by S.M. Cook
“Damascus! Where in the hell are you?” My voice echoed hollowly, as I kicked in the door of an elegantly aged ballroom leaving the lock warped and unusable. The left side of the door landed against the wall, held up only by its bottom hinge – reminding me of an inebriated party-goer on New Year’s Eve.
Only two of the several dozen vintage sconces had been lit along the pillared shell-pink walls, making the chamber as dim as a cloudy winter night. But to my keen eyes, the entire room was laid out clearly before me. Cautiously, I prowled across the ruby and jet inlaid floor, the cream marble reflecting the long heavy burgundy curtains covering the floor-to-ceiling windows. I had seen those curtains hanging in a dozen other houses of blood and death, and this was just another den of decay. The den of a fiend I had come to hunt. After all, this house – which was well kept but overly aged – lay on the outskirts of a small suburb in upstate New York, away from prying eyes and nosy humans. But it was just another façade, used to hide the beast which dwelt within – hunting and killing at his leisure and whim.
Halfway down the length of the long ballroom, a single ornate wooden chair stood in the center of the floor. A metallic acrid smell floated indistinctly on the air as I drew near; the scent of blood soaked into the wood a faint bouquet, like coals burned over to ash in a blacksmith’s forge. Drawing even with it, I noticed the muted scarlet pool beneath. Mentally focusing my senses for any sign or sound of movement, I reached down to place a single finger in the blood. It was ice cold and as sticky as honey. It had been days since it flowed from a warm body. Delicately I waved my hand under my nose, smelling its aroma. The subtle hint of the body it once was held within scenting the air around me like an old penny freshly cleaned.
I rose from my position kicking the chair away to my left, where it smashed into the far wall coming to rest in several pieces on the floor – a most unique jigsaw puzzle. Wiping the filth on the charcoal cloth of my pants, I tied back my long black hair to keep it out of my way, and continued down the room to the west end doors.
“Damascus! I’m not in the mood for your games,” I growled, as I silently walked the floor.
“What if I do not wish to come out?” his voice sneered, seeming to come at me from everywhere at once. “To see the likes of you? I’d rather not. I don’t much care for your mood this evening. You seem a little…” he paused a moment, the smile in his silence evident, “riled, shall we say.”
I chose to ignore his remark; I could not allow him to get under my skin. He was merely spewing words, trying to provoke me. But his childish prattle was not a means to defeat me, and I wanted to make sure he knew it. This sadistic son-of-a-bitch liked to toy with his prey and I sure as hell was not willing to play along.
I inhaled deeply, feeling the pastel salmon shirt I wore tighten around my chest and ribs, and focused my mental abilities yet again, trying to bring my mind to its heightened state of awareness. It was an attempt to locate his aura; but he was shielding his essence in some way, making it difficult.
So instead, I continued along the floor, coming to a set of beast-etched antique double doors that led farther into his domain, and stopped. Their writhing, fornicating and blood-letting antics a warning for those who sought to enter their master’s province. I had no desire to wander too far into this realm of hell without better knowing my surroundings. However, I had no choice in the matter; I had come for Damascus and refused to leave until I had finished my task.
“Are you afraid?” Violet eyes reflected back at me from the pale marble on my right as I glanced around the mostly barren ballroom once again, looking for some sign, some hint as to his location. “The great Lord Damascus. Cowering, in fear, from the likes of me?” I taunted him, tearing at his ego with my words. It reminded me of that night so very long ago, remembering what it was like to be taunted.
I remember that night as if it happened just the other day, instead of all those long decades ago. I was walking home from work, traveling my usual path of cobbled roads and graveled alleyways. It was just past eight of the clock on the first day of the New Year – 1815, and only the most disreputable were still out that eve. They were scuttling about like cockroaches, looking for what measly wares they could find to sustain themselves. I was the lone moth floating on the wind, fluttering along those worn passages I had always known and trusted.
But no longer! No longer shall I trust such sheep-herding paths of woe; those which only the feeble minded and unknowing travel. These are the paths to hell of which I speak, walked by the damned; the tainted souls of the night, never to be whole again.
I cannot understand, even now, how I became such an interesting mark. At least, that is what my attacker implied that night. His… how did he say it? Oh yes:
“You have been one of my more interesting conquests.” He laughed coldly down at me as I lay there motionless, unable to move. “I expect great things from you. If, you can rise above this, my…” he paused and smiled evilly down at me. “…little ingénue.”
I stared intensely up at him, burning his features into my mind’s eye. I would remember and one day I would find him. That was the vow I had made to myself as I lay there helpless that night. It is hard to believe how things have changed since then. To now think I might actually owe him a debt of gratitude. But that is getting ahead of myself, is it not? Perhaps I should start back at the beginning so you may understand.
I had left my shop later that night than planned. My appointment was with Mr. Ardivan and he had arrived abnormally late, too late perhaps. After discussing the piece he sought at great length for almost two hours, both Mr. Ardivan and I heard the town bells ringing the tolls of eight o’clock from near the Northwest Square. We looked out the window at the clock tower, seeing that the time was indeed late and hurriedly stood up from the chairs we had been reclining in.
“My goodness, is that really the time?! Elizabeth is going to have my head.” Mr. Ardivan said, hurriedly gathering into his portfolio the papers he had been pursuing with me. “I did promise her I would be home before eight. Oh dear! I’m afraid my collection will be the cause of my divorce one of these days.” He smiled sheepishly at me, shutting his leather case.
“I’m sure Elizabeth understands. She knew what you were like before she married you.” I told him smiling, as I led the way into the foyer, pausing for the briefest of moments to blow out the candle. “She will only feign anger with you until you apologize.”
Mr. Ardivan grinned knowingly at my remark, waiting as Benjamin, my servant, opened the front door.
“Have a good night, and do let me know when you have acquired the statue, won’t you?” he said.
I stepped back allowing him to leave. “Of course I will. I should know something within the week. Goodnight Matthias, and do give Elizabeth my best.”
“I will,” he said, stepping out into a cold Philadelphia night. “Goodnight.” And with that he turned and walked down the cobblestone path leading to the carriage that awaited him on the street. As he clambered in, he turned and waved to me. It was the last time I saw or spoke to Matthias Ardivan. Sometimes, it is hard to imagine that more than 200 years has passed since that fateful night.
His angered laugh echoed all around me, rebounding off the cold shadowy walls, assaulting my sensitive ears. It was as if there was more than just this one lone coward in the room with me, hiding; the din of his evil cutting through the vastness like a death scythe through the soul. But, it was enough; I knew precisely where the bastard was hiding.
“I would never fear such as you, but I see no reason to waste my time either.” Damascus said in his lazy ‘I-couldn’t-care-less’ drawl. I wasn’t buying it in the least.
Sensing the opportunity rushing toward me, I pulled my silver dagger from its black leather sheath on my left leg, and the onyx handled sword from its place on my back; both making the faintest hiss as they were released from their coverings. Moving quietly closer toward the panel I knew must be hidden in the wall, my senses began to cycle up, listening for any movement that would indicate his plan of attack.
“If you come out now, I promise… I’ll go easy on you.” I called, attempting to keep the sarcasm out of my voice.
“Oh, that’s funny! From what I’ve heard, you went easy on Kurada as well and I do believe he’s dead, is he not?” His voice mocked me. “I do not wish to fight, for I do not wish to kill you,” he paused dramatically, “out of my respect for Lazarius.”
My eyes flew wide at the mention of that name. Nothing. Neither the abilities I had inherited, nor the decades of training, could have stilled the shock which rushed through me at those words. Someone knew about my connection to Him? How?! How in the hell had he discovered this secret? Who else might he have told?
“I’ll take your silence for shocked surprise. You thought no one knew of your past?” He laughed. “How truly simple-minded you are, my dear!”
An impulsive thought struck me; at once absurd but clearly the truth. It was too intense an idea to be wrong. It was instinct feeding me this information and my instincts were never wrong.
“Simple-minded am I? Perhaps I shall ask that of Lazarius when I see him – since he has finally decided to come out of hiding – and kill him when I do.”
The slightest sound from behind the wall directly in front of me told me my intuitions were dead on. I had him cornered like a fox hunted by hounds. Changing my mind in an instant, I returned the dagger to its sheath to free my hand of its weight. I inched nearer, looking for any sign of a hidden door, but the marble only reflected back almond-shaped eyes, a gift of my Japanese heritage. Stepping quickly toward the wall, pushing the weight of my body forward even faster, I struck the marble panel with my left shoulder. The latch popped open with a dull clank.
Who’s Lazarius and what’s behind the door? Be sure to join us again for Chapter 2, coming July 9th, 2022.