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Book 1: Love's Redemption Lost
The storm raged before her. The sky was on fire one second and dead black darkness the next. The air moved as if it was alive, a hulking behemoth with the power to snap trees like twigs. She stared into the fierce night letting the air move her back and forth, rocking to the tempo of the storm. The lightning, with every flash, reflected her lost lover's eyes. Dark purpose and movement brought her back to the room, three dark forms approached from behind, not quietly enough.
In the days the castle was inhabited it was the main ballroom, now it was a huge dark empty place except for the four small figures converging in the shadows. A huge fancy castle with no real fortifications, a testament to a fathers love for his daughters, a bright shining story within which hides a horror. The walls still held tattered tapestries and darkened bronze wall sconces. A frieze of Manchurian heroes and villians circled the room near the ceiling. The quick one was trying to hide among the shadows there, clinging to the wall and ceiling. She knew him, Dreamer was his name. A good sword but not good enough, even with his two companions, who advanced along the ceiling among the dark broken chandeliers. The fight would be over quickly.
Closing her eyes, she turned her attention to the storm again, dark glorious thing, still for just seconds, as if time itself stood watch at what was next. Then the wind picked up slowly, clouds thickened blocking what was left of the stars and moonlight. Suddenly the air was an angry tide smashing into her, then flowing past her into the ballroom. Her dress fluttered behind her like a sail of a deep blue ship of the line. Deep resonating thunder rolled in its wake. Mountains glowed in the distance as the storm passed over and an army of white streaks descended into the high pines igniting a thousand fires.
Her enemies would strike soon. Why were they waiting? The two on the ceiling paused and held silent. Dreamer was a dark cloud on the south wall. Clouding the minds of those born to night was his gift, an important addition she required for the next phase of her plan.
Her senses stretched out, mixing memory and space and mathematics. Her sword was a dozen meters away, horizontal in its scabbard. The cherry wood blade holder rested on the bare marble floor, the hilt facing her enemies to the south. The two slow ones held a flanking position one to each side. Dreamer slinked slowly on the south wall blending into the frieze, looking for something, not at her, looking west. Mother?
The western door crashed open, one huge steel hinge exploding into pieces as two more enemies flew backwards into the ballroom from the hallway beyond. A monster stormed through after them, impossibly fast. A horror made of vile soil and unquenchable hunger. Unmistakable as a nightborn, but twisted and brutal without any pretense of sentience, just a vessel for hunger, Mother's skin was a loosely hanging collection of strangely intertwined cuts deeply etched. Rotting particles of skin sloughed off constantly creating a vague cloud of eye-stinging skinsand surrounding her. A fifth nightborn intruder staggered through the shattered door hanging by one massive steel hinge twisted and bent. The torn meat that used to be his right side spewed blood onto the floor. The watcher at the window did not see this nightborn fall to the ground immobile or the nightmare that was her own dear mother made of madness tear the other two to pieces. Their dying screams fell on deaf ears, both hers and her enemies that had instantly attacked.
Lightning flashed its white heat through the room as she moved, the lightning again and again freezing her in place in time to the eye. The two flankers were in the air flying towards her. She had lept in the same instant, ignoring Mother, and the screams, her reflexs snapping to action without thought. A gift from the Swordmaster's blood, bold and instant action. Without touching the ground, her leap carried her to her sword and beyond. The sword was in her hands, free from its wooden cage. The two slow ones had mis-timed their leap and she was past them before they hit the floor. Her leap had been a parabola, shallow, almost imperceptible, it allowed her to push with her legs into the floor and slam her body into a new direction, straight up at Dreamer, now in the air and unable to avoid her steel slicing the air. Dreamer had never seen the move, in all the centuries sparring with the Swordmaster, this gift had come from the Acrobat's blood. Even so, there was more yet that the Swordmaster had hidden from them all.
Dreamer's bloody hands fell away from his body as her sword streaked red. Her leg struck out between his arm stumps and sent him flying into the ceiling, crashing down pieces of marble to the floor followed quickly by his twisting body. Momentum carried her likewise to the ceiling but she compressed her legs and launched. Passing by Dreamer she removed his legs at mid-thigh and reached the floor before his body impacted the marble tiled floor with a wet sack sound. Poised with her sword down dripping Dreamer's blood, the storm's wind thrust again through the open windows, chilling the intruders and setting her dress fluttering behind her.
The two remaining intruders had paused for just a split second, when Mother began to feed on the pieces of their friends, but by the time they looked back to their main adversary, Dreamer was in pieces on the floor and the dark lady was facing them, sword down, waiting. They looked at each other and that was their death. Lightning crashed again and she was already airborne, frozen again in snapshots of furious purpose. The one she lept towards moved his sword to block, but she spun impossibly in mid-air, slashing in a full arc taking his legs out from under him, followed quickly by his head with the back slice. Her sword continued around, up and over her back, the final enemies sword struck hers and forced both blades into her back deep blood trickled at first. The wound would heal quickly, it was of no concern to her. A low spinning manuever lost this last nightborn his legs, but Mother took the rest.
Mother's tongue broke through the nightborn's skull and she began feeding on his brains like a cat lapping up milk. She slowly dragged her prey backwards away from her daughter, always with her eyes on her warily. In the blood is the power, it ran down the sword into the awaiting mouth of the victorious lady. Nothing in it she had not already obtained from greater sources already. She watched her mother drag off the screaming nightborn, with each lick the screams became more guttural. The dark lady turned from her mother's feeding and knelt down to the dismembered head of her other foe. She raised the head above her and let the warm blood cover her lips and run into her mouth, sweet velvet thickness and iron and salt. The blood of those born to night was so much sweeter. Now her eyes focused sharper in the darkness, the tilted panels of marble shined bright with moonlight, and Dreamer's form was a deep red glowing warmth slowly crawling for the south door.
"Better eyes, useful" The dark lady spoke to no one in particular.
Mother looked on from behind the now headless and shoulderless corpse, gnawing with her great wide mouth, sharp teeth falling out and regrowing almost instantly. Wind and rain flew in through the row of open windows fiercely once again. The lady let the nightborn's head drop to the ground like a worm filled apple discovered after harvest and strode slowly towards Dreamer.
Dreamer was on his stomach crawling worm style flailing all four of his stumps. He had nearly made it to the still open door when she grabbed his tattered empty bloody pantleg and dragged him back into the center of the room towards mother.
"No, please, anything but..." Dreamer babbled full of fear.
Stopping, she turned to Dreamer and merely stared into his eyes. Mother broke into a run once her back was turned, moving faster than anything Dreamer had ever seen. The lady looked into his eyes and saw her mother there advancing. At the last second, she spun and struck with her sword and Mother's arms flew off onto the floor. The arms were instantly replaced with fresh ones, still covered in their web of cuts. Dreamer watched as the battle raged on, he no longer tried for the door, struck immobile at the graceful and impossible movement of mother and daughter, speed matching with speed, arms and legs flying off into the dark corners of the room. The battle went on for hours, with each new limb lost, the next one grew back a little bit slower. As he watched skill and speed and strength on a level he could never have hoped to match, he realized they were doomed from the first. Eventually Mother's limbs remained missing, and her dark daughter dragged her back through the doorway. Grey peasant folk slunk out from the shadows and began to clean up the body and the blood, leaving Dreamer be.
After a time, she returned, as she walked towards Dreamer, she shed her dress letting it fall on the floor behind her. Blood, the smell of it all around, the hungerlust inside her was growing each second. The ashen faced peasants wringing out their bloody cleaning rags, splashing particles of it into the air. Those microscopic particles hit her bare skin firey electric stings like a million lovers bites. Dreamer will be her meal tonight, his blood is strong, turned by one of the three. It's song screamed silent all the others, drowning out all smell, sound, and sight until there was only the thirst and its quenching. The delaying was so sweet, so exquisite, her need was a bright flame in her heart, drowning out all else including the vengence. There was no other world but her, the victim, and the cold marble she slithered along. Rubbing her body against Dreamer, his blood smeared across her naked body. Like pufferfish poison, the electric stings set every nerve alight, a bright burning warmth slowly making progress into her capillaries and soon to her veins. Once it hits her heart there will be no control, like Mother, there will only be hunger left then, too powerful for even her to control.
"Sweet Dreamer" She hissed as she pawed at his face, smearing more blood on her face. "You were the last piece I needed. I need your power to cloud our minds like we can all cloud the humans"
Dreamer mouthed words that would not come, the horror of his inevitable end was all that his mind could hold. Somewhere in the deep recesses of his mind where still lurked some self control, words came out and descended through the horror and fear and finally found the real world. "No, you don't know, my power isn't just clouding..."
She had bitten deep finally, his words droning on into the atmosphere no more care for her than sunshine. Dreamer's eyes slowly closed and his lips still moved but slow and uncertain.
"I'm sorry." On his lips from his last breath, and after these strange words, the first name she wore once born to night. The one that lasted the longest, and brought back memories of good times not quite forgotten. And the bitterness of what followed still burned brightly in her heart. Finally draining him empty of what blood was still not on the floor, she stood and let his body fall wetly to the floor. Power filled her now, a wave of warmth and strength, what had he meant by that last? His knowledge filled her mind as well as his powers, and she saw the plans of her enemies. Their machinations were at a delicate time, and now she had the last piece she needed to start her revenge.
The dark lady strode towards the western door were a grey peasant woman hovered. "Gather the sisters, they are off to Munich"
"Munich?" The grey creature hunched low when speaking.
The crypt beneath the castle was lit by the sunlight streaming in through an opening in the ceiling. A garden no longer tended surrounded the hole above at ground level, and below, Ester alone in her death's cache slept with the ancient bones. Along with the hunger and eternal night, another sacrifice was required, the damned do not dream. Yet here was Ester, and around her was a field she sat in decades ago, thousands of miles away and decades since. The crypt and the bones were gone, replaced by low pasture grasses and three frolicking rabbits not far away. Not a memory but more, all the sights and sounds and smells of life already lived, but real and now. Ester knew what was next, what Dreamer meant with his dying sorrow, living again the same moments, the sweetness of fresh new love, knowing already the horrible instant when it ends. Once again she breathed the air of the great early Victoria, a new Queen and a fresh young time, a time before heartbreak and horror, when a pure and bidding love could stoke a dead heart to flame. A time she lived long ago, and the memories of which had faded to forgetfulness. But no longer, as the old painful memories assaulted her again, the bitter edge of happiness lost burning bright hot red flame to her heart.
She grabbed the book out of my hands. I could have stopped her easily, humans move like they are under water. Why did I let her do that? Was I already in love by then? In an instant.
The field was past harvest time, a collection of wild prairie and wheat poorly tended. The grasses were crushed down around the two of them in a wide circle. The moon was full and bright and the stars were blazing diamonds in the sky here far enough away from the villages in the countryside. It was quiet for human ears, rustling wind and distant water running, an oasis in the new loud industrial world, but an exciting world as well, much like her own time. And now here was this pretty creature dancing for her, with a blazing heart like a coal fired steam engine racing on rails.
"They call you Bookworm, but your name's Ester...Ester Autumn, such a beautiful name. it fits you. That's what you should call yourself. My name's Winter, how crazy is that with our names?" Winter danced around the circle reading the book as she did, never missing a step.
So light and graceful, could a human even move so sweetly?
"Your name's not Winter, it's Mary" Why did I say that? I wanted to tell her how her eyes shined in the moonlight.
"My father's master says Mary is the name for whore in the bible, besides, your name now is Bookworm. Why not Winter for me?" She said the words so sadly, I wanted to go to her and hold her in my arms.
"Your master is Jerrol Johnville" Swordmaster she whipered in her head along with her spoken words. Stop spouting facts and tell her how you want her. I was evading everything important, those walls were still up, but so quickly did they fall for her.
"What name would you choose, if you could choose?" She stopped meters away, in a sweet and sinful pose. What did she mean? Surely not what just her words would elicit, smiling so seductively?
"A name's just a label, what does it matter" No. Idiot. Tell her you want to touch her. Tell her you want to hold her. Tell her you want to kiss her. What are you doing?
"I'm going to call you Ester, because it's beautiful and it fits you." Winter sat down in the flattened brown prairie grass. She handed back the book. "I read this, He's a simpleton. The workers? really? The strong rule... always have, always will."
Then she was off again dancing in the fallen grass. Ester's book was forgotten in her hands as she watched Winter. Winter's skin smelled of burning sunshine and cool ocean breezes, the scent hovered in the air trailing her, fell on the ground and twisted among the mat of dry brown plants along to Ester. Ester's eyes were completely captured, the prairie grass and the moon and stars were grey shadows to her now, faded to nothing by Winter's blazing eyes.
The way the moonlight made her eyes flicker and pulse, did human eyes see it? Did my own kind even see it, or was it for me alone that Winter's eyes shined?
Soon the dancing was done, and the night wore on sweetly and silently as they lay in the tall grass and rested beside each other. Ester watched Winter's face stare at the moon, slowly drawing her gaze along Winter's forehead and down her nose, with its upturned tip, and then her smile. The sweet fresh ocean breeze scent covered Ester making the hairs on her arms lightning straight. No longer did she smell like hunger's end, but more, something sweet and kind.
"Like a toy." Winter's insight struck Ester dumb momentarily. Winter turned to her and smiled, "The moon, it seems so far away, but clear, like I could touch it and pluck it from the sky and give it to you."
This moment she had seared into her deepest memories, if a time came she existed as only thought reason and one memory only, it would be this memory, these precious seconds now, winter's eyes, purple glowing pulsing with every heartbeat. A heartbeat that matched the rhythm of Ester's own heart. A heart that felt like a living thing again and not the dead thing it had been for centuries, lasting loneliness over in seconds, starting with eyes glowing bright, and then Winter's breath against her face, breath sweet as tropical moonlight falling on soft white beaches empty except for them. Winter's fingers touched Ester's arm and every follicle was lightning alive. Moving up her arms and knee and Ester needed her more than souls for Jesus. Was there even a moon anymore, or a prairie field? Their breasts touched through layers of cotton and linen both wished away madly. Then the moment, lips touching, brushing across wet and sweet. Don't pull back, lean in and make love in the tall grass like it was the last night of happiness you will ever have. But no, this time was just like the last time lived, pulling back frightened, shocked, excited, wanting her more. Just a peck, but instantly and always for her, my heart did more than just pump fluid and for the first time.
Instant blackness descended upon Ester's eyes and Winter was gone forever again. Fresh searing pain hit her heart and despair and emptiness and blackness and hate and vengeance.
"Be with her, Ester" Now Mother's eyes looked down on her. "Even alive for centuries, there is never enough time for love."
"Mother really." Ester spoke from behind a thick blanket in a grand bed.
"It's a different time now, be with who you want." Mother drifted across the bedroom floor, her feet moving like feet should move, but so graceful and light she seemed to float. "And who are we to obey the laws and mores of our diner? Wolves do not concern themselves with the feelings of their meat."
"He says they are right and we are soulless." Ester slowly moved out from her blanket and sat cross-legged on the end of her bed.
Mother touched a row of books lightly with her finger as she walked to the window and closed a heavy steel curtain over the window from a hidden recess. Turning to Ester she was instantly beside her on the bed. Her eyes looked down and she took Ester's head in her arms and held her close for a second, then lifted her head in her hands so their eyes met.
"Oh does He? The capital H He? Big bad Malum?" She laughed as she spoke blasphemy.
"Mother?" Ester shrieked fear.
"He was just a human once like us all. And he can't hear everything, everywhere. there is space for you to be yourself here." Mother stood and looked down on her daughter. "We are Greek, daughters of Hecate. Don't forget that. Their Jew god is not our god so what do his curses mean to us? We live by our own laws, not theirs."
"Their Jew god curse is pretty powerful is it not Mother?" Ester bared her teeth to make her point.
"Wonderful curse, Liebchen, we will live forever isn't that nice? Forever young and beautiful" Mother passed the mirror and looked close and pulled at her skin near her eye. "Well, you are young and beautiful, I saw to that right."
Mother put her hand down and in an instant was beside her daughter again. "Are we not gods now ourselves? Perhaps we were destined for eternity from the start, and our human lives was merely a chrysalis. Moon goddesses now, that is us dear daughter."
"Moon goddesses it is then, Mother" Laughing with my Mother, another sweet painful dagger in the heart, knowing what has become of her.
"What if this is not a curse from their Jew god, but a blessing, a boon, from our gods? Our gods are older than theirs, far older. Who is Lucifer Lightbringer if not Prometheus?" Mother turned serious, looking in her daughters eyes for an answer.
"Prometheus was hated by all the gods." What did she want me to say?
"all but one." Mother leaned down and pressed her warm lips against Ester's forehead. "Sweet dreams, my love."
"The damned do not dream."
Awakened to the new night now, Ester descended from her stone perch, a hole in the wall barely noticeable from below or above. The floor of the crypt was soft moist earth, mushrooms grew along the edges of the finely chiseled walls and the marble monolith in the center. Ester stood in the center with the night visible through an opening in the roof to the sky above the monolith. Starlight streamed in and illuminated all the white surfaces.
Did he think it would break me? To see her again? Is that why he sent Dreamer?
She stared at the night sky with fists clenched tight until the sun came up, precious blood trickling from between her fingers hitting the floor. All the while her mind raced plans and strategies pinpointing error, eliminating possible points of failure in her vengeance, the Chessmaster's gift. All the new night's information processing along with decades of planning and intelligence gathering. The sun rose and its deadly rays assaulted the earth and found its way into the crypt's roof opening and finally hit Ester's skin. She let its light burn into her, the pain freeing her from the weight of her lost love. Before her skull was completely exposed, she turned and entered the dark shadows of her day's recess.