Chapter 27

She walks all night and through the following day, until her poor feet bleed from the stones and the kisses of the rough earth, for five days she walks in silence as though dead, she neither sees nor hears she is deaf to the songs of the birds high above, the scent of death grows ever stronger, and she wonders briefly whether it is the vampire or the stench of her own dying soul as it rots within the prison of her mortal body.

God how she has loved him…

She cannot think on it, she will not, or she will fall down where she stands and break her heart for weeping.

She walks on, the trees are guardian angels standing about her, mighty in their silence, surely it cannot be much further, perhaps the scent of blood will draw them out, but what will become of her when they find her?

Miles behind her in the dawning Lucian has discovered she is gone and would have sent a search party, his heart breaking for fear that Viktor's creatures had somehow brought her to harm, and then the wind changed and he could smell her in the air, he follows it, down into the dark, down into the cold, down into the very bowels of the prison that once held them, the beads drip like the blood of Christ from their hanging place , accusing him in the light of day, and he sees as only the guilty and the dammed ever see the weight of his own sin.

She has turned from him.

He kneels frozen in the straw as the first tears kiss his cheeks like the fires of hell.

He longs to go after her, to call her name, to fall at her feet and beg forgiveness as a sinner pleads before the throne of God.

But where in all the world would she go?

He returns to the table in the great hall and eats a miserable breakfast; it may as well be ash in his mouth without her love to make it ready for him.

All of them feel her loss, one of the pack has gone, and their strength is weakened.

Koro leans across the table and speaks with John, then turns to Lucian, "Bring her back, we will keep the castle while you are away. If we are attacked we will show them a slaughter such as they will never forget. Go at once"

To a man they nod, they are a strong pack, they guard one another and they all know that the same would be done for any of them that went astray.

The Lycan master stands he embraces his old friend, "watch them for me, I will trust no one else."

A dark heavy hand rests upon his shoulder.

Beyond the forest, a castle stands stark against the cornflower sky, Erzsebet looks up at its forbidding towers, the doors locked against all who might come by day.

Her knock is answered by a human woman, a servant of the castle, promised eternity in return for her service.

She cannot tell whom she allows to cross the threshold of Viktor's sanctuary, doubtless she will be flogged for her mistake…oh well. It is of little concern to Erzsebet.

Within moments she has crossed the stone hallway to the great hall, she takes a seat and waits.

Viktor is sent for in all haste, his bloodless face pales still further, a Lycan sits uninvited at his table, his guards sleep the day away, he has only humans at his hand.

"Who permitted this beast entry?"

The young woman is brought before him, her fear tastes like a copper coin under the tongue, the Lord grips her by the shoulder his smile cruel, he turns to Erzsebet "Shall I feed you to the wolves?"

He turns to the raven haired man at his side, with skin pale as the starshine, "Shall you be my reward to Kraven? He has brought me a mighty victory, the death of my great enemy. And now, I have his…dog." His eyes flash to the Lycan woman, "Mayhap I should give my finest warrior…you."

She stands as though carved of ice, "Do as you will. I have nowhere left to go."

The smile widens "Yes, now that your leader is dead. Slain by our own Kraven. Tell me, did he die like an animal?" The triumph in his voice is almost more than she can stomach, Lucian's face swims before her eyes, and the memory of his betrayal, how she will never be anything to him that could equal the ghost of his wife, twists about her heart, she looks up into the cold eyes, she will not betray Lucian to them.

She cannot, she must find herself a new place in the world, valued for something more than this worthless love that burns like star fire within.

She shakes her head, her eyes burning. "He died…bravely."

The vampire laughs " He died well, I see his years with me were not a complete waste, the creature learnt some dignity. I will accept you back, though you fought against me, slew my men…you were misled were you not? In error."

He is offering her a chance, she nods and biting her own tongue she lowers herself to her knees and inclines her head "I was my Lord, I beg your forgiveness."

He rises from his seat and holds the woman out by the shoulder, "Then accept my gift, a meal. Between reconciled enemies."

Her stomach twists, his soldiers stand at every door, they have appeared like mist in the winter night, she has walked willingly into the devil's own arms, and from this there can be no salvation.

"Bite…feed..I need an animal…a dog to guard my door from those who wish me and mine harm. Do as I ask and you may stay, you will have food, a bed and clothing. I will give you to Kraven, we shall see if his civilizing influence can make a lady of you, fit to guard my person"

The dark man catches her eye and offers an all but imperceptible encouraging nod.

The woman in the vampire's grasp realizing the gravity of her situation begins to struggle, to plead for her life, in tones it hurts to listen to.

Erzsebet gazes up at the moon high in the night, feels its call deep in her blood, the memories embrace her, and she sees once more Lucian and Sonja entwined, their wedding, the burning, the betrayal, her eyes flash like moonstones, her teeth twist into fangs, she snatches the girl and buries herself into her throat, purging her hate and her sorrow in a tide of blood and the cries of the dying.

She hears the familiar laughter like rotting leaves.

The delight of the vampires all about at the spectacle.

Erzsebet the animal, like a dog for the ordering.