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Sunday, 06 April 2008
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War of the Vampires Parts 3&4
Page 2

The stone city appeared as a dot on the horizon; barely visible over the canopy of forest that rushed under Alice as she soared in the sky. She decided it best to enter the city on foot; it would not be smart to enter the most vampire-hating city of the old world in her present state. She spotted a patch of low greenland just a few paces away from the main trading road; it was well hidden, however, behind a screen of young trees. Circling as she descended, she made her way towards the small clearing. She landed on the grassland and entered her mind again, she was surprised at how willing the vampire had been to surrender her control, either she really had accepted Alice as a master, or she knew that staying as she was would get her killed in this place. After fully changed back, she pushed away the fragile trees and wondered whether bandits had ever hid behind their cover. The few, leafy, branches beneath her feat snapped as her thick leather boots landed on them, those still attached to the trees clawing at her red tweed jacket and white shirt. She caught her thumb on a thorn and cursed. She soon tired of this method and drew her falchion. She moved slowly towards the road, hacking at the underbrush with her falchion. She stopped abruptly as her feet met the narrow earth road, her eyes set upon the body in front of her.

Her eyes were transfixed upon the bleeding corpse, the wound was deep, and it was obvious that the poor soul would not survive no matter how recent the attack. Something struck her as odd, brandished in the man's hand was a small dagger, covered in blood also. Had the man made a stand? "Oi, don't move!" she heard the loading and cocking of guns all around her, a ring of soldiers closing in on her. They looked imperial, the colours of their province covered there armour. "What have me here than" said one on horseback "A murder?" Alice stared at the man in disbelief, his nose stuck up as if he were far too important to know what had happened, his hands seemed creaseless, clearly this man had been born of nobility, both facts proved that much. Alice imagined the scene in their eyes: a dead body, a woman, blade in hand. Blood soaked both. She tried to explain, but found the stubborn captain would have none of it. "Well, regardless of your will, captain, I will enter this city" The circle tightened in one fluid moment, guns all pointed at her head "Tut, tut, the only way you'll be getting in this city is in chains" he nodded. Two of the men grabbed her arms while another retrieved her falchion. They dragged her down the road towards the gates.

The walls rose up before her, defiant against the jungle and moss that threatened to consume it, high atop the ramparts she saw the with-hunter flags swaying in the wind. Her boots trailed as she was carried into the market square, stalls on every corner. Wagons selling embroider cloths from around the globe stand in cafes and small food stands. Armed guards oversaw the seen, all seen in low whispers in the shadowy corners. It was not the best time to be in Drakanvald: every man distrusts his neighbour, every guard with a side business in vice, the city was a mess, brothels hung at every corner, sick looking women smiling at the men, while around every other alley there was someone more than willing to offer you 'an end to a disagreement' Thieves and killers were always a threat, here in the poor district, everyday was a battle. People made their homes out of the wood they can get from the forests, gutters made out of spades, and a homeless person sleeping with your dog.

Alice wasn't surprised to see so few faces turn to gaze at her; this scene was regretfully common in these streets. The procession continued through the city, guards standing at either side blocking off the whores and beggars that approached them in rags. They made their way into the upper districts and slowly the image changed: The brothels were replaced by stables, the tattered rags people wore to protect their modesty and heat was replaced by lace jackets to protect ones social standing. Slave-selling was popular in the city too, here one could buy one with almost any service, and apparently some could even talk! There were all kinds of strange people standing in shop windows: people with black skin, people with gills, people with fangs and people whom seemed not a man." The people grew more interested as they drew closer to the palace, everyone knew that it was there the executions were held, and the sight of a dead body along with a chained woman seemed a great cause for one to think of such things. To Alice's relief they did not go to the palace, they turned about a small corner in the wall into a prison. The men let her go finally and Alice massaged her arms. She stood within a small room, a high ceiling, however few other luxuries. A small wooden table and rotting chair lay in a corner, however neither looked like it would stand if one would blow upon them. The body was carted away, and the door was shut with her and the captain still inside. The captain's face seemed different, very different. His face was lined with worry and his hands were clasped with worry, when he opened them he spoke: "Seizum danks, Alais" Alice stared in astonishment, the man knew her name, what's more, he spoke it in the ancient with-hunter tongue. He pulled up the chair and Alice sat, thankful that the chair seemed sturdy. "Who are you?" she asked her lips mouthing each word perfectly as if speaking to a child. The man opposite her smiled, he removed his hat and put on a peculiar expression "Alice, you know I can never play games" Alice's eyes widened in amazement and then narrowed in uncertainty. "But how, lord Shriken is dead, I saw him killed wit my own eyes" the man looked slightly pained that she had not believed him. He held up his shirt to reveal a hideous scar running across his huge chest, he slowly pulled his shirt back on and nodded at Alice as she nodded in kind "Now then Alice, I think we need a little talk." he took a deep breath and began. "I have some questions for you, questions you must answer truthfully, you are on a very slippery slop, my child" He walked over too a corner where a small clay jug could be seen filled with water, he put it down on the table and poured Alice a glass.
Alice nodded, accepting the cup "Alright"
Shriken stroked his beard and hesitated before adding "Is it true that your village was attacked by the vampires?"
"Yes" Alice nodded
He bowed his head in earnest "Is it true that you are the only survivor?"
Alice paused "I may be, if the vampire killed his captives"
Shriken nodded as if he had been expecting it, his eyes hovering slightly over her forearm. Dear god! He knew.
"And how is it that you escaped?" he asked
Alice gulped "I, er..., I ran for it, I guess" she began to drink the water.
Shriken seemed to accept the vague explanation. "And how is it that you have travelled almost thirty leagues in the space of a morning?"
Alice chocked on her water "I'm sorry, she said as she saw she had thrown the water jug all over Shriken, the clear droplets falling from his drenched robes to join the remains of the shattered urn on the floor. "I think that's quite enough of the questions for today, let me take you to your accommodation within the castle" said Shriken, standing up and drying off his robes with magic. Alice stood up with him and they made their way from the cell towards the interior of the castle.

They made their way up the carpeted staircase, huge windows on either side as they ascended the great watchtower. Shriken stopped at the next alcove to allow some youths down the staircase, and partly to let Alice catch up. Shriken was remarkably fit, even if he was a young man there would be few in his league. They say he was nearly 200 years old, his life sustained by the will of his people. However they both knew that this sadly wasn't true: more and more now he would erupt into coughing fits and he would find himself gasping for air after short distances. Of the inevitable demise of their leader, the slayers do not speak; some believe that the very spirit of these warriors rested upon their leader, and that the line would end with his departure from this world. They reached the top of the spiralling stairway and stepped into a large corridor with several benches to offer rest after the long walks. Shriken walked straight between both rows and stopped at the crossroads, he smiled faintly and spoke to Alice. "Here our paths end my child, we are on the same side, my sweat, but simply going in different directions" she had known at the smile that he had been planning to leave her now, he knew her secret, and he was now openly telling her that he would tell the brethren. They would kill her. The voice at the back of her head screamed and flailed, desperate to be out of this body that would seal its doom. Alice smiled up at her superior "My friend doesn't want you to leave, she thinks I should kill you were you stand, or see how fast you can travel the thirty league to the ground down that staircase"
Shriken didn't look amused "You could kill me, I have no doubt that you have that power, but there is one thing that you lack to do that, you lack the heartlessness to murder a friend. Alice knew he was right; she walked down the left calmly, even while her mind was in frenzy, Shriken walked the other way. Neither one looked back.


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