Elixir of flesh, p.1
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       Elixir of Flesh, p.1
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           Joseph Kranak
Elixir of Flesh


  Elixir of Flesh

  Joseph A Kranak

  Copyright 2014 by Joseph Kranak

  Published under Creative Commons Attribution License 3.0:

  https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

  If you copy or distribute this book please retain attribution to the author.

  Table of Contents

  Chapter 1: Apothecary and Vampire Wares

  Chapter 2: The Novice

  Chapter 3: Ascent

  Chapter 4: First Night

  Chapter 5: The Last Days of Innocence

  Chapter 6: After the Last Sunset

  Chapter 7: From the Grip of the Convent

  Chapter 8: Into the Arms of the Coven

  Chapter 9: Lucian

  Chapter 10: The Pen

  Chapter 11: Last Victims

  Chapter 12: Asha

  Chapter 13: Perpetual Peace

  Chapter 14: Flesh and Blood

  Chapter 15: Digging Upwards

  Chapter 16: Human Heist

  Chapter 17: Reprisal

  Chapter 18: Siege

  Chapter 19: Lazarus

  Chapter 20: The Lid of the Barrel

  Chapter 21: Lina Arrives

  Chapter 22: Leakage

  Chapter 23: Sunlight

  Chapter 24: The Fate of the Infection

  Chapter 1

  Apothecary and Vampire Wares

  In front of a sturdy, heavily fortified building on the main street of the village of Vallaya swung a wooden sign inscribed with the words “Apothecary and Vampire Wares.” If one were to step inside this store, one would find on a set of shelves in the back behind the counter and behind Andrei, the austere shop owner, the typical contents of an apothecary’s shop: the herbs, balms, ointments and oils that usually represented the entirety of an apothecary’s stock. But in this shop there was an additional set of shelves, which held the so named “vampire wares.” It was mostly upon this single line of products—unique to the region and to this shop—that Andrei’s business thrived.

  Though it had an uninviting storefront and was located in a tiny, secluded village, the store was almost constantly occupied with customers. Customers, who included great dignitaries and nobles, came from all parts of the three principalities recently united by the conquests of Gabor Viteazu—Ardeal (in which Vallaya was located), Moldava and Valahia—even into foreign kingdoms, as far as the Austrian lands and the Ottoman Empire.

  Stored in a series of containers—stoppered vials, ceramic bowls and cloth-lined wooden boxes—filled with assorted powders, gels and dried foodstuffs, the vampire wares consisted of a range of products, each of which served a specific purpose. One set of boxes, filled with a dry white powder, were purported to promote strong bones and were quite popular with the aged and deformed who could appreciably feel the new strength and improved posture that the powder conferred. Another—a glass vial filled with a dark, reddish syrup—was supposedly good for the lungs and had many adherents, who swore that it made them feel more youthful and alive. With the spectacular effectiveness of these wares, the only thing that the customers could ask for was that Andrei provide more of these wonderful medicines, even though they were so expensive.

  The expense was primarily due to the difficulty of acquiring the raw materials, a task for which Andrei depended entirely upon an aged hunter named Vasile. Vasile worked at night, and on this night, like nearly every night, he spent most of his time waiting. He waited now on a branch many palms above the ground on a tree deep in the forest, almost a league from Vallaya. He waited for his prey, the only prey that concerned him, the vampire prey.

  Vasile had a thick, beard, that’s upper edges crept up his cheeks towards his eyes and was sprinkled with white hair and black. His skin was rugged and chapped with bags beneath his eyes and furrows in his forehead. Wrinkles were pinched all around his eyes as he squinted into the dark trying to grasp any glimpse he could of movement. In his hands a crossbow stood ready, and another was cocked and hanging at his side. A bow and a quiver of arrows were on his shoulder as a secondary weapon, and a dagger was in a sheath around his waist.

  After a long wait, sitting in the frigid night while his warm breath breathed wet vapor into the cold air, he saw movement in the distance. It’d been two days since he’d seen any vampires, and he was immediately spurred into an excited readiness. He would only have a few moments to identify the object, aim and fire, especially if it were a vampire, since they were skittish creatures that fled quickly and didn’t linger.

  As it approached somewhat closer, expanding from a tiny streak of shadow across the night to an identifiable shape, Vasile could see, squinting into the starlight-lit forest, that it was upright. This eliminated any possibility that it was an animal and meant it was either human or vampire. As the shape grew clearer and he could distinguish the movement of its appendages and the details of its shape, it became apparent that the thing sprinted with strength and agility that surpassed a human, almost floating over the soft forest floor as it ran. Definitely a vampire. No human moved with such grace and speed. His assessment complete, he took quick but careful aim and shot.

  The tiny crossbow bolt struck flesh, piercing through the upper thigh, exactly where Vasile had aimed, and the injured vampire stumbled. Vasile’s next shot had to follow quickly in succession and hit just as true if he were to fell his prey. Vasile, picking up the second crossbow, again took quick but careful aim and shot. Another hit, as aimed, in the other leg, and the vampire again stumbled, tumbling forward onto the leaf-covered turf. While the vampire pulled himself to his feet, Vasile grabbed the longbow from over his shoulder, drawing his first arrow, putting it in place and aiming. Vasile wasn’t as skilled with the longbow. Accordingly, he aimed for the torso. The vampire was only just raising himself from the ground, and his target area was larger, making this shot considerably easier than the previous. He still had to take careful aim and fire his shot before the vampire had a chance to accelerate to a full run. His arrow slid through the air and pierced the vampire’s side, stabbing through the skin and poking out through the back. With this last shot the vampire toppled onto the ground and didn’t attempt to rise again.

  Vasile waited a few moments to see if the vampire would attempt to stand before he lowered himself from the tree. He approached the vampire with bow and arrow drawn. This was the most dangerous point, since the vampire was most likely still alive and still capable of surviving if it could kill its predator. If the vampire still had the strength to lunge at Vasile and attack—not at all unlikely if it were one of the older, stronger vampires who might require as many as a dozen arrows to kill—Vasile would have to put an arrow through it in that fraction of a second before it reached him.

  The creature that he saw by the faint starlight was a pale dark-cloaked young male with the hair and eyes of an albino. He was fit and slim, flawless and healthy-looking and clearly a younger vampire. The vampire’s trembling, bloodstained hand was reaching out to pull one of the bolts from his thigh while he breathed in panicked, shallow breaths.

  Standing at a safe distance, both to reduce the risk of the vampire unexpectedly attacking him and to reduce the risk of infection, Vasile took careful aim, pointing his spearpoint at the vampire’s pale, taut neck. The Vampire heard Vasile’s almost soundless footsteps as he delicately stepped between the dry leaves, and he turned in terrified anger to look at the old man with arrow drawn. The vampire began to push himself off the ground for one last desperate lunge when Vasile launched his arrow through the neck, piercing the soft skin and poking through the back. The vampire collapsed, and his breath came to a stop in one last forceful groan.

  Vasile still waited at a moderate distance with another arrow already loaded and drawn. After a lon
g, tense wait, during which no sign of breath or movement appeared, Vasile relaxed. He dropped the bow, put the arrow back in his quiver and opened his bag. He first pulled out a bird-shaped mask, which would cover his whole face. The mask had two glass eyes and a long nose, within which a vinegar-soaked sponge and a handful of herbs were placed at the tip. The pungent smell was there to shield his nose from the vampire’s infectious odor. It was important to wear the mask when one approached close to a vampire, though too cumbersome to wear when one was hunting.

  Vasile removed a rope with two hooks from his bag. Approaching the vampire, he placed each of the two large, metal hooks under the armpits of the vampire. He then loaded the two spent crossbows in case of attack, and hung them from his shoulders. Lastly, grabbing the rope that connected the hooks, he began to drag the weighty vampire corpse over the ground behind him. It felt like towing a millstone through the mud. Thus began the long march through the night to Vallaya.

  Attached to the back of Andrei’s shop was a large building, including several rooms that Andrei used as his living quarters and one large room that served as his workroom. The forest, which encompassed most of the land that wasn’t otherwise cleared for roads and farmland, jutted up against the rear of this building. As the first signs of dusk were creeping over the horizon, Vasile arrived at the back door of this workshop.

  Andrei woke from his sleep when he heard the sound of Vasile pounding on his door. Andrei leaped from his bed and dressed himself in his cloak, gloves, bird-shaped mask and hat. Once ready, he opened the back door of his shop to Vasile.

  Vasile entered through the back of Andrei’s shop into this workroom, occupied by a few large cauldrons, an oven and bellows, and several huge working tables. The walls of the room were lined with shelves upon shelves of containers and jars, along with many tools hanging in their places.

  As Vasile entered, Andrei placed a ramp leading up and into the largest of the cauldrons, which was already filled with an alcoholic solution. Vasile dragged the vampire up the ramp and dropped him into the cauldron. Andrei lit a fire within a large stove under the cauldron, which would slowly heat the vampire corpse for many hours. With the vampire in the cauldron, Vasile could now take off his cloak, his hat, his mask and his gloves. He dumped them into a smaller pot, which Andrei would subsequently boil to clean off any possible infection.

  After all this, Vasile sat down to take a rest on a bench, rubbing his legs and moving around his arms and shoulders to try and drive away the soreness.

  “It’s been a few days since you’ve had a catch,” Andrei commented while building and tending the fire beneath the cauldron.

  “Yeah,” Vasile assented soberly, “I’m no longer able to take down the older vampires like I used to. I had one in my sights just two nights ago, but I could only get one arrow in him. They’re too swift and I’m just not as fast as I used to be.”

  “Perhaps you need an assistant, or an apprentice,” Andrei suggested.

  “Perhaps,” Vasile agreed in a deep, quiet voice, “Also, I don’t see as many vampires as I used to.”

  “Why is that?” Andrei asked, “You think they’re moving elsewhere?”

  “No,” Vasile said, massaging his legs and rotating his shoulders, “Vampires can’t just pick up and move; Dark places are hard to come by. Besides, all of the nearby towns have reported declines in attacks. It must be more than a month since the last attack. Not even livestock are being attacked. I can’t explain it.”

  “Perhaps they’re in decline,” Andrei suggested, “Perhaps their numbers are finally dwindling.”

  Vasile shook his head, “I thought that too, but I just can’t see any reason why they’d be in decline. For hundreds of years they’ve been overrunning these woods and now, for no reason, just to start disappearing. It makes no sense.”

  “Well, whatever it is, it’s good for the villagers,” Andrei said as he poked at the fire, “Though it means fewer vampire wares on the shelves.”
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