Collapse won Best Overall Story and Best Plot in the 1998 Gabriel Knight Halloween contest. I received a copy of the Gabriel Knight Collector's Edition signed by Jane Jensen.
I've included the entire story here.
I awoke with a start, bolting upright. The visions of the dream circled within my mind for a few moments, my breath rasping through the humidity in the room. Sweat slid down my back, cold against burning skin and I trembled, bringing my arms to close about my body in a silent comfort. I clung desperately to my wits, glancing at the glowing green digits on my clock-- a subtle hope to draw some reality into the chaos my mind insisted on inhabiting. It read 3:30 AM... A pale moonbeam pierced my window and illuminated the floor before the bed and I glanced outside into the darkness, considering all that could be hidden behind the veil of shadow the night cruelly donned.
Tentatively, I tossed off the blankets and pushed myself out of the bed, my legs were numb and complained immediately upon feeling my weight. I steadied myself on the nightstand and took several deep breaths, fighting back a nausea that came over me in waves. For a moment, my vision dimmed to darkness and just as suddenly returned. Shaking off the cobwebs of sleep and fatigue, I stumbled my way into the shadowy bathroom. A pale beam seeped through the blinds casting writhing images across the floor and sink, the constant movement made my head swim and I hurriedly turned on the light to chase away the darkness, replacing it with the cold comfort of a yellow electric glow.
My eyes caught my own gaze in the mirror and my lips immediately sank into a deep frown. My hair was a frazzled mess of brown locks clinging to the sides of my head like vines of ivy. I brushed my hand across my face, the skin was unnaturally pale and my lips were light in color, almost blue.
I twisted the knob on the sink, hot water spilled from the nozzle and I immediately cupped my hands and brought up three splashes to my face. When I glanced back up at the mirror, water dripped down my cheeks, my bloodshot eyes were less irritated and I took a deep breath before turning toward the shower... And yet was stopped abruptly in mid stride, my eyes falling upon a horrible visage yet perhaps the most beautiful which I had ever beheld.
At first, all I saw was darkness... a black splotch against the white tile decorative nature of my bathroom. But then details began to present themselves, a white shirt covered by a long black coat. Pale skin framing perfect features, a sculpted face with deep set dark eyes and swept black hair. The red lips curled into something of a smile and before I could find the air to scream, consciousness swept away from me...
Gabriel leaned back in the diner's booth, regarding the greasy sandwich occupying the plate before him. His appetite waned somewhat and he heaved a sigh, glancing out the window into the quiet streets. Hardly a car passed by and the few people that were out seemed to be in quite the hurry. He frowned as he took a sip of his coffee, sneering as the harsh liquid found its way past his mouth.
A glance at his watch indicated that it was half past seven o' clock. He'd been in the stinky place for over an hour and had been the only patron since he arrived. Claudia had to be along anytime.
Claudia had been a very close friend of his from college, a music major. She had been working on a piano performance degree when they met and the romantic involvement they shared was the closest that Gabriel had been to love in his entire educational career. The destruction of that relationship was one of his biggest regrets-- a decision made out of fear of commitment and the claustrophobia he experienced at the thought of being tied to only one woman.
All in all, they were very happy during their relationship. She was a very open minded person and they held much in common. His creative mind was constantly challenged by her wit and for the first time in his life, he had found a woman who he could honestly admit to loving. He had missed her a great deal.
The last he had heard, she had moved away and took a job composing for a small dance company. He was happy for her. She had achieved the goal that she desired, even though she didn't quite make the performance circuit.
But now he wondered with mixed emotions why it was that she suddenly contacted him out of the blue and asked him to come and visit her. She wasn't an impulsive person in the least so it seemed odd that she would so frantically request his presence without good reason. He would've thought that had she wanted to become reacquainted, she would've called first and perhaps a few letters and conversations later, they would be making plans for a rendezvous. But in her brief letter, she hadn't even bothered to make reference to what it was that she wanted.
He shook his head and forced himself to take a bite of the cold sandwich. His last couple cases were getting the best of him and now he was becoming suspicious of everything that wasn't made black and white clear to him. She probably was just at a point where she wanted to meet with an old friend, exchange some stories. Nothing to be alarmed about.
But when he saw the woman that he had once loved, perhaps still did come through the door, his heart leapt and concern washed over him anew. She had changed a great deal from a young woman gorgeous in her plainness, to the exotic beauty that rapidly approached him. Her skin was deathly pale, long brown hair was neatly secured in a bun. Dark eye shadow gave her an oppressive look and her red lips were drawn into a thin line. A white blouse clung to her lithe body and was tucked neatly into a short black skirt. High heels clicked loudly on the dirty green tile and she offered him the briefest of smiles as she stopped before him and embraced him. "Hi Gabriel," She managed, her soft voice brushing his ear like an autumn breeze. "I'm so glad that you could make it..."
Gabriel took his seat and regarded her across the table with a stunned expression dominating his handsome features. "I'm glad to see you, Claudia... it's been a long time."
She nodded, shyly looking at her hands. "It has."
"So what have you been up to?"
"I've been very busy." She leaned back in the cushion of the booth and looked up. "There's been a lot happening at the studio."
He nodded. "I don't suppose you've noticed what I've been up to?"
Claudia smiled warmly at the pride in his voice. "Of course I noticed. I've read them both." She folded her hands on the table. "I wasn't in the least bit surprised that you did so well."
Gabriel returned the smile. "Thank you but as with others in the entertainment industry, my first success followed my hundredth failure." They chuckled as he brought his coffee to his lips. "So what about you? How's life outside the profession?"
"Actually, things haven't been too good." She looked out the window. "I need your help, Gabriel." Her eyes watered and a lone tear slid down her cheek, seemingly unnoticed.
He reached out and touched the tear before it escaped her chin. "Claudia, what happened?" Gabriel's tone was soft and his expression was filled with sympathy. His suspicion was replaced by worry and he took her hand and squeezed with reassurance.
"Gabriel, I think that I'm losing my mind." She kept her gaze averted outside her voice was tense and even. "I... I've been having the worst nightmares..." Tears flowed freely and she fiercely blinked in a vain attempt to keep them at bay.
"Shh." He moved over to sit beside her, placing his arm over her shoulder and pulling her against him. "It's alright." He whispered. "They're just nightmares." He felt something of relief come over him. "That's all."
She shook her head furiously. "No!" She cried. "I've felt so horrible... And I... I don't know what's wrong..."
He placed his hand against her cheek and withdrew it immediately into a fist. Her skin was icy cold and he creased his brows thoughtfully. "Have you been to the doctor?"
"Gabriel, I think that I was raped."
The statement stunned him a moment, first the implications followed shortly by the context. "My God Claudia!" He breathed. "Have you been to the police?" Then the rest hit him. "What do you mean you 'think' you were raped?"
"That's just it Gabriel! I can't remember a thing... but when it happened..." She composed herself before looking him in the eye. A strength had come over her, familiar in its intensity... The memory closed over his heart with a tightening grip and he cursed himself again for not having the presence of mind to have held on to her when he had the chance. "When it happened, I passed out before he touched me but I remember things... He was on top of me and there was pain. When I woke up in the morning I was on the bathroom floor."
"When did this happen?"
"It happened a few days before I mailed you the letter... you're the only person that I could turn to."
He frowned. "I see." He pondered a moment, mulling over his next question before looking down at her. "I'd love to help you, Claudia but... but really you just need to go to the police. Probably the hospital as well. You need to report this stuff."
Suddenly, she became cross, her eyes flaring in irritation. "Gabriel, if there wasn't something else afoot here do you think that I would've been so insistent that you come? If this was just a simple matter for the police, I would've done so but God damnit I can't go to the police right now! I'm beginning to feel that... that my dreams are more than that... that perhaps they hold something akin to reality."
"What are you trying to say, Claudia?"
"I'm trying to say that I think I've killed people, Gabriel."
Gabriel leaned back speechless. Suspicion comes round, bites the unwary hand... reminds the denying mind. A clear indication of what he was. Of what his inheritance promised. Wasn't it true that those with power attracted others with it? Perhaps the phrasing was off a bit but the general idea was there. His responsibilities seemed to be ever present, demanding a discipline that he didn't care for and certainly didn't want.
He sighed and returned his attentions to the present dilemma, leaving his reverie for another personal philosophical moment he was sure would come. Claudia claimed to have possibly killed someone. What was he to say? If she had been involved in a murder, what could he possibly do? More importantly, he wondered what she thought he could do...
"I'm sorry Claudia, I don't understand..." He struggled for a moment then shrugged. "It sounds like you need help-psychological help perhaps." He put his hands up as he noticed her crease her brows in irritation. "I'm sorry but really... I don't know what you think I could do."
"Gabriel," She started, putting her hand on his cheek. "I... I know what you are. I don't know how I don't know why... but I know."
He squinted at her tilting his head slightly to emphasize his apprehension. "What I am?" He questioned.
"Shattenjager?" The word made him straighten in his seat and he pursed his lips as if to respond but she interrupted. "I need you Gabriel. I can't explain what's happening to me but I know that you can help."
He took her hand from his cheek and turned away, running a hand through his mop of hair with a sigh. Why did everything have to be so complex? Suspicion aside, the thought that their conversation would lead to anything supernatural hadn't even crossed his mind. And now he was presented with a case-one by which he might inevitably be forced to condemn a friend, an ex lover. His path lead in strange directions. "Of course I'll help. You know that."
She leaned up and kissed him gently on the cheek pulling away with a smile. "Thank you." Despite his concern, he returned her smile and wondered just what he saw in her eyes. There was certainly the fear that she conveyed but something more... Longing perhaps? Regret?
When he first received the letter, the first thought was that she wanted to get reacquainted, perhaps more. Some part of him hoped that that would be true. But they had both changed so much him more than her he was sure. What could they possibly have in common with one another? But there was a more pressing matter... The fact that she knew he was a Shattenjager. Why disturbed him more than how and he figured it a safe bet that whatever it was that plagued her had granted her the knowledge. A trap set using an old flame? He'd certainly read of stranger in the library back home. Best to be on guard...
"I suppose that since everything that's happened occurred while you were asleep, I'll stay with you tonight." He considered what he had just said and quickly smiled and shook his head. "Rather, I'll stay up and uh, keep watch."
She chuckled and patted his leg. "I know what you meant." She started to slide out of the booth and he stood to let her leave. "I'll be right back." She strode off toward the restroom and he admired her as she walked... Almost twice as gorgeous as when he had last seen her.
He exhaled and shook his head, plopping back in the booth. His mind was floating between being responsible and wrestling with a part of his heart that he thought he had dropped years ago, now reemerged.
The waitress stopped at the table with his check and dropped it on the edge. Without a word she turned and wandered off toward the kitchen and he frowned at her a moment. Strange place Claudia chose to settle in. He paid the tab and waited by the front door, regarding the coming night with apprehension. Once again, into the fray.
A figure garbed in a long trench coat slid along the side of the house, kneeling before the windows and examining each in turn. A harsh wind billowed through the trees, the rustling almost as loud as the fluttering of leaves upon the pavement.
Gabriel drew his trench coat about him and tensed his body against the chill. He wondered if the cold was typical of a Pacific Northwest autumn. A myriad of color exploded around him as the wind caught a pile of newly raked leaves and dispersed them in his direction. He turned his face until the last of them had passed and he looked back across the lawn toward the road.
The darkness was oppressive with no streetlights to fend it off and the clouds that obscured the moon only allowed a dull glow to illuminate the landscape-a futile effort with the bare limbs of the trees swaying about, casting their perverse shadows over everything beneath them. He was beginning to think he should fetch a flashlight when the light from the bathroom turned on, offering him a small sanctuary as the area he had wanted to examine was made lurid.
He looked over the final window for any sort of tampering, scoff marks for prying, missing paint but aside from the typical dilapidation inherent in the typical home, there was nothing. The ground beneath hadn't been disturbed by anything larger than a cat. He sighed and thought a moment. He had checked every other entrance with the same results. He turned and walked back around and knocked on the door-he had Claudia keep it locked while he was outside. He rocked on his heels a moment, looking around the quiet neighborhood. The pristine lawns and number of RV's indicated a large retired population. It explained why he hadn't seen anyone out as they had arrived to her house after dark.
Claudia opened the door and he hurried in, enjoying the sudden burst of warm air that stung his face, specifically his nose. Claudia! Is it always like this in September?"
"Sometimes." She replied. "Can I get you something to drink?"
He nodded. "Coffee please." He followed her into the kitchen, not removing his coat. "I've checked all the entrances and it doesn't seem like anyone's entered forcefully."
She frowned as she poured him a mug of hot coffee, which he took gratefully, cupping it with both hands. He continued. "So I can't say whether someone came in or not but there's nothing to indicate a break in. I'll check again in the morning, of course but I don't anticipate finding anything."
"What are you suggesting?"
"I'm hoping that you can tell me more about the night the person was in the house."
Claudia exhaled and shrugged. "I can't say much, Gabriel. I went into the bathroom after a bad dream. When I turned around, he was there." Her tone sounded flustered. "If I knew more, I'd certainly tell you."
He nodded, sipping from his mug as he contemplated. "And what makes you think that you were awake when you saw him?"
"Are you suggesting that I was sleep walking?"
Gabriel shrugged. "It's a distinct possibility. It explains your lack of memory."
"Does it explain the blood?"
He set the mug down and leaned back in his chair, regarding her through half closed eyes. "Claudia, I want to help you but in order for me to do that, you're going to have to help me. Anything you emit makes my job more difficult. What blood?"
Claudia stood from the table and looked out the window into the backyard, arms crossed. "When I woke up, there was blood all over my chest and neck."
"How much blood are we talking about here?"
"What time did you wake up?"
"Around six thirty."
"And was it dark when you got up?"
"Can you describe this guy again?"
"He was tall. Black hair... wearing a white shirt and a long black coat. I didn't see anything else before I passed out."
"And why did you pass out? Did he hit you?"
She shook her head. "No, I just... lost consciousness."
"And where's the wound that bled all over you? Is it on your head?"
"No. There was no wound."
"How do you account for the blood?"
"I don't know."
Gabriel looked down at his coffee. "Nothing on your chest, neck or head?" He asked softly as an idea began to materialize.
"Nothing Gabriel. There were no wounds."
"Can I use your phone?" He stood up and watched her for her response and when she nodded he walked into the living room. He flopped himself into the black leather sofa and took the receiver, dialing Grace's apartment. It had to be somewhere close to midnight back home and he figured she'd long be asleep.
"Hello?" Came a tired voice on the other line and he tried to chipper his voice.
"Gracie! It's me!"
"Gabriel?" A pause. "It's 12:30. What's going on?"
"I'm sorry for waking you. I need your help."
He heard her rustle about in the bed a moment before she replied. "Where are you? I thought you were going to visit that friend of yours in Oregon."
"That's where I'm at. Believe it or not but she called me out here for a case."
"What? What's it about?"
"I'm still collecting information but if I'm not mistaken, I read something about a vampire in one of the old journals... Can you check SIDNEY and see what you bring up? Specifically, I need information about the effects on the victims that live through a vampire attack."
"You think that you are dealing with a vampire?"
"Yeah. There's hardly another explanation and though I certainly don't want to jump to conclusions, I think we've both seen enough now to know that it's best to acknowledge possibilities."
"Fair enough. I'll get right on it. Do you want me to call you when I'm done?"
"No, I'll give you a call back tomorrow evening. If I'm correct about what's happening, I don't know how long I'll be at this number."
"Alright Gabriel. Try to be careful this time."
He chuckled. "Don't worry. It's me!" He hung up the receiver before she could reply. He could hear Claudia in the kitchen, dishes clinging together softly as she put them away. He leaned his head against the cushion and thought, mulling over what he knew of vampires-nothing very reliable. Movie magic, nothing more.
As the sound of running water ceased, he realized that Claudia would be going to bed soon. He reminded himself to make another pot of coffee. He was in for a long night.
Boredom. A yawn followed a stretch and a heavy sigh. He glanced down at his book and tried to comprehend the passage he was working on but realized he had lost the story at least ten pages ago. He slid the paperback on the small table next to the recliner he resided in and glanced over at the sleeping form of Claudia, her soft breathing rhythmic-- almost hypnotic in the near darkness of the room.
Gabriel rested his head in his hand and frowned, his thoughts preoccupied with a myriad of subjects and unable to focus on one for more than a moment. Emotionally, he felt secure about the situation. The feelings he still harbored for her had been subdued with time but something had emerged when he first saw her. Perhaps it was a fear born of his recent realization of his own mortality-- the lifestyle he had for so long indulged seemed ludicrous to even entertain any longer.
Here he was, a man who had achieved a dream of making himself wealthy through his writing, a man who had succeeded against countless levels of adversity. And yet, it was almost poetic that he would finally attain his goals only to have the greatest stress any could fathom thrust upon him-- one that he had no real choice than to pursue and excel with. So rather than be capable of funding his old lifestyle of entertaining himself, he was forced to invest in his 'responsibility'. Must've been God's way of pushing him over to the path most true...
Gabriel started as out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Claudia rising from her bed. Her movements were lethargic as the blankets fell aside her satin nightgown billowing out as she stood erect. Swathed in moonlight spilling in from the window, she looked unnatural, a specter against the night.
Her bare feet rustled against the carpet, the silence giving way only to her still rhythmic breathing... Gabriel watched curiously, wondering exactly where she'd try to go. As she approached the door, he saw that her eyes were wide open though her face was emotionless-- her unblinking gaze frightening against pale skin and drawn features. She pushed open the door and walked into the hall, turning left toward the living room. Gabriel stood to follow, making as little noise as possible to avoid disturbing her.
She made her way down the hall, a terrible phantom with the billowing white behind her, as though she were travelling through a sharp breeze. He caught up to her and reached a hand out and waved it in front of her face, keeping pace with her stride so he didn't accidentally touch her. There was no response. The blank expression remained motionless.
She turned sharply as she got into the living room, approaching the door with a strange sense of purpose. As she took the handle gently, Gabriel decided to intervene. He placed a hand on either shoulder to turn her gently around, intending to wake her. But before he could apply any effort to move her, she flung an arm back and caught him in the chest, sending him staggering back several steps. He brought a hand up to his chest instinctively, rubbing where he had been struck. Eyes wide with surprise, he glanced back at Claudia as she opened the door and proceeded outside.
He followed swiftly, keeping at her side as she walked... her expression never changing, her eyes glazed and dry. Gabriel rubbed his arms to fend off the cold and wondered how he might conceivably wake her without another violent display.
They rounded the block, her bare feet gently clapping on the chilled sidewalk echoed by Gabriel's boots thumping beside. He glanced up at the moon a moment marveling at how well he could pick out the details in the midst of a cities suburb. It seemed closer than ever he had acknowledged it, the angry face casting its dull light upon the eerie night. He returned his attention to Claudia.
After what seemed an eternity in the cold, they returned to the house and Claudia strode in what seemed some sort of designated path-- a pattern only her unconscious mind could conceive. She stopped abruptly in the kitchen and screamed, falling to the ground in a fit of hysterics.
Gabriel rushed to her side, lifting her gently to a sitting position. "Claudia, it's me..." As he tried to place his arms about her, she cried out.
"No! Don't touch me!" She pushed his hands away and he noticed that her skin was extremely hot. "The blood! Look at all the blood! Gabriel, what have I done? What have I done?"
Moments pass. Become hours flow into days. Amass a year. No matter how much time passes, waiting is eternity. Pacing silently on a tiled floor in the lobby of a dimly lit hospital, Gabriel Knight pondered these things to occupy his thoughts with something other than worry. Casting a weary glance at the clock yielded nothing more than frustration. Thirty minutes since they had arrived. Some forty minutes since Claudia woke up in her kitchen screaming about non-existent blood and hysterically crying over the child that she was convinced she had killed.
The quandary existed in what may be wrong with her. Perhaps the supernatural explanation that he had envisioned was jumping to conclusions. Perhaps it was as simple as a mental breakdown. It sounded like she had been working pretty hard. What if she just needed a vacation? Maybe a couple of sessions with a good counselor?
Such a theory was sound if you eliminated her knowledge of him as a Shattenjager. There had to be more to the situation. If she was simply sleepwalking, why the fever? He forced himself to sit on a solid bench, leaning his elbows on his knees in contemplation.
"Mr. Knight?" An official voice drew him from his reverie and he pulled himself to his feet. An older man garbed in a white jacket stood before him, his drawn face unrevealing, hands planted in his coat's pockets.
"Yes?" Gabriel folded his arms impatiently.
"Miss Philips is resting quietly." He pulled up his right and frowned down at a gold watch. "She should be ready to go home any time."
"Go home?" Gabriel sounded confused. "What about the fever?"
The doctor shook his head. "There's nothing the matter with her, Mr. Knight."
Gabriel nodded with a sigh. "Can I see her now?"
"Certainly. When she wakes up, she can go home." The doctor turned and walked to the reception desk. "She's just down the hall there, second door on the right."
Gabriel followed his directions, more confused and irritated than before. There was something more to all this than her losing her mind. Perhaps a breakdown was playing some role in the situation but it had to have been induced. His initial thought, the assumption of a vampire seemed ridiculous now. What was next?
He pushed open the door and walked in, sliding over to the bed quietly to regard Claudia. Her brow was creased, lips tightly drawn into a thin line and she was trembling slightly... as if she were struggling. He could see the muscles in her jaws tensing and relaxing, her heart rate was alarmingly fast. He wondered what was normal about this state as he reached down and gently shook her on the shoulder.
Gabriel sat at the dining room table, sipping a mug of coffee as he scanned over the morning paper. They had arrived back at the house around six thirty in the morning, both taking a long nap until just after noon. Gabriel had been up first, made the coffee and collected the paper before waking up Claudia who immediately went about taking a shower.
He stretched in his chair and grabbed the phone, dialing St George's back home. "St George's Books." He heard the familiar voice answer.
"Hi Gracie, it's me." He sounded glum though he was too preoccupied to notice. "Did you get the information?"
"I did. What's up? Have you learned anything?"
"The puzzle just keeps growing, Grace. Things have changed from unsure to obscure."
"Details Gabriel?" He rolled his eyes at the sarcasm in her voice.
"I was thinking that she might just need to slow down with the work flow, get some rest? Last night she did a lap around the block in her sleep, came back and collapsed in the kitchen screaming about blood being all over her. But two things keep me from thinking that she's just having a breakdown. One being that she was burning up with a fever when she woke up and the second..." He paused and pursed his lips. "She knew that I was a Shattenjager."
"Oh?" Grace asked, interest creeping into her tone. "How?"
"I don't know. Neither does she, or so she claims."
"And you have a theory?"
"Only that there is something at work here beyond her mental state. Something causing her to feel this way... something that informed her of what I was and used her to draw me here."
"But I don't understand what the point would be."
"I figure that a Shattenjager would have countless enemies... Most probably made without our knowledge." Gabriel sipped the coffee and sneered at how cold it was.
"True enough." Grace replied. "So you need to figure out what has decided to use her, why it did so and what it wants with you. Perhaps with any of that information, we might be able to cross reference some info with SIDNEY and come up with some record of a past occurrence."
Gabriel inhaled deeply. "I suppose that I'll interrogate Claudia further, try and figure out what she's been up to that might've drawn attention to her."
"Good idea." Grace shifted the phone. "Give me your number there and I'll give you a call if I find anything. I'll scan SIDNEY with what we've got and maybe we'll get lucky."
Claudia leaned against the wall near the end of the hall, smiling to herself. Perhaps he wasn't as good as it was said...
Direction and purpose, method with cause. A myriad of thoughts and emotions stand in the way of resolution and traumatize one to a state of hesitation. Perhaps that's what stops one from making a decision based on instinct-- A dilemma facing Gabriel as he gazed into the sunken, tired eyes of his friend and one time lover Claudia. They sat in silence, the ticking of an antique clock echoed in the tiny kitchen-- the only semblance that reality was still moving despite the two figures languishing in a forever present.
"Claudia," Gabriel cleared his throat as soon as he spoke. "Claudia, I need to know what's going on. I don't think you've told me everything."
"I've told you everything, Gabriel. There's nothing left to say." She leaned on the table, her eyes flaming to something completely unfamiliar to her normally placid face. "Now perhaps you can tell me what the hell's wrong and why you are so incompetent that you need to continuously badger me!"
Gabriel blinked-- opened his mouth to respond but found himself speechless. "Claudia..." He managed but was cut short as she jumped to her feet, her chair slamming against the wall behind her noisily. A scream crept from the bowels of her soul, ripping through her throat unnaturally-- A hoarse cry that went beyond pain.
Gabriel hurried to her side as she collapsed on the table, hyperventilating, her body was a rigid brick of tension as he took her into his arms and lowered her to the floor. "Gabriel..." She spoke softly, her words coming as gasps as opposed to tonal vibrations. "Get out... get out now! I... can't fight this..." All at once her breathing became rhythmic and calm, her body relaxing into unconsciousness.
Gabriel gently lifted her and bore her limp form to the couch, positioning her arms across her chest. He placed his hand on her head and frowned at how cold she was. Whatever ailed her was wreaking havoc on her body. More troubling was the proof of what he had theorized with something influencing her-- only much more direct than he had guessed. Seemed to be some form of possession.
He rose to his feet and turned away but before he could complete one step, he felt a sharp pain erupt in the back of his neck, the sensation almost immediately numbed. Lethargy overtook his entire body... arms seemed to move in slow motion, legs cramped painfully, finally ceasing to support his weight. When he hit the hard wood floor, he was aware of the impact but there was no pain. Consciousness finally escaped. Time blurs with vision... Eternity in waiting. Strange the last thoughts that float through one's mind...
Grace nuzzled into the deep cushions of the office chair, looking up to stretch her neck. Hours had passed since she began the search for information about Gabriel's latest case-- the database was still very new and the qualifiers that she had to go by were vague, a poor combination when referring to information storage/retrieval.
She glanced at the notes she had taken on vampires for him and frowned. Although it had been pretty simple to collect, she was a little dismayed at not even being able to present it. Oh well. Something else to store away for a future reference.
Shadows explored the room from the dancing venetian blinds over the window playing with the moon that spilled in. She glanced outside and contemplated a stroll when SIDNEY's chime drew her attention back to her search.
Compilation of Clause Ritter's Journal.
The reign of Alexcei Romanov.
A reformation of the Russian Orthodoxy brought about a schism in the church; one that supported the change, one that challenged it. The old believers were persecuted for their opposition and fled into the northern woods. A man named Airk of the old believers found his way to Germany where he plotted his vengeance.
Airk forsook God and turned to the ravings of a violent cult that had been terrifying German families for months. His charisma earned him status within the ranks of the eight men and he eventually was able to sway them to his cause. Through this end, his research began and the results had a horrible impact.
Clause had been investigating the cult for sometime and had finally found enough evidence to close in with a handful of men from Rittersburgh. But they were too late to stop the ceremony and arrived in time to see a wounded Airk flee into the woods along with the scattering of his followers.
The creature that had been summoned was a minor demon, sometimes referred to as a Maliphrae from early texts. The Maliphrae can only exist in this plane by the possession of human hosts, often destroying the spirit in the attempt. Only the very strong of will have survived their assault.
The Maliphrae have an acute weakness to silver, the purity of the metal being of utmost importance. It was through this focus that Clause was able to contain this creature for banishment. The Maliphrae summoned by Airk was torn from his body and placed within a solid silver ring, killing Airk in the process. The next step was to banish the demon back to its original plane but days before the ritual was to be performed, Schloss Ritter was breached by a thief and the ring was the only thing stolen. Though an investigation was performed, the thief was never named.
Grace contemplated the information a moment, starting as the blinds rapped the window. She couldn't tell if she was nervous, excited or exhausted. Probably a combination of the three. Pursing her lips, she snatched up the phone, dialing the number Gabriel had given her. The implications of her find placed him in more than a little danger...
Spinning. Noises piercing the skull, beyond hearing or senses... A vibration of bone, an unnerving creak of aching joints. Throbbing temples exploding with every beat of the heart. Sandpaper lids scraped slowly over tender cornea, replacing darkness with blurred light. Gabriel pushed himself to a kneeling position, fighting back nausea as he rubbed his eyes clear.
Focus grudgingly returned and he surveyed his surroundings. He was in a dark alley, paper and trash clung to the damp pavement and wisps of white steam fluttered above a nearby manhole. He shivered, closing his arms over his torso to fend off the chill and something occurred to him. He slapped his chest and scanned about feverishly. The talisman was gone.
A sound brought him out of his panic, something of a soft moan echoing from further down the alley. He squinted past the darkness, the unhelpful light from a street lamp created stars which danced before his eyes. The moan was growing closer and with each moment it grew with intensity and remorse becoming a wail. The painful cry was breathless and unending, as though the wind itself was bleeding its final death into an unforgiving world... Such was the fearful notions that gripped Gabriel's heart as he watched with a mixed horror/fascination for whatever made the sound.
Heartbeats passed, the light tricked his sore eyes and he rubbed them again, trying desperately to remove the agitation. As he opened his eyes, he realized the moaning was very close and he saw... it. Something floating above the asphalt. Transparent white cloth billowed in some otherworldly breeze. Black hair barely visible against its brownish gray back drop of the building and sky. A copper bloodied face, faintly familiar... almost recognized as something. Malia.
He cried out despite himself, turning to flee. But instead of the open alleyway, he found himself pressed tight against a brick wall, the end of a blind alley. He glanced over his shoulder, eyes wide at the apparition that was gradually gaining ground, closing on him. He turned with his back against the wall, hands pressed palms down into the cement.
Gabriel tried to close his eyes but found himself strangely drawn to witness the creature as it moved closer and closer... Memories flooded back, blanketing his mind and heart. This can't be right. There was no restlessness in her end. A breath a part and he screamed out...
Bolting up from the floor, grasping the talisman over his heart. It was dark in the room, the far off ringing of the phone brought him back to reality. Claudia was sprawled on the couch, still as death. Her arms dangling off the side limply. He crawled to his feet and reached back, touching the back of his neck... Nothing.
Confusion and revulsion mixed as he reached down and felt for a life sign, his trembling hand starting at how cool her skin was. The ringing of the phone had long since died away as the realization overtook him that she was quite dead.
Gabriel felt horrible. His head felt like a foreign object protruding from his neck, similar to the results of a drinking binge. Exhaustion raked through his body and he wasn't up to anything more than staring at the tiled floor he had paced not 24 hours prior.
But then Claudia had been alive. His first instinct was to feel responsible for her death, for not doing anything to stop it. Ridiculous. He didn't even know what he was dealing with let alone how to stop it. Worse still, he wondered who was in danger next... Grace? His grandmother? Himself?
His hand rubbed the back of his neck and he felt a cold sweat form on his brow. What had happened to him? Why did he pass out? He remember the pain... the numbing sensation that swept over his body like a warm ocean wave. It felt like claws rending tender flesh beneath their furiosity. A bit melodramatic, he thought to himself but the point was still evident. He was attacked.
He ran his finger around the circumference of the talisman and contemplated his next step. He should probably get in contact with Grace. Perhaps she had something more. He certainly had more for her to put into SIDNEY if she hadn't. The doctors should've finished examining Claudia... sufficiently enough for him to get back to the hotel he had rented upon his arrival.
A younger doctor strolled into the lobby from one of the myriad halls and approached Gabriel, sitting on the bench beside him. "So how are you feeling?" He asked, leaning forward to match Gabriel's posture.
"Like hell." Gabe responded, running both hands through his hair. "What did you find out?"
"I don't know what's happened to her. I'm afraid that the autopsy will have to tell."
Gabriel nodded and leaned back. "Whatever it was... I mean, I fell pretty hard. I don't have any idea how long I was out but didn't wake up til it was almost dark."
"You were probably very lucky. Whatever effected her probably got to you as well. But even the tests that we're running on you will take time to be at all conclusive."
Gabriel pushed himself to his feet. "I think I'm getting back to my hotel... You call me there if you hear anything?"
"Indeed we will. We have your information at the desk I assume?"
"Yeah." Gabriel looked down. "Thanks doc. I'll see you around."
"Get some rest, Mr. Knight." The doctor took his feet and they parted ways.
Gabriel took a cab back to the hotel, falling on the bed as soon as he was within proximity. He wanted desperately to call Grace but his senses weren't responsive enough for rational thought. Better to get in contact with her when he was awake...
He bolted out of the bed, sliding to the floor in an upright position, his breath coming in ragged gasps. Sweat secured his hair to his brow, his clothes felt oppressive beneath his coat. A brief glance at the clock indicated that he'd slept for nine hours. Not surprising. He hadn't had any real rest in almost twenty-four.
But he felt wonderful. Despite the general discomfort of his soaked clothes, he felt as though the pain he'd experienced at the hospital was nothing more than a nightmare, a play of the mind. Perhaps guilt? He wasn't sure.
He stripped off his clothes and hurried himself through the shower, wrapping himself in a towel as he finished. He grabbed the phone and dialed. "St. George's Rare Books." Grace answered, her voice filling him with a relief he was surprised to receive from her.
"Grace, it's me." He almost sounded cheerful but as he began, he recalled what had happened to Claudia. "There's been some problems here."
"I was getting worried. I tried to reach you yesterday and..."
"I'll fill you in Grace but more pressing is what you might've learned from SIDNEY if anything."
"I dug up quite a bit. You ready?"
"Shoot." He replied.
Grace related to Gabriel about the Russian Orthodoxy and the division created by the actions of the monarchy. She filled him in on Airk's plans of vengeance and Clause's involvement in the situation. Then she fell into the description of the creature that Airk's followers helped bring into the world.
"The creature they summoned is called a Maliphrae." He heard her rustle with some papers a moment. "It says that the Maliphrae are some kind of demon, parasitical in nature. They can only exist by possessing a human victim. But they wear them out. The energy they take from their host is enormous."
"How do you get em out once they've latched on?"
Grace sighed. "I haven't really found information on exactly how to banish them but I know that they have a weakness to silver, though with that I'm not even sure what sort of benefit that is or how you'd use it against them. Clause Ritter bound the Maliphrae to a silver ring but before they could get rid of the thing, the ring was stolen."
Gabriel grunted a response and ran a hand through his wet hair, contemplating. "What about the talisman? Could it be used to draw the thing out?"
"Well, I'm not sure. But I think that if you're right, this Mali-thing had taken over Claudia and yesterday when I sat down to interrogate her further, she freaked out. She gasped something about not being able to fight it then passed out.
"When I got up, I was... attacked I guess is the best way to put it. When I woke up, sometime later, Claudia was dead."
"My God Gabriel!" Grace's voice shuddered. "What happened?"
"She's... at the morgue now. They'll be performing an autopsy but if what you say is right, then she died because that thing left her body." His tone was solumn.
"If it left, then it's in someone else."
Gabriel was silent for a long moment, his hand touching the back of his neck. "It's me Grace." He spoke softly, trying to keep any tension from his voice.
"Gabriel..." She began. "But what about the Talisman? Why wouldn't it have protected you?"
"I think it is." He looked down at his inheritance and sighed. "The more that I think about it, the more I realize that I only saw the real Claudia that once when she fought through to tell me to get out. The fact that I'm still in control probably has something to do with the talisman."
"What do you want me to do?"
"Two things. Dig through SIDNEY some more. We need to find out how Clause dealt with this thing specifically. While you do that, contact Gerde and have her get into the library. Perhaps there's something still in hard copy."
"Will do." She was quiet a moment. "What do you plan to do?"
"I'm waiting for the autopsy on Claudia. I also plan to hit her house and snoop around a bit."
"I know I've already said it, Gabriel but... Be careful."
"I won't even be sarcastic, Grace. Thanks." He dropped the phone on the hook and got dressed in a contemplative silence, his thoughts drifting along with his emotions. The past, the present. Lost loves and forgotten dreams. The tragedy that his life had become. He scolded himself for the melodrama. He realized then that he was indeed fighting, ever so subtly to maintain control. He looked in the mirror and straightened his shoulders, his gaze defiant. "Don't think that I haven't been through worse."
Stagnant air forced a grimace and a sneer as Gabriel flipped open another old cardboard box in Claudia's tiny attic. Most were covered with dust, years had passed them by without any human contact. He pondered why she had so many things so tightly locked away in the past.
The majority of the boxes had been full of knick-knacks, holiday decorations, old pieces of music. Nothing very consequential to his search but certainly revealing. Photos indicated that she had become involved with someone after college and as he pulled out an old wedding photo, he confirmed that she had indeed found a husband.
A bout of selfishness fell over him. 'How could she have done this to me?' He thought then shook his head. 'I was the one who did something...' And he still believed it was the right thing to do. Then he noticed a date at the bottom of the photo. 'June 6, 1996'. A recent arrangement...
There were many pieces of history, specifically from her wedding. A book with a rose within told of the events from the view of one of the bride's maids. Several low quality Polaroid photos had sunk to the bottom depicting the ceremony and the festivities that followed. He frowned at the happiness displayed, the smiling faces. The laughter. Would that ever be him? A man devoting his life to a love?
He tossed the photos back in the box and shook his head. His life belonged to something else. There was no room for such pleasures. And even if there were, his past experience was a clear indication that he needed to keep others out of harm's way. How could he, in good conscience, bring a woman into such a dangerous lifestyle?
He started to turn away but a glint caught his eye-- a sharp light from the tiny flashlight that he held in his left hand. Blinking several times he focused and cast the light upon it, reaching down to seize a cold metal ring. Palming it, he examined it further.
The ring was a beautiful design, a silver band wrapped in tiny carved pieces of ivy. Vaguely tarnished, he rubbed away some of the grime with his thumb, marveling at the excellent condition it was in. Beside the age produced filth, it was flawless. He couldn't make out any blemishes on either the surface nor the interior. He pocketed it and crawled down a small ladder, dropping to the floor of the hallway.
He scoured through Claudia's bedroom once but found no reference to her husband. He frowned as he walked out of the house, again finding more pieces to a puzzle with no image, though at least now there was something faint...
Gabriel fingered the ring again, pulling it out to view under the natural light of the sun. A gleam caught his eyes, forcing him to squint and he fell to the ground clutching his forehead, pain rappelling down his nerves all the way to his feet only to turn around and climb back up to his skull. His mouth opened in a silent scream, eyes pressed tightly shut. Then all at once it ended, the pain dissipated.
Taking several deep breaths, he pushed himself to a kneeling position, glancing down warily at the ring. There was some apprehension within him, something in his stomach that stopped him from snatching it back up. It took a tremendous exercise of will just to pick it up and even then he quickly dropped it into his pocket. Still, the strange uncomfortable feeling remained.
Pressure. Was there anything but this nagging hellish pressure slicing the skull, biting nerves like a ravenous beast? Sweat slid along pale cheeks becoming lost within folds of clothing. Eyes stung, irritated and dry, parched along with his mouth. And the physical pain was the pleasant part.
Gabriel snatched the water from the flight attendant and polished it off in two gulps, leaning his head back wearily. His breath came through thick lungs, contracted by what felt like a gallon of fluid all collected mid breast. The talisman ran hot against his skin almost to the point of scalding...
'Not long now, Gabriel.' He reminded himself, his body falling into a state of semi lucid consciousness. He was lying in a warm pool, floating high above anything solid, his mind completely absorbed by a sensation of nothingness. Had he died?
He rose to his feet his body barely reactive... More just moving via instinct alone, a marionette forced into performance in slow motion. His arms folded over his chest and he took in his surroundings, panic stricken. Fear rose in his heart. He was high above the ground, floating in the open sky... it was as if the plane had simply left him behind.
Again the fear that he had died came rushing back. The creature. Perhaps it has control now. Had it finally widdled him down enough to rip his soul aside? He was tired of fighting...
In the blink of an eye, he was no longer in the sky but rather in the airport, standing next to his motorcycle. He was home. Confusion raked through him and he took a deep breath in an attempt to catch his bearings. His bag was slung on his shoulder, he was no longer feeling awful. What happened? Sleep had never taken him like that...
He got on the bike and kicked it to life, speeding out of the parking garage and headed for home. His mind wandered. Confusion. What else could possibly go wrong? Had something gone wrong? What had he done while he was unconscious? Questions continued to flood him, most unanswerable.
When he arrived in front of Saint George's Rare Books, he stumbled inside and hurried back into his old studio, ignoring Grace as he passed her. Once behind the curtain he hurried into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him. He heard Grace at the door imploring him if he was okay but his attentions were lost elsewhere...
After retching his last meal up he gazed into the mirror. "Won't be long now, Gabe." He heard his own voice tell him. 'Won't be long 'til it's gone or 'til it has control?' He wondered, pushing the door open slowly. Grace was standing a few feet away, concern etched on her face.
"Gabriel!" She cried examining him through half closed eyes. "Gabriel, are... are you alright?"
He nodded slowly. "I'm just tired, Grace..." He sat wearily on the bed, taking off his coat. "Did you learn anything?"
She sighed. "Since the ring was stolen, Clause never had an opportunity to try and get rid of the thing."
"Check this out." He forced himself to dig into the coat pocket and tossed her the ring. "I found that among Claudia's things." As the ring left his presence, he immediately began to feel better, more invigorated.
"This matches the description of the ring."
Gabriel nodded. "Perchance we can now figure out what Clause did to exercise this thing?"
"It wasn't very detailed but I'll continue to search... I've not heard back from Gerde either."
"I'll give her a call." He replied rising from the bed. "I don't think we have much time..." He glanced down at the talisman. "You know, when I gave you the ring, I started to feel better... When I looked at the ring in the sun, I almost passed out... Some weird pain racked through me... It was almost like I was being electrocuted."
Grace frowned. "That may help us out, Gabriel." She hurried out and sat at the front desk, facing the tiny computer.
Gabriel grabbed the phone and dialed Schloss Ritter, running his hand through his hair as he yawned. He battled exhaustion and found himself pacing to keep himself awake.
"Schloss Ritter?" He heard Gerde's familiar voice on the line and smiled despite the situation.
"Guten tag and all that." Gabriel tried to be light, failing miserably.
"Herr Knight?" She cried. "Ach! I've been worried about you!"
"Thank you very much, Gerde. That's touching." He chuckled. "Have you learned anything about the Maliphrae?"
"Yah, Heir Knight." He heard a rustle of paper. "I've been looking through the library all night but I've only found a few references to the creature. Would you like me to fax it over?"
"That would be perfect, Gerde. Can you do it right away?"
"I'll do it right now."
"Thanks Gerde. I'll talk to you later." He hung up the phone and did a face plant on the bed, allowing his body the luxury of real sleep. Grace peaked in from the front room and frowned, walking over and tossing the blanket over the top of him. She observed him for a while, sighing with worry as she returned to her search.
She dialed in the new information Gabriel brought back, including the description of the ring and the reaction he had to it while inhabited by the creature. Leaning back in the chair she contemplated the facts, the chair swaying left and right.
The screeching of the fax machine startled her from thought and she walked over to wait for the cover sheet. It was from Gerde. She considered waking Gabriel but returned her attentions to SIDNEY instead. It really needed to be reindexed, the time to run queries was ridiculous.
She snatched the fax from the machine and riffled through the entries, looking over what Gerde had collected. The information was somewhat scattered but it was expected for the amount of time taken to compile not to mention the vague nature of documentation in the time era that was being explored. There was five pages of typed notes from the Shattenjager library, references from some fifteen books.
As she began scanning the first couple pages, SIDNEY chimed it's completion-- surprising her quite a bit. She glanced at the screen and read the three paragraphs displayed, eyes widening with surprise. She threw the chair back and rushed into the studio, calling out to Gabriel.
She stopped dead in her tracks as she passed the curtain, a bright glow forced her to throw her hand up to shield her eyes. Gabriel was on his back face contorted in apparent agony. The family talisman was glowing bright red and an image... a creature hovered above him. At closer examination, she was able to make out what it was... Malia Gedde?
Lights. Phantasmal mists, shifting and twining about like fog obscuring the glow of the moon, shrouding senses conquering willpower and forcing thoughts to drift so far away. Conscience wanes, eyes flutter. Hands tense to fists then stretch extended, physical pain erupts within... Throat constricts, like a vice clamping on the tender trachea, grinding flesh and muscle. A cough, retching irritation. Sweat beads then amasses, sliding down hot flesh to mingle with soaked hair. Blood rushes back, a battle fought against an unknown foe comes to an end-- the victor emerges from unconsciousness.
"Grace?" Gabriel's voice was weak and broken. "What's up?" "Gabriel," She began, her voice shaking. "Are you alright?"
"Yeah," He lied, sitting up while rubbing his eyes. He felt like he'd been beaten over the head with a crow bar. "What's wrong?"
She stared at him a moment, uncertain how to proceed. She wrung her hands and pursed her lips, looking down at her feet. "I had something to tell you so I came in to wake you up and... and I saw... something."
He frowned as his eyes finally focused on her fully. "Something? Specifics, Grace?"
She shook her head and looked him in the eye. "There was a light... and something... it looked familiar." She took a deep breath. "Gabriel, I saw Malia... Malia Gedde?"
The color left Gabriel's face and he nodded slowly. "It wasn't a dream." He murmured, running a hand through his hair. "What did you learn?"
The change of subject caught her off guard but she took it in stride. "Gerde found something, she hurried over to the curtain and collected the pages from the fax that she had dropped when she saw the strange light and specter hanging above Gabriel's bed. Riffling through the pages, she sat on the bed. "Let me find it here..."
Gabriel smiled at her despite his condition. There was something that his older self never really noticed and even the newer Gabriel, the traumatically changed Gabriel hadn't picked up on it. He always had acknowledged her skills, even if it was more to himself than to her but she was strong and she genuinely cared. Perhaps even more than he did.
The thought almost amused him and he wondered for a moment if she wouldn't have made a better Shattenjager than he had been. He had to admit that his success was in no small part thanks to her.
He shook his head. His talents were there... They had been proven. Where did his strange pessimism come from? It seemed to be concerning himself more than anything else. A self-loathing built up by the creature? Possibly. If that were the case, it would only be getting worse.
"Here it is." Grace placed a page on the top of the rest and turned to regard him. "It says--
"Do you have any idea how many times I wanted to get you on this bed, Grace?" His tone was low, an attempt to be seductive with the physical exhaustion to make it sound utterly unappealing.
"What?" She looked at him with an expression partly from confusion and partly from irritation.
He shook his head and rubbed his forehead. "My God Grace. I'm... I'm sorry." He sighed. "Go on, please."
She gave him a final look before proceeding with reading her document. "This is from Gerde. She found it in one of the Shattenjager journals. It seems that while Clause didn't bother to write down how he got rid of the Maliphrae, one of your other relatives went through the journals and found such inconsistencies and explored them, either through direct communication with the person involved or through his own research.
"In this instance, he did both. He contacted Clause and was able to get some information and researched more about the affair on his own. It seems that Clause used the talisman along with an exorcising ceremony. It required that one of his men both maintain contact with the talisman and hold the ring, essentially channeling the creature through him into the ring."
She took a moment to search through some of the papers before continuing. "It was a dangerous prospect. Any sort of breach of concentration could've just sent the thing into the vessel ignoring the ring."
"Do you have a copy of that... ritual they performed?"
Grace looked through the pages again and frowned. "Here it is... It looks like it's in Latin."
"How long would it take to translate?" Gabriel pushed himself to his feet.
She shrugged. "I really don't know. SIDNEY can do it but I have no idea just how long it--"
"Are we talking days or hours here?"
"I can't see it taking days, Gabriel." Grace scanned the page. "It's only one page."
"Get it started. I'm going to get cleaned up." He walked toward the bathroom. "Figure out what we need to do this right." Grace left the room and he stumbled up to the sink, staring into his bloodshot eyes, his face drawn. Left to his thoughts they strayed away from the business of exorcising the monster, away from the Shattenjager responsibility. Thoughts of mortality brushed his conscience a sudden notion of age wore on his soul. He shook it off. 'Not long now Gabriel.' He told himself and wondered again if it was really him that made the comment.
"What in the hell?" Mosely thrust his hand into the pocket of his brown polyester slacks and frowned. His brown tie flapped with the wind, the wisps of hair on his head rustled unnoticeably. The moonlight that brushed his features made him look more like a surreal black and white movie character than real. "What kinda crap you tryin' to pull with me, Knight?"
Gabriel bit his lip his patience for his friend wearing thin. "I've told you what I need from you. Will you help me or not?"
"What is it you want me to do again? I don't think I understand."
"That figures." Gabriel's typical sarcasm was embittered with a touch of malice. "All you have to do is touch the talisman and hold the ring. That's it."
"And this is going to help you remove a demon that's taken up residency in you?" Mosely tilted his head. "You know how stupid this sounds?"
"And you can honestly tell me that you don't believe it after what we saw below Jackson Square?" Gabriel fumed while pacing. "Mosely, it's really simple but I need you to help me. I don't care if you believe me I just need you to trust me."
Mosely regarded Gabriel for a long time. There was an unfamiliar tension in the man's face, perhaps even a tint of fear. All things considered, it scared him a bit and also made him sad. As annoying as Gabriel could be, he always loved the more easy going sarcastic version. This angst ridden parody of his friend disturbed him. Taking a somber tone, he nodded. "Sure Gabe. I'll help."
Gabriel smiled for the first time and clapped him on the shoulder. "Thanks man." He looked back into the shop and called out to Grace. "When can we perform the ceremony?"
Grace was donning her trench coat and held a clipboard in her hand. "SIDNEY finished the translation. We're ready to go."
The three left Saint George's and headed out for the bayou... the site of where Gabriel witnessed the Voodoo ceremony. Memories flooded back to him and he found it ironic that he would be cleansing his soul in a place that taint reigned years before. A place where he saw Malia.
Taking a deep breath, he looked around at the looming trees and finally up at the moon. "Alright," He said. "I'm ready."
Grace handed Mosely the silver ring while Gabriel examined the talisman intently. "Everything relies on us tonight." He whispered, hoping it was enough. Mosely came to stand beside him, looking confused or perhaps even a little embarrassed.
"I have no idea what we're doing." He muttered.
"Be quiet!" Grace hissed, clicking on her flashlight and positioning it over the page for Gabriel to read. "Okay Gabriel. Let's go."
The silence was oppressive. Fear gripped at his heart mercilessly and he felt a restlessness build within him demanding that he run away. Demanding that he escape whatever horror he was about to induce upon himself. Closing his eyes, he calmed himself with a discipline he was surprised he had. He thought of Claudia and what the creature had done to her. It had to be destroyed even if his soul was the cost.
With little comfort, he looked at the first line on the page and cleared his throat. "Stance. Humanity maintains stance upon the ledge of evil... To fall is to burn, to rise is to purify, to stagnate is commonality, to die is to fail. Life eternal through mindless flames, promise naught granted, forsaken, distraught. A soul shredded, ripped from bleeding heart.
"Ali Nocht, lord of fearful light, lord of disease ridden decay, lord of the Maliphrae and servant of the wicked and cruel. Thy court stands forsaken, thy minions all for lost." Gabriel began to feel a horrible burning sensation in his stomach and the talisman grew hot. He grimaced painfully, exercising all of his will to continue reading. Mosely was transfixed on the talisman, the subtle glow seemed to have hypnotized him.
"Ali Nocht, thy fire's done. Maliphrae's path severed again. Thy cord burns bright beneath God's own light, the light of darkness... the moon." He began to have trouble seeing, a twisting started in his organs like he was being ripped a part. A voice called out to him from some ether realm, far away but so close. Recognition... It was Malia.
"Gabriel!" She called. "Don't do it! You'll banish me forever! I'm so close!"
Tears welled in his eyes and he couldn't tell if it was a result of pain or the severe depression that racked his body mercilessly. "Farther pushed so far away. The demon's will contaminates but purest fire..." Interrupted again, the voice! It cried out again. 'Can't... break... the... spell.' He refocused his will again, squinting at the page, his body trembling near an epileptic episode. "...reinitiates, blackens fate... blackens souls. Reassures. The purity of silver incarnate... transference, regenerate... Ali Nocht..."
"Gabriel! NO!!!" The voice as screaming, a mixture of Malia, of Wolfgang, Claudia. A smile crept on his face. 'Growing desperate?' He thought, continuing the incantation... the last line.
"...I return..." The screams were overwhelming, his eyes could barely stay open. "...your..." Pain, so much pain. How on Earth could anything take so much pain? "...fallen... son!" The last word he practically screamed, emphasizing the formation of the vowels as well as his own emotional outpour into the incantation. A bright flash erupted from the talisman, Mosely tried to fall back but his hand was stuck fast to the golden amulet, eyes wide with horror.
Gabriel's body rocked back on its heels, head back to face the moon. The expression on his face bore agony, depression. Insane spasms erupted throughout his muscles, hands clenched to fists, then dug into his coat. It was a miracle that he maintained his footing.
The glow from the talisman grew to encompass his entire body, his hair waved back with a non existent wind. The light seeped away from him, flowing left to right into Mosely's arm. The cry of alarm and fear from the detective was barely audible by the loud screech that sounded as soon as Gabriel's body was released.
The silver ring burst to light, as the light continued through Mosely. Gabriel collapsed to the ground lifelessly, his arms contorted strangely. His face was at peace, quiet and finally lacked the strain that was so prevalent earlier. The pale complexion was disconcerting however and Grace rushed to his side, checking his pulse.
After a moment of holding her breath, she smiled brightly at Mosely. "He's alive!" She cried, trembling from the excitement of the situation. The clearing was once again silent. All that remained was the warm silver ring, untarnished or blemished lying on the ground beside Mosely as he looked incredulously at his best friend.
"My God, Gabe," He sounded sorrowful, his voice filled with remorse as he regarded the sleeping form. Memories of his past, the enjoyment of youth... All of the games, the fun. It all rushed to him with a force. "What have you become?”
Birds sang a merry tune over the light breeze around Schloss Ritter. A pleasant fragrance danced upon the wind-- baked goods from nearby Rittersburgh and far off a flute played a melody, the distance inhibited any but the highest notes.
Gabriel leaned against the wall outside the door to the catacombs, coat neatly drawn and tied about the waste. He pulled the petals from the bud of a rose and dropped them to the ground, his face drawn in thought. Contemplation seemed to be his new pastime.
Claudia. Foremost on his mind. He would've never seen her again if it weren't for the thing that killed her and almost him... Some fragment of his soul, the same shrapnel that every person loses with the end of a meaningful relationship, seemed once again to cause pain. Of course, regrets for missed opportunities are the most common... Why did it feel like he missed out on another chance?
Misguided emotions. Desire had always guided his life. Desire to enjoy himself. Desire to be entertained. Desire to find the next thrill. Now suddenly, his life had meaning. Regretful? How could it be? Isn't responsibility what all souls crave? A chance to matter? Deep inside, he wanted to matter. More than anything.
"Gabriel?" Grace broke his reverie and he smiled at her as she rounded the corner. "I've been looking for you. What's up?"
He shrugged. "Just relaxin a bit."
"I got that information about Claudia." She offered gently, trying to gauge his expression.
"The autopsy report?"
"Yeah," She squinted at him. "Do you want to hear this now?"
"I do." He pushed off from the wall. "What did they call it?"
"Heart failure. Natural causes."
He shook his head. "Makes sense. I know how she felt... I know that if I wouldn't have been warned... I... I don't think that I would've..."
She put her hand up. "It's okay. I understand." He planted her hands in her own pockets. "I also found out about the husband..."
He looked at her expectantly.
"He died as well. Heart failure." She frowned. "He died after leaving an auction on his way home."
Gabriel shook his head again and looked down. "Strange how fateful this job is."
She frowned. "Having doubts Gabriel?"
He shrugged. "Only that things would get any easier."
"But would you have it any other way?" She smiled.
Before he could answer, Gerde appeared from around the corner. "Her Knight!" She cried. "You're needed on the phone! Someone named... Leber?"
Gabriel looked down at Grace and laughed. "I suppose not." They followed Gerde around the castle, pausing only once for a last look back at the pile of rose petals in front of the door. "I'm sorry, Claudia." He whispered and turned away, once more into the fray.
Author of several books, composer of several CDs. Please check out the rest of the site for some of my work.