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Remedy-first draft (1 Viewer)

Frivle Dilby

Senior Member
This is my first time posting this, and only one other person has read it. It needs a lot of work so any comments would be helpful. Right now I have been working on this for... Longer than I care to say. I am about 60,000 words in and I figure I'm a quarter to a third of the way through the story I want to tell. Don't worry, I've decided to post it in small bits, one chapter at a time. Besides, that will give me a chance to keep writing and post regularly. Hope you enjoy it and please comment even if you hate it. ;-)

i
Perfect Day

Thin rays of light were shining through the loosely fitted boards of Simon's home. And from the angle of the light, he guessed it was nearly noon. Even on a day like today, he could sleep in late. He closed his eyes against the sunlight in a futile attempt to return to sleep when from outside a familiar voice called, "Simon, wake up!"
Astrid had been awake since dawn, but seeing no sign of Simon, had decided to let him sleep. She would let him hear about her hours of waiting later. "Simon, wake up!", she called again, this time a little louder. When no answer returned, she pushed back the sheet that acted as a door to the small home and with a rushing leap yelled, "Wake up!" With a crash, she landed on Simon, who was sprawled across a small pile of hay, which he used for a bed.
With a groan, he opened his eyes and managed a small laugh that sounded more like a strangled cough. "Isn't it bad luck to see the bride before the wedding?", he said jokingly, but then realized his situation. His face turned red as he realized that only inches over him, pinning him to the ground, was the girl he had come to see as the most beautiful woman in the world. He saw her pale blue eyes and could feel her long, sandy blonde hair tickling his face.
She was so close, he could feel her breathing, but just as fast as he realized what had happened, the spell was broken as another voice came into the shack, "Aren't you two supposed to wait until tonight for that?" Gabriel, the best friend of both Simon and Astrid, stood hunched in the doorway. At about six feet and ten inches tall, he had to duck a little to fit into the short room.
"You're just jealous," said Simon as he and Astrid sat up.
"You're right. Astrid is pretty cute," Gabe replied with a grin.
"Hey, that's my wife you're flirting with."
"Not yet, she isn't,"said Gabe as he grabbed Simon by the front of his tunic and lifted him off the ground. "I'll have him back before the ceremony," he called over his shoulder as he left the room.
Astrid rose and moved to the door to watch as they walked away. "Don't take too long," she called and in return received two waves.
It didn't take long for Simon and Gabe to reach their destination--a natural spring in the forest just out of sight of the small cluster of houses that was their town. Simon quickly stripped off his clothing and hung it on a low hanging branch of a willow tree that grew by the spring. He noticed the ceremonial wedding robes on another branch not far away.
"I've never worn clothes that fancy, before," Simon said to Gabe, who was already waist deep in the pool.
"You'll never get another chance, either, so you better enjoy it," Gabe laughed. The water was cold and Simon shivered as he began washing himself. "Are you excited?" Gabe asked and it was only then that Simon noticed the awkward silence that had fallen.
"I guess so," he replied.
"What do you mean you guess so?" Gabe gasped. "If it were me, I'd be bustin' by now."
Simon thought for a moment, "I guess I've never really thought about it. Ever since I met Astrid, I always just assumed I would be with her." There was a short pause.
"Well," Gabe suddenly announced, "I have a wedding present for you." He reached for the pendant around his neck and tossed it to Simon, who barely caught it by reflex. "I've had it for as long as I can remember, so take good care of it."
Simon blinked, and stared for a moment at the amulet. It was circular in shape with five points to make it look more like a star. In the center was a natural crystal so clear it was almost invisible. "I can't take this," Simon stammered. "It's yours, you've always had it."
"I don't even know what it is," said Gabe. "I would rather have you keep it as a symbol of friendship than keep it as a symbol of the past I can't remember." Simon sat for a moment, stunned by Gabe's answer.
"You rehearsed that, didn't you?"
"Astrid helped me think of it," Gabe nodded.
They both had a good laugh, then got dressed. Simon felt odd in his wedding clothes. The garments were too tight, and the robe awkwardly trailed behind. Simon silently decided that the first chance he got he would be back in his tunic. It was on the short walk back to the village that Simon felt his first hints of fear and apprehension. He thought about how much better he felt just because Gabe was behind him and smiled. In only a moment they emerged from the trees into the small cluster of buildings and even smaller gathering of villagers. Only about two dozen in number. There were a few small cheers as Simon made his way to the left of the altar. He glanced at the villagers and knew all of them by name. Everyone in the village was present, except one. Across the altar was an empty space for the bride.
A sudden surge of doubt flashed through Simon's mind. He looked down, trying to clear his head, and when he looked up again, there she was. He had never seen anyone dressed so strange, but she was beautiful despite. The dress she wore, like the robes Simon wore, were traded for at great price. The brightness of the color and fineness of the cloth were such as neither Simon nor Astrid had ever seen. Bram, the village elder, began the ceremony, but Simon hardly heard a word of what was said. His eyes never leaving those of Astrid. They spoke and exchanged promises when necessary, but only barely noticing. When Bram finished the ceremony pronouncing them married, neither of them noticed. Finally, the elder placed his hands on their shoulders and told them to rise.
"Are you going to kiss her or not?" Bram laughed as the reached their feet. With a small laugh from the crowd Simon and Astrid kissed for the first time as husband and wife.
Simon turned to face the small gathering and for an instant thought he saw a look of betrayal on Gabe's face. 'No, must have imagined it,' he thought for the instant he saw it it was gone.
"Congratulations," Gabe said as he gave Simon a hug. He then turned to Astrid. "And you're looking beautiful as ever."
"Thanks, Gabe," Astrid said as she gave him a hug. Gabe blushed then quickly turned away.
Levi, the local builder, came up next and congratulated the newly-weds. Their small village hadn't seen a wedding for a long time, and the celebration went on well into the night. Everyone brought the best of their crops or their flocks, and laughing and singing was all that was heard. Simon had never been happier in his life. The sun had long ago set behind the mountains to the west, and the party showed no sign of stopping. Thomas was in the middle of a story the whole town must have heard fifty times when, unnoticed, Astrid slipped from the firelight into the dark. It was only a moment before Simon noticed the empty spot next to him. As he leaned over to ask Gabe if he had seen Astrid leave he felt a hand on his shoulder.
"Lets go Simon, before anyone notices," Astrid whispered. Simon quietly slipped from his seat right as he knew that Thomas was getting to the climax of his story about his adventure in the woods between town and the eastern mountains.
"Now, they say that monsters live in those mountains," the old man narrated, "and when darkness fell I could see eyes on me. Just like Simon and Astrid tonight, eh Simo... Now, where'd they run off to?" The couple were nowhere to be seen, but no one got up to look for them. This was their night.
 

Gravehound

Senior Member
this is looking quite promissing, the story flows together quite well, I really get that feeling of friendship between gabe and simon (but I guess something will happen between them right?) seeing as how you already got 60000 words... well that's a lot,congratulation. I just hope I can keep writing for so long without any feedback.
Just wondering though, what's the exact setting of the story? also will this be a fantasy novel or some romantic book?
looking forwards to reading the next part
 

Frivle Dilby

Senior Member
The setting is 400 AD Romania. I guess you could call it a vampire book, but in my opinion it's fantasy. It has a lot to do with religious mythology, and even goes into Norse and Native American... It's complicated. I suppose the only real way to explain it is to let you read it. Also the reason it seems so much like a romance right now is that I wanted to break away from the cliche of get married happily ever after. That is why they get married in the first chapter.

ii
Memories

Hand in hand, Simon and Astrid made their way through the woods to the place where Simon had been only hours earlier. He thought about how the hand he was holding was the hand of his wife, and found it hard to believe. It was like a dream. He could remember before with perfect clarity, then the wedding passed like fog before his eyes, and now that it was over things were the same as they had always been. His feelings for Astrid hadn't changed. It was as if he had just awoken to find himself safe at home.
When they reached the willow tree and spring, Simon leaned back, pulling Astrid toward him. She fell into his waiting arms and kissed him on the mouth. Not a kiss of friendship, or a kiss for show like earlier in the day, but a kiss of desire. As the kiss broke Simon drew her close and in the heat of the moment he was actually more than a little nervous. Astrid must have felt his small bit of hesitance because she slowly backed away and leaned on the trunk of the old willow. The moon was full so the night was bright and the moonlight reflected off the still waters of the spring.
"Do you remember how we first met?" Astrid asked softly. Simon smiled at the memory.
"Yeah, it was in this very spot." They once again clasped hands as Simon leaned on the tree trunk next to her and they let the memories wash through their minds.

iii
First Meetings

"Simon. Simon! Where are you, Simon? Come here quick!" Simon knew better than to keep Bram waiting. He was not Simon's father, but he had been the boy's guardian for the past eight years. Simon couldn't even remember his parents, and sometimes imagined that one day when he ran to answer the call that they would be there waiting. But this time, as with every other time, it was only Bram, with his puffy white beard and streaks of grey hair over his bald head.
"Ah, there you are Simon," the old man said, putting a thick hand on his shoulders. "There are some children i want you to meet. They will be staying with us from now on." Simon listened, but didn't really take any of it in. The elder continued until they reached an old cart, which Thomas was busy unloading.
"Simon, meet Gabriel," Bram said with a smile barely visible through his beard. Simon looked all around, but could see no one except Thomas unloading the cart. In confusion he was about to ask Bram what he was talking about when he noticed feet visible under the cart. Slowly a tall boy stepped out from behind the cart. He didn't look any older than Simon, but was at least half a foot taller with hair that resembled feathers.
"Hi," Simon said and then smiled after a less than gentle nudge from Bram. Gabriel looked at Simon and remained silent. Bram moved next to the boy, who was nearly as tall as him.
"Gabriel," he said softly, "where is Astrid?" As Gabriel pointed toward the forest to the west a look of worry swept across Bram's face. "Thomas, Matthew, Levi," the old man called out, and immediately the three men lined up in front of him.
"Come with me to search the woods. Rachel, Danah, Sarah," the women came just as quickly, "search the town in case she returns." They nodded and the four men took off into the trees. Gabriel silently and immediately began to follow and it only took Simon a moment longer to do the same.
Although Simon was only ten years old he knew the forest like his own home, which for the most part it was. As the men spread out and their calls grew more distant Simon began to notice the silence, and an awkward feeling came over him as he walked with Gabriel. He tried talking just to break the silence.
"So where are you from?" Gabriel didn't answer and Simon had a bad feeling that they wouldn't be friends. Then he heard it. It was so faint that he stopped walking and even stopped breathing to try and listen. The sound came again. Simon looked and Gabriel, who had continued walking, was almost gone from view. Simon listened once more trying to find where the sound was coming from. He moved to find it knowing that Gabriel wouldn't miss him anyway.
As he got closer he recognized the sound as someone crying. He walked through the trees to a small clearing with a spring and a great willow tree in the center. Whoever was crying seemed to be on the other side of the willow. He slowly walked to the other side and found a young girl sitting on the ground with her head on her knees. She was about his age, small with blonde hair, wearing a simple peasant dress that looked a little small for her. There were holes in her clothing and bruises on her arms and legs. Simon could understand why she was crying. He stood just watching her for a moment before he spoke.
"Ummm... Hi, are you Astrid?" A pair of pale blue eyes looked up at him from the saddest face he had ever seen. "I'm Simon," he said, trying his best to smile. Her head dropped in answer followed by another round of sobs. Simon slowly stepped up to her and put his hand on her shoulder. "Are you alri..." he said, but was interrupted by Astrid leaping up and clinging to him while crying into his chest. He could feel her small body shaking as she soaked his shirt with her tears. He didn't quite know how to react, so he put his arms around her in return. He didn't speak. He had nothing to say; no comfort to offer, but open arms and a shoulder to cry on. After a few minutes the sobbing slowed and the tears stopped flowing. Astrid's arms loosened and Simon stepped back and brushed a tear from her face.
"My Daddy," she said softly. "He killed my Daddy." This was followed by a new round of tears.
Simon waited patiently before saying, "My parents are gone too." A long silence followed before finally Simon knelt on the ground. "Come on, I'll take you back to town," he said. She responded with a faint smile and climbed up onto his back. Simon lifted her easily and began walking back to the east toward his village. "I'll always be here to protect you," he said hoping in some small way to comfort her.
"He had red eyes," she said softly. Simon continued to walk with Astrid to her new home.
 

Frivle Dilby

Senior Member
iv
Perfect Night

"I'm still here to protect you," Simon said. Astrid squeezed his hand as they sat against the willow tree as husband and wife, looking into the night.

v
No One

The fire flickered and smoked as it burned down to embers. Most of the villagers had gone and only a few hours remained until dawn. Gabe yawned and stretched, his back popping twice in the process. A young boy named Nicholas had decided to stay awake all night with Gabe and Bram. The last villager remaining was Bram who sat with his eyes closed, but Gabe couldn't decide whether he was awake or asleep. Nick dozed, sprawled on the log next to him. Gabe stared at the dying flames thinking of the changes that were about to happen in his life. His brain was numb from the long day, and his head fell against his chest. His head snapped back up and he rose to his feet to go to his bed before he fell asleep.
"Gabriel," Bram said so suddenly that Gabe jumped, "What do you think of Simon and Astrid's marriage? It makes for a difficult friendship, no?"
Gabe let out a short laugh. As usual Bram, from the outside, had cut right into the heart of the matter with only a few words. That was the advantage of being old, your experience told you the words no one would say.
"Yeah it does," Gabe replied, keeping his eyes focused on an invisible point in the darkness.
"You don't approve?" Bram asked. Gabe turned to look at the old man.
"I approve, but... I'm left with no one. I just lost both of my best friends. I know they are still my friends, but it won't be the same." They were silent for a moment, then Gabe turned to go home.
"They have found their place in this world Gabriel. It is, I think, your time now to do so."
"He isn't the only one who loves her you know," mumbled Gabe so quietly that he himself barely heard it. He then walked out of the light of the dying fire into the night. He had taken only a few steps when he stopped and was as still as little Nick sleeping by the fire. It wasn't anything he had heard or seen that caused him to stop, but what he didn't hear or see. The silence was absolute. Aside from the faint crackling of the fire, not a thing made a sound. Not people, not animals, not even crickets or insects. Gabe had never felt so uneasy, anxious, and terrified as he did at that moment of anticipation.
His skin was crawling as he glanced over his shoulder: something was moving toward him--fast. He flattened himself on the ground as a dark shape hurdled past. Something now crouched in front of him. Gabe couldn't see it well in the fire light, but that was almost dim enough now for his night vision to take over. A man stood before him, or at least it had the shape of a man, but moved like an animal. It was then that he heard the scream. Starting louder than Gabe though humanly possible and dying down to nothing as if the breath and life were being siphoned away. To Gabe's horror, as he looked toward the source of the blood curdling scream, he saw two more of the creatures standing above Bram and Nick, their jaws clamped around the throats of the villagers. Gabe turned back to the creature that had attacked him just in time to see it lunge at him, once more.
He had barely enough time to brace himself before it struck and sent both of them sprawling into the hot embers of the fire. The red ashes exploded as the two struck, sending embers and still burning chunks of wood in all directions. Gabe struggled to get away from the searing heat, but it seemed that no matter how far he scrambled, the heat followed him. It was then that he realized he had caught fire. He quickly regained his feet, threw off his blazing shirt and stamped it to extinguish the flames. He could still feel scorching heat in his right shoulder and winced in pain. Then, his adversary rose from the flames with burnt clothing, but otherwise seemingly unhurt and unscathed.
He could now see the three figures clearly in the moonlight. He was shocked to find three seemingly ordinary looking people staring back at him, all three younger and smaller than he was. Gabe marveled at the strength and fury with which he had been attacked, such as he had never felt from someone so small. Even Simon, who regularly matched strength with him, didn't even come close. The first was the one who had struck Gabe: a young man less than six feet tall with small, pointed features and short, spiked hair. The second cast the stout body of Bram away like a rag doll. He was taller, nearly Gabe's height with broad shoulders, strong features, and short, evenly cropped hair. The third, at whose feet lay the body of Nick, was a young woman with slight features and long hair that shined like the moon. In fact, all of them had hair whiter than wool and clothing that, Gabe could recognize even in only moonlight, was that of nobles and royalty. The next instant, he noticed the most startling feature of all: all three had slightly pointed ears and sharp, gleaming white teeth.
"Anhael, you are getting soft," the tall, strong one said. "Leave him to me. All I had was a bitter, old man."
"Not a chance, Vladimir!" the spiky haired young man snarled back.
The hairs on Gabe's neck rose as Anhael bared his teeth in an evil grin. Gabe's uneasiness grew and he felt as if he had missed something important. He looked into Anhael's eyes which were so cold he felt as if they were looking right through him. With reflexes that surprised himself Gabe crouched low and reached up, snatching the wrist of yet another assailant. With all his might he pulled and flung his attacker the opposite direction. The shadowed figure collided with a small house which fell with a loud crash. The fallen house, along with several others, were set ablaze from embers launched from the fire. The fires rapidly grew until they overpowered the moonlight and drenched the landscape in red. Anhael's brows furrowed and he launched himself at Gabe in a frenzy, only to get stopped dead in his tracks by a stone striking him on the temple.
 

Frivle Dilby

Senior Member
vi
Alone

"Gabe!" sounded Simon as he raced out of the trees toward the blazing village. The rock he had thrown had hit its mark and through the smoke Simon saw two eyes gleaming out at him. Once Simon saw that Gabe was out numbered he doubled his speed, sprinting as fast as his feet would carry him. He bolted into the center of the circle of houses that formed his village, but failed to notice another pair of shining eyes disappearing into the darkness behind him.
A spiky haired figure rose from a fallen building and charged at Gabe, but Simon saw the danger and caught the creature in mid-air with a two handed swing. Pain shot through his arms and it felt as if he had just smashed his hands into a brick wall. He crouched on the ground, wincing in pain, when he felt a hand on his shoulder. With one small tug Gabe lifted him to his feet.
"Are you okay?" Gabe asked.
"Yeah," Simon replied, rubbing his hands. In Gabe's brown eyes Simon could see sadness and pain as their town collapsed in burning heaps around them. Simon then turned toward the figure he had struck, fully expecting to see them lying unconscious. Disbelief shot through him when he saw a young girl with spiked hair stand up and brush herself off as if she hadn't felt a thing.
Simon and Gabe stood back to back. they were now outnumbered four to two, and though neither of them could count they knew their situation looked bad.
"I'll take the boys if you think you can handle the girls," Gabe said with a sad attempt at a laugh. There was fear in his voice, and Simon knew that anything that scared Gabe was something worth being afraid of. In response Simon just swallowed and tried not to show his own fear.
"Do you prefer the tall one or the short one, Eve?" the young man with spiky hair called. The girl with spiked hair answered him.
"The tall one," Eve licked her lips, "you know I like to have a good fight." The two advanced on Simon and Gabe while the other two stayed at a distance to prevent escape. Then they heard the scream and Simon's heart sank. He knew Astrid's voice better than anyone, and he had left her alone.

vii
Afraid

Astrid waited in the dark, her outstretched hand touching the great willow tree as if somehow its strong roots would keep her firmly in place. A dim light could be seen through the trees, steadily growing brighter, and Astrid had a bad feeling that grew with the strange light. Each passing second she worried more and more about Simon, and with each passing second she felt more and more that eyes were watching her. Her courage faltered as she took a few steps toward the orange glow.
"Simon," she called. No answer came. "Simon," she yelled once more but in return all she could hear was the crackle of flames in the distance. Her resolve left her completely and with fear flowing into her with each breath she began to run toward her village. She had only gone a few steps when a shadow descended right in front of her. With an ear piercing scream she fell backward. Before her stood a figure that she could tell was a man, but all of his features were cloaked in shadow. In the faint orange glow she could see the man's snow white hair, midnight cloak, and the gleam of sharp, wicked teeth.
In that moment it seemed to her as if the most beautiful, forbidden, thing had been placed before her. In a trance she slowly took a step toward the shadow. Red eyes shone at her through the darkness, then she remembered no more.
 

Gravehound

Senior Member
Man, this has got me hooked. altough I must confess I despise every vampire novel... but this one looks great (for now)
looking forwards to the next part

GH
 

Frivle Dilby

Senior Member
Glad to hear you like it. This next bit is a little longer, so I hope I don't put you to sleep.

viii
Beaten

Gabe looked at Simon in disbelief. How could he have been so foolish to leave Astrid alone? All he wanted to do at that moment was run as hard and fast as he could to Astrid's side. But that wasn't his place, it was Simon's. And there Simon was looking stupefied, and standing in some sort of trance. Finally Gabe couldn't stand it any longer.
"Simon," he said with a glance at his friend. Simon broke the trance and looked at Gabe. "I'll stay here and deal with these. You go help Astrid!" Simon nodded and Gabe could see him shaking. An instant later the monster called Anhael sprang. Gabe threw his shoulder into the advancing foe, drawing Anhael's attention toward himself.
"Go!" he yelled at Simon, and off Simon bolted. Anhael started to follow, but was stopped as Gabe attempted to lock the monsters hands behind its back in a hold. Its limbs seemed to be made of iron and Gabe made no headway. He vaguely heard something moving behind him when he fell to the ground. His face was covered in something hot and wet, and as the pain hit him he realized it was blood. He struggled to his feet, but as he looked toward his assailants his vision blurred. He struck out with his fist, but made no contact. Then he was flying.
It seemed like he was airborne forever before he crashed into a burning wall, knocking the whole structure down on top of him. The smell of his own burning flesh hit his nostrils and he frantically struggled from the burning wreckage. He didn't have time to even breathe before he was seized again. He looked and saw the face of a young woman he recognized as Eve. How could he have been beaten by a girl? Her eyes were so cool, so calm, and yet within them he saw a hunger, a longing. He wanted to keep looking into those eyes, wanted to be longed for like the eyes spoke to him. There was a flash of red in the pale blue, then all went black.

ix
In Pursuit of the Stolen

Simon ran as fast as his legs could carry him. The wind rushed past his face, and the tall grass whipped at his legs and ankles. His feet ached where blisters were forming from the sandals of his wedding garb. He thought of Astrid over and over again, and how foolish it was to leave her alone. It seemed like he was running for hours though it was only little more than a minute before he arrived at the spring. He scanned the surroundings in search of any clue to what happened. The place where Astrid had been against the willow was vacant. The full moonlight illuminated everything in pale gray and every now and then dancing shadows from the inferno of the village played tricks in the corners of Simon's vision.
A cold chill swept over Simon as he looked into the boughs of the great willow tree. Before him and high in the leaves was Astrid, suspended in mid-air by some shadow that seemed to be cradling her like a child. Her skin was pale and eyes closed as if in death. Anger welled up in Simon's chest, pure hot fury which the next fell away into sheer horror as he felt drops of warm liquid fall on his face. Then from the shadow gleamed two blood red eyes. The next instant Astrid fell lifeless and limp from the heights. Simon rushed and barely caught her before she struck the stony earth. As the reality of what he had just witnessed caught up with him tears filled his eyes. Her face was so pale and so cold.
"No," he choked through his tears. "No, no, no! Astrid please wake up. Her neck had two small holes, and was covered in blood. He put his lips to hers and felt nothing. No response, no warmth, no sign of life. Their life together had only just begun, and already it was over. He felt as if his soul was gone and all that was left was an empty shell.
Simon closed his eyes and tried to regain control of himself. He opened them to see a dark figure with gleaming red eyes standing not five feet distant. Instantly the sorrow and anguish of losing Astrid was swallowed in cold flames of revenge. Simon rose to his feet and charged at his enemy. The shadow flung Simon aside as if he were swatting a fly. Simon rose again to his feet and charged once more, screaming in anger. When he was close enough to feel the cold breath of his opponent he suddenly stopped as if he had hit the end of a chain. He was being held from behind in a grip that felt like stone and iron. Then a soft voice, barely a whisper, sounded in his ear.
"What would you have me do with him, master?"
Into the light stepped the shadow with red eyes to reveal long white hair tied back to keep it out of a tall pale face with a pointed beard, and wicked smile of pointed teeth. He wore fine clothes, coat, vest, and collar, with a black silken cloak.
"The boy is nothing," came his low full voice. "Bring the girl." Simon felt his head strike a tree root as he was cast away. The creature that had held him bound moved to Astrid and lifted her as if she weighed nothing. Simon could not see the creature's face for long wisps of hair which shrouded it. His vision blurred as he tried unsuccessfully to move forward. The two men moved away at an incredible speed that Simon couldn't keep up with, even if his head wasn't spinning. Simon caught one last glimpse of Astrid as six shadows rose into the east.
The pale light of the coming dawn was no comfort to the night it would be ending. The ground seemed to be spinning, and Simon closed his eyes in hope that when he opened them he would find that it had all been a bad dream. He opened his eyes and he was still there, kneeling in a small clearing beside a spring watching through the trees as his village burned. A great pillar of smoke rose as the flames died down and ashes began to smolder. Simon rose slowly to his feet and stepped to the calm water of the spring. He stooped down and saw his and Astrid's blood smeared across his face in his reflection. He splashed the cold water in his face and it seemed to clear his mind as well as the blood. Instantly he remembered leaving Gabe behind with the four creatures and he ran to the ruins of the village.
"Gabe!" he called as he scanned the remnants of houses. "Gabe, where are you?" There was a moment of silence, then he heard something faint. About a stone throw away he heard the cracking of timber. Simon quickly ran to the spot and began picking through the rubble. The first thing he saw made his stomach turn. Burned flesh. Then the rubble beneath him began to move. Simon stepped aside and Gabe emerged with a crash, flinging burning rubble in all directions.
"Fire," Gabe coughed as he stumbled onto solid ground. His left shoulder was badly burned, but both he and Simon knew what to do. Gabe half walked and was half dragged by Simon to the spring, where the cold water could soothe his wound. They had done this before once before six years ago when Gabe's pants caught fire. Simon grabbed his wedding robe, ripped off the sleeve, and used it to douse the wound. When he remembered the event of six years ago he couldn't help but give a small chuckle.
"What's so funny?" Gabe asked, finally coming to his senses.
"I was just thinking of when you lit your pants on fire," Simon replied with a smile.
"That wasn't funny," Gabe retorted, then himself couldn't help but smile. "Okay maybe a little," he admitted.
"I thought I would be happy to see you miserable," Simon said quietly. "Never expected you to be my best friend." The memory silenced them both for a moment, then the events of the previous night returned as well.
"Simon, what happened?" Gabe asked, realizing that someone was missing. "Where's Astrid?" Their eyes locked, then Simon's filled with tears. He fell sobbing into Gabe's arms and could feel Gabe crying as well.
"They took her," Simon choked, then drew back and looked at Gabe's tear streaked face. "But I think she is still alive."
"She is alive," said a voice from a short distance away which caused them both to jump to their feet. The sun had not yet risen over the mountains, but it was bright already. The man who had spoken stood leaning against a tree with a hood concealing his face, even in the grey light before dawn. "Yes, she is alive, depending upon what you mean by the word," the man said in a clear firm voice.
"Who are you?" asked Simon, forgetting his sorrow and not knowing if the man was hostile.
"I'm a friend," came the reply, "or at least we have a common goal and enemy." Gabe in the meantime was through with strange people and was growing more irritated by the second.
"Who are you, and were those... things?" Gabe snapped. The man acted as if he had heard nothing.
"Journey eastward on the mountain road. Be at the pass by nightfall. I will meet you there." Simon and Gabe looked at each other, wondering if they should trust the cloaked stranger or not, and when they looked back the tree stood alone as if no one had ever been there. Almost at the same moment the sun cleared the tops of the mountains, sending down blinding rays of light.
The two walked toward the former town in hope that they could salvage some supplies for their journey. Gabe used Simon's red, now sleeveless, wedding robe as a shirt, and Simon was content with the darker tighter underclothing. The debris was still smoking, and probably would for most of the day. They ate most of what food they found because they wouldn't be able to carry very much with them, and most of it would go bad in a few days anyway.
They set out at about mid-morning into the eastern forest toward the road that climbed into the mountains. Simon could not stop thinking about how he had failed Astrid, and it seemed that with every step the blame fell more and more on him. Only yesterday he had promised to always stay by her side, yet at the very first sign of trouble he had left her. Not to mention that he had specifically promised to protect her, and reaffirmed that promise, but the first time she was threatened he had failed her. He had broken his promise, and as much as he tried to rationalize it the simple fact remained that he had failed her and broken every promise he ever made.
His heart seemed to sink, as if it would fall out of his chest. He had never seen anything like the people, or creatures, that had attacked them. Even if he had been right next to Astrid the whole time there was little he could have done. He knew that in his mind, but his heart told him otherwise. He brooded on these thoughts until Gabe's voice called him back to reality.
"Who do you think that strange guy this morning was?"
"I don't know," Simon replied with a sigh.
"Do you think he was lying?"
Simon thought about it for a moment, then answered, "No, if he was our enemy he could have killed us right then. He had no reason to lie to us." There was silence for a moment and Simon noticed for the first time that there were birds singing in the trees. He listened as their footsteps beat a steady cadence along the forest floor.
"Does that mean you're going to trust him?" Gabe asked. Simon smiled in spite of his sour mood because he had never known Gabe to ever think something through as thoroughly as this. Simon had not even thought about it yet.
"I don't know," Simon almost laughed. "He wants us to be at the top of the pass by nightfall, right?" Gabe nodded. "Well," Simon continued, "if we follow the road, it will take until tomorrow to get there, even at a fast pace." He paused to think for a moment. "I want to get there as fast as we can. We don't have any time to lose..."
"Do you mean we should scale the cliff?" Gabe asked in shock.
"That should get us there by nightfall." Just at that moment they emerged from the forest onto the road, and Simon knew he had to make a choice. He stopped for a moment before he realized that Gabe had continued walking right past the road, and straight toward the cliffs. "Where are you going?" Simon called out.
"Up the mountain," Gabe replied with a face that silently said, of course I'm going this way. Simon smiled and hurried into the woods after his friend.
After only an hour they reached the cliff and gazed upward. It was a long way. How far, neither of them could tell, but both of them were willing to climb if it meant reaching Astrid a day sooner. They had salvaged only one short piece of rope, so they used it to tie a lifeline between them. The rock was broken in many places, providing plenty of hand and foot holds at first, but as they climbed higher the rock became more sheer and smooth. Resting places proved harder and harder to find, and after a few hours their strength was starting to wear thin.
Simon especially felt the toll of weariness hit him hard. He was smaller than Gabe, which meant he had to climb twice as fast to keep up. And where Gabe had strong toned muscles, Simon was relatively scrawny and weak. He kept telling himself that he mustn’t let go, or that he would find Astrid waiting for him at the top. When his arms felt as if they would fall over, limp and dead, he reached higher, imagining Astrid just one more hand hold away, or just past the next ledge.
The sun beat against their backs as it sank into the west, heating the rock face and making their palms slippery with sweat. Hours of silent climbing passed and still neither of them could see the top. Even Gabe's strength began to wane, but neither one stumbled or lost their hold on the cliff. Onward and slowly they climbed, until as the sun began to turn the sky orange in the west Gabe reached up to find flat ground. He peeked his head over the top and saw the pass and the road ahead. Then with all his might he pulled himself onto the shelf and heaved Simon up by their lifeline. They had made it. They on top, before nightfall, in one piece.
In unison they collapsed on the ground and silently vowed that they would never climb another cliff again. It was then that the sound echoed up to the two weary travelers. Gabe was the less exhausted of the two, so he heard it first. A high pitched chattering noise had started far away, but was steadily growing louder. Gabe rose to his knees and moved to the brink to get a better view. The sunset's brilliant red and orange was made more beautiful by the smoke from the smoldering village. The chattering sounded close now and Gabe finally recognized the sound. Simon heard it too and sat up just as thousands of bats came shooting upward from the cliff face. The screeching set their nerves on edge and both of them jumped in surprise.
Just as the last of the bats were passing Simon heard the sound of crumbling rock, saw a cloud of dust where Gabe had been, and felt the rope go taut. The initial pull of the rope nearly dragged Simon off the edge as well. If it had not been for all the years of playing and wrestling with Gabe, they would have both fallen to their deaths. As he slid toward the edge Simon grabbed a tree stump and with some final reservoir of strength he hauled Gabe up until he was once more safe on top of the cliff.
They moved about a stones throw from the edge and rested until darkness settled around them. When Simon and Gabe finally stood up the sky was lit by a starry sky, and a close to full moon rising in the east. The two weary travelers had a few bites of a small loaf of bread before they proceeded. They continued their journey, and rounded a corner in the pass to reveal a distant castle silhouetted against the rising moon. It seemed to be built right into the mountain peak, but Simon couldn't be certain about the details due to the darkness and distance still to go. They walked in silence for a time before Gabe broke it as only he could.
"Simon, I'm still hungry," he said pitifully. Simon chuckled and shook his head in response. They had forgotten about the stranger they had encountered that morning. Their focus was solely on reaching Astrid, who they were somehow certain was being held in the castle. That is why they didn't notice the shadow appear on the trail behind them.
"Before you lies his castle," came a voice from behind that the two travelers recognized instantly. Simon and Gabe turned around to see the same cloaked stranger approaching them. "You must truly love your friend to have traveled so far in so short a time," the stranger said as he strided past them.
"What do you know about Astrid?" Simon demanded, determined not to go one more step with the stranger unless some questions were answered. The man stopped and looked back over his shoulder from the shadowy confines of his cloak.
"I know that the man holding her captive is no man to be trifled with." He then continued to walk and called out to them, "We shall converse as we travel. Follow me quickly, for we must reach the castle by daybreak." Simon hesitated a moment, then rushed to the stranger in frustration, and Gabe quickly followed. They followed a trail that ran across a bridge of land between two peaks. On the furthest peak castle walls and towers split the smooth stone. The road was steep and treacherous, and doubled back in a few places. But the stranger set a fast pace which would get them to their destination by morning. Simon glanced over and glimpsed white hair as the stranger’s cloak billowed in the breeze.
"So, what do you know old man?" he asked with more than a little annoyance.
"Heh," the stranger laughed, "old man? I've never been called by that name before, but I suppose I am old. Now, where to begin..." He paused as he collected his thoughts. "Your friend, are you willing to die for her?"
"Yes," Simon answered immediately and if he had been paying attention, would have noticed that Gabe nodded in agreement.
"Very good," the stranger replied. "But are you willing to kill for her?" This time the yes came a bit slower. "She may stand in need of this boon before the end," the man continued, "and you must not faint in that task." He took a deep breath before going on. "The man who took her is Vlad Tepes of the land beyond the forest. Long ago he was infested by darkness until it consumed him, and now he in turn consumes others." At this point Gabe interrupted him.
"By consume do you mean he..." Gabe paused and swallowed, "drinks their blood like the monsters from the other night?" The man did not respond, but they both knew Gabe was right.
"Those monsters you speak of," the man said with a surprising amount of empathy, "used to be human. Your friend, Astrid you called her, will share their fate if we do not reach her soon. If she can last three sunrises then the curse will pass."
Simon thought he had been fairly patient so far, but now his patience was running out, "What are you talking about?" He moved in front of the man, forcing them to stop. "What happened to Astrid!?" The man did not move a muscle and seemed to be looking right through him. Simon in turn peered into the shadows beneath the man's hood, trying in vain to see his face. The next moment Simon found himself being dragged behind a boulder with a hand over his mouth. Gabe was there in an instant, grabbing Simon's assailant.
"Quiet," the old man whispered. He removed his hand from Simon's mouth, and Gabe released his grip as well. The stranger then gestured toward the castle in the distance. The three watched from the shadows as several dark shapes lifted off the castle walls and flew toward them. Simon watched as one glided by and gleamed white as it passed the moon. Two eyes gleamed from a girl with spiked hair, and Simon shuddered.
"What are they?" he whispered to the man next to him. The answer came soft, but sure.
"They are Nosferatu, the dead that feed upon the living. And you must save Astrid from that fate. Even if it means her death." Just as quickly as it had come the shadow passed, and before Simon could question further the man continued down the stony path toward the castle. Simon nearly called out but clamped his jaw knowing it would alert the monsters that had just passed, and knowing he wouldn't get an answer anyway. Gabe ran ahead to catch up and Simon hurried after.
They walked in silence until the drew close to the castle's front gate, and the sky before them grew brighter with the coming morning. The mass of the mountain was on their right as they approached the stone bridge that spanned a great chasm to the castle wall. Behind the walls roofs and towers broke through the side of the mountain and met the skyline. The coming dawn bathed the landscape in red light, foreboding what lied within.
When they were nearing bow range of the walls Simon stopped them. "Is it a good idea to walk right up to the front gate like this?" he asked.
The cloaked man laughed softly and said, "No one is here, for we saw them leave last night. It is not inside, but outside that we must worry about discovery. We need to get in before the sun rises and our enemies return." Only a minute later they stood on the stone bridge before the great gates of wood and iron. "I will search the lower floors, you must search the upper," the old man said. "And remember, you must get inside the gates, then hide until after the sun has risen."
As Simon tried to question him he suddenly dropped from the bridge into the dark chasm below. Gabe and Simon moved to the edge and looked down in shock but saw no sign of the stranger in the darkness below.
"Well," Gabe said just to change the subject and keep them moving, "we only have a few minutes until the sun rises. How are we supposed to get in?" Simon, in answer, walked to the giant gates and grabbed a large iron loop that served as a handle, hoping with all his might that it would be so simple. He pulled, and the door swung outward in a large arc, opening their path.
Simon tried his hardest not to look shocked as he said, "Wonderful invention, the door. It lets you walk through walls." Gabe's shocked expression changed to laughter as they stepped through the gates into the courtyard of the castle. They hadn't gone two steps when Gabe stopped as if frozen in time. "What is it?" Simon asked, and was answered by Gabe grabbing the front of his shirt and diving into the the shadows between what appeared to be a stable and the castle wall.
The instant they disappeared into the shadows five figures landed on the castle wall. Simon and Gabe watched as they descended into the courtyard and down a set of stairs which spiraled around the fountain in the center. The first looked like a young man, but neither Simon nor Gabe could be sure. His face was hidden by strands of long white hair, and the rest of him was equally concealed by a long grey cloak. The next was a boy, larger than the last, with short white hair and a square jaw. The next two Simon and Gabe recognized clearly as the spiky haired demons that attacked them the previous night.
Gabe shifted his weight as he debated whether or not to exact his revenge, but was held back by a look from Simon. The last one to pass was a young woman wearing a white gown and cloak. The two could almost feel their own blood coursing through their veins as she passed. At the top of the stairs by the fountain, however, she stopped and looked toward where the two were concealed. Simon's muscles tensed as he prepared for a fight, but the girl turned and walked down the stairs and out of sight.
"Did she see us?" Simon whispered.
"I don't think so," Gabe replied. Then he pointed at the wide open gate they had entered. "But they know we're here." It was several minutes before they came out of their hiding place, and then they proceeded slowly, carefully making sure they were not being watched. Gabe closed the gate they came in through in hope that by doing so it would somehow undo the mistake they had made. Then side by side they walked through the courtyard.
 

Frivle Dilby

Senior Member
x
Captive

Her whole body felt as if it were made of lead. Even her eyelids seemed so heavy that it took an effort just to open them. Sunlight streamed into a round room through three stained-glass windows. Astrid stared in wonder for a moment the memories of the previous night flooded back to her. She tried to stand, but it seemed as if she was weighed down by heavy chains. Looking around the room she saw a single door and tried to move toward it, but was abruptly stopped and she found herself once more on the floor. It was then that she noticed that she really was chained! Shackles bound both her wrists to a chain that went through a ring on the wall. The chains allowed her a few feet of movement, but not much more.
She looked around the circular room, in search of anything that might help her escape. The walls were made of stone bricks, and the floor was mostly covered by a red rug. The rafters and roof of the structure rose like a cone above her, and close enough to barely reach was a small but fine bed with a brass frame and feather mattress. Apparently she had been imprisoned in luxury. She laughed at the thought, then realized how hopeless her situation actually was.
She looked again at the door on the far side of the room, and could see that nothing she could reach would help her. There was a bookcase, just out of reach, and beyond that there was even a rack with a few weapons. Then she noticed the window behind her. She could just see over the bottom rim and barely reach the opening latch, but for the moment it gave her some hope of escape. She reached up and released the latch, but upon opening the window found thick iron bars with gaps that were to small to squeeze through. She lifted herself to the window sill and tested the strength of the bars. They didn't budge.
Not wanting to give up she called out the window. "Help! Somebody, help me!" No answer came, only the sound of the wind whistling through the mountains and towers returned. She gasped and nearly fell off her perch when she saw the view. She had to be hundreds of feet in the air, and the country side sprawled out before her in endless forests and mountains. Below was a maze of structures that looked like some kind of castle, set on a plateau that dropped away on every side but one. To her left and far away a tower of smoke rose into the clear sky.
"I wonder where Simon is," she said to herself as she dropped down from the window. Then she did something she hadn't done for years. She cried. "Simon where are you?" she asked in vain as tears streamed down her cheeks.
Time passed, and with it passed the harshest part of her grief. As her eyes and cheeks dried she realized that she really was imprisoned, and that nothing she did could change it. She felt so helpless. All she could do was wait and hope for a miracle.
For the first time she noticed how tired she was. She looked down at her clothes that only yesterday were bright and new, but now her elaborate wedding dress was soiled and torn. Her hair was a mess, and a small trail of dried blood led down from her neck. With her fingers she felt two small holes in her throat that seemed to almost be scars already. A sudden exhaustion swept over her and she crawled onto the nearby bed. The next thing she knew, light was streaming through the windows at a low angle, and the whole room had an orange glow. She had slept the whole day away and night was approaching.
She slowly rose to her feet and stretched as she walked to the window. She reached out to open the stained-glass, but before she could she found herself coiling back in a rush of pain and panic. Her hand felt as if it was on fire. She could not even open her eyes for the pain. She knelt and cradled her hand as if it would fall off, and she almost thought it would. It took a few minutes for the burning to die down, but to Astrid it seemed like hours.
When she opened her eyes she could see her skin smoking and steaming with heat, but the burn itself was hardly visible at all. In fact, it was healing before her eyes. The pain faded, and the smoking stopped before long, but what had caused it? Astrid mulled over questions over and over in her mind with more than a little anxiety. It took her a few minutes more to work up the courage to try again, but she once more reached for the window latch. As soon as she touched the beams of light shining through the glass pain and fire struck her again.
She pulled her hand back and clenched her teeth. A few tears began to flow, and this time she noticed the horrid smell of burning flesh. Slowly the pain once more faded, but the tears remained. She curled up against the wall until the sun set, the light faded, and the shadows deepened. Her whole world seemed to be dissolving around her. Simon was gone, she was alone, she was chained to a wall in a place she didn't know, and above all either the laws of nature or her sanity had been turned upside down.
Just at the moment that she felt she would collapse under the strain and abandon herself to ruin, she heard something. The sound of footsteps faintly echoing off stone, and it was getting closer. Her hope which had all but disappeared resurfaced and in a moments time she dreamed of Simon finding her, breaking the cursed chains, and carrying her away. She looked steadfastly at the door as it inched open. Then, just as suddenly as her hope had been resurrected it was dashed upon the floor and left in pieces.
Through the door stepped a tall man with long white hair that fell around his face. He seemed to be neither old nor young, but both. A thin mustache and pointed beard accented sharp strong features. Yet his eyes were what shocked Astrid the most. They were white, like the eyes of a blind man, but she knew he could see, and deep within them there seemed to be a flickering red flame as if the fires of hell were waiting at any moment to be unleashed. His attire was very formal with a long jacket, ruffled shirt, dark trousers, and high traveling boots.
"I trust your stay has been comfortable," the man said with a smile. Astrid did not answer and had already determined that she would not cooperate. The man stepped into the room and as he did so it seemed to grow darker. In the darkness Astrid still saw him as clearly as if the room was flooded with daylight.
"If you are lacking anything perhaps I could bring it to you," the man said with a wolfish grin. "Food or perhaps drink..." The man approached, and as he did so Astrid backed against the wall.
"Who are you? What do you want with me?"
"Oh, pardon me young madam," he quickly replied, "I did not introduce myself. I am known as Vlad Tepes, Welcome to my castle." He had a strange accent, and Latin was obviously not his first language. He seemed hospitable, so why was she being held prisoner?
"Why are you keeping me here?" she choked, trying her hardest to keep any sign of weakness out of her voice.
"I am sorry for the, how do you say... Hardship or, inconvenience? However I can not allow you to leave until he arrives." Astrid's heart leapt in her chest. It had to be Simon, he was coming for her. Then a sudden rush of fear struck her as she realized she was being used as bait to lure him in.
"What are you going to do to him?" she cried, unable to contain herself.
"I need not do anything to him," Vlad chuckled softly. "All i need do is to let him watch." A wicked smile split his face with a gleaming row of unnaturally white pointed teeth. Horror swept through Astrid like a gust of wind, and her already pale skin turned deathly white.
Vlad turned to exit the room, his long travel cloak trailing behind him, and as he did so Astrid's horror and fear turned to sudden rage. An inferno rose within her that she could not quench even if she had tried. Without a second thought she launched herself at Vlad only to be stopped by the chains with which she was bound. In fury she screamed with a voice so terrible it seemed that all the sounds of the night froze to listen and tremble.
She struggled again against the chains, and almost stumbled when they broke as if they were only made of string. In an instant her rage fled, and she gazed in shock at the broken chains which fell loudly to the floor. She had forgotten the man on the other side of the room and stared blankly at the remnants of the chains hanging from her wrists. A cold laugh broke the deafening silence.
"Good, it has already begun," Vlad said as he opened the door and reached into the darkness beyond. The next moment he cast a young woman onto the floor and she collapsed in a heap in the center of the room. "If you will excuse me, my lady, I must depart," Vlad said with a smile. "Perhaps we may dine together tomorrow." He bowed deeply, then the door slammed shut, Astrid heard the click of a lock, and he was gone.
Astrid flew to the door the next instant, striking it until her fists hurt. The wood was solid and would not yield. Astrid found herself once more imprisoned, not by chains, but still in a cell. The pain and fear of before slowly crept back over her, and not for the last time that night she cried. Emotions swirled through her so quickly that she could not keep up with them, and changed so rapidly that she could not identify them. All of it seemed to pour from her eyes until it seemed her heart was hollow and ready to break.
After a while it seemed like she could hear someone else crying as well. It was just a whimper, like a small child having a bad dream. Then she remembered that she was no longer alone and looked to the center of the room where a girl, only a few years younger than herself, lay on the floor weeping. Astrid's tears dried quickly as she watched her new roommate.
"Are you okay?" she asked when she saw that the other girl was scratched and bruised, but then again Astrid looked no better. The girl looked up and nodded. Tears streamed from the girl's brown eyes, and Astrid saw that the girl was even younger than she had originally thought. She had small features and a thin frame, not quite grown into womanhood. "What's your name?" Astrid asked.
"Helen," the girl replied with a sniff.
"I'm Astrid," came the reply with a smile that Astrid knew that Helen couldn't see through the dark. "If you want, you can come sit with me." Helen responded by scooting herself against the wall next to Astrid, who sat against the door. When Helen got close Astrid noticed the paleness of her skin and two small holes in her throat.
"Do you know where we are?" Astrid asked, seeking for any information that would let her know how far Simon was. Vlad's words still hung in her mind and she wanted any form of either comfort or confirmation. In her mind she wanted to believe that Simon was coming, and in her heart she needed to believe it.
"No," Helen said, looking across the room at the open window. "This is the first time I've seen the sky since I got here." Astrid was stunned by the answer, and it took a few moments for her to speak.
"The first time? How long have you been here?" A few more tears trickled down Helen's face.
"I don't know. Twelve days I think. At least, they have come twelve times and i think it was once each day." She dried her tears and tried to compose herself before she continued. "But today they didn't kiss me." Astrid already knew what she was talking about, but asked anyway.
"What do you mean kiss?" Helen only reached up and touched the marks on her throat.
As Astrid watched she could see the slight movement of her pulse in her neck, and suddenly the idea of this 'kiss' didn't seem so bad. She licked her lips and scooted a little closer before she realized what she was thinking. She then looked away, silently chastising herself and wondering how she could ever even think such a horrible thing. Then she saw the rack of weapons not five feet away from her, and she smiled as thoughts of escape ran through her mind once more.
"Well Helen," she said with excitement, "tonight is your last night here." Astrid quickly rose to her feet, moved to the weapon rack, and grabbed a large battle axe. The head of the weapon dropped to the stone floor with a loud clang. Helen cowered in fright as Astrid raised the weapon over her head. There was a dull thud and again the loud clang of metal falling on stone. Helen looked up to see Astrid swing again, but the axe merely bounced off the door and hit the floor.
Astrid swung again and again until finally a small chunk of the door fell to the floor. The wood was hard, and would not give easily, but eventually it would break and Astrid would not stop until it did. Astrid kept swinging, each time harder than the last, until she couldn't lift the axe anymore. She was glad to have something to do. It was exhausting, but it was better than waiting, and it kept her mind occupied as well. She sat heavily on the floor and held the axe out to Helen.
"If we keep this up we can be out of here by tomorrow," she said. Helen reluctantly took the handle.
"Won't they hear all of this noise?" Helen asked.
"You know," Astrid sighed, "I don't care if they hear." She was surprised how angry she still was, but it was at least anger she could use to give her strength. Helen rose to her feet and Astrid, for the first time, saw how worn out she looked. The twelve days of captivity had taken their toll on her. Her clothing was torn and tattered, and she was thin enough that Astrid could see her ribs where her shirt was torn.
Helen, with a lot more effort than Astrid, lifted the axe and let it fall onto the chipped door. It had very little effect on the solid wood and after only a few strokes Helen was short of breath. She struggled to swing the heavy axe two more times before she collapsed in exhaustion. Astrid could hear her heavy breathing echoing off the walls like music against the backdrop of her pulse giving it a fast tempo. Before she knew what she was doing she found herself reaching out for Helen. She wanted it, needed it, but what was it? Her mind struggled for an endless moment before she caught hold of a far off memory. Simon, she needed Simon. Astrid saw the unasked question in Helen's eye, almost fear, when she realized what she was doing. Instantly her hand changed direction and she took the axe from Helen's loose grip.
"You rest for a while," she said to Helen, who was still short of breath, "I'll keep going until you're ready." As Helen scooted away Astrid lifted the axe, but midway stopped. She didn't know what was happening to her, or why, but she knew enough to want to keep Helen out of danger. Lowering the axe once more she strode to the weapon rack and grabbed a light short sword.
"Listen," she said softly to the young girl, "I don't know what's happening to me, but if I lose control of myself or you think you're in danger, I want you to use this." She handed the short sword to the exhausted girl with a half hearted smile. Helen nodded and took the weapon with fear in her eyes. Astrid then turned away and hacked at the door until the first signs of daylight appeared.
The predawn light seemed so bright and she was so tired. She put down the axe, climbed into the bed, and, without a word, fell into a deep sleep. Her body and mind were exhausted but her conscience was clear.
 

Frivle Dilby

Senior Member
xi
Rescue?


The courtyard stretched out around them and Simon had never felt so cold. The sun was shining and the day was warm but something about the stone walls around him chilled him to the bone. It was as if upon crossing the threshold they had passed from the land of the living into the land of the dead. The place seemed ancient. What few wooden structures there were were falling into disrepair and decay, and even the stone itself was crumbling in some places.
Behind them was the front gate, and to their right was what looked like a stable. To their left a barracks was attached to the outer wall, and before them was an assortment of huge stone buildings. The first was a round building with a domed roof that Simon could only wonder the use of, and to the right of that was a church. Neither Simon nor Gabe had ever seen a cathedral, but they had heard rumors of the giant stone monoliths being erected all over, especially in the western empire.
Toward the mountain Simon saw building which seemed to tunnel into the cliff face and emerge again in odd places and different levels. This, he decided, must be the keep, the fortress part of the castle. Then he caught sight of the fountain lying in the center of the oddly shaped courtyard. Water bubbled and splashed around a sculpture of a kneeling woman with her hands outstretched. The sculpture was enigmatic and drew him closer, though he could not explain why.
He found himself wondering who she was. Possibilities ran through his mind in flashes. Maybe she was the owner of this castle, or possibly simply an artist's rendition of beauty. Or maybe, he thought, a sculpture of an angel, after all, there was a church. As he neared the fountain he sat on the edge and listened to the running water. At his feet the staircase that he had seen the Nosferatu descend followed the curve of the fountain down into the earth. An uncomfortable feeling swept over him, and he was about to move away when Gabe sat down beside him.
"Hey Simon," he said with a groan, "I'm hungry." Simon thought a moment before he realized that they hadn't eaten since yesterday morning. He had been so focused on reaching Astrid that he hadn't noticed his growling stomach. Simon unwrapped the small bundle of food that he had tied on his belt, and they quickly consumed most of it, saving some for Astrid once they had rescued her.
Simon had thought so hard about getting here, but so little about what to do once he arrived, or how they would get home, or even where they would go home to. He sat brooding over his own thoughts when Gabe interrupted him once more.
"So," he said casually, "how are we supposed to find Astrid in a big place like this?" Gabe was absolutely right. It would take days to search the whole castle, and Simon wanted to be far from there by sunset.
"Well, that old man told us he was searching the lower levels," Simon said with a glance at the dark stairwell. "So, I think we should start with the fortress. I think they would want to keep her somewhere that could be easily watched." Together they rose to their feet and stretched.
"These buildings look smaller," Gabe said pointing to the barracks and stable. "We should start with those."
"We should probably at least have a look in all of them," Simon agreed as they walked back to the stable. They passed through a gap in the rotted wood fence and came to the entrance. Dust was lying in a thick blanket over the floor. There was no sign of anyone passing, and the place had the look and feel of a tomb. They then checked the barracks only to find the same thing. They then moved to the other buildings, but found their great doors of hard wood and iron locked. After pounding on the cathedral's locked doors and finding them firm and secure their hopes began to dim.
"Maybe I could break it down," Gabe suggested.
"No," Simon replied, "they're way too tough, even for you. It would take all day and we don't have that much of time." Simon thought for a moment then continued on along the courtyard's perimeter. "I think we should check the keep." Simon stared once more at the fountain as they passed. The sound of the water broke the silence and helped to ease his nerves. It seemed odd to him that amid the sense of abandonment and death that shrouded the castle this fountain would be here.
"The moment of truth," Gabe said as he reached for the rung on the door. Gabe heaved the handle and a rusty groan sounded, but the door moved only slightly. Gabe pulled again to reveal a thin sliver of the dark interior. At this point Simon grabbed the edge of the door and they both pulled together. With a horrendous grating sound the door swung open.
The two entered the dark building, and once they did they found that only half of it could be seen from the outside. The entrance hall they were standing in extended back into the mountain and dark tunnels branched out from the far side.
"Can you see any old candles, or wood we can make a fire with?" Simon asked as he saw their new dilemma. Gabe immediately rushed out the door.
"There was a broken fence out here," he called over his shoulder as he disappeared from view. Simon heard boards splintering and only moments later Gabe returned with an armful of wood. They had no pitch or oil to get the fire going or keep it burning, so it took them a while to get a steady blaze out of the old wood.
As firelight illuminated the hall they could see tapestries hanging on the walls, torn and bleached with time. A thick layer of dust covered everything and gave the room a very close and confined feel. At the far end of the large chamber were three passageways. Each with a door, but only the middle one was open. Simon went to the doors on the left and right trying each in turn, but they were firmly locked. Only the central path was open to them. A chill swept over them and their torch flickered as they stepped into the dark passage.
"I don't like this," Simon said over his shoulder to Gabe who was following with the torch.
"What?" Gabe asked in return.
"Doesn't it feel like we're being shepherded? I just get the feeling that someone is directing us to a certain place, and I'm not so sure I trust them." They then emerged into a small round chamber with a domed ceiling and several doors, each in a different direction. Even before they began Simon knew what they would find. Every door was locked, save one. As Simon pulled on the iron rung light spilled into the torch lit room. The midday sun was blinding, and it took a moment for the two to focus on what was before them.
A large semi-circular room stretched out around them with rows of tall windows on the flat and far wall. Beyond those Simon and Gabe saw a large balcony completing the circle. Old paintings, worn beyond recognition, lined the walls and several doors stood closed. Simon was willing to bet that all but one of them would be locked.
As Simon took in his surroundings Gabe walked into the enormous room and wove his way through a maze of broken tables and chairs toward the balcony. Simon followed as Gabe tried the door that led outside. To both of their surprise it opened, and Gabe stepped out onto the huge balcony.
"Woah, look at this Simon," he called through the open door. Simon stepped through to find a sight he would never forget. The balcony jutted out from the face of a cliff that dropped over a thousand feet into a sea of trees. Simon was amazed that such a huge structure could stay suspended over such a huge drop.
As he walked to where Gabe was standing near the railing a strong gust of wind nearly blew him off his feet, and a bright flash of light from below blinded him for a moment. Amid the ocean of forest was a river that reflected the early afternoon light. To Simon, it felt like he could see the edges of the world. Mountains upon mountains rose, but he was above them all. For that moment the two travelers stood gazing at the most majestic sight either had ever witnessed.
The mountains rose like islands in the forest sea, or waves frozen in time, as far as they could see, until the world itself seemed to dissolve into the sky. Forgotten were all of their trouble and fears, and for a while, even their purpose for coming was abandoned to the wind and deep blue sky. Gabe came out of the trance first, and put his hand on Simon's shoulder.
"Come on, she's not here." Instantly Simon was pulled back to reality. Many times afterward he would wish for the sense of escape he had felt, and every time he would be ashamed for wishing it. They entered the castle once more and turned to the wall on their left where there was a small door near the corner. Gabe tried the locks and found them secure, but noticed a slight wobble in the rusted hinges. Simon was surprised to see Gabe wink at him then in an effortless fluid motion pull the door from its hinges. With a grin he handed the door to Simon.
"A present for you," he said, then stooped through the doorway. Simon nearly collapsed from the door's weight, and dropped it with a loud crash. All fear of anyone hearing them had long since left. The castle felt so lonely and abandoned that even though they had seen their enemies descend into its depths they had a hard time believing that anyone else was there.
Simon quickly followed Gabe into the dark tunnel and was surprised when he found that even though they left their torch behind he could still see. The light behind him met with another light ahead to illuminate the small passage. A couple of doors lined the wall on his right, but he ignored them and concentrated only on reaching Gabe's bulking form ahead of him. Simon stepped into the light ahead to find a room, not so big as the last, but still built half into the mountain. A large column filled the center of the room which had an open door revealing a spiral stair..
Simon's heart leapt within him and a wave of hope washed over him. He didn't know why, but he felt they were getting close now. He slapped Gabe in the back and gave him a broad smile right before he bolted up the stairs. Gabe followed, not knowing where Simon's burst of energy had come from. They emerged on the roof of one of the smaller towers, and as they looked around they could see the edge of the balcony to one side, and the rooftops of a few buildings on the other.
Simon moved quickly over a narrow bridge that spanned the distance between the tower and another set of stairs carved into the hillside. Above him Simon saw more towers closer to the peak. Astrid was in one of those towers. He didn't know how he knew, but he did. He took one deep breath to steady himself then bounded up the stairs as fast as his legs could carry him. There was no railing to catch him as he rounded corners and doubled back on the slope. Gusts of wind tugged and pulled at him, yet his feet were firm on the stairs and his eyes were fixed on the summit.
When he leaped over the last step he saw before him a small yet tall stone building. Rocks and boulders surrounded the oval structure making it impossible to proceed to the peak without entering. The door to this building, unlike the others, were shattered and loosely hanging on broken hinges. Simon did not want to even think about what force was powerful enough the break the massive double doors.
The same chill he had felt earlier passed through him as he walked through the arched door. Stone benches lined the inside walls, each one of them lying in fragments as if they had been broken by a massive hammer. The far end of the oval structure had no walls, but only pillars to hold the roof. The only thing that was whole was a stone altar which stood in the center of the pillars. Simon could see it was no marriage altar. As he stepped closer he heard Gabe closing in behind him.
"Wait for me Sim..." Gabe stopped short. The two stepped up to the altar and could see numerous dark stains on its surface that streaked onto the floor. "What is this place?" Gabe asked with a visible shiver.
"I don't know," Simon responded quietly, his fear growing with the sound of his own voice shaking. "But I feel like they can see us here." Simon's skin crawled as he felt eyes on him and with a glance at Gabe he knew his friend could feel them too. The two hurried further on to where a door opened into the living rock of the mountain, passed through, and closed the door tight behind them. The corridor they had entered was too dark for them to see anything. Not even allowing their eyes to adjust gave them any better sight. Simon reached out for Gabe and in the process found he could touch the walls to either side of him.
"Gabe," he whispered, fearful that if he spoke louder the darkness might somehow hear him.
"Simon," sounded Gabe's familiar voice from only feet away. Simon cleared his throat.
"Grab onto me and I'll try to lead us forward." As soon as he felt Gabe's hand find his shoulder, and with his own hands touching the walls, he proceeded forward up a steep staircase. He stumbled several times before the passage leveled off and he struck, a little too hard for his liking, what felt and sounded like a thick plank of wood. Simon rubbed his head where it had struck the solid surface, and as much as he thought about it he couldn't think why the stairs would have a dead end. He had to be there.
"Astrid," he said quietly, but there was no response.
"Astrid!" Gabe's voice boomed behind him. This time the two heard something moving, then footsteps and whispers that neither could understand.
"Gabe," Simon said with eagerness, "break the door down."
"Done," Gabe replied. Simon stepped out of the way just in time to hear the loud thud of Gabe crashing into the door. A few seconds later there was another crash and a narrow beam of light split the darkness. A small hole about the size of two fingers had cracked in the middle of the door. Gabe moved aside and Simon put his mouth to the opening.
"Astrid, are you there?" He looked through just as he heard a voice just as excited and emotional as his.
"Simon, is that you?" Through the hole he saw a figure rise and block the light for a moment, then there she was.
"Astrid," Gabe said as he moved Simon out of the way and struck the door once more but to no avail. Then taking them both by surprise the door exploded toward them in a mass of fragments and dust. Before Simon had even uncovered his eyes he felt arms wrap around him and hold him tight. He returned the hug with tears in his eyes.
"I'm here," he whispered to the weeping girl.
"What took you so long?" Astrid asked with a sob. "I missed you so much." After a moment the reunited couple heard Gabe clear his throat.
"He didn't come by himself you know." Astrid then released Simon and wiped the tears from her eyes.
"Thank you Gabe," she said giving him a hug as well. Simon's heart seemed to swell until he thought it would burst, but it didn't, it all poured from his eyes instead. He kissed Astrid once more.
"Are you alright?" he asked, looking at her tattered dress.
"I'm fine now," she said back with a smile of genuine happiness.
"So," Gabe said, "who's your friend?" Astrid had completely forgotten in her excitement and Simon still hadn't noticed that there was anyone else at all.
"Oh," Astrid gestured toward the young girl in the center of the room, "this is Helen. Helen, this is Simon and Gabe." Helen looked like an animal that had spotted a predator and wasn't yet sure whether to run or fight. Astrid walked to the girl and gave her a small shove forward. Gabe stepped forward and offered his hand, and after a moment Helen grasped it. "Come on, the four of us will go together," Astrid said, anxious to get out of her prison.
The four walked down the, now lit, stairway toward their freedom, but none of them could have known how far from it they were. Simon and Astrid descended hand in hand behind Gabe who was first to reach the closed door at the bottom. Without hesitation he pushed it open and walked through. Astrid and Simon followed and it wasn't until they were next to the blood soaked altar that they realized where they were.
Astrid had turned pale as moonlight, and Helen had not taken a single step past the doorway. Immediately a dark chill swept over all of them and they wished for nothing more than to leave that horrid place. Gabe turned around to go retrieve Helen, and Simon tried to press forward but was stopped when he pulled Astrid's hand and she wouldn't move. Astrid was rooted in place staring at the altar in some sort of trance. Simon looked back to see Gabe grab hold of Helen's hand and try to lead her forward.
"No," Helen said over and over, her voice gradually growing louder. "No no no, we have to get away from here!"
"That's what we're trying to do!" Gabe said back pulling her arm more insistently. Astrid kept a steady gaze at the altar that made Simon more uneasy than he already was. A toothy grin crossed her lips and Simon was shocked to see that her teeth were pearly white, and came to defined sharpened ends. Darkness seemed to gather around them, and Simon noticed the warmth of the sun being replaced by a cold sticky fog that seemed to spring from the earth. Gabe was carrying Helen past now as she screamed and thrashed in his arms. Simon pulled harder on Astrid's hand, but she was still as stone.
"Astrid, come on!" he yelled with a hard pull. She turned her eyes toward him and all of his resolve melted away into fear. He had never seen her eyes so cold and unfeeling. It frightened him more than even the creatures that had taken her. In the sudden rush of fear he nearly let go of her and ran, but then just as quickly as the change had come over her she returned to normal. Warmth came back to her eyes and even a little color returned to her cheeks.
The spell was broken, and still hand in hand the two ran to catch up to their friends. They bolted out of the shrine and onto the stairs, but here they had to slow down. The fog was steadily growing thicker, making it harder to see with each passing moment, and the stairs were treacherous and steep even in daylight. The mountain slope fell away beside them and one false step could send them over a thousand foot drop.
Step by step they descended, following the shadowy form of Gabe in front of them. The stairs seemed to go on endlessly, and though Simon knew they had to be getting close to the bottom more stairs continued to emerge from the fog. Then suddenly the narrow stone bridge leading to the tower appeared in front of them. The mist clung to everything like hands making it slippery and wet, and when Simon's feet touched the catwalk they seemed to be pulled as if by a rope. The instant he felt no ground beneath him he knew he was going to die. The moment seemed to last forever, then Astrid, still holding his hand, effortlessly lifted him back onto the bridge. Before he could question what she had done, or even realized it, he was running once more and found the spiral stair leading down into the tower.
Simon stumbled down the last few steps into the dark interior to see Gabe collapsed on the floor. Helen sat a few feet away with her knees held close to her chest. Simon felt like his lungs would burst, and he could not seem to find enough air. The world seemed to darken around him, and for the first time in days he realized how tired he actually was. How long had it been since he had slept? Astrid knelt next to Simon and ran her fingers through his hair.
It was a while before Simon or Gabe caught their breath and were ready to continue. The mist around them continued to grow thicker, even within the corridors of the castle, and Simon saw from the faint orange glow through the window that it was late in the day. As he sat up Astrid put her arms around him and he wished that he could just stay in her embrace, knowing that despite his wish they had to keep moving. Simon held her for a moment in return then kissed her just to make sure he wasn't dreaming. He then rose to his feet and looked to Gabe, who was rising as well.
"Are you alright," he asked.
"Yeah," Gabe answered, "now I am. What exactly happened back there?"
"I don't know," Simon shrugged, "but right now we have to hurry and get out of here." Simon lifted Astrid to her feet and Gabe lifted Helen, who was little more than half his height, in turn.
"Are you alright?" Gabe whispered.
"I'll be okay," Helen replied, but Simon saw that her hands were shaking. She quickly folded her arms when she saw him looking. Simon looked at the door he and Gabe had come through earlier that day, but immediately noticed that something had changed.
"Gabe," he said softly. Gabe half grunted a response. "Do you remember closing that door?" Gabe shook his head and quickly strode to the closed door. The handle rattled as it was pulled, but the door would not move. Then he pounded with his fists, but the door was solid. The only result was a faint echo from the far side.
"Do you think you could break it down?" Astrid asked. Gabe responded immediately by ramming his unburned shoulder into the door. Three times he tried, but each time only echoes returned as if the mountain and castle themselves were laughing at them.
"I hate this place," Gabe muttered as he stepped back to try once more, but he was stopped short by a light touch on his arm.
"Wait," Helen said timidly. The three looked at her as if they had forgotten she was there, which Simon had to admit he had. "I know another way." The small girl stepped to the other side of the central pillar and revealed another door on the opposite wall. "We can get out through here," she said with a shaking voice. Simon was the closest and pulled the door open to reveal a dark passage running straight into the solid surface of the hill.
"It's too dark. We'll get lost in there," he said in frustration. His mind kept mulling over their obstacles and finding no solution. Somehow someone had locked the passage they came through and now they had no light and endless dark corridors between them and the exit. "Even with you to guide us we can't get through," Simon said in desperation, half to Helen, half to himself. The four stood in silent contemplation, then Astrid simply walked straight into the dark tunnel and disappeared into the gloom. It took the other three a few seconds to realize what had happened, but Simon was the first to react.
"Astrid!" he called as he charged into the passage. The other two began to follow, but then Astrid was back so quickly that Simon nearly walked right over her.
"Follow me," she said as she grabbed Simon's hand. She then gestured toward Helen. "Hold onto each other so we don't get separated." And with that she plowed her way through the fog into the darkness. Simon barely had enough time to grab Helen's hand, let alone object, before he was being dragged behind.
"Up ahead there should be a stairway going down," Helen's voice said from the darkness behind. The group continued to move forward although none but their leader knew where to.
"Here it is," Astrid said from somewhere in front of them. Simon felt her pull him to the left, and his feet followed the invisible floor until it disappeared beneath them. The sudden weightlessness of falling caught him off guard, and in his panic he released Helen's hand. He felt his knees strike the floor in a flash of heat and pain, but before he fell completely he was caught once more by Astrid.
"Astrid, Simon, where are you?" he heard Helen's voice calling above him.
"Stay where you are," Astrid called back, "I'll come get you."
"Watch the first step," Simon groaned, and although he couldn't see it he knew Astrid had a smile on her face. It took a few minutes for them to regroup, and a few more for them to reach the bottom of the stairs.
"Okay Helen, now which way?" Astrid asked once they had reached level ground.
"I'm not sure," Helen answered. "There were a lot of twists and turns, but I remember that the path was open. Look for open doors." With how much good open doors had done them Simon knew they weren't going to see daylight any time soon. With that comforting thought he felt Astrid pull him even deeper into the never ending blackness.
As they stumbled in the dark, trying to navigate the underground maze, Simon leaned forward in an unsuccessful attempt at having a private conversation. "Astrid." She hummed a faint response. "How can you see down here? I can't see a thing," he whispered. She thought about it a moment before she answered.
"I don't know. Ever since I came here things have been different. Something to do with that man..." It surprised her just as much as them that she could see, but there was more that they didn't know about. She could hear them. Not just their dull foot falls or their ragged breathing, but something deeper, almost secret. She could hear their pulse. Simon's was fast but steady, Helen's wild and scared, and Gabe's slower and more secure. She could almost feel the blood coursing through their veins. It sounded so loudly in her ears that it took all her willpower to just keep moving forward rather than turn around and... and... And what?
Astrid stopped and waited. The air felt wrong. She could tell by the smell that somewhere they had gone off course. The air was too old and stale. She turned the group around and backtracked to a closed door. She tried the handle and the door swung inward, inviting them forward. The group pressed on in this manner. Every now an then they had to double back, but eventually they found their way. Relief washed over the four of them when at last they saw light in the passage before them. None of them knew how long they had been underground, but all of them were glad to see light again.
At the end of the corridor they could see the source of the light. A wide spiraling stair rose before them. Simon could taste freedom just beyond those stairs, and they were drawing close when he heard the sound of voices ahead and motioned everyone against the wall. The fugitives pressed themselves against the wall and listened to the sounds coming from the stairs below them. There was a harsh scraping of metal on rock, then a voice echoed up to them.
"Returning here was foolish. You shall not escape again." It was a low calm voice that Simon and Gabe didn't recognize, but Astrid and Helen tensed at the sound of it. Simon looked into Astrid's eyes and could see she was getting ready to run. He squeezed her hand tightly and mouthed the word 'wait'.
"You are the fool if you think escape to be my plan." This voice was familiar. Simon recognized it as the man who had led them here. There were muffled cries, then once more the sound of metal striking stone. The sounds of the two men below steadily drew closer, and Simon could feel their chance at escape slipping away. Gabe reached over and grabbed Simon's arm to draw his attention.
"We have to get out of here, now!" Gabe whispered harshly. Simon nodded his agreement and prepared himself to dash up the stairs. He took a deep breath and held it for a moment. He could feel himself shaking with fear, but his determination won through and he was the first to burst from concealment. He dashed up the stairs that spiraled to his left and could see a deep red glow shining above.
The air was still foggy making it difficult to see, but he knew if they could reach the surface they could find their way out. He was nearly clear of the tunnel when he saw movement in the corner of his eye. The next instant a shadow loomed before him that stopped him like a wall. He tried to fight the shadow off, but his arms were held firmly at his sides. Then he felt teeth gripping his throat and knew his end had come. Despite how far he had traveled and how close he had come, he had failed. He closed his eyes knowing resistance was futile.
 

Frivle Dilby

Senior Member
xii
Goodbye

Astrid was right behind Simon as he leapt onto the stairs. The new light was so bright in her eyes that she found it hard to see. The sounds of those below them were rapidly closing in now, and Astrid had no intention of being found by Vlad again. In her blindness she stumbled and fell to her knees, and at the same instant a shadow blocked the light before her and enveloped Simon in its wake. Astrid struggled to rise to her feet, but before she could another shape rushed past her. She saw a billowing black cloak and the flash of a blade and there was a ring of metal as the sword flew into the shadow. Then Simon was kneeling on the stairs again.
Astrid sprinted forward, wrapped an arm around Simon, and hauled him to his feet to run beside her in one swift motion. The two emerged into the twilight and the air still held thick fog, but it didn't seem as menacing to Astrid as before. It was almost as if she understood it. With a glance she recognized their surroundings as the courtyard that she could see from the tower window. She looked to her right and could vaguely see the large front gate through the fog. Just as she was about to move she felt Simon pull on her hand.
"Come on, we're almost out," he said as he moved in the direction of the exit. They had only taken a few steps when they saw a pair of shadows materialize in front of them. The darkness of night seemed to thicken and as it did Astrid could see more clearly. A boy and a girl, both younger than her and Simon, stood before them. Both had short spiked hair and wolfish grins. Only a moment later Astrid sensed rather than saw two more figures advancing on them, one on each side. These were both younger than them as well. A boy with powerful arms and short even hair, and a girl with long hair that reminded Astrid a lot of herself. The four newcomers slowly closed in and Astrid's heart sank as she realized that they were surrounded.
A loud hiss sounded in Astrid's ears and it took her a few seconds to realize that the hiss had been her own. Her mind was swimming through all of the changes, both around her and within her, trying to make sense of it all. She felt like breaking down and crying, but her instincts took over and she poised herself to fight. The circle around them grew tighter and just as Astrid was about to spring the enemy formation broke. From the stairwell by the fountain burst a tangle of dark figures that almost ran into the creatures that had surrounded Astrid and Simon.
A young man ran before Gabe and Helen, and although he didn't look much more than twenty years old his hair was white. Astrid was mesmerized by the sight of him. His black cloak was trailing behind him and his sword was gleaming in his hand like out of a fairy tale. He quickly passed her and leapt into the two spiky haired attackers.
"Run!" he shouted as he passed. Simon and Astrid took up the cue and began to run right as Gabe and Helen caught up with them. A moment later the short haired monster materialized to their left. Gabe lunged at him in an attempt to make him retreat, but the boy easily and gracefully sidestepped Gabe and the next instant Helen was gone.
Gabe stopped and looked into the mist and shadows, searching, but to no avail. Astrid quickly turned and grabbed Gabe's thick arm, urging him ahead. It was too late when she remembered that there was an opponent unaccounted for. The girl she had seen earlier erupted from the shadows and before she had the chance to defend herself the girl took hold of her throat. Astrid tore at the girl's wrist in an effort to free herself when out of the corner of her eye she saw Gabe slam into her attacker.
The world spun around her and her eyes went dark. She tried to breathe, but it felt as if she were under water. The air was so thick that her lungs couldn't pull it in. She opened her eyes to find herself face down in the dirt, and there was something warm and wet as well. As she tried to get up it felt as if her throat was on fire. Then she noticed the dark pool beneath her. In a panic she forced herself to her feet, using strength she didn't know she had. Every breath seemed shorter and harder to take, and her eyes couldn't focus because of the pain.
She glanced to her side and Simon was there helping her. How long he had been there she didn't know. The gate was getting closer, but not fast enough. Dizziness came over her and she fell to the ground, but she was so close to escape, so close to freedom. The fog seemed to thicken around her, and her sight grew dim.
"Simon," she choked through a voice that was barely a whisper, "I love you." The last thing she saw was Simon leaning over her, calling her name.

xiii
Saved and Abandoned

The old man had just appeared behind them, but he didn't seem so old anymore. He was a professional swordsman who drove back the same two creatures that Simon and Gabe couldn't defeat together. Simon raced as fast as he could toward the gate that he knew was just beyond the next wall of fog. His eyes were fixed on the path ahead, and only escape mattered. One moment he could feel Astrid's hand firmly in his hand, and the next it was gone.
Simon skidded to a halt and looked back to see Astrid struggling to pull Gabe forward. Helen was nowhere to be seen, and the old man and the two he had been fighting were lost in the fog. Simon started toward Astrid when one of the creatures, the Nosferatu, appeared out of the haze and, before Simon could yell a warning, seize Astrid by the neck. Gabe's reflexes had always been faster than Simon's and he reacted instinctively by driving the girl to the ground. The wind rushed out of Simon's lungs as he passed the two combatants. He was exhausted, his lungs couldn't seem to find enough air, and in the next instant his heart nearly stopped beating. Only a few feet away lay Astrid. Her neck was covered in blood, and its dark puddle was expanding around her. Behind him he could hear Gabe still struggling with the Nosferatu.
"It is pointless, no mortal can match my kind," the creature hissed. The words passed through Simon's mind, but didn't register. The only thing he could see was Astrid's life slipping away in short shallow breaths. He reached out, wrapped an arm around her, and helped her to her feet.
"You're going to be okay," he said, knowing that it wasn't true. He half led, half carried her toward where the massive gates lay waiting, but the didn't make it very far before Astrid fell limply to the ground. "Astrid come on! We have to get out of here!" Simon cried as he knelt over her. A faint gurgling came from her throat, then with immense effort she spoke with a barely audible rasp.
"Simon, I love you." Her eyes lost focus and seemed to be made of glass. She was dead.
"No!," Simon cried. He lifted Astrid's small form and held her against him, but there was nothing there. His mind raced frantically, searching for anything that could save her. It was only an instant, but it seemed as long as an eternity. Memories of the past few days flooded his mind.
'Are you willing to die for her?' 'Are you willing to kill for her?' If death was all he had to offer, then he would give it gladly. Then it all seemed to fit.
'... Your friend, Astrid you called her, will share their fate...'
'... Do you mean he drinks their blood...'
'... No mortal can match my kind...'
'... Ever since I came here things have been different...'
Simon knew what he had to do. He took a piece of broken glass that was lying by his knee and ran the jagged edge across his lip. With one final prayer he pressed his mouth to Astrid's. Blood trickled down his chin as he held his lips against hers, and that moment of hope and despair, brilliance and folly, life and death, was etched in Simon's heart as if it were carved in stone. The stirring was so small that only a lover could feel it within the other, then she opened her eyes. They were blood red.
Simon had no time to process what he had seen and within moments he and Astrid were back in the courtyard. Dense fog shrouded everything and the sounds of battle surrounded them. They began to run for the gate when Gabe appeared through the fog in front of them.
"Come on," Simon beckoned as Gabe picked up beside them. The outer wall and gate seemed to sprout in front of them, and Simon saw the white haired man with the black cloak pass through before them. Simon glanced over his shoulder to see five shadows in pursuit. The three were only a few steps from freedom when a loud grating screech sounded above them.
The portcullis was falling fast. Gabe, who was faster than the other two, ducked under the closing bars. Simon dove through, but upon reaching the other side found his hand empty. He looked at the iron grate and saw Astrid on the far side. Simon reached through the bars and there was a small clink as his amulet fell against the iron.
"Go!" Astrid yelled. Tears welled up in Simon's eyes, but he could still see five shadows approaching. He felt Gabe grab him and pull.
"We have to go!" the big man yelled. Not knowing what else to do Simon grabbed the medallion around his neck that he had received only days before, snapped the band, and thrust it into Astrid's hand.
"I'll come back for you!" he called as Gabe hauled him away. Gabe nearly had to carry Simon away, and Astrid stood alone to face the five approaching Nosferatu. The light around her seemed to flee, and the darkness that remained took form and substance.
Simon's tear filled eyes couldn't see anymore. He turned and ran as fast and hard as he could. He felt numb form the ordeal and he couldn't begin to make sense of what had just happened. The only thing he knew was that he had to run, and keep running until he couldn't run anymore. He stumbled frequently, but still managed to keep pace. The terrain was almost invisible through the darkness and fog, but as the miles passed passed the fog lessened and the light of the rising moon came through. Simon was drenched with sweat and his chest was heaving. He slowed and looked back the way they had come to see the castle breaking through a low bank of clouds. Somewhere in that castle was Astrid. Tears came to his eyes as he turned back to his waiting companions and kept running.
 

Frivle Dilby

Senior Member
I'm not sure if anyone is reading this, but if no one is then this will be my last post. If anyone wants to read more then let me know or I think I will just call this good enough. Anywho, hope you all enjoy it and any feedback would be helpful.

xiv
Welcome Prisoner

Astrid had no idea what she was doing, or why she was doing it. Simon just handed her something and ran, leaving her alone. Even though she had told him to go she couldn't help but feel a little betrayed. Every ounce of common sense she had told her to hide and let the wave of attackers pass, but she stood rooted in front of the closed portcullis. She had to delay them for as long as possible. She had to protect Simon and Gabe. Her mind was frantic, but her body seemed to know exactly what to do. Instincts that she didn't know she possessed took hold of her. The world around her grew darker, and as it did it seemed to come into better focus. The next instant all conscious thought vanished and only the primal urge to stay alive remained.
She lunged at her attackers who were so close now that she could see the surprise on their faces. All light fled from her, and the darkness fed her strength. It was her weapon and armor. A change came over her and she felt released and free as she never had before. All five of the creatures stopped dead in their tracks. It felt as if she had split herself and attacked all of them at once. She was many, attacking with claws and teeth, and before he enemies had a chance to regroup she was herself again, leaping to one and then another.
First the tall strong one that had taken Helen. She ripped at him with clawed fingers, breaking down his defenses and driving him to the earth. The next instant the spiky haired boy was attacking her, but he seemed to pass right through her. In response she grabbed him and threw him into the mountain side. Another came and she twisted and broke it with inhuman strength. Then she saw the one that had ripped out her throat and here eyes glowed a deeper red. She attacked with fury that none of them had ever witnessed before. When that opponent was beaten she sped toward the shadowy one who had bitten Simon. She dove at him, but he evaporated before her eyes. Then Vlad appeared and time seemed to stop.
He was the cause of it all. Astrid, as far as she knew, had never hated anyone before, but she hated him. With all her strength she rushed at him, hoping that sheer speed and force would be enough. But with a simple side step it was over. Vlad caught her with his left hand and threw her to the ground. She stared up from the ground a Vlad for a moment, then the fire in her eyes died, her rage subsided, and exhaustion swept over her. She felt like a candle that flickered intensely right before it burned out.
The strength and the feeling of invincibility were gone, leaving only emptiness and hunger. Or was it thirst? She could smell something sweet in the air, but it was too faint to recognize. Her eyes were half closed in delirium when she felt herself being lifted off the ground.
"Lucifer, bring her," a familiar voice sounded. Astrid looked at the person carrying her, but could not distinguish a face through the long hair and shadows. Then she was placed on her feet and she saw Helen lying a short distance away, motionless. Astrid knew immediately that she was dead. Then pain shot through her arm where Lucifer twisted her abruptly to face the man who was speaking.
"So we meet again," Vlad greeted with a devilish smile. Astrid's head and back throbbed where she had hit the ground, but she could already feel a bit of strength returning. She looked once more at the small shadowy form of Helen lying on the ground and had to stop herself from running over and drinking the last few drops of...
"What have you done to me?" she screamed at Vlad. She struggled against the grip that held her, but she was still too weak.
"Do not cast the blame on me, my dear," Vlad snapped back with the slightest hint of anger in his voice. "Look rather to your friends who fed you with their own blood." He took a step closer then reached out and stroked her face with the back of his hand. His touch was so soft that for a moment Astrid welcomed the contact, then she began thrashing in Lucifer’s arms and nearly slipped from his grasp.
"You lie," she said, not knowing what to believe. "It was you. You brought me here, you took me from them, and you held me prisoner!"
"Ha," Vlad chuckled in response. "I brought you here to keep you safe, for I know what it is like to suffer as you suffer." His eyes which had started out red now faded to a pale grey, and Astrid could see no lie in them. "Your friends, as you believe them to be, came here to kill you, and they will return to..." He paused to search for the right word. "Consummate their goal. Is that a right word?" Astrid bit her lip as tears sprang into her eyes, and flinched when she felt the sharpness of her own teeth.
"Lucifer," Vlad said softly, "take her to a room below. She will surely be comfortable there." Astrid followed in a daze as Lucifer led her to the center of the courtyard toward the fountain and spiral stairs. Astrid's thoughts were centered around what Vlad had told her. Could it be true? There had been a strange man with Simon and Gabe. Could he have come to kill her? She trusted Simon and Gabe with her life, but was it possible that they were deceived by the stranger? Her mind ran in circles trying to wrap itself around her situation. She had just started down the stairs when a voice pulled her out of her daze.
"Lucifer, I will take her from here." Astrid looked back to see a young woman approaching. The similarities between the girl and herself shocked her once more.
Beneath the shadows and long hair that covered Lucifer's face she thought she saw a sneer as he released her arm and disappeared into the night. The girl who had mortally wounded her only minutes earlier descended toward her. Astrid reached for her neck, remembering her wound, but found her throat whole. It was as if it had never been touched. Blood was still smeared across her skin and dress, but she felt as if nothing had happened at all.
"Never mind him," the girl said, putting her arm over Astrid's shoulder as if they were old friends. "Lucifer is honorable, but do not cross him." The girl smiled and laughed softly at a joke that Astrid didn't understand. Together they descended into shadow, neither stopped, but both could see as if it were mid-day. "My name is Lisa," the girl said, then gave Astrid a questioning look.
"Astrid," she replied, still trying to wrap her mind around things.
"You have already met Lucifer. The big one is Vladimir, and the two you slaughtered are twins, Anhael and Eve." Lisa gave her a smile and a sideways glance. "Welcome to the family." Lisa led Astrid from the spiral stair into a long hallway. Astrid had always been better at counting than Simon and Gabe and counted six doors that they passed. At the seventh they stopped and Astrid considered running until she remembered Vlad at the top of the stairs.
"How did you do that before?" Lisa asked quietly. "Transform, I mean." Astrid didn't know what Lisa was talking about, and when did she transform? Whatever she had done, she didn't know how to do it again.
"If I knew I wouldn't be here now," she answered softly. "I don't know what I did. I don't know what happened. I don't even know what I am anymore." Astrid felt tears welling up in her eyes once more, and she suppressed them as best she could. She didn't know why she was confiding in the person who had nearly killed her, but she wasn't sure of anything any more. Lisa opened the door and Astrid followed her in. The room was well furnished with a bed, a desk, and anything else you could expect to find. There were even a few books, but Astrid didn't know how to read.
"You are about the last thing I expected from a half blood," Lisa said with a soft smile. Then the door closed and Astrid heard the click of the lock. It was only after she was left alone that she noticed the oddly shaped wooden box by the far wall. She looked closer to see that it was no ordinary crate, but a coffin.

xv
Remedy

Simon sat with his head resting on his knees. His heart was pounding like drums in his ears and his breathing howled like the wind. Gabe was still on his feet, and was a lot better off than Simon.
"Is... he back yet?" Simon gasped through labored breathing, coughing with the effort.
"No," Gabe replied calmly as he paced between the trees, his body still cooling down. "But I don't think we're being followed." A few minutes passed and Simon began to catch his breath when they heard him coming. It wasn't the sound of footsteps and breaking branches that you'd expect, but a more subtle sound, like the wind blowing through the trees.
"We have escaped," the shadowy figure said, "but your friend was not as fortunate."
"We have to go back for her," Simon said as he turned back to the castle that they had just fled.
"No," the stranger said sternly, grabbing Simon by the shoulder to restrain him. "We will deal with them another time. For now we must look after ourselves." Simon knew that he was right, but couldn't let himself accept it. If he had any more tears left, he was sure he would have cried.
"But it's my fault. I promised I would protect her." Simon collapsed and Gabe had to help him to his feet.
"Where should we go?" Gabe asked. "We can't make it far in the condition we're in."
"There is a town to the northwest," the man replied. "Maybe twenty leagues distant. I will meet you there." The stranger then turned and began to walk away.
"Wait," Gabe protested, "where are you going?" The next instant he was gone. For a few seconds Simon and Gabe looked at the empty space where he had been. A bright glare burst through the trees behind them and nearly blinded Simon. He turned to see the first rays of morning light shining through the mountains. After his eyes had adjusted to the light he stumbled forward.
"Twenty leagues," he sighed. "That's at least two days."
"I don't think I can wait that long," Gabe said with a smile that was so mischievous that even Simon's somber mood was broken. "I've had to go since we found that balcony." Gabe stepped off into the trees and Simon sat down to wait. By the time Gabe had returned Simon was asleep.
"How long has it been since we slept?" Gabe asked to no one. He found a grassy spot a few feet away, and within seconds had joined Simon in slumber.
Simon woke to Gabe shaking him. The forest around him was lit orange, making it seem as if it were on fire. Simon's mind was alert the instant his eyes opened, but his body on the other hand felt unresponsive and sluggish.
"C'mon," Gabe said as Simon eased himself up, "we still have twenty leagues ahead of us." Simon stood up using Gabe as a crutch. His limbs felt like they were made of lead.
"What about Astrid?" he asked softly. The weight of their encounter the previous night fell on him in a rush. "I can't abandon her."
"I want to go back for her too," Gabe interjected, then trailed off into silence. The next instant, as if written on a script, his stomach growled loudly. Simon looked into Gabe's eyes and saw in them determination to match his own. He knew Gabe would gladly go back if he asked him, but he just let out a sigh and a groan.
"Look at us, we're lost, hungry, and barely escaped with our lives last time we tried this. We can hardly take care of ourselves, not to mention rescuing Astrid." Simon silently debated the matter for a long time, but still couldn't decide. "Maybe we should do as we're told and find somewhere to hide for a while," he suggested. Gabe looked shocked at what he had said.
"Hide! Never once was 'hide' mentioned. I don't know who that white haired bloke is, but whatever he has planned for us, I intend on going back for Astrid." Gabe took a few steps away, then stopped and faced Simon again. "Don't you love her Simon?"
"Of course I do, but even if we did go back, we'd starve to death!" Gabe wheeled back on Simon.
"But that's no reason to abandon her either!" he snarled, grabbing Simon by the shirt. They stared at each other in this position as the sunlight began to fade, and the forest grew dark around them. Finally Simon broke the stand still.
"What do you want me to do?" Gabe released him and backed away.
"I'll go back for Astrid," Gabe answered almost painfully. "You should move on to the town and wait for us." Everything that had happened and all the emotions that had accumulated in Simon boiled over at once upon hearing those words, and he charged at Gabe with a ferocity and strength that surprised them both.
"You would win her heart and take her from me!" he screamed as he drove his big friend to the ground. "You have always been jealous of me!" Simon's face was barely recognizable, and all he wanted was one bite, one taste of blood. Simon rarely had seen Gabe frightened, but in his brown eyes he could see fear and Simon delighted in it. He smiled, revealing pointed teeth and bent down over his prey. The next instant he was sprawled out on the forest floor and his whole right side felt as if it had been smashed in.
Simon turned his head to see a familiar shadowy figure moving toward him. He quickly regained his feet and lunged at the man, but was caught like an animal in a snare. Simon thrashed in the man's grip, but failed to get free.
"You would do well to distinguish friend from foe," the man said softly, then they were on the move. Gabe called after them and followed as best he could, but the deepening shadows made it increasingly more difficult. Simon was carried to a cleft in the mountain where cliffs prevented any escape, save by the entrance.
"You're one of them aren't you?" Simon snarled. The man threw him to the ground.
"Yes, as you will also be if you do not what I say," the man said softly, almost like an apology. With a scream Simon hurled himself at the man once more. A sense of elation surged through him as his teeth penetrated the man's neck, but the wound remained dry. There was not a single drop of blood. Gabe stumbled into the cleft in the rocks to see Simon latched onto the throat of the stranger, and an awkward stand still settled over the three. Gabe stood, unsure of what he was seeing, and the man did not so much as flinch when Simon released him and backed away.
"Who are you?" Simon asked in shock. "What are you?" With a facial expression sculpted of stone the man gave his reply.
"My name is Alucard, son to a martyred mother, heir to a cursed father, wielder and bane of the same evil, and your last hope." Simon didn't know how to react and slowly moved toward tried to edge his way around Alucard. "You cannot help her now," Alucard said, causing Simon to stop. "You have doomed her to a fate that you will know all too well before this night has passed." Simon didn't know what he was talking about, but he was tired of the riddles and wanted the truth. In uncharacteristic fury he advanced on Alucard until their noses nearly touched.
"I saved her life!" he yelled in the other man's face. "Where were you? What have you done to help us other than led us into death?" Gabe could see that Simon was boiling over and rushed to restrain him. He caught Simon by the arms and had to lift him off the ground to keep him from breaking free. Simon kicked and twisted, then in one final effort swiveled around in Gabe arms and bared his teeth at Gabe's exposed neck.
Before he could bite, Alucard grabbed him by the neck, tore him out of Gabe's grip, and cast him against a wall of rock. The stone behind Simon cracked with the force of the throw and small bits of debris fell around him.
"That is enough," Alucard yelled. His voice echoed in the enclosed space and was followed by a profound silence. Alucard then spoke in a whisper. "If you try to run again I will be forced to kill you." At that moment Alucard seemed larger than Gabe and more terrible than anything Simon had ever known. Fear took over, Simon's wits returned, and he sunk down to the forest floor. Alucard returned to his normal self just as quickly. "Now, I will explain to you exactly what you have done, and what is happening to you." Simon sat on the ground and pulled his legs up against his chest. Tears began to well up in his eyes and Gabe cautiously stepped over to him.
"I'm sorry Gabe," Simon choked. Gabe sat next to his friend and comforted him, or at least gave him a shoulder to cry on. In the mean time Alucard found a rock to sit on near the center of the gorge.
"I told you two nights past of a man named Vlad who had fallen under a curse." Simon and Gabe nodded. "Now, I deem, I should relate to you the tale in full.
"Three score and fifteen years ago a religious war threatened the future of the empire. To prevent this from happening the emperor convened a council in Nicaea to compromise the conflict and restore order." Alucard paused and collected his thoughts before continuing. "A certain holy man, whose name is lost to time, came to Vlad Tepes as he was traveling through the land beyond the forest to go to this council. Vlad gladly welcomed the holy man, even as his wife Aeline lay sick and dying. It was then that a pact was made with the fallen one... Vlad murdered the prophet, and sealed his dark covenant by drinking the man's life blood in order to have power over life. It horrifies me to think of what despicable things have been done for the right reasons."
Alucard stopped for a long moment, and just when Simon and Gabe thought he was finished he began again. "In return for his bloody deed Vlad received both a blessing and a curse. The fallen one took all infirmity from Aeline, but the darkness that Vlad had let into his soul took root. Power he desired, and power he obtained. You have already seen the curse he carries." Simon and Gabe nodded silently. "Only Vlad and his spawn can pass on the curse, for it is his and his alone to give. The same pain and hunger and longing you feel this night, you have given to your friend Astrid to bear forever."
Simon reacted immediately, "But you said that only Vlad can pass on the curse!" Alucard rose and took a few steps closer.
"But it was you who gave her your blood." Alucard’s voice was so cold that Simon would not have been surprised to see his own breath on the warm summer night. They stared at each other in challenge for a moment, and Simon was the first to look away. "I have saved you twice already this night from feasting on your big friend here," Alucard continued. "Should you attempt such foolishness again you will not live to see daylight again whether I can stop you or not." Neither Gabe nor Simon had anything to say. "Astrid was not so lucky as you," Alucard said almost in a whisper. "Now you have no choice but to kill her."
Simon didn't believe what he had just heard. After a few seconds of being speechless he realized his jaw was hanging open. "What do you mean, kill her?" he gasped.
"Tis better to suffer death than bring death to others in order to continue your own existence," Alucard snapped. "I, above all, know death to be a better fate than that of the Nosferatu!" As if it had been summoned the moon rose and burst between the peaks in the east, bathing the landscape in ghostly pale light. For the first time Simon saw Alucard for what he really was, his hair white as wool, skin pale as death, sharp teeth, and slightly pointed ears, his face neither old nor young. His voice sounded as if it rose from the earth, "I am Alucard, son of Vlad Tepes, and full heir to his folly."
"Wait," Gabe stammered. The other two looked at him in surprise, suddenly reminded that he was there. "But if you're his son that would make you..." Gabe tried to count, but quickly got lost, "really really old, wouldn't it?"
"Three score and fourteen years to be exact," Alucard chuckled. "This agelessness is the cause for which I ventured to that evil place." Simon and Gabe looked at him questioningly. "You see, death is the only salvation for my kind. That is why I must return and release your friend from her torment."
"No!" Simon and Gabe cried in unison, their voices echoing off the rock walls. After that Simon spoke quietly. "Is there no other cure?" Alucard's eyes were cold, yet somehow understanding.
"No there is not."
"I will find one," Simon replied instantly. "I will find a remedy." Alucard and Gabe regarded him in silence, knowing his mind was set and he could not be swayed. What more could be said?
 

Woodroam

Senior Member
This did not allow me to sense a place. There is so much action that I felt I was watching an action movie that had been filmed with actors against a blank screen. Good dialogue though wordy at times. Good action and character movement. Characters move through an environment and their actions interact with the setting but the way it's written makes me feel that I'm watching from outside. I hope that helps.
 

Frivle Dilby

Senior Member
Thanks, I suppose it really doesn't give a definite setting until late in the story. Perhaps I should move it forward a bit. I've never thought of myself as wordy before, it's kind of funny. Thanks for the feedback. I'll fix it a bit and post a better version later. =) Also, is anyone interested in reading more of the story? I need all the help I can get.
 

Woodroam

Senior Member
Hey, You have me hooked. Keep it coming. I can see this being a movie. Maybe do descriptions through the eyes of the characters?

Simon skidded to a halt and looked back to see Astrid struggling to pull Gabe forward.

Simon skidded to a halt on the blankety-blank surface and saw Astrid struggling to pull Gabe forward across the blankety-blank or through the blank-blank or over the....

Anyway, I don't know much about modern fiction. I read classics and like descriptive settings. I realize that description can slow down action and that's the problem. Maybe I'm just getting old and want an occasional breather in an action packed adventure. I'm just one type of reader so don't take my comments as the gospel or anything. I do very much like your story so far.
 

Frivle Dilby

Senior Member
It just so happens that at this point there is some character background. Let me know if there are any thoughts about it. Like if it should be earlier in the story or whatnot. I tried to keep the beginning going fast, but this is the point where it slows down a bit. So, enjoy.

xvi

Recurring Shadow

Her father's whiskers tickled her face when she hugged him, but Astrid loved being in her father's arms anyway.
"Wow, you sure are getting big," Astrid's father said with a smile. "How old are you anyway?"
"I'm eight dad," she giggled. Her dad looked over her shoulder and she turned around, following his gaze to their open door. "Uncle Lucius," Astrid said as she ran to the tall man standing in the doorway.
"Hey little girl," Lucius said as he hoisted her effortlessly into his arms. "Marius, can I talk to you for a moment?" Lucius lightly placed Astrid on her feet and stepped into the next room. Astrid was on her way outside when her father knelt in front of her and put his hand on her shoulder.
"Can you wait outside while I talk with uncle Lucius?" he asked warmly. With a nod Astrid turned and walked out the door of their small brick home. After a few moments of looking idly around she sat and leaned back against the door frame. She could hear her dad's and uncle's voices from inside, though she couldn't understand what they were saying, and if she cocked her head just right she could see the tip of her dad's head through the window. Her father was her whole family and her whole world. Although most people found him a bit rough looking, she didn't know anyone that was kinder. His arms were about as big around as she was, and his thick dark beard made him look intimidating to most people. One of Astrid's favorite things was to jump into his arms and rub her nose in his beard, which was quite a sight for people who didn't know them.
She closed her eyes and relaxed, feeling the sun on her arms and legs. Maybe she could catch some butterflies today, but they would be harder to find this late in the summer. Astrid opened her eyes to see Frederick walking toward her, and she could tell by the look in his eye that he was coming to cause trouble. She didn't know why, but nearly every day he made a point of antagonizing her until she either hit him, or was driven to tears, or both.
"Hey Ass-trid," Frederick taunted as he stopped a safe distance away. "Seen any donkeys today Ass-trid?"
"Drop dead Fred," Astrid replied, then stuck out her tongue.
"I heard my mom saying that your dad is going away," Frederick sneered. "Gonna leave and never come back!" It had only been a few seconds and Astrid was already edging to punch him.
"Shut up Fred," Astrid said through clenched teeth, "or I'll make you wish you did." Fred only laughed and smiled more broadly. Astrid could never understand how someone as small as Fred could have such a big mouth.
"Yeah, he's gonna leave you just like your momma did!" With that one statement he accomplished both his purposes. Astrid screamed and jumped up with fists flying and tears in her eyes. She wasn't sure what happened, but a moment later the boy ran off crying with his hand over his nose. Astrid was shaking so badly that she could hardly stay standing, and had blood on her knuckles that wasn't her own. She knew instantly that she was in trouble and only a few seconds later her dad was kneeling in front of her.
"What happened?" he asked as he looked at the blood on Astrid's hand. She turned her head down, not wanting her dad to see her tears. "You're shaking Astrid..." her father trailed off. "Was that Frederick boy bothering you again?" Astrid nodded without looking up. She sniffed and tried to hold back her tears, which only made it worse. "Come on," Marius said, "lets get you cleaned up. Can't have a pretty girl like you walking around with bloody fists." Marius laughed and Astrid smiled, then quickly remembered that she was crying. As they entered the small house Astrid saw Lucius leaning against the far wall. He looked a lot like her father, but thinner and clean shaven.
"Did you beat the snot out of him?" Lucius laughed. Astrid held up her hand so her dad could clean it off. "Ha, blood, even better," Lucius roared. "That's our little Astrid." Her dad grabbed a cloth and began wiping the blood from her hand. Astrid finally worked up the courage to look into her father's eyes, and he just smiled and shook his head.
"What did he do this time?" Marius sighed. Astrid couldn't say it, it was too horrible, so she just bit her lip and lowered her eyes. Once her dad had finished cleaning her hand he lifted her face until their eyes met. "Well?" he said with a tone that said that he could wait all day.
"He said you were going to leave me," Astrid said with a fresh set of tears, "just like mom did." Astrid saw the sadness in her dad's eyes. She always saw it when she mentioned her mom.
"Your mother didn't abandon you Astrid," Marius said softly. "She would never abandon you, and neither will I." Astrid had thought of asking nearly every day that she could remember, but this was the first time she had the courage to do so.
"Where did mom go?" Her father paused and thought for a long time about what to say.
"She's waiting for us, sweetie," Marius said as he hugged his daughter. After a moment Astrid saw Lucius standing by the door.
"Remember what I told you, Marius," Lucius said softly. "Keep your eyes open." Marius rose to his feet and nodded.
"Take care little brother," he replied. Lucius gave Astrid one final smile and left.
Astrid helped her dad make flat bread for dinner, which they ate with some lamb that their neighbor had given them. Her dad even squeezed some grapes and they had juice with their supper. Astrid wondered what it was like to have a mom, but she was happy with just her dad. The daylight faded with the coming of night and Astrid fell asleep in her father's arms. She awoke in the room she and her dad shared. She stretched and yawned, but when she looked at the window she saw that it was still dark outside. She looked to the other side of the room, but the starlight revealed only an empty mat and blankets.
Astrid was about to get up when she heard someone yelling, but it sounded muffled and far away. While rubbing the last of the sleep from her eyes she rose to her feet and moved to the window, but all she saw were trees and dark houses. Something didn't feel right and as her imagination began to work her heart began to pound loudly in her ears. What was out there trying to get her, and where was her daddy? Her eyes darted back and fort across the room and she noticed a faint flickering light behind the curtain that served as the door. She rushed to the curtain and pushed it aside just enough to see through.
"Daddy," she said softly. He was sitting against the far wall and had just opened his eyes to look at her when the door swung open with a loud crash and a powerful gust of cold wind blew out the small oil lamp. Astrid wanted to run back to her bed, or to her dad, but she was frozen by fear. Not even a scream could escape her. All she could do was watch as a shadow darker than night entered the room.
"Run!" she heard he dad yell, but she remained rooted behind the curtain. Her dad was strong, but within moments the shadow had overpowered him and had its jaws around his throat. The impossible had become real. Her dad was gone and she was alone. Her heart that had been pounding in her ears now seemed to stop completely. An orange flicker started outside and shone through the open door. The light steadily grew brighter until Astrid could see the face that forever after would haunt her dreams. It was pale and thin, but had strong features. White hair and a white beard framed it, but what she remembered most were the glowing red eyes.
 

Frivle Dilby

Senior Member
xvii
Better off Alone

Astrid couldn't seem to get the image out of her head. Everywhere she looked she thought she could see red eyes looking back at her. She shook her head and forced herself to get up. She didn't remember going to sleep, but must have sometime near morning. She looked over the dark room she was in, but, being underground, it gave her no indication of how long she had been asleep. After a few moments she realized that she was nowhere near the bed. A chill swept over her when she glanced behind to see the open coffin. In the back of her mind she knew she ought to be frightened of sleeping in a coffin, or being all alone stories underground in a demon's castle, but she wasn't. She felt like she belonged.
She wondered at the thought before she even finished it. Her thoughts then drifted to the events of the previous night. She wondered where Simon was, and although she wasn't afraid she still disliked the idea of being imprisoned. She walked to the door on the far side of the room, and was surprised how well she could see in the dark. Without much hope she reached for the handle and pushed. The door in return swung open with a soft creak. She was so surprised that it took her a few seconds to lean out the open door and look into the hallway. She glanced both ways and found the corridor empty. She slowly proceeded the way she had been brought, and when she reached the spiral stair she saw that only the faint light of the stars was shining down. Could she really have slept all day?
She ascended the stairs and could hear the soft gurgling of the fountain as she emerged into the courtyard. The moon had not yet risen, so she knew that it was still early in the night. While scanning the courtyard she noticed the front gate wide open in front of her. After all the trouble that she and Simon had gone through to escape, after all the trouble that her captors had gone through to keep her here, was she now free to leave? It seemed too easy. She cautiously stepped to the gate, searching for anyone who might be watching, but found herself to be completely alone. As she passed under the archway she could smell that Simon had passed that way. The smell was intoxicating, like that of hot bread to a starving man. She stopped to savor it a moment before she continued.
"So you're finally out," came a voice from above. "I was hoping I would find you here." Astrid looked to the top of the wall to see Lisa above her. Without fear or hesitation Lisa leaped from the wall and landed in a crouch on the bridge. Astrid prepared herself to run. "You can run," Lisa said knowingly, "but I wouldn't if I were you."
"Why," Astrid contested, "are you going to stop me?"
"No," Lisa smiled, "but the world is not a friendly place for our kind." Lisa turned and walked past Astrid, back through the gate, and Astrid was as still as stone while she passed. She wanted to run and never look back, but felt that Lisa was telling her the truth. She watched Lisa walk to the center of the courtyard and sit on the edge of the fountain. The moon began to rise and give the castle a ghostly glow.
"Come," Lisa called. Astrid knew that Lisa alone could not stop her from leaving, but if more showed up it could become a problem. Every thought told her to flee, but it was her heart that moved her feet. Reluctantly she made her way back inside the gate, and to the fountain. She seated herself close to Lisa, but not so close that she couldn't escape if she had to.
"Why are you just letting me go?" Astrid asked as she sat down.
"Because my father was right when he said that your friends came to kill you." That statement brought so many questions to Astrid's mind that it was difficult for her to find a response.
"Vlad," Astrid shuddered when she heard herself speak his name and had to restart. "Vlad is your father."
"Of course," Lisa replied. "I told you we were a family."
"It looked, to me, like your family was trying to kill me," Astrid snapped back. "You nearly succeeded."
"Believe me," Lisa answered with anger as well as sadness in her voice, "if it were up to me I would have." There was a short silence that could have lasted and hour, then when Lisa continued her voice was calm once more. "And the offer is still open if you wish to take it." Astrid would have been angry if the statement had not been so bizarre.
"What are you talking about?" she asked, now more confused than when the conversation began.
"Astrid, I like you," the young girl said as her eyes darted away. "That's why I am telling you this." Lisa took a deep breath. "Hold up your hand," she said, putting her hand in front of her mouth. Astrid gave a questioning look then did the same. "Now breathe." She did. "What do you feel?" Astrid didn't notice at first, so she breathed into her hand again, then she realized that the air was cold. Her breath had no warmth whatsoever, no life, just moving air.
"Now look into the water," Lisa said as she turned to face the fountain. Astrid did likewise. The water rippled and bubbled as it splashed down the stone sculpture into the small pool. Astrid could see the castle walls and the night sky reflected in it's surface, but neither her nor Lisa were there. Astrid didn't know how long she sat staring at what wasn't there, but Lisa broke her gaze. "You may wish for death before long," the girl said, then pulled her legs up to her chest. "I do every day. You can die, I can't." Astrid looked at Lisa as if she had never seen her before. Lisa looked at least two years younger than she was, and barely grown to womanhood. She didn't understand what Lisa was saying, but could see the pain in her eyes. The next instant a voice from behind them caused Astrid to jump to her feet.
"Fraternizing with the filthy half-blood, are we Lisa?" The young man with spiky hair that Astrid recognized as Anhael stepped out from the cathedral, the door murmuring quietly as he did so. A wicked grin split Anhael's young face as he continued his taunt, "If either of you wish for death, I will be more than happy to provide it for you." Astrid was crouched down and ready to fight. Although Lisa seemed friendly, Astrid didn't like Anhael, not his look, not his voice, not the feeling he gave her. She knew that if she was going to leave then she had better do it soon. Keeping her eyes on Anhael she slowly backed toward the exit.
"Heh," he sneered, "would you really allow her to escape, little sister?" Lisa glared back at him.
"We may have the same father, but I am not your sister." A long silence followed. The two siblings were at a standstill, each daring the other to move. Astrid looked from Lisa to Anhael, then found herself creeping toward the exit once more, and when neither made a move to stop her she turned and began walking more quickly. Laughter suddenly echoed off the walls, causing Astrid to stop and search for the source. Then through the castle gate came another.
"Can our father no longer control his spawn?" Eve laughed. "Perhaps we must teach our captive and lenient guard a lesson, Anhael." From the other side of the courtyard Anhael laughed in response.
"This whelp is not of our brood," he smiled and a strange look passed between him and Eve. "She is not our concern."
"You could not stop her if you tried," Lisa broke in. "She bested all five of us last night, even Lucifer."
"We are more than enough for her and you," Eve snarled back, bearing her fangs. "Vladimir isn't here to save you tonight, little Lisa." Astrid stood in the middle of the crossfire, wondering what to do. She was not a person who enjoyed conflict and rarely fought at all unless pushed excessively to defend herself. She didn't want to have to fight her way out, and didn't want to leave Lisa to face Anhael and Eve alone either. She thought about it for a long moment, then turned to leave when Eve closed the gap between them.
"This little half-blood isn't worth our time," Eve said as she passed. She walked to the fountain and glared at Lisa as she descended the stairs and disappeared underground. Anhael was quick to follow.
"Someday you will bow down to us," he said to Lisa as he started down the stairs, "child of Rozlim." Astrid exchanged a quick glance with Lisa then sighed in relief and turned once more to leave.
"Watch yourself," Lisa called as Astrid passed once again beyond the gate. Astrid looked back once she passed over the bridge and had a hard time believing what she was feeling. She was sorry to leave. After a moment of reflection she turned and followed the mountain road home, to where Simon was. Her thoughts ran in circles as she walked, going through all that had happened to her and trying to make sense of it all. Then she remembered the last thing that Anhael had said. "Child of Rozlim."
She looked back at the castle, jutting like stone fingers out of the forested mountains. The moon was still mostly full and the night was bright. A breeze blew across the hills while she stood pondering what she should do. It was cold, but she didn't shiver, and the next instant her decision had been made. She followed the road back the way she had come. She longed to be with Simon, but she had to know. She ran across the bridge and into the castle courtyard.
"Lisa," she called. There was no answer for her, not even an echo. "Lisa!" she called again, and this time the girl came out of the keep doors.
"Astrid, what are you doing here?" Lisa asked. Astrid ignored her question and rushed over, putting her hands on Lisa's shoulders.
"Anhael said your mother's name was Rozlim," Astrid said insistently. Lisa nodded, and looked at Astrid as if she had gone crazy. Astrid was thinking the same thing. Then it was if all conscious thought had been erased, and Astrid could feel herself being drawn away like a puppet on strings. She could smell blood. She looked toward the gate to see Vladimir entering with a large sack under each arm. She rushed over like a ravenous hound as Vladimir set the sacks on the stone paved ground. Every ounce of humanity in her told her to stop what she was doing, but something even stronger was there as well, pushing her on. Astrid stopped a few feet away from her prey, hissing and baring her teeth like a wild animal. Lisa came as well in a much slower and calmer manner.
Single handedly Vladimir lifted the larger, heavier, sack that moved and groaned slightly and handed it to his little sister. Lisa hefted the bag that was easily as big as she was over her shoulder with seemingly no effort.
"Take that to the trinity," Vladimir said. Lisa left silently and disappeared into the keep.
"Good luck Astrid," she whispered with a final glance back, but Astrid didn't hear her. All she cared about was what was in the sack in front of her.
"I was told to give this to you," Vladimir said with the slightest twinge of regret. He roughly emptied the contents of the sack onto the pavement and left without another word. Astrid didn’t see him go, but heard a scream as her teeth sunk into the throat of the young man who sat stunned on the ground. She didn't notice the boys blue eyes, or their similar age, only the sweetness of his blood. She relished every moment. She was alive. She was in ecstasy, then something inside her pulled back. She remembered who she was and could see what she was doing. As if he were poisonous to the touch Astrid pushed the boy away. The boy fell into a limp heap, but Astrid could see his stomach slowly rising and falling, and hear his faint pulse.
Relief flooded through her when she realized that she hadn't killed him, but not enough to overpower the guilt of what she had done. She sank to her knees and covered her face with her hands. Her body shook with sobs, and she wet her hands with her tears. She had nearly killed someone, and why, for blood? Why couldn't she control herself? She was racked with guilt that seemed to have no end. When she finally opened her eyes she saw the amulet hanging around her neck through blurry eyes. The five pointed amulet that Simon had given her was stained with blood. Simon was better off without her. She no longer belonged with him or with anyone normal, then she realized that there was only one place where she did. If she could have seen herself she would have noticed that her eyes were red.
 

Frivle Dilby

Senior Member
xviii
The Fast Way

"I'm sorry I attacked you Gabe," Simon said. "I wasn't myself." Gabe threw his arms around him and squeezed so tight that Simon thought his bones would crack.
"If I had a demonic, undead curse I would have done the same thing," Gabe replied with a smile.
"The night is still young," Alucard said, interrupting them. "We must get to a place of safety before daybreak. You must not be exposed to direct sunlight." Simon nodded and he and Gabe got to their feet. The three moved out of the pocket in the rock into the open forest. "Simon," Alucard's voice rang through the woods. Simon and Gabe turned to see that Alucard had stopped. "Do you remember which one of them bit you?" He asked in a tone so solemn it would make solid stone crumble to dust.
"I don't know," Simon replied. "I couldn't see his face." He motioned his hands to indicate that the person's hair covered their face.
"Then matters are worse than I thought," Alucard said, then began walking briskly through the trees. Gabe had the most confused look on his face that Simon had ever seen and as he began to follow Alucard he almost laughed out loud.
"Wait," Gabe called as he caught up with long strides, "why should that matter?" Alucard answered without slowing or even looking back.
"Because only a full blooded vampire can cause what is happening to Simon." Now it was Simon's turn to ask.
"What is a full blooded vampire?" Gabe struggled to keep up in the dark while the other two proceeded at a pace that would be fast for a paved trail in broad daylight.
"A Nosferatu can not pass on the curse, save it be theirs to give. Vlad is the sole proprietor of it, but it appears he has sired more children." It took Gabe's innocent and tactless manner to ask the next question.
"But, I thought you said his wife died." Alucard glanced back and both Simon and Gabe, for a moment, thought he might retaliate. The Nosferatu then stopped and turned to face them.
"Indeed, you are correct, and to complicate matters further, those bitten are incapable of bearing children." Alucard paused for a moment, his expression so dark that the other two were unsure how to proceed. "I am unable to believe that even he would desecrate her memory this way, but it is so." The two stood in silence and Alucard seemed to be looking right through them toward the rising moon and bright night sky. At that moment it seemed to Simon as if it was more than the night that shrouded Alucard in shadow.
"Gabe," Alucard said softly and Gabe nodded in acknowledgment. "Simon and I must make haste, for there are still many leagues to go. We will be waiting at the inn." Simon started to protest when Alucard grabbed his arm and began to pull him forward. Alucard silenced him before he had a chance to speak. "Tonight is not the night for questions. We must travel light and fast." With that Alucard burst forward as if he had been shot from a sling. If he hadn't had a death grip on Simon's arm he would have quickly left him behind. Simon began to sprint next to him, and found that he could keep pace. Trees passed in a blur and if Simon had time to think about it fear would have stopped him, but he kept up and never even grew tired. He never grew short of breath, never fell behind, and never lost his footing.
During a moment where the land before him was clear of obstacles he risked a glance at Alucard and, to his astonishment, found the Nosferatu looking right back at him. Alucard's gaze was so steady and so relaxed that Simon felt a chill run down his spine, then he saw that Alucard's feet were not even touching the ground.
"You are doing well," Alucard said, and for the first time Simon thought he saw him smile, "but you must do better if we are to reach our destination before dawn." The shadows around Alucard deepened and soon all Simon could see of him was a dark shape that seemed to be twisting in the air. A moment later a great bat took wing from where Alucard had been and Simon nearly stopped running to watch. The bat flapped ahead and Simon struggled to keep up. The flittering shadow steadily receded from his sight and after a short time faded into the distance. Simon doubled his efforts, but the bat was nowhere to be seen. Was he even going the right direction anymore? He stopped to get his bearings when Alucard, once again in human form, materialized in front of him.
"I apologize," the Nosferatu said as he approached Simon, "but our journey will be faster this way." Simon was trying to figure out what Alucard was talking about when he felt something strike the back of his head and he fell unconscious to the ground.

xix
Friends

Nearly four years had passed Since Gabe had come to stay with Bram, Simon, and Astrid, but he still didn't feel at home. Not that he could remember his home. His memory couldn't seem to hold onto anything. He couldn't remember where he was from, the language that used to be native to him, or even what his parents had looked like. He tried to remember what it felt like to have a family and failed. He was an outcast. Everyone in his new community welcomed him and was friendly, but he still didn't trust them. At least, he didn't trust anyone except Astrid.
He had felt connected with her ever since they met four years earlier, but she seemed to like Simon, and Simon didn't like him. In fact, that was the reason he was sitting behind the corner of the house where no one would see him, but he could hear what was being said.
"C'mon Simon," Astrid's clear warm voice sounded out the open window, "why can't Gabe come with us?"
"He's a little weird," Simon replied quietly, as if he were suspicious that someone might be listening. "Besides, he hates me so he wouldn't come anyway." Gabe thought it was the other way around. He had never been mean to Simon or said anything bad about him, but it seemed that Simon just didn't care about or notice him at all. The only common link they had was Astrid, and she chose Simon.
"Well," Gabe heard a sharp tone in Astrid's voice, "either he comes or I don't."
"Fine," Simon conceded, "I'll ask him, but he's going to say no." The sound of footsteps echoed through the window as Simon and Astrid left the house. Gabe could feel his heart beating with excitement, and maybe even a little fear. What would he say when Simon asked? Not even he really knew. Simon definitely didn't want him to come and he didn't want to cause any problems, but if he went he would be close to Astrid. He was mulling over the possibilities when he heard Astrid calling his name.
"Gabe, Gabe where are you?" Gabe answered by walking into the open toward the two, but couldn’t think of anything to say. Astrid waved and smiled as he approached, but Simon rolled his eyes and for a moment Gabe considered just turning around and walking away. He didn't know why he continued on, but he did.
"Gabe," Astrid said with a dazzling smile, "Simon wants to ask you something." She nudged Simon in the ribs and he uneasily looked up at Gabe. They were only fourteen years old, but Gabe was close to six feet tall and nearly a full head taller than Simon.
"Astrid and me are going to the trail near the mountain pass tonight," the boy began clumsily and stopped to find the right words. "They say that demons come out of the mountains at night, so you might not want to come, but do you want to come with us?" Gabe still hadn't decided what he should say. He had talked with Astrid about it earlier that morning, but now that it was time to act he wasn't sure he could. He just didn't feel comfortable around Simon. The silence lagged on and Simon turned to Astrid in triumph.
"I told you s..."
"I'll come," Gabe said quickly. It took a moment and an awkward look from Simon for him to realize what he had said.
"Oh," Simon stammered. "Alright then."
"Told you so," Astrid said with a smug look. She smiled and winked at Gabe and he could feel himself blushing.
"Well then..." Simon trailed off in thought. "Can you get the bedding for us, and we'll get the food?" Gabe nodded sternly and ran to Bram's house as fast as he could. Astrid and Simon were still in sight when Gabe reached the door of the small cottage. It was the only building in the small town made of bricks and had three rooms instead of the normal two.
"Bram," Gabe nearly shouted with excitement, "I need to borrow three mats and blankets." The door opened a few seconds later to reveal the town elder. For an instant Gabe wondered if the old man had ever been young, or even aged for that matter.
"Gabe?" Bram said in surprise. "What are you so excited about?" Gabe pulled the door open and stepped past Bram.
"We're going out to the foothills tonight," Gabe said with a broad smile. Everyone in the village knew the tradition that young people would spend a night in the foothills to prove their courage. The adults never pushed them or even mentioned it to them, but all of the children seemed to know.
"And who is we?" Bram asked with a smile hiding behind his white beard.
"Me and Astrid and Simon," Gabe said over his shoulder as he opened the wooden crate where the extra bed rolls were stored. A few seconds later he had a small stack of mats and blankets, then a voice sounded from the far side of the room.
"Be sure to take a few extra, it's still pretty cold out." Gabe jumped up and looked across the room at the speaker. He hadn't even noticed Thomas sitting at the far end of the room.
"Hullo mister Thomas," Gabe said quietly, more than a little embarrassed that he had been so loud in front of him.
"It's good to see that you and Simon are getting along better," Thomas roared with a wide smile.
"Yeah," Gabe replied as he grabbed an extra blanket and slowly backed toward the exit.
"Be careful Gabriel," Bram said with a look that Gabe was forced to acknowledge. He nodded then turned and dashed away. He returned to the spot where he had met Simon and Astrid a few minutes before, and sat down to wait for them. Within a few minutes he saw Simon walking toward him followed closely by Astrid. He quickly jumped to his feet and felt his necklace smack him in the chest.
"Did you get the stuff?" asked Simon, who was carrying an animal skin sack full of food. Gabe nodded and hefted his larger load. "Then let's get going," Simon said with a grin. "I know the perfect spot near where the road forks into the pass." Simon turned northward, and Astrid smiled as she passed Gabe, causing him to blush and stumble the first few steps after them.
The air was cold, but the sunlight warmed away the chill. The trees were barely beginning to grow back their leaves, and through their skeletal limbs Gabe could see snow on the mountain slopes. He looked back and the village was already lost among thousands of tree trunks. The only way he even knew in which direction to look was a thin pillar of smoke that blended against the cloudy sky. Simon was in the lead, followed by Astrid, and Gabe brought up the rear. Simon seemed to be able to talk endlessly, but Astrid seemed to like it. She spoke and occasionally laughed, which both enthralled Gabe and made him jealous.
"So, Astrid," Simon rambled, "I was thinking that next week we could go down to the river and catch some fish." How did Simon talk so much? Didn't his voice hurt? Gabe rubbed his throat just thinking about it.
"Yeah," Astrid replied with a giggle, "I would like that. Oh, and Gabe?" It took a moment before Gabe realized that she expected a response.
"Yes," he said and thought his voice sounded like a fat slug.
"You should come fishing with us," Astrid turned and smiled. Gabe smiled in return.
"Maybe I will," he said.
"What do you think Simon?" Astrid asked cheerfully. Simon didn't say a word, but just looked over his shoulder, shrugged, and continued walking. Gabe didn't understand, but he also knew that he never would even if he tried, so he just kept walking until the awkward silence passed along with the leagues to their destination. They ran into the road while it was still early in the day and followed it northward. They stopped twice to rest along the way and each time Gabe sat a short distance away while Simon and Astrid talked and shared a bite to eat. Astrid looked over at him a few times, but he pretended he didn't notice.
Gabe was beginning to wonder why he had come in the first place by the time the sun set. The air seemed to freeze around them and clouds of their own breath surrounded them. As if to answer the unasked question of the cold the crossroads opened before them. Gabe could feel himself getting nervous, just a little, as Simon led them a stones throw up the mountain fork of the road. The road had begun to climb the side of the hill and had turned southward when Simon left the road. Not far down the hill stood a large boulder that Simon seemed to be headed toward.
"This is the spot," Simon said as he slapped the giant rock. Gabe wandered to the side of the boulder and set down their sleeping gear. Astrid stopped next to Simon and hugged herself in the cold.
"I'm freezing," she said through chattering teeth.
"Well," Simon answered as he wrapped an arm around her, "we can set up camp, and Gabe can go get some fire wood." Gabe didn't need to be told twice and could feel Simon and Astrid's eyes on him as he wordlessly walked away. He scanned the ground for any dead wood, and was glad for the distraction. He felt so out of place that he was glad to get away, even if only for a few minutes. Then it occurred to him that maybe that was what Simon had wanted, for him to leave. Gabe thought about it and couldn't make sense of it. Why would Simon want to be alone with Astrid anyway? Astrid had already made her choice and he was no threat or competition. After a while Gabe just accepted the fact that he didn't understand and by that time he was carrying so much wood that he could barely see around the bundle.
When he got back to the camp he dropped the wood in the bare earth that Simon was still clearing for the fire. Astrid sat on a rock wrapped tightly in a blanket. Gabe wordlessly stacked the wood in a square formation that he knew would burn well. After Gabe was satisfied with his tower Simon produced a small leather pouch and smiled as he opened the draw strings. Gabe recognized the sight and smell of pitch, and within no time they had a good camp fire. The light of the fire steadily grew in intensity as the darkness settled in, and Gabe and Simon sat close to the warm flames. Gabe was glad to have something to ward off the chill that had started to seep through his hands and feet. He sat a few feet from Astrid, who was sitting next to Simon.
"So," Astrid said, keeping her eyes on the dancing flames, "what's so special about this place Simon?" Simon smiled and sat forward on his rock.
"Has Thomas ever told you what lives in these mountains?" he asked with a point up the shadowy slope. Astrid shook her head and Gabe continued to stare blankly at both of them. "They say that monsters live up there. Monsters that eat men and steal their souls. If you can stay the night at the foot of the mountain and come home alive, it proves that you are brave." Gabe tried to stop himself from laughing which only produced a loud snort in its place. Astrid giggled, Simon glared, and Gabe blushed.
"It's not funny," Simon said defensively. "Anyone who goes through the mountain pass never comes back! Have you ever seen a wolf before?" This time Gabe shook his head along with Astrid. Just as Simon was about to speak a long howl sounded in the distance that made Gabe's skin crawl. "See, what did I tell you?" Simon said with a smug and frightened look, if possible. "And they say there are ghosts, and evil men who can change into animals." Astrid clung tightly to Simon's tunic and buried her face in his shoulder.
"No more Simon," she pleaded softly.
"I'm sorry Astrid," Simon stammered in reply as he held her. How could Simon have said something so careless? Gabe knew what Astrid had been through, just like Simon did, and if looks could kill then Simon would have died on the spot. The three sat for what seemed like hours in silence with only the crackling flames to keep them company. Gabe brooded over what he had heard, and sat until he thought he was going to burst. He had felt like this before, but had never let it get to him until now. He stood up so suddenly that Astrid and Simon jumped in surprise.
"Astrid, I'm sorry," he blurted without knowing exactly what he was doing. "It was a stupid idea to come here... Lets go home." The anger in Gabe;s chest seemed to grow with each passing second, and he couldn't remember ever feeling so much hatred as he did then. Not even when his family had been...
"It's okay Gabe," Astrid protested. He responded by going to the other side of the fire and packing up his share of the gear. "Really, I'm fine. Besides it's too dark to go back now." Gabe knew she was right, but was too proud to admit it. He stood and slung the pack over his shoulder, then started to walk away. He didn't know where he was going, but anywhere seemed better than with Simon. He had taken only a few steps when Simon's voice pierced through his clouded mind.
"You're afraid!" Gabe was till as stone and the words seemed to hang in the air with the camp fire smoke. Gabe slowly turned and spoke so coldly that his voice seemed to freeze the crackling flames between the two boys.
"I am afraid. Afraid for Astrid because she's stuck here with you." Gabe thought he saw tears in Astrid's eyes as he turned once more to walk away, but if he stopped now he wasn't sure if he could keep himself from pounding Simon to the other side of the haunted pass.
"Fine," Simon yelled after him. "I never wanted you here anyway!" Within seconds Gabe had passed from the ring of firelight into the darkness. He had a hard time finding a path through the thick forest, and it would still be a few hours until the moon would rise. How long would it take him to get home anyway? He sighed and the air leaving his chest seemed to carry his anger away with it. He glanced back at the orange glow flickering faintly through the trees. As angry as he was, he couldn't just abandon them. After all, what if what Simon said was true? He shuddered and set down his bundled supplies and blankets.
He wouldn't go back, but he wouldn't abandon them either. He unrolled his mat and wrapped himself in a thick fur blanket. He would have to eat his dinner cold, but at least his pride would be whole and he could still keep his conscience clear. Within minutes his food was gone and he was lying on the forest floor, wrapped against the cold, waiting for sleep to come.
Gabe sat up suddenly as a long howl pierced the quiet night. How long had he been asleep? He glanced up the hill toward where Astrid and Simon were. There was no light. The fire must have gone out. Gabe then looked up and saw the quarter moon high in the sky, which meant dawn was only a couple hours away.
A loud howl sounded that seemed to be coming from only a few feet away. Gabe leapt to his feet, and as he did he saw a faint orange glow appear ahead of him. Then he heard a scream. His mouth suddenly felt dry and his feet felt like they were made of lead. He stumbled his first few steps forward and heard the first howl answered by more, along with barking and growling. The next instant he found himself running toward the light. Tree branches whipped his face and he could already feel heat from the fire against his cold skin.
He burst into the circle of firelight to see Astrid and Simon with their backs against the boulder. A huge tower of flames stood between him and the others and he soon discovered that he was on the wrong side. His eyes were still adjusting to the brightness of the fire when three wolves burst from the trees around him. Gabe jumped toward the fire in surprise and panic, but fell short as a wolf tackled him and pinned him to the ground. The wolf's jaws snapped so close to Gabe's head that he felt the creature rip out a patch of his hair. As the wolf growled and attacked again Gabe was sure he was going to die, but the animal fell off of him with a whine. Gabe looked up to see Simon swinging a flaming stick at the wolf pack and yelling at the top of his lungs.
Gabe quickly followed suit and grabbed a flaming brand from the fire. He and Simon advanced on the wolves and with each step they took the creatures receded further and further into the darkness. The two boys looked at each other and smiled in victory. Gabe was so happy just to be alive that, for the moment, he forgot how much he hated Simon. He dropped his firebrand and laughed out loud as he wrapped his arms around the smaller boy. Gabe had just realized what he was doing when he heard Astrid scream.
He looked through the leaping flames that were easily as tall as himself to see a wolf dragging Astrid away by her skirt. Without a second thought Gabe released Simon and bolted to Astrid's aid. He leapt through the large blaze and landed on the back of the attacking wolf. He scrambled frantically for anything to try to loosen the animal's grip on Astrid. The wolf, in turn, released Astrid and snapped in a frenzy at the boy on its back, barely missing his arm. Gabe and the wolf struggled for a moment more before the wolf wriggled free of Gabe's grip and like a bolt of grey lightning, sped into the trees. Gabe could hear the wolf yelping and wondered for a moment why it had fled. Then he felt the pain. Flames had enveloped him and his legs seemed to kick of their own volition. He fell to the ground and tried in vain to put out the fire, but his pants carried the flame as if they had been soaked in oil. In a final effort he scrambled out of the flaming pants and scooted away before he collapsed in pain and fatigue. He closed his eyes for a moment and when he opened them he saw Astrid kneeling over him.
"Are you okay?" she asked. Gabe saw tears on her cheeks and wondered why she was crying, but his legs hurt so badly that he couldn't ask why.
"It burns," was all that came out of his mouth. The next moment Simon was there as well. He gasped and Gabe was surprised at the amount of concern he saw on the boy's face.
"Help me lift him," Simon said as he grabbed Gabe's left arm. Astrid in turn took his right, then they lifted. Gabe could feel his wounds stretching and opening as he stretched his legs and winced from the pain. Being too tall to carry he had to walk himself, using Simon and Astrid only as crutches. It was either walk or be dragged, and he didn't like the thought of that.
"Let's take him up the hill," Simon said. "There should still be some snow in the mountains." Gabe didn't understand what was being said. It took all his concentration to keep himself upright and moving forward. So they walked up the trail, slowly, step by step, until the sun rose. Gabe's legs still felt as if they were on fire, as if the flames had kindled his bones. Just when the first rays of sunlight shined over the mountain peaks in the east Gabe's strength gave out completely and he fell onto the shoulders of his friends, or at least on the shoulders of his friend and Simon.
"Come on, we're almost there," he heard Simon say, but it sounded muffled as if he were under water. Gabe looked up through foggy eyes and less than a stones throw away he saw an icy white snow drift. He tried to stand and run, but his legs buckled beneath him and he fell once more onto Astrid and Simon's shoulders. They pulled him along and tried to be gentle, but his feet dragged on the ground and he moaned each time they struck a rock in the path. It could have been a few seconds later or a day later, Gabe couldn't tell, when he finally felt his legs touch the cold snow.
A new and different pain erupted, but it was mingled with relief that made it bearable. He looked up with new focus and saw Simon piling snow on top of his bare, blackened, legs. Astrid was standing a few feet away blushing. Gabe wondered why until he remembered that he had no pants on.
"Astrid," Simon said quietly, "go and get Gabe's pants. We'll be here." The girl nodded and left. "Be careful," Simon called as she rounded the first corner in the trail and passed out of sight. The two boys sat in silence for a moment as Simon massaged the cold snow into Gabe's burnt legs. Gabe had almost forgotten the pain when Simon broke the silence. "What made you come back," he said without looking up.
"I never left," Gabe answered.
"I'm glad. I'm sorry about what I said before. And... Thank you for saving Astrid." The boys looked at each other and both smiled.
"What are friends for?" Gabe said as he grinned wider.
"You're welcome with us any time," Simon said back. He then continued piling snow on Gabe's legs until he thought his hands would freeze off, and Gabe thought his legs would do the same. Not long later Astrid arrived with what was left of Gabe's pants. They descended from the mountain and the evergreens faded into the still bare deciduous trees. The walk home took nearly two days, and it took much longer for Gabe to heal. Although he had lost a good pair of pants, he had gained an extreme fear of wolves, and a life long friend.
 

BoredMormon

Senior Member
Wow, that a huge chunk of text to read :) I'll see what I find from the first section.

'She decided to let him sleep' and 'Wake up' don't belong near each other.

Doesn't really drag me in as a reader. Why do we need to hear about him waking up? Why do we hear about him travelling? Why are we reading about him at all?
 

Frivle Dilby

Senior Member
I'm sorry you don't like it, but I suppose if your writing appeals to everyone then you're doing something wrong. If you would be interested (but it doesn't sound like it) I have begun a different version of the story that starts very much later on. I think it may appeal to you more. Anyway, I'll work on the first few lines =).
 

Frivle Dilby

Senior Member
xx
Flight to Nowhere

Gabe followed as fast as he could, but both Alucard and Simon left him behind as if he were standing still. He always seemed to have a tougher time than anyone else, but at least he didn't have holes burned in his pants. His stomach growled and felt as if it had been tied in a knot, but he ignored the pain and kept trying to catch up to Simon. Simon had never been able to out run him before and Gabe wondered what happening to his friend. The more Gabe thought about it the less it made sense. Better to just deal with problems as the come, after all, it doesn't matter why, just fix it and keep going. So Gabe just kept jogging through the trees as fast as his sight would allow him.
Minutes and then hours passed, but Gabe was in good shape and could keep a fast pace without getting tired. The moon climbed high in the sky, making it difficult to find directions, and Gabe had to start stopping every now and then to look through the gaps in the trees at the stars in order to get his bearings. He had just stepped out of the dense foliage into a clearing and found the north star when a wolf howled in the distance. A cold shiver ran from his heels to his head and he could feel his hair standing up.
In his mind he knew that he shouldn't be afraid, that the wolves were there before he heard them, and that because it was mid-summer they would probably leave him alone. After all, wolves only attack humans right after winter, when food is the hardest to find. Despite all of things things he was still afraid. All of his other concerns were forgotten and the debate in his mind constantly returned to was whether to run or fight. He consciously took a deep breath breath in order to calm himself and stepped slowly into the woods once more, and just as he did another howl sounded.
Was this one closer, or was it his mind playing tricks on him? He could feel himself shaking, but at the moment he didn't care. All he wanted was to get out of the woods as fast as he could. Before he knew what he was doing he found himself running through the trees faster than he thought was possible. He stumbled on the uneven ground and was scraped and bruised with nearly every step. His mind was spinning so frantically that the falls didn't hurt and even his stomach stopped aching. The only thing that mattered was finding the city.
Within only minutes his already exhausted body was wearing out to the brink of collapse. His breathing grew shallow and he felt light headed. He had completely lost all sense of direction and stumbled forward through a wall of bushes to find himself in the middle of a well worn road. His panic instantly faded and he stopped to catch his breath, but his anxiety remained. After a few minutes he glanced up to get his bearings then turned toward the west and started walking. The howling had stopped and soon Gabe found his stomach cramping with hunger again. On top of that all the bruises and cuts he had sustained were making themselves known. His feet felt as if their soles had been worn off and Gabe wondered how long he had been walking.
Hours passed and just as the sky was beginning to lighten with the rising sun he spotted torch light in a valley that seemed to open right under him. He was finally there. He glanced over his shoulder with a sigh of relief. "Cursed wolves," he muttered, then walked as fast as his sore feet could carry him. The valley was deceptively large and it took some time before the road leveled out. The road joined with another, wider, road paved with stones. The trees steadily thinned out until Gabe could see buildings ahead. A light fog, or possibly smoke, surrounded the town and gave it an eerie abandoned feel. In the dim light before dawn all of the houses were still dark, and all other lamps had gone out hours ago. Then through the gloom Gabe spotted one lamp that was still lit right ahead of him on the road, and right at the entrance to the city. Beneath it sat a man hunched over on a stool.
The sun was just beginning to rise behind him and burn away some of the fog when Gabe entered the town. The man on the stool seemed to be asleep, so Gabe just passed him by and was a short distance away before he heard a rough snort as the man woke up.
"Stop right there," came a rough old voice. Gabe turned and was momentarily blinded by the rising sun. The guard lifted his lantern from the dead branch of a poor looking bush it was resting on, then realized that it did him no good with the sun up and blew out the low flame. "Are you alright boy? It looks as though you've been in the wild for months." Gabe looked down at himself and realized he was covered in dirt and his clothing was torn in a dozen places. He looked back up with a sheepish smile, then moved over a few paces to avoid the sun's glare. It was only then that he saw the old guard clearly. His face had the regular wrinkles of age and was framed by thinning silver hair and a few days worth of stubble.
"Been traveling alone have ye?" the man asked. "And with no weapons or supplies neither." After this Gabe realized that he had to respond.
"No," he said awkwardly, "I had some friends with me, but fell behind." More like got left behind.
"Heh," the old man snorted, "no one's been through here since last evening. Yer' a brave lad to be wandering alone at night, but I guess you've got the muscle for it. Just be careful. Shadows been passin' by here recently and just earlier I felt something that weren't no man go by here in a hurry." The old man sat back on his stool before continuing. "Probly just the wind, but I don't like it much." Gabe stood a moment longer before he realized the man was done talking, then turned and made his way into town.
A few people began coming out of buildings and making their way onto the streets. Vendors were unpacking carts and stalls, and even though the streets were still very empty Gabe hadn't seen so many people before. The buildings around him seemed huge, the smallest were taller than himself and the larger ones were two stories tall! He glanced behind him and the forest he had come from was lost from view. He stood, lost for a few moments, having no idea where he was, where Simon had gone, or even where to start looking.
"What's the matter boy? Ye lost?" sounded a voice to Gabe's left. He turned to see a middle aged man that looked like he had seen the wrong end of a stick a few times in his life.
"Umm, yeah," Gabe replied softly. "I'm looking for some friends that passed through here." The man hobbled over to a cart and lifted the canvas covering to reveal bunches of grapes, olives, and other fruits and vegetables. Gabe's stomach felt like it turned upside down when he saw it.
"If it's news ye need then try the inn down yonder," the vendor said with a wave of his arm. "Ye look like ye could use a good rest any how." Gabe looked in the direction that the man had gestured and saw a large two story building that seemed to be getting a lot of traffic.
"Thanks," Gabe called over his shoulder with a wave as he headed to what he assumed was the inn. Even though there were still very few people on the streets this early in the morning it still felt a bit crowded. With uneasiness pushing him on he approached the door. What was he supposed to do anyway? Knock, or just walk in? After a moment he decided that knocking would be better than being mistaken for a thief and hit the door loudly with his knuckles. From inside he heard a voice calling and muttering but he couldn't discern any words. A moment later the door swung open and a man who looked about thirty years old stood in its place. Gabe realized why couldn't understand anything the man had said when a string of words and sounds he had never heard before washed over him. The man stopped when Gabe did not respond and tried a new assortment of words that Gabe didn't understand. Gabe was about to turn and leave when the man shot out something recognizable.
"Do you speak Latin my friend?"
"Yeah," Gabe nodded so quickly his neck popped.
"'Course you do," the man said as he swung the door wider and stepped aside to allow Gabe through. "You must be the friend of that bloke who woke me up before bloody dawn." Gabe stepped over the threshold with a questioning look. "Thin bloke with white hair," the man continued. "Was carrying someone who had too much grog."
"Yeah," Gabe answered, smiling at the description of Simon. The man closed the door behind him and as they made their way across the main room both were stopped by a loud growling sound. The man raised an eyebrow at Gabe.
"Your friends are at the last room up those stairs, but you're wanting something to eat, I reckon."
"Yeah," Gabe said with a red face.
"This way then," the man said without a glance. Gabe followed him into a large kitchen, then waited near the door. "You can have some of the left over roast from last night," the innkeeper said as he rummaged in an insulated cupboard. He then slid a plate of meat across the table. "Just eat it in there," he gestured the way they had come, "and if you're still hungry, breakfast will be ready in an hour." Gabe obediently took the plate and left the kitchen. As he was leaving he could hear the innkeeper open a door and shout, "Decimus! Decimus, get in here you lazy..." With that Gabe closed the door behind him and before he even sat down he had a mouth full of roast. He wondered what what all the tables around him were used for, but even as he sat pondering, the inn seemed to come alive. Within minutes nearly every chair was taken and it was so loud that Gabe had a hard time hearing his own thoughts, not that they were very useful anyway. The roast disappeared quickly, but as promised a breakfast of eggs, ham, and flat bread was brought out to him by a young boy with dark hair and bright eyes.
"Thanks," Gabe said, but the boy had already disappeared into the kitchen. Gabe gladly ate what was brought to him, then sat wondering if he should go find Simon or wait for the innkeeper. The other people were finishing eating and going about their business when Gabe decided he should probably do the same. He had just stood up when the innkeeper emerged from the kitchen. He had brown hair, slightly tinted red, and a closely cut beard. Like most people he was shorter than Gabe and stared right into his chest.
"Sorry about the wait," he said with a wide smile. "Never introduced myself. I'm Kerchev." He pulled the dark haired boy along by the arm. "And this lazy little dodger is Decimus." Kerchev looked up at Gabe expectantly.
"Oh," Gabe stammered, "Gabe." Kerchev slapped him on the back and led him up the stairs.
"You've got good friends Gabe. I'm to provide you with anything you need, and your friend even had the gold to back it up." Gabe had never been on a wood planked floor before and it creaked beneath his weight, but seemed to be firm.
"Okay, thank you," he replied, still looking at his feet.
"That's your room there," Kerchev said, pointing to the door at the end of the hall. "Just call and Decimus will get you whatever you need." With that the innkeeper went back down the stairs and disappeared from view. Gabe felt a lot better now that his stomach was full, but muscles still ached and he was anxious to sleep in a soft bed. He quickly crossed the hall and entered the room. It was fairly simple with two beds and a fireplace. There was also a small table in the corner with a sturdy wooden chair. The room was dark because all of the shades had been drawn, and Gabe was surprised to see only Simon. He lay in one of the beds above all the blankets, and Alucard had once again disappeared. Maybe it was a good thing that Alucard wasn't there because Gabe could take this opportunity to talk to Simon alone. He closed the door behind him and walked over to where his friend lay.
"Hey Simon, get up. Took me forever to catch up with you." Simon didn't respond. His face was pale and unchanging, and for a moment Gabe thought he might be dead, then he saw the shallow rise and fall of his belly. "Simon?" Gabe muttered. He shook his sleeping friend, but once again, got no response. He tried waking Simon up a few more times before he collapsed on the other bed. Before he could even manage to pull a blanket over himself, he was asleep.
 
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