A follow-on from Part I posted a few days ago.
The guest bedroom opened onto a dark landing, and Jacob – for that was the young man’s name – moved out onto the landing cautiously to begin his search, eyeing up the three doors in front of him in what little light there was. He decided to try them in turn: the first was another guest room; the second a bathroom. These were of no interest to Jacob. The third, however, was the vampire’s music room. As soon as Jacob’s hand approached the handle, he knew he was closer to what he was looking for: the handle seemed to pulse in his hand, beating like a heart. He grasped it firmly, turned it, and pulled the door open slowly.
The door creaked alarmingly, but this didn’t worry Jacob in the slightest, for he knew that right now there was nothing living in the house apart from him. The sudden flash of moving steel from within the room therefore surprised him mildly, therefore, though not enough to make him lose his composure. He sidestepped the scything blade that had appeared from nowhere and studied the skeletal apparition that wielded it: a cheap job, he thought to himself. You could almost see the strings. It appeared to be the floating torso of a skeleton in rusting battle armour, and though the apparition itself had an otherworldly quality, the longsword it wielded was quite real and a direct strike would do a fair amount of damage; nothing permanent for someone like Jacob, but it would be inconvenient given the circumstances. Fortunately, the apparition moved slowly and clumsily: anyone stupid enough to be hit by such a thing deserved it, as far as Jacob was concerned.
The skeleton guardian was lining up for another go, so Jacob readied himself and, as the apparition swung its sword at him for the second time, he whispered into the palm of his hand and reached out to catch the blade neatly between thumb and forefinger; it promptly turned into a fine sand and sprinkled itself on the floor. Disarmed, the skeleton vanished, consumed by a ghostly blue fire.
Jacob turned back to the job in hand, surveying the wall to wall shelving that extended to the ceiling of the hexagonal room. Scrolled manuscripts jostled for space on every inch of every shelf, each sealed with red wax bearing the van Elstrom seal: the figure of a man prostrate beneath a crowned bat with outspread wings.
“Well,” he said out loud. “Every single one of these is likely to be spelled. And I don’t have a lot of time. So I need to think like the vamp.” He traced the first shelf with his finger, never actually touching any of the manuscripts but reading out their titles.
“Rassani’s Sonata No. 15; Berryl’s Funeral March; Senzel’s Rhapsody of the Divine – oh, surely not?”
He laughed softly and peered closer at the scroll that had caught his eye; this one was sealed with black wax that closely resembled congealed blood.
“Van Elstrom’s Nocturne in V Minor? Terrible joke, my friend; terrible joke.” But despite this, he frowned.
The vampire might have a sense of humour – and a sense of vanity – but he was unlikely to play around when it came to the contents of that scroll. How Marthus had managed to acquire it from the witch, Jacob still hadn’t pieced together. But never mind that now – the task at hand was to remove it from the shelf without alerting the vampire, and that task was likely to be a combination of skill and luck. Fortunately for Jacob, he had the former in abundance. As for the latter, he’d have to see.
He began by holding has palm up in front of the scroll. For several long minutes he didn’t move, eyes closed, pinching the bridge of his nose with one hand and mapping out the protective spells laid on the scroll with the other.
“Hmm, Manceti’s Variations, but alternating with Aldebaran’s Enchanted Seal. Sophisticated. Did Marthus do this himself or…?” It wasn’t unknown for someone to employ a magician to cast spells, but the risk was always that the same magician could dispel them fairly easily if he or she had a mind to. Of course, if you disposed of the magician in question, that usually solved the problem; the spells would continue for ever if properly cast. In any case, Jacob was fairly confident in how he ought to begin dispelling them himself. It was classic, really, given his subject’s nature. He passed his right hand, palm facing towards him, in front of his face, then quickly reached into his hand’s wake and snatched the silver pin that had appeared hanging in the air. With it, he pricked the tip of his forefinger – the pin vanished as quickly as it had appeared – and deposited a drop of blood onto the black wax of the scroll’s seal.
Instantly, the room vanished, and Jacob found himself in a dark tunnel with walls of spinning, black storm clouds, at once vast and claustrophobia-inducing. A shrieking wind battered him to his knees. He began to shout out the counter-spell, the words ripped from his mouth by great gusts of air. Without warning, the tunnel tilted and Jacob began to slip towards the black hole at the bottom. The tunnel opened out into a funnel and Jacob began to freefall, assailed by the wind. A cawing mass of black wings, grey beaks, and beady eyes appeared and struck him as they flew past, screeching and cawing threateningly. As he fell, he continued to shout out the words that would break the enchantment. But what little light there was began to fade, and Jacob could feel his energy draining. He was cut and bruised from the wheeling mass of birds that continued to harass him, and the blackness beneath him grew closer, and seemed to open wide to meet him.
Jacob vanished into the darkness’s maw as he called out the last words of his spell. For a second he saw nothing but blackness all around him, seemed to be floating free in perfect peaceful darkness. Then the half-light of the music room reappeared and he hit the floor hard as if he had fallen from a great height. Winded, he turned over onto his back and looked at the scroll he was now clutching in his hand. He sighed with relief. The counter-spell had worked. Slowly he inched himself upright, massaging life back into this tingling limbs.
Then the hair on the back of his neck tingled and stood up, sending shivers through his aching body, as he became aware of the sound that enveloped him like a caress.
Downstairs, someone was playing the violin.