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A bolt of lightning streaked accross the dark sky and after a while, a massive thunder clap rumbled in the distance. Thick raindrops, flung by a roaring wind, drummed hollowly on the windowpane. The raging storm was in full swing outside the window.

Otar imagined himself being flooded by rain and whipped up by the howling demonic wind as he was going down the unmarked trail amid the old creaking trees, which barely resisted the squall.

He could not conceive of marching through the primeval forest with the pitch-black clouds, whirling densley overhead and the fierce bolts of lightning slashing the ground all around him.

That is why he sighed with relief when found shelter amid the vast walls of an old castle whose owner offered hospitality to him. When he got lost in the old and gloomy woods he did not expect to find a homestead miles from anywhere.

He breathed deeply and pulled back on the big bed placing his head on the soft, downy pillows. The window was lit up by the intense flash of light and followed instantly by the heavy roll of thunder in the firmament. However, Otar was calm.

He looked around the spacious chamber, whose elegant interior aroused admiration. A light brown damask adorned the wall, tastefully matching the ash paneling and beige drapes piled above the window. The furniture inlaid with different types of wood and decorated with gilded bronze undoubtedly came from the hand of a prominent carpenter. The oak floor was covered by a soft, woolen carpet with  densely woven patterns and subtle, original designs. The whole interior was complemented by a red marble fireplace and its beautifully carved facade where one could see a rotund vase made of faience .

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While his eyes wandered what particularly attracted his attention was a painting hanging on the wall.

While his eyes wandered what particularly attracted his attention was a painting hanging on the wall. It depicted a young woman with a cold, dignified look. With her head proudly erect, she was sitting on a stone bench surrounded by rose bushes. Her face was manifested with a seriousness and dispassion, as if she was untouched by beauty all around her. Her lips as red as the blooming flowers, were tightly clenched and twisted in a barely visible, contemptuous grimace. Her alabaster skin contrasted by a dark green dress uncovered at the shoulders made the woman by far curter and unapproachable. It was her opulent, auburn hair resembling rough waves that made you think there was a glimmer of wild emotions in her.

The woman’s beauty and haughtiness fascinated Otar and aroused his diverse feelings.  He could not take his eyes off her image and was deeply intrigued by her coldness. Suddenly a bright glow permeated the room, and right after it came the thunder, tearing Otar’s from his thoughts. The man stopped staring at the mysterious woman and looked into the darkness extending beyond the window. In the end, he switched off the lamp and darkness filled the room which was occasionally broken by storm flashes. Otar, now tranquile that he managed to find a refuge from the terrifying night, quickly fell asleep. The madness churning out there was, for the moment, left far beyond his thoughts .

He had been standing there for a moment, breathing in a brisk air when suddenly he felt a burning sensation on the skin and a twinge in his eyes.

When he opened his eyes in the morning, the first rays of the sun quickly scattered the prevailing grayness from the room. Otar  stretched and yawned, trying to ward off the remnants of intrusive sleep. He looked out the window. In the clear, blue sky there was no sign of the last night’s storm. Otar slowly sat down on the bed and wiped his eyes. Although he had slept heavily all night, and a sunny morning encouraged him to continue on his journey, somehow he did not want to leave the comfort of the bed. In the end, he forced himself to get up and walk over to the window, hoping that some fresh air would invigorate him. Squinting his eyes in the bright light, he opened the window and felt a lovely warmth on his face. He had been standing there for a moment, breathing in a brisk air when suddenly he felt a burning sensation on the skin and a twinge in his eyes. Due to the escalating pain he automatically jumped back, retreating to the shadows where the warm rays of the sun could not penetrate.

Suddenly everything whirled around him, and Otar’s body was filled with a great weakness. Feeling groggy and off balance he quickly sat down on the edge of the bed, trying to avoid the inevitable fall which was bound to come. He lowered his head for a moment, rubbing his throbbing temple firmly with his fingers. After a few deep breaths, his pounding heart calmed down and tinnitus (in his ear) disappeared. The moment his blurred vision sharpened a bit, Otar slowly and quietly raised his head and the portrait of the mysterious woman drew his attention.

Otar had a strange feeling and simultaneously his mind flashed a sort of phantom like image, like a piece of lost memories. He strained his thoughts and suddenly recalled the strange thought to his mind.

It seemed to him that last night, the woman from the painting had turned up besides his bed holding a candle. For a moment she had stared at him with her eyes as cold as the blue abyss. Strands of shiny hair fell on her face, where there was no trace of emotion at all. At one point, her carmine, shapely lips gently parted in a slight smile, revealing a row of white teeth. The woman slowly had sat down on the bed, put her candle on the table and then had slowly bent over Otar. Her face was close to his, he felt an intense smell of rose perfume. When the woman had touched his neck and a cold shiver had gone through him. He could not move. Under the influence of unexpected experiences and conflicting emotions which overwhelmed him .

On the one hand, Otar had been fascinated by the woman and did not resist for fear that it would scare her away. On the other hand, he felt an intense fear of this strange apparition. Despite the fear lurking deep inside, he did not resist her increasing passion. He wanted the woman to remain there for as long as possible. He had even let her come a little closer. When she gently had touched his neck with her cold lips, another shiver had run through him again, this time more powerful …

Under the influence of the nocturnal memories, Otar sprang to his feet, while touching his neck. Beneath his fingers he felt two tiny round wounds. Quite fresh. His legs simply crumpled. He felt  as if all the blood had drained from his body.

Feeling terrified, he looked at the portrait, where on the stone bench, surrounded by rose bushes, there was the impassive mysterious woman, as before, gazing haughtily somewhere into the distance. But something had changed, a small detail, but a very important one. The frown on the woman’s face has now disappeared, and in its place appeared a slight smirk of satisfaction.

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