|Posted by Kent Whittington on January 12, 2012 at 8:00 PM|
By Kent Whittington
(Author's note: This is the second draft of my very first short story ever completed. It takes place before the adventures set forth in "Crimson Cove." The story is a day in the life of Arianna de Morney, huntress and assassin for the order known as the Sanguin de Christi. I welcome all comments and criticisms. Enjoy. :))
Paris at night is a sight to behold. They don’t call it the city of lights for nothing. After all, anyone strolling along the Seine after dark is treated to sights like no other in the world. From the Eiffel Tower to the Arc de Triomphe, from the Sorbonne University in the Latin Quarter to the Louvre, everything is lit up in brilliant splendor. Paris is a city almost as bright (in most places) by night as it is by day, or so I am told.
I have not seen the sun in centuries, for its brilliance is anathema to all that I now am. Even the tiniest exposure to sunlight could mean mortal peril for one such as me. My name is Arianna de Morney and I am vampire, prone to all of the pitfalls and forebodings of the undead. Sunlight burns, stakes incapacitate, but you get the idea; the usual rules for my kind apply.
Unlike others of my kind however, crosses and likewise other symbols of faith hold no revulsion for me. A fear in God’s wrath is as well anathema to all that I am now, for I am a Huntress, an ordained assassin in the order of the Sanguine de Christi. In point of fact, I am a servant of God. As such, objects of faith hold no power over me.
How I came to be this way is a tale for another time, however. Suffice it to say that in my early years after I came to undeath, I was tested by the priests of the Vatican, and through torture, endless questioning and humiliation, I was found worthy of redemption on the condition that I serve God as His Huntress, a creature sworn to track and destroy her own kind.
France is my ancestral home and Paris will always be in my heart, but tonight even the city’s lights are denied me and hold little in the way of splendor. Tonight I must wander underground to a place few mortals in their right minds tread unless they too seek the dead. Tonight I hunt the Paris Catacombs.
The l'Ossuaire Municipal are a labyrinth of tunnels used for centuries as burial grounds and cemeteries for all manner of people. Tours are sometimes given in the more popular and best accessible sections of the catacombs for the curious and the adventure seeking There are even those who dare sections rarely explored. For these the city often levies hefty fines or even jails trespassers for their own safety. There are even rumored to be caverns connected to the catacombs that are older even than they are. For these, adventurers who find them and enter, few if ever return, becoming disoriented and lost in the darkness, or worse.
Tonight I am a trespasser out of necessity. It all began with a series of, for what all accounts state, very strange disappearances. Coroners’ reports I have gathered through my Vatican sources had confirmed incidences involving the deaths of several individuals over the past two months who had entered the catacombs, or were possibly taken there, and were discovered near the surface entrances days or even weeks later after missing, dead. Most of the deaths in the reports are comprised of tourists who came for the sights, young and vibrant with an urge for adventure or romance and a devil-may-care sensibility. When their bodies were found, each in their twenties at the time of their demise, every single individual victim had physically aged an average of sixty or seventy years for the time they had gone missing.
The mortal officials originally suspected that an unknown pathogen had somehow entered the catacombs. Disease Control did a thorough examination of the areas where the bodies had been found, but no evidence of viral contamination had ever been discovered. Moreover, since every incident involved tourists rather than the locals such as the tour guides and the cities thrill seekers, who had had no contact with one another at any time, nor shared any commonality other than where their bodies had been found and their condition, a pathogen had been ruled out and replaced with “unknown circumstances.”
Unknown my undead ass.
Bruno, my handler, did what he does best. Triangulating the areas from the known disappearances, Bruno managed to determine the best possible location of the creature I hunted tonight (although the best he could do was an overland guess, seeing as most of the catacomb maps did not create an accurate overlay above ground).
The area Bruno had determined might be it’s lair did not even register on the best of the catacomb maps. Before my hunt began this night however, Bruno had the good fortune to acquire from the gendarme a missing person report concerning a mother and her child. The area of the report was very near one of the entrances to the catacombs near Pere Lachaise Cemetery. The lights of Paris’ night sky do not penetrate as well here as in other locales, so I was able to wander into the cemetery under cover of shadows. I still had to be very careful as it was the night of a full moon, which made skulking in the darkness difficult. Even mortal eyes are usually keen enough to see object moving in the moonlight when the moon is at it’s apex.
Shadow walking is in a vampire’s nature, as it is what our immortal souls become after we ultimately pass on, mere shadows of our spiritual selves, entities craving life force, but too weak to affect the mortal plane any longer. Often more’s the pity for myself as my preternatural abilities go. As a redeemed vampire, my immortal soul is not of shadow, but of something closer to a human soul, which makes shadow walking difficult, but not impossible. With some effort I had willed my corporeal body to meld into the surrounding darkness and began flitting about from one shadow to another as I made my way through the cemetery, somewhat confident that I would not be seen by the caretaker or any stray humans prowling in the night.
The undead can be tracked by one another easily enough. One might say it is by scent, but that is not wholly correct. It is rather of the essence of the undead that my kind can feel. A vampire such as myself can often track in this fashion, sensing where another of our kind has been. We feel its presence in the very air. This works both ways, of course, so one must take care. It’s not as if you can stand upwind from a vampire to avoid detection in this way, after all. He or she just knows that you are there!
The report of the disappearance had paid off. The creature I tracked had been here within the last day and his essence was strongest near--
Oh for crying out loud. Jim Morrison’s grave.
In a way, that actually made sense. People had been coming to Morrison’s grave for years since the day of his death to pay their respects, while still many more came in the night hours to party, enact rituals over the grave, or to simply deface the grave site with their vile graffiti. Poor Jim had had his grave defaced in so many ways.
Of course, there were also the stories that claimed that the Lizard King’s body had been removed at one time as well and was later interred on another sight out of the eyes of the public. Others claimed that the body had been returned to the original sight all along. The nearness of the creature’s essence made me believe that the former was true, that somehow the creature was using Jim Morrison’s crypt as a means to access the catacombs.
To my consternation, a group of teens had already gathered around the grave, drinking and smoking, cavorting about to the sounds of heavy metal music. None of them had any genuine appreciation for the poet that lay at their feet (or had lain, if I didn’t miss my guess). I flitted into a tree’s shadow that actually crossed the flat headstone that had most recently been placed there after vandals had destroyed the last one. The Greek motto etched on the face of the stone reads, “ΚΑΤΑ ΤΟΝ ΔΑΙΜΟΝΑ ΕΑΥΤΟΥ,” which means “True To His Own Spirit.”
Feeling a bit appalled by the teenage display of rudeness and disrespect in front of me, I willed myself to form a mist from my body as I also willed my corporeal form into being at the same time. I had form now, but far less substantial than flesh. I had become, in effect, a ghost to all eyes, and the sudden fear on their faces as they tripped over each other to get as far away from me and Pere Lachaise as possible did wonders for my mood. I nearly broke character and laughed out loud as I heard one of them exclaim, “Mon Dieu! Un fantôme!” and trip over another of his cohorts in the very next instant, planting his chin into the soft earth as he desperately tried to escape.
I waited, hovering in the mist until the very last of the teens were safely out of sight, then willed my body solid once again. Erring on the side of caution, I waited a moment longer just to make certain that none of them were brave enough to come back and investigate what they had just witnessed. Sure that they wouldn’t return, I took to examining Morrison’s grave in earnest. The concrete slab covering his tomb was far too heavy for any mere mortal to lift, and I was safely assured that, unless someone had cause to remove it, the truth of it would never be discovered. Unfortunately for myself, I had cause.
Inspecting the tombs cover, I detected indications of movement, as if someone had slid the cover aside to gain entrance recently. Tentatively, I reached for the edging of the cover and slid it slowly aside. Even with preternatural strength, this was accomplished with some difficulty a no little effort, further proof that my quarry was confident in the fact that his lair would not be disturbed.
The tomb, as I had believed, was indeed unoccupied. Morrison, like Elvis, had left the building. In his former resting place, I discovered that the bottom of the crypt had been punched through and in its place lay a deep opening giving way to darkness below. My eyes could adjust to almost any light level, so long as there was a source of light to see by, no matter how faint. Here, the darkness would be total.
I unslung the pack from my shoulders and checked my inventory. Like others of my kind (Hunters, not vampires), I was required to carry the tools of the trade: crucifix, stakes, holy water and wafers, etc. as well as a bible, not to mention other essentials such as neon glow tubes, radio headsets and the like. To be honest, I rarely had need for little more than the stakes and sometimes the crucifix (a source of constant consternation for Bruno as I wouldn’t even use the radio unless it was to let him know that the mission was successful). Along with my vampire hunting essentials, I also took the time beforehand to strap my glock 27 to my gun holster. It would do little against something already dead, but it could slow it down enough for me to destroy it. It would also come in handy should I ever encounter a creature with human thralls out for my blood.
A girl can’t be too prepared.
Certain that everything was in place, I slung my pack on, closed the cover of Jim’s tomb over me so as not to arouse the suspicions of the local gendarme, and carefully descended into the pit, cautiously feeling for hand and footholds. I could have simply leaped in, but I was wary should I spring a trap. It would not do for me to be staked or beheaded before I got the drop on my target. Time was of the essence, but I could do little for the victims of the creature if I was incapacitaed.
The earth was soft, moist and loose, an indicator that the hole had been recently dug. This made climbing problematic as the loose earth gave way in my grasp. A sudden slippage of earth at my feet sent me falling into the well and, like a cat, I righted myself to land on my feet as I hit the bottom. I only hoped that it wasn’t so deep that I might actually injure myself when I landed.
I felt like I was falling forever, and I worried about serious injury, but fortune held as my body plunged with a splash into icy water. The cold wasn’t a bother to me as my kind were immune to the effects of cold and most heat, but I gasped in surprise; finding myself both submerged and blinded by the total darkness was definitely unexpected and frightening.
There was no current here, at least none that was discernible, so it was fair to say that I had landed in some natural underground pool. I broke the surface of the water and tread it’s surface, looking about. Total darkness met me at every turn. Carefully, I removed a glow stick from my pack and snapped it, mixing the chemicals inside. As I shook it alight, the soft greenish glow, enhanced my preternatural night vision and enlightened the surrounding expanse, revealing a massive cavern, and I realized with certainty that this section was not part of the catacombs. This was natural, and far older than those man-made tunnels.
I attached the glow stick to the strap of my gun’s harness and swam the short distance to a nearby shore. I took a moment to steady myself as I left the water. I don’t feel the cold as a human would, but the shock of the fall and the water left me shivering despite the it. The fall had been unexpected and I knew I had been lucky to survive it.
After a moment, I took stock of the area, looking for any indications of my prey. Visually, there was nothing here to indicate it’s passing. The surrounding rocky surface of the shoreline had been worn smooth by the water, and the polished rock would hold nothing in the way of footprints or markers of anyone’s passing. The rock ahead would bare no better. There was nothing to indicate a direction. Worse, the cave was connected by at least five different tunnels.
What I could not accomplish visually, I would have to rely on by my other senses. As I mentioned before, vampires and other undead have a sixth sense when it comes to sensing others of our kind. I opened up that sense and immediately picked up the taint of the creature in the cave opening nearest me. I removed the stake from my pack and proceeded through the tunnel to my quarry.
The tunnel, level at first, began to slope slightly, only to suddenly angle down on a path so steep that if it hadn’t been for the glow stick and my night vision, I would have plummeted once again. As it was, the grade had taken me slightly off guard and I whispered a curse in frustration as I dropped my stake down the well and was forced to cling to the slope. Whatever the creature was, it traversed a tunnel bare handed with a skill only an experienced spelunker with the proper climbing equipment could handle. Luckily for me, I’m a vampire. No equipment necessary.
I clung to the floor of the slope, taloned hand to toe, slowly descending into the darkness below, hoping that the noise from the dropped stake hadn’t attracted it’s attention. The surface was damp and somewhat slimy, which told me that there must be instances where the pool above me rises and flows into this natural well. Had this been the case tonight, I would never have found the creature’s haunt. Here and there I could see evidence of the creature’s ascent and descent through the well. Notches in the rock, similar to the one’s that I was currently making with my own talons, marred the smooth rock in several places, repeating themselves over and over again.
My movements were slow and deliberate due to the slimy surface, but I took advantage of the creature’s progression up and down the well by placing my fingers in the grooves it had made and found that I now made better progress. Slowly descending the well, I began to get a better sense the presence of the thing below me, as well as hear the sounds of sobbing. Good fortune smiled, I thought. My movements hadn’t attracted it’s attention after all and I had found the missing mother and child as well. At least one of them was still alive.
Now came the dilemma. In order to surprise the creature, I would have to extinguish the glow stick, leaving me in total darkness. While I would be able to sense it, it could also possibly find me and take me by surprise.
I couldn’t take that chance. I would need to see it to, using the terminology loosely, kill it and a lightless void would not allow that. My other senses were sharp, unnaturally keen, but this creature was most likely born of the darkness, and lived, hunted and thrived in the in that element as well. My other senses would be nothing compared to its abilities.
If I had brought a torch I could most likely blind the thing and gain a huge advantage over it, but even a thing sensitive to light, as I suspected this creature to be, would only be mildly discomforted by the soft glow of my green stick, but it was a small advantage I meant to press.
I touched down on solid rock and took inventory of my surroundings, holding the glowstick in front of me to get a better view and possibly get the jump on the creature before it could me. The base of the well lead into a small opening where the water from the rising pool would continue to flow, most likely into an underground river or stream. The ground proved less slimy than the walls of the well, a good indicator that it had been some time since the water in the pool above had risen, so there was better footing and less chance of slipping here, good fortune if I had to move quickly. Twenty feet ahead the path curved to the right, but there was no longer any descent, the ground here was level.
Knowing the moment was soon at hand, I stopped to retrieve the crucifix from my pack, as well a vial of holy water and the stake I had dropped before my descent. I also removed the clasp from my holstered weapon, ready to pull it at a moments need.
The sobbing grew louder as I rounded the bend. I kept my progress slow and deliberate as I entered the creature’s lair, treading carefully in hopes that the creature hadn’t sensed or heard me. Here the pathway opened into a larger chamber. Across from the entrance I spotted the creature. It was humanoid in appearance and naked. My glowstick made its flesh appear pale and sallow, but its body was all muscle and sinew, tall and lean and completely hairless. It sat hunched over something with its back to me. My hearing told me what it was doing as I listened to the sounds of its rasping hiss. This creature was a life stealer, an absorber of mortal vitality and it was doing what it did best.
I could not immediately see its victim, but I knew for certain that it was feeding. I also made out the form of another person shackled to the adjacent wall. She was small and frail and I made her apparent age near eighty years, judging by her wrinkled flesh and long white hair. The creature had stripped her bare, leaving only a small red bow in her hair. It was from this woman that the sobbing I had heard in the path had come from.
As I neared a bit closer, The creature finally sensed me. It stopped feeding and sharply turned with a hiss, startling me. Its features were horrible. It had little in the way of a face. The creature’s mouth was little more than a sucker it used to suck the life from its victims. It nostrils and ears were enlarged, a clear indication that the thing relied strongly on its senses of smell and hearing to find its prey. Its eyes were nearly nonexistent, small and white. It was utterly blind. It could not see me, but it would only be moments before it sussed me out with it’s other senses.
It dropped its victim with all of the disregard one gives a strange rock after one is done looking at it and turned to face me in a crouch, ready to spring. I stood firm and raised the crucifix in front of me. The creature could not see it, but it recoiled from it’s presence just the same. Unknown to most, the sight of the cross is not necessary to repel the undead. The mere presence of a holy symbol in the hands of the faithful is enough. My faith is strong (which is why I am able to wield a crucifix in the first place), so I was confident that I would be able to hold the creature off.
To my utter surprise, the creature sprang to the wall and ricocheted toward the ceiling as it attempted to get around the holy symbol and at me. I turned just as the creature touched down and flung the vial of holy water at the thing. The creature howled in agony as burns appeared on its face and flesh. Its dropped to the ground, spasming and writhing in pain. I had the advantage now and I pressed it. Leaping upon the creature, I raised my stake high in the air, preparing to thrust it into the creature’s heart with all of my might. “I condemn thee to Hell,” I spat as I brought the sharpened wood down.
Without warning, the creature swung wildly with a haymaker, connecting with my wrist and shattering the bone. I screamed in pain and dropped the stake just as the creature shoved and rolled, spinning me onto my back and pinning me to the ground with such force that, if I still had breath in me, would have knocked the wind out of me completely. I laid under the creature, pinned and one wrist broken, one hand useless. The creature held me down by the waist and shoulders, limiting my movement. My wrist would heal quickly, but not fast enough to regain the advantage I had lost, but I still had an option. My good hand was free.
Before the creature could attempt to rend my flesh (it could not feed on me as I had no life to take, but it’s deadly talons could rip my body to shreds) I pulled my pistol from its holster and fired with a swiftness that would make Clint Eastwood blush, sending a short burst of automatic fire into its chest. The impact sent the creature flying off of me and I rose firing the pistol in quick short bursts, keeping the creature off balance. It screamed in pain and frustration, black blood oozing from the wounds I had created as it tried to regain its footing.
It took a split second to retrieve the stake, which was almost enough time for the creature to regain its footing, but I proved the faster of us. It made its final leap toward me and I raised the stake, using its own momentum to thrust it through its chest and into the creature’s heart.
We rolled end over end as the creature’s momentum carried us across the floor. It didn’t die in rage or surprise, and there was no melting or bursting into flames as some of us do when we die, only a sudden gasp and a dying rasp as the stake pushed it’s way into its chest.
I didn’t need to breath, but I panted heavily from the exertion of killing the thing just the same. I examined my wrist and found it already beginning to heal. I retrieved my crucifix and pistol and moved over to examine the two mortals. The old woman chained to the wall seemed uninjured aside from the obvious. The other woman was not as fortunate. What lay on the ground was little more than a husk of dried flesh and bone. She would never rise again.
I went to the surviving woman and pulled her shackle from the wall, freeing her. “It’s alright now,” I said, “you’re safe.” To keep her calm I asked, “What’s your name?”
“Lizzie,” the tiny old woman rasped, “Lizzie Foreman.”
Something in how she had said her name troubled me. Hesitantly I asked, “How old are you, Lizzie?”
“I’m ten.” The woman looked up at my face and in a shaky voice whispered, “I want my mommy.”
Oh, God in heaven, this was the child! The mother lay dead at her feet!
As Lizzie began to cry I held her close to me and shushed her, whispering, “Hush now, Lizzie. Everything will be all right, now. I’ll make it all right for both you and your mommy.” Tears streaked with blood welled in their ducts as I silently cried for the poor child. This was a ten year old girl now forever trapped in the body of an aged creature. I hadn’t reached her in time and there was nothing I could do for her now. Her life would be a torture of adult complications and disease her aged form would not be able to combat, but there was a way I could give her peace. Having come to the decision, I hesitated only a moment as I kissed her cheek and thrust my fangs into her flesh, finishing her off as painlessly and mercifully as I knew how.
I laid her body gently down next to her mother and whispered a silent prayer for their souls. I stayed with them a few moments, thankful that they were at least together in the end. I returned my stake and crucifix to my pack and produced the radio from its contents. “Bruno,” I said into the transmitter, “do you read me?”
Bruno’s reply came back sharp and with no small amount of static, “Barely.”
“It’s probably due to the strata,” I said, “I’m several meters underground.”
“Dannazione, Arianna! I wish you would keep me appraised of your situation and not wait until everything’s over.” he said, berating me.
“Temper, Bruno,” I replied, “cursing doesn’t suit you.”
“What’s your status?”
“I’ve found the creature’s lair,” I said, “it’s not going to hurt anyone else ever again.”
“Excellent,” Bruno replied happily, “what about our two abductees?”
I hesitated a moment before I replied, “I was too late. Their both dead, I’m sorry.”
“Well,” Bruno said, “I’m sure you did your best, I’m sorry. Get topside and meet me at the tower in one hour. We’ve been reassigned.”
“Reassigned? Where?” I asked.
“According to the cardinal, someplace in Northern California, USA. A town called Aliester Cove. I’ll fill you in on the details when we meet. This place is apparently a hotbed of supernatural activity. The church believes its an attempt by the Horde to gain a foothold on our world. Your mission is to find the last members of the Royal Order of Hunters there and aid them in eliminating the threat.”
“I thought that order died decades ago with Lord Waterhouse’s line?”
“So did many of us here. Turns out that crusty old pagan priest has been in hiding with his grandnephew since the witch hunters attacked his estate in London. It seems that the prophesy regarding his nephew, Jackson Thorpe, has come to pass. The old order is back and it has a new high priest.”