Today I am proud to present the opening segment of my new, serialised, eBook, Vampire Knight. Although I have a general idea of where it is going, I’ve no definite plan in mind. Thus, in many ways, this is something of an experiment. A story that will develop week-by-week, chapter-by-chapter. I will, of course, be making notes along the way, so that the novel follows a logical path in terms of story.
So, please do join me on this journey, as we all see where the characters lead…
VAMPIRE KNIGHT - Prologue
The heat was intense, a little too much so, if Liam O’Connor had anything to say about things. Not that he did, of course – Lord Lockhead made sure O’Connor knew his place, and offering opinions was not it.
He removed his necktie and ran his fingers along the inside of his stiff collar. Why he had agreed to go on this expedition was beyond him, but then he remembered with a sardonic smile. He had no choice. In this forest, so far from civilization, it was easy to pretend otherwise, but one glance at the man walking ahead of him was enough to remind him of his place. He was only a butler, and an Irish one at that. And it was a common fact that it was a hard job to get anywhere in London without the right breeding. Wasn’t a nice situation, but that’s how it was. O’Connor had come to accept that over the years, but he didn’t like it. Neither did he like this forest he was in now.
‘How much longer, Mr Lockhead?’ he asked.
Lord Oliver Lockhead III was his employer, although O’Connor knew that Lockhead still had the old master/servant mindset. Not a nice man, all told. Grumpy, and stern. Tall, with greying hair and a thick beard. Clothed in an expensive suit, Lockhead looked very out of place in the forest. O’Connor was sure he had heard Clark trying to convince Lockhead to change his clothes. Lockhead would have none of it.
That had been back in London, nearly two hours ago. Yet O’Connor could not escape the feeling that he walked the whole world to get to the forest.
Lockhead held up a hand and the group came to a halt. He glanced at each of them, then rested his gaze on O’Connor. ‘A little bit of patience and stamina is all that you require, young man.’ Always the superior tone. O’Connor hated it. Lockhead indicated the trees in front of them. ‘Besides, it is just beyond those trees there.’
‘How do you know that?’
Lockhead sniffed. ‘I have been here before. Now, be quiet and follow me.’
O’Connor stood his ground, and hefted the sword he was made to hold to a more comfortable position. Lockhead didn’t even blink, he just turned away. Obviously the conversation was over as far as he was concerned. None of the others seemed concerned by Lockhead’s knowledge of the layout of the forest. As they followed Lockhead, O’Connor stepped over to Clark, Lockhead’s most trusted advisor. Clark was a rather large man in stature, but his dress sense was much more sensible than that of Lockhead. Khaki safari clothes, with a hunter’s rifle in his hand.
‘How has he been here before?’
Clark glanced at O’Connor, his aged eyes looking puzzled, affronted that a butler should address him in such a casual manner. For a second Clark didn’t answer, then with a slight shrug, he said; ‘Don’t you ever listen, O’Connor? It was Lord Lockhead over there that first discovered the link.’
O’Connor paused and watched Lockhead progress towards the edge of the forest. ‘Oh.’
The little group came out into a rather large clearing. O’Connor was last, but came to a stop the quickest. The sight that greeted him was the last thing he had expected. From the things he had heard in London he had expected some sort of castle, full of monsters and demons. Not this.
It was a settlement of some sort. O’Connor had seen paintings of similar things. Old stone huts, now in ruins. Drinking fountains, and a lot of people. More than O’Connor would have thought for such a small dwelling. And they looked so normal. All adults, the youngest couldn’t have been any less than twenty years of age. They were dressed in simple clothes, no doubt what Lockhead would have described as rags. That wasn’t how O’Connor saw it, though. They had a simple elegance that was touching. People who were not obsessed with material things.
Except for three of them. These three stood out among the rags; older than the others and dressed in the elegant clothes favoured by the gentlemen of London Town. Complete with top hat and tails. They were very out of place.
Before O’Connor had the chance to observe any more he was dragged behind the remains of a stone wall by Clark. He looked over the very edge of the wall at the settlement, then glanced at Clark.
‘Are you sure about this? They don’t look like the ones.’
Clark shook his head. ‘I assure you that they are, O’Connor. There is little doubt of that.’
‘But look at them. Enjoying the company of each other. Going about their own business. They are nobody’s enemy.’
Lockhead let out a bitter laugh; it was soft, but full of such emotion. He looked across at O’Connor. ‘Ah, the inexperience of youth. Don’t let your eyes fool you, O’Connor. It is they.’
O’Connor shook his head, and pushed his way past Clark. It didn’t escape his attention that he was getting bolder since leaving London. ‘But, Lord Lockhead, look at them.’ He pointed over the wall. Lockhead refused to look. ‘They are no different than our own families in London.’
Lockhead pulled O’Connor down to his knees, turned and glared at him. ‘Pray, stop this now,’ he hissed. ‘Conscience will not help you stop these… these things. They may look like you, but I assure you, they most certainly are not!’
Clark did his best to motion O’Connor to stop, but, although he had noticed, O’Connor paid no attention. Instead he pursued his course. O’Connor needed to get to the bottom of this, because when he was first told about this he had heard stories about monsters. Responsible for countless deaths in London. But these people were not those monsters, they couldn’t be. It just didn’t add up.
That was as far as he got. No sooner had he started than he realised that he could not find the words to express himself. He was never good at these word battles, and now it was beginning to show. ‘But, this isn’t right,’ was the best he could manage.
The group were so immersed in their internal debate that none of them noticed as a young woman walked towards the broken wall behind which they were hiding. She held in her arm a basket of clothing, meaning to hang the clothes over the wall to dry.
‘Right! O’Connor, I do not think that right was on their minds when they killed all those people.’
‘But, sir,’ O’Connor protested, in spite of himself. He was mindful of his actions, and how by arguing with his employer in such an open way was certain to have serious consequences when they returned to London. But he could not stop himself. ‘They’re just people! No different than the homeless forced into the workhouses…’
One of the group, another servant, slightly older and more loyal than O’Connor, noticed the woman approaching. She was the picture of beauty. Radiant skin, long flowing blonde hair, and a very full figure. The servant only noticed these things for a brief second; his mind was filled with the sights he had seen in London. All the dead people. He glanced around the group, unsure what to do.
‘Your bleeding heart will not save these creatures, Mister O’Connor. Go to the families of all those that have been killed,’ Lockhead continued, ‘ask them if this is right!’
O’Connor looked down at the dusty ground. Although deep in his heart he knew this was all wrong, he couldn’t help but be humbled by the words of Lord Lockhead. Clark watched O’Connor’s reaction and shook his head, then turned to Lockhead. Nobody noticed the other servant ready his gun.
‘How do you suggest we proceed, Oliver?’
‘Pick them off one at a time perhaps. Although that will take a while. Perhaps it is better if we…’
The conversation was halted by a gun shot. Even O’Connor looked over at the other servant. But that look soon turned to outrage. These deaths were not needed. The man lowered his gun and looked at them. His eyes conveyed the fear, and O’Connor’s heart sank at the sight of it. They were committed now.
They looked at the woman lying beyond the wall. She had a bullet hole in the middle of her forehead. Further into the clearing a commotion had begun. People were looking at the dead woman in confusion, while two of the three in the gentlemen’s clothes began walking towards the woman. Even from this distance the anger on their faces was quite evident.
‘Brilliant!’ Lockhead shook his head. ‘What did you do that for?’
The servant wore a puzzled expression. He opened his mouth to speak, but very few words came out. O’Connor watched him intently; it was becoming very obvious that the man’s mind was breaking. Something had to be done.
‘I think we have gone past the point of no return. Look!’ Clark pointed at the woman. She was getting to her feet.
For a moment her eyes linked with O’Connor’s and he shuddered. Blinking, he looked away, certain that the sun was playing tricks on him. He could not have possibly seen what he thought he had seen. The woman looked back at her fellows and let out a high pitched scream. O’Connor slammed his hands over his ears and stumbled backwards.
‘Damnation take it!’ Clark yelled above the noise. ‘Now what?’
The noise ceased and Lockhead looked at his little group, then turned to Clark. ‘We attack, what else can we do?’ For a moment he sounded scared, but then he took a deep breath and continued in a steady voice. ‘Make sure there are no survivors. This is for the fallen of London.’
O’Connor swallowed hard and gave Lockhead a scathing look. Lockhead just smiled coldly. ‘Attack!’ he hissed, and turned, pulling his knife out of the pouch on his hip.
The group followed him and launched themselves at the people of the settlement. Guns began firing, the knives and swords started flashing.
O’Connor stood behind the wall and watched. He could not move even if he wanted to. ‘This is wrong,’ he whispered. ‘Where is the right?’
Bodies lay everywhere. Blood and insides littered the ground, in places they were joined by limbs, in other places bodies lay mostly in one piece. But all had one thing in common; the hearts had been removed, thrown on the dusty ground and stamped on.
Two members of Lockhead’s group lay dead, their heads having been decapitated by brute force. O’Connor still watched from behind the wall, emotions swimming across his face. Disgust, hate, anger… fear. His mouth was dry and he licked his lips.
‘There should have been another way…’ He looked across at Lockhead and their eyes met. Lockhead had the crazed look of a madman, hanging on the brink of insanity. O’Connor watched as Lockhead looked down at the corpse beneath, and with bloody hands reached into the chest.
Lockhead lifted the heart out of the corpse and looked down at it. ‘You stole my daughter’s soul, I claim it back.’ He lifted the heart above his head, and looked up at the sky beyond. ‘As the rays of the sun lighten and gild the blackest cloud, so the soul by entering the body of the universe gives it immortality; the abject it lifts up. Rest, my dear Juliet.’
He let the heart fall, and with a look of pure satisfaction, squashed it underfoot. Clark and the other servant joined him. Neither spoke, they just followed him over to the wall. O’Connor watched them approach, all three of them with their clothes covered in blood. Lockhead did not spare him a glance, just carried on past him towards the trees. Clark stopped next to O’Connor and placed a hand on his shoulder. The young man was trembling. Clark opened his mouth to speak, but Lockhead turned back to them.
‘By Christ’s wounds, leave him, Clark! He has no stomach for justice!’ He walked back over to O’Connor and Clark, the other servant remaining by the trees. O’Connor forced himself to look Lockhead in the eyes, but he couldn’t. The eyes were cold, and filled O’Connor with an intense sense of dread. ‘Be sure to note, Mister O’Connor, that upon our return to London, you would be well advised to seek new employment. Perhaps there is some poor micher out there who needs the services of one such as you. A boy who cannot entertain the notion of justice. The two of you would be well matched. A micher and a coward!’
O’Connor waited a few moments until Lockhead and his two faithful ones had entered the forest, before he started towards the trees himself. ‘Justice…’ he whispered, bitterness only too evident.
For a while nothing moved in the settlement. Then a figure stepped out of one of the broken huts. He stood; the gentlemen’s clothes caked in blood. He was on old man, but despite his obvious seventy plus years, his skin was radiant and his eyes were alive with a fire. The old man surveyed the corpses of his people, his features giving away no emotion.
All the breeders were dead. The last colony, the final hope for his species… Gone.
‘It cannot be allowed to end like this,’ he said, a new idea forming in his head. It would take a long time to come to fruition, but if he were careful then perhaps his people would live again.
The man took a deep breath and set off towards the trees.
Chapter One next Saturday, Nov 20th 2010.
Vampire Knight © 2010 by Andy Frankham-Allen, Cover © 2010 by Andy Frankham-Allen, for Frankallen Books. All Rights Reserved