267Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ8inyoE9W5f
Eros had returned unexpectedly around midday the day prior, and Kennina had made a point of fleeing back to her room and remaining there for the rest of the night. Now, feeling disgusted after far too many days without a bath, she’d cautiously reemerged from her room and crept down the hall. Her moody host was nowhere to be found and in the silence of early morning the cabin and the forests surrounding it were as quiet as the grave.
The sun had yet to rise as she left the cabin, shivering and cursing quietly as her breath rose into the air in silver clouds; the sky was a uniform grey, dimly lit from behind the mountains.
Hurrying through the snow with her arms wrapped as tightly around her body as they could go in a futile effort to preserve as much body heat as possible, Kennina made her way down the little path towards the loch only to freeze in place on the shore.
Unable to stop herself from staring in a mix of unwilling shock and awe, Kennina could feel her face lighting up with what had to be the single most intense blush she’d ever experienced her entire life.
The chiseled muscles of his back rippled beneath his toned skin as he turned at the sound of her small squawk of surprise, brown eyes widening slightly when he caught sight of her standing there. His hair, darkened to almost brown with moisture, clung to his forehead and the nape of his neck with the ever present locket still hanging in its place. His bare chest was on full display, riddled with the countless track marks of hundreds of scars which merged together to form a map of the alien topography of some exotic and unfamiliar place, some raised and some flat as they cut across the almost harshly defined muscles that clad his body in a layer of woven iron. The most notable of these scars was what looked like a burn, splashed across his left breast like a bird with spread wings carved from ice. Almost as if he had been branded.
Holding his gaze for a fraction of a second more, Kennina turned on her heel to face the trees instead. “I-I thought you were gone! I didn’t mean to walk up on you bathing!”
When he spoke, it was with meticulous care to keep his voice gentle. “It’s hardly as if I’ve a door to lock behind me out here. Privacy is hardly something that I’ve come to expect.” She could hear his attempt at a small smile but didn’t react. Eros sighed. “Listen, Leoaică...I’d hoped to apologize to you, but doing so without pants on is hardly what I had had in mind.” The quiet splashing of water as he made his way back towards the shore. “I’m coming out now, alright?”
He waited for her nod before he emerged, the rocks and snow scattering before his feet as he crossed the the fallen tree on which he’d hung his clothing. The soft rustling of fabric reached her ears before he said “alright, I’m decent. It’s safe for you to turn around now.”
She hesitated for a moment longer before turning to face him. Eros had taken care to remain a number of yards away from her so as not to make things between them any worse; his head was lowered, expression genuinely remorseful and gaze unable to meet her own. “I have no excuse for my actions the other night. Attacking you like that was uncalled for and inexcusable and, for what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”
“And you expect me to forgive you? How can I, knowing you could easily do it again? Do something worse?”
Though clearly not what he’d wanted to hear, Eros looked like he’d expected such an answer. “I understand. I just about another week, you’ll be free to go. I’ve finished your clothes, and will give them to you and return your weapons when you get to the cabin. Enjoy your bath.” He retreated quickly back up the path into the trees.
If Kennina had been looking for an enjoyable bath she was sorely disappointed; the water was bitingly cold, forcing her to rush out before hypothermia could begin to set in.
Back at the cabin Eros was standing at the fireplace watching over a bubbling pot; sitting on the table were two plates of smoked fish taken down from the smokehouse out back and resting beside one of them were her claw blades.
Eros approached the table a few moments after she’d lowered herself into one of the chairs, setting a carved-wooden cup filled with strong smelling herbal tea in front of her.
“Here, it will help to warm you up.” Desperate to stop the shivers racking her frame, Kennina didn’t hesitate in drinking it; though not sweet it wasn’t bitter either, the delicious warmth spreading quickly through her body as it went down. “I hope you don’t mind that we’re only having smoked fish for breakfast. I’ll prepare a hot dinner later for the two of us.” He seemed to be walking on eggshells in his presence. “Your clothes are in your room; you can change into them once you’ve eaten.”
“Thank you.” Her response was thick and tight with tension. Kennina stared him down as he delicately perched himself of the edge of his chair, posture much like that of a cat’s: relaxed, but with spine coiled tight to pounce to his own defense should he feel the need. The rattling of wooden cutlery on the clay plates falling between them like the empty bullet casings of rounds fired across an open field of war.
His thin wrists and agile fingers adeptly manipulated the fork and knife to carve small portions from the fillet on the plate in front of him, eyes locked on the grain of the table. There was almost an anxiety to the slight movement of his throat when he swallowed.
Finished with her food, Kennina deposited the plate in the basin of the sink and left him sitting at the table without a word.
As he’s said, she found her new clothes-supple leather line with soft fur-folded on top of her bed. Pushing the door so that it swung partially closed behind her, she pulled off her old torn clothing and slipped on the new outfit instead.
It was certainly much warmer than what she had been wearing up until that point, complete with her own hunting cloak and hood, and fit better than she’d dared to expect though that by no means meant it fit.
“The sleeves are too long.” She muttered quietly, tugging lightly on the cuff of the fabric that came down passed her fingertips.
“I’ll hem it for you, if you’d like?”
She started at the sound of his voice, whirling around to find him standing in the open doorway. How long had he been there? Why hadn’t she shut the door all of the way? A blush of angered embarrassment made its way across her face at the thought of what he might have seen. “Were you watching me undress, you creep?”
His dark eyes crinkled, expression transforming into one of offense. “I’ve more decency than that!” His voice was hard. “May I come in?”
“No.” It was both petulant and stupid to prod at him like this and she knew it, but part of her wanted to see what he would do. She expected him to simply ignore her refusal and barge in anyway, but to her surprize he remained standing right where he was. As if something were preventing him from walking passed her threshold. “I don’t want you anywhere near close enough to touch me.”
As his eyes roved over the four dark bruises-clearly etched in the shape of his fingers-which had blackened her jaw his expression loosened into one of drawn exhaustion. “As you say, Leoaică. Just leave them with me when next you go to bathe so that I can adjust the length of the sleeves for you. For now, just fold the sleeves up.”
“I could have figured that solution out on my own, thank you!” She hissed at him. “If all you wanted to do was comment on your tailoring job why are you still here Eros?”
“Because I think it’s time that I told you what you wished to know the first night that you and I spoke. Of the Dhampir and their origins. Of the Apelat. Of Lilith.” His reply was measured and quiet, almost cunningly so. “It is your right to bar me from setting foot in your room, but this is a fairly extensive explanation even without all of the questions that you’re sure to add into the mix and I’d prefer to sit down. So allow me to invite you into mine.”
Kennina’s instinct to hesitate was overtaken by her desire for the answers that he’d so expertly dangled in front of her, and so despite her better judgement she agreed to accompany him to his bedroom just down the hallway.
The door to the room full of windchimes was ajar as she passed by, and she stopped in her tracks to peer inside. “Eros, what are these?”
“Hm?” he stopped in the doorway of his own bedroom. “Oh, the chimes you mean?” when she nodded, he smiled. “They’re an alarm, of sorts. A sort of early warning system that I set up; the Rune of Wind, Fehu, is what connects them to various pylons I have scattered throughout my valley. They’re how I found you: when you fell from the cliff, you tripped the ward.”
Eros vanished the rest of the way into his bedroom, leaving her no choice but to follow him out of the hallway. Pulling the desk chair away from its usual position, he turned it towards the bed and then motioned for her to sit down. “Take a seat if you would please, Leoaică.” Kennina settled herself on the edge of the provided chair and Eros seated himself on the bed in front of her. “The tale of the Vampire menace on humankind goes back to the beginning of time. Back to the very Garden of Eden itself.” He told her grimly. “Regardless of whether you believe in the existence of God or not, you were a hunter so you must at least know the stories?”
“You know of Eve, then?”
She nodded. “I do. Adam’s wife, who convinced him to eat the apple.”
At the mention of the fruit he frowned slightly, a change of expression that was almost imperceptible and lasted only the slightest fraction of a second. “Yes, Eve was Adam’s wife. But not his first wife. His first wife’s name was Lilith, but she left him and the garden not long after her creation to feed on the blood of men.”
“She was the first of the Dhampir?”
Eros shook his head. “No. No, Leoaică. The Dark Mother is of a class all her own, a Greater Demon whose power and evil is only eclipsed by two others; Naberius and her new husband, the Devil himself with whom she had seven sons. They-Aser Bleak Heart, Kharon the Deceiver, Erebus the Black, Tracker Veles, Breaker Midir, Bloodfeaster Kira and Than the Pallid-the seven Lords of the Night, were the first of the Dhampir. And all other Dhampir are related to them in some way. In total there were eight Lords once, but only six of them remain now. AshHand and Bleak Heart are dead.”
“The foul minions of the Dhampir, mindless bloodhounds used both to occupy their leached hunters and to feud over territory amongst others of their kind. As you know, they were humans once but have been damned by the taint. The only salvation to be had for them is death.”
“And they’re created by Dhampir blood?”
“By drinking it, yes. And only one is needed to start a hoard of them as their bite is contagious. But this you also know.”
“And the Thyone?”
“Thyone.” Eros’ voice took on an almost washed out tone as his shoulders slumped. “It is a Greek word, from mythology, meaning ‘inspired frenzy’. They were the pawns of the Angel’s own after he himself became a pawn of Naberius. And, like their master, they wanted nothing but death. The death of others...and themselves for immortality is a terrible burden. ‘Până când taote lucrurilearde’ was their war cry: until all things burn.” His eyes fell to the floor. “Dark times.”
“Naberius helped AshHand? But if it’s true that he’s stronger than Lilith, why wouldn’t he simply deal with her himself?” Kennina asked him.
“Because such is not the way of Greater Demons. They do not take care of things themselves unless they have no other choice, and immortal as they are they have more than enough of the patience necessary to wait for someone else to come along and do their dirty work for them.” He replied. “And a chance to complete the fall of a man who once had carried heaven upon his shoulders, pull him down into the pits of damnation, was far too good of an opportunity to pass up. He appeared to AshHand in his anguish in the form of a three headed wolf with the wings of a raven; offered to make him cunning in all arts and rhetoric; to restore his lost dignities and honors through vengeance; but the Demon was clever, and he took from him his sanity instead leaving him only with control over Thaurisaz. The Rune of Darkness.”
He fell silent and remained that way for a few minutes, seeming to be reflecting on something, before finally speaking again. “I don’t have answers for you in regards to the extend of the new Order’s-the Slayer’s Guilds’-corruption but I can only assume that it goes deeper than either of us could ever hope to imagine. It can’t have started all the long after the other six Lords fell on AshHand and tore him to shreds, and Kharon played pied piper to lead the remainder of the Order astray.
“You said the first night we spoke that the only way to put a permanent end to the Vampire blight is to slay Lilith.” Kennina said slowly, never taking her eyes from the sorrowful far away expression which now adorned his face. “How so?”
“Lilith is their Dark Mother. That which makes them immortal. The threads of their life force are all woven into hers. Cut the string, and all of the threads will fall. But without Dagaz, that is impossible and there is no one left who is strong enough to bare it.” The suddenness with which he rose to his feet was enough to make her jump. “If you’ve no more questions to ask me, I should really head out to cut more firewood. We’re running low.”
“No. no more questions.” Kennina got to her feet as well, returning the chair to its proper place at the desk. “For now.”
“Do as you please today; you’ll most likely be left alone once again to your own devices. I’ll have to check the smoke house in order to be sure, but we may be out of venison.” Eros left the room without bothering to insure that she left his room, exiting the cabin and going around the back passed the cooled shell of a forge he used only rarely to repair what few metal items were present in his humble home and making his way into the smoke house.
Inside of the shack-like building hung a variety of cured meats and fish though, as he’d suspected, the venison had run out.
Damn it. If that Apelat I saw yesterday did belong to Erebus as I fear, than going out to hunt is more than risky but I promised her a hot meal and I doubt she’d care to eat fish twice on the same day. Stepping out of the smoke house again, he peered back over his shoulder at the trout hanging from the ceiling. And neither would I, if I were to be honest. Closing the door tightly behind him, Eros tilted his head to look up at the sun. It’s still not even close to mid-day. As long as I stay close and return before nightfall, it should be safe enough.
But first he’d have to finish the chores that needed doing around the house.
Crossing the open yard to the old dried out trunk he’d been using as a makeshift chopping block for a number of years, Eros pulled the sharpened stone blade of the hatchet free before setting a log against it and chopping it in two. The strain of his muscles, the repetition of the task, the redundant snap of the stone head cutting through the wood helped serve as a balm to his mind.
Once a good sized pile of tinder had gathered at his feet, Eros embedded the axe back into the dried out stump and gathered the chopped fire wood into his arms before making his way inside.
He stacked the wood beside the fireplace before grabbing a wooden pail from the corner and making his way down to the loch. It took five trips to fill the basin with the water he thought that he might need for the next day or so.
Then outside again to climb up the side of the cabin and clear the snow from the roof so that, if more fell, the weight of it wouldn’t cause the ceiling to cave in on them.
His company still hadn’t emerged from her room by the time he returned from the roof to grab his cloak and bow.
The snow lay silent and deep beyond the well trafficked open ground directly surrounding his home, it’s white expanse disturbed by the overlapping tracks of countless different animals. His keen eyes sifted through them, separating talon from paw from hoof and following the tracks in the direction that his chosen prey had gone.
Apart from the flash of the black feathers of a fleeing Capercaillie, the late January day saw the Caledonian very still. The sharp cold scent of the still-fresh snow drowning out everything else beneath its frosted touch.
Eros moved with all the grace and silence expected of an apex predator, as fluid and swift as a shadow, stalking his target until it came into focus through the trees; a young buck shuffling through the snow at the base of a tree in search of what little grass might still be fresh enough for it to eat.
Though by no means a crack shot of any sort, after so many years Eros knew his way around a long bow well enough to make efficient use of it while hunting for something slower than he was. Slowly, carefully so as to avoid any sudden movements that would startle his target into fleeing for its life, he pulled an arrow from the quiver slung across his back and knocked it before drawing back the string.
His muscles clenched and strained as he held it pulled taut, carefully adjusting his aim with the movements of his prey until he felt that it was lined up perfectly and released the string.
The arrow flew straight and true with a furious hiss, its serrated tip shearing through hide and flesh to imbed itself in the bone hidden underneath. Eros followed up quickly with a second shot, striking it again as it fled into the trees and disappeared.
Lowering his bow, he emerged from the undergrowth to follow the trail of blood.
He found the buck collapsed on the bank of a frozen stream, arrow shafts protruding from its neck and eyes frozen wide and glossy.
Eros pulled the hunting knife from its sheathe at his belt as he knelt beside it in the snow, slitting the throat to allow the blood to drain as he cleaned and skinned the carcass. The thick dark liquid sizzled and crackled, smoking as it spread across the snow at his feet.
The scent smashed into him, throat catching fire and fangs snapping forwards as his eyes transformed without his consent from brown to black. Cursing loudly and dropping the knife, he threw himself away and landed on his back ten feet from where he’d been crouching in a cloud of silvered flurries.
How could he have been so stupid? Gone for so long without feeding that he didn’t even remember when the last time was that the awful metallic flavor of blood had coated at his tongue? Why hadn’t he given any thought to the danger that he was putting his young human guest in by starving himself to the point where the mere sight and scent of blood alone was enough to toss him bodily off the edge of control until he’d reached the point where such a thing became a problem?
So stupid. And yet there was nothing that he could do about it now, as the last of the animal’s blood spread across the ground. He needed something fresh and struggling to sink his fangs into a drain dry but there was no time for that now. The hunter under his roof was keen and he couldn’t afford for her to know unless she had to, not to mention that the sun was going down.
He’d have to hunt within the next few days; there was simply no way around it.
For now, he had a kill to finish cleaning.ns 220.127.116.11da2