Chapter Two - The Figure in White
Word Count: 2426
Snow drifted down serenely from the overcast night sky. Tiny flakes shining in the orange glow from the gas light street lamps as they danced together, falling towards the thin carpet of white that covered the foot worn cobbles of this village’s cramped and twisting streets. With every flake that fell the carpet grew higher by an immeasurably small amount, each tiny piece adding to the greater whole that was slowly covering everything within several miles. The tiered buildings of this extremely southern village twisted upwards to greet the falling snow, their levels clumsily constructed atop one another giving many of them slight leans to one side or the other. Their slate roofs attempted to reach the heavy clouds but only succeeded in creating a very standard sky line. The only building reaching higher than the others was the lone clock tower, created from solid blocks of granite with its metal arms forever ticking away the passing of the days its bells suddenly chimed. Signalling the coming of middle night. Candles flickered in a dozen windows around the tiny main square, orange lights sparking in the darkness like tiny flashes of lightning. A single cat padded through the snow. Seeking its next meal down one of the dozens of alleys that the Inn owner used to discard his slops. Amongst all this serenity...a single figure stood in centre of the square.
Cream robes blending so seamlessly into the snow around his powerful frame as to give him the appearance of a spectre. Snowflakes falling across him, frosting his cowled head and powerful shoulders in a dusting of crystalline white flakes. Standing with his eyes closed and his hands pressed together in front of his broad chest the figure prays into the night, standing before the tall structure of the clock tower as if it were some powerful totem. The Figure in White stands stationary for several seconds, listening with well trained ears to the deep rings of the bells as they strike the time. Their resonating gongs drowning out the more muffled sound of laughter, music and rowdy conversation that drifted from the closed doors and thin windows of this village’s one and only Pub. When the final bell struck twelve, Cleric Aquila opened his eyes with a sharp flick...
Walking towards the crowded barhouse Aquila heard the gentle crunch of the snow beneath his boots as he walked, his heavy weight and wide gate causing him to sink several inches into the snow that coated the uneven cobbles. Aquila had never known such cold, it bit at his face with tiny rows of needle sharp teeth and made his hands go numb in his sleeves. But he knew to the people that made this village their home it was nothing but normal, positively balmy at just under minus ten degrees below freezing. These are a hardy peoples. He thought staring at them through the steamy windows of the barhouse as he neared the door. On any other day his presence in this tiny village would have been noticed the minute he arrived, with a population of only a few hundred nothing happened in this place without everyone knowing within the hour. But today had been the Solstice Celebration, thousands had flocked south to see the first candle of summer being lit, the population had multiplied ten fold. This made Aquila's job slightly easier. But it was still a hellish mission. Praying for a quick end Aquila tapped the golden cross nailed into the lining of the doorframe before entering the barhouse.
Dozens upon dozens of people filled the large space. A large number dancing in ordered lines on his left while a fiddler and several other makeshift musicians played a fast country song to the burgeoning laughter of the men and women that line-danced to their beat. Others, that were lucky enough, sat around tiny wooden tables on rickety stools whilst eating a plate of steaming food or conversing with their companions that sat across from them. The largest number stood, ale casks in hand laughing and shouting drunkenly at the persons beside them. Noting the crackling fire on the right hand wall and the slightly raised level at the very back of the room where five well dressed men and women sat in plush leather armchairs Aquila shut the door behind him and made his way through the crowds to the bar. Even keeping his head lowered and hood up people still eyed him suspiciously, simply because of his sheer size. Aquila was head and shoulders taller than the average man and after decades of training he cut an impressive form in a room as crowded as this one. But Aquila dealt with this wherever he went.
So he naturally lowered his chin to his chest and mumbled soft apologies to those he disturbed as he walked. No one looked twice at a man at his size who apologised every three seconds. Cutting over to the bar Aquila shot a quick look to the higher floor where the five well dressed men sat. The level was a single step higher than the rest of the bar and bordered on both sides with wooden balustrades, the men in the chairs held crystal cut glasses of fine whiskey in their hands, swilling the golden liquid around with a sophisticated roll of their wrists, and one man sat in deep discussion with the woman that sat on the arm of his chair. His eyes struggling to remain on her face when the elegant line of her neck lead so perfectly to the large pair of breasts that were seconds from falling out of the red silk confines of her dress. Aquila smiled. Everything according to plan. He thought finding an empty stool by the bar and sitting on it. Keeping his head down Aquila leant onto the battered bar top and closed his eyes. Listening to every movement around him to gauge the situation. 'What canna' get yah?' asked the barkeeper. A rotund man with a bald head and liquid blue eyes.
'Nothing.' Aquila said sharply, but not impolitely. He was concentrating.
A deep grunt shot through the air from the direction of the barman, 'Suit urself'. You sure laddy? Can always gert' the maid to dish somat' up for ya',' said the persistent barman as he whiped his hands on a tattered white rag of cloth that hung from a battered strip of leather cinched around his waist. Aquila had seen the bar maid when he entered, she had been carrying a tray covered in empty glasses over her head, her buxom chest pushed up and her hair wild and messy from a full nights work.
'No thank you sir.' Aquila said again.
'Oki doke,' the barman said softly before moving off further up the bar. Now able to concentrate fully on the task at hand Aquila let his senses flood his brain. The sounds of the drunkards laughing and shouting behind him, the feeling of the roughly sanded bar top beneath the thick fabric of his winter robes, the smell of stale sweat and fresh ale and over cooked foods drifting beneath his nose. Focussing mostly on the corner with the five well dressed men Aquila was taken only slightly by surprise when two drunk men staggered their way through to the bar beside him.
'Did you 'ere?' said the first. 'Callis told me a Cleric was spotted near 'ere.' Aquila felt his heart thunder against his chest as he listened to the words. No! Not now!
'F*uck off Hammel!' said the second, slightly more sober, one. 'You're always believing all that sh*ite Callis shovels you? Hoping to get between her thighs by going through her ears?' rumbled the large man, laughing at his own wit.
'I'm serious! She said she saw one!'
'And what in God’s name would a Cleric be doing down 'ere Hammel? Vamps don't come this far south, cold gets 'em don't it?'
'Do I look like a Môn senior Giric?' asked the first drunkard after a loud burp. 'I dunno', what if 'e wer' after some other kinda' Vamp. One that can live in 'da cold?'
'You mean a Familiar? Nah nah nah mate! Familiars can only go so far from their Vamp masters, kinda' like their lil' b*itches see?'
'I suppose,' said the first. With a loud thump the first drunkards foot slipped and he went crashing into Aquila, his solid frame barely shaking with the tiny drunkards impact. 'Sorry brother!' he spat through slurred words.
'It's fine.' Aquila said softly. Eager for the man to disappear. But he didn't. Aquila heard his hand shoot for his hood and he had grabbed Hammel's wrist in a vice like grip before the drunken fool could blink. The tiny man's slight scream killed beneath the music. 'Turn around and walk away before I break your arm little man.' Aquila hissed shooting Hammel a fierce glance. But the alcohol over rode everything. Seeing the golden cross tattooed across Aquila's brow and bridge of his nose Hammel yelled and tried to back away, screaming 'Cleric! Cleric!'
The music stopped. All movement ceased and Aquila felt suddenly very exposed. You fool! He raged to Hammel. Her scream cut the silence in half. Spinning Aquila released the drunken idiot and faced the five men in their silk tunics and leather breeches that now stood in front of their toppled arm chairs. The middle most Familiar held the woman in the red dress by the throat. Her beautiful face contorted in fear as she gasped for air beneath the Familiar's grip, long black fingernails scratching into her skin. 'Very good Cleric, very good indeed.' said the Lead Familiar, his fangs already glistening with silvery saliva.
'Let her go.' Aquila said across the silent bar.
'Almost had me fooled there with this one,' the Familiar lifted his free hand up to his scalp and pulled off his wig of fine golden locks. Revealing his pale blue scalp, as bald as an egg and spiderwebbed with thick blue veins, the makeup that hid his pale complexion stopping below his hair line. 'You're little protégée is she?' he hissed taking a deep sniff of her hair. 'Oh yes...you chose well. Quite beautiful and quite the little liar. But she stinks of the Golden City!' eyeing the other four Familiars that stood ready to attack Aquila couldn't help but smile.
'She's not mine,' he grinned. Watching the twisted smile fall from the Familiars face.
'I am.' said the barmaid, appearing from the kitchen door with a crossbow in either hand.
'Keep him alive!' Aquila shouted to Sarai the instant his disciples fingers squeezed the triggers. Reaching beneath his cloak Aquila threw two tiny vials of holy water into the air, flying end over end into the path of the speeding bolts. All in a single instant the two bolts struck the tiny glass bottles, shattering them into a million pieces and coating the metal arrow heads with the holy water, and Aquila drew his knife from the sheath on his hip and sprung forward. He and Sarai acted as if they owned a single mind. The bolts shot the two closest Familiars, the first in the neck and the second in the chest, the holy water searing against their flesh, smoke burning across their bodies and leaving them as nothing but flailing creatures on the floor. Bounding over the balustrade time seemed to slow for Aquila as the next Familiar lunged. It seemed to easy to duck the clumsy swipe and bring his knife up, its gleaming silver blade slicing open the Familiars throat with a sickening crunch and a spray of infected arterial blood. Without breaking stride Aquila hit the floor of the higher level and instantly ducked. Sarai's whip lashing over his back, its barbed end clinking together as the dozens of razor sharp blades wrapped around the Fourth Familiars neck.
Passing beneath the leather weapon that strung through the air Aquila shot up. All the force of his initial attack still locked into his bones and in an eye blink sliced the Lead Familiars hand from its wrist, freeing the woman, and grabbed the Familiar by the throat as he screamed. Pinning him painfully against the wall. In that same moment Sarai pulled on her whip, the blades around the Familiars neck severing his spine. The two body parts striking against the floor with two distinct thumps! 'Now,' Aquila said through the silence, pressing the blade of his sacred knife against the Familiar's makeuped throat. Strangely nobody screamed, maybe because all the destruction had happened in less than twenty seconds, Aquila wasn't sure. Time always seemed slower to him after so many years fighting the breath-taking speeds of the Vampires. 'No more running Familiar! Why are you this far south?'
'I...I...' Stammered the disgusting creature.
'Find your tongue or I'll have my student lash you!' threatened Aquila.
'He'll kill me,' the Familiar whimpered. Yellow eyes brimming with tears of fear.
'Your Master isn't here to kill you, but I am!'
'Argh! They sent us looking for more hunting...arrgh!'
'Don't lie to me heretic! I'll see your blackened heart from your chest and show it too you before you die!'
'No please! All right...they sent us to find a place to build a new hive,' Aquila didn't expect to hear that...
'Why? Why this far south?'
'Please I don't know, we just had to look for somewhere dark and large enough. Please I swear to you.' This didn't make sense. Vampires were born in the north, that's where their species originated from...so why try to settle in the south? That was human territory...unless they wanted to attack them from a whole new angle?
'How many more of you are there?' the Familiar grunted, yellow eyes drifting to the floor. 'How many!' roared Aquila. A gunshot suddenly cracked like thunder through the bar and the Familiar's head exploded in front of him blowing black blood up the walls behind him. Spinning at the new threat Aquila had reached for his throwing blades but Sarai's whip cracked the air before him. Ripping the smoking musket from the hands of the trembling barman.
'Forgive me Father...but one of them damned devils in my bar! No...I won't have it!' stammered the rotund man. Trying to disguise his sigh Aquila rose and sheathed his knife.
'Sarai gather your things, we're leaving.'
'Where too Father?' said his dutiful student as she ran to keep up with him.
'Sura...we need to speak with the Môn seniors.'