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.