About Véradó – A Darker Blood

Véradó – A Darker Blood

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Prologue

The moon was no more than a sharp-white crescent—a vivid contrast to the starless blanket of black it rested upon. It was bright but not bright enough to illuminate the beach in the early hours of a Sunday morning.

The girl lay motionless in the man’s arms as he carried her across the sand to the rhythmic lapping of the tide. Her vision glazed as his image burned its way into her retinas with all the permanency of a photograph. She closed her eyes and her chest heaved as her failing lungs fought for their final breath. With her short life ebbing away, she fell from his arms into the clear, shallow waters beneath.

The cool tide began licking her skin and filling her nose and mouth with noxious liquid. Paralysed and incoherent, she lay there while the unforgiving waves spat and fizzed against the rocks nearby. Her deep auburn hair lay fanned out in a halo sprinkled through with grains of shimmering crystal. Each new wave formed a fresh well of water that pooled around her features, drowning her hazel eyes and stealing her soul from within them.

One arm lay across her body whilst the other lay gracefully by her side. The rushing water played her fingers like the ivory keys of a piano.

As her blood continued to seep from the fatal wound, it was cleansed by an ocean trying desperately to restore the girl’s mortal beauty.

Her backpack lay beside her—a poignant marker of the final days of the girl’s life and the only clue as to her identity. It quickly filled with water, turning the bright-red fabric burgundy, and ruining the contents forever.

* * * *

It’d been a moment of weakness. He thought his bloodlust was under control until that girl had crossed his path and his instincts took over. He’d suppressed those morbid urges for such a long time—it was hard, to the point of painful. He just couldn’t help himself. The relief at causing her death was immeasurable—like a high-pressure valve had been released deep inside of him.

The remorseless butcher walked away from the girl’s body without looking back. His footprints in the sand disappeared as fast as they formed as he strode along Aghia Pelagia’s quiet shoreline, leaving his latest victim to the mercy of the ocean.

As her body became weightless, it was carried beyond the sand, beyond the fizzing white foam and into the livid black waters of the Mediterranean.

For a while, it would remain lost beneath the tide—swallowed by the insatiable appetite of the ocean.

Chapter One

Bloodshot

Nicole Silverson woke to the sound of her mobile as it vibrated its way off the side table and wedged itself under the bed. Refusing to open her eyes, she clambered to reach it, inadvertently switching it on.

“Hello?” she rasped, cleared her throat, and repeated, “Hello?”

“Nicole? It’s me.”

“Oh hey, Jules.”

“Sounding a bit croaky there—did I wake you up?”

“Yeah, why what time is it?”

“Twelve here, so one for you I think.”

Forcing her eyes open, she glanced around the room. The early afternoon sun was streaming in through the small window and specks of dust spiralled playfully in the hazy beams.

“Late night?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Sounds like Anna’s been leading you astray again?”

“Hey, be nice. Anna’s great…she’s really taken me under her wing. I don’t know what I’d do without her?”

“Hmm, I remember what it was like last summer. You and me, hanging out in bars until three, and then me carrying you back to the hotel in a drunken stupor.”

“I think you’re forgetting who was carrying who,” countered Nicole.

“Ahh, don’t mind me—I’m just jealous. I wish I could’ve come with you this time. You’ve got the sunshine and the social life and I’m stuck here with your ex-boyfriend crying on my shoulder. You do realize you owe me big time?”

Nicole didn’t need reminding of the guilt she was still suffering for ending a four-year relationship. Rob was someone, who, she sincerely believed, deserved better.

“Yeah, I know. How is he?”

“Do you really want to know?”

“I guess not. I did the right thing, Jules. Rob just needs a bit more time to come to terms with it. It’ll be better in the long run. Well, anyway, when are you coming out to see me?” She sat up pushing a mass of dark blonde tangles away from her eyes, trying unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn.

“What’s the temperature like in Crete, in August?” asked Julia.

“Crazy-hot, just how you like it.”

“Mmm, well August it is then. So what are you up to today?”

“You really want to know?” Nicole couldn’t resist mocking Julia’s earlier words.

“Yeah, go on; see if you can make me even more jealous.”

“Okay, once I prise myself out of bed, I’ll head down to the beach ’til I can’t take anymore sun. Then I’ll come back for a nap before catching Anna for a drink when she’s finished at the restaurant. You?”

“Okay, okay, enough. I’m at work—working.”

“Hmm, is that what you call it?”

“Yeah, speaking of which, Mackenzie’s on the warpath. I’d better go. Call me soon. Miss you.”

The line went dead before Nicole had a chance to respond.

Julia had been Nicole’s best friend since pre-school and to say she missed her was an understatement. Nicole pictured Julia; so familiar, so pretty with shoulder-length, dark hair and skin that turned golden with a mere glimpse of sunshine. Her eyes stung as she tried to stop them from filling up. When you’re away from home and from everyone you love—you have to stay strong and Nicole was trying her hardest to stay strong.

Dressed simply in a denim skirt and white T-shirt, Nicole left her Stalis apartment and arrived at The Azure Pool Bar just after midnight. It was fairly quiet, with just a smattering of stray drinkers who’d staggered in off Malia’s chaotic Beach Road. Malia was a haven for partygoers and, for some time, had been known as the ‘Club Capital’ of Crete.

The barman glanced up with a smile as Nicole grabbed a stool. “What can I get you, honey?” His accent remained true to his west-Canadian roots.

“Just a couple of bottles of Bud please, Chris.”

“A couple? Buying me drinks already, Nicole, that’s pretty forward. Not that I’m complaining.” His grin spread shamelessly.

Warmth rose in her cheeks. “Don’t flatter yourself, the other one’s for Anna. She’ll be along any minute.”

“Ahh, that’s too bad, but you can’t blame a guy for trying.” He popped the tops off the bottles and set them on the bar. “So, to what do I owe the pleasure of your company this evening?”

“It was Anna’s choice to start out here, so it’s really her you should thank.”

“Don’t worry, I will. That’s what I love about that girl—she’s got such good taste. Anyway, you ladies have a good time.” He turned to serve an older couple settling themselves at the bar.

Chris managed The Azure Pool Bar. He was an easygoing, mild mannered character who Nicole already considered a friend. His unruly blond hair complemented his steel-grey eyes and he emitted calmness and magnetism that drew people towards him. It was a charming trait apparent in a few of Nicole’s new friends. She hoped they found her equally as easy to be around, but somehow doubted it.

Glancing out to the darkness of the outdoor pool, its restful surface glinted and sparkled with reflections from nearby street-lamps. Hypnotised by the dancing facets, Nicole considered her reasons for returning to Crete. Since her visit the previous summer, the island had a draw on her that she couldn’t quite explain. But it was the loose tales of witchcraft and sorcery that’d given her the reason she needed to return to the largest of the Greek islands. She intended to find out all she could and put a book together upon her return to England. It would be her second paranormal publication, and with the help of her new contacts, she was keen to make a start on it.

Nicole was lost in her musings by the time Anna arrived. The young, bohemian waitress snuck up beside her.

“Hey, daydreamer,” she whispered, then put down her bag and pulled up a stool.

“Oh hey, Anna—finally made it then. Have you got anything new for me?”

“Are we talking about your research into the paranormal or into the barman?” Considering she’d just put in a five-hour shift at the restaurant, Anna was vivacious and sparkled with energy.

“Well, what can I say? He’s hot!” The words fell from Nicole’s lips before her brain had a chance to engage. She glanced over hoping Chris hadn’t heard, but her gaze was met, causing the heat in her cheeks to intensify.

Chris smirked and turned away.

“Yeah, looks like he feels the same about you.” A schoolgirl grin moulded Anna’s features. “Anyway, did you bring your book for me?”

“Yeah, it’s in here somewhere.” Nicole rooted around her bag and pulled out a black hardback. As she handed it to Anna, her fingers brushed across the glossy printed cover and over the swirly-silver lettering that read—OUR HAUNTED ISLE by N. E. Silverson.

Nicole often glanced over her previous work as a reminder that she was capable of such an accomplishment. Although it hadn’t made the ‘Best Seller’ list, it was generating enough of an income to allow her to survive modestly.

“So this is what you did before you came here?” Anna stared momentarily at the cover image, which displayed a crumbling tomb swathed in ivy and surrounded by rusty iron bars—intended to either keep somebody out, or somebody in. “So you think some of these stories originate here?”

“Maybe not originate, but somehow found their way here over the years—yes. That’s why I came…research.”

Anna’s smile faded. “I don’t like your chances; the Cretans are pretty wrapped up in their own mythology. I can’t imagine they’d welcome any foreign imports.”

Her dismissal was a little surprising. Nicole had been led to believe, by Anna’s colleagues, that she had an overwhelming interest in the supernatural, so assumed she’d be a bit more enthusiastic. Refusing to be disheartened, Nicole replied, “Not to worry, I’ll head over to the old town sometime. I noticed a few churches over there. Someone might know something. You could come with me if you want.”

“I don’t know—maybe. Can I keep hold of this for a while?”

Nicole nodded.

Anna put the book in her bag and glanced at her watch. She took a long swig of lager and placed the empty bottle back on the bar.

“Come on, drink up. I promised Jon and Andy we’d catch up with them for a beer. I’ve told them all about you.”

“All good I hope.”

“Of course.” Anna pulled her compact out of her bag, touched up her already perfect makeup and tucked stray strands of sun-bleached hair neatly behind her ears.

As they packed up their belongings, Nicole’s eyes were once again drawn to Chris. She shot him her sweetest smile and was a little smug when he returned it.

By the time they left Azure, it was past two. The street was still bustling, the air was smouldering, and the music from the bars—deafening. There was less than an hour before Malia’s renowned three a.m. curfew, and the drunken tourists were spilling out onto the Beach Road.

‘The Garage’ was a grossly illuminated bar with an open frontage enabling its inebriated occupants to ooze out onto the street. The bar was packed and harshly lit with an array of different coloured fluorescents. It was crowded and Nicole wasn’t thrilled by Anna’s choice, but the girl seemed to be on some kind of mission and Nicole didn’t want to disappoint.

The bar was way too hot and the music far too loud, but thankfully, Anna’s contacts had enabled them to bypass the queue. The barman tossed over a couple of bottles of lager before they searched for a spot to stand, which was easier said than done. They were constantly getting shoved back and forth by crowds of sweaty teenagers. Nicole stuck it out for as long as she could but after what seemed hours, couldn’t take anymore. The alcohol was fizzing through her veins and her clothes were sticking to her hot skin. Anna seemed to gauge her discomfort. Above the pulsating dance music she shouted, “Hey, Nic…You want to get out of here?”

“Sure, if you like,” Nicole replied with relief.

Setting their half-empty bottles on the bar, they pushed and squeezed their way through the crowds into the cooler night air.

“I’m really sorry about that.” Frustration laced Anna’s tone. “I thought Jon and Andy would be here, they usually are, you’d love them. But they don’t need any encouragement if you know what I mean—more notches on their headboards than…well you get the idea.” Again, she glanced at her watch. “How about one for the road?”

“Sure.” Nicole tried to sound enthusiastic but her response was half-hearted. She was shattered and would have been more than happy to call it a night, but didn’t want to disappoint her friend. They headed further down the Beach Road for one last drink, which Anna promised would be non-alcoholic.

Making their way down the street, their footsteps became more audible as they left the booming clubs behind them.

“I’ll take you to Oasis. It’s quiet, you’ll love it.” Anna’s smile didn’t falter and Nicole wondered if her friend’s energy would ever wane?

As they continued down the street, two men walked towards them. They were brusque and laughing loudly. Nicole instinctively avoided eye contact, preferring to keep her gaze firmly fixed on the pavement. Without warning, the two men grabbed Anna by the wrists and pinned her up against a parked van. They laughed and goaded her. Anna was petite and in her mid twenties. Her hair, although naturally light brown, had more than enough sun bleached highlights to be considered blonde. She had cinnamon eyes and her nose was pierced with the tiniest silver-stud.

“Get the hell away from her,” screamed Nicole, as she grabbed Anna, trying desperately to prise her from the clutches of her captors. But Nicole was quickly seized, her screams muted, and both girls dragged into an alleyway.

Built like bouncers, the two men looked like they spent every waking hour in the gym. Their heads were closely shaven and they wore matching tight, white T-shirts. Their conduct told that they’d not got what they came out for that night and were running short on time.

“Please—please stop, you’re hurting me.” Anna’s words were stifled. “Please…

“I don’t think that’s what you really want, sweetheart. I know your sort. I know why you come to these towns—just begging for it.” His eyes were bloodshot and watery as he tried to focus on his prize.

No…I…” Anna struggled to free herself from his grasp, but this seemed to make him all the more desperate for her. He pulled a knife from his jeans, the silver blade glinting in the darkness. Pressing it onto her cheek, the metal ate into her soft skin and a shimmer of blood ran down her face.

“Just a warning,” he growled.

As Anna cried out, a hand was quickly clasped over her mouth. With a wide grin on his face, the second man watched the struggle whilst clutching Nicole tightly by the arms.

“Jesus, no, please just let her go,” Nicole pleaded, before being thrown back towards the van where everything around her went black.

Chapter Two

Spellbound

Hidden in the gutter behind the tyres  of the van, Nicole awoke completely disorientated. Clutching the back of her head she winced as her fingers brushed over a painful swelling.

A deep-throated groan came from the alleyway. Nicole swung around and tried to call out but her voice wouldn’t oblige. With her head spinning, she clambered to her feet and fought for balance. Her instincts were telling her to run, to go and find help, but she knew there wasn’t time. Anna didn’t stand a chance against such merciless attackers, so she staggered forward and peered into the darkness of the alleyway. With her pulse thundering in her ears, she focused in and held her breath at the sight that greeted her.

The larger of the two men was laid out on the ground. A large gash in his throat was visibly spewing thick, dark liquid over his chest in rapid bursts. A horrendous gurgling sound was coming from the wound as his failing lungs fought for breath. Completely stunned, Nicole watched as the gurgling subsided and the man drowned in his own blood. Gasping for air, she tore her gaze away and strained to locate Anna in the darkness.

Just a few feet from where Nicole stood, the second man dropped to his knees. With a blade protruding from the back of his head, he fell forward, smashing his forehead onto the concrete floor. The dull thud echoed around the alleyway causing Nicole to bolt. Blindly, she stumbled out onto the street where she collapsed to the ground, eyes wide and struggling for breath.

Within moments, Anna emerged from the darkness.

“Nicole?—Jesus Christ, Nicole are you all right?”

Nicole couldn’t respond.

Blood was smeared across Anna’s skin and matted into her hair. The wound on her face was deep and looked painful but didn’t seem to slow her down.

“We have to go—we have to get out of here, I need to think.” Anna shook her head, exhaled, and stared back into the dark alley. “I can’t think, let’s just get away from here.”

Anna led the way down the road, practically pulling Nicole along behind her.

Where…?” Nicole’s words wouldn’t form. Anna appeared to be running on autopilot while Nicole tried, unsuccessfully, to keep it together.

They passed a group of people who, fortunately, seemed too drunk to notice anything untoward. They taunted Anna and gestured lewdly. She was stunning, even in the state she was in.

Slowly, Nicole emerged from her stupor and found enough voice to muster, “What the hell happened back there? I don’t understand how can you be so calm.”

“It’s okay.”

“No, it’s really not. Where are we going? We have to call the police.” She stopped, slammed her palms to her chest and dropped to her knees, hyperventilating.

Anna knelt down and put her arm around Nicole. “Just breathe,” she whispered. “It’ll be all right, I promise. I know what to do—we can’t go to the police. We have to go to Zeus Xenias.” Anna hesitated and closed her eyes. “We have to go to Marshall.”

Nicole’s whole body was shaking, almost to the point of convulsing, as Anna continued to lead her down the Beach Road to the crossroads where they veered off to the right.

As they ran, her vision blurred. Dense shrubbery lined either side of the dusty road, and the route grew darker until it was almost pitch black. Unable to comprehend what was happening, she prayed it was just a nightmare that she’d soon wake from.

Trying to discern her surroundings, Nicole’s eyes were drawn to the unmistakable outline of a cemetery. The huge concrete tombs were only just visible in the darkness. She could also detect the sound of the ocean, its rhythm serving as a slight comfort, and aiding her orientation.

They followed the track a little further and soon approached a set of intricately carved oak gates. They were tall and stood wide open, revealing the most tantalising courtyard bar. Above the gates hung a large wooden sign with the words—Zeus Xenias’ burned into it.

‘Xenias was not a place Nicole had heard of and at that moment, it didn’t occur to her to ask why. Anna led the way in and Nicole timidly followed.

Strings of lights hung in formation, gently ameliorating the darkness. Calm music played softly in the background and the air held the light aroma of incense. The atmosphere seemed cool and subdued.

With crumbling stone walls and a dirt floor, the open-air courtyard appeared to be the relic of some ancient building. Weathered beech tables and chairs were arranged sporadically and adorned with flickering storm lanterns.

Nicole’s eyes were drawn to an imposing tree standing watchfully in the centre. Hauntingly beautiful, leafless branches twisted their way hopelessly towards the night sky. It was long dead and appeared to be locked in a perpetual state of winter. Rusted chains were eating into a silvery trunk that had grown to accommodate their presence, and fairy lights and Chinese lanterns illuminated the lifeless branches. It was a true centrepiece for such a bewitching venue, and Nicole was completely spellbound.

Although the bar was busy, the atmosphere remained tranquil. The clientele were milling around, quietly socialising or sitting at the many candle lit tables—their conversations hushed. This was not a sight she was expecting to witness in the riotous town of Malia.

Nicole recognised several faces as the staff from the various bars and clubs around the town. They were people that Anna had introduced her to over the weeks, and it dawned on Nicole that Zeus Xenias could be one of the exclusive worker bars she’d heard whispers about.

She spotted Anna’s friend, Kelly from Oileus, in the corner talking to a couple of her colleagues. Fenny, the manager of the Black Rose Café was sitting at the bar chatting lightly with the barman.

Nicole’s eyes were drawn to a table in the shadows. A group of men sat in the half-light with a particularly striking figure prevailing over them. Dressed in bike-leathers and a crisp white shirt, he was tall with swathes of long black hair reaching down as far as his waist. Anger and frustration shaped his features, which utterly captivated Nicole. At the table, three other men were listening intently to him, firmly rooted to their seats.

His conversation halted abruptly as he shot a glance over to the girls. His eyes widened as he locked Nicole in his stare and her heartbeat faltered. He looked intently at her before his attention returned to the three men and he continued his discussion. Nicole began to breathe again. She tried so hard to look away but her gaze was automatically drawn back to him. Nicole noticed the fear on the other men’s faces; they seemed disturbed by the confrontation and she couldn’t help wondering—Mafioso?

Anna followed her stare and heeded her reaction. “Nicole, you’re as white as a sheet!” She grabbed her by the arm. “Come on, I’ll get you a drink and find you a table. You need to calm down.”

They moved over to the bar where Anna ordered some drinks whilst exchanging a few words with the barman.

“Aiden, is Joel here?” There was urgency to her question and pain in her eyes.

The barman smiled. “Hey, Anna. No I haven’t seen him all evening.” His subtle accent was East-coast, American; he sported an unobtrusive mohawk and was littered with tattoos. Aiden’s smile faded as his eyes scanned her bloodied form. “My God, Anna, what the hell happened to you? Are you okay?”

She shook her head but didn’t elaborate and Aiden didn’t push.

“Joel’s not here but Marshall’s just over there.” Placing the drinks on the bar, he gestured towards the man Nicole had been staring at.

Anna nodded. “Come on, Nicole,” she said, grabbing her by the hand. She led Nicole to an empty table where they sat quietly for a few moments. Reluctantly Nicole sipped her drink. The alcohol burned her throat. Bourbon wasn’t her usual choice but she knew she needed something strong and the heat of the alcohol began to numb her anxieties.

Shifting in her seat, Nicole tried to compose herself. She glanced around at the other people in the bar. A few of them had noticed her and appeared as confused by her presence as she was. These people bore little resemblance to the sun-baked partygoers from the resort; many of them were pale in comparison—although they were all striking in a way she just couldn’t place. Nicole began to feel very conscious of the differences between them and herself, realising she was an unwelcome intruder within their discrete guild.

With the low light inadvertently camouflaging her injuries, several people glanced over at Anna, gesturing to her with a nod or a smile. They remained completely oblivious to what their friend had been through that evening and Nicole hoped it would stay that way. Anna sipped her drink whilst continually watching the back of the bar. Watching for who or what? Nicole didn’t know but the pressure of the situation was becoming unbearable.

“Look, Anna, this is all too much—I want to go. I need to get my head together. I’ll go to the police on my own if I have to.”

“No,” Anna snapped, then quickly backtracked. Gently placing her hand on Nicole’s, her expression softened. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. If you’ll just stay for a few more minutes, there’s someone I need to speak to and then I’ll take you home—I promise.”

As Anna spoke, the tall, dark-haired man advanced across the courtyard towards them. He moved quickly, his long hair billowing behind him with the momentum of his pace. Nicole couldn’t work out what it was about him that ripped through her, but she couldn’t take her eyes off him—and his remained firmly fixed on her.

His frame was muscular and foreboding. There was nothing subtle about him. His expression was cast defensively as he continued to glare at her, and she completely froze as he approached. She assumed he saw her as a threat, a stranger who’d infiltrated his clandestine organisation.

“Anna, you haven’t introduced us.” His deep voice was softer than Nicole had anticipated. His accent was beautiful, possibly local but Mediterranean at the very least. He spoke with a degree of urgency, preventing the intruder from leaving.

“I was about to…” Anna was quick to answer. “This is Nicole. She came out here several weeks ago. She’s become a good friend.” She smiled in an obvious attempt to put Nicole at ease.

The man’s eyes narrowed as he heeded the state of Anna. Reaching out, he brushed the wound on her face with the back of his hand.

“Who did this to you?”

Without responding, Anna reached for Nicole’s hand—a small comfort in the presence of such an intimidating character.

“This is Marshall.” Her eyes flickered up at him as she said his name.

“Marshall is—well, he’s kind of in charge around here. It’s okay, Nicole, he’ll know what to do.”

Moving into the seat beside Nicole, Marshall held his hand out. Nicole glanced nervously at Anna before reluctantly placing her hand within his, where it felt lost.

With his eyes set on Nicole, his conversation was clearly directed at Anna. “What is she doing here? You know the precedent, No Tourists…No Guests.”

Although his words remained firm, his expression softened and he laced his fingers with Nicole’s, causing her pulse to quicken. She studied him as he spoke; he was tall. His long, raven hair was swept neatly away from his pallid, olive features. His eyes were fiercely black and sunk deeply into the shadow of his brow; their darkness only seemed to accentuate the authority in his voice.

Anna broached him, her voice wavering. “Marshall, we need to talk. But you can see Nicole’s frightened. I think she should go. Let her leave, and I’ll explain what’s happened.”

“You’re shaking,” he said, letting go of her hand before calling one of the workers over. “Jon, would you please take Nicole back into town, she doesn’t look steady enough to go alone.”

Through her shock, she recognised his name as one of the lads Anna had been taking her to meet before their horrific ordeal.

Jon obliged without question. Needing no further persuasion, Nicole stood up and let Jon lead her out of the bar. She didn’t speak or look back, and her pace quickened with each step until she was running.

With her clearly confused chaperone a few steps behind, she hurried back towards the lights of Malia. Still reeling from the night’s events, nausea bubbled in her stomach, and she knew if she didn’t get home soon she’d either throw up or pass out.

* * * *

For the complete story click Verado – A Darker Blood

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