Once I had the back pack slung across both shoulders, I hefted the silver blade in my gloved right hand; Riley cautiously moved to my left side trying not to look like he was keeping away from the sword. He wasn't fooling anyone, but given these rough few days I didn't truly blame him. What with being a werewolf and all -- who could?
I never asked Uncle Harry what vampires were really fatally allergic to during my years living under his roof. I knew the traditional bits and pieces weren't always valid. The vampires had spent hundreds of years peppering books, plays, and later, movies with illusions and lies about what caused vampiric deaths. I had seen far too many freaky things to outright ask him, but I knew that pretty much a head hacked off from anyone's body -- supernatural or vanilla human -- seemed to do the trick. That my sword was also silver did have the added plus, that many supernaturals were affected by silver in one or another form. I smiled slightly at the thought that Riley actually thought I'd harm him. He and Uncle Harry had saved my bacon on more than one occasion.
Laughing outright, Uncle Harry said, "Emma, you are far too distracted right now, your thoughts are much louder than you think."
Chagrined at my stupidity, I quickly cloaked my stray ramblings and smiled at Uncle Harry saying, "Oops, didn't mean to be heard. Sorry, Riley."
Riley ignored me, but not before I saw his lips twitch. He refrained from replying aloud, but now he knew for a fact that I could hear his thoughts so he shoved into my mind with, "Like you could touch me!"
I smiled and refrained from snipping back. We were all still on edge from the mines. I would most definitely be having some horrific nightmares once I finally got some sleep. I was beginning to feel exhausted, but I didn't think it was the right time to mention that, so I continued to trudge through the snow drifts in the direction that Riley had indicated we should go. It wasn't easy going, and soon I found myself warmer than I'd expected in all the snow surrounding us. The energy I used to get through the piles of snow was warming me up despite the icy winds.
Once we were further away from where we'd exited the mine, I noticed that the trees offered some relief from the winds, but still I had the nagging feeling that we'd forgotten something. I shook my head and dipped my head down to keep the constantly blowing snow out of my eyes and my face. Uncle Harry didn't seem to be bothered in the least by the weather. Instead he had something else on his mind.
"Emma, how did you feel in the salt mines? Was there any sense you were in another place at any time?" It was a good question though complicated in many ways. I furrowed my brow and tried to pick through all the experiences I'd had in the time I'd been down there. I hadn't known that there were even other places than earth that were connected until Uncle Harry had told me. I should have had a clue given all the crazy stuff I'd seen and heard in my life, but no, I had been unaware of the dangers. All the times I popped in and out of phase, I'd never considered that I could have been leaving from another world. The festival of the damned I'd dropped through in the mine had educated me for sure, but still I never thought of myself as ignorant or uninformed until now.
"Up until the end, when I was in that psychotic concert, I hadn't noticed anything different. I was too busy rushing around putting out one fire or another." I added, "But I think I possibly was somewhere else when I was in Sapphire's cell. The cavern didn't seem to be carved from solid salt but something different. And I did pop from one side of the area to another without any trouble."
Riley's eyes got huge and he hissed out, "Shit, you are lucky!"
I don't know that I exactly agreed with him, but I ducked my head to avoid his eyes as if in acknowledgement with him.
Uncle Harry had slowed to talk and his words weren't much above a whisper. I felt compelled to ask, "Are we being followed?"
Softly chuckling he said, "No, it is just so lovely out here it feels irreverent to make too much noise."
Nodding in agreement, I smiled and caught something out of the corner of my eye. I froze and hissed, "Actually we aren't being followed. It seems someone beat us out first."
Both predators spun around trying to glimpse what it was that caught my attention. It didn't take them but a heartbeat to find what I was staring at so avidly. I hadn't needed binoculars to see the dragon. Sapphire was twenty or so feet away in a thicket of brush and trees.
"I told you I had a way out," she said as she approached slowly.
Her breath was foggy and she was hunched down as if still stuck in the cavern where she'd been imprisoned. I don't know exactly how large dragons get, but Sapphire seemed on the smallish side once I saw her outside in the forest. I thought it would be rude to ask her since she was the only dragon I'd ever seen; it wasn't like I had anything to compare her to. She looked directly at me and said, "Ah, I see you kept the sword through it all. Nico would most definitely approve."
I looked at the sword again, admiring the blade. She'd given me the weapon in her cavern. Domenico Rosso had been imprisoned with her and visited her, from what she'd told me. His name was etched on it and beneath the name there was a French phrase carefully scrolled under the Italian-sounding name that read Il faut du sang. I had translated the French phrase to be "There must be blood." And that seemed to be appropriate. I felt much stronger holding the blade.
Uncle Harry seemed slightly stunned as he glanced at the sword. In all of our avoiding death and dismemberment, it seemed that he'd not really looked at my blade. I'd not been hiding it or anything, but we'd been busy for sure. Noticing how closely he was staring, I tilted the sword flat so he could read everything etched.
"Emma, my dear, do you have any idea what the phrase means?" He seemed to be focused deeply on some thought or memory that was overwhelming him.
"Sure it's a French saying about how there must be blood," I answered, not really getting what had caught his attention.
"It means more than that. My dear, in the fifteenth century there was a cycle in medieval theater that had emphasis on cruelty in both rhetoric and memory flooded by violence. It was a horribly graphic time for humanity, and the conceptual foundation for dramatic and human violence in a variety of cultural arenas, including literature and on the medieval stages throughout France. Il faut du sang is an epigraph for medieval drama; the medieval religious theater practically prescribed the portrayal of physical suffering in order to reveal truth."
He looked pained and his voice was barely above a haunting whisper. I noticed his accent had changed as he continued to explain, "Basically it came down to when a play was shown or a drama written, it had to be violent on some level, since the torturing and subsequent suffering would in fact bring about the truth. The catharsis within the structure of medieval dramas was required on some level to bring the understanding to the masses. Torture and the drawing of blood was a human necessity, not sensational, but a part of the body of humanity. The use of religious stage was to make statements about the Passion of Christ along with the suffering to better yourself. Blood was spilled both literally and in the higher rhetoric during the medieval staging of proper literature."
Uncle Harry then gave me an insight to why this was so important to him. "Vampires used the stages and the readings of such pieces to dance their way through humans shedding blood, while mocking the entire idea of truth. Nobody seemed to see the death dance while feeding the vampires emboldened their killings. It was seen as just a very well-crafted bit of entertainment. It nearly decimated entire towns as Master vampires lost control of their kin and minions to the cravings."
We all stood frozen with the idea of such a theatre. Sapphire nodded and said, "And here the Gatekeeper thought his prisoners were so evil. The mines couldn't keep any vampires for long. During those times there was talk of how to control the deaths to avoid us being found. Nothing worked."
I know my eyes flew open widely at the idea that Sapphire had been around back then, and more than likely had known Uncle Harry. I was starting to feel like a little kid who'd wandered downstairs during a grown up dinner party and was completely out of place. She also let me know that the prison had been operating far longer than just a few decades. But that made a certain sense because it wasn't like they could simply take the aberrations off to a human court to be judged. That there were other worlds out there did make sense, too. The evolution of all these supernatural creatures had to be alien. Something dropped in my stomach as it dawned on me I was such a creature. I thought of the movie with the alien popping out of stomachs first and then caught Riley staring at me.
"What?" I softly hissed at him, knowing I was scowling.
Uncle Harry said gently, "You are broadcasting again."
Blood rushed up to fill my face with an embarrassing red blush. Sapphire snorted and said, "It's not like everything supernatural is alien. There are many elements at play."
I nodded and felt the brisk icy air cooling my face while I tried to think of pink bunnies and yellow daisies. "Sorry." I again had that feeling I was sitting awkwardly at the grown up table.
Riley cuffed the back of my head and said, "It's okay. Emma, this isn't like a normal life by any standards. We don't exactly go around talking about our deep dark past. Harry, thanks for sharing. That time sounds like it wasn't one of the best eras for vampires with their own standards."
Uncle Harry shook his head and said, "It was less than ideal. But whoever carved that into the blade knew it. It's a declaration of justice and bloodshed."
I looked at the sword in my gloved fist and felt a certain connection to the long dead Nico. The prison had held many horrible creatures but it also seemed that there were more than a few political prisoners also trapped below the earth. Sapphire had approached slowly during the time we all were talking and suddenly she didn't look nearly as small as she had before. I felt the hot carrion scented breath fill the spaces between us.
Looking up at the dragon I asked, "Why did you leave?"
"Because it was time. There are evil things coming through." Sapphire didn't seem willing to elaborate, but that she'd left her safety to come out was disturbing. I nodded and wondered how the hell we were going to get home with a dragon in tow. From the frown on Riley's face, he too was thinking about that.
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