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The story continues using all inventory words from the July 25, 2019 update....
Henry tried, to no avail, to get Anabel to stay a while longer. He knew he was just a stop in between pauses in her life, but he longed for more time with his daughter. Anabel never really needed him much. After her mother died, when Anabel was at her most vulnerable, Lord Chamberlain further punished Henry with the curse of the troll. No longer able to raise his daughter, Henry left her in the care of some kind people he knew and hoped somehow she would find her way back to him. Eventually, Anabel sought him out and, by turns, was intrigued and repelled by the hammer wielding monster. She even nicknamed his hammer Thor’s Nobility, after the ancient hero, and believed locked lightning inside the hammer made it all-powerful. But while Anabel’s distant memory was sketchy at best, Henry’s was intact. He loved his daughter with all his heart, always only wanted the best for her and would deny her nothing. While he knew they would probably never have the traditional father/daughter relationship, his heart ached for it nonetheless.
Anabel felt a tiny pang of guilt leaving her father so suddenly. Their relationship was a study in contrasts; at times too much while not being enough. It was a work in progress and Anabel knew she could count on her father for anything. She came to him for a shoulder to cry on but he provided so much more. He offered Anabel a way back to her life…and her love, her beloved Knight. As a small token of appreciation, Anabel left Henry a gift presented to her by the Druid…a chart tube containing the map of islands. This map contained information on what Henry knew as the Northern Islands. With its proximity to Ice Rock, that map could forge the way for Henry to have a very long and lucrative relationship with the Northern people. Anabel’s mouth arced into a tiny smile at the thought of Henry, the Ice Rock king meeting his Snow Queen somewhere there. The map also alluded to Southern Islands, thought to be ruled by a Fire Conjurer. Any relationship with them might take a little longer.
Anabel was forever grateful to her father, Valkyrie and, of course, the Druid, Ruler of the Islands. She relived the sadness of watching her newfound friend sail away, the Valkyrie flag getting smaller and smaller as distance swallowed it up. The flag’s insignia was a crown with spread wings that symbolized the freedom and power of all Valkyries, perhaps in honor of the Polar owl, the Northern Islands’ most common bird. Absently, Anabel rubbed at a spot on the inside of her right wrist that was home to a new tattoo. The Druid presented her with a protection sigil, the sharp-winged hawk whose steel wings represented the pinnacle of lightness and power and its hunter’s sight that never missed a thing. The Druid may or may not have known, but he actually reintroduced Anabel to her true soul.
Vampire or not, she possessed a good, hardy soul full of strength and courage incomparable in her world. Almost all her life she adroitly managed her blood thirst…partly from a longing to fit in and partly from fear. She loved a werewolf, who through sheer will alone, kept his ferocious side tamed. Together they produced the most wonderful child who had inherited all the strength, compassion and wisdom each parent possessed. Now all Anabel was thinking about was getting back to them.
She was glad for the Chief’s cloak gifted to her by the Druid, Krakatouk and pulled it tightly around her. The magic cloak, pinned with a Valkyrie symbol brooch made from Viking’s fibula, was warm in winter and cool in summer, making it perfect for the trip between Ice Rock and Midnight Castle. A wagon wheel, forged of celestial metal of unsurpassed durability, picked up a stone along the way and every rotation produced a metallic clanging. Suddenly, Anabel’s back straightened, her eyes hardened and narrowed and her blood thirst surged though her body. She gave instructions to her driver and sat back as he pulled the ice horse off the main road towards a hidden byway. Focused for the first time in a long time, Anabel was acutely aware of the decision she just made. Instead of recoiling from her vampire nature, she embraced those feelings and her abilities and absently reached up to welcome the emergence of her killer’s fang. After all, she alone faced the Challenge of the Midnight Hour for which she was granted the power of the highest vampire. Not the Lord Chamberlain. He failed in his bid to become the most powerful member of the Council and felt the High Council of Vampire Clans plotted against him. His jealousy of Anabel forced the Chamberlain into a role he disdained…pandering to the High Council, who he considered an assembly of fools and old men.
The Lord Chamberlain rarely feared anything or anyone. But the look on the Iron Knight’s face made him gasp and recoil from the door. For a moment in time, both stood staring at each other. The Lord Chamberlain’s voice, once strong and authoritative, failed him. The Knight hadn’t planned what he was going to do or say, but once this close to the “esteemed vampire doctor” a familiar feral feeling began to stir. There was something oddly familiar about this person, something that caused the Knight’s ferocious side to come barreling to the surface. Beyond the ability to reason, the Iron Knight grabbed hold of the creature and hurled him across the room. The Knight could see the doctor’s mouth moving, but the growling inside his head blocked out all sound. He picked the doctor up with one hand and hurled him against the nearest wall. Just then he noticed the doctor’s face seemed to be coming apart. Bit by bit the broken disguise fell away revealing the man’s true identity. The Lord Chamberlain!
Very, very slowly sanity returned to the Iron Knight and he understood. At first, he thought the Lord Chamberlain disguised himself as a vampire doctor to harm Anabel. But staring at the miserable mass on the floor in front of him, the Knight knew the truth. This was all for love…unrequited love. The Chamberlain wanted Anabel and would do anything, absolutely anything, to have her. While the Chamberlain was well versed in magic and spells, the Iron Knight was all brawn. And he was determined whatever love the Chamberlain felt for Anabel would remain unrequited.
The Lord Chamberlain saw the truth dawning in the Iron Knight’s eyes and took that moment of hesitation to rise up and grab a small bottle from the shelf. He downed it in one gulp and turned to the Knight. “You may have won this round, but life is a game of chess. Strategy, timing and luck. We will all meet again.” And then he was just gone.
As Anabel emerged from the carriage, the Dark Tower loomed large and formidable. With her vampire senses heightened like never before, the ultrasonic echo of an enemy came through loud and clear. Something familiar was here. The Dark Tower was the perfect choice for the Chamberlain; fairly close to Anabel and town for supplies, yet isolated enough to deter visitors. She didn’t exactly have a plan in mind, but vowed to use every last bit of her vampire power to expose his deceitfulness and, if necessary, destroy him. And if Arabella were also somehow involved, well, she’d take care of that witch too.
As Anabel climbed to the Tower top, the eerie quiet was shattered by some sort of scuffle coming from inside. The Tower’s door was ajar and as Anabel peered through the opening, she saw a hobgoblin in a desperate struggle to free himself from a collar of shame encircling his neck. Another one of the Chamberlain’s varied torture devices, no doubt. The place was a mess with broken furniture and glass shards everywhere and a huge stain of what looked like red paint covering part of the floor. The goblin stopped in his tracks when he saw Anabel and silently watched as she moved about. Anabel bent down and picked up the Chamberlain’s cane, cut from an old century fir pole. He never went anywhere without it. Sensing movement out of the corner of her eye, Anabel spied a dreamcatcher, beneath which swayed a fire griffin’s deadly paw and dragon skeleton parts. There didn’t appear to be any source for the movement; there was no breeze. As she moved closer, Anabel discovered a rather large midnight butterfly caught in the strands of the dreamcatcher. Its futile attempts to free itself only caused the strings to tighten even more. Anabel picked up the butterfly and recognized the hard lava eyes of the Chamberlain! It appears the mighty Lord Chamberlain outsmarted himself this time and, as Anabel held the wriggling insect, she felt empowered by her new sense of self. She carefully unwound the binding strings and found a new home for the powerless wizard. An empty specimen jar was perfect. She placed the cane and jar within her cloak, remembering her prediction of the fly caught in the spider’s web.
Suddenly, her vampire senses caught the unmistakable scent of a werewolf. The Iron Knight had been here! He must have figured out the truth and took matters into his own hands. He did still love her! Anabel was almost giddy. She knew the Knight was okay because the scent was so strong. She needed to get to him, quickly!
The carriage ride seemed interminable and by the time it reached the outskirts of the Castle, Anabel’s nerves were frayed. She felt breathless, as though she ran the whole way. The dog days of summer were upon the land and she could smell the sweetness of the morning dew mixed with the perfume of the plumeria flowers. Nothing like the winter flowers from the North. These smells were intoxicating to her senses and filled her with a yearning that had been dormant far too long. She hoped the Knight hadn’t grown tired of her moodiness and her ridiculous attachment to that scrawny excuse for a masquerading doctor. In her desperation to deny her blood thirst, she allowed the Chamberlain a gateway into her mind. He tormented and provoked her by constantly insinuating Arabella into every conversation in a blatant effort to bring the Knight’s loyalty into question.
The carriage came to a sudden stop, jolting Anabel back to the present. Disheveled and bruised, Anabel started to vent her anger on the driver but he was excitedly trying to explain the ice horse was rapidly turning into a fire horse. The warm temps of the lower lands was wreaking havoc on the poor horse’s constitution and if he didn’t get back to Ice Rock right away, there’d be nothing left but ashes. Anabel checked on the glass jar housing the Chamberlain, grabbed her bag and swung open the door. As the door closed, Anabel noticed a Guards’ emblem indicating this carriage was linked to Vikings. Riding in style or not, she vowed to have a word or two with Henry about being unceremoniously dumped by the side of the road.
She rounded a small food stall at the end of the small town and made her way up the lone path to the Castle. It was such a beautiful path in summer, lined with every imaginable color of flower. And the large tree canopy provided a welcome relief from the warm sun. She came upon a runic tree branch bearing a lone rune tree leaf. The runic tree, the legendary tree of heroes, was revered by everyone. A tiny nest containing a solitary raven egg was an apparent victim of the fallen tree branch. Gingerly, Anabel picked up the nest and, with the help of the Chamberlain’s cane, placed it on the highest tree branch she could reach, hoping the egg’s mother would find it.
As she reached out to unlatch the iron gate, Anabel caught sight of the small band of gold encircling her finger. When the Knight placed this infinity ring on her finger, he promised his love was endless, having no beginning and no end. That was five years ago. Her heart began beating like a hummingbird’s wings and her hands shook. But Anabel did what she had always done, faced things head on. She forgot that for a while, but now she was back.
Just as her hand touched the knob, the door was thrown open and there stood the Knight. At first, all Anabel saw was his outline filling the entire doorway because of the blinding sun behind her. His face suddenly appeared in the light and fear griped her spine as she forcibly willed her legs to move. But one look into his eyes told her she had nothing to fear. Those brown eyes which could be equally muddied or dark or fierce now were just soft and warm. The kindest eyes she ever saw. When he smiled, the warmth of his eyes lit up and she saw little flashes, like sparklers, dancing within them. He grabbed hold of her and held her tight. So tight she couldn’t breathe. But it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered but this moment. They were together, they would stay together.
Before any words were spoken, Daphne bounded her way around the corner and into her mother. Anabel kneeled down and held her daughter tight. But the child wriggled free and wanted to know all about Anabel’s trip, and Henry, and what gifts did she bring. Anabel laughed and pulled out a pearl comb and a little sea pony straight from the Northern Islands for Daphne’s aquarium. You would have thought her cloak was a prosperity cloak for the many gifts that fell from beneath its folds. One gift, however, was a little more special than the rest. Anabel opened a pale blue box and removed a small tiara. She placed the True Valkyrie’s Diadem on her daughter’s head and promised to regale the little girl with all the wonderful sights, smells, people and animals of the Northern Islands.
The excitement of homecoming gave way to exhaustion and everyone was more than ready to retire for the night. Eventually they would have to talk things out, but for now Anabel was content enveloped in her warm, comfortable bed with the Knight lying beside her. But sleep remained elusive, and it wasn’t her bloodthirst that kept Anabel awake. Something needed to be taken care of before she could rest.
She carefully slipped out of bed so as not to disturb the Knight and made her way downstairs. Once her eyes got used to the dark, she could make out the outline of her cloak, still draped across the chair where she left it. Her fingers deftly felt around each fold until she grasped the glass jar. Then very quickly she crossed the foyer and opened the front door. Beside the door was a huge planter where she had stashed the Chamberlain’s cane. Anabel grabbed the cane and quietly climbed the stairs to her dressing room.
Finally able to breathe, Anabel lit a table lamp and walked over to the small grandfather’s clock in the corner. The clock had been one of Henry’s treasures and had a very unique feature…a false front. A tiny key hung from a hook in the back and Anabel inserted the key into an imperceptible keyhole, causing a door to swing open from the bottom half of the clock. She almost felt something akin to pity as she looked at the morphed Chamberlain, but the fire in her eyes belied any compassion. A wry smile crossed her face as Anabel placed the jar and cane inside the clock and shut and locked the door. Once the key was returned to its hiding place, Anabel turned off the light and silently made her way back to bed. Safely beside the Knight, all the tension released from her body and blessed sleep took over.
To Be Continued.....