When Darkness Falls


Page 21









But she had still ruled the ship and her Viking crew. And so they continued to sail and to raid.


One day, late in the afternoon, just when the sun was falling and the strength of nighttime was coming on, they reached a village. He knew that there would be a killing spree. He ached for what he once had been. For the people who would die.


A time will come when I will rule. And I will know what I am, a creature, a monster, a hunter, but there will be rules to the hunt, and they will be followed, and there will be reason, and sanity, even within the horror. . . .


He heard the screams.


He smelled blood.


He hungered.


But he refused temptation. He remained where he was, and would not join in.


Then he heard her calling him. Sophia, her voice taunting ... and threatening.


He came topside of the Viking vessel. A chilling, creeping horror settled over him.


He saw that they had returned to his own homeland. And as the warriors battled ...


Sophia sidestepped the carnage. She had reached the women, running with the children.


She seized Igrainia.


"Sophia!"


He cried her name in rage, ready to head for the shore. But the battle had ended, the monsters victorious. Before he could reach land, Sophia returned to the ship, her men dragging Lucian's wife with them to the ship. Bringing Igrainia aboard, wet and shaking. Sophia forced her before him.


"Igrainia!" Her name was a whisper on his lips, a caress.


She smiled, a smile that promised him that love never died.


Her eyes were on him. Her beautiful blue-green eyes, eyes the color of the sea, trusting, still,- oh, God


-trusting him, his word, his thoughts....


"She dies tonight, chieftain," Sophia said. She was to his wife's right, and just behind her. She lifted Igrainia's lush wealth of hair.


Then Sophia smiled, and started to part her lips, salivating.


He rushed forward, amazed at his own strength; he moved like the wind, like the power of the earth, with the fury of thunder. He caught her before her lips could rip into Igrainia's throat.


And they began to battle....


He caught her by the hair and waist, tossing her hard from her would-be feast; she faltered, staggered, and stood. Then, rushing him, she struck him with such power that his head rocked. He was thrown hard to the ground. He staggered up, catching her by the waist, swinging her around. She kicked him in the chin, spun, and struck him so that he heard his bones snap. Both desperate and enraged, he slammed his fist into her midsection, and as she doubled over, he finished with a blow to her jaw.


Again, he heard bones snap. Hers, this time, rather than his own.


She screamed, shrieked, crippled with the pain. The whole of the crew on board the vessel stood dead still, watching. She looked at him, then turned, plummeting down the length of the vessel, straight for Igrainia.


She tackled Igrainia. With him flying after her, hot on her heels, she hadn't a prayer for the seconds she needed to tear her teeth into Igrainia.


Yet she would not be defeated. She flew at Igrainia, catching her with a fierce power that sent her toppling over the bow of the ship.


And into the sea.


Lucian flew to the bow, grappling Sophia, seizing her up with such strength that when he threw her to the floor of the vessel, she stayed down.


But it didn't matter. Igrainia had gone into the sea.


He crawled to the edge of the rail, ready to leap after his wife, who had disappeared beneath the swells of the sea. Strong arms caught him by the shoulder. Wulfgar, blue eyes earnest on his.


"No! You'll die-"


"I care not."


"But she'll die as well. We will go for her. We will-" Agony suddenly seared him. Stunned, paralyzed, he tried to turn.


Sophia's key lackey. Darian.


He'd brought a sword against his neck. The steel was imbedded there.


Lucian started to fall, his world pervaded by blackness.


When he woke next, it was to Wulfgar's cheerful face.


"So you've survived. You are a strong one. They nearly severed your head. That would be the end, you know."


He sat up, rubbing his neck. He looked around. He could smell the sea. Nets adorned the wall. The wood planking around him was rough. The cry of a gull met his ears.


They seemed to be in a small fisherman's cottage. He looked around, then at Wulfgar.


"Where are we?"


"An island off the coast."


"What island?"


"The Isle of the Dead."


"Isle of the Dead?"


"The weather is constantly fierce, and many will not come here. Many will. They say it is a place of the misbegotten. Of dwarves and knaves and hunchbacks. Lepers live here as well. It has been a home to Druids, witches, spirits, and more. No one will question that you should have power here."


"Sophia?"


We brought you here before she could awake. She thinks that you will soon die, if you haven't done so already. No one thought you could survive the depth of that sword wound . Sophia was furious. You injured her badly. She had to sleep in her shroud, surrounded by piles of her earth."


"What of Igrainia?" he asked, gripping Wulfgar's shoulder.


Wulfgar inhaled and exhaled slowly. "You know that she went into the sea."


"Aye, but you went after her, you swore-"


"Aye, you know that I did, I searched, I dove, over and over. The waves kept coming.... I couldn't find her, Scotsman."


He knew that Wulfgar meant it, that he had tried his hardest. Such a thought didn't ease the pain that swept over him. A darkness fell upon Lucian, seizing him in a terrible grip, worse than any anguish or agony he had felt thus far. Igrainia. Anything had been bearable when he had thought that at the least, his actions had saved her life.


"Don't despair completely," Wulfgar said quickly.


"Aye, and why not?"


"Some of the men swear that they have seen her walking the beach here. She comes by day, and disappears at night."


"What?" He grabbed hold of Wulfgar, wincing at the pain his sudden movement caused. "So she may be alive?"


"I don't know. Perhaps it is her ..."


"Her what?"


Wulfgar looked at him. "Her spirit."


"No, if she has been seen, she's real. I don't believe in ghosts."


"And why not? All Norsemen believe in spirits. They guide us. Our ancestors have gone before us. They send messages in the runes, the bones. We heed the word of our oracles. There are many forces we cannot touch or see-those of the woods, the waters. The locals here are saying that she comes as a ..."


"As what?" Lucian demanded.


He hesitated, then shrugged. "The island is Irish, my friend. And the Irish accept that you are dead, but still here. And they believe in the power of the water, the sea, as well. Legends abound. Aye, you are dead, but you spared the dolphin that day. Maybe the masters of the seas accepted Igrainia, and gave her new life as well."


"What are you saving? You are daft, man!"


"They believe in selkies. Women by day, sea creatures by night. Saved by the sea, or born of the sea, they may walk the earth, touch man, but then ... they must return to the water."


"No. She must have survived. Perhaps she is here; she came to this island but is hurt, suffering, and doesn't know who she is."


Wulfgar wasn't going to argue with him. "Who knows? Perhaps you are right; perhaps I am right.


Perhaps even such a warrior as yourself will leave this world one day, and still come and sit in the halls of Valhalla. There are more things in my own Valhalla, or your heaven and hell, and even in this earth we share, than any man shall ever know."


"I don't believe-"


"You don't believe? In spirits, ghosts, sprites-or in bloodsuckers? In vampires?" Wulfgar suggested innocently. "Lamia?"


"I will search for Igrainia. Unto eternity," he said.


"Later, perhaps you will do so. Long after I have gone to my own reward, whatever that shall be. For now ... you will do nothing. You should have died. You must regain your strength." He had wanted to die-or perish as whatever evil thing he had become.


Now he wanted to live.


To find Igrainia, if still she lived.


To destroy Sophia.


But Darian had injured him badly. He was weak as a baby by day, and there was a time of healing when he could barely move, even at the midnight hour, even in the greatest darkness of night. But then, bit by bit, he healed.


He rode the island with Wulfgar. He established himself as lord of the misfits who dwelled there.


He started to walk the shoreline in the middle of the night, when his strength was the greatest.


He drank great quantities of sheep's blood.


He hungered for more, craved more. He knew, somewhere in the depths of him, that, injured as he was, he needed more.


There was a farmer on the island who viciously beat his wife.


Lucian heard their arguments sometimes when he rode with Wulfgar at night-seeking out warm-blooded mammals to attack. She was a tireless young woman who toiled hard with the soil, laundered, cooked, and served her husband. The husband had been a thief. He'd escaped Dublin-and the hangman-for the island, dragging her with him to this exile.


One night, as they were riding, Lucian heard her scream.


He glanced at Wulfgar, dismounted from his horse, and strode toward the house. The husband was drunk. She had spilled his ale on the raw wood table. He was beating her with a horse whip.


The hunger gnawed at Lucian.


He went after the farmer, wrenching the whip from his hands. And in his rage he bit into the farmer's neck. The wife watched while he drained the man of blood.


Lucian looked at his victim with revulsion. He staggered back, looking at his own blood-covered hands.


Then he remembered to cut off the farmer's head. Of all the men he didn't want coming back for eternity, this wretched bastard was surely one.







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