Chapter I: The Deal
Twenty miles from Budapest 1899.
It was a new moon. No guards by the walkway. The monastery filled with silence. The catacombs empty. An involuntary house arrest which had expired long before vampires had grown weary of guarding their weakened charge. Over a dozen candles on the table. Piles and piles of books, scrolls and ink pens carefully laid aside so as to minimize any damage from wax or fire.
Lucian had taken a seat by the window, his right leg carelessly situated above his left knee. He had not changed much in the past four decades. Dressed as a gentleman, he wore a three-piece suit, the fashionably buttoned coat matching the grey waistcoat, the trousers and black tie pitched as a contrast. His hair cut short, the dark locks still hinting at waves, the pointed beard and moustache styling him a man of the times. The only estrangement lay in his eyes, unblinking silver staring across the dusty table. His entire frame draped in the graceful light of the moon. His expression stating that this meeting would end badly if his time was ill-used. In many ways, Tanis owed his life to that. Curiosity stemming from the lycan-master's need to comprehend all that lay in his past. Though curt in his approach, he always had an avid interest in history.
Hunkering as if his robes had become part of his skin, the vampire Tanis nodded, masking his curiosity at the lycan-master's intonation. England then. The werewolf had settled in England. Perpetually on edge, he focused his thoughts. It had taken much to get Lucian back into his homeland. It would not do to waste his time. Come morning, the lycan would be on the first ship out of Budapest. He scuttled backwards, his fingers creeping towards his beloved books, pulling one from the top of a pile. Placing it facedown upon the reading stand and paging his way carefully towards the centre. Every page a priceless artefact in his hands, yet in spite of all his care, the vellum cracking near the spine. Warm light causing the ink to flicker, the illustrations leaping as if the dead still wanted to live. As if stung, the vampire halted, backing away from the tome and pointing at the exposed illustration.
"Do you see this book?" Tanis asked, licking his lips and trying to disguise the gravity of the situation. His voice made it sound as if he had come across a treasure. Except there was a mirror across from him. His lie staring him in the face. Bones starting to show in his cheeks. His greenish-hazel eyes darting nervously. He looked as if he had not eaten in months. He looked as if he was hanging on by a thread.
He looked back at the chair.
The lycan had crossed the room already.
Stepping up behind him, Lucian picked up one of the candlesticks and brought it closer to the book. Squinting at the wood engraving printed upon the vellum. The detailed workmanship of an ancient book. One which could have been printed through China. In the case of vampire work, engravings were always more expensive than painted illustration. Ignoring Tanis' scowl, the lycan-master handled the pages with his fingers. Turning them to see what lay before and after, and then once again, allowing the pages to rest. Like the candle, his eyes flickered over the text, consuming the words and committing them to memory. Absorbing the sordid content without comment.
On the left-hand page, there was a wood-engraved image of a man tied to the ground. Hands and feet bound with chains. His hair black as night. An eye above his body and blood flowing from his chest. A wooden stake through his heart. On the right, a council of twelve robed vampires passing judgement. A set of scales in the hands of their leader. Their faces uncovered and compassionate. As if they were performing a boon rather than an execution.
Tanis observed the lycan's reactions circumspectly, aware that everything hinged on snaring his interest. He had always bartered knowledge in exchange for commodities. Worldly items he could neither afford nor steal…but in the last century, any level of captivation had waned as the information slowed to a trickle. There were only so many books to show the lycan-master. Only so many scraps to throw at the wolves…but this was not one of the books Lucian had seen.
He had made sure of that.
"Mmph," Lucian murmured without interest. Shrugging, he turned away from the text and placed the candlestick back upon the table.
Desperate, Tanis plied his trade. "Oh, it is more than that, Lucian. These ancient symbols…this engraving represents…"
"…an executed blood-seer, by the look of it." Lucian interjected quietly, his teeth growing as he spoke, his mellow voice at odds with the razor-sharp look upon his face. "Twelfth-century text judging by the margins. The illustration, however, is painted. Not a print. Original dating from the ninth century. The likely source being a chipped stone rubbing rather than a mosaic. Probably worth a good sum if you could find a buyer."
The bones of Tanis' face tightened by a margin. The book had failed. Apparently, he was not the only expert on art history. Perhaps he could still barter. The rest of the book was not a ruse…not entirely. Parts of it were real, but…
…bloods, the lycan-master was already moving as if to leave.
He could not leave. Not yet.
Ignoring danger, Tanis dashed to the open doors, blocking Lucian's path. The mirrors were gone. He could not see his own face, but he knew he must stink of hopelessness. Not that it had any effect on the damned wolf. Every century only hardened Lucian's heart a little more. The man was cold enough to make Ordogahz ask for warmth.
He twisted his neck, glancing through the wide doors to the outside. He had not left this monastery in two hundred years. Clouds moving towards the new moon. It would rain this night…and there was a stage-coach waiting outside. Four horses. An enormous dark lycan sitting on the carriage box, holding the reins and keeping the horses calm, impassively staring at him as if he were blood-meat. He turned back to Lucian.
Once the lycan master stepped into that stage-coach, his life would be finished. No one came to the monastery…and he could not leave it. The walls were his solace, the sky his only fear. Must he beg? No, he would not. Begging never got him anywhere. No, he would bargain for his life…food.
He forced himself to say the words. "And what if I was bartering more than the book?"
"Oh?" Maliciously, Lucian tilted his head, silver eyes squinting in feigned interest. "You mean it comes with a dust-jacket as well?"
"No, but…" Again, Tanis licked his lips. He was so hungry. "…y-you remember why they banned the blood-seers?"
"The only reason I remember," Lucian answered. "…is because I helped hunt them down." His nails had grown into sharp talons. The face no longer human. A cruel mixture of haggard lines, wolfen features upon a man's skull. Death might be a boon, but there was a way out.
The historian felt himself falling to his knees. "And now…" he cried. "…what would you do if you had one? Where might your war be?" His voice had risen up high, the shrill sound of a ferret trapped in a corner. The dark lycan was behind him. He could not run…but if the man would only listen. "Please…think if you had a blood-seer on your side…"
"There are none left."
The talons rose…
"There is one left!"
Eyeing the sharp claws of the wolf, an inch from his eyes, Tanis breathed, the shallow sound of panting. He was alive. The talons did not move however. Lucian had merely paused in the act of killing.
"N-no," Tanis sputtered, shaking his head. "…but she is my creature. My…my find. She will only answer to me, to my words."
"She?" A hint of curiosity in his voice. Barely a hint, but it would do.
"Why do you think she has lasted this long?" He was desperate; he would give every ounce of knowledge for the sake of his life. The claws were almost grazing his eyes. A cruel blow if Lucian were to take his eyes. He would not survive then. Protection or not, he needed his eyes. "Almost unheard of…a female seer. The council hunted men for so long, the seers chose to break their own covenant. Men training women in a time of men. If the deathdealers did it then…why not the seers?"
"And what is to stop me from killing you and simply taking the blood-seer?"
Tanis paled, wanting to back away but frozen in his place. Iron hands holding him from behind. The dark lycan. Somehow, he had not believed Lucian would kill him until he said those words. Words spoken so calmly. A decision already made. The question only a courtesy. Four decades had changed the man more than he'd realised. A darker creature, even more ruthless, the beast was getting worse. Harsher. No longer the tender-hearted man he once was. No longer the blacksmith learning to read by candlelight. Had Lucian forgotten he had kept their secret? He had aided Sonja. He had helped her in her time of need. Yet this is what her death had done to the lycan-master...the centuries since her death. He was a beast. A werewolf in nature as well as form. He had kept their secret…
…and still Lucian was going to kill him.
The historian began to mumble, his words shaking as he tried to talk his way out of death…
"You know, I…I remember once when we were b-both back at the coven. I could not have been more than…than a hundred. In the courtyard, I was reading to the…the Lady S-Sonja…and you were standing in the stables…" Remorseless, the claws began to grow, creeping forward to his pupils. Unable to bear the sight, Tanis closed his eyes. Praying to whatever gods of intelligence he could think of. Intelligence was his strong point, not bravery.
"…and she saw a vampire stabbing a…a h-horse through the neck. The horse had…" His voice was getting hoarse. He breathed, forcing himself to remember the exact details. "…it had thrown Lord Aurelius…and in his anger, he killed the horse." His hands were shaking so much. He could not see the effect his words had, but neither could he bear to open his eyes. The hands on his shoulders were like chains. He needed Lucian to remember why he had to show mercy.
He sputtered on. "You…you could not have been more than…fifteen at the time, but Lord Aurelius entered the stables and forced you to bring him the foal of the dead horse. The creature was half-mad with fear, but…" He licked his lips, aware that his entire body had started to shiver. Careful not to shiver forward in case he scratched himself against the talons. "…he made you brand it for his household. And years later, he rode it as his favourite even though he had killed its mother. The Lady Sonja, she...she hated him for that. Do you...not remember?"
He opened his eyes.
Lucian was standing about ten feet away, leaning against the door post. Arms folded and appraising Tanis as if he were a medieval treatise on Latin. The beast had stepped back for the moment. Not a hair out of place, the suit as cleanly pressed as it was the moment he arrived. Except it was starting to rain.
"Fine," the lycan-master said pointedly, stepping back into the house. "…but I will need to see the goods before I barter. Where is she?" He gestured forward, brusque now that he was in the mood for bargaining. The dark lycan let go of Tanis' shoulders.
For a moment, Tanis almost wept. "In the catacombs," he panted, getting to his feet. "Come with me."
Unnerving the way the man switched his emotions.
A/N: Though in theory, this is the first chapter of a prequel, it is also meant to stand on its own. Essentially a "veering-towards-the-romantic/beauty-and-the-beast-type" tale exploring the reason why Lucian is still notably sane after six hundred years at war. (Though at the moment we're starting here...he's obviously getting pretty bad. Definitely not the nicest of men.) Please feel free to read and review.