The Viscount led Jacquelyn towards a doorway on the far side of the ball room. He waved away the servants who gave him questioning looks and drew out a key, unlocking the door. Jacquelyn followed the Viscount, staying close as she gently pressed into him to reinforce the notion she wanted more. She observed his reactions to her gentle touch. His eagerness was starting to get the better of him. He swept the doors open revealing a smaller room. The room gave Jacquelyn a feeling of being almost at home. There was a small fireplace illuminating the walls with a soft glow. Small flames danced and swayed, as if to unheard music. Shadows stretched across the room, almost blanketing a reclining lounge sitting to the side of the fireplace. The shadows gave a sense of the room being hidden and safe from the rest of the world.
Jacquelyn paused for a moment before entering the room, keeping herself close behind him. He stepped forward toward the fireplace and she followed, deciding what to do. The desire for him burned brightly inside her and her mind entertained the thought of what pleasures could come, should she let them. She started to move, aiming to snake her right arm around his neck and the other around his back. She held her breath, as she moved forward, her heart starting to race in anticipation of her next move. As she was about to reach for him, he turned, his face was soft, pleasant, calming. Smiling at her with mischief in his eyes, she froze for the briefest of moments before continuing to press forwards, leaning into him, sliding her arm around his shoulder.
She rose up on her toes and whispered into his ear, huskily, letting her hot breath lap at his skin, “This has been something I have been waiting to do since I first saw you…”
She pressed her hips against him, letting her body cling to his as she slid around him. Her arms moving into position around his neck as her lips softly planted a little kiss at his neck. She slowly brushed the tips of her fingers along his spine, till she was once again behind him. Taking her time, she smiled and breathed hot short breaths onto the back of his neck. She heard him murmur softly, as he instinctively pushed himself back into her arms.
She readied herself and made her move. It all happened in a few heart beats, her body obeying her mind instantly, decisively. She quickly pulled in her right arm, catching his neck in the cleft of her elbow. As her left arm pushed forward from behind his neck, pinning him in her hold as she threw her bodyweight back, bringing him off balance. He did not tense up, but remained relaxed as she squeezed. It surprised her more than a little, but she maintained her grip, trying to feel for the signs of him slipping into unconsciousness.
She waited a good length of time, not feeling him trying to resist in the slightest. Jacquelyn’s mentor often joked as he taught her the technique about there being a select few who derived pleasures from being caught like this. Perhaps the Viscount was as such person she mused. Finally, she loosened her hold and felt him slump in her arms. She let him slip softly down to the floor, being careful not to drop him. She knelt down beside him, assessing his state.
She could see the shallow rising and falling of his chest, a smile still etched on his face. “You certainly do have some…interesting tastes my lord. Hope you enjoyed that one.”
She leant in and softly kissed his lips. They felt cool and a little buzz of pleasure shivered down her spine. Although he may have been an annoyance, he did help her gain access to the interior of the manor. Not only that, he definitely had given her quite a thrill.
She retrieved a small phial from her dress and filled his mouth with the thick liquid. Closing his mouth, she waited for him to swallow it. He spluttered a little and swallowed, which brought an even larger grin to her face. Jacquelyn raised an eyebrow and shuddered to imagine what thoughts his mind had just conjured.
“That should keep you out of the trouble for few hours, milord.” She reassured him, patting his cheek in mock affection.
Suddenly the door on the far end of the room opened and Jacquelyn whirled around, springing to her feet. Yvonne entered from the doorway and gasped, she was clearly shocked seeing Jacquelyn over what she must have thought was a body. Jacquelyn took a moment to recognise the Lady’s handmaiden and visibly relaxed.
She beckoned Yvonne over, “Yvonne, come. I have much to do and this night is wearing thin upon me.”
The handmaiden approached, albeit cautiously, warily eyeing the Viscount on the ground.
Jacquelyn looked at her for a moment and gave a little chuckle when she realised the source of her hesitation, “he will live, although, he may have a little headache. If he should ask you later, tell him that he passed out from the excitement with me.”
Yvonne looked at her a little puzzled and then blushed deeply as she caught Jacquelyn’s meaning. “Should I place him in his room milady?” Yvonne asked a little apprehensively.
“No, leave him here for the moment,” Jacquelyn replied, “I need to proceed quickly and I need you to give me as many details as you can.”
Jacquelyn questioned Yvonne about the details of Lady Il’ldais’ illness. She asked about when the Lady had started to act out of character and about any other recent happenings that seemed unusual.
Yvonne explained at length the events at the manor over the recent weeks. She told how initially, everything was normal in the manor. That there had been a number of nobles guests that visited the manor for business and pleasure, including the Viscount. However, it was not until after the arrival of the physician that the changes started to occur.
Initially, he only stayed in the manor a very short time, passing through on his way to another estate, to treat another case of sleeping illness. It was mere days after his visit that the Lady Il’ldais was stuck down by the illness herself. The physician was summoned and he returned promptly, speaking little of his other patient, only mentioning that he has remedied the situation and rather quickly. Jacquelyn found the next part of the handmaiden’s recount the most interesting.
Yvonne spoke of his strange mannerisms and rituals. He was never seen outside in the light and travelled either at night or in a darkened carriage. Similarly, his quarters in the manor were darkened especially for him. He also was very quiet, seldom speaking more than necessary; yet when he spoke, it would be with a presence and tone that commanded authority. Yvonne had noticed that he always waited to be invited into a room, standing there for long minutes until he was. Jacquelyn had noted that aura of authority about him when she first saw him at the ball tonight. Coupled with the recount Yvonne had described, there were few doubts. The physician was indeed a vampire.
Yvonne also told of his impending departure in the morning from the manor to consult with other physicians in conference. He was to discuss with them the malady that had come over the Lady Il’ldais, as he seemingly could not cure it. This presented a fearsome prospect in Jacquelyn’s mind. Vampiric enthrallment often waned over time and she was sure the physician would view the Noble Lady as far too valuable for him to lose. The physician could be preparing to transform the Lady Il’ldais into a foul vampire to ensure her slavery.
This left Jacquelyn with little choice, she would have to confront the vampire this very night. He would most certainly be active and far more dangerous during the night and Jacquelyn dreaded the added difficulties this would involve in slaying him. However, she had no choice but to do so. Thankfully, she still maintained the element of surprise, her slaying tools and years of training to aid her. She hoped her confidence would ensure her success, but small seeds of doubt were taking root in her mind.
Jacquelyn quickly assessed the risks of having Yvonne accompany her for such a potentially deadly task. She would be an unknown element that disadvantaged Jacquelyn, should things go awry. However, she did know every corner of the manor, which would be invaluable in locating the vampire. Despite the risks, she needed Yvonne as a guide through the many passageways and rooms. Jacquelyn explained the situation briefly to Yvonne. She laid out her intended plans for slaying the vampire as best she could. Jacquelyn tried to prepare the handmaiden for what she might see in the coming hours. Jacquelyn promised the young Yvonne that she would try to minimise her involvement where possible, so Yvonne would largely be her guide through the manor.
Yvonne looked apprehensively at Jacquelyn for a long moment. Undoubtedly, the situation was far beyond the scope of anything she could have imagined. She drew a deep breath and finally nodded in silent agreement. She led Jacquelyn towards the physician’s quarters, in the hopes they might confront him there. They hurried quietly through the corridors of the manor, encountering only the occasional servant, who Yvonne dismissed and sent to other duties. Jacquelyn was thankful for the sway that Yvonne held in her position, it would have become tedious and time consuming to explain herself to each servant.
The closer they proceeded towards the physician’s quarters, the more markedly the atmosphere changed. The lighting dimmed as fewer of the corridor’s many candles were lit. The halls became silent, save only the footsteps of Jacquelyn and Yvonne. The very air was still, weighing upon them heavily, building a sense of dread and foreboding. They turned the final corner in the passageway and the doors to physician’s quarters stood before them. Jacquelyn mentally prepared herself for what she might find beyond those doors. She reached beneath the folds of her dress and drew out a silver stiletto knife. It was not a traditional weapon to be used against a vampire, but she preferred it to trying to stake her targets while in a fight. She could still hear her mentor’s voice in her mind as she recalled one of the many mantras of her training.
‘Incapacitate first by any means, and then go in for the final blow. A half staked vampire can still break your neck if their arms are not disabled,’ his voice intoned.
Jacquelyn’s heart started to race as her body prepared itself. She tried to remain loose and flexible as the adrenalin started to flow through her body. She ran through the mentality she wanted to have when she found the vampire. Her body and reflexes would kick in once the action started, but she still wanted several plans for winning the fight.
Jacquelyn was as prepared as possible and looked to Yvonne, who appeared less anxious than one might have expected. Jacquelyn did not want to risk Yvonne becoming collateral during the melee.
“Yvonne, no matter what you may hear, I want you to stay here. I have training and can handle what lies beyond the doorway. Being unexperienced, I want you to remain well away for your own safety.”
Jacquelyn watched as she simply nodded, her face suggesting she did not quite appreciate the tone. Jacquelyn turned and carefully moved towards the doors, steeling herself. She cautiously reached for the handle and pulled it, testing it, being careful to make no noise. It moved freely and she closed her eyes for only a brief moment, the final moment of preparation in place. Opening her eyes her grip tightened as she pushed at the door with sudden force.
Jacquelyn pressed forward and felt her shoulder slam into the door, making it shudder. She had prepared to feel the door open and was left slightly out of breath when the door did not move. She swore a number of choice words under her breath at the noise her lack of entry had caused.
‘Could tonight be plagued with any more mishaps?!’ She silently asked of herself.
Her shoulders dropped a little as she turned and ordered Yvonne to unlock the door. Yvonne slipped past Jacquelyn, giving her a little look as she went by, clearly amused.
“The locks on these old doors are separate from the handle mechanism milady.” She said quietly as she turned the key for the door. “There you are milady, I shall remain safely away and let your training guide you.”
At any other time, Jacquelyn would have seen to wiping away that internal grin from Yvonne, but now was not the moment. Throwing the doors open, Jacquelyn leapt into the room, senses hyper aware as every muscle in her body became ready for the fight.
The silence of the room was almost mocking. The room was mostly bare, save for a few adornments. The bed looked completely untouched and there were no person items in the travel chest. It seemed Fate had a cruel sense of humour tonight, for Jacquelyn’s vampire had not used these quarters. Jacquelyn stormed out of the room, grasping Yvonne by the arm on her way past.
“The vampire is not there, it looks like he has never been in that room! Take me to Lady Il’ldais, Now!” she barked at Yvonne.
Things were definitely starting to get the better of Jacquelyn and she was most vexed.
They weaved their way through the manor towards the master bedroom. Jacquelyn made certain to keep her senses aware and took caution as they walked around each corner. If luck was against her tonight, she needed to give herself as many advantages as possible. Once more, Yvonne’s position afforded the pair quick access, and they soon entered Lady Il’ldais’ chambers.
The room had an air of wealth and opulence. Large and ornate furnishings decorated the walls. The Lady Il’ldais lay in the bed, looking pale, her breathing slow and shallow. Jacquelyn’s eyes wandered the room, taking note of the heavy scarlet curtains drawn over a large an Easterly facing window.
Yvonne cautiously approached the bed, leaning in to speak softly to the Lady, “Milady, there is a guest to see you.”
The Lady stirred a little at her voice, yet her eyes remained closed. “Resting time, guests tomorrow,” she replied, her tone soft, as though she were half asleep.
Jacquelyn approached Lady Il’ldais and softly asked, “My lady, are you feeling nice and comfortable?” Her question brought a faint smile to the Lady’s lips.
“Yes” Lady Il’ldais replied slowly, “nice and comfortable,” she just barely breathed, relaxing with a content sigh.
Jacquelyn looked over at Yvonne briefly and started to lift up her dress to reveal her left thigh. Yvonne looked astonished and opened her mouth just before Jacquelyn cut her short.
“I need a few items to perform an unbinding ritual. Concealing these items was a little…challenging in this dress,” she said drawing up the dress even higher, showing her slender and toned leg. As she did, a few small vials of holy water and a hand sized silver cross were exposed, having been strapped to her leg.
Yvonne watched quietly as Jacquelyn went about preparing for the ritual, removing the pillows and clearing the bed. Jacquelyn asked Yvonne to place some candles into a circle around the bed while she cleansed the silver cross with the holy water, placing it on the bed above Lady Il’ldais’ head.
Jacquelyn pulled up the dress over her right thigh, which again caught Yvonne’s attention and she watched as Jacquelyn revealed a small leather pouch.
“I promise not to make a habit of revealing myself,” she teased Yvonne, who turned her attention back to the candles with a slightly embarrassed look.
Jacquelyn removed the pouch from the leather fastening it to her leg and dipped her fingers inside, drawing out an ashen powder.
Asking Yvonne to step away from the candles, she carefully made a thin line joining the candles in a circular ward.
“What is that in the pouch milady?” Yvonne enquired as she looked on curiously.
“This is a combination of ash from a cross, salts from consecrated sea water, some herbs and vampire dust,” she replied as she applied some of the powder to Lady Il’ldais’ forehead, making the sign of the cross. “Now, I must concentrate on the incantations.”
Jacquelyn began to chant quietly at first, ancient words of an almost forgotten tongue. She leant over the Lady Il’ldais, watching as the Lady started to stir, moving very weakly upon the bed. The chanting continued as her voice rose in a crescendo. Jacquelyn intoned the words and Lady Il’ldais writhed, thrashing as the dark hold over her was challenged and fought. Jacquelyn placed her left hand over the Lady Il’ldais’ heart and spread her right hand above her head as she chanted the final words of the incantation. Closing her eyes, she thrust her palm forward, lightly striking the Lady’s forehead as she spoke the final word. The Lady Il’ldais cried out and Jacquelyn felt as though a strong force push her, escaping. Her vision tunnelled and her ears began to ring as sounds dulled into mute and muffed noises. Jacquelyn felt a wave of sickness sweep over her and leant forward, resting her forehead against the bed.
Jacquelyn’s breathing was heavy as her senses became alive again. She felt a little drained as she opened her eyes, shivering as her cold sweat dried. The Lady Il’ldais was sitting upright, pressing her back against the wall, shielding her eyes and obstructing them from Jacquelyn.
“Are you alright milady?” Jacquelyn asked the Lady Il’ldais.
The Lady nodded, “Yes, I am now. The light stings my eyes, but…it feels…feels as though I have just awoken from a dream.”
Her voice was stronger, more assertive, which was a good sign for Jacquelyn. She motioned for Yvonne to extinguish the candles and looked back at Lady Il’ldais.
“My Lady, time is short and I need to know the location of the vampire’s lair,” she asked, her tone emphasising urgency.
Il’ldais sighed, her eyes still remaining closed. “His lair…is in the cellars, he took me there once…toying with me and a servant, as though we were prey…who are you young lady?” she enquired of Jacquelyn.
“My name is Jacquelyn and I am a slayer. I came here tonight to investigate your possible enthrallment. Now, I am going to slay your vampire.”
The Lady leaned back a little more and let her head rest against the wall. Jacquelyn watched her slow and deep breathing.
“How could he ensnare me so easily, trapping me in his web?” Lady Il’ldais asked of herself. Jacquelyn could see the slight trembling of her body and felt for her.
“Milady, very few can resist the domination of these creatures, it is part of their nature, a dark boon gifted to them by dark forces. You cannot blame yourself.” Jacquelyn tried to reassure the Lady.
The Lady Il’ldais started recounting her memories to Jacquelyn. “You might not have thought it, but Andrust, the physician, can be a very charming gentleman. Things were very formal at first, he maintained the proper protocols. He did however entertain with stories of adventure and intrigue. It was not long until he would come to see me in the evenings and I would gladly put aside other duties to converse with him. It had been so long since I had found someone as fascinating. To be truthful, his attention and desire to seek out my thoughts was flattering and drew me to him. Some nights we would just wander the halls, conversing about life, love and all the things in between. The way he talked, he spoke as though he had experienced a great many things for a single life time.” She paused a moment, collecting her thoughts.
Jacquelyn cleared her throat, “My Lady, the thoughts of him will still have power over you, it is best not to think about him.”
“Yes, I can feel those tendrils trying to grasp at something, but I will not let them again. I feel…there is something important you need to know, but my memories are scattered. I remembered all this tales of adventure, the debates we held and inconsistencies started to become apparent. I have spent a great many years at court and know when people are trying to deceive me. One evening, I wanted to be a little cunning and list all those inconsistencies. He is all charm when he is unchallenged, but once he is, it washed away. That night, he swept away my better judgement and lured me to my room, where I fell into his gaze…” Lady Il’ldais’ voice began to trail off.
Jacquelyn was about to speak, when Il’ldais continued. “He held me there, transfixed, unable to avert my eyes. He told me kneel and I was about to remind him who is the mistress of this manor, but I never found the words. I could feel the pressure on my shoulders, pulling me down as my knees just buckled. I screamed inside my mind, but my body just danced to his whims. I was treated like a toy, a play thing. How I loathed his absolute domination. In his presence, I could not break it. When he left to attend to other things, his compulsions wear down my will; it became so hard to fight it…” Her voice trailed off once more.
“Lady Il’ldais,” Jacquelyn prompted.
Lady Il’ldais took a moment before replying, “Jacquelyn, my dear, I will grant you anything you desire to aid in your task.”
A sly grin crept across her face, “I ask only but one favour. Remove his arrogant manner. Hunt him as prey, make him quake in fear. I would revel in hearing his shrieks of terror.”
Yvonne looked at her Mistress in absolute shock. She never knew such desires could come from the Lady. Jacquelyn however, understood these desires, having been enthralled herself. Being completely aware of her own helplessness, a play thing to a predator and the fear of not knowing what fate lay ahead.
“I can only promise that by the morning, this monster will be slain, milady. It would be best if you remained here, inside the ward. The cross beside you shall provide protection should he return. I will also leave you with a vial of holy water, use it as a last resort. My Lady, I will need Yvonne’s services to access your manor. I know the risks to her will be great, but her knowledge is invaluable.”
Lady Il’ldais nodded, “Then she shall accompany you, keep her safe. Heavens watch over you child.”
Jacquelyn looked to Yvonne, who silently bowed her head in acceptance.
The pair once again weaved their way through the corridors of the manor, descending through the service halls towards the cellars. Jacquelyn remained alert as they drew closer and Yvonne grew more anxious. Finally, they came upon the cellar doors, left slightly ajar, flickering shadows stretched across it. Jacquelyn motioned for Yvonne to remain there and manoeuvred herself to peek through the doorway. She watched for a few moments and everything was still. She slipped silently into the room, her body full of anxious energy.
The cellar housed large barrels of wines set along the walls, but the centre of the room drew her attention. A stone slab had recently been moved into the cellar and upon it laid an ornately carved and jewelled coffin. Jacquelyn slowly circled around it, examining it for any traps or mechanisms. In her experiences, it was highly unusual for a vampire to rest in a coffin when other luxuries were available. A hidden, safe resting place was their primary concern but seldom would a refined vampire reject a quarter in a manor with a large bed, especially where they were not likely to be disturbed.
Jacquelyn slowly and carefully opened the coffin, paying particular attention to the slightest resistance or catching. She carefully reached under her dress, grasping a stake, preparing herself to strike. She readied her grip on it, feeling the texture of the wood in her hand triggering memories of her training and her body readied itself. Jacquelyn drew a deep breath and threw her arm back, to bring down with all her strength as she flung open the coffin. The lid creaked open and her body tensed up.
It was empty, save for a goblet and a number of bound books. Jacquelyn audibly breathed out her tension and picked up the goblet. It was rather ornate, stained red inside, but it smelled of oak and spices. She looked to the walls, reasoning that the vampire had been sampling the finer wines of the manor’s collections. A vampire with discerning tastes, this was unusual. Many vampires simply succumbed to their primal desires soon after their conversions, the blood lust becoming all consuming.
She replaced the goblet and picked up one of the books, carefully examining it. She leafed through the first pages slowly. It appeared to be the journals of the vampire. This book was his latest journal and she flipped through the entries for the most recent weeks.
According to his journal, he had enjoyed the hospitality of Lady Il’ldais and enslaved her upon a whim. While initially intending to pass through, he now had plans to settle here, using the manor as a place to feed and live a life of luxury. The frequent balls were an opportunity to find the most desirable ladies of court. He desired to ensnare them in his web, turning them into human cattle. Jacquelyn continued to read through and found a disturbing revelation. The vampire had attracted the unwanted attention of another of his kin, a potential rival. They had come to some sort of arrangement, where a trade was made. He did not mention the price paid, but he did not trust the terms to last.
The last entry described his plan to hide his cattle from his rival. He intended upon housing them in a purposely created chamber, in a sealed wing of the manor. He described in detail the thrill of the hunt and how he would take the ladies to the room of moonlight and mirrors, before storing them within this chamber. Most likely, he would be there tonight if he had found such a lady at the ball. She felt uneasy about the prospects of another vampire possibly hunting in the realm, but she would have to slay that creature another time. Jacquelyn held the book and thought for a moment before she called for Yvonne. She entered the room and gasped when she beheld the coffin.
“Milady…is…is that a coffin? Is that the goblet he drinks blood from?” she meekly asked, the terror obvious in her voice.
Despite the earlier impertinence from her, Jacquelyn felt for the handmaiden. “Yvonne, the stains are wine and I will protect you from this creature, you have my word. Now, I believe the vampire is in the manor and possibly with a lady from the ball. I need you to tell me what room he is describing in his journal.”
Jacquelyn read the entry, “Another mortal, succulent lady has caught my attention tonight. So adorned with jewels and beauty, there are little doubts about how sweet her blood will taste. We retreated after the ball to the mirrored room where she expected a little romancing. Seemingly carefree she was, allowing me to make my advances as her reflections danced in the moonlight alone. As usual, I toyed with her once she was under my spell, laying her upon that small alter in the centre of the room. Her scent, so intoxicating, I could almost taste her blood tingle my mouth.”
Jacquelyn looked up at Yvonne to see her head slightly tilted as she stared blankly off into space.
“Yvonne, do you know the room of which he writes?”
Yvonne blinked for a moment, “Sorry milady, I was lost in thought. Yes, that is in the western wing. There is a room with mirrors along its walls, which my Mistress used to meditate. The garden within is very small, a pond, flowering bushes and a flat stone bed which Lady Il’ldais used to rest upon. Do you wish me to take you there now?”
Jacquelyn nodded, “Yes, let us make haste to find the creature before he claims another victim.”
The pair set off again, their pace faster, more urgent than before. The knowledge that someone was presently in danger spurred them forth.
They moved through the corridors, quickly passing through the manor. They entered a long hall that connected the central manor to the west wing. Their steps clicked across the polished tiled floors. Large arched windows lined one wall, looking out upon the grounds. The opposite wall was adored with mirrors, reflecting the soft glow of the candle light. It almost looked as if the light being reflected was keeping the night outside the windows at bay. The hall was largely empty, only a few small tables and benches rested against the mirrored wall.
An uneasy feeling suddenly came over Jacquelyn, giving her a sense of heavy foreboding. She paused and Yvonne gave her a nervous look. Jacquelyn motioned to Yvonne to get behind her. They waited, the tension growing despite nothing looking out of place. The silence pierced through them both, seating fear deeply inside their hearts. A long moment passed and Jacquelyn fought back the feelings and started forward again.
She took one step forward and the doors at the end of the hall burst open. A wave of air rushed down the passage, extinguishing the candles that lit the walls, leaving the night to flood in through the windows. The moonlight cast long shadows across the room. The room was now bathed only in moonlight. The shadows that had taken over looked odd, almost soft instead of pitch black. Jacquelyn was surprised to feel an almost sleepy atmosphere descend upon her. It felt now as she was almost in a dream, shadowed silhouettes were all that remained of the bright world. The wave rushed past Jacquelyn, leaving a cold chill on her skin. A figure stood in the door way, tall and hidden in the shadows. He stepped forward into the moonlight and Jacquelyn could clearly see his face and she gasped.