Saturday, July 9, 2016

Threat of the Fire Demon - Chapter 33 - The Conclusion

The first snow of the season fell late last night and left the farm looking clean and fresh.

Charles and Saul were dressed as though they were preparing for a hunt. Charles has on his cloak with his bow and quiver slung over his back. Saul had his dragon tooth dagger and spent the morning sharpening his claws. Azur joined them holding Simone in her arms.

“You be a good girl for Brela and mommy will bring you home a surprise,” she said, as she kissed the child and handed her off to the satyr.

Charles leaned over and kissed Simone on the top of the head. “We’ll be back soon.” He handed Azur her staff.

Saul patted Brela’s shoulder and bent down to rub noses with Simone before turning his back toward the door.

Charles gave Brela one last warning. “Stay in the house and don’t open the door to anyone. Remember Raven has been known to blackmail in order to have someone do his bidding. Even a human could be persuaded to hurt us if he is holding their loved ones hostage.”

Brela smiled reassuringly at Charles and then looked down at Simone. “We’ll bake cookies and color until Daddy and Mommy get back. Does that sound like fun?”

Simone nodded her curly topped head and snuggled into the satyr’s chest. “Cookies,” she said with a smile.

*****

Everyone seemed to be out this morning as the trio trudged toward Raven’s mansion. They passed children trying to accumulate enough snow to build a snow-elf from the light dusting of an inch or two that fell overnight. There were other children sledding down a gentle slope and some adults pulling a couple of children in a box fitted with rails. They all waved and called greetings to the Bouchards and Saul as they passed.

Henry was out pitching hay to his stock when they walked by. He stopped what he was doing and waved. “Wait up, there!” He called.

The trio came to a stop at the edge of the road where it forked off to the farm.

“Morning,” Henry called, as he caught up with them. “Where you three off to?” When he reached them he planted his pitchfork and leaned on it in a relaxed stance. “Saw the flyers and heard you had them put up. What’s going on, Charles?”

Charles didn’t want to worry anyone needlessly, but he also knew Henry well enough to realize the man couldn’t be put off easily.

“We’re headed to Raven’s Mansion. Many members of the vampire coven are ill with red eye, but the potion Azur used to cure all of you doesn’t seem to be working for the vamps.”

“Really…” Henry dragged the word out like it was lodged in his throat. “Sick vamps? How sick?”

Charles lowered his voice even though there was no one, but the four of them, close enough to hear anything. “Dying.”

“Sounds like a good outcome to me,” Henry said.

“Except that they got it from the humans so Raven is of a mind to purge the blood pool of any human who has, or has had, red eye,” Charles added.

“Hence, the flyers and probably the reason for Claymore being killed.” Henry scrubbed at the stubble of beard on his chin with a thumb. “Guess we got no option, but to help them.” He fingered the handle of his pitchfork. “You want some help? I don’t have a gun or a sword, but I am damned good with this here pitchfork and it’s got silver tongs.”

Charles put his hand on Henry’s shoulder. “I appreciate the offer, but I think a smaller force is better.”

Martha, came out the door of the house behind Henry and hurried out to the group. She had something wrapped in a cup towel and had thrown a shawl over her shoulders.

“I just baked this nut bread,” she offered them. “It’s still warm.”

Henry reached out and put his hand on his wife’s extended arm. “They’ll pick it up on the way back, Hon. They're on an errand.”

“Oh, all right.” She looked disappointed. “Stop by and I’ll add a cup of tea to it.”

“We’ll do that,” Azur offered. “Hopefully, we won’t be long.”

“You sure, Charles?” Henry pressed. “We could pick up Jenson and Roland on the way too.”

“What’s going on?” Martha asked, looking from face to face.

“They’re headed to Raven’s to see if they can help some sick vamps,” Henry answered, before Charles could stop him.

“Henry, we need to do this quietly,” Charles warned.

“Sure…sure…” Henry said. “I just don’t like the idea of you taking a woman in there. We both know he is one nasty, treacherous bastard.”

“I have to see them,” Azur explained.

“It’s foolish,” Martha pronounced flatly. “I can’t imagine why you would risk such a thing.”

“They’re doing it for us,” Henry said. “Raven’s threatening to kill humans for given his coven members red eye.”

Martha reached out and grabbed Azur’s arm. “You can’t go, Azur.” They would all be lost without her fertilizer and healing powers. They would be back where they were before she came, struggling during the winter months just to survive.

Azur patted Martha’s hand. She didn’t know how really dangerous it was for her. The woman thought she was a vulnerable human. If she only knew how much Raven hated her. “I have to go. Charles and Saul will take good care of me.”

Henry put a consoling hand on Martha’s shoulder and pulled her back toward him so the trio could be on their way.

“You be careful,” he advised.

Charles, put his own arm around Azur. “We will.”

*****

Charles and Saul flanked Azur as they approached the mansion. Azur had not been on this side of town before. The mansion was impressive, but dark and quiet. If you didn’t know a vampire ruler and the majority of his coven were inside you would have thought it deserted. No children playing in this yard, the drapes drawn over every window.

Charles took the lead and Saul brought up the rear with Azur between them. Charles knocked on the heavy oak door and waited. After what seemed like a reasonable time, he pounded on the door. There was still no answer. He tried the door and found it unlocked. Not unusual when you considered the residents within. He doubted Raven ever locked his door, but he did usually have a guard on hand. There was no one in site.

Saul’s hackles rose. “I don’t like this.”

“Neither do I,” Charles confirmed. “Stay close. Keep Azur between us.”

They searched the full downstairs without running into a single vamp or human. Of course, they could all be tucked away for the day, but that was not normal judging from Charles and Saul’s past experiences at the mansion. Usually, there were guards, Raven’s current errand runner, the human staff of cook and housecleaner, Raven himself, when called upon.

“Upstairs?” Saul asked with a glance in that direction.

“I think that is best. I know what is downstairs and we’re not going there unless we have to,” Charles answered. His skin crawled at the thought of all the diseased and dying vampire in the dungeon.

Saul took the lead. Charles fell back to walk beside Azur. They slowly made their way up the long sweeping staircase to the first landing. There, Saul paused and went to one knee. He reached out his paw and swept it across a slightly raised area on the carpet. Ash billowed in the breeze from his paw.

“Vampire dust,” he said and his ears pricked forward toward the next step where a similar pile lay. “Could they all be gone?”

“Let’s finish looking,” Charles advised.

Saul had just reached the second landing when a vampire flew out of the shadows and knocked him to the floor. It was over him, its boil oozing face mere inches from his. It bared its fangs and hissed. Saul snarled back. There was no time for reasoning. No time for discussion. Charles reached out with his aura and slammed the creature to one side. Its body thudded against the wall. The sound had the effect of a dinner bell. Ravenous looking vampires – being caught between vampire and zombie – flooded from the rooms along the hall at the top of the stairs. There were dozens of them. A mass of putrid wasting bodies headed in their direction.

Charles pushed Azur toward Saul as the catman regained his feet. “Run!”

Saul grabbed Azur with the intention of following Charles’ instructions, but it was as though the diminutive fire demon was glued to the floor. She refused to budge and nothing short of picking her up was going to get her to leave Charles’ side.

The vampire mass was moving toward them, but slowly, as though stalking. It was as though the red eye had sapped them of their super speed. They were truly the walking dead.

“Stop!” a voice commanded. The mass parted and from the rear stepped Raven.

Red eye had come knocking at his door too and found him. His face was covered in the same oozing boils as his fellow coven members. He was in a long flowing robe with a high cowl that fell over his shoulders. The hand that held his cane peeked from the overly long sleeves. It was so distorted with the angry pustules it was almost featureless.

“Did you come to gloat, Charles?” Raven asked in a voice that rattled the rafters. “Gloat all you like!” he screamed, “but I had time to set my revenge in motion. You and your woman will pay for this!” He coughed and black bile spilled from his lips. “YOU WILL PAY!” His eyes glowed red with pent up anger.

Azur stepped forward. Charles caught at her sleeve, but she slipped out of his grasp. She showed no hesitation in approaching the vampire.

“I am Azur, the fire demon,” she said, as though the vampire had not figured that out already. “I am here to help, though why I would want to is beyond even my own comprehension.”

Charles stood transfixed, as did Saul, watching Azur bravely approaching the vampire ruler. She did not falter, but walked directly toward Raven. With her announcement, even though she appeared human, the other vampire creatures fell back. Raven defiantly stood his ground.

“You will die with all the other humans in this realm!” Raven spat in anger.

“No one is going to die today,” Azur said. She lunged forward and threw her hand over Raven’s as he held his cane.

He tried to pull away, but the red eye had sapped his strength. His eyes showed shock and then he screamed in pain, a high pitched screech that made Saul’s eyes lay back tight against his head. It sounded like a man being peeled of his skin while stretched out on a rack. He fell to the floor and writhed in agony as Azur’s hand remained steadfastly clasp to his. The other vampires fell back further into the shadows, some retreating into their rooms to disappear behind closed doors.

Raven’s body closed in on itself. He cowered on the floor in a huddled heap at Azur’s feet, his hand still on his cane, with hers atop it. His scream diminished to a sobbing wail and then finally to a whimper. It had taken only a few minutes, but it seemed like hours as the four were frozen at the top of the landing with Raven’s screams echoing through the mansion. When his whimpering stopped the silence was almost deafening.

Azur removed her hand and stepped back. Charles and Saul came back to life almost simultaneously. They moved to either side of Azur just as Raven rose to his feet. He swayed before them as his head lulled forward on his chest, the cowl of his robe obscuring his face.

When he looked up Azur’s companions were shocked beyond words. Raven was the picture of health. No more oozing boils, in fact, he did not even have the gaunt look of his usual vampire countenance. He looked human in every respect. Azur’s healing touch had saved him and brought him back from the jaws of death that were nipping so closely at his heels.

Raven straightened even further and took a hesitant step back. His eyes glowed red. Saul’s hand fell to his dagger and Charles’ aura flared. Azur took each by the hand and moved them back a step away from the vampire.

“You’re not going to hurt anyone, are you, Raven?” she asked softly. “Look at your hand.”

Raven inspected the hand holding his cane. He raised the other to his face to feel the now clear skin. His eyes narrowed and he hurled the cane to fall clattering to the floor against the far wall.

“What have you done?” He commanded.

“I have healed you,” Azur said. “You can feel that… and more… can’t you.”

Raven gripped his head and fell to his knees before them. “No…” he wailed. “Get out of my head.”

“It will pass in time,” Azur assured him. “Until then, I will heal your coven members in a more traditional way and you will call off whoever, or whatever, you have planned for your revenge.”

Raven looked up, but when his eyes met Azur’s he cringed and looked away again.

“Am I understood? A simple trade. Your coven members for me and our people from this day forward. I will see that your people remain red eye free and you will see that they do not retaliate against the human population and take no more than will sustain them.” Azur reached out and touched the vamp on the shoulder. “Are we agreed?” she demanded.

“Agreed,” Raven relented, but retorted in anger, “get it done and get out!”

*****

After examining a number of the afflicted vampires, Azur retreated to the mansion kitchen and with the ingredients in her pack prepared the potion needed to cure the vampires. It would not only heal them, but act as a vaccine against further contraction of the disease should they feed from another formerly infected human.

When they emerged from the mansion they found Henry with fifty-odd friends all waiting on the front lawn. They had come, ‘just in case,’ Henry said.

Charles walked with his arm around Azur as they made their way home. They intended to stop at Henry and Martha’s for a cup of tea and a slice of that bread before continuing home. The crowd was anxious to hear the story of what took place in the mansion as they waited patiently on the lawn. Henry told them he would get all the details and pass it on.

Later, when Charles and Azur were alone he lifted his wife's face up to him between gentle hands. She had silver threads through her hair she had not had before healing Raven. And, there were tiny wrinkles at the corners of her eyes. "You have aged," he said, planting a kiss on her nose.

"Healing always takes its toll." She reached up and stroked his cheek.

“What did you do to Raven, other than heal him,” Charles asked. “You and he don’t have a connection like ours was after you healed me, do you?”

“No,” Azur assured him. “I only gave him a glimpse of what would happen to him and his coven should he go back on his word. I don’t think Raven will be bothering us in the future.”

*****

From the Journal of Charles Xavier Brouchard

It has been over a month now since our encounter at the mansion with Raven and his coven. Azur, Saul and I went up there today to check on the recovery of the coven members. We were told by the guards at the door that they were ordered not to admit us. We were handed a note from Raven.

Charles,

You and your wife’s services are no longer needed. My coven has recovered and we have enough of her gaggingly sweet potion to last us an eternity. You may cease your weekly check in.

Please take this personally when I say, ‘I hope to never see you or your wife again.’

See that she stays locked up at night if you wish to keep her.

Sincerely, Raven

For now I believe all is well in The Realms.


If you enjoyed this story, please leave a comment. I love hearing from my readers.

If you would like to read more about The Realms and the creatures who inhabit it, think about picking up copies of the "Shifting" novellas in the Twin Cities Series.

I will take a break for a week to contact my Dragon muse, and on July 23rd, we will be off on a new #SerialSaturday adventure with Farloft in the Kingdom of the Last Dragons.

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