The night-sky was still young.  I followed the cold sun as it turned into cold stars, as I followed my heart, and I did indeed leave my world of pain and darkness behind.
     The mansion was sold, would be torn down, and was last seen overgrown with weeds and knotted trees, almost as if to conceal it from the outside world, and the marsh water soon swallowed it all up.
     And I was traveling north.  A train took me hence through all those lands Madame traced on her magic ball, and, I soon would set foot on a land of snow and enchantment, and he would be waiting for me.
     A whistle sounded and a clanging of bells.  I closed my eyes and began to slumber on my journey.  If I did dream of the past, it was of a field of flowers, when I did not know I had already loved him, and my heart was lightened.
     Soon, the arctic wind would blow and I’d meet him, the snow like falling stars and his embrace a warmth unlike anything I’d ever known.
     The past was gone. I would never go back again.

Chapter Twenty Four: Raven

     We could not really conclude what should be done, although many of my questions were answered, at least for now. Raven went back to his world; Leon, the poet, seemingly cured of his addiction, moved to the warmer climes of Old Esradis and found his heart –married a poetess there.  I was grateful to both and especially sad to learn that Raven could not stay. It was many months after that he did write once, to let me know he had gone to the north, to find something that he did not directly allude to . . . I feared I’d never see him again. I wrote back inquiring what it was he sought. I never received a reply.
     Dear Madame — died later that year, but before this she did share something with me.  The grandfather cock ticked as she disclosed the real reason for Raven’s leaving.
Out of love,” she said, “he cannot bear it lest you knew, so he fled. He lives among the wolves and the snow now, and his heart turns cold.”
      Love? I thought.  But did I love him?
     “By the way, Madame, I read this book and want to return it to you.  I could not decipher either what these strange mysteries  meant . . .”
     “Did you not learn what to do, as I mentioned?”
     I shook my head.
     The seer smiled.
     “There are some things my dear, that cannot be controlled. I do believe that my ancestor saw what he saw, as you did, but I too also fear there is sometimes, or most of the time, little we can do against the forces of great supernatural evil, and what you must learn is this: You have done what you could, and you’ve done what you must.  The shadows, they will always exist, and evil is timeless, for now.  Do not fret.  The day will come when all that is concealed will be shown to us for its true nature.  There is little we can do for now.  But again, there is nothing you can do either, for what has happened to you . . . but you can change . . . the world is a small place in the heavens, and your heart does yearn for something too, thought you do not yet see . . .”
     She touched her old crystal ball and suddenly, it turned into a globe.  She trailed with her finger across the image of the glowing map, towards the north, towards a land be specked by snow, ice, and bitterness . . . but not all was bitter.
     “There,” she said. “He waits for you day and night.  Follow the north sky.  Leave behind all of your loss and fears, and let the old mansion crumble to dust, as it should.  Child of shadows, look to the polar sun.”

Chapter Twenty-Three: The Book of Balaaton

     “The Book of Balaaton” was the name of the exquisitely rotted tome, and it seemed more fit to turn to dust than sooner be read. I carefully turned its pages lest it fall to fine, powdery silt in my very hands.
     The name of the author was Clemence d’Argent, and the book was written in a painfully detailed and flowering script.
     “Book One,” it began, “The Secrets of Bhaalzim: The Things You Should Not Know are Often More Real Than Reality . . .” I skimmed its pages hence . . .

I have heard from some that the highly insidious queen Ravena, one of the accursed line of the malefactors of Malaak, has left for the far-away land in the desert made of ice and snow.  Good riddance.  We hope to God the others follow suit.

. . . We have been plagued for years by the curses of the Malaak.  ‘Tis true not all of them are evil, but for the most part, Ravena and her brother Shaltax, with whom it is said she bore an illicit child, fled to many years ago before hand to the southernmost ends of the old continent, leaving behind the accursed child.  Her name, Lynoria . . .”

Lynoria . . . so here was one of the keys of knowledge I had been seeking!  I read on . . .

From Book Two:  A Royal Prince of Darkness, or, The Midnight Hour’s Own Master . . .

I have heard henceforth from my cousin Myrise, who is set on following these monsters and destroying them, that the accursed two (Ravena and Shaltax), have traveled from their forlorn and barren, snowy desert, and have returned to our land.  There, by a much fabled lake, the incestuous lovers, I was told, were wed . . .”

From here on, Myrise’s narrative began . . .

I saw this myself . . . a Prince, more awful than darkness and devilish than any demon, sprang out of this infernal body of water, and and seemingly summoned, wed the two sinners in unholy union.

They called this great demonic prince Balaaton, and he wore on his head a lofty bejeweled crown, with a crest of a jade dragon, with red eyes . . . and in his hand he held a scepter, dotted with red-blood rubies.  A most scoundrel-like sage with great green orbs for eyes – jadeite – and chiseled features of some dark god.  But, the worst was yet to come . . .

The mistress of this dark prince then came forth.  She looked bled white, and her eyes had a most peculiar crimson glow.  On her head she wore no crown, but her long black hair was like a deathly veil that everywhere dragged death with it, leaving all living things to die in its wake.

The miscreants of Malaak referred to her as Inanna, and blessed be, she did look every bit the whore demoness of an eastern race once spoken of by humans, if she ever did.

Laughing, she emerged from the mists, enveloped only in silk tatters of gold, her bared body voluptuous in a horrid way, dangerous . . . breasts that seemed be specked by serpents, and coiled there, she smiled, a true creature of depravity.

And as she did, lightning flashes and I swear then she saw me.  I fled, fearing not only for my life, but my soul.

As it started to rain I looked back and saw her face, with a slight smile that lured me, Inanna almost stole my soul.  And the mysterious prince only looked on, coldly . . .

I swear that what I write is completely true.  Inanna lives.  The demon consort too.  Which is more powerful is hard to say, but I did seem to detect that both were actually, well, one and the same . . . like entities . . .”

     The rest of the book was an account of the author’s search to destroy the pestilent members of Malaak, without much success.  He wrote in the last chapter, “sorrily I could not defeat them. I only pray now that they are never to return.  As for the wicked brood they left behind, we shall observe what becomes of that . . .”

     And in an Epilogue to his stories, a few pages were updated with a tale of Lynoria.

     He wrote . . .

This girl-woman possesses my dreams.  She lingers in my nightmares.  She comes to me more frequent now, and sometimes is accompanied by the spirit of Innana, whom Myrise warned of.  What this demoness has to do with her now is a mystery.  I can only infer that Inanna is a Queen of the Undead, and had a stranglehold on the family . . . and her consort, the green-eyed, tall, fearsome devil, is bound to her somehow by these numbers:  twelve and twenty-two, for the night I saw Inanna and Lynoria, the old clock struck – and read 12:22, and ever since I have not been able to look at a clock or any grouping of numbers without the numbers continually appearing . . .”

     I thought about this, but could not fathom a meaning either . . . perhaps the old man had grown deranged by the end of his book?  The rest of his tale became more incoherent, as if he had lost his mind from the shock of these encounters.  So I shut the book and slept that night for hours, uninterrupted.  Dreams and nightmares of Lynoria no longer bothered me, but I did fear still, the fact that Inanna and Balaaton were most likely, as — put it, more real than real.
     The rain increased all night, and sleeping on a chaise downstairs, I smiled at Raven, who woke once, laying across the room from me; and Leon, who passed out on the rug.
     I closed my eyes and continued to sleep, a dreamless sleep.

Chapter Twenty-Two: A Revelation

     “We are not alone,” said Raven, eyes clouding over, pensive, brooding.
     “I sense something . . . do you feel it?” He raised his right hand up and motioned . . . “something . . . an unquiet, an unsettling force . . .”
     I closed my eyes and thought I heard a wind, a cold wind, and I shivered.
     Leon now too seemed struck by fear and he took a sip of liquor.
     “Where do we go now?” He asked.
     “Well, I know that that face in the window was not Lynoria’s,” replied Raven, “so we are dealing with more than one of her kind; those eyes in the window . . .”
     “The eyes . . .” murmured Leon.
     “But who?” I questioned, shaking my head.
     “Do we even know who or what we are dealing with?”
     Raven answered yes with his head.
     “We know it is evil, whatever it may be, and we know it is connected to Lynoria and your exotic relations. It may well be the very progenitor of your race . . .”
     I wondered silently, then spoke.
     “Then shall we proceed?  To be truthful, I am extremely frightened . . . I felt a cold fear run through me now.”
     Raven took my hand.
     “Do not worry.  There are three of us against this.  I will protect you.”
     And so he led us down the dark corridor, to the left – running into another rotted corridor that was haunted by various doors, some bolted shut and some crisscrossed with boards of oak – as if to keep something in . . . or out.
     “The entrance to the main floor is here,” I said, remembering the days when I was privy to illustrious years of music, gaiety, and a semblance of life that was long gone.”
     We entered.
     Once inside, Raven directed us up the still lofty staircase, embellished with rotting red velvet.
     “To the left, or right?” He asked, motioning to either wing.
     “I believe I saw our apparition in a window on the right wing.”
     Leon nodded.
     With that, we cautiously came nearer the right wing, notwithstanding that at first we thought “she” might be hiding in the lower rooms (as we still did not know exactly what “she” might be).
     Torches in hand and newly lit by Raven’s magic, we glided across the floor to the various rooms of the wing, not knowing what we would find.
     And so we searched each room, but nothing, no one could be found! The rooms were empty.
     Was she gone?
     We visited the Madame again, once more after this, hoping for an answer . . .

* * *

     The seer reached to us, took our hands, and looked at me directly now.
     “First, burn the dead, by the sea – lay them out by sunrise, their ashes must scatter, never to be reborn again . . .”
     I inquired regarding the phantom-woman we had seen in the window.
     The seer gripped my hand, held it tight, and nodded.
     “There is an old story, a legend I read as a child,” said said, “it was a collection of tales, more like a journal, and it came to mind when I saw in your eyes the vision of this woman.”
     She continued.
     “But, she is no woman, to be sure.  Come!”
     She led us to her collection of books, tomes, grimaces . . . came across an ancient-looking book bound in mahogany tinted leather, barely a book, more like a thousand pieces of moldy, mottled, and crackled pages, some falling out, some pieces falling off outright.
     A long time ago, before you were born, a certain old family lived here, in your house . . .

They were your ancestors, and the people feared them, because it was said they dabbled in witchery and the calling of demons.

This book was written by my great-great-grandfather. He wrote that he once witnessed one of your kith and kin conjugating with the demons in the gardens that once bloomed with rich red roses of the most exotic and sensuous perfumes.

This book is filled with these stories, these details, that you must now know. Take it, and read it. It will teach you what you need to find out, and tell you where you need to go.”

     And so we did what she said.
     The remnants of the evil dead were laid out in ancient fashion by the sea, and every one turned to ash.
     We three stood around the dying embers, quiet, only the sea moving.  The sun was dim and setting low.
     I had the grave feeling that out troubles were far from over, but tried not to show it.
     As we stood there, I bowed my head and watched the sea stir in small rivulets beneath me.         The sand a map of small rivers and borders, and the future then seemed uncertain, for I did not know what I would find in that book or if I wanted to know . . .
     And far above, the gulls flew, and the trees stirred.  The day had yet to end as we stood there, but it already seemed to hasten . . .

Chapter Twenty-One: A World of Illusion

     We three were lost, like lovers in a forest . . .
     The house was gone mad.  The very aspect of lurid horrors virtually lived and breathed herein.  I breathed in the stench of death and of fear.  Raven was struck by the sense that he was being watched by an invisible pair of eyes; or was she watching him?  He knew the eyes at the window not to be Lynoria’s, and was extremely apprehensive.  And Leon, he fingered his bows very tightly – lest some phantom-witch come up unexpectedly to take him and join his brother.
     We walked with the softest of steps towards the front door.  Raven did not think we would find anything on the upper floors.
   “I suspect they will be more comfortable in the deeper, darker recesses underneath this house. There she hides herself by day.”
     And he motioned for us to follow.
I am afraid, Raven,” I said, “for we know not what she can do, and we cannot discern her motives.  What is it that she wants?  Why is she here?”
     Leon agreed.
I do not know for sure,” said Raven, “only that we must work quickly, before she grows in power.  Already I sense that she is becoming stronger somehow . . .”
     And as he spoke a chill ran through me, for a laugh was seemingly heard, the mirth of cruelty, the shrill sounds of Lynoria, or someone, something else.  Raven acknowledged the same chill that I felt, but he later said it came from within his own heart, as if it wilted and grew cold, to that of a stone.  Like that of a cold grave.  I shuddered to think on it.
     It was a long and dark night and the leaves surrounding the mansion were shaken from the dying trees.  They were picked up by the wind, then blown in circular gales, until they landed upon the grave facade of the house of my family.
     Darkness truly seemed to sweep over the land and the earth surrounding the house, especially the cemetery, which seemed to reek of various rot and fungi.  The green vines overhanging the balconies seemed to choke the very windows of any fresh air, and I was quite sure I had also seen a pair of eyes staring at me through one of the malevolently darkened panes.  A pair of eyes, glowing blood-red.  Lynoria?  I shivered. 
     Leon still fingered a bow and kept it to him tightly.  He feared something, it was true.  Never had he smelt terror in the air so distinctly, nor had he tasted it in the dark rain that now touched his tongue.
     It was a dark time of the year, to be sure, and already the ominous moon seemed covered with a deep haze, a mist of putrid yellow vapours.
     “We cannot get in through the front door.  She has locked it,” said Raven.
     He spoke of what we already suspected.  We would have to enter through the cemetery’s hidden passages.

It is the only way in and perhaps the least troublesome,” he added, then paused and said, “I know it is not my preferred route either, but we need to do this quickly.”
     “But why not wait until day?” I asked.
     Leon suddenly hushed us both.

Listen.  It is the sound of death yonder.”
     Raven nodded.  I shivered slightly and looked at Raven with concern.

Leon is right.  You see, her powers are already immense and she gives rise to darkness and evil.  Already the tombs resound with the cries of the dead.  If we do not move fast we will perish for sure . . .”
     I clutched Raven’s arm and shuddered.  And there, there in the dark light of the moon we saw a gravestone crack in half.

Let us go then!” I cried, and from around us the sounds of the ghoulish music of the dread seemed to pervade like the concerto of death.  A dark solfeggietto emerged from the creaking tombs and yawning, watery mausoleum – dotting the horrid landscape with a dreadful horror. The cries and menacing sounds of the waking dead.
     “Let’s go!” Exclaimed Raven, and we three crossed the verdant green of a sepulcher wherein the hidden passage would be found, green and overgrown with moss and the rank odour of the charnel house.  It led into the hollow and grey basements of the old mansion.
     Inside this dark and haunting abyss led a flight of wide, winding stairs leading to the entrance of a long hallway, pronounced with white busts, cobwebs, and an almost imperceptible hush, a sound not unlike the inward rush of a soft sigh, but higher in pitch, and incredibly eerie and unnerving.

What was that?” I gasped.  I had heard something strange, turning to find my two companions lost in darkness, for their torches had long gone out.
     Blindly, I struggled to find them, but, finding nothing, shivered quietly, trying not to breathe too loudly.  I heard that endless ticking of an old clock seeming to run on an invisible energy, for it was so old I had no idea how it could still function.
     I felt the walls around me grow oppressive, and by the light of the faintest ember of my torch, which I tried to kindle, I made my way down that hallway, but running only seemed to extend the length of its confounding corridors.  Aghast, I came to a stop and turned slowly around.  I had heard something again.
     There, in front me me stood my very likeness.  The image I used to see at the mirror across the spinet.  This woman in the portrait that looked so much like me.  That odalisque on a bed of blood-red satin.  Lynoria . . .
     I . . . reached out . . . My twin image now glowed as a white oscillating planet might in the night sky, dark as darkest night . . . a white terrible moon . . . a phantom planet.
     The pair of eyes that met mine grew darker, then lighter, as my own.  A certain jade light bled through them, enhancing the dark irises with a peculiar malevolence.  A sea wave of gelid green.  Menacing.

     The voice I heard also seemed to be my own, yet not.  It seemed to speak inside me.  What did it say?  It spoke of strange desires, things I might know of, perhaps from dreams.  Or nightmares.  The sound of water seemed to trickle through that voice, a voice like cold water. Rain.
     I began to back away but the demonic odalisque seemed always closer. The ticking of the old clock became a drum.  My heart.

The cold wet voice now spoke of . . . convergence . . . my sister . . . strange allurements.  I felt my heart beat from a drum to a slow and morbid dance, a quiver, a drooping chanson.  I gasped for breath and felt death rattle my lungs.  A blot of ink for sky.  A revolving darkness. Death.
. . . then life . . .” spoke the dark demoness.
     I was becoming one with her, becoming one and the same with my own twisted mirror image, until Raven, from behind, came out and bound the demon to the wall with all his strength, and then Leon, quick and lithe now, plunged an arrow into the darkened heart.

The last thing I saw before fainting was my double fall into a heap, then Raven with a gleaming dagger procured from his belt, and the scent of rancid blood . . . fetid . . . her heart . . . dead.
I closed my eyes and the world went dark again.
Lynoria was now dead.

Chapter Twenty: Inanna

     Depravity. It was in her blood, in the dark crimson blood of Lynoria.
     She glided on wisps of wind . . . invisible; effortless; ghost like; a wraith, but much more more powerful and cruel.  Dangerous, she was.  And now her prey hung like a slain animal . . . acid burned his heart, from a flask procured . . . tears from her enemies, and victims.  A vial of elixir.
     This vile stench of burnt flesh . . . Inanna craved it.  Her prey did not or could not struggle, as in a web.  He seemed captive to her bonds now.
     I can show you much more, she silently told him, through her mind’s thoughts.  A flash of light revealed the revelation.  Past sorrows; past amusements; all drowned in blood, in tears; and bewitching Inanna.  A queen of darkness and legendary sorceress of pain.
     She looked like Lynoria in many ways, only she glowed bone-white, and her hair was glistening white-silver.  So white and pale she was daemonic, and this showed, in her eyes.  They pulsated a red hue, red bat’s eyes in the dark, a true blood letter.  Lover of pain, misery, discord, and strife; bearer of all evils and unhallowed things – the sorceress Inanna.  Bow to the greatness of she.
     This man, meanwhile by now weakened by hunger and thirst, and drained by the physical tortures of her touch, could not see much save for the hint of a face of much sinister intent, whiter than white, and red glowing orbs for eyes.  The red was blood . . . yes, the colour of blood . . . he could no longer think; pain and suffering had reduced him to a mere puppet, hung by strings . . . the vile pestilence that ate his heart would kill him . . . the evil planted there by Lynoria, long ago.
     Meet my sweet sister, said she, Lynoria.  And now the vile sister Inanna blinded him with a great display of dark powers, a show of strength it was, but no mere showman was she . . .
     In the depths of his heart, Lynoria haunted him.  Confusion over a love turned to such hate, and the supernatural world that now terrified him.  She had shown him; he was lost and his soul was forever stained.  The terror of the heart is what Lynoria showed him; now the terror of the flesh is what Inanna was wont to do, for she weaved a web so skillfully that all save the dead could not resist, and, even that was no promise.
     It was so with these sisters and it would be for years to come.  The acquisition of more death would be procured in the attainment of their soon-to-be third sister, Elvira.
     She was the one they aspired to make their third charm.  Three sisters of sorrow, but not their own, for they would relish in the sufferings of others, and strengthen their powers by the witch-led blood moon’s invocations – a triple Goddess of fear and pain, a trio of vampires, legendary, profligate.
     Inanna, she found a place with Lynoria, ages of time to find a suitable evil to match her own, and now they would add the third soon; together they would be more grave, more cruel, than even the dark Goddesses of the reknown east – those black and sinister echoes of aberrations best left unspoken of.  Three Vampire Sisters, united by darkness. Only the strongest, the bravest, the purest, could defeat them, and even then, there would be a price to pay.
     In the world of shadows, the man was already dead.  But he wrote everything he knew, etched in the stones of the walls of a dungeon, he wrote, with only a crude athame that he had found fashioned out of rough quartz left behind by another captive, most likely a witch or warlock themselves – and he left behind what we know of the prophecies of Inanna and what was and what will come when the joining is complete.  Then Balaaton will come, the vampire Prince of shadows, will come to his minions and complete the task of annihilation . . .

(From the Book of Balaaton; Maleficar Prophecies, Chapter VI. Read by Leon on the night of the reckoning.)

* * *

     In the world of shadows, Stephane was already a wraith himself, but a thing left to torture.  Lynoria, gliding on evil winds, knew she could have more.  He was only the beginning of her perverse adventures of pleasure.  And Thomas?  Poor Thomas’ life was like his art.  Short-lived.  Her first to take.
     Unbeknownst to us, Lynoria called on the primeval sister Inanna, to bring forth darkness upon the land.  The earth grew colder, and everywhere that Inanna walked, death followed.  Birds fells from trees; the lakes became foul; skies receded into black which once were blue and beautiful, like the hues of heaven.
     The two unholy sisters smiled on this.  So dark and foggy was the surrounding area permeating the mansion grounds that we feared to tread too closely.
     To remedy such obscure and tenebrous confusion, we each carried a torchierre, and no one was to separate, for we knew Lynoria was our most formidable foe.  A dark queen of pestilence, no princess, no mistress of the night, but a veritable lure of evil.
     I said a quiet prayer.  On Raven’s forehead I anointed a drip of blessed waters from my fingertip, and as I did so he caught my hand in his and instinctively I brought my lips to his forehead, unthinkingly.  He backed away a bit – but I did not stir.  It is true I was becoming more fond of him with each passing day, and wasn’t it he who held my hand the night we had spent in the field full of flowers?  I sighed, as if the remembrance of their fragrance wafted on the air, and he looked at me with a deep look, a look of deep and thoughtful appreciation.
     He still held onto my hand and did not look away, then let me go, left me standing there looking at him, with a strange silence I had not known before, a silence that whispered an emotion that once stirred long ago, and now was back again.  A strange kind of love, a haunting desire.  I looked at him and knew.  Then I looked away and realised this was no game.  This was really happening.  No simple matter.  Not a crush from afar.  And Raven, because his race was not allowed to mingle with ours, traditionally as it were, could not ever speak of it, but here we were now, with this new knowledge, and I would have to try to fight it, knowing I would not be able to.
     Things had progressed to this point now, and I knew that my life had changed forever.  I loved his very soul, as alien as it was to mine, we were now conjoined by that touch, that small show of affection. It had changed everything.
     And Leon, by now, had joined us.  He too felt a conviction tonight, in our unity.  His brother who had such promise, a long life ahead of him, now was gone.  Leon drew up his crossbow and vowed revenge, both for his brother and his ancestor Thomas, who had been the harbinger of this all, who had been the first to fall.  He would destroy the evil that had cut both short in their prime, before they came for him too.
     The night sky was dangerous to observe, thunder shook the hills now.  Lightning illuminated dark clouds like unhallowed orbs of Lynoria’s eyes.  Raven looked to me, remarking on the keen similarity of my ancestor.
     “It is a horrid thing to ponder,” I said, “that our countenance can be so much entwined.”
     But Raven only shrugged.  He assured me that despite this, I was nothing like her, but that he only remarked on the distinct beauty of our features, the unique colouring of skin and eyes and lips, our hair, long and wisp like, like soft silk.  He meant no harm by it.  He looked at me and his look broke my heart – it was the look of a man who was alien to intense love, as he lived a solitary life and had never known many women.  He looked at me and I felt only anguish for him, and anguish that we were born to different races. It would not be an easy route, ours.  He had meant nothing harmful by what he said, he had only wanted to bespeak of my beauty, but was not too sure how to go about such things.  He had the heart of a poet, this one, despite that he was a hunter by race.  He said nothing more.
     Leon, meanwhile, following us both to the mansion, did not hesitate at all in his sure steps, with no seeming vigilance.  The flask of brandy wine was kept handy, but he was not drunk.  He could do no such thing.  Ready was he, now, and not about to lose the fight.
     I pointed to a window on the third floor of the mansion, a shapeless illusion of white.
     “Can that there be Lynoria?”
     Both men looked up and at that moment, a cruel pair of inhuman red eyes glowered at us.  Unfeeling.  Unsightly.  Those eyes seemed to draw us in and provoke us, dared us to come forth.  The entrance to the mansion was shut, barred by some invisible force, but from behind it a thousand cries were heard, as if in great sorrow.
     “She is not alone,” said Raven.
     I remembered the prophecies read earlier to us, and I cringed.  No, she was not alone, the other one was there with her, and they were waiting, for me.

Chapter Nineteen: What Dark Things Love

     Sunday.  The air is biting cold.  Raven has shown us where they sleep . . . in the family crypts, deep below earth . . . we prepare . . . Leon has promised not to drink but a few drops of some of his “medical elixir.”  We may yet persevere.  My will is intact, strong.
     An entry in my new diary, which shall soon be another page in this story.
     And so it went that we explored the crypts, not obviously tenanted, but, a place, Raven said, “that dark things love; the gloom, the grave, and the poisoned grove.”
     Water trickled as from under a crevice, into the crypt . . . it seemed not to slow outwards but to swirl unnaturally, catching us unawares in sponge-like pools that sucked us down . . . and so we stumbled as we waded, carefully.
     “The presence of Evil creates such things – illusions, delusions, and a strange delirium in natural things,” said Raven.
     He led us further. Down, down, into the very watery heart of the grotesque, watery tomb.
     “They sleep in one of these crypts . . . harken . . . see there . . .”
     He pointed to a crypt half-broken.
     “In the struggle to flee the light, they cracked this one.  I am certain one of them sleeps there.  Look.”
     He instructed me to hold the torch as he and Leon moved aside the great, cracked marble.
     Inside, there indeed slept my ‘dear benefactor’ Esteban – adorned in his silks and gold, a diamond of illustrious size on a finger, hands crossed over chest.
     Raven procured his arrows and stabbed the fiend without thought.
     “Here, take this ring,” he said, “I shall have use for it later.”
     The body was doused with Leon’s bottle of liquor – which he had with him despite his promises, for he said he always kept it “handy,” and fire did the rest for us . . .
     The same was done with the detestable younger male’s coffin – except he opened his terrible blue eyes when we set the stone aside.
     “Quiet now,” commanded Raven, and this time Leon took an arrow and pierced both heart and then set the whole thing ablaze.
     “And now, let us leave before this fiery inferno destroys us!” Leon exclaimed.
     “But what about Lynoria?” I asked.
     Raven looked at me.
     “She travels fast.  She no doubt has already transformed from this water to mist . . . we must follow the misty trails, the fog . . . seek any caverns and places full of dark dews and dank smells . . . that is what she loves . . . depravity . . . Come let us go . . .”

Chapter Eighteen: Our Unlikely Hero

They say the evil man speaks and talks with his fingers – the evil man uses deceit to bewitch the unwary . . .

     The bloodless sunset turned to dusk, the dusk turned to night, the night . . . We ventured to find my friend Leon, to avenge his brother’s death . . . if only he were not in his sullen stupor, I thought, thinking of the various elixirs he had, in addition to the wines . . . those horrid women . . .
     It was easy enough to find him.  Our unlikely hero was charging about a wastrel’s bar, under the pleasure house he oft frequented.
     Raven shielded me from seedy glances and ignored various taunts coming his way, regarding the aspect of his heritage and noble visage.
     Leon, sitting at a table, drowned in his drinks, feeling sorry for himself once more, not even noticing our approach.
     “Say man,” said Raven quite directly, “put the foul elixir away, we have work to be done and you shall assist. Your lady friend here insists.”
     I smiled at him sadly.
     Leon, noticing me now, apologised and asked me to sit near him.
     “What, where . . . explain, as I do not know what you mean.  How goes it with the evil Lynoria?”
     Raven explained.  He also noted how his brother was now a captive of that vile sorceress . . . and that we needed his help desperately to beat our foes.
     “Ah, my poor brother . . . it should not have been him . . .”
     I lowered my eyes.
     “You see I am but a shadow of my former self as well; for Stephane though, for his sake, I will help you as best I can . . . I must . . .”
     “Yes, to free his soul, for he sleeps in a web of lies, a dreamland, but full of pain and fire,” said Raven.
     Leon looked at us both, one to the other and nodded.
     “Like Thomas, my brother has become captive to her – has become her lowly slave.  Let us go then.  Give me but a day’s rest, for I am not quite up to par at the moment, as that is plainly seen . . . but I shall help you.”
     “Thank you,” said Raven.
     “Yes,” I followed.
     “But, what of the Lynoria, she without mercy?” asked Leon, “Just how do you suppose we shall beat such a powerful opponent?”
     “We know what to do now.  We can put her dark forces to rest now and forever,” Raven assured.
     And so it was, our unlikely hero came to join our ranks.  And our number increased by three; we felt at least insured that it would be far less difficult to proceed with at least three of us gathered, and less difficult to fall . . . but Leon, yes, he did need some rest first, that was most definitely a must.

Chapter Seventeen: The Crystal Ball

     We decided to invoke the powers of Madame from Inferias, for even Raven, with all his knowledge, did not know how to defeat the powers of Lynoria, nay, we had no recourse but to attain a vision by the mystic.
     “Lynoria,” said the seer in her glassy-tinged voice, “is not who she appears . . . for I see many visions of different lives lived by she, and each somehow different . . . she has traveled in time for centuries.  No man has been able to stop such strength.”
     “Do you see anything at all that could pertain to some inner weakness?” I asked.  “And if she was or is so powerful how was is it that her ruthless husband was able to chain her, and take her captive across the seas?        Mysterious eyes peering at me, the mystic nodded.  Now the crystal ball glowed with an opalescent fire, and so she began to speak.
     “She did love him, even in brutality and violence, he nearly was her equal you see; save her arts were far less obvious.  To be sure, Lynoria did not know then . . . she has lived in a veil of darkness for many years.  Her lives, uninterrupted, have passed as in a bottomless sieve . . . her bloodline, her brood, helped her, to remember.  A rite was performed, and thus, she grew stronger, took her claim as the family matriarch.  Her powers grew terrible.”
     And now the mystic looked at me.
     “My dear, she means to divert you.  She desires multiplicity.  Beware.  I see her intentions in a double form. It is you she seeks now.  To have a sister would increase her strength, a unity in thought, action, spirit . . . two wholes, functioning as one . . .”
     “How can we stop this?” asked Raven.  His eyes danced with fire.
     “Destroying her with flame and burying her heart is not quite enough.  You must take the dust of the heart and keep it in a flask.  In this flask add blessed water.  Bury it beneath cathedral stones.  Have a priest incant over it . . . it must never be found nor removed.  Heed this.”
     Raven nodded.
     “We must find the two men you speak of,” he said to me, “then Lynoria; Mystic, do you know where she sleeps?”
     “Ah, she never sleeps.  She travels at will as storm or fog; spray on sea; as bat or snake; she can take form of many an evil and pitiably dreadful thing . . . hangman’s noose, bloody coffin, a dead body . . . but . . . to find her in her weakest moment, always be early light of day, as the others.  She will be most difficult to kill, but it is not hopeless to try.  I would say at this time that Elvira is her greatest diversion, for she seeks her soul, and wishes most intensely to entrap it.  Greed is her weakness.”
     Madame L’Enfer shut her eyes and began to sleep . . .
    “She has done all she can; she sleeps now; too much has been seen . . .let us leave her be . . .” said Raven.
     I looked at him and took his hand in mine.
     “We should pray; you to your God, and I to mine . . . strength in our own unity, against chaos and pain.”
     Raven looked and agreed silently.
     “Yes, and Lynoria is Godless, and fearless; thus, her strength is futile . . . her mistake is her audacity . . . arrogance . . .”
     With that, we both looked outside the window to sea and sky, and looked towards our invisible deity . . . relinquishing our wills for the greater cause . . . knowing this was our fate and our only recourse now.

Chapter Sixteen: Fire with Fire

     I was found by Raven the next morning.  He had found me as he walked the shores with his pets.  He carried me up the hillside into a field of flowers, my favourite place.
     My story sounded incredulous, but he believed it nonetheless.
     “Stranger things happen, I can attest to it.”
     I felt better when he said that, for I believed myself losing my mind.
     I also told him about everything that had happened on my voyage, and that I was shown, in the broken mirror, that those evil ones were nearing closer.
     “What will we do?” I asked.
     First, he was concerned that I was becoming quite frail.
     “The ghosts come to you now, feed on your aura, and your fears, for spirits can and will do such things.  The spirit in the water perhaps was benign, but may not have been your . . . friend, but an apparition created by evil.  It cannot be certain.  But now that those creatures you reported are coming here, we can at least defeat them.  Lynoria, however, she will be the most difficult.”
     He and I walked to his home and he offered, again, to help.
     “I can come with you, guard you; this bow of mine you see, and this arrow of daub can be set aflame.  When they come closer, I will destroy them.  I am well practised in both arts of magic and combat.  Then we will only have Lynoria left to worry about.”
     I agreed, and he looked at me strangely and saw that I wore both the cross at my neck, and the charm he had given me.  He smiled.
     For days we waited for them. Waited for them to appear at our shores.
     One night, on the night of the Old Ones (for the twin moons had appeared, stained with crimson), Raven motioned to me to be very wary and not to wander; I had been sleeping and woke to find him looking at me, and put his hand on my shoulder as I woke.  The night of the Old Ones was a very ancient day, said to be when the spirits roamed freely.  Raven was very concerned for me and stood guard outside while I slept.  
     He lit his arrow now with a seemingly magical light and let it fly to hit its target.  Something was hit, for a creature screamed, and now ablaze, we could see its shape, that of ghastly Esmeralda.  But Josue was too quick and disappeared just as I had begun to light my lance.
     Raven stilled my hand and broke an arrow in two, then led me to the screaming body, too horrible to behold.  The broken wood of the arrow was stuck deep into its ugly heart.
     “Let us find the others,” he said.
     We walked very quietly to the mansion that night, his hand pulling on mine.
     “I can see something,” he said, leading me away from the front entrance.
     I kept close to him.  He led me into the old iris garden, with its gurgling fountain.
     “No, they’ve gone back in.  Look, up there!” I shouted, muffling my excited voice somewhat.
     “That pale and morbid face in the window. It is one of them.”
     So up and up the stairs we crept, until we reached the room in which I had spotted the dreadful visage, the largest bedroom, unused in years.
     But all did not appear as it should have.  The room, once pale and grey and neo-classical, was now magically transformed into a red nightmarish fantasy, a fantastical Andarian harem.
     A strange perfumed mist surrounded us and Raven seemed perplexed.  I felt dizzy now.  Small bells, for they seemed soft and tinkling, were heard, and a white hand appeared in the mist, holding a tambourine.  In the other, a peacock-feathered fan.
     The hands played, soft entrancing sounds, and a rustle of silks.  In the centre of the room stood not a stately bed of classical design, but an array of dazzling silks in shades of golds, reds, oranges, and yellows.  The tambourine struck.  Raven closed his eyes and seemed to breathe for air.  I gasped.  I tried to hold him close but he disappeared, and I could no longer move.
     The dancer emerged from scarlet-tinged darkness.  She danced slowly around Raven, her body wrapped in translucent silks, seemed to poison Raven with her suggestions, then looked at me with a wicked glare.  She danced around him as a snake lost in the endless pattern of the arabesque painted on the walls; her hair, plaited with golden snakes; her eyes, burning with red fever . . . her eyes . . . betrayed what she would do next, take a bite out of Raven.
     I shouted at him not to look into her eyes.  With that, Lisbetta blew a fine gold dust at me.
     “The sleep of death,” she whispered.
     I fell to the rose-petaled filled floor and shut my eyes, did my best to try and not listen to her.
     Groping, I felt the pouch of arrows at my waist; I looked up now and saw Raven sleeping on the silks.
     “No!” I shouted, and found myself in the trance of a dream.
     The dancing odalisque encircled us.  Gold, dusty gold, fell from her now nude, white body, her every movement.  She seemed to come and go, and I could not tell what was real or not.  I feared I was still under the influence of that strange golden drug and felt myself quiver.
     Raven opened his eyes.
     “The light . . .” he muttered.
     I looked toward where he pointed, a row of candles, easily reached, the light from the candles there, set the arrows to burn, and Raven took out his bow.  I passed the arrows to him as he sprung them from his bow, and the dancing form was lit as if from inside, translucent skin crackling.
     Raven was able to regain himself, and, breaking another arrow I had passed him, took it and plunged the dark heart of the abysmal creature.
     It . . . screamed.  Face and flesh melted. Body turned to burnt stone.  I gazed away.
     “How many more?” asked Raven.
     “Two. Not counting Lynoria.  Two men, one is the father, or so I was led to think.”
     Raven pulled me to him and whispered.
     “We must leave for now, hunt by day . . . they are less wicked then.”
     And so that night we slept in a bed of leaves and soft hide blankets, covered by the light of the crimson moons.
     Grotesque images haunted my sleep and I was rather glad when daylight came, despite our horrid task at plan.