The Shadowy Man
Father Purgeon stood just inside the doorway. He’d made Avalyn as comfortable as he could before transporting her to where she now laid, on a small but serviceable cot beneath the bowels of the church.
A lamp on a worn wooden nightstand opposite the cot lit the area. The priest ran his hands over the masonry; it was cool. He was glad he’d wrapped her in the linen sheets. At first, he’d thought of bundling her in a comforter, but she’d developed a fever and it was rising, so he’d decided against it.
Her tosses and turns troubled him; her moans were indistinct yet urgent. He wanted to help her. Nevertheless, conflict held him. It was an immobilizing and frenetic state. His concern almost made him change his mind. But then he remembered Roman’s warning and checked himself.
Yet he still doubted his decision. He should have taken her to the hospital. He looked around the room. She deserved better than this.
The small rises and falls of Avalyn’s chest were rapid and frantic. She thrashed and mumbled, lost in the throes of a dream. Her pale face glistened with sweat.
Father Purgeon watched in helpless anxiety.
Unbeknownst to the priest, there was another presence in the room, watching Avalyn from another realm. The scarce light shone tenebrous for the curious onlooker.
The Incarnation of Sleep had watched Avalyn since birth. Avalyn fascinated her. She was one of the few remaining mysteries left for such a being to speculate upon. The child was special. Sleep delivered few dreams to this mortal. She wasn’t responsible for the girl’s fitful slumber.
Sleep pondered this as she weaved dreams where she stood by the cot. In her hands, knitting needles blurred, fed by the eternal fabric of her iridescent gown. Her garments swirled with incandescent transparency. They scintillated, looked like silk dipped in liquid-pale silver. Within its seams man’s dreams flowed. A swirling mosaic of shifting scenes and colors.
Sleep and her emissaries weaved the dream world for all living things that slept.
She couldn’t read the child’s mind. It was locked, and only the Shadowy Man held its key, even though she was the one who made it possible for them to meet. She made sure that their meetings could take place. She made sure that none of the other Celestials could interfere. Not an easy task, even for a Neutral.
In time, revelations, to each and every all, Sleep thought, gazing one last time at Avalyn. Perhaps some other night she’d dream, but not tonight.
Sleep departed, weaving as she went.
“She’s dead! Why can’t you help me? You told me you’d help me,” the priest heard Avalyn say in her sleep.
She spoke to the Shadowy Man. She named him the Shadowy Man at the age of two. At least once a month he’d visit. For the last year, he’d been visiting her often, almost nightly. He appeared as he always did-an undefined shape of a man that leaned over her. The brilliant light behind him would’ve blinded her if he weren’t blocking it. She’d felt that familiar pulling sensation she always felt before his arrival, as if her soul were being towed from her skin. But it wasn’t her soul that was leaving her body; it was her astral form.
“I have helped you, Avalyn,” the Shadowy Man said. “I am sorry, but you knew it was going to happen. You knew it was her time. Events are now in motion.” Then, realizing how harsh that sounded, he said, “Sometimes, knowing cannot help with the dealing.”
“I want to go home.”
“Not now Avalyn, soon.”
“Never now, always later.”
“I know it is difficult, but they need you. There was no other way,” he said. “Others have risked much as well, and there are still those to come. What of the demon?”
“He’s filled with sorrow. His eyes are empty and cold. Yet he saved my life. He freed the souls of the dead children from that house.”
“Yes, I know,” the Shadowy Man said. “Those children, their souls were tethered to the horrors that the house harnessed. By killing Drake, Roman released their souls. They have moved on. As for the demon’s demeanor, it is as it must be, for now. He is at war with his nature. You must keep his essence out, Avalyn. Do not let him in. The priest must aid the demon now.”
“Why? What’s going to happen?”
“In time you will know more. Until then you will go with Sarah.” He stepped away from the light. The brilliance behind him blinded her. But as suddenly as the light came, it was gone, replaced with a deep and complete dark. “There is something that I must show you,” the Shadowy Man whispered. “Watch. Listen. It is one of the reasons why you are here.”
As if heeding his words, the darkness thinned.
She’s floating along the ceiling of a sphere shaped chamber. Beneath her, seven winged figures, robed in black, faces hidden by cowls, stand in a circle around a pit in the center of the room. Darkness moves about each of them, like waves of heat in a cold place, though no warmth exudes from them.
A stone door at the far end of the chamber slides open; granite grates granite. A demon enters dragging in a man and a woman by their necks. The demon is wearing black, plate armor beneath a red cloak. The visor of his black helm is shut. Carved on his breastplate, Lucifer’s sigil. Swollen bruises cover the captives’ naked bodies. They tear at the demon’s gauntlets squirming to free themselves. The man’s legs have been hobbled. The tendons of hers have been severed. Blood stains skin and streaks the stone floor.
The demon marches forward and bows to the Seven. They do not bow back. They part for him as he strides towards the pit. Three feet from it, he drops his cargo. The man cries out in a hoarse scream. The woman moans on her back. The circle closes behind the demon as he leaves.
Avalyn sees a faint white glow encapsulating each prisoner.
The Seven shift with mounting anticipation. Behind them, seven sigils embedded within the walls flicker once, then blaze scarlet. The sigils are demonic seals, representing each of the Seven demon lords in attendance, who rule Hell’s Houses. Within each seal, inscribed in Enochian, are the names of each House. Avarice. Envy. Gluttony. Lust. Pride. Sloth. Wrath.
The red intensifies. Seven hooded heads lift, revealing pallid waxen skin, onyx orbs for eyes, and ivory incisors. They raise their arms in unison. The sleeves fall back exposing the black sigils on every wrist. Outstretched arms end in clawed fingers. A low, droning, discordant melody escapes each mouth, then becomes a chant.
“Their souls are not theirs to keep.”
The black sigils on their arms now burn crimson.
Beneath Avalyn, the darkness expands around the pit’s lip, blacker and deeper than the darkness exuding from the Seven. Wide eyed, she stares. Shrilling shrieks scale the pit, rising and squealing. The seven diabolical conductors urge forth the finest notes of desolation from the abject orchestra.
“Their souls are not theirs to keep.”
The prisoners stare at the pit. Despite their injuries, they crawl away.
From the great below it comes. Tentacles reach over the well’s surface and grip the ground. They pull a massive mound of formless, blackened tar from the pit. It is twenty feet tall.
Avalyn marvels at its size, at its immense girth. What she can only assume is its head, almost grazes her ethereal form. As it stretches, screams cry from its taut skin. The skin breaks. Incorporeal, luminescent human heads try to squeeze through the slits, mouths agape, they bawl, high-pitched and shrill.
Avalyn knows what they are. “Souls,” she says to the Shadowy Man. “Pure souls. How is this possible?”
“Shh,” the Shadowy Man whispers. “They may sense us.”
The thing lurches forward.
The prisoners continue to squirm away, mouthing mute bellows, the man grabbing the woman’s hand, pulling her with him, away from the creature and toward the circle of seven. Fear drives them. Insanely, they crawl, gibbering as they go, scraping toward freedom.
The nightmare follows.
Reaching the Seven, they try to squirm between the gaps within the circle, make it past the robed figures, but the circle tightens.
Sticky, moist tendrils of blackened ooze shoot from the creature’s bulk and slither along the floor. The organic rope wraps itself about the prisoners’ ankles. As they kick and screech, the thing pulls them towards its flesh.
The chant continues. “Their souls are not theirs to keep.”
When the prisoners meet the creature’s tar-like skin, the tendrils release them, leave them adhered to its gummy flesh, where they struggle like mice on a glue trap.
Suddenly, the thing’s bubbling flesh churns and rents appear along its skin. The slits widen until they resemble open mouths. A vast sucking sound emits from those just formed maws. The humans become frenetic, spasmodic. They try wrenching free from the black pulp. Screams tear from their throats. Screams that seem to come from somewhere deeper than their lungs.
Again, the sucking sound.
Their skin becomes translucent, revealing a pristine brilliance underneath. Then, thin tendrils of wispy lambent light rise from their flesh, undulating with wave upon wave of benign luminescence.
The sucking sound escalates and becomes louder than the victims fading screams. The thin tendrils turn to thick streams of light, pour into the thing’s many mouths, and then disappear beneath oily-black waves, sucked down within its depths.
The prisoners’ eyes go blank. They fall to the floor, no more than vacant vessels.
The chant rises. “Our Father assures, their souls are not theirs to keep.”
The sigils ignite behind the Seven, and with that shine, the bodies of the dead rise, eyes blazing red. Though their souls are gone, their bodies will be used. They are now the property of the demon known as Legion. They turn their backs on the thing and shuffle toward the door. The circle of seven parts for them.
“We have to leave now,” the Shadowy Man says.
The chamber fades.
Outside, in the world of the waking, Father Purgeon was kneeling by Avalyn. He’d rushed to her side and was now checking her brow for heat. He yanked back his hand. Her skin was burning.
Father Purgeon got up and ran to the phone. If he couldn’t bring her to the hospital, he’d bring the hospital to her.
The Blood Thrall
Detective Daniel Serf raced across The Lone Bridge as he navigated the car through hostile weather, feeling the need to match his racing emotions.
What happened to the girl? Drake never deviated from his M.O. It was to be Drake’s last child, though he was unaware of it. After that, no more. His time was up. Astor would see to that.
He’d already called his men, Larson and Sands, and relayed his master’s instructions. When done cleaning Avalyn’s house, and getting rid of the mother’s body, they’d concentrate on locating the girl. But Drake, as always, had been messy and cleaning up after him would take some time.
Bulbous beads of sweat dripped into his brown eyes. He wiped it away. Two weeks was too long to go without the blood. His forehead was drenched, as was his black hair. His veins itched. Soon, they’d burn and feel like acid were in his veins.
Had he failed Bailien?
He neared the end of the bridge, his hands shaking as he gripped the wheel, his vision blurring. It cleared some when he shook his head. He needed the blood, Bailien’s blood. He bit his lip and held back a cry, afraid to hear it because he knew how it would sound: small and desperate.
What had gone wrong? Had Drake been caught? Had the girl escaped? There’d been no reports of a missing child. No arrests matching Drake’s description. Still, Serf was worried. Drake was getting worse; he was getting weaker. Blood alone wasn’t enough to sustain him. Not yet.
Thinking of blood made him think about his need. Made him think about his master, Bailien. Serf’s will had weakened long before he’d met Bailien, whose appearance couldn’t have been timelier. Serf had just divorced. The marriage hadn’t been a long one. He’d been unable to control his sexual desires when married, and afterward he’d no interest to.
Nightly, he’d roamed the city, partook in whatever flesh he could get, willing or not.
“Danny! Danny! Hold up!”
The six-foot beauty entrances him. To Serf, she’s a flawless exaggeration of a female: breasts too large for her frame, buttocks, robust and rounded to a perfection, spine curved so deep that Serf could picture a saddle on it, picture himself riding on it, breaking her. Her legs were muscular, yet curvy, leading down to six-inch pumps, whose leather straps coiled from ankles to knees like sensuous serpents. She’s wearing a pink, thong-backed bodysuit, so tight, it appears to be part of her skin. He can see the bulge between her legs.
The completeness of this walking contradiction excites him.
For a long time she’s been the primary focus of his desire, and his rage. At the bar, some nights she ignores him. Other nights she talks to him. When she does, she teases him, leaves him hard up, frustrated.
“You remember my name?”
“Do you remember mine?” she asks, smiling. A generous mouth. A cruel mouth.
He stiffens in his pants. He wants to beat her, punish her, for making him feel this way, for arousing him.
“Yeah, I remember,” he says. “Servanah, right?” trying to keep his voice from trembling.
She slides her tongue over her lips. “Hard name to forget, huh?” She stretches and displays her already well-exhibited physique. Breasts sway, their size strains the fabric.
His temper rises as it always does with his libido. She’s teasing him. She’s teased him so many times. He doesn’t want to be sent home like that again. He will not be sent home like that again.
“Do you want to come home with me?” she says, glancing at his crotch, eyes flashing.
It’s hard resisting her. He consumes her curves. He knows what his answer will be. “Sure,” he stammers. “Give me the address. I’ll meet you there.” He hates it when he says it. Fear squeezes his stomach; he’s sure she’s setting him up to fall. Again.
“What’s the matter? Don’t want anybody to know what you’re into?” she asks, loud enough to turn the few heads loitering by the bar’s entrance.
“No, it’s not that,” Serf sputters, red in the face. He lowers his voice, “I’m a cop.”
She gets closer, close enough where only he can hear her. “Don’t want the boys to know that you like to take it, huh?” She pushes her pelvis forward, illustrates the statement. Their bodies touch. She presses against him, disregarding the gawking spectators behind her as she grabs his hand and places it on her rear.
“The address is 420 Remus Street,” she says as she grips his penis, “I’ll go ahead.” Letting go, she saunters toward the street in search of a cab. Serf watches her leave, watches the thong backing of her body suit disappear into the crack of her bottom, watches her step into the taxi, enjoying the spread of her cheeks and all of its promises.
Minutes later, several blocks down, Serf hails a cab of his own. After giving the driver the location, he eases back into the stinking upholstery, excited with all the possibilities the night has to offer.
At the apartment, he presses his ear to the door, and hears nothing.
Suddenly it opens. Caught off guard, the leaning detective spills inside, and takes down whoever has opened it with him. Though very little light spills into the unlit apartment, though she’s nothing more than a shadowed outline, Serf recognizes that body anywhere. Servanah kicks and screams, tries to push him off her. He finds her jiggling bottom enticing as light coming in from the hallway graces it.
Eventually, she wiggles free. “Look, I changed my mind! Get the fuck out!”
Servanah looks good there, on the floor, cleavage spilling. The sight dizzies Serf; the room is spinning, and he’s caught in its turbulence. Serf rises.
“Did you hear me? Get the fuck out!”
Serf turns to the door, shuts it, and then locks it. The light streaming in from the hall cuts off. From behind, he hears a sharp intake of breath, and smiles. He will not be denied again. He unlatches his belt and slides it free.
She jumps to her feet and races down the hall. Familiarity of her domain abets her flight through the dark apartment.
He walks after her, hands out in front of him, feeling his way through the dark. He’s not completely blind. Moonlight creeping in through the blinds aids him. As he turns down the hallway, he’s greeted by the slamming of a room’s door. Serf wraps the belt around his fist.
An hour after he’s broken through the door, he’s still thrusting at what he hopes is a ruined orifice. He wishes there were light in the room. So he can survey the damage. So he can enjoy his work. There will be time for that when he’s done. Then maybe he’ll have another go at her. He settles for her shadowed shape, its quivering form, and its soft exhausted cries.
She doesn’t put up much of a fight now, silent except for her breathing, coming in gasps.
Finally, he comes, legs trembling from all the work, heart palpitating, sweat streaming. He doesn’t withdraw, but rests his weight upon her back; their sweat mingles with intercourse’s fluids. Serf is so content, relaxing there against her, face nuzzled by the nape of her sweat-drenched neck, their sex scents filling his nostrils, that he hasn’t noticed the room’s sudden drop in temperature, fails to feel her body’s warmth dissipate beneath him.
The lights come on.
He sees his breathe, billowing arctic white. He tries pulling free. A tearing sensation along his groin halts his progress. Serf looks down. What was once sopping and wet is now frozen. What he thought had been sweat dripping from her body is blood. Crimson tinged frost fastens her rear to his groin, and the backs of her thighs to the fronts of his.
A crackling, bone-splintering sound jars Serf away from the horror below the waist and directs him to the terror above her neck. Servanah’s face is where the back of her head should be. It’s completely turned on its axis. The reversed head giggles, mouth contorting with fits of uncontrollable laughter, jeering and cruel, fangs descending from the maw, eyes dancing with a baleful flame that shines from swirling hazel pupils.
“Thought you’d like the light to see,” Servanah said. “You really raped me, huh. Hope you enjoyed it.”
Terrified, Serf tries pulling away.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” she says, the laughter dying on her lips. Serf continues struggling, indifferent to his pain, not caring how much it hurts. Escape from her is all that he cares about now. Tender flesh along his belly and groin tears, as its elasticity stretches past the breaking point. Blood flows, feels like lava seeping down his frigid thighs, a furnace compared to the winter of her skin.
“I told you not to do that, didn’t I?”
He’s almost free, when he feels a sucking sensation along his penis. The walls of her rectum squeeze him tight. She pushes off the ground and throws her weight rearward, forces him onto his back. He cries out. Her fastened orifice strokes him hard. He screams when he feels the thin flesh tear along his penis.
Servanah stops riding and lays back on him. “Did you enjoy the show, Bailien?” She asks with a sick twist from her reversed head. Serf follows her gaze.
There’s a figure in the doorway, shining and luminescent. His hair is so brown that it seems dyed, brilliant against the pallor of his flesh. His eyes are completely black and too large for his face. And though it’s impossible to read anything within those black orbs, Serf senses their cruelty, their evil. A multi-layered overcoat flows down the length of a lean frame and ends at the boot’s heels.
Bailien strolls over. When he reaches Servanah, he strokes her head and says, “Thank you,” his lips part revealing sharp and prominent canines. “I know that was hard for you. Playing the victim. But you looked good doing it.”
“Can’t I have him? Must you get all the good ones?” Servanah says.
Bailien drops to his haunches, the brows over his eyes knit, sharpen, makes the black spheres beneath their umbrage seem colder, darker. When he smiles, the effect is quite frightening. No stretch lines wrinkle the skin.
“I like you, Servanah.” His eyes roam across her flushed flesh, roused despite the temperature. They linger on her bosom and loiter by her backside. “I like you a lot. But know thy place, Mortal Born.”
“Forgive me, Bailien, but I’ve done as you asked. I’ve brought the detective to you. I let him take me. A mere sip would be compensation enough.”
“Compensation?” Bailien’s smile turns into a slit. “You dare! What do I care for Astor’s plaything? What do I care for a former soul bag? You Mortal Born sicken me. Each and every one of you.”
Serf desperately wants to become one with the floor. He doesn’t understand the conversation and has no interest to do so. He just wants to escape with his life.
“Let me watch you finish with him. If I’m satisfied, I’ll let you have a small sip.”
Servanah spins her head back to the body’s front. With Serf still inside of her, she rotates to face him. She feels him stir again and laughs. Serf screams. She jabs her elongating tongue into his open mouth.
Bailien watches, appreciatively.
Serf trembled with the memory. He’d been terrified that night, but now, unlike then, thinking of Servanah made him hard, fueling his lust. He reached for the throb in his pants before regrettably releasing his ache and turning his mind to more immediate concerns. Like the headlights of an oncoming truck traveling in the opposite direction. The lights stung his eyes just as another spasm shook him. He’d accidently crept into the opposite lane. Veering the vehicle right, he narrowly avoided the collision. Although he was a blood thrall, and considerably stronger than a human, he could die by mortal means.
Reaching the exit, he accelerated into the turn, and skidded off the bridge’s ramp and onto the road.
He saw the iron gates that surrounded Drake’s property half an hour later. His heart raced and his veins ached when he spotted his master, Bailien, perched on them. Serf could tell the difference between the dead and the living, thanks to Bailien’s blood. One of its benefits was aura reading. Bailien had no aura.
It always startled the thrall when his master moved. It was like watching granite shift, a lifeless thing animated. The statue swiveled its head toward him.
Serf parked the car a few feet away from Bailien, but stayed inside; he wouldn’t exit until bade to.
The moon captured Bailien’s marbled magnificence, shone lunar light upon his pastel perfection, and amplified the smooth unlined skin absent of starved sapphire veins. And Serf was glad to see the pink flush beneath his pale pallor, was pleased to see his cobalt stare, for that meant that his master had fed recently, and that he’d have blood to give. Serf squirmed with expectation.
On the ground, directly below Bailien, were two empty blood bags, pouches made from human skin that kept the blood warm. Vampires carried them when they were too busy to hunt. Bailien disliked drinking from the blood bags. It wasn’t the same as drinking from a mortal. Though the blood sustained him and masked his appearance, its taste paled in comparison to feeding from a human. Lacked emotional resonance.
Come, Bailien said, in his mind. I know you’re hungry.
Obediently, Serf left the car and wobbled to his master.
Bailien’s gaze followed his thrall’s advance, his head imperceptibly inching along with his eyes. Serf, like all thralls, wanted to be made a vampire. And like all thralls, he’d never be made one. The proverbial carrot perpetually dangling before him. Always so near. Always out of reach. Something seen but never touched. Something smelled but never tasted. Thralls were slaves. Nothing more. Mortals chosen to be made vampires were much more than that. An exceptional evil. An exquisite iniquity.
Now beneath him, Serf dropped to his knees and raised his head.
Open your mouth, Bailien’s mental voice commanded. And drink what comes. Without question, Serf did so, eager and wide.
But Bailien thought he saw shame within Serf’s eyes, a remnant that was still lingering there. He was thrilled that it was still there. Bailien needed it to be there. Because Serf would need to feed it. Satiate his addiction to Bailien’s blood. The only way he knew how to. By giving in to it.
Raise your face, Serf, Bailien said. Nothing to be ashamed of. We all have needs. And those needs must be fed. They complete us. Mold us. Make us who we are.
Bailien brought his wrist to his mouth and bit. Two neat punctures graced his skin. Blood filled the holes. The wrist lowered. The drops swelled thick, then fell, at first trickled, then streamed. The thick blood ran down Bailien’s wrist, poured across his palm, and separated when it met the fork in the road Bailien’s ring and middle finger formed.
Serf shuffled forward, knees scraping along the graveled ground, afraid to miss a drop, remiss to waste what he needed. He clenched his hands into fists when Bailien’s blood entered his mouth, arched his back when it swirled round his tongue, and shook his frame when it plunged down his throat. Ecstasy ruled him, infinite and encompassing. But deep down, in what was left of Serf’s soul, he knew it was a lie.
Don’t you dare miss a single drop, Bailien said. Swallow all of it. And Serf did as he was told. He felt the jitters dwindle. Felt the shakes cease. Then, he felt the power come. Strong and hard. Though he knew it was finite and fleeting.
When Serf was done feeding, Bailien licked his wound and the holes sealed. “Rise,” he said, finally using his external voice. “I’ve orders for you.”
Serf got off his knees. “Yes, master.”
Bailien dropped from his perch and landed in front of his minion. He towered over Serf. The detective was five foot ten, stocky and built. Bailien was six foot eight, a v shaped build. “Feel better?” he asked, patting Serf on the head, even though he knew the other’s answer.
“Yes.” Adoration glazed Serf’s eyes.
“I need you to watch the house. But do not enter. I’ll not have the crime scene spoiled.” As a question entered Serf’s eyes, Bailien answered it. “Remain here until dawn. Have your men continue the hunt for the child. Inform them that you’ll be busy hunting a Recreant. Then head to the tunnel. I’ll need you to pick up a friend of mine.” He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a handgun. He handed it to Serf. “It’s loaded with silver bullets. You know I never travel within these woods without something silver. Damned Neuri. You’ll need it in the morning.”
Again, Bailien saw the beginnings of a question, this time trembling along Serf’s lips. A single finger, placed along his own lips, silenced his thrall.
“Come.” Bailien led Serf back to the car. “Though you and your detectives are quite adept at forensics, I require a far more superior talent, a natural hunter.”
They had reached the trunk. Bailien raised the same finger he’d used to shush the detective’s questions. A black claw ripped from the nail. He stabbed at the trunk with it repeatedly. Though his vision was superior to a normal man’s, Serf had trouble following the motion. Bailien’s fingers blurred before him, and by the time he retracted the extremity, there were twenty holes in the trunk.
“For breathing,” Bailien said. His hand shot back into his breast pocket and then reappeared. Within its long fingered embrace was a box of bullets.
“Here.” He handed them to Serf. “Spares. You may need them.”
The city looked better from the sky, above its rooftops and steel spires. Distance gave it grandeur. But it was a splendor spoiled when scrutinized. On the ground, the city was as malignant as it looked majestic from the air. A selfish organism that took. That never gave back. As parasitical as a vampire. As ruthless as a predator. And as unforgiving as lost love.
Roman descended and flew towards Cityside’s sparsely populated waterfront. Bars sprinkled the roadside. The stench of urine permeated the air. Peels of raucous laughter escaped from doors ajar. Furtive figures jostled in shadows and avoided sporadic light falling from streetlamps. Like roaches, they scurried toward the shelter of the bars, eager to partake in what sordid pleasures these establishments offered.
Roman killed here often. It was the last place he’d seen Servanah alive. He thought of her now and felt his blood boil. He heard the sickly stirrings of a song, an inharmonious melody filled with discord and dread. Servanah’s song? Yes, he knew it was. How was this possible? How was he able to hear Servanah’s song now? To feel it burning in his blood? Was it because he’d fed off Servanah? Killed her? Some psychic link between murderer and murdered? Or was it because he’d drank vampire blood? Vampires had no auras; they stuck out like rips and rents torn into the fabric of reality, blades of nothing, while their living counterparts exuded a kaleidoscope of colors. Deciphering the living from the dead had never been a problem for Roman. Since vampires had no auras, he’d assumed that they had no souls, for without a soul, there could be no song.
The hairs along his wings stood erect and discharged sonic pulses. They accompanied Servanah’s ailing sonata. He followed the beacon and soon found himself floating down to the rooftop that had served him on the night he’d killed her. He perched on its ledge. The signal was coming from a bar across the street. Her demonic concerto soared. She was inside.
There was a man standing out front, brawny and built, eyes swathed by shades, pate protected by a skullcap. He wore jeans semi-tucked into his untied construction boots and a pea coat, collar up, to ward off the unrelenting wind. Wide-stanced, chest out, his demeanor brokered no passivity. His hands were shoved deep within the coat’s woolen pockets. Periodically, he shuffled from foot to foot, circulating waning warmth.
The man wasn’t entirely human, as evidenced by his aura. It was yellow, with black worms swimming within it, like the man Roman had seen at the morgue with Darius.
Roman scanned the bar and followed his sonic sight past the front door.
He paused inside the archway. He saw something, something familiar, along the door’s frame imbedded within the wood. A sigil, a symbol of some sort, the same writing within it as the one he’d seen on Drake’s arm. It glowed crimson, like the murderous red of his kills. Instinctively, he knew only someone like himself could see it. He didn’t know what it meant or why it was there, but he knew it was evil. He felt waves of malicious energy seeping from it, and he thought he heard a tuneless sound behind it, so weak, it was hard to be certain.
He pushed his echolocation inside.
The bar was in the center of the room. A stretched oval with straight-backed stools circling it. A pool table was off to its right; stained green felt with six holes, standing on dilapidated legs. An old jukebox to its left blasted dance music. A hallway ran toward the back.
Every chair was occupied. Every stool was taken, filled with groups or couples engaged in conversation, dancing, or fondling, and sometimes all three. There wasn’t much floor space either. Those on the dance floor-mostly meagerly clad transvestites and transsexuals, gyrating and swaying by themselves-hoped to garnish attention from the men sitting at the bar or lounging by the pool table. Others flitted between the men at the bar. They leaned over counters to order drinks and to give their admirers an eyeful of what they were selling and sometimes giving away. Those lucky enough to hook up either left the establishment or headed down the hall towards more liberal and private areas below.
Though impure, most of them weren’t evil, only tarnished, pale reflections of what they were, what they could be.
Down the hallway past groping couples, his echolocation went, seeking those without auras; there were no such beings on this floor. He reached the stairs and followed them down.
The staircase was packed. All talked in hushed tones. The occasional squeal of delight pierced through murmurs. Drinks swilled in hands. Nostrils snorted powdered residuals left clinging to nose hairs. Feet shuffled anxiously. Occasional breaks in conversation were met with unease and excitement, usually followed by a furtive glance toward the closed rusty door at the bottom of the stairs.
The door was made of iron with a peephole set at eye-level.
Two males and a transvestite peeled themselves away from the throng along the banister and made their way through the crowd. As they passed, transsexuals raised skirts, arched backs, and licked lips, more than willing to either join the trio or be the replacement pet.
The transvestite was in the middle. The male behind her gripped her neck as he led her down. He slid his other hand along the back of her thigh and up her skirt and gave her cheek a hard squeeze. Reluctantly, bodies gave way, envy in most eyes. The males leading the transvestite down returned those bitter glares with pride.
When the trio reached the door, the lead male rapped on it with his knuckle three times.
The peephole slid open, stayed open for another ten seconds, then shut. Every voice silenced. Movement along the stairs ceased. All eyes were on the door. There was a screeching sound of steel sliding on steel as the deadbolt within was drawn. The door creaked open and a baldheaded man stuck his head through the fissure. The man had no aura.
“Still working on the last one.” The vampire spoke to the men, but his eyes screamed at their slave.
Through the opening, more dance music, loud and pulsating. The door vibrated.
“You can come in now,” the bald vampire said, “watch if you like.”
The door opened, just enough space to admit the trio, one after the other. Behind them, everyone on the stairs tried to catch a glimpse into the chamber, craning necks, angling bodies. As soon as the last of the three cleared the entrance, the door shut behind them to the sound of disappointed exhalations.
Dim, red light bathed the room. There was a crowd gathered along the far side, past tables draped with red cloth, lit candles at their centers. Most of the tables were empty. Nearly everyone in the room had joined the watching mob.
The three new arrivals reached the outskirts of the throng. Bodies parted. Allowed admittance. Arriving at the core, the transvestite was thrust forward, to watch, to see what would happen to her next, her master still clasping her neck.
On a dingy mat was a post-op transsexual, on hands and knees. Her clothes hung in rags. Six males circled her. Two were working on her.
Roman saw that among the crowd there were several vampires. All of them had their eyes closed. Thin, wispy tendrils, invisible to the humans, wiggled and writhed from their bodies, extended throughout the room and into every mortal there. The vampires’ essence galvanized the lust within each mortal, stocked the heat within them, and reinforced what was already there.
Behind the crowd was another bar. There were a couple of tables by it. One of them was occupied by a male and a female. One of them was mortal. The other was not. She had no aura. Roman felt his blood burn, felt it singing in time with her song. He watched in horror as he realized that it was indeed the transsexual he’d killed. Servanah.
She wore nothing but a black thong body suit and red, six-inch pumps. Muscular arms and legs accentuated the sexuality of her attributes: bloated breasts and a bulbous bottom-far shapelier than a natural woman’s-helped preserve the exaggeration of a female. On the inside of her left arm, just above the wrist, Roman saw the black sigil on her arm, the same one he’d seen on Drake and at the bar’s entrance.
Though she spoke low, her male companion could hear her over the blaring beats.
“Why are you dressed like that, you know it disappoints me. I told you never to dress like that again,” she said, glaring at his two-piece suit, squared away with a tie. She’d been leaning toward him, making sure he got a good view of her glands, glistening with moisturizer, tops of her areolas staring over the precipice of her low cut top. Now she pulled them away with the rest of her body as she leaned back in her chair.
“I’m sorry,” the man said, lowering his gaze in shame, disappointed in himself, and for letting her down again. “It’s just that….”
“Just what?” She breathed in heavy, opened her legs, pulled aside the crotch of her body suit, and let her penis drop. “You know this is what you want. Don’t you want it? Don’t you want me?”
He lifted his head, slowly, afraid to look, but wanting to. Excited and ashamed.
A smile crept up the left side of her mouth and her eyes gleamed. She pulled down her top. “Still afraid?” She left herself exposed for another minute before covering up, as best as she could with what little she had.
Servanah got up, turned and reached for her chair, slowly exaggerated every movement. She bent down so that her rear faced him, placed the chair beside his, and angled it away from the populace; all the while making sure her rear was inches away from his face. She turned, made sure her semi-erection faced him, and sat.
She leaned in and whispered. She made sure her lips touched his ear when she did. She reached for his hand and placed it on her crotch. “We’ve been over this a thousand times. You can finally be who you are.” Though she spoke softly, her words were sharp.
“I need more time,” he said.
Servanah ignored the plea. She reached behind him, under his shirt, and searched for something. She smiled when she found what she was looking for. “Good, girl,” she said. “At least you’re properly dressed underneath.” She grasped the panties he was wearing under his pants and pulled them up. The man arched his back and moaned. His eyes rolled to the back of his head and he bit his lip.
Servanah pulled her chair closer and plunged her hand inside the back of his pants. With her other hand, she grabbed his crotch, and squeezed. “You know you want me to tear that ass open.” Her voice was husky, heavy.
She rubbed his crotch with one hand and fingered his rear with the other. He managed to nod his head in affirmation between thrusts. Without missing a beat, she pulled her finger out, dipped it in his drink, and reinserted it. When he felt the alcoholic burn, he pushed back. Before he could completely lose himself, she stopped.
“I’m going outside. I don’t want to hear your bullshit anymore. Change out of those clothes and meet me across the street. You know the alley.” She got up and left without waiting for his response.
Outside, Servanah made her way down the street and disappeared into said alley.
Roman pattered across the rooftops, glided across the chasms between buildings, and stopped two structures shy from the alley Servanah had gone into. There he waited.
Her mist collected beneath her as she rose to the roof. When she landed, her essence seeped back into her pores. She sat perched on the ledge, gazing into the alley, coiled and ready to spring.
Roman realized that she didn’t sense his presence. If a vampire were near him, he’d have sensed it. He was more powerful than she was.
He studied the cruel lines of her face: jaw set, mouth parted, moist with blood-would have been moist with saliva if she were alive. She sat expectant against the backdrop of the moon, eyes hot with lust, legs spread wide. Wavy black hair streamed past the deep arch of her back and spilled into the canal of her thong parted cheeks. The flush of the feed was absent from paled mocha skin.
She had not fed yet. Roman knew he could take her. But he held back. Now was not the time or place. He needed answers, and, for a proper interrogation, seclusion.
Servanah’s body stiffened. Roman looked back at the bar and saw a female figure exit, then head in their direction. A backpack straddled her back. Her aura was grey. Another leaner. She wore a tight, pleated miniskirt, pink thigh-high stockings, and a bra. Ruby, red hair, matching her glossy lipstick fell to her shoulders. Visibly cold, she hurried across the street, her hair catching hitchhiking snowdrifts.
Something wasn’t quite right about the woman. This was a man. The same man that Servanah had been speaking to in the bar. He walked into the alley.
Roman readied himself and looked at Servanah. She was squeezing her ample crotch. She came to her feet, lowered into a haunch, and then leapt.
Roman flew to the vanishing point and peered over the lip.
Servanah must have swooned the transvestite, for he was unconscious. Servanah cradled him in one arm and released her essence. It engulfed her, made her invisible to mortal eyes, then exploded beneath her feet and bore her to the roof. When she reached the rooftop, embracing her prize in her arms, she leapt to the adjacent building, her essence propelling her. She landed and sprinted off into a full run.
Roman leapt into the air and followed. Beneath his wings, the intermittent flow of the city’s nightlife pulsed. Above the oblivious mortals, both vampires traversed within their secreted mists. Though Roman could see through her camouflage, Servanah was as unaware of the Winged-One as the mortals were of the vampires.
The short flight brought them over a derelict neighborhood. Here, the buildings littered the landscape like a plague, naked to the elements, unfortified, for no metal adorned them.
Servanah came to a sudden stop, and then dropped onto a shorter tenement building. At its center, a skylight. She sprinted over to it.
From above, Roman watched as she set the body down by the skylight, kneel and wrench open the roof’s window. Servanah’s quarry stirred. She picked up her squirming charge and jumped through.
Roman flew past the building, then, came back around. He retracted his wings and floated the rest of the way down. At the skylight’s lip, he listened. He heard a sharp smack followed by a hollow cry. He peered into the apartment.
On a bed, Servanah straddled the transvestite from behind, furiously pumping away.
Roman launched himself through the open skylight. His wings unfurled as he fell. Like their previous encounter, his prey would be left unsatisfied. He landed between them and dislodged Servanah from her mount. He grabbed her by her neck and hauled her across the room. In the same motion, with his opposite hand, he raised his palm, and aimed it at the human. Wisps of his essence flowed from it and entered the mortal’s mind. Sleep, he said. The human fell unconscious.
“Winged-One!” Servanah said, bowing her head and dropping to her knees. “Why do you stop me?”
“I have questions, and I hope, for your sake, that you have answers.”
She rose, warily eyed him and backed away, confusion rumpling her features. Winged-Ones weren’t allowed to walk the earth in their true form. This was a serious offence. The adversaries would notice. What could be worth breaking the covenant? “I don’t know how I can be of any help to you, or if I should help you. Your being here can get us both killed.”
“I’ve killed you before. I’ve come to kill you again.”
“Killed me before?” Then his words sank in. “It was you! You ignored the Mark. You weren’t supposed to do that. Hell gave me to Astor.”
“Hell? Is that where I came from? This Mark you speak of? The black energy field that surrounded you as a mortal?”
She stared at him as she backed away. Every demon knew of the Mark. Every vampire knew what it meant, whether winged or Mortal Born. It meant that that particular mortal was already claimed by a coven and its representing House in Hell, and that no other House or coven could claim that mortal or feed from it. Yet, this Winged-One, her mortal murderer, had no knowledge of such things, had no memory of even being in Hell. She stood silent.
“Who is this Astor?” Roman said.
How was this possible? Every Winged-One knew who ruled their covens on earth, for they appointed the Mortal Born to their stations. She had no way of knowing which House he served; his sigil was covered. Unless... Her eyes widened. Horror and understanding swirled within them. Unless he’d never been to Hell. “The Unfallen! You’re him! You’re fucking him… Lucien and Bailien’s bane!”
Like a caged animal, she looked about, seeking a means of escape. Her essence plumed beneath her feet, then propelled her toward the skylight. She grabbed hold of the ledge, was about to haul herself through the outlet when she felt frost freeze her ankle, then route up her leg. Roman yanked her down. The skylight’s entire frame came down with her. He grasped her ankle amidst a shower of wood, and slammed her into the nearest wall. Then bashed her into another. Plaster imbedded her face. He tossed her across the room.
As soon as she landed, Servanah jumped to her feet and reached for her left arm. The black sigil there glowered red. With a single beat from his wings, Roman was on her. He gripped her wrist, then her neck. Her hand broke contact with the sigil and it went out. Roman’s wings beat behind him. His feet left the ground as he drove her into a wall. The apartment rumbled.
“What is that? What are you doing?”
Her flesh pushed out the plaster in her face and her skin healed over. “Fuck you!” She spat blood in his face. As it ran down his cheek, Roman shuddered.
He pressed her into the wall and squeezed her neck, his claws penetrating her skin. She gurgled on her blood. He licked her blood off his lips and trembled.
Servanah’s eyes lit up in understanding. “You’ve been drinking it. Blood of your own. Recreant!” She spat more blood on his face. Made sure it dappled his lips. She ran her tongue over her own lips and coated it with blood as well. “Ingest me!”
Roman found the invitation appealing. His black eyes swelled in their sockets as he locked in on the blood running from her mouth. The sweet scent wafting from her parted lips made his nostrils gill. He closed his eyes, trying to control his need, at least until his questions were answered.
Servanah used this moment of distraction to call upon her essence. Every pore on her skin opened and out came her mist, vaporous, then solidifying into thin, grey tentacles, ringed with moist tufted ridges. The tendrils speared into Roman’s pores. As they entered him, Servanah closed her eyes and began a chant of harsh sounding words.
She contorted her feet. They bent at the knees, bones crackled and feet swiveled on ankles. Elongated toenails pulled down the top of her bodysuit. Out poured heavy breasts. She heaved them forward and willed the nipples to harden. Roman was sure that it wasn’t his imagination when her bosom swelled. Servanah flicked her blood dripping tongue past swollen, red lips, lengthened it past her chin.
Roman felt his phallus stir. He’d never felt such a physical reaction and was finding it hard fighting the urge to take her against the wall, bite into her, have her body and her blood. Servanah clasped his waist and drew him near. The blood was enticing, her body irresistible. Roman didn’t know what was happening, but he was lost in Lust’s spell.
He brought his face closer to hers, inhaling her deeply, and opened his eyes. He saw the tentacles attached to him and became furious. He squeezed her throat harder. More blood pumped from his tightened grip. No longer able to mutter her incantation, she withdrew her essence. Her legs swiveled back into place.
“I’m sorry!” she shrieked, her mangled neck gurgling blood. The thick sap spilled down her bosom. “Let me live and I’ll tell you everything.”
“You are going to tell me everything anyway.”
His wing reached for a plank of what was once the skylight’s frame. Its claw curled around a serrated, sword-sized lath. He slammed the pointed end through her wrist, directly into the sigil. Servanah screamed. The skin around the wooden spike turned black. That blackness spread up her arm to her shoulder. Smoke rose from the wound and surrounding skin. Flesh peeled away and the limb grayed and stiffened.
“What is that on your arm?”
“My House sigil!” Fear, the wooden spike burning in her arm, and Roman’s icy grip upon her throat, trammeled her voice.
“What were you going to do?”
She hesitated, eyes glaring. Roman turned the wooden dagger within the wound. Though the pain was excruciating, he sensed that Servanah enjoyed it, needed to like it, for what was evil without pain. Blood spilled onto Roman’s clenched fist. “Answer me!”
“Trying to call my master, Astor, Coven Lust’s ruler.”
“Covens? Houses? Speak plain!” Roman dug the spike in deeper.
“Houses in Hell! Covens on earth!” Servanah gasped, blood tears welling in her eyes.
“How many covens are there?”
“Countless. Where man’s cities lie, so do our covens.”
Roman’s mind raced. He tried to remember all the questions he had swirling around in his head. “Are we demons?”
“Not I, Fallen-One,” Servanah said, spitting up blood as she spoke. “Just you.”
Servanah’s mocha skin blanched from loss of blood. “Please don’t kill me.”
Roman’s right wing reached for another sharp piece of wood. He impaled her other wrist to the wall, then grasped both stakes and shoved them in.
He pressed his face close to hers, barely saw it past all the smoke that was rising from her wounds. He tore away from her, reached for more wood with his wings, held her legs down with his hands, and impaled them to the wall.
“Who is Bailien?”
Despair and terror mangled her face. “You betrayed him and Lucien upon the celestial realm. They paid dearly for your deception. Both were displaced from their Houses, exiled to earth, stripped of their rank and made to serve the Mortal Born. They searched every plain, every realm. They hunted you then. They hunt you still.”
Roman tried to make sense of what she was saying. It was all gibberish. He’d have to work it out later. Right now, the sight of Servanah’s blood was making it extremely difficult for him to contain himself, to even formulate a clear thought. It took everything he had to restrain himself from feeding off her, from killing her. But his most important question remained.
“What happened to my memory? Why can’t I remember?”
“I don’t know.”
This was not the answer Roman was looking for. He plunged his fangs into her neck.
“No!” Servanah screamed.
Something in her voice made him pull back and look at her. Servanah’s face had melded into a melancholic mask and blood tears stained her face. “I’ll return to the void, the Nothing.”
Roman never thought such a face was capable of sorrow, of such abject loss. She writhed against the impaling wood, even though she knew it wouldn’t help. He basked in her horror and moaned in ecstasy when he slammed his fangs back into her neck. The folds of his nostrils gilled open as her blood poured into his mouth.
The feed consumed him. The cold pump of the blood was soothing. But, as it was with Drake, the dead organ within his chest remained dormant.
Images exploded in his mind.
Sammy is seven and mommy is gone. Daddy is distant but there. Sammy senses that daddy wants something from him, but he doesn’t know what that is, cannot possibly know.
Mommy is gone. There’s no one there to save him. No one there to hear him.
Daddy tells Sammy he looks so much like mommy, and now that she’s gone, Sammy must do the things mommy used to do. Sammy is no longer allowed to wear his boy’s clothes in the house; those are for the outside. Daddy takes care of him. And if he doesn’t do what daddy wants, then daddy will hurt him, might even leave him like mommy did.
At first, he doesn’t like what daddy does to him. Even though Sammy is afraid, he tolerates it because he loves daddy, because he trusts him. Sammy believes that deep down beneath daddy’s dark there’s love for him, as much love as Sammy has for his father.
Later, Sammy learns to love it, has been conditioned to accept it, made to need it, then give back to others all the things he’s been taught. A hell that keeps on giving. A shared shame, glutinous guilt with little room for love.
A bridge by a waterfront, its cables sway with the weight of the traffic traveling across it. Its base comes into focus, the middle column of support where the winter’s breath laps the river against it.
The vision subsided. Within him, the blood soared majestic, eager to be claimed. He could never go back to anything less, anything mortal.
The thought of withdrawing his fangs had just formed in his mind, when he saw shapes, the same shapes he’d seen when he’d drained Drake. As before, they came forward, but they couldn’t shed the oily shadows that shaded them. The fugue was louder than it was before. A deep dirge that roiled with dread. Though dulled by the slick gloom that veiled the shapes, he could see that they were tinged crimson. As he focused on them, he saw past the shadows for a moment, and discovered that they were characters, red script, like the letters within the seal on Servanah’s arm.
Abruptly, the dirge died and the script faded into the darkness.
He tore himself away from the carcass and thought about what he’d seen in the visions.
The boy in the vision, Sammy, had become Servanah, thanks to the pain placed there by his father. A germinating seed whose fruition would yield a malignant harvest of horrors. He’d never realized that it wasn’t his fault. Never understood his father’s need, never completely comprehended his want, to both the detriment of his soul and the souls of all those he’d encounter later in life when he became a she. Because if he’d understood that what his father had wanted wasn’t love, but a twisted need, he might have avoided the Hell he eventually made it to, the hell he took others to. It was a hell that had been situated within Sammy. A Hell meant to share and pass on for as long as a victim saw him or herself as one, even though they’d already become abusers.
The bridge he’d seen was the Lone Bridge. Why had he seen it when draining Servanah? And what were those red symbols he’d seen? Letters? A word? What did they mean? It was much clearer, now that he’d fed twice on vampires. Would he see them better after the next feed? Would he be able to read them then?
Mentally exhausted with questions, exhausted with everything, he fell to the bed by the unconscious human. Physically, the blood rejuvenated him, filled him with the strength he knew he’d need for the rest of the night.
He sat there, by the foot of the bed, with the sleeping human’s legs dangling over the side, and contemplated his next move. He looked to the transvestite and wondered if he should leave it there. He decided against it.
He lifted the human and headed toward the skylight. As he passed Servanah’s corpse, he witnessed a familiar sight: evaporating mist and the body caving in on itself.