March 26, 2010

Artwork by Denver Robbins

Dain's study was quaint compared to the rest of his house. Books and antiquities lined the back wall, artwork and sconces filled its opposite. A large yet modest desk sat almost directly in the center of the room. On the desk, next to a practical lamp and a scatter of papers sat an odd wooden box with a flashing white light atop it that looked something like a telephone, though is was unlike any telephone that Elizabeth had ever seen.

"Oh," Mary uttered, almost under her breath as she hurried over to the desk.

While Mary saw to the blinking light on the wooden box, Elizabeth made her way to the long windows at the far end of the room that overlooked a garden of roses, surrounded by several large willow trees, the lawn and the forest beyond. She could hear Sheriff Whitacker talking. It both surprised and irritated her that his thunderous voice was able to reverberate through the walls to assault her senses even in a house as big as this.

"I beg your pardon Miss," Mary said quietly.

Elizabeth turned.

"You'll be able to hear better the closer you sit."

Elizabeth shook her head at Mary, nonplussed.

"It's a dictograph." Mary pointed toward the wooden box on the desk. The box, Elizabeth realized, that the sound of Sheriff Whitacker's voice was bellowing out of.

"Oh." Elizabeth said faintly as she crossed to the desk. "Can they-?" she quieted her voice to a whisper, "Can they hear us?"

"No Miss, not at all." Mary smiled.

Elizabeth's brow furrowed and her lips pursed as she listened and considered the situation of blatantly eavesdropping, unsure of how to feel about it. "Is this-" she tried not to look as nervous as she felt. "Are you sure this is a good idea?"

"Yes Miss. It was the Master's idea." Mary said matter-of-fact.

"What do you mean?" Elizabeth eyed her.

"Well," Mary explained. "For one thing, the Master had to activate a hidden switch to light the light so that I would know to turn the dictograph on. And for another, the Master never admits visitors to his study. I reckon if he'd wanted you not to listen, he would have had you wait in the parlor."

"Oh," Elizabeth started to say something else, then stopped, her thoughts having suddenly abandoned her entirely.

"I'll fetch your tea." Mary said, abruptly taking her leave.

Sheriff Whitacker was relaying the tale of how he had come to know Mr. DelaCrosse. How after hearing of the fire, that burned far hotter than was natural, and of the subsequent deaths, Mr. DelaCrosse had traveled from New York to seek him out. "Mr. DelaCrosse, as it turns out, has had prior experiences with these kinds of things. But I'll let him tell you himself." Sheriff Whitacker boomed. "Mr. DelaCrosse?"

"Thank you Sheriff" Dain's voice - smooth, calm and far quieter by comparison, issued forth from the box.

Elizabeth sat herself at the chair nearest the dictograph and listened.

"Begging your pardon, Sherriff, Mr. DelaCrosse, but shouldn't the others be here?" asked a voice that Elizabeth was sure belonged to Ernest Stanton.

"Look around you gentlemen," Dain said "And ask yourselves what it is that sets you apart from those among your group who are either absent - or dead?"

There was a pause.

"None of us," Sheriff Whittaker provided, "have seen nor been seen by the beast. We know what its weaknesses are and what it's capable of, but we have the advantage in that it does not know us." He sounded satisfied.

Elizabeth shuddered. Suddenly feeling as if she were about to be witness to a mass murdering.

"Not Doc," cracked a voice she didn't recognize. "Him and Walter must've checked on the damned thing half a dozen times."

"That's not true." Dr. Stanley's voice wavered. "It was Walter that saw to the creature, I stayed outside the cell most of the time. I only saw the creature directly once or twice, and, and-" he stuttered, "It was either dead or unconscious every time."

"As far as you know!" the voice countered.

"He - it had no pulse, no breath, Henry."

Could this have been Henry Farrolli?

"Well I guess that explains why your head is still facing forward and Walter's isn't." Henry spat.

"That's enough Henry." Sheriff Whitaker said. "Doc's not the enemy here. The monster that killed your son is. We all want to see justice brought to this devil. For Branson as well as the others."

The group agreed, confirming with yeses, condolences and a mumbled grunt from Arthur.

"Whether the beast saw the Doctor or not, it is to our advantage that he has seen it, and can give us its description. Isn't that right Doctor?"

"Yes." Dr. Stanley's voice wavered and was so soft it was barely audible.

"Gentlemen," Dain's voice said firmly. "For the better part of the past decade I have been on the hunt for a creature most foul, following signs of its evil doings in hopes of one day catching up to him. I've come close more than once, but each time I think I've got him within my reaches he somehow manages to elude me." He paused. "I've been around the globe and back more times than I can accurately recall. But I've learned much about these creatures in my travels, including how to kill them."

"Do you know what it is for sure then, this... thing?" Arthur Greiling's voice grunted through the box.

"Is it an Angel?" Henry Farrolli asked. "A fallen angel, I mean, that is to say, is it a demon?"

"Of sorts." Dain said. "He is at least its hell spawned offspring. He is an incubus and a vampire."

"I told you! I told all of you!" one of the men shouted amidst the hubbub of questions, murmurs and accusations in the library.

"Vampire?" Elizabeth softly repeated, her mind thinking back to the shimmer of his eyes in the dim light and the thick sweet red that coated the walls and floors. Was this true? Was he telling them the truth?

"Gentlemen, please." Dain called over the din. "I have been where you are." He said with stern calm as the room quieted. "Ten years ago I led a different life. I had a wife, a child, and a notable position in my father's business. The only monsters I knew of were the ones I reassured my daughter were nothing more than shadows. And then one night I came home to find that... beast, that monster having his way with my wife."

Elizabeth gasped. It couldn't be true could it? According to Iona he was hundreds of years old, but again she wondered if there were an element of truth in his tale.

"I lost both my wife and daughter that night, though it was near a month before my wife succumbed to her injuries and died."

The men murmured their sympathies.

"Imagine my surprise when I woke not but a week later to find her standing at the foot of our bed."

Mixed reactions of shock, rumbled through the speaker on the dictograph, to meet Elizabeth's similar reaction.

"I cannot regret what happened in the months and years that followed. Though I will also never be able to forget, nor forgive." Dain said firmly.

There was a knocking sound then in the library, followed but a second later by a knock at the study door. Elizabeth jumped in her seat, her heart raced in her chest.

"Enter." Dain said through the dictograph.

The study door swung open as if in response.

It was Mary.

"You startled me." Elizabeth laughed.

"Oh, I beg your pardon Miss." Mary said, hurrying quickly to the desk carrying a large silver tray with tea, milk and enough pastries for a small hoard. She set the tray on the desk and poured Elizabeth a cup of tea.

"Thank you." Elizabeth said. Noticing that drinks and refreshments were being served to the gentlemen in the library as well.

Mary nodded and smiled politely.

"Have you worked for Mr. DelaCrosse long?" Elizabeth asked.

"Mmm." Mary smiled. "I started working when I was twelve, but I've been here my whole life. I'm the third generation of Weavers to serve at Blaylocke."

"Did you know his wife?"

Mary looked quizzically at Elizabeth. "No wife that I know of, But I'm afraid I wouldn't know much about it Miss. We're not allowed to talk about those we serve."

Elizabeth was intrigued by her odd response. "I wouldn't tell anyone." Elizabeth said.

"No, of course not." Mary said. "But it's as I said, I really don't know anything about it." Mary curtsied and quickly excused herself.

What kind of serving staff didn't talk about their employers? And why? Elizabeth wondered. Could it be a matter of loyalty? Or was it fear that kept them dumb on the subject?

"I've hunted this creature far too long" Dain's voice issued softly through the dictograph again. "With your help, I believe we can send this monstrosity back to the hell from which it came."

"And you say you know how to kill it," Henry Farrolli said. "Have you ever killed one of these creatures before?"

"I have." Dain answered. "To be quite honest, catching them is the difficult part. It's unfortunate that you didn't dispatch the creature while you had him subdued."

"Now wait just a minute." Arthur grunted. "If you know so much about these creatures, then perhaps you can help us with our original plan for this demon, vampire - whatever it is."

"Your original plan?" Dain asked sounding confused, but something in his voice hinted at his question being for show.

"This creature is immortal." Arthur said. "It doesn't die. Surely you can see the benefits of such a condition, if possessed by goodly, God fearing men."

"To become such a creature, is to be forgotten in the eyes of God." Dain said. "They were human once, as my wife was, but there was nothing left of who she once was when I drove a stake through her cold black heart."

The room was deathly quiet, not a movement, not a murmur.

"They hunt at night, preferring to sleep during the day." Dain started. "They abhor strong odors, particularly garlic. They are creatures of obsession, if you spill millet or mustard seeds on your window sills, or in it's grave, often they will feel compelled to stop and count each one. They avoid mirrors, as they cannot see their own reflection, though they do have one. They fear all things holy and will not step foot on consecrated ground, nor will they enter into your home without first being invited in."

"Oh I see," Arthur grunted.

"It was only a precaution," Dain said. "I suspect the creature must have fed on the young man you had guarding him during his escape otherwise your daughter might have been in grave danger."

Again Elizabeth wondered if there was some truth to his words.

"Why does it kill others, yet give help to the Dearing women?" Ernest Stanton asked.

"These creatures keep refuges throughout the world," Dain explained. "Usually with the aid of women as men are not as easily persuaded by their charms. And in return he grants them... favors."

"Favors?" Ernest Stanton asked. "What kind of favors?"

"It depends, Sometimes it's money or position, or even status, but it's always protection. They are his, and he will regard them as such, which is why they must never be harmed."

"To serve this monster makes them just as bad as the monster itself." Henry Farrolli shouted. "I for one believe they should answer for their crimes."

"What crime? Providing shelter for an acquaintance? It's quite possible that they have no idea that what their angel really is, or what he's capable of. And what if he is not the only creature they harbor?" Dain said calmly. "They are solitary creatures by nature, unlikely to be missed, but to take away one of their refuges, could bring an army of these monsters down upon you."

"Then what do we do?" Asked Dr. Stanley.

"I have a plan. But whatever we do, the Dearing women must remain unharmed."

Their conversation was interrupted by another knock at the library door. "Pardon me," said a man's voice. "There is an urgent call for you sir, from Lord Haward."

"If you'll excuse me Gentlemen," Dain said. "I must take this call."

It was quiet for a moment after he left, then slowly they started talking in hushed tones. Concerned mostly with the legitimacy of Dain's claims and whether or not he could be trusted.

The study door opened, and Elizabeth looked, expecting to see Mary, but it was Dain that stood before her.

"The telephone call was a ruse," he said. "I came to see you."

"And to listen?" Elizabeth suggested. "The moment you left they began discussing whether or not you could be trusted."

"I suspected as much." Dain crossed to the desk and switched the dictograph off.

Elizabeth stood and crossed to the long windows and stared wistfully and without seeing at the garden scene before her.

"I'm sorry I left in such haste the other night. I didn't get a chance to thank you. Or to let you know how truly indebted I am to you," he said.

"I saved you so that you could save Iona," she said turning to stare out the window. "You owe me nothing."

"Your love for each other is enviable."

"Enviable," Elizabeth scoffed. "I break her heart by being her friend. There is little to be envied in that."

"You're upset with me," he said.

"You're playing games."

"Not with you."

"Then why have me listen in?"

"Because I believe you're someone I can trust. I wanted you to know the truth about what was going on."

"The truth? And how am I to know the difference between what is true and what is a lie?"

"I will tell you."

"And I'm just supposed to trust you, blindly?" she cocked her head toward him.

He smiled and crossed the room to her, coming to stand impossibly close to her. "You already trust me," he said. "More than you should, perhaps. Why else would you dare to turn your back to me? You know what I've done."

"Dr. Stanley is lying. He knows who you are."

"I know." he paused. "We have an arrangement."

Her eyes searched his for a long moment. "Will you kill all of them?"

"I did not start this war, but I will finish it."

"And me?"

"You are not my enemy, Elizabeth."

She looked away from him again, her eyes on her hands. "If I asked you to spare my father, would you do it?"

He was quiet for a moment. "He is just as dangerous as the others, but if that is your wish."

Were all their lives in her hands? She wondered. "And-" she started to say-

"No one else." He said firmly.

"Why?" she asked.

"What do you see when you look at me?" he asked.

"I-" she turned to meet his face, struggling for something eloquent but found only what she had always thought. "I see a man."

He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. Sharp fangs descended in his mouth and his eyes opened to reveal soft bronze, reflective pupils. "And now?"

She could see herself reflected in his eyes. In a way it felt like seeing through his eyes. "...beautiful," she whispered. She gasped, startled by the reflection of her hand unconsciously reaching up to touch his face. "Forgive me," she said as she pulled her hand away. Gasping again as he caught hold of her wrist.

"How do you not see a monster standing before you?" he asked. "Why are you not afraid of me?"

She considered for a moment, searching his features, and his eyes. "There are plenty of monsters disguised as men to be afraid of in this world," she said. "It's their actions that define them. I see no monster here."

"Even as I take the lives of those around you?"

"Does it bring you pleasure to kill them?"

He sighed. "I do not kill for pleasure. It is what must be done to ensure the safety of my kind and of my lineage."

Elizabeth glanced toward the dictograph. "Monsters think only of themselves. They don't come to the defense of or try to protect others."

Dain eyed her for a long, quiet moment then he closed the gap between them and kissed her.

 

Chapter 13 - Secrets, Lies & Intrigues

(c) copyright 2010-2016 Lauren T. Hart