December 8, 1871

Snow tonight sent a hush all around the city as I slunk my way to the east side of the nunnery. It was the most accessible and, near as I could tell, the least visited by the Sisters. Happened to be the closest place to the crypt which sat in the center of the east hall.

There was a window, unlocked a’course. I slid it open real gentle and slipped in to the warm, dimly glowin hall. Nice feelin, bein out of the cold. Also nice to be back here. Aside from keepin quiet about my interest in otherworldly creatures an how to destroy them, I did not have to hide my true self here. Sometimes I miss bein able to be out in the open, even if I was hidin behind a nun’s modest cloth.

I felt no threat here, nor any zap from my ring, an the nuns here were harmless besides, so I kept my weapons sheathed. For now. Wasn’t certain if the vampiress would even still remain locked away in the crypt below, but I headed that way just the same. This was the thing which kept me ill at ease, terrified she’d kill my family. I would find out if she was here, or had been taken care of, or I could not return to them.

A pause for a listen an I heard not a soul, so I continued to the stairs. I descended the twelve steps, smellin the dank an foul parchment stink of desiccated skin an decayin bodies. No candles were lit but I brought my own an carefully lit two – one for me to hold an the other for the inner portion of the crypt. I placed that one way in the back an thought it would be far enough not to draw notice. My ears trained for any sound not my own, nose keen to the particular scent of rot that undead have, an waitin for my ring to give me my warnin as I passed stone an marble sarcophagi. The shadows movin in my light were just that so I ignored ‘em. Wasn’t sure into what sorta tomb the vampiress might be interred. I found myself holdin out my hand, ring for’ard like a divinin rod. I turned a corner, my candle flickered slightly with the motion, an a zap of magical energy shot up my finger an down my arm. Just a little blip but I nearly dropped the candle.

So… There was undead down here.

I took two steps, cautious, not hearin a thing but my own breathin. Left I swung my ring hand an got not a thing. To the right an the ring zapped me at a regular pulse. So to the right I ventured.

I saw it straight ahead an I knew it was the one. Clear as day, how out of place it sat. I approached with great caution.

The sarcophagus looked rather plain. No decoration, inscription, nor writin lay upon the box. What made it stand out was the material: wood. It was solid though. I pushed at it an it did not budge or groan, nor were their cracks to peer through. Didn’t need to see in but I would have preferred to. No matter. My ring told me all I needed to know.

I slung my pack off my shoulder carefully an quietly. It was full of weaponry an items. Pulled out a hammer an placed my candle near to look at the nails. Huh. There weren’t any. So I inspected the lack of overhang, dare run my hand along the smooth, old wood, an realized the whole sarcophagus was a kind of wooden puzzle, with wrist-thick joints that started one way but locked into another section of the base on which the lid sat. When I thought I had it reasoned out, I pushed from the northwest corner t’ard the southeast, counterclockwise, an the lid began to rotate under my strength.
All the while, my efforts did not make for a silent task, but I tried to do so slowly, an only a bit. Some undead are roused by sound or motion or a warm body. I was all of it combined. So I moved ever so slow for a glimpse inside with my candle.

I saw a finely tailored deep-blue velvet sleeve encrusted with beads of gemstone glintin in my candlelight. The sleeve led to a dress of the same color an finery, an there was a hand layin at rest on the chest of the one wearin such a dress. The hand was pale but not sunk in or wrinkled. I might have stared there transfixed by the calm an the aura of the scene but my ring kept zingin me an would not let me remain idle. Though I could not see the face yet, I was not fooled by the sedateness of this un-corpsed individual. The Wee’je’go ring told me plain as day that the thing inside this wooden box was undead.

When I reached down for the machete, the telltale scuff of a footfall froze me in place. My eyes flicked up in time to catch the Suora Superiora’s shocked face as she spied me at the open sarcophagus. Our eyes locked an I did not move a muscle, for seein her again after twenty-two years, she had not changed a stitch.
Presumin she was taken aback to see me raidin a forbidden tomb, my eyes remained on her but my hand in my bag slowly, firmly gripped the weapon I’d been after.

“Sorella Anderson, what are you doing here?” she asked, bewildered, in her Italian accent.

I got no chance to reply to the Suora Superiora’s hushed query. The sarcophagus lid was spun like a top. My arms raised in response just a’fore it slammed into me. I went flyin into a stone sepulcher, one arm in so much pain my guts went twisty. Wincin an holdin my breath, I did not take note of when the entombed blood-drinker rose but it wasn’t more than a blink an she was atop the lid of her sarcophagus an I finally beheld the Countess d’Gall in all her stunnin glory.

She was, truly. Perfectly coiffed dark hair in ancient long braids all curled like serpents about her head, not a speck of grave dust or age on her clothes or deathly pale skin, with eyes sharper than a dagger. I’d heard vampires had an allure to them but a’course I’d never seen one an thought it was only the weak-minded that’d fall prey. Now, I did not feel overtaken or smitten or the like. Just… in awe.

She smiled at me. I saw no fangs on her perfect, pale face as she said, “I have waited a long time for a hunter such as yourself. You do make the spiciest of meals.”
The Countess d’Gall alighted from the tomb’s lid, as graceful as if she had wings. She adopted a glidin walk an approached me. I had no weapon in hand, my right arm agonizinly broken an hugged to my chest. I reached for one of the enchanted daggers tucked in a boot but then she was right in front of me leanin down. Her cold shadow pressed the icy truth in my mind that I would die if I did not get away from her.

Another shadow fell atop the both of us. The Countess d’Gall turned slightly. In doin so, the Suora Superiora missed her mark with a sword she procured from some unknown location.

Utterin a feral sound the likes of which no human can make, it was a clear threat to back off issued from the vampiress. I scrambled t’ards my bag while she was distracted, grabbed my machete, an got my legs under me just in time to see the Countess rush the Suora Superiora. In one swift move, that blood-drinker took the sword an plunged it into the Suora Superiora’s chest. She fell. The Countess swiveled my way, saw me armed, an weighed her chances of takin me. Must’ve thought me capable still, for she flooded up the steps an was gone like a deep blue billowin cloud of evil.

I debated givin chase, but was not currently in a spot to fight due to my injury. I did go to the Suora Superiora to see if I could help. She lay gaspin out blood an I was certain there wasn’t much to do but sit with her. Least I could do, for savin me.

“Please… take… sword,” came her sputterin words.

I figured she meant for me to have it but I looked on her with sadness. Should I help end her sufferin?

“Now!” she commanded through a severe grimace of pain, writhin as blood soaked her black attire.

Did she mean for me to hunt the Countess now? No matter. It was her wish that I have it so I stood over the Suora Superiora an slowly pulled the blade free. The woman groaned as the pain an blood loss overtook her an she fell silent an still.

I sighed as I looked upon the fallen woman. She did help in the end. Wished she’d helped initially, when I was younger. Presumably when the Suora Superiora was younger, too. Lookin on her face, she looked my current age, just as she did decades ago. Strange.

I looked over the sword. It did not seem enchanted but the Countess did not like it pointed her direction. Very ornate silver blade with filigree an some gems on the hilt. Not the sort of thing I’d thought would be in a nun’s crypt. The handsome weapon was well-cared-for without a speck of rust, an—

A loud gasp beside me startled me back but not so much as the shock of seein the Suora Superiora get up. She shook like a leaf an paced a few tight circles an I was left starin. I eased slowly t’ard my bag.

The Suora Superiora looked at me, clutchin her arms about herself as if cold. “I won’t hurt you.”

I continued starin but I already had a sword in hand, an ready to lop her head off if she came near. “You’re one a them, too?” I asked, feelin a cold dread shroud over me. How had I not known? Why hadn’t my ring warned me she was undead, too??

“No.” She shook her head. “I have never died. I was once a thrall of the Countess, many years ago. My life is tied to hers, and I cannot age or die unless she dies. I broke from her control, fought her when she was at her weakest, and imprisoned her here with the aid of a skilled woodworker and two Sisters.”

I blinked. “Now, hold on… You… You’re sayin YOU are Sorella Maria Bertrilli?? The same nun who defeated her a hunnerd years ago?”

She nodded, her piercin gaze on me. “If you hadn’t pulled out the sword, I would have become like her. Thank you.”

“Don’t go thankin me. Tell me why you kept that thing alive, an why I shouldn’t lop your head off here an now.” I pointed my sword right at her chest, right where it had been moments ago. I am fair with my left hand in combat but it was a bit of a bluff. Not exactly sure what her strengths were, especially if she once defeated the Countess all by herself.

“I shall, Sorella Anderson, while I see to your wounds… If you’ll let me.” She was all subservient an meek – so different from the head nun I recalled from twenty years ago – an I wondered if it were a trick. Why then didn’t she just kill me the night I spoke of my interest in endin the Countess? That night, she’d told me to leave, that I had no place among the nuns there. Now I understood why. She shoulda ended the Countess herself an likely had several opportunities in the last hunnerd years. But could a monster kill the monster that made her? I decided it was best to know, an see after if this monster nun should die. I gave her a nod, allowin her to approach.

She examined my arm with just her eyes, flickin them every now an again back at me to gauge if I’d strike at her. I kept a watch on her work, an open ear to her story, an my left hand clutched to the hilt of the decorative, sharp blade.

“I was like you,” she started while unbuttonin my shirt cuff. “There was evil in the world and I would come at it with my faith and my sword.” She nodded at the weapon in my hand. “But I lost everyone dear to me and turned to my faith. That is when the Countess d’Gall found me and my fellow Sisters. She enthralled us all, feeding off of us in the seclusion of the convent, walking amongst the people as if she were also one of us. My Sisters were consumed slowly, one by one, and when there were only three of us, I finally broke free from the Countess’s will. I found my own strength of mind, helped my two remaining Sisters gain their freedom of will, and we acted against the Countess.”

She stood, went to my bag, an pulled out gauze as if she knew it’d be there. Perhaps she did, given that she an I have walked a very similar life.

“It is broken, but at least not at the wrist. I will splint the arm,” she explained as she pulled down a torch an snapped the burnt end off as if it were a twig.

I continued to eye her suspicious but, if what she said was all true, I needed to hear it to the end.

“There were rumors of an order I had heard of, long ago. They do not show themselves often, but sometimes they do, for their purpose is to trap and contain evil things. Their specialty is the wooden boxes, like the tomb the Countess was encased in. We had her cornered for three days, slowly weakening her, and ourselves. Only I stood at the end and delivered the blow which rendered her still for a short time. Time enough to put her in and seal the tomb. I thought it would contain her for all time. I thought I could contain her. And then you came, with the same fire I had once felt to fight the evils of the world. I tried to be harsh with you, to derail you from this path, but clearly without success. I have grown tired now. Perhaps it is time to end this, despite all of the good we have done, my Sisters and I.”

“What good?” I glared suspiciously.

The Suora Superiora offered a modest smile. “The good in helping people. And, at times, when there seems to be a great need, we have shared the gift of healing and longevity with the people.”

I stared at her a good beat, not sure if I heard right. “You did what?”

“The gift of healing and longevity. Some who have suffered so greatly, or are suffering, come to us and it is heartbreaking. We pity them so, and we have the ability to change their fate. By God’s will, we have been granted the chance to offer renewed health. I am very selective in whom I bestow the gift, and I know each and every person to whom it has been given. They are all worthy.”

The splint done, I pulled away slowly an eyed that old nun. “You became the thing you used to hunt, an then you… what? Somehow corrupted some poor souls an now they’re like you?”

She sighed, as if tired even of explainin. “It wasn’t quite so, but, yes. I know why you disapprove, but I have devoted my life to serving my fellow man and no longer hunt monsters.”

I couldn’t believe it an shook my head. “’Cause you are one. You just don’t see it. An maybe I am, too, for sayin what I must but I don’t think you had any right lettin that taint into decent folks, no matter how poor an sick they may be. An what happens to these people once they get all better? You check up on ‘em, make sure they aren’t livin terrors or under the control of that vampiress? Do they even know what you did to ‘em?”

“Most do not, and it strengthens their faith. And I do look in on them.”

“Then how can you explain why a group of men came into my home not three years ago claimin to be sent by the Countess d’Gall an that I was prophesied to confront her?” Oh, I was steamin mad. So mad, I wanted to pace. So mad, it made my arm hurt even more, which made me even madder. I wanted to kick a wall hard enough to break my foot but that woulda doubled my troubles.

It did not help my mood, nor my growin disgust, that the Suora Superiora’s face shadowed over with shock.

“I take it then that you had no idea she had a growin number of followers that set up shop in Leicester an, when I barely started suspectin somethin was out of the ordinary, they came an tried to take my boy, burn my home, an I live every day lookin over my shoulder wonderin if one of ‘em will find me or my family?”

“I… I did not know. Sorella Anderson…”

“You can stop with the Sorella stuff. I’m not a Sister anymore. Never was a part of your group here. My name’s Lacy but you can stop callin me anythin. You had no right to do what you did.” I made to leave, done with this place an this wretched woman.

“What if it had been your boy?”

I stopped at the base of the steps an turned a seethin gaze her way. “You do not speak of him.”

Beseechin, she clasped her hands and dare step near. “What if it had been your boy who was dying? Would you have done anything to save him? Would you have accepted our faith, accepted our gift, if it meant he would live?”

I admit that paused me. It worried me so bad, seein Randall injured from a silly, everyday thing like slippin in a river. Would I have turned down the Suora Superiora’s cure if Randall were dyin? Hell, would I have turned her down if it were me? I cannot say for sure. Who is to say I am not already a monster for leavin Richard an Randall behind an will forever be chasin my own inner demons about it? But I know that I can feel no respite as long as that blood-drinker walks the earth. Never goin home, never seein Randall again… I would go to the ends of the earth to see him safe from her.
Would I not do the same if he were deathly ill?

Durin my consideration, the Suora Superiora spoke further, “That is what I offered. Only that. And only to a few. I do not know how she has come to amass followers. People must ingest her blood to be completely overtaken and she has remained sealed for over a hundred years.”

I frowned at her momentarily, then queried, “How then did you administer whatever gift you offered the ill an dyin?”

“My own. I am not undead. My blood cures them and does not taint their minds because I will never try to bend them to my will.”

“But you could?”

“I have a very strong will, yes, but I would never do so.”

Anger at bay, my head wheels were turnin. A thought jumped to the forefront. “If you were given the Countess’s blood to fully enthrall you, an you give your blood to others, wouldn’t it be likely she may be able to control whomever you’ve gifted yours to?”

That gave her pause. Briefly. “I am uncertain. What did these people who attacked you look like?”

The conversation was carryin longer than I wished to remain standin so I leaned up against the ancient, dusty wall of the crypt. “All of ‘em wore robes. Seems all were men, young on up to my age. Cut down a good half dozen of ‘em a’fore I even looked at their faces.”

She looked at mine in horror. “You killed six men?”

“They were after me an my family!” Her judgement of me I deemed unfit an it got my ire up once more.

The Suora Superiora let out a deep sigh. “Lacy, it has been a wearying night. You need a proper splint, food, and rest.”

“What I need is to get after her an end this. I won’t be acceptin hospitality from the likes of those who harbored that monster, nor those disinclined to help kill her.”

“You are of course free to go but the storm makes it difficult to find lodging. Ours is freely offered and perhaps in the morning, a new day will bring insight.”

She meant I might change my mind. Doubted that, but could not doubt her bein right about the weather. Still, an full of stubborn, I took a step up the stairs. My ears began to swim with weakness, the pain in my arm travelin through my guts an limbs, makin it hard to do much. I listed against the cold, carved wall. It was my body tellin me I better rest a’fore it shuts down. I needed to use the sword as a crutch to keep myself upright.

The Suora Superiora was at my side, wrappin an arm around me to hold me up.

“I will guide you to a bed.” She started walkin an my stubbornness wasn’t enough to keep me from acceptin her aid. I hated every second of her touchin me but, in truth, she was not cold nor did she feel like anythin other than a normal person an that bothered me considerable. How many were out there? How many monsters looked an felt normal to humans? How many hid right under my nose through the years?

I saw no other nuns as I was led down a hall I’d become real familiar with twenty years ago. Wasn’t taken to the same room I had durin my stay but one closer. I sank gratefully to the straw-stuffed mattress, glad to not have the Suora Superiora touchin me, an very glad to be prone so as I would not fall over.

“I will bring you something for the pain,” Suora Superiora said a’fore exitin. By the time she returned, I had decided not to trust whatever she brought. She saw me eyein the clay cup placed beside the bed with marked suspicion. “It is tea with the bark in it that alleviates pain. You drank this before, years ago, when you stayed with us.”

I continued to glare at her, admittedly out of spite, as I knew she was not lyin. I remembered the stuff tastin surprisinly good an workin fair medicinally when boilin water from a mishandled pot had scalded my hands. That was so long ago, as was my trust. Just like the pain poundin at my arm an all over my body, this was fresh an raw.

She did not sigh at my mistrust, nor give over an ounce of disappointment or sadness. She bowed to me, that immortal nun, an shut the door when she left.

The curls of steam risin from the handmade clay cup wafted the cinnamon scent my way. My broke arm ached terrible. I knew, in the end, I’d get no sleep without relief an could not take up my fight without rest. So I downed the drink, supposin that nun woulda killed me already if she meant to, no matter how much easier it is for me to hate all monsters.

I settled back against the straw mattress, pulled the blanket over me to keep the winter cold off my body, an drifted off to sleep with that fancy old sword in hand.

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