The day had started just like any other for Jack. The spiced aroma of sausages, mixed with the earthy smell of burning wood, drew him from his cot and out of his families wagon, where he saw his mother standing by the campfire preparing breakfast. His father was nowhere to be seen, most likely taking the horses down to the creek for a drink.
“Mornin’ luv.”greeted Jack’s mother. Before he even had an opportunity to take a seat by he fire, she handed him a plate loaded with sausage, biscuits, and griddle cakes. “Hurry and finish yer breakfast, the troupe will be on the move soon, and yer da’ will need help hitchin the horses.” Jak didn’t need to be told twice. Immediately he began shoveling food into his mouth as fast as his fork could carry it.
All around him the camp was blossoming into life as the people awoke from their slumber. Jak’s father was a merchant, and together with a whole caravan of other merchants , they traveled year round to any city or town where they could sell their wares.
Jak had just cleaned his plate and was about to help himself to seconds of the sausage, when his father came back from watering the horses and he thought better of it. Handing his plate to his mother, he kissed her on the cheek and said “Good breakfast, Mum.” then ran off to help his father.
At the front of the wagon, Jak’s father already had the horses lined up. Without saying two words, Jak immediately began preparing the straps and buckles. It wasn’t until he had one of the horses almost completely strapped in that he noticed he was working by himself. Looking up, he saw his father casually leaning against the side of the wagon, one hand stroking his scraggly beard.
“Son,” he said. “Yer fourteen now, and I don’t know how I missed it, but you’ve become a man.” Jak was speechless! A man? HIM!?!
“And as a man, it is high time you earned a little responsibility and respect.” he continued. “Therefore, when we get to the city, I’ll charge you with maintaining the stand. I’ll have business elsewhere, and won’t be able to watch it all the time, so I’ll be counting on you.”
A minute of silence followed, soon broken by the older man’s hearty laugh at the look on Jak’s face. “M-m-me?!?” he stammered. This was the biggest thing that ever happened to him in his young life!
“Aye son, you!” and with loving eyes, patted him on the shoulder. “I have the uttermost confidence in ya boyo.”
It was then that Katherine, the daughter of the troupe leader and one of Jak’s lifelong friends, came running up to them, her eyes wide, chest panting like a bellows, and all but collapsed at Jak’s feet.
“Kat, what’s wrong?” Jak exclaimed, putting his hands on her shoulders in an attempt to calm her down.
“Its Lara,” she replied. Her voice was pitched with worry, and crackled with tears that didn’t come. “She wasn’t in her cot when I got up this morning, and she isn’t anywhere in the camp! I have to find her before the troupe moves on!”
“That little’un run ff again?” grunted Jak’s father in a carefree manner. “I swear if I had a copper piece for every time that’s happened…”
Jak couldn’t deny the truth in this remark. Lara, Kat’s six year old sister, had a nasty habit of running away and only showing up just before their father decided to send out a search party.
“It’ll be fine, Kat.” Jak soothed. “she probably just went out for a final look at the woods before we reach the city. I’ll help you find her. That is,” he turned towards his father “unless I’m still needed here.”
Jak’s father chuckled. “Off with ye, boyo. Find that little’un and be back before departure. I doubt she went far, being barely big enough to see over the brush.”
Leaving the old man with the horses, Jak and Kat ran off into the woods to look for Lara. For almost an hour they searched, checking in every tree, peeping behind every bush. Then, when Kat was near hysterics and they were considering going back for a bigger search party, they found her huddled in the middle of a clearing, shivering like a leaf in high wind.
Kat immediately ran her little sister. With tears in her eyes, she fell to her knees and grabbed her in a tight embrace, scolding Lara as she did so.
“You worried me half to death! Were you here this whole time? You really must stop running away like this!”
Meanwhile, Jak was looking down on Lara with a curious eye. “Why are you shivering, Lara?” He asked. “You’re awfully pale, too. Are you sick? Do you have a cold?”
Lara simply stared up at him with her big, dark brown eyes, and never said a word. This didn’t surprise Jak, however. Everyone in the caravan knew that strange little Lara only spoke to Kat, and even then in as few words as possible. Kat finally stopped fussing over her sister long enough to notice the state she was in, and, holding her out at arms length, repeated Jak’s question. “Are you not feeling well? Why ARE you shivering?”
“Lady…in dream…told me to go.” Lara mumbled, her eyes now fixed on the ground. “Bad men…hurt everyone…horrors!”
“Your speaking nonsense.” said Kat. Comfortingly, she picked Lara up, trying to soothe the shivering girl by gently patting her on the back. “We’ll take you back to camp and get you a warm blanket, and maybe you can even have some milk before we…”
“NO!” Lara shrieked. She buried her face into Kat’s shoulder, her shivers now greater than ever, and began to sob.
“What’s wrong with her?” Jak asked.
“She probably thinks that she’ll get in trouble for running away again. Come on, we’re late enough as it is.”
It wasn’t until they were halfway back to the campsite that they heard the low drone of the emergency horn. Kat and Jak paused, only for a second to exchange fearful glances before running pell-mell towards the call. Jak, who, unlike Kat, was unburdened, was the first among them to lay eyes on the horrible sight. Every wagon was aflame, and several were turned over. Bodies lay strewn across the ground. Men, women, and children, none were spared.
When Kat finally caught up to Jak and gave witness to this nightmare, a scream escaped from her lips. Before Jak could stop her, she ran off into the field of destruction, Lara still shivering in her arms.
“DADDY! DADDY WHERE ARE YOU?!?” she cried.
“Kat, come back! We don’t know if whoever did this is still here!” But Jak’s words fell on ears deafened by grief. Kat’s world became a blur of dead corpses and the smashed remains of her former life, illuminated by the fire and swirled together in one glorious chaos by her tears.
She burst into the central circle of the campsite, Jak hot on her tail, and was halted by the clash of swords and the groans of battle. There they witnessed a loan caravan guard fending off two bandits, and even though their gruff faces were covered by bandanas, they could see in both their eyes that this one guard was causing them a lot of trouble. For what seemed like hours, but what was really only seconds, it seemed to both of them that he would be overwhelmed. However, a sudden burst of energy gave the brave soldier the upper hand, and with a powerful sweep to drive them back, he then pulled back his sword to his side and plunged it forward in a mighty thrust, running the closer of the two bandits through.
Kat, already shaken by the carnage around her, let out a cry at this fresh violence. The soldier turned his head, noticing the children for the first time. This, unfortunately, was his undoing. Seeing this split second distraction, the remaining bandit stepped up and plunged his sword into his side. The soldier fell to his knees, gasping in agony as the bandit slid his sword out of its fleshy sheath. The cruel man then turned his attention towards the children.
“RUN!” cried Jak, grabbing Kat by her free arm, and together they took off, hoping to lose their pursuer in the forest. They crossed the tree line, ducking and dodging trees as nimbly as they could. Through all this, Lara never even raised her head from Kat’s should. Only her shivers revealed that her small form was a live one.
On they ran, expecting at any moment to feel the cold sting of a blade in their backs. Then, from the treetops above, they were saved with a crash and a thud as something big and heavy leaped down and landed square on top of the bandit. He fell to the ground with a great “hoomf” and immediately struggled with whatever it was on top of him. However, he was at somewhat of a disadvantage, seeing as he lost his sword in the fall and the thing on him had a large rock. When the struggle as over, and their savior stood up and turned to be revealed, Jak sighed and laughed with relief.
“Duke! I’m so happy to see you! I thought you were killed in the attack!”
Duke and Jak had been best friends since before either of them could walk. Jak had always known Duke to be of a carefree sort, the laugher in his eyes just as much a permanent feature of himself as his thick head of mousy hair or the freckles on his face. This Duke, however, seemed changed. He gazed blankly at them all, clearly not believing what he was seeing. Then his face lit up like a flame and he ran towards them, tears almost popping from his eyes.
“Jacky! It’s you! It’s really you! Alive and whole before my very eyes!” He rested his hands on Jak’s shoulders, then decided that wasn’t enough and pulled him into a tight hug. “When the bandits attacked I feared the worst!” he said, pulling out of the hug and looking at them all. “I mean, I saw yer wagon…n’ yer mum n’ da…” The tears that had been threatening to come now did, and Duke bowed his head as they speckled the foliage on the ground.
“My mum n’ da?” Jak muttered softly. The cold fear that had since lain dormant in the depths of his soul, buried under the carnage and heat of the moment, chose to creep forth and turn his insides to ice. He looked up at his companions. Kat was sobbing silently, holding on to Lara, who, amazingly, ceased her mad shivering, as if she were a life-line in a storming sea. Dukes gaze remained fixed on the ground, where he continued to water the weeds with his own grief.
A voice from the past then echoed in Jak’s mind. “I don’t know how I missed it, but you’ve become a man…a man…” A fire erupted in Jak, melting the cold grief down to a dull ache. Using all the strength he could muster, he looked up and said “Come on, we need to find a safe place to stay before it gets dark.” Duke and Kat stared at him, their tears ceasing and their heads tilted slightly in disbelief. “I know that we have suffered a great loss today, but our loved ones…” he paused, his strength almost failing him as he remembered his parents. “…they wouldn’t want us to be in danger because of mourning them. There will be a time and place to grieve, but for now we must find a safer place.” None of them could deny this logic.
“Where should we go?” Kat said, her voice shaking.
Jak paused and scratched his head. If they went back to the road, they could make for the city, but that was still several days away and they wouldn’t be able to find food or water along the way. He thought back to the old maps his father once showed him, when he was showing Jak where their next destination would be. The city may be too far away to travel to on foot, but, if he remembered correctly, there was a small settlement a little ways northeast. In his head, he crudely calculated the direction and distance. Then, when it truly seemed possible in his mind, he told the others “There should be a small settlement northeast from here. If we leave now, and cut it straight, we could make it there by early tomorrow.”
Trusting in Jak’s judgment, they set out, having nothing but the clothes on their backs and a small water bottle Duke managed to grab before he escaped. They talked little during the trip, the grief still being fresh in their hearts, though suppressed by action. The sun long since set by the time they made camp for the first night. Duke managed to make a small fire, which they all fell asleep around in a matter of seconds, never thinking of setting a watch.
They set off again as soon as the sun breeched the horizon. Jak estimated that they would reach the settlement by mid-morning if they didn’t stop for too many rests. After several miles, they came across a pond where they filled the water bottle, and even though they only made one other rest, mid-morning came and went without any sign of civilization. Soon it was mid-day, then late day, and before they knew it, the sun was beginning to set. Minute by minute, it became darker and darker, and minute by minute, Jak became more and more convinced that he had gotten them all lost. Though Jak didn’t show it on the outside, inwardly he was horrified. They had survived the massacre of their caravan, only to die a slow death out here in the wild. He suppressed this anxiety by trudging on, telling himself over and over that they could still find their destination, that they could still be saved, but the dark truth of it all just grew darker with the setting of the sun. If I am a man, father, he thought to himself, then why can’t I save us? Why did I get us lost out here? Why…
“Jak?” a soft voice from behind him interrupted his thoughts. It came from Kat. He turned to face her. “Jak, maybe we should stop for the night. We’re all dead on our feet, and if we’re lost, then…”
“WE ARE NOT LOST!” burst Jak, releasing all of his pent up frustration in her face. Kat stepped back, eyes wide with surprise, and clutched Lara tighter, who, being exhausted after the days walk, had asked Kat to carry her and was nearly asleep on her shoulder.
“Steady on there, mate!” said Duke, stepping between them. Jak lowered his head in shame at his outburst.
“Can…can we go just a little further?” Jak pleaded, his hands shaking at his side, eyes unable to meet theirs.
“Just a little further, then.” Duke replied. He could only guess at the turmoil Jak was going through, and if going deeper into a black forest in which they were already hopelessly lost would make him feel better, then Duke hardly saw the difference.
Jak kept the lead, only taking this extended travel period to come to terms with the facts. They were lost, they were hungry, and their last chance of hope was lost because of his pure stupidity. None the less, on they trekked, every once in a while gazing upwards through the pines at the stars, winking one by one into existence. Then, faintly in the night, the sound of voices spoken in near whispers reached their ears. They gasped and nearly cried out in elation as they ran towards the voices, ignoring the scratches and pokes from the pine needles. They stopped when the trees opened up on a rough dirt path. Standing in the middle, with looks of mild surprise on their faces, was a man and woman covered in black cloaks. In the pitch blackness they wouldn’t have been noticed, except for their pale faces that shown like moonlight. Jak felt it his own responsibility to make the first move. Slowly he walked forward, and when he was only a few feet away from them, he dropped to his knees and begged, tears springing from his eyes in desperation.
“Please kind lady, please sir! We are lost orphans, our families and loved ones were attacked and slaughtered by vicious bandits, and we have nowhere to go! Might we ask for a warm place to sleep for the night, and maybe a bite to eat? We are awfully hungry, and very tired and cold!”
None of them noticed, but the pale woman winked at her partner, and together they shared a small smirk. She then kneeled down towards Jack and gently took his face in her hands. “You poor, poor children!” she cried, taking a handkerchief and lovingly cleaning the dirt and scratches from Jack’s face. She stood him up and walked with open arms towards the others, who were still huddled on the side of the road. With a graceful sweep of her arm, she lead them onto the path towards the pale man. “We are servants of Lord Morvious, the ruler of these lands.” she said. “He is a kind, noble man, and would surely assist such sweet children!”
“We should be returning, then.” said the man. “The night is soon passing.” and without any further delay, they herded them all down the path, the man taking the lead and the woman following close behind.
The children couldn’t believe their luck. It was all they could do to keep from bursting out in tears of joy and relief. Kat, however, could not help but notice the suddenly shivering form she held in her arms. Immediately passing it off as only Lara’s fear of strangers, she didn’t give it another thought, though she closely observed the pale woman in the corner of her vision.
They walked on for quite some time. After a while, Jack noticed that Duke was stumbling an awful lot, almost asleep on is feet. He was about to ask how much further their destination was, when the trees suddenly opened up to reveal an enormous castle. The windows were dark and cold, and, from the outside at least, it looked as though it had been abandoned for close to a century. Despite this, they followed the man and woman up the path and the stone steps of the castle to a pair of large oak doors. With a long, low creak from the hinges, rusted with lack of use, the man opened the door. Holding it open at his back, he gestured inwards, saying “Guests first.”
Inside was a long and dreary hallway, lit only by a few flickering torches. The walls were adorned with tapestries, some depicting heroic battle scenes, some merely portraits of the past generations of the noble family that lived there, but all of them had one thing in common. They bore the symbol of a green serpent in some way or form.
“The history of the Sarpentular family.” said the man, sweeping a hand towards all the tapestries. “Our lord boasts a heritage that dates back almost a thousand years.”
At the end of the hallway was a grand staircase, splitting off on the landing towards the two separate wings of the castle. On the landing there was another set of double doors, polished and preserved to even reflect the flickering torches. To these doors they were lead, and when the man and woman opened the doors they were startled to see a grand Master Hall crowded with people very much like the man and the woman, all very pale and dressed in dark clothes. Every soul in the room stared straight at them, and when the man took the first step into the hall, they immediately separated to the sides, leaving a walkway to the end of the hall. At the end, sitting on an extravagant stone throne upon a raised dais, was a young man, apparently in his early twenties, dressed in simple yet elegant clothes of black and emerald green, with jet black hair that fell in wavy curls to his ears and was flecked with some kind of gold dye.
“My lord Morvious, we have returned from the forest with special guests to present before you.” cried the man, gesturing towards the entrance where Jak and the others still stood. From behind, the woman nudged them into the greater light of the hall, to be viewed by the entire congregation. Morvious smiled from his throne.
“Tell me, Darius,” he said in a smooth voice that, despite its softness, carried throughout the hall as if it were shouted. “Where did you find these children?”
“They were wondering lost in the woods, my lord. The shorter boy…” the man, now known as Darius, pointed to Jack. “says that they are orphans, their families killed by bandits.”
At this Morvious’s smile grew all the wider, and a hungry glint came to his eyes. For the first time, the children noticed his abnormally large canines. Kat shrieked in terror and hugged Lara tighter. The crowed turned to face them again, each and every one of them was smiling, and each of them had the same pair of vicious fangs. They had walked into a den of vampires! With horrified cries, Jack, Duke, and Kat with Lara all attempted to make a break for the door. The woman, however, slammed the door shut behind her, also sporting a sinister smile.
“I thank you, children,” said Morvious. “Through the years, our food supply has moved further and further from my domain, starving my people and leaving us at risk of extinction. But with your arrival, new hope is restored.” He gave a cruel chuckle. “Chain them and take them away.” From the back of the crowd, one of the fiends came forward with a row of shackles. Lara was torn from Kat’s arms and they were all held fast by cruel hands as their hands and feet were bound. They were then pushed unceremoniously to the hard, stone floor and dragged away with cold laughter from the spectators.
Before they were dragged out of the Hall, however, there came three monstrous booms from the entrance hall, and all became silent and still. Morvious’s face lost its smile as he pointed at two men in the crowd, then gestured towards the door. Without question they exited the Great Hall to investigate. When the doors to the entrance hall closed behind them, three more booms sounded. There was a slight pause, every soul waiting with bated breath, then three more followed by the splintering smash of broken wood. Two inhuman shrieks cried out in a battle rage, then were immediately cut off. Another silence followed, then three more booms came, though this time on the doors to the Great Hall. The crowd rushed to the doors, arms outstretched to hold whoever, or whatever it was from entering. A mere second later, however, the doors flew open with such force that one of them fell from its hinges. Those blocking the doors were hurled back with shrieks of anguish and pain. Then, through the dust and destruction, the inruder entered.
What walked into the hall was a startling persona armed with a curious looking two handed sword, held at the ready, and was clad in a blue-steel scale armor hauberk, covered with a darker blue tabard, along with fierce looking gauntlets with the ends sharpened to clawed points. The identity of this mysterious warrior was concealed behind a shining helm in the shape of a dragons head, two bright red gems adorning the eyes.
Those who weren’t hurled back by the force of the warrior’s entry all rushed forward with cries of bloodlust, their once human faces contorted to demonic like visages as they opened their mouths wide to bear their fangs. From the red stones in the eyes of the warrior’s helm there then burst forth a wave of fire that consumed the whole front row of attackers, and those that managed to dodge the inferno were met with the blade and swiftly had their heads removed from their shoulders, where their bodies dissipated into smoky shadows before they hit the ground. The others weren’t expecting this strong of a counter-attack, and instead of rushing to what they knew would be their annihilation, fell back to cower by the throne of their master with many defiant shrieks and glares at the intruder.
Morvious stood from his throne, his face livid with rage. “You are a fool to enter MY house, warrior! No man may insult me in this manner and not suffer a fate worse than death!”
The warrior ignored these threats, and walked coolly to the center of the hall, his boots echoing with every step. The warrior then plunged his sword into the stone floor, where it stood like a cross, and reaching up with both hands, removed the dragon helm to reveal not the face of a man, as Morvious and his servants assumed, but the face of a woman, with flaming red hair tied back with a leather band and a confident smile plastered on her lips. “Hello Morvious, long time no see!” she said, tucking her helm under one arm and leaning on the hilt of her sword with the other.
The rage that only seconds ago had lit up Morvious’s face was at once wiped clean in shock and surprise, though he quickly regained his composure, now looking upon this strange woman with the familiar hungry glint of his eye, but mixed with a glare of the deepest loathing. A small smile lifting the corner of his mouth, he said with renewed charm and silk “Bethel! My, my, tonight truly is full of surprises!”
“I’m afraid I don’t have time to play catch up tonight, Morvious,” she said, “but if you could please enlighten me on something, what exactly were you planning on doing with these children?” Bethel waved a gauntleted hand towards Jack, Duke, Kat, and Lara, all huddling in the corner of the hall.
Morvious’s eyes narrowed, loathing now his dominant feature. “Give them eternity, something you never understood!”
Bethel laughed at the ceiling, then turned her head to face the children. Jack gasped and cringed as he noticed her eyes for the first time, shining with golden irises around pupils that weren’t round like a normal humans, but sickle shaped like a cat’s or lizards’. She frowned for a second as she noticed Jak’s reaction, then returned her attention back to Morvious, adorning her cocky, confident smile once again. “I’m sure that if they weren’t currently soaking their breeches, they would say thanks, but no thanks. So, I guess we’ll be off.” and with a swift twist and pull of her arm, she drew the sword from the floor and made for the door, gesturing for the children to stand up and follow her. Before she even took four steps to the door, however, several dozen vampires crawled down from the ceiling like spiders, hissing at her with evil smiles on their faces, and even more crept forth from the shadows in the entrance hall to block her way.
“Curse you, Morvious!” she yelled, facing him in a sudden rage. “I don’t want to send more of you servants to eternal damnation! Now let us go!”
It was now Morvious’s turn to wear the confident smile. “When you wandered so willingly into our midst? Never!” and he snapped his fingers. From behind, Bethel heard a muffled cry, and turned to see the children in the clutches of the vampires. “As you can see, my number of servants has increased greatly since we last met.” Now he pointed to the ceiling. Like an unholy swarm of black locusts, more of the fiends flew in from high windows and congregated on the ceiling, crawling down the pillars and walls to continue blocking the exit.
“Very well, but you brought this upon yourself.” Bethel said, placing the helm back upon her head and taking a battle stance, her sword ready. Morvious answered with a sweep of his hand, and with one loud shriek his surrounding followers charged towards their seemingly helpless prey. Instead of facing those in front of her, Bethel turned and dashed towards the corner where the children were held captive. With an expert sweep of her sword, she removed the heads of their captors without so much as slicing a hair on any of the children, the hands that held them dissipating into smoky shadow, and with several more swings, she broke the chains that bound them.
“Follow me!” she cried, and turned on her heels to release a fiery wave from the helm’s eyes, stopping the vampires advance in their tracks. If she were on her own, she could have easily fought through to the front door and gotten out, but it was too risky when she also had to shepherd out scared children. Not far behind them, partially hidden behind some falling drapes, there was a small, unimpressive door that would be used by house servants to move about the castle without bothering the noble family.
“Head for that door.” she instructed. “and if you can, go up. I’ll cover our escape.” Jack and the others obeyed blindly, too stunned by the course of events in just the last few hours to think for themselves. Jack reached the door first, holding it open for the others. It lead to a small landing with two stairways, one ascending and the other descending. Duke, Kat, and Lara (again shivering in Kat’s arms), were on their way up when they noticed that Jack wasn’t following. He remained on the landing, still holding the door open and looking out to the Great Hall.
“JACK,” Duke cried from the stairway “Jack, come on, hurry up!” But Jack didn’t hear him. He just stood their, holding the door open and staring in fascination at the battle before him. Bethel was completely surrounded on all three sides, swinging her sword at any who dared come close enough and forcing the rest back with waves of fire as she tried to back up to the door. While she was busy fending off the left side, the right side decided to attempt an ambush. However, Bethel saw them before they get close enough, and immediately broke off to charge them. She let out a wild yell and almost the entire right side of the onslaught became a pillar of fire, filled with the angry shrieks and cries of vampires, and the left side was forced farther back in the fury. When the flames died down, Bethel made a mad dash for the door, taking advantage of the temporary withdrawal. Wrenching it from Jack’s hands, she slammed it shut right on the faces of several vampires.
“Didn’t I tell you to run?” she cried, sliding over a rusted metal bolt to lock the door. Knowing that it wouldn’t be enough, Bethel plucked one of the red gems from the eyes of her helm and held it to the bolt. It melted instantly. She did the same thing to each of the hinges, making the door impossible to open, then quickly replaced the gem.
“What’s wrong with all you kids?!? I told you to Run!” she yelled, grabbing Jack by the scruff of his neck and practically hurling him towards the stairs. The others seemed to snap back into their senses and turned to run pell-mell up the stairs without any further hesitation, Bethel guarding the rear. They didn’t get far, however, when the loud splintering of wood sounded from below. Shrieks and howls rose like a coming tide, urging them on faster.
“Don’t look back,” Bethel encouraged. “Just keep going!” And for the third time that night, Bethel turned to face the enemy head on. She knew that these stairs couldn’t go on for much farther. All the children needed was some extra time to reach the top. The vampires swarmed up the passage way like black flies in a tube, just as many crawling on the walls and ceiling as on the stairs, thirsty for blood, and Bethel just stood there, confident, waiting for the opportune moment to strike. Once she saw the whites of their fangs, she released the full power of her fire gems like she never had before, the fiery blast shooting down the stairway with a crackling roar and incinerating every being down to the bottom entry.
Meanwhile, Jack and the others had finally reached the top, only stopping for a second to catch their breath before they threw open the door and slammed it shut behind them. They were in the middle of long corridor, the floors covered with a scarlet carpet tinged grey with dust, the walls adorned with torn scarlet hangings. On their right, the corridor ended with a pair of double doors, while on their left it went on into darkness. They were trying to decide where to run next, when suddenly the door behind them opened and slammed shut, making them all scream and twist around. Except, of course, Lara, who managed to remain silent on Kat’s shoulder.
“I know where we are!” cried Bethel, once again melting the bolts and hinges on the door with her gem. “Head for the double doors, it should open up onto a balcony, GO!” and all together they dashed to the doors. From the dark at the far end of the corridor, there came once again the monotonous sound of shrieks and hisses.
Just as Bethel said, the double doors lead onto a balcony. The railings were made from stone, vines and roses carved right into the structure, and large dark green flags bearing the same serpent insignia as on the tapestries hung on both sides of the door. Immediately Bethel snapped off one of the balusters as if it were a twig from a tree and rammed it through the handles to bar the door, then tore down the flags and the ropes that held them. Already the vampires were trying to force their way out, smashing at the door with their demonic strength. Looking over the edge and gauging the distance, she knew that this wouldn’t be enough make a rope to reach the courtyard below, so she pierced the flags with her claws and tore them neatly in two, getting double the length out of both. After tying them all together, she flung one end over the edge and tied the other end to a baluster.
“Up and over.” she said, almost cheerfully, it seemed.
“Crawl onto my back, Lara.” said Kat, setting Lara down, then kneeling for her to cling onto her neck. As Kat approached the railing to begin her descent, Lara looked down. Her deep brown eyes widened in fear and she began to shriek and squirm.
“Here, try this,” said Bethel, removing her helm. “it may be a little sweaty, but it’ll help.” and she placed it on Lara’s head backwards so as to block off all sight. Lara stopped squirming, and Kat, a little shaky at first, started down the rope, followed by Duke. Then, just as Jack threw a leg over the railing, the baluster baring the door began to snap. He hesitated, looking up at Bethel for guidance.
“Just go, boy! I’ll be fine!” she said, then raised her sword towards the door. Jack slid down to catch up with the others, knowing that she could very well take care of herself.
Bethel watched the door as with each pound the baluster cracked more and more, every second or so looking down to see that the children were getting down the rope ok. Jack was nearly down, the other three waiting for him at the bottom, when all of a sudden the pounding on the door stopped entirely. Bethel paused for only a second to consider this, but one second was enough for the tables to turn on her. A black, shadowy smoke began to spew forth from the gap beneath the door, roughly shaping into a human silhouette. Before the shape became fully formed, it sped towards her in a lightning black blur, catching her by surprise and pushing her aside, then releasing the rope from the railing, all in under a second. Bethel quickly regained her balance, brandishing her sword at the shadow and once again smiling her confident smile.
“I was wondering when you would take up the chase yourself, Morvious,” she said. “but its over. The children are now out of your reach.”
“Oh, you think so?” replied Morvious, materializing from the shadow, a sinister smile hanging loosely on his lips. “You’ve only gotten them out of the castle, not to safety. They can be easily retrieved.”
“Look to the horizon,” Bethel pointed to the east, and sure enough the sky was taking on a pinkish tinge, the stars one by one winking out. “Neither you or your servants would dare face the sun! By next nightfall I will have gotten them to their own families and far from you.”
Morvious stared at the coming dawn, his smile now gone, his eyes glaring with the deepest loathing.
“But then, that’s only if YOU make it out of here alive.” he said, his voice eerily calm, then, before Bethel even had time to blink, he flashed over in a haze of smoke, grabbed her by the throat, and slammed her against the wall, holding her nearly a foot off the ground. Bethel, meanwhile, didn’t even flinch. She simply looked down at Morvious, never losing her confident smile.
“Being rid of you will make a wonderful consolation prize” he said, slowly levitating to her level. “The children won’t get far, and its been awhile since my servants had a good hunt.” His face was now level with hers, and as he bore his fangs he allowed himself a triumphant chuckle.
“If memory serves correct,” he said as he lowered his fangs to her throat. “this is very much how our last meeting almost ended.”
“Good, then you’ll also remember this,” said Bethel, and Morvious cried out in an inhuman shriek of pure pain, the sound echoing for miles over the treetops. He landed hard on his knees, one hand grasping the hilt of a dagger sticking into his ribs. His eyes red with hate, he saw Bethel run to the railing. As deftly as a gymnast, she bounded over the railing, doing a 180 in mid-air, her smile growing all the wider, as she gave a two fingered salute before she disappeared below.
Free falling down the side of the wall for a couple feet, she then dug her claws into the stone to slow her momentum, sparks and five long gashes trailing behind her as she slid the rest of the way down. When she was four feet from the ground, she released her claws and landed in between the huddled group of waiting children.
“Time for us to leave.” she said, pursing her lips and letting out a sharp whistle. From the shadows beneath the trees there came a large, shining black horse pulling an old hay wagon behind it. Snorting proudly, it halted right in front of Bethel.
“I don’t think Morvious will miss a wagon. Saddle up guys!” Anxious to leave, the children piled up onto the wagon, Bethel seating herself on the horse.
“HIYA!” she cried, and the horse took off running, heading for the dirt path into the woods. It wasn’t until the castle was well out of sight and the sky was turning to a dull grey that Bethel slowed the horse. The sun melted away all of the children’s dark fears from the night before, replacing it with hope and relief.
“That was AMAZING miss Bethel!” cried Duke excitedly, the first to break the silence. “You fought off those vampires as if they were nothing at all! How did you do that? It was AMAZING!”
“The question we should be asking,” said Jack, sitting with his arms crossed in the far back corner. “is WHAT are you? No human could break though doors like that, or has those eyes for that matter.”
“JACK, how could you say that?” scolded Kat, covering up a half sleeping Lara with hay to keep her warm and gently setting the helm aside. “She just risked everything to save us, how can you be so ungrateful?”
“Hey, the last thing that saved us tried to kill us! I’ll never be so careless again!” Jack retorted.
“Smart boy.” said Bethel, turning her head with a small smile. “Learning from your mistakes is the only way to grow.” she turned back to the road ahead. “I’m a half dragon, my father was Baldor, the great gold dragon of the Malkrin Mountains. You have nothing to fear from me. Now, where are you children from, exactly? Your parents must be worrying themselves to death.”
Bethel waited for an answer, but none came. She turned to see them all with their heads bowed, tears dripping from Kat’s eyes. The smile disappeared from Bethel’s face.
“Oh…I see…” she said. “Well, I guess I’ll be looking after you for a little while then. But for now, lets find a place to catch some shut eye.” and she spurred the horse on to greater speeds.
The woods became golden as the sun crept higher and higher in the sky. The morning birds sang their welcoming song, and for the first time since their ordeal, Jack, Duke, Kat, and little Lara all knew that everything was going to be all right in the end.
|27 Jul 2008|| Glo 'the Bug' Bowden|
*first comment fireworks*
Wow! There need to be more visitors to your shelf. That was a very exciting read. And full of the elements of fantasy that I love about this website. Bethel is amazing. I’m wondering why she came to the children’s rescue, but for now I’ll just be grateful she was there! Phew!
A couple of crits before I go on (and they’re just little nitpicks, so you can take ’em or leave ’em as you will). It seems to me that the children weren’t tired enough by the end, or even the beginning,of their ordeal with the vampires. I mean, they had been walking all day. I know adrenaline can really spur one on, and I think you could mention that that’s what they’re running on. They were practically dead on their feet before they entered the castle, but somehow managed to complement Bethel enthusiastically when they escaped.
Here’s just a little nit; I noticed you used to word "ok" in describing Bethel checking up on the kids. Ok is highly colloquial and doesn’t seem to fit the genre. "Alright" suits better.
Also, is Jack’s name spelled with or without a C? I saw both Jack and Jak -- personally I liked "Jak" as it seemed more fantasy.
Jak’s manner of speaking confused me a bit. His parents (I LOVED his parents, and was highly upset that they were killed off so soon, by the way) seem to speak in a more peasantish manner, but Jak sort of addresses people as though he’s a nobelman. I picture his parents having sort of ****ney accents, but he’s sounding more upper class to me, if you get my drift.
Ok, done with the crits. Onto the story:
|27 Jul 2008|| Glo 'the Bug' Bowden|
undefined Allison L. Miller
replies: "sorry to all who are reading this. I don’t know what happend"
|30 Sep 2008|| Glo 'the Bug' Bowden|
Aw...darn. I hate it when teh system eats comments like that. now it sounds like I’m only criticising! Allison L. Miller
replies: "I know! i’m having some issues here that i’m trying to fix concerning how i’m running my page. Thanks for all of your comments, by the way! Oh, and I read the guest book for Sarah, thanks for advertising for me! lol. Some new stories of mine should be along soon. The real beginning for the Dragon Knight might be longer than i thought, but I have some shorter ones to entertain until then. P.S. I’ve decided to write more on Whistlin’ Vixie. She should be up soon too! PPS. I love your constructive critisisms! I took notes!"
|14 Nov 2008|| Barbara J. Wickham|
Your story has so many classic elements that make stories timeless gems. I loved the lost innocents, fleeing known danger and wandering into unexpected danger and being saved by a heroic warrior... or, should I say warrior-ess? I loved that part, by the way. Being of the female persuasion myself, I can really appreciate a strong, female hero. Kudos to you!
Great job on the vampires. I loved how you had them crawling on the walls and ceilings. *shiver* Veeeery creepy.
You write in a very descriptive way that makes it easier for the reader to picture the characters and scenes you are describing. Nice work! Allison L. Miller
replies: "Awsome, a new reader! Thank you so so much for visiting my ever so humble site, and I greatly appreciate your complements. Yeah, Bethel is great, isn’t she? She was something of an inspiration from Beowulf, a female version of Beowulf that is, lol. Her propper story (this isn’t REALLY the story, just a teaser actually) isn’t up yet. It is my masterpiece, so i’m taking alot of time on it, but when it is up i hope you like it! Thanks again for reading!"