Robin blindly blundered through the forest, not seeing the branches that scratched his face and arms and tore his clothing.
He didnít see the obstacles in his path; his body was being inexorably pulled to a destination only his mindís eye could see.
But Marion knew where he was headed.
Marion found herself on the fringes of a clearing, watching as a wizened old woman prepared for some sort of ceremony.
A young man helped the crone with her work as they set out a short table and laid vicious looking tools upon it.
All of a sudden Marion looked up and saw Robin standing beside her. He stared blankly ahead, seeing nothing; he certainly hadnít seen her. His eyes were colored blood red like the moon, obliterating the soft molasses brown she loved.
Something black and dangerous swirled in their pupiless depths. She longed to reach out and pull him away from the ominous scene unfolding in the clearing, but she knew now was not the time.
Robinís presence had distracted Marion from another arrival. The tall gypsy she remembered from the Inn had appeared and stood on one side of the circle.
"The message and the ring were delivered, Zoe. I donít know if sheís coming or not." Keith scratched his head idly as a dark shadow coalesced in the middle of the circle.
"What is the meaning of this? Why have you summoned me here?" Mortiana demanded, her eyes flashing blue fire in her white face.
"Mortiana, I have called you here to perform a favor for me and repay your debt. That is all you need know for now," said Zoe.
There was another shadow forming beside Mortiana. Elizabeth skipped into the clearing and waited for her guest to arrive fully.
An old woman even older than Zoe had materialized and brought an air of malevolence into the clearing. Her decrepit face hid behind strings of cobwebby hair; her dress hung in tatters on her skeletal frame. She eyed everyone through her white lashes as she hunched over a twisted cane.
"Youíve called me as you said you would, Zoe. Will you consider my debt repaid and give me what I have asked for?"
The old woman rasped in a voice that seemed to come from the bottom of a bucket of gravel.
"Once the lad is ours, you will have your youth back, Sabrina." Zoe answered.
Mortiana stared in horror at her sister. "Sabrina? How?... You were condemned to die long ago, sister! How is it you are still living?"
The ancient one cackled and regarded her long lost sisterís dismay. "I have made my bargains as you have. You keep your powers to yourself as long as you play clown for that wastrel prince, and I have made my pact with these young ones, that I may regain something Iíve lost. Something you took from me, sister dear!"
If it was at all possible Mortiana blanched further under her normal pallor.
"Oh yes, Mortiana. Iím going to take my beauty and my youth back from you. You stole them away from me, along with my powers. You wanted me dead. Now weíll see the tables turned back on you!"
Zoe made a sweeping gesture with her hands and a frigid wind blasted everyone in the circle. "If we can start then everyone will get what they want. Sabrina gets her powers, her youth, and her revenge. Elizabeth will get her mate. When Robin Hoodís pure soul succumbs fully to darkness our circle of seven will be complete and Darkness will cover the earth for ever more."
Friar Tuck and Little John raced on horseback through the forest. Tuck had Olwynís book in his saddlebag, while Little John carried the sack of ash stakes and garlic cloves at his side.
"Friar, tell me again what the book said?"
"The Picts predicted that on the night of the Blood Moon the fate of the world would be decided. If seven pure maidens stood in the circle, then peace and light would rule the world. If evil stood in their place then the world would be forever in darkness. If the people who have Robin have enough evil to complete the circle, then weíre in serious trouble."
"But Friar, where are we going?" Little John puffed like a bellows as he spurred his horse faster to keep up with Tuck.
"To the Circle of the Seven Maidens. We have to stop them from completing their ceremony. Iím hoping that this book will tell me how. I still havenít figured out what Olwynís message means!" Tuck clung to his horseís reins as he plowed through the forest.
"But where are we going to get seven pure maidens for the circle?"
"One problem at a time, Little John, one problem at a time!"
Marion was having a difficult time keeping her mind on what was real and what wasnít. She knew her body must be at the circle as Robinís was, but her mind was inside of his. She hoped that she was hidden well enough that the others in the circle didnít discover her before she could make her move.
Mortiana stood rooted to the spot Zoe had led her to in the circle. Unable to move, she could do nothing to prevent what was about to happen. Keith, Shawn, and Elizabeth moved to their places in the circle and the wind shrieked about them, closing the circle.
"Con la luna di rossa e un celio di nero loscuro di notte non ha vedra la luce di mattina." Zoe chanted in a raspy undertone as power gathered in the circle. Marion felt herself drawn to the circle, but she knew her time had not come and she couldnít afford to be seen just yet.
Zoe drew power from everyone in the circle, including Mortiana, who struggled against Zoe, trying to wrench her will away from the other sorceress. Mortiana was frozen to the spot, unable to move the slightest bit to defend herself against her sister.
Robin stepped forward to the center of the circle where Elizabeth met him. The others hummed a tuneless chant around them as Elizabeth drank him with her eyes, licking her ravenous lips in anticipation. His blood would be so sweet. She slid her hands up his chest, grabbing handfuls of his hair and tugging his head down to hers.
Marion cringed inwardly as Robinís lips met Elizabethís. The two kissed passionately as the younger vampire fed Robin blood from her own lips.
"Thatís it, my love, drink. Surrender your will to me and then I will take your body as well!" Elizabeth cried in an enraptured whisper.
Insight struck Marion in a rush. By drinking Elizabethís blood here in his dream he surrendered his will, but Elizabeth still had to make his body a vampire. She had to stop the female vampire before she corrupted Robin all together.
Their horses hooves thundering, Friar Tuck and Little John rode up to the clearing and approached the circle. The air hung heavy with silence as they witnessed a frightening tableau: Robin and the female gypsy stood in the center of the circle, arms embracing each other as she licked blood from the hollow at the base of his throat. Little John would have run in and separated the two, but Tuck stopped him.
"Little John, remember that Marion is fighting this battle for Robin. She went into his dreams to stop this. Remember that whatever you do here may jeopardize her plans." Tuck admonished.
"But Friar, sheís drinking Robinís blood!" Little John was near frantic with concern over his friendís safety.
"Little John, Marion is fighting this fight. We canít do anything that might harm her or Robin. " Tuck stopped when he saw the others in the circle. The crone and other two gypsies were there in the circle, but so was Mortiana! They stood perfectly still, as if they werenít real at all, but carved from stone. The only figure that moved at all was the crone, Zoe, who held both hands out to either side and chanted under her breath. Beside her was a gruesome sight.
A decaying corpse stood beside Zoe in the circle, bones quivering and clattering in the chill wind that blew through the grove. The skull swung back and forth under the hood of a threadbare cloak, as if the empty eye sockets were watching something.
Tuck noticed the black knife hanging from the younger vampireís hand. She didnít give any hint that she might use it on Robin, but he didnít think she was going to put it down either.
Little John reached into the sack heíd brought from Olwynís cave and placed the stakes on the ground beside him. There were four stakes, and three vampires as far as he could count. "Whatís the fourth stake for, Friar?"
Tuck took a deep breath just thinking about it. "Just in case we donít save Robin."
"If it comes to that, yes."
John stared at Tuck, moisture welling in his blue eyes at the thought of having to murder his best friend.
"Come on, Little John." he said, taking a canteen of water from his saddlebag. "Bring that sack of garlic. Maybe thereís something we can do to even the odds."
Marion felt the power gathering around her and rose from her hiding place behind some bushes. No one had noticed her yet. Elizabeth was still kissing Robin, the blood he drank from her mouth dripped between them and colored both their faces.
Marion saw the black-bladed dagger that Elizabeth held. The vampire raised it to Robinís neck, stroking the corded veins in his throat with the blade.
Marion realized that whatever she was about to do here would make Robin a vampire in the real world. She could stand idle no longer.
"Robin, no!" She yelled, drawing her whip and slashing the length of leather through the air toward the dagger. She caught Elizabethís hand with the end of the whip and the dagger bounced into the grass. Elizabeth, furious at the interruption, flung herself at Marion, fangs and claws bared.
Marion and Elizabeth rolled on the ground, each trying to get the upper hand. Marion kept one hand on Elizabethís throat, preventing her from biting; but Elizabethís long talon-like claws dug in deep and scored Marion with long slashes.
Elizabeth forced her arm against Marionís neck, trying to cut off her breathing. The scent of burning filled the air and the vampire fell screaming to the ground.
Marion pulled herself upright to see Elizabeth writhing on the ground in agony. A blackened mark on her arm seemed to be the source of her pain. The pendant Marion always wore around her neck had caused the injury. She touched the gold-chased silver cross around her throat and thanked God for saving her life.
Friar Tuck prayed over the canteen of water heíd taken from his saddlebags. He blessed the water, making it a weapon against the vampires. Little John was fashioning a hammer from a large branch with his knife. He had just finished strewing the circle with the garlic heíd brought from Olwynís. They both looked up when something unusual happened.
Marion had wandered into the circle. She seemed to be in a trance like everyone else. The lady vampire fell to the ground, smoke coming from a large burn mark on her arm. Marion moved to stand in front of Robin, who remained motionless.
Tuck and Little John looked at each other. If they were going to have a chance, this was it. Tuck splashed the female vampire with holy water, making the sign of the cross over her straining body. Little John raised a the hammer and put the tip of a stake to her heart. With one blow he drove the stake through her body and nailed her to the ground.
Zoe cried out, as did Shawn and Keith. Sabrina muttered to herself and eyed Mortiana from a safe distance. Elizabethís body caved in on itself, blood spewing from a gaping wound in her chest. Marion threw herself against Robin, protecting him from the blood.
The other two vampires shrieked when their sister was staked, and they fell to their knees in agony. Tuck and John performed the same procedure on the other two; dousing them first with Holy Water, then staking them firmly through the heart.
Shawn and Keith fell to the same fate as their sister, convulsing on the grass, their clothes covered in blood. They were still moving when Robin turned his blood-filled eyes on Marion. Marion quaked to find that Robinís affliction had not ended with the demise of the other vampires. His fingers bit into her arms, drawing her closer to him, pinning her to his chest as his extended canines gleamed in his menacing smile.
Olwynís voice echoed in her ears: "Look for daylightís key in the darkest night; seek the sliver of darkness in the light."
She was supposed to be looking for something, but what? Where was she to find the key to daylight in the pitch blackness of night? There wasnít even pale moonlight to illuminate the clearing, just the eerie glow of the blood-red moon
throwing everything into stark contrast.
Then it occurred to her; her pendant was gold chased silver, which burned vampires. Sunlight also burned vampires, so might that be the key to daylight in the night? It was worth a shot.
Robin turned his attention to Marionís throat, nuzzling her beating pulse, his sharp teeth grazing her flesh. She kept one hand on her pendant, keeping the bright symbol away from his skin. She didnít want to hurt him, but how else could she save him? He still felt like Robin, the courageous hero she loved. Only the physical side of him seemed changed here in his dreams.
"The sliver of darkness in the light." All of a sudden Marion knew that the vampire before her was only a sliver of darkness in Robinís bright and noble heart; that if she killed the vampire in his dream he would be freed in the real world. She broke the clasp on her pendant and placed the cross over his heart against his skin. Robinís vampiric self howled in pain, the sound filling both their ears until there was only silence and darkness.
Marion and Robin fell to the ground, unconscious. Zoe continued to shriek her anger to the brightening moon. Tuck and Little John could only watch in horror as Sabrinaís corpse reached out itís hands to Mortiana.
Mortiana shook herself free of Zoeís and Sabrinaís control. She looked around her as if seeing her surroundings for the first time. She spied Tuck only a few feet away from her, Olwynís book by his hand.
"Quick, Friar! The Book of Shadows is the only thing that can save us now!"
Friar Tuck wasted no time in handing her the book with the seven-pointed star on the cover. She opened the covers, finding the correct pages immediately. The book hovered before her as she stretched her hands out to the sky and read out the spell:
"The Night has gone, let darkness flee.
By my command I Banish thee.
Condemn thee to eternal doom
And wash away Blood on the Moon!"
A storm roiled within the confines of the circle. Wind and rain lashed over the bodies of the vampires, over Little John and Friar Tuck huddled against the onslaught, over Robin and Marionís prostrate forms, over Zoe and Sabrina who shook like fragile branches, over Mortiana who stood like an immovable object against the force of nature.
Lightening flew from Mortianaís hands, reducing Sabrinaís bones to ash. Zoeís destruction took longer, the white-hot electricity sizzling her skin like fat in a fire, crisping her until she shriveled and blackened and finally burned down to papery slivers of flesh and glowing embers of bone. The cold patter of rain put out the last lingering flames.
Mortiana looked on the scene with wise and ancient eyes. "By all the powers of Land and Sea, as I do say, so mote it be!" she said with much satisfaction. The rain and wind stopped; all was calm once again. She strode to where Little John and Friar Tuck had fallen to the ground. "We are not safe from the vampires yet. Their heads must be removed to ensure their death."
Little John went to where the horses were still tethered and drew his sword. He took care of the grisly job of separating the vampires heads from their bodies. Tuck followed up with prayers and another splash of holy water for good measure.
In the center of the circle Marion stirred and opened her eyes.. In the brilliant clean white light of the full moon she saw Robin wake beside her. He sat up, bewildered and weary, but finally wholly himself again.
"What happened? Where are we?"
Mortiana briefly explained what had happened, revealing that Marion was daylightís key in the darkness, and that she had killed the sliver of darkness in his soul. When she released Robinís soul from Zoeís control, both Zoeís and Sabrinaís powers were weakened enough that Mortiana could defeat them both.
"With a little help from Olwynís book, of course." Tuck added. "Speaking of which, I think heíd like it back."
"What are you talking about? I donít recall whose book it was." Mortiana protested disdainfully. But everyone knew where the book came from. Reluctantly she handed it over. "What a shame. There is such power in that book, he could never use it all."
"It was safe with Olwyn up til now. It will stay safe there." Tuck insisted.
"But Friar, what about the seven pure maidens? What about peace and light?" asked Little John.
Mortiana smiled an amused little grin. "Who said they had to be maidens? Pure was all that was required. There were two in the circle tonight. It wonít be peace on earth and good will towards men, but itís a start." Both Marion and Robin looked at each other and blushed furiously.
"So you were actually thinking of killing me?" Robin asked as he and Marion rose to their feet. "You would have done it?"
"Hey, you were looking at me like I was a steak dinner. I had to do something." Marion teased.
"Come to think of it, Iím hungry. I bet breakfast will be ready by the time we get back to camp." Robin mounted his horse and looked out to the horizon. The sky was turning gray, the clouds tinged with pink and yellow. Soon the first rays of dawn would streak across the sky. Marion, Tuck, and Little John mounted up and they all started off toward camp.
"I just want to make one thing clear." Robin declared as he pulled ahead of the others. "Next time we take a trip over Halloween, we are definitely NOT taking a shortcut through Druidís Grove overnight, is that clear?"
Marion laughed to see the golden light spill over Robin, highlighting the twinkle in his molasses- colored eyes. "Clear as sunlight, Robin."
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