The Dark World *Revised* Prologue
The full moon shone in a bright circle of silver spreading a dim light throughout the night. On the ground below, hushed footsteps hurried along the forest ground, crushing dried leaves and twigs beneath their weight. Both men, draped in dark cloaks, walked along without speaking a word, only the sound of broken twigs destroying the steady silence that passed between them when the taller man spotted it first: Wispy, gray smoke drifted lazily into the dark air from a stone chimney attached to a rather shabby cabin.
The slightly shorter man removed his hood upon seeing the cabin revealing a most anxious expression as his silken, jet-black hair reached his back and lay unbound against his cloak. “This is it?” he asked the older man whose hood still rested upon his head; a shadow of black hid his face from view.
This man stood silently, not moving an inch, and the other knew instantly that he must have been lost in deep thought. Not wanting to disturb him but growing all the more impatient as black clouds passed in the violet night sky, he shifted his footing and stared eagerly toward the tattered door for several minutes before he got the nerve to speak.
“Are we going to speak to her or not, brother? I don’t see the reason of coming all this way just to stare at a deceased cabin!”
He withdrew at once, thinking he had crossed the proverbial line drawn for all Vampires: One never spoke to Xavier Delacroix in such a manner; he quite expected a full retort, finished with a long speech about protecting the humans: It was a Vampire’s duty to do so what with the other Dark Creatures roaming about that did not spare a nice feeling for the human race. But instead the continued silence that now pierced his sharp ears was all that was heard.
And at last the cloaked figure stirred: a snarl escaped into the night air like a sharp breeze, blowing leaves and twigs up from the ground in an unseen gust of wind. “Christian,” he said smoothly, a hand rising to his hood to remove it from its place atop his head all in the same graceful step. The long black hair trailed behind his head, much longer than his brother’s, and as he stared upon him, his green eyes flashed with the beauty of pronounced death, and he placed a firm, cold hand on the younger man’s face. “There are matters...that must be taken into account before one can go barging into a run-down cabin.”
Christian raised an eyebrow. “Like what?” he said dryly. “Checking the wind for specks of Lycan stench?”
He removed his hand at once, surprise filling his eyes, for did the Vampire smell the scent of Lycan just as he did? “Something of the sort...,” he said quietly, “listen, have you fed for the night, brother?”
His black eyes appeared to shine with sudden intrigue. “I haven’t,” he admitted, staring upon him supiciously then, “why do you ask?”
The thick scent of Lycan, indeed, filled his nostrils as he stared at his brother through the gloom, and he wondered how on Earth the Vampire could not smell it. “No matter,” he said quickly, “I just think it foolish for you to venture here when you have not fed. It would be most...bothersome for you, I imagine, if you...ran into...misfortune or some other matter and you were most...ill-equipped to deal with it....”
“Xavier,” he said sternly now, and the stare was full of incredulity, “if you think me to wander off for my fix of blood and miss whatever Dracula has sent us here for—”
“I shall inform you of whatever you believe you may have missed,” he said quickly, seriously, as the Vampire surveyed him steadily. “It is my duty.”
His black eyes seemed to lessen in their shine although they remained quite hidden from light here, shrouded in the dark protection of trees whose trunks twisted darkly and whose branches hung low, brandishing black leaves. And Xavier hoped the Vampire would take the hint and leave, for something was very strange here and he would not see his only brother harmed because of it....
“Very well, Xavier,” he said at last, and Xavier could not help but feel the Vampire was most relieved to tend to his nourishment, “thank you.” He turned, stepping swiftly through the trees, his back getting lost in the overwhelming darkness of the woods, Xavier’s mind not able to venture far from the guilt the younger Vampire must have been feeling, for it was his doing, after all, that they were the Creatures they were....
He smelled her before he saw her: the rich scent of lilac and freshly drawn blood reached his nose with something of ease amidst the cold air, the ever lingering scent of putrid beast.... He turned just in time to see the door swing open, and there she stood, a hand wrapped lightly around the old handle, a most strange dark blue cloak that swept the cabin floor over her shoulders, and as she stared through the night, her brown eyes found him, the smile slow to grace her lips. “Alone?” she whispered, her voice reaching his ears quite easily as he stepped into the clearing.
Her beauty, her hunger...yes, she was quite the formidable Vampire, Eleanor Black, which was why Xavier was not at all surprised to see it was her that Dracula had sent them to. “I believe so,” he said softly, stepping forward into the cabin as she turned and walked with ease toward two tattered armchairs that faced a small fireplace, the fire burning low within its grate.
He watched as she took a seat in one farthest from the door and closed her eyes before waving a hand, allowing the door to close behind him, but how curious it was that the smell of the cold night air dispersed as she did this, but the horrid stench of Lycan did not.
“Xavier...Christian wished to feed?” she whispered, bringing his mind back to the here and now, and he stared upon her, seeing her closed eyes, her long wavy black hair resting against her shoulders and chest as her head remained back against the chair, exhaustion radiating off every pore. What on Earth had she been doing to cause such utter depletion? Did she not acquire blood?
“Yes,” he said after a time of staring, knowing full well she could have heard their entire conversation if she so chose.
“It’s for the best…he would not take kindly to the news I have prepared....”
“And that would be?”
She opened her eyes, and yes, even against the small light of the fire, the weakness within them could not be denied: She was starving. “What we need to fight these beasts that threaten our quiet existence with the human world,” she answered quietly.
He stepped forward, stopping just beside the vacant armchair, mind rapt with just what that would be, when she said, “Forgive me...I haven’t fed all night, I am feeling…a bit out of sorts.”
“A Lycan...did you fight one, Eleanor?” he asked quickly, for surely a Lycan had remained there – the smell was quite overpowering now.
She stared at him, the disbelief within her eyes quite apparent as sat up in the old chair. “No,” she breathed, “no, I didn’t – I just – I haven’t fed, that is all, Xavier....”
And his mind rang with her words, before he decided that she had to have been telling the truth; Eleanor Black never lied. “Very well,” he said easily, moving to sit in the free armchair beside her, and he pulled back the sleeves of his cloak and white blouse, the white of his skin illuminated further by the orange light of the low fire as he rested it over the arm of the chair for her to see, “take my blood.”
A slightly shaking hand flew to her mouth, and she stared at his arm, the veins quite clear against his skin, and only said, her hand never removed from her mouth, “You know I can’t – I can’t – not anymore.” But how she could not look away.
He stared at her seriously, taking in her eyes, the tremble of her hand.... Even famished, she still held her beauty, but of course, none could expect anything less from the Vampire known as Eleanor Black...but he had had her...theirs was a relation that could not exceed her desire to be the best under Dracula’s watchful eyes.
Turning his mind from disturbing thoughts, he raised his arm off the chair. “Please,” he said at once, knowing that no matter their standing now, he would not allow her a permanent death.
And the hand was lowered from her lips as the stark desire to taste overwhelmed her it seemed, for her eyes had slowly begun to change their color, going from a soothingly cold brown to a most mesmerized red. “Are you sure?” she whispered, her voice quite thick with hunger.
“By all means,” he answered, having no time at all to realize it before a hand had reached for his wrist, lifting it to her lips, and she opened her mouth, the fangs there gleaming in the light of the fire as shadows danced across her pale face.
Before he could say another word, she had bit down across a vein, the blood leaving him in earnest as he fought back a wave of pleasure the more she drank, knowing full well he should not have felt it, should not have felt the exact desire filling his dead heart, for they were over, there was nothing there, nothing there at all— So why did I love this so?
He managed to stare at her as she drank, and he knew she knew nothing of his pleasure, knew nothing of his desire, for hers was being fulfilled, and to a Vampire so lost in their bloodlust...that was all that mattered.
She drank for moments more, and when the wind outside the old cabin sent the wooden walls to groan, she released his arm at last, his blood spilling down the sides of her mouth with her greed. She had taken far too much, far too much, indeed, but he had been far too...preoccupied to care, truly.
As he stared at her closely now, rubbing a hand over his closing wound, he saw that she looked quite guilt-ridden. “Eleanor?” he said carefully, watching as she blinked, her eyes returning to their regular state at once, and the smile was slow to grow upon her face, but there it was.
“Yes?” she whispered absently.
“What news have you for me?”
He watched as she blinked incoherently and then dawning realization found her eyes, and it was with swiftness that she stood from the old armchair and turned, stepping into the darker reaches of the cabin where the low fire’s light could not reach. He merely stared after her in bemusement, and was prepared to open his mouth once more when she said, “Dracula has told me he long ago fathered a child…the daughter of whom has long since had a child of her own. He has watched this family closely, in the hopes that one of their offspring will possess his blood undiluted by the blood of humans.”
Xavier heard her footsteps as she stepped along the old floorboards, the cease of her tongue a moment for him to assess what words just left her lips. She continued after several minutes:
“He has finally come across one such offspring: A girl…well a woman, now. Her name…is Alexandria Stone. She has shown considerable…talent, is what he’s said, although he wouldn’t expand on what that talent happened to be. He, himself has kept his eye on her for the past twenty or so years, watched as she’s grown from afar, and for whatever reason, he has finally decided to tell us about her. He needs her as her blood is his, and as we know, any human with the blood of a Vampire in their veins must be turned before they suffer a most unsightly death. She is nearing this state, Xavier, and he wants you to find her and bite her. Give her your blood and she will help stop the Lycans, once and for all.”
“A human woman commands such power?” he asked, disbelieving.
Her black eyes stared at him from the darkness of the cabin and he could see the faint glint of the silver necklaces she kept around her neck. “Apparently,” she answered him, the note of contempt just hidden beneath the word.
He narrowed his eyes; it was highly uncommon for Eleanor Black to ever disagree with Dracula’s word.
“And you? What do you think of this woman?”
“I don’t know what to think, Xavier,” she admitted. “He has not told me what she must do to save us from the Lycans, only that she must be tracked down and turned into a Vampire.”
He folded his arms, brow furrowed as he thought deeply. “If he has watched her, why can he not turn her himself?” he asked after a time.
“Marvelous question,” she said dryly. “I asked this myself when he informed me of what he wished for me to tell you.”
“And what did he say?”
“He didn’t…well not exactly, anyway.” The glint of the many rings upon her fingers caught his eye through the darkness and he knew she was interlacing her fingers, thinking deeply just as he was. “He only told me he would not be here for long to continuously watch over the human as he has done before…something about journeying elsewhere for something he would not say.”
“How odd,” he whispered, rising to stand, not understanding what would cause the Vampire to leave them to their own devices. Dracula was never known for secrets, this much Xavier was aware.
She stepped forward into the light of the fire but remained quite a distance from him, the armchairs he now stood by. “He...has been acting strangely as of late…surely, you’ve noticed it?” she said.
He thought of anything strange he’d noticed from the great Vampire but he could not pinpoint a precise thing…but, indeed, he’d never before sent he, Xavier to gather information from another Order Member instead of telling him, himself. It was strange, but it was hardly enough of a strange request to warrant any feelings of distrust toward the Vampire, he thought.
“No,” he said simply.
Eleanor stepped an inch closer to him, the back of her still caught in darkness, her front only grazed by the light of the fire, giving her an ethereal, orange glow. “I have,” she said at last.
“What have you noticed?”
She merely stared at him, not a word left her lips.
“Eleanor,” he tried again, staring upon her curiously, “what have you noticed?”
His eyes narrowed as he stared at her, noticing now that her eyes appeared glazed, her lips beginning to tremble with what had to be fear. “Eleanor, what’s wrong?” he asked. She stood there as still as stone, seemingly glued to the weak flooring, and when she did not respond for moments more and the air inside the cabin seemed to crawl, he moved his hand to the sheath settled on his waist and exhaled what little air remained in his lungs that did not need to be there before squeezing the hilt of the sword. “Eleanor.”
The figure in front of him did not move or make a sound and with this, Xavier withdrew the Ascalon: the longsword shone in the light of the fire, its metal formed with a deep line within the center, a line that carried straight down to the tip, the silver hilt gleaming underneath his hand. As he kept his eyes on Eleanor, he tapped the blade of the sword to the cabin floor, pressing a thumb against the sharpened edge, allowing the blood to spill into the groove with ease. Yes, before he knew it, his eyes turned a deep red and he allowed the cold cabin air to fill his lungs as he felt his dead heart begin to press against its cage with his apprehension, for he knew something was gravely wrong here. He had smelled beasts, and a number of them, and now Eleanor...she was...what – what was wrong with her?
Steeling himself, he took a single step toward her before it hit him, causing him to still in his movement: There it was, the putrid scent of Lycan once more, much more concentrated, much stronger. It made no sense – why, he half expected an overgrown dog to appear at the cabin’s door, the smell was so resilient....
And then the blood spilled from her lips, a fountain, falling all over her front and splattering loudly onto the old floor as she lifted an arm and stretched her fingers toward him, the low, rough voice issuing past her blood-drenched lips, mangled as if forced to sound against a throat that did not want it to speak: “Xavier.”
He merely stared in disbelief and horror, rooted to the spot by her deep dark eyes: they were completely black now, a strange, blank black. And it was a long time before he lifted the sword, it was a long time before he allowed thought to break his transfixtion: he knew he would have to harm her, for the smell of Lycan grew thicker, stifing his every sense now.
But he was not prepared for what would happen next, indeed: The more he stared at her, the more he saw that something was truly wrong, for her black, curly hair fell from her head now, the skin from her face beginning to peel, revealing not the bloody skull underneath, but thick, bloody fur. He lowered his sword at once as astonishment captured his hand: Beady black eyes appeared over the long snout that had now formed, pushing the rest of her skin from her face where it fell to the floor just as loudly as her blood had spilled. It was a sound that echoed on in his ears, even s he lifted the sword at last, trying his best to keep his eyes from the bloody pile of skin at her feet as the rest of her was removed, the large, overgrown dog, shaking impatiently from her skin. Her many necklaces had fallen to the floor some moments before, not able to withstand the strain of the beasts large neck as it stared down at him from its hind legs, its large head bumping against the cabin’s ceiling.
Before he could say a word, it bared its three rows of long sharp teeth, its entire mouth filled with saliva which dripped down the sides of its open mouth, the smell of its horrid breath brushing past his face. He chose not to inhale.
Turning his gaze to its long black nails, for it just lifted a massive paw, prepared to bring it down upon his head, he moved, side stepping the attack, the long claws pressing against air.
He squeezed the sword, the shock dispersing as he knew Eleanor was no more now. It was a beast before him, a damned bloody dog and nothing more. He would have to strike it, he would have to take it down. But how was it – how was any of this possible at all?
The Lycan lunged forward then, ripping up the wood floor of the cabin, great snarls leaving its throat as large drops of saliva left its mouth—
He lifted the sword in one swift movement, the blade striking it dead in its large, thundering heart. The moment it met the beast’s blood, the fur begn to wither, a sound much like a mixture of panic and pain left its mouth, and with a quick turn of the head away from the beast, it melded into thick, black ash, all of it dropping abruptly atop the pile of skin and blood, the necklaces atop them.
He then reached a hand inside his cloak to pull forth a small white cloth, wiping his sword of remaining blood before inhaling deeply. The thing that had stifled his senses since he had arrived was gone and so was she…. But it made no sense, it had made no perfect sense – how could a Lycan burst through a Vampire’s skin?
Tearing himself from the sight of the ash and blood, he turned toward the door, sliding the Ascalon into its sheath, preparing himself mentally to tell the others what transpired when he smelled it, the cold, calm scent of the wise Vampire, it was the smell of cold wind and fresh blood.
He placed a cold hand on the knob of the door, wondering just what the Vampire was doing here, and turned.
The cold, crisp air greeted him as he left the cabin and closed the door softly behind him, canceling the heavy scent of Lycan and blood, the lingering, faint scent of the Vampire that was Eleanor Black....
The vague light of the moon above shone down on the clearing and he almost thought of Christian, how the Vampire was fairing with his quarry...how right he was in telling the Vampire to leave....
“That was no normal inquiry, was it, Xavier?” the smooth voice asked, then.
He looked up amidst the trees and watched as the tall Vampire appeared from behind one, his silver cloak shimmering in the moonlight as he took a silent step forward with heavily polished black boots. With his appearance, the wind began to pick up ever the slightest and it sent his long pale, equally silver hair across his rather charming face: one violet eye stared at Xavier calmly, knowingly, and he made no attempts to allow both eyes to be seen, but rather allowed his hands to wave softly through the air as the wind ceased before he took another step toward the Vampire.
“It wasn’t, no,” Xavier responded quietly, allowing his joy at seeing the Vampire again to disappate with the wind. He turned his thoughts once more to what he’d just left, his dead heart sinking further. “Something...terrible has happened.”
The Vampire stepped forward, his steps not making a sound against the dry leaves, the twigs beneath his feet. “It smells of beast...,” he pried.
He knew his gaze to turn to the ground as his voice found itself stuck hard in his throat.
“Xavier?” he asked, the voice much closer now, causing Xavier to look up, to see that he had indeed stepped across the rest of the clearing and remained just before him.
“Victor,” he whispered, barely able to allow the thoughts to rise to his mind, for how could he tell anyone, how could he begin to explain what he, himself, could not fathom? “Eleanor is dead.” And with the words uttered plainly, he found he could not match his gaze, could not see the look of disbelief that would surely be etched upon that face. “Before she died she spoke to me…a name. The name of a woman. Alexandria Stone.”
“Alexandria Stone?” Victor repeated, and as Xavier stared back upon him with his words, he saw the violet eyes darken slightly as the subtle hint of deep thought lined his slightly aged face. “How did she die?”
“I cannot...I cannot say.”
“Xavier, what do you mean you ‘cannot say’? If she died by the hands of a beast, where is it? Did you kill it?” His eyes were wide as he searched the cabin for any sign of forced entry, or perhaps, any remnants of brown fur that may have flown from the Lycan before it was sliced by Xavier’s sword….
“It was inside,” he said.
Xavier watched as Victor turned his gaze back upon him. “Inside? How on Earth is that possible? It does not look as though there were any Lycan Creature in there – was it in human form?” he asked skeptically.
Painfully, remorsefully, he recalled the all-too-fresh sight of Eleanor’s skin falling from her body…. Stalling the shudder that arose, he fixed his determined gaze on Victor, sure to say, “No… it was Eleanor.”
The shock on his face was paramount: As the wind blew fiercely once more, the spark of bewilderment in Victor’s eyes would not be swept away. “What?” he breathed.
“Not here,” he decided aloud, not wishing to be near the place that still held miniscule traces of her scent. “Another time.”
“Xavier—” Victor started, but Xavier could take no more, he had to clear his head, he had to figure out just what had happened...he had to see Dracula.... He did not eye the Vampire as he stepped past him, into the woods once more, doing his best to ignore the Vampire’s voice as he continued to call: “Xavier! Xavier, wait! What is this?”
What is this? he thought, stopping near a tree, the stretching trunk of it twisting as to cover his back in black leaves, casting him further in shadow of the wood. I hardly know.
He turned back to eye him, as he knew his thoughts to turn to a most dismal reality. As he continued to stare at Victor from inbetween the black leaves, the Vampire took his chance to know more: “What – what of this name?”
“Consult Dracula, Victor,” he said quietly. “He was the one who sent me here, he was the one who could not tell me face to face that a mere woman must be looked after.”
Victor pulled the hood over his head, still staring incredulously after him. “But Xavier – who is this person?” he asked. “What of Eleanor Black?”
His eyes flashed a deep red before he could stop it as the scene unfurled still within his mind. He had felt a sort of unease as they ventured closer to the cabin, that was true, but he had not sensed any one else but Eleanor inside so how was it possible that a Lycan resided inside her?
“I don’t know who the woman is, Victor,” he said at last, “but I am quite sure Eleanor is dead.”
The complete realization of this seemed to hit the silver-haired Vampire at last and he did not speak further. Using this time to gather his thoughts, he said the only thing he knew would equal sense, the only thing that was right for a Vampire to do.
“We must go to Dracula.”
Victor nodded, seemingly resigned to the lack of answers now. “I shall get the others—”
Victor watched him, nonplussed.
“Don’t call them,” he said quickly and as the Vampire scrutinized his expression, he quickly covered with, “I wish to speak to Dracula on the matter privately before the entire Order is involved.”
“But that is not done!” he told him, brow furrowed in question.
Xavier stepped into the light of the moon once more, his red eyes placed carefully upon Victor Vonderheide. He stopped just before the Vampire and said, “I need time...to figure out what just happened. I am not sure, myself.”
Silence dressed the night as Victor said no more, merely staring at him through the darkness of his hood. After a long while, the hood nodded. “Of course, my friend. I will still my tongue.”
The red eyes flashed back to the calm green yet slightly darker, as he knew his thoughts to travel to the thought he had held whilst within the woods, the thought that had meant he would be acknowledging what he secretly knew when she had descended into a Lycan Creature.
As Victor nodded to him curtly, sending the wind to stir once more, he disappeared, and it was as though he had never been there.
Now alone, Xavier knew his gaze to fall upon the old door just before him, the scent of the beasts’s blood filling his nose once more. He knew, as he stared at the door, remembering the sight of her, remembering the sound of her blood hitting the floor, the sight of her favorite silver necklaces falling atop the pile of her skin, that nothing, nothing would ever be the same, and whatever had happened to her – this was only the beginning of more...more absolute strangeness.
Letting a slow, cold sigh leave his lungs, he turned his thoughts to the Vampire City before any more thoughts could disturb him further, and disappeared into the night, leaving the pale moonlight to shine upon untouched ground.