"Vampire's Fast". Serialized in Galaxy Magazine, E. J. Gold, ed., Premier issue, Vol. 1, Issue 1, Jan./ Feb., and March/April 1994.
"Vampire's Fast" copyright © 1994 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Tales of the Witch World #2, I've wondered what Dorian St. James did to deserve falling through a gate into the Witch World. This tale explores his origins and nature long before that event.
The charred lump of flesh had been his daughter, or the closest thing to a daughter that his kind could know.
The vampire who, in San Francisco, called himself Malory Avnel, or sometimes Dorian St. James, stood over the remains, reading the area with all his senses. There were faint impressions in the lush rose carpet, mortal footprints. A mélange of scents lingered in the apartment as did faint, indefinable and unnamable traces of psychic presence.
As he knelt to touch the blackened corpse, the events unrolled in his mind as if he were remembering them, though he'd been nowhere near at the time.
Rita had been sleeping the day away, as their kind must. Two large men had broken in. He could almost see them. Well groomed. Cologne. Hair spray. Freshly dry-cleaned wool suits. Real leather shoes. Guns. Garlic. Newly sawn ashe stakes. Perhaps even silver crosses.
If he ever encountered them, he'd know them by their body odor. Scrubbing and deodorant couldn't hide it. No two humans smelled alike.Being blessed with the need to breathe has given me a very keen sense of smell.
Most probably these two worked for Don Jose del Rio, the latest success in the drug import business.
It was Malory's habit to take the two kills a month he needed from among humans who killed other humans for profit. He considered drug dealers in that category since most modern addictions were deadly. Lately, he'd been preying on del Rio's middle-management, a singularly superstitious lot.
A few weeks ago, Malory had been surprised while feeding on a particularly satisfying kill, and had left the scene before disposing of the exsanguinated corpse.
Rita had also been feeding on del Rio's organization, and it was possible that she, too, had made an error, leading them to her. Or they might have found her through him.
The killers had left none of their paraphernalia behind. They hadn't needed to use it. Rita was so very young. Even when dragged from her sanctuary into the bright sun slanting in the window - it must have been about four p.m. from the angle - she hadn't been able to rouse herself enough to put up more than a token struggle.
Her sleeping robe was torn. There were broken bones in her left foot. And Malory hadn't been there to help.
Shaking with emotions he couldn't name, he knelt, gently placing his hands on the charred skull. It crumbled. "Rita, I swear by the gods of my fathers, the next blood I feast on will be that of your murderer - however long it takes."Not for revenge, he vowed to himself. For Justice.
His chin dropped to his chest, and he choked on the unutterable need to cry. But of course, he could not. He yanked himself away from the remains and went to the well concealed closet which was her sanctuary. He'd had workmen build it into the back wall of her kitchen, concealed to look like a shallow pantry. Then, he had erased their memories.
Now the shelf unit stood out from the wall next to the door. Inside, the bed was rumpled, a gold satin sheet spilling out onto the floor with a dirty shoe mark on it.
The whistling tea kettle had been knocked off the stove and lay on its side in a puddle.
He could almost hear her screams.
He shuddered, fighting the inward visions, the pain.
A long time later, careful to leave no trace of himself, he gathered the sheets, sealed the closet and snapped the pantry shelves in front of it, breaking the lock so the next tenant would not find it. He cleaned up the tea kettle.
Then he rolled the charred remnants in the sheets, carried the bundle to the basement and disposed of it in the incinerator. It was the new, non-polluting kind. Even as young as she'd been, there'd be no traces left of a body.
And now, he knew, he needed help - mortal help. With the negligence of millennia of practice, he took bat form.
By three a.m. he was outside a town house a few blocks from his own, high on a cliff overlooking the ocean beach - an area that was usually heavily fogged in. He still had a few hours until the sun would drive him to sanctuary.
Resolute, he turned to mist and sifted through the screen into the bedroom of David Silver.
The human was snoring. Malory watched him fondly for a few moments, then whispered, "Dave! Dave, wake up!"
The snoring arrested in mid-breath, and with a mumble and a start, David Silver sat up in bed. Then he relaxed. "Oh, it's just you. Wha'time'sit?"
Malory told him, and Silver swore. "Why do you do this to me? Don't you know I need to sleep at night?"
"Rita's been killed."
"Oh. Is she okay?"
"No! Mortals broke into her sanctuary and exposed her to the sun. She's gone."
"Oh, no!" This time it was a cry of grief. For a time, the two had been lovers. Then Rita had become involved with Malory and decided to accept immortality, leaving Silver with this house and a whopping mortgage. Malory had extended the same offer to Silver, but he'd refused emphatically.
Malory waited as Silver worked through the shock, the brief rage at Malory for making her a vampire, the reverse of blame to himself for letting her do it, and the realization that it had beenher choice to make. And then there were wracking sobs that didn't pass quickly at all.
Malory sat on the bed and put an arm around Silver's shoulders. For the vampire, the human's tears were a necessary cleansing he needed to share. When it was over, he felt the release into calm acceptance that he could not have achieved on his own. He let his forehead rest on Silver's shoulder, against his neck, to enhance the contact.
Sniffing, Silver asked, "Are you hungry?"
Malory pulled away. "No. I fed well only last night. I have sworn the next blood I take will be her killer's."
Silver pushed his bedclothes aside and threw on a robe. "Come on," he said leading the way to the kitchen. "Tell me the whole story. I have to know it all."
As Silver drank black coffee, Malory recounted what he knew. "So, Dave, I'm sworn to get them - and their boss as well. But I'm going to need help. Mortal help."
Silver studied the dregs of his coffee. "I'm a tailor. I don't even have my own business. I work for a department store. I was never even in the army. I'm in terrible shape and I'm hopelessly clumsy. What can I do that you can't?"
"Stay awake in the daytime - as my foes do."
"Foes. How poetic."
"I'm sorry. I read a lot."
Silver gave him a cockeyed smile. "Foes. Okay. They killed her. They're my foes, too. What do I do?"
"Guard me in the daytime. Let me use you to enlarge my sphere of awareness so none can come upon us unwarned."
"Malory, I can't guard you all day. I have to work."
"Quit your job. I'll put you on my payroll at double your current salary. Afterwards, you'll get a bonus that will let you open your own shop. Deal?"
"I didn't know you were that rich."
"I've had a while to work at it."
"I suppose. You've never said how old you are."
"I don't exactly know." He shrugged. "Millennia. Aren't you going to ask me what you really want to ask?"
"You keep saying you can't read my mind."
"It's more empathy and knowledge of human nature than telepathy. I said I want to use you, and you haven't objected to that. Why?"
"I hate thinking about what you are."
"If you're going to help me, you must think about it. You'll be my spare hands and eyes. I'll ruthlessly compel your actions - and they won't be slow or clumsy. If it comes to a fight, I'll use your body regardless of the injury it might take. But Dave - you could die."
Silver was looking at him as if he'd never seen him before. "You could do all that?"
"It's not even difficult."
"But you've never - I mean, I've never felt you - "
Malory reached across the table and took the man's hands in his own. "I wouldn'tever without your permission. Oh, I do erase memories, for my own security. And I cast illusions about myself. And I take blood from unknowing donors who never miss it. And, Dave, you know I kill humans for my own needs. But I have my own code of honor. I give you my word I've never used you, and I won't without your permission."
Silver studied him warily. "I can't quite imagine what it would feel like, but the thought makes my skin crawl."
"I could make it so you felt nothing - or I could take the memory away and leave a hole in your time, or I could fill it with the illusion of a Hawaiian vacation."
Silver pulled away and went around the counter into the kitchen to get more coffee. He came back chewing on one nail and stared out the sliding door to the patio. "I don't want to lose the memory or remember something that didn't happen. I want to feel and remember whatever happens to me. For me, life is to be lived, every detail of it, right to the end. And it should end all in God's own good time."
"If you like, I'll show you what it's like to be used."
Back to the vampire, Silver whispered, "Okay. Do it."
Malory closed his eyes and mentally reached for Silver, infiltrated his mind and took over his body. He made him walk back to the table, turn three times in place without sloshing the coffee, sit down, sip his coffee, and set the mug down without even rippling the surface. Then he made him grin and say, "That's amazing!" Then Malory let go.
That was the mistake. At the sudden return to normal, Silver turned white, lips slightly green, and plunged into the kitchen where he stood gripping the sink and gasping as if expecting to heave up all the coffee he'd drunk.
Malory was beside him in a blink, knowing that if he suppressed the nausea, he'd turn the man against him forever. He'd had permission for one demonstration, not two. So he just held Silver close. "I'm sorry. It's my fault. Breathe deeply. Hang on and breathe. It'll pass in a moment."
And it did. Malory led him back to the table, explaining, "I let go too abruptly for you. Most people don't react so violently. It won't happen again."
"Mal, I don't think I can take that. Even before - everything came unstuck - it was awful. I wasn't me. I even heard myself speak in my own voice, and it wasn'tme."
His tone was the first indication Malory had that Silver had made up his mind to accept. "I can make it so you won't feel a sense of being - invaded - out of control."
Silver shook his head. "I don't want - Malory, if I don't help you, what are you going to do?"
"I'm sworn. I will kill them - one way or another."
"That's another thing. I don't want to kill anyone. I just want to put them in jail."
"For murdering a dead woman? Whose remains don't exist?"
"Yeah." But he added, "Do you know how many times they jail the wrong person for murder, no matter how careful they are? How can we be sure we've got the right people?"
"I can identify the hitmen. I only have to find them and discover who they work for. Then I've a plan, but I won't tell you unless you're with me - or I'd have to erase your memory to be sure it couldn't be tortured out of you."
His gaze went to the graying light behind the windows. "Oh, Lord, they could be out there. They could have followed you. They could be coming after us right now."
"They didn't. They aren't." At Silver's look, he said, "Being a vampire has to be good for something. Still, you're right, they just might trace you through Rita, and me through you. In the past, I've been attacked in my sanctuary during the day. The prospect frightens me, so I'm asking you to let me use you."
"And you had to find her like that. It must have been hell on you." He scrubbed his face. "You mean, using me, you could be aware of things that are going on even in the daytime, when you're asleep?"
"Yes. I need that because these people know the weaknesses of my kind."
"God, I'm being such a coward. It's not any worse than being raped."
Malory couldn't keep his reaction to that off his face. He wanted to run out of the house and never bother Dave again. But that wasn't an option. He needed the man. So he sat stiffly waiting.
Dave reached across the table. "I didn't mean it that way. You're a friend. I could get used to being used by you, temporarily anyway." He forced a grin. "Hey, that was a neat trick with the coffee."
Malory found a smile and pasted it on. "Thought you might appreciate that."
"Okay, so tell me your plan. One way or another, we've got to do this, - for Rita - so I'm in. Whatever it takes."
"It's fairly simple. Once I locate the hitmen, I'll lure them and their boss into my home. They'll come in the daylight expecting to kill me easily. But you and I'll be ready - and they'll die instead."
"You mean, you're going to use yourself as bait?"
"That must be like - like facing your worst nightmare."
"Yes. That's why I need you. These days, I've no other mortal friends I could trust for this."
"I'm ashamed. I shouldn't have hesitated to agree. Mal, do what you have to do so I can stand it. Don't let my - squeamishness - get in the way."
Malory rose, and Silver got up with him, glancing at the paling of the window. "I guess you've got to go."
"I was planning to stay here today. Remember the sanctuary I had built in your attic for Rita?"
"She never used it. I'd forgotten about it."
"With your permission - ?"
"Well - sure. Are you afraid to go home?"
"It would be unwise. And - I wished to be near you. Through your awareness, I can be roused, even during the day, if needed. Tonight, I'll check my security arrangements."
Malory went to the window and examined the yard by the rising light. He had to admit it out loud. He owed the man that much. "And - Dave - I've been bereaved often in my time, but rarely so deeply. I just don't want to be alone."
"I kinda feel the same way. Everybody else I know thinks she's been dead for years."
"She has been, Dave, she has been."
It went easier than Malory had expected. By the time he'd settled into the attic sanctuary, he'd adjusted his touch on Silver's mind to leave Silver with the feel of his presence without the impression of being violated.
By noon, it had become comfortable for both of them. By sundown, they'd worked out signals that would let Silver ask for privacy, and let Malory ask for admission. The link was clear and pure, like holding a private mental conversation. It had been centuries since Malory had worked with such an easy link. He'd miss it desperately when this was over.
Silver spent the day on the phone arranging to take his three weeks vacation instead of giving three weeks notice. And he'd followed the detailed instructions Malory had left for ordering the construction work.
When Malory rose, Silver was packed to move to Malory's house. Things were already in progress there.
A decorator Malory'd used before had removed all the furniture from the living room and installed a large, carpeted pedestal in the center of the room, along with a grand piano in one corner, complete with silver candelabra.
The next day, workmen from a security contractor Malory relied on would rig the shutters on his living room windows - the huge bay windows overlooking the beach and Dave's house - to close when weight came onto the floor near the pedestal.
When Malory woke, he called the undertaker he'd had "bury" Rita years ago, and ordered an ostentatious coffin to be delivered - black with a red satin lining. It would fit perfectly on the pedestal.
Late that night, visiting the security contractor at his home in San Jose, Malory carefully planted instructions to have the coffin altered. When the lid was raised by outside handles, an anesthetic spray would saturate the area. He also had invisible spy cameras placed all about the living room, the monitors banked in the bedroom just above it.
The automatic devices installed in the living room could also be controlled from a console in that bedroom. The console could flood the lower floor with CO2 foam. That would be Silver's station during the days of waiting.
It was a long, tedious job to implant the details of the instructions then erase the memory of who'd given the orders. The workmen, he'd take care of as they finished their jobs.
With that done, Malory rechecked every sanctuary he had installed around the Bay Area, every lookout he had planted at key locations near those sanctuaries, every point where any mortal might pick up a lead on his activities. But there was no hint that del Rio's people had found him.
Home about an hour before dawn, he went online to his brokerage house and opened an account for Silver, filing all the proper employee forms with the I.R.S.. Then he activated the alternate identity he'd use when this was over. As an afterthought, he created an identity for Silver, too.
The following night, with preparations at his house progressing under Silver's guidance, Malory planted several threads connecting him to Rita, then began stalking his prey. He checked all del Rio's locations, infiltrating offices as mist, rifling files for names, dates, places, interrogating employees under compulsion then erasing memories.
What he had expected to be a straight forward job turned into a tedious and unrewarding chore that dragged on and on. And as time passed, his hunger grew, his patience fled.
Three weeks after he'd found Rita charred, Malory slammed into the house and stalked into the living room. Dawn was graying the clear sky. Silver, disturbed by the sudden noise, came downstairs, tying his bathrobe. "Mal?"
Malory shouted, "Maybe it wasn't del Rio! Maybe I've been looking in the wrong place!"
Malory subsided. "I'm sorry. I've just become so used to feeding every night that this is getting on my nerves."
They both knew it was past the time when Malory would have killed and feasted fully.
"Maybe," said Silver relaxing, "del Rio did away with those men so they wouldn't talk? Or he might have paid them off so well they left the country." They'd kicked it around before to no avail. Silver added, "If he paid them off, they're probably broke by now and on their way back."
"If he paid them off, there should be a record. I've been through their every record and most of their minds!"
"Have you?" Silver leaned against the gleaming black coffin. "Did you question del Rio himself?" Malory was silent. He'd been staying away from the top echelon to keep a low profile. Silver added, "What of his number two men?"
"Women. Three of them, each running a division and reporting to del Rio. I questioned them. Nothing. They're not behind it. But del Rio . . . ."
"If the killers were working directly for him, there wouldn't be records on any lower level. He wouldn't want it known he believes in vampires, would he? He wouldn't want his people to believe they're being stalked by a vampire."
That was a new thought. "You're right, Dave. Tomorrow, I'll confront del Rio, and if I come up blank, I'll have to look at the other organizations around the Bay."
Malory's frustration subsided with that plan, and he looked around. The work had been completed and every bit of sawdust, every exposed wire, was gone. The bronze carpet was new, and so were the black drapes shielding the bay windows. All the new fabric had been fireproofed. The chemical stank.
Opening the windows, Malory said, "Get some deodorizer. The stage cobweb spray won't cover the odor of newness. When I do get them here, I don't want a false note to disrupt the illusion." He sat at the piano to play a bit of Chopin. The first chord he struck was sour. "And get the piano tuner in this afternoon. The number's on the rolodex in the kitchen. They'd never believe a vampire would have an untuned piano."
Swallowing his comment, Silver pulled his digital diary out of his robe pocket and made some entries.
Malory held out one hand. "Let me see that."
Silver folded the case open and handed it to him. It had a screen and numbers pad on one side, alphabet and function keys on the other. Silver said, "It's just the same old one I use to note measurements for my clients. You've seen me use it. It only has a 2 meg memory."
Malory folded it up, noted the port where it could connect to a desk-top, then looked from it to Silver's robe pocket. "Maybe I haven't seenall the records! People carry these things around with them. And they don't think about them much." Absently, he handed it back as he rose. "Wake me an hour before sunset. It's going to be a busy night."
Silver's mental call came to Malory in his sanctuary cut into the rock of the hill under his house. The chamber was roughly four feet high by fifteen feet square, ventilated by a twenty yard chimney not a half inch wide. It was his most secure location because there was no entry a mortal could use. He had to turn to mist and sift through cracks in the rock. It had been difficult lining it with his native earth, and it had its own dangers. A quake could seal him in. Or Holy Water could block the cracks so he couldn't use them.
He emerged into the windowless basement and dressed in the dark outfit Silver had laid out for him. Silver had tailored it to fit, making it of the flame retardant fabric that was all Silver would let him wear these days.
Using the mental link to learn if Silver had darkened the house, he emerged fighting grogginess, and went to his computer on the second floor. The shopping service yielded a comprehensive list of the PDA's currently available along with instructions for their use.
Malory was impressed. If he didn't have a perfect memory, he'd have ordered one for himself.
A little work with his mail-drops, and he had del Rio's current location from his spies inside his organization, spies who would not remember dropping such notes.
Sternly putting aside his hunger, knowing it wasn't as bad as it felt, he headed for the living room intending to take bat form and exit through the chimney. He had just come through the archway, when Silver's pain lanced through him with paralyzing force - then subsided in an instant.
Malory forced his eyes open, berating himself for the lazy habit of maintaining the link with the mortal, and saw Silver bent double beside the window, holding his elbow and trying to breathe. In a flash, Malory was beside his friend.
Silver waved him off. "Nothing. I just hit my crazy bone. Be okay in a second."
But Malory saw the blood trickling through Silver's fingers. The blow had peeled off a flap of skin. He couldn't get his eyes off the ruby liquid. Then the smell took him.
Fighting it, moving in slow motion, he bent, hands coming out, tongue reaching, mouth opening. If he made contact, he'd be thrown into an unstoppable feeding frenzy.
Silver didn't understand. He'd gladly provided blood on occasion. He had no fear, and that was what ultimately saved him. As Malory sank into temptation, Silver shook Malory's shoulder. "Mal, your oath. Just wait a little longer."
Malory's eyes fixed on the mortal's and he got a fragile hold on himself, enough to stop but not to answer. Silver patted his shoulder, saying, "I'll put something on this."
Malory was left staring at his lack of reflection in the window, unable to remember what he'd looked likebefore. The hunger was worse than he'd thought. Tempted, he might take a kill now, breaking his vow - which could be fatal. The gods of his fathers were unforgiving. Besides, succumbing to frenzy among the drug dealers could spook them. Then he'd never get Rita's killers. Struggling with the knowledge of his weakness, Malory was startled when Silver returned.
"Mal. I thought you'd be gone by now."
The wound was tightly covered with a plastic spray bandage and now Silver wore long sleeves. "Thank you, Dave. I've never owed a mortal such a large debt."
The man came across the carpet. He stopped more than arm's length from Malory, out of politeness not fear, and offered, "We can call the debt square if you'd just answer - straight out - the questions you've always avoided."
"Questions?" Malory went to the window beside the bay window and finished opening it on the gathering fog aware of the thin smear of blood where Silver's elbow had impacted.
"I'm not a very good Jew, so if I don't think about it too much, I can see you as a bit foreign, or maybe an alien from outer space. But turning into a bat, wolf, mist - no reflection, and an aversion for holy objects and flowing water - Mal, that's magic, not alien. Black magic!"
That gave Malory pause. "Magic?" He moved closer to Silver. "No. Magic is constrained by the laws of reality, just like science. I thought you understood, Dave. I was mortal once, a native creature of this earth. Now, I'm a supernatural creature, forced to stand half within and half without the laws of reality. The laws that constrain me are complex, and I've only just begun to understand them myself."
"But how did it happen? Who forced? Who constrained? Why?" He gestured at the casket. "I know you're just playing on human fears with this nonsense, but they say people become vampires by making a deal with the Devil."
"TheDevil? No, not in my case." He'd never told any mortal before, but Silver had demanded payment. "A god cursed me, a legitimate god to whom I'd been promised as a sacrifice before I was born."
Silver gaped. He hardly had to say it. Malory could read his face. Pagan gods weren't real. They were made up by ignorant people. With incredible naiveté, he said, "Human sacrifice is immoral. How could you be blamed for refusing?"
"I didn't refuse," Malory snapped, offended. "Dave, long before the Creator of the Universe came to Abram the son of Terah, He made me the same offer. But my father had promised me to our god at my birth - after all what else were third sons of a king good for? - and so I hesitated.
"Our god was angry that I'd think to abandon my destiny, and cursed me to consume only human blood and to perish in the light of the sun. The curse came on me that very night. The power of our god was real, and there was an army about to besiege our city. I was to be sacrificed to save us from sack and ruin. It was my duty. I told the Creator of the Universe, that I wouldn't go anywhere but to my sacrifice.
"My god wouldn't accept the sacrifice because after the ritual, I didn't stay dead. The Creator had denied my city the sacrifice needed to survive the war. But He gave me the powers I needed to survive my god's curse. He said I must witness the working out of His blessing on the one who would accept it. So far all I've seen is periodic slaughter of the descendents of Abram. I'm still devoted to the god of my fathers, so I have problems with holy things dedicated to the Creator. The Devil has absolutelynothing to do with it."
Silver's bushy black eyebrows rose to disappear under his cowlick. "You've spoken . . . with . . . God?"
It was the tone one used to a suspected nut case. "Maybe not," assured Malory. "Maybe that's how I remember it because someone tampered with my mind. It never happened again. I've been on my own for millennia, trying to fathom the laws of my existence. One thing I'm certain of - the best way for me to avoid personal disaster is to eliminate my daughter's killer."And to keep the vow to my god.
Silver digested all that silently, then nodded. "I think I understand better now." To Malory's astonishment, he actually seemed relieved. "Well, you'd better get going if you're going to confront del Rio tonight."
He watched as Malory took the turning step that twisted him through another dimension, leaving only a small bat form as his manifestation in reality. For the first time in millennia, the vampire was acutely conscious of a peaceful sort of pleasure in the shift, a sharp contrast to the effect of taking life's blood or exposure to sunlight. There was a very great difference between the two gods.
Still, the god of his fathers was not to be ignored.
This night, del Rio was working out of a new, well kept warehouse on the waterfront. Already the fog horns were blatting their warnings. It made fine cover for any noise.
Malory folded his bat form under the eaves over a well lit office window and extended his senses. A freighter was tied up at the wharf nearby, reeking of cocaine. Neither police dogs nor mechanical sniffers seemed able to detect the drugs the way the vampire could.
Six men in the office were closing a deal over the delivery, del Rio and two guards facing three strangers.
Malory listened for hours and learned nothing until the strangers left. Del Rio turned to a guard. "Get Dillon and Petrino back from Cancun. I've got a job for them."
"They might not come. You shouldn't pay 'em so well."
"I pay what a job's worth. That's why they'll come."
The guard left mumbling that nothing could be worth that kind of money. Malory's heart raced. Dillon and Petrino could be the ones who'd killed Rita.
With growing impatience, Malory waited for del Rio to be left alone. It was close to midnight before things settled down and del Rio put his feet up on his desk, popping the top on a beer can. He seemed to be waiting for something, but Malory decided to risk it. He'd only need a few minutes.
He launched himself into the air, twisted into a rope of fine mist, and glided through the hairline crack under the window. He took control of del Rio's mind as he formulated himself before the desk. He could never have entered del Rio's own home, but this was a public space, an office.
Shocked, del Rio jerked once, trying to drive his hand toward the signal button under his desk. Then he subsided in the grip of Malory's mind.
He was a short, stocky man with a touch of distinguished frosting at his temples. His skin was dusky, his hair black. His nose had been broken in two places, and there was a v shaped nick in the top of his right ear.
Gripping his mind lightly, Malory studied the man, waiting for him to recover from shock. He'd never laid eyes on him before, but he knew him intimately. He was quick, sharp and ruthless. In the last three years, he'd ordered more deaths in the Bay Area than any other importer.
At last, del Rio asked, "Who are you?"
"The father of the vampire you had killed."
Malory watched del Rio's mind grind through memories of terror as the mysterious deaths in his ranks spooked his finest operators. Then came the eyewitness account of a vampire leaving a warm corpse. That was himself, Malory realized. Del Rio's superstitious men had threatened to defect en masse if del Rio didn't stop the vampire.
Del Rio had set a trap, sacrificing an untrustworthy messenger. Rita had fallen into the trap. While video cameras had failed to record Rita's presence, the victim's gyrations and death were recorded. Meanwhile, a sketch artist had caught Rita's likeness perfectly.
With del Rio's connections, a portrait was all he needed to run down an individual as fast as the police could.
So Rita had paid for all her victims as well as for Malory's. If Malory had fallen into the trap, things might have gone differently.I swear by the gods of my fathers, the next blood I feast on will be that of your murderer - however long it takes. Malory repeated it three times before the urge to take del Rio subsided.
"I want the tape," said Malory.
Del Rio didn't hedge. He knew exactly what tape, and, shaking, he produced it from a desk drawer. As he bent, Malory saw the edge of a case in the man's impeccably tailored pocket. In a lightning swift move, Malory had it in his own hand. It was indeed a PDA, a large one.
He took videotape and diary, saluted courteously, and then, just as a man ushered another into the room, Malory ostentatiously turned into a bat, twisting the tape and diary through into the other dimension because a bat could never lift the weight in reality and flew to the window, where he turned to mist and sifted out the way he'd come.
Before leaving, he paused to get a good impression of their reactions. Ghastly, white-face shock followed by superstitious terror. Simultaneously, both del Rio and his guest realized that the organization's most private and sensitive records were now in the vampire's hands.
At last, the guest declared, "You'll retrieve or destroy that record and bring me proof, or no one will deal with you again." He stalked from the room, a picture of power and dignity despite the inner knowledge that he'd wet his pants.
Del Rio remained sitting at his desk with similar knowledge, and he didn't rise until the last of those he'd issued orders to had left.
Malory departed certain that del Rio would soon put Rita's killers and most probably himself into Malory's trap.
It was almost sunrise.
While he and Silver were spraying stage cobwebs in the kitchen, Silver asked, "What if del Rio brings an army?"
"He won't. It could prove too - embarrassing - if word got around that del Rio is crazy, possibly from using his own product. What else would anyone think who saw him pounding a stake through someone's heart? Besides, word would certainly get out that his private records had been stolen. No, he's got to retrieve that diary secretly. He'll use the only two hitmen he has who've been successful against a vampire, and they'll use that same successful technique."
"Unsuccessfully." He led the way into the living room.
Malory circled the casket. "Yes." He laid a hand on the ebony surface. "Dave, this is your last chance to back out. I'm going to feast on those men. It will be ugly, and I may not be able to prevent you from observing it all."
He shook his head decisively. "I've thought through what you told me last evening. I'm in."
"You could be killed."
"Rita was killed. I'm in. You can't deny my right."
"No. I can't." He eyed the graying fog. "Secure the house, then. I'll sleep in the casket today. But I think it will take them more than one day to find me."
"Probably. But if you'd told them any more than that you were associated with Rita, they'd have figured it was a trap. Now they'll have to work through reams of computer records and check out everyone she dealt with to find you."
"I did all I could to reinforce their superstitious view of what a vampire is and their acceptance of the trail I left leading to this house. They will believe they have the upper hand."
"If they don't -- shoot, they might end up at my house first!"
Malory raised the casket lid carefully not using the trick handles. "The cost of damage to your property would easily be covered by the funds I've put in your name."
"That sounds awfully final."
"I doubt my existence is threatened, but Malory Avnel must disappear after the confrontation, and this house will no doubt become useless to me." At Silver's stricken look, he assured, "It's a small loss. I've others." He closed the lid, settling down with only a thread of contact to Silver.They will be here soon, and it will be over, he told himself, trying to be confident that he had influenced them enough - but not too much.
Three days passed, four, five, and nothing. The strict fast tightened around Malory's guts. He spent the days in restless vigilance, and the nights pacing, watching his clocks tick off the hours of his fast.
On the sixth night, he was tempted to return to del Rio and give him a clue. Surely, the man wasn't so incompetent.
But Silver talked him out of it, speculating that the hitmen might not have returned from Cancun so quickly, or that they were preparing weapons. "Be prepared for buckets of Holy Water, and dozens of consecrated crosses. They can buy priests down in South America - how about consecrated Host? What can we do to defend against anything like that?"
"Let them believe I'm more helpless than I am. Unless they bring a priest to administer these weapons, the effect will be mild. After all, consider the sins on their souls."
"I didn't know that made a difference."
"It does." But it set him to thinking, and later that night, when Silver had gone to sleep, Malory performed a ritual he hadn't thought about in millennia, consecrating the house itself to the service of his god, burying sacred symbols before the windows and doors, carving signs into the concrete. Now, the purest and most devout wielder of Jewish, Christian, or Moslem objects wouldn't be a real threat.
His efforts had an odd side-effect. For the next two nights, he didn't feel moment by moment that he was about to break his vow. In the day, he rested better, less tormented.
They came on the bright, sunny eighth morning.
Malory knew it even before Silver alerted him by knocking on his mind. "Mal, there's someone in the garden."
He fought his way to the edge of consciousness, the weight of day like lead on his chest. "It's them, the two who exposed Rita. I recognize their - well, minds." The psychic flavor, like the scent of a specific perfume worn by a specific person, was identical.
He could feel Silver swallowing hard. "Right. Then where's del Rio? You said he'd come personally."
"But taking the least risk. You mustn't do anything until del Rio is inside the house with the other two."
"I know the plan."
To Malory's consternation, he dozed off, waiting. Only Silver's frantic nudging brought him awake. "They're in the garage! Are they going to blow up the cars?"
Now that was a possibility they hadn't planned on. But Malory didn't think that was it. Too chancy.
There was another long wait and Malory faded in and out, Silver fretting ever more at how groggy the vampire was.
And then Malory sensed it, just a whiff filtered through the mortal's crude senses, but no mistaking the pungency. "Dave, it's garlic. They've flooded the heating system with garlic - the heat's on, isn't it?" Garlic was one of the few things that made Malory wish he didn't breathe, and he wasn't sure which god was responsible for that problem.
"Yes. It was cold when I got up."
"Well, turn it off!"
If Malory had been alone, this would have been ineffective. He never used heat except to prevent mildew.
Very quickly, the scent turned to a thick miasma, a cloying solidity in the air. Silver's eyes began to water and he gagged once or twice. Malory had to shut down his link to the mortal for his own distress was growing.
Malory had seen to it that the casket wasn't air tight - so he could emerge as mist through a tiny hole in the side.
Now, he noticed the hole he'd made was on a line with the breeze from a heating vent. He shoved his elbow against the hole. In dormancy, he wasn't breathing much, but still the scent was paralyzing. He fought to regain contact with Silver and found the human frantically trying to get his attention. "They're on the roof!"
Seeking the killers, Malory realized they were doing something to his chimney. He'd never used the fireplace that occupied one wall of the living room, but he did often use the chimney in mist or bat form.
He had to look through Silver's squinting, watery eyes at one of the living room monitors to see what came down that shaft, but he recognized it before Silver. "Censer! Bigger than they'd use in a cathedral. Looks like a custom job."
Smoke billowed from the incense burner, pouring out through the holes around the cross-shaped carvings in the sides. Even from inside the casket, Malory could feel the thing vibrating with the peculiar tone of The Creator. And the smoke! The incense had been specially blessed. Silver's words echoed through his mind.They can buy priests.
Though Malory's consecrations were not wholly effective, they cut the impact of the sacred smoke by half, and it had already been vitiated by the impiety of the wielders. Still, Malory was still weakened and distracted from the garlic.
He'd never understood his antipathy to garlic, except that certain sacred herbs and woods did have massive effects on him. Right now, he wasn't interested in understanding. "Dave, go up to the third floor." There were three empty bedrooms up there. "On the wall by the thermostat, there's a switch like a light switch, but it's black with a plain black plate around it. It's an attic fan. Turn it on." It hadn't been cleaned or oiled since before he'd moved in. Nobody needed such a thing in a house overlooking the Pacific. "Hurry, Dave, they'll be up to something else soon."
The mortal was already on his way when Malory sensed a shift in the air-pressure. He had located the two invaders at the kitchen windows, overlooking the little enclosed garden. He deduced they'd just cut their way in through the window. They'd be climbing in over the sink now, probably using the ladder they'd taken from the garage. Obviously, they'd spent the last few days carefully casing the house.
Just then, the attic fan thundered to life. With only the chimney, the stove hood, and now the kitchen window open, the powerful fan must be drawing gustily. Malory sensed the invaders' surprise.
As Silver raced back down the stairs, his steps covered by the vibration of the fan, Malory told him, "They're in the kitchen. If they start a fire, cut that fan!"
"It's helping the garlic."
And the incense.But as the frightening effect of the smells abated, Malory found himself dozing again, too lethargic to care about the killers heading for the casket.
He was shocked out of it when a sound like a sluicing downpour engulfed him, and he abruptly felt cut off from the outside world, suffocating (though he was barely breathing.)
"They're using something like fire extinguishers to spray something onto the coffin from way over by the doorway. They're really afraid of you. Look through my eyes."
It felt like the mortal was a million miles away. "I can't take your eyes. It's Holy Water." By the gallon, just as Dave had predicted.
A thin, shivering thought invaded Malory's mind. Could he trust the mortal after what he'd said about the God of Abraham? Had he made a deal with Rita's killers? Or was he just better at thinking like a modern man than Malory was?
"I'm going to flood the room in CO2 foam," said Silver.
"No!" commanded Malory. "They don't know about you. Let them get close to the casket and try to open it."
But the two men circled the room and went out the arch toward the front door, pausing every so often to nail up a silver cross. The house vibrated with queer discomfort.
In moments, the front door opened and del Rio himself, clad in what looked like a NASA isolation suit, entered carrying a doctor's bag. Standing in the living room entry, he examined the stage setting, face set in a wooden mask. But Malory could hear the man's heart skip and race.
Malory couldn't help but admire the mortal. His knuckles were white on the doctor's bag, but his step was firm as he circled the casket, checked out the piano by striking middle C, swiped at the cobweb festooning the candelabra, then yanked the black draperies away from the windows. Malory knew sunlight streamed into the room.
Everywhere del Rio stepped, everywhere he touched, the power of the Holy Water diminished a bit. His confidence built until he swaggered up to the coffin and his weight triggered the slam of the steel roll shutters.
Swallowing in a dry throat, del Rio ran his hand over the casket, admiring the quality. To Malory, it was as if he'd ripped a strip out of a cellophane wrap. The seal broken, the rest peeled away leaving Malory's senses free.
The vampire took his first free breath since the deluge and relaxed. "Dave, just sit tight."
"You're back! The curtains are open! But the shutters are closed. Let me flood the place."
Malory swathed Silver's mind in firm control, damping his panic. He watched through the monitors as del Rio set his bag on top of the casket, laid it open and extracted a thermal pot filled with clay or wax, soft enough to mold.
It was quite a large pot. Having never seen such a thing before, Malory couldn't imagine what it was. Then, through the tiny hole in the side of the casket, he caught the faintest whiff, beeswax - and suddenly he knew.
Alarm thrilled along his nerves, followed by black terror that paralyzed his thinking.
Dave, through the grip Malory had on his mind, was likewise frozen in shock. Not knowing why, he tried to reassure the vampire. "They're going to make a waxworks duplicate of your features! I've seen it done in Paris."
Yet even as Silver spoke, del Rio slapped lumps of the wax over the latch where the coffin would open and then in three places on the crack, saying, "He might not be in here. Soon as this is done, we'll search the rest of the place." From his bag, he produced a large stick with a disk on one end. He drove the disk against a blob of wax. A seal.
Malory screamed in agony, and del Rio chuckled.
Crosses, Malory could have dealt with, but this was a five pointed star, the lines woven counterclockwise. The symbol had been used by Jews and later by Christians and even Moslems, but it was in fact, much older than that.
As each seal slammed into place, Malory envisioned uncounted centuries imprisoned in this coffin. Panic took him, followed by rage. As del Rio struck the final blow, Malory remembered his exit hole, sealed only by Holy Water.
Twisting himself into mist, Malory forced his way through the hole, feeling the lingering resistance like a static field disrupting his nerves. As he formulated in the room, his knees were daytime weak. Light coming through the arches seared his eyes, and his skin crawled even under the factor forty-five sunblock.
But he faced Rita's killers across the casket, and still managed to use Dave's hands to trigger the anesthetic gas. It couldn't touch del Rio in his isolation suit, but it would take out the two killers.
The instant they saw the billowing fog erupt from the base of the pedestal, they whipped gas masks off their belts and slipped them over their heads. There were crosses on the masks. One of them had a crossbow armed with a silver tipped bolt of rowan wood. The other retreated toward the kitchen, not with panic, but fading slowly back behind his covering partner, probably intent on bringing forth another weapon.
Behind the mask of the environment suit, del Rio's face was pale, but carved in wood again. Despite the airtight seals, Malory felt he could smell the man's fear. His voice, however, was steady as he said, "I came for my PDA. Give it to me, and I won't bother you again."
"You ordered my daughter killed."
"She was killing my men. Since she died, I haven't lost any more. As long as things stay that way, I won't bother you or your kind again. Just give me my PDA."
Upstairs, Silver's agitation was growing as he bent over the monitor showing the kitchen. The other killer was priming some sort of pump with a hose attached. More Holy Water? Malory ignored him. The crossbow was more dangerous.
Prepared to twist into mist if the archer fired, the vampire said, "Her death was extremely unpleasant. I won't make any effort to cushion yours."
As he spoke, he carefully withdrew control from Silver and wove his way into the archer's mind, taking control first of his speech centers, then his hands, and the rest.
Del Rio replied, "You do realize I've got you trapped? You can't escape from this house."
Malory shifted the bowman's weight and let him pivot slowly, hoping Del Rio wouldn't notice the movement.
"Listen, Avnel, or whatever you call yourself, just give me back my property, and I'll let you go."
Malory used his proxy hands to fire the crossbow right into del Rio's throat. Blood spurted. But Malory wasn't watching. With the preternatural swiftness of his kind, he leaped over the casket and launched himself at the archer. With one hand he wrenched the cross from around the man's neck. His sharp teeth ripped into the killer's throat. They hit the carpet, but Malory didn't feel it.
Blood gushed from the carotid artery into Malory's parched mouth, and ecstasy took him. He lost awareness of everything but sucking and swallowing. Warmth flowed into his belly, his limbs came alive, his skin began to feel. Surge after surge of pure power flowed into him, making him ache for more, holding and holding him to his prey.
He came out of it only when bright flame licked at his eyelids. In reflex, he rolled off his victim, and in one motion was on his feet.
A sheet of flame cut the room in half while a voice on the other side of the flame cried, "Mr. del Rio! This way!"
But del Rio was busy bleeding to death.
CO2 foam flooded down from the ceiling. Malory had felt Silver hit the control a moment before the automatics cut in. Silver would have reacted faster, the vampire realized, but for watching his professed friend in the throes of a feeding frenzy. And Malory was still hungry.
With the foam damping the flames, he advanced on the man with the flame-thrower, his movements fueled by fresh blood, and the promise of more. As he closed, knocking the nozzle out of the way, the flames spurted again, engulfing the archer, sending up a stench of cooking meat. Malory wrenched the device away and tore his throat out.
The silver cross singed his skin, but he hardly felt it as fresh, rich blood glided down his throat. The sere rawness at the back of his nose was eased at last by the fumes of blood, fresh, warm, thick, living blood. And there was pure rapture in fulfilling his vow to his god, a relief that the danger of becoming foresworn was over.
The man was dead when Malory raised his head at last, hazily realizing the house was on fire. That last burst with the extinguisher had flamed the beams above the ceiling. Smoke filled the room despite the layer of foam on the floor, burying the white environment suit.
Malory bent, brushing foam aside. Del Rio was still alive. He ripped the suit fabric, surprised the tough synthetic parted so easily. No, he'd regained his strength! He shook the man to awareness to be sure he knew what was happening. Then he sucked the remaining life from him.
He hadn't needed it, but it was satisfying nonetheless.
Only then did his attention turn to Silver. He realized the mortal had gone to the third floor to turn off the attic fan after he'd triggered the CO2. Now he was trapped in a bedroom, stuffing the cracks under the door with rags and newspaper, unable to climb down from the third floor window.
"Mal!" his thought squealed when Malory made his presence felt. "Get out! Call the fire department!"
"No. The bodies have to burn completely." He pulled the crossbow bolt from del Rio's neck, took up the flame thrower and immolated the three corpses, taking care that the neck tissue charred. There would still be plenty of evidence for the police, but his nature would not be revealed.
The fire was rapidly sweeping upwards in the building, no doubt setting off smoke detectors in the adjacent houses. With the smoke too thick to see, Malory found a dark closet where, shielded from the sun, he turned to bat form. Keeping well above the flames, he flew up the smoky stairwell.
He had to get Silver out of the house. But he had no idea how to get him down the stairs.Has to be down the outside - in sunlight. I can do it. He couldn't face the prospect of losing his new friend now.
At the third floor, he found Silver's room, turned to mist and filtered through the rags stuffed under the door. Formulating, he squinted against the terrible sunlight.
Silver jumped. "Hhhuh! Oh. How did you get up here?"
For the first time, Silver shrank from Malory, and it hurt more than Malory wanted to think about when the mortal asked hesitantly, "You aren't still hungry, are you?"
"No, but it wouldn't matter if I were. You're safe from me, Dave. You helped me keep an oath I dared not break." He edged up to the window to get his bearings. Then he sensed it. On the outside of the windowsill, a blob of wax with a five pointed star - on top of the god-sign he'd etched there.
He leaned against the wall, one forearm over his head. He could wait out the fire in his stone sanctuary. When the ashes cooled, the seals that were no doubt on all the doors and windows, even the chimney, would no longer be effective. But he couldn't get out this window now. So he couldn't carry Silver out the window and down the wall.
Silver eyed the door. Smoke was seeping through the rags and around the top. He was still getting most of Malory's thoughts directly.
He looked at the windowsill and saw the wax seal. At once, he began to lift the window. Malory stopped him. "Draft will pull the fire into the room."
"But way before that, I'll have that seal off of there and you can get out and maybe get us both down." The window squealed up and Silver leaned out to scrape the wax off. His arm recoiled as if he'd touched a coal. "Ah! It's hot!"
Malory cut the link with Silver. "Try again."
Silver got a paint stick from a pile of trash in the corner and leaned out to scrape the wax. The stick flew from his hands, spinning down. "God! What is that thing?"
"Seal of Solomon. It's aimed at me, but you're so tightly involved with me now that it's got you, too. We can't erase it because we didn't set it."
"I'm going to die in here."
"No!" protested Malory.
"Promise me, Mal, promise you won't make me over. If this is death, I accept it. At least we got those bastards."
"You've had my word on that for years." He could hear the flames roaring and crackling in the central stairwell. Soon it would be too late for him to go down. Even his mist form couldn't penetrate open flame.
Silver began to cough on the smoke drawn into the room by the open window.
Malory slammed the window and took off his jacket to stuff it under the door, but it wouldn't fold. The digital diary was in the breast pocket. He took it out, weighing it in one hand while he kicked the jacket under the door. It weighed at least ten times what his bat form weighed. Yet he'd transported the thing across the city.
For all his millennia of sporadic scholarship, he'd never found a clue as to how he did what he did. It had been centuries since he'd discovered a new ability. But it had been centuries since he'd really needed a new skill.
He tossed the thing from hand to hand.
"That can't get us out of this. Go, Mal. Flame can kill you, permanently."
He looked at Silver, really looked. He couldn't remember ever having a friend quite like this one before. He didn't want to remember for millennia to come that he'd let him die out of sheer cowardice.
"I've got an idea, but it's dangerous. It might leave you certifiable; it might kill us both, but it might work."
"Let's hear it," Silver said, but Malory heard the reservation. He'd rather die than let Malory risk death to save him. Fire sirens wailed in the distance.
"Maybe I can carry you the way I carry my clothes - or small objects like this. I've never tried it with a person, before. I just assumed it wouldn't work. It might not."
"I don't understand. Exactly what would happen?"
"I don't know. I don't know how I do it." He paced, fretfully. The floor was getting warm. "There's another -place - where things wait while what's left of me here moves. When I get where I'm going, I just - turn everything out and reformulate myself. I might not be able to turn you into that place, or maybe I won't be able to move if I do, or maybe I won't be able to reformulate something equivalent to my own mass. Or I might even find I can't reformulate myself. I don't know how it works!"
"I don't like it." Malory knew he was about to reject the idea totally, to accept death, when a gout of flame shot up from the corner of the room closest to the living room.
Silver jumped, moving toward Malory, and the vampire stepped into and around the mortal, scooping him up in his arms and completing histurn into mist.
It seemed to take forever and ever. Very gradually, he became dimly conscious of his focal point in the mist, and the vast drag of Silver's panic somewhereelse.
He hovered in the midst of the burning room, struggling with Silver's panic, groping for his mind. At last, he found the mortal consciousness and wrestled it down to darkness.
Then he could move. Laboriously, he slipped through the crack at the top of the door. The hall was aflame. He could, however, manage to ride the cool currents, for as the warmed air from the fire rose, the colder air from the top of the house literally poured down the stairs.
The trip was a nightmare, dodging, rising, falling out of control, being inexorably pushed this way and that. It was like staggering under a massive load.
Toward the end, Malory knew he had failed and was about to die a final death, his mist form evaporated by tongues of flame. On the ground floor, he barely avoided catastrophe for the fifth time, and raged inwardly. Here he was trying to save the mortal life of one of the best of Abram's descendents, and the Creator of the Universe couldn't spare a flicker of mercy for the guy.So I'm glad I didn't accept Your offer if this is how you'd have treated my descendents! And he swore in several extinct languages.
With one last spiteful effort, he filtered into his rocky sanctuary. Still mist, he rested, feeling scorched and weak enough to weep.What if I can't do it?
Listen, prayed the vampire in his mother tongue, I'm sorry for what I said. There are a whole lot more descendents of Abram now than there were total humans alive in his own time. You've made a good start on your promise. But don't you think maybe Dave here could help increase that number, with just a bit of your help now?
For a long time, the vampire rested, gathering strength for theturn that would restore Silver's body - if not maybe his mind. Then, with the last dregs of his strength, he heaved them both around that indescribable corner.
"Mal!" screamed Silver in terror at the pitch darkness.
Malory rolled over to drag one infinitely heavy arm across Silver's chest. "Relax, we're in my sanctuary. It's solid rock, remember? The fire can't get us here."
"It worked? It worked! My God!"
"Yes. Your God. Definitely the more powerful."I think. But once he knew Silver had survived physically and mentally, his thoughts unraveled under the powerful daytime lethargy. "I'll wake at sundown, then we'll leave. Sleep, Dave, you've earned it."
End Chapter One
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