“This threw my mother into a deep, dark depression and as far as I know, my father bitterly regretted telling her those lies. But he couldn’t go back – he knew what he had done was unforgivable. But in her despair, my mother begged him for another child and within a year or two Kayla, my sister was born,” he said, cuffing away the tears that stood in the corner of his eyes.
“Lord Hunt took a dangerous risk,” I breathed, haunted by what Isidor had just told me. “Kayla could’ve been born just like you.”
“My father fretted the whole time while my mother carried Kayla,” he explained. “Every week, Doc Ravenwood would check on my mother with that x-ray machine and to his and my father’s relief, Kayla showed no outward signs of being a half-breed. And that’s that,” Isidor said trying to sound quite matter-of-fact about the whole thing, but I could tell that he was hurting. “You know the rest. Kayla grew up believing that she was just like any other little girl, and our mother believed it, too. Until she got to sixteen, that is,” he said.
“But what about you?” I said, my heart aching for him.
“What about me?”
“What was it like for you as a kid?” I asked him. “It must have been tough.”
“No, not really,” he shrugged, but I didn’t believe him. “I grew up believing that my aunt was my mother. I had no reason to think any different. I grew up in The Hollows along with all the other Vampyrus. But…” he trailed off.
“But what?” I pushed.
“I knew that I was different from the other Vampyrus,” he said. “Sure, I looked like them, but my wings were different from theirs, mine grew beneath my arms and wouldn’t fold away, which made it very difficult for me when my friends wanted to investigate above ground. Like most Vampyrus, they wanted to know what it was like up here, so as young teenagers, we would sneak away above ground and check out the humans. My friends could blend really well, but it was harder for me. Some even got permission from their parents to attend school and college above ground, join the football team, date girls, but not me.
“When I asked my mother…aunt…why I looked different, she would change the subject and tell me that in her eyes I was perfect. But it wasn’t only my wings; it was my sense of smell. I mean it was almost suffocating at times. But I soon realised that I could use it to track things – you know like animals and stuff and my friends just for fun. So, I built the crossbow and while my friends practiced football and dated human girls, I would practice my hunting and my aim. But this only set me apart from them even more, and in a way, I guess I secretly liked that – I mean I wanted to be different. So I got the tattoos and piercing and stuff to really set me apart.
“Anyway, one day I’m standing on the touchline, watching my Vampyrus mates playing football with their human buddies, and this geeky-looking guy strolls up alongside me. He’s wearing these cheap plastic glasses and his face is all covered in spots,” Isidor said.
“Sparky?” I cut in.
“Yeah, your mate Sparky,” Isidor grimaced. “He says to me, ‘It’s a shame, really’
‘What is?’ I ask him.
‘That you don’t fit in with the humans as well as your Vampyrus buddies.’
“I was shocked, Kiera, by what he said, and I just stared at him wide-eyed and opened-mouthed. I mean, I couldn’t figure out how he knew about us.
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ I said to him.
‘You’re more like a human than you realise,’ he smiled.
‘Get out of here,’ I snapped at him.
‘Ask your mother – or should I say aunty?’ and this Sparky dude grinned at me.
‘Aunty?’ I said, but somewhere deep inside of me something clicked into place.
“So, Leaving Sparky smiling to himself on the touchline, I raced home back to The Hollows and confronted who I believed to be my mother. At first she denied it, telling me that she was my mother and that my father had died when I was just a baby. But I said I didn’t believe her and that if she didn’t tell me, I’d leave The Hollows and her forever, to go in search of the truth. But still she wouldn’t tell me. So, taking my crossbow and a few personal belongings, I left The Hollows.
“But my mother…aunt…followed me, begging me to stay with her – telling me that sometimes the truth wasn’t always the best. Ignoring her, I went back above ground and she followed. Within moments of leaving The Hollows, she was captured by Sparky and I realised I’d walked straight into a trap. Then, with great delight, Sparky told me everything. With my heart feeling as if it had been ripped from my chest, I asked my aunt if what he had said was true, and without looking at me, she slowly nodded her head.
“Even though I felt betrayed by her – by all of them – I still loved her as if she were my mother. So when Sparky told me that he would kill her if I didn’t bring my sister Kayla to him, I didn’t know what else to do. Even though I’d never met my sister, I didn’t want to betray her, either – but I had to do something. So agreeing to go in search of Kayla, I set out for Hallowed Manor, but all the while I had no intention of handing over Kayla and every intention of saving the woman who I’d believed to be my mother. I hoped that together, Kayla and I would be able to work something out, a plan of some kind.
“On reaching the manor, I scoped it out for a few days, coming out at night and watching the manor from the moors. One night, I was nearly caught by Potter as he masqueraded around as the grounds man, Marshal. But there was someone else watching the manor – this guy with scars all over his face,” Isidor said.
“Phillips is his name,” I told him.
“Anyway,” Isidor continued, “I could tell that he was up to something. But one night, as I watched the manor from the safety of the moors, I heard this thunderclap and looking up I saw a Vampyrus soaring out of the sky and it was this Phillips dude. Curious as to what a Vampyrus would be doing at Hallowed Manor, I followed him through the undergrowth as he made his way around the outskirts of the giant wall. It was then I realised that my sister, Kayla was in great danger,” Isidor explained.
“Why? What did you see?” I asked him.
“Vampires!” Isidor said, his eyes wide. “Hundreds of them, and he was leading them into the grounds of the manor by a tunnel that went under the moat. From a distance, I followed them and watched as Phillips led them into that summerhouse. But what I couldn’t figure out was how so many of those vampires could fit into that place. I mean that summerhouse was only small. So, hiding in the trees, I waited for Phillips to go, and then I scoped out the summerhouse. It was then I discovered the trapdoor in the floor. Realising that Phillips was building an army of vampires, I fled the grounds of the manor and went back to the wall and the tunnel beneath it,” Isidor explained.
“You ran, didn’t you?” I asked him, thinking of those footprints in the earth I’d seen leading from the summerhouse, through the wooded area and back to the tunnel.
“Yeah, how do you know?” he asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” I half-smiled.
“Not really knowing anything about vampires – only the stuff I’d read in books and seen in movies, the following day, I crossed the moors to this little Catholic church tucked away in some remote village. Putting as much loose change that I had on me into the church charity box, I took as many rosary beads that I could find in the gift shop. I then spent the rest of the day cutting down branches and sharpening them into stakes. I rested beneath some rocks for the rest of the day and planned to go and save my sister that night,” Isidor said. Then, looking at me he added, “The rest you know. I arrived too late and discovered you and Potter in that summerhouse.”
“You know we will find her,” I said. “I promise.”
“I hope so,” he said back. “But I think Potter is probably right about one thing.”
“My mother…I mean aunt…is probably already dead.”
“You don’t know that for sure,” I tried to comfort him.
“We’ll see,” he said.
“Do you resent her?” I asked him.
“Who, my aunt?”
“No, why should I resent her?” he asked thoughtfully. “It was my father who abandoned me.”
We sat in silence for a moment, then, turning my back on him and unbuttoning my shirt, I said, “I think my wings are starting to come through.” I rolled my shirt just far enough off my shoulders so he could see the bony lumps I had discovered earlier.
Gently, he pressed them with the tips of his fingers and said, “Does that hurt?”
“No,” I told him, shaking my head. “What do you think?”
“I think you’re right,” he whispered and I pulled my shirt over them again.
“What’s it like?” I asked him, my heart beginning to thump as I feared the prospect of changing.
“What, having wings, you mean?”
“Not just that,” I said, “the whole claws and fangs thing?” I asked.
“I’ve never known any different,” he said. “But when the fangs come out and the claws – you know – when you need them, it doesn’t hurt. I guess it’s a bit like flexing your muscles, so don’t worry.”
“But I do worry,” I told him. “I’m scared. I don’t want to be…what I’m trying to say is, I just want to go back to being Kiera…not some freaky-monster.”
Then looking at me, Isidor said, “But Kiera, you’ve always been a freaky-monster…you just haven’t realised it!”
The others woke and there was an uncomfortable silence in the overhang. No one spoke to each other or even looked at each other for that matter; most seemed lost to their own thoughts. Murphy sucked on the end of his pipe as he readied himself to lead us to this Jack Seth and the Lycanthrope. Luke stayed close to my side and I got the feeling that he just wanted to look after me - as if he understood the danger that we were being led into. Isidor stood by the craggy entrance to the overhang and watched the moon rise up over the mountains that stretched away into the distance like giants stooping over. Potter kicked dust over the remaining embers of the fire, and with one quick look at us all, Murphy said, “Ready?”