Please note that there was a commissioned mini-interlude focusing on Wyatt posted a couple days ago. If you haven’t seen that yet, you may wish to click the Previous Chapter button above.
May 18th, 1611 – London
Crash. Scream. Laughter. Shriek. Thump. Shout. Angry bellowing. Sarcastic retort. Crash.
All of that and more filled the air at nearly the same time, forcing Virginia Dare to snap her gaze from one noise to another. Her head twitched back and forth, the enhanced wolf-hearing that was such an asset in the forests she had spent so much time in becoming a liability here in the incredibly crowded, oppressively loud city of London. Every time she jerked her head to look at and subsequently dismiss one potential threat as its sound reached her, four others assaulted her ears from various directions.
It was safe to say that the twenty-three year old woman was out of her element. Growing up in the New World, making her way with Tiras through the small settlements of the colonies and the wilds where the Natives lived had not prepared her for seeing any of… this. There were so many people. More than she thought could possibly live in one place. How did so many people all manage to eat enough food to survive?
And the smell. That awful, rotting smell that permeated everything. Garbage from the buildings and houses was simply dumped into the street and then (eventually) carried off. Rats and other vermin scampered through the shadows, feasting wherever larger piles of rotting trash had gathered.
A sound to her left, a voice actually addressing her. Through the noise and confusion, Virginia snapped her gaze that way, wide eyes taking in the sight of a fresh-faced young man who appeared to be about sixteen. Which, in reality, was about as old as Virginia herself appeared to be, thanks to the Amarok blood that made her age more slowly than a normal person. At least, that’s how Tiras had explained it.
She missed her vampire mentor. It was his work, his effort in teaching her how to survive that had allowed her to make it this far. And yet, whatever evil had been after her for so long refused to stop sending its minions after the girl, and she refused to put Tiras in danger any longer by staying with him.
That was also why she had sailed clear across the ocean, back to the land of her parents. If her blood was supposed to cause some great destruction just because she was the first English child born in the new world, she would leave that continent and hope that she could evade her tormentor that way.
“I said,” the young man spoke louder over the sounds of people shouting back and forth throughout the crowded city street. “You look new here!” He gave her a crooked-toothed smile. “Are you okay?!”
Virginia didn’t bother to ask how he could tell. She knew that her clothes (mostly leathers and animal hides), the fact that she openly wore a sword on her hip (a gift from Tiras), and simply her expression itself all worked together to make the fact that this city was strange and new to her patently obvious.
“I’m quite all right!” she called back to the boy before gesturing at the crowd of people that still hadn’t abated at all. If anything, the crowd was growing even larger. “What happened, was there an attack?”
The boy gave a laugh. “Attack? No. Nothing happened. This is just London! You uh…” He paused, looking her up and down before shaking his head. “Come on, it’s quieter if you get off the main path!”
At his gesture, Virginia followed the boy. He led her through the awe-inspiring mob of people to a side street. This one was even narrower than the last, and still had people rushing back and forth. But it was at least quieter, as he had promised. The noise fell to a dull roar in the background, allowing the two of them to talk at more normal levels rather than continuing to scream directly into their ears to be heard.
“Whew, that’s better, eh?” The boy gave his head a sharp shake. “My name’s Giles. What’s yours?”
“Virginia,” she answered simply and curtly before her sessions with Tiras about being polite kicked in and overrode the wolf-blood’s wild nature. “Thank you. This place is… louder than I expected it to be.”
“You get used to it,” Giles promised, his curly black locks bouncing a little as he gave a loud laugh. “Or I have, at least. Anyway, you look like you could use a place to stay. Maybe even something to eat if we’re lucky. It’s not much, but Mum keeps our stomachs as full as she can, and she won’t object to another mouth to feed if that mouth comes with hands to help her set the table and do a little cleaning.”
Virginia hesitated slightly before meeting his gaze. “Actually, I’m trying to find St. Bride’s Church.”
That was where her father had worked as a tiler and bricklayer before joining the Roanoke expedition. She’d memorized the name as a child, longing so much to see where her parents had grown up, what their lives had been like before they went to the new continent and had their lives broken by her very existence and the monsters that ultimately killed them while searching for Virginia herself.
“St. Bride’s?” Giles echoed, his tone curious before he gave a quick nod. “That’s over on Fleet Street.”
Virginia’s expression was blank. Her mouth opened and then shut before she managed, “And that is…”
Laughing, an act he seemed to take any excuse to indulge in, Giles spun on his heel. “Right, follow me. I’ll get you there in one piece. Can’t be too careful, city’s a right dangerous place. Fun, and well worth living here. But you’ve got to know where to step, and where not to step, if you follow my meaning.”
As Virginia again began to follow the boy, he continued the conversation. “So where’d you come in from, anyhow? If you don’t mind me saying so, you don’t seem like any girl I’ve ever laid eyes on.”
She smiled even as the wolf’s sense of smell drew her attention toward a building where meat was being prepared. “I’m quite certain that I’m not,” she murmured before answering, “The New World.”
That made the boy spin around, facing her. “Truly?” he blurted while pacing backward, his eyes as wide as hers must have been while she had been staring at the crowds. “You’ve been to Jamestown?”
Only long enough to find passage aboard a returning supply ship, Virginia thought before simply nodding. There was no need to get into details about her history. “I have. It was… quieter than this.”
Chuckling, Giles gave another easy nod. “I bet.” Whistling low then, he shook his head in wonder. “Now Mum’s definitely going to want to talk to you. So will my father. They might just let you stay with us without work if you tell them stories of the colony. Mum would be forever in your debt for what that kind of news would do for her gossip with the other women, and Father’s just as curious.”
Before she could even respond to that, he had already moved on, babbling away. “Like I said, Mum always needs new gossip. She loves it, she does. And in a city this big, there’s plenty of it floating around. Hard to find news outside of the city though, especially about the colony. That’s why they’re gonna love you. But in the city, that’s another story. So many people just moving in and moving in. Place just keeps getting bigger. There’s more than two hundred thousand people here, you know?
She hadn’t known that. Not only had she not known that there were that many people in London, she wouldn’t have guessed that there were that many in the entire world. Virginia had grown up first in the tiny, forgotten colony and then in the wild, rarely venturing far into civilization until just recently.
Still, she managed to swallow back most of her surprise. “That’s a lot,” the girl murmured quietly.
Giles’s grin grew larger, and he started to respond excitedly before stopping short. A frown touched the boy’s face as he turned to look up and down the narrow side street that they had been making their way down. “That’s funny,” he murmured. “Where is everyone? Francis usually opens up the pub by now.”
The building that the boy pointed toward was dark and apparently empty. The entire narrow road was silent. In the distance, Virginia could hear plenty of conversations, both public and private. The rest of the city remained as busy and loud as it had ever been. And yet, this particular street was utterly silent.
And… she sniffed. Death. The rotten, awful stench that filled the entire city to her sensitive nose had distracted her, just like the noise from the rest of London had deafened her to the silence within this particular street. And yet, through it all now that she focused, she could smell more death than she had smelled since that fateful night at the colony. The night that her parents had been killed along with all of her friends. The night everything had changed for her, when the monsters had become all too real.
“Giles,” she started while tugging the sword free of its place at her hip. “Go back the way we came.”
But he wasn’t listening to her. Before Virginia knew what the boy was doing, he was already moving up a nearby set of steps to the door of a large building that appeared to be some kind of warehouse.
She hissed his name again, but the boy’s only reaction was to glance back her with a blank look before continuing to the door. His movements were sluggish, his earlier joyful personality somehow faded.
Suppressed. He was under a spell of some kind, Virginia realized even as Giles opened the door into the warehouse and calmly walked inside. She didn’t know how, exactly, but he had been enchanted. She’d seen that kind of spell before, or one similar to it. One of the shamans that Tiras had taken her to in order to learn her own magic had performed something like that to direct people away from his hut.
This one, however, had led Giles into a dark and quiet building, and she very much doubted that it was for anything good. Showing her teeth in a low wolf-growl as its spirit tried to rise up in her, Virginia immediately followed after the boy. The idea of leaving never entered her mind. Giles had been kind to her, had been helping her. She wasn’t just going to leave him to whatever this magic-user had in mind.
Inside the warehouse, the stench of death was even more overpowering. Virginia had barely taken a step inside before the wolf in her was struggling to leave again. Whatever was in here, whatever was happening, the Amarok within her blood wanted nothing to do with it. She had to forcefully clamp down on the wolf instincts, taking a moment to get herself under control before continuing on.
And then she stopped. She had been right about this being a warehouse. It was one wide open room, one that would normally be filled with crates of supplies. Now, however, there were no such crates. Instead, human bodies littered the floor. No… littered was the wrong word. The corpses weren’t simply tossed into random piles. They were clearly strategically positioned. Some were set together, side by side. Others were positioned in groups of three with their heads touching one another, legs facing outward in a sort of tri-pointed spoke formation. Still others were curved into L shapes on their sides, curled up into balls, or broken entirely to force their bodies into awkward or impossible contortions.
All were naked, and blood connected each body to every other body. Lines of the blood were drawn from corpse to corpse, with various designs spread throughout the open space between them as well as the walls and, as she looked up, the ceiling as well. There were faces drawn in the blood along with runes and more that she couldn’t make out through the dim lighting, even with the Amarok’s vision.
Finally, the fragile bones of small animals, likely vermin and birds, were arranged just as carefully throughout the room, some on the blood and others around it. Here and there, some bones lay in neat piles, while others were clearly meant to be seen as specific designs similar to the blood runes.
Giles was moving carefully, yet inexorably toward the last remaining open spot within that room of death. A knife was waiting for him, left right where his enchanted mind could use it to end his own life.
She caught his arm before he could take another step. As the boy distractedly tried to pull free, Virginia yanked him around. The strength of the Amarok quite thoroughly beat the boy’s own strength, and she easily hauled him back to the doorway. “Giles,” she informed the boy flatly. “I’m very sorry for this.”
Then she beat the boy upside the head with the hilt of her sword, dropping him to the ground in a heap.
“Well, that wasn’t very polite, was it?” a voice from the far side of the room opined. When Virginia snapped her gaze that way, her gaze took in the sight of the man who stood there. He wasn’t a warrior, that much was clear from the start. His form was too soft, his skin unhardened by either work or battle.
Yet, she also knew from the first sight of him that he was likely the most dangerous being she had ever laid eyes on. And that included any and all of the monsters that had destroyed and murdered her colony.
“Now I’m going to have to kill the boy myself,” he complained before pausing to correct himself. “Well, not really myself…” At a gesture from the man, a handful of shimmering, almost see-through figures appeared hovering in the air around him. “But you know, personal effort. I put a lot into that spell. Do you know how much work it took to make sure each person that came through would position themselves exactly the right way before they…” He drew a finger across his throat demonstrably.
“Ahh, well. I suppose the spell will be even better once we add in the blood of a… what are you, again?”
“My name is Virginia Dare,” she informed him, vaulting over the short railing to land in the middle of the room. Her foot kicked one of the carefully positioned bodies out of the way before her sword lashed out to break apart one of the intricate piles of bird bones. “And you aren’t killing anyone else, necromancer.”
His soft hands clapped a couple of times, mockingly. “Very good. Too many of your people wouldn’t know what any of this was. But you–” He paused, sniffing a little with a slight smile of appreciation. “I smell wolf blood in you. But you’re not a werewolf, no… you’re one of those… oh what do they call themselves in your language? Heretic, I believe?”
She had no idea what he was talking about. Tiras hadn’t talked about ‘heretics.’ He had mentioned others like her, others whose blood mixed with monsters and allowed them to become something more than human.
Still, she wasn’t planning on asking the necromancer any questions. Even if she could trust the answers, which she doubted, there were far more important things to focus on. Such as ensuring that this spell of his, whatever it was, was never completed.
To that end, Virginia kicked aside another body before turning to cut her sword straight through the neck of a third. A normal blade of its size and shape would have had to saw for some time, yet hers cut straight through, severing the head from the body immediately.
And yet, the necromancer simply chuckled. “My dear, you are wasting your effort.” To demonstrate, he gave a snap of his fingers. Immediately, the bodies that she had kicked aside hauled themselves back into position, while the one whose head she head removed reached dead hands up to push it back on. In front of her staring eyes, the flesh literally knitted itself back together.
“But, just to show that there’s no hard feelings,” the necromancer added thoughtfully, “I will do you the favor of not killing the boy. After all… your blood will make a much better addition, I believe.”
Flipping her sword around once more to direct the point at the man, Virginia hissed, “You’ll find that I’m not easy prey, necromancer.”
“Well, of course not,” he replied with studied patience. “If you were, your blood wouldn’t make an excellent addition to the spell. Do try to keep up.”
Before she could say anything in retort to that, the soft-looking man gave a flick of his fingers. “Bring her,” he ordered the ghosts that hovered on either side of him.
The two spirits flew at her, arms outstretched. Before they could reach her, however, Virginia pushed her thumb against one of the runes on the hilt of her sword. A softly murmured incantation made her blade begin to glow with a soft violet light.
As the first ghost hovered in front of her, Virginia flicked her hand through it. The ghost gave an eerie smile as her hand passed through, then reached for her arm to hold her.
Which was precisely when she drove her glowing sword up into the thing’s chest. It made a noise, eyes widening as the enchanted blade actually seemed to hit something solid. The magic she had learned thanks to Tiras’s connections with the shamans allowed her weapon to harm the ghosts as if they were solid.
The one she had just driven the sword into made an ugly, awful howling sound before it literally blew apart. Meanwhile, the second had only just realized what was happening when her blade cut through its normally intangible neck and destroyed it as well.
“Now, you see?” The necromancer was still smiling. “I knew you would be interesting. But, sadly, I don’t have more time to indulge myself with this game. Time is precious, after all. Especially when one is dealing with powerful magics. So–” Raising his hand, he snapped his fingers once more. At the gesture, the room was suddenly filled with ghosts. There were at least thirty of them, far more than Virginia could hope to fight off before they would get hold of her, rip her weapon away, and finish the job.
“Ahem, as I was saying.” The man pointed his finger at her. “Bring. Her. Here.”
She could run. Escaping was still a possibility. And yet, if she did so, the necromancer would finish his plot. If not with her, or with Giles, then with another body. He would complete his spell, and that was something that she couldn’t just walk away from.
So, as the horde of dead spirits rushed toward her, Virginia did the only thing she could allow herself to do: she moved to meet them.
The necromancer was right, she wasn’t a werewolf. But she did share many commonalities with them. Including one in particular. As the space between the nearest ghosts and Virginia shrank, she drew her sword back and disabled the spell that allowed her to harm them. Instead, she activated a different enchantment. This one caused the blade itself to turn into flame, its heat almost searing even to her.
Then she used the gift that made her so like the actual werewolves. In mid-step, Virginia’s form abruptly and almost instantly shifted. One second she was human, and in the next, she was a full grown wolf with the hilt of her sword held tightly in her teeth.
She leapt through the outstretched arms of the nearest ghosts, passing through them easily even as they turned solid while trying to catch onto her. More of the spirits tried to catch her, but she bounded through and around them, the agility and speed of the wolf allowing her to run circles around the confused ghosts.
Instead of escaping, however, Virginia tilted her head once she reached enough open space to slow down. The burning blade cut into the bodies that she was running past, the magical flames taking hold almost immediately. Fire spread quickly, especially once she reached the wall and began to run along it, dragging the flaming blade through the material there.
The necromancer shouted something, trying to direct his troops. Yet the Virginia-Wolf evaded the ghosts, spreading fire throughout the room so quickly that less than twenty seconds had passed before most of it was burning and there was smoke everywhere.
It as hard to see, even harder to hear, and impossible to smell. But she knew where she was going. She’d planned the route ahead of time, and her memory was good. Three more steps brought her back to where she had started, and she could see Giles’s unconscious figure laying just by the doorway. One more leap, and she shifted her body back into its human form. One hand caught the sword as it fell from her mouth, while the other caught hold of the boy. Then she gathered herself and leapt through the closed door, slamming into it with all of her strength.
The door blew off its hinges, and she practically flew across the narrow street to hit the far wall before collapsing. Coughing hard to get the smoke out of her lungs, Virginia dropped the boy and turned.
She had barely lifted her eyes before a hand slammed into the side of her head, sending blinding pain shooting through her as she was literally hurled a good ten feet down the empty road. The sword fell from her hand, and she groaned.
The man wasn’t soft. He had smacked her once and literally knocked the fight out of her.
“Do you… have any idea… how long I spent preparing that?” He asked while stalking toward her prone form, his amusement now totally absent as the building burned behind him. “Do you have the slightest idea how much time, effort, and… power you’ve cost me, or how long I’m going to have to wait to do it again?”
She reached for her sword, but the man stepped down on her wrist. She could feel the tendons snapping in it. “You,” he hissed while raising his hand, “are going to pay for your interruption, Virginia Dare.”
The hand started to come down, but there was a sudden cracking sound, and a whip lashed its way around the man’s wrist. He made a noise, before abruptly being yanked backward away from her and sent stumbling into the wall.
Virginia lifted her head, and her eyes found a beautiful red-haired woman. Her eyes were focused on the necromancer as she snapped the whip back. “You won’t harm this girl, Fossor. Nor anyone else today.”
The necromancer… Fossor, apparently, gave the woman a hard stare. “Scáthach,” he spat the name with obvious hostility. “Do you truly believe you can break me alone?”
The red-haired woman didn’t flinch. “Do you truly believe I can’t?”
For a few long seconds, both figures stood there and stared at one another, each silently daring the other to either move or back down. In the end, however, it was Fossor who flinched. Cursing, his hand raised and a horde of his ghosts flew into sight, obscuring him from view. When they faded, the man was gone.
Virginia had just slumped back down, breathing out before the woman reached her. She stood there, hand extended toward her. “What you just did was very brave.”
Swallowing, Virginia reached up to accept the hand. “Scáthach?” she used the name that the necromancer had called the woman.
“Actually,” her new mentor corrected gently, “I prefer the name Gaia these days.”