Night held no terror for Albus Dumbledore. He was a champion of the Light, Phoenix Friend, and wielder of ancient majicks. If he so desired, the night could be turned back for a year and a day; blazing illuminations on every surface for fifty miles. Of course, that would come at considerable cost, and eliminate the habitat for countless denizens of the Deep Forest. Light wasn’t always warm and comforting; sometimes Light was harsh and unforgiving.
Such as now.
He stood in the stronghold of what some considered pure Dark. Others believed the Drakul clan to be merely misunderstood, minor actors on a great stage. He waited to make his own opinion.
“Thank you for your visit,” one of the eldest creatures in Western Europe leaned back in his chair, the faintest smile playing around the edges of his lips. “So few accept invitations in these harsh times.”
Dumbledore glanced around what served as a Throne room. Multiple vampires, facial features betraying their origins, lounged in supposed relaxation. He could detect subtle differences; the rounded eyes of the Occidental, a more angular cheekbone arrangement highlighting Russians. None bore the signs of long-term vampirism, or even hunger. Telling indeed.
“I had hoped to speak with the Lord Drakul,” he maintained an easy stance, appearing to recline in the large chair procured for his comfort. It was indeed comfortable, enough cushion to take the strain off his legs while firm enough to provide support. “The concerns I bring are – formidable.”
The vampire sitting across from him laughed, a breathy, high-pitched sound. “My dear Albus, young Albus, I can assure you whatever issues you bring to the Drakul Clan may be put to rest by my authority.”
Dumbledore’s smile tightened. “I do not cast doubt on your abilities, Vlad of Borogovia, but my concerns come not only from the International Confederation of Wizards, but the Aenglo Coven as well. They are – concerned about the actions of a few juvinates in your area.”
The ancient being heaved a sad sigh. “Ah yes, the young. Newly Turned are susceptible to their baser urges, despite how strong the remonstrance. You are referring to the regrettable Parisian incident I trust? We have ensured the perpetrators of such hedonism to be – upbraided.”
Dumbledore followed the vampire’s gaze to a shelf filled with little ceramic pots. Each decorative jar had a name inscribed on its surface, accompanied with two dates. While the first set of numbers varied, the second matched in every respect. The sense of uncertainty began to fade from the depths of his chest.
“A promising endeavor,” he adjusted his seat, casting a fresh look along the lower table and its rows of young, fresh-looking faces. “The promise of so much has added to your ranks, I see.”
An indulgent smile crossed Vlad’s mien. “War is profitable to my race, I will not deny it. So many lost, such a cruel waste of life. When a man’s leg is obliterated by some uncaring piece of metal, is it not better to ensure his death holds meaning? That the precious last drops of life ensure the continuation of my people? The muggles themselves recognize this trait already. I hear they are calling such a practice organ donation.”
Fierce eyes peered out from beneath bushy brows. “That is your right under treaty. But the concern is not for rites of the fallen, but abduction and forced Turning.”
“Forced Turning?” eyebrows so thin they appeared stenciled rose to meet an absurdly high hairline. “The Drakul will never engage in such behavior, nor accept such a thing in our allies.”
The tension in the room rose, as Dumbledore leaned closer. “Do you deny the forced Turning of one Francois Gilbert? He returned to his family home, claiming a ‘Drakul’ bully had kidnapped him. Tortured him. Rendered insensate by compulsions, until the only word he could say was, ‘yes.’ Even now he is at his home, undergoing intensive treatment by the best help available.”
“Certainly.” Chilled refrigerant from the Arctic would have been hard-pressed to match Vlad’s cold tone. “If you will give me but half an hour, I will summon every juvinate made in the past six months, and verify what I say. Will you give me that, Englishman?”
Dumbledore hesitated, then bowed. “The Americans have a saying: Innocent, until proven guilty. I will give you your half hour.”
“Thank you, very kind.” There was no apparent sarcasm in the vampire’s voice, but Dumbledore felt a faint twinge all the same. A heartbeat later, and the vampire melted into smoke, which billowed to a chimney. The gust was followed by half a dozen other plumes of smoke, forming a veritable column as more of the young vampires joined suit. Unlike fire-born fumes, these trails of incinerated matter flowed in a single direction, vague shapes of arcane horror floating in their midst.
In seconds the hall was empty, save for Dumbledore and the crackling flames.
The lack of company made the room feel somewhat brighter; such was the power of the curse compelling the undead peoples. Shadows ceased to appear ominous, and even the books scattered in random shelving looked interesting. Old books, out-of-print versions he could see, and even a unique monograph by the Lord Drakul himself.
Dumbledore barely had time to settle down with a rare tome when a new voice entered the conversation.
“That wasn’t nice, young Albus.”
He looked up. A distinguished-looking gentleman sat on the chair opposite. Dark hair, tinged with gray at the temple, swept across his head in a perfectly coiffed display. Rich silk lining, blood-red of course, showed itself from the inside of his cape, which partially covered a fine suit. But the most striking feature of the man was his eyes, pure black irises surrounded by the white sclera, as if the pupil had permanently expanded across the short width.
Dumbledore set down his book, and rose to make a short bow. “Lord Drakul. An honor.”
“Please,” the vampire waved a hand at the vacated chair. “Beings such as we need no formality. Yet I would repeat myself, what you just did was not very nice to Vlad.”
A red eyebrow rose, matching Dumbledore’s skepticism. “And what do you believe I did to him?”
Manicured fingers rose, lowering at each point. “I doubt Francois Gilbert is hiding in his home. You were very careful to not accuse Vlad directly – you allowed him a chance to prove his innocence. The boy has never been subtle, even when he ruled a provincial realm, I doubt he will survive whatever surprise you have arranged. Am I right?”
Dumbledore half-smiled. “Nearly, but not in the gold. I also doubt Vlad and his kin will survive the encounter. They will find Francois – poor boy volunteered for the task. But none of Vlad’s associates will survive, if they accompany him to Francois’s home. I daresay if they stand outside twenty feet away they will not survive.”
Lord Drakul’s brow furrowed. Unlike the younger vampire, his eyebrows held character, slightly disheveled in a way that enhanced the overall aura. “I know of no spell that can immolate three dozen juvinates at once, save fiendfyre. What have you done, Albus?”
Dumbledore extended his own hand, examining the fingernails. The half-smile persisted. “I’m afraid that Francois was a beloved member of the artillery fifth division. The corps so recently given phosphorous shells, and magnesium flares. When Vlad reaches Francois’s home, he will find Francois indeed, deep in the basement. It will take time to breach the door, time that will allow a spotter to send a radio signal to concerned friends. Those that loved him will take vengeance on his behalf. But again, you are only partially correct.”
“Oh?” Drakul leaned back. “What did I not see?”
A dark fury began to burn in Dumbledore’s eyes. “You lead the Drakul coven. You knew they were kidnapping young men and women. There are many forms of hunger, Lord Drakul, and such lusts should have been guided by their leadership. You are accountable for their perversion. You failed in your duties.”
“The onus may indeed be on my shoulders,” a reciprocal spark glinted in the dark eye. “But I do not believe you fully comprehend the difficulties lying in wait. The Eastern covens are encroaching upon my territory, the Southern are rampaging through Burgundy as if it were the Dark Ages. I am everywhere at once, cautioning them against exceeding their due, yet you hold me to task? Have a care, young Albus, my patience is legendary, but has already been exercised thin in these issues.”
Light glowed in Dumbledore’s eyes, partially obscured by his half-glasses. Many had underestimated him upon seeing those frames. Many would again. “When your own strength is insufficient, you should have asked for aid. Instead, you tried to conceal your weakness. Failure of your own yet again.”
Ancient hands slapped the table, scoring deep furrows in the oak. “Say what you have come to say, then begone.”
Dumbledore stroked the beard he’d begun to grow. Already it reached the middle of his sternum, interwoven with ancient Nordic braids, like his ancestors long before. “Your lesson will be long. If I could manage it, I would kill you, but that is not necessary for today. Instead I will ruin you so deeply that your essence will struggle to return five centuries from now. I will see to – reprimanding – the other Covens. Like you should have asked a decade ago.”
Drakul rose to his feet, cloak snapping. The faint chill descended once more, shadowy figures entering at his unspoken signal, lining the walls. “Leave my hall.”
“Your question remains unanswered though,” Dumbledore also rose, rising to his full height. He towered over the vampire lord, ignoring the accumulated millennia of rage staring at him from the edges. “Vlad was merely a ploy. A distraction that will ease many hearts outside of this little country. No, the main objective was to gain your attention. By happy accident, I seem to have obtained the consideration of a few more than I’d hoped. These vyre lords are friends of yours, no?”
Drakul’s head lowered, shoulders rising. “You will not leave here alive.”
Soulless eyes blinked. “Wha – ?”
Dumbledore’s glare of rage suddenly took on new meaning as the Phoenix burst into being above his right shoulder. Power, roaring through Dumbledore but channeled through his familiar, arced to the walls. Strong points, ward stones, runic inscriptions detonated under the surging wave, shattering the structures.
Instantly, Drakul faded into smoke. Shards of metal shredded the floating particulates; mere shrapnel wouldn’t have harmed a Grandmaster Vampire, but minor inhibitions lead to miniscule slips. In addition, it was obvious Dumbledore had planned the battlefield, and only a fool fought on ground he had not chosen, when painless retreat was optional. Yet this was his home, the advantage should be his ….
The intense shriek of an enraged Phoenix interrupted the vampire’s lightning-fast thoughts. His form refocused.
Shimmering waves of heat radiated from the Phoenix’s sides, outstretched wings giving a slow flap. Ancient enmity existed between the Dark and Light forces – fury stoked throughout the ages time and time again. The power burned, setting fire to the walls, paintings combusting, sending the magical inhabitants shrieking to each side. The fireplaces blazed high, flames responding to the Phoenix’s call. A vyre flashed close to the fireplace, obviously intending to escape, but even in smoke form the incandescent fury burned.
Drakul lunged at Dumbledore, blurring out of sight with the speed. He met a wall of fire, was sent rebounding off the solid heat into a bookshelf. The books collapsed, igniting as they fell. Back on his feet, the vampire looked for a way out; the field was literally becoming too hit for effective battle. All he could see though, was the damnable bird, eyes glowing red, fire emanating from its beak, and a small dot in the center of the room. The dot was growing, but glowed with such heat that he knew if he touched it, it would disintegrate even himself.
There comes a point when heat rises to a level where it becomes cold from the opposite direction.
Dumbledore reached up, battle-scarred fingers meeting Fawke’s pristine talons. With a wordless shout, a final burst emanated from the pair, before they vanished.
Half a mile away the two reappeared in a flash of fire. As one, they turned to see a manor aflame. Two burning figures launched from upper story windows, rising higher in long trails of flame. Unbearably piercing shrieks accompanied their rise, ascending the scale beyond human ears.
Dumbledore watched the manor implode. Phoenix fire held nearly as much power as fiendfyre, but usable solely by those associated with the noble creatures. Consequently, very few heard of it, and even those few fortunate enough to have a phoenix as a familiar normally lacked sufficient power. But those that did, could create an inferno that was Death to the Dark.
He scratched the bird’s head, following its gaze to the doomed vampires, now falling in flames. Those that feared the Dark merely hadn’t seen what the Light could do.
[ v ]Miscellanoeus
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