Silently, we followed him into the night. We hadn’t gone far when the sound of beating wings rippled above. Pulling me close, Luke whispered in my ear, “The Vampyrus can guess that we didn’t get far yesterday. They’ll know we are probably still close, so keep low and watch your back.”
Looking back at him, I nodded my head to confirm that I understood. Then, glancing into the distance, I could see a flock of Vampyrus circling around and around in the sky like vultures waiting for the starving to die.
Keeping low, Murphy led us in single file across several boggy fields, then down into a deep forest set between two mountains that stretched up on either side of us like blackened cliff-faces. Like the countryside surrounding Hallowed Manor, this part of Cumbria was just as barren and desolate, a crisscrossing patchwork of featureless fields and moors, only broken by the jagged rocks that jutted through the earth like ancient tombstones. The Vampyrus continued to zigzag across the night sky, but they were behind us now, and as we entered the forest, I lost sight of them altogether.
Touching Luke’s arm, I gave a faint smile and said, “At least they won’t be able to see us beneath all these trees.”
Before Luke had a chance to say anything back, Potter had brushed past us and as he went, he said, “Don’t forget about the vampires.”
Glaring at his back as he strode away deeper into the forest, Luke shrugged his shoulders at me and said, “Take no notice, Kiera. He’s just pissed off with Murphy, that’s all. He’ll get over it.”
“And what about you?” I asked as we followed behind the others.
“What about me?”
“Are you still pissed off at Murphy?”
“I guess,” he sighed, and stroked the scars on his face, which had gradually started to fade. “I just hope the sarge knows what he’s doing.”
We continued to make our way through the forest, the sweet smell of fallen pine needles almost intoxicating. There were so many of them on the ground that they covered the earth and the mud like a lavish green carpet. I don’t know how long we had walked, but time almost seemed to stop inside the forest. It was dark and felt claustrophobic amongst the trees that grew so close to one another. Although it was cold, the atmosphere inside the forest felt warm and clammy. Reaching a small hill, I looked back at the way we had come, and the darkness between the gaps of the trees seemed to move like a black mist, as if almost taking on shapes - forms.
Screwing-up my eyes, I peered into the darkness, but on closer inspection there didn’t seem to be anything lurking there at all.
“This way,” Murphy said behind me, and I turned to see him heading down the other side of the hill and disappearing between the trees. Potter stared after his retreating sergeant, and his face looked drawn and grave and it scared me - upset me - as I’d never seen him like that before. I didn’t ever think I would admit this to myself, but I was actually missing his annoying ways. To see him propped somewhere, with a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth while making wisecracks, was comforting - that was the Potter that I knew and…that was the Potter that I liked. But this new Potter I wasn’t so sure about. He had always been so cock sure - arrogant - nothing seemed to scare him. But now I wasn’t so sure.
“Are you okay?” Luke asked me, yanking me away from my worries for Potter.
“Sure,” I said, setting off after the others.
We worked our way down the hill, weaving amongst the trees, until Murphy brought us out into an unexpected clearing. In the dark, the view he had revealed to us was breathtaking. We stood on the sandy shore of a beautiful lake. It lay before us like a sheet of glass, reflecting back the moon that shone high above us, blood-red and perfectly round. Pine trees and spruces stretched up into the sky on all sides of the lake, completely surrounding it, as if keeping this place secret from the rest of the world. The gentle sound of the water lapping against the shore was hypnotizing and the whole place had a dreamy, fairytale enchantment to it. The lake looked as if it was a mile wide and disappeared for as far as the eye could see in both directions.
“Wow,” I breathed, my eyes absorbing the astonishing beauty of how the light from the crimson moon danced on the surface of the lake like droplets of blood, covering the highest tips of the trees.
Swiveling his baseball cap on his head, Isidor whistled through his teeth in awe. “I’ve never seen anything like this before,” he sighed. “And I thought The Hollows had some beautiful lakes.”
Luke and Potter glanced at each other and I could see their bodies stiffen. The sight of this amazing place had done nothing to relax their nerves, but had only heightened them.
“Does anybody else know about this place?” I asked Murphy.
“Others have stumbled across it from time to time,” he said, “but they don’t live long enough to tell anyone about it.”
“It’s beautiful,” I whispered.
“You haven’t seen nothin’ yet,” Murphy said, leading us away down the moonlit shore.We followed him a short distance, and I could just see something which looked as if it were sticking out into the lake like a broken finger. But as we grew closer, I could see that it was a jetty and moored against it was a small boat. Murphy led us towards it and I could see that the jetty was ancient and tired-looking. It had been made of wood and most of it had long since sunk into the lake. Some of the planks that formed the walkway were missing and much of the wooden handrail had gone.
“Mind your step,” Murphy warned us as he hurried towards the boat.
Placing one foot in front of the other, I followed him as carefully and as light-footed as I could. Ahead, Murphy sprang onto the boat and began to unwind the rope attached to its mooring. I stepped onto the deck and the others followed. It was a small fishing boat, with a cabin at the far end. In the corner, I could see a mass of entangled fishing nets, but they looked tatty and frayed and I could see that they hadn’t been used to catch anything in a very long time.
Casting off the rope, Murphy pushed us away from the jetty with his foot. He then ran across the small deck to the cabin. Within moments the boat was farting out oily clouds of black smoke as its engine rumbled and spluttered into life. I stood and watched the ripples it made wash back to shore, as the boat chugged its way across the lake.
Luke was standing in the doorway to the cabin as he helped Murphy guide the boat. Isidor stood on his own at the front, crossbow in hand, and seeming to sniff at the air.
Potter stood alone, leaning against the side of the boat. Going to him, I said, “Whose boat is this?” I didn’t really care whose boat it was, I just wanted to talk to him.
“Dunno,” he said, lighting another cigarette.
“Why do you smoke so much?” I asked him.
Then fixing me with his stare, he said, “Kiera, you don’t give a crap how many smokes I have a day - so what do you really want?”
“I just want to know that you are okay, that’s all,” I half-smiled. For some reason I felt nervous, like there was a tension between us. It was as if we had once been lovers that had quarreled and bit by bit we were trying to break the ice, make up, and become lovers again. I stared at him and he stared back at me, and his look was so intense that I had to look away.
“What’s going on here?” he asked me, his voice no more than a whisper.
“Murphy’s leading us to our certain deaths, isn’t he?” I smiled.
“I didn’t mean that, Kiera, and you know it,” Potter said, and even though I was still looking away from him, I knew that he was staring at me just as intently as before.
“I’m not sure…” I started.
“Quit screwing around,” he said. “I’m talking about us.”
Raising my face, I looked at him. His eyes bore into mine and the moonlight glinted in them, making his eyes look as if they were on fire. A fold of black hair hung over his brow, and his square-looking jaw line was covered in stubble. Looking at him brought back all those memories of stolen kisses we had shared, and those feelings that I had experienced came washing over me like a tidal wave. My heart began to race out of control and I feared that he would hear it. My heart was telling me that I did want him but my mind was screaming at me that I couldn’t hurt Luke.
So breaking Potter’s stare, I whispered, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, there is no us.”
Then from the opposite side of the boat, Isidor shouted, “Hey Kiera, come and take a look at this!”
Grateful that Isidor had called to me, I walked away, and as I did, Potter grabbed my arm and pulled me back, “Are you sure about that, sweet-cheeks?” he smiled, but his eyes didn’t look so happy.
“I’m sure,” I said, pulling my arm free and heading across the deck to join Isidor. But I wasn’t sure, and I wondered if Potter sensed that.
Joining Isidor, he pointed ahead and said, “Look at that!”
Staring in the direction he was pointing, I saw in the distance what looked like a raging waterfall. But it wasn’t like any other waterfall I’d ever seen. I had to blink twice to make sure that I wasn’t mistaken, but when I looked again, I was sure that the waterfall was running upwards - as if pouring from the surface of the lake and up over the rocks which towered above it. But it wasn’t just the gravity-defying way in which the water ran, it was the fountains colour. The water was crimson - a brilliant dark red just like the colour of the moon which hung high above us.
“Am I really seeing what I think I’m seeing?” I breathed.
Then from behind me, Luke said, “It’s strangely beautiful, don’t you think?”
“But it’s flowing upwards,” Isidor said, unable to take his eyes off the spectacle ahead of us.
“And the water,” I whispered in awe, “its red!”
“The Vampyrus believe that it is God taking back the blood shed by the Lycanthrope. Absorbing the pain of the Lycanthrope’s victims,” Luke said, and now he couldn’t take his eyes off it. ‘‘I’d heard rumours about the Fountain of Souls, but I didn’t really believe it existed.”