This Forever Knight story features Victor and Richard, original characters.

Victor's Tale

Cousin Shelley



Two months.

Richard touched the folded paper on his desk. How many times had he read this insanity? How many times had he tried to make sense of his friend's delusion?

Victor had not been well, of that much he'd been painfully aware. But guilt rattled his chest as he'd read the letter and realized just how far his old friend's condition had deteriorated.

No one had heard from Victor in two months. Some suspected he'd met a violent end, yet there was no evidence of this. Nothing had been stolen, there were no signs of a violent quarrel. Victor had written a long letter to Richard just days before it became apparent that he'd gone missing. And there was the curious statement he'd left on his writing desk.

In his most neat and precise handwriting, Victor had penned the cryptic message:

"I shall be as a dark angel in the night."

Messages left before a suicide generally held more explanation than this. And the bodies of those who'd dispatched themselves from this life were generally more easily recovered.

No, Richard thought. It was not a suicide note. And what's more, no body has been found.

He lifted the familiar letter, careful not to tear it where it was thinned from the wear of his repeated unfolding. He read:


Dearest Richard,

I write this letter not to disturb you, please believe me. But our friendship dictates that I explain myself. If this letter saddens you (please let it not be so) take heart, Richard, in knowing that my original message was to be a final farewell. This is written with anticipation and wonder, and eagerness for what is to come. And, at long last, a measure of hope.

I have not known joy for some time, as you well know. I suppose I may never truly know it again. But until mere days past I had no hope of even a shadow of happiness. All has changed, old friend.

My story begins but two nights ago as I sat with my head in my hands, despairing my very existence, having written a final, bitter goodbye before taking my leave of this life in a manner which, for both our sake's, I will not describe in detail here. Having signed my name and extinguished my candle, I rose from the desk, determined to savor one last look at the moon-dappled grounds beyond my study window. There, as I tearfully admired the fullness of the trees I had planted so many years ago, I sighed what was to be my last mournful sound on this earth.

Then (Richard, please do not think me mad) the darkness shifted!

Surely this is an inadequate description, yet its essence rings true to my ear. The night, it rippled before me! I have read tales of specters and ghosts rich with description of how the fine hairs bristle along the back of the neck, and the spine chills in unexplained foreboding, yet until that moment I had no cause to think those sensations accurate outside the pages of books. But Richard, I promise you, it was as if an icy gale had somehow breached my very skin!

Suddenly, where moments before had been only darkness, stood a man. Again the night rippled and a second tall figure appeared only a pace before the first. I was mesmerized by these two shapes just beyond my window. At first, I doubted my eyes and my racing thoughts--my very sanity! But the figures would not be wished nor reasoned away! They were, whether I chose to see them or not.

They were dressed darkly, Richard, and yet I thought they must be angels--their unearthly pale faces seemed to glow! The first figure's golden hair appeared as a halo over his shining countenance. I tell you, under the moon's glow, he seemed not to reflect the light, but to create it.

The second figure held out his pale hand to the first, as if in alms. The first man refused and pushed it away. They stilled, and my breath caught in my chest.

And then, Richard, they grappled!

If I'd still held doubt that the creatures before me were mist or apparitions, I now had proof of their solid form. They collided with such force! And the sounds they made! Hellish sounds, as if they were not shadowy angels as I'd imagined, but demons, or devil cats! And listen well, dear Richard, and know I am serious and sound as I tell you this -- for a time, their feet did not light upon the ground. As if swinging from unseen ropes, they wrestled and fought in the air.

Their cries reached a pitch that rattled the glass within its pane. Just as I thought the window would shatter, they fell to the grass below and grew strangely silent. They held fast together, and as they rolled, still struggling in a curious battle, I could see that they had torn at each other's throats with their own mouths! They appeared more as devil cats, lions feeding after a hunt, than the angels I'd imagined them to be only moments ago.

And then, Richard, they did not speak, nor gesture in any way. They simply broke apart and rose, soundlessly and swiftly. Their faced glowed less than before, as their life's blood spotted and darkly streaked their pale visages. Then the second man, who had offered his hand for an unknown reason and been refused, pulled the first man forward and without ceremony cleaned his companion's face. I tell you the truth! He gently bit at the skin, and licked his face clean, in the manner of an animal grooming an offspring, or a mate. He bathed the face of the first man as if men had been performing similar actions for each other since time began. Where I'd compared them to lions before, Richard, I now could not prevent myself from thinking of them as wolves! Those wolves in packs whose rituals of which I'd read with such eagerness in my youth.

I watched this grooming, and as the first man in turn lapped the blood from his companion's skin, I realized that I was in danger of being discovered, as I had pressed my hands against the glass and my quick breaths were fogging my view in my eagerness to catch every detail of the scene unfolding before me.

I gathered myself and retreated a step into the study, never taking my eyes from the strange sights ahead, when the first man tilted back his head and looked toward the heavens. The night seemed to envelope him -- he disappeared. The second man did not seem shocked at this, and he too looked toward the stars. I fully expected him to vanish in the same manner.

But now, a remarkable end to a remarkable tale.

As I held my breath and waited for his wondrous exit, he lowered his head, Richard, and he looked directly into my eyes! I thought my chest would burst as he walked toward the window, never releasing my frightened gaze. Just steps away from the glass he paused, and I, even in my terror, realized that my first thought about this creature's nature had been correct. He smiled and here, in all his glory, was a dark angel before me, his eyes golden, his lips rubies, the pallor of his skin as pure ivory.

Then he spoke to me with the words that have given me a hope of which I dared never to dream. He spoke to me, Richard. Not with his voice, no, no, an angel would not need such a device. His eyes held mine and he spoke inside my mind! His melodic voice rang out inside my own head! And then, as I fought to remain standing though my knees would surely sway if I stayed a minute more, he was gone. And I was alone with the memory of the words, and his voice, and his gaze.

You surely must think me mad by now, dear friend, and I could not take offense at it -- I would doubt the sanity of one telling a tale such as this had I not seen it with my own eyes. I doubted my own mind's clarity many times during this night.

At this moment, I will not blame you for doubt. Yet I shall prove to you the truth in my words. Unless I am truly mad, you shall hear of my absence and my certain demise, and a short time after that I will have proof to offer you. Know that I am well despite reports to the contrary.

Wait to hear from me, Richard, my old and dearest friend.

Yours,

Victor

A dark angel


Richard laughed softly to himself, and the hollow sound startled him.

Victor had always possessed a fertile imagination. Illness and despair must have twisted his creative mind into something sinister and dark. Dark angel, indeed.

And yet, here he was, reading again, searching the message again. Hoping . . . for what?

No. He'd soon be insane as his poor, lost friend if he allowed himself to continue this way. He placed the letter carefully in a drawer, and vowed to leave it.

He needed the crisp, night air to revive him and clear his head of foolish thoughts. He found himself spending more and more time outside after the sun had disappeared behind the far hills, relishing the solemnity of being alone in the dark, with only the stars and the moon to witness an old fool's folly.

He walked away from the house, toward the moon, breathing deeply of the dark, damp air. He heard a rustling ahead, surely a prowling cat.

At that moment, another of the night's creatures proved to him that his dreams of a dark angel weren't nearly so foolish as his fears.

"Richard. My old friend . . . ."