Secret

Christian Neil was a brooding, solitary man who lived in the ageless, stone manor at the peak of McCausland Hill, at the edge of town. By day, he would walk the empty corridors of his home, laboring through the many tomes he so diligently acquired, hoping to gain an advantage over the powers that infect him. At night, troubled by the looming extinction of his own kind, sleep would not find him. To relieve these anxieties, he would often take to the streets to clear his mind. His midnight excursions along the surface roads and alleyways of Ironton were no secret to the greater Arcadia Valley area, but his routes, seemingly bereft of destination, offered no answers. Of his clandestine actions, not to mention his tendencies toward the supernatural by avenues of knowledge deemed forbidden, the rumor mill considered them to be deviant and an affront to all presupposed civic behaviors.

Despite this shunned conduct, Christian was no stranger to the fleeting, physical encounters often mistaken for love. He spent his years alone and wholly detached from the connections that others of his status and sector were afforded. But none truly were of his class or order or lineage and that made his companionless lifestyle even more arduous. As gleeful lovers walked hand in hand about town, speaking in adorable whispers to one another, and sharing their meals as if it satisfied their souls as well as their hunger, he would look upon them with jealous disdain. Christian had bed ten times the number of women as any sane man could boast, but it was the intimacy of emotion that he truly desired. He had received and falsely claimed love more times than he cared to count, but no other stirred his heart the way Lauriel had been able to.

Since their initial encounter in the park, on that hoary day in late Fall, when Christian was ambling along the gravel path toward the small pond, he had been so consumed by Lauriel that he could not remember a time before she was in his life, nor did he fancy such a recollection. For all intents and purposes, his life started anew the instant his eyes fell upon her form, kneeling at the edge of the water. She was feeding bits of bread to a family of ducks and he couldn’t help but notice the graceful way in which she moved, or the way the ducks seemed altogether calm as they snatched the bits from her between her fingers, afterwards receiving a pet on their cold feathers.

Lauriel stood and turned to him in one fluid motion. At the sight of her blue-gray eyes, promising more depths than any body of water known to him, and her flowing mane of liquid coal, Christian found himself paralyzed with nerves. Thankfully, for the man of supposed royal and prideful bloodlines, the moment was not lost as she scattered the rest of the feast into the water and made her way to him.

“I’m Lauriel” she said. The breath charioting her words formed tiny clouds in the chilled air between them and he noted a faint scent of rose wine accompanying it. Her accent contained overtones that eased and aroused him, but he found it difficult to identify its origin. That she must have hailed from a land of beauty, where the people spoke only in poetry and magic, he had fully convinced himself. He towered over her by eight inches or more and she could have fully enveloped herself in the space between his shoulders, but inside, Christian felt two inches tall and kowtowing to her words.

He was completely unaware of how much time had passed before she spoke again. “And you are?” A slight tremble told him that his knees were threatening to buckle.

“Christian” he finally said. “Christian Neil.”

She reached to shake one of his meaty hands. It had been sweating, despite the season, and upon her touch, Christian was overcome with a sense of connection he had hitherto never experienced.

“Pleasure to meet you, Christian” she returned, using her free hand to tuck the right half of her hair behind her ear. “Where can a girl go to warm up around here?”

All the blood in Christian’s body filled his cheeks. “I’m sorry?”

Lauriel scanned the area around them as if that should have been a sufficient enough answer. “It’s frigid out here. I’d trade my soul for something hot and strong. Do you have any recommendations?”

The two spent that afternoon together, huddled in the shadowed privacy of the café’s most secluded booth, indulging in hot drinks and sweet snacks. And, as the moon rose high over the steep roof of his hilltop manor, trying desperately to peer beyond the drawn curtains, they spent that night indulging in one another.

That he was one of, if not the most, stoic individuals this side of The Buford Range, Christian rightfully assumed, and it was in no manner reticent that he would make you aware of that fact; however, Lauriel, the woman of dreams he never knew possible, the woman of flawless countenance, and the woman that pillaged his every waking thought, tore down those established immodesties with little more than a graceful touch or loving word. He was like a child around her and it was under no protest that she invaded the depths of his affections, possessing him by some nameless force that many outsiders, unfamiliar with such things as love and dizzying enchantment, would interpret as witchery. For the first time in all his years, Christian conceded his post before the furtive pedestal upon which his vulnerability was seated. If their future together was to be long and filled with noble daytimes and lascivious midnights, he was certain that Lauriel would need to be closer to him than any single person had ever been before; he would have to tell her his secret.

One month passed and from within the frozen grip of mid-December, the world grew darker. Nighttime gave way to but a scant few hours of daylight and from a small clearing in the forest behind his home, Christian stood where all the living things withdrew from the tundra.

Under a bathing full moon, he paced a muddy circle into the snow, hoping that his letter, requesting Lauriel’s presence, had not been overlooked. To the far north of his property, the mountain range held steadfast against turbulent, winter winds, bereaving the forest of any sounds, save for his own footsteps. He questioned why his choice of meeting places had to be so isolated. He questioned whether or not he should go to her instead. He wondered if he was doing the right thing by exposing his secret to her. Never before had Christian suffered such anxieties and certainly not at the hands of desire, but the drumming pulse in his palms brought a realization of truth to him. He pulled his wrists together, bending his fingers into the shape of a chalice.

Bringing the void of the chalice to his mouth, his voice lowered to a quiet growl and he began to mutter, “Cae-nto-shree-ka.”

Held back by the mountains, only moments before, the great winds of the north rolled down the slopes and tore through the branches over his head.

“Cae-nto-shree-ka” he bellowed again. A strange, orange flame sparked to life in between his palms. “SHREE-KA!”

Strong enough to illuminate his face, the flame quadrupled in size and began levitating inches above his bent fingers. He dropped to one knee, tilting the chalice toward the ground and the fire poured out like wine, growing yet again to replace the chill of the clearing with its warmth. Christian stared into the flame, wishing that it would sanitize his mind from the concerns that twisted inside it.

Above the wind and the flame, the sharp sound of a breaking twig hit him like an electric shock. Lauriel’s voice rang out from the darkness beyond the trees, dissolving away all of his perturbations.

“Hello, Christian” her sylph-like voice carried on the wind.

She had yet to step into the clearing, so he replied to the shadows. “You came. Come in, my love.”

“What manner of conversation is so mysterious that it can only be held in a place like this?” she asked. Christian followed her voice as it made a wide circle through the trees around him.

“Come into the light, my love. I need to show you something” he replied, sidestepping as if ushering her through a grand doorway.

For the first time in memory, the knowledge of the immediate future was obscured from Christian and he was certain his heart had never beat with such passion. When Lauriel finally stepped into the light, he just knew it was going to explode from his chest.

A deep auburn body-suit of leather displayed her ample curves as she approached him in a gait that commanded respect. Christian had never seen her hair not in a framing position of her face, but the tight braid, into which it had been tamed, allowed her porcelain neck and face to bathe in the firelight.

“My love, come in” he repeated, extending a hand and after she folded her grip into his, he led her to fire. Embers, like fireworks, popped upon their approach, rocketing into the winter sky to mock the stars with their brilliance.

Lauriel fixed her gaze upon the magical flame, but spoke in manner less than astounded. “You’ve summoned me here to look upon fire?”

He stepped beside her and replied, “Not entirely, for that is just an embodiment of what I long to tell you.” Another ember fizzled into the air and Christian dazzled upon the way in which it glinted off the flecks of earth-tones in her eyes. He continued, “For three-hundred years, my life has been nothing but an endless string of days, void of any true meaning or connection. The townsfolk view my obscurity as malicious legerdemains, always with breath baited, waiting for the moment I slip and reveal my true self to them.” His body tensed at the last of these words as centuries of whispered prejudices coursed through his mind.

“Go on” she said, finally drawing herself from the fire to face him.

“Just as I was to be the spoil of many great hunts, under the guise of perceived truth, so too have I hunted. I have defeated every manner of marksman, cleric, and ghastly fiend, not for survival, but because I refused to be taken until my prize was found.”

“Your prize?” she asked, stepping close enough to rest a hand along his cheek. “What is it you have to tell me?”

“Love” he began, a warm tear stinging his frostbitten face. “That is what I have sought and that is what I have found, in you, Lauriel.”

With a most gentle stroke, she wiped away his tears. “But that is no secret, Christian. You have told as much before and you are stalling.”

Understanding that the moment had come, he replied, “I am lord of this land and it has been that way for centuries. Many would relegate me to a league of demons, but I did not choose this life nor did it choose me. There are many factors that dictate a man’s course, however long that course may be. Admittedly, it is an existence of darkness and subjugation, but by your side, the sun is rising.”

A deep, blue glow – a radiance of passion and knowing – emanated from the depths of his eyes. Her reaction to this would be something never beheld by Christian, and a rancid, but pleasant nervousness caged his soul.

“Are you confessing black arts?” she asked, still wholly unmoved.

“Aye, my love” he said. “Call it what you will: a conjurer, a wizard, a warlock, shaman, witch, a great manipulator, Satan’s magistrate. It does not matter. For you, my love, it does not matter.”

“Aye,” she returned in imitation, “but it does matter.”

The magnificent pangs of lust and love, secrets and revelations were suddenly usurped by a fire in his gut; a fire more destructive than any he had ever conjured and inflicted more pain than he had set upon his enemies. He found his strength precipitously exiting his body and he stumbled backwards, leaving nothing in his place but a slithering, serpentine blade, glowing under the winter moon and dripping with his blood. Upon the blade was chiseled vague suggestions of religions and deities, rites and rituals of no world Christian had ever known or read about. The muscles in his face twisted with indescribable confusion and betrayal.

“I had to know what you truly are” Lauriel said with a slight grin; the first emotion of any kind she had shown during their meeting.

It was then that Christian’s eyes fell upon a pendant hanging from a length of gold around her neck, wherein the seal for the D’eBerraux family was carved into a palm-sized fragment of a mineral he knew not to be of this world.

The blood seeping into his throat choked him and caused tears to spill out of his already cloudy eyes. With great surrender, Christian fell to his knees before his slayer.

Lauriel slid the dagger into the fire, watching as the blood boiled away from its blade, causing a billowing pillar of fluorescence to rise into the heavens. Within seconds, the beam escaped earth’s gravity and bloomed into a vast, spectral nebula. She stared into eternity and spoke, “For millennia, your kin has skulked this world, taking what you want, taking who want, sundering pain and maleficence wherever you go, and for just as long, my kind has been warranted with your eradication.”

In hellish reds and whites, the sky over Christian’s head streamed into immemorial helixes, taunting his demise. His eyes cast upward, but there was no longer any past or present or future for him to envision, just oblivion. With his closing breath, he spoke to his love and to the sky where his ancestors endure, “Why now—“

“I concede that it was but cruelty that I dragged this on for so long” Lauriel replied. “I just had to know what you truly are. And your heartbreak, well, that just makes it all the more rewarding.”

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