Story 1 by Domovoi


By Domovoi © 1998-1999

Chapter I This is Mordavia. This small valley nestled amidst the Malignant Mountains, The Carpathologic Mountains, the Apothic Alps and the Heinous Hills does it’s name credit. The dense forests and high mountaintops stop most of the sunlight, creating a dreary, dark landscape. Though this not the only reason for it’s sombre atmosphere. Mordavia is not just a Dark Valley, it’s a place where dark things happen. The woods are inhabited by many a dangerous lifeform, and, alas, not only by lifeforms. The undead roam the valley by night, as many nocturnal travellers would confirm, where they still able to talk... Mordavia’s more human inhabitants live in the town of Mordavia, in the northern part of the forest. Within the town’s gates, the atmosphere is more human. The people of this town know that they are safe within the gates and in the vincinity of the city by day. At least... Until shortly...

Among the houses and shops, next to the adventurer’s guild, is a monastery. Founded not so long ago by the notorious Amon Tillado, otherwise known as the Mad Monk, it has turned this part of town in a morbid place of mistery and intrigue. It’s huge oak doors are kept firmly shut, and no one has seen, or wants to see, what unspeakable rites take place within those huge stone walls. Everybody knows that the Mad Monk and his followers, among which Barishnikov Vasiliovitch Borgov, the Boyar of the valley, worship one of the greatest Dark Ones in existence, the Dark One Avoozl. It’s sign, the six-armed squid or hexapod, hangs above the entrance, guarding the monastery. Nobody in the town dares speak about it, but everybody knows it symbolises a terrible evil. One would say that people would move elsewhere, away from the mad monk and his dangerous followers, but despite of everything, the villagers get on with their lives. The shops do a steady business, the inn has it’s regular customers, along with the occasional stranger visiting Mordavia, eager to find out about this cult the Boyar encouraged so much. Such was the case this time.

The long, slender man sat at the end of the table nearest to the stairs. He was probably in his thirties, pale but good-looking. Most important, he was wealthy. He neatly paid for his room in advance, and every evening he would come out of his room, order a meal and go outside. Strangely enough, he never returned to the inn before closing-time, and he was never seen by day. But each night he would be there, eating his meal and going out. The inkeeper wondered, but if a man has money to spend, you don’t ask questions. This night was the same as every other. The stranger had appeared from his room, and ordered some food and drink. ‘Thank you sir, your meal will be with you shortly sir, anything else sir?’ Borishnov the innkeeper, a fat, unpleasant middle-aged man groveled off. Where was that girl??? Never around when you needed her. ‘Katrina!’, he shouted. ‘Katrina! Where are you, you lazy cow?’ The door to the kitchen opened slightly, and Katrina, a beautyfull but shy girl, about seventeen years old, appeared. She was wearing a shabby, stained, ragged dress, and held a plate with food and some drink. ‘Finally! Where were you, you stupid woman?’, the inkeeper shouted. ‘Bring this to that fine gentleman over there,’ -a nod and a big smile towards the stranger- ‘or you’ll get it tonight!’ Katrina looked down to the floor and quickly brought the man his food. ‘Thank you,’ he said in a nice voice, as she put the food on the table. He winked at her and a thin smile appeared on his face. She liked the stranger, in a certain way. At least he was nice to her. And he didn’t touch her, like the other customers did. She didn’t like it when the peasants touched her, with their alcoholic breath and their dirty little hands. She had told Borishnov, when she was about fourteen years old. Borishnov told her that that’s what the customers want, and she’d better allow it or she would be severely beaten after closing time. Borishnov couldn’t keep his hands to himself either, when he had had too much to drink. Katrina hated Borishnov and the peasants. She hated everybody. The whole bloody world was against her, and used her for whatever it wanted. What did it matter what she thought? She was just a bastard child, do whatever you want with her. Her mother was a passing gypsy and she didn’t even know who her father was. The inkeeper ‘adopted’ her as a baby, after her mother was burned in front of the burgomeister’s. Oh yes, Katrina hated the world, and everybody in it...

It was getting late. The stranger had left and the regulars were on their way out. Katrina cleaned the table and looked at Borishnov. He was too drunk to lock the door. ‘Here, let me-‘, she begun, but Borishnov hit her in the face, and Katrina fell to the floor. ‘You Shtupid b-b-bissshhh! G-geddaway fromme! Get b-back to yer w-work!’, the innkeeper shouted. Katrina crawled backwards as he stumbled towards her. ‘Cummear!’ She tried to get up but Borishnov swung his arm towards her again, this time missing and knocking over a jug, which shattered to the ground, the alcohol spilling out over the floor. Katrina tried to walk further back until she felt the edge of the table. Borishnov hit her again and Katrina fell back-down on the table. ‘I’ll teach you...’ Borishnov mumbled as he grabbed Katrina’s leg. ‘No!’, she shouted, and tried to kick Borishnov, hereby freeing her leg. Katrina had seen him drunk before, but never this drunk. She rolled off the table and landed between the shards of the fallen mug. She just caught a glimpse of the alcohol slowly creeping towards the fireplace. Borishnov came round the table and got to his knees in front of her, trying to pull her legs aside. She violently kicked around while she searched the floor with her left hand, until she got hold of a long, sharp piece of mug. She managed to kick Borishnov in the side, after which he lost his balance. He prevented himself from falling over by placing one hand on the bench beside her, Katrina noticed. Without hesitating, she got up and rammed the shard through the back of Borishnov’s hand and into the bench underneath. With a terrible scream, the innkeeper let go of her, and Katrina jumped up and ran for the door, the innkeeper yelling behind her. As she ran out of the inn, she could hear the sound of alcohol catching flame, and setting the inn alight. Running out of town, into the forest, Katrina could think only of one thing... Revenge...

Chapter II, Part I Revenge... Hatred... Anger... All these emotions screamed through Katrina’s head as she ran through the forest, away from the inn, away from the town, the peasants, her past, her childhood... Branches swept against her and hit her in the face, her ragged dress tearing as it got caught on them. Twigs and fallen branches pricked into her bare feet, which seemed to turn to ice as she ran through a stream. The forest was getting darker but Katrina was allready blinded by hatred. She ran on, without a direction, not knowing where to go. Erana’s gardens, perhaps, or the mountain pass. She could get out of this stupid valley, beginning a new life someplace far from here. She had nothing at the moment, but Katrina didn’t care about what she had left behind. She looked at the horizon. The pass at Mount Malign was still a long way ahead, but her anger kept her going. Dark trees rushed past, twisted shapes resembling some horrible undead creature. Branches, shaped like long claws grabbed at her, hit her in the face. In the distance, a wolf howled. Werewolves? Maybe there were gypsies in Mordavia. She had heard rumors in the inn, and on the rare occasion she was allowed to go out. Katrina didn’t know if she believed them. After all, her own mother was a gypsy, wasn’t she? Surely, if her mother had the talents to change into a wolf, she would have inherited them from her? Katrina felt new tears welling up. Not tears of hatred, but of sorrow. Her mother... If it wasn’t for those stupid townspeople, Katrina would still have a mother. All this would have been different. She wouldn’t have been at the Inn, slaving for Borishnov, getting dirty hands all over her. She wouldn’t be running through this forest right now. She would be dancing under the stars, travelling from place to place, discover exotic lands and meeting interesting people. But no. Her mother had been burned at the stake, just because some drunk townsperson probably thought she attacked him as a werewolf. She had the townspeople to thank for her misery. Someday, she would thank them... Someday. And they probably wouldn’t enjoy it.

The forest was getting particularly dark now. Katrina looked back. Did something move in the shadows? Was she being followed? Wolves? Necrotaurs? Maybe the townspeople were after her. She had set fire to the inn, after all, and had probably killed the innkeeper. Hopefully, she secretly added in the back of her head. Pershaps old Borishnov couldn’t get himself loose in time. Maybe he couldn’t get the shard out of his hand and perished in the flames. What would they do if they caught her? She would probably be hung. Well, first they would probably do something else to her, then hang her. What else was she good for? She was a bastard child, a halfbreed. She was nobody. Not a gypsy, not a... Whatever her father had been. She was nothing, good for just one thing. Everybody just wanted to use her. ‘Katrina, you are so beautiful.’ ‘Katrina, I love you.’ Hah. Nobody had ever loved her. She was only good to do the dishes, serve the food, clean the inn. ‘Entertain’ the customers. If something from the inn had gone missing, Katrina was to blame. She looked back again. She couldn’t see torches or an angry mob yet. Had she been imagining it? Maybe i- Katrina suddenly tripped over a rock and fell face down to the ground. She lay there for a few seconds, and suddenly everything had gone quiet. The rushing of the wind past her ears had stopped and the raging thoughts inside her head had gone. Suddenly she was on the ground, somewhere in the forest in the middle of the night. Katrina was starting to get scared. She looked around. Nothing to be seen yet... But... Wait! What was that? She couldn’t quite make out what she heard, and where she heard it, but it was certainly there. A shuffling, some faint moans... Katrina put her ear to the ground and listened. A low, muted moaning sound. Very faint at first, but getting clearer as it seemed to get closer. She got up but fell back again as a decaying green hand shot out of the ground in front of her. Crawling back, she watched a second hand appear. The muscles moved under the tight skin as the hands pulled at the edge of the hole. Whoever - or whatever - the arms belonged to, appeared to be trying to climb out of it. Slowly, and with an unearthly howl, something that had probably once been a head appeared above ground. Could it be true? Katrina had heard stories, but she never believed them. She had thought of them as the fantasies of drunken townsmen, like the story about the Rusalka. She had never truly believed in things like the Revenant, but here it was, right in front of her. She wanted to turn around and run away, but behind her another pair of hands shot up. Katrina got to her feet and ran forward, but arms were suddenly appearing everywhere, and soon she was completely surrounded. The Revenants that were allready above ground were just standing there, swaying to and fro, their bony arms held out towards her. Stips of cloth hung around their bodies, the dry skin tightly stretched over what was left of their skeletons. Some still had eyes, some of them didn’t, and others just had one eye loosely wobbling in it’s socket. When they were all out of their graves, the Revenants started to close in on Katrina. She turned round and round, watching them move towards her. No way, she thought. I’m not going to end like this. I won’t die until I’ve had my revenge on every single person in Mordavia. There had to be a way out of this, and if it meant tearing every single Revenant to pieces with her bare hands, so be it. What was it again with Revenants? They were the low-power Vampires. They only know the hunger for living flesh, that drives them out of their graves at night. She knew that much. Nobody ever said anything practical about how to make them go away. Perhaps because they didn’t believe the stories themselves, or perhaps... perhaps because it wasn’t possible...

Chapter II, Part II The closing circle of undead had almost reached Katrina. Things were really getting tense right now. She turned and turned, trying to keep an eye on every Revenant at once. She looked at the ground in search of fallen branches, or something else she could use to keep the Revenants back. One of them slashed at her with a long, black claw, tearing her sleeve and the underlying skin. Katrina grabbed the wound, and thwarted another attack by beating the Revanant’s hand down with her fist. So far so good, she hadn’t received any serious damage but that would probably change pretty soon. Eight pairs of claws were starting to grab her, and whenever she pulled herself loose, she would fall into the hands of another one, reminding her of that stupid game children play, when they stand in a circle with the side-slip of the class in the middle, pushing him around. The hands were now all over her, each Revenant trying to take her for itself. A vision of the peasants flashed before Katrina’s eyes. ‘No!’ She shouted. ‘Get AWAY from me! NOOOOOOOO-’ ‘MEGALL!’ Katrina’s scream was cut off by somebody else’s voice. The Revenants froze and their heads swiveled to where the voice was coming from, as did Katrina’s. Out of the shadows a man appeared. Later, Katrina would remember he didn’t actually seem to emerge out of the shadows, but it looked as if he was that shadow, gliding off the trees and taking on the form of a man. ‘Megáll ezután,’ He added. Now that she could see clearly, Katrina recognized the stranger from the inn. The Revenants took a step back, and, softly hissing, eyed the stranger suspicously. ‘Ez lélek az enyém.’ The Revenants, seemingly understanding but clearly not content with whatever the stranger had said, sunk back into the ground. They seemed to be doing it themselves, not out of their own free will, but somehow they managed to open the ground with their feet, and as suddenly as they had appeared, they went away, the ground closing over their heads. Katrina blankly stared at the places where they stood only seconds ago, processing what had happened. The stranger walked up to her. ‘That was... close.’, he said.

Katrina and the stranger sat on a boulder. She had been able to recover her breath, and after an intense outburst of emotions she was taking a rest. ‘I, uh, I want to thank you for what you just... did, back then. I’m not sure what you did, but, uh, thanks, anyway.’ Katrina nervously looked the other way. ‘Think nothing of it,’ the stranger said. ‘It’s just important that you didn’t get harmed.’ A nervous smile went over Katrina’s face for just a little while. She stared at the ground. ‘I know about what’s going on, Katrina.’, the man said. How did he know her name? Oh, he probably heard it at the inn. ‘I know how you feel, you know. It seems like the whole world is against you, doesn’t it?’ Maybe he had seen what happened in the inn, as well. Of course he had, how else could he have known that? ‘You want nothing more than to get even with them, don’t you? You’d give everything just for revenge, isn’t that right?’ This was getting odd. How did he know what went on in her head? The man moved closer towards her. Katrina tried to avoid his look and stared at her arm. There was a hole in her sleeve, which showed three long bloody stripes. She rubbed around the wound. It had started to sting. ‘Oh dear,’ said the man. ‘Let me look at that.’ ‘No,’ Katrina said quickly as she stood up. ‘It’s nothing. I’m fine.’ She backed away, but the stranger got up and grabbed her arm. His grip was strong, but not unkind. His skin seemed very cold, though. It was quite cold outside, but that cold? Katrina looked at the man’s face. He was very pale, as well. Maybe it was the moonlight. The full moon played strange tricks, after all. ‘Hmm. Just a fleshwound,’ the man said. ‘If you get this cleaned it won’t bother you for too long.’ He let go of her, turned around and walked away from Katrina a bit. He looked at his hands. Some blood had gotten on his index finger. Without Katrina seeing, he licked it off, and a little light flashed in his eyes. ‘I can help you, you know?’, he said as he turned around. He walked towards her. ‘I can help you get back at those peasants, the village. I can make sure you are never at anyone’s mercy again.’ Katrina frightfully backed away as the man approached her, until she walked against a tree. The stranger took her arms. He started to whisper as his face got nearer to hers. ‘I can learn you to teach them a lesson they will...’ He paused for a moment, ‘...never forget. But first...’ They looked each other straight in the eye. Their lips touched, and after a small hesitation, they kissed each other. Katrina closed her eyes. For the first time, somebody actually loved her. She held her head back as the stranger went from her mouth to her cheek, her neck... Katrina had never felt this good in her entire life. She was in extacy, and seemed to float in the air. She felt the stranger’s mouth on her neck,opening. Katrina hoped this moment would never end, that time would freeze and this feeling would last forever. She could feel two cold, pointy teeth go over her neck, stopping on her jugular vein. This was the best night of her- She felt two sharp stabs in her neck, and two teeth moving deeper into the vein. It felt like her whole neck started to throb, and she could feel a warm drop of blood glide down her throat. Katrina was starting to get dizzy. She could feel the life being sucked out of her veins, something else taking it’s place. Darkness. Cold shadows flowed in through the holes in her neck, until they had replaced all the warmth of life once there. It started to go black before her eyes, and just before she fainted she could feel two teeth, gently being pulled out of her neck...

Chapter III Darkness. Katrina drifted in the thick, black void of unconsiousness. She was unable to move, and her heart had stopped beating. Katrina had died, yet she was still alive. Nothing could be seen or heard as she slowly floated round. She didn’t, no, couldn’t think for a while, but now the thoughts streamed back into her head. What had happened? Where was she? Why was she here? Thousands of questions came up in her mind, until Katrina saw something. Not before her eyes, but inside her head. It was a camp. A gypsy camp, with colourful wagons surrounding the firepit. A woman sat in front of her wagon. She smiled, but as her face turned towards Katrina it went cold. Fire shot up in front of her, and the vision faded away. The soft, rythmic sound of a heartbeat filled her ears, and Katrina heard music. It was a hopscotch song, one Katrina had heard many times before. Once, a long time ago. The song and beating sounds got louder, and she could hear children shouting. She couldn’t understand them, because they were all shouting at the same time, but it didn’t sound as if it was meant nice. The sounds got louder and louder, and Katrina could see a little girl, looking up at somebody. A big hand hit her in the face. A man started shouting, and she could hear somebody being beaten several times. The vision was replaced by the interior of an inn. She could hear laughter, and sounds of people drinking. The heartbeats had gotten so loud it was incredible. Katrina saw men, peasants, sitting at a table. They seemed to notice her, and eyed her up and down. The sounds got even stronger, and the beating faster. Visions of somebody hitting her in the face were varied by the faces of drunken townsmen. Katrina knew there was warmth around her, but she felt as if she was wrapped in a blanket of frost. The beating had grown to a loud, almost explosive pounding, and had replaced all the other sounds. She tried to grab her head, and close off her ears. The heartbeats echoed in her head, and felt as if they were crushing her skull. Katrina could feel the vibrations going down her spine. The sounds, the visions, the feelings, everything had reached a climax. Katrina screamed without a voice, trying to fight her way out of here. Anger flowed through her. She no longer had a soul, but was filled with rage, hatred, and an incredible longing for revenge. The beating got even stronger, and suddenly stopped. She could suddenly see the stranger’s eyes. They immediately started fading together with the echo of the final heartbeat. Everything had gone quiet again. The visions had gone, the familiar darkness taking their place. Katrina could finally control herself again. Her heart slowly started pumping the blood back through her veins. It felt different this time. She could feel the rushing of the hot, burning liquid, and at the same the coldness of shadows. Katrina was no longer the innocent peasant girl, allowing everything, letting the world toy with her. She no longer felt sympathy for anyone, only a deep, uncontrollable thirst... A thirst for blood...

Katrina woke up. Memories of the dream slowly faded away as she lay staring at the ceiling. It was made up of wooden boards, higher than she was used to. The events of last night went by in her head. What had happened after the Revenants was still a bit hazy, but she’d remember in due time. Katrina looked around. There was something awfully strange about the bed. It wasn’t familiar, but it didn’t feel wrong either. She contemplated this for a while, and decided that the edges were too high for a normal bed. This looked more like a box. It was also in a strange shape. It wasn’t rectangular like a normal bed, but shaped in a weird, yet familiar way. Katrina sat upright. She expected to still feel tired, like every morning when she got up. Yet she felt stronger than she had ever felt, as if strengthened by a powerfull potion. She was hungry though, but not for breakfast. She looked around. It looked like she was in some sort of castle. The walls were made up of big, grey stones and torches lined the walls. The room was sparsely furnished, the only furniture seemed to be her bed. A big, oak door, probably leading to the hall, was on the right, and long curtains hung besides two glass balcony doors. It was dark outside. How long had she slept? A whole day? Or just a few hours? Katrina got out of her... bed, and walked up to the balcony. She could see the forest in the distance, and if she looked very close, she could just barely make out the lights of town. ‘I see you are up,’ a voice said behind her. Katrina turned. The stranger was leaning against the wall next to the door. ‘Good. I took the liberty of putting you in this room here. You can change if you don’t like it.’ ‘Uh... No, no. No, it’s fine... Uhm, where are we, exactly?’, she said. The stranger walked towards the door, which seemed to open by itself. ‘Come, I’ll show you around.’ He walked through the doorway, and Katrina followed. Behind her, the door fell shut. ‘We’re in the Boyar’s castle,’ the stranger said as the two of them walked through the halls. ‘He occasionally hires a room or two to wealthy foreigners.’ Katrina tried to remember some things from a hazy past. ‘But I thought you stayed at the inn?’, she said. ‘Oh yes, but I do that just to get to know the town, you see? Not arouse suspicion. People are very suspicious about strangers here.’ ‘Yes. Yes I see. But... why are you here? And what happened last night?’ ‘We’ll come to that in time. But first...’ They stopped before another big door. The stranger looked at Katrina, smiled, and the door flew open. Katrina gazed at the room beyond. She had never seen anything like this in her life. There was a large stone stairway, leading down to what looked like the main hall. Tapestries lined the walls, the room was decorated with large statues and chandeliers, and opposite to the two huge doors, presumably the main entrance, was a large fireplace, with a cozy fire illuminating the room. ‘Take a seat,’ the man said as they walked down the stairs. ‘We need to talk.’

The two of them sat before the fireplace. The fire was blazing, but Katrina didn’t feel hot at all. She only felt the same cold chill she had felt since she got up. Katrina still felt pretty good, a bit confused maybe, but stronger than ever. Yet she still had his odd thirst... ‘What do you know about Avoozl?’, the stranger asked. ‘A little. He’s that guy the people in the monastery worship, isn’t he?’, Katrina answered. ‘Yes, but he is more than that. He is the pure embodyment of darkness. He is the darkest of all Dark Ones. He is the Dark One. His release into this world would cover the entire valley in an eternal night. As Amon Tillado wrote: “Ye shall know Avoozl cometh when the very sun itself doth fear to show its face, and the Shadows of Darkness covereth the earth.” Amon Tillado and his Cult have been worshipping Avoozl for some time, and I didn’t know they were here until I heard of Barney joining the Cult. Word travels fast in high circles.’, he concluded. ‘Barney?’, Katrina asked. ‘Yes, Barishnikov Borgov, the Boyar. I’ve known him for quite some time.’ The stranger seemed bitter. He stared into the fire for a while, until a small grin passed over his face. ‘Anyway, the Cult are waiting for the Call of Avoozl, so that they can release him into this world. It would be my, I mean, our greatest moment of triumph!’ The stranger thought about this for a while, with a happy smile on his face. ‘Where do I come into all this?’, Katrina asked. ‘You? Oh. Well, you know what I am, don’t you?’ ‘I think I have a faint idea.’, she said. The stranger leaned back a bit. ‘I am a Nosferatu,’ he continued. ‘A Vampire. We have to live of the blood of the living, in order to survive. We must flee the light of day and escape to the shadows of night. But that’s not all. Being a Nosferatu gives you acces to powers you never thought you had in you. It’s not just being undead, it’s a higher state of existence.’ Fire flared up in the man’s eyes, Katrina noticed. He was so incredibly attractive, he had such charisma, and he had chosen her, a nobody. If this isn’t true love, she thought, what else is? ‘We can also create new Vampires from our... victims. As I have done with you.’ Katrina’s hand automatically went up to her neck. Indeed, she could feel two round puncture marks. The stranger didn’t seem to have any. Maybe they faded after a while. She also felt past her teeth with her tongue. Everything was the same as allways, except... Except for the fact that she suddenly had two long, pointy teeth. ‘But why me?’, she asked. The stranger sat there thinking for a while. ‘I often watched you in the inn. I could sense your anger. I knew your hate would make you powerful, if you had access to it. And I decided to give you that access.’ He stared into the fire. ‘Besides, I was... attracted to you. You fascinate me, in a certain way. I even think... I believe that... I love you.’ The stranger turned and looked her straight in the eyes. Katrina felt as if she was melting. ‘But... But what does all this have to do with that... Cult?’ He turned his head to the fire again. ‘The Cult doesn’t know the consequences of summoning Avoozl. If they were to perform the rituals, they would become Chernovy. They would get partial immortality, but they would be horribly mutated. They would be forced to roam this valley for all eternity. Chernovy can’t die of natural causes, only get killed. Only an incredibly powerful hero could possibly kill a Chernovy, but there are not much of those around these days.’ ‘So, you want to warn them?’, Katrina asked. The stranger grinned. ‘Oh no, not warn them. You see, I have known Barney for quite some time. My family has known the Borgov family for ages. We were very close. So close even, that one time, we told them our family secret. We told them about our... Nocturnal activities, the fact that we were actually... Undead.’ The man rubbed his chin and continued. ‘Suddenly, they didn’t want to know about us anymore. The fact that they had known a family of Nosferatu for centuries seemed to disturb them. They wanted nothing to do with us. Barishnikov even started to make public remarks about the ‘terrible deeds of the undead.’ So I personally, ah, took care of the entire family.’ The man licked his teeth. ‘Everybody, except for old Barney. I have a more bitter fate for him. For if he would succeed into summoning Avoozl, and he will if we help him, he’d become a Chernovy, and feel how it is to be undead. I could get back at him for his insolent remarks, and humiliate him for all eternity.’ ‘Why don’t you just bite him and make him your... Slave?’, Katrina asked. The stranger raied his eyebrows. ‘Ah, because then, I wouldn’t be able to hurt him. If I would hurt him, the bonds that bound him to me would shatter, and he could turn against me. Besides, it’s more fun to see how he does on his own.’ The stranger stared into the distance, a proud smile on his face. Katrina rubbed her forehead. She wasn’t feeling as strong as she did a while ago. ‘I can see you are weakening,’ the stranger said. ‘We’ll find out more about the Cult later. First, I’ll teach you a few things about being a Nosferatu...’

Chapter IV ‘So if I understand all this, I am now a vampire?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘And I can’t bare sunlight?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘And I can’t die?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘And I can shapeshift in the form of a bat, fly across the valley, drink the blood of the living and curse my victims to eternals damnation?’ ‘Possible, yes.’ Katrina smiled as they walked up the winding stairway. ‘This could get interesting...’ Nobody in the valley had ever been particularly afraid of vampires. They were like ravines. A strange comparisson, but true. You wouldn’t get hurt by them if you were careful. Except for the occasional Revenant they were too rare to worry about. Only if you ventured into the forest by night, could you fall into the hands of a Revenant, as Katrina had found out. There were no powerful vampires, no Nosferatu, in the valley. But all that would soon change... The door to Katrina’s room opened as the two of them approached it. The stranger walked up to the balcony doors and opened them with both hands, letting in the cold winds of night. Katrina followed him on to the balcony. ‘Now, let us see how you are at shapeshifting.’

‘It is so very simple,’ the stranger explained. ‘You need only imagine, and it happens. Watch.’ The stranger leapt on the parapets and turned towards Katrina. He spread his arms, as if he had just explained something very simple, and fell backwards off the balcony. Katrina ran forward and looked over the edge. A bat flew up towards her, circled three times and shifted bak into the stranger. ‘You see? Is it not the easiest thing you ever saw?’ he said, with a little smile on his face. ‘I... How?’ Katrina stammered. ‘You ask me how? I’ll tell you how. I have given you the Dark Gift. I have given you powers you didn’t dare dream you had in you. I’ve given you the key to your revenge!’ ‘B-but, when?’ ‘While you were unconsious. I cut my wrist and held it over your face, letting my diabolical blood drip to your sweet lips. I wanted to get it done, because I didn’t want to risk you accidentaly taking too much. Besides, it’s easier this way. Now, come. Let us see you doing it.’ He beckoned her to stand on the parapets. Katrina hesitated. ‘What are you afraid of? Not of dying I hope?’ the stranger added with a sarcastic grin. He held out his hand. Katrina reluctantly took it, and stepped on the parapets. ‘Now, close your eyes, raise your arms, and do it.’ Katrina closed her eyes and raised her arms up in the winter air. ‘Reach out, and touch your anger. Use your aggression, your hatred.’ Katrina concentrated. She could feel the darkness again. She could feel it flowing through her veins, as she had felt it before. The hatred packed together as dark stormclouds in her head. Longings for revenge screamed at her, as she filled her body with emotions. And as she let the feelings come to a climax, Katrina jumped. She could feel her legs growing shorter, her arms stretching and a fleece growing underneath them. She felt her face being pulled slightly forward and her ears growing longer. She could feel the shift was completed as she hung still in the air for a moment when her jump had reached its highest point. Katrina moved her weight and her body tilted from an upright vertical positon to a horizontal position, and further. Katrina spread her new wings as she dived to the ground, skimming the forest and soaring up again. She flapped her wings, once, twice. She greeted the full moon, flying high over Mordavia. She could see Erana’s Garden, the lake, the forest, everything. She could even see over some of the mountains. She saw a glimpse of the other valleys, places she had heard of but which she had never seen before. If Katrina could have cried in her present form, she would have. Such freedom... Katrina saw Mount Malign, and the castle behind her. She could see the cemetary and... And the town. The joyful feelings of freedom had suddenly made place for her bitter hate. Another bat flew by, landing in front of the town gates. Katrina dove after him and did so as well.

The shift back to human form was easier than the one before. She had shapeshifted back into her old self and was now standing in the shadows, in front of the town gates. ‘They are still open,’ Katrina noticed. ‘Yes, the burgomeister is late this evening.’ The two of them heard the sound of somebody muttering to himself. ‘Quiet! somebody is coming.’ They watched a young man, probably about twenty years old, and probably in a lightly chemically enhanced state. ‘Well, Katrina,’ the stranger said. ‘This could well be your first victim.’ He said back on a treestump, and formed a tent with his hands. ‘Go, talk to him,’ he said, watching her over the tips of his fingers. Katrina looked back at the gates. The young man was walking through the gates, mumbling to himself. ‘Blast’d town what with this in burning to the ground and ev’rything. Hmm. Darn K’trina. Stupid biff, but whadda body eh!’ He prodded an imaginary neighbour with his elbow, going ‘Har’ with each prod. Katrina stepped out of the shadows and towards the villager after he had crossed the small bridge. ‘Well well, who have we ‘ere?’ he mumbled. ‘Hello,’ Katrina said, and stared to the ground. ‘I’m afraid I’ve gotten lost, and I’m so alone and it’s so cold out here at night.’ She drew cirkles in the ground with her feet and looked the man in the eyes. ‘Do you think you could help... warm me?’ ‘Why, how can I refuse someone like you,’ he said, and threw his arms around her. Katrina hugged him, her face next to his ear. He rubbed her back as Katrina touched his cheek with her lips, and moved down towards his jaw. He softly moaned as she went further to his neck. She opened her mouth slightly, and felt his jugular vein throbbing against her upper lip. Katrina inhaled, longing for the warm liquid so close to her mouth. She opened her mouth further and let her teeth glide over his throat. She stopped when she felt the vein throbbing against the tips of her fangs. The young man’s hands moved downwards from her back. Men, she thought. Are they not all the same?

His body shook when her teeth bored through the soft flesh. Almost immediately Katrina could feel the warm blood spurting out of his throat. What a rush, she thought. Her eyes flared up red as the thick, warm liquid filled her mouth, and Katrina could feel herself growing even stronger with every heartbeat. The villager made a small gurgling sound and tried to get himself loose, but Katrina’s grip on him was too strong. As she sucked at the two holes in his neck she flew up in the air, past the treetops, high above Mordavia again, but this time still in her own shape. Katrina could feel him weakening as the blood came out with longer intervals, which indicated his heart beating slower and slower. She sucked harder at his throat until she had drained him of all blood. Katrina pulled her teeth out of the young man’s throat and licked some blood off of it. Looking at his face, she could see his eyes turning upwards, after which his head fell back. Katrina stared in the distance, and let her victim fall from her arms. Closing her eyes, she slowly turned somersalts in the air.

The stranger silently watched as the young man crashed to the ground. He smiled. Beautiful. Everything was going as planned. The girl gratefully used her new powers, and in time she would grow strong. Perfect, she would need to grow strong, of course, for the task he had planned for her would not be an easy one. He couldn’t allow her to grow too strong, naturally. But the odds of her turning against him were much too small. The poor sod had never been loved by anyone in her entire life, and grasped the first opportunity with both hands. All too easy, actually. Unfortunate that there would be a time he would have to, ah, dispose of her. Unfortunate, because she was not unpleasant company to have around. Oh well, plenty of other well-shaped girls around...

That night, Katrina had learned a lot from her new master. Together, they took more victims. There was still quite some tourism in Mordavia, and allthough it wasn’t a big town, there were still plenty of people for them to feed themselves on. The stranger had learned her to drain cattle and vermin, in order to survive when population thinned. He learned her to gather her emotions and use her Dark Gift to bend them to her own will. As they returned to the castle before dawn, Katrina felt more powerful, more satisfied than she had ever felt. For the first time, she was in control, she dealt the cards. And she had the stranger to thank for it all. She was prepared to give him anything in return, which was exactly what he would take. He had allready taken her life, and yes, given her a new one in return. But it would be more. He could take her body, then her mind, her will, and eventually her new life as well. But first, her body. Not an unpleasant task, indeed...

Chapter V Katrina opened her coffin lid. She sat up and stretched her arms as she thought about the events of last nigt. The joy of living, flying high in the air, and the thrill she felt when she drank the blood of some unknowing townsperson. And when they had returned at dawn... Ah, what sweet memories one could get from a night like that... Katrina got up. She closed her coffin, which felt more natural already, and walked up to the balcony. She looked over the darkened valley for the second time, her tongue moving past her fangs as she could sense the blood of all lifeforms in the valley, pumping through their veins. From small rodents to ignorant townspeople, she could sense them all... Katrina turned and went back inside, closing the glass doors behind her. She decided that she would go to the main hall and meet the stranger downstairs. As she walked up to the heavy oak door, it opened by itself. Katrina waited, expecting the stranger to show up any minute. When he didn’t, Katrina looked behind her, and walked into the hallway. Nobody. She inspected the door. Just an ordinary door, with big rusty hinges. It couldn’t possibly have swung open by itself. Katrina shrugged and walked down the hall. When she had reached another door, leading to a winding staircase, it opened by itself as well. Mild surprise came over Katrina, but faded immediately when she saw a figure at the foot of the stairs. A woman, probably one of the Boyar’s cleaning women. She glanced up at Katrina as she climbed the staircase, but did not seem to dare look her in the eye. A vein came up in her neck, probably a nervous twitch. Katrina’s eyes widened as she saw the blueish lines so close under the soft flesh, her instincts coming in motion. The woman had reached the top of the stairs and passed Katrina, head bowed, showing the veins in her neck even better. Katrina looked at the woman. She smiled, grabbed her by the throat and slammed her against the wall. ‘P-please, I w-was just...’, the woman stammered. ‘Who are you?’ Katrina demanded. ‘I-I’m just the cleaning lady... P-please, I-‘ Katrina looked deep in the woman’s frightened eyes, studying her thoughts. ‘You married?’ she asked. ‘W-what?’ Katrina’s grip on the woman’s throat tightened, making the veins look as if they were about to burst through the skin above. ‘I asked if you were MARRIED, woman.’, she said, eyes fixed on the cleaner’s throat. ‘I... Y-yes...’ ‘And your husband, hangs around at the inn, does he?’ ‘Please...’ ‘Does he?’ ‘W-well, Y-yes, now and then...’ ‘I bet he does. I bet he likes it there eh? Drinking, feasting his eyes on the young waitress eh? And I bet not just his eyes, too.’ Katrina could feel the coldness again, as it flowed through her. ‘Please, I... I know. B-but what...’ ‘You KNOW? And you didn’t try to do something about it?’, Katrina yelled. ‘I’m not in the position to-‘ ‘Not in the position? You mean that you just LET them get away with this?’ Anger boiled up inside her, as it had done many times before. ‘Please, you know how it is... Women, they-‘ ‘What?’ Katrina growled, pushed the woman’s face away with her thumb, and sunk her teeth into the soft flesh. The woman gasped as Katrina drank her warm blood, clutching her shoulder. The woman gurgled as Katrina pulled her teeth out of the soft flesh when she had drained her. Katrina’s lips were covered with blood, and it dripped off her fangs and chin. ‘Nobody even cares.’ she whispered to the barely alive woman and to the world in general. She wiped her face clean and threw the woman down the stairs. She landed halfway, and Katrina could hear her neck breaking on the sone steps with a satisfying crack. The body rolled further down, stopping at the stranger’s feet, who had just apeared in the doorway downstairs. ‘Katrina! What have you done?!’ He looked at the woman, gesturing. ‘Please, be a bit less careless. We’ll have to pay Barney for this, you know?’ Katrina shrugged as she walked down the steps. ‘Oh, who cares. It’s just cleaning staff. Besides, I thought you hated the guy?’ The stranger shook his head, disapprovingly, as he shoved the body into a corner with his foot. ‘Indeed, but he does not know that I am actually me. It’s been ages since we last met, Barney and I. He probably doesn’t even recognize me anymore.’ He held out his arm to Katrina. ‘Come,’ he said. ‘Let us go to the main hall, and prepare for dinner. Or shall we call it breakfast?’

‘There’s something odd going on with the doors,’ Katrina told the stranger, on their way to the main hall. ‘Every one I come to swings open by itself. Did you do something to them?’ The stranger smiled, surprised. ‘Ah, no. No, it was not me. It was you, my dear.’ Katrina looked puzzled. ‘What are you talking about, it was me?’ she asked. ‘You are the one who opened them.’ ‘I opened them?’, Katrina asked. ‘I don’t understand. What do you mean?’ ‘What I’m telling you. Another one of the many things one could do with the Dark Gift. You used your new powers for your own benefit. And without you even knowing it. Interesting...’ He smiled again. Katrina frowned and said: ‘You mean I opened them, as... as if... As if by magic?’ The door to the main hall opened as the two of them approached it. They walked down the stone staircase into the main hall. ‘Not as if, Katrina. You did open them by magic.’ He grinned, rubbing his chin with his right hand. ‘I knew it was strong in you the moment I saw you. This looks very promising indeed...’ Katrina had totally lost track. A few days ago she was practically food for the immortals, and now someone told her she had magical powers and could open doors without touching them. ‘So I... I am suddenly a wizard AND a Nosferatu?’ The stranger laughed surprisedly. ‘A wizard? Oh, no. No, my precious little one, you are not a wizard. Not yet. For now, you are still a... a mere Magic User.’ He gently held up Katrina’s chin with his left hand. ‘Come, come now. You worry your pretty little head too much...’ The stranger turned his back to her, and walked around in the Main Hall. ‘There are some things in life... And death, of course... Some things that the ordinary people just can’t understand. Especially...’ He looked at Katrina from the corner of his eyes, apparently waiting for a reaction. ‘Especially for a simple townsperson like you.’ He stranger smiled as he saw Katrina’s head turn to him. ‘A what?’ she said. ‘Well, when you look at it, you are just like them, aren’t you? Ignorant, foolish, just like the rest of them.’ He sighed, smiling as he could feel Katrina’s rage welling up inside her. Katrina got furious. She had took revenge in the sweetest form possible, laughing at the townspeople as they were so much less than she was. And now he, her saviour, her beloved, her hero, he suggested she was no better than them. ‘I guess,’ the stranger continued, ‘I guess you are not as different as you thought you were. Face it, Katrina. You are nobody.’ The stranger turned as he saw Katrina run towards him. She hit him in the chest, lifted the stranger off his feet, and pushed him through the room. The stranger chuckled as he was slammed against the staircase. Laughing, he said: ‘Now, what were you going to do?’ Katrina dragged him away and threw him against the big door on the other side of the room. ‘Kill me, perhaps?’ he added. Katrina grabbed a chair and threw it at the laughing stranger. Just as it was about to hit him, he moved fast as lightening and suddenly stood right next to Katrina. ‘Boo!’ he said in her ear, and the chair flew to pieces as it collided with the door. Katrina turned, and the two of them could almost feel the anger crackling between them. Katrina clenched her fist, and swung it round in a circle. She could feel the power, magical power, streaming to it. When her arm had made a full circle, and her hand pointed at the stranger, she opened her hand, and released the power.

Surprise took over the place that had once belonged to laughter when the force bolt hit the stranger in the stomach, and threw him backwards, against the back wall of the fireplace. He shook his head and stood still for a minute, until he realized that his clothes were starting to catch flame. A small smile came over Katrina’s face. That would teach him. The stranger quickly stepped out of the fire and beated out the flames on his sleeves and legs. Shiny beads of sweat were on his sooted forehead. He was breathing heavily, and grunted: ‘Allright. You have the power. Now you must learn to control it.’ He took a handkerchief out of his pocket, and wiped his face. ‘You don’t control your power yet. You’ll have to practice using the spells, and once you know enough, we’ll send you to the Institute.’ Katrina smiled. ‘Allright. But first, let’s grab a bite.’

Katrina grabbed the rock out of the nighttime air. ‘And that was the fetch spell,’ she said. ‘I think I know quite enough for now.’ She turned to the stranger, who was sitting against a tree, rubbing his forehead and obviously bored. ‘So, tell me about this Institute of yours.’ He sighed and made a gesture, as if he was throwing something away. ‘What a saddening country this is,’ he whispered. ‘I hate it here. Practically no lifeforms and virtually no entertainment at night. Nothing like the big cities...’ He got up, strolled towards Katrina and put his arm around her shoulder. ‘Why can’t we go somewhere bigger, Shapeir... or Silmaria perhaps...’ Katrina folded her arms as they strolled through the forest. ‘Well, what about your quest then? What about Borgov?’ The stranger sighed again. ‘Oh, it’ll be ages until the time is ripe for that. No... I’ve made up my mind. You’ll have to complete your training before we take on Borgov. We should go to Shapeir. The nearest entrance to the Institute that I know of is located there.’ ‘But Shapeir is... is miles away. How will we get there?’ The stranger stepped away from Katrina and smiled. ‘Ah, a trick you’ll learn in due time. You’ll find out. Now, come. Let’s go.’ He raised his arms, shapeshifted into a bat and flew to the castle. After several seconds, Katrina followed.

‘So, are you ready?’ The stranger asked, and cracked his knuckles. ‘Yes... But what are we going to do there exactly? I mean, I don’t even know what this Institute you’re talking about really is. And why do we have to go to Shapeir?’ ‘W.I.T.? I didn’t tell you? Ah, you are so skilled allready, I forgot you have only had your powers for a few days. This is very rare, you know that? You’re very special. The Dark Gift has a strong effect on you... But where was I? Ah yes, it’s simple my dear. W.I.T. is the Wizards Institute of Technocery. Skilled magic-users go there to become even more skilled wizards. You will learn to master your powers there. But each applicant must first undergo several trials. Don’t worry, you’ll learn all about it once we’ve arrived..’ ‘And this... this WIT... It’s located in Shapeir?’ ‘Oh no. No, no, no. The entrance is in Shapeir, yes. But the Institute itself exists on an entirely different astral plane.’ He looked at Katrina’s puzzled face and added: ‘In other words, not on this earth.’ Katrina shrugged and looked around. ‘Allright. I’m ready then. I’m anxious to see how you get us there.’ The stranger smiled one of his little smiles. ‘Just wait and see.’ Katrina stood back. The stranger took a deep breath, and raised his arms. He closed his eyes, and appeared to be concentrating heavily. Then, suddenly, in front of him, a portal appeared. A big rectangle of bright light in the middle of the room, making the stranger’s face even more pale than it already was. He turned to Katrina, holding out his hand. She took it, and followed him through the portal. When they were gone, the portal closed behind them.

Chapter VI If you had been in darkened Shapeir that night, strolling the streets of Kudra Darb, and looked sideways into an alley called Sahir Tarik, you would have witnessed a strange light coming from it. You would have seen a figure, a man stepping out of the light, a content smile on his face. You would have seen a woman, a young girl still, appearing after him. You would have seen the man, raising his arms, the light fading behind him. You would have seen the woman stare in amazement. And if they would have seen you, you would probably be dead by now.

‘That went smooth. A pleasant trip.’ The stranger pulled an imaginary thread from his sleeve. ‘I trust you are alright?’ Katrina looked over her shoulder to where the portal had been a little while ago. ‘Yes...’ the stranger grinned. ‘You’ll learn this in due time. Now, we have arrived.’ Katrina looked around. ‘This is just a blind alley,’ se said, and after a while added: ‘Isn’t it?’ The stranger smiled, again. ‘Come on, Katrina. What have you learned?’ Yes, what had she learned? Tricks, to move rocks around, and open doors. Nothing of real importance. Nothing Katrina could use to gain power. Something useful had to be among all those simple tricks... Katrina looked up at the wall and stepped back. Raising her arms, she opened her senses. If there were magic here, she would certainly detect it. Hmm... She could feel strong magic coming from the wall. She opened her eyes. Blueish lines of light appeared on the wall, appearing to be the outlines of a door. Color and texture appeared between the lines, which finally faded away. Katrina went up to the door and tried to touch the handle, which didn’t seem to exist. It was as if it was painted onto the wall, as if the handled lost one dimension when Katrina tried to touch it. Though the door was still there. Katrina patted on the wood. It felt as a solid, wooden door, like the ones in the castle. Katrina had a feeling about the tests she was about to face. She stepped back, and cast a quick open spell at the door. It flew open, revealing a dark but starry sky. Katrina went up to the door, and stepped through. She disappeared as she stepped into the black void, the door falling shut behind her.

Katrina found herself on an ivory path. Portraits lined the marble walls. The room seemed to float in an endless darkness. There was no ceiling, no floor, except for the path Katrina walked upon. Green flames illuminated the portraits, creating an eerie flickering on the greenish marble. Katrina did not recognize anyone on the paintings. She walked onward until she came upon a huge double door. Waiting for something to happen, Katrina stood there, watching the paintings that surrounded her. Her eye fell on one that seemed completely black, yet there seemed to be lines, strokes of paint twitching on what looked like the canvas, apparently not wanting to show the figure on the portrait. Suddenly, multiple voices echoed through the ivory halls. ‘'Who are you that enters the lofty portals of the Wizard’s Institute of Technocery?’ Katrina looked up, trying to determine where the voices were coming from. ‘My name is... Katrina...’, she answered. ‘Why have you sought to enter into the Wizard’s Institute of Technocery?’ it boomed again through the halls. ‘I... I seek knowledge and power. I wish to become a Wizard,’ Katrina answered. ‘Who do you call upon to be your sponsor and mentor in these hallowed halls of the Wizard’s Institute of Technocery?’ Katrina hesitated. She suddenly realized that she never got to know his name. Looking over her shoulder, she wondered where the stranger was right now. Was he still in that alley? Did he follow her through the door? Maybe- ‘She chooses me,’ the stranger’s voice echoed through the halls. Katrina looked up again. There was a moment of silence, interrupted by a low, solid voice. ‘What did he say? You cant-‘ ‘This is highly irregular,’ a voice said, with the gently sloshing of water and at the same time the roaring thunder of rolling waves. ‘The student is supposed to choose it’s own mentor!’ ‘Quite so. We can’t have any of this,’ said a breathy voice, blowing and whistling through the halls. ‘We have always used this procedure and we are not planning on changing it just because some Wizard-wannabe cannot make a decision.’ ‘What does it matter if she chooses me or if I choose her. She doesn’t know of any other Wizards,’ said the stranger. ‘Still, it is not done,’ said a voice with the roar of flames. ‘She doesn’t even know his name!’ ‘She does not need to know my name! If she knew it she would still have chosen me.’ ‘No. It simply will not-‘ ‘I choose him,’ Katrina said, and instantly wished she didn’t when she felt five pairs of eyes directed at her. ‘What did she say?’ ‘What business is it of hers?’ ‘Well, she IS the student after all.’ ‘Oh alright, let’s get this over with.’ There was a moment of silence, until all the voices together said: ‘Very well. The choice has been made. Enter now to face your test, and prove yourself to be worthy to the Path of Wizardry.’

Slowly, the dark painting Katrina had been examining earlier tilted, revealing a dark chamber behind it. Katrina suddenly recognized the stranger’s glowing eyes in the portrait, staring right back at her. She realized something, but the painting had already tilted too far to be able to read the nameplate on it. She would have to ask him about his name, sometime. Strange that he had never mentioned it, or that Katrina never got the idea of asking him about it. Why not? Perhaps he had something to hide... The painting was now down far enough to form a bridge between the ivory path and the dark room beyond the painting. Katrina crossed it, took a deep breath, and went in...

The room was completely dark, and Katrina could not determine it’s size, or whether she was alone in there or not. The only thing she could see was a big pair of scales, or at least something that resembled scales, and six coffins in front of it. She heard the stranger’s voice again, as she had heard it before. ‘This little test I made up will determine whether or not you have the insight when and where to use your basic spells. It will also require some intelligence, a skill most needed on the path you are about to take. Before you, you see six coffins and a balance. Five of the coffins contain pure, radiant, scolding light. It could be lethal for you to open one of these coffins. The other coffin contains darkness. Purified, thick darkness. If you open this coffin, you shall gain strength and power. The darkness is heavier than the light, for it is more powerful. With only two weighings, you must determine the coffin that contains the darkness and open it. If you succeed, you have passed the test and will be able to continue your path to wizardry. If you fail...’ With these words, the voice faded, and Katrina was on her own again, except for that feeling that somebody was watching her from close by...

Alright, Katrina thought. Six coffins, two weighings. One is heavier than the others, and I can only weigh them two times. Let’s see. The scales weren’t designed to determine how heavy something was, only to show if something was heavier than something else. So it was no use lacing just one coffin on each scale. She could only weigh four coffins that way. No, she had to weigh them all to get a clue where the heavy coffin could be. Putting two coffins on one scale and one on the other then? She could weigh all coffins in two weighings then. No, that would be no use. If the two coffins were heavier, then was it because it was two of them or because the darker one is in there? She didn’t know how much heavier the dark coffin was... Hmm. What if she put half on one scale, and half on the other? She would then have one weighing left and would be halfway to determining which coffin is the heavier. Katrina cast a fetch spell on the first coffin, raising it in the air and then carefully placing it on the scale. She did the same with the second and the third, and then placed the rest of the coffins on the other scale. For some reason she could not feel how heavy each coffin was when fetching. There was probably some spell on them, to prevent her from finding the answer without doing the test the way it was intended. Now, what was wrong? The coffins were all neatly placed on the scales, but they stayed in balance. Was there some way to activate this thing? Katrina thought back to the practice in the forest and remembered the Detect Magic spell. Let’s see then. Katrina raised her arms and cast the spell. The whole room seemed to radiate with magic, but the biggest sources were the balance and the coffins. On the balance though, a latch appeared, glowing with a blue aura and eventually fading away. Well well. A hidden spell. We would soon deal with that, Katrina thought. She cast a quick trigger spell, surprised with how used she had gotten to it already. The invisible latch flipped, and the scales started to move. The balance creaked as the right scale slowly went up in the air. The three coffins on it flashed, and went up in flames. The balance went back to a horizontal position, and the latch clicked back. Three left, Katrina thought. Now the last weighing. Putting two coffins on one scale wouldn’t help, there had to be an equal amount of coffins on each scale. Well, there was only one way: putting one coffin on each scale. Katrina fetched a coffin and placed it on the right scale. Now what should she do with the last coffin? Put it on the ground, of course. Then, if the scales were in balance, the darkness was in the coffin on the ground, and otherwise it would obviously be in the heaviest scale. With one last fetch, Katrina placed the remaining coffin back on the ground, in front of her. She cast trigger at the scales, the latch clicked, and... Nothing happened. The scales remained horizontal. Katrina looked down to the coffin at her feet. If all had gone well, the darkness was in this coffin. Now all she had to do was open it... Katrina hesitated. Had she done something wrong? She couldn’t make any mistakes. If she did, she just might be turned to dust any moment. Was this worth it? She could always turn back. But then what? She would become the same she had always been. A mere girl, of no real importance to anybody. She would be used, hunted down, and probably destroyed. Whereas if she had chosen the right coffin, she could become one of the most powerful creatures in the universe. She could prove to the world that she needed nobody, that she was able to take on everyone and everything on her own. Katrina swallowed. Well, you never know, she thought...

Sweat beaded on Katrina’s forehead as she cast the open spell. Blueish rays of light came from the cracks in the coffin, making Katrina think for a moment that she had chosen the wrong coffin. But before she could even think of panicking, the coffin flew open and darkness streamed out of it, over the floor, to Katrina. She could feel herself being lifted off the floor, taking up the energy from the darkness. She spread her arms and let her head fall backwards, eyes closed. She was lifted further up, and could still feel the power, entering her body, flowing through her, a nexus of dark powers, deep inside her soul, in motion...

...and growing.

Chapter VII The portrait slammed down again. Dazed by the enormous amount of dark energy flowing from the coffin, Katrina stepped out of the room, and back onto the ivory path. Physically she was in the Institute’s tower, but whoever would have looked in her angry, flaming eyes would have seen her mind was on an entirely different astral plane. Katrina breathed heavily, and barely glanced up when the voices returned. ‘You have shown yourself to be resourceful in your use of spells under simple conditions.’ That last remark made Katrina look up. ‘To become a wizard, you must prove that you are capable of using magic under time-critical and life-threatening situations.’ Katrina straightened her back. ‘What just happened back there wasn’t life threatening then?’, she asked. ‘Well, technically... No.’, the low voice said. ‘It was probably a hazardous test for you,’ said the watery voice. ‘But it was not life-threatening to mortals, who we get most often in our tower.’ Quite so. And such, it was allowed and certified as a test,’ said the breathy voice, followed by the fiery voice, saying: ‘But enough of this. It does not matter what she thinks. She’s a mere woman, a girl actually. Most of all, she’s just a student. She has no right to criticize us. Now can we get back to the point?’ Katrina was appalled, but before she could speak, the voices returned. ‘Right. You will be presented with a series of four tests. They will require all your intelligence and magic. Should you fail, your very life may be endangered. Will you accept the challenge and walk the Path of Wizardry?’ Katrina thought for a moment, thinking about what would be the wisest decision. Well, she had come this far... ‘Yes. I accept.’ she said. Immediately, the double doors in front of her opened, and Katrina stepped through.

‘She has passed the first test.’ the Air Wizard said. ‘Of course.’ said the stranger. ‘But will she pass the others?’ ‘Of course she will. Have you ever seen such deep, dark powers?’ ‘I must admit she is quite strong, for a mere magic user. Where did she get these abilities?’ ‘Her incredible anger was locked inside her for years. It needed a way to be released, a key so to speak. So I gave her that key. She combined her anger, her hatred with the Dark Gift I have given her, and with her already magical nature, she crafted her fine magical skills.’ ‘Yes. She obviously has always had magic in her blood. It was in her family, I take it?’ ‘She had this gypsy mother, it seems. She probably inherited just a bit of her powers from her. That’s why she could not release her powers herself. It was simply too weak to be useful.’ ‘And her father?’ ‘Oh, he was probably some drunken traveler. A long journey, far from home, you get the general idea... And the-’ ‘The girl has passed the second test,’ said the Earth Wizard. ‘Are we not jeopardizing ourselves by admitting this student to the Institute?’ ‘Yes, I was wondering, too. With the knowledge accumulated here, she could develop her skills far, perhaps too far. It could become dangerous.’ ‘Nonsense. Nobody could possibly develop skills greater than yours. But I can assure you, I will not... Allow her, to gain too much knowledge.’ ‘Are you positive?’ ‘More positive than I have ever been. I have my... Ways.’ ‘She has passed the third test,’ the Water Wizard announced. ‘She is learning rapidly. Never before have I seen such certainty in a woman’s eyes. She is truly powerful.’ ‘Of course she is. I trained her myself.’ ‘Yes, but why? Why do you of all... People need someone like her?’ ‘I have a certain goal. I cannot reveal too much right now, but let’s say I’m up against something powerful enough to destroy me, if I am not careful. I had to create a tool, someone as powerful as me, but easily replaceable. The girl was perfect for the task.’ ‘And if she is not up against... it?’ ‘I will have to find another then. A pity, but not a disaster.’ ‘And if she turns against you?’ ‘Ah, she cannot. I have bound her to me the moment I created her. She will not be able to hurt me the least bit...’ ‘She has passed the last test,’ the Fire Wizard announced. ‘We must all return to the halls.’ With those words, the voices faded.

Katrina materialized again at the double doors. The four wizards were standing in front of her, staff in hand. She should have been happy with this moment, but for some reason she was bitter, she didn’t care anymore for the world around her. She listened with a half ear when the earth wizard began to speak. ‘You have proven yourself worthy of the Wizard’s Institute of Technocery and... Your mentor’s faith,’ he said, as if droning up a standard speech, which was probably the case. ‘Congratulations, you are now a Wizard initiate.’ ‘You have outgrown your useless life, and can devote yourself to years of metaphysical musings and esoteric exercises designed to invigorate your intellect and to manipulate your mental and magical muscles.’ ‘You have passed this day from the lesser mortal... Or immortal plane, into the Realm of Wizards. You are now qualified to begin your post-graduate magical training. In fifteen or twenty years, you will be ready to return to the world of mere men. Until that time, you will bask in the sunshine and security of academia, knowing you shall receive the best of all possible educations.’ ‘Ahead of you are the wonders of Wizardry. Behind you are all your petty problems in the mundane land. You have passed beyond those who used and discarded you. You will now learn the real Magic of the Wizard’s Institute of Technocery - knowledge gained through careful study.’ Katrina listened to the empty words of each wizard, without a single expression on her face. If only one had been close enough to look her in the eye, he could have seen the fire in her eyes, devouring the world she was about to leave behind her. The wizards all spoke as one again, saying: ‘Walk away from the world of fools who used and betrayed you. You are no longer somebody the world had no real use for. You are a scholar! You have only to take the oath that you will ignore and forget about those who despised and used you in the land of Mordavia and devote yourself to the improvement of your mind and magic. Will you take the oath?’

A moment of silence. Katrina stood there, surrounded by the highly schooled wizards, yet alone in an endless maze of portraits and pathways. Unseen, yet as one, the world held its breath...


Slowly, the universe came back in motion. ‘Welcome to the Wizard’s Institute of Technocery, Wizard.’ The wizards nodded at Katrina, as she walked towards them. They moved aside to let her pass, noticing that she still had no expression on her face. Just that endless stare into a world only she knew. The doors opened for Katrina, and as she passed through them, somewhere in the maze of portraits, a new portrait appeared. Below it was a plaque, bearing the name: ‘Katrina’. Behind her, the massive doors fell shut.

In the years that followed, Katrina studied long and hard on the ancient and mystical art of magic. Through ancient scrolls and age-old books she gained knowledge on the most difficult of spells, her power growing stronger at every page. When she had mastered all there is to know about basic spellcasting after five years, she turned to studying the darker side of magic. Ten more years -a long time in a mortal life- she spent in the ivory towers of the Wizard’s Institute. She learned about spells created for the most evil of causes. She studied the ancient legends of Dark Ones such as Iblis, and soon specialized in the legend of Avoozl. She read the diaries of the Boyar family, and traced the origins of Amon Tillado. She studied age-old eyewitness reports, and learned about the Call of Avoozl. Then, after fifteen years, when she felt that the time was right, Katrina returned to Mordavia.

The halls were filled with Wizards and students from every corner of the world. Katrina once again walked the path she had walked so long ago, until she was greeted by the four Elemental Wizards. ‘We congratulate you with the completion of your studies, and want you to know you have been one of our most successful students. We wish you the best of luck in the future, and we want you to know that, although you are no longer dependant of us, you can always return here, when you feel it necessary. Finally, we present you this gift.’ One of the wizards held out a red and yellow robe, made of the finest cloth, suited only for the most powerful of magicians. And it was presented to her. She took it, looked at it for a while, and then turned to the Wizards. ‘Just remember one thing,’ she said in a dark, ominous voice. ‘I was never, ever dependant of anyone. And I certainly do not need anyone’s hospitality.’ She stepped back, and before anyone could react, she was gone.

The torches beside the gate were almost blown out when Katrina returned to Mordavia. Somehow she was wearing the robe she had gotten from the wizards, although she was not wearing it when she left. She looked different, as if she had aged, yet she hadn’t grown any older then the day she was bitten in the forest, so long ago. Her long, brownish hair no longer hung down, but was somehow blown around, as if by a magnificent storm, yet it was still the same as ever. She had changed, yet stayed the same. She inspected the castle before her. After all these years, still nothing had changed. The gates flew open with a noise echoing through the halls and towers of the castle. Katrina entered the main hall, the gates behind her falling shut again. The stranger, sitting in a chair in front of the fire, looked up from his book. ‘Katrina!’ he said excitedly as he stood up. ‘You’re back! You... How... What...’ he stammered, as Katrina looked him in the eyes. There he was, the man she loved. She has had to miss him for so many years, and yet she didn’t feel the urge to fall into his arms, to kiss and love him, and to never want to leave his tender touch again. Instead, she just stood there, staring him into the eyes. ‘You’re so... Beautiful..’ he said. He took her by the arm and led her to the fireplace, where they sat down. The stranger leaned forward, to Katrina. ‘So,’ he asked. ‘Are you ready now?’ Katrina stared into the flames, indifferent to all around her. ‘Yes, I am.’ The stranger leaned back in his chair. ‘Good. For I have new plans for our plot against old Barney.’ ‘Your plot, against Barney,’ Katrina interrupted. ‘Yes, my plot. I have found that chernovy are not as unbeatable as I thought they were. If Barney were to become one, he could be destroyed by the first wizard crossing his path. No, we must guard him. I correct myself, Avoozl must guard him. I know a faith for him even worse than being a Chernovy. He’ll have to remain in Avoozl’s intestines for centuries. We shall make him... High Priest.’

‘Isn’t Amon Tillado the high priest?’, Katrina asked. ‘Indeed he is. But he is old, and fragile. Barney is his obvious successor. If the Mad Monk were to die...’ The stranger grinned mysteriously. ‘Barney would become High Priest,’ Katrina said. ‘So you want to kill him. Won’t that be extremely dangerous, even to you?’ ‘Ah, yes...’ The stranger stood up, and walked to the fire. ‘I have to admit, I am not powerful enough for it. Whereas you...’ He turned to Katrina, his face strangely lit by the blazing fire. ‘Face it, Katrina. You have the power to destroy him. Use it!’ Katrina flew out of her chair. ‘What? You sent me to this... this WIT place, just so that I can kill some old guy, so you can have your pitiful revenge? What did Barishnikov even do to you? The only thing he did was insult you! Is that a reason to summon the darkest of the Dark Ones?’ The stranger poked at Katrina with an angry finger. ‘YES, Katrina,’ he shouted. He moved towards her and grabbed her shoulders. ‘I gave you most of my powers when you opened that coffin. I have sacrificed my own strength just for you to grow stronger. I gave you so much, and ask yet so little...’ Katrina looked in his eyes. He seemed to mean it... ‘Alright then. When did you have in mind?’ The stranger grinned one of his secret, little grins. ‘I was thinking... Now.’

Chapter VIII It was a dark, dreary night, when Katrina stood on the bridge before Mordavia’s gates, where she had taken her first victim, so many years ago. The October winds pulled at her robe, as she looked upwards at the massive wooden gates. Ha, she thought, her mind wandering to times past. They had learned to close the gates before nightfall this time. Not that it was of any concern to her, of course. Katrina shifted to bat and flew over the walls, past the cold, odd rock in the town square, under the archway and turned back to human form when she had reached the Monastery. The large, stone Hexapod seemed at ease in her presence, but was still not likely to let her pass through the door, though. It was of no concern, for it would attract too much unwanted attention just entering through the main door. Besides, it wasn’t her style...

Katrina sensed that the small window high up in the wall was not latched. She held her robe together with one hand, and set her foot against the massive stone wall. Without too much effort, she placed her other foot above it. Calmly but stealthily she walked up to the small window, pushed it open and went through. The great hall was deserted, except for the small hexapod above the fireplace. Katrina had instantly sensed that it was alive, but paid no further attention to it. She walked down, stood in the middle of the room and concentrated. She could feel the lives of the many monks deep within the bowels of the Monastery. She could hear their blood rushing, pumping through their veins. She sensed Barishnikov, and suddenly sensed another, a much darker presence. He was not far, in the dining room beyond the next door, but there was something about him... Katrina couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Maybe it was the way she could feel his presence, yet she couldn’t sense anything else about him. His presence was shrouded in mystery, which enraged Katrina. She didn’t know anything about this man, and was furious by the fact that she still didn’t have her grip on everyone. Well, if she couldn’t control him, he would have to disappear. Katrina opened the door to the dining room.

Amon Tillado sat alone at the head of the long dining room table. His face hidden in the shadows of his cloak, he sat there, eating his dinner, his back to the door. Slowly, and without a sound, Katrina entered the room. So, this was the notorious Amon Tillado. To Katrina he looked like nothing more than a fragile old man, about to meet his destiny. She moved towards him, until she stood beside his hunched, hooded figure. He was hastily gobbling in his late dinner, grunting at every bite. If he didn’t watch out he‘d choke, thought Katrina, staring at the piece of cuttlefish on his plate. She smiled, and suddenly, too fast for any mere mortal’s eyes to see, she grabbed his throat, pulled him out of his chair, flew up and pushed him with his neck against the ceiling. He remained extraordinary calm, and grabbed Katrina’s wrist with his right hand. His strength was amazing, even to Katrina, who struggled to keep her grip on the old man’s throat. If she hadn’t been a powerful Nosferatu, she would certainly not be up against his iron grip. But she could feel him weakening as her hand remained on his throat. She could feel him gasping for air under the parchment-like skin. But she felt something else... His jugular vein throbbed under her fingers, almost hypnotizing Katrina. She slowly brought her mouth to his throat. No. Not this one. If the Monks found him, they would notice the puncture marks and then they’d know the first place to look. No, it would have to look like an unfortunate stroke of luck. The mad monks grip weakened as he was almost deprived of all oxygen. But he still managed to grab Katrina’s shoulder, causing her to look him in the eye. Even though she couldn’t see them, she clearly sensed his eyes, staring right back at her from the darkness. She could feel what they were saying...

‘Still, you remain ignorant.’

His hand fell from her shoulder as the last bit of life that rested Amon Tillado slipped away. She looked at his lifeless body for a few seconds, then let go of him. He fell into the chair, with his head next to his plate. Katrina came down too, grabbed the piece of cuttlefish that was left and pushed it down the mad monk’s throat. Sensing the other monks coming down to find out what happened, Katrina fled into the night.

In Castle Borgov, the stranger dropped his book. So it was done. Then it is only a matter of time from now on. The stranger stood up, and went to a small cupboard next to his... bed. He lifted the top, which revealed a small compartment. The stranger took out a small package, wrapped in crushed red velvet. He closed the cabinet, and carefully placed the package on top of it. He let his fingers caress the dark fabric before cautiously unwrapping it, revealing a small, beautifully carved wooden hammer, and an evenly beautiful carved pike. They could be the tools of his own destruction, if he was not careful. But what could go wrong? Katrina was his slave, not capable of hurting him before he hurt her, and by that time it would already be too late for dear Katrina. He smiled his secret smile, and patted the stake and hammer before carefully replacing them to their cupboard.

In the many months that followed, Katrina and the stranger started growing even closer than they were before. He was the only one Katrina totally trusted, a trust the stranger stimulated in every possible way, knowing that the more she trusted him, the more devastated she would be the moment she found out the truth. A moment he would long remember, the moment of Katrina’s destruction. In the beginning, he had only thought of her as a weapon, a mere tool of Barishnikov’s destruction. But the longer he trained her, the longer he was with her, the more he started to... have certain feelings for her. Many times he fondly thought back to the night of her first victim. How he had missed her the many years she was at the Institute. He remembered the hardness, the coldness of her when she returned. But for some reason, her black heart slowly melted when she was with him. She probably had the same feelings for him as he had for her, perhaps even stronger... But it was pointless. Katrina had to go, eventually. He was not one to commit himself to somebody. He was his own master, and she was just a slave. One of the many before her, and one of the many that would follow. The softer Katrina got when she was around him, the easier it was to destroy her. And then... There’d be others.

It was at that time that Barishnikov Vasiliovitch Borgov rose to power. After the discovery of Amon Tillado’s body, and the chaos that followed, Barishnikov, having been the Mad Monk’s right hand for years, decided to claim his place, and thus became high priest. He guided the cult with even more devotion, and to some, madness, than his predecessor. He had always been a man of great ambition, but his worshipping Avoozl also had a shadowside. He started showing the signs of Darkness, and soon the inhabitants of Mordavia no longer recognized their once wise and noble Boyar. Mordavia became a nexus of dark powers, waiting to grow, waiting for a chance to break free, to take the world in it’s dark, cold grasp.

And that chance came...

Chapter IX Torches lit up the Mordavian nights and the air was filled with sacred chants as the horde of cultists approached Mount Malign. When they had reached the small cave in the side of the mountain, the man leading the group beckoned them to a halt. He unrolled a scroll, and began to intone the ritual. The Cultists held their breath as the last words died away. Slowly, the cave began to alter. Rocks shifted and shadows twisted in the flickering light of the torches. Then, with tremendous creaking and groaning, the cave mouth opened. The Darkling next to the High Priest screamed excitedly, then followed his master into the cave, into the shadows.

Behind the chanting horde of cultists that remained outside the cave, two dark figures emerged from the shadows. ‘Finally,’ the woman whispered. ‘The rituals have begun. The portal between our worlds will be opened, and Avoozl shall finally come forth into our world. Let the Shadows of Darkness cover Mordavia,’ she added with a smile on her pale face. ‘Yes,’ said the dark man beside her. ‘And Borgov shall meet his destiny, and feel what it’s like to be one of the undead. I shall finally have my vengeance.’ The woman looked at him. The little light that managed to break through the clouds reflected on the thick, green ooze that seemed to be everywhere, and shone a faint green light onto her face, giving it a sickly green haze, yet not making her less attractive. ‘I truly cannot understand you in that matter. There must be other ways to have your revenge upon him.’ She looked up at Mount Malign, which seemed to writhe in anticipation. ‘To use the coming of the Dark One for such a task seems highly inappropriate, not to mention disrespectful.’ She sighed. ‘Honestly, I still seem to fail understanding you at certain times. But, we’ve both had our revenge, and I have repaid you for making me a Nosferatu by destroying Tillado, the old high priest. We no longer have any debts to each other.’ The man crept up behind her, and took out a small package tucked into his belt. It was wrapped in dark, crushed red velvet. ‘Then, Katrina my dear,’ he said with a soft snake-like voice. ‘Then I no longer have any use for you.’

Katrina turned, not yet understanding what she had just heard. The stranger cast a quick force bolt at her, knocking her off her feet, yet at the same time breaking the bonds that bound her to the stranger. She hit the slime-covered rocks, and instinctively raised her arm when she saw the stranger jump towards her, the wooden stake in his hand. She raised her arms instinctively to ward off the attack. The stranger thrust the stake forward, driving the stake into Katrina’s left arm. She screamed, grabbed her arm and threw the stranger off of her. The stake was pulled out of her arm by an unseen force and landed in the pool of goo, where it sunk to the bottom. The stranger got to his feet, as did Katrina. ‘You...’, he whispered, pointing at her. He shook a trembling fist at her, then shapeshifted and flew off to the castle. Katrina got up, clutching her arm as the wound in her arm started to sting. Uneasily, she shapeshifted to a bat and flew after him.

Katrina flew a lot slower than usually due to her damaged wing, enabling the stranger to reach the castle long before she did. When she finally landed on the great balcony, there was no trace of him. The balcony doors were shut, and she couldn’t spot an illuminated window anywhere on the castle. Katrina caught her breath for a minute, leaning on the parapets. She still couldn’t believe it. How she had believed in him. All these years, he was the only person she trusted, and now, after all they’d had together, he turned out to be no better than all the others. He was no better than the townspeople, the innkeeper. It had been in a dark corner in the back of her mind all these years, and now it turned out to be true. There really was nobody she could trust. Katrina looked at Mount Malign over her shoulder. Dark magic was seeping out every crack, flowing through the valley, only visible to the trained eye. In the distance, she could hear the sounds of a great battle commencing. It was no use, Katrina thought. This whole valley is damned anyway, and nobody could ever escape it. Nobody... She thought, walking to the glass doors. Nobody, except one... But she would take care of him... Right now.

With a huge crash, the glass balcony doors slammed to pieces against the wall as they flew open. The wind howled, pulled at Katrina’s robe, but fell silent when she entered the room. She looked around in the pitch-black emptiness. ‘Show yourself!’ she shouted. There was no reply. Katrina wanted to go to the hallway, but suddenly a flickering red light appeared in the corner of her eye. She turned, and could just see the stranger’s face, illuminated by a flame dart coming at her, hitting her in her shoulder. She groaned, and cast a flame dart of herself back at him. He dodged it by running towards her faster than the eye could see. Another flame dart was cast at Katrina, but hit the stone wall behind her when she spun around on her feet and somersaulted over the stranger’s head. She cast a force bolt at him, hitting him in the side as he turned to face her. He fell, and Katrina ran out the door, to the hallway. The stranger got up and ran after her, stopping when he saw her at the end of the hallway. They circled each other, two Lightning bolts crackling between their fingers, building up power. ‘I trusted you,’ Katrina said. ‘But now that is over.’ The stranger laughed. ‘Katrina, Katrina... If there’s anything you should have learned from your pathetic little life, it should be that you can’t trust anyone.’ They backed away from each other. ‘If there’s anything I learned from my life,’ she said, ‘it’s that I can overcome anything, if I set my mind to it. Including you!’ She threw her lightning bolt at him, but he jumped up, and put his feet to the ceiling. He cackled. ‘You can’t win from me,’ he laughed, upside down. ‘I may have given you a large part of my powers, but I am far more powerful than you may imagine. And it’s little girls like you that I can overcome with ease!’ He cast his Lightning Bolt at her, which she dodged by falling flat on her back, then jumping back to her feet. ‘We’ll see about that!’

At Mount Malign, Piotyr and Erana entered the cave.

Katrina somersaulted off the staircase, dodging the force bolt that was aimed at her and landing on the table. ‘Why didn’t you do it all yourself then?’ she asked, releasing another flame dart. The stranger jumped and landed on the wall behind Katrina. ‘Why should I?’ he said. ‘Why should I risk my own life when there are plenty naïve girls like you around, not even knowing of the tremendous powers within their reach? I knew that with my excellent training, they could grow powerful, and I would gain their trust, so they can be easily destroyed. You, Katrina my dear, are the living proof of that.’ He grinned, and hit her with another well-placed Force Bolt. ‘I was no more then a pawn then,’ Katrina yelled. ‘I trusted you... I loved you! You were the only one I could depend on, and now you’re telling me that you just used me?’ Katrina felt the anger welling up inside her again, the age old emotions she had felt when she ran away from the inn, so many years ago. ‘Then if I can’t even depend on you, you are no longer any use to me!’ She fired a force bolt at him, which bounced off the wall just above him, off the ceiling and off an old statue on the staircase, after which it knocked over a candleholder on the banister. It dropped off, and set light to the old, dry carpet on the floor. The fire quickly spread over the entire carpet, and set flame to the wooden table and chairs on it. Katrina levitated the burning table to a tapestry on the wall, which quickly was in flames as well, almost burning the dumbfounded stranger. He quickly leapt over to the other side of the room, where Katrina chased him back up the staircase, dodging and returning Force Bolts and Flame Darts. The flames were spreading quickly, and had now set fire to the wooden floorboards that made up the ceiling.

Erana ran, and leapt through the Dark One’s Portal.

Katrina was near exhaustion by the time she and the stranger had reached the highest tower, the only place the flames hadn’t reached yet. A large window dominated this part of the hallway. Outside, it was almost becoming daytime. In the distance Katrina could see Mount Malign, and she could feel Erana’s struggle with Avoozl. She could feel the battle of Darkness versus Light, and even though she could feel there was not much more hope for Erana, there was still something... Something wrong. It was something Katrina had lost long ago, something powerful. What could it be? She was practically the most powerful being on the face of Gloriana... While Katrina’s mind had wandered to the events at Mount Malign, the stranger had cast a Force Bolt which slammed her against the wall opposite to the window. She no longer had much more strength left in her, and she had drained all her mana. She could see the stranger standing in front of her, ready to bring an end to Katrina’s existence. He took a torch from its holder, and let his hand glide over its sharp, wooden end. He grinned. So this was how her life would end. After her miserable youth, she was rescued by a romantic stranger, giving her eternal life, the gift of magic and the greatest of educations imaginable. And now, with one move of his arm, he would take it all away. Katrina could see him lifting the torch; its end aimed at Katrina’s chest. Hatred welled up inside her, darker than it had ever been. Her anger was building up, rushing through her veins, giving her exhausted body the one thing it needed to survive.

With the speed of lightning, Katrina got to her feet and threw herself against the stranger. He was lifted off his feet and together they crashed through the large window. They fell through the nighttime air, until the two of them slammed into a half-arch, only half a meter wide, used to drain the Mordavian rains into the canyon beneath. Katrina could hear the stranger’s back crack as it hit the hard stone, but he still appeared to have quite some strength left. She grabbed his throat and held it down with her right hand, while with her other hand she was holding back the stranger’s arm, who was surprisingly still holding the torch. ‘It’s no more use, Katrina,’ he groaned. ‘I have more strength left than you. Don’t try to postpone your ending.’ Katrina could feel the tip of the torch brush against her robe, only a few millimeters away from her heart. With her last bit of strength, she tried to hold him back, but she knew it was no use. She was at the end of her powers; she had no more mana, no more energy to go on. Her grip weakened...

At Mount Malign, Erana had died

Suddenly, they both sensed it. It was coming from Mount Malign, spreading over the valley like a shock wave, rapidly nearing them. Erana had died, and the release of magical energy could be felt by skilled magic users in Tarna, Shapeir, Spielburg, Silmaria... It could be felt all over the world. But only one of them used it.

Katrina absorbed Erana’s powers, the energy filling up inside her. It flowed through her, deep inside her soul, growing stronger and stronger... Katrina yelled, the scream echoing across the valley. She yanked the stranger’s arm away from her heart, and slammed it down. The stranger gasped as her grip on his throat tightened. He realized the only way she could kill him was by driving a stake through his heart, and he was holding the only stake near... He grinned at Katrina’s furious eyes, then opened his right hand, letting the torch fall from it, into the depth. ‘What are you going to do now, my pretty?’ he asked. ‘Choke me? Throw me down?’ He laughed. ‘You know just as well as I do there is no possible way you can kill me.’ He had just barely spoken these words when he saw something. He turned his eyes upwards as far as he could until he saw the eastern mountains. Katrina followed his glance until she too saw it. There, just above the mountains, the first rays of sunlight hesitantly broke over the mountain tops. Katrina got off the stranger and screamed. What could she do? She was standing so high that the sunlight would reach her in a few seconds. Katrina looked down. She could see the large balcony outside her room beneath her. It was still dark there; the mountains prevented the sunlight from reaching it until the sun had risen high enough. There was still a slight chance... Katrina hesitated, but when she felt the searing heat on her bare skin, she jumped.

The stranger got up, and raised his hands against the sun. He yelled. ‘No! It is not possible! Don’t you know who I am? You canno-’ The stranger screamed in agony as he felt the sunlight scorch his skin. He could feel it creep, blackening. He could see the smoke coming from his hands, his chest, his entire body. He let out one last scream when he lost his balance and tumbled into the canyon below.

Katrina hit the balcony. The sunlight had not yet reached this place, but that would not take much longer. Painfully, she got up. That final battle had taken up much of her energy, even though she had been able to absorb a tremendous amount when Erana died. Katrina went into her room, to her coffin to rest. She smiled, content with the stranger’s death. With him gone, she no longer had to trust anybody. She was her own master, no longer dependent of anyone or anything. She smiled when she opened the lid of her coffin, but that smile soon faded when she looked outside. She sighed and quickly got into her coffin, and closed the lid. ‘Except that one, of course,’ she thought, and went to sleep.

Soon after, the first rays of light fell into the room.

Chapter X Katrina opened her coffin. She got up, and sat there for a moment, reorganizing her thoughts. She thought back to the events of last night, the disillusion, the battle, the pain coming back to her, those feelings of anger and hatred she had also felt when she had fled from the inn. She remembered the chasing the stranger above the valley, the duel they had fought, the flames, consuming the castle... His downfall... Katrina stretched and got out of the coffin, which was in surprisingly good condition. Well, those simple spells you learned at the Institute finally proved good for something. She let her hand glide over the dark wood, unscorched by the blazing inferno that had raged in this room a few hours ago. The floor on the other hand was not in such good condition. Katrina had to be careful where she put her feet, avoiding the large holes and weak spots burned into the wooden floorboards as she made her way to the balcony. The balcony doors were shattered and the curtains were burned, the only thing reminiscent of their presence being a scorched brass curtain-rod above the doorway. She walked up to the parapets, her bare feet soaking in the puddles of rainwater on the balcony. She looked over the valley, at the town where the villagers were probably recovering from the events of last night. She looked at Mount Malign, its shape changed, and yet the same it had always been. There were no apparent traces of last night’s battle between right and wrong, good and evil, light... And darkness.

Katrina looked up and saw the arch where the climax of their duel had taken place... Where he had almost driven the stake through her heart, where she had absorbed Erana’s energy, where the stranger must have died the most horrible death know to a Nosferatu... Katrina was beginning to feel pity for him as her toe brushed against something on the floor. She looked down and picked up the torch. She looked at the sharpened tip, the makeshift stake the stranger was to impale her with. Her feelings of sorrow, of compassion for him faded as she looked at the soaked torch, and made place for the feelings of hatred, the memories of all the lies he told her, of the way he had betrayed her. Katrina’s grip on the torch tightened. She looked up again, at the horizon. No, he was gone forever, and she was no longer dependant on him, or anything else for that matter. Anything, Katrina thought as she raised her arm to cast the torch far, far away. Anything, except for dawn. But she would deal with that too, in time... Until now, Katrina was no longer a servant, a slave to anyone’s whim... She had disposed of her suppressor, her master... She was the Master now, and, as the world would find out in time, a Master not to be trifled with... Yes, Katrina thought... She was...

...The Dark Master.

Somewhere, on an astral plane unknown to most, voices worriedly argued. ‘I still can’t understand,’ said a low voice, it’s tone solid as rock. ‘We must be able to contact her. Why is there no reply?’ ‘There is no image, either,’ said a voice with the excited chatter of a mountain-stream. ‘Something has gone terribly wrong.’ ‘She is one of our most powerful members,’ a breathy voice said, the words roaring like winter storm. ‘Why can’t we, the most powerful of all Wizards, even contact her?’ The door opened, letting some bluish moonlight into the darkened room. ‘Well,’ the Earth Wizard said, ‘Have you found out what has happened?’ ‘Well... Not exactly, but...’ the Fire Wizard said, his voice flickering like a candle. ‘Well, what are you doing here then?’ shouted the Air Wizard. ‘Find out what has happened to Erana!’ ‘But, there is something else...’ ‘Oh great. More trouble,’ the Water Wizard sighed. ‘First there is a tremendous wave in the Magical Field, then we can’t contact Erana anymore... Go on, what could possibly have happened this time?’ The Fire Wizard hesitated... ‘Well, an old... student has arrived...’ ‘So? May I remind you that old students come back here quite frequently? My dear fellow, this whole business with Erana really got to you, hasn’t it?’ ‘No, yes, I know... But... I thought you might like to know about this one...’ ‘Why? What’s wrong with this one?’ The fire wizard drew circles with his feet. ‘It’s that... Vampire woman... Remember? The... Rather strange one.’

The three wizards looked up from their work. ‘The Vampire? Really?’ ‘Why, it must’ve been at least ten, twenty years?’ ‘Yes, even more. I’ve just checked.’ The four wizards rubbed their beardy chins, wrinkling their foreheads in contemplation. ‘Well, why is she back?’ ‘I don’t know exactly. She said it was for... Advanced studies, or something like that.’ ‘Advanced studies? How advanced can one get? She already was one of our most advanced students when she left here. What did she actually study, exactly?’ ‘Well, it was rather... dark. Mostly ancient tomes debating subjects like Iblis and Avoozl. She went far, but still acceptable.’ ‘Still, we do not want their type in our hallowed halls, so to speak. As soon as she crosses the line, she has to go. Agreed?’ ‘Agreed!’, the four wizards decided.

In the months that followed, Katrina worked even harder than she had done before. She studied the summoning of great Dark Ones from around the globe, examining different types of summoning techniques, and practicing the darkest of dark rituals. As her knowledge increased even further and further, the patience of the four Elemental Wizards was tested more and more. They eagerly observed Katrina’s studies, waiting for the moment when she would cross the boundaries of what was acceptable at the Wizard’s Institute. But it was not until another member of the Institute got to know her true nature, that Katrina crossed the line.

‘You! Yes, you, woman!’ Katrina stopped, and looked over her shoulder, wondering who had the nerve to address her like that. A dark, young man, probably in his early twenties, walked up to her. He was dressed in traditional Shapeirian clothing, and she could see by the gleam in his eyes that he was skilled in the art of hypnotism. Katrina turned around. The young man eyed her up and down, shaking his head and biting on his lower lip, so that the small black beard on his chin protruded at her, like an upside-down wasp trying to sting her. He was clearly not content with what he saw. ‘Well?’ Katrina asked, clearly enraging the man by talking disrespectfully toward him. He stood up, staring Katrina in the eye. ‘Word has come to me that you have ties with one who calls himself the Dark Master... He is rumoured to be one of great magic, and an expert at the summoning of creatures from dimensions unknown to most. You will take me to him.’ Katrina let out an indignant laugh. ‘I will, will I? And why would I do that?’ ‘Woman! You are in no position to talk down to a Wizard of my standards like that! If I tell a servant to take me to his, or in this unfortunate case, her dark master, I expect to be taken there immediately!’ Katrina shook her head, amazed by such small-mindedness. Still, she liked the little man, pathetic as he were. She could have great fun with him, if she played it right. ‘Oh, but I have to inform the Dark Master of your intentions before... he... will even see you,’ she said humbly, even taking a small servantly bow. The man impatiently shifted his weight. ‘ Oh, very well then. Tell him that I have come to learn from him.’ ‘And why is that?’ Katrina asked, delighted with the ease she could upset this arrogant little man. ‘You fool! Take me to him immediately if you don’t wish to suffer my wrath!’ Oh, how very young he still was. Powerful, indeed. But most young and inexperienced. Katrina decided that she had toyed with him long enough, and decided that it was time to put him in his place. ‘Very well then,’ she said. ‘I will take you to the Dark Master’s chambers right away. Follow me please, mister... What was your name again?’

‘My name,’ he said, hurriedly following Katrina, ‘ is Ad Avis.’

Chapter XI ‘Well?’ he impatiently informed. ‘Be patient. The Dark Master will be revealed when the time is right,’ Katrina smiled. It was about time to put this little man in his place. ‘Good. He would be wise to choose me as his apprentice.’ Ad Avis looked around. The room was sparsely furnitured, even to the Institute’s standards. The marble walls gave it a chilly, gravelike atmosphere. He decided to sit down on the small couch at the wal. ‘Oh, undoubtedly,’ Katrina said, smiling. Enough toying around. ‘But, there is one thing. You keep referring to the Dark Master as ‘him’.’ Ad Avis frowned. ‘Yes, why?’ He asked, shifting uneasily on te couch. Katrina could clearly sense his incertainty. ‘What are you implying, woman?’ he shouted. ‘Where is he? Why do you say such things about the Dark Master?’ Katrina turned, facing him. Right. This had gone on long enough. The feelings she had felt running from the inn so many years ago, the first feelings she had actually felt ever welled up inside her again. This man’s... hatred... towards women... It was just another example of her struggle against the world. The world despised her, and she despised the world. Her anger, her hatred, rushed to Katrina’s head, blinding her to everything but herself and the young man before her, as if he were the embodiment of all bad things in Katrina’s miserable life. The feelings rose to a climax, the energy mounting up inside her, until she released them. ‘Because, you arrogant little man,’ she yelled, enraging Ad Avis even more while coming toward him, ‘-I- am the Dark Master!’

Ad Avis jolted up. Never before had he met with such behaviour from a mere woman. He had never tolerated women talking back to him, and would most certainly not tolerate it from this one. ‘What did you say?’ he said, turning circles around Katrina as if he were a rabid dog. ‘Ridiculous! How dare you say such a thing! The insolence, pretending you, a woman above all, are the Dark Master!’ Katrina’s anger raged, her hatred burned oh so deep within her soul, and she wanted nothing more than to bring this man, who was - at that moment, in Katrina’s eyes - the world that had always looked down on her, to his knees, and deliver him the ultimate punishment only known to man, and only to be performed by a Nosferatu. But she managed to temper that desire down, preserving it for later. This man deserved a lesson in his own territory... ‘I will not believe it,’ Ad Avis went on. ‘If, and even -if- you were the Dark Master, you wouldn’t be half as powerful as me!’

Katrina folded her arms. ‘Is that so?’ she asked. ‘Of course! Female Wizards simply cannot be as powerful as male Wizards. And you are certainly not as powerful as I am.’ ‘Is that a challenge?’ Katrina asked. Ad Avis stopped his scurrying around the room, and looked her in the eye. ‘If you wish me to painfully put you in your place, yes!' Katrina smiled, knowing Ad Avis was almost in her hands now. ‘Good. Then what will be at stake...’ Katrina turned her back to Ad Avis, not showing him the smallest yet most evil little smile that had appeared on her red lips. She waited for just the right amount of seconds, and continued: ‘Our... lives?’ Her smile turned into a wide grin as she heard Ad Avis trying to suppress a chuckle. ‘If that is what you wish, of course then!’ he joyfuly replied. ‘When shall we begin?’ Katrina turned. ‘How about... tonight?’ ‘Why not now?’, Ad Avis asked impatiently.

‘You’ll find out, in time.’

The full moon had arisen above Raseir, bathing the rooftops in it’s cold, blue light. Two dark figures, barely visible in the pale moonlight were overlooking the city from a distance. ‘Ah... Raseir,’ said one, his voice dark yet soft like that of a snake. ‘City of a thousand mysteries. My city, my home. Only one city interests me more... But we’re drifting from the purpose of our visit here.’ The two figures turned to face each other, then took a few steps backwards. ‘Whenever you are ready, woman.’

Katrina took a few deep breaths, controlling her emotions. If she wanted to really punish this one, she’d have to be careful in what she did. She raised her arms, then cast a flame dart at Ad Avis. The mountain rocks were illuminated by red light for a moment, as the flame moved through the air, at Ad Avis. It moved far too slow to be effective, and was aimed poorly. Ad Avis shook his head as he watched the flame dart move overhead. ‘Well, Dark Master, it seems your skills have somewhat... weakened. Would you care to try again?’ Another flame dart passed from Katrina towards Ad Avis. Again the rocks and the sand reflected beautifully in red light, as the dart travelled through the nighttime air, this time somewhat faster than it’s predecessor, yet slow enough to allow Ad Avis to teleport behind Katrina, then cast a quick force bolt at her shoulder, making Katrina fall over, face-down into the fine desert sand, where she then lay motionless.

Ad Avis moved towards Katrina, shaking his head at such a pathetic heap of... womanhood. He prodded her in the side with his boot, then turned her over. Her face was white, here eyes were rolled up, and she did not appear to be breathing. He pulled her up, bringing her face closer to his. He held her head up with his thumbs, then whispered: ‘Now, so called ‘Dark Master’... I shall demonstrate some of my realmagic. He focused on her cold, empty eyes, and concentrated. His eyes began to radiate with a golden glow, seemingly catching Katrina’s focus. ‘You are sleeping... You are in the company of your master... Remember your master, Ad Avis? He is the one that saved you from the magical duel... He expects a reward, of course, which you will happily give him. You are glad to be of service to your master... You will go off into the night, until you find a place where you can put an end to your existence in a suitable way... You will gladly destroy yourself for-’

Katrina had grabbed Ad Avis’ lapels. Her face froze, and she looked him in the eyes. ‘Well now,’ she said. ‘Do you really believe that I would fall over by a mere force bolt?’ She laughed. ‘Come,’ she said, as her grip tightened, ‘We’ll now duel with the means we are both best at.’ The fire in Ad Avis’ eyes faded, and a surprised look came over his face as he was lifted off his feet, into the nighttime air.

‘Alright then. Drop me,’ Ad Avis grunted as he hung high above Shapeir’s golden sands. ‘Well,’ Katrina said amused, ‘Why on earth would I do that? We are here to see who is more powerful, are we not?’ She opened her mouth slightly, showing two long, pointy fangs, reflecting the blue moonlight on Ad Avis’ face. He looked at them in horror for a moment, then focused on Katrina’s eyes. ‘You are falling... asleep,’ he whispered, trying to drain Katrina’s powers before she could reach his throat.

‘You are falling... asleep,’ Katrina heard echoeing through her mind, the only thing clearly visible were two golden, snakelike eyes, radiating with an ominous glow. She opened her mouth, and tried to release herself from Ad Avis’ stare, so that she could reach his throat.

It is not clear for how long the two figures hung there, in the Shapierian night, two silhouettes in the full moon. It could have been seconds, minutes, or even hours. But, however slow time moved for the two of them, after a while, if you looked really well, one could see the powers of one figure weakening, less and less, until the head of that figure fell backwards, lifeless.

On the clear sand below, a single red drop of blood fell from the sky.

Chapter XII Katrina slashed her wrist. She felt the cut sting as the red liquid flowed out of her pulsing veins. Strange how it felt the same to Vampires as it did to mortals. Holding her arm up with her right hand she turned to the sofa, Ad Avis’ body slumped over it like a sack of stones. Cold, hard and lifeless. Yet, looking closely at his whitened face, his mouth, lips drained of all blood, trembling. Trembling with thirst.

She hesitated. Was this a wise thing, what she was about to do? She had managed well up to now. Did she really want her old situation with the stranger all over again? No, she thought. But it wasn’t like that. When the stranger came into her life, she was young, unknowing. She was an ignorant peasant girl, afraid, naïve. Ready to cling to the first tall stranger that crossed her path. Which she did, after all. And they had loved each other - at least, Katrina knew she had. The stranger must have felt something for her as well, how else could you explain the moments they had had together? Katrina shook her head, clearing it of all those memories. She looked down at Ad Avis, his head hanging backwards over the sofa’s arm, just barely conscious. No, this was totally different. It was all a matter of dependence. For her entire existence as a Nosferatu, Katrina had been depending on the stranger. She was tied to him the moment he had given her his Dark Gift, were it a gain or loss, Katrina did not know even now. But this man, he was something totally else. He would be dependent of her for a change; she would have total control of someone’s existence. She would find a use for him in time. Katrina held her wrist over his face, letting the blood slowly drip from the wound, onto Ad Avis’ colorless lips. Yes, she thought. The tables have turned once more.

Ad Avis regained consciousness as more and more blood slowly dripped to his mouth. When she felt he had had enough, she licked some spilt blood off her wrist and watched him with great interest for a moment, for she had never witnessed the process before, but knew exactly how it felt. He started breathing faster and faster, rolling around on the sofa, his hands on his stomach. Although she didn’t feel it at the time, Katrina remembered the pain of her body dying, of dark blood, shadows forcefully taking over in her veins. She’d feel sorry for Ad Avis, but felt no real emotions, just fascination.

He opened his eyes, staring into a world only he could see, and screamed with pain. Violently kicking his legs, he dropped from the sofa and started rolling around on the floor, knocking over candles set for summoning. After a moment, Katrina lost interest and started to become annoyed with him. She grabbed Ad Avis by his collar and dragged him to a coffin she had prepared earlier. It was a simple one, not quite like her own, but suitable for foolish mortals, getting ready for their new existence. Katrina dropped Ad Avis in the coffin, and for a moment watched his fangs slowly grow longer and longer, until she bitterly closed the lid of the coffin she herself had awoken in, so very long ago.

The next night, at dusk, the lid slid open again. Katrina looked over her shoulder and watched Ad Avis slowly rise, a hint of confusion in those glowing eyes watching the world for the first time. Katrina stood up and waited for him climbing out of the coffin, staring at it in fascination as he climbed over the edge. ‘What... Why- You!’ He uneasily got to his feet, his body still recovering from the exhaustion that is death. He stumbled towards Katrina with an outstretched finger. ‘I remember you. Who are you?’ When he stood before her, he confusedly brought his finger to his mouth, pulling it back with a startled look on his face when he pushed his upper lip to his fangs. His mouth slightly open, he let his tongue move past them, creating a picture in his troubled mind. Katrina waited until he had almost figured it all out, then cleverly interrupted him when he tried to speak. ‘I,’ she said, ‘am the Dark Master. Your master, to be exact.’

‘So you are a Nosferatu then,’ he said. ‘How... Interesting. And I suppose all this...’ -he vaguely gestured at the coffin- ‘all this means that you have made me your... right hand.’ ‘My slave, yes.’ Ad Avis frowned. After an awkward silence, he continued. ‘Your companion, perhaps, but the greatest Wizard of the East shall NOT be the slave to any mere woman that wishes it.’ Katrina listened in amazement at such arrogance. ‘And so far,’ Ad Avis continued, ‘I have merely seen your basic skills as a Vampire, but you have not once demonstrated your magical powers. Until then...’

Ad Avis tried to cast a quick flame dart, but his hand froze in the middle of casting. Katrina grinned, watching him stare at his arm in amazement, and maybe in disgrace. He did not appear to have any control over it anymore as it stretched out and threw itself around Ad Avis’ neck with enough force to throw him on the floor. There he lay squirming for a moment, being choked by his own arm as Katrina slowly stepped towards him. ‘Now, what were you again?’ Ad Avis growled. ‘I am the greatest- Ack!’, he gasped, violently kicking around with his legs, trying to free himself from the iron grasp of his own arm. Katrina wearily shook her head. ‘No no no. We’ll try again. I am the Dark Master, and you are...’ She patiently looked at him from the corner of her eyes. ‘I am- Argh! I am... your... I am you slave.’ He immediately regained control over his arm, and jumped to his feet. He stared at Katrina, eyes full with hate. Rubbing his throat, he was thinking of a hateful remark to say, but was cut off again by Katrina. ‘Good. Now that we know each other better... You were here to learn from me, were you not?’

Slowly, reluctantly, Ad Avis nodded his head.

The room was shrouded in darkness, a few candles cast the little light they spread upon a large pentagram drawn on the floor. Ad Avis was watching Katrina, who was in the middle of a complicated summoning, her robe illuminated by flickering candlelight. This was going to be very difficult. She had summoned beings from Avoozl’s domain before, but never before one like this. She reached out, mentally, trying to get contact with Avoozl’s dimension, while opening a portal between their two worlds. She could sense the presence of several beings, great and small, but they were all... linked, in a way, with one being greater than any one of them. There was a presence there, overpowering, cold, dark... Sleeping. But there was one more... disturbing presence. It was clear and bright, as if it were a crystal of some sort... Shining, casting it’s light on the shadows in their own dimension. But most of all... It was Alive.

Suddenly, Katrina gained contact with a presence there. She could feel it, wanting to escape its world, eager to break loose. Katrina gave him that chance, and opened the portal.

In the pentagram’s center, the portal shimmered for a moment, casting a bluish light. Then, suddenly, rays of darkness, shadows broke through the light and the portal stretched. Then, out of the darkness, a figure came through, first something that resembled an arm, then a leg, then a humanly shape stepped out, and the portal closed. Ad Avis looked at the darkling, in amazement, then at Katrina, who was clearly exhausted by such a magical effort. The darkling gazed at her with glowing eyes, not unlike Ad Avis’s. ‘Why have you summoned me?’ the darkling slowly spoke. Katrina gazed back at him, as if she were hypnotized by his glowing stare. ‘We seek knowledge about your master’s summoning.’ The darkling jerked his head to the right as he heard noises outside Katrina’s room. Katrina repeated her request, this time in a more demanding tone. Outside, people could be heard trying to open the doors to her room. The darkling gazed back at her, meeting her stare. ‘Seek out the rituals. That is all I have to say.’ ‘Where are they?’, Katrina yelled as the noises from outside became louder and louder. Behind the darkling, the portal reopened. ‘Amon Tillado knows.’ he hissed, and jumped through the portal, back into his own world. Suddenly, the door to Katrina’s room burst open, the sudden wind blowing out the candles and therefore closing the portal to Avoozl’s dimension.

‘Katrina, you are a respected member of WIT, but this time you have gone to far.’ Katrina faced the Four Elemental Wizards. ‘You know it is forbidden for a member of the Institute to summon these... nameless horrors, performing those unspeakable rites.’ Katrina said nothing, simply staring into the distance, letting the Wizard's words come over her were they nothing to her. Which they were, in a matter. She was far more powerful than any Wizard present in these halls. She did not need some Institute telling her what to do or don’t. She’d get herself some place to study on the summoning of Avoozl, someplace in Silmaria, perhaps. Or maybe in Raseir. She’d teach this ignorant, yet promising slave of hers more about summoning, something he was eager to know about for some reason, then dispose of him when she got bored. ‘...And therefore,’ the Wizards went on, ‘Your WIT membership is hereby revoked, and we must ask you to leave our hallowed halls immediately.’ Katrina eyed them for a moment, as they waited for a reaction, then said: ‘Very well. But, I warn you, and all Wizards throughout the world... I am not done with you yet.’

Katrina raised her arms, and disappeared.

Chapter XIII Imagine a room. It is sparsely furnished, for there is no real need for furniture. There never has been, not for this room nor it’s predecessors. The little sunlight that would be able to fall in through the old windows is blocked by the heavy brocade curtains breaking the cold of the marble walls. Hidden in the many shadows, a coffin is placed on a solid stone table. If you looked closely, you could just make out a dark figure, one hand on the sepulchral bed. He has longed for it’s destruction for many years, but has long since given up. It’s destruction would mean his master’s end, and he could not hurt his master in any way. He deeply desires to, yes, but many years ago, an unfortunate duel high above the Shapeirian sands bound him to his master magically. In the end, he had gotten what he asked for after all... His education by the Dark Master, developed his magical skills through years of tutoring, assisting the Dark Master in many dark rituals and magnificient summonings, had shaped him to become one of the greatest Wizards of his time, perhaps as great as the Dark Master herself.

And still... All that power, and still not able to hurt her. Oh yes, he had tried, he had tried for years and years, but always the with the bitter knowledge of the bonds that bound him in the back of his mind. He knew his efforts were fruitless, that he could not really hurt her, destroy her if you will, not before she shattered those bonds by hurting him first. And, for a great many years, Katrina had been careful, and did not release her anger onto him. But instead, she had caused Ad Avis more pain thain she herself could imagine, not by hurting him physically, by force, yet by hurting Ad Avis in his pride. For Ad Avis was a proud man, and all those years he had been a slave to Katrina, a toy, a mere jester to the Dark Master and her guests.

He knew a bit of her past, and he could clearly sense the feeelings she had towards dependance, how she detested the idea of having to rely upon anyone or anything, how she had bitterly broken loose from those who controlled her life, how she longed for revenge, and found it in the form of Ad Avis. But still, however great the joy she had toying with him was at first, after a few years the pleasure faded. Oh, she still hurt him, in his pride that is, she still took away his honor, yet... Out of habit, it seemed. She no longer enjoyed it. She did not care.

Ad Avis went outside. He looked at the moon, how it reflected in the rippled water of the wide open sea. She had chosen an interesting place to reside. A bit too much sunlight, perhaps, but a very interesting city indeed. Busy, a thriving city, full of tourists and merchants. It reminded him of Raseir. If everything went as planned, tonight would be another step towards his plans with that city. Tonight... Another step towards domination. If everything went as planned, of course.

Ad Avis looked out over the beach. In the distance, someone was approaching. For a moment a thin smile came across his face. Yes, he thougt. Everything will go as planned.

‘Have you brought that which I requested?’, he asked. A shady man, dressed in rags, looked up at Ad Avis. ‘Aye, I have,’ he said, his grave-like breath torturing the few yellowed teeth that loosely remained in his mouth. ‘Perfect. You will be greatly rewarded, in time. Now, hand it over.’ The man hastily stepped back as Ad Avis held out his hand. ‘Aye, not so fast. ‘In time’ does not pay my meals, you know.’ He glanced his one good eye up at Ad Avis, but quickly turned it away again, avoiding that horrible snake-like stare. Ad Avis sighed. He could have expected such things to happen when dealing with thieves. ‘I have already paid you part of the sum in advance,’ he tried. ‘That may be,’ said the thief, desperately evading Ad Avis’ glowing stare. ‘But I want the whole... amount... N... now.’

The thief stared into Ad Avis’ eyes, not able to move. ‘You will give me what I ask for,’ Ad Avis said. ‘You are happy to give me that which I request, for I am your friend, and I will reward you greatly. You are happy to serve your friend, Ad Avis...’ The thief’s cold stare turned into one of foggy pleasure, as if his mind was fuddled by a few too many ales. With a broad smile, his teeth decaying tombstones on a burned out cemetary, he slowly handed over an old, yellowed scroll. Ad Avis’ eyes glowed up even further with joy as he carfully took the parchment with both hands, as if it were a newborn child. Although, it remains to be seen how Ad Avis really handles newborn children. ‘You have done well,’ he whispered, not taking his eyes off his newfound treasure. ‘Now, I will reward you, as promised.’ He grinned. ‘Come closer, my friend, and let me have a... word in your ear...’

The thief’s eyes gleamed as he conspiringly brought his left ear to Ad Avis’ mouth. Ad Avis licked his fangs.

Katrina was restless. Her plans with Avoozl’s summoning were going far too slow. She had wasted too many years in this house, playing with Ad Avis, neglecting her studies. She had finetuned her summoning skills, yes, but what good are skills when you don’t have the means? What’s worse, Ad Avis had learned from her in the process, increasing his magical skills every time he assisted in a summoning, allowing him to become one of the greater Wizards around. Of course, not nearly as good as her, but with a teacher like herself, he had become quite skilled.

That may not have been the wisest thing to do, Katrina thought. In a few years, a power-mad fool like Ad Avis would probably try to summon a Dark One himself. He might interfere with her plans and, although she trusted in the bonds that bound him to her, she remembered all too well what had happened to her own master, many years ago. He had been strong, and in the end he was actually quite stronger than her, but her magical skills, her anger and hatred had been able to hold him back until... Until she was rescued. Saved by her natural enemy. Only sunlight was now stronger than she, and her task was to conquer that as well. Then she would no longer be helpless. No more weaklings set out to destroy her. No more... Katrina sighed. For how long had she been thinking these things? It must have been more than a century, ever since her fiery escape from the inn. All those years, plotting revenge, making plans...

No. It had gone on for too long. Years and years of planning, scheming... It had to end. It was time for action, for deeds rather than words. She was stuck in time, both mentally and physically. Yes, Katrina thought. The story had dragged on for too long. It’s time for change, to go back to the way things were, so long ago, in the beginning. Katrina smiled, almost immediately startling her. She had not smiled in a long time. Perhaps because there was nothing to smile about. But there was now, and the smile, which appeared as a shy little curve at first, slowly widened. And as it did, a certain feeling followed the example, somewhere in a small valley, nestled amidst the Malignant Mountains, The Carpathologic Mountains, the Apothic Alps and the Heinous Hills. And if feelings had colour, this one would be black. A black well of oil, powerful, yet deadly, slowly spreading throughout town, the woods, the valley...

Mordavia was drowning in its own shadow.

Chapter XIV “For one thousand years and a year, Iblis will be bound. Beneath the tombstones of the city, That he once did found. Then comes a hero from the northland, Led unto despair. Passing through the door unopened, That he will find there.

When the moonlight shines between the dragons jaws, And is caught and held there by the scorpions claws, And at last the hero ‘he who waits behind’ shall see, While Iblis rises by the dark one and the light shall flee. By the name of Suleiman, so shall this be!”

Power! The key to domination was in his hands, and all he had to do was use it. Ad Avis sat at a large table covered with dozens of lit candles. In the center lay a manuscript, old and faded, which he was studying carefully. Finally! With this ancient translation, otherwise unattainable, but which had recently been stolen from the Silmarian Library, he had now completely deciphered the prophecy describing the Rise of Iblis. What powers he’d have at his command! If he could only be the one to set Iblis free, he could make the city of Shapeir fall to its knees! Madness gleaming in his eyes, Ad Avis looked up from the parchment, and stared into the flickering candlelight. Ah, to have such magic at his side... It would be the crown to his work. Even the Dark Master would have to beg for his mercy...

His plan was flawless, bound to be a success. His rise to power would be the most cunning ever seen in history! Once released from the Dark Master, he could seize his place among the noblemen, the royal circles. The current Sultan was wise, and could well be a threat to his plans. Raseir’s Emir, Arus, was much like the Sultan in his nobility and wisdom... His brother, on the other hand, was a foolish man, and it would be easy to affect his decrees. But alas, Arus was the rightful Emir, and was not to stand down anytime soon.

Unless... Ad Avis chuckled, the light reflecting in his dark eyes, a madman, plotting his evil scheme. Unless... he thought, exposing his decaying teeth as his grin widened... Unless Arus was missing... By the laws of the land, the throne would immediately be passed over to Arus’ brother, and Ad Avis’ road to domination would be clear...

Staring into the golden light of the candles, Ad Avis folded his long, slender hands, and brought them to his mouth. The flickering light played on his face as he stared into the flames, pondering his future. How those flames consumed the candles! Slowly, almost unnoticeable, yet determined. Destructive. Like a snake, the fire creapt down the wick, its heat melting the wax as it drew nearer... Consuming it, growing stronger... Its hypnotizing spell threw you off your guard, until it was too late.

Ad Avis watched the candles, amazed and inspired by such a prophetic image. He saw his future, his own glory within the bright dancing light of the flames as he watched them, feeding on others, on their own foundation, destroying whatever was in their path. He watched their domination, their power over that world of their own. Slowly, steadily, and deadly. Bright and burning, as his own glory would soon consume the land of Shapeir...

A cold gust of wind filled the room. The candles flickered, desperately clutching to their wicks, trying not to die down, but were soon blown out, leaving nothing but a white, swirling curl of smoke. Disturbed and enraged, Ad Avis looked up from them, ruthlessly awakened from his thoughts of dominion, his dream, that was now no more than an ominous sense of foreboding, swirling around in the back of his mind like the remnants of his prophetic flames.

The door closed behind Katrina, immersing the room in darkness. Ad Avis looked up at her, with a sense of unease. ‘So,’ Katrina spoke. ‘Playing with the candles, are you?’ She made a subtle hand gesture, and the candles lit back up. Ad Avis glanced sideways at them, ignoring her remark. There was tension in the air, and both parties felt it. He eyed Katrina as she slowly strolled around him. ‘You seem restless,’ she said. ‘Why? It is not as if you are not in the presence of a beautiful woman each night... Are you up to something?’ She liked toying with his mind like that. It was so obvious that he was up to something. He had been up to something the moment she had met him. But he would never admit it. ‘No, my Master,’ he spoke, grinding his teeth. ‘I was merely contemplating our-’ A hesitation. For a moment, the two vampires looked each other in the eye, and Ad Avis continued. ‘...-your- victory over Mordavia.’

‘Good,’ she said. ‘It would be a shame if you had others plans. My plans are all you may devote yourself to for the moment. Your other pitiful plotting will have to yield to the Dark One’s summoning.’ Enraged, Ad Avis turned his back to Katrina. ‘I only wish for your triumph, my Dark Master...’ he said, flinching.

‘Very well then.’ Katrina said as she sat down by the small table against the wall. ‘Listen carefully, for I have finally found the exact method to summon Avoozl.’ Ad Avis turned around, eyeing Katrina with amazement and disbelief. ‘You have?’ he asked.

‘Yes. I now know all about the Seven Rituals. They all have a certain, symbolic meaning: Mouth, Bone, Blood, Breath, Sense, Heart and Essence. When performed, they give life and substance to Avoozl in this world.’ Katrina spread out a parchment on the table, and pointed to a certain line of miniature writing. ‘This excerpt of a cultist’s diary tells that the rituals were copied and hidden throughout Mordavia by order of the High Priest, who always kept one ritual with him. Now, after Borgov had attempted and failed at the Summoning, the Cult members ran, leaving Borgov behind. It is rumoured that the ritual of Essence still remains with the High Priest, somewhere in mount Malign. We need to perform all seven rituals in order to summon Avoozl to this world.’

Ad Avis folded his arms, pondering what he had just heard. ‘Why don’t we find the rituals and perform the summoning now then?’ he asked after a while. ‘I’m afraid it’s not that simple. Retrieving the Rituals could well be a dangerous task, perhaps too dangerous for you and me. Not only that, but performing them supposedly takes a man of great courage and skill. It could well prove fatal for you and me.’ She paused for a moment, thinking. ‘No. We need someone else. A pawn. Someone skillful, with knowledge of survival. Someone who follows his heart, eager to help those in need...’

‘What kind of person could that possibly be?’

‘What we need,’ Katrina whispered, ‘is a Hero.’


This was getting too awkward. Ad Avis nervously stepped around in his room. What was she thinking, to get a Hero involved in this! The last thing he needed was a blonde-haired do-gooder poking around in his business. Before they knew it that Hero of hers had impaled the both of them, ruining the summoning forever. If he were indeed skillful enough to retrieve the rituals, he’d find out what they were up to in an instant! Ad Avis banged his fist on the lid of his coffin. What could she possible be thinking? He had never seen her this way before. She was being reckless, as if she didn’t yet have the experience that taught beings like them to be cautious in every step you take, to avoid every risk possible...

Ad Avis took out the scroll with the age-old prophecy of Iblis. He needed only to be released from the Dark Master, and his road to domination would be cleared of all obstacles. He had come this far! If a Hero was to cross his path now, all could be lost! His plans would be swept away by one swift stroke. His short-lived glory would soon die out, like the candles being blown out by the cold gust of wind from outside.

Was it a warning? Could Katrina be the cause of his downfall? Was it the future he saw, or was it a message, a warning that would be wise to heed? Ad Avis would have to be careful. He’d have to persuade Katrina into finding a different method of retrieving the rituals, or he’d have to make sure he was far away when she’d call for the Hero’s aid. It would either be him, or the Hero. And even though he knew his chances were slim, Ad Avis hoped it’d be him...

Katrina lay in her coffin, eyes closed, but not yet asleep. She was pondering the events of last night. It was a start after all, or rather a new beginning. She was starting to feel the way she did when she was still under the control of the Stranger. Young, fresh... With hopes and dreams, and plans for the future. She had been stuck in this place for far too long, toying with Ad Avis, neglecting Avoozl’s summoning and forgetting what she had vowed, that morning after the duel with her former master... The downfall of her final and biggest enemy, the fulfillment of her highest ideal... Independence...

Ah, those memories... Katrina thought back to the times when it all began... How her life went its own way when she first escaped from that inn, how she ran and ran through the Mordavian nights, away from her past, away from the pains that scourged her young life. How the Stranger had saved her from the Revenants, how he gave her the Dark Gift and taught her all about her new life. How she grew so very close to him, the pain she felt when she found out he too had betrayed her, like all others before him... Katrina grinned as she thought back to the duel they had fought in the castle, how she felt when she was finally rid of him...

Then she remembered Ad Avis. She still remembered the exact way he looked when they had first met. How his arrogance astounded her back then... She would show him then... She was the Dark Master now, and she would use him, toy with his mind, like the Stranger had used her...

But that was the past. She had grown tired of Ad Avis now, and it seems that he too was part of her being stuck in time, her life being stuck in this incredible drag... The way he had reacted when she told him about her plans! The idea of finding a Hero to recover and perform the rituals had enraged him! She had seldomly seen him so furious with something before. Sure, he flinched and squirmed when he first found out the Dark Master was a woman, but still... The only time she had seen such rage unleashed by anyone was a very long time ago... That rage, such anger... She had never felt it this strong in anybody... Anybody, but herself...

This worried her. Although Ad Avis was clearly not as powerful as she, the memory of her unleashing such fury, fury equal to Ad Avis’, alarmed her. At that time, she herself was far less powerful than she own Master was was. But with a combination of skill and luck, driven by the forces of anger and rage, she managed to turn the tables, and arise from that duel victoriously....

What if...


A crashing sound, followed by a rain of broken glass and the sound of spreading fire ruthlessly awakened Katrina from her slumbers. She got up, and quickly looked around. Broken glass lay everywhere, and a small fire had spread on the stone floor. She felt a chill in her neck, and looked around. The small window high up in the wall had broken, its curtains waving inwards by the nighttime air. From outside, Katrina could hear shouting, and the sound of running feet. She made a small gesture with her right hand, and the fire on the floor died out. ‘Locals,’ said Ad Avis, who had just appeared in the doorway. He gestured at the scorch-marks on the floor. ‘A small crowd had gathered outside, and threw it at your window.’

Katrina hastily moved towards the larger window near the doorway and peered through the curtains. She could see most of the crowd running away in the distance. Some of the braver individuals still lingered, nervously eyeing the house. ‘What do they want?’ she asked. Ad Avis folded his arms and leaned against the wall. ‘Apparently they are afraid of us,’ he said. ‘Locals have a tendency to distrust those who walk at night and sleep during the daytime. We have already been blamed of some of the more... peculiar murders around here, you know.’ Katrina let out a small chuckle. ‘They could be more right than they think,’ she said, still peering through the curtains. Apparently she was observing the situation outside with great interest.

‘This is just another example of our vulnerability, Katrina. We should not draw any attention in order to survive. If you were to bring-‘ ‘Drunken townsmen are hardly a threat to anyone,’ Katrina interrupted with a bitter undertone. Ad Avis took a step towards her, and raised his voice. ‘We are too vulnerable when we sleep, Katrina! You should know that even better than I do.’ ‘Nonsense!’ she yelled. ‘We are far more powerful than they are, Ad Avis! No one would even dare come near us!’ ‘A hero would, Katrina!’ She gave him a quick glance, then her attention was drawn back to the window. ‘And if you are too stubborn to believe this,’ he yelled, pointing his bony index finger towards her as a warning, ‘then believe me, Katrina, for in time, one shall become your downfall!’

Katrina growled, and thrust her left arm through the window, shattering the glass and grabbing a rioter who apparently was sneaking around the house by the throat. With tremendous force, she dragged him through the window, through all the glass that had remained in the notches, into the room. ‘Demon!’ the terrified townsman yelled at Katrina, his face cut by broken glass. Katrina exposed her fangs and hissed at him. Ad Avis took a step backwards and viewed the scene with unbelieving eyes. ‘What on earth are you doing, Katrina?’ he yelled. ‘This is exactly what I was warning you about! Now that they’ve seen what you’ve done, it’ll be a matter of hours before the entire city comes out to destroy us!’

‘Stop your whining, Ad Avis,’ Katrina yelled. ‘Just look at the people you fear so much!’ She violently shook the man, who was fighting for his life to free himself from Katrina’s deadly grip. ‘Look at them! Do you honestly think people like this one can do you any harm?’ Ad Avis took a few steps towards her. ‘Yes, Katrina,’ he said, pointing at her. ‘A group of mortals is braver than one. Once they’ve drunken enough to find the courage, an angry mob can be stronger than you may think. You of all people should know that!’ Trying to regain his breath between words, Ad Avis continued. ‘And there’s only one kind of person stronger than that, Katrina, and you intend to lead him straight to us!’

‘So that is what your trouble is, is it? You fear your demise more than you love your victory! If your fear for this Hero is so great, why don’t you leave? Go, and see for yourself how long you’ll survive on your own!’ This was what he had been waiting for, Ad Avis thought. This could be the start of it all... ‘Then release me,’ he whispered, looking her in the eye, trying to conceal the spark of hope that had flared up in his own eyes.

Katrina’s victim twisted in her hands. ‘Devil!’ he shouted. ‘I banish thee to Hades! Return to the-‘ the back of Katrina’s hand, which hit him in the face, cut of His cursing. She eyed the man, then looked back at Ad Avis. ‘Then go,’ she said, calmly. ‘Go your own way! Flee this place you apparently fear so much, and find your own ways to survive the threat of day. I release you from every hold I have on you... But remember, Ad Avis, remember that my mark is upon you, and you may live as a free man for several years, but once you finally do die, you shall be mine again, and when that happens, it shall be for good.’

A moment of silence. The two vampires stood facing each other, each one looking the other in the eye. Flickering candlelight played on their faces, casting dark shadows on the wall. For a moment, they just stood there, the chilly nighttime air blowing through their hair from the broken window, an atmosphere of relief filling the air... Then Ad Avis turned, and ran. Katrina watched him leave the room, and stared at the open doorway for a while, thinking. A gurgling sound then distracted her, and she looked down at the rioter, whom she was still holding within her strong grip. ‘Demon!’ he whispered again. She smiled at him, a beautiful, yet deceitful smile, and exposed her fangs, which she then savagely thrust into his neck.

The man roared in pain as his blood spattered on Katrina’s face. The thick warm liquid filled her mouth, making her heart pound stronger and stronger, it’s taste making her tongue lick the wound excitedly, just to get as much of that divine fluid inside her system as quickly as possible. It felt like old times, that feeling. The feeling she had when she made her first victim... Katrina moaned as the tension mounted up inside her, and her heartbeats became faster and faster, reverberating throughout her entire body. Sweat beaded down between her shoulder blades, upon her forehead. She fell to her knees when the mounting feeling of euphoria made her lose the strength in her legs, and she bowed down over her unconscious prey. Her breathing became heavier and heavier, her heart pounded in her chest, harder and harder, energy mounting up inside her with each gush of blood...

She violently threw her head back when she felt the release of energy, and roared with pleasure and relief. Her eyes closed, she sat there on her knees, regaining her breath and her strength. Dimly, yet satisfied, she looked at her victim as he lay there on the floor, and smiled.

‘You could be more right than you think,’ she finally whispered...

Chapter XV Mordavia. Land of dense forests and hidden dangers. The many mountaintops that surround this small valley of mystery take away most sunlight, surrounding its dense forests in a shady, sinister haze of shadows. See from above, how the torches and candles light up, tiny pinpricks of light in the darkened town. See the light of a campfire, casting its flicker on the trees, somewhere deep in the forest. A wanderer gotten lost? A campsite of nomadic travelers? Who knows...

See Erana’s garden, watch how its aura of peace casts a dim light over the many colourful flowers... See the lake, reflecting the light of the full moon on its mirror-like surface...

Now see the cave. Set deep in Mount Malign, dripping ooze from its pores, a vile mixture of evil and darkness. It does not shine, not even cast a dim, sickening glow on the rocks that surround it. No, that cave, temple of dark mysticism and unspeakable evil, does the exact opposite. This cave, nexus of dark powers, radiates the opposite of light. It absorbs all light, and traps it. It is even rumored that, in times long ago, yet not forgotten, the cave had trapped the light of a powerful magic user’s soul itself...

See now, as our gaze moves down, and we find ourselves in the forests. See how the evening mists curl around the base of the trees, trapped in the pale rays of silvery moonlight that manage to break through the dense foliage, down to the rocks and leaves that cover the ground below. The songs of the many birds that roam this valley by day slowly go silent, and make room for the nightly songs of crickets and owls. The small brook of cold, clear runoff mountain water is the only thing that continues its endless chatter, a never-ending song of nature itself. The full moon, high above the valley casts its peaceful reflection Mordavia’s only lake, almost giving the valley a sense of peace, and tranquility...


The sound of galloping hooves strikes as deafening thunderclaps throughout the valley. The sound of a coachman’s whip could drive a stake through a man’s heart with each lash, and even fiercest of creatures scurry off to a place of safety at the violent rattle of cartwheels drawing nearer. A coach, drawn by four horses, windows blinded with black curtains. Its driver dressed in black, his whip lashing at the horses, as if his desire was to go faster than the demons of hell themselves.

Leaves swirl up in its wake, dancing their own danse macabre behind the passing coach. The brook’s steady stream becomes distorted as raging hooves pass through it, only to be torn apart by the rattling wheels that follow them. Behind it, at a distance, two more wagons can be made out in the mountain mists. Not as dark and raging as their leader, yet determined, and with the same goal. A caravan was entering Mordavia, and the valley was soon to find out...

* * *

‘Shouldn’t we be, ah, going, Dmitri?’ One of the men looked uneasily over his shoulder. The forests that had been his home for so very long still had a lurking sense of danger over them after sunset. The darkness that hid itself behind the many trees seemed ready to devour him into their endless, black void as soon as his back was turned. ‘Yes,’ said the second. ‘You know, it’s getting pretty late out here. What with the sun having set ‘n all...’

The party continued their journey. The torch, held by the man leading the others, burned brightly, giving the men a sense of hope and security which, unfortunately, was reduced to a minimum by the dark, moving shadows it cast on the forest that surrounded them. ‘Yes,’ the first man spoke again. ‘And you know, the town gate is still open... Everybody in town is probably anxiously awaiting our return...’

The leader, a sturdy man who walked with a strong and confident pace, halted, and looked over his shoulder. A hard, yet not unpleasant face, adorned with a heavy, dark beard and moustache. ‘Yes, yes,’ he said, with his heavy, rasping voice. ‘Once we’ve checked on the gate, we’ll go back home. And you men are supposed to be brave? There’s are no dangers that can harm us here, in these parts of the forest.’

‘Well, I’d hate to burst your bubble there, Dmitri, but I had a cousin who...’ The speaker was interrupted by one of the men. ‘We all know what happened to your cousin,’ he said. ‘He got a bucket on his head when his wife was doing the windows, and passed out.’ ‘Yeah, Ivan,’ another added. ‘It’s just like when you told about how you found your uncle on the street, possessed by a demon.’ ‘Well, he was!’ Ivan protested. ‘No he wasn’t!’ said the first. ‘He was so drunk, his wife grew tired of him, and kicked him out the door. There were no demons involved at all.’

‘Well,’ Ivan mumbled, ‘You don’t know his wife.’

‘Please,’ said Dmitri. ‘Are you men never tired of telling such tales? I swear, one gets more tired listening to you than to Olga, the shopkeeper.’ One of the men started to protest, but was cut off by the Burgomeister. ‘Now, just let me inspect the castle gate, and we’ll be on our way back to the town, and the inn.’ The men’s faces lit up at this idea, and ceased their protests. After a while, one of them became impatient. ‘Why exactly are you inspecting these old gates, Dmitri? I mean, it’s not like there’s anyone who’d take any interest in that old run-down place.’

‘Yeah. What say we forget about that castle, and head for Yuri’s, ah, fireplace,’ the second added. Dmitri inspected the gate’s lock, then turned around. ‘Have you men not a speck of patience in your souls? You all know it is my duty as the Burgomeister of Mordavia to ensure the castle’s safety, when the Boyar is out.’ ‘But, Dmitri,’ said one of the townsmen, ‘The Boyar has been out since before you were appointed as Burgomeister.’ ‘Exactly,’ said Ivan. ‘You know, he’s been out since the time of Darkness... Ever since those strange goings on at the Cave,’ he later added in a more conspiring tone. ‘Shut up, Ivan,’ said another. ‘You know it’s bad luck to even speak of those times. Besides, it’s all just a bunch of-‘

‘Hans! Ivan! Be quiet for a moment.’ The two ceased their argument. ‘Listen!’

The four men turned, and listened. It was a sound of snapping twigs and rattling wheels, accompanied by the occasional clash of a whip. ‘Someone’s approaching,’ one of them whispered, as they looked in the distance. There, emerging from the dark mists, came a team of horses, carrying forth a dark and ominous carriage. Its wheels slipped a bit as it crossed another stream, then headed for the castle gates. The four men took a step back when the carriage came to a halt right in front of them.

A moment of silence. The townsmen looked expectantly at the driver, who kept staring in the distance, his face concealed by the hood of his huge, dark cloak. After a while, Dmitri took a step forward, and began to speak. Instead of replying, the man brought one bony finger to where his lips would probably be, beckoning the Burgomeister to silence. Slowly, he then pointed behind him, to the small, darkened window in the carriage’s door.

A pale hand, gracious and slender, like that of a woman, appeared around the curtain, slowly closing its long fingers around it. As if mesmerized, the men watched the scene, as the hand slowly opened the curtain, revealing the woman’s slender arm. She let it lean back a bit, and continued stretching the dramatic moment as far as possible as she slowly rubbed her thumb against the side of her index-finger. The men had all taken off their hats, and were wondering whether they should kneel down or not. When Dmitri tried to speak, he was again interrupted, this time by the woman’s voice. It sounded stately, dignified, and somehow familiar. Judging by her accent, she appeared to be from these parts...

‘You,’ she said, in a slightly arrogant tone. ‘Are you representing the laws of this place?’

Dmitri blinked a few times, confused by the woman’s dramatic appearance. ‘I- I am the Burgomeister, yes,’ he finally said. ‘Who-‘ ‘Good,’ the woman continued. ‘Then you shall open this gate for me, so my servants and I may proceed.’

Dmitri hesitated. ‘But madam, this is-‘ ‘The Borgov family castle, yes. And I am a member of the Borgov family. Now, by the laws of the land, you must allow me to enter my rightful home.’ Again, Dmitri hesitated. He looked over his shoulder, to the other townsmen. They nodded at him, gesturing to continue. The Burgomeister took a quick glance at the driver, who was still staring in the distance, then turned back to the mysterious lady in the carriage. ‘I will have to see some sort of proof of that,’ he then said, in the more firm, disciplinary manner he was used to. ‘We can’t have just anyone...’

The lady turned the back of her hand towards him, finally exposing the large signet ring on her finger, which bore the Borgov family crest. Dmitri leaned closer, partially to examine the ring, partially to get a chance to take a peek in the carriage’s dark interior. Even though there was a full moon tonight, it was pitch-black inside the coach, enabling him to only make out the vague contours of a woman, apparently dressed in a travelling costume.

‘But wh-’ The hand was pulled back. ‘I am a cousin of Barishnikov. A distant cousin, yet a full-blooded family member, and his rightful heiress. Now, I must ask you again to open these gates and let us pass.’

‘Yes, of course, madam,’ Dmitri mumbled, and reached for the keyring on his belt. He had always kept the keys of the castle to his side, perhaps because of his natural sense of duty, perhaps because somehow, he had always known this moment would come, one day. He unlocked the gate, and opened it wide enough for the coach to pass through. He then hurried back to the coach, and handed the keys over to the castle’s new owner.

‘Very good,’ she said. ‘Now, before I leave: We are very keen on our privacy. Leave us in our peace, and we shall do the same to your town. I must advise you not to attempt to enter the castle by daytime under any surcomstance. I know you are an intelligent man, so I shall not inquire whether I make myself clear or not. I am sure you will know what is best for you, and take my advice.’ Before Dmitri could answer, she closed the curtain again, and the carriage set off towards the castle, leaving the townsmen behind at the gates. For a moment, they watched it disappear into the mists, then headed back for town.

At castle Borgov, the carriage came to a halt. Its door opened, and out came a woman, dressed in a travelling costume. Slowly, she walked towards the castle’s oaken doors, and laid her hand upon the old, weathered wood. Memories filled her head, some of joy, some of sadness. She felt something she had not felt for years, centuries perhaps. She felt something she had hated, once. Yet, as she felt the wood’s familiar structure, she realized that it was also something she, without she herself ever knowing, had somehow missed. Here, at these gates... Here in Mordavia, in this dark valley of danger, and yet of beauty...

...Here, Katrina was home.