The Sword Keeper (Preview)
“This is what you’ve always wanted,” Carrie reminded herself as she approached the book once again. Her breathing was labored and her hand was shaking as it got closer to the page. Carrie pulled her hand back and sat down on the loose, rotting planks that covered the cottage floor.
The book looked innocent enough on the outside. It was loose leaf bound in brown leather. The pages were cut uneven, but other than that it appeared to be a very average book. Just like everything else in the cottage, including the kitschy, needle point sign that read, “The cottage is where the heart is.” At first glance it was all ordinary.
The only thing that was in any way unusual was the heat. Even with all of the windows open, the cottage was always 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The outside temperature was only getting up as high as 50 at midday, and yet the cottage never cooled off. Carrie assumed it was one of Greta’s spells. “The old woman must’ve liked the heat,” Carrie moaned as she wiped more sweat off her forehead.
Carrie looked at the book again and stretched her hand out to it. A spark shot out to her finger before she even touched the leather. “Ahhh!” Carrie yelled as she pulled her hand back. The book flipped open, and Carrie recoiled; she knew what was about to happen.
It started with her finger. The skin became a beige smoke that slowly enveloped her body, and then the smoke flowed into the open pages of the book. The world around her disappeared and the next thing she saw was the black room, and Greta standing in the middle. “Welcome,” Greta smiled. The eyes weren’t focused on Carrie, they just looked straight ahead.
“You will now have the power to use the book,” Greta’s words seemed to float right past Carrie. She had been waiting so long to hear them. The lessons left for her by Greta had helped the young witch a lot, but Carrie had yet to see any of the spells. Carrie smiled as she realized what the avatar meant by her words. She felt ready.
“You are not ready, but we have run out of time.”
“I am ready!” Carrie protested, but the image in the middle of the room was not really Greta. The powerful sorceress had died over a hundred years earlier. It had made the lessons very frustrating. “How can you say that?”
“Solomon is approaching the cottage,” Greta’s image stated the fact bluntly. “You need to get away, and this is the spell that will take you back to your coven.”
The words hit Carrie hard, making her feel a bit sick to her stomach. She hadn’t seen the members of her coven in weeks, months maybe. Carrie wasn’t sure how long she had been in the cottage for. Her phone had died a long time ago.
“What language is this?” Carrie groaned as she looked at the spell that had appeared in red letters on the large black wall behind Greta. It wasn’t even a language she recognized. “Is this Greek?” Carrie pulled out her wand. She knew a translation spell, but it wasn’t always accurate.
Carrie was nervous as she put the wand out in front of her. She preferred spells that were written out in English. Speaking a language that you didn’t understand, especially where magic is concerned, created all sorts of unnecessary problems. Carrie had turned herself into an alley cat a few years back with the help of a yeast spell that was written in Yiddish.
“You have to leave the cottage now,” Greta’s voice delivered the message with the same cold detachment that had been haunting Carrie since the first time she touched the book. “This is not a test, or a trick. You are now charged with protecting this book, and the secrets contained within. It must never fall into the wrong hands. Thank you for taking the time to listen to my teachings, and I wish you a long and healthy life.”
“It doesn’t feel like you mean that,” Carrie mumbled as she started the translation spell. She was surprised and pleased that the book provided a phonetic spelling of the words so she could say the spell without changing the meanings of the words she didn’t understand. The pronunciations were appearing under the words in green. It was taking almost 30 seconds per word, and there were seven words in the spell.
“Anybody home?” It was Solomon. Carrie could see him, but he was on the other side of the back wall. It was like he was towering over the room she was in. He smiled right at Carrie and she knew he saw her. “There you are.” She saw him come closer and lean over the top of her. She watched him lift up the room she was in and remembered she was still inside the book. He’d picked it up off the floor. Now he was holding it. But did he see her? Or only the book?
Her heart beat rapidly as she focused on the translation spell. She needed to get away as soon as possible.
His eyes were scanning the page in front of them. I guess this is what it feels like to be a word, Carrie thought as she watched the eyes moving all around the page if a word could feel. From her vantage point, it looked like Solomon couldn’t make anything out. He seemed confused and upset. She wished he would put the book down. If he saw her, there would be a lot of trouble. She looked down again, trying to figure out the words as quickly as she could.
“Blank pages, eh?” Solomon chuckled to himself. Carrie was somewhat relieved to hear him say that until he made his next move. “I guess this isn’t the book.”
He closed the book. Carrie felt the floor rise up, and she ducked down and then laid flat on her back as her face planted into the ceiling.
“Oh my God!” Carrie groaned. She maneuvered her hand so she could rub her forehead. The ceiling had a lot of give to it. It still felt like paper against her forehead, but it was the speed he used to close the book that had hurt. Carrie moved her hand down and realized that she did have a bit of room to move.
There was no light in the room now and she was fighting to read the spell. Her eyes could make out a bit of the red, but the green was too light to see in the closed book. Carrie waved her wand with a flick at the end and the tip glowed white. “Arrttey Fuggney semper fi tiggey bel fourt!”
The white of the wand was absorbed into the white that swallowed the darkness of the closed book. Carrie was wet before she could make out where she was. The room was gone. She was still holding the book in her left hand and her wand in the right but she appeared to be floating in water. And yet she could still breathe.
Where am I?
Carrie tried to swim for the surface, but her ankle felt like it was caught on something . She looked down to see a hand grasping her leg. Solomon was below her. Fear split through her for only a moment before she flicked her wand at the thousand-year-old vampire. The bolt of power sent the blood sucker back a bit, tumbling over just enough for something in the deep, something dark and rising up from the bottom to encircle him and take him away from her.
Carrie spun in the water, struggling to swim as fast as she could to the surface. She hadn’t seen what it was, but the tentacle that touched Solomon was bigger than an anaconda, bigger than a giant squid. At least that’s what she assumed, since she’d never seen one other than in the movies. Carrie didn’t want to see the rest of the animal. She needed to get to the surface and figure out what the spell was supposed to say. That was her only priority at this point. This was not the escape that Greta had planned for her. She just knew it.
She had more problems than figuring out the spell but didn’t want to overload her brain thinking about it. There was the vampire, the sea monster, the fact that the surface was nowhere in sight… Carrie could feel her air supply running out. She didn’t have gills. She didn’t know how she’d lasted this long. She knew it could only be about another minute or so before her lungs would fill with water and she would drown. She couldn’t even see the surface, there was no way she was going to make it.
She could feel the book heating up in her hands. She opened the book and a spell appeared on the blank page in front of her. She tried to say the words, but she was underwater. Carrie had no idea if it would work until she could breathe once again. She was breathing in the water as if it was air. Carrie took a big breath and then exhaled.
Carrie screamed when a tentacle rose up and grabbed her leg. She had been so focused on breathing that the sea monster had completely slipped her mind. Solomon had likely been too fast for it to catch. Vampires were capable of great speeds in the water too. Before the tentacle could take her to the murky depths below, she managed to pull air all the way into her lungs. She could hold on for almost five minutes. She’d trained herself to do that since she didn’t know the spell for underwater breathing. The tentacle was pulling her down into the cold water. She calmed her heart and opened the book.
The spell from the wall faced her again, red and green, only now the last word was different. Carrie said the words again, and as they bubbled out of her throat the water started to get colder and colder.
Suddenly she was trapped inside an ice swan. The body of the swan was cold against her bare arms. Carrie was in jeans and a t-shirt. It was an inappropriate outfit for deep sea diving, but the cold water was a relieving change of pace from the heat of Greta’s cottage. The cold water was fine, but the ice against her bare arms was extremely uncomfortable.
Gone from the watery depths, the first crack broke through the silence of her surroundings and she suddenly saw the room outside the sculpture. She was finally in a place she recognized. It was the last place she had stayed before heading off to the cottage. Carrie was about to burst out into the throne room of Peles Castle, and it looked like Ali and Anatolie were having a party.
The second crack sent the neck of the swan falling to the ground. It was amazing to see from the inside. The swan was huge, and Carrie really appreciated the craftsmanship. She couldn’t tell exactly what it looked like, but there was a lot of detail on this swan.
Carrie could hear something else as the cracks started to come faster, and sharper. The kraken was coming through, as well. In fact the kraken was starting to push her through the ice. The swan body shattered and Carrie rolled free onto the ornate floor of the castle’s largest room. The guests were already scattering as they saw her tumble from what seemed to be a watery, icy depth.
The members of Carrie’s coven were standing at the back of the room, and they rushed forward to help her. Together they managed to fight the kraken back long enough to close the portal, much to Carrie’s relief. The last thing Carrie wanted was for any more unexpected visitors to arrive. “That was a kraken,” Carrie muttered as she heard the others debating the details of the attack. “We must be very careful about using portals to get in here. I wouldn’t have done what I did, if I had not been in such dire straits. Solomon was after me. That beast went after him first but I guess he got away because it came after me.”
They all needed some time to let the attack settle in, and Carrie needed to find a room to get some rest.
“I really need to get some rest. I’m going to find a spare room.”
She was sure that they would have a lot of questions for her but they really didn’t seem very upset. They were more waiting for the next thing to happen, it seemed.
Ali was more worried about her ball getting ruined. “The people need to believe that they can come here and have a good time,” Ali whined. “It’ll be a generation before they trust this castle for another ball.”
Carrie couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She told the others about what she had learned. They were less than impressed. “You have an old book, and it wants you to save it?” Raven was trying to understand why she should help.
“It’s Greta. She is the one who wants it to be saved,” Carried explained. “That’s why she put a spell on the book. A spell that told me when Solomon was approaching and a spell that gave me what I needed to escape.”
“A spell that tried to feed you to a kraken,” Ali sneered.
“That is my grandmother’s spell book,” Anatolie reminded his fiancé in a deep, scolding voice. “If she wants us to protect the book then we must.” Ali rolled her eyes. She was in a foul mood and no one could escape her wrath.
Carrie tried to keep her voice even as she spoke to Ali. “It sent me there so the kraken could scare off Solomon, and it worked.” She tried to make it as clear as she could so they could understand the severity of the situation. But they stared at her with blank, uncaring expressions. They had no interest in hearing about the ordeal that Carrie had been through over the last few months.
“Six months,” Ali sighed as she repeated the number to a bewildered Carrie. “It’s been six months since you bothered to let us know what was going on. We’d about given up.” She reached up to violently take her hair out of the tight bun that she normally kept it in. It felt like her brain needed more space to handle all of this information. “You haven’t sent us any messages, or even let us know that you were okay…”
“How could I?” Carrie shook her head. “I wasn’t exactly next to a post box, was I?” She looked at Anatolie for support. He shook his head in return but said nothing. To her, that meant she needn’t bother fussing with Ali. It would do her no good. When Ali was in a foul mood, she stayed that way.
Carrie was glad that she had found the book. She had learned a lot. She could tell that her friends had felt a little abandoned. But it was necessary for her to continue her quest and learn as much as she could in order to protect the book.
“I was alone up there. I know. I chose to do that. I had to. But I do know…” She lowered her eyes. “I realized I need you guys. I need your support, your strength and your help.”
“You had to travel into the mountains for six months to realize that?” Raven shook her head.
Carrie looked around the room at her friends. She really had missed them. And yes, she needed them, too. She knew they would help her. That was all that mattered. Carrie sighed to herself and tried to push her weary body up to standing. Suddenly, she could no longer keep her eyes open. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a decent sleep. Knowing she was home with her friends gave her the sleepiness she needed to be out like a rock in no time. “I need to sleep. Can we please talk about this in the morning?”
The others continued to argue amongst themselves, especially Anatolie and Ali. He was on Carrie’s side and Ali didn’t like that he was defending her.
Carrie left the room. She headed to a quiet space in the castle. The chamber was cold, in contrast to Greta’s warm room. She closed her eyes, holding the book to her chest. They would help her get the book safely stored away. She was sure of it.
The castle was filled with empty rooms. The last time that Carrie was in the castle there hadn’t been much in the way of creature comforts, but with Ali and Anatolie living there now, Carrie had no trouble finding a place to lay down.
Carrie set the book down on a table beside the single bed. There was a blanket and a pillow in the room. Neither was very comfortable, but they would do. Carrie had been sleeping on the floor of the cottage for a long time, and any bed was a welcome change.
Carrie took one last look at the book in front of her, and then closed her eyes. Her eyes opened again quickly; she had to check to make sure that the book hadn’t moved. “How am I going to fall asleep with this thing around?” Carrie asked as her eyes shut again. She was so worried that someone would take the book, she took it from the bedside table and wrapped one arm around it. Sleep took hold of her.
It was a recurring dream. Radu had the dream every few months, every year for too many years. He wasn’t sure about time anymore. He spent most of what he had locked away. It was so hard to know what time it was as he lay for years in the dark. His body felt more like the rock ledge that he lay on than the body of a living being. The dream meant that the long sleep was coming to an end. He would need to feed again soon.
She was still young and beautiful in the dream. “Radu,” Nevasta teased as she moved away from him. The moon was high in the sky, and the streets of the small village were empty. Nevasta had a sparkle in her eye, and it was guiding Radu’s way as he ran after her. She was dodging in and out of alleys, staying just ahead of him.
Radu remembered this night well. They had been living in Jgheaburi for fifty years. The people there knew who Radu was, and they helped him to keep his secret. They were the reason that he and Nevasta could build a life together. The couple had spent their first 350 years on the run. Moving from place to place, trying to avoid other vampires, and being discovered by humans.
Nevasta was the reason that Radu had given up the crown. He would’ve had to eventually anyway, but as soon as he met her, Radu knew that he didn’t want to waste another moment as king. Even if they had an eternity together, he knew that it wouldn’t be long enough.
“Do you regret not being king?” Nevasta would ask sometimes. She was always worried that Radu would grow to resent her for what he’d done. She didn’t want to be the reason that he gave up the throne.
“If I could go back, I wouldn’t change a thing,” was always his answer. That was the answer that he gave one night when she asked the question once again.
“Are you sure?” Nevasta asked. Radu had lost sight of her, but he knew she was close. He had watched her walk down this alley.
“You’re the only one for me,” Radu said. Nevasta launched herself at him and took him right to the ground. He smiled as he looked up at her. They kissed, but her lips pulled back suddenly, and Radu’s eyes opened to see a vampire standing over them. He was holding Nevasta’s head in his hands. Radu sprang to his feet and attacked the dark one.
Radu’s enemy hadn’t come alone. Radu found himself drastically outnumbered. He knew that he couldn’t let himself be taken. The evil vampire wanted a very powerful weapon that he could use to wake his dark master.
The dream ended as Radu ran away. It hurt him to leave the body of his beloved behind. He could still feel the pain now, hundreds of years later. He woke sobbing, and rolled up into a sitting position. A cloud of dust rose up as he did; Radu could still feel it settling all over his skin. He could already hear the monks shuffling through the tunnel to his cell.
The monks pushed the heavy rock away from the door, and led the sacrifice into the room. It was a tribute for the service his master had provided them with thousands of years ago. Their brown robes were dusty from the walk through the crumbling walls of the footpath that led back to Radu’s chamber. The chamber was very deep in the mountain.
The room was sealed from the outside. The monastery was built into the side of a cliff. Carved out of the stone, Radu knew that if he tried to get out he might cause a crack that dropped the room down on top of him. He wouldn’t die, but he would suffer for millennia waiting for something to happen to the cliff. Only the monks knew that the vampire was in there.
“Radu the dark,” the high senior member of the monks, Brother Vladimir, said as he gave the vampire the chain. “This is Katrina, she has agreed to be your sacrifice.”
“Right, agreed, that’s why I’m on a chain,” Katrina sneered as she shot an angry look at the monks. Radu smiled warmly to the sacrifice, and gave a tug on the chain. He patted the ledge beside him. Katrina could feel the pressure on the other end of the chain. She didn’t want to upset the powerful beast. “Okay, don’t hurt me.”
Radu waved the monks away, and they all went and stood outside the door. The slam of the rock sealing off the room sent Katrina into a panic. “What are you going to do to me?” She thought for a second about grabbing the big wooden torch that the monks had left in a holder by the entrance.
“What do they call you?” His voice was deep and soothing. Katrina looked from the old man to the torch, but then she turned back to Radu.
“Me?” Katrina asked, and Radu looked on either side of her, and then scanned the room. “All right, I get it. I’m the only one in here. Ah, Trin…I guess. I like Kat, but no one calls me that.”
“Kat,” Radu said as he stood up and shook some of the dirt off himself.
“How long have you been in here?” Kat asked as she wiped the dusty air away from her face. She could see the specks landing on the bright white robes that the monks had dressed her in.
“What year is it?” Radu asked. He laughed to himself when he heard the year. “1998, then I have been in this chamber for the last 215 years. I locked myself away from the world. We don’t need any more monsters running around.”
“What are you?” Kat asked. She had been staring intently at the shaggy hair, and the flaking, stony skin of the ancient creature. Radu beckoned with two fingers for her to walk with him. She hesitated for a moment and then went to the wall he was standing in front of. He held the torch up so that Kat could see a dusty tapestry that hung on the wall.
“Have you heard the legend of Unul Vechy?” Radu asked. Kat shook her head. It wasn’t a story that many were familiar with anymore. “Balaur the Dread had been destroying villages and castles all across Europe and the people prayed for a savior. An angel to save them. Unul Vechy was an angel of sorts, and he did slay the dragon. Balaur fell from the skies and Europe was saved.”
“That was you?” Kat breathed the words as she looked up at the woven image of the dragon. She recognized the shape of the fallen dragon. She didn’t know where, but she had seen that shape before.
“That was my master,” Radu shrugged as if he needed to apologize for not being the dragon slayer. “Unul was not of this world, and he needed to drink human blood to live on this plane. He couldn’t stand to continually feed off of humans.”
“Didn’t the monks bring him sacrifices?” Kat scowled.
“Yes, but catching people wasn’t the problem,” Radu grunted. He quickly moved from Kat’s side to the door, and he put back the torch. “My master didn’t want to hurt anyone. He was an angel after all.”
“So, where do you come into all of this?” Kat moved over to look at the other tapestries that hung high on the walls of the chamber. Her eyesight was adjusting the longer she stayed in the dark cavern cell.
“Balaur was not of this world either,” Radu sighed. “There needed to be a person to take on the job of ensuring that the dragon was not brought back to life.”
“Who would want to do that?”
“His name was Solomon,” Radu felt a pang as he said the name out loud. He hadn’t mentioned the name in hundreds of years. He burned with rage for Solomon, he had seen his face in dreams, and there was something about saying the name that stung Radu deep down in his soul. “He was the first human to become a vampire.”
“Your master turned him,” Kat guessed. She was looking at a tapestry that she had seen in a textbook somewhere. It was about the formation of Wallachia. Kat couldn’t understand how any of these tapestries fit into the story that she was being told. The one with the dragon made sense.
“No, he impaled himself on the fang of the dragon,” Radu said as he followed Kat around the room. She was young, and he could feel her heart beating through her skin. The smell of her blood was driving Radu wild. He could feel his fangs twitching.
“That sounds gruesome.”
“Every story about the dark one is gruesome,” Radu murmured. “I was created by my master to keep the secrets of reanimating Balaur safe.”
“What’s wrong?” Kat said as she turned to see Radu’s eyes. She could see the pain behind them. She reached for his hand and he led her back to the ledge. “What happened that you sealed yourself away?”
“My life ended suddenly one night,” Radu groaned. “I have to be here on Earth, but there is no joy left for me.”
Kat looked up at a painting that hung over the ledge. It was a picture of a young woman with long blonde hair and piercing blue eyes. She was dressed in a deep purple gown. The crown on her head looked like something out of a Disney movie. Kat knew that she was the reason that the flaky-skinned monster was locked away. “Solomon did this?”
“Yes,” Radu nodded as he pulled himself together.
“Is that a map of central Europe?” Kat asked as she looked at the map. She could see the Carpathian Mountains zigzagging through all the different countries before they ended with a thin strip headed out to the Black Sea. She grabbed the torch, and went back to the tapestry with the slain dragon on it.
“It’s him,” Radu said as he watched Kat’s mind whirring. She didn’t say anything for a long time, and then she sat back down on the ledge. “Balaur was larger than any foe man had ever faced, but killing him unleashed a plague upon this planet that has been more destructive than Balaur would’ve ever been.”
“Do you mean Solomon?”
“Vampires, witches, werewolves,” Radu was scanning the ancient tapestries as he spoke. It had been a while since he had looked at them. “Magic wasn’t present on this plane until Balaur landed, and the fight to stop him only invited more magic, and it was magic that ruined so many lives.”
“Wow,” Katrina gasped as she let the story wash over her. She wasn’t sure why, but she felt so wrapped up in the mystical power of the cave and the tapestries. She could now see past the flaky crumbling skin, and see the handsome face that hid behind it.
Radu moved closer to Kat and he put an arm around her. Kat tried to close her eyes tight, and just get it over with but she hesitated and pulled away from him. He let her move away from him, watching the nervousness in her face. “I just need to know,” Kat tried to get her breathing under control. “I just need to know if you’re going to kill me?”
“I will not hurt you any more than is necessary to sustain my life,” Radu promised as he moved closer to Kat. He didn’t like hurting women. He always tried his best to make sure they were comfortable before drawing their blood. “You will walk out of here under your own power, and you will remember nothing of your time here.”
“But I want to,” Kat said as she pulled away again, looking at him. “I’m glad that you’re going to let me live, but I want to remember this as well.”
“I have already promised this to the brothers,” Radu said, shaking his head. “I have to wipe the memories of the girls they bring here. I have no choice.”
“But what about all of the stuff that you just told me?” Kat frowned. “I want to remember this story, and these pictures. I want to remember all of this. I was kidnapped by freaky monks, and trapped in a cavern with a vampire, and it’s still the best date I’ve had in months. You can’t take this from me.”
“Unfortunately, I can my dear. I have to.” Radu smiled as he took her hand. Kat let herself be led over to the ledge. Radu pulled her back against his body, and Kat let herself sink back into his arms. The teeth sank into her neck and Kat gasped.
“Was she good, my lord?” Brother Vladimir asked as the rock rolled away. Two monks always stood by the door during the last hour to wait for his knock.
“She was excellent,” Radu said as he let the brothers into the room. He knew that they would be eager to get Kat out of the room. The monks had a great distaste for the work. Radu didn’t take offense to this, he didn’t like drinking the blood of their sacrifices either. Radu much preferred the taste of a willing donor. That is why he took his time with each girl.
“Of course heesh shays jat, the auld c-shamer,” Kat slurred her words, delirious as the junior monks led her down the rocky corridor that led to the outer chambers.
“She seems a little more animated than normal,” Vladimir remarked as he watched the girl amble off.
“She took to things a little differently,” Radu admitted. “I wouldn’t think too much of it. Make sure the next time to test them for alcohol. Did you find her at a tavern?” Radu didn’t wait for an answer from the monk. “Because alcohol in the system can have this effect.”
“We’ll check next time. Sorry about that.
Radu nodded and moved back into his room. He laid back down on his ledge, as they slid the rock back into place with a slam. This time a bar was placed around the boulder to lodge it into the structure of the monastery. For the next few years Radu would fight the urge to leave his cell. His hunger for blood was harder to ignore when he had just been fed. He could feel the heartbeats of the monks as they left the cavern. Radu closed his eyes to the sound. He needed rest.
“It’s 2018 for God’s sake, why am I still struggling to find a signal?” Ali’s shrill cries were coming through the walls. Carrie tried to cover her face, shutting her eyes tight. It was over quickly, thank God. Unfortunately, though, Carrie wasn’t the kind of person who rolled over and went back to bed. As soon as her sleep was broken, it was time to get up.
Carrie’s eyes opened again to see the sun had started to break over the mountains. She sat up and rubbed her eyes. “Where is it?” Carrie shouted as she ran out of the room. “Where is the book?”
“I have it,” Anatolie was standing just in the hallway, running one finger over the outside of the book. He looked to be admiring it. He handed it back to Carrie.
Carrie accepted the book with trembling hands. “Please…” her voice was shaky. “Don’t do that to me.”
“You dropped it on the floor and I just wanted to make sure that no one took it,” Anatolie grinned at her. “You’re obsessed, Carrie. And that might be a good thing. At least you’ll watch over the book 24/7. I don’t know many humans that devoted to anything.”
“I’m not a human,” Carrie said, recognizing his humor. “I’m a witch.”
He nodded. “That you are, my dear. I am headed to bed now.”
The fright of the book being gone had nearly given her a heart attack. It wasn’t until she had gotten back to the bed and sat down to take a moment to feel the leather of the cover, that Carrie started to calm down.
Carrie got back out of bed and then headed down to the main dining room where Raven was having an early breakfast. The castle didn’t have a staff. They had the guards, a group of vampires loyal to Anatolie, but they didn’t have cooks, chefs, or butlers. Everything was still set up for the party that Carrie had ruined with her ice spell.
She knew that it was going to be a while before Ali forgave her for that. To Carrie, it wasn’t that big of a deal. Ali was overreacting.
“She’ll get over it,” Raven said as she watched Carrie’s eyes looking over the decorations.
“Are you sure?”
“Well, no,” Raven teased. “I forgave you already, but she may hate you forever.”
The girls laughed as Carrie sat down and pulled a pear out of the fruit bowl on the large oak table. She sat in the high-backed chair and let herself melt into it. She could feel the weight of the world on her shoulders. She didn’t really have a plan, but she knew she wasn’t leaving the castle until they came up with one. “We should ask Helga for help,” Carrie sighed between bites of pear.
Shortly afterwards Raven excused herself and went to bed. Ali was already sleeping, Carrie assumed, because the yelling had stopped coming through the walls. The others were now on vampire schedules. They had both decided to spend their lives with vampires, and so their new sleep schedules made sense. It just made for a very lonely day for Carrie. The castle was a very quiet place, and Carrie wasn’t sure if she was going to be able to go outside the castle’s walls. Solomon had found the book once. There was always a chance he would find it again.
“So, what do I do with you?” Carrie said to the book as she flipped it open to a random page. For the first time since finding the book, she could see the words written in the pages of the book. “Oh!” She threw the book down, recoiling for a second.
“What are you trying to do to me?” Carrie asked the book as she took a deep breath and summoned the strength to lean down and pick it up again. She pulled all her courage together and began reading through it. The power of the book pulsed through her fingers, adding to her discomfort. “The Protection Spell, the Invisible Hand, the Touch of Death?” Carrie read the names in a hushed whisper. She read through a few of the spells, and decided to try one out. She hurried back to the fruit bowl.
“Luați acea pere!” Carrie said, holding her hand out and curling her fingers. She was staring intently at the pear left on top of the fruit bowl. She raised her hand and the pear moved up. She moved her hand all over the place and the pear followed her hand. Carrie opened her hand and let the pear go.
She read through the book for the rest of the day. She took the time to protect the walls of the castle, even though it seemed unnecessary considering the power already contained in the castle. “Sigiliți aceste ziduri!” She shouted the words. Carrie wasn’t sure if it helped, but she did it anyway. Carrie knew that most magic was about the feeling, and the atmosphere that you created around you.
The others eventually woke up and started moving around the castle. The sun had gone down and they were ready to help Carrie find a solution to her problem. “We need to head into the woods,” Raven said. “We can’t hide the book in here. It’s too obvious.” Ali agreed with Raven but Carrie wasn’t convinced it was the right move. The two women fought with her until she finally relented under one condition.
“I’ll go if Anatolie comes with us,” she said. She was a bit disappointed that she was having to leave the walls that she had just taken the time to protect. It felt so much safer on the right side of the protection charm. “I just feel like I need someone indestructible near me.”
Anatolie grinned at her. He had been rendered indestructible by the book, and the actions of his grandmother Greta, the creator of the book. There was no guarantee that he could protect the others, but Carrie thought it couldn’t hurt to have him along beside them.
The witches left the castle quietly, moving down the front stairs on silent feet, moving toward the woods with stealth-like precision. Deep inside, they stumbled onto a clearing in the woods that was nearly a perfect circle. Normally they would’ve sat down right then, but Carrie decided they needed an extra layer of protection. She had brought a box of salt from the castle. “Anatolie, I need you to build a ring of logs on the outside of this ring.” Carrie started to pour a ring of salt around a stump. The circle was just wide enough for the witches to sit around the stump.
The girls each gave thanks to the spirits of the woods as they sat down inside the circle. The circle was when the coven was at its strongest. They could feel their powers moving through the roots and the plants that surrounded them. Anatolie stood outside of the rings of salt and wood. Carrie felt better knowing that he was watching over them.
“What are we doing?” Ali said after a moment of silence. “I thought I knew, but I need to know what to focus on.”
“We need to ask the universe for a solution to our problem,” Carrie suggested, but her voice gave away her low level of confidence in her plan. The others looked at her, and then each other. They all shrugged and then Carrie had a thought. “What if we ask Helga?”
Helga was the leader of their coven. She was the one who had planned their spring break trip to Romania. A trip that had turned into months of vampire and werewolf laden mysteries. A trip that had nearly ended all three of their lives at one point or another. Helga had pulled back from the coven and been less than helpful since the girls left home.
“She hasn’t been very forthcoming with information,” Raven said as she looked at the stump. Helga was Raven’s grandmother, and though the others didn’t blame their friend for her grandmother’s actions, she was having trouble processing the betrayal.
“We can ask her,” Ali said. “We don’t have to take her advice and she can always say no, but if she is willing to help, we’ve won that battle.” Carrie and Raven nodded and they all closed their eyes and called out to Helga. They could feel her presence, but she wasn’t answering their question. They could tell that she heard them, but she wasn’t saying anything.
“I can feel her using the energy,” Carrie said as she tried to break the hold Helga was using to suck in the power. “I can’t stop her.” The others weren’t responding and Carrie opened her eyes to see that the others seemed to be screaming at her as well. They were all moving their mouths, but there was no sound. Their hair was moving around, and blowing in a breeze that Carrie couldn’t feel. Her hair seemed to be moving as well.
Carrie turned to see Anatolie fighting to get through the protective barriers, but he was stuck on the other side of the logs and unable to help the witches as they seemed to be locked in a spell. Carrie could see the protective walls of the ring as Anatolie struck at the air. Out of the corner of her eye, Carrie saw a blast of pink and orange rise out of the stump.
“My girls,” Helga said as she broke the spell’s hold on her students. The energy stopped flowing, their hair stopped flapping in the unfelt breeze, and Anatolie fell over the logs he had been trying to charge past.
“What the hell was that?” Anatolie yelled as he brushed the leaves off of himself and got back to his feet.
“How did you do that?” Raven asked as she got up to hug her grandmother. She wasn’t sure how she would feel about seeing Helga again, but she couldn’t stop herself from loving her grandmother. The last time they had talked, Helga had been a magical projection. Seeing her in the flesh was a different feeling altogether.
“I need you to help me,” Carrie said as she watched the heartfelt scene unfold. She had tried to wait to ask, but she just couldn’t hold off her curiosity. “What am I supposed to do with Greta’s book?” Helga’s shoulders dropped and she got down off the stump. Helga was at least a thousand years old, and yet she had the appearance of a sixty or seventy-year-old.
“We need to get to work,” Helga said as she threw her grey hair up in a messy bun. “There is a lot to do if we’re going to get this book to the guardian and seal it away.” Helga walked out of the circle and the girls looked at each other. Helga wasn’t stopping, and they all ran to catch up with her.
“We need to get to the Monastery of Corbii de Piatră,” Helga said, “but it’s not going to be easy. Solomon knows that we’re going to find the guardian.” Helga led them out of the woods and back inside the castle. “The monastery was cut out of the side of a cliff, and deep in the heart sleeps the weapon we need.”
“The weapon sleeps?” Raven asked, but everyone else just kept walking. “Am I the only one who has a problem with this?” No one responded and Raven sighed heavily, trudging along behind them.
They walked into the huge throne room, which had rows and rows of golden bleachers on either side for the lords and ladies who once sat there. “I guess that’s a yes.” Raven grumbled, eyeing the back of her grandmother’s head.
“What are we supposed to be doing?” Ali asked as Helga pulled out several maps and held her hands over the sheets of old paper. Helga stayed silent and closed her eyes. Her hands were shaking, but the maps were also shaking, and there were marks appearing on the paper.
“This is the path that we have to take,” Helga said as she traced a line with her finger across the map. The path was the lone blue line in a sea of red marks leading through the mountains to a small village. It was the only mark from the original map that had survived Helga’s spell.
“Tell us why,” Ali snarled the words. Carrie knew that Ali was still upset about the misinformation she had received when they first came to Peles Castle, and the village of Sinaia. She and her beloved Anatolie had nearly died, and Anatolie had been cut into little pieces at one point. Everything had worked out in the end, but everyone had agreed that Helga had known more than she was sharing.
“We need to get the book into Poenari Fortress,” Helga sighed as she looked around the room at all of the angry faces. The old witch had been around long enough to know when she had lost the favor of the room. “It was built by Radu Negru, when he created the independent principality of Wallachia. It was the first step to Romanian independence.”
“Thanks for the history lesson, but what does that have to do with this book?” Carrie knew that she had to be missing something. “I get that Romanian independence was important from a historical perspective, but how does it apply to our current situation?”
“It is also where he locked away the most powerful weapon the world has ever seen,” Helga said. A smile slipped slowly onto her face as she watched the younger witches lean in closer. “The sword that knocked Balaur from the skies and the sword that is said to still hold his soul.”
“I’m lost, to be honest,” Raven said.”But it sounds like the place we probably should hide the book. When do we leave?”
“Tonight,” Helga said as she looked at her watch. “There isn’t much time. This path is one of the few places not being monitored by Solomon. As soon as he has all of his people in place, we won’t have a chance to get through to Radu.”
“We have to wait for Matthias,” Raven said, glancing through the window to the night sky beyond. There were so many stars. It amazed her. She was hoping to see Matthias coming in through the large windows at the south end of the throne room.
“I have told him to stay in Corvinus Castle,” Helga said as she put her arm around her granddaughter. “Vampires cannot be trusted around this book, at least not the vampires turned by Solomon.”
“Anatolie has broken Solomon’s hold,” Ali reminded her.
“But he is still susceptible to the lure of the book,” Helga said as she pointed at the throne. “This is his seat of power, and it needs to be filled while we are on this mission. We will be facing Solomon alone this time.”
Helga looked back at her maps. With a somber face, Ali rushed into Anatolie’s arms and he wrapped them around her, lowering his head to rest it against hers. Carrie looked away. She didn’t want to see Ali cry. She berated herself. This was all her fault. She should have been more careful. She was the one who had gone after the book. She was the one who wanted to learn more, and now her friends were suffering.
Carrie’s heart softened for Raven. She walked over and pulled her into a warm hug.
“I’m sorry he can’t come with us,” Carrie said, but her friend only nodded and stood rigid as a stone.
Can Radu and Carrie stop before it’s too late?
“The Sword Keeper” is a paranormal romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.
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