Are You Afraid Of The Dark? Part II

The Visions of Clarity

To say Anique was lost would be an understatement, the City of Irae spanning before her was foreign yet compelling in its difference to the Darkhaven she was accustomed to. The guards, seeming to have noted her inexperience as she approached the gates, saw fit to interrogate her more than was necessary. Their amusement was evident as they questioned her before finally leaving her alone. She’d hoped to arrive sooner, wanting to avoid the lecture she may receive once she found her destination.

The fountain within the Corte came into view and it was here that seemed to be where the majority of activity was found. Several children were being pulled away by their parents as they splashed at the water playfully. Dusk had begun it’s descent over the horizon and worriedly, Anique hoped that she wouldn’t still be lost when the shadows fell to complete darkness. Her footsteps fell quietly, a parcel wrapped in brown paper held at her side, as she centered upon the fountain as her starting point.

A few guards garbed with crimson and gold tabards walk past Anique, their heavy boots resounding in unison on the pavement, their lances held high. These guards are not commonly sighted; only sent on their rounds by the Church’s second in command whilst the Cardinal is away on business.

Crosses embroider the corners of their vestments and their faces solemn. They stop for a moment, looking around and scouring the Corte for trouble. Trouble most kine would not understand but only these enrobed paladins could see. One of them, shorter then the rest of indomitable height, but taller than a common citizen, finds Anique an interest.

“A foreigner we have here?” He bespeaks in short, accentuated notes, shifting his lance to a less dexterous hand and bowing formally to her, a glimpse of a shining silver cross and chain seen within his buttoned up stiff collar. “Did you come here alone?”

Pausing in her step as the men pass her, her back stiffens immediately; worried that she will again be detained and questioned. She didn’t look like a common troublemaker out to thieve from pockets. Grasping the package more securely, holding it by the strings tied around it with both hands, she turns as she is addressed.

“Not completely alone, there are men waiting for me just outside the city.” Anique curtsies politely, rising cautiously. She had to tilt her head back to fully see the man before her. Noticing the marks of the Church, she smiles with obvious relief and lowers her head in a small bow of respect. “I am delivering an order here but I’m afraid I’m not sure where to start.”

The Church guard’s solemn face, set with a hard jaw, softens into a smile as the girl replies; she reminded him of his sister Esther. “Who are you looking for? I have time to help and you may call me Benedict.” The guard replaces the lance back his working hand and stands straight, saluting the girl slightly. “Lady Katherina will not punish me for being late to help someone lost.”

Benedict turns his head to see the rest of his comrades moving off on the next rounds to the Poor Quarters. A faint grimace cuts his lips; knowing he’d miss the action if they find a renegade.

“I am looking for the Visions of Clarity.” She responds, thankful for the offer of help and shifting the parcel to one side, she removes something from the pocket of her cloak. The single card given to her is all Anique has and she holds this out for the man, unable to read it herself now that the evening had begun and the lamps lighting the streets provided merely a glow by which to guide people.

Also noticing the men departing, her smile deepens a bit. “I’m sure if you point me in the right direction I should be alright. I won’t be in the city long.” The books had begun to weigh on her now and she lifts them up to rest more comfortably in her arm. “The man I spoke with did not state his name but the card says Christian von Karlach.”

A soft frown creases Benedict’s face as he bends down to peer at the card she is holding out in her hand as he bends down, his vestments crackling in their stiffness. The guard wore armor as well, a light silver plate over vulnerable parts of his body. “Lord Christian you are seeking?”

“He is new to the City; a month ago.” Benedict’s mailed hand barely brushes the tip of the card Anique is showing him and his hand lifts to point out the direction of the shop eastwards of the Corte. A building wrought almost in gray ice and gleaming copper window frames. “My sister Esther frequents his shop, albeit too often this week.”

His brow further creases with that frown and from around his neck, he pulls off the crucifix he is wearing and holds it out to her, “Take this miss, and be careful. When you go in there.”

Startled by his last words, her attention is pulled from the direction he’d pointed in to catch his eyes. The frown on his face confused her and the offering deepened a furrow between her brows at what meaning his words held. Replacing the card back into her pocket, her slender fingers encircle the crucifix to rest in her palm before placing her lips lightly to the cool surface and lowering it around her neck.

“I will be,” Anique promises, nodding her head in affirmation but there is a hint of question in her voice. Her gaze falls upon the shop for a moment, chewing her lip. “Thank you so much for your help. You have done me a great service. I’m afraid I would have wandered for hours without you.” She begins to turn in the direction of the building but pause gives way as his warning to be careful lingers. Anique turns halfway, pondering the question before she finally asks, “Should I be afraid of things that come with the night?”

Benedict chuckles, a hand reaching to pull back hair that the night wind has tousled, “It is always good to be fearful; that way you will keep out of danger and out of places which you should not be in.”

He thumps the end of his lance into the ground and salutes her again, taking a step back and bowing in the formal manner the guards of the Church are taught, with a knee bent at a small angle. “I have not met the Lord Christian but my sister speak extremely highly of his knowledge and expertise.” Benedict’s voice deepens to worry. “And his great friendliness.”

The guard waves to Anique and walks past her to where his comrades have vanished a while ago.

Anique nods in response and half waves at he departs, a thoughtful smile lingers upon his answer to her question. As she fingers the crucifix, she turns on a heel and heads toward the shop. It was not as far as she’d thought it might be and for that she is grateful.

Before entering, she tucks the chain beneath her blouse and reaches for the handle. He’d advised the books to be delivered at dusk so she didn’t think that it might be locked as it opened before her. Still, pulling the door partially closed behind her, she hesitates at the entrance.

The door is opened automatically. Wait, no, not automatically but by a hand and the tall figure of Christian von Karlach, his pale face half-marred by the shadows cast is before her. He does not loom ordinarily but his height seems almost made for that.

“Fraulein.” He begins in a soft voice, tinted with cold amusement, widening the door of his shop and bowing towards her, the soft folded clothe of his cravat swaying together with the dip of his head. “I will have to chasten your brother now for a allowing you to deliver these books alone in this City at night.”

He steps to aside, lifting up his arm in a gesture of welcome to guide her in, his head tilting towards her. “Come in then.”

Her pulse quickened at his sudden appearance, again overcome by his presence and the way she had to step back to see him. After having been warned by him beforehand about delivering his items herself, a corner of her mouth quirks guiltily and a shade of pink steals across her cheeks. His words were akin to her own father showing displeasure by her actions.

“I do apologize but it could not be helped.” Anique offers rather quickly, stepping inside as he gestured for her to do so. Both hands hold the package again, curled into her arms as she glances around the room she’d entered. “He was called away for some items he’s been waiting anxiously on. I don’t know what they were to be so important.” She turns toward Christian, her gaze falling upon him against her will. “I didn’t trust anyone to get them here intact.”

The inside of the shop is scented with exoticism; a mixture of rose and lavender oils drawing their fragrance across the tall shelves enshrouded. The dim lighting of the interior made it seem larger than it is; an illusion created by smoke and shadow. Some of the shelves are filled, some to half and some empty, darkness lurking in their unfilled corners and depths. The man in his immaculate clothing takes a long assessing look of Anique, a thin smile appropriating the occasion.

“That responsibility of yours is commendable, fraulein.” He crosses his arms atop his shirt and his eyes run over to the parcel she carries, “As you can see, my shop is quite the barren one for now and your delivery is much timely despite that traveling in here alone is not… a good thing.”

Christian lifts up his head lightly, eyeing her with a pointed peridot gaze, “The night is chilly, fraulein. Why do you hesitate to walk in? Are you afraid of the dark?”

That watchful eye again, his voice sounding to her almost like a challenge. Was she afraid of the dark? She’d never had a reason to be and was being rude by standing there. With that thought in mind, she moves further into his shop. “Your thoughtfulness moves me. I promise you I will not put myself in such a position for some time. The guards saw fit to ensure that much.” Letting her curiosity give way, she moved closer to the shelves that did have titles among them.

As her eyes run along the lines, she takes a moment to consider his question. “The dark here seems to me a bit more menacing than the streets of Darkhaven.” She turns to regard him, a thoughtful expression crossing her features. “Your items my Lord.” She murmurs softly, gesturing to the package she held and in her movement, the glint of the crucifix is visible for a mere second.

“I saw you speaking with one of them.” Christian remarks with a hint of perhaps a threat in his voice, that he is all knowing, all seeing? Or that he merely enjoys making her uncomfortable. Stretching out his hands, he takes the proffered parcel from Anique and his eyes narrow before dilating into inward mirth at the sight of the holy cross about her neck. “You’re afraid of the dark, aren’t you, fraulein?”

He turns his back to her, the coattails of his velvet outer garment flapping slightly with each glide of his feet where he undoes the parcel immediately with deft fingers, whilst continuing the conversation. “That is a pretty cross you wear.”

Slender eyebrows arch in surprise for a moment, unsure of what he speaks of before her fingers find the item nestled against her skin. Her fingers toy with it again as she looks down upon it. “Thank you, perhaps if you see the guard named Benedict you can tell him so. It was given to me by him.” Her voice is almost a whisper as he asks her again if she afraid of the dark.

Releasing the item from her grasp, she takes the moment he is turned away to let her gaze take in the full height of him from the hue of his hair to the hem of his pants. His question seemed to call up a defensive response in her and she chews her lip nervously. There was no reason for her to remain now that her task was done. “I suppose I am. I believe you were the one who warned me of such things.”

“The Church is sometimes too nosy for their own good. And Benedict,” Christian returns to Anique’s side, holding two of the books from her shop, an ice-edged smile on his lips. “He is interesting. I have oft seen him opposite this shop, staring for hours straight, unbending, unflinching.”

The pale-haired man orientates himself to look upon Anique full, placing one of the books under his arm so one hand is now free. That hand he reaches to Anique and lifts up the crucifix slightly from her, letting the silver catch the diffused light of the shop’s inside. He stares at it humorously, turning the tiny cross around to look at the back before dropping it back upon her hollow of her neck. “You must have struck fancy with him for he to give you something from the Church’s own private blessings.”

A smile crosses her lips, softening her features. “I believe he is merely protecting his sister. He mentioned that she frequents your shop regularly,” she begins before inhaling sharply at the sudden closeness of him, his fingers cold against the warm flush of her skin.

“Perhaps I reminded him of her…” She whispers, her blue-green eyes flying up to meet his as he releases it. Her hand covers the spot where the crucifix lie, warming the material beneath her palm and attempting to steady the heartbeat she could hear thundering in her ears.

Christian turns his back to her, walking to the first empty bookshelf and places the two books he has there, holding them upright with two straight pale fingers. Then, Christian looks over his shoulder at the girl, “His sister enchants me for long nights with her stories. She is quite the storyteller, young Esther.”

His eyes close slightly, like a cat readying to nap and yet still mindful of its surroundings. “Did you tell the good guard a story to obtain that holy gift from him?”

Anique was sure that it would be questionable, a young girl alone with a man in the evening yet she had not questioned the purpose of such visits from the guards sister. Afterall, she was here wasn’t she? “Telling stories for ones favor would not suit a man of the church.” Her brows furrow at the insinuation he makes. Alone with a man at night, the question of what she was still doing here presented itself, and she cast her eyes downward for a moment. “It was your name actually that acquired me such a gift.” Her gaze does not falter now; asking him silently why the crucifix was deemed needed to protect her.

Christian indulges her with a quiet smile and he appears to exhale shallowly as Anique mentions that his name brought her the bestowed gift. The man does not answer; and he returns to the pile of books on the table, picking up two more and lowering his gaze to her as he approaches Anique once more.

The shadows in his shop seems to deepen, like puppets jerking in a slow erotic dance with each other, twisting and gyrating with the sweet-smelling smoke from the censers around. “Telling stories can earn different favors. A favor to stay alive, a favor to gain a gift. Can you tell stories, fraulein?”

“I suppose I could.” Anique blinks, her gaze focusing upon Christian as her senses are assaulted. “Is it a story you seek?” The sound of his movements, the scent of incense, the sudden dryness of her mouth, and the feeling of such insignificance under that watchful gaze only deepens as the room becomes more ominous than welcoming. He seemed to quietly challenge her at every word. “What am I doing here?” She asks, abruptly covering her mouth at having said such a thing aloud.

His eyes seem to twinkle at the sight of the crucifix she wears, the tiny pathetic symbol of superstitious protection that is supposed to shield her from the denizens of the night. And he edges closer, shadows upcurling his form but not seen to Anique, the scent of vitae enchanting.

“Tell me a story, fraulein.” It is not a threat and one would detect an ion of intrigue in his words and so close to her jaw now he murmurs slowly but no breath comes from his mouth. “Now.”

A shudder courses through Anique’s frame upon that word, fear finally consuming her although no cause had been made. Her eyes close as she feels the need to back away from him yet unable to do so. How little she knew of the actual world, her knowledge coming from the books she made her life upon. She wets her lip, her mouth opening with the intent of bidding him goodnight. It does not happen. Instead, she does as she is told. Anique tells him a story.

A story of a judge who married out of necessity rather than love. Of a wife bearing two children, a son and a daughter. And upon the daughters sixth year of life, was taken away by a son who was cast out by their father when he learned of his wives affairs. The story of a daughter who upon her father’s death received everything and as repayment for her brother’s harsh treatment, gave it over to him with the belief that her father, in his grief, sought to make amends.

As she tells him the story he wants, Christian’s pale fingers reach to push the locks of auburn from her jaw and her neck, the soft strands looking fiery in the lamps hung above them. So stark against the white of his skin and so alive.

“Continue.” He insists quietly whenever he felt she seems to draw breath and pause; his chest pressing against her shoulder softly and he could feel the drum of her mortal heart now so close. Fangs emerge from his mouth now he comes near, dipping his head in an angle towards the fair skin of her neck.

He lets the books in his hands fall onto the ground, each one a silent thud muted by the shadows he commands. His hand grasps her shoulder, dragging her nearer in a lover’s embrace, breaking that skin with the sharp tips till dark sweetness wells up to his mouth.

Anique’s eyes fly open, jerked from the haze of her storytelling and a rush of air is dragged into her lungs. A lover’s touch, one as she had never felt in her existence, caresses her being. Her hands rise to clutch at Christian, her head tilting to the side. Whether to provide or withdraw is unknown as more of her neck is exposed.

That held breath releases itself, a sigh mingled upon a soft moan and her hands slide over the material of his arms as she is pressed into him. Her eyes close languidly; the room swimming through her suddenly blurred vision and the thought that she might faint from the overwhelming sensations occurs to her.

He takes care not to drink much, sensing much innocence this body contained and he takes a final sip, the crimson wetness slathering itself over his questing tongue like honey overrun. He pays no attention to the rapture of her response to the unholy kiss he has lavished her neck with. “Ah, fraulein, sie schmecken wie honig.” He lifts his head to whisper into her ear and circles his tongue over the two tiny wounds upon her neck, closing them off.

There is no blood trickle or stain; when he does feed, he does it cleanly. And once satiated, the pale man straightens himself, arranging a lock of hair over her shoulder.

It takes a moment for the realization to dawn upon her, hands withdrawing from him as she takes a step back. Staring at him through confused eyes, her fingers curl about her neck. The arousing affect of his actions began to dim and she turned pensively inward.

“I should go.” She whispers, her fingers brushing over the useless crucifix as she lowers her hand. Wondering when her story had stopped, she did not even remember how she’d ended it. “The men waiting will wonder why I’ve taken so long to return.”

“I have forgotten your payment, have I not, fraulein?” Christian smiles quietly, reaching into his coat pocket and drawing out a small pouch of gold coins. He holds it out to her, “For the books, fraulein and your diligence in bringing them here.”

“A guard should be around to walk you to the gates. Or shall I hail a cab for you to bring you there? It is a chilly walk.” The man crosses a few steps to open up the shop’s door for Anique, the satiation of blood welding a smile of pleasure on lips. “What shall it be?”

Her hand extends as she receives the pouch, nodding her head and mouthing a thank you. She felt flushed, her flesh paling under the lights as she neared the door. “I’ll wait for a guard. I am suddenly not feeling very well, perhaps the cool air will help.” She smiles upon the man before she departs, “Good luck with your store, I’m sure it will do well,” Anique offers.

A guard was indeed within the court and upon seeing her began to make his way in her direction. As her steps took her from the shop, she took a parting glance over her shoulder, confusion evident as her eyes raked over the building before she pushed it aside and was gone.

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