Chapter 12 – The Shadow Emerges
The twins stabbed forward with their knives in a flurry of movement. Dalwynn parried the attack and thrust his palm towards the closest woman's face. She ducked and immediately jumped back to create some distance between her and her opponent. Douler's hand had split open and a crimson short sword had formed to block the other twin. She quickly spun around and swept low. Douler immediately clotted blood in his leg. The silvery blade cut into the makeshift armour, but was stopped without damaging the tall man. He stabbed downwards to try and end the confrontation quickly, but she proved to be more nimble than Douler had expected. In one fluid movement she pulled the knife back towards her and rolled backwards out of harm's way and up onto her feet, ready to continue.
The twins struck again in tandem. This time, long, bloody fins emerged from their free arms. These extended out and narrowed. They charged in, slashing with their short knife before spinning around, using these newly formed fins as cutting implements to slice through their opponents. Their entire method had changed, and they used wide, circular arcs to slice and cut continuously. Dalwynn managed to parry the attacks. The Captain tried to get as close as possible to use his glove. The twin Vampires were wary of his left hand, however, and made sure to keep away from the strange glove. The circular attacks of the twins kept the two men on constant guard. Douler was using his Bloodmagick to keep his twin as far from him as possible. Long spines thrust forth from his palms to attack the woman from a distance.
Douler caught in the corner of his eye the sight of the other Vampire as she jumped into the air and landed a kick into Dalwynn's chest. The blue-coated man fell backwards. Before Douler could react, however, his own twin had changed targets and rushed towards the downed man. Dalwynn tried to get up, but upon seeing the silver knife thrust toward him, he rolled out of the way. The knife edge had nearly caught him in the throat. When the second twin attacked, the Captain slammed his fist into the pier. For an instant the black markings on the glove glowed a bright white. Suddenly a burst of flame erupted from the ground, shooting upwards and obscuring the man behind it. The twins halted their charge, and hesitated when they saw this new development. This hesitation gave Dalwynn the time to finally get up to his feet. Once the Captain was ready to retaliate, however, Douler had already begun his own attack.
The Vampire pumped more blood into the short sword he wielded, making it grow. He could feel pangs of pain across his body as it weakened from the sudden diversion of the life sustaining fluid. The sword grew, becoming the size of a claymore. He swung the new blade in a wide arc, aiming to catch both twins in one blow. The twins however, saw the strike coming and they ducked under the attack. In unison, they spun as the blade passed over them. Their crimson fins sliced through the air and attempted to cut open the Vampire's midsection. Long spines emerged from Douler's knees and embedded themselves into the ground. The spines continued to push out of him, but unable to travel further, they instead pushed Douler backwards and away from the sisters' assault. The twins halted their spinning for just a moment to reassess and renew their attack. But this one moment was what Dalwynn had waited for. He came up behind one of the sisters and wrapped his left arm around her head. He pressed his palm against her neck. Once again the black markings glowed white. In a swift movement, he slid his hand around to the front and across her throat. A scarf of white hot flame flared out of her neck. As his hand slipped off of her and he stepped back, the Vampire began to panic. Her eyes went wide and she tried desperately to put it out.
"Ari!" Her sister screamed. She grimaced and immediately reached out towards her twin and narrowed her eyes. Suddenly blood erupted from the burning wound in the panicking sister and closed around the fire, encasing the flame in a crimson bubble. Inside the bubble, the fire suffocated, extinguishing it. The wounded sister began to calm down, her breathing returning to normal as the large bubble began to shrink. The bloody construct decreased and was soon reabsorbed by the wounded twin.
"What the hell was that?" Dalwynn asked the Vampire.
"That was Bloodmagick." He answered simply.
"But she was as good as dead, she shouldn't have been able to concentrate enough to use it."
"The burning twin wasn't the one who used it. It was her sister."
"How is tha-" His question was cut short as the burned twin swiped at him. The other twin charged at Douler, spinning and slashing at the tall Vampire. Douler felt the solid crimson blade he carried soften and narrow into a whip. A quick movement of his hand and with control over his blood he wrapped it around the twin's ankle. He pulled hard and suddenly on the cable and swung her off the pier and into the water.
At that moment there was a scream from above the battle. Dalwynn was able to push his twin back with a quick flurry of sword slashes. Douler looked up towards the main deck and called to Dalwynn, "There's more on deck! The girl! We have to get up there!"
The Captain kept pushing until he had positioned himself near Douler, "I don't think the twins here will let us up." The second twin climbed up out of the water and onto the pier. "Besides, she'll be fine. Luneda's with her."
"Forgive me if I don't feel particularly better off knowing that."
"Don't misjudge her quiet demeanour. I don't keep weak slaves."
Lira had remained silent through the entire storm, up until the ship had docked at Watel, only speaking when directly spoken to. The young woman was extremely anxious. It had seemed that before the ship had set sail, there was a chance for rescue. Even during the journey across the ocean, she still had had some small hope that the Darunian Navy would find and save her. No matter how far she was taken from her homeland, she still carried hope that help would find her. But now, they had finally made landfall. Her situation suddenly became far more real to her. She was in another nation's territory. Here, she held no power. No one would rush to save her here. As long as she remained here, she was at the mercy of this Otherkin, Douler, and his companions. The young woman looked up and watched as Luneda carefully peeled the skin off an apple.
"You should eat something, Miss." When Luneda held out a slice of the fruit, Lira shook her head.
"I'm not hungry."
"You refuse to sleep, even though it is nearly midnight. Master placed me in charge of your health and safety. Please, eat something Miss, or try to get some sleep."
"I said 'I'm not hungry.'" Lira repeated, calmly. "And how do you expect me to sleep? I've been taken from my home, kidnapped by Otherkin," her voice grew louder and louder, "chained and taken who knows where, like some prisoner, nearly…" She could not bring herself to say it, the memory was still too fresh and she shuddered at the very hint of it. Lira felt her anger rise at her situation, and continued, "And I don't even know why!"
"I'm terribly sorry, Miss. But I cannot answer your questions."
"Then what good are you?!" She snapped and stared at the red-headed woman.
There came suddenly a scream outside the cabin. Luneda was on her feet instantly. Lira stared at the door, still seething with anger. The wooden door suddenly burst open, nearly off its hinges. Standing framed in the doorway was a very large, cloaked man. A black hood was drawn over his head and hid the man's face in shadow. In his hand he carried a large broadsword, and he slowly made his way into the cabin. The top of his head just barely made it under the top of the doorway. Lira quickly slid off the bed to her feet and slowly backed away from the door, wide-eyed. What is this now? She wondered to herself. The red-haired woman calmly moved to place herself between the young woman and the large intruder.
"Hand over the girl." The man's deep voice emerged from the shadows of his hood.
"My Master has given me an explicit command to protect the young girl. She will stay here. You will not take her."
"Your Master must not care for you, then. If you will not give me the girl, then you will die, woman." He took a step forward, and raised his sword aloft, preparing to swing down.
Lira blinked and nearly missed Luneda's movement. The red-headed slave had surged forward towards the man. She raised her left hand and placed her palm on the sword's pommel, neutralizing any downward movement and keeping it up. Her right hand was a blur. Swinging in a wide arc, the knife-edge of her hand made contact with the man's throat with a soft crunch.
The man's hand loosened its grip on the sword hilt. The large blade dropped to the ground and clattered for a moment before laying still. The large intruder backed away several steps while one hand went to his throat. There was a gurgling sound being emitted from under the hood, and he dropped to his knees as he clutched his throat. Luneda twisted her body and brought her leg up and out. The swift kick connected with the man's head. The blow sent him to the ground in a still heap. The woman then reached for the man's fallen sword. She hefted the blade up and quickly brought it down, point first, into the hooded man's back.
The Princess stood in shock of what had just occurred. With nearly no effort on her part, the small, quiet slave had silenced and brought down the intruder. "Now what is going on?!" Lira exclaimed. Before she could obtain an answer, Luneda slowly and carefully walked toward the door. A shorter figure rounded the corner in a blur and caught the woman in the belly with a strong punch. Luneda was pushed backwards by the surprise attack, and fell to the ground. Lira's eyes were wide as she stared at the new figure. As it stood up straight, she could see that it was a fairly short woman. The woman started to approach the Princess. Lira glanced over at Luneda, still on the ground, apparently unconscious.
"Now, don't fight, girl. Just make this a whole lot easier and give up." The woman said. Her head was shaved and her scalp was heavily tattooed with various symbols. Like the man, she wore a black cloak that covered her body.
Lira bent down and picked up the small knife that Luneda had dropped earlier. She held it out in front of her and pointed it at the woman. "Just, stay away."
"What do you really think you'll accomplish with a tiny dinner knife?" Lira narrowed her eyes and grasped the handle with both hands. She gritted her teeth and kept her eyes fixed on the woman's own. The woman raised her arm out to the girl, the cloak falling away over her shoulder. "Just give me the knife, and give up. If you do that, I won't have to hurt you. Do you understand?"
Lira was surprised by the red blur that surged from the side. Luneda grabbed the woman's arm then quickly brought her free hand's knuckle up into the woman's armpit. Immediately the woman collapsed to her knees, eyes wide with surprise. Luneda stood behind her and grasped her head in her arms. With one sharp movement, the woman's neck snapped with an audible crack. She let the limp body fall forward to the ground.
"How did you do that?" Lira asked, amazed.
"It was a simple nerve strike, targeted at the nerves running under the arm, temporarily paralyzing the body with pain." She went to the door again, peering out. The deck was littered with bodies, and Luneda could recognize several as being part of the crew. She could see Klint fighting two men near the bow of the ship. Several other crew members were still engaged in duels with other black cloaked invaders. The Alastar's crew seemingly had everything under control, and were pushing back the invaders. She turned back to the young woman, "We should stay here, Miss. There are people trying to attack the ship. There is no need to worry. The crew appears to have matters in hand. They will be repelled shortly."
Lira was not exactly sure how to feel about the statement. She sighed heavily, relaxed and brought the knife down. She tensed again suddenly when she heard the high-pitched, blood-curdling scream coming from outside. Luneda had rushed to the door to see what had happened, and Lira had followed suit. A loud crash soon followed, then there was silence. They rushed out to the gunwale to see what had happened.
"What was that?" Lira asked, shaken.
"I don't know." Luneda responded, a look of obvious concern spread across her normally calm features.
"We have to get on the ship!" Douler yelled while blocking another assault by the unburned twin.
"Agreed." Dalwynn sliced at the woman in front of him. "I've had enough of this." He moved forward, pushing the Vampire back with swift cuts. His sword flew in front of him, keeping the woman on the defensive. They kept moving towards the end of the pier. Dalwynn's constant attack forced the Vampire to focus on blocking his attacks, instead of initiating her own spinning strikes.
When Ari realized she was being pushed ever closer to the edge, she changed her tactic. The Vampire moved to meet the man's offensive, and try to make her own push back against him. She tried to concentrate on her blood, but Dalwynn's constant barrage of slashes and thrusts were an intense distraction. The Captain used the change in her tactics to his advantage. By meeting her offence with his own, he was able to get much closer to his opponent. His glove could be brought into play now. He swung his arm out as if it were another blade. The gloved hand moved more with the intention to keep his opponent off balance than to do actual damage.
Ari was being overwhelmed by the Captain's two weapons. She managed to glimpse her sister further up the pier. Her twin had her hands full duelling against the older and more experienced Douler. Dalwynn caught the movement of her eyes and took advantage of her momentary lapse in concentration. He struck the woman with his gloved hand, slapping her across the face. A small flame burst from her cheek as she cried out in pain. In one movement Dalwynn gripped the base of the blade, then ran his glowing, gloved hand up the blade length. He spun to build the momentum he needed to finish the duel.
The intensely hot metal cauterized the wound instantly. Ari's head dropped to the ground, bouncing once and rolling near the edge of the pier before stopping, a small fire still burning on her cheek. Dalwynn turned immediately to come to Douler's aid. Ira had shifted her attention to her sister when she had heard the cry. As Dalwynn ran towards the two, burning sword in hand, Ira broke away from Douler, and leapt over the Captain, ignoring the man completely. She landed behind him by her sister's head.
Ira's hands shook visibly as she reached out and took her sister's severed head into her hands, brushing away the flame desperately. Tears started flowing from her eyes, staining her cheeks with silvery rivulets. Both Dalwynn and Douler watched the grieving sister dote over the severed head of her dead twin.
"That was a very bad idea." Douler commented.
"What do you mean, my friend? Now we have only one twin to deal with."
"They were bondmates! Quickly! We have to kill her now, before-" Douler was cut-off by the ear-splitting scream. The two men grasped their ears tightly. Ira's wail was absolutely deafening, and Dalwynn fell to his knees, unable to cover one ear because of his glove. The shrill shriek eventually subsided, leaving Dalwynn dazed and confused. Douler was able to use his Bloodmagick to block his ear canals, but he knew what was coming next.
"Dalwynn! Move!" His yell literally fell upon deaf ears. The Vampire could see the man's ears bleeding. Ira placed her sister's head down on the ground, then stood up to face the two men. Douler could see her eyes darken as her pupils dilated to extraordinary proportions. She gritted her teeth, and clenched her fists tightly.
"DIE!" She screamed and punched the air in front of her. Her sister's body suddenly trembled. The body's entire supply of blood burst out through the cauterized neck. It rushed out as a large torrent through the air towards the dazed Dalwynn.
Douler rushed forward, grabbed the Captain and jumped off the pier. He planted his feet into the side of the ship as the torrent passed through where they just were. The crimson torrent followed Douler, twisting in the air to chase the two men. The Vampire kicked off the ship, just before the torrent passed through where he was only a moment before. He landed on the pier again, the torrent turning about behind him. He knew that he could not win dragging Dalwynn's body around. He focused on his own blood, and thin, crimson wires grew from his wrist. They quickly wrapped around his hand, encasing it in crimson, and grew. The crimson construct extended, sharpening into a point, forming into a huge blade attached to his arm. He swung it around, using the flat side of the sword and met the torrent head on.
The sword struck the torrent and knocked most of it away in a large splash. He dodged the smaller torrent, which crashed through the wood of the pier. The Otherkin grabbed Dalwynn with his free hand and ran down the pier as fast as he possibly could, towards the remaining twin. The crimson spray filled the air as he rushed forwards. The tall Vampire knew what he had to do. He tossed the man ahead of him then sprinted the rest of the way forward on his own. The torrent flew up and followed the Vampire, quickly gaining on him as he raced to the twin. He pulled back his arm, then lunged forward, the crimson blade pierced the woman's chest. Douler could see the madness in her face, the all-consuming hatred.
"I'm sorry." He whispered. He liquefied the tip of the sword inside Ira. Her expression changed from one of anger to one of fear. A crimson mist sprayed out of the wound. The torrent that had so fervently followed Douler stopped mere inches behind his back. It hung there in mid-air for a moment, and then suddenly dropped all together to the ground with a splash. The pier was covered in red liquid as the two Vampires remained still. Ira reached up and grasped at the blade impaled in her chest. The tall Vampire withdrew his weapon slowly, and reabsorbed the remainder of the blade into his arm. His flesh coloured slightly as the blood re-entered his body. The woman's face contorted in pain. Ira's legs gave way under her and she fell. Douler caught her in his arms, "I'm sorry. Find peace wherever you are going." He lowered the woman and laid her down on the ground.
Douler watched the woman slowly die. Pinkish foam bubbled out of the wound in her chest, and an unpleasant, burning smell filled the air. Douler had released enough of his own blood into her to hasten her death, however the pain would still be excruciating. She gasped for air, her muscle spasms growing weaker as the seconds ticked away. He had seen other Vampire's die this way, and it was never pleasant. Vampires never drank another Vampire's blood. When exposed to another Vampire, the liquid blood acted as an acid, poisoning and burning away at the tissue and organs. Within mere moments, the twin stopped her twitching, and her eyes glazed over. Douler bent down and closed her eyelids.
He turned to face Dalwynn. The pier around him was covered in the crimson blood of the fallen Ari. Douler had not been certain until Dalwynn had used his glove on the burned twin that these two were bondmates. The Vampire narrowed his eyes. A Vampire could form an incredibly powerful bond with another Vampire. So powerful in fact, that they could use each other's blood to perform Bloodmagick. Her rage at the loss of her sister and bondmate was something he had seen before as well; Vampires that went wild in an explosion of rage and power. He was lucky she was so young and inexperienced in their power. The Alastar's captain tried to move slowly. His blue coat was stained red with blood. He was still dazed and bleeding out the ears, but he was trying to get to his feet. The man struggled to stand and could only manage to rise to one knee. Douler glanced upwards and saw Luneda and Lira peering over the gunwale at them. Luneda's eyes were wide in fear, and she ran down the gangplank to the Captain's side. She brushed his hair out of his eyes and caressed his face. She immediately began ripping off strips of her dress to wipe the blood from his face and ears. She nervously checked and rechecked him for any more wounds and tried to whisper to him.
Lira stood, frozen at the gunwale. Douler saw the fear and confusion in her face. He couldn't believe this, how could these people find out about him and the Princess? Perhaps it was one of the crewmen, but none could truly have known the reason behind the entire journey here. Only Dalwynn really knew what the voyage was about, but his injuries suggest that he could not behind this. The only other person who knew, would be Cubriod. But that could not be, they had only just met, the news could not have travelled that quickly, could it?
He had to make a decision, either find Cubriod and get him to explain what had happened, or go to the proposed meeting place and wait for the Shadow. If these people knew about his Blacklist target, then others would know. Leaving the girl on the ship was out of the question now. Whatever he did, wherever he moved, others would still be after him. Finding Cubriod would not stop others from hunting him to get the girl. Cubriod had not betrayed him in the past. Besides, he reasoned, he did not have time to search for Cubriod in a city so unknown to him.
He quickly walked up the gangplank, and made his way up to the Princess. Lira started to back away, avoiding his eyes. "It's time for us to go." He said starkly.
"What are you talking about?" She was still avoiding the Otherkin's eyes. He reached out and grabbed the girls arm. She pulled away, trying to get out of his grasp. Klint walked by them down the gangplank and helped the Captain to his feet. He carefully lifted the blood-stained man up in his arms and carried him up onto the ship. Luneda followed closely behind, the worried look never leaving her face. Douler stopped the first mate as he approached.
"I have to leave. Now. Tell Dalwynn thank you for everything, but it is of utmost importance that I leave now."
"I will tell him." The first mate was not particularly pleased that this man caused all this trouble and was now leaving so quickly, but Dalwynn had predicted that this man would make such an abrupt departure.
Douler turned back to the Princess, "Our time on this ship is done."
"What makes you think that I'm going with you?"
"Would you rather stay here? I had hoped you would not be difficult, but I suppose that was expecting too much." he took her chin, forcing her to look at him. Lira narrowed her eyes and brought the knife up. The young woman slashed at his wrist, cutting him deeply. Douler withdrew his hand, his ability held in his blood, but the pain was still present. She brandished the bloodied knife with both hands, making sure to keep her eyes away from the Vampire's.
Douler was becoming impatient, he quickly clotted blood into the underside of his hand, then grabbed the knife's blade. With his other hand, he once again grabbed her wrist and he tore the knife from her hands. He tossed the small knife aside and then took her chin in his long fingers. He forced her to look into his eyes. Lira immediately shut her own eyes tight. The Vampire sighed; he did not have time for this child's resistance. He quickly slapped the young woman. The shock of the blow opened her eyes. Douler took the quick opportunity and dilated his eyes. He caught her gaze and within moments, Lira's own eyelids began to droop. The longer she looked, the less she fought the Vampire. Eventually her body relaxed and she slumped into the tall man.
The Vampire removed his cloak and wrapped it around the girl. He hefted her up and over his shoulder as he turned towards the gangplank. He left the Alastar without another word. Soon enough he was in the shadows of an alley, making his way to the old temple Cubriod had picked. He had to hurry, Douler had no intention of running into any more Legionnaires after his prize. Dawn would be coming on soon; he did not look back at the ship as he hurried southwards.
The Vampire had arrived at the dilapidated building to find it completely dark. He had not completely convinced himself that Cubriod had not betrayed him, and so the Vampire had circled around several times before convincing himself that there was no trap. He carefully entered the building, and spent some time slowly examining the area, only to find it entirely empty. The double front doors were made of hard and heavy wood bound in, what was now completely rusted, iron. One of the doors had fallen some time ago, leaving half the doorway completely open. The building was made up of intricate architecture, with a vaulted nave occupying most of the space. Rows of stone pews covered the floor, some of which were in very bad shape. He made his way up the center aisle and placed the girl in the front pew. He looked around at his surroundings, and he decided that he did not like the building. He looked up at the ceiling, it was littered with holes in the stonework and in places there were exposed and rotting support beams. He could see into the upper level of the temple. Outside, one could see holes in the sloped roof, and Douler was sure that should a strong enough storm strike, it would collapse. The stone pews were worn down or broken, and the floor was covered in dust and debris from the ceiling. Some sort of ceiling ornament that once must have hung magnificently over the center aisle had fallen long ago, leaving behind a broken, rusted metal skeleton in the center aisle. The crystals that would have adorned it while it was still attached to the ceiling had been stolen by thieves long since.
He glanced up at the altar at the front of the temple. It too, was covered in dust and moss. A large stone block remained at the front, which Douler reasoned must have been some sort of table or altar. There was a stone figure behind the statue. Douler couldn't tell if it was supposed to be male or female. The head and most of the torso had been destroyed. There were three large, round windows behind the altar. Two had been completely shattered, but one was still miraculously intact for the most part. The dawning sun's rays illuminated the stained glass and covered the altar in multi-coloured light.
He looked down at the young girl asleep on the pew. Her blonde hair had fallen over her face, and her chest was rising and falling with each breath. Most of her cuts and bruises had been healed during the time the ship had been docked and now only a few minor traces of her experience remained. She looked incredibly peaceful, and he couldn't help but feel that there was something familiar about her. He remembered when he had tasted her blood, and seen images and memories of her ancestors. The tall Vampire began pacing back and forth in front of the altar.
A shuffle from above made Douler stop and perk his ears. He watched the ceiling, and slowly made his way over to the sleeping young girl. A trail of dust began to fall from the ceiling, heading towards the front of the building, stopping just before the large front doors. He could hear a slight shuffling, and soft metallic clinking from above. He focused on his blood, and bent his knees, preparing for an attack. There was a thump from behind him and Douler spun around to face his assailant. His eyes opened wide when he realized who he was standing before.
The creature perched upon the broken statue looked more like a horrific metallic gargoyle than a man. Ragged bits of cloth hung off the thin body. What flesh could be seen was pale and wiry. The Vampire could see that parts of his legs were covered in metal plates. His forearms were encased in large, metal bracers, heavily engraved with ancient runes and symbols. His fingers were sheathed in long, sharp metal claws. His torso was also encased in steel plate, and Douler could hear a slight buzzing being emitted from within. The man's entire head was completely covered in a steel helmet, and many long, thin metal wires protruded from the back of the helmet, forming silvery hair that extended down his back. Two thick tubes extended from either side of the base of the helmet and attached to a rectangular device on his back. His eyes were hidden behind a darkened glass screen, and a pipe attached to the mouthpiece extended out to the left and up the side of his head. A steady plume of steam wafted up from the tip of the pipe.
"Shadow." Douler said. The perched being slowly twisted his head to look at the Vampire.