Part Twenty Three: The Clock Tower
Reinhardt opened his eyes. The sounds of clockwork filled his senses as soon as they were once again his own. The rhythmic sound of the tower was no longer a problem; he had gotten used to it. He had no idea how long he had been here, but he soon remembered why. He was waiting for Carrie and Chanaur.
But he hadn't seen them since he arrived and found.....
Rosa had died. She had been killed again. By that bastard Thanatos. He had killed him, painfully, and he had enjoyed it. He finally had a way to take his anger out on something that deserved it.
But at the same time, he felt indebted to him. He had eased her suffering. He had helped her to pass from her damned existence. She was happy now, and so he had to be happy for her. He had cried all his tears that night, and he had no more left. Now all that was left was completing the quest. Vanquishing the count. Saving the world.
For nothing else mattered anymore, now that she was gone.
At least I'll see her in heaven. At least I know we'll be together again, someday.....
"Make the best of the situation." Reinhardt muttered sarcastically to himself. "Look at the positives. Be optimistic....." He shook his head. "All I need right now is a reliable exit from this world."
Reinhardt looked up at the cieling far above him. The numerous devices used to run the clock on the face of the tower moved in synch with one another. It gave him a horrible feeling of sadness; if one part is gone, the rest will crumble.
If that much was true, how could he continue living without his most vital part?
How could he continue living without Rosa?
He drew the ring from his chest pocket. He looked at it for the first time since he had bought it. A golden ring, with a ruby cut into the form of a rose set into the band. He kept it in a small, black, felt box close to his heart.
He would treasure it forever. An eternal memento to Rosa's memory....
No matter the cost, I shall see you again once this crusade is over, my love. You can count on that.
He stood, and went back through the door to the room of clocks. He looked to the hearth, and what he saw surprised him.
There were Carrie and Chanaur, curled up in front of the fireplace, holding each other close. That would have been commonplace enough, but there was a profound difference in the way they held one other. Something that glowed with intimacy, and warmed Rienhardt's heart. At last, they had spoken the truth. Finally, they had reached out, and found the truth.
Chanaur was holding her close, his head resting on her head, her head resting so that her lips touched his neck. He had a smile on his face, as did she, that reminded him of how one looks during a wonderful dream. He also noticed that fabric no longer separated skin from skin on either of their upper torsos.....
He debated waking them up. If he did, they could get this over with, and finally go home. But then he thought that he should just let them have their moment.
He turned back around, and returned to his bed mat. He lay down, and placed his hands behind his head. He stared up at the cieling.....
.....And for the first time in so long, he smiled.
Carrie awoke. She opened her eyes, and saw Chanaur's face just before them. She smiled, and kissed him delicately on the nape of his neck. Sighing, she sank contentedly into his breast, and closed her eyes again. This was where she wanted to remain for life.
And at last I can. She nuzzled into his neck. At last, your mine to hold for all time.... No one but you and I.....
Chanaur stirred, but didn't waken. Carrie ran her hand through his hair, tracing a line with her finger from his forehead to his lips. She kissed him there, her fingers toying with the white hair that flowed over his shoulder.
Chanaur brought in a deep breath, and his eyes opened. Carrie pulled her lips from his, and smiled. In a low, dulcet voice, she purred, "Good morning, Love." She stared deeply into his eyes. "How did you sleep?"
Chanaur yawned, and held her closer. Carrie delighted at the feeling of his warm flesh against hers. "Quite well, hon." He nibbled the tip of her nose, playfully. "Especially with you in my keep."
Carrie sighed again, and rested her head on his bosom. She listened to the strong, steady beating of his heart. Gently, ever so gently, she rubbed her hands up and down his chest. "I love you...."
Chanaur sighed, and cupped her face in his hands. "And I love you....." He brought her lips to his. Her heart was upon her lips, as was his in his eyes. For long moments they relished in the closeness, barely breathing.
Soon they seperated, hesitantly pulling away. Carrie stood, bringing him to stand with her. "We should be going now." She closed her robe, blushing slightly. Chanaur smiled. "We need to find Reinhardt, and then get going." She picked up her pack, as Chanaur took his. "We still have a Count to kill." She picked up the staff, and twirled it between her fingers. Her eyes flashed fire. "He must pay."
"Aye, and he will, Carrie." Chanaur whispered. He licked his lips, anticipating the taste of his blood. "Dearly. He will pay for every second of torture he put you through. He will pay for the death of your parents, and mine. He will pay for Lacuna...." Chanaur stopped short. "Speaking of her, how do you suppose Raziel is faring?"
Carrie moved closer, thinking. "Well, if he's made it back to Wallachia, chances are he's defended it. Whether he's still alive or not......" Carrie shook her head. "At least he'll finally be able to rest with Lacuna...."
Suddenly Carrie threw her arms around him. She held him tight. "Chanaur, I know that you will out live me by a longshot...." She sighed heavily. "....but, when I'm gone, I want you to move on. I want you to find another love." Chanaur opened his mouth to protest, but Carrie gave him a look that said quite plainly to let her finish. "You should not be alone. You should....."
Carrie was fighting back tears. Chanaur wrapped his arms around her, trying his best to offer her comfort. "Carrie, if there is one thing I know, it's this; After you, no woman will ever come close." She began to speak, but Chanaur put a finger to her lips, silencing her. His other hand entered hers. "But if it's what you want, then I shall. For your sake alone."
"And for our children, of course...." Carrie rested her head against his heart. "You can't forget them."
Chanaur stiffened, somewhat taken aback. "You want..... children?"
She looked up into his helpless eyes. "Of course, dummy." She whispered, squeezing his hand. "I'd like to know what it feels like to be a mother. What it feels like to hold my child in my arms. Our child....." She kissed him on the lips. "Or children."
At first Chanaur thought she was joking, but then he looked deep into her eyes. There was no doubting she was serious, and of course she was. She had lost her mother at a key point in her life. And now she wanted to know what it meant to create life. She wanted to know just what it meant to love and be loved.....
"Yes. Our children." He smiled fleetingly. Something about the whole thing unsettled him. Sure he wanted to have a child to call his own, but there was this one grain of doubt that grated against his heart.
I probably shouldn't. I know I shouldn't continue the blood line. I know it was my oath not to.....
But as long as Carrie lives, the contract is still in effect, and I still owe the Count a grandson. And I'll be damned if I let anyone take her from me.
"Something troubles you, love. What is it?" Carrie touched his chest, her fingers gingerly digging into his flesh.
"My blood. My lineage. What if..... What if our offspring become the same as me?" Chanaur lowered his gaze from hers.
"Chanaur, you turned out fine." She brought his eyes back to hers. "And so will our children." She kissed him softly. "But we can discuss this later. Come one, let's go find the Belmont....." She took his hand, and began to lead him away, but he would not be moved.
She turned back to him. "I hope your right. But I just have one question...." He pulled her in close again. "How many were you planning on having?"
Carrie smiled slightly. "Oh, I think two should be enough. And we still have to name them..... But another time." She tugged at his arm again. "Right now, we need to focus on the immediate task of getting through here."
He followed her, keeping her hand as they walked. Children..... She's speaking of children already..... He laughed to himself. We're not even married yet!
No, not yet..... Carrie smiled up at him. She had removed the mental block he had placed between his mind and hers. .....But I'm hoping soon.....
Carrie jumped back, startled. Reinhardt sat up, rubing the side of his ribs where she kicked him. "Oh, I'm sorry, Reinhardt, I didn't see you there!"
Reinhardt stood up. "Eh, it's fine. Didn't hurt, really." He rubbed his eyes. "I trust everything is well? No problems in the Towers?"
"No, not really." Chanaur smiled. "Just a snafu among the Ruins, but other than that, I've never been better." He squeezed Carrie's hand.
"Can't complain either." Carrie laughed, and squeezed Chanaur's hand back.
Reinhardt finally noticed the staff. "Isn't that Actrise's staff? And why is your hair white?"
Carrie smiled fleetingly. "Yes, this is Actrise's staff. I don't know what happened, but I kinda like it." She embraced Reinhardt. "I'm sorry about Rosa...."
Reinhardt hugged her back. "It's alright. She's in a better place now. She's no longer in pain." He bent down and whispered in her ear, "congratulations."
"Thanks." She returned, just as quietly. "The sentimental fool finally rounded up enough courage to say it."
"Ah, I wouldn't be talking Carrie." Chanaur whispered. "You-"
She kissed him, silencing him. She pulled away, and put a finger to his lips. "Hush." Reinhardt smiled.
"Reinhardt, how did things go for you?" Chanaur said, as soon as her finger was gone.
"Well, aside from losing Rosa, and learning a bit more about Jara, and murdering Death, not too much happened."
"Seems your taking that pretty well. Are you sure you're alright?" Chanaur raised one eyebrow.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine. C'mon, lovebirds, lets go." He smiled, and jumped up and grabbed an outcropping. He climbed up....
....And Chanaur finally saw the inner workings of the clock tower. Small gears rotated large ones. The ticking of enormous cogs could be heard from farther up in the tower. It seemed just like any ordinary clocktower, but one thing caught his eye. Twining around the gears, keeping the movements going, were streams of magic.
"Wow." Carrie moved up beside him. "Do you see what I see?" Chanaur nodded. "Not only is it a clock, but it's a generator as well....."
"Clever." Chanaur blinked his eyes, and all he saw were the gears again. "I suppose that the count has to have some kind of sustenance when other types are scarce." Chanaur jumped up to the platform where Reinhardt now stood.
Carrie reached out into the raw magic, and brought it into her. She felt it course through her veins, bringing her blood swiftly to a boil. She bent it to her will, and a geyser of water sprang before her. She then froze it, forming it as it solidified. In no time at all, she had a stairway to the top of the tower.
Chanaur looked at her uneasily as she lowered the staff. The sapphire, whole once again, ceased it's glowing. She didn't seem even fazed; she looked exhilerated.
Carrie looked up, and she saw Chanaur by her side. "Show off." He tried at a smile, but his discomfort wouldn't permit a genuine smile.
"What's wrong?" Then she looked up at her creation. She shook her head. "I'm fine, Chanaur. There's more than enough energy in thi-"
"No. It's not that..." He looked at the staff again. Carrie looked questioningly into his eyes. "It's that staff. It belonged to Actrise, and I'm afraid..... Afraid that it might taint you somehow...."
Carrie's eyes and expretion softened. She kissed him gently on the lips, and whispered, "It won't, Chanaur. I promise. The Darkness is gone from the staff. Besides...." She wrapped her arms around him. "I don't plan on letting myself be taken. As well...." She kissed him delicately on the neck. ".....I know that you'd never let me be taken." She smiled, and moved to his lips.
Chanaur smiled against her kiss. She broke away from him, hesitantly. His voice no more than a breath, he whispered, "I'd die before I did." He shook his head. "Ah, but I'm probably in greater danger than you are...."
"Just....just don't worry about it. Worrying about it will just make it worse....." She realeased him, sliding her hands over his shoulders. "You should know, you worry wart." She grinned.
Chanaur sighed. "I can't help but worry. I care too much for you not to worry...."
Carrie nodded knowingly. "And aside from that, you're morbidly paranoid, and your mind constantly works in worst-case scenario."
Chanaur smiled, seemingly relieved. "That too."
Reinhardt began to climb the structure of ice in the middle of the floor. It seemed that he had lost his patience.
Carrie blushed somewhat, and sent her appology after him. She turned back to Chanaur. "You know, I think I'll be glad when this is over. We'll have some time to ourselves....." And with that, she began to climb after him.
Chanaur still didn't like the way the sapphire gleamed when he looked at it, but he took Carrie's word for it; he knew she could handle herself.....
But what about back in the Castle Center? She had said herself that she wasn't strong enough, that she needed my help.... She knows I'm here........
Of course I do, dummy. He turned to look at her, and saw her smiling back at him. Now come on, before you're left behind. I know how much you want a shot at Dracula.
Indeed I do. He began to climb.
He watched from the shadows, keeping resolutely away from them. He had been drawing too close; they were beginning to become suspicious. He didn't need eyes to know that the half-breed had begun to look over his shoulder periodically.
But all the same, he's been doing that since he arrived. He looked to the newest member of the group. The Belmont had been with her very recently. He smelled of blood, but it wasn't her blood.....
He is the key to finding her. He sighed. Perhaps I should return to the forest to wait for them. Once they are out, Jara will be returned to normal, and I can meet her again...
He pondered this for a minute, as the trio moved out of the range of his hearing. They left behind their scents; the air was heavy with sweat, blood, and something he had only smelled once before.....
The haunting aroma of what can only be described as desire. The smell that Jara had exuded that night, so long ago....
Darnell decided to wait for her outside. There was no sense in following these people anymore. He would let Jara come to him.
I don't even know why I should bother with her. I severely doubt that she'll want to see me again.....
But what else can I do?
He leaned back against the stone, and began to try to fall asleep. He smiled ruefully as he thought of the latest downside to gouging his eyes out.....
I did so to get the vision of her pained face from my mind..... But now I won't be able to see her smiling face in life.....
Carrie seemed to be having the time of her life. Drawing all the energy she needed from the Clock Tower, she had blown through three locked doors, two walls, and descimated a piece of machinery implemented supposedly for defense. Chanaur no longer argued with her, but decided to allow her to have her fun.
Besides, it was getting them to the Count twice as fast. They now stood before the door that would lead them to the stairway to the keep. Where they would find Dracula.....
Reinhardt stepped to the door without hesitation. Pusing the mechanism in the center, the three sections of the door receded into the wall with a mechanical, grating sound. A gust of wind whipped past him, threatening to sweep him off the narrow skyway.
"Come on! We're almost there!" He shouted over the howling gale.
Carrie turned to Chanaur, and offered her hand. He took it, kissed it politely, and then led her on.
Reinhardt shook his head. They're acting like they're strolling to a picnic.....
They came to a large stone room the extended out into the mist. The heavy iron door squeaked open after a fight, revealing nothing but four walls, a torch in each corner.
Shrugging, Reinhardt led the way to the exit, when there was a slight hiss of smoke.
"I've been waiting for this." A brisk, business-like voice came from behind. "At last, we reach the climax."
All three turned around as one turns to address a persistant child with an irritating question. Renon smiled, and tipped his hat. "I have come to take my leave." He replaced his hat, and reached into an inner pocket. "But first, there is something we must talk about....." He tossed the contract to Chanaur. "This contract, did you ever read what it said?"
Chanaur closed his fist around it. "No, I don't read Demon. No one can, except for one of the kindred."
"What it reads is thus....." He took the contract from Chanaur, and opened it. "You have agreed to a contract with Satan."
"Why am I not surprised?" Chanaur smiled. "You didn't give us too much of a choice, did you? Well, what do we owe? Our souls?"
Renon smiled, his eyes shone red behind his dark glasses. "Exactly." Lightning sizzled around the Demons body, and he began to morph. Horns sprouted from his head. His briefcase became a trident. His tail grew longer, his skin turning red. His head became that of a bull. "I now enforce the contract....." The top of the tower dissapeared, as wings unfurled from his back.
He fanned his wings. "Oh, it feels so good to be out of that cramped form....." He laughed. "Now, back to business." He raised his trident, and pointed it at the ground at Carrie's feet.
Blue fire errupted all around them. Chanaur took careful aim through the flames that were closing in, and let an arrow fly. It grazed the Daemon's shoulder, and a flash of pure white light exploded from where contact was made.
Renon howled in pain, and the fire dissipated. Chanaur let loose another arrow, one of the splitting ones he had used on the Kraken. The hundreds of holy barbs speared into his chest, arms, and face. The smell of burning flesh was almost suffocating.
Renon healed himself, the heavy smell remaining. His trident was gripped in his right hand as he raised his other in a fist engulfed in flames. He lifted the trident higher, and the fire left his hand, split into a dozen equal sized projectiles, and sped toward the small company.
Carrie, laying aside the staff, brought her hands before her. The air shimmered, and a dome of ice enclosed them, protecting them from the fireballs.
As one by one they hit, their muffled explosions scarcely reaching their ears, the shield began to weaken. She turned to Chanaur. "On the count of three, I'll shatter the shield. I need you to fire one of your sacred arrows into his heart before he can pick it out from the shards of ice." She smiled at him. "Show him why he shouldn't toy with people."
Chanaur nodded, and readied his bow. Fireballs continued to hammer at the shield, the lights of their dissipations growing brighter and brighter. He pulled the bowstring taught, his eyes focused on Renon's heart.....
"One...." Carrie closed one hand in a fist. Reinhardt stepped forward, ready to destroy any fireballs that might make it through after the shield was gone. Chanaur's gaze flashed to both of them, wishing them the best of luck in this dangerous gambit.
"Two....." Carrie closed the other hand. She strengthened the shield where the ice was almost gone. A drop of sweat froze on Reinhardt's brow. Chanaur exhaled, seeing his breath condense before him. The fireballs continued to fall, almost as steady as rain.
The world seemed to slow. Chanaur released the arrow, his hand moving to his sword immediately after. The curtain of ice shattered, spears of ice just as big as his arrow sent flying in all directions. Most of them were incinerated by the fire that came at them in a wall. He moved between Carrie and Renon, and raised his sword. There was no chance that Carrie or him could errect another shield in time to stop the flames.
All the same, he could at least use himself as a shield......
The fire was feet from where he stood, and he gritted his teeth, trying to ready himself as best he could.
The fire was inches from him, and he felt Carrie's hand on his shoulder, her voice calling out his name.
The fire was centimeters from his face, and he realized that the burning wave came from all directions, not just the front. He closed his eyes.
The fire exploded against him, and he felt no more. His nerves seared, his skin peeling off of.....
He felt nothing. He opened his eyes, and saw the smoldering hole that was left of Renon's chest. No blood flowed; everything had been singed to a crisp. He fell out of the air, and hit the ground. The roof reapeared, the sweet smell of burning flesh intensified. His trident clattered to the floor, and evaporated in a puff of smoke.
And there was the contract, laying in the middle of the floor. Chanaur picked it up, and unrolled it. He scanned through it quickly. "Hm. He was lying. It's just an old schedule for the soldier's patrols back in the days of Vlad's first life." He looked contemptably at Renon. "His names right here."
Renon glared at him, and tried to rise. His body was beginning to regenerate.
Chanaur held up the scroll, and he lit it aflame. Renon's body was engulfed as well, and he screeched in pain. He dropped it, now no more than a curled, charred piece of junk, and he crushed it under foot. Renon dissintigrated to dust, and dissapeared in the wind from the open door.
He never thought that he would enjoy killing something as much as he did then.
They began to ascend the staircase, headed for the keep. Instead they found another one of those stone half-towers, but this one was utterly empty. Throught the next, they found one more staircase.
At the top, the finally found the keep. Their long journey was nearing its end. The count's seal was plastered accross the enormous iron door. To each side were torches the size of bonfire pits, lit ablaze to light the path. The keep emanated fear and forboding.
Carrie's hand was suddenly in his, and Chanaur squeezed it gently. "This is it." He muttered. He turned to look at his companions. "This is what we came for. This is why we're still alive." He smiled slightly. "Let's not screw this one up, okay?" Even Reinhardt smiled.
Chanaur pushed open the door, and stepped in, followed by the rest. Sconces in the wall held candels and candelabrum. He stepped further into the room, and looked at the cieling, and saw a large tapestry, depicting the fall of Lucifer, centered around an axis. A red Carpet led to a small Dais in the back of the room.
There was the coffin; the end of the road.
He stepped closer, and he heard the bang of the doors behind him. All the candle flames danced, but none went out. He was half way up the dais when the coffin lid rattled. It was cast off by an unseen hand, where it rolled and thumped to the floor.
Carrie and Reinhardt were suddenly on either side of him. He kept his eyes fixed on the coffin, for he couldn't see inside.
A fine mist began to come out of the coffin, but after it traveled a few inches, it thinned to nothingness. The count had been released from his coffin, and he could be anywhere.
Chanaur turned his back to the casket, and scanned the room quickly. He knew the count would not sneak attack, for he was bound to fight honorably by his blood. The air was heavy, silent. Chanaur's hand on the hilt of his sword. Reinhardt's on the handle of his whip. Carrie's staff in one hand, her axe in the other.
A resounding, dark, quiet laugh filled the keep. "Ah, how wonderful it is when prey walks so willingly into the monster's den..... Is it death you children seek?" Chanaur looked up, just in time to see the Count materialize before and above him. He began to float down to the floor.
His feet touched down, and he laughed shortly. "As you wish. Come to me, I will tear you limb from limb!"
Chanaur stepped forward, and drew his sword, which shone with a soft blue light. Reinhardt's whip snapped in the air, as he crossed himself quickly. The crescent staff laid aside, the edges of the Dragon Axe glowed a hot red.
Chanaur smiled. "I'll come to you, but you shall be the one to be rended to pieces....."
"We shall see, Dhampir..... We shall see..."
He dissolved into mist again, and appeared behind them all. Reinhardt cast the whip, catching him on the chest. The Count staggered, and fell back a pace. He quickly regained himself, and teleported again before Carrie had beheaded him.
Dracula continued to evade them, until he resurfaced again. He pulled his cape accross his body, as though he needed it as a shield. The three of them came at him at once, sword, whip and axe intending to make a dent.
He threw back his cape, and a pillar of fire spewed forth, and hit Carrie full force. Chanaur continued to run at him; he could sense that Carrie was fine, her defenses up as usual. He brought his sword straight down into the Count's head. He watched it split through the back of his head.
But it had gone through far too easily, and too soon he realized that it had been a simulacrum.
Dracula appeared before him, intending to take him up, but Chanaur thrust his sword into his heart, a healthy spray of blood coming forth. Reinhardt seized his cape from behind, jerking his head back.
"Funny thing about capes....." Chanaur smiled, as the Count's eyes changed to horror. "....They always get caught on things."
Carrie's axe hummed through the air, creating an aftershadow of energies in it's moulinet arch. It passed through the Count's head, which parted company with his shoulders.
The body stumbled back, and began to decompose, one blood spurt at a time. Crunching and squelching sounds accompanied this grim display. The head began to laugh.....
"So, you thought you had won?" The head rasped, as the body fell to it's hands and knees. "To save the world is not so simple....." The head reapeared on the body, but neither healed. "Darkness shall encompass the world....." Then, with a roar more like an animal than a human, his body shattered into a thousand needles of light.
His cape was thrown high into that air, where it floated gently to the ground. Gently, nearly silently, it descended. Finally it hit the floor, and with a hiss erupted into flames. From the flames emurged the phantasm of a man. A man who was obviously old, but still just as handsome as before.
Carrie fell to her knees. Chanaur gaped, couldn't believe his eyes. Reinhardt just looked plain confused......
"Daddy.....?" She whispered.
The spirits eyes traveled to the young woman before him. Kyphron smiled. "Yes, it is I...." His eyes moved from her, to Chanaur, to Reinhardt. "I thank you all for saving me, and Imbrium as well...."
"Daddy, how...... why?" Tears filled her eyes.
"Remember that Christmas when you saw me in your dream?" She nodded slightly. "That wasn't just a dream. I came to say goodbye...." He sighed. "I wish I could have stayed with you, but I couldn't escape.... The darkness had me under total control....." He smiled. "But now, I'm free...... Thanks to all of you." He began to fade. "But I must go now....." He turned to Chanaur. "Take care of her, Chanaur. Or else." He smiled, and then he was gone.
And the entire world started to shake.
End Part Twenty Three.