It's my birthday, but I'm giving *you* gifts. Have the next installment of Immortal. Act VII Scene III:

(The Saracen Tower, a forest of stakes. Mara cautiously approaches. Finally she stands just a few feet away from where the forest of stakes begins. Vlad stands among the impaled, still as a stone. Mara looks pointedly at him.)

Mara: You can sense me, and I can sense you. So there’s no point in hiding.

(Vlad steps out and stands on the walkway leading directly into the tower’s main door. He smiles.)

Mara: I’m here. I want to see Livia.

Vlad: It is strange, don’t you think, that you bear the same symbol as the first page of the book?

Mara: People wear meaningless symbols all the time. I want to see Livia.

Vlad: For you I do not think it is meaningless. Everything about you hints at deeper meanings. And drop that weapon. You’re not so foolish to think you will triumph by shooting me.

Mara: Hmph. (she drops it) That’s an old dialect you’re speaking. It’s been four, five centuries since I’ve heard some of those words.

Vlad: And yet you speak it, too. Quite clearly.

Mara: I imagine I learned it around the same time you did.

Vlad: (excitedly) Then I was right. You are an immortal like myself. I wonder what other things I’ve guessed about you?

Mara: I won’t deny that I’m immortal – but I’m nothing at all like you.

Vlad: Such hatred in your words, woman! But I do not wish to be your enemy.

Mara: You have done little to be my friend.

Vlad: Then, please, let us begin over. I only want to speak with you, learn what I can. I do not lightly admit to weakness, woman, but this power is a double-edged blade which I cannot control!

Mara: You want a teacher? Is that what this is about? Well you’re not going to entice me with murder, kidnapping, or thinly veiled threats!

Vlad: And would you have come if I had sent someone to invite you? My people would have been shot on sight.

Mara: Rightly so! All they’ve done is slaughter people. You’ve made a graveyard of this town.

Act VII Scene IV

(Behind the Saracen Tower, covered with scaffolding. Johnny picks his way toward the tower. Mara, speaks in his mind.)

Mara: (in his head) Johnny! I’m almost certain she’s in the tower. Probably the second floor. He’s glanced at that window twice.

Johnny: (whispering out loud) Three steps ahead of you, luv.

(Johnny approaches the scaffolding, pauses to find someplace to tuck his gun, then begins the rickety climb.)

Mara: Hurry. I can’t stall forever.

Johnny: (thinking at her this time, getting the hang of it) I hurry much faster, and I’ll break my bloody neck. But I’ll get there. I swear it.

Act VII Scene V

(Front of the tower. Mara and Vlad face off.)

Vlad: I’ll admit. My troops have been … undisciplined. Some of the blame falls to me. Through blood, they share my power, but they also share my thirst.

Mara: Do you have any idea what you’ve done to them?

Vlad: (a light of desperation in his eyes) Does it burn as hot for you, woman? Is that the price we pay? To walk forever in a world rimmed in blood?

Mara: I’m not continuing this conversation until you show me my friend.

Vlad: You are in no position to make demands!

Mara: Quite the contrary. I have many things you want – knowledge, answers, and a certain book –

Vlad: You do have it!

Mara: And you only have one thing that I want. I think that puts me in the perfect position to make demands.

(They stare for several moments. Finally, he sighs.)

Vlad: Vladimir the Third does not bow to anyone. But out of respect for a fellow immortal, I will do this thing. (calling up to the tower) Marica! Marica, bring Livia to the window so we can see her.

(Marica has Livia by the hair. Livia thrashes, but is still bound hand and foot. Marica has her in an iron grip.)

Marica: Here she is, voivode. Awake and already healing.

Livia: Mara! Tell him to go fuck himself!

Marica: (yanking Livia’s hair, hissing into her ear) He may not understand much English, but I will not forgive that remark!

Act VII Scene VI

(Johnny, climbing the scaffolding at the back of the tower. The boards about him are rickety and the whole structure sways. He is making slow progress.)

Mara: (in his head) Johnny! Second floor. I think she’s bound, and there’s woman with her.

Johnny: (thinking silently back) Now wouldn’t be a good time to mention that I’m afraid of heights, would it?

Mara: (in his head) I don’t know how much longer I can resist hitting him, so make it fast.

--M. Belanger