"True Death", sequel to "Vampire's Fast" in Galaxy Magazine, #9, Vol II Issue #3, 1995, posted at http://www.simegen.com/writers/Lichtenberg/ 

"True Death" copyright 1995 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

 

True Death

by

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

 

"Chelsea won that lawsuit!"

"What lawsuit?"

"The one to keep Saint Germain."

David Silver waved the hardcover book he was reading. "This is a new one!"

Malory Avnel had come to relish Silver's cryptic greetings in the months since the mob had destroyed his house in San Francisco. But dawn was approaching, and Malory's patience was thin. Gently, he closed the window he'd just flown through. Silver thoughtfully left the window open to save him the trouble of reformulating as mist. He flicked the air on, then strode across the apartment's neutral-toned Ethan Alan living room to the white and gold painted mantel that concealed his own door, replying absently, "I'm glad he won his lawsuit, but I thought church and state were separate."

"She. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. Saint Germain is a fictional vampire based on the real historical Saint Germain. But he wasn't a saint. That's just his name."

Vampire caught Malory's attention. Silver was stretched out in his recliner. His book had a glossy indigo cover and red lettering. Better in the Dark.

Silver looked up, scrutinizing Malory. "Okay, so Saint Germain wasn't really a vampire and you could pick holes in the historical depictions because you were there, while she only researched it. That's not the point. I wanted to see what it feels like to live through so many millennia; how human behavior never changes, which makes boredom the biggest threat to the will to - what's wrong, Mal?"

"I've had a hard night. I came in thinking I could use some lackluster routine for a change. And I find you so excited about boredom that you've stayed up all night reading about it."

Silver looked at his book as if he'd never seen it before. "But it's a love sto- " Silver set the book on the lamp stand and pushed up out of the recliner. Coming toward Malory with one hand out, he said, "I just read this stuff for fun. If it bothers you - "

"I enjoy your fun; I enjoy your sharing your fun with me - even when it involves fictional vampires. I wish I had something equally pleasurable to share with you." He intercepted Silver's hand before it landed on his shoulder.

"Ah," said Silver. "You don't want to talk about what's bothering you." Silver's grip on Malory's hand conveyed acceptance of that reluctance.

"Tonight will be soon enough." Malory returned the grip and dropped the warm, human hand.

"Then there is something bothering you."

"Yes!" Malory snapped. "It's almost dawn." He triggered the hidden mechanism. As the panel swung inward, he sighed. "Sorry. I'll see you tonight."

Silver opened his mouth for another delaying comment, but the fax machine bleeped. "I'll get that. Sleep well."

Silver turned toward the bedroom they used for an office and Malory stepped into the anteroom of his chamber. "I will." He triggered the panel shut, leaving him in cool darkness. The inner door opened silently at a touch. Air conditioning kept it dry enough to prevent mold.

When they had arrived in Miami, they had moved into the manager's suite, the entire lower floor of an upscale apartment building owned and built by one of Malory's aliases. The suite had been constructed around the fire-proof retreat Malory required. Silver's rooms surrounded that protected core. For months now, Silver had managed both the building and Malory's daytime affairs with growing confidence.

Watching the little tailor blossom into a computer nerd and Mutual Fund Maven via GEnie and E-mail had restored Malory's zest for life. But the human's recent choice in reading matter was worrisome.

As the vampire disrobed and settled in his curtained bed, he regretted his promise to stay out of Silver's mind. The mortal had surely earned his privacy with his assistance against the killers of Malory's youngest "daughter," Rita. But it would have been reassuring to know what was going on in Silver's mind.

He surrendered to the rising sun, bemused by the collage of fragmented memories swirling through his thoughts. From San Francisco, they had driven across country in a van equipped for Malory's daytime requirements. A Silver recovered from the shock of his first encounter with magic and the supernatural, the mortal had begun to edit his world view. Many night drives were punctuated with whirlwind conversations about religion, magic, and the difference between magic and the supernatural creatures such as Malory.

When they'd moved into the apartment, Silver had surprised - and offended - Malory by affixing a mezuzah to the doorpost to his bedroom. Silver had never placed credence in the trappings of his religion until he'd seen the effectiveness of Malory's invocations while fighting the vampire hunters in San Francisco. Suddenly, the tailor had troubled to obtain a truly kosher mezuzah and affix it with due ceremony - including a recitation of the appropriate blessing - in stumbling but effective Hebrew.

Malory had wakened that evening with an eerie sensation - somewhere between a bad smell and insects crawling over his skin. Then he'd discovered he was unable to enter Silver's bedroom - even upon invitation. Silver was astonished at the effect on Malory, and Malory was astonished that Silver had been able to produce the effect.

"I could take it down," Silver had offered hesitantly. "I didn't mean to bar you - just - well . . .."

"No. That's all right. I'll get used to it. And if it makes you feel safer - well - no harm in it."

"It's your apartment, after all - "

"And it's your bedroom. Just - don't put up any more of them."

Silver hadn't put up any more, but it had taken months for Malory to adjust to that subliminal hum, discordant itch, or whatever it was. It wasn't inimical to his being, after all. The Potency that enabled the mezuzah was the very same Potency that had endowed him with virtual immortality so he could observe the fate of Abram's get.

The clashing vibration was caused by the objection of his own god, the god of his father's city, the god to whom he'd been sacrificed, the god who had cursed him with the need for blood and darkness. He had died but his city's god had rejected the sacrifice because - through no will of his own - Malory hadn't stayed dead.

Every so often, throughout the millennia, Malory found his simplest daily affairs tied into complex knots because he was the bone of contention between two such potencies.

The advent of David Silver and Rita may turn out to be the harbinger of truly monumental complications. But it wasn't their fault. He alone had invoked divine attention.

Around noon, Malory's awareness rippled with Silver's presence - the only presence able to enter his chamber without setting off alarms that could waken him even in daylight. The residual thread connecting their minds reassured Malory that Silver was busy, intent, but undisturbed, unalarmed, and certainly posing no threat to a lethargic vampire.

Malory sank back into his stupor, filled with renewed anxiety. The changes in the tailor's attitudes were especially alarming in view of recent developments.

I'll just have to explain to him and ask to access his mind again. If Silver denied him, they would part company. The mortal had served him well. He could not violate Silver's trust, nor allow himself to become a danger to the mortal. With that decision, peace came at last and he slept.

When Malory woke, he was already half-way onto his feet, intent on carrying out his decision as if not one instant had passed - yet now it was dusk, and his energies - the gift of the god of his fathers - waxed steadily with the night.

A single piece of yellow paper fluttered to the floor at his feet - a large Post-It note that had come unstuck from his nightshirt. He retrieved Silver's note and flicked on the dim night light he used in lieu of candles.

"The plumber fixed the toilets - they don't spew hot water anymore. I filed for damages. I bought two thousand more of VWINX because it's the best Vanguard Fund - CNBC says the bear will be a grizzly. I posted the gardener's job. And I paid the GEnie bill. Both my VCR's are taping. The one in the living room is free - your surveillance camera tape is on top. If you need me, I'll be at the Hyatt downtown, probably until midnight. I heard on GEnie that P. N. Elrod is reading at a convention there and I just couldn't resist. I know you needed to talk, so I'll be back around one."

It was a typical David-Silver-Post-It, but something about the handwriting made Malory uneasy. He worried at it as he dressed and went out to tour the apartment.

Silver was taping Highlander and Forever Knight, whatever they were. The empty red BASF boxes on top of the sets had old TV Guide clippings taped to them. Highlander was about an immortal and Forever Knight had something to do with a vampire cop. Research. Via fiction. This was becoming serious. Silver had rejected all offers of immortality for himself. What was he after? He might already be a victim.

Galvanized, Malory rushed into the office and powered up the desktop. As he waited, he noticed a disk in a wrapper with the title The Vampire's Crypt, edited by a Margaret Carter from someplace in Maryland. It offered interviews with female writers and extensive bibliographies.

Silver had left the referenced item from GEnie so it came right up on screen. Scanning the text, Malory learned two things. P. N. Elrod was another female writer - of vampire novels. A quick check of the source of the item revealed that her fans were legion - and many of them were articulate females. And she'd been interviewed in Vampire's Crypt, and reviewed in a thing called The Monthly Aspectarian. Astrology was definitely not a David Silver interest. Alarmed, Malory shut the machine down.

As he reformulated into bat-shape, he did consider that he could be misinterpreting Silver's interest. It had been almost a year since Rita had died, and maybe two since she had chosen immortality over marrying Silver. It was time for Silver to be interested in women again. Perhaps he was looking for one who wouldn't reject Malory's position in Silver's new life. No, he's not that naive.

Malory arrived at the Hyatt, riding the formidable evening gusts above the tallest spires rather than using his supernatural powers. If this was the demon's trap, he wouldn't advertise his approach. And what better bait for a vampire trap than Silver? What better bait for Silver than vampire lore? It was just the way his god would think. And his god had taken no vow to eschew influencing Silver's mind.

Add to that the peripheral glimpse of Xlrud, his god's favorite demon servant, that Malory had had last night, and Silver's danger became palpable.

So Malory landed in the darkest shadows behind an airport limo idling beside the valet parking sign, swirled into human form, and tucked in his Aeropostale polo shirt. Costumed in white Dockers and Reeboks, he lacked only the sun-scorched look of the early-retired executive so typical of Florida. Still, he'd blend in with the Hyatt guests.

He strode through the carriage entrance, ignored by the bellhops. A rush of voices filled the hollow towering space over the lobby. Scaffolds and spackled drop cloths denoted recent remodeling. The escalator was in pieces and deserted. Following the signs to the Registration desk, Malory found himself approaching a knot of grungily attired people - the source of the noise competing with the tall fountain.

They milled about the display showing daily events. He leaned against a fake Doric column where he would seem to belong to a loaded luggage cart and observed the crowd.

These people wore myriads of slogan buttons and carried totebags plastered with cryptic bumper stickers and/or airline tags. Alone any one of them would look tacky, but taken together, they seemed to be wearing the fraternal jewelry of a secret lodge.

As they churned around, emitting waves of outrage, indignation and mystification, Malory caught sight of the words St. Germain on one of the buttons. This had to be the group Dave had come to meet. One neat little female in tight faded Levis was worth the trip across town just to look at. But Silver was nowhere to be seen - though Malory's other senses indicated he was nearby and getting nearer.

As one in a business suit approached, Malory listened.

"Listen up folks. The guy at the desk said they've never heard of any convention! They've got no room listing for Elrod. People have been asking all day, so they made up this flyer." A blonde wearing a T-shirt with Einstein's equations blazoned on the front and in back it had a picture of the galaxy with a YOU ARE HERE arrow took the flyers and passed them around.

Meanwhile, the nearby elevator opened and more fraternal brothers and sisters poured out calling to the distressed group. One of the loudest voices was David Silver's.

"We've been had, guys, but it's okay. The Boca crowd decided to hold a con anyway. We've got a suite upstairs and a couple of local writers are coming. We've got a taper and a whole set of Forever Knight. Who needs crash space?"

The out-of-towners surged forward, and everyone was talking at once. A very tall, portly man carrying professional camera equipment, cut across the babble with a very, very loud voice. "When I find out who's responsible for this, I'm going to publish it in - "

"Chill out! We're making a fan legend here. This is better than SnowCon in New York back in the seventies!"

Just then the street doors opened wide and a crew of white-clad Red Cross workers jockeyed in two trollies stacked with equipment stenciled BLOOD MOBILE.

"You don't think - "

"I don't believe it - "

Someone started to laugh.

But Malory wasn't listening. A very familiar sensation was creeping over him. He scanned the vicinity for the source as the humid, rain-scented air swept through the air-conditioned lobby from the doors where the Red Cross crew wrestled with their equipment. Some posted signs.

Malory found the source of the sensation revealed by the mists of the fountain - the dim suggestion of a face, the outline of a presence. Xlrud. His oldest foe.

Malory snapped his attention back to Dave who was leading the crowd toward the Red Cross workers. Even with every sense focused, Malory couldn't detect a hint of Xlrud's taint on David Silver. He was in time. He began to move, but the demon acted faster.

In the crack between seconds of Time, the demon coalesced as a human, and blended with the group's sense of continuity so all the humans perceived him as always having been with the Red Cross crew. Malory checked his mad dash to Silver's side. What was Xlrud up to?

The demon wore a white linen suit with a silk shirt and tie, looking every inch the tropical gentleman. He approached the group and gave a theatrical bow as if they had all come specifically to see him. "I am Phineas Norton Elrod," he announced proudly. "And as advertised, I will give a free Tarot reading to each and every blood donor who volunteers tonight." He bowed again. "I am so very glad you could all come." As he rose, he glanced up and caught Malory's eyes, flashing a mocking smile.

The demon was barely five feet from Dave and had the human's full attention. But it only lasted the barest instant, and during that time, the demon's attention was on Malory. Dave's still safe.

The crowd broke, whirled, and engulfed the Blood Mobile crew, helping them with their equipment, carrying the whole mob toward the function room set aside for the Blood Drive.

As they came past Malory's position, he heard comments on how the on-line BBS's spread distorted rumors as well as real news faster than the blink of an eye. Phineas Norton Elrod was indeed a P. N. Elrod, but not The P. N. Elrod, and he was certainly giving readings, but not of a new Vampire Files novel. The laughter was rich and deep and equally as powerful as the outrage and indignation had been. These people were filled with the juice of life that Xlrud delighted in destroying. But his real prey was Dave.

Get Dave out of here and he'll leave those people alone.

Malory joined the churning mass of humanity, sensing the warm glow of vitality contrasting to the chill, silent hole around Xlrud. Moving with the current, he arrived at Dave's side just before they began to squeeze the equipment through the door. He touched Silver's elbow and murmured, "I have to talk to you."

Silver turned, started as he identified Malory, then glanced about with a frown. "Now? Can't it wait?"

"No. It can't. This is serious. Urgent."

Xlrud stood aside holding the door open for two Blood Mobile workers to dolly their equipment through, but he called to Dave, "I thought you were going to be first."

Silver looked from the demon to Malory and back, shrugged, and called to the crowd, "I'll be back in a while."

Taking Malory by the elbow, he wedged open a space and slid to the edge of the crowd. "Now, what's the problem?"

Xlrud's eyes bored cold shafts through Malory's back. "Not here. Outside."

As they moved away, the demon's silent laughter followed Malory. It was amazing what humans never noticed.

Rain washed air greeted them when the doors opened. Silver stopped under the portico, away from a group by the airport limo. "What's up?"

Malory edged closer and in a very private tone, said, "We've got big trouble. Very big." The chill of Xlrud's presence splashed through the plate glass and washed against Malory's senses. "Can we talk about it at home?"

Silver swept the now empty lobby with a glance, and replied in a similarly private tone, "Hey, I wasn't going to donate blood - in case you need it. I just tell them I have allergies - I'd probably get the free Tarot reading anyway. Then Jeanne Kalogridis was going to read outtakes from the last book in her Dracula trilogy before we watched - "

"You can give blood to the Red Cross anytime you like. Did you drive down?"

"No. I took the bus. Parking is ridiculous." He gestured at the rate sign.

The tailor couldn't get used to his new, more affluent, lifestyle. Malory reached out his arm to invite Dave into his personal fields. "Then let me take you - "

Silver dodged back. "Come on, Mal. I don't want to leave yet - not unless it's really important. Some of these people are - "

"One of those people is a supernatural creature - and an enemy of mine - of a sort." To be honest, Xlrud had done him a favor or two upon occasion - rare occasion. "Dave, I told you I'd never ask this of you again, but - I really need access to your mind. I have to be sure - "

"No!" But as he spoke, Silver took a step toward Malory, one hand out as if about to accept the mental intrusion. His voice rose an octave, and his lips snarled. Then he apologized. "It's not that I don't trust you - but - Mal, you don't really want to - I mean - you promised!"

The last two words were a muted wail of anguish.

Malory sorted out two strong emotions from the melange assaulting his senses. Fear. Despair.

Very well. That's the end of the matter. The best he could do for Silver was to lead the demon away from him.

"And I will keep that promise. The lawyers will contact you in the morning. I'll see that you've been well provided for. Don't try to trace me. Remember your promises to me, and I will honor mine to you." He turned, then paused to offer, "My advice is to leave this place now - while you can. There is nothing for you in there but disaster." He took two strides toward the deeper shadows, gathering his power.

"Mal! Don't go! Not without me. Please."

The vampire turned. "It's not by my choice."

"If it means that much to you - okay." He stepped closer. "I'll go home with you. We'll discuss it."

"Are you sure? This could become worse than it was in San Francisco. Much, much worse, especially from your point of view." They were very close now, and Malory spoke softly, letting the rain mask his voice. "There's a demon involved. His missions generally destroy whatever I've come to treasure." Tentatively, Malory held his arm out. "In this case, that could be you. And I've never yet thwarted him."

David Silver willingly stepped into his grasp. "Maybe you're not a match for him by yourself - but with you and me together - he's the one who's got a problem, not you."

Since that awful escape from his burning house, Malory had practiced transporting Silver until the human was no longer so overcome with fear that he literally rooted them to the spot. But the vampire did have to take a superficial grip on Silver's consciousness, dimming his perceptions of the transition to mist. The process had become so routine with them that neither expected what happened.

The moment Malory turned through the alter-dimension to reformulate as mist, simultaneously damping Silver's awareness and mentally impelling them toward home in one operation, something grabbed him.

A hole irised open deep inside the kaleidoscopic montage that represented Silver's normal waking consciousness. Images flew into a vortex and Malory's awareness tumbled into the whirlpool of human thought.

But it wasn't human - not entirely.

Xlrud. Everything was flavored dark and grimy like Xlrud's mind. But David Silver was there, too, sparkling with warmth and vitality.

And in the still center of the blurred whirlpool, was a tiny image, sharp like a laser-enhanced photo, an aerial view of an ethereal city, a white granite building with gold doors surrounded by nested walled court yards. Among plentiful greenery, pastel-pink buildings lay interspersed with needle-like spires. The whole gorgeous city blanketed rolling hills - sharp little hummocks carved into terraces or decapitated and crowned with buildings. Taken as a whole, the place was a work of art.

The view descended to reveal detail, traffic and people.

NO! cried Silver twisting in Malory's mental grasp.

The image shattered and the bits whirled away into fathomless blackness.

Dizzy, disoriented, operating on the sheer momentum of intent, Malory reformulated their solid bodies inside their apartment living room. The two of them tumbled into a heap of arms and legs, Malory fetching up against the sofa and Silver draped across the coffee table - heaps of magazines slithering under him, carrying him to the floor.

"No, Mal, no! Don't - "

Silver rolled to his side on the floor at Malory's feet, hands clutched to his head. "Stop! Don't! No!"

On his temples, Malory now saw angry red welts in the shape of a hand - tapered, clawed fingers delicately placed just so. The welts enlarged as if the demon hands were enveloping the human's skull even as he watched.

I was too late! He was already in his mind! And Xlrud had almost had Malory, too. But why? To what end?

Malory scrambled to his knees and pulled Silver into his lap. "Dave! Open your eyes! Look at me, Dave. Dave!"

The human eyes opened, but glittering with demon consciousness. "It's all right, Mal. Come into my mind!"

"Xlrud! Don't you - "

"Oh, Mal, help me! He's got me!"

That was Silver.

Malory reached for Silver's demon-scorched face, and the human twisted away. "No! He'll get you too!"

The demon laughed with Silver's vocal chords and turned back to Malory, smiling. Silver's hand shot up to encircle Malory's neck and pull him down.

Losing all physical awareness, Malory tumbled deep into Silver's mind. With that same dizzy, disoriented helplessness he'd had on arrival at the apartment, Malory fell into Xlrud's trap.

Had he never entered that mortal mind, never controlled that body, he would not have fallen. He had opened the gateway himself. Xlrud only yanked him through it.

But as he spun out of control, he finally understood Silver's initial resistance to Malory's request. He'd been protecting Malory from the demon lodged within him, without even understanding what was happening. Xlrud must have lured Silver to the hotel to plant that trap - but how? A demon had to be invited into a mind. Silver just wouldn't do that.

However it had happened, one thing was clear. He had to evict the demon without destroying Silver.

Abruptly, Malory landed hard in the demon's illusion.

He was seated in a movie theater with a giant wrap around screen hidden by gorgeous red velvet drapes with gold fringe several feet high. The sumptuous folds swept aside even as the images already danced upon them. Images leaped into bright, daylight - blinding, searing white daylight - real daylight!

Ahhggg! Malory tried to jackknife forward to hide behind the seat in front of him - but his torso was caught in restraining straps. He felt his skin sizzling, the pain very, very real.

Look upon the fate of Jerusalem and know what you see!

Malory's eyes popped wide open, pricked as if held open by demon claws. His head jerked around. Hot demon thoughts forced his eyeballs into focus on the bright lit city.

Then Silver's face filled the screen. Large nose, soft brown eyes, bushy black eyebrows, neatly trimmed black hair.

The familiar face grew larger than the screen, and came hurtling toward them like the image of a train coming along a track. Just when the train would have begun to pass overhead, Silver's living body impacted on Malory's chest.

NO! Silver's voice filled the theater. Malory's chair toppled over backwards, suddenly detached from its neighbors.

Then he was lying supine in the living room before the toppled sofa, hurting, moaning, squirming away from pain.

On the floor by the upended coffee table, Silver writhed in silent agony, the seared imprints of demon fingers now separated by tiny strips of normal skin.

Malory pulled himself up. His skin felt as if he'd been exposed to the noon sun - as if he'd actually made that climb down from his attic window in daylight carrying Silver out of his burning house. I'd forgotten what sun can do.

He forced his body to rise, glad the sigils placed by the vampire hunters had kept him from attempting the feat. The pain was incredible. When he was on his knees, he surveyed the scrabbling human form on the carpet before him.

Sluggishly, he recognized the random movements as crawling. Though Silver's body made no progress, clearly, he was trying to crawl to his bedroom. Malory's gaze fell on the bedroom door - the door he was unable to pass. Then his eye rose to the mezuzah.

He was in motion before he fully understood what he planned to do. And that, he realized, was what ultimately saved their lives. Even as his hand closed on the door jamb, Xlrud yanked him back to the theater, unaware his body moved.

Look upon the end of Time! commanded the demon.

It can't be real, protested Malory.

Oh, it is. Your little friend is a veritable gold mine of talent - prophecy being the least of them. It took nothing at all to open this window through time. Look, my old foe, look and be free.

Abruptly, Malory understood. If Silver was a genuine precog, with the demon's enhancement this could be real - and if it was real, then once Malory had glimpsed the end result of The One's pact with Abram, he would be free of The One's decree that he must live to see it. He would be able to die.

For the first time in all these millennia the possibility was real - the True Death he had often prayed for, begged for, could now be his through the auspices of David Silver, an insignificant son of Abram.

But Silver had become a tool of Xlrud. The God of Abram insisted on an exclusive contract. Silver would be left trapped between the two Potencies as Malory had been. Or worse. His soul would disperse. The True Death no mortal could ever face - naturally.

Outrage burgeoned into strength such as even a vampire could not normally tap. Dimly, without bodily awareness, Malory heard his own scream turn to a grunt of effort, followed by a splintering crack.

The sun's image beat down. He smelled his own flesh burning and knew Death stalked him with real hope this time.

Surrender was beautifully seductive. Xlrud had given him his heart's desire - a way out. "Why!" demanded Malory. "Xlrud! Why now?"

"He's ready to accept your sacrifice, stubborn one."

And it was suddenly clear. The god of his fathers, ignored by mortals, had lost strength over the millennia. Now he needed the vitality the sacrifice would bring him.

But David Silver was not a willing sacrifice, and the City was long since destroyed. Malory thrust himself and the massive burden forward, unable to see the splintered shaft of wood he carried. Nor could he discern Silver's form. But he felt the human warmth pulsing gently, and it drew him through the veil of his own throbbing pain.

The closer he came to the human, the less the scorching sun burned through the night, the less the massive burden weighed on him. He seemed to be going downhill. He heard his own rasping grunts turn to cries of immanent triumph.

Awareness growing, Malory tripped and sprawled over the warm lump of flesh that housed the human soul and spirit. In a hoarse whisper, all that was left of his voice after his raging screams, Malory pronounced the banishment, "Get thou gone, Oh, Southwind Spirit, and hound us no more!"

He couldn't bring himself to pronounce it in the name of That Which Is. If he had, perhaps that would have been the end of matters - forever. But he did ram the post with its fully enabled magical ward flat against Silver's chest. The feebly scrabbling hands clutched it with greedy hunger.

At the moment of contact, Silver shouted, "Schema Israel! Hear, Oh, Israel - "

The rest was lost in a searing white flash that burned hotter than the demon's glimpse of a future noon sun.

That was all Malory remembered.

He came to with Silver dragging him toward the hidden door which stood open in the mantle. The lethargy of dawn gripped him, though he was aware of the pervasive pain of solar exposure coupled to the throb of a deeper damage that only holy objects could inflict.

The human's face was reddened as if with sunburn, and he hissed and whimpered with pain as he pulled Malory's body along. "Mal! Come on, help me. You can do it. Just a little, and you'll be safe. Come on, man!"

With a mighty effort, Malory twitched a foot just enough for the heel to dig into the carpet and shove.

"That's it!" Grunted the human. "Come on now, once more. Over the threshold!"

Malory pushed with his other heel, and suddenly they were within his chamber entry. The smooth flooring let his body slide faster, and then Silver dropped him on the inner chamber's floor and fell over his body, stretching to trigger the door closing mechanism with one outflung hand, shutting out the pressure of light.

The next thing Malory knew he was waking into gathering twilight, the darkness of his chamber cut only by his dimmest lights. Malory lay on his bed, Silver slumped in his easy chair beside him. On the stand beside the chair, Silver had a cut-down kit - a doctor's field kit for inserting an I.V.

The moment Malory's breath wheezed into his lungs to protest the obvious intention, Silver jerked awake. He had already rolled up one sleeve. He placed the tourniquet with the ease of long practice. A moment later, he had the open end of a large syringe pushed against Malory's lips while with the other hand he set a timer.

When Malory jerked his head aside, Silver followed the motion, letting the blood flow. "You haven't healed visibly all night. You'll never make it out of here without help. Come on, Mal, you did this to yourself for me. Let me repay you. It's not like it's the first time."

And the blood was so sweet.

Soooo sweeettt.

It had never - ever - been like this. The balm flowed through him leaving warmth and curious relaxation in its wake.

He couldn't stop.

Not even when Silver placed a hand on his forehead and announced, "That's enough. Wake up, Mal," he couldn't stop. The human hand pushed gently, then more firmly. "Now. That's it. Stop now."

The hard tube slid from his lips, and reflexively Malory followed, lips parting in the vampire's snarl as he went for human flesh.

"No." It was a command - a simple, calm statement without a trace of fear in it.

With the luxurious blood flow broken, awareness swept through him, rapture abating. He stopped, muscles locked against muscles, body half-curved in mid-air and shaking with the effort of holding back that primal strike.

Silver had rejected Malory's offer of immortality. Malory had promised to respect that. And he would.

He threw himself away and to the far side of the bed, curling around the aching, miserable loss, commanding the need to abate. And to his intense surprise, it did.

It helped that Silver staunched the blood flow and wiped up every drop, neutralizing the scent with alcohol.

By the time Silver circled the bed to see if the thwarted vampire was still animate, Malory had almost recovered. "You shouldn't have done it. I told you not to."

"You look better already," commented the human. "But you've got to hunt tonight, even though it's early for you."

"I know." But I can't. After that - experience - nothing less will ever be acceptable.

Silver answered the unspoken thought, "It's not every night you defeat a demon from hell and nearly kill yourself using a mezuzah for a weapon - a weapon guaranteed to backfire in your face. You must be hurting in places you never knew you had. Things will normalize after you've - done what - you must. Pull yourself together now - the night's wasting."

He kept on like that, quiet, supportive, encouraging, and not letting any of the distaste - no, the revulsion - he felt show in his words. Malory knew that Silver still cringed from the knowledge that a human being would die tonight to feed a vampire. But he pushed Malory through the mechanics of showering and changing, forced him to practice a few reformulations until he regained a semblance of equilibrium, and then ushered him to the window, promising that everything would be all right - soon.

It wouldn't, and Malory knew that Silver knew that. Nothing would be the same between them again.

Opening the window, Malory paused, reluctant to leave the human unprotected. "Dave, I have to know something. It's important, or I wouldn't ask. How did Xlrud get into your mind?"

"Xlrud?"

"The demon - the creature that almost killed us both. It can't get into a human mind without invitation."

"I don't know, Mal. I'd never - the Ouija board! Naw - that couldn't - "

"What Ouija board? When did you get a Ouija board?"

"I didn't. At the hotel. Someone had one. We were playing. It seemed to work - I mean really work. Could the demon have been working it?"

"That wouldn't be enough."

"We used an invocation - a dungeonmaster thought it would be fun."

Dungeonmaster? "Invocation? What invocation?"

"Awaken north wind and come thou south. It's Biblical poetry - how could that - "

"Xlrud's appellation is South Wind. He tricked you through your friends - but he didn't care about you or them. He was after me."

"He used me to get at you. I didn't know the memory of sunlight could hurt you."

"Not ordinarily. I'll explain it to you sometime." With the mystery cleared up, he felt better. "Just don't call the winds by their directional names, and you'll be safe while I'm gone." He reformulated and went to do what he had to do. And he did - with clinical dispatch. At least he had already researched his next victim. He hadn't the patience for it now, nor the confidence in his judgement that would leave his conscience as clean as it could ever be.

When it was over and the body of the drug runner's hit man, a superbly talented individual who would never have been caught by the law, had been thoroughly disposed of, Malory found a glimmering of optimism returning. His body had accepted the sordid, bitter life even though his mind and memory found it inadequate by comparison.

His healing accelerated. By the time he returned to the apartment, his skin had stopped smarting and he could fly without wobbling.

But as he closed the window behind him and stood facing Silver who was kicked back in his recliner, Malory braced for the most devastating experience of his long existence. Silver's rejection. He knew it had to come. It just had to. San Francisco had been nothing; a little ceremonial magick against vampire-hunting criminals. But this had been a direct encounter with an entity which could not exist within Silver's technologically derived world view. And he'd started it all by answering a computer BBS posting, and playing a silly game with a mundane toy.

Silver's face was bruised, and he had plastered bandaids on his arms and hands. He wore an elastic support around his left ankle. The splinters had been vacuumed up, the furniture straightened. A bedspread covered the sofa indicating the upholstery had torn in the struggle.

Malory didn't remember much of that.

But the most remarkable difference in the apartment was the psychic silence. The mezuzah had evaporated. Perversely, Malory missed the noise. The place didn't feel like home without it. Only the furniture polish and after-shave marked it as Silver's residence - that and the packed suitcase sitting beside the front door.

Silver flicked his remote at the TV and the VCR display shifted to pause. He had been watching a tape, though he'd been staring at a series of commercials.

"Better?" asked Silver.

"Yes."

Silver got up to face Malory, and the vampire tensed. "I've been thinking, Mal."

"Good." Damn.

"Yeah. It took awhile for my mind to unglue. Maybe you can sort of take that kind of thing in stride, but I - shit! I just don't think I can live in this apartment anymore."

"I fully understand. I'll see to it that all of our financial agreements are termin- "

Silver paled. "Am I fired for what I did to you? I know you said not to give you blood, but - "

"I thought you just said you're leaving."

"Not your job - this apartment. Florida, too, if I can convince you to go."

"The Potencies can find us - anywhere."

"So, then, why not go? Believe me, Mal, I know myself. I'll never sleep another wink in this place - and I - I just want to get away. Someplace with no - weird - associations."

"Anywhere you want - anywhere but the north pole. Half the year, the sun never sets."

"I was thinking more - say, New York? New Jersey? Connecticut?"

"Sure. No problem. Any particular reason?"

"Well, I saw this commercial - how to become a stock broker. I'd like to try that. If I could get registered and everything - it could save you a bundle in brokerage fees."

"Bit of a departure for you."

"Yeah. But I think I can do it."

It would provide the human with a good independent living if - no when - they had to part company. It will happen. It will. Just maybe not too soon. "I think you can, too. I'll make you a gift of the course."

"You don't have to do that."

"I know." Malory moved to look at the television screen. "But I don't know why you're not leaving."

"Why would I do that?"

"Because you don't like the company I keep among supernatural entities?"

"Didn't seem to me that one was your good-buddy."

"No. That one wasn't."

Unspoken words hung in the air between them. You mean you're friends with some? But the mortal wasn't ready to frame that question aloud. "Come on, Mal, sit down and watch Forever Knight with me."

"I've been meaning to ask you about that." The vampire settled on the torn sofa. The ripped upholstery reeked of demon, but the smell faded from his consciousness when the actor on the screen snarled and his eyes turned green. Green?

The End

"True Death" copyright 1995 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

 






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