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The Whately Mansion Saga

The Story Thus Far: The vampire Alexander LeMourru acquired the Old Whately Mansion for reasons known only to himself. Formerly the scene of unspeakable murders, Alexander and his crew have refurbished the ramshackle mansion, making it home to a curious collection of blue-shirted cultists. They keep mostly to themselves, save for opening the place to the litterati of New England for grand seances on the weekends.

Alexander has long been a thorn in the side of the local Giovanni, a family of vampires and necromancers thoroughly entrenched in the shadowed underworld of Providence. Led by the stern and sometimes hot-headed patriarch, Antonio, the famiglia has determined that whatever Alexander is up to in the old mansion, it is not in their best interests.

After a week of preparation and recon, Antonio, his enforcer, Menecrites, and the grim, solitary necromancer Karl Beck headed out to discover what secrets the old murder house might hold.

No plan survives the field. The three sought to capture Alexander's cat's paw, Jeff York, unawares, but the spirit of Old Man Whately gave them away. While the Giovanni had hoped to infiltrate the mansion bloodlessly, they are hardly the sort to shy away from conflict once it becomes inevitable.

Adapting to complications none of them could have foreseen, Antonio, Menecrites, and Beck successfully take York as a hostage -- but not without some losses. Jeff pulled what appears to have been an Oblivion bomb from his pocket, and in the resulting explosion of negative energy, Julie, Karl’s wraith, as well as the wraith of Old Man Whately, were both consumed by the darkness. The bomb also did a level of aggravated damage to all of the living (or undead) beings standing in a ten foot radius around its epicenter. This included Jeff York.

As everyone recovered from this development, Karl discovered that his ring of unseen presence was no longer working. With a sinking feeling, he checked his other soul-forged items, only to discover that they now were also inert. The spirits bound to power them had been devoured by the concussive wave of Oblivion just like Old Man Whately and his companion, Julie.

This led Antonio to check his prize swordcane, forged with the soul of the Assamite once sent to kill him. Upon inspecting the blade, veins begin to stand out on Antonio’s forehead. His hands tremble for a moment, and then, closing his eyes, he puts forth a monumental effort to maintain control and not give in to frenzy. But it is very clear that Antonio is not pleased with this development.

In the parlour, one cultist, a young woman, lies dead, shot between the eyes by Menecrites in a mercy killing. Although Menecrites’ gun is equipped with a silencer, the girl’s desperate screams prior to her death caught the attention of at least one cultist who remained in the upstairs portion of the mansion. From the sound of things, that person has come to the top of the stairs and is calling down to York to see if everything is ok.

The story continues tomorrow ...

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Staring into the Abyss

Providence. 1929. The Whately mansion -- once abandoned on the heels of a terrible string of murders, now refurbished and home to a mysterious cult, with the vampire Alexander pulling their strings.-----------------------------------------------------

Jeff York and an unfamiliar mortal woman stand in the front parlour of the Whately place – oblivious to the three members of family Giovanni observing them from down the hall. No words pass between Karl, Antonio, or Menecrites. No words are necessary. They have fought together often enough that a single look conveys everything. Meeting Karl’s eyes, Antonio gives a single, slow nod.

There is a taut and breathless moment where time feels suspended – and then a flurry of action unfolds. Karl reaches into the pocket of his overcoat and withdraws an enchanted ring. With a smooth series of motions, he pulls off one of his leather gloves and slips the ring onto the index finger of that hand. His lips move with a word of command – mouthed, not spoken. He barely imbues the syllables with breath. But his intent is enough. In the next instant, he vanishes, the cloak of shadows in the wraith-forged ring obscuring his presence.

At the door to the sewing room, Antonio touches a pendant at his throat. With a murmured word, he, too, disappears as he activates the obfuscation of the enchanted item. Although their presences are unseen, both Antonio and Karl still make audible sounds. They each move with slow and measured steps so their footfalls do not reveal their positions. They creep toward the lighted parlor.

Menecrites hangs back in the darkened sewing room, taking up Antonio’s previous position at the door so he can watch as things unfold and step in when he’s needed.

Jeff is still chatting with the girl. She’s pretty, in a classy kind of way. She looks nineteen or twenty. Although she wears the collar of her blue shirt buttoned up tight, bruising on her neck suggests that she has been bitten some time in the past few days. York seems interested in biting her again, and he pulls her close as he leans in to feed.

It’s the perfect distraction. They want to catch York unaware so they can restrain him and use him to learn where their true quarry is hiding -- Alexander.

Antonio and Karl move swiftly down the long hall, past the locked basement door. They step invisibly into the parlour at approximately the same time. Almost as if they had planned this part, Karl steps to the left, Antonio to the right. They circle around, closing in on Jeff. When they get within ten feet, however, Jeff suddenly looks up.

“Wraith!” Julie hisses, trying to direct Karl’s attention to something swooping down the hall.

“YOU HAVE NO BUSINESS IN MY HOME!!!” the spirit bellows in a hollow voice audible only to Karl and York’s flesh-and-blood ears.

The wraith – an old man with a shock of white hair and a long, grizzled beard – goes directly for Karl. He balls his hand into a fist and pops Karl squarely in the jaw. Karl staggers backward – more from shock than from pain. He’s seen this wraith before. It’s Old Man Whately. And the dead bastard still packs quite a wallop. Karl daubs the back of his hand against his split lip. It comes away smeared darkly with blood.

York looks up from his dinner and whirls around, trying to spot the source of the disturbances. He sees Old Man Whately as the wraith lashes out – although, for Jeff, the enchantment on Karl’s ring means he can’t quite see Karl himself. York focuses first on Julie, but it’s clear that she is not whatever Whately is striking. It’s obvious enough that someone is hidden. Jeff squints at the air in front of Whately, and his eyes shimmer with power as he struggles to see past the illusion.

Antonio prepares himself to take a flying tackle at York, not wanting to completely lose the element of surprise.

In the next moment, York starts off by moving obscenely fast. In the space of two eyeblinks, he reaches into an inner pocket of his jacket, grabs something the size and shape of a red rubber ball, and tosses this item hard onto the polished wooden floorboards. He aims for a spot about a foot in front of himself and roughly between Karl and Antonio’s cloaked forms.

The item hits the ground and shatters. Antonio and Karl both tense, expecting to be caught in a fiery explosion. There’s not enough time to get to cover.

Instead of flames, the thing erupts into boiling waves of darkness. A numbing concussion of frigid shadows ripples out from the point of impact, sucking the air from the room and temporarily blinding all present. The shockwave hits with a silence so intense, the air seems to shriek with absence. Bitter talons of ice lash against every scrap of exposed flesh, biting somehow deeper than flesh, bone-deep and soul-searing. All thought, all reason is driven before that numbing wave and it’s all anyone can do to keep their feet. Karl stumbles and Antonio is nearly driven to his knees.

Karl and Antonio each take one aggravated wound.

The wraiths shriek and the sound tears at the very air. They’re tossed like autumn leaves in the silent gale rushing from the epicenter, and the pulsing waves of dark shear gobbets from their forms. Old Man Whately howls as he lifts his hands to cover his face – and the memory of flesh is torn down to the bone. Julie pleas for help from Karl, clinging with bitter desperation as the darkness eats her before his eyes. She’s blown like rags along the air, a tattered, screaming form, and then – nothing.

Both Antonio and Karl’s enchantments are ripped away as well, and in the wake of the awful storm of darkness unleashed by York, the two vampires stand, shaken and staring. York looks as shocked as they do. Menecrites catches only the tail of it from his position down the hall. He pokes his head back out the door once the worst of the shockwaves has passed.

The mortal woman is screaming. The sound rises and falls, desolate and empty of all reason. She screams till she runs out of breath, then takes a hiccupping sob and screams some more.

She’s on the floor and she crab-walks back from the point of impact. Her back hits the wall and she doesn’t stop, just keeps trying to crawl backward into it. She claws at her eyes, fingers hooked and nails gouging.

York looks down in stupefaction at the item he dashed onto the floorboards. There are bits of broken glass and bands of some metal – probably copper – scattered in a two-foot radius. From this epicenter, that chilling darkness lingers, though the waves are nowhere near as powerful as the first concussion that caught everyone unaware.

“Shit,” York swears unhappily at the shattered remnants of the bomb.

Antonio doesn’t waste another moment. He tosses his swordcane to one side and levels the Toreador with a powerful flying tackle. He’d prefer to just kill the bastard, but he needs to question him. He catches York by surprise so the smaller man can’t engage his supernatural speed. The two of them tumble down in a heap.

Menecrites dashes into the room. Karl is still stunned by what he witnessed happening to both of the wraiths – Julie especially. The stoic necromancer isn’t one to brood on his feelings, but watching his companion torn apart before his eyes has nearly unmoored him. He stands frozen in place, staring at the air where she had been.

As Antonio wrestles with York, the mortal woman’s shrieks change in pitch and frequency. She slams her head backward into the wall, still digging at her eyes. Her hands are bloody. Her mouth moves in nonsense sounds and she’s still trying to push herself backwards with spastic kicks of her legs.

Before anyone can suggest otherwise, Menecrites pulls out his gun and shoots her once between the eyes. It’s a mercy killing, efficient and quick. She falls silent at last.

Antonio throttles York, landing punch after punch on his face.

“What the fuck was that, York? What the fuck was that?” Antonio bellows. "Menecrites! Hand me my swordcane. I'm gonna take this bastard's head."

Through the ruin of his mouth, York begs for his life, screaming, “I had no idea it would do that! Please! I’ll tell you everything! Just don’t kill me!”

Abyss To be continued …

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Into the House of Death

1929. Night has fallen on Providence, and in one ill-fated house near the town cemetery, darkness comes to call.-------------------------------------------

Wednesday night comes, and they all pile into Antonio’s Packard. He kills the headlamps a few blocks from the Whately place, then cuts the engine as he turns into Kirkwood Cemetery. He lets the car coast for as long as he can, maneuvering it along the narrow gravel path that twists amidst the stones.

Once the car stops, he engages the parking brake and they all get out, taking stock of their equipment. Antonio has his trusty sword cane, an item enchanted with the bound spirit of a vampire assassin once sent to kill him. Antonio killed the Assamite and claimed his soul instead. The Giovanni patriarch has his gun as well, and guns are good enough for mortals. But the cane – especially with the screaming spirit bound to its hidden blade – that has a real bite.

Menecrites opens the boot and pulls out two large glass bottles, trying not to clink them together. The bottles hold a murky brownish liquid that could pass for urine in the wrong light – bootleg mead. It’s not the best stuff. In fact, it’s barely drinkable. But it doesn’t have to be good to be incriminating. Menecrites tucks one bottle under each arm, nodding to Karl and Antonio that he’s ready.

Julie the wraith hovers near Karl’s shoulder, humming to herself. Her reedy voice intermittently crosses to the flesh-and-blood world with a sound like wind sighing through the naked branches of frozen trees. Nadia is nearby as well, but Antonio whispers to her, asking her to stay near the car and keep an eye on things from a distance. If things go south, he wants her to hustle back home and let cousin Luci know to hit the place with everything the family’s got.

On foot, the three Giovanni head toward the house, moving silently among the canting, weathered stones of Kirkwood Cemetery.

Lights are on in the parlor and some of the curtains are drawn. As they watch, the familiar figure of Jeffrey York passes in front of one of the windows. The glimpse is brief, but they all recognize Alexander’s cats’ paw.

The rest of the house is dark, except for what might be a reading light in one of the upstairs bedrooms. With a gesture from Antonio, Karl heads around back. Antonio and Menecrites crouch as they pass near the windows to the parlor, gliding soundlessly through the grass as they move toward the side of the house. Once they’re clear of the lighted windows, Menecrites stashes the mead in the bushes. Antonio studies the windows on this side of the house for a likely point of entry. The foundation of the house is fairly high, so all the windows are a little out of reach, but between himself and Menecrites, that shouldn’t be much trouble.

As Karl approaches the back door, he calls upon his particular path of necromancy, reaching out to the spectral echo of the physical world. Most of the Giovanni necromancers can summon and compel spirits, but Karl’s from a line that has a different sort of knack. It’s one reason the Italian family “adopted” their German cousin. Karl can peer directly into the realm of the dead. Better than that, with effort, he can reach across and even walk through it. It’s a tasking ability, and not without its risks, but it’s a talent Karl’s had since the days he became a vampire.

Stepping carefully onto a regrettably creaky back porch, Karl has a momentary flash of déjà vu. It was this door precisely where he had previously broken into the Old Whately Place with Jack all those years ago. This was the house where he’d first learned spirits could physically hurt people. This was where he’d seen undeniable evidence that attested to his own skills.

He pauses at the door, his gloved hand hovering over its knob. Closing his eyes, he reaches inward to what feels like a dark and fathomless well. Cold power rests in that space, and he dredges it up. Even his undead flesh feels the chill as it bursts forth, flooding him. When he opens his eyes again, the world has bled of all color. The house before him is decrepit again, and all its angles have gone wrong – he’s looking at it through the shadowlands.

Karl presses forward, starting to step across, but he quickly realizes that the house exists very solidly in both the skinlands and the shadowlands. If anything, the place has more substance in the shadowlands, probably because of all of the stories told about it. The fear and horror associated with the place have soaked into every board, making the place unassailable. No wonder the wraiths couldn’t get in. Alexander didn’t even need wards – all he had to do to block the spirits was close and lock the physical door.

Karl steps back across, never actually moving from his position directly in front of the back door. Then he takes a couple of lockpicks from of his coat pocket and jimmies the lock. Julie teases Karl gently over having to resort to this.

He shoots her a look and whispers, “I suppose you could do better?”

She sticks out her tongue playfully, but quiets back down.

Elsewhere, Antonio and Menecrites move quietly to a side window. No lights burn in the room beyond, and some empty wooden crates lie close at hand in the yard beside an wheelbarrow. Quickly and silently, Antonio and Menecrites stack the crates. Antonio hands his cane off to Menecrites, then steps up first. Drawing upon his skills of stealth and security, he lets himself in through the darkened window. Then he reaches down for his cane. Once it’s in hand, he helps Menecrites through the window behind him.

The half-Greek enforcer is not as silent as Antonio, and for a few breathless moments, the two of them stand, stock-still in what appears to be a sewing room. They listen to the rest of the house, but after a few moments, it seems obvious that no one heard them enter. The door leading out of the room is slightly ajar, letting in a sliver of light from the hallway. Motioning for Menecrites to stay put, Antonio creeps soundlessly forward to the door.

At the back door, Karl succeeds in picking the lock. Julie pats him on the back with a ghostly hand. Ordinarily, he would send her in first to scout the place out, but if the vampire Jeff York is in residence, there’s a chance that he’ll see her. The Giovanni vampires might have the market cornered on necromancy, but they can’t control who is and who isn’t a natural spirit medium. The in-born skill makes Jeff especially inconvenient to them.

Murmuring so low not even vampire ears could hear him, Karl instructs Julie to stick close, following a step or two behind him. Crouching low to the ground, he turns the knob and cautiously pushes the back door open. The hinges creak and the sound seems loud as a car wreck to Karl’s ears. He halts, then listens. Nothing. He resumes pushing the door open slowly, but the hinges groan again in protest and, preparing for the worst, Karl gives in and just shoves the door all the way open.

No one seems to hear – or, if they hear, they’re not making any noise of their own.

Karl decides that he’s in the clear for the moment. He edges through the doorway with Julie close behind. The necromancer finds himself in the kitchen. The only light is the ghostly blue flickering of the pilot light on the stove. It streams weakly through the latticed burners. The kitchen is large, with a sizable butcher’s block standing in the center of the room. A rack of pots and pans hangs above the butcher block. Karl makes note of the collection of knives sitting on the block, including a well-honed cleaver. Those might be useful later.

Moving as quietly as possible, although he’s not particularly skilled at stealth, Karl steps toward the door on the far side of the kitchen. He can see weak light coming in around the edges. That way lies the front of the house and Jeff York.

From the darkened sewing room, Antonio peers carefully through the crack in the door. Directly in front of him is the side of a staircase, a thick, highly polished banister leading upstairs. There is a door at the base of this staircase. It probably leads to the basement. The door is closed and has a sizable lock. The lock is clearly new – its brass fittings are shiny compared to the knob and hinges on the door. Faint, rust-colored symbols are visible along the very edge of the door, where it lies flush against the jamb. Wards of some sort.

Filing that piece of information away for later, Antonio glances down the hallway to the right. There’s a dining room, unlit. At the far end of the dining room is a door that probably leads to the kitchen. As Antonio watches, Karl steps carefully through that door and surveys the dining room. Antonio locks eyes with Karl and motions for the black-clad necromancer to stay put for a moment. Karl nods, taking a step back so he stands deeper in the shadows.

Looking to the left, Antonio sees that the hall continues toward the front of the house, leading toward the parlour. York is there, standing in about the middle of the room. The gaslights in that room burn away all the shadows. Their dancing, yellow light paints weird patterns across the flocked wallpaper in the hall.

Standing close to York is a young woman. She wears the powder-blue button-down shirt and the long, navy skirt that is to be the uniform of the female cult members. Her russet hair is twined in a French braid and knotted at the base of her neck. York appears to be hitting on her. He is wearing a powder-blue button-down shirt as well, but he has a navy suit jacket over it. He wears matching navy trousers. From the way the suit jacket hangs on one side, Antonio can tell that York is wearing a shoulder holster. So he has a gun, at the very least.

Karl stands rigidly in the shadows of the dining room. He doesn’t breathe. He doesn’t move a muscle. He watches in silence as Antonio cranes his head out of the door to a side room, peering down the one lighted hall. After a moment, Antonio turns back to face Karl. Gesturing silently, he holds up two fingers to indicate that there are two people in the lighted room. He mouths a name that Karl knows well: “York.” Then he raises a finger to indicate one other. Mouthing “York” again, Antonio gestures to indicate that Jeff has a gun.

Karl nods. Menecrites steps up behind Antonio. It’s time to put the next part of the plan into action.

Haunted

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A Council of Shadows

We return once more to our shadowed version of Providence, a city of vampire gangsters and spectral femme fatales.--------------------------------------------------------------------

The Giovanni vampires tail the cultists for the better part of a week, Menecrites with the living, Antonio and Karl with the dead. Monday night, Antonio has them meet in his office to go over what they've learned. He knows time is pressing, but he's dealt with LeMourru often enough to be wary - - he won't rush in until he's certain he will win.

The patriarch of the family sits with his elbows on the big mahogany desk, hands laced under his chin. His eyes are distant as Nadia whispers to him. Karl arrives first, with his own wraith, Julie, trailing in his wake. He has a fist full of receipts and an expression that seesaws between bewilderment and irritation.

The eyes of the two wraiths dart fleetingly to one another – – a token acknowledgment. Simply because they're dead and working for the same people doesn't guarantee that the two ladies get along. Nadia presses herself a little closer to Antonio, clearly possessive. Julie makes a big show of yawning in a spectral pantomime of indifference. Karl shoots Julie a look, clearly not in the mood.

Menecrites bursts into the room, bringing a welcome distraction from the tension strung upon the air between the two wraiths. He's dressed smartly in a suit and tie, a matching handkerchief meticulously folded and tucked into the breast pocket of his vest. He carries a creased manila folder under one meaty arm.

"Sorry I'm late, boss. I had one last thing to check before I put everything together." He pats the document-stuffed folder with no small amount of pride.

Antonio gives Menecrites a perfunctory nod. He pushes back from the desk, stretching in his chair. "So what we got, boys?"

With a baffled air, Karl tosses his receipts onto the desk. He says, "Bees. These people are crazy about bees."

"Hunh?" Antonio responds. Abruptly, he settles forward on the chair, the rollers hitting the tile with an audible clack.

"I checked in at all the shops in town, trying to catch purchases that tied them to occult activity," Karl explains. He adjusts his hat on his brow -- Reynaldo hadn't caught him this time in order to tell him to take it off indoors. "What I found is these cultists have a thing for bee-keeping. They've cleaned the city out of related supplies."

Antonio pages through the bills of sale, squinting at the writing as if this could somehow help what he was seeing make more sense.

Menecrites shuffles a little self-consciously, muttering, "Well, you just blew anything weird I had right out of the water."

Karl shrugs helplessly. "What they're doing with the bees is anyone's guess. I don't know any occult practice I can connect with it.”

"Not just Alexander's Elder Cult and Bridge Club, then," Antonio murmurs.

"Say what now?" Menecrites sputters.

The family patriarch laughs a little at his cousin’s response. He tilts his head in Nadia's direction, forgetting that Menecrites has trouble seeing the dead. "That's what she called 'em. I guess when they're bored, they play a lot of cards. Bridge Club."

Karl makes a frustrated noise. "I have no idea what these people are up to."

With a flourish, Menecrites presents his manila folder. "Then allow me.”

Both Karl and Antonio focus curiously on him. Menecrites is fairly brimming with giddy pride. He says, “I don't got the benefit of spooky dead things for spying on people, but I do got a lot of eyes and ears on the ground.”

He opens the folder and spreads its papers in an arc in front of Antonio. The elder vampire’s brows tick up and he lifts one of the pages to read it more closely.

"This is a timeline," he murmurs with some measure of surprise.

"Yeah. It's like I'm organized or something," Menecrites says.

“Eight AM, breakfast. Nine to one, gardening. Group lunch. Indoctrination. Séance.” Antonio rattles off activities as he goes down the list. “You’ve got their whole day mapped out.”

“Their whole week,” Menecrites corrects.

“Nadia couldn’t get inside the place,” Antonio admits.

“Neither could Julie,” says Karl. “It’s warded or something.”

“Well, everybody gets a visit from the milkman and the ice man, and those guys report to me,” Menecrites explains. “I got my buddy Cicero over in the cemetery trimming the bushes, and he’s got a real nice view. Then there’s the gal at the grocer’s – those crazy blue shirts might make a lot of honey with all them bees, but they don’t grow all their food. They got people coming into town pretty much daily.”

Antonio continues reading over the papers, nodding vaguely at his cousin’s points. “This is good work, Menecrites,” he says.

“Wait,” the big half-Greek says. “It gets better. Look over on the next page, boss. Wednesdays are like cultists’ night out.” He leans over and taps a finger in the middle of the sheet. "The place is never empty, but that’s our best window. A whole bunch of ‘em go out and party at the dance houses and stuff. They don’t come back till at least midnight. Three or four stay behind, with Jeff York playing babysitter.”

“Seems like his regular job,” Karl agrees. “The only vampire Julia saw coming and going with any regularity was Jeff. No sign of LeMourru.”

“Nadia saw LeMourru once,” Antonio says darkly. “He didn’t arrive by any obvious means, just kind of showed up on the inside of the house. Surprised her.” He sets Menecrites’s meticulously lettered timetables down. Nadia lays a spectral hand on his shoulder and Antonio’s looks softens for a moment. The expression swiftly fades.

“You think he’s learned how to obfuscate?” Karl wonders.

“Nah,” Antonio counters. “That’s not his style. He loves that pretty face of his too much to hide it like that.” Pensive, he picks at a slight bend in one of the corners of the manila folder. “I bet he’s got a haven under the building or something.”

“Then we have to get in there,” Karl responds. “The wraiths can’t get past the perimeter, so we don’t have much choice in the matter.”

Menecrites noisily clears his throat, waving his hand between Karl and Antonio. “Hello,” he says. “Already thought of that. We should break in Wednesday.”

Karl’s eyes flick to Menecrites, his pale lips pressed into a disapproving line. “You said yourself the place is never empty. What do we do with the mortals? We can’t risk being exposed, and you can bet they won’t just sit around while we rifle the place.”

“Killing them is always an option,” Menecrites responds. In unison, Karl and Antonio shoot him dirty looks. “Hey,” he says, shrugging, “Don’t tell me you weren’t thinking it.”

Antonio takes a breath and sighs unhappily. “Oh, I was,” he acknowledges, “And a couple years ago, I’d have been all for it. But if I know Alexander, he’s just waiting for an excuse to expose us.” He tears off the ragged corner of the folder with his nail. Sharply, he flicks it away, tracking it as it flutters to the tiles. “Nah, we gotta find a way we can raid the place that will hold up in court. You can bet he’ll try to drag us into some shit otherwise. That’s why he’s practically drowning in mortal patsies in that house.”

“If they were doing something obviously occult, I might be able to spin public opinion,” Karl offers.

“You just said their only weird thing is bee-keeping,” Antonio responds.

Karl shrugs. “I checked in with Shipton to see what kind of books they’ve picked up.”

“And…?” Antonio asks.

“Nothing.

“The Tremere could be lying,” Menecrites offers. “I mean, being a Tremere and all.”

Karl snorts. “He was lying about something. Which is why I had Julie watch the place,” he replies. “And if he’s selling them occult books, he’s doing it where those transactions can’t be observed. So, again, a brick wall.”

Antonio’s eyes have grown distant. He taps one nail against the blotter on his desk. Almost to himself, he murmurs, “Honey.”

Menecrites piques a brow at the family patriarch. “Squeeze me?” he quips.

Karl scowls at the enforcer with a look that eloquently damns Menecrites’ inability to be totally serious even at the most vexing of times. Menecrites either misses the look or ignores it – it’s an even bet. Antonio’s too immersed in his thoughts to catch any of it.

“I got an idea,” he says at length. “All that honey. They could be using it to make mead.”

“Julie didn’t see anything like that,” Karl objects.

Antonio barks a laugh. “I didn’t say they were actually brewing stuff. It don't matter. This will be the very definition of railroading. All we gotta do is plant a few casks in that house. Anything gets ugly, my police contacts can take care of the rest. We’ll be bustin’ up a bootlegging operation, after all.”

Understanding dawns across Karl’s face as he follows Antonio’s train of thought. The Doge of Providence, suddenly animated, slams his hand down on the surface of his desk in his excitement. The sound is enormous in the windowless basement office. His eyes glimmering with purpose, he says, “Menecrites – how quick can you get your hands on some honeywine?”

“Shouldn’t take much, boss.” Menecrites grins. Antonio’s excitement is infectious. “Then we hit the place Wednesday night, right?”

“Like you said, cousin,” Antonio replies, “that is the best possible time.”

Bee-Keeping

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An Honest Night's Work

It's 1929 in a version of Providence that's home to vampires, cultists, and the restless dead. A family of Italian necromancers have a choke-hold on the city, and they're looking to take down their rivals, lead by Alexander LeMourru.-------------------------------------------------

Nightfall finds Menecrites on the docks. The big man leans against a stack of weathered crates that don’t look like they’re going anywhere any time soon. His dark eyes luminous beneath heavy brows, he watches the ceaseless activity of the dockworkers as they load and unload the ships. It’s late, but this is a thankless job, and many of the men work well into the night.

Menecrites can hear half a dozen tongues shouted back and forth between the vessels in the busy harbor. Italian he knows, and he recognizes Polish, though he doesn’t understand anything more than the tone. Irish, Russian, Czech – and some lilting, rhythmic thing that must hail from the Caribbean, given its speaker’s exotic appearance. The world has many names for this diverse collection of people, few of them kind.

Menecrites sees them for what they are, these stevedores and roustabouts. They’re hard-working men, all trying to put food on the table through an honest night's labor. Immigrants and half-breeds, most of them can’t call any one place their own. The city doesn’t welcome them, but without their raw muscle, it would wither and die.

These are Menecrites’ people – the ones no one else will claim. He understands their struggles because he, too, stands out as someone who doesn’t properly belong. It’s not about being a vampire – that identity is so thoroughly woven into the fabric of family Giovanni, he doesn’t think of it as strange. No, Menecrites is half-Greek in a family that treasures its pure Italian bloodline. When his mother named him, she might as well have pressed a brand to his head. She bequeathed to him her dark coloring – black eyes and hair, skin less olive than brown. Maybe Antonio doesn't think that's a big deal, but all the others – especially back home – they treat the half-Greek like something they scraped off their shoe.

All Menecrites really wants from the world is some respect, but even Antonio doesn’t always manage that. It’s in the little things, like how they often talk around him in the meetings. Half they time, they only remember he’s standing there at the very end. And no one ever asks his opinion on any of the tactical decisions. The occult stuff, he understands. That’s not his bag, and he’s ok with that. Leave the spookfest to Luci and Karl. But would it kill them to ask what he thinks about the family business once in a while? Maybe thank him for some of the work he’s done? All they ever do is bitch at him when things get broke, after they gave him clear orders to go out and break them.

“They mean well,” he sighs. Though good intentions don’t mean things are changing any time soon.

He tracks the activity of a knot of workers who seem to be knocking off for the night, idly tapping the baseball bat he’d brought along against the side of his shoe. Menecrites has potence – the vampire gift of supernatural strength – so he hardly needs a baseball bat to protect himself no matter what part of town he finds himself in. But he’s learned that the bat makes a statement, and that statement is, Menecrites doesn’t fuck around. He almost never has to throw a punch when he walks around with the Louisville slugger casually balanced on one shoulder. That’s pretty handy for keeping his supernatural levels of strength discrete.

And the bat is such a regular thing that it doesn’t even raise an eyebrow among the usual gang of dockworkers. They all know Menecrites. He gives them jobs for extra cash, sneaks them a little hooch, and pals around like they’re society guys.

He falls into step with the group of roughnecks as they head away from the harbor. They chatter among themselves in accented English, crude and boisterous and unabashed. None of them stares at Menecrites like he’s out of place, though with his neatly-pressed shirt and his smart pants, he’s too well-groomed for this lot.

A couple of them greet him – they’ve seen him before. He pulls a flask from his back pocket and starts passing it around. It’s Prohibition, and good liquor is hard to find. His family regulates most of it – the stuff in the flask isn’t the usual coffin varnish these guys are used to.

“Hey, fellas,” he says at length, after pretending to take a belt from the flask himself. “I maybe got some work for you.”

“For more of that giggle water, sure,” one of them says. He’s a big guy – bigger than Menecrites himself. His skin’s so tanned and weathered from his labor outdoors, it’s impossible to tell if he started life white or brown. His features could be anything. His accent’s local. Menecrites treats him as he sees him – a man unafraid of hard work.

“I’ll do you one better,” the vampire says. He fishes in his pocket for some money. He holds up a ten dollar bill. That gets attention. The whole group stops walking and clusters around him, eyes bright as they listen.

“We don’t do breaking law,” says a squint-eyed fella with an accent so thick, he might have gotten off the boat last week.

“No worries there, buddy,” Menecrites says. “This is honest work. All you gotta do is watch.” He points two fingers at his eyes for emphasis. “There’s these people in town. You probably seen them. They dress kinda funny. Blue shirts, blue pants --”

“My sister talks about them,” says a whip-skinny man with a porkpie hat. “She works over at the grocer’s. Says they’re real strange.”

“You ain’t just whistling Dixie,” Menecrites laughs. “They’re strange as they come, and they’re up to something. You guys, you don’t gotta do nothing but keep your eyes open. You see them in town, you watch where they go. They talk to people, you see who they are. Then you tell me.”

“We could bust ‘em up for ya, Mr. Giovanni.” That comes from one of the regular guys – Cicero. His skin’s so black, it makes lanterns out of the whites of his eyes.

“Nah, Cis, we don’t need nothing like that now,” Menecrites responds. “You know I don’t make you go bustin’ kneecaps.” He grins as he shifts the bat on his shoulder. “That’s my job.”

Most of the men chuckle. They know the score. The new guy looks dubious, but he falls in step, laughing awkwardly along with the rest.

“I got a sawbuck for every guy that brings me useful information. Emphasis on the useful part,” Menecrites adds. “Don’t try to fool me – I ain’t stupid and I ain’t a charity.” The dockworkers nod and Menecrites flashes a brilliant grin – so well practiced, he manages to hide the pointy ends of his canines with his lower lip. “Play right by me and I’ll take care of ya. You know I’m good for it.”

“There gonna be trouble?” Cicero asks.

“Only for these blue-shirts who’re making trouble for us first,” Menecrites replies. “They’re into some not-so-good stuff, so don’t let them catch you. I wouldn’t want any of my boys getting hurt.”

Cicero takes off his hat and thoughtfully rubs his bald pate. He's been in Providence long enough to be worried -- not about the Giovanni, but about what must be brewing on the horizon with the blue shirts.

Menecrites sees his look, then hands off the ten-spot to Cis. “You all heading to that juice bar down the street?” Only the new guy hesitates before he nods. Menecrites’ grin widens. “Buy a couple rounds on me.”

Longshore Workers

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Her Breathless Kiss

Providence. A city of secrets, each stranger than the last. The year is 1929 and the vampire family Giovanni seek to maintain their version of order in this darkened mirror of New England, where ghosts and vampires are not the worst one can encounter in the long hours of the night.--------------------------

At the Fratello Brothers Funeral Home, Antonio steps inside his office and moves aside a bookcase to access a hidden room. There’s no real mechanism involved. He’s got casters on the bottom and a rough little track, but most of the work is by main force alone. The puissant vampire physically lifts the solid mahogany bookcase out of his way, settling it back into place when he’s done. He’s glued down most of its books (who has time to read all that stuff, anyway?) and has hand-holds in the back so he can more easily shift the six-foot-tall piece of furniture from the other side.

It’s not the prettiest door to a secret passage, but it’s functional enough for Antonio. Sure, he could have had Menecrites get one of his contractors to fix a door up real nice – but then others in the family would know about the room, and the whole point’s about secret spaces.

The hidden room beyond the bookcase isn’t much – just an old broom closet. Reynaldo probably knows about it. The old ghoul originally belonged to Antonio’s sire, Scapelli, and he’s been around longer than most of the family’s full-blooded vampires – at least as far as the Providence branch is concerned. Reynaldo knows more than he lets on about pretty much everything, but over the centuries, he’s also learned to hold his tongue – a valuable quality in a family like the Giovanni.

Antonio knows he probably doesn’t have to keep this work-room a secret. It’s more for personal reasons that he does, and he’s all right with that. Antonio’s research into the family’s trade-mark skill of necromancy is something he likes being private about. Not too long ago, Antonio could barely whistle up a shade, let alone bind a ghost. A dirty little secret – and one engineered by his scheming sire, Scapelli.

Scapelli had manipulated Antonio’s heritage over generations of family Giovanni’s living relatives, forcing marriages and cross-pairings the way other men might breed prized hounds. Some he brought across as vampires, others he kept as breeding stock, using each and every one of them to forward his own inscrutable aims.

Scapelli felt he’d gotten a real prize with Antonio – the Giovanni was a remorseless killing machine, strategic, efficient, and brutally strong. But the old bastard hadn’t wanted brains in his lapdog, so he’d done his damnedest to keep his protégé stunted in all other arenas, the better to rule through Antonio as the power behind the throne.

Except Scapelli erred in cultivating Antonio’s hard-headed pride. No one makes a fool of Antonio Giovanni and lives to brag about it – not even the elder vampire who’d pruned their twisted branch of the family tree since the time of the Medicis. Antonio made sure that Scapelli was good and dead. He didn’t do the deed himself – blood-bound to Scapelli, he couldn’t have no matter how much he wanted to – but when an opportunity for freedom arose, Antonio did what Scapelli had groomed him always to do: he seized it, and he never looked back.

Now free of the old patriarch’s corrupt influence, Antonio does his damnedest to be the vampire the family needs to rule the city of Providence – not merely a cold-blooded killer (though there’s surely a place for that), but someone with skills on all fronts and a head for politics that would have put Machiavelli to shame.

Antonio strikes a match against the wall and lights one of the candles on a nearby shelf. He doesn’t need much light, and the room is small. One candle is more than enough.

There’s an old steamer trunk pushed up against one wall with a piece of silk cloth draped over its pitted surface – nothing so formal as an altar, simply a workspace, a little prettied up. There’s a ritual dagger and a chalice for offerings of blood. But the thing he’s interested in is a woman’s brooch. Silver, slightly tarnished, with one leaf bent, it’s a single, delicate rose. It serves as a fetter for Antonio’s favored wraith.

Nadia.

The spirit is as enamored with the taciturn Giovanni as he is with her. A woman who, in life, fell victim to her own father’s ceaseless rage, Nadia sees Antonio not as her oppressor, but as her savior. He'd freed her from the place where she’d known only suffering and grief, hunting down her father and making him pay.

The hard-headed Doge of Providence spent weeks secretly frequenting the site of Nadia’s murder, struggling to pierce the Veil so they could speak. He hadn’t planned on anything more than using her. That’s what the family did with most wraiths – summoned them, bound them, compelled them to serve. But once he got the hang of communicating, Antonio found himself growing fond of Nadia. Now a bond lingers between them, the unliving and the dead. The wraith is not a servitor, but a friend.

She is also the only woman Antonio feels that he can love without remorse. He’s a brutal man, and he knows it. With his volatile temper and his violent way of life, he’s left behind a bloody swath of people he’s tried to hold close. He has a marriage of convenience to a mortal woman arranged at childhood by Scapelli – and while the hardened former hit-man sometimes wishes he could love his wife, the best he can do most nights is keep her safe from harm.

But Nadia – Nadia is already dead. She’s lived through the worst life had to offer and come out the other side. More than that, she sees Antonio for exactly what he is – and it has never made her flinch.

Antonio takes up her rose, running his thick, blunt thumb along the delicate filigree of its stem. A thing of beauty, fragile and precious. A symbol of all the things which – beyond the walls of this secret room – Antonio is denied.

He’s too practical to brood on it for long. Every moment he delays, Alexander builds his power and the cultists do who-knows-what in the Old Whately place. There’s work to be done, and the dawn doesn’t wait.

“Nadia,” he calls to the air as he cradles the rose in his palm. “I got work for you, doll.”

Almost instantly, she fades into view. She wears the memory of a flattering knee-length dress, her shapely legs crossed primly as she sits upon the trunk. Death has leached most of the color from the fabric and from her skin, but hints of auburn cling to the carefully dressed waves of her hair.

“Whatcha want, tough guy?” Her voice is all syrup and honey upon the air.

Antonio wastes a moment just looking at her. Nadia’s a real swanky gal, built like a starlet. It's a shame her father robbed the world of her light.

“I got some trouble with that pinko Toreador, LeMourru,” Antonio says. “He’s holed up in the old Whately murder house, gathering power before he makes another move. I need eyes on his people so we know the score before we bust the place up.”

“You know I’m always up for a favor for you.” She drifts from the trunk, circling behind him in the small room. He feels her presence near his shoulder like the promise of a touch.

“He’s got a gang of cultists – mortals. Probably ghouled. I want to know what they eat, where they sleep, and when they take a dump. There’s a couple of vampires in there, too, more than just LeMourru. Jeff York, for one. I need descriptions. Names.”

Spectral fingers trail idly through his hair as she listens. Softly, she murmurs, “York. I remember that one. He can see me."

Antonio nods. He reaches a hand up to her hand. They can’t touch exactly, but her fingers press against his just this side of connecting. He says, “And LeMourru, you remember -- that guy’s dangerous. He’s got that oblivion power, nihilism. He can hurt you.”

“He’s hard to look at,” she admits, shifting to his other shoulder. Her voice is a breathless whisper against his ear. “Swirling darkness. Hungry void. I won’t forget what’s attached to him.”

Antonio closes his eyes. At the same time, he curls his fingers tightly around her tarnished silver rose. For a moment, he allows himself to dream of a different life. A life where he doesn’t have to wage campaigns of terror and bloodshed for the sake of the Family. A life where Nadia is still a breathing woman of flesh and blood. A life where his own existence isn’t one circumscribed by endless, violent nights.

Nadia clings to Antonio’s arm. He doesn’t realize how tightly his shoulders have tensed. But she notices. She knows his moods. He takes a breath – he doesn’t have to, except to speak – and exhales slowly. He lets the fantasy life that can never be drift from him like smoke.

“You spy on ‘em, Nadia, but the minute you see LeMourru, you beat feet, you hear me?” he says. “I couldn’t bear to lose you.”

With slow reverence, he places her fetter back in its position upon the trunk. The candle gutters and in its dancing shadows, Nadia leans close and presses spectral lips against his cheek. Her kiss is lighter than cobwebs, but it lingers like the burn of a brand. When she retreats, the stuffy little broom closet feels vast and empty as the yawning maw of hell.

Nadia

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Providence: Forbidden Books

The year is 1929 and the city is Providence -- but this is our world through a glass darkly, a place where magic and monsters hold sway in the night and the visions of Lovecraft are not portents of madness, but searing and horrible truths. ---------------------

Forbidden Books

The next night, Karl checks in at Shipton’s Books. A string of little brass bells hanging near the door tinklingly announces his arrival. Travis Shipton, the local purveyor of rare and magical tomes, fusses behind a long, wooden counter. When he sees the dour necromancer, the rail-thin thaumaturge grows as pale as the ruffled bit of lace at his throat.

“Ah, um, Karl. It is Karl, isn’t it?” Shipton asks, his words clipped with a dated British accent. The book vendor straightens his brocade waistcoat. Born some time in the middle seventeen hundreds, the city’s lone Tremere had never adapted to modern fashion.

“Cut the crap, Shipton. You know who I am,” Karl responds. His wraith, Julie, makes a face at him, but her antics serve only to annoy. Karl waves her off. The anachronistic Tremere is oblivious to her presence, and just as well.

Shipton purses his thin lips. “I haven’t done anything,” he says, with the air of someone fearful of being caught.

“Well, if you’ve got nothing to hide, then you won’t mind giving me a little information,” Karl prods.

Shipton maneuvers slightly so a large stack of books sits between them on the counter. He eyes the Giovanni necromancer warily, the briny blue of his irises glimmering with a faint sheen of power. Karl scowls when he sees it.

“You don’t need to use Auspex to see if I’m lying,” Karl barks. “Play nice and I’ll be out of here quickly.” He slams a list of names down onto the counter. Shipton jumps back as if expecting the list to explode like a pipe bomb. Karl says, “I want you to tell me what books any of these people bought in the past month. See? Simple.”

Shipton takes the list gingerly, pulling an old pair of pince-nez from his vest pocket and perching them on his nose. He squints at Karl’s handwriting, which wasn’t amazing on the best of days, and he’d written the list in a hurry.

“Ah, yes,” Shipton says, tapping a particular name. “I know this group. My ghoul Liza calls them the Blue Shirts. That’s all they wear, you see. Blue shirt, navy slacks for the gentlemen. Blue shirt, long navy skirt for the ladies. There’s been rather a lot of them of late.”

“I know,” Karl growls with more ferocity than is strictly necessary. Shipton nearly drops the list.

“You don’t have to be so cross with me. I’m not your enemy,” the Tremere objects.

“Yeah? You’re not my friend, either,” Karl retorts. “You’re selling books to these people, and they’re causing trouble for my family in this city.”

Shipton takes off his ridiculous antique spectacles, tapping them absently against the creased bit of paper. His eyes dart around the over-laden shelves that reach to the rafters, searching for something. He frowns, saying, “This book store existed before your family came to this town, and I have no intention of shutting my doors for the convenience of a few short-tempered Italians.”

Karl starts to hurl an excoriating response at the old Tremere, but Shipton stands his ground for once. No power is exchanged between them, but something in Travis’s eyes gives Karl pause.

Snippily, the Tremere says, “Before you threaten to tear off my head with your customary brutish zeal, let me remind you that I’ve been nothing but helpful to you and your people when events in this city have gotten … ” Shipton falters in his search for a fitting word, finally uttering, "Complicated." He tosses the list back onto the counter, making no effort to hide his irritation. “And none of these people have bought anything I would class as a dangerous book. I’d have mentioned something to Luciano at the Occult Council if they had.”

Karl glares at Shipton, balling his fists so tight the leather of his gloves creaks in protest. Shipton knows better than to stare back directly into Beck’s eyes, but he squares his shoulders and gives a haughty little lift to his cleft chin as he fixes his eyes unwavering at a point to the left of Karl's head. Beside her master, Julie the wraith whispers soothingly. She doesn’t see anything amiss in the store.

“If anything changes, you tell me,” Karl says at length.

“Not Luciano?” Shipton inquires.

“Cousin Luci is not to be bothered. You come to me,” Karl reiterates, drilling his meaning into each individual word. “We clear, Shipton?”

“As a gypsy’s glass,” Shipton says with a disdainful sniff. “Now buy something or get out. This is a place of business, after all.”

Karl leaves, slamming the door behind him so hard, the little string of brass bells crashes noisily to the floor.

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Antiquarian Books

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Providence: A Family Affair

We return to the world of In Providentia, set in a fictional version of Providence, Rhode Island that blends elements of Lovecraft's New England and Vampire: the Masquerade's World of Darkness. The year is 1929, and the Giovanni necromancer Karl Beck has been sent to investigate the history of an ill-fated house that is now headquarters to his family's rivals, Clan Toreador. ----------------------

Fratello Brothers Funeral Home Funeral Home

Karl slips from the city archives where he’s been doing research all night. It’s nearly four in the morning. He’s got a little dark left. He heads back to the Fratello Brothers Funeral Home, where he’s sure to find Antonio and the others at this time of night.

Sure enough, the head of the family is meeting with his right-hand man, Menecrites, while Grandpa Reynaldo tidies things up for the night. Karl nods to the old family ghoul as he enters, taking off his fedora and hanging it on a nearby coat-rack when Reynaldo frowns and reminds him of his manners. Karl waits on the bench outside Antonio's office as the Doge of Providence -- Antonio preferred that title to the Camarilla standard of "Prince" -- finishes up with his enforcer.

Once they're done, Karl steps in and plops the old newspaper clippings onto the broad cherrywood desk Antonio keeps in his windowless basement office. Menecrites leans against the doorjamb, his thick, muscled arms folded negligently across his chest. Antonio’s a big man himself, and while he sits in an expensive suit behind the desk, Karl knows the elder Giovanni’s veneer of humanity is a thin one. Karl’s never been one to be afraid – not even of the family’s powerful patriarch, but he’s wise enough to be cautious. Especially when bearing news that Antonio could construe as bad.

“I've been looking into the Whately Mansion,” Karl begins.

Antonio nods smartly, indicating that Karl take a seat in one of the leather chairs arranged in front of his desk. “Go on.”

“Well, I've found some things that are … interesting,” Karl hedges.

He could practically feel Menecrite’s eyebrow climb at this, even though his back was to the enforcer. Antonio says nothing, just sits still as a corpse, his dark eyes gleaming attentively in his sallow face.

Clearing his throat, Karl goes on. “Back before I met any of you I visited this place with my old occult group. The place was supposedly haunted but it was also supposed to contain some sort of lost treasure. All we ended up finding was a very angry wraith of Old Man Whately who scared off the person I was with by nearly breaking his jaw. Needless to say we didn't look around too much and we left.

I never thought about the place again until we found Le Mourru there, and since then I have done some digging. It turns out about 50 years ago Old Man Whately butchered several people in his home. He then performed taxidermy on them and arranged them throughout the house as if they were guests or residents. This guy even killed an eleven year old boy named Kevin Blackwell, and then proceeded to hang him from the rafters, complete with a set of angel wings he constructed from different things including human bones. Whately was never found but he was pronounced dead and since I saw his wraith, I would say that is correct.

Now I am telling you this for a few reasons. The first is that my old associate Jeff York has a wraith of a little boy and I am guessing that the boy is probably Kevin Blackwell. If York doesn't know what's going on, Kevin might. Secondly, Le Mourru picked this place for a reason, and when this is all said and done we need to find out why. It could be the wraiths, Whately was quite powerful, but I doubt that. There has to be something there, whether it was a treasure of gold or something mystical that attracted Le Mourru. My guess is the second one.”

Still, silence from Antonio. Menecrites shifts in his post at the door, the only thing giving him away the subtle whisper of the starched collar on his shirt.

“All I am asking here is that we don't blow up or bulldoze this place until we figure out what is so special about it,” Karl concludes, sparing a glance for the enforcer. Menecrites hadn't encountered a problem yet that he thought couldn't be solved with a wrecking ball.

Antonio tents his fingers, leaning back in his chair far enough that the springs creak.

“Very well,” the patriarch says. “We won't destroy this location until we know more. After all, it could be worth something. As for York's wraith; how is he controlling it? Has he picked up necromancy somehow? We can’t allow that.” Antonio’s scowl made his dark eyes glitter. “The guy’s a natural medium right? Maybe the wraith wants something, maybe we can give it to it. If it really is this murdered kid, that might be how we can learn what’s up with the location.”

Menecrites moves to stand behind Antonio and a little to his left. The big man looks down at the clipped articles, brow furrowing as he reads.

Pensive, Antonio taps the edge of one nail against the wooden surface of his desk. “We also need to know what influences control this site. I will use my contacts in local business to run a deed search, pull a few strings in bureaucracy to get my hands on the deed itself, then I’ll get my police contacts to dig up the file on the murders. Karl and Luci can use that to gain information on the wraiths, maybe figure out a few of their fetters. If we’re lucky, there’s some old evidence somewhere in the back of the courthouse that the police can pull. One or two things there might be useful.”

He turns to Menecrites and says, “You tap into your contacts, too, and see who controls this site.” Menecrites nods, making notes of some of the names. Antonio turns back to Karl. “You did good tonight, Karl. We’ll get these bastards and run Alexander out on a rail. Or maybe I’ll just run one through him.”

A chilling smile curls the elder Giovanni’s pale lips.

Take me to the next chapter

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The House of Death

The year is 1929. The city is Lovecraft's Providence, set in a fictional version of New England where magic is real and vampires roam the night. Some of those vampires belong to the family Giovanni, a clan of necromancers who have held control over the city of Providence for many years. The Giovanni's power in Providence was recently challenged by an elder Toreador, Alexander. Although Antonio and his boys got Clan Toreador to back down, shaming them publicly, Alexander and his minions have taken up residence in what was once an abandoned house, infamous for a string of grisly murders. With death such an integral part of the family business, the local Giovanni are investigating Alexander's involvement with this ill-favored residence because they know he is planning something -- the only question is what. The first member of the family sent to investigate is Karl Beck, a master necromancer related by blood, if not by birth. -----------

The Whately House

Something has been bugging you, Karl, about the old mansion the Toreador seem to be using as their home base. It nagged at you so bad, you decided to do a little research on the place. When you saw the old newspaper article in the archives of the Voice of Providence, it hit you why this place seemed so familiar. You had been there on a dare when you were just getting involved with your group of human occultists.

Jack was the one who told you about the place. He'd heard rumors that it was haunted and that the ghost of Old Man Whately was always searching for his lost treasure. Whately had been the eldest of the Whately siblings. He was a cantankerous sort, never married, and he had a reputation for dabbling in unwholesome activities. He lived and died in the house in the 1870s. Or, at least, everyone believed that he died there and, although his body was never found, the presence of his ghost seems to argue against any earthly survival.

At the time that Jack led you to sneak up on the house at night, you didn't know all the details of why the Whately place was reputed to be haunted. Jack's story about the haunting was garbled at best, and as far as you could tell, the self-appointed leader of your rag-tag group of black magicians was scoping the place out mostly to see whether or not there were any items in the house worth stealing. You half suspect that he dragged you along because he was actually afraid of the threat of the ghost.

Your little venture into breaking & entering (does it count, really? by then, the house had stood abandoned for nearly twenty years) didn't end in either of you getting rich by discovering Old Man Whately's hidden treasure. It did, however, prove to you that you had an innate ability to perceive spirits. Because you saw the angry old specter long before the wailing image of Whately hauled off and clocked Jack squarely in the jaw. It was a night of firsts for you: you had one of your first legitimate encounters with a spirit, witnessed by another person, and you encountered a spirit that could reach across the Veil and wallop a living being.

Jack was scared shitless. You were actually pretty excited. The specter took great offense to the fact that Jack had vandalized the back door in an attempt to gain entrance to the abandoned house. He didn't seem to care much about you -- but then, you hadn't busted his back door down. Jack was so freaked by the whole experience that he barely made it five feet into the old mansion before he ran like a scared little girl. You stayed behind, cautiously, and explored a little, but all you found was a dusty, run-down, abandoned house. There were signs that the place had looked impressive in its day, but by the time you & Jack got in there, there was really nothing to see. You do remember finding a door that probably went to the basement. This door was locked and, given the outburst the spirit had accomplished when Jack forced the backdoor, you didn't think it would be in your best interests to force this door either. It seemed thoroughly stuck from the other side anyway, so you called off your explorations and tried to find where Jack had run off to in his blind panic.

The newspaper article you found recently sheds a little more light on the mansion and its tale than you knew back then when you and your old gang dabbled in breaking and entering:

The Voice of Providence Saturday, April 15, 1900 Evening Edition

(continued from page 2)

Deputy Roderick Kemp made the grisly discovery on a sultry afternoon in the summer of 1875. The corpses included the body of Detective Solomon Godwin, 35, Arnold Powell, a drifter, and young Kevin Blackwell, an eleven-year-old-boy who had been missing since March of that year. The Whately mansion as it stands today.























Dr. Jacob Frost, the Providence coroner, worked hard to identify the remains of the other bodies, however, in most cases, decomposition was so advanced that identification was impossible. In all, the remains of at least fifteen individuals were discovered in the home, which, by all appearances, had been abandoned for at least two weeks. No sign of Whately himself was ever found, although it was the opinion of the Providence police that Whately was dead.

Since the house became the scene of one of the most dreadful murder cases Providence has ever seen, it has stood abandoned on its lot not far from the Kirkwood Cemetery. Many tales have grown up around the house, including a persistent rumor that Old Man Whately haunts the property, protecting his hidden gold. The rumor of hidden treasure associated with the house came about from the fact that Whately, the eldest of five siblings, was the sole inheritor of the Whately fortune. Despite this, Whately lived a relatively simple live, remaining in the seclusion of his home and coming into town only to buy supplies every two or three weeks. On these occasions, he was often observed wearing the same patched and soiled set of clothes, with wild, unkempt hair and beard. To all appearances, he lived in poverty, which of course begged the question of what happened to the family fortune.

In twenty-five years, the mystery has never been solved, but it has become a rite of passage for some of the daring young men of Providence to invade the abandoned home, particularly on nights of the full moon, to dare the specter of Wheatley to manifest and drive them from his house of horrors.

--------------------------------------------

Further research led you to a longer recounting of what was discovered in the house, from the memoirs of Deputy Kemp:

Guided by Providence: The Memoirs of Roderick Kemp

Chapter Five: The Whately Place

Now, this was an investigation that I was involved in back in 1875. It’s twenty-five years after the fact, and I will carry the details of this investigation to my grave. In all my days working in law enforcement, I never saw anything so awful, and I thank God every day that I never encountered anything like it since. Some nights, I still wake up seeing scenes from the inside of that house. I knew Thomas Whately. Not real good, but I had seen him now and again, growing up. I don’t know how a man can become such a monster, but Thomas Whately was a kind of evil that should never walk the earth.

Well, you’re not all reading this to listen to me proselytize about man’s inhumanity to man or to conjecture about the metaphysical nature of evil. No, you want the details. So here goes.

Everyone knew that Old Man Whately was up to no good. But since he kept to himself and rarely went out of his house, no one bothered to really call him on it. There were a couple of incidents involving missing persons that a detective Godwin tried to trace back to the Whately house, but his investigations went nowhere. And then Godwin himself went missing, and no one seemed brave enough to suggest that maybe this disappearance was also tied to Whately. Godwin was a good man, and a few of us on the Providence force, we kept niggling at the case, trying to get someone to do some honest-to-goodness investigation into the issue. But nothing ever went forward. Maybe he paid people off. I don’t know, and I don’t care to think about it now. Whatever it was, no one was ever brave enough to confront Whately directly.

In the end, Whately's true crimes were not revealed because the old man was caught. His crimes came to light because Whately himself mysteriously disappeared. And, eventually, the stench coming from his abandoned house became too much for the neighbors, even though there was a good amount of space between them & the Whately house.

A reluctant deputy was sent to check on Whately at his property. He found that the front door was sagging open and a terrible stench wafted out on the summer air. The buzzing of flies was audible through that open door, so loud that the deputy at first thought some kind of machine was on inside the house, running. There were no lights on in the old house, and most of the windows were covered over with heavy cloth. Most of this cloth was nailed directly into the walls around the windows. When the deputy yanked the first of these makeshift window covers off to let in some afternoon sunshine through the streaked and yellowed glass, he found himself staring at the most macabre scene he had ever witnessed. Shortly after that, he was just staring at the gravel on Whately's driveway, as the poor deputy knelt, hunched over, puking his guts out. Of course, by now, you all know that reluctant deputy was me, Roderick Kemp, though back then everyone called me Roddy. I thought the smell was the worst thing I’d ever been exposed to, but that was before I cleared off the windows and got a good look at what was causing that smell. Hell could never look so grim as that house on that June afternoon.

Inside the parlour, arranged in chairs as if they were just over for tea, were three corpses. They were well-preserved -- almost mummified. One of them was the missing detective. One of them was Arnold Powell, a drifter. One was a woman, never identified.

Five more corpses, similarly preserved and staged throughout the house were discovered. The most unsettling of these was the corpse of Kevin Blackwell, a young boy eleven years of age. He was in that attic. Whately (it could only have been Whately) had strung the boy from the rafters. He had also painstakingly fashioned wings for the child, cobbling them together with the bones and feathers of several birds, as well as a few bones from a human -- never identified -- who left no other remains in the house.

The stench of rot came from the basement. Whately's most recent victims were in a jumble down there. Dr. Jacob Frost, the Providence Coroner at the time, identified the parts of at least seven bodies in the festering abattoir that lay beneath the rickety wooden stairs. A bathtub with saws and other implements as well as a worktable with needle, thread, and some taxidermy equipment, suggested that Whately had been planning to put these corpses together in much the same fashion as the others -- only he seems to have been interrupted.

No sign of Whately himself was ever discovered. He must have been dead. I made a thorough search of the house – and I’m not too proud to admit that I had to make that search in pieces, as I had to vacate the premises on more than one occasion to vomit in the yard. After a while, I wasn’t even bringing anything up, but that didn’t stop the smell and the horror of it all from getting to me. Like I said at the outset, I never saw anything like it in all of my years, and I am happy to have never encountered anything so terrible ever again. We never did figure out who all of those body parts in the basement belonged to. Frost, the coroner at the time, he did his best, working late nights to piece the bodies together. But even he had to admit defeat, and Frost was a smart man. Scary smart, though some called him crazy. I think that was just because he preferred to always work at night and he spent so many long hours locked away with the corpses. But my insights on Dr. Jacob Frost – well, that’s all material for another chapter.

Take me to the next chapter

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Killing Our Love

Another fragment from an unfinished tale -- a nightmare-memory of trauma past for an older and wiser main character. The dream – much like the train wreck of a relationship that inspired it – started innocently enough. I was over at Jeremy’s place, sitting at the table in the little kitchenette. It was a cramped attic apartment in an old house on Summit not far from Ohio State’s campus. The rent was cheap and all the furniture was second-hand, with a kind of half-hearted yard-sale charm.

I remembered eating pancakes at that table one of the mornings we both skipped classes and slept in. We rarely spent most of that time sleeping. Jeremy was an artist – passionate and intense and focused on experiencing every moment to the fullness of his senses. He was an amazing kisser and a pretty good cook. The pancakes were perfect, and he stood at the stove behind me in nothing but his boxers, frying up bacon to go along with them. He never minded the spatters of grease as they hissed against his skin. Maybe that should have told me something. But I didn’t question it at the time.

Not that it really mattered. All of this was old history, and even caught up as I was in the sights and smells of the dream, I knew it was over. There was nothing to be done. The dream cared little for my awareness of how this was all past history, dragging me through each agonizing detail as if it were fresh and new.

I’d gotten an offer for grad school at UCLA. It was an amazing opportunity, and it came with an assistant teaching position and a stipend that meant I could support myself. I was so excited.

Then came the phone call. It was Jeremy. Those four dreaded words. “We need to talk.”

If only there had been more talking. But he was drunk or high already. Why had that never seemed like a problem before that night? I wanted to reach back in time and shake my naïve twenty-two-year-old self and tell her to get the hell out of there, to run before things went south of good.

The thin ginger-haired girl sitting at that table wouldn’t have listened anyway. That past self knew everything in the world there was to know about love, and she believed with a faith both blind and unshakable that if she just sat there and let him work through his anger, everything would turn out ok. It always had before.

But then he pulled the gun. It had been his grandfather’s. An old police-issue revolver. I wondered if his dad even knew it was gone from the case in the den at their house.

With the benefit of hindsight, I could see half a dozen opportunities for taking that gun away. There was a point where he still had the safety on, swinging it around almost carelessly while he ranted about how I was putting my career over our relationship, how I was selfish. A blind cow. He actually said that. All the hushed and lovely things he had whispered in that back bedroom were burned away with the acid of those words.

Blind cow.

            I should have used the anger from his insult to spur me into action. Should have kicked him. Fought. Fled. Half a dozen sensible, survivable things – and yet all my twenty-two-year-old self managed was to sit there, stunned and weeping. I wanted to grind my teeth and shake her – shake me – because I could feel all the old emotions in the dream, even the ones I knew to be patently stupid.

The worst was the fact that I felt like it was my fault. Like I needed to apologize to the maniac threatening me with a revolver.

The dream played on to its inevitable conclusion. Jeremy yelled about how he was nothing without me, swore I couldn’t abandon him, that I would be killing him. He went from waving the gun around to pointing it at me, demanding my apologies, making me swear over and over that I would never leave him.

The problem was, I was scared silly and couldn’t manage more than a hoarse whimper. I just sat there, feeling sick to my stomach and gawking at him, the words strangled in my throat.

Then he put the gun against my chest and I found my voice, at least enough to say “no” and “please stop” in between the hiccupping sobs. The dream, of course, was hyper-real in that way that some trauma dreams can be, so I could feel the cold, hard muzzle of the gun pressing against my sternum. Jeremy pressed it so hard against me, the tops of his knuckles grazed my left breast. He leaned over me, gun still shoved into me, and buried his face in my hair. I wore it long back then, and it was strange to feel the thick, heavy curls spilling down my shoulders and my neck. Jeremy was weeping now, too, and he murmured things into my hair, his breath hot against my ear. And even with the hard edges of the firearm digging into me, I still couldn’t bring myself to believe that he would actually shoot me. If I could master my fear enough just to talk to him, my twenty-two-year-old self truly believed that love conquered all – even this madness.

And then he was screaming again, pushing the gun hard against my sternum to punctuate each insult. I was paralyzed by all of it, my arms held loosely at my sides. I think that was the worst of it, at least from my current perspective. It’s not like I was ever tied down or restrained. I just sat there stupidly, enduring the whole thing. That part made me sick. That I could have been such an idiot about it -- ever.

I closed my eyes at some point, finally realizing that I was probably going to die in that kitchen, my blood spilling across the ugly yellow tile. In real life, my eyes had been closed for what came next, but that never stopped me from seeing it in every gory detail in the dream.

Very suddenly, Jeremy whipped the gun away from me. He had been shoving me so hard into the back of the chair, I fell forward a little bit in the absence of the pressure. Jeremy screamed the same refrain I’d heard on and off through the whole ordeal: “You’re killing our love!” Flecks of spittle flew from his lips – his terribly kissable lips – and his hazel eyes were wild.

Then he took the gun and he shot himself. He was smart enough to know not to put the gun against his temple and fire. That was never a guarantee. No. He put the barrel of the gun just behind his front teeth, I could hear them clicking on the metal. Then he angled it up and back, pulling the trigger.

My eyes flew wide at the sound of the bullet leaving the chamber. There was so much blood.

Jeremy crumpled to the floor at my feet and I still couldn’t move. I was literally paralyzed with fear. I sat there shaking and crying and staring at his corpse until sirens started up in the distance. And even when the cops arrived pounding on the door, I couldn’t bring myself to get up from that chair. They had to break down the door.

I could still hear the plaintive wail of the sirens –

And then I woke with a start, so drenched in sweat that the thin T-shirt I wore in lieu of pajamas was stuck to my breasts. My wild mess of curls clung damply to my forehead, tangling over my eyes.

The sirens were still blaring.

It took me the better part of a minute to realize that I was hearing my cell phone – which, for the record, didn’t sound siren-like at all. Squinting blearily at the clock on the nightstand, I cursed half a dozen obscure Celtic deities and fumbled for the phone. It was three in the morning. The only good thing about my phone ringing at three in the morning was that it woke me from that damned dream.

 

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Sacrifices

Author's Note: It's no secret that I'm a fan of H. P. Lovecraft. I discovered H.P.'s weird tales through Stephen King, who cited Lovecraft as one of his own influences (thanks to my grandmother's love of his work, I was reading Stephen King from the tender age of 9 onward - which may explain a few things).  Several of my early short fiction pieces were written in emulation of Lovecraft's style, such as this bit of flash fiction, penned in 1994: Sacrifices

I do not know whether you can hear me, my love. I do not know whether you can understand. Your glaring eyes gaze sightlessly into my own as I clasp you to me, but I cannot overlook their heretical glint of reproach. It stabs at me even as death steals the luster from those twin orbs that so recently read the truth in the pages that led us both to this glorious and forbidden ritual.

Your final lack of faith was the ultimate treachery. I only did what was necessary. I did what needed to be done. You agreed up until those last few moments. You understood that sacrifices had to be made. It was in our power to usher in a wholly new age, to awaken a force which could shatter the barriers of our narrow little world. With just one sacrifice, and we could lift this petty little world up to realms where the gods themselves fear to tread.

Together we agreed that our fear was merely a symptom of ignorance. Together we agreed that we could not withold that gift which was ours to give to blind humanity. We had endured so much to gain the necessary formulae. We shared in gathering the materials for the ritual, we chanted the forbidden syllables in glorious unison. Never, until that final moment, did your voice falter. Not once. But didn't you realize, my love? We all had to make sacrifices. Why must you glare at me so bitterly? You got the better end of the deal, I assure you. I had to sacrifice the thing I held most dear. You -- all you had to sacrifice was your life.

I will miss your scent and your soft, soft touch as I walk through the shadowed corridors of this brave and terrifying new world. And I will think on you fondly every time I lay eyes upon the eldritch creatures born of your spilt blood. What price is a little pain to become the mother of terrible new gods? What all-too-human weakness could possibly have prompted you in that last moment to cry, "No!"

Despite your repulsive instant of cowardice, I shall continue to kiss you and, as is my duty, spill my seed. The old world crumbles around me, and in just a few breaths, I will look upon the new world with the lambent eyes of a darkling god.

I promise: I shall carry your memory with me eternally. And in time, I know that you will forgive me for what needed to be done.

As for myself, I have aeons to decide whether or not I shall ever forgive you.

--M. Belanger

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Innocence and Experience

The following dark little tale grew out of a character history penned for one of my Vampire: the Masquerade games. For those unfamiliar with the series, there's a family of necromancers known as the Giovanni. Little Violet just might be a Giovanni girl (the title, of course, is a nod to William Blake). For a live reading of this twisted yarn, click here.

Innocence and Experience

She was a quiet little girl, never speaking unless spoken to. That was expected of her. Her family was very Old World in their values. Which is to say, they felt that little girls existed to grow up and become wives, and those wives were similarly expected to grow large and become mothers. A little girl wasn’t much of anything else but more babies, waiting to be.

Violette didn’t like that idea. That was her name. Little Violet. And she was expected to take after her namesake: sweet and silent and shy. She never told her family how she really felt. Her family wouldn’t have cared, anyway. They were always too busy with the Work. The menfolk went out and dug in the cemeteries while the women stayed home, raising the little ones.

Violette didn’t like the other children. They couldn’t see the things that she could see. Instead of having tea parties with her cousins, Violette liked talking to her special friends. Her aunties and her mother and all her little cousins couldn’t see her friends – but, then, no one would have expected Violette to see them either. Her friends were part of the Work, after all, and seeing them was something that only the menfolk in the family were supposed to do. That’s what they all thought, anyway. They would have known differently, had they bothered to talk to Violette. But they never did. After all, she was only a girl.

So Violette spent all her time whispering to her friends. Her friends were all dead, but she didn’t mind. They were very good listeners. And none of them cared that she was a girl. They didn’t even care that she came from that family, the one so many others shunned in the marketplace. No, her friends were understanding, attentive, and kind. Each night, they gathered round in a glimmering host. They laughed with her and they  told her things. Secret things. They talked about Daddy’s Work, digging up the corpses and polishing the bones. They talked about Grandfather and his friends who used the bones to call and sometimes bind the spirits of the dead. Her friends didn’t like the bindings, but they told Violette how it was done. They loved her and they trusted her, because she hated the men in her family as much as they did. Each night, Violette listened and grew cunning in the ways of the spirits. And the menfolk in her family were none the wiser.

As Violette grew from a quiet little girl to a quiet young lady, the men in the family started to pay attention to her. Most of it was the wrong kind of attention. Her uncle Pietro was the worst of the lot. He liked Violette perhaps a bit too much.

Violette was twelve years old.

When Pietro came to her in the night, she endured it. She didn’t know what else to do. Pietro was so very strong. And he promised not to make it hurt if she kept still and just let him do it. Daddy was away in the cemetery that night. Of course, he wouldn’t have stopped it. She knew he didn’t care.

But Violette’s friends were furious. They ranted and raged from their shadowy side of the world. When Pietro was gone, Violette sat in a corner, silently weeping. Her friends tried to soothe her from their side of the world. They told her to be strong, and they promised vengeance for what Pietro did.

Pietro wasn’t like the other men in the family. He didn’t know the Names or the Words to call. He might see spirits out of the corner of his eye, but he had no talent for talking with them. This was why he was often left at home. He worked as a lowly guard for the family. But Violette’s friends told her this was a good thing. It meant that he could not defend himself. If they struck out at him, he would not be able to strike back.

They promised to get him back for what he did to Violette. They told her that they were going to do it when Pietro was asleep so there wouldn’t be anybody else around. Violette wasn’t certain at first about their plan, but her spirit-friends were insistent. Eventually, she overcame her fear. She wanted to see him get hurt. She was still afraid, so she crept to the kitchen and pulled a knife from a drawer. She told herself it was just in case Pietro woke up and tried to do the thing again. The knife might keep him away.

When the spirits descended upon him, he woke up, all right. But he wasn’t worried about Violette. He didn’t even see her there at first, standing quietly in the corner of his room. She held the knife tucked away in the folds of her dressing gown. Pietro was shouting wildly at the spirits as they shook his bed and struck him from across the Veil. Welts and scratches appeared on his face and on his hands. The spirits called him mean things that he couldn’t hear, but he could certainly feel the blows.

By the time he noticed little Violette in her dressing gown, she had already raised the knife. The spirits held him pinned to the bed as she moved. Then she used the knife, pushing it into him again and again. As the spirits held him, she said the Words and recited the Names, and before she knew it, Uncle Pietro was screaming from inside of the blade, his spirit bound even as his body lay in a bloody heap upon the bed.

Then little Violette cleaned herself up and spent the rest of the night playing with Uncle Pietro and all her dear, dead friends.

-- M. Belanger

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Immortal: Dracula's Return (Final Scene)

Author's Notes: This is the end, folks -- to this story, at least. Thanks to all who have come along for the ride. I hope you've enjoyed this little window into the adventures of Mara, Livia, Johnny, the mis-directed Marica, and Vladimir the Third, Son of the Dragon.  

 

Act VII Scene XI

(Cut to the second floor of the tower.  Marica lays stretched out on the floor, a pool of blood beneath her. A small trickle of blood runs from between her parted lips. A wisp of something disturbs the air above her.)

Vlad: (voice over, echoing) Marica. Loyal Marica. I am so sorry that I failed you.

(A tendril of mist lightly brushes a strand of hair back from her cheek. The mist floating above and around her becomes a little more visible.)

Vlad: (voice seeming to emanate from the mist) I will make it better. We will make it better.

(Throughout all of this, Marica remains still as death. We see the mist coalesce and seem to blanket her. Tendrils drift into her parted lips. As the mist begins to fade into her body, Marica convulses, blinks, and draws a ragged breath. Astounded, she sits bolt upright, looking everywhere at once. After a moment, she calms a little, lays a hand against her chest, checks for the bullet wound, which is now gone. She takes a deep breath. Then she grabs a knife and flees from the tower.)

 

FIN

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Immortal: Dracula's Return (Act VII, 10)

Author's Note: Livia's been freed. Marica's been shot. And Vlad has plunged to the foot of the tower as Mara looks on. Secrets are revealed, and we have almost come to the very end ... Act VII Scene X

(Cut to Mara who stands in the middle of the scattered bodies of Dr. Morgan and the others. She is in the process of doing a back-breaker move with the final vampire from that group. Motion at the window catches her eye, and she looks up in time to see Vlad tumble from the window. He falls directly onto the stakes below.)

Mara: (wincing) Ouch.

(Mara tosses the broken vampire aside like a pile of dried sticks, then goes over the where Vlad is still twitching on the stakes. He is stretched out on several impaled bodies, his weight driving them further down. A stake emerges from his shoulder, from his side and from the opposite thigh. One arm, outflung, is pinned neatly through the middle. Blood oozes from his mouth and he struggles to turn his head to watch Mara as she approaches.)

Mara: I guess they don’t need my help up there anymore. You know, I kind of feel sorry for you. When I touched you, I saw why you did all this. It wasn’t for power or greed. You wanted to be a better leader for your people, someone who could bring them the stability they so desperately required in a difficult time. It was stupid as hell, but at least it was noble.

(Mara touches the side of Vlad’s face almost tenderly.)

Mara: That book wasn’t meant for anyone like you. I’ve never forgiven myself for losing it. Honestly, it probably shouldn’t even be written down. There’s so much you couldn’t know, so much you would never understand. You bound yourself to this body, to its hungers, its needs. That’s not the point of immortality. What we are, what we’re supposed to be is something free of mortal flesh – the body is just something we wear for a time, and then we leave.

(Vlad makes a monumental effort to speak, causing more blood to bubble up from his mouth.)

Vlad: Help me.

Mara: You slaughtered my entire household. Raped my women, killed them. Killed me, for that matter, when I was helpless and making my transition. Couldn’t you figure out why they were protecting that boy?

Vlad: (weakening) I have never begged…

Mara: I could leave you here, tied to this body. It would rot around you, and you’d never be able to leave. But I can’t do that. Not even to my worst enemy – and you are by no means the worst of my enemies. So let me show you something. Let me help you out of this broken flesh. And if you can figure a way to come back again, then maybe you deserve to be one of us.

(Mara closes her eyes and focuses. The lightplay begins. Vlad stares at the second face visible beneath her own.)

Vlad: (with sudden, stupefied recognition) You –

(Mara extends one hand, wrapped in wisps of light, and lays it over Vlad’s heart. Ripples of light begin to go through him and her hand sinks in to grasp something deeper than his flesh.)

Vlad: The alchemist. That was … you?

Mara: Jeez. Took you long enough …

(Mara lifts her hand, clutching a wispy ghost of Vladimir the Third. She holds him out in the air beside her, then gently lets him go.)

Mara: Sort things out from that side. Maybe you can learn. (she turns to go, but pauses) Oh, and a word to the wise. That thing with the crosses. That’s all you. Do yourself a favor and don’t be such a superstitious bastard.

(Livia and Johnny, leaning on one another, emerge from the tower.)

Johnny: Who you talking to, luv?

Mara: No one, not any more. How are you two?

Livia: Alive.

Johnny: I got roughed up a bit, but I’m just ducky. I kind of like being indestructible.

Mara: Don’t get used to it.

(Johnny whistles at the carnage in the street.)

Johnny: Damn, Mara, you do all that yourself?

Mara: What do you think took me so long?

(Livia goes up and hugs Mara.)

Livia: You didn’t have to come. I knew you would, but you didn’t have to.

Mara: Livia, you are my life and my most precious companion. You think I would abandon you?

(Mara’s head snaps up and she scans the sky to the east. The beginning of dawn is visible against the mountains.)

Johnny: Don’t tell me there’s another one.

Mara: Sshh. Listen.

(After a moment, a sound becomes audible to the others.)

Mara: Helicopters. Someone must have seen the fire.

Johnny: So it’s over. Really, really over?

Mara: Not yet. Come here and let me take care of something.

Livia: You gifted him, didn’t you? I knew he couldn’t have done that on his own. Isn’t that against the rules?

Mara: What was I supposed to do, let him get slaughtered? I thought you liked him more than that.

Johnny: (blinking) She does?

(Livia blushes and shoves Johnny playfully toward Mara.)

Livia: Go get it over with before the choppers come.

Johnny: Is it going to hurt?

Mara: Remember what we did back in the van? It’s the same thing. Just exhale when I tell you to, and if you feel something tugging in your chest, just relax and let it go.

Johnny: I’m not going to suddenly feel everything that happened to me up there or anything, am I? Because I think I’ll drop over dead.

Livia: Of course not. You weren’t dead to begin with.

Johnny: That’s good to hear. OK. I’m ready, then.

(Johnny closes his eyes and tries to relax. Mara steps right up in front of him and puts her hands on either side of his face.)

Mara: Open your mouth.

(Johnny opens. Mara leans in and breathes deeply. Little wisps of light begin to flow from him to her. A glow forms in the center of his chest and passes up his throat. He gasps a little as it exits his mouth to return to Mara. She steps back, takes a few breaths as the glow fades. Johnny staggers. Livia is at his side, helping him stand.)

Johnny: Oh, I have those brain tingles again!

Livia: Brain tingles. That’s one way to put it. Should we flag down the choppers, Mara?

Mara: Hang on. I have one last thing I need to do.

(Mara searches the base of the stakes and finally comes up with the book. She wipes some blood and dirt from its cover, then recovers her rucksack from the street.)

Johnny: What? You just going to walk away with an archaeological treasure like that? Shouldn’t it go to Alex or something?

Mara: It’s mine, Johnny. It’s what I came here for.

Johnny: Yours?

Mara: I wrote it. It got lost when that man killed my family. I’ve been looking for it for a very long time.

Johnny: You’ve just totally lost me. But I’ll take your word for it. The book’s yours. Anyone asks, I don’t know a thing. … Uh, speaking of things I don’t know. Who was our master vampire friend, anyway?

Livia: You won’t believe me, even if I tell you.

Johnny: After all I’ve been through? You’d be surprised what I’ll believe.

Mara: He was Vlad Tepes, better known as Dracula.

(Johnny fights not to laugh.)

Johnny: Riiiiiight! Tell me another one!

Livia: I told you, you wouldn’t believe it.

Johnny: Count fucking Dracula? No way! He’s got to be taller than that.

Livia: The helicopters are getting closer.

Mara: We should at least let them know about Jack and the others back at the factory. They must have had a terrible night waiting and wondering about us. Come on.

(She puts her arms over Johnny and Livia’s shoulders and walks them down the street.)

Mara: So, Johnny. It seems you’re interested in my Livia, here. It just so happens that events a little while back left her without a gentleman companion. But if you’re serious about seeing her, there are some rules I need to lay down.

Livia: Mara!

Johnny: You talk like you’re her father.

Mara: (laughing) I’m way too old to be her father. So. Rule number one …

(Fade as they continue toward the van.)

--M. Belanger

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Immortal: Dracula's Return (Act VII, 9)

Author's Note: Johnny fights Marica to free Livia, then has his new powers pushed to the limit when Vladimir III enters the fray. (only one scene, you say? Why, yes. I'm drawing this out. We're almost to the end and I find it's best to savor such things.) Act VII Scene IX

(The second floor of the tower. Johnny is just climbing in over the ledge of the window that overlooks the sea of pillows. Livia is struggling with Marica, who has a knife. Still shaky from his climb, Johnny struggles to sight Marica with the gun.)

Marica: You! What’s so special about you? How dare you steal him away?

Livia: Lady, you can have him. Just fucking let me go!

(We hear a repeat of Vlad’s cry from below. Marica’s head snaps up and she turns to see Johnny about to fire his gun.)

Marica: No!

(Marica grabs Livia and uses her as a living shield. Johnny overcompensates, and his shot goes wild, sinking into the wall. Livia struggles as completely as her bonds will allow. She does not look as hurt as she did before.)

Johnny: Fuck. I hate these things.

(Two things happen at once. Johnny jumps down from the windowsill into the pile of pillows. The unusual footing catches him unawares. Livia, on her end of things, swings her head back sharply, connecting with Marica’s face. Marica cries out, then shoves Livia away. She lands heavily on the wooden floor, skidding a little.)

Marica: You just try getting up to cause me more trouble.

(Marica charges Johnny before he can recover his footing and get another shot in with the gun. They grapple and he goes down, losing the gun in the pillows. With Johnny down, Marica fights to stab him with the knife. Marica grins as she gets in a near miss, and Johnny stares at her mouth.)

Johnny: Bloody hell, woman, you’re not even one of them. What’re you doing on the vampires’ team?

(Marica ignores him, lunging with the knife. They wrestle, the pillows skidding on the hardwood floor. Johnny grabs a pillow and uses it to block the knife as Marica slashes at his face. Then he kicks her off of him.)

Johnny: (digging in pillows) Where’s the gun? Where’s the fucking gun? (his hand finally lands on something) Gotcha!

(Johnny turns his back momentarily on Marica. As he does, she jumps on him and plunges the knife into his shoulder.)

Livia: Johnny!

Johnny: Fuck. Oh fuck.

(Johnny’s eyes are wide and his face drains of color. We can see the tip of the knife emerge just beneath his collar bone. The hand with the gun goes limp, and he makes a small, strangled sound, body jerking, as Marica rips the knife back out. He tips slowly over onto his back, eyes fixed on the ceiling, lips still mouthing the word “fuck”. Livia has, at this point, managed to roll into the table and knock one of the remaining knives off. She uses this to cut her bonds, and is starting to get to her feet as Marica heads back toward her. Livia is a little unsteady on her feet after having been so tightly bound.)

Livia: Oh, circulation. Damn.

Marica: I will cause you such pain!

(Marica and Livia grapple, each with a knife. Vlad charges up the stairs, taking stock of the situation.)

Vlad: Marica! You are not to kill her! Marica, don’t waste her precious blood!

(We return to Johnny, flat on his back in a small pool of blood. He blinks and begins to stir, flexing the fingers around the gun.)

Johnny: Damn. I’m not dead?

(He glances down, touches the tear in his shirt, exposing skin that is visibly healing around the wound.)

Johnny: Well that’s bloody convenient. (the amazement quickly passes as he recalls their desperate situation) Livia!

(Marica has managed to drive Livia to her knees and his bringing her knife up for a deadly strike. Johnny sits up and aims the gun. Vlad is trying to determine if he should intervene with the girls when he sees Johnny. He snarls and dives at this more immanent threat. In the split seconds before Marica hits Livia and Vlad connects with Johnny, we see Johnny get Marica in his sights.)

Johnny: Come on, come on. And – fire!

(Zoom to Marica. A bloody hole blossoms on her back very close to where her heart should be. She staggers, and her knife hand stops in mid down-swing.  She has a shocked and lost look on her face. As Livia flinches away from her, she falls slowly to her knees.)

Marica: Voi – vode?

(She lists sideways and topples to the floor. A small trickle of blood colors her lips.)

Johnny: Damn. I actually hit her… (he scrambles back as Vlad lunges at him) Oh shit!

Vlad: (bellowing) How dare you? How dare you!!!

(Vlad picks Johnny up bodily and launches him at the wall. The impact brings plaster and dust down from the ceiling.)

Johnny: I’m sorry I offed your girlfriend, but she was kind of trying to kill mine. No hard feelings, right?

(Vlad snarls and grabs Johnny again. He pulls Johnny’s face close to his, flashing fangs and glowing eyes, then whirls around and throws Johnny the entire length of the room. Johnny crashes against the wall right next to the window. Johnny practically goes through the wall. He slides slowly to the floor as dust and debris filter down.)

Johnny: That smarts. I think I should have broken something, but look at me. I can still stand. Well, sort of.

(Vlad stalks over to beat on Johnny some more. Livia in the meantime has scrambled over to the pillows and is going for Johnny’s dropped gun.)

Livia: Down, Johnny! Get down!

(Vlad stands right in front of the window, about to grab Johnny for a final go. When he hears Livia, he whirls around in time to see her level the gun at him. Johnny dives for cover and Livia fires the gun at Vlad over and over. Each shot makes him stumble back a bit more until the small of his back is against the windowsill. Livia’s final shot catches him dead-center of the chest, sending him tumbling out to the street below.)

--M. Belanger

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Immortal: Dracula's Return (Act VII 7-8)

Author's Note: The final confrontation between Mara and Dracula reveals the identity of the mysterious alchemist and the source of Vlad's vampirism. Act VII Scene VII

(The front of the tower. Mara and Vlad continue to face off in front of the regiment of stakes outside the tower. Marica is still visible at the second floor window, holding Livia by the hair.)

Mara: (indignant) Is that a bite mark on her neck? You fed on her you bastard!

Vlad: Of course I did. Isn’t that what she is for? Your blood-whore?

Mara: (balling her fists) How dare you –

Vlad: I knew it when I saw the brand. Like your necklace there, I’d seen it before. What magic do you work on them to make their blood so sweet?

Mara: You fucking pig! They’re bred for something finer than blood. Who are you? How do you know about the Sinesti?

Vlad: It’s my turn to make the demands now, isn’t it? I’ve shown you Livia. She is safe, if only for the moment.

Mara: (thinking silently to herself) There’s something vital here I’m missing, some key that links this man to my past. It’s obvious he got the book at some point, but how does he know my marks, my family?

Vlad: First I want the book. I know you brought it.

Mara: And if I don’t?

Vlad: That’s very simple. (calling up) Marica? Do you see the little knives on the table near you? Please take one and cut Livia so we can watch her bleed.

Marica: Nothing would please me more, voivode.

Livia: Go ahead and cut me, bitch. It’s only flesh.

Mara: No. Stop. I’ll give you what you want.

Livia: Mara!

(Mara takes the book out of the rucksack and holds it out to Vlad. She waits for him to come to her to take it.)

Mara: (internally) Come on. Just a little closer. Put your hand where I can touch it, then we’ll see what’s really going on … almost … almost … gotcha!

(Vlad reaches out to take the book. The moment his hand comes close to hers, she grabs it. There is a sound like a sudden inhalation. Vlad’s eyes widen and we seem to dive into his pupils. A flurry of images begins to play across the screen, occasionally interspersed with an image of Mara and an image of Vlad as they stand there, eyes locked on one another. All the images last only a few seconds, appearing just long enough for the major details to register:)

Image 1: Vlad in full armor, leading a group of soldiers to the foot of theSaracenTower at a time when it was part of a larger fortification and everything was in good repair.

Image 2: Chaos in the halls, and Vlad seizing a fleeing woman by the hair. She bears a half-moon brand at the base of her neck. He seems puzzled by this.

Mara: (voiceover) You invaded them? You killed my people? Where was I?

Image 3: A library. A hooded figure sits behind a desk, the book open before it. A necklace nearly identical to Mara’s is prominent on his chest. Vlad approaches the figure cautiously, dagger pointing at its chest. With the tip of the dagger, he flips back the hood. There is a resemblance to Mara, but more specifically to the second face we have seen underneath hers. The man’s eyes stare glassily into space; he has been dead for several days.

Vlad: (voiceover) The alchemist…

Mara: (voiceover) That’s your alchemist?

Image 5: More mayhem in the tower. Men and women with the crescent mark throwing themselves on a prone figure. Vlad’s soldiers tear them away. Vlad approaches the figure. It is a boy, lying insensible. Disgusted and confused, Vlad gestures for him to be killed.

Mara: (voiceover) You killed the boy? No wonder I can’t remember anything!

Vlad: (voiceover) It was a mercy. He was half-dead already. You saw? He did not move!

Mara: (voiceover, disgusted) You still have no idea what you did. You understand none of this! What then,Vladimir? How did you become what you are now?

Image 5: Vlad in the library, pouring over the book, comparing the script to notes scribed on vellum in several different languages.

Vlad: (voiceover) Such secrets it held! The key to eternal life. You act like I am an idiot, woman, but I understood enough. All it required was sacrifice.

Image 6: Vlad in a stone chamber, braziers burning at the four corners, a stone slab in the center covered in a white linen cloth. A young man, healthy & muscular, is bound to the stone table. Vlad holds a shallow copper bowl in one hand and a small, wickedly curved dagger in the other. He approaches the man with the knife.

Mara: (voiceover) You killed him and drank his blood? That’s not what it meant. You’re supposed to die yourself, then become him! That’s the sacrifice, you fool!

Images 7 & 8: Vlad, with the bowl full of blood, carving sigils into his own flesh. He dips in the dagger, then carves more signs, carefully mingling his blood with that of the sacrifice.

We get a second perspective of the sigil-carving, white flesh accented with swirling lines of dark blood. Vlad finishes. His face is pale, his brow is beaded with sweat. Trembling with exhaustion and pain, he drinks from the bowl.

Mara: (voiceover) No wonder you’re so tied to the blood.

Image 9: Vlad, looking pale and dead and still, stretched out on the stone table. The sigils have healed to pale scars. He looks dead, then his entire body convulses, eyes fly wide, and he screams like a newborn. His eyes glow red and his fangs are prominent.

Mara: (voiceover) You perverted the ritual. I can’t believe it even succeeded. You had no idea what you were doing –

(Johnny’s voice intrudes suddenly on the telepathic space.)

Johnny: (voiceover) Mara! She’s got a knife! She’s going to cut Livia!

(As Johnny’s voice breaks in, we get a final image in the rapid telepathic slide-show. This is of the second floor of the tower, Johnny lifting himself onto the back window, gun in hand. Marica and Livia struggle near the front, Marica brandishing a knife at Livia. We cut immediately back to where Mara and Vlad stand locked together in the street. Vlad’s eyes go wide with sudden fury.)

Act VII Scene VIII

(Mara and Vlad standing in the street. Vlad’s eyes flash a wicked red. He snarls and rips his hand out of Mara’s grasp. The connection is abruptly broken.)

Vlad: (shouting up to the tower) Traitors! Marica! He has a gun!

(Vlad shoves the book at Mara, knocking her back several feet. He turns to run into the tower, yelling over his shoulder.)

Vlad: Morgan! NOW!!!

(Mara lands on her back in the street. She tilts her head back and from this awkward perspective sees Morgan and about half a dozen other vampires streaming out of the houses behind her.)

Mara: Shit.

(Mara jumps to her feet as they swarm her. As she stands, she calls her power. Her eyes glow with white fire and the other face, made of translucent light, seems to press against the inside of her skin. She braces herself as they come at her, loosing a primal yell in which her own voice is lost in that deeper, masculine tone.

As her whole body is wreathed in rising, pale wisps, we see for the first time white-hot lines of fire trace sigils down her arms and her torso. They are very similar in pattern to the sigils carved on Vlad. Then all the vampires crash into her, trying to drag her down. She begins to fight, bellowing into the night. She catches one vampire, throws him several feet to crash into a wall. Like a ballet dancer, she dodges two others, striking a third in the chest and ripping out his soul. They just keep coming. She moves faster and faster, dodging, grappling, landing blows. When she gets a little breathing room, she glances up at the tower.)

Mara: You’ve got company, John!

--M. Belanger

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Immortal: Dracula's Return (Act VII 3-6)

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

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Immortal: Dracula's Return (Act VII 1-2)

Author's Note: Mara and Johnny head into a face-off with Vlad the Third, Son of the Dragon. Act VII Scene I

(The foot of Vlad’s tower. He strides out, admiring the impaled bodies and severed heads. He runs his fingers lovingly over the flesh of an impaled corpse. The raiding party of vampires mill around the tour bus, some nursing their wounds. One or two others torture villagers, playing with the pleading men and women before they drink their fill. Vlad carries himself with the hauteur of a despot, glancing over at the American vampires with disdain.)

Vlad: You! Morgan!

Morgan: Yes voivode?

Vlad: That. Move!

(Vlad gestures dismissively at the bus.)

Morgan: (bowing) Yes, voivode. (he turns to the workers) Peters! Get the bus out of here. Park it back up by the hotel.

Vlad: Hide.

Morgan: You want me out of sight, voivode?

Vlad: All. Hide.

(Vlad gestures toward some houses that are still standing a little distance away from the tower.)

Morgan: You heard the man! Get the prisoners under cover – that building over there hasn’t been gutted with fire. Post some people to watch them, then all the rest of you get under cover.

(Vlad taps a finger near his eye, then points again to the houses.)

Vlad: Watch. I call.

Morgan: You want us to stand guard from the shadows? Is that it, voivode? Hang out where your girl can’t see us, then jump her when you give the sign?

(Vlad listens to Morgan’s words, a slightly perturbed look on his face.)

Morgan: Shit. I feel like I’m talking to Lassie.

Vlad: Go. Now

(Morgan jumps as Vlad glares. The archaeologist starts barking orders to the motley collection of vampires. A number of them now seem to be villagers. These stare blankly and must be ushered to their posts. Vlad watches the chaos, disdain stamped upon his features. Eventually Morgan and the remaining members of his team scurry into the houses. Peters comes jogging back from up the street. He stops and looks around for the last few survivors of his group. He glances sheepishly over to Vlad, who merely stabs his finger toward the houses. Peters gets the hint and joins the others. Vlad stands front and center of the tower, moving his head as if scenting the wind. His hair blows around him and a wolfish smile curls his lips.)

Vlad: (eyes unfocused, speaking to the wind) I can feel you getting closer. I do not have long to wait.

Act VII Scene II

(Mara and Johnny in the van, driving. They crest a hill and can see the town. A sick red light illumines the sky and black gouts of smoke curl into the darkness.)

Johnny: Shit. Everything’s burning.

(They lurch forward, descending to the village proper. The headlights catch an occasional image that speaks of the past two days’ worth of destruction: the burned-out hulk of a car; a crumpled body in the street; a section of houses that lie in smoldering ruins. Here and there a streetlamp actually works, providing an unexpected source of light.)

Johnny: They’ve been busy. Where to now, Mara?

(Mara has her eyes closed, listening.  She raises a hand and begins to point in front of them, but adjusts and points off to the left.)

Mara: That way. Forward and to the left.

Johnny: OK. You’re the psychic.

(He turns the wheel down the next available street. Wrecks of burning cars and other debris clog this street, so he has to re-adjust, heading off in a different direction.)

Johnny: So what’s really going on here, Mara?

Mara: What do you mean? Turn down here if you can.

Johnny: Maybe you haven’t noticed, but the past couple of days have been monumentally weird. You know, vampires chasing ancient books and all.

Mara: It’s been intense.

Johnny: Well, Mara, it’s just that you’ve added several levels of weirdness to things all by yourself.

Mara: There’s the hotel. Bear to the south and keep going.

Johnny: I’ll tell you, Mara. I play dumb a lot. But that doesn’t mean I don’t notice things. I may not know how it all goes together, but I understand enough to know that you play some part in all of this.

Mara: This is not the time to have this discussion.

Johnny: (pounding the steering wheel in frustration) And why not? We’re about to head straight into a trap laid by the main vampire himself, whoever the bloody hell he is, and it’s just the two of us. We’ve got a couple of guns and bloody little else, and we have no idea what kind of arsenal he has at his disposal. So before I commit suicide in the name of saving Livia, I’d like to make sense of it all. It would give my death some meaning, y’know?

Mara: There are just some things you’re not going to understand.

Johnny: You’d be surprised what I understand. I know that you and Livia act like lovers but you really aren’t. I know that you are stronger and faster than you’ve ever let on. And I know that you understand a hell of a lot more about this vampire shit than you’ve told any of us.

(Mara peers at Johnny.)

Johnny: Like I said. I just might surprise you. Oh bloody hell – would you look at that!

(The van goes around a bend and Johnny pulls up short. At the far end of the street they can just see the forest of staked bodies and severed heads that line the path leading up to the tower. With the reddish light cast by the parts of the city that are still burning, it looks like a scene from hell. Johnny and Mara just stare at this a moment.)

Johnny: I guess he wanted to make sure you wouldn’t miss him.

Mara: Is there some kind of fortification behind all of that?

Johnny: Oh yeah. It’s the Saracen Tower. Me and the band visited it the first or second day we blew into town. Just another tourist trap, really, all under construction. Hell, about the only bit not covered in scaffolding is the part that’s on the street. There was this neat statue inside though. Kind of like one of those cigar-store Indians, only done up as a Turk. Me and Wolfie, we –

Mara: Are you nervous Johnny? You’re talking too much.

Johnny: Oh. Right.

Mara: (mostly to herself) It’s too far away too see clearly. It might be part of all that. But it’s been so long. And everything around here has changed.

Johnny: What’re you going on about?

Mara: Pull the van up just a little closer, but cut the headlights.

(Her head snaps up. She stares fixedly into the night and a little of that luminescence comes into her eyes.)

Mara: He knows I’m here.

Johnny: Could you maybe not do that thing with your eyes? It’s freaking me out.

(She turns and stares directly at him. As he watches, the glow from her eyes fades.)

Mara: Better?

Johnny: Christ! And just a minute ago you were playing dumb about the weird shit!

Mara: Force of habit. Now, you’re really going to go through with this?

Johnny: Through with what? Saving Livia? Of course I am.

Mara:You really care about her.

(Johnny starts to reply in his usual smart-ass voice. Then he lowers his eyes and speaks more sincerely.)

Johnny: Yeah, I do.

(Mara looks ahead at the forest of the impaled. She chews her lip, considering, then nods to herself.)

Mara: All right Johnny, turn and face my way.

Johnny: What now, Mara?

Mara: Just come here. Sit close. I’m going to give you a gift.

Johnny: A gift?

Mara: Yes, Johnny. But it's only for tonight. When we're done here, I'm going to take it back.

Johnny: Then what kind of gift is that?

Mara: A gift I almost never share with people, Johnny. It's something very dangerous to keep.

Johnny: Well then, why would I want the bloody thing?

Mara: Because it just might keep you safe. Hold still and face me. Now, you have to accept it, Johnny. I've taken vows, so I can't force you to take it.

Johnny: Uhhh ... sure. I, um, I accept your gift.

Mara: Good. Now. Open your mouth.

Johnny: Is this going to be more weird shit?

Mara: Yes. More weird shit. Just be quiet and open your mouth. And breathe in when I tell you to. All right?

Johnny: I’m doing this for Livia …

Mara: Sshh…

(Johnny opens his mouth slightly, closing his eyes. He looks like he’s expecting this to hurt in some way. He jumps a little as Mara leans in closer, almost touching him, but he keeps himself from shying away. He peeks open one eyeball in time to see Mara focusing herself, her own eyes closed. Wisps of light feather around her face and throat, and a dense, glowing ball of light gathers in her chest, just between her breasts. She inhales deeply, and this ball of light intensifies seeming to pull more light from the rest of her body. There is just a hint of the other face beneath her own, and when she finally opens her eyes, they are alight from within. Still holding the breath she has taken, she leans into Johnny and gently breathes out over his mouth. The light is conveyed to him through her breath. Wisps of it are blown into him.)

Mara: Breathe, Johnny. Breathe it in.

(Johnny takes a sharp, sudden breath and Mara continues to breathe the light into him. We see wisps of it passing over his features and traveling down to his body, his limbs. He has an astonished expression on his face, and when he opens his eyes, they glow faintly like hers. He stares at Mara, who slowly draws away. A few wisps trail on the air between them. The light fades into his body, just as it fades from her. He’s still holding the deep breath he’s taken. Then he suddenly exhales, and the breath mists in front of his mouth as if it were freezing outside.)

Johnny: What the hell was that?

Mara: A little bit of me. And now it’s in you. Like I said, when we’re done, I’ll take it back.

Johnny: I feel all kinds of dizzy. And there’s like this tingling in my chest. Like the butterflies you get riding roller-coasters.

Mara: Just breathe slow and steady and it will pass. Take a few moments.

Johnny: All right. Slow and steady. Slow and steady. …

Mara: (in Johnny’s head) Are you feeling better, Johnny?

Johnny: (out loud) Yeah. Oh, fuck. You’re lips didn’t move!

Mara: (in Johnny’s head) You’ll be able to hear me now. We can coordinate easier.

Johnny: (out loud) Bloody hell, woman, if you can do that, why don’t you just think hard in Livia’s direction to find out where she is?

Mara: (still in Johnny’s head) It doesn’t work like that. You can hear me because of what we just did. But that little splinter of me? It will gradually take you over until you’re just an extension. You’ll look like Johnny, you’ll act like Johnny, and you’ll even think like Johnny to a point, but after a couple of weeks, you’ll be completely broken to my will. All I’ll have to do is think something and you’ll do it without question. Do you think I’d do something like that to Livia?

Johnny: Oh, wow. You are so taking this bloody thing out of me when we’re done!

Mara: (out loud) That’s the plan. Now let’s get moving.

Johnny: But what are we doing?

Mara: Well, I’m going to try to negotiate with him first.

Johnny: Negotiate? With a vampire?

Mara: You’d be surprised how reasonable they can be.

Johnny: Ummm … No. I don’t want to know. So where do I come in?

Mara: I’m going to try to get him to reveal where he’s keeping Livia.

Johnny: And then?

Mara: And then this is where I ask something difficult of you, Johnny.

Johnny: I’m game.

Mara: I think I’m going to have my hands full dealing with him and any of his soldiers. So I’ll need you to get to Livia. If there’s any way humanly possible to get her out of there while I fight off the rest of them, can you do that for me?

Johnny: Truth be told, I’d be doing it for Livia. It’s not that I don’t like you, Mara, but honestly, you scare the hell out of me.

Mara: I may scare you a lot more before we’re through.

Johnny: What’s that supposed to mean?

Mara: It means that no matter what you see me do, don’t let it distract you. Just get Livia and get her out of here. Right now, she’s more vulnerable than either me or you.

Johnny: I’ll do my best, Mara. I swear I will.

Mara: All right. I’m going now.

(Mara gets out, taking the rucksack with her. She glances down the road to the tower, then turns back to Johnny.)

Mara: (in his head) Didn’t I tell you to cut the headlights?

Johnny: (out loud, despite her distance) I’m not going to be able to see anything, Mara.

Mara: Cut the lights. You’ll see just fine. Trust me.

(Johnny clearly doesn’t believe her. Mara starts to walk cautiously down the street and Johnny, with a shrug, kills the lights in the van. The street goes dark, and for a moment everything is plunged into shadow. Then, from Johnny’s perspective, the shadows begin to resolve into recognizable shapes. Everything seems illumined by a pale, silver light, as if from the glow of the moon.)

Johnny: (rubbing his eyes) Well, bugger me.

(Johnny looks around a few more moments, then grabs one of the guns.)

Johnny: I don't need to wait. Livia’s in the tower. Any idiot would know she’s in the tower. And thanks to random tourism, I know a back way in …

(Keeping to the shadows, Johnny cuts down an alleyway and starts making a wide circle to the back of the tower.)

--M. Belanger

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Immortal: Dracula's Return (Act VI 10-11)

Author's Note: In the wake of a brutal attack, Mara heads out to face the master vampire behind Livia's abduction. Johnny insists on tagging along -- against everyone's better judgment. (As a aside note, Johnny's sweet-talk to get the touring van to run one last time is an homage and almost word-for-word quote of Dominic St. Charles of URN who would similarly pat and baby the touring van when traveling with the band.) Act VI Scene X:

(The main room in the factory. A little time has passed since the attack. People are dealing with the dead and wounded. One Romanian man gingerly pokes at a fallen vampire with his M16. A few others nail boards back over the windows. Yet another dumps water on the steaming mess that was once a vampire. Victor and Griffin stand on either side of Jack, helping him limp over to the stairs so he can sit down and take care of his leg. He is white with pain and beads of sweat stand out on his brow. Marta has emerged from the back office, flailing her arms and screaming incomprehensibly in Russian. The little girl, blue eyes wide, stands silently in the doorway. Briggs leans against the doorjamb behind her, his good hand lightly touching the top of the child’s head. Johnny stands in the middle of the room, still holding the gun, looking completely lost.)

Jack: Yessiree, boys and girls, this is what we call a compound fracture. You’re gonna want to cut open my jeans down there to clean it up. But I’ll warn you now. It ain’t gonna be pretty.

Victor: Come on, Jack, just a few more steps.

(Marta runs past them, going over to one of the Romanian men and flailing her arms at him. With a confused look, he wards off her blows.)

Griffin: Alex! Why’d you let that crazy woman get out here?

Briggs: Alex isn’t in here, man. The old bat just ran out.

Griffin: Alex isn’t back there?

Briggs: No. I thought she was up here with all of you.

(Griffin stops dead and his face suddenly has this hollow expression. His eyes skitter restlessly around the room, taking none of it in. Victor reaches around Jack to touch Griffin’s shoulder.)

Victor: Come on, Griff. We’ll find her in a minute. Just help me get Jack here over to the stairs.

Griffin: But we thought she was in there. Where would she go? Why hasn’t anyone seen her? What if she got lost?

Victor: Snap out of it, man! Jack’s hurt bad. Help me here.

Griffin: Alex? Alex?

(He looks up expectantly at the door leading into the factory. Two men posted to guard that door stiffen, holding their guns at the ready. Mara walks through, pushing the guns aside.)

Mara: They’re coming in through the roof! I fought two of them off already.

(The urgency of her flight fades as she sees the room.)

Mara: They’ve already been here.

Victor: They came in fast and hard. We tried to fight them off, and then they left.

Mara: (suspicious) Why did they leave?

(Victor does not meet her eyes and instead busies himself with getting a delirious Jack and a shell-shocked Griffin over to the concrete stairs.)

Mara: Why did they leave? Where’s Livia? Why won’t you answer me?

Johnny: Please don’t kill me Mara.

Mara: Kill you? Why would you say that?

Johnny: Don’t kill the messenger. I tried! I tried! I swear I tried!

Mara: (not a question. A grim certainty) They took Livia.

Johnny: They didn’t hurt her or bite her or anything. The one guy just came up and grabbed her and I tried to shoot him, but he jumped clear up to the roof with her in his arms. Straight up, like Superman or something.

Mara: So they came in and took her.

Johnny: I tried to shoot him, Mara, I tried. But I’m not a good enough shot, and Jack was hurt and –

Mara: Damn.

Johnny: What?

Mara: He turned the tables on me. I can’t believe it. He’s trying to flush me out.

Johnny: What are you talking about, Mara?

Mara: Remember when I was saying that we couldn’t beat him unless we drew him out, lured him with something he would want?

Johnny: Yeah.

Mara: Well, somehow he figured out what I would really want.

Johnny: He took Livia to get at you?

Victor: Mara, I know you must be in a state of shock, but people are hurt here. We could use some help.

Jack: None of you know how to set a leg?

Griffin: You didn’t see Alex back there, did you, Mara?

Mara: What? No. I’m sorry, Victor. I’m sorry Griffin.

(She strides into the room and starts picking through the remaining guns. Johnny follows close behind her.)

Johnny: What are you doing, Mara? There’s nothing left to shoot here.

Mara: I’m going to find her.

Victor: That’s suicide! Look, Mara. Be reasonable. We tried to stop them, but they took her. We all feel your loss – but you can do more good for everyone here, right now.

Jack: If they come back, we need all hands on deck. Set me up in a corner. I’ll snipe them.

Mara: I don’t expect you to understand this, any of you, but if I go, they won’t come back.

Griffin: What do you know that we don’t, Mara?

Mara: You tell me that the vampires came in hard and fast. You tell me they grabbed Livia, and once they had her, they left. Do I have it so far?

Griffin: Well, yeah.

Mara: They didn’t kill her. They didn’t even hurt her. So they’re using her as bait.

Victor: Whatever they want with you, you know it’s going to be a trap.

Mara: Of course it’s a trap. But they don’t know what they’re trapping. Can I have the keys to the van?

Jack: You’re really doing this, aren’t you?

Mara: You bet I am.

Johnny: I’m coming with you.

Mara: I don’t want to be responsible for you.

Johnny: I’ll be responsible for me.

Mara: Johnny, don’t be stupid.

Johnny: Mara, luv, this whole idea of yours is stupid. But I’m still going with you.

Mara: No!

Johnny: The longer you fight with me, the longer it’ll take you to get there. Besides. I have the keys.

Mara: You little fuck.

Johnny: I like to think of myself as well-endowed.

Mara: Fine. Grab your damn cross.

(She turns on her heel and heads into the night.)

Act VI Scene XI

(Mara and Johnny in the van. Johnny’s in the driver’s seat. He’s fighting to get the van to turn over. He’s patting the van on the dashboard, making sweet-talk to it.)

Johnny: Come on, baby. Come on. Just one more time. One more time for ol’ Johnny.

(With a horrible grinding noise, the engine coughs to life. Johnny lets it chug for a little while before putting it into gear.)

Johnny: This van has seen some wild days, Mara. But I never thought I’d be driving her straight into hell. Do you even know where we’re going?

Mara: I have an idea. I … I can sense him.

Johnny: Like what? With ESP?

Mara: Yes, Johnny. Call it women’s intuition or whatever you want. I can lead us to the enemy.

Johnny: That’s pretty cool, Mara. I knew you were deep. Now hang on – the ride’s going to be a bit rough. The breaks are kind of weak.

(Johnny puts the van in gear and it lurches forward. He gives it some gas and they start barreling down the hill.)

Johnny: Shit. Almost forgot.

(Mara looks over as Johnny flicks on the headlights. Their faces grim, they head back toward the town.)

--M. Belanger

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Immortal: Dracula's Return (Act VI 5-7)

Author's Note: The invasion begins. Lost in the factory Mara is attacked by two of Vlad's vampires, while Dr. Morgan leads a strike to capture Livia and steal her away. Act VI Scene V:

(Cut to the roof above Mara. Two vampires are climbing around, peering through the skylights to the rooms within.)

Nate: I can’t believe we pulled this duty. I mean, we’re not gonna get to feed at all.

Greg: Quit your bellyaching. You heard Morgan. The others aren’t allowed to feed either. Drac wants us in and out.

Nate: You got balls calling him that.

Greg: I’ll leave that “voivode” bullshit to Dr. Asskisser. It’s not like he can hear us all the way out here.

Nate: Hey, Greg! Get over here. Isn’t that one of the women we’re looking for?

Greg: Well shit. I believe it is, Nate.

Nate: Heh. And here we thought we had a boring job, bringing up the rear.

Greg: She’s kind of cute.

Nate: If you go for that tough girl look, yeah.

Greg: Poor little tough girl, all alone in the dark. Doesn’t even have a flashlight.

Nate: Heehee. You with me, Greg? I’m going in.

Act VI Scene VI:

(Cut back to Mara who is still frowning at either end of the hall. The sound of breaking glass comes from above and a few slivers fall down to the floor.)

Mara: Damn. I knew those skylights would be trouble.

(Nate crashes through the skylight, landing practically on top of Mara. She jumps back, neatly avoiding him. Greg scurries beetle-like down the wall. Mara glances up and notes his position, but keeps her attention on Nate. Nate swipes at her, baring fangs. He moves with supernatural speed, but Mara manages to elude him every time.)

Nate: She’s fast.

Mara: I’m a lot more than fast.

Greg: Talks tough, too.

(Nate darts forward again, trying to seize hold of Mara. This time she reaches out and grabs the hand he is reaching toward her and yanks hard on it, pulling him off-balance and sending him crashing into the wall. Greg takes the opportunity to jump her from the other wall. Still following through with her toss of Nate, she does not have time to step out of the way. Greg clings to her back and, grinning, sinks fangs into her shoulder.)

Mara: Bastard! You bit me!

Nate: Hey, no fair! We’re not supposed to eat them!

Greg: Just taking a taste. She tastes good. (He smiles, licking blood from his lips)

Mara: It’s polite to ask first!

(As she says this, Mara reaches up behind her and grabs Greg around the shoulders. She lifts him bodily off of her. With a grimace, she spins and throws him into the wall. Nate watches this with amazement.)

Nate: Shit. She’s kinda strong.

(Mara drops the rucksack, then takes up another defensive stance, focusing most of her attention on Nate, since Greg is currently crumpled whimpering on the floor. As she faces off with them, we see the bite-marks on her shoulder begin to heal.)

Mara: Come on. I dare you.

(Nate thinks about it, circling. Mara follows him. Greg is recovering, and just as her back is to him, he rushes her, hitting low. He carries her forward, but she rolls with it. Once her hands are on the floor, she does a modified handstand, kicking out to knock Greg off of her, then flipping over to catch Nate in the face with both feet, knocking him back. She completes the flip, spinning around this time so Greg does not catch her off-guard.)

Mara: You disgust me. Do you even know what you are?

Greg: We’re vampires, lady. Did you miss the fangs?

(Mara glares at Greg, then focuses, drawing her hand back as if to make a palm strike. Grey wisps begin forming around her hand.)

Nate: Oh fuck. Do you see that? That’s the same thing Drac does, only it’s not red.

(Mara aims at Greg’s face and palm strikes him. She is very clearly aiming at a point about a foot behind his head. Her hand seems to go through him for a moment, and we see a ghostly image of Greg thrown back past his body. His head snaps back and this double-image snaps back in synch with his flesh. Greg is stunned, struggling to figure out what just happened to him.)

Greg: Fuck. I’m seeing, like, two places at once.

Mara: You’re not attached to that thing. Do you even realize that?

Greg: Attached to what thing? What are you talking about, lady?

(Greg stumbles, dazed. Nate is hanging back, watching with wide eyes. Mara pulls back for another palm strike, the glow returning to her hand. With a yell that contains that male voice underneath her normal voice again, she delivers a solid blow to the center of Greg’s chest. We see that ghost image under the bones of her face for a moment and her eyes glow. Greg is thrown several feet straight back into the wall. Mara drives forward almost in a blur, arriving to stand in front of Greg before he has even slid down the wall. Nate is still paralyzed by what he sees.)

Mara: This flesh you wear is stinking and dead. Time to get a new suit of clothes!

(Greg stares in shock at her as she pulls back for another strike. Only this time her hand again seems to go into Greg. Waves of mist ripple through his chest. Mara closes her hand around something and yanks it out. We see a ghostly image of Greg, screaming, torn from his flesh. It quickly dissipates upon the air. The faintest echo of a scream vibrates on the air.)

Nate: Shit. What are you, lady?

Mara: Something you could have been.

(She rounds on Nate and moves even faster than we’ve seen before. He tries to stumble backwards, but she grabs him by the shoulders, hoists him easily into the air, then slams him hard onto the ground. He cracks his head against the concrete. She follows him down on one knee, pinning him by the shoulder with her off hand. She glares down at him and he looks up to meet her eyes.)

Nate: I’ve already been killed once, lady.

Mara: I’ve died more times than I’ve been born. You need to move on.

(Just as she did with Greg, she pulls back her hand and the wisps of light gather around it. Then she strikes forward, quick as a snake, right into Nate’s chest. His entire body convulses and his eyes go wide. Ripples of light flow around the point of impact, and Mara’s eyes and face glow with a matching light. She rips Nate out of himself, throwing his screaming soul away from her like it was so much trash. She stands up, cracks her neck, touches the now-healed place where she was bit. She sneers down at the vampires that now look like two-day-old corpses.)

Mara: (spits) The dead should never get up and walk around.

(She picks up the rucksack, then heads back down the hallway at a much quicker pace.)

Act VI Scene VII:

(The front room. The three new villagers have been searched and stand a little way from the front door. Jack stands in the middle of the room, surveying the people around him. Johnny and Livia stand close to where they entered, looking like they’re not quite sure what to do.)

Livia: So where do you want me, Jack?

Jack: What are you talking about?

Livia: Give me a gun and put me somewhere. Better yet, give me a cross. I’m not the best shot.

Jack: You smoking something, Red? You’re going in the back office with Marta and the rest.

Livia: Like hell I am. Just because I’ve got tits doesn’t mean –

Lookout: More people come!

Jack: Jesus. What do you mean, more people come? We look like the fucking Salvation Army or something?

(Jack scurries up the catwalk and grabs the binoculars.)

Jack: Two, three, four … there’s five of them that I can see. No crosses this time. Something stinks. You! Dumbfuck on the door! You will not let these people in. I don’t care if you recognize them. No more. You hear me? No more!

Lookout: Translate?

Jack: Shit, yeah, I want you to translate that. No one else gets in! Hey! What the fuck is that one doing?

(Toma smiles apologetically at his neighbor, then shoves the desk aside and opens the door.)

Jack: It’s a trap! It’s a fucking trap! Shoot that fucker! Shoot him now and close that door!

(As Jack is screaming from the catwalk, several things happen at once. First, the five vampires outside shoulder their way in through the door in the midst of M16 fire. At least one of the M16s jams. Another backfires, wounding the man using it. But Toma and a vampire go down. While they push through the main door, there is the sound of shattering glass from the ceiling. Shards of glass rain down on Jack.)

Jack: Shit.

(A vampire drops down onto the lookout, knocking him right off the catwalk. The vamp turns and menaces Jack, who fires his pistol at the vamp. We see more glass rain down just behind Jack, and then Dr. Morgan drops down, grabbing Jack and carrying him off the catwalk to the floor below. In the fall, Jack loses his gun. The room is choked with screams and the sound of gunfire. More vampires pour in, a few through the front door, at least two more through the ceiling. These crawl, beetle-like, down the far wall. As the vampires make their way further into the room, Victor gives Griffin a sign.)

Victor: Now,Griffin! Now!

(Griffin nods and throws a switch on his equipment. Spotlights, strobes, and lasers flood the front room. Most of the vampires cover their eyes and stumble backwards. One unlucky vampire is directly in the path of one of the lasers. This paints a bright red cross on his chest. As he guards his eyes from the spotlights and strobes, he is screaming and twitching, trying to brush the cross off. Steam rises from his shirt. He drops and tries to crawl back to the door. Victor and Griffin give each other a hi-five. Then Victor grabs his two bed-post war-hammers and throws himself into the fray.)

Johnny: Jack!

(Johnny runs over to where Jack is wrestling on the ground with Dr. Morgan, trying to keep him away from his throat. The way Jack is moving, there’s something wrong with one of his legs and he’s bleeding from a gash under one eye. Johnny comes at Dr. Morgan, brandishing his Gothic cross. Morgan lets go of Jack and moves to protect his face. The vampire left on the catwalk jumps down, tackling Johnny. The cross is knocked out of his hand. The vampire goes for Johnny’s throat.)

Livia: Nigel! No!!!

(Livia is standing near the pile of useless M16s. She grabs one and runs up to where Johnny is being attacked. She hits the vampire with the butt of the gun, knocking him off. The force of the blow knocks the gun right out of her hands. Off-balance, she pretty much falls right into the arms of Dr. Morgan. He grabs her and smiles.)

Morgan: Well, look who I found.

Livia: (kicking) Let go!

(Dr. Morgan grabs her by the hair, glancing at the back of her neck just to be sure. One of the strobing crosses hits him in the face. He hisses, winces, and stumbles, but he does not let go of his catch. Livia does not make this easy on him, kicking, screaming, and biting as much as she can. Johnny has grabbed Jack’s gun and he is trying to aim it at Morgan, but his hands are trembling too much.)

Jack: Aim for his head, Johnny. Aim high, or you’ll shoot her.

Johnny: Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. I can’t do it.

Jack: Then give me the gun!

(The vampire near Jack recovers from the blow delivered by Livia. He dives for Jack. Johnny, acting completely on impulse, whirls around and puts a bullet neatly in the vampire’s head. Johnny looks as surprised by this as Jack is. As they recover from this unexpected attack, Dr. Morgan leaps back up to the catwalk, Livia in tow. Morgan holds Livia tightly to his body, surveying the room below. Everything is chaos, and vampires and humans alike are falling in the rain of bullets and strobing lights.)

Morgan: Fall back! We’re done here! Fall back!

(Johnny steels himself to take another shot. Carefully, he aims. As he squeezes the trigger, Dr. Morgan makes an impossible leap back up to the roof. He grabs the edge of the skylight, glass and all, then swings himself up onto the roof. Johnny’s bullet hits the wall.)

Johnny: Shit. Oh shit! Livia! Liv!!!

(He runs under the catwalk, tries to see anything through the broken skylight. But they’re gone. The other vampires are also retreating, some through the windows, some through the doors. The people fire after them, but are hesitant to pursue them beyond the safety of the factory itself. One villager gets adventurous and grabs the forgotten Molotov cocktails. With expert aim, he tosses this high at one of the vampires scurrying back up to the roof. He catches the vampire square in the back. The vampire screams and falls to the floor in flames.  Over the cries of agony, we hear a motor gunning from outside.)

Jack: Shit. What is that?

Man: Bus! They leave in bus!

Jack: It’s probably been out there this whole time. They’re vampires. They drove up with the headlights off, parked a little way back. For fuck’s sake. Shoot the tires out! Someone give me a gun!

Victor: You’re leg’s bleeding, Jack.

Jack: I don’t care! Get me up, get me over there! I can snipe them!

Griffin: It’s over Jack. We won’t catch them.

Jack: The fuck we won’t! Never give up! Someone give me a fucking gun!

(Jack fumes on the floor with impotent rage, but we can hear the sound of the engine getting further and further away. Johnny is still looking up through the skylight, mouthing Livia’s name.)

Victor: Who’s going to tell Mara?

Griffin: Who’s to say they didn’t get Mara, too?

--M. Belanger

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