2018 - The Bathory Files, page 1part #4 of Paranormal Research and Rescue Institute Series
2018 The Bathory Files
Book 4 Paranormal Research and Rescue Institute Series
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Also by Lora Edwards
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Editing By C. Marie
Proofread: Macie Kingery
Cover: BZN Studios
To Zach the most wonderful husband I couldn’t do this without you.
And to Jason’s arms always an inspiration…….
Many years in the past
Armand sighed as he took a sip of the ruby red liquid in his flagon. The warm spiced merlot combined with the coppery taste of blood helped to soothe him as he tapped his foot impatiently on the cold slate floor. He hated these gatherings, and Victor knew he hated them, but he had asked, and Armand had reluctantly come. His work at the institute had consumed his time and energy over the last few centuries, but his old friend and maker asked little of him. It seemed churlish to not attend the party, and truth be known, Armand was glad to be there. Victor had been in a bit of a brood for several centuries, ever since the human girl had gone missing. He was a champion brooder, and what was a couple hundred years of sulking to an immortal creature such as he. This party seemed to be a ray of hope in Victor’s dark mood.
Victor had invested himself too heavily in the human girl, a young chambermaid Armand himself had scared the wits out of soon after his change. Letters from Victor had been full of descriptions of her bright wit, and he felt her intelligent mind had been wasted cleaning rooms in his castle. He had taken her under his wing and in his letters had gone into great detail discussing their conversations on art and literature. Victor had once had a younger sister with a bright wit and intelligent mind. It had become obvious this girl had filled the hole left by that sibling, and for a short time, she had brought back to Victor something he had lost.
One dark night, she had simply disappeared. He had looked for her himself, had sent out scouts, but there was never any sign of her. It was as if she had simply vanished. Victor had sunk into a deep sorrow after years of hopeful looking and had been in that state for many, many years.
Armand watched the vampires, witches, and shifters all attired in fine, brightly colored fabrics and glittering gems that sparkled at their throats, wrists, and ears as they swirled around Victor’s elegant ballroom. Victor was the kind of man who invited all manner of supernatural into his home. It was one of the things Armand admired most about his friend. He looked around and spotted him talking to another of their kind, a dark and sultry woman. From the looks of it, she was trying to seduce Victor. It made Armand’s heart swell at the thought of Victor returning to life, such as it was.
Armand had not asked to be turned. Victor had told him he could not bear to watch him die cold and lonely on the battlefield, so he had turned him and brought him to his home. Armand, having been a deeply religious man, was not grateful for the gift, as Victor had referred to it, but he had agreed to give it one human year on the condition that at the end, if he wanted Victor to end it, he would.
At the end of that year, Armand had returned to Victor and told him of his plans for the institute and how he would use this immortal life to give back to others, to help others of their kind as well as the other supernaturals he had discovered. Once he had thrown off the cloak of despair caused by becoming something unholy, he felt he had a purpose for which God or fate had turned him onto this path. That path was building his institute to rescue and help other supernaturals, to keep their secret from humans, and to fund research to help improve their lives. He had been working hard these past few centuries, gathering together a truly eclectic group of supernaturals. He had spread them throughout the timeline in order to preserve history and to protect it from rogues.
A roar suddenly filled every corner of the room. Armand pulled himself out of his reverie and looked toward the source of the sound to find it was his friend and maker. Gone was the sultry woman, and Victor stood there red-faced, meaty hands in fists as he scanned the room.
Armand hurried over, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder. He could feel the steady beat of the heart in Victor’s chest. The heart of a vampire only beat for strong emotion, and Victor’s was currently a steady drumbeat that could be heard by everyone in attendance.
“Victor, are you all right?”
He looked at Armand with a wild light in his eyes, one of sorrow and anger, the light of the berserker warrior bent on revenge.
“No, I am not alright. I have learned the fate of Amora,” he ground out, his shoulders shaking as he fought to control his emotions.
Armand blanched. Even after all these years and knowing her human lifespan would have been spent long ago, Victor still grieved for the woman he loved and thought of as family.
“Let us go somewhere more private to have this discussion.”
“I must find her, Armand, and destroy that woman.”
“I will set some people on her trail—the woman you were talking to?”
Victor only nodded, his shoulders slumped as despair overtook him once again.
Armand quickly found a few vampire members of his institute and gave them the description of the woman, instructing them to find and detain her. They nodded before running off to do his bidding.
“Come, old friend.” Armand tugged on Victor’s arm and led his friend away from the prying eyes of the other attendees at the party. At the door of the ballroom, he gestured to the musicians and spoke loudly enough for others to hear. “Resume your feasting and da
He hurried Victor out of the room and to the library, Victor’s sanctuary. Handing his friend a flagon, he encouraged Victor to drink deeply of the spiced blood he was fond of. Armand lit the fire then watched as the flames crackled and started to warm the chilly room. Neither he nor Victor felt the cold, but ever since their days on the wet and rainy battlefields, the crackle and warmth of the fire was a comfort. Armand turned to Victor to see his friend had calmed, having slipped back into the subdued state that had characterized him for the past few centuries.
“It was she, the Bloody Countess,” Victor said, not lifting his heavy head.
“You are familiar with the woman you were speaking to?”
“Aye, we were lovers once, back after you were turned and had left to find your way in the world. She came to a ball I was throwing and there was this instant connection. We had an affair, but she embraced the dark side of our kind much more readily than I. Suddenly in the villages around the castle, young women started coming up missing, and the villagers came hat in hand to ask for my help. I found she had been draining the young women and bathing in their blood. She believed the virginal blood kept her youthful and energized. Being one of our kind, she didn’t age, but the idea of it was something that terrified her. She was a powerful witch before she was turned, and she used the blood of the innocents in her spells and potions, rituals of black magic. When I became aware of her activities, I broke off our association. She flew into a rage, declaring that I would rue the day I cast her off. I didn’t think anything of it. She was a passionate and dramatic woman, prone to sulks and rages, flying into a tizzy or brooding for days before coming back all smiles and passion.”
Victor sighed, finally looking into the eyes of his friend.
“Amora disappeared shortly after I ended the affair. It never occurred to me that the countess might have had something to do with it. She had left in a huff weeks before Amora’s disappearance.”
“If your affair ended in such a state, why invite her to this party?”
“She was not invited. She came with Count Quincy, who is quite enamored of her, which I can understand—she is a sultry and passionate creature, if you can stomach the rages and sulks and her practice of black magic. Count Quincy is not as particular when it comes to the innocents as I am, so I can see how they’d make a good pair. She came to me as if nothing had happened, and it has been centuries. She made overtures like she wished to rekindle our affair. When I declined, she smiled and reached up to place a kiss on my cheek.”
Victor paused and gulped from his flagon.
“I was surprised, ready for her to become angry and make a public scene, but instead she whispered in my ear: I took your precious Amora and she tasted divine.”
Victor’s breathing became heavy and labored as he recounted the conversation. “She turned and whirled away into the crowd just as what she had said sank in. By the time I recovered from the shock of the news, she had disappeared.” Victor hung his head, and again, his great shoulders shook. “It would not have been an easy death. Sweet innocent Amora…I had kept her sheltered from this life. After the incident in the hall with you, I revealed our true nature to her, and she didn’t shy away. She had spine and grit. As you know, she became like a sister to me. The countess took her and drained her, probably left her naked to rot beside a road in some godforsaken place. It was because of me she died this way—because of me, Armand.” Victor roared the last words and sank back into the cushions, his eyes wet and unfocused as he watched the flames dance. “She deserved better…she deserved more. I didn’t protect her from that monster. I vow to end her existence, and once I do, I will die the final death as I cannot bear to live with my guilt.”
Armand did not speak. His friend was filled with rage and pain, and platitudes would not help. Armand had always believed each immortal should have the right to choose to end their existence. There had been times in the last four hundred years he had felt the desire to do the same, and he knew Victor was twice that age. Victor had been an ancient Celt and had been turned by a woman who had wandered into their village when he was a young man. She had seduced him and turned him, taking him from his family and his home, keeping him until he was able to escape her grasp—and now another of their kind, another woman had betrayed him.
A soft knock at the door had Armand turning and striding over, opening it to see one of the members of the institute standing on the other side. “Sir, I am sorry to say she has slipped out of our grasp. A few are still looking, but it is as if she has vanished into thin air.”
Armand thanked the man quietly and sent him on his way.
“That witch won’t be found this day. She is one of our kind, but she retains the power she held as a great witch of her day. It will be difficult to track her down, but I am equal to the task, and when I find her I will rip her to pieces.” Victor growled, the light of the berserker warrior shining in his eyes.
Armand stood in front of him. “What can I do to help you in this quest, my friend?”
Victor looked up and a weak smile crossed his face. “Armand, you are truly a great friend, but you have a different mission now. You have your institute, and you are doing great work. This is my mission and my purpose. It is what I needed, I suppose—a purpose.”
Victor looked into his friend’s face, catching the worry there.
“Do not be concerned, old friend. My brooding is over. I will catch the woman who did this to my Amora, and I will destroy her. After that deed is done, we will talk. I will not do anything rash and promise to come to you beforehand if I decide the final death is what I wish.”
“That is all I can ask. Godspeed, my friend,” Armand whispered to him, clasping his old friend in an embrace. It might have been centuries ago when the event occurred, but their kind had a long memory, and the wrong needed to be righted. Armand was not one for violence—the long years of war before he was turned still haunted him—but he understood his maker’s need for justice.
Amora heard the footsteps on the stairs and shuddered. She hoped the countess would have had a good time at the ball, eaten a good meal, and not returned in one of her moods. Amora had learned to fear those moods over the centuries. She could usually feel them as the countess approached, like tiny biting ants roaming over her skin.
There was no sign of the feeling tonight; the night must have gone well. As the countess approached, Amora could hear her laughing with one of her minions in the hall, the sound bouncing off the stones and entering the chamber. Amora felt the tension in her shoulders leave, felt herself relax, and she let a small smile come to her face. It would be an easy and peaceful night, and if she was lucky, she would have time to read by candlelight after the countess retired. She may have been a prisoner and the countess a demon, but during the times she was not called upon to attend to her, she was allowed to do as she pleased. Amora felt the smile fall from her face. Do as I please—hardly, she thought bitterly, her hand reaching up to brush the necklace at her throat. To an unassuming person, it was a beautiful and delicate piece, a sturdy braided platinum chain with a red stone as big as a baby’s fist in a platinum filigree setting that hung down to mid-chest level. As her fingers brushed it, the stone glowed slightly before returning to its former dull shade of red.
It was not a statement piece; it was a trap, an albatross around her neck and the symbol of her imprisonment. She was not a guest nor just a servant to the countess, nor was she one of the sycophantic minions she surrounded herself with. No, Amora was a prisoner, the unfortunate casualty of the countess’s rage toward a man Amora had loved as a brother. Victor had cast off the countess, so in revenge, the cruel woman had taken one of the few things Victor cherished—Amora. She had been turned into one of their kind and fitted with the necklace as a reminder of her enslavement. It did not allow her to leave whatever dwelling they currently resided in without the countess by her side. In the early years, she had tried to escape, had tried to die the one true death to end her
“Amora, darling, how good to see you.” The countess’s voice rang out as if she was greeting an old friend.
“My lady, you enjoyed your evening?” Amora curtsied and looked up into the countess’s eyes. What she saw there made her blood run cold. It had not been a good evening; the countess had purposely hidden her feelings from Amora to make a better impact with what was coming.
“I had a lovely time to start with. The count is such a bore, but he does enjoy certain activities,” she said, her eyes shining with malice.
Amora shut her eyes and tried not to think of the death and torture of the innocents at the hands of the two fiends.