The Power Of A Portrait by JackOfSpikes
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The Diary of Michael Montgomery June 12th 2104

I suppose I should be used to it by now. Tatiana has always managed to find the most unique situations to embroil us in. I should not have been surprised that a birthday gift from my slayer would continue the tradition.

I must admit to being a little surprised when Tatiana arrived at our training rooms carrying the large brightly wrapped package. She seemed rather shy when she offered it to me. Her shyness surprises me every time I witness it. It is always somewhat unexpected to see a slayer of her calibre acting like an inexperienced schoolgirl. As I understand it, she shares this trait with a past slayer from the late 1990's; Kendra, the Vampire Slayer.

The gift itself was a glorious portrait. One of the subjects was perhaps the most beautiful woman I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. Long golden tresses tumbled over naked shoulders. Captivating green eyes followed my every movement and lush ruby lips seemed, on first glance, to smile slightly.

As I studied the painting, I started to notice small things within the portrait that I had failed to notice on my first perusal. The female's expression was subtle, but when one looked closely, her distress was obvious. Her eyes showed fear and seemed to glisten with the hint of tears.

The man in the portrait seemed to be leering over the woman's shoulder at her. Unlike her, his eyes were cold, calculating, and cruel, but completely focused on the woman.

The title of the work was 'The Curse of Kristina'. That should have given me a clue.

The date of the piece marked it as an antique. The realistic style was not fashionable when the painting was created in the early 1980s and this allowed for an easier research session.

I will admit the more I discovered the greater my obsession to discover all I could about the young woman grew.

I can not honestly say if I was surprised when I discovered the truth about the subjects within the portrait. I suppose I have seen far too much of the supernatural world to ever be truly surprised. But the consistency with which my slayer and I attract acts of evil for our exposure and eradication is becoming ludicrous. I am beginning to think that even the legendary Buffy Summers was not as inundated with evil as Tatiana and I seem to be.

I digress.

Our investigation of the origins of the portrait began as an exercise for Tatiana; an attempt to improve her researching skills. It was both gratifying and satisfying to see her excel as she did. Her intellect is staggering. She is a true gem as a slayer.

Our first indication that there may be a problem with the painting was when lifting a section of the backing paper in an effort to discover some sort of artist's mark, we discovered a small braid of hair. The colour was consistent with the painted female and it seemed to us to be not too large a leap to suggest that the item had been made from her own hair.

The fact that the braid had been knotted thirteen times aroused my suspicions. I have had far too much experience not to recognise a component to a spell.

Along with the talisman we discovered the artist's mark.

Delk Hedegaard was a Danish painter, who was more infamous for his ties to black magic than known for his art. He has been well documented by the Watcher's Council, so research into his activities was not as difficult as any non-supernatural artist would have been. A portrait of him in one of my books identified him as the male in the portrait.

It was during this investigation that we stumbled on to the identity of our female.

Kristina Nielsen was also Danish, but unlike her lover she only practiced healing magic.

All reports on Hedegaard said the same thing, prior to his relationship with Kristina, the dark witch changed companions on a regular basis. He was an evil, amoral predator who had become obsessed with the blonde beauty. After their relationship had ended, he had carried the portrait with him everywhere.

Kristina Nielsen was never seen again.

It was a combination of factors that led to the next discovery; the talisman made from her knotted hair, the history of the two people involved in the relationship, and the fact that Kristina had disappeared so completely that led me to stare at the portrait while I mulled over the evidence. I gazed into the painted eyes of the intriguing blond and simply asked a question out loud, "What is the significance of the braid?"

You can imagine my surprise when a soft, lilting voice echoed in my mind.

'It binds me to the portrait.'

Kristina then told me her tale.

Kristina Nielsen had been a practising Wiccan all of her adult life. Her parents had bought her up in the faith. Her gifts for healing were so well known that when her family had first moved to Salisbury from the small Danish island of Samso, she had even been approached by Quenton Travers, the head of the Council of Watchers at that time. He offered her the position of official healer to the council. She turned him down. She believed that the Goddess had gifted her with her skills and it would be wrong to limit those abilities to just members of the council.

She was only sixteen when she met Delk Hedegaard; a mere child. His dashing good looks and charm had disarmed her completely. She had been deeply in love with him. Once.

Hedegaard had followed the blonde beauty from Denmark to England, desperate to continue their blossoming relationship. He kept his use of the dark arts hidden from Kristina and her family. He was smart enough to know that she would never accept his destructive style of magic.

The day before Kristina's twenty-first birthday, she had decided to surprise her lover with a romantic candlelight picnic. He had been working a lot of late nights up until that time and she had missed him. She prepared everything they would need and then made her way to his studio.

When she arrived she had quietly let herself in. She knew that he hated being disturbed while he was working so she moved silently; planning to wait until he took a break to let him know that she was there.

She was startled when she heard him chanting. Changing her position so she could see what was going on, Kristina was horrified by what she saw.

An alter dominated the room. Black and blood red candles interspaced with incense created a circle centred underneath the open skylight. Hedegaard stood within the circle with his easel and the painting he was working on as he chanted. The portrait was of both him and Kristina. As he worked he continued to mix his paint colours, slightly thinning the thick oil based material by dipping his brush in a bowl that sat innocently on the floor next to his work table. His worktable was also within the circle.

Kristina's voice filled with emotion as she orated this part of the story to me. She seemed to struggle to get the words out. It was clear that even after more than a hundred years the events of that night still affected her deeply. I was soon to find out why.

On the worktable lay the unconscious body of her younger brother, Carsten. His arm hung limply over the side of the table and blood dripped from his wrist into the bowl that Hedegaard was using to thin his paint.

Kristina's horrified gasp alerted the sorcerer to her presence.

The last thing she remembered was the sight of her lover raising his hand to her and muttering an incantation. She was hit by some sort of spell at that point and later woke to discover herself magically bound to the worktable and unable to speak, her brother's body nowhere in sight.

Hedegaard was in the process of a summoning spell. Kristina was in shock. She had no idea what was happening, her mind was so intent on concern for her brother that she failed to fear for herself. Her mind could not comprehend that her love would harm her. Would harm anyone. It wasn't possible. Her mind searched for answers. She did not believe for even an instant that the man she loved would deliberately hurt her in any way.

Her bitterness as she spoke to me was almost palpable. It was clear that she was no longer under that particular impression.

Much of what happened was beyond her understanding and it was only later, after the ceremony, that she was enlightened. All she remembered of the actual event was that Hedegaard had been successful in the summoning and that the demon he had summoned demanded six strands of her hair be taken by force, braided into two plaits and then each to be knotted thirteen times. Once this was done she lost consciousness.

She awoke within the portrait.

Kristina was unable to move or communicate, but she could see and hear everything that was going on around her.

Over the years she had learned more. Hedegaard would often talk to her. He told that the original ceremony she had witnessed was a ceremony tying them together for eternity. While the portrait existed, they would no longer age and they would always be together. It was to have been her birthday present. He told her that by the time she realised she wasn't aging he would have subtly introduced her to other aspects of the dark arts, opening her mind up to the possibilities. He had completely planned out his seduction of her. Had she not interrupted, her brother would have woken unharmed and none the wiser. Her interruption had forced him to act, he had explained. Placing all blame on her, he told her he had no choice. If he wanted to keep her, he had to have her cursed into the painting.

The demon he had called was Satanackia, an upper realm warrior demon, an immensely powerful agent of evil. The Goetia or Vassago have a far more detailed description of this powerful being.

Satanackia had been overjoyed at the thought of trapping an agent of good.

Hedegaard delighted in telling her all about the curse. He was elated to tell her all the complications required in order to break the curse. She would never be freed unless another person could hear her talk from the picture. The ceremony required a full moon and certain tasks had to be accomplished before the ceremony could take place.

The ceremony required re-summoning Satanackia, retrieving his braid of her hair, then vanquishing him.

When I asked her what the tasks were, she hesitated. Her pause concerned me greatly.

The blood of a Vampire would be needed to form the sacred circle. The heart of a Fyarl demon would strengthen the circle, holding Satanackia in place, and the jewel of a Mohra demon would bind the summoned demon's powers while he was within the circle.

I was not overly concerned with the requirements; I knew without doubt Tatiana was up to the challenge. My slayer really is quite impressive.

That was when Kristina gently informed me that the tasks had to be accomplished by the individual that could hear her.

Me.

Before I learned that I should be her champion, I already held concerns. After learning the full extent of what would be expected of me, I must admit my concerns escalated expedientially.

The first and most serious dilemma that I faced was the summoning of Satanackia. As a Watcher, I found myself in the unenviable position of having to question the morality of the situation. Was it not wrong for me to even consider not just allowing a dangerous upper realm demon access to this realm, but actively working towards bringing him here in the first place? Was it not equally wrong to allow this innocent to suffer when there was a solution to her situation? Did the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many?

I read and re-read every watcher's diary that I could lay my hands on, in an effort to gain some insight which would allow me to reach some sort of decision. However, it was Tatiana and her practical response that finally allowed me to see a light at the end of the tunnel, as it were.

My Slayer pointed out to me that the tasks had to be accomplished before any ceremony could be performed, so our time would be better used if we concentrated on that before we worried about anything else.

She also suggested that while the actual tasks had to be accomplished by me, it didn't mean that she couldn't help. Tatiana pointed out that I had to get the blood from the vampire but that didn't mean she couldn't incapacitate the beast first. I had to remove the heart from the Fyarl demon, but there was no stipulation that said heart needed to be beating when it was removed. The same could be said of the Mohra demon's jewel. The difficulty, as she saw it, would be locating a Mohra demon. They do tend to be rare in this dimension.

I must admit that my desire to help the beauty cursed into the picture may have a little more personal that normal, I don't know how to explain it. She intoxicated me. My connection with her seemed to be more than just mental.

It was while we were searching out ways to locate a Mohra demon that we stumbled across an account of what actually happened to Hedegaard.

Strangely coincidental, the story was found in the recently acquired diary of a Tzesleriac demon that I had been lucky enough to pick up at an auction. I had hoped I would be able to use the information in the book for a paper I am planning to write on this little known species.

At one point in the diary the demon wrote of a young vampire he had come across. The vampire had been lying on the ground and apparently waiting for the sun to rise. Nothing that the demon could say persuaded the vampire to move. The Tzesleriac demon was so intrigued by the vampire that he offered to sit with him.

The vampire took the opportunity to tell his story.

I must at this time remark that the coincidence of the vampire's story, which you will understand in a moment, when coupled with the portrait, leads credence to my belief that my young charge and I attract trouble.

The Young vampire had been Carsten Nielsen, Kristina's brother.

It had taken Carsten many decades to discover what had happened. He remembered Hedegaard asking him to visit his studio. He remembered arriving, but then nothing until waking up as a vampire.

His sire had been kind to him, a rarity among the breed, and had informed him of the circumstances of his turning. The elder vampire had been drawn to him by the smell of blood. He had been found lying in an alley next to, he later discovered, Hedegaard's studio. He had been near death as the blood from his slit wrist continued to drip from his inert body.

The elder vampire had smelled the magicks surrounding the boy and felt the compulsion to turn him. He followed the urge

When Carsten awoke, he discovered that the wound on his wrist had not healed. It continued to bleed his entire unlife, leaving him always hungry and weak. His need for vengeance all but consumed him.

His sire informed him that the bleeding would stop once the dark witch was dead. Carsten began searching.

When he finally came across Hedegaard, Carsten found the witch bragging about his deeds to the portrait. This was when the vampire discovered how he had been subdued by magic and that the dark witch had thrown his unconscious body out of the second story window of the studio and into the alley.

It should be noted that the diary gave no mention of Carsten's knowledge that his sister was trapped within the portrait. I can only surmise that the vampire was unaware of this detail.

The diary told of how Carsten spoke with increasing harshness of his building rage at every new word the magic user uttered.

He had spent years researching magic users. He knew that the best way to get Hedegaard where he wanted him was to strike without warning and incapacitate him first.

The Tzesleriac demon took the opportunity to record in his diary that Carsten had seemed lost in his memories at this point. He was not even sure if the young vampire remembered that he was there. The diary told of the gleeful satisfaction that coated Carsten's voice as he spoke of the dark witch's fate.

The vampire recounted how he had used all his preternatural skills to stalk the witch. He silently approached and knocked out the object of his hatred before binding his hands and ripping out his tongue. He had carried the unconscious man back to his lair and waited patiently for him to awake.

His torture of Hedegaard lasted well over twenty four hours. Carsten had stripped him of his clothes and chained him to the ceiling of his crypt. He had watched silently as the witch had awoken then panicked when he realised his position. His shock had been comical to Carsten when the witch recognised him. Garbled, unintelligible sounds issued from Hedegaard's tongue-less mouth. Confusion then realisation followed as the magician must have realised how completely the vampire had neutered him. Carsten had said nothing as he rose from his seat, picked up a scalpel and walked towards his prisoner with slow, deliberate steps.

Carsten had recounted to his silent companion how he had removed the witch's privates before Hedegaard lost consciousness the first time. Every time the prisoner passed out, Carsten would sit back and wait for him to wake then start on another body part, working slowly, taking his time. Fingers were removed, toes too; hands, feet and eyes.

When Hedegaard finally died, in agony, Carsten's wounded wrist healed and the vampire walked outside to greet the sun. When it rose, he dusted silently.

I cannot in all honesty say that I was upset to learn of the demise of the dark witch that had brought such pain to the beauty in the portrait, nor did I feel particularly sorry for the way in which his death happened. Does that make me heartless? He was human after all. Had we been aware of the situation, it would have been my slayer's job to save him and dust the vampire. I can't help but feel relief that we were unaware.

Over the years since the late Willow Rosenberg used the scythe to allow all potentials to become slayers, there has been an influx of warrior demons to this realm. Mohra demons, while rare, are one of the breeds we have been forced to deal with on a more frequent basis than the slayers of old. I was not entirely surprised when a simple demon locating spell pinpointed all three required demons.

With my slayer's help, the tasks were made simple. The blood of a Vampire sustained the sacred circle. The heart of the Fyarl demon easily held Satanackia in place once he was summoned. The jewel of the Mohra demon bound his powers, making it ridiculously simple to retrieve his braid of Kristina's hair and then behead him.

I watched as the beauty I was so enamoured reformed and smiled at me in gratitude.

I watched as she took the portrait and walked out of the circle to the fire we had earlier built for light.

I watched as she asked for both braids then, upon receipt, threw them into the fire.

I watched as she threw the portrait that had been her prison in to the fire as well.

We all watched it burn.

I watched as she aged before my eyes. Older and older, her smile never faltering.

I watched as she turned to dust, completing the circle of life.

I watched.

It's what I do.

 

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