Prologue to Inheritance
The lights came first, warning the night creatures that their home was to be invaded once again by the humans who’d rediscovered this forgotten building that had lain undisturbed in the east of Slovakia for centuries. Like two search lights the car’s beams illuminated the deeply rutted and muddy track that lead to ruined castle which had recently become a building site. Slowly the dark coloured Maserati travelled further into the forest, it’s softly purring engine not quite loud enough to block out the faint strains of the Stone’s Sympathy for the Devil which would have been audible to anyone if they’d been close by.
In the darkness, a fox screamed and the smaller creatures scuttled away aware that something dark had arrived in their home.
In the sullen and watchful silence the car marked as coming from Roma came to a stop close to the abandoned diggers left by the workmen assigned to renovate the crumbling castle.
The softly purring engine fell still but the music could still be heard until the song naturally faded out. Its demise was followed by the sudden click of the driver’s door opening. The man who emerged was young with fair hair, and dressed in a well-cut suit which seemed totally out of place for the building site and forest.
He surveyed the area carefully his intense gaze moving back and forth from the castle to the forest as if searching for something. Finally, he closed the door and strode towards the scaffolding which obscured the stones of the barbican. He stopped before it and seemed to be sniffing the air like a predator smelling for prey. But the illusion was shattered when he reached into his pocket and pulled out a packet of cigarettes with a lighter that shone dully in the moonlight.
Perfectly at ease in the dark and spooky surroundings he inhaled then blew out a cloud of smoke before spinning around as if to appreciate the view down the track. The man didn’t seem to be in any hurry and there was obviously no one around; the men who reluctantly worked at the haunted site during the day were long gone and wouldn’t be back until the sun was well and truly high in the sky.
When he’d smoked the cigarette, he nonchalantly flicked it to the floor then ground it into the damp soil with his leather shoe. Then without any further hesitation, he moved towards the dark entry of the partly demolished gatehouse and entered the castle.
The young man seemed to know where he was going and walked without hesitation towards the centre of the crumbling building. Somehow, he avoided kicking any of the loose rocks that lay littered on the uneven floor or brushing the thick bushes that grew up amid the decaying stones of the former strong hold.
It was if he was a ghost, moving without substance or noise into the very heart of the structure, passing down ancient passages that no one had walked for centuries.
The builders hadn’t come this far yet. Legend said the old castle was haunted, so the wary men hadn’t intruded anywhere without the protection of their machines, as if the energy of the engines were talismans which kept the evil spirits at bay. But the young man seemed unperturbed by the stories if he even knew them and moved silently down into the old dungeon, casually lighting yet another cigarette as if this was something he did every evening.
Finally he came to thick wooden door stuck fast by age. For a moment he contemplated it and blew out another cloud of smoke as he pondered the problem. This entrance led to the very bowels of the castle, to places not seen by any one since the night the locals spurred on by fanatical clerics had conquered their fear and risen up against their mostly benign rulers to kill them whilst they lay in their beds.
Once he’d finished his cigarette the stranger lifted his hand and ran his fingers gently over the rough stone walls as if he was reaching into the castle’s past to draw out its memories. Suddenly with an agonised shudder and an ear-splitting creak, the old oak door eased open amid a shower of dust and cobwebs. In response, the stranger whispered words of thanks in an ancient tongue familiar to the building but no longer spoken by the workmen, then passed beyond the doorway into the extreme blackness beyond.
Despite the solidity of the darkness he passed quickly and without any further holdups into the ancient and forgotten sections of the ruined fortress until he came to a lost chamber no one else alive knew existed.
There was power here. It was dormant but anyone with an understanding of the unseen world would sense something dark about this place and keep away, making it the perfect prison and tomb. No living creature would willing come close, so any prisoner would remain lost and locked in their living death unable ever to escape.
What had occurred here would have been a fair sentence for the wicked or corrupt but the person who lay here was innocent. Their only crime had been to be born into the wrong family at the wrong time.
The men who crossed themselves regularly as they reluctantly went about their work on the surface were right to be wary. If they became bold and discovered this place it would only take one thoughtless action and an old and possibly vengeful spirit would be set free into the world.
The unknown man entered the hidden chamber and stopped a few feet inside, transfixed by the mummified husk that lay unmoving on the floor before him. Whoever had last been here had done a thorough job and had left their victim to die alone and naked in the darkness with a huge stake through their heart. The two dehydrated hands that clawed desperately at the wood gave evidence of the agonising death the person had suffered and finally succumbed to.
The stake came out easily enough but it’s departure made no difference. The body still lay dormant, merely a shell of what it had been and the atmosphere in the castle remained unchanged. The tragedy that had taken place here centuries before had been overlooked for too long; if the stranger was to give life back to the ruins he’d found tonight he’d need to do more.
For a while the young man stared down at the body, seemingly undecided as to his next course of action. Eventually he made up his mind and reluctantly turned to leave the room abandoning the lifeless husk to its fate, when something stopped him. He shuddered and swung round, showing surprise for the first time.
His senses told him that something somewhere had changed. Then he heard the sigh. It was barely audible, but it came from the figure.
Instantly he lifted his finger and drew it across his incisor teeth, then held his hand out over the trapped soul. Slowly a drop of blood formed from the cut and fell on top of the body where it disappeared into the dried flesh. It was followed seconds later by a second and soon after that a third.
The man put his finger into his mouth and whispered something before heading for the door. As silently as he’d arrived he moved back through the castle leaving no trace of his passing. At the big oak door he paused and pulled it to, leaving enough space for a person to crawl through. He appeared oblivious to the fact that his finger was already completely healed.
Five minutes later he emerged from the ruins and stopped to sniff the air again. A brief smile of satisfaction flickered across his lips, which became a grin as he retrieved his cigarettes and lighter from his pocket. After lighting up again, he strolled around the restoration work, peering at the renovations and inspecting the work carried out so far whilst whistling a tune under his breath. When he’d finished, he ground the butt into the mud and got back into the car.
The engine purred into life, and moments later the opening chords of Sympathy for the Devil blared out again, this time much louder than before. Then with impressive speed and precision the car executed a perfect three-point turn, avoiding the diggers and trucks left lying around the place and started off back down the track to the motor way which, like all roads in the known world led back to Rome.