Barbaric, yet passionately protective. That is how my new traveling companions come across to me. I knew of their nature to constantly feed. But alas, I had never seen this habit displayed before me as it was over the course of our short time as of yet.
I found myself frozen standing between an amassing horde of vampires and a mystic portal leading to safety and protection.
From afar several hundred feet, Willie launched away from safety and plunged himself into the battle. I wished to reach and extend the power of Yemanja’s steward out of my fingertips and save him. But I could not. The power suddenly left me. I knew at that moment that to save him would be against the course of the Goddess. Yet, I could not help feel the awe of his power as he tore into the approaching Firstborn. Literally, I could feel it. Each blow pierced the air with waves of force, that rippled over my skin, sending shudders down my spine. He dove from the air repeatedly in his massive bat form, each time taking out an assailant who desired to pursue the rest of us and do us harm.
And though my Goddess was compelling me to turn and walk away, I found it hard to change my position. I wanted to help. I wanted to end this madness. I wanted to stop the futility. And then Willie crunched hard into the throat of a Firstborn ghoul who had clung to him after one of his dives. The breaking sound of bone and sinew caused me to quake. Blood flew despondently from the victims neck. The ghoul flailed and then went limp. My eyes hazed over. The bite made my stomach turn and my joints weaken instantly. I turned away to hold my composure. At that moment, I knew I could not look back again. He was lost. Not only was he far removed from those who could save him; not only was he overwhelmed by the sheer numbers coming at him; but he was more beast than man. He could not be saved. It was barbaric and evil. Yet, that evil was saving me. I would not let that pass from my mind. I ran for the open portal.
As I entered the portal, the sounds and commotion of battle instantly became buffered. It was though it was not happening at all. As if it were gone. The room I stood in, large in size with a warm glowing fire was surrounded wall to wall with an old and expensive looking collection of books and tombs. The nooks and trim were decorated in the most exquisitely carved wood. It reminded me instantly of Uncle George’s study in his Kingsbridge of Devon home. The sight of the many books brought fond memories of my childhood. I flashed to a sweet memory of me and my younger sister Isabel. I was pushing her in her wheelchair through the halls. We had stayed with Uncle Georgia and Aunt Helene for the summer while Mother and Father were away. For that summer Isabel and I called Harkerton Manor our home.
The portal glowed with a faint blue light. Though sound did not pass through the mystic window-door, the image of the battle still could be seen. But, I could not look back.
The man with long flaxen hair who created the portal stood calmly before me. Like the portal he created he showed little evidence that the battle was still going on. His features were elegant and refined. Each move he made was meticulous and thought out, even how he raised his eyebrows. His eyes, light crystal blue, could not hide a certain sadness that lay translucently over his gaze. He had a sense of power about him, but fear and hesitance to use the power. A thought not my own crossed my mind: He had hurt someone who he cared for with that power.
I took this moment of respite to ponder the events that led up to this point. Hours before we were searching for a legendary vampire, Alucard. He was a member of the fateful Resgate Sangrento. I had read of his fabled deeds several years back while being taught by my mentor how to effectively kill vampires. My mentor believed that to be an effective killer you must be able to understand your prey. She versed me well in vampire history and lore. It was my understanding that much of what I read was not real, but allegorical; a way of teaching young vampires of culture and norms using stories and fables. Yet, standing in front of the mythic Wraith made me question my original stance on the matter of literary veracity. It also made me think that I should have paid more attention to those secular lessons.
But, before our search for Alucard I was not a part of this group. So, I will take you back even further, back to the day when I made the decision to be part of this trope, and took upon me the mantle of Drachiel, Steward of Yemanja.
Three months ago, I was closing on the trail of my quarry whom I had been searching and tracking for nearly a year. But this search was not new to my family. It was their legacy passed down from mother to daughter all the way back from my great-great-great-great grandmother, Victoria Harrington, my namesake. Through the generations we had been tracking down the vampire who had killed Grandmother Victoria’s family and taken her sister Penelope from her. We had learned that Penelope had become close to a vampire parading as a man. They were to be married. The man was from Japan, but had spent some years in England. Grandmother Victoria never met him. But in her letters home while she was away at Queen’s College Penelope wrote the man’s name was Nikotaru Kurushime.
I had gathered more information on Nikotaru in the past two year than all the generations of D’Argento Hunters before me due to accessibility to new technology. From an archival site on the Internet I had downloaded an engraving of Nikotaru Kurushime that had been made back in the late 1800’s. I also had tracked down several loose acquaintances he had made through the ages. He was a very private man, a bit of a recluse that held lots of secrets. He seemed to hold most back from those who called him friend. At least this was the common consensus found in journal entries and logs written about him. The only thing that he did not keep secret was his name. He did not use any aliases or disguise. Thus, with the right programs and digital databases it was not hard to track his movements he had made through the 20th and 21st centuries. Most of those who wrote about him were scientists and biologists.
As I got closer to finding his current whereabouts, I started to get closer to who Nikotaru really was. I found that those who were closest to him called him Niko. I found that he was very passionate about the pseudo-science of magioelectric re-animism and crypto-hematology. He traveled a lot. He owned a castle in the Alps that he visited in intervals through the centuries. He had named it Castle Shiromiyuki. It was there, I started my search.
I arrived just as the sun was at its peak. I encountered a hideous ghoul. My training led me to kill him. He put up little resistance, if any at all. I found it uncanny the way he looked at me just before I drove him through with a silver pike. It appeared as though he knew me, as though he recognized me. His last breath was telling me his name. Salister Bixley. He was the first vampire I killed on my own, without my Mentoris Venatori.
I searched the castle. Nikotaru was not there. The castle was vast, but it did not seem like it housed many people. Instead, most of the rooms had been converted to various laboratories. Experiments of different kinds were being carried out on long black lab benches. Some had huge glass apparati that seemed to be purifying various substances. Other rooms housed electrical devices right out of a Jules Verne novel, reminiscent of Nikola Tesla. Coils as high as three storeys towered the great hall of the castle. Something arcane conducted and orchestrated each experiment. They appeared as if they were being carried out by themselves. Though I feared I had just disposed of the mayordomo that made sure each was going about correctly.
In addition to the various curious experiments, the castle had a library that would drive a king to be jealousy. Each laboratory had a library. Shelves upon shelves were homes to books, tomes, logs, journals, and laboratory notes. It was not as neat and orderly as Uncle George’s study, but it was more vast. Loose note papers were also strune about the workbenches. Yet, they were not in a cluttering fashion. It was as though the master scientist had just left his lab for a moment and would return after brief repose.
I waited there for several days in the castle for the return of the master. But no one came. I began pouring through the notes and journals. Learning and understanding my quarry as my Mentoris Venatori had instructed. In doing so, I came across a peculiar find.
Hidden behind a pair of merlot velvet embroidered drapes, I pulled back to find a tryptych most curious. The paintings were from the late 19th, possibly early 20th century. They were of a young woman with elegant features and regal trappings. It appeared to be painted by the venerable George Frederic Watts. At first, I simply admired them for their detail. I did not immediately see their importance. But after getting past their beauty, I realized that they resembled me! I know that sounds odd that I did not immediately recognize this. But this was because I knew it could not be me. Also the female subject had subtle differences in her features. Nonetheless, I could not deny the resemblance.
I took in the moment contemplating how this could be possible that the demon-quarry came to possess a painting with my image. Could he have been tracking me? Was I his obsession as much as he was mine? But the painting was clearly from the 19th-20th century, or at least a stunning fake. Was this just to fool me? But why would someone go through so much trouble to create this exquisite painting, if it were just a fake, a rouse to cause me to doubt. Hypotheses raced through my mind. It all did not make sense that someone had painted me. There must be a reason, then.
I carefully took the tryptych down from the wall. With a pry bar I collected from one of the workbenches I dissected the backing from the frame of the painting to analyze the enigma closer. As I opened the backing, I noticed some writing scrawled on the back of the canvas. Excitedly I revealed the back of the canvas completely.
“To my dearest Penelope, may your beauty never fade, may your smile brighten the day, may your quickening eyes heal the depravity of my forsaken soul. Your Eternal Love, Niko.”
I was aghast. Speechless. This was my great-great-great-great lost aunt, Penelope, Grandmother Victoria’s lost sister.
From the lab notes and journals I gathered the true story of Penelopes absence back on that fateful day. Penelope had been transformed into a vampire days prior to the homecoming of Grandmother Victoria, by a vile Wraith named Kotaro. Niko tried to stop this but was too late. Rather than allow Penelope to die and be lost forever, Niko allowed Kotaro to ‘turn’ her into a monster.
When Grandmother Victoria returned from Queen’s College. She found that her family was dead, slain by a vampire. That vampire unfortunately was Penelope, deceptively released upon her family by Kotaru in her first feeding.
Grandmother Victoria had talked about the vampire that nearly killed her as she entered her ransacked home. She told in her memoires of a vampire that lay crouched atop the stairs waiting for her. When Victoria immediately ran to her family lying in a pool of blood. She did not notice the intruder leap at her from her vantage point. Grandmother Victoria wrote that she was knocked hard, combined with the sudden surprise of the death of her family she lost consciousness. There was a moment that she believes a gallant man came to her rescue casting the vampire from the house. But when she woke she was alone, only the bodies of her family minus Penelope surrounded her.
The stories began to make sense. In that moment of ‘Eureka’, my phone rang.
“We have locate Him.” It was my contact in Germany. “He has been spotted in Berlin, in the museum, caught on a security camera.”
“Really?!” I said excitedly. I quickly cleared my throat and straightened up to a more proper posture. “Excuse me. Really?” I replied more nonchalantly. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, it matches the copy of the etching you had forwarded to our agency last year. Apparently, he is the perpetrator of a heist of an ancient book.”
“Book? Does it match his M.O.? Cryto-hematology?”
“No. But, it definitely is him. The camera even shows the demon turning into mist form.”
“Agent Vendetta? Are you there?”
“Yes, sorry. I was thinking.”
“ Do you wish for us to pursue him.”
“No. I will call this in. I will take it from here. I will meet you tonight in Berlin.”
I then hung up.
After all this time in hiding, why does he finally show up at this time? The coincidences began to make my head spin. What was I getting into?
Long story short, I continued to pursue Niko. I learned that he was traveling with 5 other vampires from various covens. I followed them all over Europe, China and South America. I eventually tailed them to Brazil to an illegal racketeering house fronting as a hotel. The hotel was crawling with vampire, mostly from the coven of the Beast. I knew they were close. As I was casing the hotel, to my amazement I saw Penelope. She was with a group of other Vampires who bore the markings and trappings of the Firstborn. She looked rabid and feral, but still retained the same beauty that I remembered from the tryptych.
I kept my distance, not wanting to blow my position. I needed to tread lightly among all these vampires. A wrong move would not only burn my trail, but could make me end up as a pale corpse with arid veins. I eventually was able to infiltrate the hotel using my feminine charm. I got into the security room where the cameras and monitors were controlled. It was not hard to take out the two officers. They were both human, but clearly enthralled.
As I was searching through the surveillance a voice came over the intercom. “Niko, we have Penelope! If you don’t turn yourself in she will die!” I quickly looked through the monitors throughout the hotel. I found the room where the group of Firstborn had taken Penelope. From outside that room, I saw Niko and his companions come off the elevator. A violent fight broke out. In a matter of seconds bodies lay on the floor. As the dust settled, I saw one of the Firstborn (the leader I premised) take a large syringe and stab it into Penelope’s back. The Firstborn inject some substance into her. I saw Penelope begin to seize. Cracks across her skin began to open up glowing with light. I felt something vile was about to take place. Then before I could even get out of my seat, a large ghoul companion of Niko changed into a massive Basilisk and turned the Firstborn to stone. Niko grabbed the quivering Penelope, then with his companions held a ring that looked like it was about a foot in diameter. They vanished. Then in an instant they returned. The Basilisk was gone. Penelope was gone. Niko did not seem the same. I was confused.
After seeing this short footage of Niko and his friends, and reading the logs at Castle Shiromiyuki, I began to question everything that I once believed about the One we had been hunting. Niko was not the One. Kotaro was the One; and from Niko’s journals, Kotaro had died at the hands of Monks in Italy. Niko had not destroyed the family Harrington, but tried to save it. He had tried to restore Penelope this whole time. He was searching for the cure, thus explaining his obsession with crypto-hematology. He must have kept Penelope safe this whole time. Safe from herself and safe from the world. At least up until this point…where was Penelope now?
I wanted to burst into this room and demand all the answers to the questions that had been building up for generations of my family. But something constrained me. Before I could do anything, Niko and his party had left the hotel. I went to the room where Penelope had vanished from to look for clues. Dead bodies both human and vampire lay on the carpets outside the room. Gunfire had shrafted the walls, exposing bare chunks of gypsum. Blood congealed in large pools on the floor. Gun rounds sprinkled the carpets like snowflakes. It was a mess. Yet, I had a funny feeling that this was an average day at this hotel. They probably had a special team that would be coming up to put everything back to normal in a couple of minutes.
I opened the door to the room and walked in. The first thing I noticed was the stone statue of the Firstborn that had injected Penelope with some agent. My fists balled up tightly as I looked at his stonewall expression still left on his face. I wanted to crush him. I wanted to pound him into dust.
A voice spoke to me, “Victoria child, do ya want tee powa? Do ya tesaya ta crush yo’ enemy? Do ya wish dat I show ya who defile yo’ ancesta? I can do a dis, child. I can do all dis, and mo’.”
“Who are you?” I responded taken aback. The voice had an eeriness about it. It’s dialect sound like it derived from either the Caribbean or West Africa. I did not come from the intercom system, I was certain. It emanated from all around. The voice continued more powerfully this time.
“I am tee Mutter of all dat changes. I am tee one dat changes all. I cause tee light ta change ta night; and life ta change ta death. I am tee woman who protects her chiltren from toes who would change the world. My chiltren call me Yemanja.”
“How could you help me, Great Yemanja?” I spoke with reverence, not knowing if I might say the wrong thing and offend something far more powerful than I.
“I could give ya powa, child.”
“You said that you know what happened to Penelope. Can you show me?”
“I can do betta ten dat. I can take you to her.”
“She is still alive then?”
“No child, she is not alive. But Yemanja is spechial. She is mutter of all dat alive and dead. Do ya wish to see dis Penelope? She can tell ya’ all tee answa’s of yo’ heart. Is dis what ya’ tesaya, child?”
“I do!” The excitement to find answers was overwhelming. i needed to know. If not for me, then for Grandmother Victoria and all that came after her.
“Ten take my hand. Yemanja show ya’ tee way. All ya’ have ta do is take my hand. We got a teal, ten?”
I didn’t quite catch that last part, but it sounded like she asked, ‘We got a deal, then?’
“Yes!” I held out my hand to the air. Suddenly, an exotically beautiful woman appeared before me dressed in flowing robes that draped from her body like the golden light that shined through the blades of palm fronds. She was holding my hand. My hand became hot. A tingle ran from my palm to my spine and disseminated throughout my body.
“It is ton!” Her eyes started to glow, then her whole body. Her skin burst into light that swirled around me illuminating the whole room. All became white. Then the light receded surrounding just around me like a warm aura, until it fell gently on my skin. In that moment I closed my eyes and felt the power flow through me. As I opened my eyes, another woman stood before me. It was Penelope.
She was there, but she wasn’t. Her body did not have complete substance. It had a faint glow, and objects could be seen through her body that lay behind her. I was seeing her spirit.
She spoke to me, knowing who I was immediately. She explained the events of the fateful night. She explained her disappearance. She explained the role of Niko. She explained the scene I saw happen in this hotel room. She explained what happened when she vanished and died. She told me of Vlad, of Authed, and of Remmy. I vowed to avenge her and to help Niko.
She then told me that I needed to meet an ally to both Niko and Yemanja. She took me to Alice, a sorceress and alchemist of Axe. I visited Alice on her secluded island. She told me of the war and struggle with the Cult of Twilight, of Vlad and the Firstborn. She also told me of Niko’s sacrifice, going to the prison where the Nightlord was trapped.
Once she filled me in with all the information that I would need, she handed me a card and gave me a silver staff wrapped with ornate engravings. Once I took the staff, I was immediately transported to the deck of an airplane. The doors were open and it appeared that it was parked in a hangar. I stepped out. It was night. Eight or nine vampires were coming towards me. I recognized Willie in his purple attire. Close to his side was Raven ponderously. In front of Willie was a stalwart soldier. Bringing up the rear, were several other vampires dressed in desert fatigues and armed to the teeth. The one out in front must be the one Alice called McPhee. Skulking just behind Willie was a unusually tanned vampire with an attractive grin whom Alice said was Harbaz. He was planning absentmindedly with a dagger.
I introduced myself and removed formalities. Soon we were up in the air heading for Alucard, where we come full circle.
I looked around after the pause of coming through the portal. Harbaz was dead. The Russian Vampire who killed him was in the room. McPhee was being revived by his Hybrids (Alpha Team). Willie I knew was still in the battle. Raven? Where was Raven?