Authors: Sharon Hannaford
A Short Trip to Hell
(Hellcat Series Origins Volume 1)
Copyright © 2014 Sharon Hannaford
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places and occurrences are fictitious and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons, events or locations is entirely coincidental.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or means, electronic or mechanical, without permission from the copyright holder.
For my readers.
SO THIS IS HELL
(Early 18th century, Scottish Highlands)
They came at night, as Fergus had known they would. They came in great numbers, as he’d thought they would. McDougal, coward that he was, didn’t come himself, as Fergus had suspected. But they brought one thing he hadn’t counted on; one thing he couldn’t even have imagined. One too fast, too strong, too indestructible. One who bared fangs and laughed darkly. One that looked like a man; of slight build, a little too thin, with a pasty complexion, an untidy beard and long hair. One that spoke like a man, with a supercilious sneer and an accent he’d never heard before. One that even bled like a man when you were fast enough to cut it. But one that wasn’t a man. Not a man at all, but a legend, a folk tale, a monster to scare children into their beds.
The men, not even McDougal’s clan but hired mercenaries, toyed with him, jeering scornfully as they set upon him all at once. And so he fought in the silver-white light of the full moon, in his courtyard, not prepared to allow their filth to defile his residence. He spun and parried, struck and defended, his great sword glinting as it sliced through the crisp night air, cutting and blocking. Within minutes several of the men lay dead or wounded, the others backing down, beginning to doubt that their pay was worth their lives.
And then the Vampire stepped from the shadows, nonchalantly knocking several of the men aside with a twitch of its arm. It yanked a sword from one of the fallen, and began circling Fergus with knowing eyes and a hideous grin.
“Scotsman, you fight well,” it said. While its accent was thick its English was perfect. “You won’t beat me, but even a small challenge will be a welcome distraction.” With a lightning fast feint and a casual flick of the sword it broke through Fergus’s defences and sliced a bloody wound across the Scotsman’s right bicep. Fergus didn’t feel the laceration, only the simmering anger. It beggared belief that McDougal, a man almost family, would send one such as this against him, to exact revenge. The animosity had been simmering for months, and the past few weeks had ignited into outright war over the disputed territory. The tit for tat had escalated until only a fight to the death would satisfy, but McDougal had taken it too far by sending this supernatural assassin instead of coming himself. He was a disgrace to name and to Scotland. The outrage spurred Fergus on.
He’d heard the legends, not even a monster like this could survive without a head. He’d take that head if it was the last thing he did. And so he watched as the creature circled and feinted, taking its measure, looking for weaknesses. And then he truly began to fight, knowing it was to the death, and determined to see McDougal rot in Hell for his transgressions.
It could have been hours later that his knees met the hard-packed ground, the squat buildings of his deserted estate blurring before his eyes as the remaining mercenaries hollered and jeered like cavorting demons. His right arm hung limply at his side, a hundred wounds, some shallow, some deep, scored his body. Blood seeped into his kilt, sticking the coarse fabric to his skin and sweat trickled to join the red rivulets trailing down his face, chest and back. With his head dropping in defeat, he watched the dark puddle slowly spreading into the grass beneath him, creeping towards the great sword which he longer had the strength to wield.
“Enough,” the vampire said, though Fergus had since long tired of hearing its voice. “This has been entertaining but I must get back to my employer, collect my payment and take my leave.”
Fergus drew a ragged, soul-deep breath, knowing it to be his last, grateful only that his family; his beautiful, strong-willed, sharp-tongued Isabel and his sweet, sweet Emelia were safe, and that he’d had the foresight to send the other clan folk with her. Isabel would know what to do, he only wished he could warn her of the depths to which McDougal had sunk, hoped she knew how much he loved her, prayed her father would protect both of them, and that McDougal would get his comeuppance in time.
The Vampire came in close to finish him, as he’d known it would. He may not know Vampires, but he knew men, and he knew arrogance. This creature could not simply kill him quickly and walk away, it needed its victims to know that they were dying and that it had caused their deaths and their pain. The monster had ripped a dagger from one of hired men and held it loosely in one hand. It leaned down and threaded its other hand into Fergus’s hair, tugging his head back to grin maniacally into Fergus’s face. Its breath was rancid and smelled of the grave.
“Think of the fun I will have with your wife and daughter once I’m done with you,” the Vampire snarled. “I can find them you know,” it grinned again, flaring its nostrils. “I can scent them. I’m like a hound, only a thousand times better. I’ll have much more fun with them before I kill them though.” Then its hand flashed forward, burying the dagger deep in Fergus’s chest, thrusting upward and towards his heart. It wasn’t fear of death that flooded Fergus, but mindless rage. A fury that stiffened his spine, tightened his muscles and forced his body to produce just one more spurt of adrenalin.
He lunged forward, catching the Vampire with his shoulder and throwing it to the ground beneath him. He clamped down on the creature’s throat with his teeth, the last weapon left to him, as he heard the shouts of alarm from the startled onlookers. Cool, iron-tasting liquid burst across Fergus’s face, obscuring the vision in one eye and filling his mouth. The Vampire howled in surprise and pain, clamouring to push Fergus away. The Scotsman, no longer feeling anything but fury and desperation, tore the dagger from his own flesh and turned the blade towards the Vampire beneath him, driving the sharpened steel into the creature’s ravaged neck, feeling as the dagger hit bone and cleaved into the creature’s spine. And then he knew no more.
The Beast awoke. Every sense on alert, hearing perfect, scent superior. Hungry. Only one need drove him, echoed through his mind, consumed his senses. Feed. He had to feed. His senses immediately located something warm and appealing. Live prey, exactly what he needed. The Beast smiled, finally opening his eyes.
The prey fought and screamed, calling a name, imploring, shouting. Fear-tinged adrenalin laced the air, exciting him further. His prey bucked against him as he held it just long enough to savour its scent, and then he sank his teeth into the warm, enticing flesh, felt the ambrosial taste of blood spill into his mouth. He drank; drank deep and long, frantic to quench the torturous ache in his body and mind.
Much too soon the blood ran out, his sucking mouth could pull no more sustenance from his prey. His appetite nowhere near sated, he dropped the husk of his first meal and drew in a breath. Ahh, more prey approached. This time smaller, but even more appetising. His hunger was still a burning agony. A small voice called out and a door opened. He pounced before the tiny prey could comprehend the danger. A small shriek echoed around the room, and then a high pitched voice began crying one word over and over again. Something about that word pulled at him, a shadowy memory trying to surface, a thought desperately trying to break free, to show him something important. But the hunger was overpowering, there was nothing as important as the hunger.
With a snarl he lowered his head to the hard, quick pulse, throbbing in the squirming prey’s neck. With a satisfied groan he sank his fangs into that vein, the pain of the hunger easing just slightly as the warm lifeblood once again flooded his mouth, seeping into the very cells of his body, regenerating, repairing, soothing.
A sharp pain across Fergus’s face, jolted him awake him from a dreadful nightmare. He blinked his eyes open, clapping a hand to his bleeding face and then looked down. The tiny girl in his arms gasped and dropped the dainty, jewel-handled dagger, the one he’d given her just weeks ago for her birthing day celebration, then her eyes rolled back and her mouth fell open. Horror flooded him, freezing his body, piercing his brain.
Not a dream…not a dream…not a dream.
“Noo,” he screamed, his voice a soul-deep keening. “Noo, noo, noo, noo, noo….” He pulled the limp body of his precious daughter close to him, hugging her, rocking her. Then desperately running his hands over her, checking her pulse, turning her head to see the ragged tear marks in her flesh. His breath was coming in short, panicked gasps. He was whole, he was alive, he was healed. He didn’t understand, just didn’t understand.
“Lass, oh Emelia, please wake oop,” he begged the child, shaking her slightly, but there was no response. “Oh please, please God, let this be a dream, a nightmaur. Please, please let me wake frae this horrur.” Frenzied with grief and fear he searched his surroundings looking for aid from any quarter. He was in his bedroom in the house on his estate, Isabel’s favourite rug on the stone floor, her hand-woven tapestries on the walls, their bed neatly made. The remains of a stout wooden box the size of a coffin and a velvet mort cloth lay tangled beside it. Not far from him lay the crumpled form of a woman.
“Isabel…” he tried to say but the word never left his lips. She could no longer hear him. She was no longer drawing breath and her heart no longer beat in her chest. Just like the child in his arms.
His mind was a frantic maelstrom as he tried to piece together what had happened.
What had he done? What had he become?
He had done this…he had done this…
He looked back to the girl in his arms, his tears flowing freely to mingle with the blood from the cut on his face. Utterly bereft he began shaking her again, calling her name, begging her to come back to him, apologising. But his angel, his light, his reason for living did not respond. The girl was gone, her spirit flown, as dead as her mother. His knees gave way and a ragged animal cry rent the air as he owned the fact that he’d taken the lives of the two people most precious to him in the whole world.
And then the Beast returned.
The Beast awoke once more. Hungry again, but not as painfully hungry as the first time. Its surroundings were damp and smelled of earth and rock and small vermin. Its instincts had been good; it was in a safe place, away from those who would try to harm it, while it was vulnerable. It was wily and strong, and once it fed, it would complete its duty. For it had a calling, and its calling was vengeance.
Its keen sense of smell lead it from the narrow cave into the cool evening breeze, down a rocky mountain and to the smouldering ruins of what had been a collection of houses, large and small, not long before. Neatly trimmed gardens and fruit-heavy orchards surrounded the wreckage, the greenery entirely incongruous to the scene of destruction. Smoke still hung in the air from remains of buildings not quite finished burning. Its fire had done a good job covering what had occurred there. The area was utterly devoid of life; no human, hound or fowl remained. Those still living had abandoned the cursed place for other quarters. For the rest it had become a funeral pyre.
Something stirred inside the Beast and it knew its duty would eat at it until it was done.
It prowled the edges of the estate in the waning moonlight until it found the scent it was seeking, and then it began to run. It would feed well tonight. It covered mile after mile not following roads or footpaths, never needing to rest, never needing to slow its pace, not even over bog or steep highland terrain, until it came upon another cluster of houses and outbuildings. The only smoke here was rising lazily from a tall stone chimney. This was where its trail ended. This was where it got to gorge itself without remorse. Inside this estate its duty would be done.
Many sharp bites of pain stung his flesh. All across his body wounds large and small were in various stages of healing. Fergus breathed in, lifted his gaze and took in his surroundings. A cur slunk away from him out of a shattered doorway, head down, tail tight against its body. The scent of blood and death was a physical miasma in the room. It was a large room, and one familiar to him. He’d eaten there, partaken of food and whiskey and entertainment. A meal lay half-eaten on the table; bread, roast meat, ale. Tapestries and family crests adorned the walls.
Ciaran McDougal lay on the floor before him, his body lying at an unnatural angle, his lips contorted in agony and his grey eyes staring up in horror. His throat was a mess of cartilage and gore. His men, more than a dozen of them, lay in similar positions in a trail from the doorway to their Laird. Many simply had broken necks, and lay as though in a drunken stupor, others were missing limbs or faces. He’d spared none.
And none had deserved sparing.
He looked at his own hands, covered in the blood of others, allowed his eyes to travel to the smaller wounds which were healing before his eyes, ran his tongue over large elongated teeth on either side of his mouth and finally understood. This was not a nightmare, this was real. The evil that McDougal had toyed with had ultimately destroyed them all.
He touched his face, remembering the bite of his daughter’s dagger as she’d fought so bravely for her life. The wound was healed, his flesh unmarred. It seemed so wrong.
Instinct suddenly took over, guiding him towards the dining table. From amid the ruined meal he picked up a bowl of coarse salt and a dagger, walked to an over-large, ornate mirror on the far wall and stared at the face of the monster for the first time.