Image by Andy W Clift
A young boy sat high up in a tree not far from camp. Confident he was not followed he examined his ill gotten gains. Twirling a pocket watch through his fingers, the silver and gold gilding sparkled in the shards of moonlight that broke through the canopy. The clan rarely met with town folk these days through fear of men getting drafted into the ‘great war’, and stealing from his own people was becoming less and less of a challenge.
Still, ever since his magpie-like vice was discovered by his parents (in hindsight, under his bunk was not the best place to hide his loot) the sting of his father’s belt and the shame of having to return his prizes to their owners, meant that he was trusted by no-one and rarely left alone. Rather than deter him however, he accepted the greater challenge of not only swiping a valuable, but to then return it before suspicion led folk to be calling at his Pa's caravan door.
Whilst contemplating his many mini victories, the watch suddenly became weightless. He starred wide eyed as it hovered just above his hand, then almost fell off his branch as it rose past his face and high up into the branches. The watch travelled towards an impossibly dark patch high in the canopy. Before any sense could be made of it, a shard of moonlight revealed a large pale hand that reached out to take possession of the time piece. Although fear had him frozen to his perch, he was in awe of the mysterious figure that had managed to stay hidden from him all that time.
"My dear Flynigan, what do you think the punishment would be if Rufeos knew you had his great grandfather’s watch? A watch that I gifted to his family no less, for the kindness they have always shown me"
Flyn's mind raced, for so few words spoken, they chilled him to the bone. If the man's coarse emotionless voice was not unnerving enough, the stranger knew his clan’s leader, claimed to be over a hundred years old and most terrifying of all, knew who Flyn was. If he could have moved, he would have been down the tree and sprinting till his lungs caught fire, yet a part of him knew that running would have done him no good. To his surprise, he heard himself whisper, "I was going to give it back," submissively, with just a pang of rebellion.
"Yes Flynigan you shall. Master your skills, learn from the animals, the owl and the fox can teach you much of deception and cunning. Next we meet we shall talk of items of true desire, not mere trinkets. Although, they may take you more than one lifetime to discover, if you are willing to make that sacrifice...."
With that, the dark shape of the man seemed to thin out and moonlight was again visible through the leaves, the pocket watch dropped from the heights, and only Flyn’s honed reactions led his hand to grasp it out of the air. He sat for some time trying to remember every detail of what just happened, burning every part to memory. Eventually the morning dew started to chill him, so he made his way back to his bunk with the knowledge that his chores would have him up again in no time. On that short walk back he thought to himself, 'If I managed to steal from a man like that, then I'd know I was the best'...
Fourteen years pass since the night spoke to him.
With Germany's second conquest denied, conscription fears are no more.
Hearts are filled and crushed by teen spirits.
He avoids his peers, unless cards are on the table.
A Mother, lost to sickness.
The night comforts him.
He grows and deepens.
A boy becomes a man.
A sudden lurch of the caravan woke Flyn as it came to a standstill. They had stopped outside the old town of Gissing, mostly built from locally cut stone which is uniquely chestnut in colour. Through the window he could see it glow in the midday sun like hot coals, and commotion outside meant others had already started unpacking. Stepping out of the wagon his father called out "I hope nothing fell on that head of yours son" There was no mirth in his voice, he hadn't even looked over from adjusting the horses harness. It has been some years since they had seen eye to eye, so he ignored the old man to get on with the chores of readying camp.
As the night wrapped its cloak around the land, Flyn slunk off to practice with his throwing blades (there was no better way to snipe a pheasant out of the air, without attracting attention from game keepers). He found a stump not far from the camp and readied himself; in the distance Old Gissing was now an imposing canopy of turrets and chimneys.
Suddenly a deep steady voice broke the near silence:
"You've come a long way Flynigan Chyn. You impress me. Now I have a challenge for you, although if you accept, failure or success will change your life forever"
Fourteen years since he'd heard that voice, and in that time he'd learnt all the sights and sounds of the night. He could pick out a doormouse hiding in fallen leaves and hear an owl swoop as it dove for its prey. Yet the man was somehow behind him, and he'd heard or seen nothing. Fear and a personal frustration led him to consider the blade in his hand, yet his resolve was strong, and with a deep breath he was calmed. Turning to face the man he had begun to think of as a figment of his imagination, he said "I'm listening..."
Branches whipped Flyn's face as he sped through the undergrowth, legs burning, heart pounding, sweat mixing with his blood soaked clothes. The challenge seemed simple enough: "I want you to break into the oldest house in Gissing and steal a book. It should be easy to spot. It will no doubt have it's own pedastal with a wolf’s head branded into the cover." In spite of his determination his pace was slowing, with each forced stride he could hear the squelch of blood that was pooling in his boots. If he lived long enough to see the stranger again, he'd definitely be giving his blades another consideration.
Everything was going so well, the house was easy enough to find, at night the bricks were rust red and turrets dominated its peaks. He noticed that the windows were shuttered from the inside, a security feature that wasn't mirrored in the doors locks, which were old and laughably easy to pick. With little noise he entered into a grand hallway, which led to a reception area twinned either side by opposing staircases. The air had a chill to it suggesting the inhabitants were either out, or snug in bed; not sure of which, he proceeded cautiously.
Concentrating on the ground floor he systematically scouted the rooms. A waiting room and water closet were quickly passed, but a study caught his attention. The teak panelled walls consumed what little light there was, yet its clutter free layout made it easy to traverse. Confident he was currently alone, he sparked his Zippo to life, pushing back the darkness with its flickering warm glow. Although here for a book, the stranger didn't say not to help himself to things opportune. The study contained two facing high backed chairs, poised between an ornate chess table, and a large writing desk crowned by a green leather swivel chair. As with the other rooms, heavy wooden shutters obscured the windows, but impossible to miss was the large painting depicting an gruesome battle that dominated the room, beautifully haunting in its detail, its brass plaque titled it 'The battle of Quatre Bras'. At the writing desk the drawers bared some fruit, a silver letter opener, a gold nib fountain pen and a well crafted cigarillo case, all items that could fetch him good coin. Before leaving the room, a framed photograph sitting upon the desk caught his eye. It captured a small group of fresh faced soldiers ready to go over the trenches, at what he guessed was late dusk. Not only was the willingness in their eyes strange, one of the men bore an uncanny resemblance to a foot soldier in the painting. "This family must be gluttons for punishment"
The kitchen and pantry held little of note. “Too little” Flyn decided. With no fresh food to speak of and the chill that filled the house, he concluded the occupiers must be out of town. This thought annoyed him to distraction. How could he prove his skills as a thief if there was no challenge involved? Somewhat disheartened, he continued his search for the library, taking less care with where he placed his feet, secretly hoping that his deliberate disregard would summon them home and make for an interesting night again.
The library was impressive, occupying a rear quarter of the house and spanning both floors. A spiral cast iron staircase to the left of the entrance led up to where a brass railed walkway gave access to the second tier of books. Fairly confident the shutters were capable of keeping light from spilling outside (added to the flickering from his Zippo giving him eye strain) he sought out the light switch. As the gloom was beaten back by many evenly spaced lanterns, the grandeur of the room settled on him. Every available wall space was filled by books of all sizes. Not coming from a family of readers he found it hard to imagine that this many books existed at all. The fruity, almond-like musk that accompanied them told him that many were old, and for the first time he considered the wealth of knowledge that must be contained within such pages. But it was back to business when his eyes landed on five plinths at the far side of the room.The plinths were all of simple and solid construction and each held a book. As expected one had a wolf’s head branded into the cover. On the others were a flower, a mirror, a mask and a sceptre. He took his prize and slid it into a spacious pocket within his coat and out of habit, placed a book of similar size on the plinth so that the theft would not be obvious.
With the chill now finding its way through his clothes and his instinct to not stay in one place for too long, he shut off the lights and made his way back through the house. He felt a little smug; the stranger obviously expected the building to be occupied, so his swift return would add merit to is abilities - he needn’t tell him the truth. As he walked across the hallway, the exit in sight, he stilled as the sound of a door closing above and behind him reached his ears.
"Ahh, good. A trespasser, I was feeling a little peckish"
Not sure of the words he heard but aware that he'd been caught, he spun to face their owner, hands reaching for his belt knives.
As he turned to face the voice his body seized up, muscles tensing, no longer obeying his actions. Frustration flashed through him as his fingers graced the blades, yet all he could do was stare at the man, poised like a stuffed predator, fear beginning to consume him.
The man was younger than his voice let on, well dressed, confident. Flyn recognised the family features as he walked casually down the stairs. Whilst fear and confusion set about to destroy him, Flyn's survival instinct concentrated on getting his fingers moving again.
Half way down the flight, the man stopped and spread his arms
"I am truly grateful you stopped by. It's been many days since I replenished myself. I get lost in my work you see... of course you don't, and it's something you'll never have to worry about"
Flyn, still frozen, became aflame with pain as his skin tore itself apart, his clothes dampened before he witnessed blood float away from his body. A silent scream filled his mental prison as he fought with all his will to break free. In moments the air was full of scarlet, a steady flow of plasma making its way to a new host. The figure, arms still outstretched, seemed to absorb the blood as it touched him, the consequence of which left a vision of ecstasy on the man’s face, a vision that turned Flyn's stomach. His knuckles went white as he finally gripped the blade handles...
...the vampire picked himself up, pulling a blade from his eye socket as he did, bone, blood and pulp running down his cheek. His good eye showed him the other knife buried in his chest, ruining an expensive shirt. Distracted by the pleasures of feeding he had underestimated the resolve of the human, and looking at the blood now covering the stairs and floor, he doubted he'd ever see him again. A shame, best liquor he'd tasted in decades.
Legs burning, heart pounding, sweat mixing with his blood soaked clothes. In spite of his determination his pace slowed until unable to hold his own weight any longer. He collapsed in a copse that edged a farmer’s field just a mile off the gypsy camp, just a mile, yet no longer could he continue. His body now numb to the pain, he propped himself up on the fourth attempt, not wanting to die with his face in the dirt. Through his staggered breathing he managed a chuckle; of all the places to die, the last thing he’d smell was cabbages.
“You’re an unusual man Flynigan. Death sharpens his scythe before you, yet you smile at it’s edge.” The stranger stepped into view. As he looked down at the torn and broken human he felt an echo of pity for him. He knelt and reached into Flyn’s coat to retrieve the book. Flyn didn’t resist, he could hardly see let alone put up a fight, the stranger was right, the Grim Reaper was close.
The man caressed the cover of the book, a quiet intensity lining his words
“This is a true item of desire Flynigan. The writings within this tome will allow me to master the Gangrels gifts, no longer will their claws keep me from putting them in their place. Years I have been waiting for this, that paranoid sorcerer had so many wards protecting his haven, that a vampire couldn't get within twenty feet of it, but he never expected a human to be brazen enough to steal from him. Tell me Flynigan, would you like to live in my world or shall I let you depart in peace?”
Eyes closed, Flyn’s imagination was able to take charge. Before him, the reaper stood a foot taller than he, and in the distance he thought he could make out his mother, waiting patiently within the cabbage field. Soon they would be together again, and he was unsure of how he felt about this. Mention of the sorcerer though, brought him back to the now, mind suddenly lucid, fuelled by a final burst of adrenalin. Eyes wide, the stranger came into focus, his face dressed with either pity or amusement. But that didn’t matter to Flyn, if there was an out, he’d take it, besides:
“I think I may have dropped my blades in that house, I’d love to get them back”