The journey had never taken longer. Twice as long as last time. He was younger then. A lifetime ago.
Despite the darkness he walked steadily. Steps of absoluteness as though approaching home at the end of day. Light swirled around him, like mist. Flowing through the darkness but never breaking it. It followed at his heels like a young pup, ambling after it’s master.
The valley path, once well worn. Now overgrown and wild. Confident feet strode forward, unhindered by the fauna which lay before them. They walked swiftly, their pace even. Still the valley stretched on.
A flurry of light on the horizon. Finally he stopped. For the longest moment he stood with closed eyes. Waiting.
A hand briefly raised to press against his chest. The same flurry of light now washed over head. Dancing in the sky, exotic and wild. Until it was the shadow of a guttering candle, about to relinquish it’s life. His eyes opened. Waves of light now pierced the abrupt darkness that enveloped the grounds of an ancient, grand manor. He had arrived.
Ambiguous shapes flitted through the shafts of light. Emerald irises gleaming as they reflected the light which travelled through the air. Light with no source. Instead it moved, freely as the Northern Lights.
Gone were the bushes and trees that had lined the valley. He stood instead upon an unkempt, yet impressive, sprawling lawn.
He began his approach on the looming structure. Moving towards a wall of black snares and tendrils. The hedge which surrounded the estate on all sides had only one opening. It lay between two trees, the trunks of which had been consumed by the hedge. A knot of especially thick branches had knit together between the gnarled trunks.
The air was still. Broken by a shrill echo. Beautiful and enduring.
He stepped closer. Seeming to sense his presence, branches shrank back. Pulling towards the tree trunks they circled around, slithering away until they were lost in the tangle of leaves.
Dead leaves lay underfoot, dry and brittle. Light footsteps, made little sound as they passed over. A world consumed by shadows. He padded forth with caution like a skulking dog.
Nearing the building details emerged. Where windows should have been, heavy wooden boards had been attached to every frame. Little stone left exposed, instead vines and branches covered almost all the external walls. The stone underneath was grey. Sapped of life.
In the cold, eerie light the manor dominated his peripheral view. Dwarfing him as Goliath before David. Still the echo resonated. Shadows flickered. The darkness beckoned. He ventured nearer and nearer, stopping short of the ancient, yet sturdy doorway which guarded the threshold.
The aged, oak door groaned as it pulled on it’s lower hinges. The top torn from the frame.
Adjacent to this violent entrance, a crudely drawn heptagram glistened against drab, stone. Contained within a circle, the edge touched each of the seven points of the internal star. Around the star were seven identical triangles. Six of which contained intricate and unique symbols. The seventh was empty.
Fingers brushed against the peculiar design. Then raised to his face to smell the viscous liquid. It was unmistakably blood. Turning, he braced himself against the door. It moved slowly. When it was wide enough he slipped inside.
Shadow’s seductive embrace was intense and perverse. A darkness so intense, he became a part of it. His very essence seemed to filter away into the absolute black.
His breath stirred the oppressive gloom. For a moment, the air around him thrummed. Energy, a soft glow emanating from exposed skin. Light shrouded him, before flowing out in waves. It danced through the air, and followed in his wake.
In a moment the light had travelled to the edges of the room. It reached the walls. Bouncing back, it made it possible to see the finer details of the manor’s internal features.
Standing silently in the corner a grandfather clock; it stood silent yet proud. Even in disrepair the ornate timepiece still commanded dignity with a majestic air.
Shimmering light caught his eye. Spots of blood glistened at the foot of a twisting maple staircase. Ascending the stairs, he noted that the trail of blood was thicker as he climbed. Individual droplets twisting into beautiful scarlet rosettes.
Fear crept in. It was an unwelcome companion. He blessed each silent step as feet met dust covered wood. Droplets of blood gone. Replaced instead by a constant trail, smeared across the floor. Dust replaced by gore, the trail led through a corridor. Leading deeper into the building. Light still trailed him, but already it had faded. He approached the door. Nothing could be heard.
A hand raised towards the brass handle. From within the room there was an audible creak of wood. The hand intended for the handle instead landed on the hilt of his sword, which lay nestled in a leather sheath.
A swift, yet powerful kick. The door released from the frame, crashing to the ground. Door open, he drew his sword. The last of the created light, shimmering on the curved blade, dissipating as he stepped forward into the room.
Emptiness. A permanent shadow filled every corner. Dead air chilled him. The only light able to defile this darkened tomb, enveloped an archaic ledger which lay upon a solitary desk. His sword arm lowered, he approached the curious tome.
The book was bound in thick leather. Gold lettering, faint in some places, adorned the cover. The symbols shone. Each symbol identical to that which had been daubed in blood in the entryway. In the centre of the cover, fine gold lines crossed one another. The lines formed a hexagon, contained within a circle. Around the circle, six identical gold triangles. The golden lines shimmered, creating the unnatural light.
He stepped back. Taking slow, careful steps. Never looking away.
He backed out of the room. His focus on the glowing book so intense, he failed to see the shapeless mass which lay on the floor. He fell, awkwardly and backwards. Hard. Sword slipping from his grasp, it slid into the shadows.
It took a moment for his breath to return. The fall had winded him.
He stood. Walking purposefully to the windows, he used the same brute force he had used to enter this room. Colliding with the wooden panels which adorned the window frame. The old wood protested pitifully before finally succumbing. A spectrum of light hovering readily behind it. Boards fell silently to the ground below. Light flooding into the room like warriors hastening to the empty spaces in a battlefield.
He turned. An audible gasp left his lips. The first noise he’d made since appearing in the valley. Lying face down on the floor, a body draped in an ornate cloak. Even with light the cloak was ebony. It seemed imbued with darkness, light unable to touch it.
Inching forward, he lowered himself to the ground, until level with this unknown ally. Fingers found frozen flesh. There was no pulse. The skin abhorred him in its fetid frozen attitude.
He had seen death. He knew it well. Bodies like this had been found on every continent of the globe.
This corpse wore a face he recognised, yet one he had never seen before. The cold, translucent skin the only sign of what had happened. Even in death the body looked healthy. At peace. Inspection thorough, he was only dimly aware of fluttering outside the window. Of strange shadows which danced upon the carved stone floor.
They were there: Two holes, round and true piercing the skin of this empty shell. Life-force drained yet lending a strangely erotic and sensual fullness to the curve of his neck.
The air thrummed once again. Light began to fill the room.
This time, he had nothing to do with it. A wave passed over head. The body momentarily illuminated. The puncture marks of the corpse penetrated ominously like the piercing eyes of the soul-less dead.
The figure he knew to be behind him, was positioned before the open door. Standing, he drew himself up to his fullest height. He had found what he was looking for.