258Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡE7vt8OBx0q
Approximately two more days had passed in a sort of limbo, an awkward silence wedged between them on the rare occasion that they found themselves in the same room. Eros spoke only when necessary and did his best to keep his expression neutral in her company and Kennina herself, not knowing what he now thought of her and not wanting to dig herself deeper of a hole, simply kept quiet.
Opinions that he might now have of her aside, her host remained professional. It was with attentive care that he tended to her wounds, applying the rune from before-Laguz-to the insides of her wrists and ankles time and again with some sort of hand-mixed ink until the bruises on her skin were faded away to almost nothing, administering drafts for her pain and cleaning and re-bandaging the bite wound on her shoulder. And it was always with the same four simple words that he entered her room.
“May I come in?”
Now that the bruises and broken bones had had a chance to mostly heal with was with only minor discomfort that Kennina got out of bed and headed back into the kitchen area at the front of the cabin.
Eros was standing off to one corner, leaning against the counter with his head turned upwards towards the small window-cleared of fog, now, in the height of day with the green spangled branches of fresh smelling pines swaying side to side in a light breeze-and the locket around his neck open in one hand. He appeared lost deep in thought, his brown eyes unfocused and his mind somewhere very far away, and didn’t notice when she entered the room.
The dark-blonde male started slightly in surprise at the sound of her voice, the locket in his hand snapping closed quickly almost as if he were afraid that she might somehow see what was inside of it from her position standing on the complete other side of the room. “Oh, Ms.Lane.” His voice when he spoke, though not quite clipped or cold, was very business-like and almost defensive in its abruptness. “Is something the matter?”
“Oh, no, I…” in her preoccupation with making an attempt at mending fences Kennina had blurted out his name before giving any thought to what, exactly, she was going to say. Left floundering for anything that could serve as ammunition for the kindling of a conversation, she came up with “so...what, exactly, happened between you and clocks to make you hate them so much?”
“...Clocks?” Eros repeated slowly, going momentarily slack-jawed in surprize at the question thrown at him from total left field. He blinked, recovering quite admirably and glancing around at the barren walls surrounding them as if he were really seeing them for only the first time. “Oh, I suppose it’s true that I don’t have any up in my cabin. There are two separate reasons that can be cited to explain that fact, the first being that I’d rather not encourage my...bad habit in relation to keeping track of exact time down to the very second that something happens. And the second being that time has little, if any, meaning up here in the valley. This place...it often seems as if time has left it behind entirely.”
“So...not even a sundial?”
His small smile gleamed like frozen snow against sunbaked earth. “No, no sundial either.”
“This is the Valley full of Mists, then? The one from the legends? That moves.”
“Moves? My good woman, there are a lot of ‘valleys full of mist’ up here in these mountains! This one may very well be the features valley of this legend of yours, but to my knowledge in all the time that myself and my forebearers have called it home it has never once gotten up and walked away.” Eros replied with a smirk. “Though, that isn’t what was so pressing as to drive you to limp out of your room to speak to me I’m sure.”
“Not really, no.” Even with that admission, it was hard to meet his eyes. “I really wanted to thank you for what you’ve done for me, Eros. And...to apologize.”
“Apologize?” he repeated. “For what? You haven’t done anything wrong.”
“You saved my life and I turned around and insulted you by calling you a coward; surely I offended you.”
“You didn’t because you were right. You still are. I am a coward.”
“I crossed a line that I didn’t mean to, reopened old wounds, when I mentioned your wife.”
“Reopened? Kennina, I wish I could tell you that that is what happened but those wounds never closed.” Opening the locket again with special care, he motioned her over. “Come here, if you would please.” When Kennina crossed the room to stand at his shoulder, Eros held the locket out towards her so that she could see the small painting which had been concealed within. “Luciella and I met when we were still children, really, and the fires of our love burned brightly until the day when her life was extinguished. Now, the torch of my love for her burns alone. I have been alone, here in this cabin, for a very long time.”
The woman in the picture was the woman from the mirror in the Boudoir room of the Dhampir’s manor house. The woman to whom the inscribed music box had belonged. “She’s beautiful,” Kennina told him, reaching out to take the locket gently and better view the image inside. “What happened to her, if I can ask you that?”
“She was...murdered. By a Vampire Lord.” His voice hitched slightly, brown eyes becoming varnished with hyper-gloss as tears threatened. “I’ve languished, up here in this cabin, this self-inflicted solitary confinement, for so many years now that I myself have lost track. Company is a novelty to me, something that I am not used to, something that I find myself chafing under just slightly, but it isn’t something that I don’t want. I will value your presence, Kennina, for as long as you are here even if you don’t decide to stay.” Eros glanced at her again and then the expression from earlier returned, the show of teeth slightly smaller now. “You remind me a great deal of her, if I were to be honest. Though where she was a Porembel-a Dove-you are undoubtedly a Leoaicǎ. A Lioness.” Carefully removing the locket from her hands, he closed it again and turned away to face the window. “I was a Lion myself, once, but my roar has been silenced. My fangs and claws pulled out. My pride-my family-decimated. I am nothing, now. The dust left behind by the passing of the shadow of my former self.”
“You don’t have to be alone like this anymore, I hope you know that.” She told him. “Even if I don’t decide to stay here, you could come with me. You wouldn’t have to fight if you don’t want to, but...I think I could get used to having you around.”
“If I could ask you why that is?”
Why was it? That was, indeed, a very good question. The most immediate answer would be for something rather selfish, the vanity of wanting to keep the light of his striking beauty and for the sake of continued exposure to his presence-distant, always, but not maliciously so and almost electric-but on closer examination she realized that that wasn’t really why. It was partly on account of the request that she’d received from the phantom in the mirror-the woman whose image was held caged within the locket kept close to his heart-to take care of him. The man to whom she’d once been married and had given her the music box, though how it had ultimately wound up in the manor house of a Vampire was a puzzle to which she did not yet possess all of the pieces.
And because, if she were to be completely honest with herself, Kennina would have to admit that she felt sorry for him.
“You don’t need to answer that. It doesn’t really matter anyway.” The light streaming through the windows dimmed as a cloud passed over the sun. “I can’t leave this forest anyway.”
“Why would you say that?” she asked him. “Are you under some sort of enchantment Eros? Is something barring you from exiting?”
“A curse? You could call it that, yes, though nothing physical prevents me from leaving. However, the energy of this forest fueled by the leyline running just beneath it shrouds me from my demons. I cannot, in good conscience, leave because…” Eros sighed. “I fear what will happen if they should ever find me again, especially after it's been so long. The destruction that they could cause. It’s very kind of you to offer Leoaicǎ, but I’m afraid that I cannot take you up on that offer.”
“You could get help, couldn’t you? Even if there isn’t a ‘God’ there’s always redemption for those who ask for forgiveness, no matter what you might have done.”
The fractal flash of his perfect teeth; a weak smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “Not for me.” The cloud moved on at its leisurely pace, allowing the light back into the cabin. “How do you feel? Still in any way?”
“A little, but nothing major. Only a few aches, really.” Kennina reported with a smile, attempting to lift the dark mood which had settled over the pair. “You’ve taken good care of me; I don’t know how I can ever thank you.”
“You don’t need to; I saved you because it was the right thing to do not because I wanted anyone indebted to me.” He informed her. “Are you up to walking around a bit? You may well be feeling better but that does not mean that you are fully healed, and as you’ll be staying here for at least a little while longer I think you should be at least somewhat familiar with where everything is.”
“I think that I’ll be fine to walk, yes.”
He nodded. “Glad to hear it, though if you find yourself tiring let me know.” Crossing the front room to the various pegs set on the wall Eros pulled down his hunting cloak and held it out for her. “Here, put this on. It’s cold up here, especially in the dead of the winter.”
“Don’t you need it, though? What you’re wearing is hardly anything one would rightly consider ‘winter clothing’.”
“But I am used to the climate up here, and your clothes are all torn to shreds.” Before he’d pointed it out Kennina, so distracted by everything else that had been going on around her, hadn’t noticed the fact that the coat she’d had on had vanished-likely caught on something and yanked off during her fall, which may well have saved her life-her shirt and jeans were tattered to put it mildly and the gear that she’d been wearing underneath it had disappeared.
“Your gear is fine; I’ve repaired it for you in case you did decide that you wanted to leave. I’m also almost finished with some heavier, less shredded clothing for you though it likely won’t be sized quite right the first go around. For now,” Eros held the cloak out more insistently now, “my being slightly colder than usual is preferable to you freezing to death.”
“Fine, I’ll wear it, but don’t ask for it back.” The shoulders were overly massive, the sleeves nearly reached the floor and the tail of the cloak was breaking two feet too long. The hood, when pulled up, fell almost to her chin.
“Well, at least that gives me a somewhat more concrete idea on the matter of sizing.” Crossing to the door, he pushed it open and exited the cabin. “Try not to get lost in there while we’re out.”
“Oh, haha.” She drawled, trailing after him after taking a moment to gather the tails of her coat together so that she wouldn’t trip over them.
The temperature change was immediate on stepping foot outside the cabin, settling against her skin like glacial waters. The air was extremely fresh, the ever present fog stretched thin across the forest floor strewn with fallen leaves and needles, wallowing in the scattered drifts of deep snow and winding its lanky body around the trunks of the trees that waved their branches in the pale golden sun.
The oversized cloak was far from ideal as far as keeping her warm, as the heavy rain-scaled fabric hung loose about her slight frame and billowed in the cold breeze whenever it blew.
Eros trotted ahead of her at a steady lop, easily maintained by his long legs; a single one of his strides was near equivalent to three of hers, leaving Kennina scrambling in order to keep up.
His hair and skin shown an even darker gold in the light shining down from the cloudless blown-glass sky, his eyes filtered to a color closer to fox-amber than fresh-tilled earth and throwing the silver scar etched into the skin where his neck met his jaw into sharp relief; what it was she couldn’t be sure from this distance, but it looked almost like one of the five runes she’d been shown months before-as if the Rune of Light had collapsed in upon itself, leaving nothing but a branch adorned with a single razor-edged thorn and notably darker connotations behind-and seemed to have been carved into his flesh by a blade.
“Alright, there’s not all that much that you need to know about directly in front of the cabin but this,” he made a sweeping gesture to the forest around them, “is my front yard.” The trees seemed to stretch on forever in all directions, the knees of the gnarled knobbly roots poking up above the pale fog like islands in a shallow inland sea.
The cabin itself appeared, from the outside, much smaller than it really was with its four stacked-log walls and squared stone chimney curled tight around itself in the heart of what had to be the deepest forest left on Earth. It was quaint, Kennina supposed, like a scene sketched in true-life from the canvas of some fantasy tale; as if she were suddenly standing in the Black Forest, await Hansel and Gretel-trailing their bread crumbs-to come walking up the path towards them or else for Little Red Riding Hood to come sprinting through the trees, basket forsaken to the ground and the Big Bad Wolf not far behind.
There was a darkness here, of that much she was sure. It hadn’t been obvious before, but something had changed though what it was she didn’t know. She knew, now, that it was very much present and the only other person-if that was really what he was and not some hideous monster hiding behind the mask of a pretty face-within at least 200 miles was him.
Eros was talking again; she could see his mouth moving, but didn’t bother listening to the words; they were likely pointless anyway, as he seemed to be indicating the dried out well standing a few feet away.
There was undoubtedly a number of strange inconsistencies with his story. ‘I was a lion once’ against ‘all that I bare is the torch of tradition’. His claim that there were once others and yet not a sign of them had been found, though to be entirely fair on that account she hadn’t been allowed outside the cabin until now. The amount of knowledge that he had of both the Dhampir and the old ways, which could be explained by his story-if it were true-or, just as easily and much more to her satisfaction, by the reality that he himself was a Dhampir.
But if that was the case it would have to mean that his name was no mere coincidence, that she really was looking at the AshHand himself, and that would mean that the only piece of knowledge handed down by the Guild that she’d believed, a piece of history that had seemed so irrefutable, was false. That Kharon had never cut him down at all.
But if not for death, what had stopped his rampage? And why would he be hiding here, in this forest, rather than sowing chaos and killing for the hell of it.
Regret? Could that be possible for one of them?
There were too many questions that still needed to be answered; regardless of the action she chose to take, there were still a number of pieces that first needed to be fitted into place.
“Leoaică, are you listening to me?”
Kennina started slightly under his somewhat concerned gaze. “I...no, sorry. What were you saying?”
“That, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, when night falls here the fog rolls in; it’s so thick that it leaves you nearly blind. It’s best that you simply take care to be inside before sundown, but should you ever find yourself outside after dark,” one of his hands came to rest on the cold stone of the side of the well, “watch out for this; it’s about knee height on you and I’d rather not wake up one morning to find out that you’ve fallen down the well.”
“Is that supposed to be some sort of joke?” she hissed at him.
Eros shook his head. “I wish it was, but I’m being quite serious; especially now that it’s run dry, a fall down this would probably kill you.”
Keeping a wary eye on him out of the corner of one eye, Kennina cautiously approached the well to peer over the side; Eros tossed a small pebble into it and the pair watched the little stone as it plummeted into the abyss, clicking against the sides all the way down.
“It’s certainly deep.”
“That it is,” turning away, he continued towards the stand of trees off to their left. “Shall we continue?”
Hesitating only momentarily, she backed away from the little stone well and followed after him. It only took her the matter of a few seconds to realize that they were walking down a small trail worn into the dirt by decades’ worth of passing feet.
The trees hissed quietly amidst themselves as the pair passed by, a soft wind ruffling the dark red fur of the young fox as it darted through the snow a few yards away.
“Eros?” a glance back over his shoulder was his only response. “How long does the snow stay on the ground up here?”
He grinned at her with a quiet chuckle. “It never melts, not completely. So I hope you’re not the type who favors their weather hot even in winter.”258Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡbSNle4Drxg
“I’m from New York; I’m used to cold winters.” Just not year-long ones.
“I’m sure you’re also used to indoor plumbing, but I’m afraid we don’t have such luxuries up here. All the water that I use comes from here.”
The trees receded as they reached the head of the path, soil turning to the grey-black stone of the shore that stretched out ahead of them to the edges of the enormous loch spanning at least a handful of miles out and away from where they stood. A fallen tree, stripped of bark in many places and baked bone-white by the sun, lay half in and half out of the cold clear water that lapped gently at the boundaries of the earth.
Across the mirrored surface could be seen the haze of the place where the land once more sloped upwards into trees, and reflected against its stillness were the snow-capped peaks of the mountains which caged them in on all sides.
“This is incredible.”
“If you think that now, imagine this place at night. The mist clings to the water too, though not as thickly, and the darkness turns it black; when it reflects the light of the moon and the stars on a clear night, it seems as if a piece of heaven has fallen down to Earth.”
“Why are you smirking?”
Eros blinked, his expression rearranging itself into surprize. “What are you talking about? I’m not smirking.”
“Well, not anymore.”
“I hadn’t noticed,” looking back out over the lock for a moment further, he lowered his gaze to one of his hands instead. “I suppose that it’s just...it’s been a long time since I’ve appreciated anything like this as being ‘beautiful’; it’s hard to consider anything to be beautiful when all of your failures have left you seeing in shades of washed-out grey. But I suppose such is what happens when one finds themselves alone and jaded. Perhaps it’s something you can help me with.”
“There’s nothing that I can do for colorblindness Eros, even if it is only in a metaphorical sense.” She told him dryly.
“I believe you can do more for me you can think by simply sticking around. Like I told you, my only company for many years now has been the mist and the trees.” He smiled gently. “If we’re done here, there’s one last thing that I would like to show you.”
Back up the path away from the loch, passed the cabin and up a hill to the East. From their new position elevated above the basin of the valley both the cabin and the lock could be seen, but what her attention immediately focused on was the boulder which had been placed there.
It was rough hewn and far from polished but still starkly clear in the reality of what it was: a gravemarker.
“Like you said, our kind-you and I, and them-are warriors. Loyalty. Honor. Fidelity. Such things are important to us, and there’s no honor in being left to lie on the ground to rot.” Eros sighed and shook his head. “I didn’t make it to them in time to save them, but at least I could do this; it’s far from what they deserve, but with what I have at my disposal here-.”
“That you did anything at all is more than I expected.”
His golden lashes caught the late afternoon light, casting thin shadows across his high cheekbones as Eros dipped his head. “There is no greater sin than disrespect to the fallen.” The scattered fallen leaves rattled as they were pushed around by a brusque wind. “The last one...I’ve been looking but I haven’t found any more trace of him than the hilt of that sword. It doesn’t bode well Leoaică, your friend may have been-.”
“No! Seoirse is a strong fighter, he was 4th in his class and he could easily have made due with only one sword! He’s alive; keep looking!”
Eros stared at her in silence for a few seconds before he spoke again, and Kennina easily recognized the look on his face as pity. “I will do as you ask and keep looking, but you must be prepared for the possibility that he has been changed; for most, even with an iron will, it’s a matter of only a few hours before they’re beyond hope and it’s been well over that by now.”
“Perhaps I am, but I won’t be for much longer if I don’t find him soon.” He said. “Undoubtedly he’s injured,even if he did somehow escape their bite, and it’s likely to snow again within the next few days so exposure is a real and present danger. Not to mention that, though the Dhampir controlling them appears to have gone, there are still a number of Apelat skulking about.”
“You’re leaving now, then?” she asked him as they reached the cabin.
“There’s no time to waste, though I would think that that is rather obvious.” Eros replied as they came in through the door. “I likely won’t get back until well after dark; if you get hungry during the time that I’m away there’s some dried meat in one of these,” opening a few of the cabinets and peering inside he found the one that he’d been looking for and nodded. “Oh, yes, it’s this one right here.” Turning back to face her, he held out one hand expectantly. “My cloak, please.”
Pulling the fabric from her shoulders, Kennina held it out to him. “Here.”
“Thank you.” Throwing the cloak around his shoulders, he fastened the carved-bone clasp at his throat. “I’ll be back as soon as I am able to, Leoaică, with whatever I find.” Sheathing his massive long sword across his back before pulling down his bow and tossing the quiver rather carelessly over one shoulder, Eros started towards the door again but paused at the last second before going through it. “Kennina.”
“I’ll return your weapons to you tomorrow morning, but for tonight don’t leave the cabin while I’m away. It’s for your own safety.” The door swung shut behind him with a hollow clatter, leaving a shocked Kennina standing alone in the middle of the cabin’s front room.
He’s gone. But not for long, Kennina felt sure. A handful of hours could well have been just seconds for how quickly it would pass in her paranoia to avoid being caught out. Don’t leave the cabin until you get back? I doubt I’ll need to; everything I’d want to find will likely be somewhere inside here anyway.
Though she knew that she was entirely alone, now, in the cabin Kennina still found herself struggling to quiet her footsteps as she hurried down the little hallway bypassing what had become her bedroom and opening the door.
The room inside was dimly lit by one small window as the day outside decayed into evening, the faltering sunlight broken by the dangling forms of what she quickly realized were windchimes; what had to be close to 100 of them, carved from wood and all etched with the same symbol, yet another of the Elemental Runes. Interconnected by thin strings like the strands of what looked like spider’s silk, the mass of chimes seemed to form some sort of contraption or alarm though what it’s actual purpose was she had no idea.
But for the chimes the room was empty, and so with no further reason to remain there she left the room and proceeded to the last door at the very end of the hallway.
This must be his bedroom, then. It seemed a safe bet that that would be the case as the only bed she’d seen so far had been her own. She could only hope that she wasn’t going to walk in on a fully upholstered coffin. The knob on the door rattled but didn’t open. Of course it’s locked!
Kennina returned to the kitchen in search of something small enough to fit into the lock, ultimately happening upon a pair of needles carved out of antler in one of the drawers. I can only hope that these things fit.
It was fairly tight, but after a few minutes of trial and error Kennina managed to slot both needles into the lock on the door while still leaving herself enough room to comfortably maneuver them. Another second or two later, the lock gave way with a quiet click. The dried-pine door swung inwards slowly under her touch with the whine of hinges left long unoiled, revealing the room on the other side.
Much like the rest of the cabin, the locked room was almost compulsively well kept; the floors swept of dust,the single small window free of grime, the bed-similar in make to the one she had been sleeping on, comprised of a straw-stuffed mattress set atop a nest of criss-crossing ropes suspended between the wooden sides-stood in the center of the room but didn’t look often used with pillows and mattress barely marred by the imprint of his lithe body despite his having lived in that cabin for at least 20 years.
Off to one side stood a desk, large and heavy and carved out of oak, and it in contrast bore distinctive signs of frequent habitation; the wood of the chair pulled up beside it was worn down slightly by the constant process of sitting down and getting up, the once smooth top of the desk marred with etchings of letters from the endless passage of the pen the paper into which it left its mark appearing to have been carefully assembled into handmade journals-there had to be close to 1000 of them-which had overflown the shelves which flanked the desk and were now gathered in haphazard piles scattered at random around the room.
Grabbing one at random from the top of the nearest stack, Kennina perched herself in the chair and opened it.
She was met with the sight of a pageful of letters that should have been familiar but had been rearranged and adorned with hooked accents until they became entirely alien. So he speaks a language other than English? And it doesn’t like like Latin either. But if that was the case what was it? And was there any possibility that she could somehow decipher at least something of it from any recognizable words she might happen across?
Turning through page after page as the light dimmed outside the cabin, she was left squinting by the time she finally happened across one word that was instantly recognizable; her own name, standing out smooth and stark without accents amidst the surrounding script etched in perfect hand.
The heavy metal candle holder being set down beside her on the desk made Kennina jump; Eros stood beside the chair, looming over her as a threatening shadow with the flickering candle light making the lines of his face seem sharp and severe. “Reading in the dark is bad for your eyes, Leoaică. Though I must admit that I’m surprised to learn that you are able to comprehend Romanian.”
“I can’t; why is my name in this one?”
“You shouldn’t be in here. My room was locked for a reason.” Eros turned away instead of answering her. “Please, leave. I found nothing, yet again, on my search; I am tired and would like to rest.”
“No.” The chair scraped back as she got to her feet, wielding the book like a weapon. “Not until you tell me what this is!”
A low growl rumbled in the back of his throat as he whirled around and snatched the book from her hand. “A journal; writing things down was a habit begun in my childhood. Your name is mentioned in a medical report.” Stalking passed her, he slammed the journal back down onto its stack. “Not with anything in here is your business. Get out.”
“What are you hiding that you don’t want me in your room?”
Kennina wasn’t sure what she expected as a response, but having him surge across the room towards her and grab her chin in a vice-like grip wasn’t it.
“I’m not hiding anything from you, but I am losing my patience!” He snarled, ignoring the whimper of surprize and pain she made when his fingertips bit even deeper into her flesh; Kennina tried to pull herself free but his grip was too strong. “Keep pushing my buttons and I will hurt you; in recent years my temper has been a bit out of control! Now,” Eros all but threw her across the room towards the door when he released her, “go to bed.”
Shocked and not wanting to push him into doing something else, Kennina picked herself up off the floor and fled to the safety of her room slamming the door behind her. Sliding down it until she was sitting on the floor, she pulled her knees up to her chest and rested her chin on them in an effort to calm her shaking body.
He’d attacked her; she’d known that he was quite possibly dangerous but-an oversight on her part, undoubtedly-Kennina hadn’t considered that he might actually lay a hand on her. Eros’ actions had frightened her badly and the places where his fingers had pressed into her jaw would likely have formed into black bruises by morning, but she had no intention of dropping her pursuit to uncover the mystery of who and what he really was and what connection he might have to what was going on behind the scenes of the Slayer’s Guild. She’d just have to allow the situation to cool off a bit and then proceeded with greater caution.
Resting her head against the solid wood of the door, Kennina closed her eyes and forced herself to sleep.