Povídka: Letter 01 – EN 18+

It has been over a year and a half since I created my two best friends and put them in the nineteenth century settings. Over the span of two months I kept rewriting my first three stories into English, when I felt like doing so. Enjoy, if you can.

Don’t copy it anywhere, as it is my original work, written for my own entertainment. It’s also factually off, consisting of many mistakes, errors and bad grammar, not mentioning poor wording as English is foreign language to me and my brain cell is very slow in processing stuff. Yet I enjoyed it tremendously, especially when I could sit outside on the balcony for a small portion. I will be probably editing and tinkering the text from time to time. My peripherals don’t work very well lately.

The brave ones could notice I tested some smut here and there and made a decision to spice the main story up a little (I consulted a friend in that matter), so if you are not fond of sex scenes, blood, gore and stuff like vampires, skip this altogether. See you next time.

Words cca 25,300.

Episodes

Chapters

Letter

My hands are shaking as I’m about to open a yellowed envelope with a letter I did not expect. What news it brings to me?

Heavy rain is falling at my study’s window and the outside cold air seeps through heavy blue velvet curtains. The light of incandescent lanterns is illuminating the evening fog, covering the streets. The rays of diffused light brighten my dim room. Mahogany wood panelled walls devour most of it. I studied its texture and a slightly unnerving expectation arose in my mind. I was curious why Charles wrote at this unpleasantly wet and moody autumnal time of the year.

Dear friend,

It’s getting dark and I am writing this letter by the light of a kerosene lamp. Let me invite you once more to my country manor, as you loved to call it, after such a long time. And where you spend so much time, studying various old volumes from my extensive library.

I would like to recall our adventurous memories in the army and in the world. I’ve got yet another message for you. I hope that the trip from London justifies itself and you’ll uncover new facts hidden in dust-covered folios, gently enfolded in cobwebs.

Few years have passed since we saw each other for the last time and I don’t even enter some rooms any more, and from time to time I can hear strange noises coming from those rooms, reminding me of footsteps or unintelligible chatter. I may perhaps daydream. The cold winds flow from a nearby lake. The draft plays with dust and therefore makes those noises. Melusine is howling in the chimneys and old house’s bones crackling under the weight of upcoming winter. Surely you would enjoy it. We were so enchanted by forgotten secrets and mysteries.

I sit in my chair, lit by a moonlight coming through a broken arch window, one of the glass panes is cracked and the soft silver light is almost as beautiful as the dark-purple sunset in the evening. Not as magnificent as the one of those after the great eruption of Krakatoa seven years aback, you know.

The moonlight shines upon the thin spider web strings and paints peculiar images upon the cracked plaster. Excuse my romantic narrative of the evening scene, I cannot help myself.

The former hunting lodge looks very dreamy during the night time and my poor senses give me fairytales. I think I saw something in my courtyard. The blue light glistens in the faces of leaves of the wild rose-hip bushes. Every hedge upon either side of my driveway is overgrown with the greenery. Perhaps I’m being fooled by the wind and the night sky glow. You would love it. New story and new puzzle awaits us in every corner, made up or sought by our ultimate minds, letting them go wild.

Friend, come as soon as possible, before the winter and the mountain pass become hardly accessible, covered in snow. It is impossible for the carriage to pass through. I’ll be waiting for your arrival and you’ll tell me the news from the greatest city in the world.

I’ll be very much pleased to show you my new addition to my library. The volume looks very old. Filigrees correspond to the seventeenth maybe sixteenth century, probably original entries.

You might recall what we were looking for before you left last time. Let me assure you that some of our hypotheses seem to be correct. I followed some clues on my own to double-check on facts.

There’s a secret hidden in the deep forests. It should not be forgotten. It might seem that a partially collapsed tunnel under the disrupted roots of the great oak, leading deeper into the hill means nothing of significance and the freezing cold air humming in the underground doesn’t bring a distorted whisper, which echoes followed me home. My utter curiosity pushed me over the border, set by my lacking self-preservation. It took me beyond my limits.

I discovered a specific mark, found in the book, carved in one of the pillars, framing the main entrance to the corridor behind it. I cannot reveal the details about the symbol here in the written word for well known reasons. I beg you to be patient till the day we meet again. I pursued the clues very thoroughly. It was very hard to discover the site of my interest so I don’t expect any visitors.

I thought that I’m slipping into madness. I got used to searching for answers on my own during your absence, so you’ll see, and yet I had to remind myself about your brave soul, presumption and your stone-cold approach to all dangers. It empowered me in the end. My dear friend, your power was my power for the time being. So, come at once if convenient, once you’ll free yourself from your duties. I’ll be waiting for you to accompany me in our next adventure.

Yours sincerely,
Charles de Romanet

I fiercely measured my big old boat trunk, prepared next to the door for departure. It’s going to be my only companion on the journey to the north. I carefully folded the letter and as something precious I put it in my inner pocket of my cotton shirt. I don’t want to lose it as it is my only personal connection from the past year.

To make sure I stay safe I’m taking my best friend with me, a modern six-chamber drum Gasser revolver with a long barrel, a handle is fitted with walnut details, decorated with my initials W. A. as for William Anderson. The weapon itself is a pride of Austro-Hungarian army. I got my hands on it thanks to Charles back in the army service days. Whatever awaits us

I will be prepared for it.

„Charles, what happened…“ I breathed out in anxiety and stepped outside the door.

to the top^

To the north

I spent the whole night and another day on my journey to the north. In the evening I sat in the dining car so I could be around people for some time.

I ordered tasty steak, fried potatoes and a lager beer for dinner. It was already late and only a few travellers were present. The waiter could often attend to me. Lager beer is not my most favourite drink but I decided to order two more.

I believed in the power of its soft bubbles and the ability to dissolve my aroused worries, stuck to the back of my neck since my ride in London’s Tube to the King’s Cross station.

I leaned back in the comfortable chair, a small brass lamp on the table gleamed its golden light, painting on the wood panelled walls of the car. Monotonous ride was interrupted only by gusts of wind and heavy rain kept hitting the glass pane window hard. I was hoping for better weather once I got to the destination station. To get to Charles‘ mansion demands hours long ride by a horse, the cab takes a lot more. I’ll have to hire some at the station. I would prefer carriage. Which is very interesting. I remember our adventurous days and sleeping on the ground, in cowboy style, with all the wild animals crawling around.

Since I started teaching history at the university in good old London, I completely forgot the harshness and rawness of the outside world. But in reality I didn’t forget that much. My trusty revolver is easily accessible as I carry it in my hidden shoulder holster in western style. I don’t wish to upset fellow travellers by revealing it to the unknown eyes.

I explored the car with my slightly veiled sight. I noticed two ladies travelling together, sitting in the other half of the dining car. Their clothes were simple, designed for the long journey. In front of the glassy partition there was an older gentleman enjoying his bourbon and newspaper. Otherwise it was empty and silent so I checked my friend’s letter again.

The mere fact that I didn’t receive any answer to my wire clouded the slow autumnal evening with all sorts of questions. Anything could happen. And maybe I just overreact over connection problems as the weather acts very vile these past weeks. I excused myself from my duties and removed myself from everything as soon as I could. I’ll know better tomorrow evening. I have to leave the city and get through the country the same day. On a horseback or else. The trunk can arrive later.

I paid the bill, bowed to the curious ladies and retired to my first class compartment. Expensive mahogany wood covered all the walls even in the sleeping quarters and a small porcelain basin in the corner is going to help with my morning routine. I preferred a clean-shaven face yet on the other hand I kept my dark brown wavy hair in shoulder length, tied with a black velvet ribbon. I don’t want to sound vain, but the style suited me well and made me look a little younger. The real age shows only in the few indistinct wrinkles in the outer corners of my hazel eyes and around my full lips.

I stored my revolver in the head of the narrow bed, so it’s easily accessible and handy. I doubt any night time intruder might have the audacity to attack an armed man. It’s common sense not to show off the wealth openly. The demand for good looks and good manners is strong. My clothing is modest, practical and well tailored for the needs of my athletic build. Clean lines and flattering curves, accentuating slim waist and broader shoulders and also good quality materials in dark tones were my preference.

My big bruised ship trunk went through so many adventures, one could hardly tell its age or that its owner is fortunate enough to travel first class. I got it as a young lad in the days of my army service in the field ambulance. I started as an infantryman, following the orders till the moment my regiment was almost entirely wiped-out by an enemy attack, and my fate entangled with the fate of modest and intelligent field assistant-surgeon back in the second Afghan conflict.

I consider myself being very lucky to have him for a friend since the very moment he decided to help me in my career beyond his duty. Why did he do that? We were like two sides of one coin. So it happened that I could teach unbiased and untwisted history at the London University and live in the very rooms of his Queen Anne type residence some time later. Travelling 400 miles to see him once more is the least I can do for him.

As the train was propelling me through the countryside I fell into uneasy sleep. Steward had got the order to wake me an hour prior to arrival at the terminus. To my great luck the railway was extended to other northern cities, getting me closer to Charles‘ secluded mansion. In better weather the steam-engine sped up to 70 miles per hour. Technical progress was at full swing. Distances shortened. Four wheelers used to travel for several days, but the engine crossed the same distance under six hours in a competitive race between the companies a year before last. The voices predict bigger and stronger machines, faster and therefore more magnificent, connecting the new world with the old one. We will no longer spend endless days on ocean liners, admiring the vast open waters, but we will travel high above the Atlantic. Oh, what a wonderful future and all the immense possibilities.

The next day’s morning was as dark as the evening itself. The train advanced forward. A shower of rain water kept falling from the dark-grey sky. Prospects of any improvement were taken away by the smell of breakfast. This is my last supper before I set off to the woods. I have got scrambled eggs, white bread, a cup of coffee and a whiskey to warm myself up. Just because we crossed Scottish borders.

I remembered our Highlands trip. We indulged in all sorts of enjoyment. Not only sightseeing was involved but also generous offers of so many distilleries. I must point out that Charles expressed very strong stamina, unlike me. I think he might have some distant Scottish relatives but he states that he feels to be Londoner, only London tired him off and he moved to the north.

He thinks that secrets can be discovered easily in parts less civilized and less crowded. I assert that London is full of mysteries and for example Colchester, with its prehistory era, can offer fresh facts as it fell victim to some earthquakes lately, new mysteries being uncovered under its depths.

If I asked him, he wouldn’t hesitate to visit me in London. It would be worthwhile to renew our journeys.

Whiskey left me in a pleasant mood. Once my tumbler was empty the waiter asked me politely if I would like another round. A long day awaits me. I’ve heard some inner voice advising me to give it some chance and drink one more, but I was on my own, nobody here to pick me up, put me on a horseback and lead me to the desired destination.

The waiter bow slightly in acknowledgement and crossed the car to the two chatty passengers, who were in need of coffee. A man and a young woman occupied a table at the end of the car, locked in each other’s eyes. She raised her handsome face and with an indistinct smile asked for a hot brew. There is only one thing better than a cup of coffee in the morning, more coffee. I would indulge in pints of it if I need not sleep sometimes.

I stared in the middle of nowhere. Far beyond the morning darkness a thin blue line of horizon showed itself in the distance as the sun was rising in less wet parts of the world. I left a tip at the table and headed back to my compartment.

I prepared my Inverness coat with a removable cowl to put over my jacket. With a top hat and leather gloves my outfit was complete and it all got wet to the skin at best as I forgot as simple a precaution as an umbrella. Oh, well.

I noticed a sight of civilization flashing outside the wet glass pane. Industrial outskirts were replaced by small flat houses for the poorest resident factory workers and their families and then the scenery changed once more to outside markets, parks, rich neighbourhoods, banks, museums, shopping lanes, restaurants, galleries et cetera. Horse-driven trams criss-crossed the city centre and the river intersect the districts in the southern part of this very cold seaside city.

The river meandered from the mountains and was closely followed by an old merchant road, known in Romanesque times. I should take this path. I’ll pay for a cab or anyone willing to take me to the countryside and beyond. I felt cheerful and in good spirit, believing I’ll find a willing soul compliant to my needs.

To the top ^

To the château

Very sleepy morning at the station was disturbed only by overnight train arrivals. I got out of the compartment and we moved my trunk to the platform with steward’s help.

I was approached by a young lad at the very moment I stepped outside. He was pushing the luggage cart swiftly among the sleepy passengers to save a lost adventurer and make some money indeed.

The morning air felt crispy and all the railings around the platform were covered in frost. The kid wore only shorts, worn stretched-out shirt under the brown jacket, newsboy hat and his boots were several sizes over what he needed at the moment. His short black hair sticks in all directions from below the hat forming a perfect sparrow’s nest.

„Mister, mister.“ He jumped up and waved a hand at me as if to an old friend. „I’ll help you with your luggage for a price.“ He pushed his cart next to my heavy trunk and blocked off other little eager helpers. A tall grey-bearded foreman, standing next to the steaming engine, muttered his discontent with the crowded situation so furiously the big beard trembled in anger, hushing away the flock of thin, malnourished kids of the working class.

„Do you know where to hire a cab? I’m travelling far to the mountains via the old merchant road.“

„To the country?“ The boy looked startled and his big eyes screened my appearance. „Oh, yes. My uncle has this house with stables by the main street. He distributes goods or just drives the trap; wherever he is needed he goes. To the hills also. You won’t get far with a tram. Follow me I’ll show you his house!“ He poured forth, gasping in the end.

He is enterprising and attentive. I didn’t express any interest in the city itself and this young boy had a solution. I probably didn’t seem as a highlander or a man of the world at the first sight, willing to travel into the wilderness. Especially during this day.

„What’s your name, young lad?“ I asked him as he was skilfully threading his way through the crowd, avoiding any collisions. The black sky released floods of rainwater in the meantime and the sunrise was coming very reluctantly.

„I am Henry or Hank, mister. And what is yours?“

„William Anderson, but you can call me Will.“

We waited till the two-store tram, pulled by two impressive horses, bearing the heavy rain stoic, passes us, we then continued across the wide street to the side pavement and to the low red-bricked building with sheltered driveway with two carriages and a stables with a gate open in upper half. A head of brownish horse peeked out curiously. We approached the stable and the horse snorted in response. His eyes were clear and full of life. I like horses. It’s not easy on them to work in the city either. The stalwart animal costs a little fortune. Not everyone can afford to own one. Henry’s uncle was a lucky guy, finding one’s feet in this business.

„I’ll fetch my uncle. Wait here under the roof, Mister Will.“ He darted to the house doors, covering his eyes, shielding himself from the rain trickling from his cap.

The ground floor window next to the stables was lit so the owner was awake, waiting for a customer or a word from the freight station.

I stepped closer to the stable doors, removing my left glove and stroking the horse’s soft and warm nose gently. He watched me circumspect but let me do it. I bet if he felt threatened or mischievous he would snap my arm away easily, but the beautiful creature was friendly towards this stranger. A gas lamp light from the street glistened in his intelligent eyes. Snorting in my palm and shaking his head slightly the horse let me know the man himself exited the house.

Wearing a flat cap to protect his eyes from the water he approached me, removing his hat in a welcoming gesture. He was a little broader in his waist than in the shoulders. His black full beard covered the first three buttons of his coat and his face embodied frankness with which he shook my hand.

„Where to, Mr Anderson? You wish to travel to the mountains. We can arrange that. They call me Turner. I transport whatever is needed or whoever is in need of going places. I get him there for a fee.“ He gave me very clear statement and to the point. I think I like him.

So I explained my need to hurry to a specific inn as the personal matter is involved. I introduced myself as a professor of history but he only smiled at me in a friendly way, saying that my posture gives away a different kind of history and my eyes have seen way too much already. He could easily step into my London friend’s detective job without any hesitation.

Mr Turner invited me into his modest and spartan-furnished room. Cast iron stove in the corner warmed the small room to a pleasant temperature. I removed my overcoat and put it across the chair near the heat source to dry it out a little.

We managed to resolve the financial side of the business. He probably also noted my shoulder holster with a gun. Without any remarks towards that fact he went outside to prepare the cabby. The boy left and headed back to the station to carry luggage and navigate lost passengers. His uncle is going to spend the next two days on the road.

„So, mister, your luggage is secured and covered by oilcloth.“ He announced when he returned from the outside. „We can encounter not only the snow, so I’m glad I have a former soldier, who calls himself a professor, on my side.“ He smiled as he noticed my expression.

We climbed to the coachman’s high box seat of his dogcart. He urged the horse on with his reins lightly and we set off. We wormed our way out of the mummery of the city, drove across the country, following the endless stonewall lined roads. They went for the miles and miles in all directions as little greyish veins. We passed small fields, meadows, pastures, into the woods, seeing scarcely standing houses, settlements and sheep farms. We got quite far in this single unpleasantly rainy stretch.

„So, mister professor, what brings you to my lovely country in such weather?“ He started when the rain significantly weakened and we could actually hear each other speaking. The horse was treading carefully in the ponds of dirty water and the two-wheeler trembled accordingly with every step, every stone and every surface recession we crossed.

I wiped the rainwater from my face. I desired to be back in Mr Turner’s spartan home and cling to the hot stove. A water vapour was coming from my mouth. I must admit that I felt miserable and bitter. We left the chilly freezing shore just to travel through freezing cold woodland and it crept through all my soaked layers to my very skin.

„I’m visiting my old friend. He is a history enthusiast, loves folklore, archaeology and also medicine…“ I stopped talking to gather my thoughts. Mister Turner kept silent and didn’t interrupt my stiffened train of thoughts. „And I didn’t see him for a while. I bet he collected a lot of knowledge about local history.“

„You think about the Independence war? Only ghosts prevail and the soil is saturated with the blood of all the fallen soldiers, who died for a better future.“ His eyes went hazy as he probably remembered something, and then hardened and he said no more.

„Yes. War is always the same. It takes anything and anyone. Leaving only grief and burned land.“ I noted. I also pulled my overcoat closer and covered myself as thoroughly as possible. Mr Turner silently reached back behind the coachman’s seat and offered me a bottle of single-malt whiskey.

„Drink, Will. I see you would use some of the best Scottish medicine.“

I didn’t refuse such a generous offer and gulped a few draughts. I felt the pleasant heat warming my belly and my numbed limbs. I passed the bottle to Mr Turner. He used it in the same manner and handed it back to me.

„Will, I believe your story is much more interesting than you wish to say aloud, but mark my words. You might need the heat you carry. Not many travellers visit these lands. I take goods to the distant and lonesome places and settlements, but I go no further. Various bastards lurk in the woods, waiting for the opportunity to take on lonely travellers. I’m not a softy, but you should know that ill-omened places attract all kinds of lost souls.“

I remembered my poor friend Charles and his secluded retreat.

„What do you mean by those lost souls?“ I had to ask.

„Lunatics and adventurers, who disappear without a trace,“ he said as he stared into the distance.

„I see. Well. Don’t worry. I went through the desert and the jungle. The most dangerous places are the pubs and well stocked inns.“ I cannot tell him about some of our search and rescue missions, as the few less lucky members never saw the light of the day again. Archaeology, palaeontology. Science cannot prepare me to confront the unknown; it just brings us the proof of its existence in the shape of evidence. Nor the military training and a walk through the fire can prepare me for the confrontation with things unexplained. Yet it can sharpen the senses and automate the basic procedures, therefore the chance for survival is higher, but that’s all really. Sometimes it is not enough.

I sipped from the bottle and put it under the seat next to my feet to keep it within my reach. By Mr Turner’s indistinct mumbling I presumed that my self-confident remark wasn’t successfully accepted. I’m a bad act, or he also knows something beyond this realm. I would say the B variant is correct. None of us was in a chatty mood. He is local and I’m just a random stranger, disappearing the very moment the deed is done and never heard about again.

„I appreciate the willingness to help me by taking this job.“ And I meant it.

„Well, someone has to look after you and you have to look after someone else. The world is rotten enough without it.“
Good, as I could hear Charles saying those words.

„And who keeps an eye on you?“ I asked the only appropriate question. Mr Turner reached for the bottle and before he endowed himself with the drink, he declared: „little Henry. And you can call me Jack. Let’s put the formalities aside for the time being. We are going to take some break. The horse has to recover his strengths and me too.“

I decided to use the free time for switching my ammunition and load my revolver with a special brand with a silver core. Just to feel better. The effect is more psychological as we had no true chance to test the theory in the field. I didn’t find the folklore stories very convincing myself, but the power of the thought might be helpful and supportive in a way.

After six hours ride the woods become denser and vast. Freezing cold air seeped from the hills, filling the valleys. The leaves in all the colours of autumn rustled in the tree crowns and the thick fog covered the land. It felt phantasmal and enchanting at the same time.

The ammunition was stored away in a small wooden box under all my clothes and other belongings. I brought a weapon cleaning kit, a backup Austrian percussion revolver of Scheinigg system with modified drum and few more useful tools. I also own a first aid kit. My practical skills from medical unit might come handy later. I assisted Charles in numerous occasions and l learned a lot from him as he was treating wounded soldiers or unlucky civilians.

I was filling the drum with my special ammo, when Jack emerges from bushes announcing that we can depart at once. To his glimpse I answered that I follow his advice to the letter. Jack decided that wondering has no use in these parts of the world and resumed his place in a coachman’s double seat.

„Good for you.“ He noted and fished out a small greasy package from his leather haversack. In it he had thin slices of air dried meat. He offered me his simple meal and I accepted it gratefully. I already ate the piece of hard cheese when I got hungry during the night and I had only bread left. It was not very fore planning.

He also pulled a very old looking revolver from the same bag and hid it behind the hem of his trousers, where the braces held the front piece. He simply said: „Just to be sure. I don’t expect any difficulties but one can never be too sure.“

I closed the trunk and accompanied Jack. Once we took off he told me that we would arrive at the inn at night and that in summertime he would drive faster and therefore farther, but he cannot risk his horse in such conditions. I understood and kept chewing the meat so thoroughly my muscles hurt.

My destination was at a crossroads to various secluded settlements. I could borrow a horse there and a trap. Charles doesn’t know about my arrival so he isn’t waiting for me. His silence is bad news for me and for my heavy trunk too. One could ask oneself why such a heavy luggage. Well, I always spend a lot more time in his house than I anticipated to, hence the preparations for various scenarios.

„Have you thought about how you advance to your friends‘ place at such a late hour?“ Jack asked me once he was done with his supper. I had the feeling he can read my thoughts written in my face in bright colours.

„Yes, of course. I’ll hire a horse once we get to the inn.“

„If you’ll need help, you can count on me. I’ll leave in the morning. And I would not expect anything from the locals, nor any significant help or courage.“ He said in a grim voice.

„I reckon. I can go alone in the end. I know the path very well. I can leave the stuff at the inn if necessary.“ It sounds confident enough, but inside I felt unsure. What is going on here?

„You resemble a good pal.“ He noted and pulled the reins tight. The horse snorted off but kept going, even trotting here and there.

„Perhaps I do.“ I felt doubtful.

It slowly grew darker. The days were shorter and at five o’clock the dawn fell. We’ll have to light the lamps soon. We won’t see much anyway. I didn’t want to arrive in the middle of the night. A broad path leads up to Charles‘ castle. It’s roofed by tall trees on both banks. Sometimes the sky is obscured completely and I had to count the distance that I had to cover if I wanted to see him soon. Clear sky with stars was my only hope.

We arrived at the inn late in the night as I feared. I felt very tired and my overcoat needed some care, but I didn’t allow myself any further delay. I wished to say goodbye properly so I bought my coachman a late dinner and a pint of cold beer so he could enjoy his evening in the mountains.

The innkeeper was a businessman and offered me one of the guest rooms at the first floor of his inn. I thanked him eagerly and asked him about a horse and a trap. My demand puzzled the man as the outside world was pitch-black already.

„Mister, where do you want to travel at such an ungodly hour? Wait at least till morning. Our guest rooms are small and spartan furnished, but beds are clean and my dear wife Eleanor can take care of your travel clothes.“ He nodded slightly towards my muddy exterior. „I’ll get you a horse in the morning, but it’s so cold for strolling through the woods, sir.“
The sweaty and pink-faced man kept reasoning.

He probably managed the entire inn alone as his apron was all sorts of dirty, his shirt sleeves were rolled up above his elbows to keep at least those somewhat clean.

His short greyish hair was not covered as the stove radiated a lot of heat and he would be even sweatier.

„Thank you for your hospitality but I have to get to the place tonight.“ When he saw I’m serious about the matter of travelling through the night, he knotted his bushy eyebrows together in thought.

„Of course. But I sold my horse already so I can repair my inn’s roof. A postmaster may arrive in the morning and he can help you. He is a good man. I’m supplied once a week and…“

I felt a strong grip at my left shoulder, followed by a well known voice. „Will, follow me. Sir, if you’ll excuse us.“
The innkeeper fetched a sigh of relief when Jack interrupted our discussion.

„My horse won’t be happy, but once the groom takes care of him, he might manage to take us to your friend.“ He told me as much and slurped half the keg at once. „You’ll have to take care of the rest as I have to leave in the morning. I don’t want little Hank to go wild, if you get me…“

„Thank you, Jack. I’ll describe the path from here as best I can. You once more saved me.“ So I described the road and its peculiarities.

Charles is a rich man and the prospect of acquiring a secluded mansion for himself pushed him forward. He wished to disappear from the muddy and smelly London and he pursued his dream thoroughly. His patience paid off when he bought the house from the youngest member whose kin died out and the remaining member of the old family desired to live in the big city. He sold the hundreds years old heritage cheaply, getting rid of the burden. And as the man of the world, Charles has various connexions in important positions; the mansion was his in the end.

It happened eight years ago. I visited him several times and spent pleasant moments in his presence and in his beautiful library. In the very beginning I travelled for at least two days and I mastered finding comfort in discomfort. Few years of city life and I become soft and my body feels the weather significantly. Little rain and I am done. We should travel the world again. I felt a sharp pain in my heart when I thought about that. It might be too late and we aren’t getting any younger anyway.

Jack finished his dinner. We said our farewells to the innkeeper and left the inn. The horse was refreshed, well groomed and munching on the hay from a big jute sac under his nose. Jack caressed the horse’s muzzle as an excuse. „Don’t worry old chap, one more ride and well deserved rest with all the hay you can imagine awaits you.“ He spoke to the animal in a soft voice. Two side-lanterns shone upon the path in front of the vehicle.

The mansion is located above the lake, deeper in the forest. I could observe the placid waters from the balcony or a terrace. It truly offers a magnificent view in the moonlight.

The evening fog dissolved and pinching frost descended from the hills. We left the inn behind and followed the road a few miles to the north. I could hear the variable voices of wild animals, singing in the night and from time to time I catch a glimpse of a pair of eyes, perishing away the next moment.

Tall oaks, beeches diversified with spruces and white birches. The forest floor was covered by colourful leaves, flying in the air behind the speeding cart. As the terrain became difficult later, we had to slow down. I wouldn’t risk it even with an experienced horse who knows the route. The road cuts deep in the ground and the banks rise high above us. A drain full of running water follows the path and as we draw nearer to the castle, the grounds seem well managed, minus the overgrowing rosehip bushes in the former garden around the driveway.

Once we turned around the last corner I dropped a stone from the heart. The courtyard with a teardrop driveway opened before us. Low stone walls encircled the road, which was wide enough for two carriages standing next to each other. There was a turning on the left, leading to the stables and behind the castle to the spacey terrace. I glanced up the front wall of the building and to my pleasant surprise several windows were lit as in welcome.

We looked at each other. I felt excited at the news.

To the top ^

Meeting

„It looks like your friend is alright. It was an honour, Will.“ He shook my hand.

„Thank you, Jack, for everything.“ I tried to calm down my frayed nerves and stay cool, but my pulse raced against my efforts. Jack helped me with my oversized luggage. We carried it under the front door roof.

My hand was shaking when I reached for the brass door knocker in the shape of a lion’s head, unintentionally touching the pocket with a letter.

Jack was ready in the coachman’s seat, waiting for the master of the house, so that he could depart in peace.

The door knock was answered promptly as I’ve heard confident footsteps resonating through the hard wood floor. The heavy door opened lightly and my friend Charles emerged from the house. I could see the fire going in a huge ornate hearth in the main hall, illuminating my friend’s silhouette.

A broad smile set on his thin bow shaped lips. He still kept his curly blond hair in shoulder length, tied with a ribbon as he tried to capture all the wild locks into one knot, it ought to be little ineffective as the loose curls framed his bonny face. His bright eyes were of deep blue colour and his nose of straight narrow tip. He is a handsome man. Three inches taller than me, well toned in build and on the lean side. There was something ethereal about his appearance and something else I could not fathom at the moment.

I was like a little brother to him, not only by my stature, but also with my restless character. I was getting into all kinds of troubles from which he always rescued me.

„William, welcome in my humble home.“ He surrendered to his momentary feelings and hugged me. For a very short time I dwelled in his gentle embrace, happy he is alright. When he let go, his eyes glanced at Jack. Charles bow slightly towards him.

„Jack Turner. He’s from the city, a reliable man.“ I told him when I stepped aside.

„I’m in your debt.“ Charles approached the carriage and handed over a small leather pouch he pulled from his home coat.

„I bet you’ll use it well. Education is very important nowadays, you know what I mean.“

Jack accepted the pouch and checked on the contents. A surprise washed over his features, yet he collected himself quickly and remained as calm as ever. Jack just acquired a decent fortune for himself and for little Hank. „I’ll use it well, sir.“ He nodded and urged the horse to trot. „Farewell, gentlemen.“ He sang to the rattling noise of his vehicle, encircled the driveway and disappeared in the shadows of the woods.

„Charles…“ I started at the doorstep.

„Will, come inside.“ He said, putting my trunk indoors effortlessly, securing the main door with a heavy bolt. We were locked inside and I was curious as to why, but remained silent.

I just arrived and felt happy for an instance. The anxiety finally dissolved in the firelight of the main hearth. Two big leather armchairs stood in front of it. The small octagonal table with a half-empty whiskey bottle and two tumblers was between them. He noticed where my sight wandered.

„I knew you would come eventually, Will.“ He said in a soft tone.

I followed him to the hat stand. I took off my wet and muddy overcoat, the hat and the jacket to let it dry out on the clothes hanger and changed my shoes. My things were soaking wet. I also left my gun and the holster at the side table and entered the magnificent wood panelled hall. Various display cabinets along the walls held Charles’s weapons and artefacts collections. Great and neat as a museum exhibition. Candles in the tall floor candelabras lighted most of the display cases, but the shadows in the corners remained undisturbed. The great stairwell at the left went to the upper floor with a balustrade balcony, encircling the three sides of the upper part of the main hall.

First door under the staircase leads to the basement and the other ones to the small kitchen, scientific laboratory and the most modern bathroom with a hot water boiler. The former dining room became expendable hence the laboratory with all the interesting and peculiar tools, a place to perform all the dirty work and I mean a research by that.

The library was situated above the main hearth, in the middle of the house and consisted of all kinds of works, publications, and books of various genres. We could plan our travels on a huge globe, watch the stars via the telescope from the adjacent balcony or just enjoy the reading. Several tall broken arched windows lightened the room during the day. The château wasn’t oversized, yet was big enough to accommodate all his needs.

He had two spacey bedrooms available, each on the opposite side of the hall; the doors faced each other and were far apart enough so people had some private spots to relax.

The library was the central point of knowledge and entertainment. The open main hall served for social gatherings or meetings. I knew very well that he preferred his peace, meeting only various merchants or myself at the most.

„Pray sit down; I’ll get you some dinner.“ He turned away at once and disappeared behind the kitchen doors.

I crashed in the armchair with a sigh of relief and I praised its inventor. Pleasant heat radiated from the fireplace. I listen to a soft crackling noise, watching shimmering flames, lighting the tiles in front of the hearth. I let myself close my eyes, enjoying a peaceful moment. I was ready to ask Charles a thousand and one question.

I didn’t notice he returned in the meantime and brought a plate with some food, a carafe of fresh cold water and a small kerosene lamp. He put it all on the table at my left and silently sat in the other armchair.

Once I came back to my senses, I’m not saying that I fell asleep; I noticed he held his tumbler and with all the patience waited for my return.

„How much time have you spent on the road?“ He asked me in his calm and confident manner, able to hypnotise a werewolf. Calming and steady voice is a great asset for a field surgeon after all. Wounded soldier had to believe that everything was going to be alright to lessen the stress and shock.

„Twenty-eight hours at best. I took the night train.“ I poured the water in the crystal glass and sipped it in one go. I felt very thirsty. The water tastes good, much better than in the city. It would cost a fortune in a luxurious restaurant.

Charles emptied his glass and poured himself another drink, offering me one too. I nodded in agreement, while taking a big bite from a piece of cheese and a slice of bread. Everything tastes marvellous and fresh. I wondered if he gets it himself or has someone supplying him. I could simply ask in the inn. Oh, well. I wasn’t thinking straight. I emptied the plate in no time, realising I didn’t eat much today. Charles was just smiling at me, probably reading my every thought.

„Take whatever you need. Make yourself at home here. Your bedroom is yours, nothing has changed up there. Let me also warn you before going outside unarmed. A bunch of thieves has been seen, probably attacked some people too.“

„Oh, that’s why you barred the entrance.“ I noted interested in what he has to say.

„Yes. Yet it is not the only reason.“ His blue eyes studied my face, asking me how far I would go to risk my hide.

„So, it is not the main concern…“ I tried.

„No, it truly isn’t.“ He tilted his head to the side in thought, nursing his glass in his palms, observing the glistening liquid. Something bothered him deeply, but I didn’t know how to ask about that or where to start. I indulged myself in a drink. Inhaled, exhaled and expressed my first concern, the very thing setting me into the motion.

„Charles, your letter…“

„Of course, that is why you are here.“ He said.

„Once I didn’t receive a reply to my wire I had to leave London to pursue whatever might happen to you. I had a very bad feeling and I would never forgive myself if I lost you in your adventure. We went through a lot of dangerous situations, having our army of angels protecting our backs always.“ I stopped as I was thinking it out and out.

„I owe you an apology for my absence. The wire you sent is probably lost. I never received your message. I didn’t see the postmaster for quite some time and the inn is out of question. They are good folk, but not very reliable with tasks. I knew you’ll arrive eventually once you receive my text and if that would get lost too I would have contacted you later again as I prefer to ride to the nearest post office in person. It’s the only way to be somewhat sure. I knew you won’t forget me and I can count on you, Will. We have known each other for so long. I can see you even in my dreams, talking to you and here you are. This bond we share is yet strong enough.“ He looked into my eyes.

I knew what he was talking about, because I could have precognitive dreams about things, close people and events too. It felt like we were connected with some invisible wire, sharing our minds.

„So, it wasn’t delivered.“ I sighed in relief. „I feel a little foolish.“ I did worry a lot and my imagination wasn’t particularly helpful. I drank all the remaining whiskey, emptying my glass.

„And about your other concerns, we can depart tomorrow if you’ll feel like it and I’ll show you the site I was talking about and the chronicle which led me to it. This country is full of archaeologically interesting places that should be excavated and catalogued thoroughly. But leave all the unanswered questions for tomorrow. I bet you would like to take some rest.“

„You are right; tomorrow’s the day for a great adventure.“ I had no energy to object. The simple fact that Charles is alright was a good reason to go to sleep in peace. I was ready to brush through the woods in search and rescue missions most of the time and it draught my stamina.

To the top^

The book

I woke up early in the morning, enjoying a warm and cosy feather-bed, covered with a big enough duvets for two. A tester bed was true work of art and the crewel work on the cover simply magnificent.

Darkness crept behind the window and the house was silent. Roundish tiled stove in the corner next to the door has cooled down already. I realised it would be beyond Charles’s strengths to take care of my needs every day and that I should get up and do something myself since I felt well rested.

I turned my sight to the night table and looked for the matchbox so I could light the small brass lamp, shaded with white glass cover. There lay my revolver and the holster was put over the backrest of a wooden chair, standing under the window. I couldn’t recall taking it with me at all as I don’t remember the exact time when I went to sleep. I had to be utterly tired and the events are quite blurred.

I got out of the bed and with the lamp in one hand and my garments over the other I descended the stairs to the ground floor bathroom, rich in modern appliances as a hot water tank. The water could be warmed up directly or remotely. Many flats in better districts of the capital city lacked such luxury.

When I left my room I noticed that the other bedroom doors are wide open. I didn’t understand why at first. The place was dark, silent and cold, nobody slept in there tonight. I remembered he often used his sofa in the library when he felt like studying until the late hours. I looked around to see if there was some light coming from under the library door and there it was. His lamp was lit so he was there without the doubt, going through some papers. I decided that I won’t disturb him until I wash myself and make myself breakfast. I remembered his own highly irregular eating habits so I might make food for two. Once he got into his element, he didn’t need much to keep himself going.

I felt refreshed and as a new man. I put up a less formal waistcoat and jacket of a flattering cut. I chose cotton jabot instead of black silk cravat. I still wanted to feel presentable even in such uninhabited parts of the world. I somewhat managed to tame my wild waves of hair and tied most of it with a ribbon. Nothing complicated. Final touches to my detachable collar with bent corners and the jabot and I could meet people again. I wore no hat and I felt very much free and empowered. We both enjoyed our little innocent freedoms and shared the same attitude towards the stiffness and strictness of the society, throwing blunt rules over the cliff.

Clean shaven and smelling pleasantly I left the bathroom, when he came out of the library and nodded towards me. He wanted me to accompany him so I did. Following him to the writing table under one of the windows I took place right in front of it and he sat by my side on the other chair. A small book lay upon the table and a hand-drawn map beside it.

„Is that the chronicle?“ I asked, glancing at him.

„Yes. I suggest taking off as soon as you feel like it. The terrain is hardly passable on a horseback. We will have to hike and make all the precautions to bring a lamp and some provisions.“ I was listening to him as my eyes darted over the open book and the map with his own notes and research marks.

„…and then they killed him, his spirit dispelled, the door stayed shut, seven locks to one, the lair eaten by fire. All the attacks ended that summer, leaving a vast amount of victims behind. The men cried for their wives and the women weep for their lost husbands…“ I was thinking of what we are about to deal with. A picture of tall and stylized raven hair man with claws and fangs accompanied the text. I also noticed a small mark in the shape of a dragon on that particular page.

„A memento marks the corrupted land, to warn all the wanderers passing through desolated and lifeless country.“ I have stopped reading the crooked text and checked the other page with the original map. I distinguished the lake, hills, paths and the memorial. The scale was absent. Whoever recorded the past event didn’t bother with accuracy.

„I suspect you discovered the memorial and then the rest followed?“ I noted, turning the old yellowed pages carefully. Chronicles like these weren’t a good source of factual accuracy or an exact historical event, but provided at least some foundations to build on.

Charles nodded his head in agreement.

„Yes. I discovered a partially collapsed tunnel under the roots of a giant oak tree, which fell during the storm. The ground was torn open and very suspicious debris littered the ground under the root system. I cleared up the corridor within one day. The statics were good. The ceilings weren’t weakened by rain as it can happen sometimes when the tunnel is too wide. I discovered the door mentioned in this book and a sign of a dragon carved in the pillar next to it. You see, it’s the detail I excluded from my description to keep it secret until you come.“
The sun was rising, while he narrated his story. It was a rain free morning and I felt hopeful.

„I didn’t need the key since the wood simply rotted and iron reinforcement rusted and fell apart. I tore the remaining pieces down with my handy crowbar and entered… in fact I entered two days later. You see I wanted to have you with me and so I sent you the message. Something was stronger than me this time and I made the decision… The bad decision to go alone. I’ll get to that part soon enough.“

He looked troubled over that and I let him to take his time to gather his thoughts. Meanwhile the beautiful deep orange light crawled over the walls and across the shelves full of books and touched his face, highlighting his sharp carved cheekbones, colouring his eyes with little flames of sunrise.

„I entered the main and only corridor armed, having my revolver in my hip holster, the crowbar in my right hand and a lamp in my left. I would rather not shoot in such a delicate place since it is not the best idea anyway. I expected a room, but the tunnel went forward into the freezing cold darkness. A single glance made my heart sink, followed by my rising uneasiness. You know I’m not afraid of dark places; otherwise I wouldn’t be able to live such a lonesome and secluded life.

„The bad feeling about the whole situation hit me deep. In that very moment I recalled our adventures and your fearless stance and the single thought helped me stay cool and cleared my mind instantly. I wished to know how the place looked like and what it had to offer. The walls changed, the plaster was intact and also the floor space was wide enough for two men standing side by side. I passed several side chambers, also supported by arched pillars. I noticed the vents filled with debris from above; otherwise it seemed empty and deserted.

„Once I entered the spacious underground hall with an arched ceiling I was in awe. It shows no damage at all. Only a little moisture got through. The floor remained dry and sturdy. Stone slabs covered with dust. Several alcoves for lamps could be found along the walls. I looked around to check on possible entry ways and as I was scanning the architecture I laid my sight on a huge object in the far end, reminiscing sarcophagus of simple box shape, hence I entered crypt.

„I had to make sure that the story is truthful and as a complete fool I tried to open the tomb. I should have stopped then and wait for London’s cavalry.“ He smiled absently, focusing on a window glass pane.

I finally made a note of how pale and ill he looks like, he kept overworking himself while not eating properly. I promised myself to keep an eye on him. Yet his iceberg-blue eyes were lively and clear, apparently he must have missed just a few meals. And I had to ask. He would tell me everything anyway. I only wanted to let him know that I’m here for him.

„What happened there, Charles? Pray proceed with your narrative.“ I spoke to my friend in a soft tone.

„Once I moved the heavy lid a little..“ He turned his sight to a microscopic dust particle on his trousers‘ knee. „..I’ve heard a voice in the sudden draft. The flame died away, leaving me in pitch black darkness. Something was moving in it. I drew my revolver and fired once in a direction of that eerie sound. Deafened by gunshot and blind I stepped back. I hit no one, yet something hit me at full speed. It could just as well have been a bull or a brick wall since I felt the first impact in every bone of my body. I hardly noticed my feet left the ground when I crashed to the floor and it was a fatal fall, followed by sharp pain in my lower back. I lost sense in my legs and I lost my gun. I tried to reach it, I tried and I couldn’t. I sealed my destiny.

„I hurt myself at the scruff of the neck. I bled slightly but the wound wasn’t fatal or I thought it wasn’t at first. In pitch black darkness I had no chances left, no words of prayer, no hopes. I knew he’s coming for me, sensing my weakness, smelling my blood, ready to murder me. It’s the last thought I can recall before I lost my consciousness. When I gathered my senses together again I realised something felt different and that I was out of my mind for a day. I had to find out why he decided to let me go. I unleashed unknown evil from its prison, Will; I’m guilty to the extent.“
He finished his story and I felt my non-existent spine hair rising in utter terror. Now I see why he brought my gun into my bedroom, to keep it handy. I bet he was awake the whole night to protect the perimeter.

„What about your injuries?“ I avoided the fact he just confessed that he released a dangerous creature of unknown motives, if it has any.

„I’m… alright. A traumatic pressure on the main nerves caused my lower parts insensitivity.“ He explained. „I made a huge mistake and I don’t expect…“

„I’m coming with you, Charles.“ I stopped him to assure him about my intentions. „You stood by me always. And you are right; it might be our biggest adventure after all.“
He showed signs of huge relief. I’m not going to leave him, that would be cowardly and not me at all. I owed him, but it wasn’t the debt keeping me in his company, not at all.
Morning

I cleaned both my reliable weapons thoroughly. Modified Scheinigg has a long octagonal barrel and great range accuracy. Gasser on the other hand waited for its appearance, stored in my shoulder holster, covered by my travel cloak.

I put my leather gloves on, unpacked the steel-toed hiking boots and Charles sported a single breasted leather cowboy style coat I had never seen before. It must be a new addition in his outdoors-y wardrobe.

I packed the basic survival kit into the light frame backpack and let it sit on the floor behind the entrance door, waiting for departure. I decided to wait outside since Charles had to secure the house first.

The sun hid behind the steel-grey cloudy cover once more, rendering the morning quite dim and eerie. I was afraid of more rain and the mood was getting on my nerves.

Charles emerged from the house to speak with me, but the sudden change washed over his face and he crossed the distance between us in so fast a fashion I could hardly comprehend. I only registered the loud noise of a gunshot coming from behind us and felt the sudden burning pain in my chest pulsing through my body, which left me gasping for air. I collapsed on him as the impact kicked my breath away.

He withdrew the Gasser revolver from my shoulder holster, slipping his right hand under my arm, turning me away from the line of fire. I could barely tell what was happening to me as he eased me down quickly and smoothly with surgical precision.

Kneeling above me, he was shooting at somebody, while pressing his right palm to my rather badly bleeding wound. Oh, it hurts. The pain inside me overdrew all my senses to the point I could not distinguish what was going on around me anymore.

He fired four times at someone I didn’t see and all the noise stopped suddenly. But the deed was done. The last shards, bursting from the wall above us, hit the side of my face, marking my cheek with thin abrasive lines.

I hardly understood what happened, how he could hear them, see them. I noticed nothing suspicious. I was oblivious to the presence of two marauders, executed by exactly four projectiles, fired from my gun, two rounds for each one of them. One to the head, one to the heart. I hoped he’d tell me… Tell me later.

He was bent over me, his lips telling me words of comfort. I tried to hold eye contact as it was the only thing keeping me from drifting away, but my senses were betraying me, leaving me the moment he tenderly picked my limp body up, so effortlessly as if I weighed nothing. The darkness took me afterwards.

We were leaving a crimson trail behind us as he carried me into his laboratory. He laid me on the examination table and checked for my weakening pulse automatically. My breath was shallow and the pupils conveyed no reaction. He supported my legs with his folded coat.

Charles dropped a few things down to the floor to make the space for a wrap pouch containing several useful tools and bandages. He picked the scissors and cut precisely through my precious clothes. He needed easy access for applying compression bandages to both my entry and exit wounds. The bullet made it through and through, missing my heart by an inch.

I bled rapidly and he had to stop it at all cost otherwise I’ll die under his hands. Once I exhaled he tied an adjustable knot on the additional wrapping, to keep the compress in its place. His second check for my pulse urged him to act swiftly. My skin became cold at touch and I lost some colour from my cheeks. At that moment I was completely out of my senses and he was on his own.

„I don’t have much time left.“ He talked for himself as he was looking around desperate. Various peculiar surgical instruments were stored in display cases along the opposite wall. He chose the direct blood transfusion apparatus, consisting of an Indian rubber tube, two silver cannulas and a small rubber heart in the middle of the tube. Perfect anastomosis between donor and recipient, reducing the risk of thrombosis and blood poisoning.

He shivered as he checked the two big hollow hypodermic needles, but there was no place for any doubts. He cut through my sleeves and rolled up his own. He didn’t hesitate and inserted the first needle in his hand’s artery. Once the blood traversed the artificial system and dripped to the floor, he inserted the other end in my vein.

I didn’t even bat an eye as I didn’t feel anything.

His life-giving fluid flowed into my veins, igniting a new source of inner fire, stirring my nerves and reconnecting my shattered senses. I distantly felt his touch in the palm of my punctured hand.

„I’m a problem magnet.“ He stated just to keep his mind preoccupied with something else. His voice sounded exhausted. The wounds didn’t bleed anymore and he relaxed a great portion, taking a seat on a height-adjustable chair. He held my hand and I found the gesture anchoring in the present moment and the most precious. I wasn’t sure if he knows how important his touch can be to one who wanders beyond life.

The pain in my chest gradually subsided to acceptable levels and I found myself waking up slowly. How much time has passed I have no the slightest idea. I tried to open my eyes so I could see him.

With my carcass dishevelled I must have looked terrible.

I recognised his sad pale face next to the table I dwelled on.

„Did I die?“ I whispered. I noticed a hint of a smile on his lips.

„Almost.“ He said frankly.

„Why…“ I wetted my lips to be able to continue speaking. My mouth felt like the Sahara desert and my sore throat wasn’t cooperative either.

„We were mere obstacles in their robbery plan.“ He shared his thoughts. Yet I wanted to know something completely different. So I tried once more.

„Why… I… live…“ I put together the whole sentence this time.

„Oh. A blood transfusion. A field condition one of course and as improbable as it may sound your wounds heal remarkably well. Please, don’t be troubled over it.“

A transfusion indeed. Charles is a very skilled surgeon, but it would take a miracle to heal such nasty bullet hole and we were out of luck since the attack should have been our dernier. I felt tired beyond several human lives and my eyelids started to give up. At the threshold of dreams I expressed my last conscious thought.

„Thank you.“ A question formed in my head and I want to hold it till next time. I have to ask. I need to know… Oh, I have to sleep.

Fresh gauze covered the upper half of my bare chest. I found myself in my bed and the tiled stove emits pleasant heat. I was attracted to it like a wasp to a honey. The other second I got aware of my friend sitting at my bedside. He looked even more ill-used than the last time. I tried to produce a smile. I cannot tell if I was successful.

„Charles, old chap, you look tired. What have I done to you?“ I could talk at once. Somewhat, because he offered me a fresh drink in return so I could water my throat.

„Would you like to hear a full report? I shall say more once we get you on your feet.“

„Fair enough.“ He was right. I examined my bandages as I tried to remember the events which put me in such a delicate position. The realisation of my close demise hit me at once. „That was… close.“ I turned my sight to a bed canopy as I brushed my fingers over my heart. I realised something, among the fact, that I was almost naked except my underpants.

„May I get my clothes, please?“ I asked him without further thinking. „I feel quite naked.“ I bet he knew everything going through my mind. He complied with my request anyway.

„I let you have your fig leaf in case of fire.“ He noted.

„Very thoughtful.“ I wasn’t that shy but I felt grateful he preserved my dignity.

„I prepared some of yours. You had no time to settle in so I hanged them for you; you won’t look like you have been chewed on.“ He handed me some basic things like a shirt, trousers and so on.

„I haven’t?“ I let it out of my mouth just like that as my mind already formed several fantastic theories.

„No.“ We exchanged looks. I shouldn’t be flippant like that but I hoped that the blood loss excused my behaviour.

„Thank you, Charles.“ I flushed red as I felt embarrassed. He ignored that politely.

„Do you need my further assistance?“

I believed I could handle such a simple task as to put on some basic clothing.

„I’ll manage.“ And once it left my lips I knew it’s not quite true. I fought the light-headedness and sat up.

He left for the window scenery but kept close enough, he was my doctor after all.

I struggled with my pants, balancing at the edge of the bed. A weakness unfolded within my chest rapidly and the trousers left my hands, landing on the floor. My body followed with a gasp. I’ve heard his silent no-noes as he captured my collapsing self. Resting the head wearily upon his shoulder I whispered: „I can’t.“ For how long I remained unconscious that I developed such frailty?

He helped me get back into the bed.

„Give it more time. I’ll fetch you some food.“ He promised.

„Please.“

Once he tucked me in the blankets, he told me how he nursed me back to life.

„You see I mixed some intravenous solution, but I had no time to master the formula. I restored your blood volume and somewhat balanced the electrolytes. It was short of nutrients and you were ill till morning.“

„A day? Only a day?“ I had to make sure that I’ve heard right. I was exhausted, but not that much I could not understand some maths.

„Yes. Only a day. Please, rest.“

„I’ll do my best, doctor.“ My eyes were closing again, my mind clouding. The previous thought struck itself through, and my hand wandered on its own to touch his chest.

„The bullet… Hit you.“ Was he hurt? I didn’t know. I had to sleep some more.

The pleasant smell of fresh cooked food awaken my senses and I woke up once more to devour the dish with some sort of potato pancakes with bacon and an egg mixed in, seasoned a little.

„I brought you this. Eat slowly. I’ll be downstairs if you’ll ever need me. I also picked one of my banyans for you. The coat will keep you warm. I noticed you don’t have any with you.“ He put the plate at the night stand.

„Thank you.“ As I couldn’t hold myself back any longer I attacked the offered food shamelessly. I managed to stick to some basic civilised manners and used only economical movements to preserve my strengths.

He placed something next to my bed.

„And since you can’t walk on your own yet, here’s my walking cane.“ It was as good as new. The cane hid a blade, attached to a silver handle in a shape of jumping lioness. The wood comes with black lacquer finish.

I might need all the support. He left me at once. I made the supper disappear and rested for a while. I felt better with food in my stomach and attempted to put my clothes on. With a slow and careful approach I managed to get into my shirt, trousers, the socks were the hardest and when I got up I had to embrace several stable points along the way outside the room. I staggered forward, using a cane and the railing to keep myself vertical. It was quite a hike, but I’m a fighter too. I didn’t trip anywhere and I landed in my favourite armchair once more.

The fire in front of us was going and the whiskey in Charles’s glass glistened in its light. Very peaceful image, but my bitterness surfaced anyway. I think I was still hungry.

„Charles, friend, please put me out of my misery. Or, if you are not fond of spending your ammunition I would like to eat some more, but I don’t feel like reaching the stove successfully at the moment.“ I explained.

„You seem much better already. Your humour is restored.“ He noted as he brought me more food. He also added two slices of bone-in ham, for which I was infinitely grateful.

„Once your condition allowed me to remove myself, I took care of our uninvited guests.“ He sat down and kept his eyes on me. „I suggest taking a small walk to a terrace for fresh air. It’s a beautiful afternoon. What do you say?“

I had no objection to that and agreed. Once I finished my second dish I felt ready to go outside. With his help we went through his laboratory doors to the terrace. A cool breeze ruffled my loose hair. The grey days were gone. I heard birds singing and I observed the lake waters behind the trees. The picture in front of us cheered me up a bit. The sun-rays warmed my face.

Charles stood protectively close, waiting in silence. We found ourselves in the heart of amazingly beautiful autumnal wilderness. One couldn’t believe what was lurking beneath the roots.

I sensed he somewhat knew the thoughts going through my mind so I asked him directly.

„Charles, will I become one of your kinds?“ I leaned on his walking cane and looked at him, turning my head slightly. He approached the stone carved railing so I didn’t have to change the position.

I was calm and content.

My fatal injury healing itself within the single day, his strength gave away more than he had the chance to tell. I knew he was fairly different and in the broad daylight I was sure about that.

He looked deep into my eyes.

„I gave you my blue blood. But no, you will not. I did it as it was the only alternative left. You were dying.“ He watched me, waiting for my reaction or my attempt to escape his grasp. I didn’t plan to.

„So, it’s true then…“ I was amazed.

„Yes. Some details have to be addressed yet, but most of the legends aren’t correct. Well, unless it’s about some other kind. And I’m glad my blood proved to be an ultimate cure. You are safe with me, Will.“ He turned his face towards the caressing sunshine.

I wondered if I should start to worry anyway, but Charles had already proved himself. He wasn’t the wild animal, losing control over fresh blood. His self-discipline is legendary.

„And our arch nemesis?“ That was the unknown.

„I’m not sure if he still dwells in such an amazing place, waiting for my return. Even so, we could find something there.“ His eyes wandered back to me and his hands reached to catch me as I was losing the solid ground beneath my feet again.

„Charles…“ I whispered in a weak voice as he gathered me in his arms, checking my pulse, talking to himself.

„You have to recover first.“

Comforting a friend.
Comforting a friend.

To the top^

The evening

Few days passed since that last incident and I improved well. We regained our evenings, chatting and drinking.

„I have my own vamp.“ I told myself, enjoying the heat coming from the main fireplace. I couldn’t believe what I’ve just said. Was it the alcohol speaking? Charles acquired a special condition and I was still processing that fact and its impact on our lives. I studied the dust particles in the mantle cracks when I heard an answer.

„Yes, you have me.“ He noted and landed in his armchair, relaxed.

„I cannot thank you enough for saving my hide, Charles.“ I turned at once and stepped towards him, holding half an empty tumbler in my hand. I’ve got plenty of time to think about it and what it meant to us. I could imagine he would want me to go back to London.

„Please.“ Said he, sipping his drink, half amused, half embarrassed.

„I didn’t realise… I didn’t see it in you.“ I confessed my utter ignorance.

„My apologies. We had hardly any chance to discuss the matter. You found out eventually. Few clues and you knew. I’m grateful for that gift, but its acquirement I would rather not talk about in the current situation. The marauders pushed me over the edge.“ He also had his share of nightmares.

„I understand. But how did you know it might help me and not change me?“ A thousand questions await the answers.

„I didn’t.“ He sounded pained. „There could be other outcomes which I feared. I bet all my hopes on that wild card. The complicated surgery I would have to perform without such advantage could not end well.. I’m sorry I should stop speculating. I was worried I might lose you too. My generous donation improved your health significantly. You woke up for a little chat and I knew it’s working its wonders.“ As he was speaking, my inner uneasiness dissolved completely.

„It’s hazy. I remember some of it. You. The pain in my chest. Cold darkness, where the death lurks. And later on a fire in my veins, burning that thing reaching for me. It brought me back. And your voice, the frail touch of… your hand. I know I’m not left alone. I realised how different you seemed to be and I remembered the bullet piercing your flesh, dear God…“ My memory put me back to that very moment. I shook my head to get rid of that image.

He was standing in front of me, pouring me another drink, studying my face. The flames danced in our eyes.

„So, how do you feel about having me, a blood sucking specimen, for a friend?“ He asked just in time to redirect my dark thoughts. It made me smile.

„I wish to scatter your worries about me bolting away because of that.“ I told him.

„I sensed your uneasiness. As I’m trying to get you drunk and it’s working, your inner alarm stopped screaming, but I cannot do any better than I already did. You’ll have to make some conclusion yourself, Will. You’ll have to decide if you are afraid of me or not.. to go back to London and be safe, or not.“

Even self-confident surgeon like Charles can feel vulnerable once in a lifetime. I cared about him more than he was realising apparently. He also has the point. He put aside the bottle and kept me company. My gears were shifting hard. I don’t want to return to London alone.

„It’s not easy for either of us. You proved yourself to me. You saved me. I wish I had the knowledge to overcome those animalistic fears. You are an apex predator, you realise that?“ I made some points along the main issues.

„I don’t feel like one. I will protect you. I won’t switch it against you. Yet you are right and I don’t have all the data. I can work with knowledge from my own experience and only time will tell more. Don’t suppress your instincts, Will. They’ll guide you.“ It sounded reasonable.

„Yes, but to what ends?“ I doubted myself and my decisions.

„You didn’t run for the hills, for example.“ He raised his glass, smiling.

„True.“ We returned to our armchairs. „And I don’t plan to.“

„I appreciate that.“ He closed his eyes for a second.

I felt the alcohol intake touching the steering wheel of my thoughts, turning it towards less important yet very much interesting details.

„Charles…“ The thing chewing on my brains had to get out right now.

„Hmm?“ He tilted his head slightly, smiling for himself.

„My apologies… but do you have the… the…“ I touched my lips, stirring hard about the correct wording. It seemed inappropriate to say just…

„Fangs?“ He asked, embodied innocence. „Certainly.“ I think I’ve noticed a tone of amusement in his voice.

He didn’t wait for anything and took my hand, pulling me out of the armchair.

„Come to the fire. Watch.“ I followed him with great expectations, dazzled by all the drinks I devoured already. He put his arm around my waist to prevent me from darting off as I understood. Not a single thought of worry popped up in my mind. As usual I took all the risks.

The fire lighted his profile and his slightly parted lips. Dangerously sharp fangs, so distinctive for his kind, descent a little to be visible enough in the dim fire light.

„Oh, God, Charles.“ I couldn’t come up with anything clever but the exclamation of amazement. My scientific curiosity about him was satisfied enough for one evening and I made a mental note not to poke him any further.

His corner teeth retracted slowly and he looked perfectly human. More or less. I understood, when he pulled off, it wasn’t that easy. I could only imagine how it feels to be a vampire, having to deal with all what happened to him, to me and still stay here, composed. Not trying to bite through my carotid in one fatal attack. We knew only a little about his new nature. The predatory instincts were there somewhere. His eyes wandered into the darkness behind me. He had the hard time to stay put. I stopped thinking and made the one and only important gesture. I hugged him desperately.

„This is my conclusion.“ I whispered to his collarbone. I think I surprised him.

He returned my effort and I disappeared in his firm loving embrace. His fingers speared through my thick hair and he let himself enjoy my presence for a few quiet moments. I yet again felt some unaddressed pain surge through my heart. And a guilt, loss and..

„I think I’m a little drunk.“ I raised my head to meet his eyes.

„Just a little?“ He smiled, letting me depart to the armchair. He had the point.

„A little bit more, perhaps.“ I confessed.

„Then why not take some rest?“ He suggested. It wasn’t a bad idea at all.

„It’s a splendid idea.“ I closed my eyes to let them rest.

„Nonetheless I might be gone till morning.“ He told me. I think it has to do something with the shooting party.

„Hunting?“ I already knew the answer.

„Yes. Hunting.“ He confirmed.

„You see very well in the dark…“ I looked at him. What other advantages he has?

„Better than that.“ He stated.

„Very well. I leave you to it. I really feel the whiskey magic behind my eyes.“ ‚You are drunk, William. Drunk!‘ I overdid it. I saw him hesitating. Safety reasons probably.

„Have your revolver ready while I’m away, will you?“ He reminded me as he also noticed the unstable state of my mind.

„Do you think they might risk a second siege?“ He awoke my inner awareness. Since I was shot already it would only seem to be fair to take all the precautions I possibly could. I got another chance, which is a mighty gift.

„I need to know you are prepared for such a possibility.“

I think I’m ready to deal with anyone. „I think I am, Charles. Stop worrying so much. I’ll barricade myself in the castle and shoot at them from the clock tower.“ I can handle that.

„Yes, you do that. You have my blessings. I’ll see you in the morning then.“ He probably knew I’ll fall asleep the second he leaves the door because I’ve read that much in his face.

He had to go to deal with the matter. All the doors and ground floor windows shutters were secured. My guns were well cleaned and loaded. I put them on the night table.

I threw myself in the pillows and turned the lamp off, observing the bluish star light coming through the window once my eyes adjusted to the darkness. I took off the boots and swung my legs up into a comfy bed, listening to the distant noises of the house. I recognised an owl hooting somewhere in the woods and that was all I’ve heard. I fall asleep right after and nothing could disturb me from my deep sleep. Not even the soft footsteps crossing my room in the middle of the night.

Gleaming light woke me gradually, veiling my vision. My hand started on its own will for the revolver handle when a well known voice addressed me.

„Will, it’s alright, you won’t need that.“ It was my friend Charles’s voice. I finally recognized him and pinched the bridge of my nose to stay awake. He changed to a fresh shirt and trousers. Something was bothering him. I studied his face. His eyes were like apatite of Caribbean colour, glistening feverishly, his cheeks were flushed pink and the tired look washed away. His hunt must have been successful. But something went wrong?

„What troubles your mind, Charles? My apologies. I fell asleep because I was very tired. There were no fireworks tonight. What is the time anyway?“ The outside world lingered in darkness and the tiled stove hadn’t cooled out yet. I reclined back to my pillows, fishing the untangled ribbon from my loose hair.

„Two in the morning.“ He announced, sitting at my bedside stiffly.

„Oh… so what’s wrong? You don’t wander in my quarters just to chat about the weather. Anything to do with your hunt?“

His thin eyebrows furrowed for a moment, he pinned his look to a detail on my hand, thinking.

„With everything.“ He said, somewhat losing his voice on this one.

„Speak freely. You know me and I think I know you too a little.“ I readjusted the pillows behind my back so I can sit more comfortably, giving him time and space to consider what to say. It was clear to me that the matter is serious. I dare to say I saw a broken man’s soul shattering into pieces.

„I…“ He had to take some air in. „So much has changed. I’m a monster.“
So, that’s what he thinks about himself?

„No. Not a monster.“ I cupped his hand, resting on his thigh, with my fingers, feeling his warm soft skin. He turned his palm upward towards my touch; his long thin fingers gently stroked my wrist sending pleasant shivers through my arm.

„Since my change I murdered four people and almost lost the one person I cherish most.“ Something cold lurked in his words.

„In self-defence.“ I tried to remind him about the fact we had been ambushed and almost killed in the process. I was sure that some others weren’t that lucky.

„Where is the border? I can be a threat even to you. I know nothing about my powers. I’m afraid of what I might become.“ I recognised fear crushing my friend’s confidence. Something definitely occurred when he was away.

Leaning forward and shielding his hand in both my palms as it could help to re-establish his soul’s foundations, I told him: „I was drunk, but serious. I won’t leave you alone to be devoured by your inner demons. I’ll risk it willingly. I want to stay by your side, let me make my choice… I should have come sooner.“ I should have.

„Your life is at stake. I want you to be safe.“

„Being safe is utterly boring, don’t you think?“ I smiled. I noticed a microscopic change in his mood for better.

„Will, you are one of the kind.“ He had to admit that.

„Yes, that’s me. I’m just getting myself in all kinds of distress in ill thought-out situations. You know me. I’m not going to abandon you in that dark place of yours.“ That’s what friends are for.
I let go of his gentle surgeons‘ hand, which saved numerous lives in the field ambulance, including my own, and swore to myself to keep both eyes on him.

He lingered in the silence, hesitating.

I didn’t want him to leave either.

„I might regret this.“ Later. I reached for him, partially unsure what might come from it, partially sure about my affection towards him. Here, we already lost our time. He either accepts it or refuses me.

Facing the ultimate truth about myself is very difficult on many levels and takes one brave soul to endure it. Exposing me to him can be the last thing between us happening. I was aware of that. The latest events opened my eyes and I understood how he was always there for me, filling the black void in my heart.

I stroked his blond curly hair, framing his face. He didn’t move away from my touch, on the contrary. He touched my hand, leaning to it, closing his eyes.

„Will.“ He whispered softly.

„There is more behind those blue eyes of yours, Charles. Once you choose freedom and I’m choosing mine.“ I stood my ground and approached him, kissing his lips gently. He was soft and facile, responsive to me.

A sensation surged through me in a beautifully painful wave. My heart was drumming aloud. My skin became highly sensitive.

He took me in his arms, kissing me deeply. I tasted his lips and his tongue in slow and caressing movements. Reassuring. His hands mapped my body, stopping at the dip of my waist. He pulled me up to his lap and I embraced his hips with my thighs, pressing myself against him.

I felt my own arousal against the cloth of my trousers. A weak moan escaped my mouth when his lips strayed down to my neck. Tilting my head back I bared my throat for him, vulnerable skin glistened with a thin layer of fresh sweat.

He kept kissing me gently despite his dark nature. I would not care less if he actually bit me. I wanted him. My heart was pounding in my chest. His experienced fingers unbuttoned my waistcoat and my shirt underneath it, sliding over my ribs down to the V-shape of my lower abdomen. I was hard already when he reached the front’s buttons, caressing.

My whole world felt somewhat unstable, when he embraced me and pushed me in the pillows, leaning in, pinning my hands above my head with just a slight pressure of a few fingers. He was quite strong and did everything so effortlessly. He undid my trouser’s fly and wrestled the remaining layer between his left hand and my bare skin. He pulled me out, feeling my length, pressing the leaking tip gently with his thumb, circling the fluid over the crown. I gasped, closing my eyes, surrendering. He barely touched me and I was already hanging at the edge of madness. Did I expect such an outcome? No. I was taken by surprise.

„Exquisite.“ He commented on the image under his hands. He sounded little winded himself. He then took me in his palm, circling his fingers around my shaft, stroking me in slow pacing motion.

„I don’t want to damage you… Unless that’s what you want.“ He freed my hands and his nails skated down the curve of my body, resting on my hip.

„I want you, Charles…“ Do whatever. My voice was also affected and strangled. I touched his cheek and he moved down at once. ‚Is this really happening?‘ A single thought went through my mind and then dissolved in his warm silky mouth, when he took me in, sucking me softly.

He licked my length up to a sensitive end, topping it with a wet kiss, lipping me into his mouth again, deep into his throat. My body arched in response on its own. I could not help it. I hardly let my breath escape. My left hand speared down into his hair, the other lost, searching for any kind of support on the headboard I could possibly discover.

I’ve felt my clothes restricting me and he was probably aware of that too since he stopped his efforts, which elicited a sigh and a glassy glance at him. He pulled everything I wore off and threw it aside. While he was at it I managed to open his shirt, until he readjusted himself between my thighs and was out of my reach again.

Relapsing back to the pillows I closed my eyes again as his lips already teased me some more. He was licking the most sensitive areas along the way to the hilt. He mouthed the crown of my cock and pulled it deeper. I couldn’t help but to thrust into it, until he almost choked on my length. He brushed his nails over my flat belly. Was it to stop me or was it to encourage me?

My heavy breathing betrayed me. I won’t take much longer and I’ll come. I grabbed a handful of sheets to redirect my single thought about the fire under my belly button, soon to be released. Well, it wasn’t helping much.

Somehow his fingers found their way down to my rim, wet already from all his effort and all the leaking.

„Yes…“ I panted softly and he slipped one in, stroking against the sweet spot gently, opening another door to the ultimate satisfaction. It was too much and I couldn’t bear it any longer.

„Charles!“ I warned him, but he didn’t pull off. He just hummed around my cock, his eyelashes shivering, letting me know that I can do whatever suits me best. My hand tightened the grip in his hair and in the sheets. It was too late and the clenching pulse of orgasm swayed over my body.

„Oh, God!“ I gasped under the waves of pleasure; the sensation flushed any coherent thought away and raised me to another dimension of existence. My sweaty self squirmed, having goose bumps all over my skin. He supported my bum eventually, which hardly touched the surface during the climax, holding me and sucking me through my vertigo ride. And it went on and on. What has he done to me? It won’t stop until I was exhausted and collapsed back to the duvets in relief, when it was over.

He licks off the last drops and kissed my trembling thighs on the inner side before he moved away with a satisfaction setting in his face. I needed him close so I grabbed his shirt and pulled him up to my kiss, tasting myself from his tongue. We have been interlocked for quite some time, still thirsty and it showed. He finally let me remove his own clothes, helping me a little. I felt his own heart racing and I noticed his prominent fangs making their appearance. I could only imagine what it feels like to be him.

Kneeling in front of him on my bed I hugged him around his neck and shoulders, indulging myself in the moment of intimacy. He was kissing my neck gently, brushing his soft lips over my pulse. A shivering sensation ticked through my oversensitive nerve endings, spreading its threads from the point of interest.

„I know what you want.“ I said, calm. His breath tickled my skin. He stopped and pulled me up to his naked lap. He was hard yet his attention was drawn towards my neck life line and who am I if not a good lover to let him go for it.

He rested his hands at my waist, feeling the muscles underneath. His blue eyes locked with my hazel ones. Loose hair-lock fell over his face. He held me firmly.

„What do I want?“ He asked me in a steady tone. Maybe I finally crossed the line. It could be a little unfair towards him. Charles was restraining himself since I arrived, suppressing the needs and urges of his special condition and I teased him too much. Teasing a vampire might prove fatal.

„What do I want, William.“ His grip loosened, his hands slid down to my butt cheeks, cupping them gently. My palms touched his face, my fingertips caressed his lips. He closed his eyes. Having his beautifully carved lips parted I slowly inserted two of my fingers inside his mouth, feeling his tongue and sharp edges of his fangs, I went over it and tore my skin open. Talking about playing with fire…

„To take me.“ I felt his hands squeezing me a little. „I want to feel it.“ I could tell I was quite right about his own desires, as he sucked on my fingers, his eyes reopened flushed with fever. „I want to feel you under my skin.“ I whispered the last one, pulling my hand away.

„You desire pain? From me?“ He asked content. His touch carefully moved to my hands. He was waiting. Waiting for my approval?

„Yes.“ I answered.

„I must admit I did not expect that one. I am content with a more traditional way. You are risking yourself, Will, you know that.“ He pulled me closer to be in full contact with me. I very much felt his presence and I knew that my honest invitation was appealing and he won’t refuse me in the end.

„I acknowledge that. I also understand that it can be a sensuous experience even for you. You cherish me, because I am still human. Yet, you play with the possibility of taking me in you in a much more interesting way. We both want to reach for an extended experience and I wish to lose myself in your arms, Charles.“ My heart beat against his.

„My dear Will…“ The walls collapsed once more and I disappeared again in his careful embrace, locking my lips with his lips, feeling his sharp fangs, tasting his tongue. His corner teeth were ready to deliver some damage and I was ready to accept that.

He tenderly covered my neck in passionate kisses, reaching my right collarbone. His fangs crossed the skin in several sensitive spots and the arousing expectation of inevitable outcome sharpened my perception. My eyes went hazy as his embrace tightened.

He slipped his right hand behind my neck, supporting my head. His other hand smoothed along my spine down to my lower back. His hips raised me up and he lay me down on the soft surface, pressed against me.

His deep kisses melted my defensive mechanisms one by one. When done right I could feel the kiss in the farthest corners of my being and he was strikingly precise and tireless. My arms wrapped his body firmly. I was ready to accept whatever comes.

Gasping for air I tilted my head to the side and he licked my exposed throat, stroking his fingers through my wavy hair, securing me in place with his strong grip. His other hand captured one of my arms, pinning it to the sheet next to my head. He slid his fingers in between mine and held me firm. I was about to die for sure.

And then the unexpected tremor surged through me when his fangs punctured my skin and the vein underneath it. A moan escaped my mouth as the pain squeezed my lungs and all the air out. The shock was gradually replaced with the most pleasant feeling, flooding me and clashing in the core, firing off very different kinds of climax.

He was drinking my warm blood in slow careful draughts. He tried not to draw too much at once. I felt every bit of him in me and I didn’t care anymore how much he takes and what he takes.

His grip relaxed a portion, letting my hand free. I caressed his hair in return, guiding him to linger a little longer. I was drowning in the intensity of this sensation for as long as he pressed his lips to my neck. He could go for however long until he sucked me dry.

Dark side of our love.
Dark side of our love.

My heart slowed its pace. The pleasure still ticking off in me, held me entangled in place, breathless, careless and mindless. We swim in the currents of ecstasy and afterglow.

Charles disengaged, raising his head. Mine lay limp, turned sideways, the blood glistening on my neck, oozing from two small puncture marks he left there.

„Will?“ There. I’ve heard a fear in his voice. I was still gathering myself and he had to help me to turn my head so I could face him.

„William, are you with me?“ He whispered to my mouth. There was my blood on his lips.

„Y… yes,“ I panted.

„I went too far. Please, forgive me.“ I tried to meet his unsure gaze.

„Amazing… ‚twas amazing, Charles.“ I caressed his cheek gently with my shivering fingers. „You are beautiful.“ I said shamelessly, resting my hand on my chest.

„I’m… dangerous.“ He let it escape with his soft breath, palming my wounded neck.

„I’ll need all the liver if you want to keep such pace, Charles.“ I smiled at that remark. Hard to recognize if my brains were truly up and running or just failing to see real danger.

„Anything.“ He answered.

„Alright. Then stay with me tonight.“ I captured his hand before it disengaged.

„I can do that.“ Supporting my head he bent into a kiss, and then stretched himself right next to me, covering us with a blanket.

„I’m so very sorry, Charles, I didn’t come out sooner.“ I mumbled to his collarbone. His hand smoothed my chest and stopped at my gunshot wound at once. I felt vulnerable and was slowly slipping down in my thoughts. I was so blind for so long, overworking myself so I didn’t have to even broach other aspects of life itself and what felt different in me.

„We are equally troubled over this. But no force on Earth can undo the changes within me. Life is so precious now. It is already too late for me. Treasure what you have.“ He was looking into my eyes dreamily.

„I want to have you.“ That was all I cared about at the moment.

„You have me.“ He reassured me, kissing my eyebrow.

„Let me heal you, Will.“ He whispered to me while hovering his hand above the wounds. I nodded indistinctively.

Charles simply bit his lower lip and let the blood droplets colour my mouth. I instinctively licked it off. It tasted quite sweet and of course coppery. Kissing him gently I indulged some more. A fire went through my throat and spread within my body, the pleasant feeling ticked off eventually and I gave him an asking hazy glance.

„Ecstatic, isn’t it?“ He smiled. „For a proper exchange I would have to go to the very edge of your life and then give it back fully.“ He explained.

I also witnessed a slight golden aura, shivering over our skin, where we were in direct contact. Observing it carefully I saw he noticed my amazement.

„Charles, do you see?“

„Yes.“

The question of what it is like to be a vampire struck me once more. I let my own imagination answer that.

„When are we going?“ I asked him out of the blue.

„In two days, with your recent blood loss maybe three. I think you’ll be alright by then.“

„Sounds good to me. I’ll stick around if you’ll need me.“

„Alright.“ He smiled in return. „Sleep well.“

I didn’t have to pretend I was indeed very sleepy. I clung closer to his shoulder, as he was supporting my head with his arm. The other one rested on my chest with his fingers spread over my heart.

„You too.“ I whispered rather to myself, thinking. Does he sleep? I truly doubt that. So many curious questions lingered in the air. It took a few more seconds before I fell asleep. To calm down all the clicking cogwheels in my head was a hell of a work.

I felt stronger and stronger with every upcoming day. I rested a lot and also exercised to regain my flexibility. Charles was leaving me alone to gather some intel. The news varied from saddening ones to hopeful ones.

The postmaster became the last victim of the marauders, when travelled to the crossroads inn. Since Charles’s successful hunt, the mayhem stopped completely and people were talking about safe roads again. Of course he couldn’t mention any kind of involvement. He rather pretended to be a fearful scholar and stick to the role as always. He also brought me a lovely honey cake once he got back with fresh supplements. They’ve somehow heard I was poorly and cannot visit such a magnificent inn any time soon. The gesture moved me and I sent back my sincere regards and thanks.

Charles also let me borrow his horse for a ride through the woods and over the lake beaches. I did everything I could to be functioning again. The period of my convalescence prolonged for a few more days until Charles was satisfied with the results announcing we can probably try the very next day.

To the top^

The site

The evening before departure to the excavation site I found Charles in his armchair in complete silence, thinking hard. He raised his head when I approached him.

„I was thinking about letting my good horse free. What do you say? I would be more comfortable if he left for the inn. He knows the trail and the groom. It’s the closest civilised place on the map.“

„Don’t you think it can raise the alarm?“ I pointed out, leaning against the other chair’s armrest.

„It might. Yet it is lesser evil than having the poor thing starved to death.“ I had to agree.

„Charles…“ But before I said so, he got to the main concern.

„We both know how this may end.“ It was his last warning. After that there won’t be any place for doubts.

„Let’s open the gates, pal.“

He nodded to my confirmation. I was in it with him. We went to the stables at the side of the château. He stood in front of the horse, caressing his muzzle, talking to him in a soft voice. I didn’t want to interfere in such a personal ritual so I watched from distance. Charles removed the halter and opened the gates wide. His horse sprung out free, wild and excited, circled the driveway and trotted towards the freedom.

„Let’s have a drink at tomorrow’s success.“ He shouted at me over his shoulder once he entered the house. I agreed, but before I followed him I raised my eyes to the dark sky. Flickering stars shone upon me and upon the tall trees around me. Fresh cold air signalled approaching winter. I imagined the beauty of the snow covered castle and the forest under the snow blanket, silent in its sleep. I liked what I saw.

Maybe, there is a hope for us in the end. And with such an image I entered the hall, brightened and warmed by the fire going in the main hearth.

Charles washed his hands in a little enamelled sink next to the stables door and picked two crystal tumblers from a bar in the corner of the hall. He poured generous doubles and the whiskey scented the air. He didn’t hesitate and raised his glass in a festive gesture.

„At tomorrow, may the luck be with us.“

„Yes. For luck and courage.“ He emptied his glass in one go. I followed his example despite the fact I was disadvantaged. As a human I could not keep such a pace for long. I let him pour another drink and then departed to my throne.

„I have something for you.“ He said and fished the flat wooden case with curved corners out of his home coat pocket.

„It is for your safety. I made it myself.“ He explained but not quite. I put my drink at a side table and accepted the gift with uttermost curiosity.

Opening the blue velvet lined case I have found three small compartments, containing three specific items: a glass ampoule with dark ruby fluid inside it, a surgical scalpel and a glass syringe with hypodermic needle, secured with a protective cap.

„I stabilised the sample and I would feel better if you kept it close. It stays active for at least few days.“ A tone of urgency crept into his voice.

„I won’t disappoint you.“ I put it in my jacket pocket.

„I know.“ He turned his head towards the fire. „By the way, the silver core bullets aren’t helpful. It only raises small irritations in the form of minor bleeding wounds.“

„I gathered that much.“ We sat in silence for a while. I finished my drink and called it a night. „I have to prepare for tomorrow. See you in the morning?“

„Yes. As soon as you wake up. Good night, Will.“

I left him in the hall, a statue with a golden cast silhouette, and went back to my room. The generous gift was his own blood, a vial of life and a first aid kit.

I lit the lamps and opened my trunk. I took the handgun cleaning kit out and checked both my revolvers thoroughly. I could invest in newer models. I pulled the old army bayonet out of the piece of cloth and put its sheath on the hip holster belt. It might prove useless but I didn’t care that much.

A tension and nervous anticipation clouded my attempts to fall asleep. I felt like going to war again and not for a hike in the woods. The air buzzed with awaiting catastrophe. The world around us went on, unchanged, yet we were preparing for an unequal fight with forces unknown.

We searched for mysteries for so long, till it reached back. We could not allow the history to be repeated. That’s why we are going back there. To find some answers and to deal with obstacles, if there are any.

I felt so tired lately, that I finally fell asleep. It takes some time. Catching a thought is like slow burning coal, it just doesn’t let go until it turns to ashes.
The morning reflected our grim mood. The air was hazy, thick fog covered the roads and clouds swallowed the sunlight. Trees were already bare, their black trunks disappeared in the mist and the limbs reached for the non-existent sky in the silent cry.

Charles brought a little army bag. A small mining lamp with a huge lens on its side dangled from the cross-body strap. My bag has been prepared since the last attempt. I packed some fresh food and felt flask with water.

„Do not give up, Will.“ He gently touched my chin. „It’s not a lost fight.“ And tucked my scarf under my jacket lapels. I used to be the one saying such words. Long time ago.
I put on my deerstalker hat, my travel coat and leather gloves. Charles picked his cowboy coat and the gloves. The cold air wasn’t any notable issue to him but I felt a little shivery, seeing his bare head and I could see my breath.

„Lead us on, Charlie.“ We passed through an overgrown and desolated garden, surrounding the driveway and entered the woods right behind the last stonewall. Very old and crooked trees grew from the piles of rocks. Their limbs touched the floor under the weight of ancient moss and clusters of silvery lichen. I preached my sturdy outdoor boots as the rocky forest path, blanketed with fallen leaves, was slippery and hard on my ankles. I had to choose my steps wisely and our progress was slow.

„I made a few marks here and there.“ He pointed to the bark of the nearest tree. „It can help you find the trail if you know where to look. It mostly faces to the south-east.“ He pointed out. There was a letter „C“ carved in the bark. „There used to be old trails and merchant roads. It’s hard to distinguish a path from a natural formation after three or more hundred years. Huge old trees mark the resting points and the tree lines mark an actual road. I identified several places and simply connected them together. This is the best path I could discover. I admit that it’s very demanding terrain.“ He showed me a few more landmarks. I listened to him carefully, but I could hardly breathe and slowed us even more. He turned to me.

„Four more miles lay ahead.“ My desperate face expression stopped us.

„Let’s climb this hill. You can rest up there. There’s a clearing on the top and the place to sit.“

„I’ll appreciate it.“ I panted.

He nodded and we continued hiking, ascending above the fog level. There was no place to take some rest along the rocky trail. The path wound up the hill so I soldiered on until we reached the clearing. A dead tree lay across the path. Its trunk was covered with thick moss and clusters of various mushrooms, living from its rotten wood. I put my bag on the floor and fell into the moss pillows, panting and staring into the tree crowns helplessly. Maybe we should postpone our doom for a few more days.

Charles stopped admiring primeval forest canopy and took a seat next to my sprawled self.

„How do you feel?“ He asked as my doctor.

„I feel like a burden.“ I told him the raw truth. He checked for my wrist pulse, watching the hand of his small silver pocket watch. When satisfied he put the watch in his waistcoat pocket.

„I’ll carry your bag, my dear burden. Take a few sips and rest some more. The post-traumatic effects of your injury faded away two days ago. It’s just your heart going wild. You are otherwise perfectly fine.“ He picked up my backpack. „You should also know that you will never be a burden to me. I cannot wish for a better partner to share my story with and I understand so much that it is not a common occurrence and not everyone is so lucky to have a good friend.“ He bow slightly and offered me his left hand. I noticed his smirk. My reaction followed. I took his hand and let him pull me up.

„You sound truly convincing sometimes.“ I remarked.

„And sometimes I’m quite serious.“ He answered, putting his gloves on, and we stepped up to the last stretch.

Freed from my load I was able to keep up with Charles, so we crossed the distance during the forenoon and halted near the memorial stone. Its surface eroded and the markings weren’t recognizable any more. It crooked sideways, partially buried under the leaves and needle-leaves, fallen from tall larches growing nearby. I checked it respectfully, touching the blackened surface thoughtlessly. I could imagine the primal excitement, when Charles first discovered physical evidence, making the old story genuine. Speaking about my friend. His thoughts wandered up the meadow to the heart of his nightmare.

„It’s not far. We should not hesitate, Will.“

I could sense his doubts about the whole business, but I myself didn’t fell victim to such feelings. I was excited and couldn’t wait for more exploration. I went ahead and I’ll deal with anything as it crosses my path. I climbed the slope and stopped at the sight of an enormous fallen oak tree, pieces of walls scattered around its fan-like roots. What a place to live. There used to be a mansion. Nothing on the surface gave that away. We have to examine the underground.

Charles put down all the baggage and stored it under the tree trunk. It stays protected in the ever-changing weather conditions. He also lit his mining lamp, our only companion in dark places. Turning to me he asked me to arm myself. Putting down the coat, the hat and the scarf I withdrew my Gasser. Watching its barrel and muzzle I had to ask myself if it’s enough of a precaution. And I had Charles with me.

He handed me the lamp as I was the one who actually needed the artificial light. I thought we were ready when he pulled out more stuff. Two small clusters of dynamite sticks patched together, with detonators, blasting caps and the safety fuse attached to its ends.

„Special mixture with addition of TNT.“ I didn’t expect that. He smiled at my startled face.

„Come at once, Will.“ He pulled his army Remington revolver out of its holster and jumped down into the dark tunnel.

When I got inside in a less elegant manner, he gestured to me to keep a slight distance between us and remain silent. So I did. Little lantern lighted the walls several yards ahead. The lens scaled the beam of light up once my eyes adjusted to the darkness I started recognising details.

We left the safety of the above land behind us and entered the corridor. He advanced to the main hall entrance, passing all the small storage chambers. I followed him along the opposite wall and as I’m a very lucky person I tripped. I suppressed the rising panic and checked the floor. The small deer’s body lay there, drained and mummified. Poor thing. I also peeked inside and recognised a few round shaped objects with two dark pits in place of the eyes, scattered over the floor and covered with dust. A hundreds of years void in time existed between these two objects. My pulse was racing again and I had to collect myself to be able to continue.

London streets are as dirty and occasionally a citizen can encounter a dead body in the streets. I can cope with a situation like that without blinking an eye, but this means immediate danger.

Charles stepped back, revolver aimed at the floor as he risked a glance at me. His movement woke me up from the shock and grounded me in the moment. I nodded in acknowledgement and followed him to the hall.

We entered the room and yet the place was deserted. The grave was there. Charles stopped and gave me a puzzled look. Something didn’t match his memory. He approached the sarcophagus and looked inside. I couldn’t resist and had to check it out too. There were some old rags, otherwise it was empty. The lid had to hit the wall hard for it lay cracked in two far from the grave. Nobody’s home.

We exchanged glances.

„What does it mean?“ I whispered, my voice sounds shaky, giving away the current state of my mind. I placed the lamp on the grave pedestal and aimed the beam at the entrance. He pulled out the explosives, placing them out of the view.

„It means he is somewhere out there.“ Charles said, the muzzle pointing into darkness in the corridor. „He won’t miss our visit, I’m sure.“ He added.

It wouldn’t be me if I hadn’t some crazy idea. I put my gun back in the shoulder holster and removed my glove. I unsheathed my bayonet and the metallic friction sound echoed through the hall. „So, we should let him know we’re awaiting his arrival.“ I cut my palm open in one quick move. Sheathing my knife I let the blood from my wound drip freely to the floor.

„William, what the hell are you doing?!“ Charles was at me in two steps, pressing his bare hand to my leaking injury. He was visibly pained by my action, but it didn’t matter. Blood or no blood. He was the only one, who could face the enemy. We both knew that much.

„I’m the bait. That’s what I am. Make my sacrifice count. He is not strong enough to reach the civilised world. When he comes, blow this place up.“ I whispered hastily. He made no remark, putting my glove back on my hand.

„Arm yourself, he’s approaching.“ He touched my chin in one soft gesture, his eyes gleamed feverishly as he turned away from me, taking his weapon in his hands, aiming at someone I didn’t see as he was shielding me from the danger.

He fired at the fast running shape, drawing an elegant arc, hitting only a stone, his coat tails floating in the air as he’s moving through the space intercepting invisible opponent.
I’ve tried to find a better angle, but it was impossible. I overestimated my reflexes. A sitting duck in a shooting gallery, that’s what I felt like. My ears were ringing and the dust filled the air.

Charles was out of ammo and he could only use his bare hands to prevent the enemy from confrontation with me.

The ragged stature stopped for a brief moment in the middle of the arena so I could finally see something. I recognised a tall black haired man in old fashioned clothes. I pulled the trigger in a hopeful attempt, but I missed. He utterly ignored my effort and focused on my friend. They exchanged several blows until the moment he struck Charles down hard. He fell across the floor and nothing in the world could prevent his head from crashing with the wall. He collapsed to the ground, his skull was badly injured. My heart skipped a beat.

The vampire paused and redirected the attention to me. He was absolutely and completely devoured by a savage violent madness. His eyes gleamed with black fire. His ragged clothes were in very bad shape and his once white shirt with pleated sleeves was blackened by old stains. I was sure it was his own blood once. The scent of my own blood wasn’t helping much either.
I chose gun diplomacy and fired once more. As anticipated I hit the air and the wall but not the man. He disappeared from my field of view.

All of the sudden my revolver left my hand from reasons unknown and the floor hit me in my face. I sprawled on the ground, disoriented. I turned and unsheathed the bayonet in one quick movement, yet the reliable blade followed my trusty Gasser into shadows beyond my reach. I’ve got no chance to use my second gun whatsoever, as the vampire landed on top of me, pinning me down by his iron grip. I only gasped as I tried to fight against his unnatural force.

He tore up my shirt collar as it obscured my neck, leaving bleeding nail marks behind.

„Please, don’t.“ I whispered, strangled by utter horror. I have read damnation in his eyes. I was a dead man. He breached my defences in less than three seconds. What have I been thinking? Charles, forgive me…

The vampire bit me in one quick attack. His fangs penetrated my skin, damaging the tissue irreparably, tearing blood vessels beneath. I cried out as the pain surged through my body. I tried so hard to shake him off. He didn’t move a tiny bit and I exhausted myself in a meaningless fight for my life. Only a moment passed when I found myself at the threshold of consciousness. I’ll lose my senses any minute and then my heart stops. I’ve asked for it.

My mind spiralled down towards the dark hopeless bottom, where death prevails, when a loud explosion and another deafened my ears. Projectiles burst through the vampire’s skull. The energy of impact snatched him off of me. Charles stepped closer and fired two more at his heart. It can detain him for a moment or two.

Charles didn’t take any chances to study the effect and grabbed my torn, bloodied lapels, pulling me up like a rag-doll. I almost lost it and he had to support my unsteady self with all his effort as my head rolled backwards and I couldn’t tell if I was vertical or not.

„Will, wake up! You have to go. Go now!“ He dragged me to the exit. With my hand around his shoulders and other steadying myself against the wall I managed to hobble ahead in a direction he pointed me. He let go and placed my other hand onto the wall. „Follow the wall. We passed the chambers. Go, run!“

I gasped as I hugged the wall, trying to follow his orders. I staggered through the darkness when I stopped suddenly as I realised he sent me ahead for a reason. I turned back to look at him once more. The safety fuse was ignited and sparkled in the darkness. Something was moving behind his back. He noticed my hesitation and cried out loud. „Run!“
My legs obeyed and the rest followed. The time was at its premium. Igniting the second fuse he turned back to the hall and its contents. Vampire got up and went after Charles. His gunshot wounds bled but it didn’t slow him.

I teetered to the exit and with all my remaining strengths and willpower reached for the upper edge to pull myself up.

To the top^

Last thought

First bomb exploded way too soon and the second followed. The blast pressure wave flung me out from the tunnel, which ceased to exist. Whole slope changed its coordinates and then collapsed into a newly occurred cavern. Detonations echoed through the hills and the dust and smoke veiled the view at the site of destruction caused by Charles’s explosives.

Fine rubble rain from the sky, covering my beaten up body. Landing on my belly I turned over wearily and lay inert. My flesh sent so many signals to my brain, that I had lost my senses for a brief moment. I was hurt by shards of stone and the uncontrolled flight. I didn’t make it through the ceiling and the ceiling left with me.

I lay sprawled in the wet moss, bleeding, trying to gather some strength, but there were none. My eyes darted from my dishevelled jacket, over torn and dirty shirt underneath to a right hand pierced sleeve. I could see my pale skin shining through holes. A numbing feeling crawled up to my elbow and I focused on my fingers, trying hard to move them a little, except my hand only shivered. The other one I didn’t feel at all and had no courage to look at it.

I was unable to use his gift, what a bad luck indeed. I stopped trying and watched the sky instead. I felt cold and the world around me became hazy. My beloved Charles lay dead, torn apart, fulfilling his duty and I will follow soon. I witnessed his fall. I should have come sooner. This thought stuck with me until I recalled I still have the other revolver in the hip holster. Oh, well. I guess I’ll go the slow way, in the cold arms of all-embracing nature. I’ll pass away and it will be the end of my story. ‚Charles…‘

To the top^

The blood

Soft distant voice reached my oblivious ears. Again and again he called my name. I felt his hands, sliding under my shoulders and my head, raising me up from the wet moss death bed.
I know that voice. Is he talking to me from the other world? Am I dead? I very much desired to answer him, form a word, a name perhaps. I was unable to do anything that complicated.

My senses were slipping away again with an image of two beautiful blue eyes, flushed with dismay. The soothing darkness embraced my mind.

A new source of sharp pain, surging through my neck didn’t bother me at all. I already got used to it. Whatever was going on was happening to somebody else. I observed my utterly boring derrière indifferently. And the pain was gone. It’s good to be patient. Patience always pays off.

And that soft voice reappeared, telling me tales. I like good tales. I believed him. Whatever he was telling me I believed it. He was killing me, but he had my trust. Oh, this must be the madness coming after me. I must be crazy.

A new sense and a new scent. My lips were wetted with something warm and sweet. I opened my mouth a little to taste it. I wasn’t sure if I like the taste of it, but he didn’t let me turn my head away. I licked some more of it and it felt good. A fire touched my tongue and spread into my throat. I pressed my lips to the source of such exquisite manna and sucked it from two little wounds. Life giving power animated my limp hands and I grabbed him to keep it close. Bottomless well of incredible power filled my heart, my veins, my body. I’ve heard a moan of protest and ignored it. I’ve lost control over my thirst and let the dark desire take the lead and drink it all. His grip in my hair weakened and he let go.

With all the new energy, flowing through my being, I finally realised I should stop before I suck my friend dry. I was in charge of myself again and disengaged from his injured wrist.

„Don’t stop.“ He whispered in a low voice, exhausted.

„You gave me enough, Charlie.“ I held his hand pressed close to my chest. I dared to open my eyes and when I did, I almost cried in amazement. I could see the stars behind the sun, the trees emanated majestic silver aura. I’ve heard many voices of nature and sprinkling bubbling streams far in the woods. My eyes wandered over the vivid imagery to my friend’s face. He was alive.

„Very intensive for the first time, isn’t it?“ He was very tired, but produced a smile. His aura gleamed around his head in the shades of his eyes‘ blue. I touched him gently to make sure he is real and not a dream.

„I’ve thought you’re dead.“ I whispered, caressing the single tear trail along his cheek.

„I was lucky enough to discover the hidden emergency exit behind the wall. We didn’t see it. The draft pointed me in the right direction. I got out as quickly as possible. I was sure you won’t make it out. I could only hope. The aftermath was truly terrifying and then I saw you lay inert. You got out.“

„Not on my own. I made a mistake. My demise was inevitable. I paid the highest cost.“

„Yes, you paid greatly. I couldn’t let you go, I couldn’t let that happen.“

„A vampire’s kiss.“ My voice failed me. I held his injured wrist, still slightly bleeding, healing way too slowly.

„My apologies. I gave you everything I could.“ He told me as it was something common and highly unimportant.

„Thank you. I risked everything. I’ve got no slightest chance.“ I confessed to my ignorance.

„Well, I brought you here with my cryptic message.“

„We were always there for each other, Charlie.“ My arrival reflected that fact perfectly.

„Don’t you feel sorry you lost the opportunity to find out more about yourself and why he let you go?“ I asked him since I felt responsible for the outcome.

„I think I was mere safety to him, being his only connection with the new unknown world, I let him in. He was probably very disappointed as I didn’t meet his expectations.“ He answered without hesitation. „Do you feel like walking home?“ He asked, checking my neck injury briefly. I turned my head aside for better access. „You’re healing very well.“

I’ve touched the spot he was referring to. My skin was soft smooth, no trace of damage left, except the blood itself.

„Is it supposed to be that quick? Weren’t you off for a day?“ I was curious.

„We did our little exchange earlier, Will. I think that’s the main reason why it works better for you.“ Oh, he is probably right, as usual. He didn’t want to go any further, for I still lay in wet moss, with my head leaning on his thigh.

„I think I can get up.“ I let go his hand and got up with his help. I felt marvellous. I could walk, touch things and all the physical pain dissolved in the river of life he gifted me. I saw everything with my new eyes and felt amazed.
Charles fished my coat from the debris and put it over my shoulders. He also collected everything into the backpack. I watched him while he was at it and saw the crimson fluid glistening on his neck and head skin, his blond hair entangled and sticky wet.

„Charlie, your head…“

„Very unfortunate indeed. The only thing that actually stopped me was the fracture and it gave me some idea. Don’t trouble yourself over it. The healing process is rather slow over my donation to your cause, but it is happening and I’ll be as good as new soon enough.“
Yes, let’s get out of here.

„Are you ready?“ He asked me.

„Always.“ And we departed.

We arrived in his place at dusk. Charles couldn’t go as swiftly and he didn’t complain about his condition at all. I tried not to worry about him, failing hard. I saw him and his very pale skin. He was in slight discomfort. I yet again promised myself to keep an eye on him.

A surprise in the shape of Charles’s horse welcomed us as we emerged from the forest path. He returned to his home on his own will. The dishevelled state of his black mane signalled he enjoyed the freedom above anything else. He trotted towards us shaking his head. Charles reached for him and petted the beast’s shoulder.

„You devil, enjoyed wandering much? Look at you.“ The horse nosed his master’s breast, snorting, having a lot to say too.

„Yes, you’re right. I have nothing to add. I’ll take care of you. Will, please, take these and I join you later.“ He handed me the baggage and departed to the stables. His horse followed him willingly.

Why do I think all animals will fear us? On the contrary and I had the evidence right in front of me. They know things too.

I entered the door and removed the entire load, going straight to the bathroom to repair my battered exterior. I stripped naked and tossed the stained pile of my former clothes aside. I won’t be wearing any of it again.

I noticed my recent gunshot wound scar is no longer present. The war injuries healed without a trace. Looking at myself in the mirror I discovered that my face no longer shows any signs of ageing, or the silver strings, sprinkled through my rich dark brown hair. I stared into the clear hazel eyes in the face of a young and handsome man. The additional years in old London were washed away.

I also understood that my friend Charles hardly feeds properly as his visage seems ethereal and otherworldly, his pale skin shows the network of blue tinted veins and his aristocratic bone structure is more prominent, especially in his face. He resembles a cold timeless angel. I savoured the look of it, but I wasn’t a fan of what it was caused by.

I warmed up water in the tank, enjoying such luxury. I bet I would easily swim across the lake and back and have no trouble in freezing waters. I might test it one day and push my boundaries. I showered quickly and then I filled the big copper tube with hot water. I stepped in and slowly submerged, recalling the cold and definitive experience in the woods. A shiver ran down my spine. I could smell the earthly dirt and feel the pain of my former self. I shall not forget who I was.

I’d like to learn more about his feelings and thoughts, how he sees us now, what else he might know, what’s under the rational and cold facade of a man of medicine. Or did he step aside from it all to preserve his sanity? Does he know all the answers?

Once I left the room to fetch fresh clothes, the fire in the big hearth was already burning. I crossed the hall, wearing only a towel around my hips. Charles wasn’t there or anywhere nearby, so I continued to my quarters to make myself presentable. I’ll probably burn my stained clothes in the furnace later. I wished to speak with him first.

To the top^

Fire in the heart

Once I was done I went to look for him and found him in his armchair. He observed me intensively. A glimpse of amusement sneaked into his features.

„To me the fire represents a symbol of life. It binds me with my past. I don’t feel sorry about myself. The only thing or should I say a person I won’t give up, is someone, who isn’t going to run for the hills in the terror, as he used to say.“ He raised the glass with a golden drink; the other glass was waiting for me. To my unspoken question he added: „I can hear your thoughts if I focus, and you don’t have to allow me, Will. Our abilities can evolve.“

So, he heard me thinking.

„What else did you learn?“ I asked, curious, as always.

„I know… how to time my appearance at the scene. Don’t worry about it. Your darkest secrets are safe with me.“ Is he mocking me?

„Don’t stress yourself.“ He smiled and sipped his drink.

„Give it some time.“ I asked him and poured myself another drink. „Can a vampire get drunk?“

„Oh, that’s an interesting question and it deserves methodical research. You can try it.“ Said he in all seriousness and followed my drinking example.

„Charles…“ I was stirring about very basic things, really, but aren’t they important too? „What do we… from what… oh…“ I had to water my suddenly dry throat.

„Where do we get our food from?“ He translated.

I nodded my head.

„Animal blood is nurturing enough. A butcher’s shop is a resourceful place. You can simply hunt in the woods or get willing horses as a steady resource.“
I looked at him and he dismissed my thought immediately.

„No, I don’t draw blood from my stallion. You see, he trusts me to stay in my presence; I don’t want to stick a needle in his vein. We can live without it for quite some time. For how long I don’t know and there’s the risk of losing self-control. I bet some might be prone to that. As many humans are prone to violence.

„A vampire starved to the bone, on the other hand, is probably the most dangerous creature. You don’t wish to encounter one in a dark tomb. The whole situation is much more violent, than what made-up tales in the old books say. I add it to the fact that not many victims survived their oppressor and lived up to the day to record the events.“ A shadow of a painful memory washed over his face.

„After all these years he was so strong and powerful.“ I’ve got the idea that we might become vile monsters in the end. But was he really? One has to be critical to written word and to own judgement as the other loses their wits. How can I know what such a long time of unconscious sleep would do to me? I simply have no idea.

„I’m very hopeful as we didn’t rush to ravage through the nearest settlement so far. I’m guilty of putting the mightiest weapon into his hands. A fresh human blood is very enthralling and powerful in both ways, as the ultimate cure and the desired strengths boost. It is what it is, a fuel.“ His knowledge about vampirism is going to help me understand us better. He’d like to share what he knew freely and I want to know everything.

„When you’ve drank my blood for the second time, what did you feel?“ I asked shyly.

„A fear I’ll lose you if I don’t do that.“ He said, imbibing the whiskey.

„Didn’t you desire, for a second maybe, be like him? Without any scruples? Relentless? Wasn’t it tempting, perhaps?“ I knew I pushed too far. He saw right through me. He didn’t take it personally, though. He never does.

As a doctor I might give you such an impression.“ He stated. He had me there. „And no, I inherit no such disposition. And yes I felt powerful and great. Your blood was exquisitely intoxicating, if you need to hear that from my mouth. In a situation as your rescue one simply doesn’t think about such things. You know what needs to be done and for what purpose. Your mind has to be one hundred percent sure and content and present. There’s always the risk you might kill your companion in the process. I’m not going to hide that from you.“ He explained.

I gave it some thought. To me people seem to be delicate flowers now, but the experience has taught me they may sting with thorns.

I also felt the alcohol intake has some effect without numbing my senses. One more thing popped in my mind, but I was reluctant to say it aloud, even with all my previous experience.

„You already know it’s not the easiest task. I think I managed quite well.“ He smiled for himself and I have to stop thinking.

„Oh. But aren’t we destined to live a lonesome existence?“ I guess I cannot.

„Yes. It’s the most important thing in the end, isn’t it? You’ll have to ask yourself what your heart tells you.“

I already resolved that one.

He got up and walked over to the fireplace, watching the blazing flames.

„Our feelings and emotions are as intense as our desires. We can be deeply moved by beauty, highly sensitive and receptive to any nuances, people cannot comprehend. Love can strike us with the same intensity as hate, or sadness. We can be empathetic or completely detached. We are not very much different from humans. Everything is just so intense..“ He leaned his hand over the mantelpiece. The flames gave him a fiery aura. He finished his drink and put the glass on the ledge absent-minded. His mind wandered away and his face reflected his fatigue.

I wished to tell him more. I didn’t know how. I seek for convenient words and it won’t snap. I accompanied Charles near the fire. He didn’t notice me at first, lost in thought. He looked at me when I touched his arm, returning to reality.

„Charlie, I would like to stay with you here. My new nature is as untamed as the storm. I can hardly express myself at the moment. I need some time to gather myself together.“ I disengaged and as I did retract my hand, my touch left a golden shivering aura in that very spot. He noticed it too and gave me the warmest smile in return.

„Stay.“ He said. He understood how lost I felt. He went through everything on his own and had to deal with it alone. I admired his inner strength. „Will, I think I allow myself rest for tonight. I feel very humanely tired. Your appetite depleted my powers.“ He told me, leaving me there to my own thoughts.

I was once more alone with my shattered mind. I observed the gleaming embers and planned a raid to the library to search for clues I might have missed out. I didn’t feel very hopeful. I’ve read it all and most of it proved to be nonsense. I also couldn’t hush away the fresh memory of the act itself. I was oblivious to a degree for most of the exchange until I realised it’s his blood on my lips and in my mouth, sweet and powerful. I’ve heard his heartbeat so close to mine and I was asking myself if I deserve him and the feelings he was arousing in me. It was always there somewhere, I already knew that much. I had to be sure about myself, but he stepped aside to give me some space to think about everything and to understand the facts.

‚Does it always feel that intense?‘ Oh, thank you, brain. I was debating with myself in the library, realising I’ll have to resolve something less poetic and more urgent soon. I’ll have to feed.
I ran through the library and stopped at the balcony. Cold wind ruffled my hair and flew through my unbuttoned collar, tickling my skin. I watched the dark blue landscape and listened to the voices of nocturnal predators. I desired to join them in the hunt. Very hard trial awaits me and I have to pass the test.

Returning to my room, I sunk to the bedside. I noticed a well known wooden case and my revolver at the night stand. I had no idea Charles saved my gun. I picked it up and checked it through and through. It was freshly oiled and cleaned and all the drum chambers were empty. I put it back and opened the case instead. The contents weren’t intact. The glass on both the syringe and the ampoule cracked and the liquid seeped through.

I touched the leaking fluid, focused on that single blood droplet. I fairly understood how he restrained himself when I bled from my gunshot wound. He controlled himself beyond my imagination. Or, he isn’t a monster after all. That knowledge had to be discovered. I placed it next to the revolver and wiped my finger dry. I’m stronger than this. I buried my face in my hands.

That moment I sensed a presence behind my back. I turned and saw Charles standing in the doorway signalling me to follow him.

„I’m not giving you the most quality sleep time, am I?“ I said apologetically. He held three-armed candelabra in one hand and an ornate key in the other.

„I got used to it.“ He turned and went ahead and I followed. „Come. Let me show you my secret stash.“ He said and navigated me to the under stairs‘ doors, leading into a dark corridor with a winding staircase. The basement itself was carved in the rock and the torches on the wall were embalmed in thick cobwebs. I felt like entering an eighteenth century dungeon.

„It doesn’t look very representative.“ He noted.

I realised I never visited this part of his house, I was interested.

„You’ll find water well in one of those cells.“ He informed me, unlocking the massive reinforced doors at the corridor’s end. He stepped inside and let me come through. This room was coldest and acted as food storage. It held few empty shelving units and a wine rack with few amber glass bottles, containing red fluid.

„As I already said I stabilised a sample. I used my knowledge from experimenting with these. I cannot tell if it’s still drinkable, though.“

„Animal?“ I asked in all the earnestness, observing the shiny glass. He obscured the tempting view, grabbing my wrist.

„Human.“ Oh, God, help me. I felt the clutch tightening.

„Your eyes…“ He warned me. My eyes tend to change colour occasionally from hazel with golden and green accents to fully green. It was very rare and uncommon to achieve such significant change, but he used it as an indicator of the level of my distress. „It’s not like from the source, preserved blood might be bad for you. I’m not sure if we can thrive on this stuff.“ He expressed his rightful concerns and I’ve heard him, but I was willing to test it on myself and present him a very detailed report.

He stepped aside.

I unscrewed the bottle and tasted its contents carefully. It wasn’t the best drink in the world. Yet it still was blood of a lost lamb. I didn’t care much about it and slurped it out in a few seconds. It was fuel after all and had its effect on me. I would be able to drink it all alone and it struck a realisation. He didn’t have any. He didn’t touch it since it was stored in his basement.

„Why do you punish yourself for what happened?“ I asked him without further thinking.

„I don’t punish myself…“ He objected.

„So why the asceticism?“ I wanted to understand.

„Will, please…“ His eyes pleaded me to stop. I thought I knew better. I had the feeling he refused to drink it for the ethics or some higher principle. I wanted him to be present, be here and now and stop torture himself for something that happened. We cannot undo things. A future will put us in the middle of messy chapters and it won’t be our fault. How he wants to live like that. He was weak already. I have to convince him, have to make him understand.

„Then… drink from me.“ I suggested without consent of my brain cells. Charles probably didn’t believe his ears.

„Say it again.“ He whispered, transfixed.

„Drink my blood. You need it. You cannot hurt me.“ I doubted my sanity, but decided to soldier on and face the situation I provoked. I did it again, didn’t I? My heart was drumming. His willpower was strong, my offer came at my own accord and was stronger. We found ourselves in very different situation.

I raised my left hand and cut through my throat skin with my nail. A single droplet trickled from the thin cut, circled over my bare collarbone and disappeared under my shirt.
Charles finally accepted his role in my play. As a vampire he had nothing to lose. Looking into my eyes he waited for my departure, which didn’t happen. I approached him instead, cupping the back of his neck with my hand. I noticed yet again the shivering golden aura emanated from the spot of touch and I found it beautiful.

The basement cell wasn’t the most romantic place for such an experience, but I was getting used to it.
He surrendered.

„William…“ He inclined closer as I bared my throat for him. I surrendered. „You have no idea what you are doing.“ He whispered with his lips close to the pulsing line under my jaw. His hair tickled my face and I felt his breath on my neck.

„We have been there.“ I whispered in return. He embraced me and his lips touched me. It felt very erotic and I was already melting in his arms. Whatever happens?

Two sharp canines cut through my skin and the wall of the smaller artery. Sudden pain spread in all directions and ticked off morphing into bliss. My intended cry changed to a strangled moan. Charles drank my blood mouthful and my heart weakened against his with every draught he took from my veins.

My hand slid helplessly from his neck and my head rolled back, limp. Is he going to finish me? Two sharp knives withdrew. I felt a sudden movement and my body landed on some soft surface afterwards.

„Will!“ He cried out in despair. „Will! Come on!“ I have had a pulse and I was breathing. He couldn’t have thought he killed me.

„See?“ I whispered, eyes closed. „It was nothing.“ I smiled.

„I almost killed you.“ He confessed.

„No. You have to try harder.“ He needed to hear that. He passed the test.

Opening my eyes I realised I was in my bed. I didn’t know how I got there. Charles leaned over me, beaming. Colour returned to his face. We were surrounded by a golden haze that was slowly fading away.

„It seems that my medicine worked wonders in you. Perhaps you won’t punish yourself further for things which cannot be undone?“

„You are probably right. However, your methods are rather thoroughgoing and about life. I’m beginning to suspect you’re enjoying this too much.“

„I’ve always had crazy ideas.“ I showed some introspection. I cannot confirm him being wrong about that. „Don’t tell me you didn’t enjoy it.“ I’ve read the answer in his eyes.

„We’ve been there, you and I.“ His fingers stroke through my hair. His tender touch sent a pleasant impulse throughout my body once more. I was pretty sure I wanted to feel his very presence with all my senses. My heart ached for him. To me he was so much more.

„Shall we revisit then?“ I asked him softly.

„Je veux tomber au fond de mes forces dans tes bras, mon ami.“ He breathed to my lips.

„Please.“ I felt like burning with desire.

His lips brushed over mine and he kissed me gently, letting the sensation sink in. I closed my eyes, shivering with the little tremors his touches caused in me. I wrapped him in a desperate embrace. My lips parted and I kissed him back, tasting the tip of his tongue. I was drowning in my amplified emotions and his deep passionate kisses, as the castle and the rest of the world ceased to exist.

I’ve changed. Blood has become my life. And Charles and I finally found each other. I’m going to protect what we share with all my heart.