The large vaulted chamber echoed with the sounds of hammers banging away at metal and the hiss of steam. All around the vast chamber men and women scurried about in a seemingly random manner. In the middle of it all there stood a massive wooden table upon which were set a dozen large clay jars with metal wires attaching one to the next.
Standing over them with a small chalkboard in hand, furiously scribbling notes and equations was a tall man with shoulder length brown hair, speckled lightly with gray, which was slicked back with sweat. He wore a blackened leather apron over a sweat stained tan tunic and breaches. His hands were covered in chalk dust and his four day old growth of beard was stained yellow from the numerous times he rubbed his chin as he thought.
As he pondered one of the things he had written down a woman came up carefully carrying another of the large clay jars. Just like the others it had a metal stopper and had been sealed with pitch. She set it down next to the other jars and reached for the wires with her bare hands.
The tall man screeched in horror and, dropping the chalkboard, rushed over and grasped the woman’s hand in a firm grip.
“Gloves my dear, remember your gloves,” he said emphatically as he reached out with his left hand and grabbed a set of thick leather gloves and held them out to the woman. “It wouldn’t do for you to hurt yourself, Tiral.”
“But, my Lo….” She started but stopped as he frowned at the use of his title. “I mean Enthalan, sir, these never gave so much as tingle before.” She protested as she glared at the gloves that she detested wearing.
“Its better safe than sorry,” he said, emphasizing each word by tapping the gloves on her forehead. He smiled at her and she quickly returned the smile before sticking her tongue out at him and grabbing the gloves.
“Fine,” she snapped in mock anger and pulled on the gloves as she began to attach the wires to the jar.
As she did so Enthalan started walking around the table looking at all the wires very carefully. He wanted to make sure that all the connections were secured properly and that the circuit was complete. As he walked around the table absorbed in his preparations his foot stepped on something soft that uttered a loud quacking noise and he fell face first onto the stone floor.
After lying dazed for a moment Enthalan gathered his wits and slowly pushed himself up to a sitting position. He took a moment to make sure his nose was still affixed to his face and then smiled.
“I’m alright,” he declared for perhaps the sixth time that day with his usual cheerful tone as an aid smiled and shook his head as he reached down and helped Enthalan to his feet. As he stood up he looked at the table and tilted his head to the side.
“Oh my,” he muttered softly as he looked at the smoking remains of what had once been a duck. The duck had apparently been the thing he had stumbled over when he fell. The poor creature had then tried to fly away only to catch its wing upon the many wires that were stretched out over the table.
“Ooooh, my.” He repeated as a low whistle escaped his lips and he waved his hand to dispel the smoke from the charred feathers. He could see a black line of charred feathers were the current had shot through the poor creature to make its way to the table and thus continue on to the ground. He slid on a pair of gloves and gently removed the bird from the wires and then smiled at the staring group of people that had started to gather.
“It would appear that our Goose is cooked,” he said as he held the duck aloft. He smiled broadly when everyone started to laugh as they turned to head back to the many tasks that he had assigned to them. Chuckling to himself he set the poor deceased bird on the table, careful to keep it away from the wires as Tiral stepped up beside him.
“That’s not a goose,” she said with a crooked smile and looking pointedly at the duck.
He looked over at her then back at the duck and gasped as if in shock. “So, it is not. How very observant of you.” He said grinning down at her. “I would think that one so observant would remember to keep her gloves on.” He said as he, once again, picked her gloves off the table and presented them to her.
She glared at the gloves once again and, after sticking her tongue out at him, grabbed them and walked off. He grinned as he heard her laugh to herself on her way to reset the wires. It wasn’t often he found someone that could keep up with his keen mind and she was one of those precious few.
Still chuckling to himself he turned and started to walk back towards the jars. His foot hit a puddle of water on the stone floor. His feet flew up and out and he landed flat on his back sending the air rushing from his lungs and he saw a galaxy of stars dancing before his eyes. After a few moments he started breathing again and ran his hands over his body. Finding nothing broken he smiled.
Enthalan looked up at the large stone wall that protected the Emperor and the generals of his army. He felt the heat of the mid day sun beat down on his brow and used the sleeve of his shirt to wipe away the sweat that beaded his brow. He used his index finger to push his ocular enhancement lenses back into place and reviewed the preparations for today’s test firing.
A firing that he was not at all comfortable with because it had been moved up by over a week because of some concern about activity in the Kingdom of Carpathia to the north and a massing of Turkish ships to the east. Enthalan didn’t know what those things meant but he understood the crunch that it had placed upon him and his team. He grumbled as he worked over the equations he had worked out just before they loaded the lever less catapult and shook his head.
“They want the impossible,” he muttered to himself. Next to him Tiral stood in her sweat stained brown dress and nodded. They both knew what was probably going to happen and neither was pleased in the least. The emperor had given very specific weight restrictions on the device as well as the size of ball he wanted it to fire and the distance he would be able to travel. The problem was for it to work they needed a higher grade metal then what they had access to within the empire. He had even devised a new way to work out the impurities in the metal that allowed one to take inferior metal and improve its quality three fold. Unfortunately, based on his equations, that would not be nearly enough. The forces that were going to be unleashed within the device where more than enough the send pieces of metal flying everywhere.
He had tried to talk sense to General Claudius but the man was under direct orders by the Emperor. Even though he was smart enough to know that Enthalan was usually right about such things he wasn’t in a position to grant Enthalan’s emphatic request for more time. So they were forced to go ahead with the test even though Enthalan knew what the end result was going to be. With a sigh he walked up to the tapered metal tube that looked like a bell had been elongated and set on its side.
As he watched two members of his team took a pre measured bag of black powder and rammed it into the tube using a long stick with a thick wad of cloth at the end. They next took the hundred pound iron ball and slid it into the barrel of the weapon. Once that was done a third member of the team turned a hand crank that lifted the nose of the device to the correct angle for firing. Once that was done and the wick had been placed in the small hole that had been bored into the cylinder the team ran for the cover of the stone wall.
Enthalan stood just behind the device with a slow burning match and ran over the numbers in his head one more time. He couldn’t figure out why they wanted such a large projectile for navel combat when one a third the size would be more than adequate for the task of shattering ships hulls and the range requirements were well beyond what would allow for any reasonable sense of accuracy.
Tiral nudged him and he looked down and yelped. He started to wave his arms around frantically and onlookers quickly became aware that he had accidentally lit the sleeve of his tunic with the slow match. After a few moments he managed to put out the small flame with only minor damage to his sleeve.
“I’m alright,” he yelled as he waved towards the stone wall and then turned to Tiral.
“We might as well get this over with,” he said with a sigh.
She held out her hand for the match and he looked at her.
“You honestly expect me to let you light it?” she said with a chuckle. “You wouldn’t get two meters before you fell over your feet trying to get away.”
He fixed her with a glare then stuck his tongue out at her and handed her the match. As he turned and started to make his way to the safety of the wall he heard her counting slowly.
“One, two, three and……” she paused and Enthalan felt his feet tangle and he fell face first into the flagstones of the court yard. “Boom.” She finished with a snicker.
Enthalan just grumbled as he clambered back to his feet and didn’t even give her the satisfaction of a glare. “There was such a thing as someone knowing someone to well,” he thought to himself as he made his way the final bit to the wall.
As he moved in next to the others he pushed away a few of his workers who had moved close to check on him. He looked over at the general who just shook his head and directed his gaze to the small slit in the wall that would afford them a view of the test. Next to the general dressed in fine silk robes was the Emperor Justinian.
The emperor was a few years younger than Enthalan and though not fat was not skinny either. When they had first met the man had been full of questions about Enthalan’s inventions and had spent many hours in the laboratory watching as Enthalan ran one test after another. But, over the last few years the man had grown very distant and seemed like a totally different person. Often, Enthalan would see him staring at nothing as his fingers curled into tight claws.
Summoning a small bit of his magic Enthalan pulled a tight channel of wind from the direction of the emperor and allowed it to fill his nostrils with the smells surrounding the man. As he had noticed before there was a smell of decay and rot about the man. That smell and the way the man seemed to stare right through you as if you didn’t exist. That coupled with his returning nightmares created a sense of anxiety inside him that Enthalan wasn’t sure how to deal with.
He was distracted from his thoughts by the feel of Tiral jostling him as she bolted into the enclosed area after having lit the fuse. Everyone turned their attention to the metal cylinder and watched in rapt attention as the fuse slowly burned down into the muzzle and then…..nothing.
Absolutely nothing happened and everyone turned to look at Enthalan. He just continued staring at the cylinder and then after the moments delay there was a massive explosion that sent the metal flying in a thousand different directions just as he had predicted.
When the smoke cleared there was almost nothing left of the device and the hundred pound iron ball sat stubbornly in the middle of the carnage. It hadn’t gone anywhere. The emperor turned to Enthalan and frowned as he approached.
“You told me you could build this thing,” he said with an accusatory tone. “You have failed me.”
Enthalan felt a chill of cold air pass over his body as the Emperor’s baleful glare was turned on him. He looked into the glassy eyes and gathered his courage. He was tired of the emperor’s condescending attitude and was ready to lash out when a couple of his workers grabbed his arms and pulled him back. They quickly pulled him away as the General diverted the Emperor’s attention away.
After a few moments the General had managed to guide the emperor away from the testing zone and Enthalan was left with his team to clean up the mess. Before he could make his way out to the wreckage Tiral caught his arm.
“Enthalan, why don’t you let us handle this and take the rest of the day off,” she said as her dark brown eyes searched his face. “You’ve been pushing yourself to hard and need a little break.”
He was tired and for once he didn’t even try to argue and just nodded. She smiled as she patted his cheek then turned and started barking orders to the rest of the team. Enthalan turned down the street and started to make his way into the vast city of Constantinople. His mind was filled with thoughts and equations as he went over ways he could improve on his design. He wandered the streets aimlessly for several hours until his luck finally ran out and he stepped out into air, missing a stair that he had not noticed, and tumbled down a long flight of stairs.
He groaned and sat up and did his usual check to make sure nothing was broken. To this day he was amazed that he hadn’t managed to break his neck with all the spills he had taken. He grinned softly when he realized that once again he had bucked the odds and nothing was broken. The grin quickly faded though when he stood and he felt as if every muscle in his body and been wrenched by the fall.
“Ent?” came a voice from across the way.
He looked up with surprise. He must have misheard no one called him that anymore. It was then that he realized he was at the docks near the fish market. He wrinkled his nose at the pungent smell that always seemed to overwhelm him when he came here. Enthalan never did like fish much. He started to turn to make his way back up the stone stairs when he heard the voice call again, this time louder.
“Ent? Is that you?” it asked in a voice that seemed familiar. He turned and scanned the docks for a few moments. At first he didn’t see anything but then the crowd parted and she strode forward. He felt his heart stop as he looked at her and he started to run towards her.
As he did his foot hit a loose flagstone and it tilted, sending him sprawling on the street. Before he could move to pick himself up he felt her hands on him, helping him to rise. As he stood his eyes grew wide and his mouth hung open.
“Ent, it’s me Claire,” she said as she shook him softly.
“C…Cl….Claire?” he stammered as he adjusted his lenses to get a better look. It was then that he got a good look at her pale green eyes and his heart seemed to stop.
“Claire!” He yelled as he let out a whoop and hugged her tight and spun her around.
Letting her down he staggered back, the spin having made him dizzy. She laughed in that soft loving way that had set his heart afire all those years ago before the intrigue of the royal family took her from him. She had been promised at birth to Marcus Nyx in a political marriage so when Marcus had been forced from the court in Constantinople she had to follow him into exile.
His mind filled with so many questions for her he couldn’t put voice to them. Where have you been? Are you doing well? How come your back? Where is Marcus? Is he well? No? Darn shame that. How long will you be staying? Will you be my wife…. Uh no not that one, not yet. And on and on it went. His mind moving so fast that his mouth just hung open unable to even try to keep up.
She just laughed and took his hand and proceeds to answer all of his unspoken questions as they slowly made their way back to his chambers. By the time they had gotten there Enthalan had gotten the gist of her story.
His heart nearly stopped again when she told him she had left Marcus but was crushed to find out that the man had been able to reacquire their young daughter, Lilya. He could only imagine how the ruthless Lord Nyx would use the girl to further his own agenda. One thing he had known about Marcus was that he never let feelings get in the way of his goals.
“Let me look at those bruises,” she said softly as he settled into a plush cushioned chair in his study. The room was a disaster with papers and books lying everywhere. She took his shirt off and tsked as she slowly and ever so gently started to massage the many knots that had formed from his falls and the tension he felt.
Enthalan groaned in pleasure as her agile fingers slowly worked their way down his back and soothed away the many aches and pains in his middle aged body.
“So how old is Lilya?” he finally thought to ask as Claire leaned over to blow out a candle that sat nearby.
“She’s twenty years eight months and six days old as of today,” she said softly as she pulled him closer to her.
In the span of a second Enthalan did the math in his head and his eyes flew open wide. He stood up and cranked his head upon one of the book shelves, sending books and scrolls flying everywhere.
“Same ole’ Ent,” laughed Claire as she kissed his cheek. “Let me make you feel better.”
She began kissing his neck, then his shoulder. She slowly moved down his stomach until…..
The night sky glowed red from the flames that engulfed the once great city of Constantinople. The Hagia Sophia cast down into a pile of rubble and the streets flowing ankle deep with the blood of the dead. The only sounds were that of the flames consuming the remaining structures of the city and the wind whistling through the charred timbers of this once proud city. Everywhere he looked torn and twisted bodies lay in heaps as if carelessly tossed aside by some giant.
Enthalan slowly made his way towards the steps that lead up into the palace. The blood that poured down the steps parted as he walked, flowing around him parted by some unseen force. White flame flickered around his body and his hands clenched tightly on twin balls of pure electrical force. The air swirled keeping the burning embers and smoke from touching him and his brown eyes seemed to have been transformed into a liquid red fire formed from his rage as he mounted the steps.
He walked with a sure steady gait, so different from his normally awkward movements, ascending the stairs with deadly purpose. He walked through the palace gates into the courtyard. He didn’t bother looking to either side to see the bodies that lined the courtyard on all sides. He knew that they would be different people then before. Every night they had changed and he knew they were the bodies of real people that were dying in great pain at that very moment. Each body twitching in agony as they slowly slid down the wooden stakes that they had been impaled upon.
Once he reached the center of the courtyard he stopped. Raising his hands above his head he brought his hands together and released the energy that he had been keeping stored up. The electrical force raced out from his hands and struck each one of the stakes, in this realm of dream and the real world as well, instantly killing the people that had been impaled, thus sparing them continued suffering.
Once the electric current faded Enthalan lowered his hands and looked to the end of the courtyard. Between the two marble pillars that framed the gold inlaid doors of the palace proper stood a man shaped shadow. As he watched it flowed over the ground and came to stand before him. The thing seemed to be a hole into nothingness and exuded a cold so intense that, even through the intense flames that surrounded him, Enthalan could feel to his very bones.
For a moment they stood there staring at each other as if measuring each other’s strength. He could see the creature’s eyes for the seemed to be spots of darker substance in the mist of its head. Time seemed to slow until it finally ground to a complete halt as they stood there. Enthalan could sense the creatures mind reaching out to his and it's anger and frustration as he battled it back.
“You will be mine,” said a dark voice inside his head dripping with malice and hate.
Enthalan’s power grew inside of him till it reached a state of critical mass and he smiled.
“Never,” he said softly as he released his power in one massive explosion that sent them both flying in opposite directions. He could hear the creatures howl of rage as he flew through the air. The world seemed to fade and then he felt a blow to his head that left the nothing but a star filled blackness.
*** *** *** *** *******************************************************************
“Ent, are you alright,” came Claire’s voice from a faint place far away.
Enthalan opened his eyes and blinked but the stars persistently stayed put. With a groan he slowly pushed himself up to a sitting position as he instinctively caused the candles in the room to light. He felt Claire’s hands on his cheeks as he continued blinking trying to see her face.
Gradually she came into a hazy focus as the throbbing in the back of his head started to subside somewhat. He smiled as he realized what must have happened. That dream had caused him to roll around and he had fallen out of the bed and onto the hard wooden floor of the room they had rented for the night.
“It’s ok my dear. I’m alright.” He said as he sat up and kissed her softly. “I just had a bad dream.”
She looked at him carefully as she gently rubbed her thumbs over the dark circles below his eyes. “You’ve been having bad dreams a lot lately haven’t you?” she asked as her expression grew worried.
He just nodded as he took her hands into his own and kissed her fingertips. “It’s been going on for a little over two weeks now.” He said as she helped him to rise. Once he was on his feet he pulled her into a tight hug and allowed the scent of her to calm his frayed nerves. “It feels like something is trying to claw its way into my mind and it’s going to keep at it till it wears me down.”
Claire looked at him with worry filling her eyes. Having been married to one of the highest ranking members of the blood guard she was well aware of the implications of what he had just told her. She thought about all those times that she had overheard Marcus talking to Grim or Thomas about having to shield his mind from some vampires prying thoughts. What she couldn't understand was that she had thought that all vampires had been cleared out of Constantinople years ago. The fact that one might have remained hidden and might possess the raw power to affect Enthalan in this manner was a truly frightening thought.
Sensing her worry Enthalan forced himself to smile as he looked down at her. He gazed loving down at her face taking in the fine lines that had formed around her eyes and the faint wrinkles that were the only real signs of her age. His fingertips gently brushed along her high cheekbone and down her neck to rest on her shoulder as he lost himself in her eyes.
“You’re even more beautiful then I remember,” he said softly, changing the subject, as he pulled her tight. Leaning in he kissed her softly. After the kiss he pulled back and searched her face and, taking her hand, led her to wooden bench were he took a seat.
“Tell me about her, Claire.” He said as his eyes looked out the window at the night sky. “Tell me about our daughter.”
Hanging over the rail of the boat as it cut through the sea, propelled by strong winds, Enthalan’s body clenched as he wondered when he was going to see his boots come out of his mouth. Between violent convulsions he would open his eyes and see the blurry images of the dolphins that raced alongside the ship. This was their second day at sea and he had spent most of the trip hanging over this rail and had not managed to keep anything down for the entire time.
After a few more convulsions he felt his stomach settle and he finally was able to push himself back upright. He turned allowing himself to slide down and rest his back against the wooden planks of the ship’s hull. He could feel Claire’s hand on his back, gently rubbing, as his head sank into his hands. He wondered how it had come to this and reflected back to three days ago to the morning he had been awakened by Tiral pounding on the door of the room he had rented to spend time with Claire.
He remembered waking with a banging noise and the sheets tripping him up as he staggered out of bed. He had fallen face first onto the wooden floor, bloodying his nose. As he rushed to the door that sounded like the person on the other side was trying to break it down he pinched his nose closed with his thumb and forefinger. When he yanked the door open he saw Tiral and three of his team, arms full of scrolls and books, looking disheveled and panicked.
“What’s going on?” he managed to ask before Tiral and the others rushed in.
“The Emperor has gone mad,” Tiral gasped out as she set the many scrolls she was carrying on the floor. “He sent his body guard to take all of your research and he’s ordered them to arrest all of us.”
“Why would he do that?” asked Claire, who had awoken and was trying to use a wet cloth to clean the blood off Enthalan’s night shirt.
“Who are you?” asked Tiral as she fixed Claire with a harsh glare.
“Claire is an old friend and can be trusted, Tiral.” Said Enthalan as he took the cloth from Claire and held it to his nose to staunch the bleeding. “Now, everyone calm down and tell me what happened.”
“They killed Lawrence and Michael,” sobbed Timothy as he sank into a chair with eyes wide from the shock that he was obviously still feeling. “Five soldiers from the Praetorian Guard came in and when they weren’t able to answer their questions about the meteor rock they ran them through.”
“We were in the file room when it happened and were able to hide until they left. Once they did we grabbed what we could and headed straight here,” said Tiral as she gently stroked Timothy’s hair as he struggled to gather himself. She looked up at Enthalan and shook her head. “They moved in a strange way it was almost like they weren’t in full control of their bodies.”
“Did it seem that way to you as well Brutus?” asked Enthalan, looking over at the dark haired lad that stood quietly beside Tiral as if her proximity would protect him. When the boy just nodded and then hugged Tiral’s arm he frowned. Justinian was a ruthless bastard but he wouldn’t kill the people that were responsible for creating the new weapon he craved. Not for one failed test, anyway.
A chill made its way down his spine as his thoughts went back to his dream. The way the soldiers had moved along with their interest in the meteor rock made him think that he knew what it was that had sent them. For the last couple of years he had watched as the emperor’s actions had become more and more unpredictable. The man at one moment seemed to be perfectly normal and then his eyes would turn glassy and his demeanor would change completely. It was during such an episode that the Empower had given the Blood Guard leaders the information that allowed them to find and destroy the last coven inside of the Constantinople.
With the fall of that coven all vampiric activity within the empire had ceased. This was very puzzling to Enthalan because he strongly suspected vampiric influence in the actions of the Emperor. The signs were there when Justinian slipped into his episodes. Many thought it was the after affects of the plague that had ravaged his body years ago but Enthalan knew it wasn’t. The man’s mind had survived the assault from that insidious disease only to be overcome by something even worse. Evil ruled the Empire now.
This knowledge along with the fact that Enthalan had become aware of massive troop movements to the north along the Carpathian border made him very nervous about the near future. He knew the emperor wanted the lever less catapult, or canon as the Emperor liked to call it, to be ready as quickly as possible. Enthalan had also become aware of a vast fleet of war ships that had just been completed in secret and were sailing from Egypt to Constantinople. The emperor intended to conquer Carpathia and he was moving the pieces into position.
War was about to break out and it was going to be a battle to the death between the two most powerful nations in the world. This was going to be a war that would decide far more then the fate of a nation. Deep down Enthalan knew that the outcome of the coming battles could very well shape the destiny for mankind and vampires alike. What he didn’t know was what side he should be on or if he should even be on any side at all.
At least he hadn’t been sure before now but the actions of those soldiers had forced his hand. He could not continue to work for the Emperor. Not when he knew that evil controlled him. Enthalan would not give that creature the weapon it desired but he knew that it would stop at nothing to force him to finish his work. That left flight as the only option he had. He had to get out of the Empire as fast as possible.
The next few hours had gone by in a blur as Enthalan had set about the task of getting the supplies they would need and securing passage upon the first available ship. It wasn’t easy as they had to avoid the many patrols that were searching for him. Before long though he had been able to purchase passage upon and Aldian trading vessel and they were able to leave the city with few problems.
Well, aside from his chronic sea sickness that was. Enthalan sighed heavily and offered up a weak grin to Claire as she kneeled beside him and gently rubbed his head. His stomach had started to settle a bit when the captain approached them.
“We’ll make landfall at sunset tonight. Best get your things together.” He said briskly before walking off to bark orders at his men.
“I’ll be glad to get my feet back on solid ground,” moaned Enthalan as he leaned his head against his knees.
“I’m sure will,” replied Claire as she kissed his cheek softly. “If you’ll be alright I’ll go make sure Tiral and the others are ready.”
Enthalan just grunted in reply. As she walked off he raised his head and watched as a sailor approached him. In his hands he held a bowl of steaming liquid.
“The captain said you might want something to eat since you haven’t been keeping much down during the trip,” he said as he offered Enthalan the bowl.
As he reached out to accept the offered meal the scent of the fish stew filled his nostrils and his stomach started to roil. Quickly he rose up and just barely managed to stick his head over the railing before he started heaving. “God I hate fish,” he thought to himself he waited to see his shoes exit his mouth.