Templar's Fire, a Gothic Vampire Novel Chapter One

That the taste of good and evil things depends in large part on the opinion we have of them. Michel de Montaigne

March 23, 1888 Christ Church, Hellebrea, England. Nothing looks familiar, Edwin Blutleer thought and walked from the secluded alcove where the opened mausoleum sat at the rear of the nave. He stopped at the raised altar platform and smelled the air. Above the rectangular altar hewn from a single slab of granite and smoothed by the labors of men decades in their graves, wilting lilies stood like sentries of forlorn memories in gold vases. The pair stood at opposite sides of an ancient carved wooden crucifix that bore the dark stain of a palm print. White linen cloth draped the altar. Small tassels decorated its borders, the tip of each a delicate weave of purple and gold. His eyes widened when he inhaled a faint odor of charred wood that he realized came from the old rafters twenty feet overhead. The horror of a day more than a century in the past dragged Blutleer into his memories. Hands on the altar, he closed his eyes, and pictured Lilith's ethereal beauty as she knelt at the altar rail. Her hands clasped, knuckles whitened, tightly to her breast. He watched her lips tremble, heard her words, "Deus meus, ex toto corde poenitet me omnium meorum peccatorum, eaque detestor, quia peccando ..." She displayed no other sign of fear. Her striking blue eyes stared from beneath curtains of damp pale lashes. Behind her fire roared, gnawed into the rail of the pew ahead of itself, billowed larger and thrust forward like a living entity. An enraged mob of men blocked the church's exit. The same people who had soaked the wooden floor inside the nave with lamp oil and pitch, then set the building ablaze.

Blutleer had known that when he entered the chapel they would trap him. However, his desire to save Lilith outweighed concern for himself. The oak pews had seemed to crave the fire. Orange offshoots of flames ran the length of one like fingers raking a spine, and then rejoined the enlarged inferno that spawned them. Blutleer had heard the raucous shouts of victorious joy from the mob that had cornered him after herding Lilith to her sacrificial death. They seemed intoxicated by their triumph. "They were fools!" He stopped the memory with a vigorous shake of his head. It's not time for this. Yet he knew the memories that haunted him, predating the century he hid while he healed from the fire's wrath, would gnaw at his will until relieved by therapeutic vengeance. He went purposefully to the altar rail and placed both hands on the worn surface where Lilith had knelt. He examined the place where supplicants broke bread with their Lord, where Lilith died under wrath's cremation. An irregular circle that appeared as black as tar in the waning light stained the stone floor where she died. He grimaced and stared at the altar's crucifix now draped in purple. It looked like the same one he had torn down. Ironic, he thought. By ripping it off the wall, I saved it from the fire. Rage filled him. He whispered through clenched teeth, "There hangs your pathetic Savior, my Lilith. Did He greet you in death?" Beyond the railing, a long flat red velvet cushion that had borne the weight of uncounted congregants lay in shadow. The pad appeared as a feather bed might after many years of use. It looked lumpy, uncomfortable, and the color badly faded where the material showed thread. He heard Lilith's voice again. "... non solum poenas a Te iuste statutas promeritus sum." Her eyes had then found the crucifix above the altar. She had rocked forward as she chanted "... sed praesertim quia offendi Te, summum bonum, ac dignum qui super omnia diligaris." Death was not her fear, Blutleer realized. She feared the loss of redemption. He stood straighter. His back pressed tight against the side of the altar, as he squinted through his memory's wavering wall

of fire. A momentary gap in the flames had revealed the face of the man Blutleer had meant to kill. He stood in silence, arms folded across his chest as he watched the imminent death of his daughter. A dark anger had marred the man's weathered features. For him, Lilith had died once she had accepted Blutleer's eternal embrace. The memory faded as Blutleer stepped over the rail and walked to the nearest mahogany pew. The seat was well worn. The edge of the pew back seemed charred. The aisle end of the pew bore a carved coat-of-arms that had somehow survived the inferno. Briefly, he thought he could smell the stench of burnt flesh. His pale face hardened. Blutleer heard a sound behind him in the darkened nave where the corpses of three ancient knights lay in eternal repose beneath likenesses cleverly sculpted from long marble tables perched on squat mausoleums. He remembered their armor clearly defined; their stone swords sheathed, their unusable shields resting at their sides. He looked back and thought grimly. I watched each of you die. Yet, one of you survived through the treachery of a single descendant. He pictured more details, the mail-covered heads resting atop their helmets, each knight's coat-of-arms cut in bas-relief. Their stone hands stood frozen in the everlasting prayers of the forgotten. His muscles tensed when he heard footsteps on the gravel path outside of the building. Not yet, he cautioned his need for vengeance. I will kill him, but not yet. He returned to the mausoleum he had left ajar, and shoved the lid closed. Again Lilith's words echoed through his mind as she rushed to finality, "Ideo firmiter propono, adiuvante gratia Tua, de cetero me non peccaturum peccandique occasiones proximas fugiturum. Amen." She had crossed herself, he recalled. Her courage had stunned him then and still did now. Slowly, Lilith had looked up. Her soft eyes met his. Her steadfast love pierced Blutleer with incredible pain. He choked against it as flames raced the length of her red silk gown. He had screamed, "Lilith! Get up and come to me! It is not too

late. We can escape." She shook her head and told him, "Tis too late for me, beloved. To them I will always be a witch. Tis better that I die now than live like that." But I cannot join you, he'd thought while grinding his teeth with anguish. His nails had left moon shaped craters in his palms that dripped stolen blood on the floor. Enraged, he had snatched and crushed the silver candlesticks, and thrown them through the nearest window, which helped to feed the flames. He'd cursed and threw whatever he could tear loose to smash the remaining windows, as he thought, Damn you, finish this now you cowardly bastard! Blutleer had climbed the altar, his hands closed on the crucifix. As he tore the cross from the wall, he'd heard her voice. Her plea overwhelmed the noise around them as she screamed, "Edwin!" He had squatted, and looked at her, witnessed the fire combing the edge of her blonde hair, parting the golden locks as if the flame was Satan's amatory caress. "No," he shouted, saw her eyes widen in pain, and then dull as death pulled her from her body. He looked up as if expecting to witness her soul's departure. Then the fire exploded in a wall of intense heat that instantly cremated her corpse. Blutleer shuddered as he remembered running to the nearest marble mausoleum, crucifix bloodied by his gouged fist. The inferno roared behind, shook the rafters, and burned through the roof. He threw the crucifix, and fell into the marble casket. His flesh singed. Blutleer shouted, "Lilith!" He had lifted himself, turned and stared through the wall of flames and announced, "This is not the end of it, Charles." Then, he stabbed a finger at the man's face. "I will return." He was unsure if his adversary saw or heard his pledge but did not care. He turned and strode onto the raised altar platform. Like a priest performing his first Celebration of the Eucharist, he told himself, and laughed. His green eyes studied the gold candlesticks, and the bookstand that held an archaic, hand-illuminated tome.

Orange dusk radiated through small clefts in the wood shingling above. The light was bright enough to distract him from his memories. He looked into the deeply shadowed alcove at a yellowed marble baptismal font, ornately carved to illustrate the fruits of rebirth through a cornucopia of grapes woven around its pedestal. He went to it, peered in the concave basin, and unhurriedly opened his mouth. A large drop of liquid oozed from between his lips. In the chapel's stillness, the drop slapped the stone. It burst into a spray of smaller droplets, and left a wide splatter of dark crimson that glowed ethereally. He studied his effort and spoke. "They think they know of rebirth and eternity." The words reverberated off the walls. "Well, your instructor has arrived to redefine your understanding." He held his right hand over the font. The red liquid mosaic squirmed into a stick figure silhouette, jumped onto his palm, and melded into his flesh. He made a tight fist and raised his hand over his head. The drop squeezed out. He caught it in his mouth. He heard the front door open and squatted in the altar's shadow. He pressed his cheek against the hewn stone as if listening for something buried inside as it sought escape. He kept his eyes half-closed, his body flat; muscles coiled and anxiously anticipated the start of a long awaited conclusion.

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