Authors: Nicole R. Taylor
Aya watched the countryside flash past out of the double glazed windows of the train and found herself thinking back to a time long past. She had always had a soft spot for this place, perhaps that had something to do with the fact she was born here. Not this place exactly, her home had been farther north in a place that was now called the Lake District. A small village that had sprouted up there in later centuries was eerily close to her forest, and it was called Grasmere. She had not been back to that place since she had found what was left of her family.
Remembering when she had first met her unlikely friends in Ashburton, she had told them she was from here. Snorting at that thought, she conceded she should probably amend that to friends who were unlikely to welcome her home. Home... How she had wanted to make that place her home.
Tristan shifted in his seat opposite and her eyes flickered to his and she scowled when she saw his puzzled expression. He was trying to figure out what she was thinking. Pointedly ignoring him, she looked back out the window and filtered him out.
The countryside of England, or the United Kingdom as it was now called, was even
than she had remembered. The sky was grey and heavy with clouds that constantly threatened rain and the air was heavy with moisture. She had already noticed the nights had become colder, even though it was still only the first week of October. Winter wouldn't officially start until December, but it seemed autumn was going to be skipped entirely this year. Snow would come early and it would hit hard.
Finally, she felt Tristan's gaze turn away. Peering out the corner of her eye, she regarded the knight as he looked out the window and wondered when she had decided to trust him. It hadn't been a conscious decision, it had just happened. Why the hell could she trust Tristan of all people and not Zac? But, what was trust when she couldn't share her true self with him. She had to keep a part of herself from everyone she met. It was just the way it was.
But, not with Zac.
She still didn't know why she couldn't tell him her fears over what her power had done when she had taken Arturius. It was like she'd had her heart ripped out again. As she sat there on the train, she knew that nothing had happened. She was as she always was and that was a hard truth to swallow. Had she pushed him away for nothing?
Shifting her thoughts back to the
, she read the piece of paper again. What was done was done and she had a task to follow. The mere fact that they had found a record of a
was a warning. Someone either
wanted to be found or
wanted to trap whomever came looking. It had been way too easy finding it in the first place. When she laid eyes on the grave, then she would know.
It was only an hour and a half after they had left Waterloo Station when the train pulled up at Salisbury. As the doors swished open and Tristan led her out onto the platform, she breathed in deeply, the sweet country air filling her lungs. This was much better than the putrid stench of the city. The knight grinned at her and she pushed past him, walking towards the ticket kiosk, where a map of the area was posted on the wall under a sign that read, Tourist Information.
"What is the name of the church?" she asked as Tristan came to stand beside her.
"St Andrews," he replied. "But it's now called St Johns. A newer church was built there around a hundred or so years ago."
"Then I hope the grave is still there."
"It should be. The English have always been into preservation. The old church still stands there, or so I have read." He pointed to a spot on the map, not too far away from where they stood.
"Then let's go see it for ourselves."
Coming out of the station, Aya stopped a moment to survey the skyline. Salisbury was a typical English village, despite the modern fixtures that had been integrated with the old. Many original buildings still stood and in the distance she could see the spires of the Cathedral that she knew to be around a thousand years old. It had that dark ages look about it, the dominance of religion over the countryside.
"You know that's where they keep the
these days?" Tristan inclined his head toward the spires in the distance.
"Too bad you never got to live to see it," she huffed, drawing her leather jacket closer around herself.
"Ouch," he feigned offence. "1215, wasn't it? I scarcely remember those days."
Tristan had been away with the Crusades then, and somewhere around the same time had been taken by vampires in the putrid depths of Constantinople. He had never told her the full story, but she knew enough of what some vampires had become to fill in the blanks. A lot of what they had stood for in life often carried over into death, one of those being their stout hatred of people who worshipped gods other than their own. The things humans did in the name of religion baffled her.
"This way," the knight said, drawing her attention in the opposite direction of the Cathedral. "The church is not far up this road."
As the church grounds came into view, Aya saw that Tristan had been right. The older church still stood, but a larger more pristine building stood a little further down the street. This seemed to be where they held services
there was a sign that said as much.
"I'll start at the opposite end," Tristan said, walking off across the yard as she began to scan the headstones.
The information they had been given by the librarian at the British Library hadn't given them much detail. Only that Victoria had apparently been buried in these church grounds somewhere around the time that she had died. And what that really meant was the time she had been turned. The grave would be empty, but it was the inscription that interested her more. She hoped that it would show them the way forward.
A lot of the headstones she passed were either so worn they were illegible or cracked with pieces missing. Some were in better shape, but not one had the name they were looking for. A cold wind whipped around her and she tugged her hair out of her eyes and continued her search across the yard, where she stopped abruptly. This was it.
"Tristan," she called and a moment later he was
her, staring down at the headstone that bore a lengthy inscription.
What beck'ning star, in the moonlight shade
Shines so bright, and points to yonder glade?
a crime bear
too tender or too firm a heart,
To feel a lover's or a Roman's part?
sleeps a vicious sword,
Beware ye who
the sleeping ward.
"Tristan," Aya reached out and grasped his wrist, "something's not right."
"What do you mean?"
"This inscription..." She read it again, just to make sure. "It's a message."
"A message for who?"
It was then that she felt a tingling on the back of her neck and her head came up, scanning the yard around them. Someone was watching them and trying to go unnoticed, she was sure of it. And there, at the farthest corner of the old church, a figure hovered just out of eyesight. A human man ducked his head around the old stonework, watching what they were doing. From the look of him, she came to the conclusion he was a priest. When their eyes locked, he knew he had been made and he stepped out around the corner of the old church and walked towards them, his stride reluctant.
"He has been watching us," Aya said quietly enough that the priest wouldn't hear and Tristan nodded his acknowledgement.
"Hello," the priest called out as he neared. "I am Maximus, one of the priests here at St Johns'."
"Pleased to meet you," Tristan said, turning on the charm as Aya wondered about his name. "We've come to find a particular grave site. This one in fact." He pointed to Victoria's grave and Aya noticed the priest's face pale slightly.
"Oh," he said. "I would be more than happy to assist you. I've spent considerable time researching the history of the church here. What would you like to know?"
"Anythin' you may know about this particular family. We are doing some of our own research and are tryin' to piece together a family tree. This one was a bit of a long shot for us. We're not even sure we have the right Victoria Dowling, so we would be ever grateful if you could tell us anything you may have on her?"
Aya had to give it to
he had a way with words without ever needing to use compulsion to get what he wanted. Maximus looked down at the headstone as if he was trying to keep clear of their gaze. She felt a prickling sensation that he suspected who they really were and he knew what he was trying to avoid by not looking at them directly.
"This particular grave," he said slowly. "We don't have any record of. All we know is that she was a young
who lived in the area for a time, went away and then came back. Records at this time were better than most, but the priest that took care of the parish at this time wasn't known for his penmanship or his organization."
"That's all you know?" Aya asked, narrowing her eyes as he looked up at her, trying to will him to tell them the truth. This man was lying through his teeth.
"Yes," Maximus replied, looking sheepish. "Our records are unfortunately incomplete. I, along with several local historians, have tried for many years to piece together more information and fill the gaps, so to speak, but at this stage it looks like that is the breadth of it. There are many things we will never know about those that were buried here."
Aya gave the knight a look and he shrugged, signaling that he understood. Her attempt at compulsion didn't work. They needed to retreat and keep both eyes peeled for trouble. She wondered
exactly this priest Maximus would inform about his unlikely visitors.
"Well," she sighed. "Thanks anyway."
Maximus inclined his head and retreated across the grass, disappearing around the corner of the old church.
Aya peered after him, her suspicions aroused. "He was lying through his teeth, Tristan. He knows something. Why else would he be immune to compulsion? Especially
"I don't know," he said, looking back down at the grave. "It was bloody creepy." He shivered, puling his coat tighter around himself before glancing about. "I think we'd better be goin'."
Without acknowledging him, Aya stalked across the yard and began backtracking the way they had come. As they walked into the main part of Salisbury, the murky daylight quickly fading into night, Aya pondered what had happened at the church. Questions answered with questions.
"Do you want to find somewhere to stay, Arrow?" Tristan asked, his voice cutting through her reverie.
Nodding, she asked, "Guesthouse, pub, hotel?"
"Doesn't matter," he shrugged. "Most humans live in them in these small villages."
"So?" she asked, knowing full well why he had mentioned it.
"I know you don't have any problems gettin' inside, but I might."
"Whatever." Noticing a pub she started to walk towards it. A drink sounded good right about now.
"Hey, wait up," Tristan called after her and tried the door before she could get to it. When he was able to step through into the pub, she followed.
They walked into the warmth and into Wednesday
football game, it seemed. Every available space was crammed with people, the noise drowned out almost everything. In the center of the room was the bar, lined with every type of hard liquor and imported bottled beers, and along the mahogany bench was almost every kind of beer on tap that was made in the UK and Ireland. Down one end was a flat screen television, where most of the punters that had crammed into the place huddled around, yelling out profanities when their team missed a shot or the opposing side took the
When a booth along the
was suddenly vacated, Tristan slipped into it, pulling her along. It was only a minute later when a human man slid in opposite them with a jug of beer and three pint glasses. He poured them out a glass carefully and pushed a full pint across the table to each of them.
Aya raised an eyebrow at him and when he raised his eyes to look at her, she had to hold back a snarl of anger. She'd seen this man before. He was just as rumpled and tired looking as he was that morning.
Greasy brown hair, dull eyes.
This human looked like he hadn't slept in days.
"Long way from London, aren't we?" she hissed at him, much to Tristan's surprise. He hadn't noticed him in the Library that morning at all.
"I have been sent by Maximus," the man said quietly, taking a sip of beer.
Aya stared at him, waiting for further explanation.
"He couldn't speak to you so openly this afternoon. There are eyes watching, if you know what I mean."
eyes?" Aya asked, glaring at him across the table.
"I can't talk about it here, you must understand. If they know I'm here then I'm good as dead."