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dark fantasy

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The Rest is Silence

This little piece grew from a scene in a roleplaying game. I often escape to RPGs when writer's block rears its head. There is a certain immediate gratification in sharing stories and character development with other players. He swept her up, carrying her off to the little room deeper in the crypt. Then he laid her gently on satin sheets of the deepest red. He laid a chill finger lightly against her lips, whispering, "The rest is silence."

From there on, he spoke only the language of lip against lip, teasing her with the frisson of light nails dragged down bare skin.

He broke the edict once, after pulling away to slip off his shirt. Languorously she lay, studying the intricate pattern of the ritual scars curving across his torso. She was still clothed. She lifted her eyes to his, her question clear.

"For you? Nothing you do not wish. Nothing you do not invite," he murmured in response.

And then he bent over her, his white hair spilling forward to tickle her cheeks. He sought her mouth, his teeth sharp against her lip, nipping but not yet hard enough to draw blood.

He trailed kisses along her jaw, down to the little hollow where her pulse surged beneath soft skin. He laid his lips there, lightly, breathing the scent of her. He teased himself with the promise of her life and heat, eyes closed to hide the crimson fire that burned within their depths.

A kiss there, then the flick of his tongue. He held his lips upon her thudding pulse. His teeth grazed the sensitive skin, and for a moment, it seemed he teetered on the edge of seizing her -- ripping flesh to release the crimson heat within -- but he drew away, heaving a breath as he mastered himself. She watched him the whole while with half-lidded eyes.

When he bent to her again, he trailed kisses all down her neck as the nails of one hand traced lazy circles of sensation upon her other cheek, eventually twining lightly in her hair.

When he finally reached the base of her throat, he lay his body across her, wiry muscles shifting along his bare shoulders and arms. He leaned his face against hers, nuzzling, his breath soft upon her skin. And then in that place where shoulder meets neck, he took her, sealing his mouth around the flesh and teasing with his tongue before finally slashing with the two sharp teeth.

Stars stood out briefly upon her vision with the two brilliant points of pain. And then rolling, cresting pleasure followed the sweet flow of blood - not much, it seemed, just enough to taste, enough for his magic to connect. She felt his tongue dart along the edges of the little wounds, summoning a tangle of sensations. Pain and pleasure, sharp and soft all in a jumble.

As her blood flowed to him, the death-touched power flared upon his scars. He seemed lit from within by a glimmering dark-light, and all over his shoulders and torso, he gleamed with elegant runes. They pulsed in time with her speeding heart, and then the magic took her, too, gliding along her nerves like lightning, dancing on the inside of her skin.

They lay twined together, his mouth locked upon her flesh. But neither of them were close to their bodies. They were someplace else. Floating, immersed in sensations that had no adequate name.

When he finally drew away, she had no idea how long they had lain connected in that sweet and aching moment. He pressed lips still rouged with her blood against her mouth, questing with his tongue. She could taste herself upon him - copper and sweet.

She met his eyes again, silent in her question. His own eyes, crimson, spilled with stolen light.

"The rest we save till later. A promise, yes?"

She nodded.

He sealed it with a kiss.

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Fragment: First Blood

I rarely play with high fantasy, but here is a fragment from a little tale set in a world where a vampire-like race had once ruled. Ousted by the mortal populace, they were driven into hiding, and now their younglings are sent out to live among mortals for a period of time to learn how to hide their nature so their bloodlines can survive without being hunted any further. I had been at Castle Basaril for barely a month, but I already knew it was a bad idea to get on Chancellor Veyan’s bad side.

The Chancellor was a thin-faced man with a nose sharp as a razor. His rheumy blue eyes were too close-set and they always seemed to turn slightly inward, as if peering at the high, pointed bridge just in case it disappeared. His lips were almost as thin, and they seemed frozen in a perpetual sneer.

In my duties at the castle, I tried to avoid him as best I could. Given the fact that my real reason for working at the castle had everything to do with learning how to blend in among the mortals, I did my best to remain invisible to the Chancellor and all his men. So when the Chancellor called on me to attend him in his private chamber, I knew it was bad news. What could he possibly want with a page of my lowly rank?

As I entered, he looked up at me with those bleary eyes, the blue more vivid because they were so bloodshot. He gestured for me to shut the door and take a seat. Wordlessly, I did. I sat awkwardly in front of him, staring at my shoes. Someone of my rank was not supposed to meet his eyes unless instructed.

“Shaelindor, isn’t it?” he asked in a high, reedy voice that grated on my sensitive ears.

“Yes, my lord.”

“We have some things to talk about, and I want you to look me in the eye as you answer.”

Frowning a little, I looked up. I tried not to stare. He had such wrinkles about his eyes and lips, and the skin hanging from his jowls reminded me of wax beginning to go soft and melt. I thanked the Silent Lady that I would never look like that. Quietly, I said, “Yes, my lord.”

“You come from Keselwyn, in the Eastern Provinces, do you not?” He spoke to me as he would a lad of seventeen. Of course, that’s what he believed me to be, and there was nothing in my official papers that would suggest otherwise. I gritted my teeth and endured it.

“Yes, my lord,” I said humbly for the third time. I dug the nail of one finger into the palm of my hand and hoped he didn’t notice.

He consulted some paper in front of him. “And by my count, you have been here almost three months.”

“It will be three months on the Hearth Festival, sir,” I responded, still fidgeting.

“Hmm…” he muttered, and as he said this, he pursed his lips so the wrinkles around them grew even more pronounced. I tried to look at the tapestry behind him while still appearing to meet his gaze.

“Well, Shaelindor of Keselwyn, I’m not sure how they do things out where you’re from. By my reckoning, Keselwyn is not what we here in Basaril consider rightly civilized,” he sniffed with obvious disdain, “But I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt this one time.”

I felt a cold lance of fear jolt down my spine, and I sat a little straighter, my heart racing. Could the servant-girl I visited in the night have been awake after all? I used my best calming spell to lull her into a deep sleep before I made the cut so I could feed. Discovery was a terrifying prospect, but I forced myself to remain calm. “About what, sir?” I wondered.

He sniffed again, shuffling the papers. “We hold our women very dear here in Basaril, young man. Their greatest asset is their virtue because this insures that they will bear their husbands strong – and legitimate – children. In Basaril, we take a very dim view of those who would lead our virtuous daughters astray.”

I continued to keep my silence, admitting to nothing. My heart pounded harder, fear now mixed with indignation at what he was implying. I would never think of a mortal woman in that way. Copulating with an animal seemed more appealing.

“I have word from a credible witness that you were seen leaving the Lady Vitessa’s quarter the other night. Now, the lady Vitessa is a young woman of irreproachable virtue, and this is one of the qualities that has made her a desirable match for her future husband, the Knight-Champion Ardenthal. Her father, Lord Solaris is exceptionally proud of the marriage he has recently arranged for his middle daughter, and he would be deeply aggrieved should anything arise that might threaten that happy union. There should not even be a whisper of doubt as to the lady’s virtue.”

Here he settled his watery gaze on me and let it sit for a few long moments. I tried not to squirm.

“Now,” he continued, “I am certain that even someone like you who hails from such a backward little province and holds his rather minor position at the sufferance of Lord Xarxes – even you are not so unwise as to engage in any act that might call into question the lady’s virtue. In fact, I am certain that you wandered by the lady’s quarters by accident while you were out after hours taking a stroll. And with that in mind, my advice to you Shaelindor of Keselwyn, is quite simple: in future, take your strolls elsewhere. That is all.”

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Speculations

Author's Note: A continuance of the story-thread from "Hidden Chambers of the Heart." In this snippet, Matthew seeks to learn more about what he witnessed between his former lover, Elizabeth, and the mysterious and reclusive artist, Percival Lawrence. You may recognize Matthew from my paranormal romance novel, This Heart of Flame. These snippets are excerpted from the 1998 unpublished work that gave rise to Matthew and his world. Speculations 

After what I saw that night in suite number ten, I found myself consumed with the possibility that Percival Lawrence was a vampire. I had to know more. Knowing Halaina’s own interest in the topic, I approached her butler, Robert.

"You don't think I could borrow Halaina's copy of that vampire novel, do you?"  I asked.  I felt strangely self-conscious about wanting to read it, but I knew I didn't have the patience to wait until I was through teaching classes tomorrow to try finding it at a bookstore.  With the play in town, every copy was probably sold out anyhow.

"Dracula?"  Robert inquired.

"Is there more than one?"  I responded, trying to recall some of the titles Elizabeth had mentioned to me.

"Christina Rosetti's uncle wrote one as well," he informed me.  "It's called simply, The Vampyre.  Halaina owns both of them."

"Could I borrow them both then?"  I asked. Robert quirked a brow at me and guiltily, I tried explaining, "I haven't been sleeping much the past couple nights, and I'm looking for something to occupy my time."

Still looking somewhat skeptical, Robert nodded and said, "I'll run up and get them presently.  Sarah, could you watch the front desk for a few moments?"

The coat-check girl hurried over, smiling at both Robert and me.

"Thank you, Robert," I said sincerely.  While he was away, I chatted with Sarah.   On a whim, I asked, "You don't know anything about Percival Lawrence, do you?"

"He tips well," she chirped.  "And he's always polite."

"How long has he been coming here?" I pressed.

She thought about it, then shrugged. "At least as long as I've been here, and that will be two years in the spring."

Two years.  I hadn't been frequenting Arkana for more than two months, and already everyone seemed to know there was something unusual about me.  How had Percival been coming here for two years and escaped notice?  Perhaps he and Elizabeth had only been playing out a fantasy after all.

"Is there anything unusual about him?"  I pursued.

"There's something unusual about everyone here," she responded with a little smirk.  "That's what this place is for."

I had to concede to her there.  I stopped pressing the issue and chatted with her instead about inconsequentials until, with a terrible clatter, Robert arrived back down in the elevator.  He had three volumes tucked under one arm.

"Halaina sent down a third book as well," he said, holding them out to me.  "It's a collection of stories by LeFanu.  The story she said you should read is entitled 'Carmilla.'  She marked the page.  Also, be very careful with Polidori's book.  It's from the 1820s and the spine is getting weak."

"Thank you, Robert," I said, glancing at each of the three covers.  Wesley was right.  Dracula was lurid.  Bright yellow, with red lettering, it had a picture of the Count crawling head-first down a castle wall.  There was nothing at all romantic or compelling about the portrayal.  Did the publisher even realize what the tale was about?  "Give Halaina my thanks as well.  I'll have these back to her before the week is out."

Robert nodded.  Sarah ran off to retrieve my hat, cloak, and cane.  Remembering what had stood out in her mind about Percival Lawrence, I gave her a sizeable tip and headed out into the night.

I spent the remainder of the night and most of the next morning reading.  If I had been expecting Stoker's book to be great literature, I was sorely disappointed.  The first fifty pages were almost enough to discourage me from reading any further, and once I got past the limping introduction, the tale, with all its tedious melodrama, wasn't much of a reward.  Polidori's shorter novel was no better.  The introduction to the characters Aubrey and Ruthven seemed promising, but then the tale degraded into a series of lurid events and coincidences that seemed a stretch of the imagination even in a Gothic romance.  LeFanu's story was more satisfying, although the ending seemed a bit contrived.  By the time I was ready to head off to the college, I found myself more confused about the subject of vampires than when I had started out.

All three stories agreed on one point: vampires drank blood.  Beyond that simple fact, individual interpretations varied widely.  Both Dracula and Carmilla preferred to sleep during the day, and when they had to be up before sunset, they struggled against an overwhelming sense of torpor.  Ruthven didn't seem to mind the day, so long as he had his requisite moonlight.  Dracula had an affinity for wolves, while for Carmilla it was great cats.  Garlic, wild roses, mirrors, stakes through the heart -- all the rest of it was a confusing jumble of nonsense.  Trying to get to the heart of what each story portrayed, I came to the conclusion that a vampire was something -- Stoker had used the term undead -- that had once been mortal and human, but had somehow become changed.

Of course, here was where I had a little laugh.  All three stories implied that this change involved the working of infernal powers, a fact which I knew to be patently false.  Thomas White had made the same mistake of assuming that those creatures he understood to be demons, and therefore infernal, could somehow confer upon him immortal life and magickal powers.  Immortality wasn't something I could give away, though sometimes I'd have loved to exchange it.  And I didn't know anything of magick.  In fact, I made it a point to avoid the kinds of people who did.   I knew about spirits and ghosts, but only because I cohabited with them for the better part of my existence.  Once White had exhausted all my knowledge in that area, there was precious little he could get from me except sex and slave labor.

I mulled things over while I walked to the school.  I knew one thing for certain.  My kind had nothing to do with the creation of vampires.  If we did, I'd know a great deal more about them than I did.  I almost wished I had devoted a little more time to folklore.  Considering what I was, it seemed only reasonable that I would, but frankly I'd avoided all things occult precisely because of my nature.  My existence was strange and complicated enough without adding anything more to it.  Whenever I had a say in the matter, I devoted my time almost exclusively to carnal and aesthetic pursuits.  But now I wondered if there wasn't a bit more to the world around me.

Fiction was clearly no help, so after my afternoon lectures, I strolled over to the university library. I was surprised to discover the extent of their collection on mythology and folklore. After spending more than two hours pouring over various esoteric texts, however, I only succeeded in confusing myself further with regards to the undead.  The more I read, the further away seemed the possibility that Percival was anything other than an ordinary man with a less than ordinary fetish.  Yet my brief foray into the texts on demonology which I also found in the university’s collection convinced me that no one who claimed to know anything about the supernatural had any idea what they were talking about.  If the texts on demons were so far from the truth, then it only made sense that any information I might find on vampires was equally skewed.

Of course, I should have realized all that from my readings the night before.

Finally, I abandoned my research, admitting to myself that I had no head for the occult anyway, and neither did any of the other scholars whose works I had spent the afternoon studying.  I decided to meet Percival Lawrence on my own terms.  I wasn’t certain it was the wisest idea, but I determined to seek him out in his home. Charity was a small town. It shouldn’t be difficult to learn where he lived.

 -- M. Belanger

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Hidden Chambers of the Heart

Author's Note: This is another excerpt from the 1998 work which gave rise to most of the characters in This Heart of FlameHere, the incubus Matthew discovers that he is not the only one at Club Arkana who has a secret, and to sate his curiosity, he secretly spies on his ex-lover Elizabeth with her new beau, Percival Lawrence. (this snippet occurs prior to the events of "Keeping Secrets," published earlier to this blog): Hidden Chambers of the Heart

Elizabeth sat at a small table tucked far away in a remote corner of the club.  She was still looking pensively at herself in the mirrors, but she was no longer alone.  A man sat across from her, reading to her from a book that lay open between them.  She strained forward to hear him, her eyes gleaming.  She had every look of heightened arousal about her; the flush on her cheeks stood out starkly against her pallid face.  Her features were suffused with an agonized yearning, yet strangely she did not look at her companion.  Her rapturous eyes were fixed upon her own reflection in the mirror, as if part of her arousal lay in seeing it etched upon her face.

I held back, studying the scene.  Her companion was none other than Percival Lawrence, the member of the club who had stormed from the stage production of Dracula a few nights before.  Although it was hard to be certain, I suspected that he was reading to her from that self-same story.  The lurid yellow of the binding was just visible beneath the outspread pages.  My curiosity aroused, I found an unoccupied table nearby and settled down to watch them.

Over the music of the orchestra and the murmur of the patrons, I could almost hear him.  I couldn't catch any words, but it seemed that there was something deep and richly mellifluous pitched just beneath the usual sounds of the club.  As I strained to listen, the velvet undertone faded away, and he closed the book with a sense of finality.  It was indeed Dracula.  Elizabeth looked from the mirrors along the wall and regarded his eyes through the smoked glasses Halaina said he always wore.  He lifted a hand to caress her face.  He wore his nails longer than most men, but on him, it gave his long fingers an added elegance.  He whispered something to her, earnestly regarding her with dark, half-hidden eyes.  She shivered and placed her gloved hand over his, pressing it further against her cheek.  Then, fluidly, he rose, turning his hand around to clasp hers.  With a genteel and studied grace, he led her toward the back rooms.

I was going to leave them to their private pursuits, and let my issues with Elizabeth drop right then.  It was clear to me that she had found another surrogate for her obsessive fantasies, only this time she had chosen a darker angel for her romance.  Percival certainly fit the part with his unnatural pallor and dark, burning eyes.  I found myself wondering what he would do to her with those graceful long-fingered hands.  Curiosity got the better of me, and I strode from my table, hurrying to see which room they would escape into so I could find the corresponding viewing chamber.

I made it through the mirrored doors just in time to see Percival closing a door behind them.  To my disappointment, it was suite number ten.  One of the few rooms back here that afforded no peepholes for voyeurs. Then I remembered Halaina’s secret panel, giving her the only access to that supposedly private room from her personal suite.  Feeling supremely naughty and all the more excited for it, I walked back to Halaina’s rooms and, not even bothering to turn the gaslights on, slipped immediately into the little closet that served as a viewing chamber. I settled quietly as possible onto the trunk pressed against the wall and leaned my eye up against the peep hole.  The lighting in the next room was frustratingly low, but once I adjusted, I could see the two figures clearly enough.

Percival had taken his jacket off and lain it over a chair, but still retained his shirt, vest, and trousers.  The book, I noticed, sat on the seat of the chair, partly obscured by his jacket.  Elizabeth was still fully clothed, wearing a gown of deep burgundy satin accented with ribbons and lace.  The wide band of black velvet she had taken to wearing was still snugly in place on her throat.  The hint of a smile playing about her darkly rouged lips, Elizabeth bent over a Victrola, her little hand slowly working the crank.  While she was thus occupied, Percival carefully removed his dark glasses and set them aside.  The change was remarkable.  His eyes were deep-set and very striking.  For a moment, I was reminded of the actor Alexander's burning gaze which, turned even briefly upon the audience, sent the ladies swooning.  In the next moment, Percival had shaken loose his hair.  The gleaming dark waves fell a little past his shoulders, spreading across his back and curling softly around his face.  The frame of dark hair made his face seem gaunt and starkly pale.

Elizabeth finished with the Victrola, and the music of a waltz rasped into the room.  Brahms, I thought, though it was distant and thready from where I sat.  Percival approached her, took her hand in his and bowed over it, bringing it gently to his lips.  She whispered something, and her eyes were enormous, glinting as they had when she had been lost in her reverie on angels that night with me.  Then he took her in his arms and they danced, slowly, sedately, keeping flawless time to the music.

I leaned back from the peephole to give my eyes a rest.  It was strange.   I had never seen Elizabeth this subdued, at least sexually.  She clung to Percival as they danced, and I could hear those sonorous silken tones of his rumbling underneath the music of Brahms.  He seemed to be soothing her.  He stroked her hair, leaning his cheek against her cheek and murmuring in her ear.  She shivered against him and looked ready to weep with the intensity of her feelings.

They danced together until the end of the song.  Then Elizabeth paused to switch the music.  Now the Victrola played something low and almost threatening.  Minor chords filled the room, deepening the shadows.  Mozart's Requiem.  It didn’t strike me as exactly a romantic air. Elizabeth reached up and unfastened the ribbon at her throat, letting it drift to the floor.  Then she returned to Percival, and they swayed together slowly in a modified waltz step to the new music.  Percival bent as if to whisper something in her ear, but this time he lightly kissed her jaw.  She shivered again, her eyes half-lidded.  She let her head drift back, arching her neck a little toward him.

Still swaying as the music crescendoed, Percival bent and kissed her throat.  The way they were standing, I could see her face over his shoulder as her features alternately flushed and grew pale.  Her lips were parted and her eyes tightly closed. She looked for all the world like a woman at the very apex of her passion, and yet all Percival continued to do was bend with his lips to her throat.

I desperately wanted to see what he was doing, but his back was mostly toward me, and when he bent over her neck, his long dark hair fell like a curtain across his face, covering her throat and cascading down her bare shoulder.  Elizabeth arched suddenly against him, back bowing against her corset, her head thrown back and her eyes tightly shut. Her fingers were hooked like claws into the back of his vest. I could hear mewling little cries escaping her throat. Percival remained transfixed, his face buried against her throat, those long-fingered hands steadying her at her shoulders and her waist.

I strained against the wall in the closeness of the closet.  They still did not move, only grew more intense in their posture.  What kind of hold did this fantasy have upon her, if she could be thus transformed by a simple kiss?  Or was it something more?  I thought of Halaina and her discussions about the compelling figure of Dracula.  But of course, that was a play. I had never met a vampire, nor did I know that they could exist. Yet now, I felt the thrill of possibility aching in my chest.  Could Percival be such a creature?  And was I, an incubus, in a position to doubt such a thing?

But maddeningly, all I saw in the room beyond were two people locked in an intense embrace.  And even without his curtain of hair, I doubted I would have been able to see anything significant.

Suddenly as it had begun, it ended.  Elizabeth gave a little gasp, and seemed to swoon in Percival’s arms.  He caught her delicate body easily, lifting her onto the bed.  He eased her against the pillows, and all the while his back was to me.  He leaned over her, and I heard the resonant tones of that soft, deep voice.  Her name, perhaps, said soothingly several times over.  The long-nailed fingers of one elegant hand tenderly stroked her cheek.  She stirred beneath his touch, her eyes fluttering against pale lids.  Percival left her stretching languorously on the bed while he bent to retrieve the ribbon for her throat. Now his face was to me, but there was nothing I could read into his pallid, foreign features.

Then something strange occurred.  As Percival crouched for the ribbon, he brought his head up sharply, searching the room in my direction.  He was poised on the balls of his feet, elbows resting on his knees, the ribbon held loosely in the fingers of one hand.  It was a strangely feral pose.  There was no way he could see me. I was hidden on the other side of the wall, and even the little peephole that afforded my vision of the darkened room was minuscule, cunningly hidden among the pattern of the wallpaper. Nevertheless, he fixed his gaze on me.  It was impossible, yet there he was, looking directly at me.  His posture tensed more severely and for a moment, I could have sworn his dark eyes gleamed with a light of their own.

“When I discover who you are,” he growled, the velvet tones of his voice carrying clearly to my ears, “There will be a reprisal.”

I sat in the closet, stunned, every nerve jangling. Percival shot a final look of warning in my direction, then turned swiftly to where Elizabeth still dozed upon the bed.  Hurriedly, he retrieved his jacket, book, and glasses, then helped rouse Elizabeth.  She seemed dizzy and weak, murmuring and leaning against him. He helped her stand, practically carrying her. Never once did he take those smoldering eyes off of me. Shaken, I had to pull away from the peephole. I couldn’t bear the weight of those eyes one moment more. There was definitely something unusual about the artist Percival Lawrence, and sitting in the shadows of Halaina’s private rooms, I vowed that I would discover the truth, regardless of his threats.

 -- M. Belanger

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The Gambling Man

Author's Note: Most of you know I'm a gamer. In 1995, 1996, and 2000, I designed, wrote, and ran the Vampire: The Masquerade live action role-playing events at the gaming convention Origins. I did not do this single-handedly (long-time friend Jason B. Crutchfield wrote a number of characters for the 2000 game) but I wrote the lion's share of the story and character histories for each of the 150-200 characters provided to players at these games. And in typical me fashion, I didn't skimp on these stories. Most of the character histories were short stories in their own right. These character histories constitute a massive body of work that really only holds any relevance within the context of the game. But some of the characters are fun to pull out and revisit again, like the Toreador Dean Marshal Callahan. Dean Marshall Callahan: Clan Toreador

Dean’s mother worked as a saloon girl in their little Missouri town.  By night, she also did some horizontal business out of her one-room apartment located above the aforementioned saloon. That’s how Dean came into the world.  There were a number of men who might have been Dean’s father, but the most likely candidate was the town’s sheriff, due to Dean’s striking resemblance to the man.  While Dean took after his father in appearance, he inherited his moral values from his mom.  He pretty much grew up in the saloon, and from age twelve onward he was gambling, smoking, and flirting with the other girls.  He made pretty good money at cards, supplementing his mother’s income when business was slow.  He also had a knack for playing the piano, and this served him for a legitimate job.  Around the age of fifteen, he had saved himself a good chunk of cash and, feeling a little restless in the soul, took off down the Mississippi on a riverboat.

Dean was a rambler.  There was no doubt about it.  But he had the kind of talents that suited that sort of life well.  He always made his way in the world, whether by playing cards or setting down at the piano and entertaining folks with his tunes and his beautiful voice.  His natural charm and charisma got him a long way, and even when he got caught cheating at cards, his easy smile and eloquent words could usually get him through without a fight.  Dean spent many years traveling up and down the Mississippi, stopping at a town now and again, but mostly always keeping on the move.

Only the outbreak of the Civil War convinced Dean that it was time to lay low and maybe settle for a while.  Around that time, he was in the Carolinas.  Even he wasn’t sure quite how he’d got there.  He ended up in Charlotte and established himself at one of the local watering holes, playing the piano and playing a few hands of cards when the money ran low.

It was here that Dean met Gerald Langtree.  Gerald was a southern gent if Dean had ever seen one.  He had fine cut clothes, elegant but never flashy.  He was always polite and courteous, and was especially deft with the ladies.  Gerald started being a regular customer at Dean’s little hideaway, always coming in after dark had settled on the town and staying nearly all night long, listening to Dean play and sometimes indulging in a game of cards.

Now, Dean’s gambler’s instincts told him there was something up with Gerald.  It wasn’t a bad impression – just that the man had a secret.  And this secret was something that intensely fascinated Dean.  And so in their many conversations together, Dean tried dragging this secret thing out of Gerald, always probing gently into Gerald’s past and asking leading questions.  Gerald opened up to Dean like a flower, telling him about his family home in the Carolinas and all the long-gone days when Gerald had nothing more pressing to do with himself than paint and study his art.  He told Dean how the estate was burned down in a slave revolt and looted by Yankees, of the harrowing escape Gerald had to make by night taking only the clothes on his back and what money he could shove in his pockets.  Gerald lamented the loss of his family home, but what seemed most important to him was all the artwork that had been burned.  He said the art hadn’t been very good – second-rate at best, but at least it showed him how he’d progressed over the years and how far he’d actually come.

Dean developed a real liking for Gerald.  And despite all the wild adventures Gerald recounted to him, Dean felt like he still hadn’t managed to get at the heart of Gerald’s fascinating secret.  Then one night, Gerald approached Dean at the saloon and asked if he’d come with him to one of the back rooms for a private discussion.  Dean had never seen Gerald so serious in all his life, but underneath that seriousness was a private kind of joy.  Intrigued, and guessing rightly that he was soon going to learn the secret he’d been digging for all these long nights, Dean left his spot at the piano and followed Gerald back.

That night was a night of revelations and wonder for Dean Marshall Callahan.  In that back room, Gerald explained to Dean that he was an immortal, a Toreador vampire to be exact.  He asked Dean if he’d want to join him in that way of life, and maybe travel the country together, enjoying the night.  Dean couldn’t see anything wrong with Gerald’s offer – and the thought never crossed his mind once that Gerald was bluffing, because a hard-core gambler like Dean knew a bluff when he saw one.

It didn’t take a whole lot of thought on Dean’s part to say yes.  Gerald warned Dean that he wasn’t the only vampire out there.  There was a whole society of them as well, and that society had all manner of rules.  Gerald was going to be breaking one of those rules by embracing Dean, as he didn’t have his elders’ permission to do so.  So he and Dean would have to leave Charlotte, even though the war was still going strong, and lay low for a while

The two traveled West, dodging soldiers as they went.  They saw some serious brutality during the few skirmishes they bypassed, and it left a mark on the both of them.  Although both men were capable of taking care of themselves in a fist fight, an all-out war was another matter entirely.  It seemed like the wisest thing for them to do was to leave the fighting to the fighting men, and pass their own nights quietly in socializing and playing cards, waiting for the big fight to get settled.  They got back on the riverboats that had been Dean’s traveling home for so many years, and tried to pretend the war and all the concerns it brought with it did not exist.

Around about the 1940s, Gerald got word that his own sire was in the city of Columbus, Ohio.  Now, Gerald’s sire had been passing through the Carolinas, and he gave Gerald the embrace and moved on.  While he spent some time with Gerald, explaining the ins and outs of vampire culture, Gerald never really got a chance to know the man who had brought him into such a wonderful and dangerous life.  Gerald and Dean were getting tired of rambling across the country, and so Columbus seemed as good a place as any to settle.  The fact that Gerald’s sire, George Bellows, was the primogen of clan Toreador in Columbus only made the deal even sweeter.

Gerald and Dean have called the city their home since that time.  Although Dean’s rambling spirit has been nagging him to move onward to new horizons for the past couple of years, Gerald is the sort of man who puts down roots once he likes a place.  The desire to move and see more of the world is about the only thing that Dean and Gerald don’t agree upon.  Otherwise, they’re a tightly knit pair, each involved in similar aspects of the city, each helping the other out in issues of status, reputation, and clan politics.

Dean holds Gerald in high regards, practically idolizing him.  He suspects that Gerald feels that Dean is a better Toreador than himself, mainly because he’s always talking about Dean’s natural talent and artistic passion, in contrast to what Gerald considers to be his own lack of talent and vision. Dean’s been in the argument with Gerald before for many, many years – he thinks Gerald is selling himself short as far as talent goes, and tries to remind his sire of this whenever he can (without sounding like a broken record, that is.)  Dean seriously respects Gerald.  He’s the father Dean never had, in addition to being Dean’s best friend in all the world.  Gerald’s about the only person the cunning Dean trusts, and the two have had to watch one another’s back in more than one life-or-death situation in the past.

-- M. Belanger

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Keeping Secrets

Author's Note: In September 1998, all in a flurry, I wrote a piece of historical fiction (these days, it would be labeled paranormal romance). It ended up being about 200,000 words long and in desperate need of revision. Parts of it come together in later works (many of the characters from that initial, rambling piece ended up in This Heart of Flame), but I was never able to salvage the original book. I've picked and poked at it over the years, because there are scenes I wish I didn't have to lose -- but they exist now like islands that were once the tops of mountains, jutting up from the water after a terrible flood. One of these lonely fragments appears below. The narrator is Matthew, who also narrates This Heart of Flame. He's learned a secret about the artist Percival Lawrence -- a secret he breaks into Lawrence's house to confirm. Keeping Secrets

Percival's house was all darkness.  I let my horse trot up to the front lawn, then slid off his back.  Stroking his flank, I made certain he would wait for me.  He stepped out into the lawn and began patiently cropping grass.  Silently, I crept around the outside of the house.  I noticed a sliver of light, muted and weak, slipping out from one of the basement windows.  That was where I would look first.  I stepped around to the back door.  It was, of course, locked.  I planted my hands above and beneath the knob, pushing inward with gradually increasing force.  I heard the snap before I felt the thing give, and I caught myself just in time before all my weight carried me crashing to the floor.

The door swung inward, creaking.  I stepped into a kitchen as pristine as it was unused. The lack of foodstuffs hardly counted as proof, but I added it mentally to my growing list of peculiarities connected with Mr. Percival Lawrence.

Everything was utterly silent.  It was unsettling.  I closed my eyes, trying to feel where he might be.  Even to my subtle senses, however, the house seemed empty.  Either Percival truly was not home or his talent for going unnoticed extended even to the subtle level.  I suspected it was the later.  Regardless of what my senses were telling me, I was certain he was here somewhere.  The basement seemed the likeliest place.  I searched around for a way down, and was rewarded when I caught sight of a faint sliver of light creeping out beneath a door set into a set of stairs.  This door, too, was locked, but it pulled outward.  It was a relatively easy task to snap the lock and pull it open.

The stairs leading down were mostly in shadow.  Only a faint light filtered up from the rooms below.  I leaned cautiously onto the first step, hoping it would not creak.  I pressed my hands against the walls on either side of me to lessen the impact of my weight.  Satisfied that I could proceed in relative silence, I glided the rest of the way down.  All I could see at the bottom was a blank wall.

The stairs were enclosed, so I had to wait until the last step to even look around.  From what I could see of it, the basement had been made into a studio.  Crates and chunks of stone were arranged in a near corner.  The lightsource was coming from my left.  I crept round the corner of the stairs and started into that room when something leapt out at me.  It had been crouching in the shadow of the staircase, lying in wait.  Too quickly for me to react, I felt hands seize upon my shirtfront.  I was lofted into the air and carried backward, pinned against the wall.

I looked down at my captor.  If there had been any doubt in my mind what Percival Lawrence was, they were laid to rest in that instant.  Percival stood beneath me, holding me above his head, his features fixed in a snarl of rage.  His lips were drawn back from his teeth, and I could distinctly see his pronounced canines.

"You!"  he growled.

I let him dangle me in the air, the bricks of the wall pressing roughly against my back.  If he expected me to struggle or cry out, he was disappointed.  I was staring in wonderment at what I saw in his mouth.

He seemed to quickly realize this.  Not relinquishing his hold on me, he closed his eyes briefly, apparently trying to master himself.  The expression of fury seemed to melt from his face.  Abruptly, he let go of me, turning away with a snarl of disgust.  I slid down the wall, dropping heavily to the floor.

I crouched there, stunned to speechlessness for the next few moments, but not because of his rough treatment. Because of what I saw.

There were statues arranged throughout the room, half a dozen of them.  All were life-sized or a little larger.  They were magnificent, practically breathing with life.  Every detail was flawlessly evoked from the stone, nearly down to the pores on the skin.  I recognized a number of individuals from the club.  They may as well have been standing there before me.

"I thought you said your work was flawed," I said wonderingly. It was barely audible.  I had forgotten to breathe.

Percival rounded impatiently on me.  He was wearing a plain white shirt with the sleeves rolled up.  He was covered with a fine white dust, nowhere more thickly than his hands and upper arms.  It made his already pale skin as white as the marble of the statues around him.  Flakes of stone stood out in his loose, dark hair.

"What are you doing here?"  he demanded.  He made no attempt to hide his teeth now.  The pronounced canines were obvious and menacing.  "Never sneak up on me like that.  I could have killed you."

I straightened, dusting myself off.  My attention was still captivated by all the wondrous statues.  Even Halaina's work was not so fine.

"I don't break that easily,"  I responded a little tersely.  "Percival, you never said your work was like this.  These are amazing."

I walked past him to the nearest sculpture.  It was of Elizabeth.  I caressed her shoulder and arm.  It was like touching living flesh, except that it was cold.  Smooth, perfect, every muscle could be felt beneath the skin -- it was flawless.  Her face, the way she held herself, the tilt of her head ... he had captured everything vital about her in the stone.  I could have kissed those lips.

"Don't fondle the sculpture,"  he said, his voice sharp with disgust.

Reluctantly, I withdrew my hands from the statue of Elizabeth.  "Can we talk?" I asked, hoping that despite my rude intrusion, his answer would be yes.

-- M. Belanger

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Masquerade

Author's Note: This was a character study from a writing journal I kept years ago. It's crammed with similar bits and pieces, oddments written from the perspective of potential characters. Some of these characters reappear in later works, but some, like the brooding narrator in this piece, remain undeveloped and unnamed.  

Masquerade

Fall. The rising wind that skirls the leaves round the bases of the trees makes me hungry. The dark and the cold feelingly remind me what I am.

I want to hold someone down and pull the life from them, feel it seeping into my bones until my whole body thrums. I want to feed until the shrieking husk quivers empty in my hand. I want to feed until I cannot take any more.

But these are kinder days, and I cannot indulge such passions. My hunger swells with each passing night, and there is no respite for the likes of me. I can go among the milling crowds and sip a little here, a little there. But it is nothing compared to the old days, and it cannot be. The first offense would be to reveal what we truly are. For now, even those that know about us are unafraid. We have played the charade until we can hide even here. Vampires in plain sight, because it’s all pretend: cunning contacts, acrylic teeth. Nothing’s real to people in this age of CGI.

The few who might suspect that there is more to the tale are shouted down from their Internet soap boxes and called mad. Only what we want to put forth about our natures is ever truly heard.

But still I long for what we once could have. I want to take a mortal on the street – any of them, any one I please. To feel that power once again. To fully, completely indulge.

In days long past, I could place my hand upon a chest and crush the living heart within. No fear, no terror, no ecstasy, nor any other passion could release so much delicious life as that incandescent moment of death.

It’s been so long since I’ve supped on the last breath of a lover. And nights like this, I miss it the most.

-- M. Belanger

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In Dreams

Author's Note: Those of you who have read my short fiction collection, These Haunted Dreams will recognize the following tale. This is the story which opens that collection and, I feel, helps set the tone for the rest of the book. This particular tale was inspired by Blue Oyster Cult's classic Don't Fear the Reaper (if you've never heard the song, listen to it here). You can see distinct echoes from the song in some of the imagery at the end. For a live reading of this haunting tale, click here.

In Dreams

He came to her in dreams.  Not every night.  No, that would have been too kind.  Instead, he teased her with his presence, coming every once in a while, seducing her twice in one week, and then disappearing for almost a month at a time.

The dreams, when she had them, were wonderful.  In her waking hours, she would hear the velvet of his voice, the soft breath against her ear.  The memory of his words was so vivid that it drowned out every other sound on her morning ride to work.

And his touch.  Whenever he came to her at night, all the next day, she could feel him still, like soft electric fire burning in her skin.  Sometimes she would sit at her desk for hours, staring blankly at the computer screen, completely caught up in the memory of his hands all over her.

She did not know him, this strange dream lover.  His face was one she had never seen before – the high, sculpted cheekbones, the thin, perfect nose, the lips that seemed chiseled from living stone.  He was pale – pale as the moon in her dreams, and it seemed that his skin nearly glowed.  Jet-black hair, like a raven’s wing, spilled over his forehead and down the back of his neck.  His eyes, too, were black, or so it seemed.  In the dreams, these held a strange dark-light, and she could never gaze on them for very long.

He would just arrive in her twelfth floor apartment, moving from the balcony to the side of her bed.  She never asked how he got there.  It was, after all, a dream.  And yet how vivid, how sensuous these dream-visits were, until she felt that she truly had a lover, even though this lover had no name.

Months into this strange seduction, she began to go out looking for him.  Somehow, she knew to seek him only at night.  She went to the bars and the nightclubs, dressing in velvet and her slick vinyl boots. Over the weeks, she saw many strange, pale people.  Once or twice, she thought she spied him, but then the young man would turn and the cheek wasn’t right or the eyes were too dim.  It seemed like he was always one step ahead of her, and she could feel his presence lingering everywhere she went.

If a club wasn’t open, she would wander the Village, sitting and watching the people walk their dogs through WashingtonPark.  Sometimes she could feel his presence moving behind her, but then she would turn, and there was nothing but shadows and the sound of the wind.  She knew that he was teasing her, leading her along in some deft seduction. The harder she sought him in the waking world, the longer it would be before he returned to her dreams.

She had resigned herself to being patient, some time after the leaves began to fall.  It was getting too cold to sit all night in the park, although she would still sometimes go out to one of the clubs.

The chill of November was in the air the night she lost her wallet.  She had money in her pocket, but it wasn’t enough to pay for cab fare.  With a bitter wind coming off of the Atlantic, she didn’t relish the thought of walking ten blocks home.  So she found the F train and tried to look inconspicuous as she waited on the platform, shivering in her fishnets and her thin vinyl coat.

It was a Sunday night.  She expected the train to be empty, but instead it had a crowd.  It was nothing compared to the hoards on the morning commute, but she still had to work to find herself a seat.  Several people were standing, fingers twined in the loops overhead. Others were stretched out across three or four spaces, vagrants escaping the night’s chill by riding the train endlessly back and forth

As it was so often lately, her mind was on him.  She gazed out the window, not even seeing the shadowed, stained walls as they sped past her eyes.  She was focused so completely on her internal landscape that she almost didn’t see the pale face reflected beside her in the grime-smeared glass. But for some reason, her eye caught the image and stuck.  It took a moment for the face to sink in.

He was sitting on the other side of the train from her, his dark eyes focused on something far away.

She turned around, half expecting him to not be there when she looked.  Like some phantasm, she feared that he existed only in the glass.  But there he was.  The lights of the subway played upon his pallor, till it seemed he should glow with a light of his own.

The train plunged into a tunnel, rattling wildly along its tracks.  Yet he hadn’t disappeared.

“You!  I know you!”

She couldn’t help herself.  The words echoed through the train.

Slowly, he turned and regarded her.  Those strange, dark eyes seemed to sizzle on her skin.

“Hush,” he said, drawing his dark coat about him.  “Don’t make a scene.  I’ll come to you tomorrow.  Just before the morning.”

The train was jerking to a halt.  He stood, and it was as if the train was moving for everyone but him.  His hands were in his pockets, and he didn’t even seem to brace his legs.  And yet so effortlessly he rose and glided to a door.  She sat riveted to her seat, her eyes, unblinking, fixed on him.  She wanted to run after him, but he was out and the door was closed before she could get her legs to work.  Her heart fluttered against her ribs like a panicked bird in a cage.

It was only after he exited the train that she realized his lips had never moved.

*                      *                      *

Tonight, she thought, and stared through the letters on the screen. Tonight, just before morning.

In agony, she struggled to focus on her work.  His voice had been exactly like it was in her dreams.  But had she dreamed it?  His lips had never moved.  The other passengers, though they reacted to her outburst, seemed insensible to him.

And the way he glided, as if gravity held no power over him!  The train could have shaken itself off its tracks, and he would have been standing there, calm and poised, with everyone else thrown to the floor around him.

What was he?  All those weeks, all those months, that question had never come.  Had she never wondered?  Or had she been afraid to ask?  Was there any chance that he would have answered as he whispered to her at night?  No, he spoke to her in dreams, but it was the language of the bedroom.  In all the time he had been coming to her, she had not even learned his name.

The day dragged by.  And then it was evening, and she made a point of taking the train. She searched the faces, but of course, he wasn’t there.

Just before morning.

She stopped at the vegetarian diner a block from her building.  But she couldn’t eat.  Every time the door opened, she almost jumped up, looking for him.

The elevator ride up to her apartment was torture.  There were five other people, all standing too close.  And of course, the worst of it was, none of them were him.

She stripped out of her work clothes and took a hot bath.  But the steam and the scent of lavender did nothing at all to soothe her.

Those eyes, those high, pale cheekbones!

She turned on the computer and surfed the ‘net.  She found herself checking forums over and over again, desperately searching for some new topic, some line of conversation that could occupy her mind.  In the reflection of her face on the screen, she could almost see him.

At nine o’clock, she took off her bathrobe and slipped on her black lace gown.  She turned off all the lights but left one candle burning, a lone tea-light in a votive holder that glimmered on her nightstand.  She lay on her back among the pillows.  She stared at the ceiling, and the flickering flame of the tea light made the patterns in the plaster come alive.

What was she waiting for?  Should she sleep?  Or did he mean he’d really come, for the first time more flesh than dream?

Eleven o’clock found her tossing, her long red hair tangled on the pillowcase.  Midnight came and went.  She got up and put on music, hoping the quiet tones would ease the wait.  The clock seemed to draw her eyes to it every quarter hour.  She turned her face away, and then would look again: one-thirty, one-forty-five, two AM.

Sometime, she dozed.  She woke to a sound on the balcony.  Somehow she heard it over all the city noise.  A gust of chilly wind greeted her as she sat up, kissing her skin through the thin lace of her gown.

There was a light out there.  She could see it glowing faintly through the muslin of the curtains.  Twelve floors below, motors growled and horns blared.  Four-thirty in the morning.  New York was never asleep.

She pushed the covers back and placed bare feet upon the floorboards.  The chill brought her more awake.  She was awake.  She was sure of it.  This was no dream.

And then that figure moved behind the curtain.  The soft glow upon the balcony marked his stately silhouette.  He was thin, so thin and delicate, and yet she knew the strength that vibrated in those limbs.

He didn’t have to call to her.  She threw open the doors.  He was leaning against the balcony railing, arms crossed upon his chest.  The wind blew his hair about him and she thought of ravens taking flight.

She ran to him, her arms outstretched.  She had no words for the joy she felt, the profound sense of completion.  When he moved, the wind caught the edges of his long silk trench.  It made a sound like wings.

Then the wings were everywhere, and the wind, and the lights of the city as they streamed by like a river that had burst its banks.  And the stars that were streetlamps and the stars in the sky went all topsy-turvy until finally she felt herself in his arms.

They were standing on the pavement, twelve floors below the balcony’s edge.  She could still see the cars and streetlights, but strangely, the city seemed to hold its breath.  The sounds were distant and muffled.  Even the sirens were quiet as they came, heralded by flashing lights.

“I can be with you,” she murmured, breathless.

“You are with me,” he said.

She felt his hands squeezing her shoulders.  They were cold, but they were his.  She laid her head against his chest.  She heard only the wind.

“You have no heartbeat,” she whispered.

“No,” he said.  “I never have.”

Softly, he stroked her hair.  She gazed up at him, and found she could meet those dark and distant eyes.

“How did we get here?” she wondered.  “I mean down here, on the street?”

He pointed to the pavement behind her.  She almost didn’t look.

The flashing lights were a blur around her.  The cars and people screaming were hazy and indistinct.  It was like standing in an impressionist’s painting of the city, everything too blurry to be real.

“How did that happen?” she asked.  She cringed away from it, clinging to his chest.

“Isn’t that what you wanted?” he responded.  “You wanted to be with me.”

“To be with you…” she sighed.

His arms were cold around her, but still she found comfort in that embrace.

“Take me away from it,” she pleaded. “Take me away from it all.”

They turned away from the mess on the pavement. Her hand in his hand, they danced away on the wind.

--M. Belanger

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The Rose Garden

Author's Note: This is from the unpublished collection Fairy-Tales for the Disenchanted, the same anthology that holds both the Long-Suffering Queen and Pills and Potions. The Rose Garden

A woman once tended a glorious rose garden, which blossomed all the year with huge, white blooms.  This woman had a daughter, and when the daughter was old enough to go out into the rose garden, the mother reluctantly agreed to let her go out for a bit each day.

However, the woman feared for her daughter for she knew that the roses of the garden had sharp and wicked thorns.  So every day, the woman went around the rose garden, plucking off the thorns.  The garden was big, and so she could only attend to her task in stages, and for this reason, she forbade her daughter from going into any part of the garden where she had not first pulled off the thorns.

Then one day the woman had to go into town on an errand.  She was gone longer than she expected, and her daughter, impatient for her chance to view the splendid blossoms of the garden, opened the gate and went in alone.  Without her mother, however, she did not know what part of the garden was free from thorns.  She determined not to let her fear of being pricked keep her from enjoying all the beauty the garden had to offer, and so she roamed around it all day and late into the evening.

As she explored the garden more thoroughly than she ever had before, she became aware of a particularly comely rose bush twining upon itself in the very center of the garden.  The white blossoms were huge and heavy with fragrance, and the daughter determined to have the largest one for her hair.  She pushed past the grasping canes, stretching herself out to her full length to pluck her prize.  Just then, her mother returned from her errand, and, seeing what was about to transpire, she called out for the girl to stop for she had not yet taken the thorns from that particular bush.

Either the daughter did not hear her warning or she did not heed it, for she grasped the blossom in her hand and plucked it from the bush.  As she did so, her finger caught on a thorn.  She gasped in surprise and wept a little, but held the blossom all the tighter for the pain.  Once she had plucked it, she marveled at her prize, for the flower she held in her hand had been stained a deep crimson by the blood from her wound.

Her mother admonished her severely, but the daughter grew to love the thorns on the roses. Certainly that first crimson rose was more precious to her for the pain that it had caused.

-- M. Belanger

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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 Returns (Act VI 8-9)

Author's Note: Back after a short break, and finishing up the screenplay. Livia has been captured. Vlad interrogates her then leaves her to a jealous Marica's tender mercies.  

Act VI Scene VIII:

(Vlad’s citadel, second floor. This room has been hung with rugs, cloth, and draperies pillaged from the town. The predominating colors are gold and red. There is a large throne-like wooden chair set against the wall opposite the stairs down. A small table stands beside it. A few wicked-looking knives have been set casually upon the table. A sizable Oriental rug has been laid on the floor in front of the chair, adding to its throne-like feel.

     The entire other half of the room has been strewn with pillows. There is a definite Turkish feel to the decorations, reminding us that Vladimir spent his youth in the Turkish courts. Vlad, shirtless, is stretched languidly out on the pillows with Marica. She, too, is shirtless, with her back to the camera. He is tracing lazy circles with one fingernail on her flesh. The only thing marring this idyllic picture are the three bodies dropped like trash in the foreground. Their throats have been torn out and their glazed eyes bulge. As Vlad and Marica converse in the soft tones of lovers, we hear the roaring motor of the bus pulling up. This is accompanied with cheers and whoops of victory so it almost sounds like the vampires just won a college football game. Slightly annoyed at this interruption, Vlad stands in one fluid movement and goes over to a window. We get a fuller appreciation for the patterning of scars that decorate his flesh. Some are obviously from old wounds: there is a gash that distorts one nipple; the stripes of a lash decorate his back. But many look like magickal sigils. They are carved into his biceps, his belly, his chest. A few of the thin white patterns descend down past his hips and into his trousers.)

Vlad: It seems Dr. Morgan’s most recent foray has met with some success.

(Behind him, Marica hastily buttons her blouse. Her hair is down, falling softly around her face. We see another love-bite just above one breast. She joins Vlad at the window and looks down. The bus pulls up close to the tower and the remaining vampires pour out. Some are limping and wounded. Dr. Morgan exits last, carrying Livia. She has been bound and gagged, and he has her slung over one shoulder. Either she is unconscious, or she has given up fighting. The camera cuts back to Marica and Vlad.)

Marica: It looks like they only captured one of them.

Vlad: This is the most important one. Her companion will come now, and I suspect she will bring the book.

Marica: What are you going to do with the red-head until then?

Vlad: Why, I shall enjoy her, Marica.

(Vlad offers Marica a salacious smile. Marica looks away so Vlad cannot see her frown).

Vlad: Tell our American rabble to bring her up here to my private chamber. I want to speak with her alone. And tell them to desist with that bothersome noise.

Marica: Very well, voivode.

(Vlad looks puzzled at this sudden formality, but lets it slide. He turns away from the window to retrieve his own clothes. Marica’s face is a careful mask. She leans out the window, yelling down to the crowd. Her voice is more strident than usual.)

Marica: The voivode desires that you bring the woman up to us. He also asks for quiet.

(The camera shows her perspective on the street below. Dr. Morgan, Livia still slung over his shoulder, gives a cheerful salute and enters the tower.)

Act VI Scene IX

(The camera cuts back to the second-floor room. Vlad, smoothing his shirt, sits lounging in the throne-like chair. Marica lounges somewhat stiffly upon the pillows. She does not look entirely happy to be there. Vlad’s gaze is upon the stairs. We hear Dr. Morgan walking up with his burden before we catch sight of him.)

Vlad: Set the woman down there.

(Vlad gestures toward the rug. Morgan, clearly very pleased with himself, deposits Livia on the floor. She is in a swoon and lies pale in her bonds.)

Vlad: She is unharmed?

(from her place over in the corner, Marica translates for Vlad.)

Marica: He wants to know if you’ve hurt her.

Morgan: I had to strike her a glancing blow to the back of the head or else we never would have gotten her here.

Marica: (to Vlad) He knocked her out. She fought.

(Morgan brings Vlad’s attention to the side of his face where the bloody tracks of Livia’s nails have not yet fully healed. There is also a faint charred spot on his temple in the shape of a cross.)

Morgan: Like a red-headed she-devil. She nearly took out my eye!

Vlad: I like a woman with spirit. So long as she respects her place. Tell him he can go, Marica.

(Marica is glaring down at one of the pillows, grinding her teeth. Without looking up, she addresses Morgan.)

Marica: You can go now.

Morgan: Am I not to be rewarded?

Vlad: I know that tone. He wants a reward of some sort, doesn’t he?

(Vlad gets up from his chair, eyes locked on Dr. Morgan’s. His expression alone makes Morgan take a step backward.)

Marica: The voivode is not feeling charitable. I suggest you leave, William.

Morgan: Uh, yes. Of course. I’ll be on my way.

(Vlad chuckles blackly as Morgan hurries back down the stairs. After a moment, he turns his attention to Livia, first turning her head and checking for the brand. Wonderingly, he runs his fingers over it, the fingers of the other hand threading through her hair.)

Vlad: It is the same mark exactly. Marica? How many years did you say had passed since my interment in the tomb?

Marica: More than five hundred, voivode.

Vlad: An uncountable amount of time. Amazing! There is something at work here beyond my understanding.

(Very gently, he runs a finger down the side of Livia’s face, continuing down her neck to the uppermost swell of her breast. Marica frowns and looks away.)

Vlad: They were all so very beautiful. I never meant to kill them all.

(Livia’s eyes flutter and she begins to stir. Her head snaps up and her eyes fly wide. She stares up at Vladimir’s face, trying to take it in. After fleeting disorientation, she glares at him and begins to struggle in her bonds, trying to cry out against the gag. Vlad locks eyes with her and gestures for her to be still. He touches the gag, then holds his finger against his lips in the gesture for silence. Livia scowls, but stops her struggling. She nods, and very gently Vlad removes the gag. Livia has a cut on one lip, and she is frowning hard enough to reopen it and make it bleed. Tenderly, Vlad grasps her by the shoulders and sets her into a sitting position. Her hands are tied behind her back and her feet are trussed, and Livia does her best to adjust her balance so she doesn’t fall right back over. Vlad sits back down in his chair.)

Vlad: Marica, tell her she is to answer my questions. I have no intention of doing permanent harm, but I will make her suffer if she defies me.

Marica: He wishes for you –

Livia: I heard him myself.

(Livia stares defiantly at Vlad.)

Vlad: (mildly shocked) You understand me?

Livia: Your grammar’s dated, but I can hold my own.

Vlad: Perfect. Do you know who I am, then?

Livia: You look familiar, but I know a lot of people.

Marica: You speak to him with more respect!

Livia: I’ll speak to him however I like.

(Vlad gets up and in one quick movement backhands Livia. The blow rocks her head back, leaving her mouth bleeding and her jaw bruised. She closes her eyes against the pain, refusing to cry out.)

Vlad: I am Prince Vladimir the Third, son of the Dragon who was son of Mircea the Old. You will address me by my title of voivode.

Livia: (incredulous) Dracula?

Vlad: That is what I said. You may know me as the Impaler.

Livia: (laughing wildly now) Dracula?

Vlad: Have I knocked the sense out of you woman?

Marica: She is merely astounded, voivode. You are famous even in this century.

Livia: (still laughing) I’ve been abducted by Dracula?

Vlad: Enough of your babbling. Tell me your name, woman.

(Livia just stares at him. This inspires another blow to the side of her face.)

Vlad: It is not my intention to kill you. Do not goad me into beating you within an inch of your life!

Livia: (she meets his eyes, then thinks better of it. Reluctantly, she speaks) Livia.

Vlad: Very good, Livia. Perhaps we are coming to an understanding?

Livia: I’m tied up on the floor in front of you. There’s not much to understand.

Vlad: Be careful of your tongue, Livia. I admire your spirit, but only because it will please me to break it.

(Livia stares at the rug just in front of her feet. Vlad resettles himself on his chair.)

Vlad: Tell me about that mark on your neck. The brand.

Livia: It’s just a mark.

Vlad: Strange then, that it appears over the door of this tower.

Livia: I hadn’t noticed, voivode. I was unconscious for that part. You know? Somebody whacked me over the head after kidnapping me.

(Vlad looks like he very much wants to smack her again, but manages to reign in his temper.)

Marica: This would go better for you if you just answer his questions.

Vlad: What does that mark signify?

Livia: It’s a family symbol. Sinesti. Sin was a Babylonian moon god.

Marica: (to herself, pointedly in English) Whore of Babylon.

Vlad: Do all the members of your family bear this mark?

Livia: It’s a tradition. Kind of like a coat of arms. (she studies Vlad’s expression for a few moments) Can I ask you something without the fear of getting hit?

Vlad: Certainly. Because you asked nicely.

Livia: Why is it important?

Vlad: Because a long time ago I knew people who bore that mark. Their blood was sweet and their flesh was sweeter.

Livia: (rolls her eyes) Not interested.

Vlad: Before I mar your beauty with another blow, shall I remind you that you are a prisoner here? You do not get to choose.

(Livia sighs and closes her eyes, steeling herself for his fist. Vlad notices this and decides on a different tactic. In a fluid movement, he leaves the chair, kneeling down on the floor in front of her. When Livia next opens her eyes, he has his face inches away from her, his fingers just about to caress the place he had recently landed a blow.)

Vlad: Truly, Livia, I do not want to hurt you. You must understand that I have a temper. I want you to respect me. I want you to answer what I ask.

(Vlad runs his fingers along her jaw, drawing them through the blood that is drying there. He puts the blood-stained fingers to his mouth, savoring the taste of it.)

Vlad: Exactly as I remember it. Tell me about the alchemist.

Livia: The what?

Vlad: This was once his tower. Tell me about him.

Livia: Voivode, really. I have no idea what you’re talking about.

Vlad: If you are lying …

Livia: I’m not lying on this one. I don’t know anything about an alchemist.

(He studies her face for a moment.)

Vlad: Very well. Then tell me about your companion. The woman with the short dark hair.

Livia: She’s just a friend. We travel together.

Vlad: That is only a half-truth. You do not lie well with those green eyes of yours, beautiful Livia.

Marica: (disgusted) Perhaps we should just wait for her friend and interrogate them both.

Vlad: Hush, woman.

Livia: She doesn’t know where you’ve taken me.

Vlad: No, but she will feel it, won’t she? She can sense me. I’ve seen her stare directly at me, when no other mortal would have known I was there.

(Livia looks back down at the rug.)

Vlad: Your silence is my answer. Does she have the book, then? Will she be able to tell me about the alchemist? You know she wears his mark.

Livia: It’s just a necklace. A lot of people wear symbols that have no meaning.

Vlad: But you knew what I was talking about.

(Livia presses her lips together, scowling. Vlad places his hands gently on both sides of her face, drawing her gaze to meet his eyes as he has done with Marica.)

Vlad: You have blood on your lips, dear Livia. Allow me to kiss it away.

(Vlad kisses the side of her mouth where she is bleeding. Livia squeezes her eyes shut, trying to remain calm. But then his tongue snakes out, darting at the blood, and she makes a strangled noise in her throat, pulling away.)

Vlad: I will not kill you, Livia. I want the living blood that’s in your veins. I made a mistake all those years ago, slaughtering those who bore this mark. I did not realize then that they were more valuable to me alive. I will not kill you, but I will take what you refuse to give.

(Reaching around to the back of her head, Vlad grabs a fistful of Livia’s hair, twining his fingers close to her scalp. He pulls her head back, exposing the white line of her neck. Livia makes a strangled noise again. Vlad exposes his fangs and bites. Livia’s whole body stiffens, then suddenly relaxes. Though she still makes strangled sounds, there is another quality to them that suggests she enjoys what he is doing whether she wants to or not. Behind them, almost between them, we see Marica. The camera shifts focus to her. In a jealous rage, she bites her lip. The camera focuses back on Vlad and Livia. Livia is beginning to slump in her bonds, while Vlad trembles and tears himself away.)

Vlad: Not too much. Not too much. I must take care. Life is delicate when it runs so sweet.

(He loosens his grip and Livia swoons. Blood trickles from the bite. With a post-coital languor, Vlad dabs a drop of blood from the corner of his mouth.)

Vlad: Ambrosia. Exactly as I remember. Nothing else has ever quenched my flame.

(Again the camera shifts focus to Marica. She has thrown herself down on the pillows and put her back to the room.)

Vlad: Tend to her wounds, Marica. I shall go down and await our other guest.

(Oblivious to Marica’s pain, he strides from the room.)

 

--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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