Roman soared, a giant bat silhouetted against the sinking moon, seeking his quarry’s spiritual trail. He felt at home slicing through the frigid air. Minuscule hairs along his wings vibrated and emanated sonic pulses. Before the reconnoitering echoes returned, the white aura flared, as if urging him onward. The car was a mere speck traveling along a secluded path beneath canopies of verdant foliage. Yet, neither the distance nor the shrouds of darkness could thwart his echolocation.
Shapes shifted within the forest. Massive furred forms swam within that viridescent sea. Always traveling inland. Away from the roads and highways. Only once did he see them without the camouflage of the forest. Only once did they dare reveal themselves. Creeping from the shelter of the woods. Watching him by its edge. Silently watched or silently stalked? he’d wondered at the time, as he gazed back at them from his window. Whichever the answer, they’d never bothered him since, nor he them.
The driver’s black aura regained his attention. That familiar primal urge bubbled within him. The blood song sang in his veins. This was a death he wanted. A kill that was required.
The car was closing in on a derelict house. Iron gates encircled the property. Roman flew past the vehicle and plunged onward.
Reaching the gates, he descended, and landed on the gate, his clawed feet grasping iron.
The house was a three-story structure that sunk into the ground as if the soil were devouring it. The garden was a cemetery of diseased weeds. Trees in torpor hung over the dwelling, smothering it. Dead branches clawed the home and raked the roof as if eager to tear away this blight upon the earth.
This was a house of death. Roman felt its pull, its dark allure. He felt the weight of every horror that had happened there, its malignant oppression, its festering fear. This was the dark soul’s home.
He shot from the gate and soared to the top floor’s balcony. A thin smile cracked his face. He’d be an uninvited guest awaiting their arrival. If a benevolent mortal, one whose soul leaned toward the good, had owned the dwelling or claimed it for their own, he would have needed an invitation to enter.
Landing on the balcony, his wings receded into his back with a slick moist sound. Skin sealed over the slits that ran from his shoulder blades to his waist; shaped like two crescent moons back to back. In front of rotting French doors, he grasped a decrepit handle in each hand and flung them open. The sound of splintering wood echoed through the dark. A rancid stench of decay and fear hung in the air. The room within was barren with sagging swollen ceilings and peeling plaster. Blackened vines ran along the floor and walls. Across the room was an archway leading to a stairwell.
Stepping over shattered planks, he noticed that there were nails attached to the door’s frame, still holding some wooden remnants. Two windows flanked the doors. They too were nailed shut.
He went through the archway and down the stairs. Streaks of dried blood smeared the walls and banisters, like paint strokes from a mad artist’s hand. He stopped and closed his eyes; the orbs twitched underneath the lids. His mouth quivered, yet no sound escaped his wan lips. The pores along his hand dilated and allowed him to soak in a snippet of horror.
A boy clutches his chest, a chest riddled with stab wounds. Gasping for air, he reaches for the railing, flailing for a hold. Fingernails grip the banister, then rip from flesh. He crashes down the stairs and slams into the floor.
Lidless, empty sockets greet the ceiling.
Above him, there’s another eyeless child; bloody blades duck taped to each tiny fist. She’s still thrusting at the air, mumbling and gibbering; what’s left of her tongue is a mangled stump, quivering in the back of her throat. She slips on the blood drenched steps and falls.
Roman snatched his hand away from the banister and opened his eyes. Their abductor had cut out their eyes and their tongues. He’d taped knives to the girl’s hands. Unable to communicate, unable to see, the terrified girl had unknowingly killed the boy. Roman still felt their agony and fear. It was soaked into every crevice, every fiber of the house. It now dwelled within Roman like a haunting. Hell had happened here. Though he could easily shake these residual emotions, he’d let them linger. This abomination whetted his rage and he’d not have his wrath dulled.
These visions, these images he received, were not something that he could always control. Though more often than not he could will the visions into existence or shield his mind from them, he couldn’t exactly choose what he saw. It depended upon what the souls of the deceased wanted him to see, how intense the horrors were for the victims or how bad the souls wanted their deplorable ends witnessed. But not always, for some souls didn’t want or require a spectator. The same held true when Roman fed. When draining a mortal, he’d sometimes see things as well.
He continued down the stairs, his anger mounting, honing the blade that was his furor.
At the bottom of the stairs, the presence of the dead was strong. He followed its trail, ignored the rooms, and headed straight for the floor’s main deck.
What he saw froze him by the threshold.
Arranged in a circle and seated in wooden chairs were eleven dead children in various forms of decomposition. The skeletal limbs of earlier kills speared and jutted through clothing. Later kills still boasting flesh were bloated or rotting. Flies swarmed around these and maggots festered within the flesh, their squirming seemed to give the corpses a pseudo life.
Innocence destroyed. Atrocities like this were what contributed to Roman’s decision to leave this existence, to abandon a world he found as destitute and deplorable as he.
He stepped across the threshold and made his way to the children. He saw that they were dressed as knights, maidens, squires, princes, princesses, and barons. Their garments weren’t real; they were costumes.
In the midst of this ghastly gathering were two throne-like seats, one several inches smaller than the other. Though they were nothing more than decrepit chairs, their positioning and height inferred dominance over the others. Sovereignty over the rotting corpses. A court of the dead.
Thick drapes of some indeterminate color decked the walls. Though aged and tattered, they loaned a macabre majesty to the room.
Roman stepped into the ring, placed his hand on the closest corpse, and closed his eyes.
Naked, pale, and sickly, the thin man hovers over the boy, whose punctured jugular gurgles blood. The man smiles while he masturbates.
The child’s convulsions decrease; he will be dead soon.
The man removes the boy’s clothes with one hand as he strokes his erection with the other. He tosses the soiled garments aside, like he did with the boy’s life.
“You will live again,” the man says, gasping with lust. “I will make it so.”
He brings his wrist to his mouth, tears away a thin layer of flesh from it, and shoves the gouged, leaking limb to the boy’s lips.
The mortal believed that he was a vampire. He was as mad as he was ignorant, for vampires could never feed on such purity.
Roman heard the car park outside. He moved to the window and watched as the driver shut off the ignition and exit, the same man that he’d seen in the vision.
The man was tall and frail, lanky. He was tendons and bones. He wore a wool sweater and jeans; they could have been black, too soiled to tell. The garments looked like they hung on hangers instead of flesh. His knees were so bony they almost cut through the denim. Jutting hipbones held up what his tiny waist couldn’t. His face was sallow and stretched, a sickly, jaundiced translucency that almost matched his brittle blond hair. Shoulders hunched, he headed toward the back of the car.
He leaned on the trunk for a moment and supported himself on the skeletal stalks of his arms, his chest palpitating with both excitement and fatigue. After several ragged gasps, he calmed some, then shifted his weight to one arm, reached the other scrawny limb into his front pocket, and procured a set of keys that jangled in the stillness. He made a fist and silenced their clamor. A single key stabbed between his fingers. He punched it into the lock and popped the trunk, twisting his head away just in time to avoid the springing hatch. He craned his neck like a predator and peered inside.
His chest heaved with giddy gasps. His trembling arms reached within. He struggled with his prize for a moment, then, gained control, and yanked out a twelve-year-old girl, mouth gagged, chained by both hand and foot. She thrashed and kicked. Fading moonlight flashed off her binds and washed over her lengthy auburn hair. Her emerald eyes were wide with fear. She was shivering; all she was wearing was a T-shirt and shorts.
Agitated and growing impatient, her abductor threw her to the floor. “There’s no need to be shy. Everything’s already set up for you, my queen.” The warmth in his voice was chilling and seemed at war with his actions. “They have been waiting so long for you, so long.” He paused as if listening and received nothing more than a gagged response. Yet he retorted as though able to translate her indistinct rebuttal.
“Don’t worry. Thou are the prettiest one of all. You are meant to rule. The blood I shall gift you with, shall make you immortal. You will no longer fear the death of which every mortal is terrified of, an eternity you and I shall make bountiful.”
He pulled her up by a fistful of her hair and brought her trembling lips close to his ear. She stifled a cry as she felt some of the hairs rip free from her scalp. The killer king frowned as he listened to her muffled retort.
“You must take your place before them. Only then will they realize, will they understand, as I do, thy true royalty. They shall place their un-dead lives before thy regaled feet. Do not fret, you shall know soon enough how special you are. How special you are to me.” He let go of her hair and she crashed to the floor.
He let her lie there for a moment, then, took hold of the chain linking the manacles binding her hands and dragged her to the house. He picked a different key from the set, opened the door, and flung her inside.
“Welcome to the House of Drake, my kingdom,” Drake said, bowing. “And I am its ruler, as thou shall be as well, my queen.” He shut and locked the door.
The girl jumped to her feet and, to Drake’s surprise, stumbled toward the closed window, the linking chain secured to her ankle manacles dangling loosely like some sick jump rope. Drake dove after her, and just before she leapt, grabbed hold of the chain and jerked. Her ankle twisted as her face slammed into the wooden floor; a deep gash slit her brow; blood spilled and glued her tresses to her temple.
“Here, let me put thy precious feet to rest.”
Upstairs, Roman heard a vicious splintering crack followed by the girl’s muffled screams. Another blow came. Then more stifled screeches.
“Thou must conserve thy vigor, my matriarch. Allow me to carry you up these stairs. You are above walking. You must command.”
Heavy footfalls mounted the steps. Drake’s laden breaths and her hiccupping sobs attended the march. Between each trudging step, dragging thuds ascended, trailed grotesquely behind the killer’s trek.
Roman secreted his essence and the mist engulfed him. Within its embrace, he was now invisible. Soundlessly, he walked over to the bigger throne and sat, monitoring Drake’s entry.
Drake came into the room, lurching, back-bowed, breathing heavy, sweat sprinkling his brow, holding an iron pipe in his hand while gripping the child in a headlock; she choked for air. The spit soaked gag was cutting into her cheeks. Tears trailed down her face and joined the mucus bubbling from her nostrils. Her bare feet scraped the floor behind her, one of her manacled legs swollen and bent at an odd angle. Her shin had been shattered.
Drake dropped the pipe and released her. She teetered on her good leg, screeched then fell. Surprised, he looked down. “Come now, thou shall not kneel before them. That is what they are here for. To honor you. Rise! Rise, my queen!”
He yanked her to her feet. She screamed into the gag and crumpled to her knees. Her eyes roamed over the morbid court and more tears came.
Roman wasn’t going to let her become part of that vile circle.
Drake grabbed her by the back of her neck and dragged her toward the seated dead. At the thrones, he slammed her into the smaller of the two and staggered, the strain sapping him.
“Before I gift thee my immortal blood, know this: I am the vampire Drake, and I do not give my blood recklessly,” he said, chest heaving.
Roman willed his essence forward. His pores opened and the mist came. To the mortal eye, it was invisible (unless Roman willed otherwise). It streamed towards Drake. When it reached him, the mist entered his pores. With his essence within Drake, Roman saw the world through the child destroyer’s eyes.
Eleven adults had replaced the children. Heads bowed. Mouths agape. Fangs visible. Their skin ashen and pale. Adulating eyes fixed on King and Queen. The costumes they wore as corpses were gone. Ladies now wore trains under gowns, molding, shaping corsets, boned bodices, and kirtles or petticoats. Men wore tunics over doublets, hooded cloaks, appliquéd silk shirts, and belted tabards or surcoats.
Madness, Roman thought, beginning to understand. For the killer, this was a functioning kingdom of vampires.
The room was now a regaled court: Drake wore a crown and his decrepit seat was a jewel-laden throne. The floor was made of marble. Immaculate purple curtains had replaced old, moldy drapes.
Roman withdrew. Drake rubbed his forehead, consciously unaware of the intrusion, though subconsciously sentient of it.
“Rise for your queen! It is time to gift her the blood! My life blood!” Again, Drake paused and listened for something only he could hear. “Good, now that you all have risen, the time has come for introductions.” He addressed the corpse nearest the throne. “This, my dear, is Roderick, captain of the guard.” He reached for the dead child, shoved his hand into an opening he’d made at the base of its skull, and like some sick puppeteer, mimicked the dead’s response. Mere skin and bones, the cadaver lost its jaw. It fell on the girl’s lap. She howled in terror, recoiled and jumped from her seat. She squealed and teetered on her broken leg, staggered, then dropped to her knees. Drake snatched her by the neck and slammed her back into the throne.
Roman had seen enough. He recalled his mist.
Drake felt a sudden chill at his back. He turned and saw that there was someone sitting in his chair. He gasped, for even in his madness, he realized that the being before him wasn’t dead or human. Drake backed away as panic ripped across his face.