Barefoot Poetry

SS Matthews

A Fortress on the Edge of Eternity

Chapter Three

For some a house just isn’t a home unless it’s protected by multiple levels of spells, interwoven and reinforced with regular maintenance. Call me paranoid if you want, but I keep a few of them. The nearest was on a hilltop just outside the city.

I hadn’t been out this way in over a week, but surrounded by a tall fence and lots of trees it’s secluded and rarely plagued by trespassers. Due to the aura of repulsion woven into the perimeter, the locals believe it haunted and with the exception of the occasional kid on a dare, they keep their distance.

Most people will shy away from something that makes their skin crawl, plus it’s quieter and more convenient than keeping guard dogs. Dogs might actually hurt someone and don’t really like me much. As I do like to haunt the place from time to time, when I’m away I’ll usually initiate a dimension shift before leaving to make the place look like something it’s not.

If it wasn’t for Rose, I would’ve walked the distance to the manor like usual. I don’t really like riding in cars and just as a footnote, I despise flying. It’s not just because I’m somewhat claustrophobic, did I mention I have to be careful around electronics? Well these days they mostly rule the roads, as well as the airways. I might be able to survive a head on collision with another motorist, but it could be doubtful for them.

I would’ve enjoyed the exercise, but it would probably have been too much for Rose so this was one of those exceptions.. Besides, the ride gave her a chance to nap. This in turn gave me the opportunity to slip into her dreams so that I could perform a bit of nightmare banishing. They were foul things, her dreams. No wonder she was willing to throw herself from a bridge to be rid of them!

If those responsible for causing these things were paying attention, I was probably tipping my hand, but I decided I didn’t care much. If someone was onto me then they’d either back off or come with guns blazing. If they were only after Rose, then they were probably ignorant of who I was and be in for a rude surprise.

It would save me the trouble of chasing after them if they came to me, but I’m fond of the hunt. It’s usually the best part of the game. In this case I had to consider my client though. Leaving her alone in the spook house was likely not the best plan I could come up with.

The cab driver seemed a little perplexed at dropping the two of us off in what seemed the middle of nowhere, but compensation readily bought his cooperation and hopefully his silence.

“Where are we?” Rose asked, opening her eyes and yawning.

“Almost there. How are you at climbing hills?”

“Just try to keep up!”

Sniffing the air I couldn’t smell anything threatening and figured it would take a little time for anyone to track us down. So I grabbed her overnight bag and let her run. I figured the physical release would probably do her some good, that and the fresh air. I may’ve been right about that because she didn’t stop until she pulled up at the fence. Breathing heavily, she turned to look back.

“Is this where we’re going? How do we get in?”

“Take a breath.” I replied, catching up. “Relax your eyes and peek out the corners.’

She did that and after a minute, looked puzzled.

“I see a gate!” Is it locked?”

“Annwfn!”

“What’s that?”

“The key.”

“What language is that? It sounds familiar.”

“It’s Welsh. We can go in now.”

From the outside, the place looks like it could be home for the Addams Family and Rose started looking a little nervous as it came into view. Remembering my manners, I assured her that its appearance was only an illusion and set about clearing a path through the spells.

With the sun setting behind the deco turrets and spired apex, I suppose even afterwards the place still resembled that famous family’s house of horrors, at least enough so that she was still on edge. It took some encouragement to get her to agree to going inside and when the large oak door did its creepy creaking imitation upon opening, I thought I’d have to chase her down. Needing a distraction, I decided on a bit of showmanship to take her mind off the castle’s inherent quirks.

Hoping to allay her anxiety, I performed a series of elaborate and exaggerated gestures, like a stage magician would, then finished with a loud hand-clap. As the two dozen sconces scattered along the interior walls all ignited in sync, her attention went elsewhere.

“Jesus! Who’s your decorator? Boris Karloff?”

“Odd you should say that. I think they used this place in one of his films. Like it? It’s Italian.”

“I’ll let you know. How’re the roaches?”

“Don’t keep any.”

“Rats?”

“Ditto.”

“In that case I love it.”

“Good. This’ll be home for a while and you’ll be safe here, but as a preliminary precaution I need to patrol the fence. I keep things pretty tight, but it’s been a while since I gave it a thorough check. There’s food in the kitchen. Make yourself comfortable.”

By now I knew she’d have about a billion questions and being unaccustomed to continuous company, I needed a minute alone. So before she could launch into the pending barrage of whats, whys and wherefores I turned to head out the door.

It wasn’t going to be hard deciding how much to tell her. If I could be certain of her loyalties, then I could likewise be open about myself. On the other hand, if she wanted to keep her distance and be secretive, then I would as well. The latter wasn’t what I wanted. It would complicate things considerably.

About half-way through the circuit I was interrupted by a smell that wasn’t natural to the surrounding woods and I identify most everything by its scent. Wolfish, I know, but this stench was something of a mystery. It smelled of scorched cloth, fairly fresh blood and long decayed flesh. Too long dead to call putrid, and I’m rather meticulous about making sure things of that sort are removed far from my fences, whatever was responsible for that odor wasn’t the carcass of an animal.

No. I thought. It couldn’t be? Could it?

Spotting the weakened aura along the east run of fence, I realized it was. Something hostile had tried to get through and taken a fiery jolt for the effort. The fact that it had survived strongly hinted it hadn’t been alive to start with. Anything innocent, human or animal, with harmless intent might feel a mild shock at the contact, but something intending otherwise would suffer a blast that should fry them. This thing had taken the heat and was still breathing, although breathing was probably the wrong word for it.

“Vampire?” I muttered into the dusk of day’s end.

“Wolf?”

“And then some. What would you have here?”

“The prize.”

“Ah, you’re too late. She’s mine now.”

“You would defy us?”

“From the smell you’re old enough to know better than to threaten me. Leave now. Return here and your span will be considerably shortened.”

“You think yourself so fierce werewolf?”

“I don’t like repeating myself. Last chance.”

The movies would have us believe the undead light up like kindling when they expire. I couldn’t tell you because I’d never killed one before. In fact I’d only ever encountered one other. That was a long time ago and I believed then he was the last of his kind. We didn’t get on well and after tipping a cleric to the benefits of silver regarding my nature, I replied by selling him out to some guy named Van Helsing. We had a lively discussion on the value of garlic and wooden spits for roasting before parting ways.

A lot of years had passed since then and I didn’t think this creature to be the same. Regardless he certainly didn’t burn. The vampire foolish enough to rush my fence against the full weight of my will, exploded into a cloud of green to violet glittering ash. Summoning a breeze to scatter the mess, I completed the circuit while brushing him from my eyelashes and wishing for a comb.

“What’s that stuff all over you?” Rose asked as soon as I returned.

“Just some bling that blew through the fence. Listen let’s set a few ground rules. From this point on, if you ask me a direct question, I’ll answer with complete honestly. Just be sure it’s something you want to know before you ask. Your survival pretty much depends now on your intent. My fence won’t really harm you unless you mean ill toward whatever is inside. If you have any doubts about my helping you, now would be the time to speak up. Sorry to make you do this, but the words must be spoken.”

“I need and will accept your help detective Wolfe.” The sincerity in her voice wasn’t conflicted with ulterior motives and I relaxed.

“That’ll do. Now I need a shower.”

Rose was getting the hang of prepping steaks, just warm being best. I think it kind of repulsed her, but then she didn’t yet know the half of it. It may be acceptable these days to just out and tell someone you’re a magician, a witch or a sorcerer, but tell them you’re also a werewolf and they’ll be looking to have you locked up. There’s just no way you can lay that on someone and have them take you seriously. Any proof I might offer at this stage in our relationship would almost certainly have a detrimental effect on its further development, so unless she asked, I was willing to beat around the wolfsbane.

Instead, I blamed my weird diet on a blood disorder.

“I’m not surprised. I couldn’t find anything besides meat in the freezer. Don’t you eat vegetables?”

“Not usually, but if you put together a list I’ll do some shopping.”

“We will do some shopping. I’m not staying here alone. The whole time I was cooking I kept expecting Cousin It to walk in on me.” She gave me a funny look then asked, “Is there anything around here like that I should know about?”

“It’s just you and me kid.” I replied in my best Bogart voice. “But maybe you’re right. We’ll set out tomorrow morning. Changing subjects. Tell me what you can remember about your mother.”

“That’s not much.”

“She was Irish?”

“Or so my mirror says. Look. Why don’t you tell me what’s really going on?”

“Okay, cards on the table. I brought you here to give you a fighting chance. You’ve stepped into something that’s not easy to back out of. The supernatural world has an awareness that responds to intrusions. If you ignore it, chances are it will ignore you. But it’s also like a pond of piranha. All the little biting things don’t know you’re around up to the point you stick in your toe. After that, they wait to see if you’ll wade in and it doesn’t take long before you’re in over your head.”

“You’re saying that by dabbling, I fell in a well?”

“A fine metaphor and yes, it’s very much like that. Aside from your initiation into the coven what other training have you actually had in the magical arts?”

“Mostly self-taught simple spells, oils, candle magic and the like. There was a girl I met at a bookstore though and we worked together for a while. She was far more advanced than I was.”

“Was it her that introduced you to the coven?”

“Uh huh.”

“Did her name happen to be Margeret?”

“How’d you know that?”

“In the story I told you about Helena, Marguerite was the name chosen for the twin that perished at birth. But Helena and Marguerite have twice before been the names of the sisters. Your middle name?”

“Helene, close enough?”

“Make that three. What was the name of that bookstore?”

“The Stained Page.”

“I think we should pay it a visit while we’re out tomorrow. Where did you meet up with the others?”

“Different homes around the valley. I could probably take you to one of them.”

“They’ll have covered their tracks by now and that would only expose you. Was there a regular pattern to the gatherings, sabbats, esbats and the like?”

“I only went to a few, but yeah. They followed the Wheel of the Year, with rituals on full and new moons.

“Good, that may be one way to find and draw them out.”

“How do you plan to do that?”

‘I have a nose for magick.”

“Really? You can smell it?”

“It’s more a matter of sensing vibration, but yeah.”

“What is it exactly that they want with me, to use as a sacrifice?”

“They want you pregnant and under their control. I’m afraid I can’t let that happen.”

“Insane as this sounds, do you really think you can stop them?” Rose paused for a moment as the gravity of my statement settled in. “Or you’d kill me first? Is that it?”

“It won’t come to that. I can teach you how to protect yourself.”

“But if it did?”

“It’s too late. It’d be impossible for me to hurt you now.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, but they’ll keep coming as long as they think they can manage you. So we’re going to have to step up your training in the occult. That’s why I brought you here.”

“How do you intend to do that?”

“The proximity of real power has a springboard effect. The nearer the source, the more that’s available. I can show you how to take advantage of that and accelerate the process.”

“Does that work for anyone?”

“It can to an extent, but only if left unguarded. Most that possess power manage who can access it.”

“And you have it?”

“Yes.”

“What if I don’t want it?”

The wolf in me has this damnable loyalty syndrome and I was getting more attached to Rose by the hour. The problem with that is, once that bond is made chances are it will eventually be broken by a betrayal. I’ve had my share of those and in such cases, vengeance is mine sayeth the wolf!

For all but a few, the pursuit of power becomes the grail and what they say about power corrupting is no joke. It engenders a sense of superiority that renders unrecognizable all those poignant emotions that make being human worthwhile. Her reluctance was a good sign of resistance to that seductive allure. In fact, the more she talked, the more familiar she sounded.

“Hey! Where’d you go?”

“Sorry, you reminded me of someone.”

“Really? Who?”

“You know what I said about asking questions?”

“I think the time for secrets between us is passed. If you don’t trust me just ask yourself why I should trust you.”

“Her name was Anion* and she was my first pupil.”

“Was?”

“It was a long time ago.”

“How long?”

“You’ll think I’m lying.”

“I won’t. How long.”

“It was just after I regained my memory, about six hundred years after the death of Christ.”

“My God!”

I gave her a minute to decide. Her continued trust was going to require a leap of faith and that’s a rare thing to find these days. Ninety-nine point nine percent of people would drop it right there and assume I’d escaped from a place where they keep you away from sharp objects. Rose’s expression was more awe than disbelief so I waited to see which way the scales tipped.

“What happened to her?”

“Like you, she was a fast learner, but we’d only been together a day or two when she became tainted, a factor I expected to alter the course of her ability and it did.”

“You loved her, didn’t you?”

“Yes, I loved her, but I was also the death of her. She was young and untutored, but talented We became lovers and I still remember her as if it was yesterday.”

“When you say tainted?”

“She was bitten, marked by a lycanthrope”

“She became a werewolf?”

“Yes, she did. This may be too much to take in at one sitting. You’re skepticism is certainly understandable. Maybe we should continue this later?””

“Not a chance! Tell me what became of her.”

“Alright. Fortunately Anion was gifted in magia and with what I was able to teach her, in spite of the type of wolf that marked her, she learned to control the urge to kill humans. Instead we hunted wild game and for a time that worked.”

“What changed?”

“Eventually she insisted on setting out on her own. Away from my influence the strain became too much.”

“She killed herself?”

“No, not directly. She lost control and began killing innocents. That’s where I draw the line Rose.”

“You mean you killed her.”

“It took seven years for me to track her down, but I caught up with her in the Black Forest. She was in such horrible anguish that she begged me to end her life. It was one of the hardest choices I’ve ever had to make, but I conceded to her wish.”

It took a moment to figure a way to break the awkward silence, but after hushing the pounding in my chest, I found one.

“I couldn’t let her go on like that and I hope it isn’t something I’ll ever have to repeat.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up such a hurtful memory.”

“It’s okay. Like I said, it was a long time ago.”

“I can’t believe I’m even asking this as a serious question, but what did you mean by the type of wolf that marked her?”

“The strain of lycanthropic virus passed on to her was extremely toxic, especially to someone burdened with a conscience. Her sire was more beast than anything, raging and incredibly violent. The closest he ever got to being human was when he transformed and stood upright. Otherwise he remained in the form of a particularly murderous animal.”

“Are you human?”

“What kind of question is that?”

“A serious one. Answer it.”

“I- don’t know.”

“That’s evasive.”

“Maybe, but it’s the truth.”

“Alright. Then how old are you.”

“I was born in the Indus Valley in 517.”

“How is that possible.”

“Some days I wish it wasn’t.”

“Then how’d it happen?”

Applying the look a sympathetic nurse might give a terminal patient, she goaded me into sharing.

“I was bitten by a descendant of Lycaon. It happened while I was battling a curse.*”

“Who’s Lycaon?”

“A Greek king that managed to piss off Zeus.”

“The Zeus, as in the ruler of Olympus?”

“The same.”

“You say that like you’ve met. You sound like a fantasy story-book.”

“I’m afraid that’s how the pages of my life often read.”

*Anion-reference to Wolfe’s Bane: Chapters 7, 8 & 9
*Curse- reference to Moon of Rowan Wolfe: Chapter 8

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