‘It’s going to be busy here, today.’ A young, athletic man with a round winged cap looked very curiously at the newcomers. ‘Move up, please, move up. You don’t want to stay put in no-man’s-land. I’ve got no jurisdiction as a travel agent there.’ On his feet, he wore winged sandals and in his hand he carried a kind of herald’s staff, which had two snakes wrapped around.
The young guy shoved his cap a little behind on his head. ‘By the way, I may add that staying with one foot in the transit zone and with the other foot here in the Underworld, leaves a terrible mess behind. Torn apart souls leak horribly and then I don’t even mention the smell, especially those of magical earth creatures.’
Mercedes’ and Diana’s view still was blurred, while Julius and Marcel unbelieving were looking around them. The passing to the Underworld had been a tangled roller coaster of flashes, images out of their life long past. Julius had been back in the wood for a moment, where he was baptized in the blood to be a nightwalker. He remembered the eyes of his mother, Martine, sad and wet with tears. His inner feelings were still heavily loaded with the emotions he had endured. They were memories from long ago and still it was as if it had happened yesterday.
Marcel still panted heavily. A swirling transformation from man to wolf and wolf to man in non-stop repetition had ambushed him during his voyage to this place beyond the death. He felt exhausted, powerless. Never had he felt so helpless in his life as a lycanthrope. Still, he was happy that he was there, together with the company he had joined a short time ago.
In the meanwhile, Diana also had passed the first side effect of the voyage. Diana touched her own body and was surprised she could feel it. She thought that she would be a sort of astral being after her death, without a body or a shell. A dust cloud of energy kept together by an ancient power.
The wolf-witch had the least of difficulty with the transformation. She looked around quickly and saw the gate through which they arrived. The gate looked old but very sturdy with arm thick hinges with no trace of corrosion. She drew her glances again on their guide.
‘Hello, Hermes. I’ve heard a lot about you and you’re everything they say about you and even more.’ She admired shameless his lithe body while her traveling companions asked themselves who this whippersnapper was.
‘Hello to you too, my dear… oh, a wolf-witch. It’s a while ago that I had the honor to accompany one of yours. You look just like..! No, go away. You’re one of Pandora’s, my hat may fall off my head, I recognize a face when I’ve seen it somewhere sometime. Well, that’s a surprise. I don’t know how you have lived your life, so it’s not for me to say if you belong on the Asphodel Meadows, Elysium or in the worst case the Tartarus.’
Everyone was startled when they heard the frightful growling of a dog. A tall black dog with three heads came from behind the posture of Hermes. He snarled and the slobber flowed from the teeth of his three muzzles.
‘Be gentle, Cerby, down and be a good boy. These souls are very special to me. A daughter of Pandora, I’m glad it happened to me. Oh yes, this is Cerberus, our little watch-doggie. He looks to it that nobody enters this world illegally. But you know the proverb, barking dogs seldom bite. Well, that’s not at all the case here.’
Cerberus snarled three times and showed his teeth to underline the words of the guide. He pushed his muzzles in the sniffed up their odor. Obviously, he was satisfied and even began to wag his tail when Mercedes, at everybody’s surprise, patted him on his middle head. To have no inner conflict at the animal, she gave the same attention to the other two.
‘Please follow me now. I suppose you can’t float, so watch where you put your feet.’ Without waiting for their reaction, he lifted himself in the air showing them the way. ‘The bottom is not always what it seems and if you step on someone’s soul, don’t look him in the eyes. You can lose your mind and here in this maze that’s the last thing you want to happen.’
The surroundings were somber. Gray and black predominated the scenery. The ground was dusty with underneath an unpredictable rock bottom with sharp protrusions. Here and there stood a black tree with leafless branches. Death like symptoms that rather disfigured the surface than they seemed to belong there. When they passed along such a tree too close, the branches reached for them, moved by an invisible power. Cerberus was left behind at the gate, loyally on guard to bite the villains in their calves.
Hermes frolicked floating around them. He obviously had fun leading Mercedes, the daughter of an old acquaintance, and her traveler-companions to their final goal: the Styx. The river where Charon, the ferryman would wait for them. The being they’ll have to pay to sail to their final place of destination: The Water of the Lost Sighs.
Vladimir felt at home in these vaults of the Underworld. He still tasted Eligo’s blood upon his lips when he saw a horseman arriving. Actually, it rather was a flying act, because the knight sat on a winged horse. He had a lance on his side and he carried an ensign with a flag.
When the winged horse stopped before Vladimir, he saw at the last moment whom he had before him. ‘Greetings, Abigor,’ he just could say before the horseman had taken his lance and pushed it against Vladimir’s chest.
‘Stranger, you’re the one who has decapitated my servant Eligo. You’ve used my name to mask your lies. Who will stop me to puncture you, to let your soul run empty in this desolate place? Not that a human life means something to me, but what I have blessed is mine and nobody else’s. It’s my disposition right to decide about life and death, not someone who’s unimportant.’
Vladimir wasn’t afraid, on the contrary. He pushed his chest a bit closer against the lance when he answered the demon. ‘Watch carefully, my friend of the Darkness. Look close who and what I am. I am the one who can give you the world. I can extend your empire with the Earth. Show me the way and I will pave the way for an eternal reigning upon the world by you and your kind.’
Abigor shoved Vladimir a bit further with his lance, while he looked at him, judged him and watched deep into his soul. ‘By Lucifer, my Lord and God, you’re telling the truth. I see a heavy battle on Earth when I sense inside of you, full of fire and violence, streams of blood and uncountable dead people. Good!’ Obviously, the demon had taken a decision.
‘Follow me, brother in the blood. I’ll not get in the way of your thirst. I’ll guide you to Charon. From there, you’re at his mercy. However, be aware, he a strange being. Don’t say too much nor be too brief, much can depend on the right words with the Ferryman.
Dragosj, together with Markus, had looked at dozens of old parchments. He had shared his secret with his old and loyal servant. His brother Vladimir, or ,at least, his spirit in one or another body, was the reason of all their latest problems. He knew that, sooner or later, he’ll stand before him, maybe without recognizing him in the shell he was traveling. Vladimir had the advantage of the surprise if it came to that.
Dragosj also feared his power. He himself also possessed a great deal of magical strength. When he was traveling over land as a bat, but much taller than his little animal kindred, he was as dangerous as the biggest eagle. If he had to be small, he could center his power into the body of a rat and he was able to command an army of these rodents if it was necessary. A flood of this vermin could swallow cities under his number. But all that would be not sufficient when he came against the Red Power, the personification of the Bloodrage. That’s why he had asked some advice of his wise and old servant.
‘My Lord, nothing is invincible. You’re always the strongest until you meet an adversary who’ll beat you. It has always been that way and I suspect it will ever be. There has to be something in old writings that tells how you can deal with this plague. How you can conquer it eventually.’ Markus had sounded humble in his explanation, he had hardly raised his looks to his lord and master. He knew his place and would never speak if he wasn’t asked.
‘You give me a spark of hope, Markus. But is enough, to not resign ourselves to fate. Let us search for this possibility, this explanation. I propose to go to all the houses my brother has lived in. Somewhere between his earthly belongings that he has left, we must find something that can help us.’
During the beginning of the night, they had left for Transylvania, where Dragosj had still a lot of friends. A dozen of phone calls during the voyage with his private jet had produced a few addresses. Markus had noted them all in a stylish calligraphic writing. They would look for them, one after another with their shielded limousine, search everything about these places what there was to be found. If necessary, break the houses down, brick by brick, if needed. Where the need is greatest, all means are allowed, Dragosj thought. Not that he let sleep over ethics. In his world, that world didn’t exist, not in the way a mortal soul knew it.
It had to be Murphy’s Law, but they were successful at the last address they were visiting during their stay in the Dragosj’s native country. In the cellar of an ancient house, meanwhile rebuild a few times, Markus found a wall that sounded very hollow when he hit it with a leaden pipe. A glance between the two nightwalkers was enough to get Dragosj into action. With an iron strong fist, he made a hole in the wall so that a small space came free. They found a few personal objects Dragosj recognized from his youth as belonging to Vladimir. He didn’t wonder long before those items. The coffin had been hidden after a few paintings received more attention.
The lock was no obstruction for a strong nightwalker. Inside the black coffin, there was a great package of parchments Dragosj took under his arm back to the upper floor. It was there that he found the parchment, written by Vladimir, which gave the spark of hope he had cherished a bit more life. It became a little flame that continued to burn. Dragosj translated the text to Markus who didn’t understand the language.
I’ve tried to bind the power with my body. Despite many attempts and different kind of spells, I have not completely succeeded. I suppose my being as a nightwalker doesn’t allow it. An old book I’ve got from a wizard had brought some light on this difficult process. The Bloodrage can only be bound to my spirit. The merged unit can only continue his existence in a human body. That’s why I’ve decided to renounce my earthly body, considering the fact it keeps me from absorbing the Bloodrage. As a spirit, we can become one and provide us of a human shell. The vehicle that will bring us where we deem necessary.
Yesterday, I’ve captured one of the cruelest murderers in centuries. He couldn’t match my power. Now he’s awaiting his fate in my hiding place, tied up and gagged. Once I put my body at rest in the safe place I’ve foreseen, finally I will be able to accomplish that what I want so desperately. Nobody will be able to defeat me. Nobody will know me because I’ll be able to travel in everybody, preferably in those who love the blood. They are a much easier prey for the Bloodrage.
When I’m sure this place is safe, I’ll proceed with the final spell. The most powerful magic existing will pull my spirit out of my body and merge it with my future.
The writing was clearly not finished, but the rest of the parchment was torn out. Dragosj looked up at Markus. ‘I see it in your eyes, Markus, you’ve seen the word too, the word that predominates this text, the word that could be important to us.’ He stopped talking and with a gesture of his hand he let Markus translate their mutual thoughts.
‘Indeed, Master. Vladimir wanted his body to be safe. Why? If, in any case, he wouldn’t come back in that body that denied the merge with that power. It has to be important that his body kept existing, otherwise, he wouldn’t take such strict measures. That’s why I decide his body is still there somewhere…’
‘You’re a wise man, Markus, in all your modesty. It’s flattering you. You are absolutely right. I suppose, just like you, that if we find his body and we can destroy, the merge of this destructive power with Vladimir comes to an end. With that, we also can set a point after his bloodthirsty plans. The only thing we have to figure out is the finding place of his sanctuary, the place where he keeps his body. The only thing I can do is read through all the parchments again, maybe there’s something written in it or hidden in some code, which place he deemed suitable as a tomb.’
© Rudi J.P. Lejaeghere
A little pause for the writer, concerning this story