My apologies for the lack of updates lately – RL has been kicking my ass. I am trying to catch up, so there will be quite a few entries that a month removed from the date they occurred. The last entry took place about a month ago, to give you some idea of timeline. I hope I will be able to catch up soon.
I have a dhampyr in custody. Poor Dorina lost the battle with her beast and started stalking one of the villagers. Fortunately, Vasily & Mirko were on hand and managed to tackle her before any harm was done, save that the poor girl she was stalking was terrified. I blame myself, since I had promised to work with her on controlling the beast, but had not found the time. I ordered her confined to one of the rooms in the cellars, for her own safety as well as that of others, pending finding some solution to her problem. Sadly, this is the least of our problems at the moment.
We have been too long in these Shadow Roads. The villagers have grown restless, even without Horace stirring them up and the Crow has grown impatient. More than impatient, it would seem, and this was graphically brought home to us. Young Damir, a woodcutter by trade, a harmless soul, if a little reckless and impatient, wandered too far outside the village and into the roads without a guide. The Crow, damn her, took him, killed him, and returned his remains to us, with barely enough left to recognise him, and not enough of him left to even offer the dark gift. We will do what we can for his family, but nothing can compensate for their loss. And, much as I would like to tear the damned bitch apart for this, I fear she may well feel that she was within her rights, since he wandered there without permission and without a guide. She is cold and implacable, and the apparent regard she has for me because of my relationship with Valene will hold no sway if I try to argue.
She wants us gone, but I do not know where we could go. Our options are limited. I doubt that the sanctuary of the Sisterhood of the Void would appeal to the villagers. Not knowing what became of the land outside the hilltop, that leaves only the realm that Janus and Gwyn constructed, the realm of faerie. Could we go there? It would not be vastly different from where we were before, save that we would not be on the border between the Seelie and Unseelie realms any more. I must speak with Gwyn and Janus about this.
We, and the Crow, are not the only ones impatient for a move. I was in my chambers, working on some papers when I noticed that the roses in the bowl seemed bigger and livelier than before. Bearing in mind Maric’s last request of me before he headed off for hell, I decided to try a little experiment. I bared my arm and offered it to the roses, putting myself en rapport with them as I had done a few times before. They were eager, like small children, wrapping themselves around me, pulling at my arm rather than drinking from me. Finally, one bloom pierced the skin and started to feed. Their mood, if I may put it like that, was frantic, frantic with fear, if a plant can feel fear. There was a strong sense of danger, from the ground, from beyond the mists. Most of all, they wanted to go home. I tried to think calming thoughts, imagining a generous dose of horse-shit, which Mother and Father used to swear by for the roses in our garden. Mostly I was thinking that I wanted to go home too, wherever that was. That was something I no longer knew. Home was here in the castle, but that was not all. Home was where the heart was, perhaps, and I thought briefly of Gwyn and the faerie realm. As soon as I started thinking about that, the roses seemed to get excited, eager, as if the scene I was imagining felt like home to them too. This, at least, made some sort of sense, since they were creatures of fae. More so, more than eager, they positively thrummed with power, as if they might drag us all there with their eagerness to be home. Much as the idea appealed, I could not let that happen, not without talking to Gwyn and Janus first. I tried to convey restraint to the roses, though I found it hard to imagine any concept that would make sense. Waiting for spring, perhaps, waiting for the rain, for the right conditions to bloom. Maybe they got the idea.
I may have learned more, but the opportunity was lost. I felt Maric’s thoughts calling to me from somewhere, just as I started to pick up the castle sense again. Aoibheann had returned from wherever she had been – I had not seen her for a couple of days. I disengaged myself from the roses and went downstairs, meeting Kustav on the stairs, who explained that Maric was back from hell, apparently bringing a Tammi with him. He was downstairs in his chambers, Kustav explained.
I hurried down the stairs and into the cellars. There I found Aoibheann. I did not know where she had been, but she looked as though she had been sleeping rough, if indeed, she had been sleeping at all, which suggested that she had been on one of her expeditions to the Huntsman’s forest or some such. She also looked as though she had been slobbered on by some large animal. She was guiltily trying to open the secret door to the vaults. When I greeted her, she made some excuse about needing her brush. That she certainly did, and much more. I decided against asking what had happened and instead told her the news about Maric, reckoning that this was news she would want to hear. I told her to go and get washed and changed while I went down to see if he was in a state to receive visitors.
She was not so easily dissuaded, demanding to know why I could go and see if he was ready for visitors and she could not. She came up with some crackpot scheme about me distracting him with a bottle of wine while she dashed in to get her brush and fixed her hair. That earned her my best perplexed look while I explained that this was hardly likely to work. For a start, I told her, I was his steward, a lot stronger than her and wearing armour, so if Maric was not in a fit state, I was less likely to get hurt. Two, if he was well, he could already track where she was, so trying to sneak past wasn’t going to work. Three, I said, the state she was in, it was going to take more than a few strokes of her hair-brush to get her into a fit state to be seen. Finally, I added, I could ask him without going down there if necessary. I sent her off to my rooms to bathe and change.
She grumbled somewhat and very reluctantly agreed, provided I took Kustav with me so he could fetch her as soon as Maric was ready for her. I gathered myself and prepared to access the link, asking Maric if he was fit to receive visitors, adding that Aoibheann was ready to tear the castle down stone by stone if I didn’t tell her something. To my relief, his reply was composed, and his mind seemed stronger, more rational than last time I had seen him. Yes, he was fit to receive visitors, albeit not for a long time. I told him that I had sent Aoibheann away to get herself cleaned up, adding that I had not asked, which he agreed was wise.
Down in his chambers, Maric looked well enough and was clearly back to his normal self, save for a certain red tinge to his eyes. He greeted me formally and offered wine, every bit the urbane and polished host once again. I responded formally, but could not resist commenting on the eyes, reminding him that he had told me I should not release him until all the red was gone. However, given that I lacked the chains and assistance of the wolf brothers, I guessed I would have to let it pass for now. I accepted the glass of wine and apologised for the somewhat improvised method of feeding and waking him up, explaining that even with Kustav’s help, I had experienced some difficulty deciphering his books and notes on the care of torpored vampires.
He acknowledged that, and that I was right, but we did not have the luxury of time. He was back, and suspected that there were some changes about him that he would have to deal with. He expressed his eternal gratitude for my care and attention. I felt a little uncomfortable with that, and explained what little I knew of boons and how some kindred set great store by them. I did not keep account of such things, despite my profession, and sought only to do what was necessary, to do my duty to my lord and my friend, and to the village he left in my care.
That said, I suggested that I should deliver a summary of events while he had been out of commission, for fear that Aoibheann would grow impatient if I were to go into detail.
He asked what I knew of Tammi and I told him what little I knew, being mainly that she was pursued by forces unknown that could possibly become a threat should they track her to here, for which warning he thanked me. I told him about our Dhampyr, which news concerned him, but he was sure we could work something out between us to help her.
I told him that our main concern was getting out of the Shadow Roads. I told him what had become of Damir and about the crows, seeing both as a warning that our welcome was growing thin. I told him that Gwyn and Janus had called a new faerie realm into existence and how they were King and Queen together, despite being of opposing courts, and had agreed to work together to build a new land. That realm, I said, was likely the only option we had for getting away from the Roads. However, we would have to negotiate with the Crown before we did anything about that. I also told him about the losses we had suffered during the assorted battles, of the five guards who had passed on, the two that had asked to be brought back, and that I had only succeeded in saving one, who was now in torpor, pending help on raising a childer. That led me to happier news, as I told him the news about Gwyn being with child, multiple children, with it being likely that Janus and I were both the fathers somehow.
Maric took it all in, frowning at the bad news, thanking me for the update and congratulating me on the good news, news which must seem almost miraculous for such as we were. He bade me to not worry about my childer, we would revive him when we had time, and he would guide me in what must be done.
He had news of his own, news which he insisted remain between the two of us. Galyanna had succeeded in her quest to repair the mirror and Vedis had been rescued from the Hell realms. For now, she was confined to the laboratory, non-corporeal, her spirit residing in the walls where she could not influence others. This was taking a certain amount of effort from him, which was why he could not afford to grow weak again. There were still bargains to be fulfilled, demons to be fought, and a Crow to appease. He agreed with me that we must find our way out of the Roads as soon as we could. I told him I understood, knowing what I did of Radek’s mission and agreed it was best that Aoibheann not be told for now. Galyanna obviously knew, but it was best we kept it as quiet as we could.
Further discussion was interrupted by the arrival of Aoibheann, who had clearly decided she could wait no longer. She had bathed and washed her hair, though it looked as though she had been in a hurry to dry it. She was wearing a dress I had not seen before, but it suited her well. It was not the red dress she had mentioned to me before, so perhaps she was saving that for a more suitable occasion. I finished my wine and got up, briefly concluding my conversation with Maric on fairly neutral subjects, saying that I would leave them now, as I was sure they had catching up to do. We continued the conversation mentally for a few moments, but it was clear that he was impatient to spend time with his lady. Even so, he asked that I send Kustav down in half an hour or so, to fetch her, as he was still tired. I promised I would do so and left them to it. I did have a moment of doubt as to the wisdom of this, but I trusted to his willpower and his love for her. I left as he offered her a seat and the inevitable glass of wine.
I returned to my office. Maric may be back, but that did not make much of a difference to my duties, save that some decisions I could now refer to him. We still had much to do.
Sometimes, I feel as if I am back in Jasper Cove, where whole days would often disappear without notice. I never did fathom out how that was, save that the passage of time there was always somewhat doubtful. Here, at least I know what went wrong. After all the time I have spent here, travelling through the land, crossing to faerie and back, this is the first time I have managed to lose time in the process. Seven days, more or less. And, I ended up back in Mysthaven, rather than faerie, as I had intended, managing to miss the Solstice celebrations with Ardan.
Oh, and Maric waking up. Did I mention that bit?
I emerged from the mists to find myself back outside the castle, somewhat surprising Milo, who was on duty. From his somewhat garbled explanation, I gathered that I had been missing for seven days. I didn’t stop to question the how or why, as my first thought was for the feeding regime for Maric. I rushed down to his chambers, hoping that Kustav and his brothers had kept the flasks refilled. Somewhere, on the way, I gathered up Aoibheann in my wake, and the brothers, but only Kustav came with me to the chamber door, managing to briefly explain that Maric had awoken, but things were not entirely well.
I went in anyway. Such was my duty. I knew full well the danger, but, it is not my way to retreat.
The room was a mess, to put it mildly. I don’t have much experience of tornadoes, Ardan aside, but I believe that the wreckage wrought by one would be appropriate to the state of the place. I was less than polite in asking what had happened, but then everything went cold, the blood draining from my face as I turned the corner and saw what was in the room.
Maric was there, kneeling on the floor, clad only in his trousers and with a few drops of blood around his mouth and tears of blood around his eyes. That awful compulsion was surrounding him, unfocussed, undirected, no doubt drawing people in if the guards were not there to prevent them. One guard was not so fortunate, lying comatose on the floor, as was the one that was my childer, still in torpor. Maric stared at me, unrecognising at first, as still as only he can be, rigid, controlled, remaining still by force of will. We should not have come, he told me, it was not safe.
It was only then that I realised that Aoibheann had come in with me and was making a half-hearted attempt to tidy up, at least, until she saw him. I told him that I had come because it was my duty. Behind me, Aoibheann managed to say only that she wanted to see him.
He would not look at her, perhaps he dared not. Behind the walls of his control, I could sense his overwhelming hunger, for her, for me, for any blood at all. To Aoibheann, he would only say no, that he did not want her to see him like this. He managed to face me, speaking slowly, in fragmented sentences, as if each one was a great effort of will. He had to go to Hell, he said, because that was the only way he could keep us safe, to pay the debts owed. The compulsion was almost palpable, grating at our senses, causing even the brothers, who presumably were more used to this, to shift uncomfortably. It was not duty, he told me, it was folly. He commanded me to find out what was changing, what was happening to the roses, to continue to run the castle and to keep the villagers safe.
He stood then, rising to his feet quickly and smoothly, with grace, but a dangerous grace, like a snake about to strike. I stood my ground; for all that he was in a dangerous state, I trusted him. I told him that duty always had its dangers, and I could not carry out my duty without having to face danger. I proffered the flasks, two of blood, one of the healing potion, placing them down before him. I backed up and without turning away, instructed Kustav to see that Aoibheann left immediately. I asked Maric if I should call for Galyanna, saying my first duty was to him, but if that was what he wished of me, then I would do it.
Aoibheann was not at all happy, proclaiming that she loved him even like this and begging him to promise that he would come back to her. She was reluctant to go, but did not resist Kustav’s efforts to move her to safety. Maric gestured at the flasks I had put down, somehow drawing their contents out like small fountains, splashing onto his skin and instantly being absorbed. Perhaps it energised him a little, for he started to come close, but I realised he was looking at me with hunger. He wanted my vitae, my sweet vitae, and I knew I was a double temptation, kindred blood and fae energies together. I backed away slowly, knowing that the others were already backing into the passageway outside the chambers. I told Maric gently that my vitae was perhaps too rich for him in his current condition.
He followed us with an easy grace, like a panther stalking its prey, the temptation clear on his face, as was the internal struggle, to remain calm, to restrain himself. He looked at the two of us, Aoibheann and me, hunger warring with his control, and then, suddenly, he was gone, a blur of speed, heading down towards the laboratory, and presumably the gateway to the Hell realms. “I shall return,” he promised, as he ran.
I sighed and sent Vuk after him to make sure he didn’t hurt himself on the way, asking Davor and Kustav to warn Galyanna if either saw her. Aoibheann eventually stopped crying and diverted herself with more practical matters, asking for a hammer and some nails. I didn’t dare ask, preferring to tell myself that she needed to do some tidying up in Maric’s chambers. I left the guards to keep an eye on things and returned to my office. I had been away for a week, and who knows what a mess the paperwork had gotten into.
I am no mortal man, or so I was told last night, by one who calls me a warrior poet. Is that what I have become? Given that circumstances have dictated that I have had to gain some proficiency at arms, I cannot argue the former, but I am not so sure of the latter. While I will admit that words are my medium of choice, such words as have flowed from my pen have rarely ventured into the realms of poesy, even if I am prone to reading such things voraciously. Certainly, I cannot argue that I am nothing but a mortal man. That is no longer my fate. What fate there might be, I do not know, only that I am marked by fate, and many paths lie ahead of me to choose. This, I have learned, in that other world of dream. Or was it a dream? Or did I really go to that other place?
A voice called me; sensuous, soft as a summer breeze, a caress that called me to that other place. That other place that exists, in my dreams, and outside of them, within me and without. That place where dreams and the faerie realms come together. Reality or dream, I do not know for sure, save that it is real to me, and maybe that is as real as real can be.
It was Faermorn who called me; that most beauteous queen of my dreams, if no longer queen of the fae. While Gwyn is my first and most constant love, I can no longer deny that Faermorn holds a part of me, even from beyond the mortal realms, and that she has done so for a long time, even before she gave part of herself to me in the Quickening. She called to me, and from my dreams, I went, to that place they call the Summerlands, where life and death are one and the same. She called me to a crystal pool, wreathed in fountains and mist. Her aspect was bright, goddess-like, as if she were all woman-kind, including, for a moment, my mother, but the shapes of light resolved into human-seeming form, and it was the queen I had known, even if she seemed more the woman than the queen. Nathaniel, she named me, in a voice that breathed across my sense, and warrior poet.
I knelt, that seeming the only reaction I could muster while I gathered my senses, reeling from the shock of seeing her again. For a moment, I could not bring her name to my lips, calling her only, Majesty. She urged me to my feet, telling me she was no longer Majesty. She was always here, she told me, and she had heard my heart calling. Her touch was wondrous, as was her voice; for all that she seemed more the mortal woman in form. Gone was the sadness and regret that had tinged her soul before. Now, here was nothing but joy and completion.
I regained my feet, knowing now where I was, and had to reassure myself with a touch to my own breast, that I yet lived, that my heartbeat had not left me. “Majesty,” I called her, then corrected myself, the sound of her name a thrill that ran through my heart, “Faermorn, then, if I may so call you.” I asked why I was there, what call she had heard from my heart. Her smile lit up, brighter and softer than the sun, all that love could be. This place was within me, she told me, it was within everyone if they knew where to look. Her smile focussed on me, just for me. Dear heart, she called me, telling me that she was always with me, as was my mother, or so I interpreted the other she referred to. She told me that it was good to speak with me, face to face. My heart, she said, held the legacy of both dark and light within me. She offered her hands, so soft and delicate, yet strong, to me, and for all that she wore a mortal form, she seemed one with the sunlight that glowed within her.
I took those hands, and did not want to release them, kissing each one and holding them in mine, idly stroking the backs with my thumbs. I told her that I often regretted that we had not spent more time in each other’s company, face to face, before… before she came to this realm. But that time was gone. I spoke of the dark and light, speculating that one could not be without the other, even of there were those that would say that you could only choose one side. All I knew was that sometimes, it seemed there was too much of both. I spoke briefly of what had assailed the land since she had gone. I spoke of what Gwyn and Janus had wrought since then, and finally spoke of what had been foremost in my mind of late, that Gwyneth was with child.
I would not have thought it possible, but the radiance of her smile grew, as she leaned forward and kissed me on the lips, tangling her fingers with mine. She told me, with great joy, that she knew. I supposed that this should not surprise me, being outside of time, or so I assumed. This was a new beginning, she told me, to celebrate the reunion of the dark and light, by which, I thought she meant the courts. Or perhaps not, since she also said that there was a balance in me, between the two forces. Was that another reunion? I know I have being trying to integrate those aspects of my nature, but one is partly innate and partly gifted, whereas the other was imposed upon me, so I do not know how that can be a reunion.
Her next words were more worrying. She told me that I was marked by fate and had many paths ahead of me. I wasn’t so sure I liked that. I was minded of the old quote about those the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad. While I am fairly sure that there aren’t any gods out to get me, Nemaine notwithstanding, I was not sure I liked the idea of being marked for particular attention. That, I said, could lead to what the old curse called ‘interesting times’. I accepted that it was long past the time when I could expect to live an ordinary life, but it would be nice to do so sometimes. One other question came to my mind. Since I had mentioned Gwyn’s pregnancy, there was a question still to be answered, concerning myself and Janus.
She was leaning towards me, offering a kiss, and that I could no longer resist. The radiance of her, the scent of her, and the temptation of her was too strong, and here, it did not seem to be glamour, but just herself. Surprisingly, she seemed to desire it equally. The touch of her lips was electric, and I could feel the Wyld rising. She spoke of Gwyn, even as we kissed, telling me that I had already gifted my energy to her, and that my energy would be carried forward, as would the king’s. Could we both be fathers with one mother? I had heard that such things were possible, albeit rare, among humans, but who knows with the fae? She shifted closer, her body leaning against mine, and I could not help but be aware of the woman, this embodiment of sensuality, so close and in my arms. The very epitome of desire was in my arms, and yet I could not help but remember the poems and stories I knew so well, and that gave me pause for a moment.
“Our poetry and folklore are full of dire warnings of what happens when a faerie queen takes a mortal lover,” I said to her, smiling, and making no move to retreat, “but this is just a dream, right?” She moulded herself against me, and sealed my fate with her words, telling me that everything was a dream and told me that I, her warrior poet, was no mortal man. That made me smile and I kissed her fingers as I replied. “Then thrice-doomed I am, is that not so? … A warrior turns not from peril … rather he seeks it out and faces it… with joy in his heart… A poet pays no heed to reason… rather he listens to his heart… he lets passion rule over sense… and he follows his muse wherever she leads… And if I am no mortal man… then there can be no surcease to my torment… Thrice-doomed I am indeed.”
What passed thereafter, I can not recall. I think we kissed, and again, and there was that dizzying desire that comes of the faerie queen, but what occurred after that, my memory does not serve me. Memory fades, is it is wont to do in dreams, if it was a dream. Or perhaps she sent me back from the Summerlands with just the taste of her lips on mine, a small favour bestowed by a queen on her subject. Which it was, I do not know for sure. Perhaps, as she said to me, everything is a dream. Dream or not, some things I take away as truth, however those truths came to me. One concerns the paths ahead of me, but all I know is that there are many of them. The other concerns my dearest love, my living queen, and what we may have wrought. Perhaps I am a father after all. That, only time will tell.
* Midnight Queen – By Inkubus Sukkubus, go check them out.
Our agreement with Vedis continues to dog us, and require of us some men. Fortunately, this time, we escaped with no deaths. Galyanna was still trying to retrieve shards of the mirror in order to aid the recovery of Vedis. I sent Radek along, since the Lazarević brothers were not yet healed. They went along with Galyanna, and, for some inexplicable reason, Helene decided to go along with them. The party, for even less comprehensible reasons, included the al’miraj – the horned rabbit that has occasionally been seen about the place.They met up with Medea, who is somehow related to Vedis, and various of the Sisters of the Void. From what Radek told me, I am glad we did not opt to take refuge there, as it sounds a dismal place.
The encounter included a few of the hell-guards, former colleagues, I later learned, of Galyanna’s, who were promptly dealt with, and a creature that, from Radek’s description, must have looked like a cross between a giant lobster and our one-time insectoidal alien friend, the Kzzz. Despite its fearsome appearance, it was swiftly dealt with, even if two of Radek’s team were badly injured. He got a few good stabs at it, Galyanna managed to get it in the back, and Medea, somewhat unconventionally, ran it through… with the al’miraj. You have to admire the inventiveness, if nothing else. This was seemingly sufficient to dispatch the creature. A shard was recovered, and the party made it back to the castle, mostly in one piece, even Helene, although she was somewhat injured.
I know this latter because I found her in my bed. I had been working in the office and had fallen asleep there, so had not returned to my chambers. I did so after reading Radek’s report and for some reason, the returning party had bandaged her up and placed her in my bed. While, under other circumstances, this might have been fine, I was semi-expecting Gwyn to visit, so this might have been a little awkward. I fetched some medicine for her and told her to rest for the moment, as I had other visitors to deal with. I did pause to ask why she had decided to go to hell. She said that she had gone there to overcome her fear of Raziel. I couldn’t argue with that.
Downstairs, I found that Gwyn had indeed arrived, along with Dorina. When I got down there, and had made appropriate greetings, Dorina asked if she could speak with me. I was going to take her to the office, but Aoibheann said that wasn’t necessary, as the plan involved her too. I wasn’t sure quite what plan they had in mind, but I got the sense that it was something to do with dealing with Dorina’s inner demons, and that I would probably not like the idea. From what Aoibheann said, it also involved a locked room and guards. That much would be easy to achieve, but how this would help Dorina control her beast, I could not speculate.
What that idea was, I did not find out, because Helene came downstairs in search of food. For some reason, this alarmed Dorina. From the way she looked at her, I was afraid that something in Helene was appealing to her beast. This was confirmed when she said that she ought to leave, that it was safer if she did so. She said that she was going to slake her thirst with whisky over at the tavern. I did suggest that she ask Hal for one of Maric’s special bottles, and tell him that I said it was ok to give her some, but she would not have it. She left, telling Aoibheann to explain the plan.
Aoibheann did not feel up to explaining the plan, especially with Helene and Gwyn around, so we decided to postpone it for now. I made sure Helene had something to eat and drink, and made arrangements for her to be returned to her normal bed. Since Gwyn was feeling somewhat sleepy, we retired to my rooms then, now thankfully free of Helene, there to spend some quality time together.
The following day, I encountered Galyanna in the graveyard. From her I learned a little more of the situation in Hell. With Vedis gone, a demon by the name of Asmodeus had taken over, executed or otherwise disposed of most of Vedis’ Talons, and placed somebody called Kitori, a former apprentice of Galyanna’s, in charge. Galyanna, herself, had been declared a traitor and outlaw. She was out of allies, and the odds were against her, but she seemed not unduly intimidated and surprisingly upbeat about her chances of completing her mission and rescuing her queen. The more I work with her, the more I discover that we are kindred spirits in many ways, with her loyalty and steadfastness. I offered what help I could, subject to the limitations placed on me, and suggested that I might be able to help by providing diplomatic contact. She declined for now, but, it might prove useful in the future.
(The handwriting for this entry is somewhat shaky, with more blots and smudges than normal. There are also rather a lot of stains that could be blood…)
The awakening has begun, but there is a long way to go yet. There is a lot of healing yet to be achieved, and not just for Lord Maric. It took the combined efforts of myself and the brothers Lazarević to get things started, and we did not escape unscathed. I suspect we were lucky to escape with our lives.
I had prepared as best I could. I consulted with Kustav, who reluctantly admitted to having been present at a previous occasion when Maric had been in torpor. That time, they had waited for him to stir on his own, which had taken a year or more. He admitted that we did not have the luxury to wait that long, and could only advise extreme caution. His thinking accorded well with mine, including the suggestion that he and his brothers he present.
I had raided Maric’s laboratory for flasks and retorts, tubes and valves and assembled an apparatus for feeding blood and healing potions down a tube, and for keeping the contents fresh. It looked like something a mad scientist would put together and I wondered what Dai Jones, my old science teacher at school would have made of it. I prepared myself as best I could as well, donning a mail shirt with long sleeves, a gorget, vambraces etc. I was not entirely sure that it would withstand Maric’s strength, but it had to be better than nothing.
Thus prepared, I headed down to the vaults, gathering the brothers as I went. Other guards, I positioned at the various exits from the vaults, from the cellar, from the castle. The rest, I sent with the castle staff out of the castle, and had them prepared to evacuate the villagers and others into the tavern cellars for safety if necessary. Gwyn was waiting for me in the main hall as I came down. I explained what I was planning and asked her to assist with evacuations if necessary. We kissed, after I had wrapped my cloak around the mail shirt, and then I went on my way.
The coffin room behind Maric’s bedchamber was spotless. Aoibheann had been true to her word, and cleaned it meticulously. I could only hope it would remain so, but somehow I doubted that. I set up my feeding apparatus as close as I could to the sarcophagus, needing only the tubes to be routed to the best position. Vuk and Davor stood by with the nets and chains ready, just in case Maric tried to make a run for it, and Kustav stood by ready to open the lid. One last thing remained, and that was the brothers shifting into their were forms – half man, half wolf – which they presumably felt was the most suitable. Certainly it was the most fearsome. I should have thought of that myself, but I was awfully glad they did. I nodded to Kustav and he began to haul at the lid. It resisted far more than I would have expected from the sheer weight of the stone lid against Kustav’s werewolf strength, but then, suddenly, some mechanism reacted and the lid flew open, knocking Kustav flying.
I was very, very glad that I had forbidden Aoibheann from this part. What was inside the coffin would have turned the stomach of the strongest of constitutions. In among the charred remains of what might have been a luxurious silk lining lay the remains of Maric. Not quite skeletal remains, but not much more than that. Little remained of his clothes or skin, and such flesh as there was, charred to ash and cinders, gaunt and shrunken against the bones. His eye sockets gazed lifelessly at the ceiling, and his fangs were a shocking white against the blackness. Even though I had not eaten, I almost heaved at the sight, and once again, I was glad that Aoibheann was not here to see this. The brothers were equally aghast, once they had recovered their feet. I gestured to them to stand by as I positioned the tube, fastening it in position and placing a few small slivers of stone to protect the tube once the lid was replaced. Now all that remained was to check that it all worked.
I turned the tap, and allowed just a few drops of the blood to drip gently into what remained of Maric’s mouth. The droplets fell into the ruins of his mouth, kicking up little clouds of ash and dust, until enough had fallen to wet the surface, soaking into the charred remains, beading up like mud, but the colour of tar. It was most disquieting as the drops of blood seemed to flow, almost as though they were themselves alive, soaking into the cinders, filling them out, reshaping them. As they started to flow, I could feel the stirrings of Maric’s mind, base and animalistic, naked, uncontrolled hunger, reaching out to consume us all. I urged the brothers to stop staring at their master and to get the lid down, all the while, projecting calm back at Maric.
The power of his mind was a dizzying vortex, sucking us all in, pure instinct, pure mindless hunger, caring not that we were friend or foe, only that we were food. The brothers howled as they fought their own battles against that pull, as they too were drawn in, towards the coffin. It took every iota of my will to resist, to maintain my own control, so much so, that I was totally unprepared for the attack. His body looked like a tar figure now, and without warning, he struck, faster than a snake, faster than even I could see, grabbing me by the neck and dragging me back into the coffin. My mental commands, my presence were powerless against the rising tide of Maric’s will, and it was all I could do to brace my feet against the side of the coffin and try to force myself away. All that saved me was the sudden intervention of a powerful, hairy arm, as Kustav thrust himself between us, getting his forearm between Maric’s mouth and my neck. I had barely time to register this before I managed to get enough purchase to rip myself from his grip, leaving behind bits of my skin and clothes. I heard a sickening snap as Maric bit hard into Kustav’s arm, breaking the bone. The brothers were all howling in pain and I didn’t dare think what else was happening around the castle. The servants were safely away, but who knew how far Maric’s influence could be felt? So far, there seemed to be no sign of the other guards coming, but I had no idea how long that will last.
Vuk and Davor were clawing at their own flesh, spilling their own blood, reacting to their lord’s hunger, torn between that and their brother’s pain. They barely had enough will to reach out to try to rescue their brother before he was drained, but between them, they managed to pull him away, losing a good chunk of his flesh in the process as they landed in a painful and bloody heap on the floor. Unfortunately, in dragging their brother away, they had dragged Maric’s body partly out of the coffin. There was blood everywhere, and I could see his body rebuilding itself, flesh and sinew, skin. He was clawing blindly at the coffin, around him, unseeing, but sensing food, screaming silently into the night.
I fought against the flood of his mindless hunger, and struggled to my feet, hoping I could pull the lid down, but with Maric’s body in the way, I did not have that option. I grabbed one of the flasks of blood and approached. This time I had the foresight to harden my skin as he had taught me before I attempted to pour the blood into him, hoping that I could get him to move, so I could get the lid down again. His face turned towards the offered vitae, allowing me to pour it into him. His flesh was reforming around the bones as he grabbed for me, but this time I was able to evade him, giving me a chance to grab a second flask. I called for help from the brothers and it was Vuk this time, who left Kustav in his brother’s care. I do not know if it was my call he heeded or the power that Maric was broadcasting. I suspect the latter as he approached on all fours, as submissive as any non-alpha could be. He offered his neck and Maric struck, again with lightning speed, sucking greedily on that powerful vitae. This seemed to pull his mental focus away from me and I was able to step back. I could see that Kustav was out of action, but I called to Davor to get the chains, to try to restrain his lord while he was distracted. Perhaps my blood would help, I thought, so I grabbed one of the empty flasks and bit into my own arm, letting my own vitae flow into the flask.
Davor reached the coffin, but then dropped the chains, seeing the state of Vuk, helpless in Maric’s arms, and possibly being drained dry. I could feel nothing through the link of Maric’s rational mind, only the hunger. Davor reached for his brother, trying to pull him away, but then he too fell victim to his lord’s will, falling to his knees and offering his own throat. I took the flask of my own blood and held it ready, reaching into my own will, calling up the power of my own presence, feeding it with the blood magic and the power of the Wyld in me, projecting calm, projecting sanity as best I could.
This time, I succeeded. Maric turned towards me and there was a flicker of awareness on the ravaged remains of his face, the eyes that were slowly reforming seemed to register some recognition. I could feel his suffering, his confusion and over it all, the hunger and thirst, but for the first time, I got a sense of the rational, his soundless voice asking what he had done, and insisting he must feed.
I concentrated on my own sense of calm, however little of it I felt on the surface. I concentrated on everything that made me what I am, my rock-solid centre, my own sanity, my sense of duty, forcing this to the surface. “You have survived, you live, and that is all. We will recover,” I told him. I could feel him focussing on me, on our bond, grasping towards sanity. “Now feed, and be well again,” I told him, offering the flask of my own blood.
This was a mistake. I had forgotten his thirst for fae blood, and more so, I had forgotten that my most recent experiences with Faermorn had likely left me with the power of the Wyld in my own blood. The sense of sanity vanished into a greater and more insatiable hunger, a wild, exhilarated hunger that I recognised; the same hunger I had felt in him when he was near Isabella or Gwyn, only this time unfettered by his iron will. He lunged once again for my throat, to drink from that source he craved so much. The air turned blue with my cursing as I realised what I had done, and I barely had enough time to strengthen the blood magic to harden my skin further as I once again tried to command him to sanity. His fangs skittered across my neck, sliding harmlessly across the stone-like skin, and he fell, gasping with pain at my side, and once again, I felt the rational in him take control, barely.
“Forgive me, Nathaniel,” he said, clearly struggling with the need for control and the fear of what he might have done in his madness. Other memories came through the link, of other awakenings, that had perhaps not gone very well. He asked if he had killed anybody before telling me to chain him, because he was not yet in full control. He was slipping in and out of rationality, the hunger overwhelming him time and again as he fought for that control.
I gritted my teeth, calling on every reserve I had, the resolute and solid nature of my family and my friends, dragging myself slowly back to my feet, doggedly winding the chains around Maric’s arms and torso. I called out through the link to the rational part of him, assuring that he had not killed anybody. The sardonic part of me could not help but add a silent “so far” to that assurance. I told him there was nothing to forgive; all we had done was our duty. Rest, I told him as I wrapped the last of the chains around him and started to lift him back into the coffin. He looked at me as I laid him back into the coffin, speaking aloud for the first time, as sufficient of his body had reformed for this.
“Good,” he said as he lay back, telling me I had his eternal gratitude. He tested himself against the chains and seemed satisfied. He told me that I should not release him, whatever else he might say, until his eyes were no longer red. He would need lots of blood, he said, to recover, before slipping away into the darkness that consumed him. Davor had recovered himself, and leaving his unconscious brothers on the floor for now, came to me and helped me with getting Maric comfortable. I told Maric, whether or not he could hear me now, that gratitude was not necessary, we were just doing what needed to be done. Rest now, I told him, before finally getting the feeding tube in place and the lid back down again. Davor and I were wearied and bloodied and not without our own injuries, yet we persevered, getting a few heavy crates onto the coffin lid to weigh it down. With my last reserves of strength, I reset the feeding apparatus with such full flasks of blood were left, and left it providing a steady trickle.
Davor and I managed, between us, to get Kustav and Vuk back to their own quarters, where I left them in his care. They were werewolves, and I knew they would heal quickly. The castle was in some disarray, as some of the other guards had also succumbed to Maric’s call and injured themselves trying to get to him. Fortunately, enough retained their sanity that too much damage was avoided. Once I deemed it safe, I sent one of them to retrieve the staff from the tavern to clear up. What passed after that, I do not know, as I barely made it to my own bed before collapsing. With my duty done, I too was dead to the world.
(Take My Hunger lyrics belong to Inkubus Sukkubus - go check them out)
The crows are back, many of them, just sitting in the trees and watching. That damned Darkest Crow is behind it, I am sure, and I know that I need to meet with her to discuss our leaving of this place. But where to go, I do not know. I do not know what lies beyond the mysts, what has happened to the land outside the Shadow Roads. I know only what is here in the village, what I have seen of the Summerlands, and what Galyanna and such guards as have been there have told me of the Realms of Hell. Of those alternatives, I think I like the Summerlands the best. I shall have to speak with Janus and Gwyn about that. These people need their land, open spaces, space to breathe and run and grow food. If the island were still there, I would return to that place, but I know nothing of the fate of that land.
The day after our discussion in the Summerlands, I found Aoibheann out in the grounds of the castle, seemingly attempting to scare the crows with a spear. One of the guards wisely took it away from her and gave her a quarterstaff instead. I am not entirely sure that this was a much safer option in Aoibheann’s hands, but then, she could quite probably wreak havoc with a bag of candyfloss, so maybe it didn’t make a difference. She seemed to be intent on protecting the village with it under the misapprehension that I was going to be taking all the guards away on various missions. The guard, showing admirable cunning, distracted her by telling her she was holding it incorrectly. I have not had much experience in the use of a staff yet, but the guard was quite correct. More to the point, it made her pause in her attempts to scare the crows.
Aoibheann greeted me with a slightly manic smile, experimentally waving the staff in the direction of the crows. I suggested that this might take a little while, as there were rather a lot of them and they would most likely just come back. Instead, I turned and addressed the crows, telling them that if their lady wished a meeting, she need only ask.
Aoibheann waved the staff at the crows again and opined that perhaps Nemaine had not responded because my invitations were boring. With typical Aoibheann logic, she suddenly switched to the idea of having a party, something she had mentioned to me a while ago. We should have a party, she said, with dancing, to celebrate Maric’s awakening, or possibly to cheer up the villagers, or maybe both. To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure what she meant, and the former was somewhat premature. Even after all these years, I have a problem following her train of thought. I ventured that a party was possibly a good idea, though I had my doubts if it was going to be like the one she had held for the Huntsman. I also suggested that inviting the Crow might not be the best idea, in case she wanted more than a piece of cake and a party streamer to take away.
Aoibheann was not to be dissuaded. She would already know, she said, pointing at the crows. Would I rather she turned up unannounced, instead of being our honoured guest and bound by the rules of hospitality? Somehow, I had my doubts about the latter. The Crow would do what she wanted, regardless. But, maybe she had a point. I sighed and assented to the party, asking only that she wait until I had met with the Crow to discuss business matters.
She turned towards the crows, curtsied, and then delivered, in what she most likely fondly imagined was formal language, a very flowery invitation, asking that the crows deliver it to Nemaine. I could not help but smile at her worthy attempt at courtly speech. While her phrasing may have been a little clumsy, she had the essence of it right. I relaxed and told her that I couldn’t have put it better myself, however, perhaps I should make a formal invitation in writing as well. She seemed happy with this and headed into the castle, no doubt to start making party preparations.
I followed her inside as I still had preparations to make regarding Maric, but before that, I wrote a formal note requesting a meeting with Nemaine and inviting her to a party on an as yet unspecified date. I attached the note to a piece of meat from the kitchens and took it out and tossed it to one of the crows. The meat was swallowed in a single gulp and then it flew off with the note in its beak. I can only hope that it got to its destination. That done, I retreated to the lab, ignoring the oppressive presence of the mirror portal, and returned to my research.