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Avenger I: The Black Knight PDF Print E-mail
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Written by MutantMaggot   
Saturday, 16 February 2008
This is but the start of a series following the soon-to-be-infamous tales of Coreaux of Mousillon, a knight desperately seeking the grail so he may avenge his land's desecration. The last tale of series I was told in 'Avenger', yet this will start from the beginning of his fame...



Coreaux ruffled his young son's hair as he stared out into the dark woods. His wife walked up from her place near the fireplace and placed a hand on his strong shoulder.
“What do you want, Coreaux? You have everything here. A family, a castle, riches. Why do you concern yourself with your land? It is gone now. Mousillon is past redemption: make the most of your rightful heritage: Bastonne. It is your home, not cursed lands in the South." She turned him around, and looked him seriously in the eyes. "You can't go questing now. Your family needs you." She looked imploringly into his deep eyes, knowing his leaving was inevitable. A slight tear filled her hazel eyes. Coreaux brushed it away, and pulled her into a hug. He knew she was right. But he needed to go. The Lady had called him in his fevered dreams. And he must answer. He must find the grail and drink from it.
But his commitment lay with his family...
"Coreaux," the slender woman whispered, "where do your allegiances lie? With us ... or your country? If you loved me, you would stay." Coreaux pulled away, looking uncomfortable.
"Arie..." he began, but he had no resolve to continue. He knew what she would say. They had had the same argument time and time again, to no avail.
But he had no chance to argue once more. The oak door burst open. Coreaux scowled. A guard had burst in. A knight. Coreaux began to reprimand him in a raised voice, yet Sir Adere interrupted. "My Lord! Sir, your son! in the woods! You must come!" He began to leave, but Coreaux overtook him. His eldest son ... what had happened now? He should never have let him go gallivanting off into the woods ... Arie picked up her long skirts, and ran after him, their younger son following, eyes wide with confusion and fear.

+++++

Athos was lying on a cloth on the table of the great hall, surrounded by curious knights.
"Get out of my way!" Lord Coreaux yelled as he pushed aside servant and knight alike to reach his impetuous son. Aria slowly approached. "By the Lady ..." Coreaux began, and finished in a hushed command, "Get a healer. Now ..."
Athos was completely pale, not a drop of colour in his skin. His head still bore its helmet, so mangled it was still on his head. His chainmail had been torn open, and great gashes and wounds were visible all over the stricken knight. His breathing was rough, and unsteady, his body so covered in blood it was hard to see the heraldry beneath. And as Coreaux lifted his helmet slightly, he saw twin punctures in Athos' neck. Bite-marks.

+++++

The healer addressed Coreaux directly. He knew the lord didn't want formal courtesies. "I'm sorry, my lord. A damsel may have saved him from vampirism, but this was no ordinary vampire. It appears he took an opportunity to feed, not simply make him into a subservient vampire. Your son was brutally murdered by an insane creature of the night desperate for warm blood. Your son, my lord ... is dead, and nothing can bring him back ... "
Coreaux stood, staring blankly at the healer, seemingly not accepting the truth. Then he fell to his knees. he didn't cry out, nor did he scream in anger. The mental pain ... he was half-dead with anguish himself. He knelt there, staring at the floor, mouthing words incomprehensible to man or beast as he stared in horror at the floor. Then he stood. His wife, sobbing quietly, walked over, but he pushed her away. His mind was set. he would cleanse his land. "They will die," he said calmly, drawing his sword ...

+++++

“ You don't have to do this," Aria whispered, her face still contorted with grief.
”Yes, I do," Coreaux replied, saddling his horse. "While there are still beasts out there, my knights will still die. Perhaps you, perhaps my son will die. One of our children already has." He turned, and looked at Aria for the first time since he had regained speech. "Keep them safe."
Coreaux leaped onto his horse's midnight-black back. Before Aria could reply, he was gone ...

+++++

Coreaux slowed his mare (most knights didn't ride mares, mainly due to their tendency to be on heat at inconvenient times, yet Coreaux had owned Harria since his youth). he was entering the forest: where his son had died. The forest was dark: no light penetrated its accursed leaves, save the occasional beam. A wind quietly stirred the branches, sending shivers down Coreaux's spine. he tried to avoid the fear of something terrible happening, yet he felt it inevitable that he would suffer something here. Time and time again fear lanced into him, and time and time again he repelled it. ‘This is ridiculous!’ he thought. He was here to hunt a vampire, and he would act like the hunter he was!
Sighing, he rode further into the woods, marking trees with his sword as an indicator of where he had been …

+++++

It seemed like days before Coreaux found thinning trees. He felt regretful that he had not found his quarry, yet he was also glad to be out of the forest. But as his horse skipped over brambles, and he began to feel a refreshing breeze, a cold emotionless voice struck his ears …
"Drop the weapon, and turn around slowly ..." Coreaux turned ... and charged.

+++++

Arborkh laughed coldly. He still remembered those days when he had been like the knight riding to meet him: young ... foolish. Yet now he was strong and powerful, strengthened by the power of blood. Smiling faintly at the knight's reactions upon seeing him, Arborkh slowly smiled, exposing his teeth. He had spent ages perfecting his image, and the terror on the knight's face was obvious. Just a flicker, but still there. For a knight – an earl – to display terror was remarkable. But he had tried to create a terrifying effect -- while other vampires tended to think it foolish, somehow riding at the opposition without bloodstains and glowing eyes seemed ... wrong. As if it was against some code of honour: the monster always had to look scary.

Coreaux de Albeirt felt a slight jolt as he stared at the monster's white face. The eyes were in pits of shadow, and glowed like a pit of hell. The mouth was covered in blood, and the expression was of pure hatred. why the beast had a reason to hate him, however, was beyond him. But a grail knight could not think about such foolery -- it was his task -- no, his duty -- to defeat evil for the lady. Frowning, he spurred his pale steed towards the foe.
“For Mousillon and the Lady!”

+++++

As the first rays of dawn arose over the forest Coreaux awoke. His head felt like it had been repeatedly slammed into a tree, and his mouth was full of the iron-filled taste of dried blood. Slowly, he stirred, and looked around. He was in the same clearing as he last remembered. His helmet was nearby, and echoed his head's feelings: decidedly ruined. The visor was missing, and the steel head-guard had received a massive blow: no, many blows. It looked exactly like his lead felt. His chainmail armour was torn, his plate armour dented as if from a falling tree. Coreaux was vaguely conscious of the pain all over his body from deep gashes, and bruises, but that was not what concerned him: his body felt ... different, perhaps. As if he was carrying a great weight with him. As if he had aged fifty years in a night. What had happened? The conflict seemed so distant. Yet as he concentrated, memories began to pour into his head like water from a stream ...


"You are defeated, petty mortal." The knight hissed in a cold voice. His laughter shook the evening sky, and magpies scattered away, cawing and mocking harshly. "But I will not kill you. I feel it is unsporting to kill an opponent who fought valiantly, and yet was defeated in such a way by his own impetuousness ... no, I will leave you something to pain you for the rest of your life, which will probably be significantly shorter ..." he chuckled.
Slowly he bent down, and touched Coreaux's head, throwing the helmet away with such force the ground shook. A strange sensation spread over Coreaux. All his body seemed to shake momentarily, and he fell against the tree. As darkness descended, he just made out the dark knight riding away, cackling, into the darkening forest ...

Coreaux's eyes snapped fully open as he awoke, realizing the impact of the vampire's words. Slowly he reached up to touch his head, once covered in wild brown hair. He felt nothing at first, just his skin. His hand moved further back, and felt hair ... wispy, thin hair. He was an old man. What can I do? he thought, but the answer was already forming. Pray for the Lady's forgiveness and blessing.

+++++

The sacred lake was quiet, with many simple shrines set near to it. Whether it was sacred or not, Coreaux had no idea, but in the late afternoon sun it looked wonderful. Small ripples spread over it as small gusts of wind passed by, as if driven by the lady's power.
Sighing, Coreaux knelt on weary limbs and began to pray ...

Hours passed, and Coreaux began to feel a simmering resentment. Why had the Lady abandoned him now? What had he done to deserve this cruel torment? He gritted his teeth. Nothing was happening. He thought a grail knight was 'favoured' of the Lady? Growling with pent-up rage, he seized a small idol from a shrine, and flung it into the misty waters ...

But before he could repent, he noticed a gleam among the water. A steel helm. And armour? Was this a gift from the Lady? Had it been there all the time? Without hesitation, he stripped of his clothes and dived into the icy water.

The armour was a dark steel, covered it ancient rust. But as Coreaux studied its ancient design, he noticed a gleam show again. The rust was falling from it, leaving darkened metal behind. Truly this must be a sign! Then he saw something else. A shield. It had no design, but he slowly traced his finger over it, and where his finger touched, fiery lines appeared.
In awe, Coreaux began to buckle on the breastplate ...

+++++

He felt young ... agile ... in the armour. As if, he had been removed a heavy burden. His sword felt light as a feather, and his horse as easy to control as a royal steed. But something was wrong ... the armour was too easy to use ... almost as if it had a life of its own.

+++++

Yet, as he stood on the bank, and as he turned away to look back into the forest, it seemed a voice spoke into his mind:
"Go forth, Coreaux of Mousillon. Go forth, and avenge those that have died! May the Lady's spirit be carried with you ..." the voice held an ethereal quality. If the Lady had a voice, it would sound like this. Coreaux's mind was filled with a sense of purpose. he was the Avenger, and he would avenge the wrongs done to Bretonnia. As he thought this, he felt something behind him ... was aware that something was there that hadn't been there before. How he knew this, he had no idea, but it felt like a spirit guided him. He turned. Deeply embedded in the shore was a sword that shone like the Midsummer sun upon a blue sea. As his lingers grasped the hilt, which seemed as if moulded for his hand; he felt a new sense of purpose fill him. He would cleanse Bretonnia of evil.

+++++

Arborkh turned to see a figure riding towards him upon a pale charger. He had black, all-enclosing armour, and a red crest that flew in an unearthly breeze.
"Stand and fight!" rang out over the quiet wood, and a flock of birds took off into the sky, crowing in indignation. Who was this knight? But that was for later; the dead could be identified. Laughing, he drew his sword, as the other knight drew from a black sheath a sword that shone as if covered in blue fire that burned like a terrible judgement flame.
"Your end has come, vampire!" sounded across the wood, and the powerful being struck, only for his blow to be parried ... and again, and again. He had the feeling this was only the start, though. He tried vampiric magic, but it faded, as though dissipated by a being of intense power. Desperate, he pressed on, hoping to defeat the enemy with strength, but every blow was met with a parry of perfect skill and force.
What could cause such mastery? Only another, more powerful, vampire could achieve such a level of mastery, yet this was a mortal. Any grail knight would be dead by now. A dragon could have been slain by his attacks, but here he was. He launched another series of attacks. repelled as before. The knight didn't pant, whatsoever, he was completely silent as the vampire backed away. Yet as he reached the tree, and series of blows reached out so fast and sudden that he was powerless to defend. It pierced the vampire’s chest, and his body shook, as if a flaming brand had been pushed into his flesh. With stuttering words, he managed to mutter through cracked lips: "Who ... are ... you?"
The knight slowly lifted off his helmet, revealing a mane of thick brown hair over a pale face. His words would remain with the vampire for the rest of eternity.
"I am the Avenger," the knight calmly stated, and his blue, steel blade swung once more, aimed with perfect precision at the target's neck ...

+++++


Coreaux smiled, and lifted up his foe's helmet, then dragged the head out of it. It had raven hair, and a cold white face similar to Coreaux's own. But an iron hand had gripped his heart. He had defeated evil, perhaps, but something else concerned him... My son. he was my son. The vampire. My son. Coreaux thought numbly. When had he last seen his son? Years ago, when his oldest son had left to go on a crusade to Mousillon ... And since then, it was clear ... ‘Adieu! Adieu, Lucas. Adieu. May you find mercy in the Lady's judgement.’
Coreaux never usually displayed any emotion, but now ... his face was like something from the deepest hell, so twisted. He remembered the sacred lake. The sword. And his son's head, lying carelessly on the cold ground. With a cry of anguish that raised to the sky, he raised his sword, and moved to plunge its fiery blade into his own armoured chest ...
But something resisted. Perhaps the Lady's spirit, perhaps his own will. Yet his sword would not move towards his still beating heart. With a cry of despair, Coreaux numbly wondered why he should be punished so: that he should be denied death. And standing, he stood up, moving his sword away, and pointing it at the sky with a motion worthy of a hero of old.
He was still the Avenger, and he still had a duty to be done. Whether he should turn to evil with anguish or avenge the evil done to him hung in the balance as he stood there, standing against the setting sun. Then he sagged, and sheathed his sword. A mental decision had been reached. Slowly, he strode back into the forest.

+++++

The journey back was absolute hell for Coreaux. On the way there, he had been moving in a stupor-like state, fixated on vengeance ... yet now, he was no longer in that state of reverie. Magic armour could only boost you so much: while it may help fighting, it doesn't help fighting thorns.
His horse stumbled through the dense shrubbery, twigs scarring its legs, but still Coreaux ploughed on: day and knight. he only knew he must return to his family, and tell them he was successful. Sighing, he rode onwards ....

The trees steadily grew thinner, and Coreaux began to see light. Blinking in the sudden brightness, he spurred his horse onwards, hoping he had come out where he intended ... but he hadn't. He recognized where he was. it was around a mile west from his castle, yet ... ‘Aria, oh Aria! Have they got you, too?’ he cried out mentally. The lands were in ruins, crops burnt, buildings knocked apart. Coreaux looked at it for a moment, shocked. Yet then he turned his horse, and galloped east, not stopping to examine the damage, or who the invaders were ... nothing was important, other than reaching his family again, and seeing them safe and well ...
Eyes wide in horror, he rode ever faster towards his destination ...

+++++

Darkness surrounded Coreaux, as though he was swimming in a deep tunnel, a heavy weight pulled on his chest, and he felt as though drowning in a pool of mud ...
Gasping, he pulled open his eyes. But the nightmare was still there. Not gone. it seemed to haunt him yet ... the devastation ... the green light flickering at the windows of his castle ... the shrieking from within ...
Yet it was no castle of his dreams .... it was real ... it stood, in front of him as he walked towards it. A sense of purpose filled his walk, and drew his sword slowly, as he focused on the oaken doors. His family could still live. they could still be in there breathing.
It was possible. It was always possible.
Time seemed to slow in Coreaux's numb mind as he began to run, raising his sword and shrieking to the heavens, a primal battle cry that shook the heavens. He did not pray: that cry in itself was a prayer to any sentient beings out there.
His sword came down upon the aged door. It scarred steel, and cracked the ancient oak. In a burst of inhuman strength he wrenched it out, and struck again ... again, and again. On the fourth stroke, the wood could stand it no more, and gave way to Coreaux. The momentum of the magical carried him forwards ... he charged into the hall ... foul beastly servants burst apart as he hit them ... skeletons fell like rain ... yet there were more ... always more ... and he would kill them. Today he would avenge the wrongs done to him!

The Lahmian turned to hear a primal roar, and saw the castle door shake. Annoyed, he gestured for his servants to surround it, and continued with his chanting.
Then the door burst apart, and an insane figure charged in ....

There were always more, yet against the fury of the berserker, there is no respite. Warrior after warrior was cut down like grass before the glowing blue sword ... but there was something wrong. Coreaux became aware he was slashing at the empty air. The skeletons surrounded him a little way back, in a tight circle that was an easy target. Yet before he could charge, he began to feel a heavy 'thud' noise. And again. the floor shook. And from within the skeletons, black armoured figures emerged ...
"Charge," the leader declared in a voice like rustling parchment. As one, the grave guard unsheathed their glowing swords ...

The dark knights held great swords, as long as Coreaux's body, yet they wielded them with ease. Their dark eyes seemed to drain him of life, and their swords sliced through his armour like a hot knife through butter: there were only a few of these, but these were strong and skilled. Their rasping, steady breath would haunt his dreams for aeons to come as their dark swords battered aside his own. their armour repelled the strongest of his strokes, and where he tried , they did not.
He desperately tried to kill their leader, who seemed to drain his soul with that unblinking stare, yet blows rained down upon him. Even his magical sword could not block every stroke: time and time again he suffered shallow cuts.
Yet he saw his opportunity. He allowed the leader to knock him down, and pretended injury. The captain reached down, and a green light danced on the dagger he drew, as he reared above Coreaux's chest ...
But this was part of his plan. In a sudden movement, he leapt up, knocking aside the strong beast. in one movement, he flung off his helm, and raised his sword., and it seemed a golden light surrounded him as his sword blazed with light, and his hair whipped his face. The leader stepped back, and Coreaux begun his assault anew. And this time, he had the power of the Lady in him. The leader backed away as his strokes smashed shields and battered armour. A dark fire blazed in the earl's black eyes, as he pressed forwards. The leader was forced into a corner. It seemed the fighter was about to leap away, yet Coreaux gave the slow warrior no chance. In one fluid stroke, he knocked aside the warrior's dagger, and drove his sword into the evil creature's chest ...

A thin, keening wail escaped the suit of armour, and the creature collapsed to the ground as a thin mist escaped, leaving an empty suit of black armour. Yet Coreaux had no time to ponder: the grave guard were slowly approaching again. Desperately, he tried to recover his sword from the empty breastplate, yet the harder he struggled, the more it refused to budge ...
He felt a presence behind him, and Earl Coreaux began to turn ...
The last sight he saw before darkness descended was an eyeless warrior raising a black sword above his bared head ...

+++++

Coreaux awoke to the clanging of chains. He opened blood-encrusted eyes, and looked around, his head throbbing. He was in a dungeon ... his dungeon! He was a prisoner in his own castle, a slave in his own fortress. And he knew how strong the walls were -- the cells were set just above the foundations, with walls several metres thick at the thinnest point. The doors were massive steel and wood constructs. As he stared in vain at the hefty locks, it dawned on his he was stuck: he hadn't thought about an escape route. He'd never thought he would need one ...
The door creaked. Coreaux backed against the wall, wishing he had a sword. But he didn't and his chains made it an effort to move.
The locks clicked, and the hefty wood swung aside as though pushed by an incredibly powerful being, and Coreaux was surprised to see a young maiden walk in, in a hypnotic trance. Her bosom was exposed by her thin clinging dress so as to be indecent, yet to Coreaux the woman looked in a trance: there was nothing attractive about some sort of zombie-minion.
She carefully placed a tray on the floor, and left. Coreaux stared in desperation as the door swung shut, but he knew he could not escape. Sighing in resignation, he looked at his food. Dry bread and water. yet he was hungry, and knew it was the only way to regain his strength. Clenching his teeth, he bit into the grainy bread ...


In her coffin, Aluria smiled, a predatory smile. The prisoner had reacted just as she expected, and she knew her mistress would send her to deal with him. She enjoyed that sort of job. She was good at it. She had had a lot of practice ...


Coreaux received no more food for a whole day (as far as he could tell in the dimly-lit prison with no windows), yet next morning, a different servant was carrying the tray. She wore the same dress, yet she seemed more beautiful and less hypnotised, with something in her walk that made Coreaux's eyes follow her around the room.
She smiled and handed him the tray. She said nothing before she left, yet one of her eyes twitched in a slight wink before she left. As soon as she was gone, Coreaux forced his eyes from the door, where he had last seen the pretty girl, and looked and smelt his food. He was starving, and wanted to eat, however many beautiful women he saw. And as he looked down, he could have hugged his imprisoner as he saw the meal.
It was hot stew, and fresh bread.

+++++

The next days seemed longer to Coreaux, and the nights took aeons: though he was steeling himself for years of boredom, he found himself waiting for the girl to return. he told himself it was foolish, yet he still found himself waiting for her return. Why he did not know, yet something about her made him anticipate her return with eagerness.
When she did return, Coreaux's eyes still followed here around the room ... whether they were following her or her cleavage, he didn't know, yet it didn't really matter: whatever the case, it was foolish. He was a knight, and he should behave like one! Yet his eyes still strayed downwards whenever he looked at her, and attached themselves to her.
She was beyond pretty, perhaps past beautiful. She had a rounded body, slim yet with no lack of cleavage. her thin face was neatly framed by raven hair, perhaps dyed, yet natural-seeming. And her body motions were alluring. when she spoke, it was in a quiet, slightly foreign-sounding voice. And she also showed intelligence in the rare times Coreaux started a conversation with her. It mattered not to him who she was, or why she behaved as she did, not hypnotised, yet he had no objection to it: far from it, in fact.

On the third day, she wore a different dress. It had two slits down each side of the legs, and stopped at her knees. It was a nearly transparent green that revealed her whole body. As usual, it covered very little of her body and was far past indecent: it had entered its own category.
For Coreaux, who had never experienced seeing a woman dressed like that, the effect was incredibly alluring. yet for the third time he merely sat and tried his best not to stare. However, his voice was cracked when he spoke, and he had to pause for five minutes before eating after he left.
But the torment of knowing such a person was out of reach was not the worst of his torture. Worse, he had broken his knight's vow. he had stared at a woman who was not his wife in an improper way, and thus failed his vow. he had failed himself, his country, and the Lady ...

+++++

Days passed, and the routine continued for Coreaux, with hours of waiting before his daily meal, and then more hours ... and so on.
But in that time he thought long and hard. He thought about his vow, and his family. His vow he had already broken, he realized. What would be wrong with breaking it a little more. As for his family, it was likely they were dead, and buried. but that put him in a tricky situation: if his wife was dead, he had not failed his vow, if she was alive, he had failed ...
He thought long on this, and decided to ask the serving woman about them, as he could come to no decision.

So the next day, as she walked (a more accurate term would probably be swayed) in, he began to speak, forcing himself to continue despite what his body told him.
"Err ..." he began, voice faltering. Yet he forced it onwards. "My family," came out in a strangled rush. "Where are they? Alive?"
The woman looked sad, and answered in a whispering voice that made parts of Coreaux tingle. "No, I'm sorry. they all died. My cruel mistress ordered them murdered." Her expression changed, like a cloud passing over a blue sky: just momentarily, yet it was there, as though she hated her mistress. She walked over, and set down the hot meal. "Call me Aluria, by the way." With an enchanting smile, she was gone ...

+++++

The next day took aeons, and he received no meal. Coreaux had created a mental clock -- when I see that guard, it's midday, when I see that guard, it's nearly food-time. And he knew when he got food. And he knew that he should have got food by now.
It was hours before the door gave its customary creak, but the servant held no tray. Coreaux began to open his mouth, but shut it as the door closed. She smiled, a predatory smile, and spoke in her voice of velvet. "Hungry? Good. I can help that." She slowly reached downwards, and began undoing her dress' fastenings...

The door slammed shut.

+++++

Eight hours later ...

Coreaux awoke, dreamily, and felt beside him to find only cold floor: Aluria must have slipped away sometime in the night. He considered what had happened. Certainly had been unexpected....


Days passed, and the same old routine continued. Aluria didn't mention what had happened, though she did seem, to Coreaux, to talk more, and be more friendly, often staying for a few minutes to talk while he ate. Once or twice, she remained behind for longer, and the same routine as before took place. And Coreaux was satisfied with his new life: enjoyable, and with blissful periods of relaxation knowing that soon his darkest desires would be fulfilled.

In a few weeks, however, Coreaux grew restless. If this woman professed to -- and indeed showed it -- love him, why did she leave him here? He began to grow uncomfortable, and not react to her lovemaking with his old enthusiasm. he was beginning to feel trapped, and he spoke less, wondering what to do: what if she really would not disobey her mistress? There was one way to find out: to ask her to free him.

+++++

Aluria left the passage on the third week filled with purpose. As usual, she made a show for the knight, teasing him as she left, but as soon as she was out of sight her attitude took on a more businesslike air. She grabbed a think gown from next to the door, and began to walk faster, losing her alluring, enchanting movement. She quickly hurried towards her mistress's room, and knocked three times, with hard blows that belied her fragile and beautiful appearance. She quickly entered as a voice called from within.
"What is it?" the harsh voice from the shadows whispered. Alone of her mistress's servants, Aluria had seen her leader's true, twisted, vampiric form. After all: she was the only one that could be trusted fully.
"The knight. he has asked for me to free him." she said briefly: she knew her mistress did not want lengthy explanations.
"Good. Change into some more decent clothes, and we can talk properly about our next movements ...

+++++

The next day, Coreaux waited in eagerness -- what would happen? Hours passed like decades, minutes like hours. and finally, the door opened. The woman entered, dressed in a decorated green dress that matched her eyes, with the usual low neckline. She glanced around furtively, and hissed to Coreaux: "Hurry! We need to leave ... now ..."
There was no hesitation, and he dragged his chains towards the door. Aluria chuckled at the sight of him, and reached around her neck, pulling out a key that had been hanging between her breasts, and handed it to Coreaux, who hastily unlocked the chains, and dashed to the door.
Aluria began to walk away at speed, and he followed, looking around for any sign of guards: but there were none. The woman led him to a door, and swiftly unlocked it, revealing his weapons. "Take them and hurry!" she demanded, and set of again at lightning speed, up a spiral stairway that Coreaux knew led to the tallest tower.
At the top she paused, and gestured at the marvellous view. Her voice was reverential as she spoke:
"As far as you see belongs to my mistress. No flames ... no army. Undead and humans living in perfect harmony. Those that oppose die, those that don't do so live in peace and prosperity. You have a chance for glory at the joint head of such an empire. Will you join us, in making Bretonnia a safer place for all? Will you help regain Mousillon for the united glory of harmony and protection from invaders: the dead help defend our lands, and the living live peacefully in perfect harmony. Will you join the oncoming power, and see Bretonnia under your rule, my mistress your queen?"
At once Coreaux saw the truth: Aluria's true aim. She snaked an arm around his neck, and he desperately fought for more time, and sighed. "What part will you play? Will you remain her servant, and never my Lady?"
"yes, yet how will that stop the relationship between us? Bretonnian nobles have long had beautiful maids as lovers why should I not play that role?" With those words, her arm turned Coreaux around, and pulled him into the most thorough kiss he had ever experienced, and he complied with enthusiasm: while she was kissing him, at least she wasn’t murdering him ...

+++++

He pulled away, and she looked him in the eyes, appearing slightly concerned. "What, Coreaux, is your decision? Will you reclaim your birthright, or remain a slave to my mistress' every whim?"
Coreaux acted without a single pause. He dived forwards, aiming for Aluria's stomach with his shoulder. As she swiftly dived to the side, she watched him tumble over the edge. "I'll take that as a 'no' ," she said.

As Coreaux fell, he reached out with his gauntleted hands, and grabbed the stone edge of the battlements in desperation.
Aluria, without a pause, turned and brought her hands down hard in a chop that shattered the fingers of his right hand.
As his hand came loose, Aluria prepared for another blow, yet Coreaux was ready. With barely a sound, his sword whipped out of its scabbard towards her throat ... and hit ...
The head plunged towards the ground, sheared hair fanning out behind it, an eerie shriek emitting from the corpse as it began to rot at an astounding rate.
Coreaux looked at the corpse, and something in his face changed as his hand began to lose strength. Slowly, his fingers let go of the rough stone, and he fell from highest peak of his ancestral home, speeding like a rock towards the hard ground ...

+++++

Something was wrong. Coreaux was willing to embrace death, yet somehow he knew he wasn't going to die. It is said that hallucinations can take a man as he stands on the edge of death, and Coreaux was sure it was something similar to that. he felt a great clarity of mind, a clearness of vision: in fact, everything it is said you feel when you are about to die.
But the impact never came. He slowed in midair, and slowly touched the ground lightly with his feet. Coreaux blinked for a moment, then looked up slowly upon seeing a pair of armoured feet ... into the eyes of his rescuer ... his uncle ...

+++++

"You were lucky I was nearby, Coreaux," Arkhor stated, calmly sipping his wine, in the safety of a nearby hovel. "I heard your cry, and came over. My powers were just enough to slow your fall."
"Your ... powers?" Coreaux said, his confusion obvious. Was his Uncle a vampire?
"Yes. I was a questing knight too, once," he said, reminiscence clouding his vision, his black eyes growing unfocused. "I found the grail ... I drunk the elixir ... yet the Lady, she gave me powers of magic ... I know not why. yet I do know that they saved your life," he finished, smiling at Coreaux.
"What is it like ... magic ...?" Coreaux asked, awed.
"Like reaching into a dark pit that feels evil, yet you know cannot be for it was the Lady's gift. It feels ... wonderful. Like you have everything you want, as if you're full of life. I daresay you experienced a similar sensation as I began to use my magic on you."
Coreaux blinked. Magic must truly be a wonderful thing.

But before he could reply, he heard a bang outside. Arkhor froze, and strode outside. "Undead. they know of your 'diversion'. I must go to summon aid ..." he said briefly, and whispered a few sibilant words. Slowly, winds surrounded him as he began to vanish in midair ... Coreaux was left alone. He looked around, saw nothing, and strode outside to meet the oncoming tide ...

There were undead everywhere -- as far as Coreaux could see, even from the top of the hill, there were undead: black stops like a plague covering the land. They began to form a circle around him, and he prepared for death. Yet it did not come. The undead slowly parted to reveal the Grave Guard who had captured him before. They began to form an inner circle, and came in single file. then a small squad emerged, and parted to reveal a woman (Coreaux presumed she was a vampiress). At first he was struck by her incredible beauty, her shapely body, her thin and pretty face, and her raven hair, but after that, he began to see past the low neckline: he realized there were twin bloodstains under her mouth, and that her eyes, which he had previously thought to be black, glittered red in the setting sun. She strode forwards, her pace dictating pure anger.
"Tonight thousands have died because they could not tell me your location: my horde has swelled, yet I am robbed of my prey. I had to catch you, for my own reasons, yet now innocent blood in vast quantities lies on your head!" she hissed, but Coreaux was undaunted.
"Vampire! Your charms do not fool and beguile me, your body does not enchant me; for today you shall die! Thousands have died, and I hold you guilty. Fight me, and regain your lost honour." The Lahmian smiled, and peace replaced anger in her expression.
"Coreaux, son of Carro, I accept your challenge," she answered, puzzling Coreaux. "By tonight your body shall be drained of blood. I will meet you in the castle hall as the sun sets today. Be there, or die."


It was a challenge he could not refuse. He returned to the hovel, yet instead of resting, he paced up and down, watching the sun intently. He realized he would probably die, yet that did not mean he could not try to resist.
He glanced outside: the sun was nearly set, the sky red as blood. He must leave, and now! He bolted outside, to see his steed ready. Hastily he sprung onto its bare back, and squeezed his armoured legs tight, and the horse sprung forwards as though stung, mane fanning out behind him like a flag.

+++++

The gruesome skeletons parted to admit him as he push open the great door. A horrific sight met him: the table where once his son had lain was covered in a vile parody of a feast: blood congealed in flagons, and bodies lay strewn over vast dishes like mountains of slaughter. At the head sat the vampiress, who rose as she saw him, daintily wiping blood from her mouth. "Ah. I was expecting you to arrive. Are you ready to die?" she said, smiling faintly. Coreaux had to admit she made an impressive sight, standing in front of a pile of corpses, but that was not the point. He mastered his horror, and his iron grip tightened on his long, glowing, steel sword.
"I fear you not, monster. You killed my son. My wife. My brother. My family. Those whom I had sworn to protect. Today you shall die!"
"Brave words: so very old-fashioned, you Bretonnians. Still like the idea of a challenge. Can't you get over it and move on? These are modern times: interesting times where man should not walk as petty knights as their world crashes down around them." Her voice was mocking, and that prepared Coreaux for an attack.
He was not disappointed: claws sprouted from fingertips as the undead fiend struck ... but Coreaux was ready. Today she would die.
The creature was fast, yet Coreaux was enthused with the divine power of the Lady. Soon, she bled from multiple wounds ... but Coreaux would strike again and again, only for the beast not to even notice the wounds.
But against the fury of the berserker there is no respite. He pressed on, enraged, until the vampiress was pressed against the wall. Slowly, the red mist cleared as he prepared himself for the blow ...
And he saw his target. An innocent woman ... how could he have blamed such a lovely person for this evil? She was perfect in every way: her form enchanted him, her face made his heart weep that he had ever attacked her. Slowly he reached out, and his fingers brushed her hair, stroking her smooth face. What a beautiful and innocent creature ... how could he ever forgive himself? His face twisted in shame, and he withdrew his hand, and began to collapse ...
But the creature reached forwards and stroked his cheek, moving forwards, her body against his, lips slightly parted ... Coreaux looked up in hope and gladness ...
Only for the creature to reach forwards, and bite into his neck with two perfectly sharp fangs ...
The Earl's eyes widened. His right hand began to reach for a sword, yet it was grabbed by the Vampiress in an iron grip. But she was not entirely aware of what Coreaux was doing: he stabbed hard, with his dagger, into her unprepared chest. With a roar, he smashed her body backwards into the wall, and grabbed his sword, bringing it down upon the creature's exposed neck ...
There were a few seconds, in which time stretched beyond possible imagination, but then, slowly, Coreaux collapsed slowly onto his own victim's corpse ...

+++++

Slowly Coreaux awoke, and looked at the body beneath him. For some reason, it had not decayed as her servant's had done -- presumably she was not fully dead. Her dress was ripped and torn, and but for the dagger in her stomach she could have been sleeping. No bruises were evident, even where he had struck her neck with his sword hilt -- perhaps because in a vampire's body there wasn't enough blood to form bruises.
Her position was not lifelike, her head on its side, her left breast exposed fully and her right half-visible. Half naked on the floor, she looked horrific, a battered corpse of an 'innocent' woman.
Slowly, Coreaux lifted the body, and began to climb the steps to the tallest tower: he had no willpower left to strike the blow himself. He paused, halfway there, noticing a fine dust covering the floor. He was certain there had once been skeletons there: but now there was dust. What sorcery had caused this he did not know, and did not want to know. Exploring further, he saw suits of aged armour, completely empty, and some rusted helmets ... shields ... time had passed so fast when the spell ended that very little had survived.
He sighed. He had to complete his task. Slowly, he dragged the vampire up to the parapet, and lifted her onto the battlements. Then, with a last, sorrowful look at her peaceful face, he pushed it off the tower, and into the moat, never to be seen again for hundreds of years ...
But the effort was too much for him, mentally and physically. He groaned, and collapsed on the wooden floor ...

+++++

In his mind, Coreaux stood on a misty road, where the floor wasn't even visible for white fog. To his left, the road split off, and he could make out little: all was dark. To the right, a great white light emitted, a mystical illumination that reminded him of the kind found at shrines of the Lady.
He knew he had to make a decision: these represented the future: but which dark, and which light? What decision? Where? Why? There was dark, and light, but what dark? What light?
He felt light, feeling free from responsibility. Slowly, he turned to face the light. It had a good feel: he would take the light. Slowly, he stepped forwards, and he began to feel elated ...
Yet the feeling didn't last. He took one step, and he began to feel his feet grow heavy, and an invisible wall seem to block his path. Slowly, his view changed, while his feet did not. It spun, and he closed his eyes. When he opened them again, there was only darkness ... as if guided by an inner sense, he took a heavy step forwards and instantly the weight vanished. He tried another step, yet he couldn't manage it. He knew it was not physical but mental, and could be overcome, yet he felt that this was the one time in his life he would not -- could not -- obey his better judgment ...
He took another step forwards, and the darkness engulfed him ...

+++++

Coreaux opened his eyes, and felt The Thirst. It pulled him away from humanity, it made everything distant: and he knew that until it was satisfied, he could never life fully, and truly. He sat up, and sniffed. And again. Nothing. No smell. That was odd -- he had been certain there had been some tang ... of blood, perhaps. Unfortunately not, it seemed. He scowled. He liked blood. It tasted nice ... full of vitamins. Perhaps he'd be able to get some warm, warm, fresh blood ...
Coreaux knew that when he had blood, everything would be all right. he wouldn't need to worry about this stupid vampirism business either.
He licked his teeth, and found fangs -- handy, he thought. Further exploration revealed his skin to be far paler, his hair blacker. But physical changes were not the only ones: not only could he move faster, and was stronger, but he thought differently ... in a more systematic way, he supposed. Yes, systematic. A good word. But he couldn't bother with words. He needed blood.
He slowly looked down, and saw his armour. But for some reason, the sight of it repelled him, as though it was unholy. His fingers brushed it, and pain shot through his arm. He looked at his fingers, and they were blistered. He tried again. No, it definitely was blistering him. Ah well, nothing wrong with another try ... he fell to the floor in agony, and frowned. Still, he could tell why ... when he had blood. He needed blood, and then everything would solve itself.
He staggered towards the dungeons: he smelt life. Was there blood there?

+++++

No. There wasn’t. He felt cheated: why did it smell of life when there was no blood?
    Wait … did he smell something … past that door …? Thinking nothing of the action, he smashed his fist into the door, and the hinges smashed and contorted as the heavy oak crashed onto the heads of the prisoners …
    Coreaux examined the bodies. He knew them. They were his family … his family. Ah well. Couldn’t be helped. They had warm blood … blood …
    Slowly he began to lap up the blood and gore from their smashed skulls …

+++++

Coreaux groaned as he stared at the bodies. He had drunk the blood of his family … he had killed his kindred … he did not deserve to live: he was a monster. He hissed, without thinking about the sound, and silently swore never to harm another of his friends or supporters until Mousillon was his … yes, Mousillon. There was blood there. But for now, he was satisfied. So long as someone gave him troops, he would be happy …

+++++

Arkhor stared at the crystal ball, and looked for his master’s reaction. His eyes gleamed: the closest Mallobaude of Mousillon ever came to a smile. “So, you see, Arklhor, my commands for you were not in vain. Soon he will be in our net …”

End of Part I.


Last Updated ( Saturday, 01 March 2008 )
 
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