01 1.0 The Light Who Shines3Bluebell Kildare

May 27, 2022, Red Ages

I decide to swing by the Dragomir Magical Artifact Shop before heading to the precinct. As I turn onto Windsor Avenue, I consider what Father O’Brennen told me last night. Is my aura the reason I’ve never encountered a Dark Vampire? Even though most people go their whole lives without running into a Night-Crawler, I work in the Supernatural Homicide Investigation Unit, so I should have by now. Ernesto is our resident Night-Crawler expert at the office and leads the hunts. Still, there has been many a time I’ve been called out for a homicide in the wee hours of the morning just to find the call was reported incorrectly and was actually a case of death by Dark Vampire.

And who was the Daylight Vampire who saved me? I didn’t think to ask Father O’Brennen. Is he still around? Is there more he can tell me about that night?

I stop my musings as the Dragomir Magical Artifact Shop comes into view. It‘s a corner store made of flagstone and favored with a rare parking lot of its own. I park and walk around to the front entrance.

No merry bells announce my arrival here. Solid oak shelves covered in thick layers of dust fill the dimly lit store. The dust is so thick it seems to swirl around me, gathering in glittering pools and eddies that hang in the air.

I wave it away from my face and look at the shelves adorned with a wonderful assortment of magical items: scrying mirrors and a looking glass fountain to keep connected with loved ones, firefly lanterns to light your house, and glow stones to brighten your garden. One entire wall is devoted to glass-covered shelves stacked with aged books on every magical subject imaginable. Another case is dedicated to gorgeous parquetry safe boxes. These special boxes are made of tiny geometric shaped veneer inlaid over interlocking pieces of wood. They require a magic word to open. When you close them, their designs rearrange, disguising the opening.

As I take in my surroundings, a few rays of sunlight peek from behind the clouds shining through the windows in bright streams, lighting up the whirlpools of dust still filling the air. It makes me want to twirl around like a little girl. I immediately love this store, musty dust and all.

Behind the heavy oak counter, the clerk is studiously ignoring me as she reads a book. Her reading glasses have dropped to the tip of her nose, and a mess of wavy, brown hair has fallen about her face. I wait for her to look up, but she seems oblivious to my presence. I stand in front of her to get her attention, but still she keeps her eyes pinned down on the book. I am obviously three feet in front of her, yet she pretends I’m not here.

This is extremely vexing, and just as I’m about to say something rude, I notice a sign that says, “Please ring bell for service.” Next to it sits a large brass bell. I ring the bell, and a high pitched sound reverberates throughout the room. I resist the urge to ring it five times in a row to annoy the clerk. Then, wonder of wonders, she lifts her glasses to peer at me through the lenses. How glorious it feels to be acknowledged.

Even more astonishing than her new realization that I exist is the way her face lights up in a beatific smile transforming her into a very arresting mature woman. With her head lifted up, her hair now looks like a riot of soft waves framing a face dominated by deep-set, warm brown eyes that flicker with golden light.

“Hello,” I say a little uncertainly. She has definitely put me at sixes and sevens.

She answers with a deeply melodious voice, “Hello, what can I help you with today?” Her voice is so strange. It’s like ten voices speaking at once, or like the strumming of a harp with notes overlapping one another. It is simply musical. I tilt my head to hear it better.

I realize she is sitting there waiting expectantly for me to answer. I pull myself together, remembering I have a goal to accomplish. “I’m looking for Mr. Dragomir,” I respond.

Her smile immediately turns chilly, and her voice sounds like a dozen angry people speaking to me from different directions. “Mr. Dragomir is not in.” Then she points her eyes toward her book again.

Darn, I lost her again. Beginning to catch on, I ask, “Are you Mrs. Dragomir?”

She looks up and says with great power, “I am the Dragomir.” I feel unaccountably humbled and apologize.

“I am sorry, Dragomir, for my error. My friend Alexis from Herbal Enchantments referred me to you.”

Looking slightly mollified, but still a little snippy, she says, “Please call me Dragomira. Now, what can I help you with?”

“Excuse me for commenting on this, but your voice is the most remarkable I’ve ever heard.” Then I pull out my ID for her. “My name is Bluebell Kildare. I’m with the Supernatural Investigation Bureau. I was wondering if you could answer a few questions.”

Dragomira ignores my statement about her voice and my ID, looking unimpressed with both. “It depends on the nature of those questions.”

“I’m looking for information on a particular amulet. If you can give me a piece of paper, I’d like to make a sketch.”

Dragomira, still exuding a markedly severe demeanor, deigns to retrieve some paper and a pencil from a nearby drawer.

Undaunted, I sketch the amulet, drawing the triangle within the circle and the cutout in the shape of an eye. My sketch includes the hole in the center of the amulet and a depiction of the back including the ridging and beading.

As I sketch the amulet, Dragomira’s eyes become riveted, and I swear they start glowing amber. When I finish, she puts her hand up and her chorus of voices whispers, “One moment. This conversation requires no audience.”

She goes to the door of her shop, turns the heavy brass deadbolt, placing her “Closed” sign face out.

When she returns, I say, “I take it you know this amulet. Should I pull out my privacy charm?”

Dragomira laughs softly and says, “My dear, this shop is so well warded the Gods themselves would have trouble entering. Perhaps I know this amulet. Tell me, what it is made of?”

I look curiously around the shop, then point to the sketch and answer, “The amulet is gold. The triangle looks to be jade. The grooves on the back are gold, and the beading is some sort of white metal, perhaps white gold.”

“It’s platinum,” Dragomira says crisply. “Yes. I know this amulet.”

“What can you tell me about it? Why would someone want it?”

Dragomira leans her arms on the counter, and her warm brown eyes betray her worry. She shivers. “Ah, Illustrissima. That is the question. What would someone want with the amulet? I am afraid of the answer.”

“This amulet has two pieces. What you drew here is only one part. The triangle is made of jade, the stone of wisdom. Its significance is that it’s part of a key used to unlock a book. The missing part, the center, is in the shape of an eye. The iris of the eye, carved with the circle of life, is made of sugelite, a purple stone, which issues dire warning.”

Dragomira jabs her long, elegant finger repeatedly at the center of the eye in the drawing as she speaks. “It warns of the end of humanity. In the center of the eye is a pupil made of amber, used for its properties of attraction, to help you find that which you seek with the book. The eye fits into the hole in the center and has grooves and beads of its own. The two pieces, joined together, form the symbol for the All-Seeing Eye, which sees across planes and into the Underworld.”

When she finishes with her explanation, Dragomira assesses my reaction in a way that makes me feel somehow inadequate.

I forge ahead anyway. “What book does the key open?”

“Ah,” Dragomira says heavily. “You plunge right in, do you not? It opens the ancient Grimorium Cantionum Spiritualium—The Spell Book of the Spirit and Soul. It is a book that contains the knowledge to call demons and spirits from other planes, including the Plane of Death. It is a very powerful book, and those who have possessed its knowledge have done massive damage to those who live in this world.”

I shift uneasily as this case is much more dangerous and complex than I’d originally thought. “What sort of damage?”

Dragomira gestures toward a stool at the end of her counter. “I will tell you a story. Please sit down.”

I drag the stool over and sit, listening avidly as her hypnotic voice weaves a picture of a bygone era.

“In ancient Ireland,” she begins, “a talented sorcerer’s apprentice came to possess the Grimorium Cantionum Spiritualium. We now know this apprentice as Patersuco—‘Father of the Vampires.’ Patersuco was deathly ill from a blood sickness and desperate to save his own life. The learned now speculate he suffered from leukemia, but that matters not to this story. Patersuco was a selfish, greedy man, so he sacrificed his first-born infant son and used the knowledge of the book to summon the greatest demon of the Plane of Fire, Lilith, second only to Lucifer.

“When Lilith arrived, Patersuco tried to bargain with her for immortality. Lilith asked what he would give her in return, and Patersuco said the sacrifice of his son was his gift to her. Lilith laughed at him and said the sacrifice was nothing. She said the baby’s soul was innocent, so it went to the Plane of Light, and all she received from the sacrifice was a blood gift. She taunted him, telling him instead of killing his son, he could have simply slit his flesh and dropped some blood on the altar.”

Dragomira sees the shocked look on my face at the idea that a man had so easily sacrificed his own son. “This was just before the Red Ages, and the earth was still wild and untamed. Man also was wild and untamed. Human sacrifices were not uncommon, as wrong as they may be. But even then, sacrificing one’s own son was unheard of.”

I interject, “I think Patersuco was foolish to think that Lilith would trade a mortal life for an immortal life. Isn’t it immortal souls that are collected on the Plane of Fire?”

Dragomira raises her eyebrows at this. “Excellent observation. Indeed, a mortal life has no value to Lilith. Nonetheless, Patersuco, in his foolishness and arrogance, was enraged that she made so little of his sacrifice—but he was determined to achieve his goal. So he offered to give her his soul when he died. Lilith laughed at him again and pointed out he had killed an innocent in cold blood, his own living flesh, even, so his soul was already destined for the Plane of Fire. She also reminded him that since he was asking for immortality, she would have to wait a long time for that prize.”

“Lilith sounds highly conniving. Apparently by sacrificing his son, he had given her his own immortal soul. But Lilith didn’t recognize this as part of his payment to her.”

Dragomira says, “She is second only to the Prince of Lies, the Prince of Thieves, the Master Bargain Maker. She is indeed skilled, and instead of taking his bargain, she offered him another.”

By now I’m sitting on the edge of my seat, waiting for Dragomira to spin the rest of the tale.

“She said she would cure his blood disease, but it would require he drink the blood of other humans to survive. She said to make this easier, she would make him desire blood. She would give him strength and resistance from disease, but he would always carry her mark. He’d live a long life and be difficult to kill, but the only immortality she’d grant him would be the same all mortals achieve: through creating more of their kind. He could not conceive new life; he could, however, fill others with his blood, and they would carry the same gifts she gave him. But she gave him a warning. If he killed in bloodlust, his soul would immediately belong completely to her.”

Dragomira suddenly stands up and tilts her head as though listening to the ceiling. Then closing her eyes she recites a string of words in an ancient-sounding language, painting patterns in the air with her hand. She seems to be in some sort of trance. I sit silently, unsure how to respond.

After what seems like forever, she opens her eyes. “Excuse me for that,” she says. “I felt a disturbance in our wards. Someone was trying to enter uninvited. All is well now.” Then she sits back down continuing as though nothing had happened.

“Patersuco, unwise as he was, accepted this offer. Thus, Lilith created the first Vampire. All Vampires are descendents of those turned by Patersuco. All Vampires carry Lilith’s mark. All Vampires are doomed to the Plane of Fire. Because of this bargain, Lilith ensured many more generations of souls would come to her.”

“So she pretended to give Patersuco what he wanted, and in return she got over two thousand years of an ever-increasing number of souls. Patersuco offered a very cheap price for the boon he ended up giving her in return.”

“Exactly. He was a selfish, greedy man and a lousy bargainer. Lilith gave Patersuco the ability to create new beings, each of whom has the temptation of bloodlust, and eventually when they give in to that bloodlust and kill, their souls go to her. When their souls go to the Plane of Fire, their flesh is left on Earth to continue to ravage humans, and ravage they do.

“The mark she left on Patersuco was a dark smear on his soul, and every child he created carries this mark. The mark ties the soul to Lilith, and when it’s finally released from the body, it returns to her like a homing pigeon. So, even if a Daylight Vampire never kills in bloodlust, their soul joins her in the end.”

I hold up my hand at this. “I understand how Patersuco could bargain away his soul, but how could he bargain away the souls of the people he turned? He didn’t have the right to them, and until they kill, they are still innocent.”

Dragomira raises her eyebrows. “I’d never thought to wonder. But you are correct. I’ve never heard of another story of someone giving away souls that do not belong to them. Perhaps when a person is turned into a Vampire, their soul is forfeited to their maker somehow. Not all attempted turnings work, you know, and some humans die. Perhaps those are cases in which the human will not relinquish ownership of their soul.”

I am dissatisfied by this response. If humans give up their souls at the time of turning, at least one Vampire would have mentioned it by now, but I keep my silence to let Dragomira finish the story.

She steps off her stool to stretch her back. Her entire back bends like a bow, her spine cracking fiercely as she moves. When she straightens, she glances out the windows with a flick of her eyes, then brings them back to me with solemnity.

“As you know, the birth of the Vampire brought on the Red Ages. Around 1500 R.A., Dark Vampires, those who had already killed in bloodlust and lost their sanity, almost wiped out humanity. It is said in the time before the Great Pact, the very ground wept blood and the rivers flowed red. It wasn’t until humanity was at the brink of extinction that the Daylight Vampires, who were still rational, realized once all humans were gone, they would perish as well. Without a blood supply, they would be forced to turn cannibalistic and eventually wipe out their own breed. So the Daylight Vampires made a pact with humans to hunt Dark Vampires. People agreed to give blood donations to the Daylight Vampires, and the Daylight Vampires agreed not to feed without consent and to keep their numbers under control. With this pact, people were once again able to live without the constant fear of being hunted, and a sense of balance was restored.”

I nod at this. “Yes. We learned that in our ancient history lessons in school as that was the beginning of the Reconstruction Period. But we learned nothing of the book. So basically what you’re saying is with this book, Patersuco was able to summon the demon Lilith from the Plane of Fire, and his bargain with her nearly caused the extinction of all humanity on Earth. I assume the other things this book teaches are also a double-edged sword. Do you know where the book is?”

Dragomira shakes her head emphatically. “Absolutely not. After the birth of Vampires, the leaders of each breed held council on what to do with the book. Some wanted it destroyed. Others wanted it saved. Some accounts say attempts to destroy it failed. In the end, it was decided to lock the book and make it impossible to find. They designed the key and made it so only with the key could the book be opened. The key was then separated into two pieces, and they hid all three items in separate places: the amulet, the eye, and the book.”

Ignoring my panic at the significance of what I hold in my possession, I inquire as nonchalantly as possible, “Does anyone know where the pieces of the key are?”

Dragomira looks askance at me and says, “I’ve researched the subject thoroughly and have never read an account of someone knowing where any of the three items are.”

What was the boy doing with the amulet, and where did he get it? I’m glad it’s hidden on holy ground because magic and evil can’t penetrate there. I came here for answers and ended up with more questions. So many questions swirl around in my mind, and I can’t make sense of them. Instead of asking them, I simply say, ”Thank you, Dragomira. I appreciate the information.”

Dragomira puts up her hand and says, “It is I who must thank you, Illustrissima. Thank you for listening to a favorite tale of mine. It’s rare I get an audience these days. It is so rare, in fact, that I’d like to give you a gift.”

This surprises me. When did Dragomira change from an arrogant and aloof woman to a woman giving gifts?

“That’s not necessary at all,” I assure her.

Dragomira ignores me and lifts up her arm. She says a word in that ancient language again, and a metal object flies from another room straight to her hand. She catches it deftly and stabs it down into the wooden counter in front of me. It’s a gorgeous, gleaming knife with a sapphire and diamond encrusted hilt and a double-edged blade of about seven inches long. I had no intention of accepting a gift, but I find myself entranced by this knife. My eyes slip enviously over the blade and my hands twitch, longing to wrap around the hilt.

I look up at Dragomira in awe, and she says, “Its name is Curator, or Guardian in English.”

I say softly and regrettably, “I can’t take this. It’s clearly precious.”

Dragomira insists, “You must take the knife. These are dangerous times, Inspector Kildare. Just moments ago, someone was knocking on my wards looking for you.”

My eyes go wide. The masked man from this morning must still be after me. Of course he is—he didn’t get what he wanted. How foolish of me to think otherwise. My hand flies to my neck as I think of his blade there just hours before. Dragomira’s gaze flits to my neck as well, her eyes knowing but her mouth quiet. Without saying another word, I grasp the knife in my hand and pull it out of the wood.

Dragomira laughs softly and follows me to the door. As she unbolts it, she says, “Remember, his name is Guardian. Stay true, Illustrissima.”

I’m left wondering why she keeps calling me Illustrissima as the door closes softly behind me.

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