wryly ironic way to begin the end, but Alastair never saw himself as ordinary.

Taking hold of a goblet of his own, Alastair held it forth to receive his fill. "It's quite a fine wine. Pleasantly vintage, and a good year." The vampire spoke as he poured the red stream of bliss for Alastair to take of, raising his gaze and making eye contact. He could only wonder how many had died after witnessing this monster's hypnotic gaze, how many were torn body from soul and became his slaves as he stared upon their suffering. It was like looking into the eyes of the devil.

"Enjoy reading in the dark, do you?" Alastair asked, gesturing toward the book in his enemy's lap with an extended finger released from the goblet.

"Only the Bible." The vampire replied, tracing his finger along the cross embedded in its surface. "I may never see the gates of Heaven, but I dare to dream. Besides, I find it amusing how your race glorifies itself as epic. Though, perhaps that is only the view of one who has lived beyond many of its years described. But I digress, I believe we have not introduced ourselves."

"You can call me Alastair. I see no reason to be formal, not in these circumstances." He replied, sipping at the wine given to him.

"Well then, young champion, where others have called me lord or king, you may simply call me Esdras. I am pleased to make your acquaintance, regardless of how long it will last before death parts us. So, Alastair, what brings you to my humble home? Or need I ask?"

"I was just passing through, but it seems Bergen has a pest problem. I just thought I'd offer my services and rid them of their worry."

"A gruff hunter offering services of charity? I'm sure you'll not tell me that you haven't your own agenda." Esdras replied in a false tone of shock.

"If you must know, I seek to end the life of the one responsible for the battle scarred by the devil's claws. My quest led me to you, and I've not found a greater power yet, nor a greater cruelty. You can imagine my conclusion."

"Ah, that one. I'm afraid you are mistaken, Alastair. I am not the one you seek. I have witnessed his growth, and he has transcended beyond mortal form. He is of an influence far greater than mine. His existence is above anything our world knows. He cannot be stopped; the foundation between our realm and the next would not allow it. You'd best relinquish these hopes of vengeance. They will never be realized."

Alastair's heart sunk in his chest, and anger rushed through his veins stronger than ever before. He had begun to find comfort in the idea of an end to his long journey, but his hopes had been dashed. It was time to put pleasantries aside, for the murderer that sat before him had proven to be nothing more than another stepping stone on his way to a greater destiny.

"Not as long as I still draw breath." Alastair huffed. "He will be destroyed, and it will be by my blade. You'd not understand, demon. Your kind is responsible for the deaths of so many, your kind is a disease that plagues our world, and you must die. Even if I must purify this world myself, so be it. I will begin the collective demise of the vampire with your own!" Alastair shouted, standing and staring down at Esdras with a heated glare.

"Do no speak as though you understand suffering, you insignificant worm." Esdras replied with a lowered gaze, his friendly tone now turned to an antagonizing growl. "You know nothing of my history, you know nothing of loss. Your efforts are for naught; our race will dominate this world. Your kind exists only to serve ours! You are sustenance, nothing more! This world belongs to the vampire, and the human legacy will fade into the wind of our conquest!" He shouted, staring up at Alastair with an evil glower.

With no further use for words, Alastair drew his sword and lunged for Esdras' throat, but his blade found only the cushion of the chair. More swiftly than Alastair's sight would allow him to comprehend, Esdras had leapt through the glass of the brittle skylight above. Standing at the edge, and with a broadsword of his own in hand drawn from beneath his coat, he looked down at the furious hunter with a challenging stare.

"I can that see you are determined to die, Alastair. Very well. Then, we shall take our fight outside these walls. Meet me at the valley to the northeast, and I will gladly grant you an end!" Esdras spoke sternly above the drastically increasing storm. With that, he leapt into the air, almost as if taking flight, and vanished into the wind.

Suddenly, a violent rumbling gripped the halls of the manor, and its source thrashed about in the confines of the child most recently turned. Clearly, more trials awaited him before he would leave the shores of Norway.