I believe I promised an excerpt or two, so here is your first look at The Captor’s Redemption as I share the first chapter with you! This will give you a good look at who Vincent is and what his story is about.
It’s long, so settle in first. I hope you enjoy it!
The Captor’s Redemption
Text © Lani Lenore 2018
All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be produced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
Hell is empty and all the devils are here.
—William Shakespeare, The Tempest
Rain, sharp and heavy in its masses, struck the ground, relentlessly beating it into subjection. The sheet of the above was gray and deep, and all who were beneath it trembled in the cruel jaws of the gloom that clenched them. The entire world seemed alive, nurtured beneath the wing of the vengeful darkness.
Wrapped in this same darkness, the man waited.
The rain became as tears on the worn cheeks of the angels that stood on either side of him. They wept silently past empty eyes, the beads of their sorrow running down weathered faces of stone. They wept for him no doubt. The vanity of it almost amused him. For all the hours he’d been crouched between them, he hadn’t even sent them a bitter glance of acknowledgment. Their tears meant nothing to him, and neither did the loft on which they stood, high above the city streets to look down on all of Ariah’s children. One of those, he was not—not from the day of his birth.
Vincent knelt there unmoving, perched alertly amongst the carvings of saints, hidden by the folds of night. As he balanced there on the stone ledge, with the rain pounding his shoulders and head furiously, he thought on the events that had already unfolded tonight, and on those he knew were still to come. Though he grasped what would transpire, he didn’t grieve for the future. Quite the contrary. He looked forward to it with throbbing anticipation that he felt at the tips of his fingers and even deep inside the tangles of his inner workings. Finally, after so many years of waiting and searching—and hating—things would be resolved. Though he was still unsure of his adversary’s true strengths, he was confident in his own. He would fight the fight, and every bystander would fall.
But Trevan wouldn’t have approved of these methods, he thought, blinking away some of the rainwater.
“It doesn’t have to be the physical strength that proves our worth, Vincent. I have to believe that there’s more to us than that.”
Vincent still remembered those words, even now, no matter how untrue he found them. But Trevan was gone. The mouth that had uttered such wisdom had been silenced years ago. His brother was dead, and Vincent had to remind himself of it yet again, but to ponder over this had lost its value. Perhaps Trevan wouldn’t have approved of his brother’s plans tonight—or of the things Vincent had done to get himself here—but matters had gotten too far out of hand now. Things would have to be done his way.
Forcing his concentration back to the rooftop, he brushed away those old thoughts like soil on the shoulder of his coat. The suffering of his losses would end tonight. Tonight, all debts would be repaid.
He breathed calmly now, even with such a heavy weight pressing upon his head. With his face tilted forward, he could see everything below on the wet street. He’d been watching as the great above had grown dark, fading from its previous, unnatural red glow. Slowly, people had made their way into the cathedral entrance below him. He’d almost smiled at the fact that none of those feeble humans knew what would transpire here tonight, or that walking through those doors would seal their fate.
Everyone within these stone walls will die tonight, he thought with complete satisfaction as he sat. A cool wind rushed by and dragged across his wet skin, chilling him. Death is the only thing that can be understood anymore. It’s the only worthy punishment. They’ll understand this. As the last moment of life leaves them, they’ll understand.
He understood. Vincent had resigned himself, and he’d soon have his punishment as well. But what else did he have to live for? He could lie to himself about that all he wanted. For eight years, the only vision he’d had of his future revolved around this night—this pending confrontation. Beyond tonight, there was nothing. There was no deed left undone, no desire to grow old, no home, no love, no family. He had once made the mistake of thinking his strict plan for himself could change and now he kicked himself for it, but this—once more—was not the time for self-analysis. At this moment, there were steps that he’d conceived, and it was almost time for the very first.
He knew that soon the bell high atop the stone roof of this cathedral would be ringing. A monk would have entered the tower, which Vincent had made sure was easily accessible from his chosen perch. Then, the bell would toll. He would allow the bell to sound three times, but three times only because—
Because that’s the sign, he reminded himself. It may not matter now, but that’s the sign.
The bell would ring for the final time and then he would take hold of the monk swiftly, snapping the bones in his neck as if they were merely kindling. He ran this through his mind, quite pleased, knowing that the deed would indeed be just as easy as thinking through it. After that was done, he would climb down from the tower and the next phase of his plan would begin.
This second part that he’d concocted was a bit more unpredictable, but there was no problem in that. He occasionally liked things to be volatile and complicated, but only as long as those two factors knew their place and didn’t flaunt to excess. The second phase was really much less of a plan and more of a distant goal: find the priest.
And kill anyone who gets in the way.
The dark street was growing quiet now. The last of those entering the cathedral would be inside soon. In a few short minutes, the massive front doors would lock and no one else would be entering or exiting the structure. Soon, there would be no one out on the street at all. They’d be shut in their homes or sturdy buildings in fear for their pathetic lives, praying in their own shadowy corners for Holy Ariah to reach down his mighty hand and deliver them. The people felt the ominous weight in the air. Something very unnatural was amiss, and the entire city knew it. Surely by now, they all knew the truth: the beasts were on their way.
In a few short hours, all forms of ungodly creatures would be finding their way into this city, just as they had spread into the others, crawling out of the darkness and aiming to take this place for their own. All this was Vincent’s fault, indirectly and directly all the same. He hadn’t tried to stop it, but this was yet another thing that he couldn’t afford to think about. Later, these things would have no effect on him. The fate of this city was something he’d never have to concern himself with.
Later, he knew he would be dead.
As the final minutes before action came to an end, he would have said a silent prayer for his lost brother if he had known where to start—or if he’d thought he was capable of such a thing as prayer. It was always Trevan who did the praying, yet it had inevitably done him no good. It hadn’t saved his life. Thus, Vincent resolved that there would be no prayer tonight, just as there had been none on the nights before.
But don’t worry, brother. There will be justice.
The rain had slacked, but only slightly. Vincent’s hair clung to his face on each side, dripping from soaked tendrils, the strands a stark white. Water trickled steadily off the slope of his nose, ran from his hairless chin, and finally he rose from the shadows. The liquid that had made nests in the folds of his long coat spilled backward in a glittering cascade, splattering onto the stone roof.
It was time. He was beginning to hear a stirring in the bell tower.
He heard the first toll of the bell almost immediately and began heading back toward the belfry, sloshing through the standing water on the uneven stone. The second tolling of the heavy bell came slowly, but eventually, it too reached his ears.
He moved more swiftly now, thinking for the first time how odd it was for the cathedral to be calling at a time like this, but he already knew that the bell was not ringing to invite anyone. It was a final warning, letting everyone know that the doors of Ariah’s house were sealed and no one else would be admitted. But this was an ironic thing to the white-haired man, however; those outside would be the ones to be saved.
Vincent dropped down into the tower below the belfry when he reached it, landing on his booted feet without even having to steady himself. The monk caught sight of him immediately and released the rope that had made the bell toll the first two times. The bell had barely gotten into swing when Vincent had appeared, and it rocked back and rang itself weakly for the third time before slowly swinging on in silence to come to a rest.
The clumsy, unsuspecting monk had been startled, and he lurched back, tripping over the ends of his long, red robe as he struggled to get his distance from the intruder. It was uncertain whether he had sensed the danger, or if he had only been surprised, but if he had recognized the pending threat, he might have been better prepared. It wouldn’t have done him good, but at least he would have known what was to come.
The monk may have meant to demand an identity of the young, dripping, white-haired man before him, or perhaps he’d meant to run, but none of his would-be intentions were realized. Even if he had gotten words past his blubbering lips, the roar of the rain and wind would have hidden them, and if he had run, he would have tripped up on the stairs and Vincent would have caught him despite his efforts. But none of that mattered now. Before the monk had even opened his mouth, Vincent had gripped his neck. After a crack that was barely audible above the rain, Vincent let the limp body fall to the ground.
He shook his head to toss away some of the heavy water. Without lingering, he began down the spiraling stairs. He didn’t stop to think of how easily he’d killed the monk without emotion, or about how casually he’d walked away. This was only the first of many deaths tonight, and he could dwell on none. There wasn’t much time for contemplation at all until his last foe was reached. Even then, he already knew what he had to do.
He descended, not bothering to mask his footfalls. They echoed back to him from the empty tower below. There would be guards to confront him at the bottom—soldiers disguised as monks with guns and other instruments in their robes, on the lookout for intruders who would seek to interrupt the ceremony. Like himself. Perhaps they had even anticipated his own coming. The priest was not unfamiliar with Vincent or his intentions. That sacrilegious monster must have known that no matter how long it took, Vincent would finally catch up again, and the priest would expect an attempt to be made on his life. He would be right to expect this. The priest would, no doubt, try to be certain that the attempt was unsuccessful, but the man who was hunting him relentlessly had other ideas. He would not repeat his past mistakes.
The stairs of the tower passed easily beneath Vincent’s feet. What would have been a tiring effort for most was an easy glide for him. Before too long, he was on the final steps of the winding tower stairs.
He saw the first two guards without having to put forth much effort. They were dressed in their ceremonial robes, standing on each side of the tower entrance. The two didn’t appear to be armed, but Vincent knew otherwise. If they’d been expecting him specifically, they’d be foolish not to be.
Not that it will do them good, he thought smugly as he approached from behind.
The duo would be looking for the bell-ringer to be coming back soon. They surely thought the footsteps behind them now were those of the returning monk because they stood as still as statues as Death steadily approached.
Vincent stepped up between the two watchmen casually, forging his presence into their minds. He stood still for a short second until he was sure they had noticed him—until they’d turned their heads a tick and understood that he did not belong. He wanted them to see him before their deaths. This was his way, and it was the only way they would have their lesson.
It happened swiftly, as easily as he’d planned. One guard noticed, out of the corner of his eye, that he was an intruder. Vincent was in black, not dressed in a red robe. This guard was the first of the two to move.
Vincent lashed out with his left hand, delivering a chop to the man’s neck that snapped the bone quickly and relentlessly. The first guard fell without even managing to get a hand on his weapon.
The second watchman had been slower. He had been lost in his own thoughts when Vincent had stepped through, perhaps thinking of what he’d eat later, or of finding himself a frightened woman from the gathered number to barricade himself up with, but whatever he’d been thinking about, he’d hesitated. His partner was already dead, and he’d barely managed to reach into his robe for his weapon before the man in the sleek black scale slammed a fist into his head that made his spine buckle and collapse at every vertebra. The second guard fell.
Vincent left those two behind, not bothering to take their weapons. Guns—such cowardly human contraptions… He wouldn’t need them.
The hall stretched before him, long, narrow, and all his for the taking. At the moment, there were no more guards in sight. He knew that just a few more strides down the hall was a turn to the left where there would be two large, ornate doors, finely painted and inlaid with gold.
And at least two more watchmen, no doubt.
Once those two were dead, and those great, over-decorated doors were opened, chaos would ensue, but he would be right where he wanted to be. For the first time in eight years, he would stand before the priest—the man who had killed his brother—and he would look him straight in the eye, and then Vincent would kill him. No; this time he would not fail.
Before his mind even made the command, he was striding down the hall from the bell tower and on toward his next destination. Along the corridor lit only by flickering torches, he found the turn. There, he hesitated a moment behind the wall, listening. Two guards stood watch; no more. He could hear their breathing, one on either side of the door. Bored with their duty, they were quite at ease. They’d be easy to dispose of.
Holding a neutral expression, he readied himself, turned on his booted heels and swung around the corner.
The crimson-wrapped soldiers there were surprised and slow to react, trying to force clumsy hands to grasp their weapons through the slits in their robes. Perhaps against a normal human adversary their actions would have been fast enough, but Vincent was far from normal. And even farther from human. Weapons that would have been easily accessible under typical circumstances may as well have been a mile out a reach.
Charging the great doors, Vincent grabbed both guards by their throats simultaneously and, without losing a step, slammed their heads into the stone on each side of the entry. The bodies crumpled to the floor below, leaving matching bloodstains with scalp and hair clinging helplessly there.
Even from outside the chapel doors, Vincent could already hear the readings from the holy scrolls beginning, but he’d had his experience with those words. He no longer cared to hear them. Without a moment of lingering, Vincent threw open the tall doors.
When the cavernous chapel hall was opened to the rest of the cathedral, Vincent already knew what he would see. All around him there were gatherers, robed in red, holding candles as they stood aligned with the hard, wooden pews to participate in this unscrupulous worship.
Down the aisle to the front of the assembly hall, there was an ancient man holding a scroll—of equal age it seemed—gingerly with both hands. There were candelabras around that old man, each holding five slender, white candles. Other men in robes stood around him as well, and amongst them, standing out like a single, majestic tree in a dying forest, the only man aside from Vincent that was not robed in red, was the priest. He was robed in thick ebony.
There seemed to be a fantastic aura emitting from him, and Vincent was sure he wasn’t the only one who felt it, despite all his enhanced senses. These men were two parts of the same now—kindred—but one didn’t need abilities like theirs to feel the tension.
The men saw each other across the long room, and for a moment, time seemed to freeze. All others vanished. Their eyes burned into each other—hatred in one pair, greed and loathing in the other. There was no more running; both of them knew it. Tonight, there was going to be Death.
The priest stood there behind followers that were undoubtedly prepared to give their lives for him at a moment’s notice. Vincent had no such aid beside him now.
She’s just as gone as Trevan is, he thought suddenly, but ignored it just the same.
The man before him with the long hair and piercing, green eyes under a pale brow stood firmly, unwilling to retreat. Then Vincent watched as that priest—was holding Trevan’s pulsating heart in one bloody hand, holding a jagged dagger in the other, marveling at how easy the kill had been and knowing that all he had to do to get that power was drink the blood from that heart and new life would unfold within him—smiled self-righteously.
Smile while you can, Vincent thought, finding an arrogant smile of his own. The opportunity will pass soon enough.
Engaging the priest in battle was still some distance away, however. The full length of the room stood between them. First, everyone else in this grand hall would die, and when the priest was the last man standing, he and Vincent would have bloody combat. Beyond that rested Victory.
He let the word run across his mind once more, imagining the sweetness and satisfaction it might bring, even if it only lasted a few moments before his own death found him.
Those few seconds that he stared down the man he’d sought for nearly ten years had only seemed like an eternity. In fact, as soon as he’d pushed open those loud, angry doors, the reaction inside was immediate. All the gatherers in the candle-lit chapel had turned to look at him, all curious as to why this strange man, soaking wet, had interrupted the ceremony unannounced and not even in proper dress. The scroll reading had abruptly stopped, and then Vincent had heard several small clicks throughout the crowd. Guns. This was not unexpected.
At first glance, it was hard to tell who was armed and who was simply gathered for the ceremony, but then, almost as a whole, the crowd began to shift before his eyes. Those with guns seemed to appear as if the crowd was a raging sea and the gunmen were the whitecaps. He saw the gunmen when they made motions toward their weapons—even as he stared at the priest—and when others in the crowd began to see the guns emerging, it made it all the more obvious as the sea began to part and dissipate into branching tributaries.
Vincent didn’t need to see where the gunmen were; neither did he care where the bullets would be coming from. Before any of the robed gunmen had a chance to fire, he was on the ground. He’d dropped down on his hands and knees, and in the time it took for the men to reach their guns, draw, click, and aim, the thing rising up from the floor was no longer a man.
Vincent had made his draw, and the Hell-beast had awakened.
The thing that rose up now in Vincent’s stead was a demon, without question. It was one like the writings spoke of, and it could be a sure bet that no one else in that great hall—other than the priest—had seen a beast quite like this.
The creature stood upright on short, stout legs. The torso was akin to a man’s, quite broad and muscular across the shoulders. The back rose up into a high, arcing neck. There was a muzzle on the beast, baring sharp teeth, and atop its head sat two long, twisted horns, not identical but just seeming to curve and grow however they liked. All this was intimidating, but the real danger of this monstrosity was its long arms and large hands that parted to form bony, claw-like fingers. It must have been over ten-feet tall, and yet it had emerged from a mere man, half-past six feet, within seconds. It resembled something the gathered people might have only seen in their nightmares.
The beast’s man-given name was Woldrath, but no one in that crowd would have been educated enough to know it. Vincent had allowed the beast to come forward at this time, take control of his cells, shift his muscles, stretch and deform his skin, and mutate his bones. For the moment, he was Woldrath. His thoughts were Woldrath’s thoughts, and Woldrath was motivated by only one thing: the need to slaughter.
Woldrath looked over a sea of red, squirming, pathetic movement. The color made the demon’s heart pump faster, exciting and enraging it all at once. The creature didn’t like the color, and if Woldrath had been any lesser beast, it might have been inclined to slink away from the thick, blinding hue. Instead, this sea of red rekindled anger deep inside the demon. Anger against humans. Had they thought that a dark cave could keep Woldrath forever? In a way, Vincent had freed the demon from that prison, though Vincent himself was a prison. If not for the Captor though, Woldrath wouldn’t be standing here now with so much fresh blood before it.
It remembered the humans. They wore red on the day the demon had been taken captive, and the beast’s eyes were burned by it. Woldrath remembered, and it was time for Revenge.
The hall was lit only by candles, but it was of no consequence. Woldrath could see clearly in the dimness. The demon had finally been brought forth out of this Captor again after a tedious while of waiting. Vincent was fulfilling his promise now, and Woldrath was pleased.
The emergence of the demon was unanticipated by everyone in the hall other than the priest. When it stood up before them, those who were still holding candles dropped them immediately. A few even managed to light their own robes on fire as they ran screaming toward the exit. Some that had been holding guns dropped those as well. Other gunmen faltered a few moments, but then decided to re-aim with trembling hands. A few gatherers were simply too frozen with fear to move at all. The greater percentage though, crying, screaming, and fearing for their lives, had begun to scatter.
And if there was one thing that Woldrath hated above all else, it was when prey tried to escape.
The demon roared in rage, baring its teeth, its head tilted to the side involuntarily—for one horn had quite outgrown the other—and the beast raised one massive arm. It swung, scooping up everyone who had rushed for the door behind it, and in a single motion sent them flying back toward the far end of the room. Several bodies crashed into the pews, snapping instantly. A few more slammed into other fleeing bodies, crushing several bones to bits. The room that was once filled with screams of fear was now being taken by cries of agony.
This was music to Woldrath’s ears.
The beast felt something hitting against it then, pelting its skin like sharp rocks and digging into the thick flesh. The demon whirled angrily, searching for the culprits responsible. It saw them instantly with its yellow eyes, seeing that they held small metal objects in their shaking hands. This would stop. Yes, this would stop now.
Woldrath grabbed up the nearest human and squeezed him to bloody mush between its fingers. That, for the greater part, stopped the small, stinging pellets from striking Woldrath, but now there were more people running and scrambling about clumsily. The beast grabbed up the last of the stone-shooters and gave them the same reward as the first. Then the demon set to work on the rest of the escaping crowd.
Woldrath chomped down on their heads with sharp teeth. It used its wicked horns to smash them to paste against the walls. It swung its arms to crush them and used its claws to slice them to fleshy ribbons. There were possibly not even enough of the flimsy, human gatherers to satisfy Woldrath’s lust for blood, because after all was still and the blood was staining the assembly hall, the demon’s brain insisted that there was more destruction to be done.
But there was a voice in the back—that small, firm voice that harnessed the beast and pulled it away, telling it that all was done for the time. Granted, Woldrath didn’t always agree with this little voice, but no matter how hard it tried to fight, it found itself being pulled back nonetheless. Eventually, the demon was forced to retreat into the darkness for a time.
Before this though, Woldrath had seen the priest. The demon felt the immeasurable hatred deep inside that it had felt throughout its life inside the Captor. The demon knew this priest was the target. It also felt a familiarity with Vincent’s enemy, and that—like had only happened once before—frightened Woldrath.
The beast began to walk toward the front of the cathedral, and as it walked, Woldrath was pulled away. Vincent once again emerged, the bones coming back into place and even the thick, blue-black-colored skin slimmed down to the suit of dark scale and human flesh. The horns retracted, and the white hair emerged. The yellow eyes became blue, and there he was again finally—just Vincent, the priest, and the blood-splattered walls—and it was indeed time.
Vincent approached his foe on steady feet. Behind him, a fire was enveloping a section of pews and dead bodies, raising a stench that was quite unpleasant to his sensitive nose. He was exhausted after the creature within him had been pulled away, but there was long-held fury fueling him. He’d not be stopped by a little fatigue.
He walked on, standing below the priest now, about ten paces from him. They stared at each other for several moments, both silent because, Vincent thought, there was nothing to be said. Both of them knew why they were here and that fate had brought them back to this point once more. All things were going to be resolved.
Aside from that, Vincent’s time was dwindling. He didn’t have a moment for chatting.
Then the priest did something that Vincent hadn’t expected. He spoke.
His enemy spoke, and when he had opened his mouth and the words had spilled out, a realization hit Vincent. It was hard and sharp in his mind, causing his brain to pound and mock him, and the hunter could do nothing but stare. He stood a moment in complete shock, and then finally the answer was clear—the true meaning of the words he’d been pondering since he’d heard them.
The girl had spoken those things to him.
The girl from the train.
So, there was a deeper meaning to the words after all. He could still hear her speaking even now, her voice so clear, and at the moment every word had seemed profound. The words she spoke, among many others, were these:
“Let what’s dead, stay dead. Stop this now.”
The priest turned and walked away from him then, and the hunter was suddenly unable to hold himself. Beneath him his knees gave way, followed by the rest of his body and he fell face-forward onto the floor. Nothing moved.
It was eight o’clock.
[End of preview]
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