A mild gloom covered Katharsis's face as she left Saint Peter's Basilica and stood in the courtyard. The night was very warm and there was no wind, so she wore only a linen shirt. She sighed, put her traveling bag on her shoulder and moved towards the stables. She gripped her medallion tightly in hope that this beloved item would take off a little bit of the anger and bitterness inside. The quarrel with Cardinal Jinette was still booming in her mind, making her frown and bite her lips.
She read a bit about lichens at the monastic library last night and reached a conclusion that she can kill the Heldors' leader by herself with no problem. And, of course, she wouldn't need Van Helsing to do that, because it is not possible to kill a lich with mechanical weapons. She went to the Cardinal and tried to force him to cut Van Helsing from the mission in Scandinavia. A loud, unpleasant quarrel ensued, during which impetuous Katharsis showed an exceptional disrespect for older man. Unfortunately for her, Cardinal Jinette stayed on his way.
"How do you dare to speak to me that way?! I do not need you to tell me what to do! You will go with Gabriel Van Helsing on this mission and you WILL tell him about your secret whither you like it or not."
No. She didn't like it. No one except the Cardinal and her dead parents didn't knew about her dark side. Her godsend, like Jinette called it.
Godsend? Absolutely not. It was rather curse, than a godsend. How she wished she were a normal person, living peacefully with her family in their old house in England rather than this.
Van Helsing almost killed her three years ago, leaving an ugly, stringy scar on her and yesterday he "stole" the exclusive honor of this mission from her (Katharsis was sure that she will play a bigger role in it than he would anyway). And now this man was going to know her secret! But if they were going to co-operate, she had to tell him.
An evening mass began in the basilica. Katharsis could hear the monks singing.
"Anima Christi, sanctifica me.
Corpus Christi, salva me.
Sanguis Christi, inebria me…"Katharsis's steps resounded with echo around the courtyard. The lanterns were shining bright, giving her pale face a strange expression and dispersing the pleasant gloom. She looked at them with reluctance. She liked darkness. She felt safe in it.
Suddenly, she felt resigned and tired.
Yes, she was tired with everything, beginning from long and difficult way to Vatican without adequate resting, through the quarrel with the man she loved the most, ending on the bottle of Scotch whisky she emptied yesterday evening. She reconciled with the fact she had to spend the next few months with that darn Van Helsing.
Christi, lava me.
Passio Christi, conforta me.
O bone Iesu, exaudi me…"
Katharsis left the basilica's courtyard and turned right into a small, cobbled alley. She walked down it until she saw the stables. She pulled the brass handle of the huge, wooden door and walked in. A sharp fragrance of straw, horse fur and dung flew into her nose. She carefully lit an old lamp hanging from the ceiling.
"Hebron." she said and pecked softly when she noticed her beloved chestnut mare in a stall nearby. The animal woke up and looked at her with its wise, dark eyes.
Ironheart opened the door to the stall and came in. She took a sugar cube out of her pocket and gave it to the mare.
"That's for you, my dear." she said and stroked the black, velvet mane of the mare with affection and watched it happily chewing the sugar. "I hope you had a good rest, because tonight we are setting off for another long journey."
Katharsis patted the forehead of the horse and went out of the stall with a silent sigh. She walked to the other side of the stable to take Hebron's saddle and harness of the wall. Suddenly she heard the sound of steps outside. She turned back quickly and saw Van Helsing entering the room with a young, anxious friar trailing behind him.
Ironheart took her breath loudly, she did not like this.
"Good evening, Katharsis," Van Helsing said with a slight smile and gestured to the young man beside him, "Let me introduce to you my friend Carl. He will be accompanying us on our journey."
"He's not going with us." She said with a hard voice.
Van Helsing looked at her.
"Yes, he is." He responded peacefully.
"No, he is not." She muttered through her teeth. She felt her cheeks slowly growing hot while she looked at the puzzled friar. He was moving his eyes from Van Helsing to Ironheart in confusion.
Suddenly, the door opened and another man entered the stables.
"Yes, he is." said Cardinal Jinette, standing behind Carl and placing his hand on the friar's shoulders. "I think you will need someone who knows Latin and other ancient languages. I guarantee he will be useful when you will find the book."
Katharsis's cheeks were pure red and her mouth became so narrow it could be barely seen, but she said nothing. She was fed up with quarrelling with the Cardinal and she knew the eventual discussion would be senseless. Swallowing the words of protest, she turned back and walked away to get the saddle and harness for her horse.
She felt like she was close to exploding with anger. Why wasn't she informed about Van Helsing's silly little friend going with them? Now there was another comrade for this journey and another person to find out about her secret. She cursed under her breath and took everything she needed from the shelf.
She saw that the three men were standing over a large piece of parchment, which was probably a map, because Van Helsing had put his finger on it and moved it along, saying something quietly to Carl and the Cardinal.
Ironheart turned her back on them and started attaching her baggage to Hebron's saddle.
"Katharsis," she heard Cardinal Jinette's voice calling her. She took a deep breath and turned her head to see him staring at her with a resolute look.
"Come here, please. We want to agree the way to Hamburg." said Van Helsing, not raising his eyes from the map.
Trying to calm herself down, Katharsis buttoned up the last bag and then walked towards the three men.
"Okay," uttered Van Helsing when he saw Ironheart come at least. He placed his finger on Rome. "My proposal is to go through Orvieto and Florence first, cross the Apennines here, in the valley of the river Reno and then head to Verona. Carl, don't stand and do nothing. Please start preparing our horses!" said Van Helsing and glanced at Carl, who sighed, rolled his eyes and walked away.
Van Helsing smiled and bent over the map again. Katharsis saw some shiny, grey strands in his thick, brown hair.
"Where was I... ah, here." he continued, "So, we will cross the Alps and then get to Munich, Germany. Next, our way will lead through Nuernberg and Turin Forest. After that we will pass the Harz Mountains and finally get to the port of Hamburg."
Van Helsing raised his head and looked at Katharsis with his hazel eyes.
"Any suggestions?" He asked politely, his eyes moved down to her still rosy cheeks.
"No, I think that's okay," responded Katharsis and went back to Hebron to check if everything was properly prepared for the journey. When she made sure she took everything she needed and her traveling bag was strongly attached to the saddle, she led her mare out of the stables.
The evening gloom shaded from dark blue to deep black with some bright spots of stars in the distance. The gentle zephyr transformed into a quite strong wind that blew Ironheart's red hair into all sides.
"What a pleasant end of a hot day," she thought, turning her face to the cool wind.
A moment later Van Helsing and Carl were leading their horses from the stable as well.
"Ready?" asked Ironheart.
"Yes." replied Van Helsing.
"Let's go then." She said, deftly jumping on Hebron's saddle.