Dark Origins; Book IV of the Vampyre Tales
"So is everything we have been taught, everything that we have come to know, is it all wrong then?"
"Everything as you have come to understand it to be, is nothing more than a carefully constructed, meticulously maintained and ruthlessly enforced fabrication."
The January night air was crisp and well chilled, with not a breath of wind to be felt within winter’s icy grip. The moonlight that filtered down through the clouds, clouds that appeared as though a fine sheer lace had been draped across an ebony canvas, found its way through the entanglement of barren tree branches and made the snow that lay upon the land sparkle as though the ground was covered in granular sugar. Within this dark inhospitable forest, a place where even the native woodland creatures had either departed or hunkered down in whatever shelter they could find in order to wait out the bleak winter months, two armour-clad horsemen slowly guided their mounts through the trees. Great black horses, as dark as the night they traveled through, slowly made their way between the trees, their weight and gait of their stride driving their hooves through the white powder, firmly pounding the frozen earth that lay secluded beneath it. The riders, their once gleaming armour now soiled and stained with caked on blood, the once white tunic, its symbolic red cross upon the chest now barely visible, its vibrant colour lost within the bloody hue.
One rider withdrew his hand from the reins and slowly worked his fingers back and forth within the steel gauntlet he wore. “I dislike this never-ending cold,” he said firmly, his tone willfully hushed in an otherwise silent night.
“You will not succumb to it however,” the other rider replied in much the same tone.
The man who had spoken first quietly chuckled under his breath, his deliberately hushed mirth stating without the need of words that he agreed with the proclamation as it had been given.
From that point the two riders carried on in silence, the only sound to indicate they were even there was the steady breathing of their mounts. The horse’s short powerful exhales produced plumes of white condensation, a vapour that was quickly swallowed up by the night’s bitter chill.
As the forest began to thin, the greater spaces between the trees making navigation through its interior less daunting, distant sounds could suddenly be heard. The two riders came to halt almost in unison as the muted noises carried through the still night air reached their ears. Remaining motionless for a moment in order to better decipher what it was they were hearing, they did not remain still for long. Gently pressing their steel covered heels into their steed’s sides, they pushed forward. Arriving at the edge of the forest they had been travelling through for a better part of the day and night, both riders stopped and looked out over the shallow valley that lay before them. The horses fidgeted, happy to be still for the time being, but having learned that to remain so too long often meant death would soon find them. One dark stallion grumbled its objections and its rider leaned forward softly stroking the beast’s powerful neck in a reassuring fashion. “There, there my friend, we shall be moving soon enough. Best take your rest for now.” His words were soft and comforting, more suited for that of a frightened child, one who had been suddenly jarred awake from a vivid nightmare, than it was for a battle-seasoned stallion.
In the snow-filled valley that lay before them there could be seen an encampment of soldiers, their fires and tents dotting the otherwise stark wintery landscape.
Continuing to softly stroke the mane of his mount, the first rider made a quiet inquiry of the other. “How many would you estimate to be down there?”
Not bothering to look at the man who had posed the question, the other rider adjusted his seating slightly before replying, his words most causal for what seemed like a troubling query. “In this light and distance, I would say there could be as many as four hundred.”
The man who had posed the question sat up slightly, holding his body weight upon his arms, his hands placed firmly on the saddle’s leading edge, “and of their minions?”
The other rider looked over at his brother in arms but for a moment before returning his gaze back to the men currently occupying the valley. “I am not worried about those who follow blindly. They will scatter when they see their Masters begin to fall.”
“Perhaps, but until they do, it would be foolish not to take them into account.”
“You are like an old woman, Rubeus. You worry too much,” the other rider chastised, an air of humour in his words.
Rubeus pointed an armour covered finger towards the other man and moved it to and fro in a gentle stabbing manner. “There is good reason as to why old women reach the age they do, Demediel, they are mindful of the details.”
Demediel tilted his head backwards and let out a silent volley of laughter at his comrades remark before returning to his more natural composure, one of cool unwavering confidence. “I would have to say there are likely to be between one and two hundred of their followers... based upon what we have seen in the past.”
Rubeus turned his attention back towards the encampment as he made his thoughts known. “Two against possibly six hundred, four hundred of which are well trained men,” he looked back towards Demediel, “I do not like those odds.”
Demediel shrugged off the concern that had been put forth, casually commenting as he did so. “I would argue your point on those men being well trained, but beyond that, we have been in worse situations, you and I.”
Rubeus shrugged off Demediel’s first comment as he addressed the second. “This is true, but it does not mean we need to actively seek out this sort of engagement. Good fortune may not always smile upon us.”
Demediel began to dismount and when he was down, his feet set firmly upon the ground, he walked through the unblemished snow until he was standing directly before his steed. Removing his steel-plated glove he tucked it up under his left arm as he addressed Rubeus’ comment. “Good fortune has little if anything to do with whether we are victorious or not.” He placed his bare hand onto the massive beast’s nose and gently rubbed it, letting his cool skin flow in the direction of the animal’s shiny black coat. “I do not think I need to tell you what will happen come daybreak should we stand by and do nothing.” He pulled his hand from the horses head and pointing it loosely towards the valley. “But in case you may have forgotten, let me remind you. Those self-appointed representatives of God will ride into that village kill, rape and burn everything that does not fit into their bastardized rendition of numerous pilfered religions!”
Rubeus brought a gloved hand to his chin and rubbed it over several weeks’ worth of whiskers before he too dismounted. “If I did not know you better, you would have me believing that you are a Saint, a true Champion of mankind.” He paused for a moment to remove his glove, doing with it much as Demediel had done, tucking it beneath his arm. “If this were any other night, it would be you those villagers would be in fear of.”
Demediel tilted his head slightly to one side as if weighing up that which was just said. After but a few moments however and having nothing for which to dispute the harsh accusation, he simply smiled and agreed with his comrade. “True enough.”
Demediel brought his wrist up to his mouth and using his teeth, tore open a large wound in his skin. As the blood began to bubble up from the ragged tear, he pressed his wrist to the lips of the massive black horse. With his free hand he held the animal firm with its bridle as he rubbed the blood that was now running from his self-inflicted wound around the horse’s mouth until the great beast began to lap it up. “Good my friend, drink deep,” he encouraged in a soft yet firm voice, “when you are done you will feel little pain should it so happen to find you.”
In almost a mirror-like representation of what was taking place to his left, Rubeus did the same, first opening up his own wrist and then offering it up to his steed. “I do not believe our mothers would approve of us being soldiers,” he stated quietly as his mount began to feed upon his blood.
Demediel did not look up, but remained focused on what he was doing. “I do not believe that our mothers would have approved of our kind being hunted en masse and slaughtered either.” His reply, although delivered in a hushed voice, left little room for misinterpretation. He pulled his hand back from the horse’s ruby-stained lips and brought his damaged wrist up to his mouth. Placing his lips over the wound, he held it there for but a few moments at best before pulling it away and inspecting it closely in the muted silver light of the veiled moon. Satisfied the wound he had created not but a moment before was now closed over, he turned his attentions back to the issue at hand. “Never lose sight of the fact that we were not the ones that started this mass extermination disguised as a holy war…” He pulled his armoured glove back on and adjusted the chainmail sleeve so that it fit properly under the gauntlets protective covering. “… but rest assured, I will see it finished.”
His dark sermon delivered to the congregation of one, Demediel turned away and remounted his horse, whereby he waited in silence for Rubeus to finish.
His gory task now also having been completed, Rubeus tended his wound, replaced his glove and then gave the beast that had been feeding from his wrist a loving caress as he spoke softly to the animal. “I will do my utmost to keep you safe my friend.” The large horse snorted and pawed and the snow-covered ground with one of its great front legs before quietly settling down so that Rubeus could mount up. Once he was up and seated in the saddle, Rubeus reached back over his shoulder and pulled out a long sword that had been tucked under the blood-stained tunic and chainmail. Examining it briefly, he tucked it in along his thigh and then gripped it against the saddles bindings and thick blanket so that it was all but invisible to anyone who might look upon him. His spare sword now tucked away in stealth, he pulled his main sidearm up from its scabbard and then dropped it back into place. He repeated this action several times ensuring that the weapon would not bind if it were needed in short order. When he was done, he looked over at Demediel and gave him a short nod. Demediel returned the gesture, adjusted his helmet slightly and then with subtle hand and leg movements, got his mount moving forward. “Surprise will be our ally this night my friend,” he stated in a low confident voice. “The fools will welcome us with open arms.”
“Let us hope those welcoming arms are not within reach of a keen blade,” Rubeus replied grimly.
The two riders slowly made their way down the snowy incline, not trying to hide their approach in any way. Even when the shouts of the men who stood on watch reached their ears, words of alarm telling the comrades of their approach, they did not change their gait nor did they alter their direction, but continued to maintain a steady path towards the encampment. For Rubeus and Demediel, their eyesight keenly suited for the conditions found within the dead of night, when it so happened to be accompanied by the soft moonlit illumination, it was as though they were riding in the midday sun. While the men in the camp scampered about within the veil of a cold winter’s night, the watchmen strained to try and discern, through the same cloud-filtered lunar light, who it was that now approached their encampment, the two riders, by stark contrast, could see everything that lay ahead of them and all of it in the sharpest of detail.
At less than one hundred yards, a distance that was separated by only snow and a spattering of small trees, eight men with swords drawn began to make their way through the knee-deep snow towards the two approaching horsemen. With the advancement on both sides steadily progressing, the distance between the two opposing forces quickly began to diminish until one of the men on foot called out to the unknown riders. “We are the Knights Templar, what is your business here?”
“Stay close,” Demediel said well under his breath, “do not let them get between us before we break.”
Rubeus nodded his understanding of the plan carefully inching his horse over, inconspicuously closing the gap between that of himself and Demediel.
“We are Knights of the Templar also,” Demediel called back in a feigned weakened voice well-seasoned with an appropriate English accent. “William and Scott. We are in need of food and aid.”
His reply given, Demediel and Rubeus slowed their progression slightly but continued their approach as they watched the men conferring among themselves, carefully weighing up the information that was just received. Obviously not expecting trouble on a frigid winters’ night and certainly not from two of their own, the Templars from the camp sheathed their weapons and waved them forward.
“The trap has been set.” Demediel whispered as he slowly slumped forward, his body weight coming to rest upon his steed’s strong neck. Looking every bit the gravely wounded warrior, he slipped his sword from its scabbard and holding it backwards, tucked its length inside his forearm its tip disappearing beneath the flow of his bloodied tunic.
Seeing what they believed to be one of their own possibly succumbing to his injuries the cold or both, the men began to rush forward in order to lend assistance. The weight of their armour combined with the depth of the snow quickly took its toll and despite the years of life behind a sword and shield, they soon found themselves winded and struggling.
As the first of the eight men came up alongside Demediel’s horse he greeted him in an affirming manner “God has guided your journey my brother, you are safe now.”
Demediel raised his head, his eyes misting over in an oily black hue quickly obliterating anything that might have once looked human. Shining black orbs of polished obsidian cradled in porcelain white skin stared down at the lone Templar. “I am not your brother,” he growled, the tone within his words far below the range of any human voice. With his hand still firmly hold of his sword, Demediel suddenly sat bolt upright pulling the weapon from its concealment. In less than a single heartbeat he raised the heavy sword as though it weighed no more than a few ounces and using it like a dagger, he drove the point down into the man standing beside him. The razor-sharp tip found its mark, barely an inch above the chainmail that covered his chest and sliced effortlessly into the slight hollow at the base of his throat. With the force of a falling tree, Demediel drove the blade nearly three quarters of its length down in the man’s chest severing his airway and lancing his heart. His life extinguished in less than a second, the weight of his body remained upright for but a moment until, assisted by gravity, his knees gave way and he slid lifelessly off the length of Demediel’s sword, the long silver blade bloodied anew.
The two other Templars who were close at hand, having witnessed their brother fall, went to draw their swords but before they could fully remove them Demediel pulled back hard on the reins with one hand. The mighty black horse reared up and lashing out with its strong front legs struck both men in the face and head. Blood erupted from the crushing blows and sprayed out over the white snow as they fell, their bodies disappearing beneath the cold enveloping blanket.
To Demediel’s left, two other men had come along side Rubeus and despite the sudden turn of events, the commotion had happened so quickly the remaining men had no real time to react to what was taking place not six feet from where they were standing --- nor would they be given an opportunity to do so. Their attention momentarily taken from the horseman directly in front of them, there was nowhere near enough time to prevent what was coming. Rubeus, his sword still sheathed, snatched the long blade that he had concealed and in a great sweeping motion that started low and circled first upwards and then around to the back, he quickly brought it down and with the blade leveled horizontally, used the full force of his body to usher it forward. The weight of the weapon and the speed in which it was travelling meant that it met little resistance as it sliced through the neck of the first warrior severing his head from his body before beheading the second one in much the same manner. The now headless bodies slumped into the snow, their heads landing several feet from where their bodies had fallen, the warmth of the blood pooling out from the life-ending wounds, quickly melting the snow around them until the severed heads, under their own weight, disappeared from sight beneath the frigid white covering.
With five of the eight men sent out to meet the unknown riders now lying dead in the snow, the remaining three turned to run. Not accustomed to retreat, but also having not encountered any real resistance to their bloody campaigns in quite some time, having an alternative plan at the ready should something go array, did not seem to be an idea that was well practiced. Rather than splitting up, the three men struggled through the snow in a tight group trying desperately to alert their brothers of what was taking place in the dark not a hundred yards from their camp. Their winded cries however did not carry well and they had not made more than perhaps twenty yards before Demediel and Rubeus were upon them cutting them down as they charged past.
Their intentions now known, their quiet unassuming approach of a few moments before was now a full on charge towards the encampment. In what seemingly looked like a well-rehearsed duet, Demediel and Rubeus split up as they approached, one going left the other right. The moon now low in the sky, most of its radiance well hidden by thick low-lying cloud that lay suspended just above the treeline, they rode furiously through the darkness, their shadowy silhouettes barely visible in the inky blackness that lay claim to the land.
It had hardly been two minutes since their arrival was first noticed and as a result many of the men stumbling out of their tents were barely suited for what awaited them within the darkness. For many, death was delivered before they had made more than a single step from their warm enclosures. As screams of anguish quickly mingled with the cry to rally arms, Demediel and Rubeus continued to circle the camp, gradually working their way further into its center, crashing through tents and cutting down anything that emerged to stand against them.
Hearing the commotion coming from the Templar encampment, those who had joined in with the Holy army began coming to their aid. Men of all ages, armed with nothing more than simple farm tools began streaming in from the south end. Many of them, if not all, had no real idea what was taking place in the darkness just ahead of them. The men at the lead, some twenty or perhaps slightly more, pitchforks and axes at the ready, prepared to engage whatever army the villagers may have managed to hastily put together, when out of the darkness they heard the low rumbling thunder that did not belong to any storm of nature’s design. Almost in unison, the men turned towards where the sound seemed to be emanating from and stared into the cold ebony velvet. Less than a moment later, Rubeus’ great horse ploughed into the row of men with its huge armour-plated right shoulder sending them spilling backwards, their necks and backs broken. Those who were clear of the life-ending blow were not however spared the same fate, as a moment later icy cold steel ripped through their meager clothing severing both flesh and limb complete. The men who stood just back of those who had led the charge were left standing in the darkness, a spattering of warm blood running over their faces and slowly soaking into their clothing as they looked down at what remained of their forerunners, a dismembered mass of bloody misshapen bodies, some of them still crying out in overwhelming agony. It was an image that left those who remained, as yet unscathed, with a feeling that the night itself had come to life and cut their comrades down.
The sound of Rubeus’ mount thundering away into the darkness was barely out of earshot when, from the same direction Demediel’s horse emerged out of the icy night. Most of the remaining men were poorly armed, if at all and Demediel rode right through the middle of them, trampling dozens beneath the hooves of his mount. Those who remained outside the mighty horses wake were instantly cut down. His sword, a weapon accustomed to penetrating steel armour plate and woven chainmail, met no resistance whatsoever in cotton, burlap and leather.
Two passes completed, there would be no need for a third. Much as Demediel had stated while still at the edge of the forest, the men who had been coursed or ultimately forced into travelling with the Holy Soldiers of the Church, began to blindly scatter, taking any path that led them away from certain death at the hand of a nearly invisible enemy.
With the lesser of the opposing force now dead or fleeing in terror, Demediel and Rubeus refocused their combined attention on the remaining Templars who were desperately trying to regroup. A gathering of about forty men stood, their backs to each other in a tight formation, their swords drawn and aimed out. A few of them had managed to collect their shields and had them up and at the ready, but to their misfortune most did not. During the initial moments of the attack, many of the men, waking suddenly within their tents, were not afforded the time to retrieve their only means of defence before the riders were again returning. The formation they were trying to construct and hold with insufficient materials to do so was known as the box. It was a formidable Roman defence that was difficult for an opposing force to overcome, even under the best offensive conditions. Tall shields with swords or spears protruding out in every direction left an attacker very few striking points, but it was primarily a defensive posture giving those who made up its perimeter few options for executing a decisive offence.
Both Rubeus and Demediel had seen the men forming up near the middle of the now dishevelled encampment but left them be for the moment. They instead continued to race around and through the collapsed tents and smouldering fires killing off stragglers whether they tried to make a stand or run. Within less than thirty minutes of their initial arrival and not including the men who held the box formation, it was all over. The snowy ground in and around the once organized camp was now bloodied and littered with bodies. Demediel and Rubeus slowly rode through what remained of the camp, their eyes and keen hearing searching for any man that might still be alive. When they had made several passes and were well assured that nothing beyond forty desperate souls huddled together in a last stand were all that remained of a four hundred plus fighting unit, they turned their attention likewise.
Approaching from either direction, Rubeus from the north and Demediel from the south they slowly closed in on their quarry. In spite of their victory, neither of the riders were willing to simply go head to head with forty men, despite the box formation not being fully secured with an adequate number of shields. To do otherwise was to underestimate them, something of which often carried with it grave consequences. Even though both Demediel and Rubeus knew there would be no negotiation, simply because even though these men were not true Templars, the Church they represented still would not allow surrender, not under any circumstance and they themselves were not about to leave a single one of them alive. Despite this knowledge of how the end must be, Rubeus dismounted and when he was free of his stirrups, he patted the great beast’s neck. “Go on now, I will come for you shortly,” he said and he firmly pushed the horse into movement then stood and watched as it slowly made its way from his side, disappearing into the night. Turning his attention to the men who were now some twenty yards from where he stood he called out to them. “There is no shame in yielding to a greater force.” His words seemed to fall on deaf ears, the only sound being heard was that of a faint chuckle from Demediel who remained on his mount just to the south of the formation of men.
“What he means to say is; if you stand down your death will be swift and without suffering.” Demediel called out, his words cold and almost carefree given the harshness of the choice being offered up.
“We do not fear death!” a voice shouted back from within the group of men.
“So stand down and embrace it,” Demediel casually replied, an air of mirth within his words.
There was no further communication from the group of men who remained in the tight formation, seemingly held at bay by only two soldiers. The silent stalemate would carry on for several minutes before Demediel, having grown weary of the situation turned his horse and disappeared into the darkness. His departure however was not long-lived as he silently reappeared from the inky blackness carrying with him the Templars banner, its long pole held tightly in his grip. Riding up only marginally closer than he was before, he brought his steed to a halt and stuck the end of the banner pole into the trampled snow covered ground. He remained like that for a moment or two, almost motionless in the chill night air. When he was certain all of the men facing him could plainly see him, he casually released his grip on the pole and let it fall away from his side. The black and white banner, its traditional red cross in the middle, fell with a slight flutter into the snow. The Templar’s flag no longer flying high, Demediel gently pulled on the reigns and directed his mount over to where the Beauséant now lay. With deliberate purpose to his directions, the great horse stepped on and then slowly trampled the Templers sacred symbol into the blood-stained snow until it was no longer visible.
Seeing their crest fall made a few of the men in the box break formation for a moment but the others in the group quickly pulled them back.
“You are a disgrace to your Order and to your God!” Demediel shouted and then spit upon the ground were the banner lay trampled.
A voice from within the shielded men shouted back in anger. “God himself will smite thee for your arrogance vampyre!”
Demediel tilted his head back and laughed, the normal plume of condensation that should have been present within the chill night air, conspicuously absent within the mirth displayed. He held out his arms to either side as he continued to gaze up towards to the blackened heavens. “So have him do it now! he called back. “Have him strike me down for my insolence!”
He remained like that for well onto a minute before he slowly lowered his arms and brought his head forward. “Well?” he asked bluntly. “How long am I to wait for your God’s retribution?”
His query was met with only silence, something of which seemed to infuriate him more than if they had they slandered him further. Jumping down he kicked about in the snow where the banner lay until he found it and then with the tip of his boot under the pole, he flipped it up into his hand. Taking hold of the banner in his free hand he tore it from the staff and threw the now tattered and torn cloth back into the snow. Grasping the long Beauséant’s staff with both hands he ran towards the group of men, the sharpened point of pole extended five feet in front of him.
Seeing this sudden charge coming towards them, the men with what few shields they had pressed tighter together so that the edges overlapped and took a firm grip on the only defence they held. A Templar’s shield would withstand most any blow from sword or axe alike. Even a direct attack with the very point of a weapon could rarely penetrate the protective barrier and if it did, it would not be deep enough to reach the one that held it.
Running headlong toward the thinly shielded Templars Demediel waited until he was but perhaps a dozen feet from his target when he suddenly changed his grip on the staff. Taking it in one hand, he hurled it ahead of him, his aim deliberately high. As the sharpened projectile shot towards the group of men, they instinctively raised their shields in order to deflect the incoming spear. As they did, Demediel pulled his sword and threw himself upon the snowy ground sliding under the raised shields feet first.
Now on the ground and under the Knights, he held the sword with two hands, one at the handle the other placed just above the hilt and with great power he swung it against the legs of his foes. Having been roused from their slumber in such a violent and chaotic manner, many of the men had little time to dawn their protective clothing and so most had little if any leg armour. Demediel’s blade sliced into their flesh cutting to the bone and in some cases right through it. The men within the box suddenly found themselves caught within their own trap, unable to pull back their long swords and direct them down in between their tightly grouped formation.
Shrill cries of pain suddenly filled the night as the formation began to fall apart.
Rubeus, who had been standing by up until that point, making sure the men that were facing his way remained so, quickly moved in. With chaos suddenly erupting within their ranks, the men that had been staring down the lone rider to the north, turned to face whatever was taking place directly behind them. With one sword in hand Rubeus pulled the second from its scabbard and lunged at the Knights who had dropped their guard. Using both swords in unison, they worked like two giant scythes cutting down wheat in a field, only in this case it was not wheat that was falling under the merciless swing of the twin blades. Within moments the standoff was over and two horsemen stood among the bodies of what remained of four-hundred plus men.
Rubeus looked over at his blood covered comrade as he placed one of his swords back into its sheath. “Daring on your part, I must say.”
Demediel shrugged off the comment as he too placed his weapon back into its scabbard. “I grew tired of this game and of their insolent tongues.” Crouching down he retrieved one of the Templar swords and using the weapon against its own master, he swung it down onto the neck of one of the dead Knights severing his head completely with a single blow. Plucking up the head with one hand and still holding the sword, he drove the point of the weapon deep into the chest of the beheaded corpse effectively pinning it to the frozen ground. With sword now firmly embedded into the dead soldier, he held the severed head with both hands and forced the open end of the neck onto the pommel until it was well secured.
His gristly task completed he took a step back in order to take in his handy work.
“Why must you do such things?” Rubeus asked, his words and tone genuinely perplexed.
Demediel glanced over at his comrade for but a moment before returning his gaze to the severed head he had just forced into place upon the end of the sword. “There is a reason we are feared, Rubeus and I am simply reinforcing that fear here tonight.”
“Do you not think that finding some four hundred men slaughtered in the snow enough to instill fear into those who seek us out?” Rubeus inquired in a matter of fact voice.
“Perhaps it is,” Demediel replied, “I suppose I am simply making sure.”
Rubeus shook his head ever so slightly, obviously not sharing Demediel’s thoughts on the matter at hand. “We best take our leave of this place. It will not be long before others come to see about the disruption.”
“Agreed,” Demediel stated flatly.
They stepped over the dead until they were clear of them and stood on the uneven trampled snow. Rubeus whistled out into the night, a shrill note that varied several times in its pitch. A few moments later the dark horse he had sent off earlier silently emerged from the darkness as though it had just been born of the same all-encompassing colourless veil. When it had arrived at Rubeus’ side he took hold of the bridle and then walked along with Demediel to where he had dismounted. Arriving at the horse’s side Demediel turned to say something, but before he could annunciate the first word, Rubeus held up his hand in a precautionary fashion. A subtle noise within the folds of the night had caught his attention, but with nothing more to go on he could not determine what it was that had actually made the sound. Standing motionless in the dark, they both listened to the night as they took in the surrounding landscape anew, each one searching for something that may or may not be there. Both men knew the night could offer up a variety of sounds, most of which were benign in nature, but equally so and more pointedly, they knew that to not take due precaution was foolhardy.
Demediel turned and looked out over the top of his saddle and in that moment he heard the sound of feathers moving within the chill night air. These feathers however, did not belong to any bird of the night; these were put in place by human hands for one singular purpose, to guide an arrow straight and true to a selected target of the archers choosing. In that second he realized what it was, but it was to be a second too long and the arrow struck him in the back just under his left shoulder blade. The feathers on the short arrow, set into the shaft in such a way that it would cause the thin projectile to spiral through the air, not only keeping it true and on course, but also causing the point to drill into whatever it hit. The spinning arrowhead ripped effortlessly through the blood-soaked tunic, found its way in between the tiny gaps in the chainmail and deep into his flesh.
Demediel winced at the sharp pain that burned into his back, but beyond that he showed no other indication he had even been struck. Knowing full well the barbs on the arrow head would prevent it from being removed the way it had entered it left him but one option. Turning around so that his back was now towards his horse, he stepped backwards until the back end of the arrow was touching the steel plates that protected the stallion’s sides. Taking in a deep breath, he pulled back from the horse and then threw himself backwards against the massive animal knowing full well the beast would not move under the impact. The arrow in his back moved deeper into his body and he repeated the process until the point broke through his chest and protruded out from the chainmail. Taking the tip between his fingers he squeezed them tightly together holding the bloody steel tip tight and then in one slow smooth motion he pulled the entire arrow clean through. Holding it in between his fingers for but a moment, he inspected its blood covered length before casually letting it fall from his grip. The arrow fell silently through the air, coming to rest upon the snow at his feet. “It would appear that we have missed someone,” he said in a cold dark voice as he stared out into the blackness.
With their vision being what it was it only took a moment before they both spotted that which they were seeking. Beneath one of the many fallen tents, the dishevelled fabric seemed to move in an unnatural way, especially given there was not so much as a breath of wind to cause such a disturbance, as slight as it may have been.
Demediel and Rubeus parted company and carefully negotiated a path through the debris of the torn up encampment, slowly inching their way towards the downed tent from either side. When they were both all but on top of it, Demediel motioned with his hand for Rubeus to crouch down and take hold of the tents fabric. Rubeus did as he was silently instructed and when he had taken the fabric in his grasp he nodded to Demediel. Demediel nodded back and silently placed his hand around the grip of his sword. With his other hand raised in a fist, he slowly began to extend his fingers one at a time in a silent visual countdown. When he had reached the count of three, he suddenly dropped his hand, drew his sword as Rubeus pulled the tent away in one swift motion. There in what was left of the Knights battlefield bed chamber was bloodied older man, only half dressed and clutching a discharged crossbow to his chest.
Demediel quickly reached down with his free hand, grabbed the empty weapon from the man’s hands and flung it off into the darkness. Unarmed and trembling from both fear and the cold, the unarmed Templar brought his loosely clenched hands back up over his chest and waited for the worst as he spoke, his voice shaking. “I do not fear you, nor the death you bring to me this night.”
Demediel reached down and pulled the man up by his blood-spattered tunic. “Yes, so I have heard, more than a few times over the course of my meetings with your kind,” He growled and he gazed down with disgust at the man he held in his grasp.
The injured knight placed his hands around the wrist of his attacker and for the briefest of moments tried to dislodge the vice-like grip, but after only a few seconds he relented, quickly coming to the realization that the attempt was useless. “I will be victorious no matter the outcome here tonight, vampyre,” he said in a weak almost humble voice. “If you release me, I will heal from my wounds and live on to hunt your kind until not one of you remains, and if you strike me down, I will be welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven and be with God in a glorious everlasting light.”
Demediel, his grip still firm and unyielding, stared into the man’s eyes with unfeeling ebony orbs. “And what if I were to surrender to you, Templar? What would become of me? Would your Great Order show me mercy as your God as taught you? Mercy and forgiveness?”
With every ounce of courage he could muster up, the wounded Templar spoke the truth as he knew it to be. “If you were to surrender to me? I would end your life, as would any other such as I am.”
“I see,” Demediel replied softly, a far cry from his previous inquiry. “And if I were to be killed at your hand, murdered in fact, would I be absolved of my sins and welcomed into your God’s Kingdom?”
Unwavering in his resolve, the Templar again replied in the only way he knew how. “Never! The Kingdom of Heaven is for the Righteous and devote. Vermin such as the likes of you are to be erased from the face of the earth so that your unsightliness no longer offends God.”
“You are firm in your convictions Templar,” Demediel replied his fangs growing long as he spoke. “But, what might the outcome be if you yourself were found by your brethren to be… vampyre?”
A look of true terror came over the trembling Knight as Demediel brought his mouth down towards the man’s neck. Holding his victim tightly in his grip he whispered, “From what you have shared with me here this night, I believe you would be put to death for being that which we are and that your God… Well he would find you too vile to be permitted entry into His Heavenly Kingdom.” The points of his teeth slipped over the Knight’s skin, which even in the bitter cold, now glistened with a terror-induced sweat. “No my new-found brother, you will not be going to see this beloved God of yours as you so believe, but it is in that same belief that you will find yourself somewhere entirely different and upon arriving there, you are more than welcome to say hello to my father for me.”
With his dark thoughts having been shared with his captive audience, he sank his teeth deep into the man’s neck tearing out a large portion of flesh which he spat upon the ground. As the ruby-red torrent exploded from the wound, Demediel clamped his lips over the chasm and took in the warm sweet syrup. As the Knight’s life blood was consumed, he quickly fell faint until he could no longer support his own weight. Unwilling to simply let the man fall free of his grip, Demediel held onto him, slowly guiding his decent to snowy ground. There upon the icy white blanket of winter, he stopped drinking and slowly licked over the wound he created until it no longer appeared to be bleeding. It was as though some invisible barrier had been placed into the wound preventing further blood loss. The horrible crater still remained in the man’s neck, however, it no longer pooled with fresh blood.
Placing one knee down into the snow, Demediel leaned over the Templar who was now close to death and using his own teeth, opened up his wrist so his own blood could escape the veins that lay just below the thin pale skin. As the blood began to flow, he forced his wrist over the Knights lips and then with his other hand, pulled the man’s jaw down so the blood could find easy access into his mouth. The dying man’s mouth quickly filling with blood, it began to cut off his air supply. With barely enough strength to draw a breath, the failing Knight began choking on the viscus liquid, but after only a few weak attempts to expel what was in his mouth, he succumbed to the overwhelming foreign fluid and swallowed it down.
Demediel smiled slightly before removing his wrist from the lips of his victim. Bringing his hand up before his face, he softly suckled the self-inflicted wound until the tear within his flesh ceased to exist.
With the sinister deed now completed he looked around the destroyed encampment until he found what he was in search of. Standing up, he suddenly bolted off into the darkness. He was not gone long before he returned with one of the Templar’s horses in tow. When he had arrived beside the mortally wounded Knight, he stopped and stooping down he picked up the fallen warrior, hoisting him up into the saddle as though he weighed nothing more than that of a young child. “Collect some rope from the tents and we shall secure our brother in place,” he called back to Rubeus.
Not wishing to debate the plan that was already in motion, Rubeus did as had been requested of him and pulled up two long lengths of rope from the fallen tents around him. With the rope coiled up loosely in his hand, he carried them over to where Demediel stood holding the unconscious Templar in place.
Working together they quickly had the man secured into place so that he could not fall from his saddle, nor would he be able to free himself should the unlikely come to be and he awaken. The task now completed, they made their way to the small roadway that led through the valley with the horse and its unconscious rider in tow and there, pointing the horse in the opposite direction from that of the village, Demediel slapped the horse on its haunches and sent it galloping off in the direction the Knight’s followers had retreated in.
Standing together in the roadway, Rubeus and Demediel watched as the horse bolted off into the night, only disappearing from their view once it rounded the curve in the roadway and was obscured by the trees.
“I wonder if our brother will have a change of heart when he awakens,” Demediel asked an air of dark sarcastic humor in his voice.
“He may never have the chance once he is discovered,” Rubeus replied in grim but matter of fact voice “I am certain whoever finds him will take note of the wounds upon his neck and as such, I am equally certain they will not chance what may awaken from that slumber.”
Demediel pushed his lower lip out slightly as he slowly rubbed the whiskers of his black beard with his gloved thumb. “One cannot fault them for that now, truly.” He looked over at Rubeus. “The Church deems us a dangerous lot after all.”
Rubeus once again shook his head slightly and began to make his way back to collect his horse.
“What is it?” Demediel called after him. “You do not share this opinion of us then?”
“It matters not what I think. You, much as the Church, will do and think as you do,” Rubeus replied, his words hollow and lacking any real emotion.
“And you are too kind, my friend,” Demediel retorted, an air of serious humor to his words, “I fear it will be your downfall someday.”
Rubeus mounted his horse and adjusted his weight in the saddle “And you Demediel, you fear nothing and that is a trait that will undoubtedly be yours.”
Demediel pulled himself up onto his black steed and when he was settled upon the great beast he took up the reigns speaking quietly over the short distance that separated Rubeus from himself. “Perhaps, but I would rather die fearing nothing than to grovel under an illusion that there is actually something to be afraid of.” He waited for what seemed like a deliberately long moment as he kept his gaze focused upon the man he was just addressing before tapping his heels into the horses sides and started to ride off.
Rubeus did not share many of Demediel’s viewpoints, nor the manner in which he conducted himself, but despite those differences, he also found much truth in what he said, even if it was not delivered in the most tactful of ways.
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