“The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but the one who causes the darkness.”
- Victor Hugo
Descus lit the candle.
Flame spluttered to life at the end of the wick, twisting it black whilst light flickered casting shadows on the walls of the room. Descus’s face twisted in fear for a split second, his eyes widening but his features soon eased, a slight smile and chuckle, a hand patting his chest, soothing his quick beating heart.
Descus settled into his chair and began regarding the parchments in front of him. Scraps of notes, anecdotes and whispers gathered and organised, a puzzle to be solved. He dampened his fingers in a small bowl on the table top and starting flicking through papers – sightings in the Necropolis of known Augurs believed dead; another group acting suspiciously in the Promenade before losing their tail, disappearing down old tunnels. He grasped his hand together in prayer, lifting his eyes to the ceiling and then closing them. God…Bless your humble servant. Guide me to unravel the plots of those who profane your very existence.
Silence except for the voices of the faithful muttering downstairs. He opened his eyes and watched the shadows play along the roof. In the darkness he saw two pin pricks of utter blackness staring at him, almost like eyes. The darkness blinked.
The Sanctified let out a ragged shout and fell back out his chair, collapsing onto the floor. The shadows on the roof seemed to detach themselves and slide down the wall coalescing into a demonic shape. “Get away from me devil!” he yelled and the darkness snorted in amusement. The shadows bled away revealing a tall man. His black clothing clung tight around him whilst his long black hair was pull back and tied. Descus could see the devil’s face clearly, its kohl rimmed eyes black as the void. “You dark bastard – the Lord will rain down a shower of shit upon you and your wretched followers,” spat Descus at the apparition.
“How colourful…I thought your God worked in more mysterious ways,” whispered the shadow made flesh.
“Your time has passed. The light will shine upon his flock and save us from…”
“Save the flock perhaps,” it interrupted, “but not you,” and two curved knives appeared in its hands, the glass of the blades reflected in the candlelight. “As easy as 1,” a knife slashed across Descus’s throat, “two,” whilst another stabbed into his chest. Descus’s hands grabbed at the wound at his throat. The knife that delivered the first slice came back around, “three,” the shadow whispered as the blade cut off defensive fingers and through undead throat cartilage and flesh.
Descus became ash.
* * *
Severus moved quickly over to the desk. He gathered up the scraps of parchments, careful not to touch the desk or anything else on it. He could already hear movements at the top of the steps, just outside the door, when he finished stuffing his bag and turned and ran towards the window. The door behind him exploded inwards as Descus’s followers flooded through. All for ash he thought as he dived headlong through the shutters.
Falling…I am falling.
Light rain moistened his skin as he slipped through the air, towards the paved streets. He rolled with the impact. If he had been alive, the air would have certainly been knocked out of him, but being a vampire he merely grunted and then pushed his legs underneath him, propelling his body in a ridiculous jump off the group and onto the roof of a nearby caponae. His legs were already pumping, running and sliding across the rain licked roof. Through the drizzle he sailed to the next building, rolling with the landing before swiftly coming back onto his feet.
Calls behind him echoed in the streets. Occasionally a voice from a building below would curse as he skittered across their home, waking them from their dreams. There would be no pursuit though. Freedom he thought and his face mirrored the feeling, a wide smile, the night air whipping past. Freedom…1 and 1 and 1 came a darker voice, counting each stride that took him further into the night.
An insulae rose up before him. The roof too high to jump to; Servius called upon his Blood and propelled himself across the street and through the adjacent shuttered window. Wood splintered and as he fell into a roll, he began 1 and 1 and 1 to count the shards of wood that flew through the darkness. Out into the passage he pushed off walls, part running, part climbing until he reached the roof of the building.
Walking over the edge of the insulae’s roof, he stoped perilously close to the edge. Closing his eyes he heard the sounds of Rome, the chorus’ of the faithful, the heckling of whores, traders hocking their goods. A million voices all talking their own language. He opened his eyes and let out a human like sigh – fire lights pinpricked the darkness like a thousand little campfires. 1 and 1 and 1 and 1 and 1 and 1 and 1 and 1 and 1 and 1 and 1…
A scream ripped through the night.
Servius blinked. 1 and 1 and 1 “Hathor’s tits,” he cursed, drenched in rain through to the skin. He sighed again and slapped his wet thigh. Again the scream erupted from below. What now? Squelching footsteps carried him over to the other side of the roof were his Set blessed vision allowed him to see through the haze of rain and into the alley below. Two men 1 and 1… pawed at a woman …and 1… who stood back against a the alley’s wall. They were laughing as one brandished a club and struck the wall beside the woman’s head. Thud…thud went the club into the wall. 1…two.
It’s not right, a voice growling in his mind.
It’s not right, a voice growled in his mind.
He turned to the shadow nearest him and step through. Nothingness hissed into his ear and then he stood behind the two assailants. Servius jumped and with inhuman strength brought elbow crashing down up the club wielders shoulder. He felt and heard bones shattering and a cry split the lips of the man as he crumpled to the ground. The other attacker spun in surprise, his mouth shaping to utter a curse, but no sound escaped as he eyes met Servius’s black gaze. He stumbled back, his feet slipping on the slick ground and he fell in a heap. A cruel grin crossed Servius’s face and he stepped over the first man and took 1 and 1 and 1 steps.
The worm it crawls along its belly.
A man without arms and legs.
Without arms and legs? Without hand and feet? How will it count to 20?
No hand…no feet…1 and 1 and 1 and 1
Servius growled and spat at the second man, “Get the fuck out of here. Get the fuck away!” The man scrambled to his feet but Servius had already turned his back, closing his eyes, letting the slight drizzle cool his Beast.
Perfume assaulted his nostrils and the sobbing cries of the woman mixed with the whimpers of the wounded man. Not a moments peace. When is it quiet around here?
Sevius took the few steps over to where the woman crouched. He reached down a cold, wet hand as he stooped down next to her. He gently lifted her chin, “It’s alright little dove,” he whispered close to her rouge stained face, “the bad men are gone now.”
“Thank you. OH thank you. The Lord bless you for an angel sir,” she sobbed as she buried her head into Servius’s shoulder. Inwardly he sighed as he comforted her, feeling the warmth of her body pressed against him. She smelled of lavender and sweat and cock. And blood. They all smell of blood.
Her hand strayed up to his face, “My rock…in him will I trust: he is my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my tower, and my refuge,” the tears stopped swelling around bloodshot eyes as she smiled, “my savior; thou savest me from violence.”
1 and 1 and the taste of blood filled Servius’s mouth, filled his throat. Warm and coppery it splashed into the back of his throat. 1 more mouthful strained back and forward through his teeth whilst his cold body held his ward safe in his arms. 1 and 1 slowly beat the heart he could hear through the throbbing in his head and 1 and…
* * *
“So will she live?” Servius finished towelling himself off and stood up from the chair.
“Perhaps, but no thanks to you,” came the reply from behind the thick woollen curtain that separated the incense clouded room.
Servius shuffled over to a small writing desk where a small lamp illuminated an open journal. The light was really for visitors of the Medicus, not the doctor himself. Before Servius could read anything though, the curtain was pulled aside and Veius, stepping over to the table snatched up the volume, closed it and placed it onto a shelf.
“Well I did save her you know,” Servius shrugged, turning and walking towards the doorway. He glanced out into the streets, light rain continued to fall. “There were these two men seeking to take advantage.”
“Well yes, well done. If she survives the night I am sure she will want to thank her saviour,” Veius’s voice was perfectly even; often it was hard to tell when he was being sarcastic.
“I brought some papers that I need destroyed. You should burn them. Read them first perhaps. I was going to then I thought about how boring that would be. You haven’t been down to the Fane recently?” Servius paused but he was not waiting for a response, “In all your readings does it tell you why we lose the voice in our heads that tells us what is right? I mean the voice that tells us to do bad things…clear as day…so to speak…but our conscience…is it totally consumed by the Beast?”
Veius’s head tilted slightly to the side, his green eyes and young face carefully regarding Servius. “There is very little about…voices…but there are still choices that you can make. Good decisions and bad ones. The Beast is often a convenient excuse for real human savagery.”
“Well I made some good decisions tonight. Stopped that Sanctified from finding out about our little hideout and saved a damsel in distress." With a grin he turned to leave the room. Medicus was all of a sudden beside him, a restraining hand on Servius’s shoulder. Five fingers.
“I will come and visit you in Threshold soon,” he said, green eyes examining him, “you spend too much time down in that dark place.”
“Do not concern yourself Veius,” Servius pointedly glanced at the Medicus’s offending hand and Veius removed it from his arm, “when he kindle the light of Threshold we shall burn our shadows away and save Rome and perhaps the world.” Servius’s voice lifted and almost cracked with excitement. He stepped 1 and 1 and 1 outside into the night, the stone beneath his feet muttering in his mind. Almost a whisper, he heard Veius’ voice follow him into the dark, “But who is going to save you?”
1 and 1 and 1…