The key to erebus (the f.., p.23
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       The Key to Erebus (The French Vampire Legend. Book 1), p.23

           Emma V. Leech
Chapter 19

  The world kept turning. August stole every last breath of wind as the summer blistered the landscape - and my heart remained in pieces.

  My lessons with Gran progressed and I was currently having some degree of success levitating various objects. The afternoons with Corin were becoming more and more violent as my skills improved - something for which I was glad. I felt I was carrying a burning rage around inside of me and if it wasn’t for those afternoons, I might do some damage. What Corin thought of my new found aggression I wasn’t sure, he rarely spoke other than to instruct me and that was done silently most of the time,with his hands, moving me into the correct stance. He was very tactile but I felt he saw the ache in my heart and he never pushed me, or his luck. I sometimes felt like he was learning me, like a some strange and exotic creature in a zoo - that he was waiting for something. I was surprised then at the end of one particular lesson when he didn’t immediately leave as usual.

  “I have something for you, Jéhenne,” he said, picking up a small box which I hadn’t noticed earlier.

  “For me?” I couldn’t have been more surprised, normally Corin was all business. “Thanks.”

  I took the box from him and he gestured for me to sit and open it so I sat down, cross legged on the mats, while he lounged elegantly beside me. Once open, the box revealed some small oval biscuits, a little like thin shortbread, wrapped up in lilac tissue paper.

  “Oh! Thanks.” I smiled at him, feeling more perplexed than ever. Why on earth was he giving me biscuits? He obviously felt my confusion as he chuckled softly before explaining.

  “You’re not looking after yourself, Jéhenne, not eating. You have lost too much weight. These biscuits are special, they will give you all the nutrition your body needs. You only need to eat one a day.”

  “Oh, right. Thanks,” I mumbled awkwardly.

  He sighed and briefly placed his hand over mine. “I can see your pain, Jéhenne. I’m so sorry you are unhappy.”

  I looked up uncomfortably and saw real concern in his golden eyes and bit my lip. I couldn’t bear it if people were nice to me, it only made me cry. I preferred it when he was knocking the crap out of me, that I could take.

  “What do you mean, you can see it?” I asked, curiosity getting the better of me.

  He smiled, and my eyes were drawn to his mouth, he really was beautiful. “It’s a talent some elves have. We can see the aura around people, it tells us a lot about them. We see the colour of their character, their health … their fertility.” He gave me an intense look that made me blush and then turned away from me before carrying on. “At the moment though, I can see almost nothing around you but unhappiness.”

  I shrugged. “C’est la vie, I guess. I’ll get over it eventually.”

  Corin looked at me, his face full of pity, and I changed the subject in alarm. I didn’t want to know what that look meant.

  “You said you could see almost nothing else. So what else is there?”

  “Ah. Well that’s my own particular talent. I’m ...” He hesitated and gave me a wry smile. “Rather unique. I can sense power in all magical creatures, I can tell how powerful they are and ... what they have the potential to become.”

  “Oh right … and?”

  To my surprise, he immediately looked uncomfortable and started fiddling with one of the mats, where the edge had become a little frayed.

  “I’ve been debating whether or not to tell you this but I think I must, for your own good.”

  He was anxiously pulling on one of the threads, causing the seam to unravel a little more. He took a breath and appeared to reach a decision. He reached over and took both my hands in his. He squeezed them hard.

  “Jéhenne, if I tell you this, you must never tell another person, ever. Do you understand me? Not even your grandmother. If it was known, it would put you in great danger.”

  I looked at him wide eyed with alarm.


  He released my hands and I stuffed them in my pockets to stop them trembling.

  “At the moment, your powers are at a level that might be expected for someone of your age, although considering you’ve only recently begun your training that in itself is quite remarkable.” My skin began to prickle with alarm as he kept talking. “The thing is though, what you have the power to become.”

  He was looking at me intently and I swallowed and tried to ignore the icy chill tip toeing along my spine.

  “I’ve never seen another like you, or even heard of it other than in legends,” he said, lowering his voice. “If you reach your full potential, you could be the most powerful witch that’s ever been.”

  I felt my mouth drop open and searched his face for any sign that he was having me on, or that it was a joke, but found nothing. Shit. A bubble of laughter escaped me and I tried to swallow the hysteria that was building in my chest.

  “Any chance you made a mistake?” I asked, grasping at any straw.

  He looked offended for a moment, before shaking his head.

  “What’s the big deal anyway?” I said, feeling the pressure of his prediction bear down on me. “So I’ll be able to cast a few more spells than Gran. It doesn’t seem that crucial.”

  Corin gave me a despairing look.

  “Jéhenne, if you reach your full potential, there will be few in the world that can stand against you, so they might decide to rid themselves of the problem before it arises.”

  I swallowed nervously as the meaning of his words sank in.

  “You mean they’d come and kill me before I became a risk?” I said, and watched him nod in agreement. Well, wasn’t that wonderful? It never ceased to amaze me how my life could go from crap to crappier in such a short space of time.

  “Are you OK?” he asked.

  “I’ll live, I guess.”

  I really hoped that I was right.

  After Corin had gone I went back to the cottage to find Astro yelling at me to be fed. I’d tried to feed him on cat food once, but he’d taken one look at it and turned his back on it and me in disgust. So I unwrapped last night’s ratatouille and watched in astonishment as he tucked in.

  “Weird,” I muttered and went off to take a shower.

  Once I’d soothed the worst of the aches out of my body and taken stock of the new patch of bruises that had bloomed on my right thigh, I wrapped myself in a towel and wandered back to my room to get changed.

  Claudette had given me her old CD player as she’d recently bought a new one and so I began to choose some music. This always took a while as I couldn’t currently listen to anything that had a romantic theme without bawling my eyes out. As Gran was out, I eventually settled on The Chemical Brothers and turned it up loud enough to rattle the window frames. I was just about to press the play button, when I heard a French voice behind me approving my choice of CD.

  “Ah oui, cool.”

  Shocked, I spun round and felt my breath leave my body as I saw a figure standing in front of me. It didn’t stop me screaming my head off though. This seemed to alarm the intruder to such an extent, that he screamed too and leapt away from me over to the other side of the bed. He stood trembling and regarding me with big eyes. He held his hands up defensively,

  “Alors, Jéhenne, don’t do anything rash now.”

  “Oh my God, Phil!”

  My brain had deserted me and I could do little else except gawp at him open mouthed and cling firmly onto my towel.

  “Bonjour, Jéhenne.” He grinned at me, looking sheepish. “Well, that could have gone better.”

  I made myself take a few deep breaths before I attempted to speak again. “It’s not that I’m not pleased to see you, Phil, but what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you ... you know...” I gestured up at the heavens. “Have moved on?”

  He grimaced and folded his arms.

  “Aww, you’re not going to start nagging me too, are you?” he said, frowning.

  “Who’s been nagging you?”

  “Merde - everyone!
The guide, the guide’s mentor, your Gran …”

  “Gran? She’s spoken to you and she didn’t tell me?” I was furious. I couldn’t believe she’d keep something like this from me.

  “She said you weren’t to be upset, I’m not supposed to be here at all but I knew you were the only one I could talk to.” He looked miserable.

  “Talk to about what?”

  He sighed and crossed his legs as he got comfy on my bed. I watched, fascinated, as his movements blurred the edges of what looked like a solid body, though his form left no impression in the mattress he was sitting on.

  “About staying. Do you remember just before I died, before I heard that weird woman …” he frowned. “By the way I’m really sorry that you got hurt, Jéhenne.”

  I waved away his apology, as guilt overwhelmed me.

  “It wasn’t your fault, Phil, it was mine. It’s my fault you died that day.”

  I could feel tears springing to my eyes and grabbed a tissue from a bumper box that had become a permanent fixture on the bedside table. Phil jumped up and stood beside me. He tried to put his arm around my shoulders but only succeeded in passing it right though me. I shivered as an icy blast ran over my skin.

  “Oh sorry, I keep forgetting.” He smiled.

  At that I burst into tears and Phil hovered nervously, wringing his hands and pleading with me to stop. By the time I had got myself under control, I tried again to apologise and explain what had happened but Phil stopped me.

  “I know what’s been happening to you, Jéhenne. I know what you are and it wasn’t your fault. The woman was clearly a psycho, I’m just glad she got me and not you.”

  I swallowed and tried desperately not to start crying again.

  “How do you know?”

  He looked embarrassed and to my surprise I discovered that ghosts can blush.

  “Well, I’ve kind of been following you around a bit,” he mumbled. “And I was there at the meeting, in the caves, when Celeste was tried and - when you and that vampire …”

  “Phil!” I said in horror. “You’ve been spying on me?”

  “I’m sorry!” he said, looking guilty as hell. “I just wanted to know what was going on and I didn’t have the nerve to talk to you once I found out that … That you’re a witch.”

  He began folded his arms around himself looking miserable and desperately young.

  It broke my heart. I sighed, I could hardly moan at him for spying on me when I’d got him killed, and it was my fault, no matter what he said.

  “You have to promise not to do that anymore, Phil,” I said, my voice stern. The thought of having him watching me freaked me out more than I could say.

  “I promise, but you’ll let me stay won’t you?” He gave me a pitiful look and I frowned at him.

  “Huh? What do you mean I’ll let you stay?”

  He shrugged. “Well, the guardian said I could only stay if I found someone to be responsible for me.”

  “Responsible?” I asked with a sinking feeling. Surely he didn't mean me?

  “I think I just need to have someone to check in with and who will make sure I’m not causing havoc.” He gave me a cheeky grin. “Anyway, like I was saying, you remember the conversation we had just before I died, about how I wanted some adventure? Well, I figure being a ghost and hanging out with a witch who knows vampires and ghouls is pretty cool.”

  He looked at me with big, blue puppy dog eyes.

  “Pleeease, Jéhenne, please can I stay?”

  Well, what could I say? I got him killed, the least I could do was let him hang around.

  I sighed. “Sure why not.”

  He laughed and I felt something lighten inside of me at the sound of it.

  “Thanks, Jéhenne, I knew you wouldn’t let me down.”

  I laid down some basic ground rules with Phil, such as never again appearing in my bedroom unannounced, and never, ever spying on me again. He seemed happy with that and agreed to check in with me once a fortnight, as per the guardians instructions. We chatted for a while, listening to music - once I’d shooed him way so I could get dressed - and it felt almost like old times. Some of the gloom that had hung over me lifted a little. OK, he was still dead, but he didn’t seem unhappy, quite the reverse in fact. He left in the early evening saying he had stuff to do. I had no idea what stuff a ghost could have to do, but I didn’t want to pry so I said goodbye and watched him fade from my room.

  I pottered about the house for a while before heading outside. It was a beautiful night. The sky was lit up and studded with thousands of stars, and as I walked down to sit on the grass in front of the house, a cool breeze brushed gently at my skin. It was a relief from the humid weather that had been hanging stickily in the air for most of the day. I lay back and stared out into the night.

  Everything was silent, apart from the odd insect chirping or the sound of the leaves rustling in the trees. It was all very relaxing, so when the hairs on my arms and neck began to stand up, I jumped in alarm and my eyes flew open - vampire.

  For a just moment my heart fluttered with the hope that it was Corvus but I knew that it wasn’t - this was subtly different and my instincts told me seriously bad. I stood up, a chill rippling over my skin and my stomach began to knot with anxiety. I touched the ring on my finger anxiously.

  “Hello, Jéhnina.”

  I screamed, and the combination of my fear and the power of the moonstone formed the same shield around me as before. I concentrated hard on keeping it there, because just beyond the twisting colours I could see a figure. Tacitus. My breathing was coming in short gasps and I was cursing silently for dropping my guard for so long. I couldn't see him clearly through the shield, just a dark shadowy figure that was quite terrifying enough. He wasn’t moving or saying anything but just stared at me He didn’t appear to have the power to break the shield at least. Seconds passed, and finally, he spoke again.

  “Well, it seems that you have learned a lot since we last spoke, Jéhnina.”

  “My name is, Jéhenne,” I said, hearing the tremor in my voice..

  His mouth twisted with a cruel grin.

  “Don’t fool yourself, child, you should know better than anyone else who and what you are.”

  “What do you want?” I asked him. “I’m not with Corvus anymore, and I haven’t done anything to you. Why can’t you just leave me alone?”

  Through the shifting colours of the shield, I could just make out a smile of amusement play across his distorted features as his words appeared again in my mind.

  “Well, I had intended to take you away from Corvus - I know that would cause him a great deal of pain and anxiety but ...” He paused and I saw malice flickering in his eyes. “But I think it would be better if I made use of you first.”

  I shivered, wondering with a sick feeling crawling over my skin what exactly he meant by that. The lascivious look in his eyes wasn't reassuring. He laughed at my obvious horror.

  “No, not that, not yet at least. For the moment I want you to assist me with something.”

  A combination of terror and fatigue was making it hard to concentrate and for a fleeting moment, the protective haze wavered and I could see Tacitus clearly. Before he could react I pulled myself together and the shield covered me once again. The mistake shook me though and I tried hard to focus.

  “What are you talking about?” I demanded. “I would never help you.”

  He walked around me, looking me over with a considering glint in his eyes that made my stomach clench with fear.

  “Oh, I think you will, my dear.” He smirked. “There’s something I want you to find.”

  I glared at him, wishing I could wipe the self-satisfied look off his face.

  “Give me one reason why I would do that?”

  He tilted his head to one side and looked at me with pity.

  “Well, if you don’t, I’ll have to start killing your friends until you change your mind.”

  My legs trembled and it took
all my willpower to stay on my feet.

  “They’d know who did it,” I whispered. “I’d tell the council it was you.”

  He laughed, a cruel sound cutting through the still of the night.

  “Would you really allow them to die? I was planning on starting with the girl, what was her name - Claudette? Or how about Jean-Pierre or that dreadful ghoul, those creatures are so tiresome, they act as though they connect with the world, but in reality they just pollute it. I’m sure they wouldn’t be missed.”

  He’d been watching my friends! I felt such rage surge through me, for a moment my fear was forgotten.

  “You certainly don’t waste your time do you? From vampire to nagual, does Corvus know I wonder?” He said it as though talking to himself and laughed. “I always knew you were nothing but a little tart.” He sneered at me and I felt fury blaze to life.

  “You know nothing about me!” I was so furious my hands were balled at my sides and my fingers burning with magic. I just wished that I had the confidence to use it against him. “Why do you need my help, why can’t you find whatever it is yourself?”

  His sigh ran through my head like a cold breeze.

  “Because I cannot be seen to be looking for it.”

  I didn’t want to help him, but what else could I do?

  “And if I help you,” I asked, feeling like I wanted to cry from the unfairness of it. “What guarantee do I have you’ll leave my friends alone?”

  “None.” He smiled, an ugly expression as he spread his hands wide in front of him to illustrate his words . “But I guarantee they will die if you don’t.” The ugly scar across his throat stretched as his grin widened and he showed his fangs. “So you agree?”

  He really was sick.

  “What choice do I have?” I shouted in fury. “What is it you need me to look for?”

  “A key.”

  “A key for what?”

  Let’s face it, he hadn’t lost his front door key and whatever was locked was probably that way for a reason. I wanted to know exactly what he intended to open.

  “That is not your concern,” he said with a scowl.

  “But how am I supposed to find it if I don’t know what it’s for?” I said in frustration.

  He laughed again and the sound echoed around my skull. “Why, Jéhnina, you must pray.”

  And then he was gone. I dropped the shield and fell to the ground with exhaustion. It was a warm night but my skin was damp and I shivered, my teeth chattering as shock set in. More than anything I wanted to see Corvus, just to be held, to feel safe. But that was impossible now, I had sent him away - I could never ask him for help or anything else, ever again. I was alone.

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