He has no time to ponder the irony of it, no time to marshal defiance or a defence of his hobby. Hobby? Too small a word. He submits to the hands that grab him roughly, eagerly and bring him closer, closer to.....
Atlantic Ocean, 1818
He was rather proud of the fact that his sea sickness had worn off so fast. Within a day of boarding, despite rough seas and a forced adjustment to food fit only for the slops pail, he had found his sea legs as they termed it. His father had not been so lucky. Of course, treating his nausea with copious amounts of brandy on a - very - empty stomach was probably responsible for that. David was careful not to parade his health too obviously and spent as much time as possible on deck, tucked away in a corner and marvelling at this new world.
It couldn't last, of course. Eventually his father was well enough to stagger from his fetid cabin and when he did, he looked for his usual target.
David was reading a book published over two decades earlier that had belonged to his mother; 'The Mysteries of Udolpho'. The tale never ceased to enthrall him with its macabre and terrifying plot. Not that it had prevented him from relishing the biting satire directed at it in the late Miss Austen's book, 'Northanger Abbey,' which he had purchased last year and knew almost by heart. Books were David's passion, his only friends, his solace in the face of an uncaring world and a bullying father. Unfortunately, his father deemed them to be a pernicious waste of time, fit only for kindling.
James Walton rounded the corner, saw his son curled in a corner, absorbed in a shabby volume and a spiteful smile passed over his face, once handsome, now coarsened by over indulgence in food and drink. Marrying a wealthy woman, who died when David was a child, had given him money to spend but could not furnish the taste and discernment required to spend it wisely.
A shadow passed over the page and David glanced up, blinking. A large hand reached down and tore the book from his grasp. "Reading again?" asked his father in a deceptively gentle voice. "Didn't I tell you not to pack such rubbish in your baggage? We are going to the New World and book learning will not help you fight off a bear or a pack of Indians after your scalp."
"Perhaps not, Father," said David, defiant for once in his sixteen years, emboldened by his recent days of freedom and enraged at having been snatched away from his fantasy world. "But I've learnt sufficient from my studies to be aware that there are mighty few such dangers in the city of Philadelphia!"
His father's face darkened in rage but it took a guffaw from a sailor who had been eavesdropping on the confrontation to tip the scales. Taking three hasty steps, he crossed to the ship's side and hurled the book high into the air. David watched helplessly as the book turned, its pages scattering in the breeze as it fell towards the ocean and out of sight.
He pushed himself up and stood, confronting his father, who wore a satisfied smirk on his face. "That was mother's book," David stated with a calm born of incandescent and futile rage. "It was one of only a few things I still have of hers and you destroyed it on a whim. You have the self control of an infant and the intelligence of a Barbary ape, sir."
His father gaped at his son, almost unable to comprehend that the shy, timid, bookish failure that was his son had some backbone after all. Not that he approved of the change. With a growl he reached out for his son and began to beat him with one meaty fist, the other hand gripping David's collar so tight it almost choked him.
The sailor who had been the unwitting spark that began the fire, stood up but was too canny to interfere openly with a gentleman passenger admonishing his son. Taking the wooden cup from which he had been drinking, he casually rolled it towards the struggling pair. As he had hoped, Walton stepped on it, stumbled and David broke free.
Summoning all his strength, he drew back his arm and launched a mighty blow, intended to land full in his tormentor's face. Even off balance, this flailing punch from a complete novice was easy to avoid and his father simply side stepped and struck David's back as he staggered past him. The momentum from his rush forward and his father's push, an unlucky lurch as the ship forged through a rough patch and David's fate was sealed. He tottered towards the railing, hit it at sufficient speed to propel him over it and followed his book into the sea.
The next few moments were pure sensation. The fall itself was swift. In seconds he had his breath knocked out of him as he hit the water in a clumsy dive. Then he was sinking, the world above receding as he faced the horrifying fact that the water, which he had floated on, high and dry in the mighty ship was deep. Very deep. Acute agoraphobia at the thought of how much water lay beneath him froze his brain as surely as the water itself, icy, salt and bruising, was freezing his body.
He might have resigned himself to death and allowed himself to sink were it not for one emotion - he still burned with hatred for the loss of his book. The warmth of that hatred and his desire for revenge had his feet kicking and his arms reaching upwards. Moments later he broke the surface and felt the sun on his face. Frantically wiping the salt water from his eyes he looked for the ship. It was already many yards away but yes, they were lowering a boat, and as he waved and shouted, he saw that he had been spotted.
The sailor who had intervened in his beating hauled him aboard, a sodden, miserable creature whose brief excursion into the dark emotions and their consequences had left him trembling with reaction. "Some say those saved from the sea are marked," the sailor said, in a low voice, whispering into David's ear as he wrapped him in a coarse blanket. David was too numb to do more than stare, bewildered, into the brown and wrinkled face beside him. "Marked for great good or great evil," the man continued. Reaching forward he pulled out the cross around David's neck; another memento of his mother. "Keep this by you, lad and maybe the devil won't come to claim you as his own."
Staring up at his father's face as the boar was hauled aboard, David felt that the devil might be less of a threat.
David looked up at the freshly lettered sign, swinging in the light breeze. "David Walton, Books New and Old" it read. The death of his father, finally succumbing to apoplexy after a Thanksgiving dinner where he had consumed a staggering amount of food, washed down with bottle after bottle of rich wine, had left him with a modest amount of money. He had turned his back on the society which, following his father's example had overlooked him for years, and gone into trade.
At twenty-six, with mild eyes peering from behind thick spectacles, a thin frame and a receding hairline that looked likely to have him aping a monk within years, he was still attracted to only one love; books. Which was, perhaps, just as well. The incident on the ship had faded from his memory, as had his brief rebellion against his father. The cross still hung about his neck but he rarely thought about his mother, the imaginary conversations with her that he had once indulged in to stave off the loneliness having given way to a settled apathy at his fate in life.
Today, that apathy was stirred into excitement. His own book store! And a nice set of rooms above it where he could finally be free of the fussing servants who bedeviled him with requests that he come eat, or tidy his room or go out for air. Independence at last.
Walking into the shop, he settled himself, importantly preening, behind the oak counter and waited confidently for customers. Many hours later, after his usual habits had asserted themselves in the face of a stubborn resistance to reading on the part of his fellow citizens, he was lounging in a comfortable chair at the back of the shop, immersed in an old favourite, "Gulliver's Travels." The gentle tinkle of the bell roused him from his absorption and he hastily stood up, pushing the book back into its place and hurried to welcome his first customer. Even if it did lack but ten minutes before he was supposed to close his doors, according to the neatly lettered sign in the window.
The dignified greeting that he had practised shrivelled on his tongue as he took in the splendid vision before him. A lady, most certainly, wealthy and possibly married, judging by the rich colours of her clothes. No simpering, pastel clad miss eager to read a shocking French novel this, but a matron in her early twenties from whose luxuriant furs wafted an intoxicating perfume.
“Good evening, sir. I trust I am not too late to browse your shelves?" she asked in a deep, lilting voice.
“N-no, of course not," stammered David, amazed that he had managed to be that coherent. What was the matter with him, he thought, confused and alarmed. He had met plenty of beautiful women at dances, plays and parties. They had ignored him, he had ignored them. Why was this one so enchantingly different? He cleared his throat, determined to appear in control of the situation.
Before he could speak, she turned brilliant green eyes on him and remarked, "It grows dark outside, sir. Perhaps you could light more lamps so that I might see your fascinating wares more closely?"
David blushed frantically at the teasing, insinuating note in her voice and fumbled quickly to do as she had suggested. Turning, he asked," Is there a particular book or author that you seek, madam?"
"Indeed there is, if you stock books on such a subject."
David puffed himself up. He might have many physical drawbacks but his shop did not. Its shelves carried a vast collection that he had secretly amassed over the years, augmented by many varied purchases of new books when he decided to open the shop. “I think I have books on every subject under the sun," he declared proudly. "And I can order in any title within weeks," he finished, on a less confident note.
"'Under the sun,'" she repeated pensively. "Indeed, most impressive. I seek books that are both rare and, some would say, dangerous."
"I do not understand, madam. How can a book be dangerous?"
She gave him a look of nicely blended cynicism and disbelief. "Books are a mighty weapon, my dear sir. Consider how many have been slain by the Bible for instance."
He gasped at this and she raised a delicately arched eyebrow. "Pagans and heathens, to be sure," she said smoothly. "To continue; I require the books on this list. I will return a week hence and you may tell me then which you have, which you must needs order and which you cannot procure for me. Good night, sir."
David watched her leave the shop, which seemed empty and drab without her presence. Unfolding the paper that she had pressed into his hand he frowned. The list was long, the penmanship strangely old fashioned but the titles - all were concerned with magic and the final item on the list seemed to glow in the light from the nearby lamp -"The Grimoire of Johann the Mage".
David's head twisted round to the stairs that led to his rooms. He knew that every item on that list, including the last, resided on his private shelves upstairs.
David glanced towards the door of his shop in what had become so frequent an action that an observer might have thought him afflicted with a nervous tic. Since the visit of the obviously wealthy lady last week, word seemed to have spread that his shop was fashionable, and trade had picked up. Even those who would scarcely have known which way up to hold a book had come, purchased and gone, twittering away to themselves about the odd little man who owned the shop. Now he blessed the peace that dusk had brought, even as he looked - yet again - at the door. A week had gone by and he had spent much of it in fruitless speculation about the list of books that the lady (why had he not thought to ask her name?) had given him. Especially the last item. The books were, for the most part, fairly standard for a student of magic. They were not easily obtained by the novice, but someone a little more advanced would have no difficulty in tracking them down. The grimoire was a different matter altogether and he suspected that his potential customer was truly in search of it and it alone.
The door bell sounded and he jumped, taken unawares after all his watchfulness. The lady sauntered into the shop, once more elegant and self possessed, once more bringing with her an intriguing perfume and - David sniffed, wrinkling his nose slightly - an odd smell of carrion. Doubtless from garbage in the street outside. The smell faded and he found himself being greeted warmly with an intimate hand clasp as he sank into the depths of those green eyes, as green as the icy sea that had tugged him down to death. David gasped for air as the memory of his fall from the ship was triggered by the colour of her eyes.
She frowned and released his hand abruptly. "So, Mr. Walton, have you been able to find the items I requested?" she enquired.
David was conscious of a need to end the games. As once before in his life, his timidity was overcome by a stronger emotion; in this case, curiosity. "I think, madam, you know as well as I that there is only one item on that list that you truly desire. And sad to say, I have no knowledge of its whereabouts." He lied instinctively, keeping his face bland, his eyes steady.
She seemed to freeze for a moment, studying his face intently. "I am sorry to hear that," she said finally.
"Madam, will you not tell me the reason you desire such a book? As you said when first we met, some books can be dangerous. I have thought on that and I cannot but agree. The book you seek is a perfect example. It deals with unholy rites for augmenting the power of mystical beasts. They do not exist, of course, but the rituals themselves are enough to forever damn the soul of those performing them." He paused, a little surprised at the force and eloquence of his words.
"You seem strangely well informed about a book of which you profess to have no knowledge," she commented, circling him closely in a way which caused the hairs on the back of his neck to rise - with a corresponding reaction in his breeches. He took a deep breath and continued to stand still, ignoring the way she stood behind him, near enough to embrace should he turn suddenly.
"I am, as I think you know quite well, a student of such matters. That I know of the book means nothing. It was lost centuries ago, and only garbled, meaningless fragments have survived, worthless and indecipherable."
"You have seen these fragments?" she asked, her voice silky and cool.
David could not prevent himself from glancing upwards to the room where a sealed box held all that he had managed to gather of the lost grimoire in seven years of searching.
"I see. Show them to me, please?" Her voice begged prettily as she swept aside his attempts to deceive, but there was no mistaking the command beneath the request. David hesitated for a moment and she took him by the shoulder and swung him round to face her. "Together we can work wonders," she murmured. "Alone you will fail and possibly die through ignorance."
"Who are you?" David demanded, trying to assert himself and break free of her compelling influence.
Slowly she drew a fingernail down the side of his face. He gasped at the sensation then cried out as he realised that she had cut him. He reached up automatically to assess the injury but she captured his hand in hers and leaning forward he felt her kiss her way along the slight wound, using her tongue to bathe it. David, still inexperienced, though more than knowledgeable about the erotic arts in theory (the books he read being not always the dry, dusty tomes that his peers supposed) had never felt arousal like this. If the caress had lasted a second longer he was sure he would have tried to kiss her soft lips but she drew away and looked challengingly into his eyes.
"May I enter your room to study with you?" she asked.
There was only one answer he could give, only one reply to such a seductive request with its promise of future encounters and potential delights. “P-please, yes, come upstairs with me."
Turning to lead the way, he missed the flash of satisfaction that flitted across her beautiful face.
The hours had sped by and David, for all his fascination with his visitor and the arcane knowledge that she seemed eager to share, was getting weary. He had not yet produced the portions of the grimoire, nor did he intend to. She seemed content to discuss the books scattered around the room and to tease his history from him with skillfully phrased questions. She had discarded her thick furs and her skin gleamed white as snow in the lamplight. She sat close to him and brushed her fingers against him often as she spoke.
David was not as foolish as perhaps she thought him but he was certainly less wise than he judged himself to be. For all that he felt he was aware of her attempts to seduce him, he was unable to resist responding to her physically. Concentrating on hiding the bulge in his trousers with an adroitly placed book, he spoke carelessly and frankly. Just how long could a man stay erect and not find release, he thought miserably. He felt as if the grinding ache would never be soothed away.
Interrupting her musings on an obscure translation in a Latin text, he said, somewhat desperately. "Madam, I fear the night grows late and I confess I am weary, though never of your company. Perhaps, tomorrow being Sunday and the shop closed, you could return in the morning?"
She smiled at his attempt at flattery and replied, "Sir, I am ashamed to have imposed on your time to such a degree. Of a certainty, I will return, yet not, I fear until the evening. May I once again trespass on your good will at that time?"
Standing as she did, David could only nod.
After he had seen her leave and locked the door behind her, David drew a shaky breath. The arousal had drained from his body as the door shut behind her and the relief was enough to make him light headed. Making his way upstairs to sleep at last, he frowned. He still knew neither her name, nor her direction nor indeed, anything about her. Tomorrow, he vowed. Tomorrow, I will find out.
Sinking into bed, David fell asleep in minutes. He slept as the window of his room was pushed open, slept as a silent figure made for the cupboard that held the grimoire fragments, slept as the cupboard door was forced open by strong fingers.
But he did not sleep through the anguished scream that followed. Sitting bolt upright and fumbling for his spectacles, David watched in horror as a dark shape blundered around his room then ran for the window and dived out headfirst.
He found the courage to leave the sanctuary of his bed and approach the window. Peering cautiously through the opening, he anxiously looked down at the ground. Expecting to see a lifeless body or, at best, a figure writhing in pain from broken limbs, he looked instead on empty cobblestones and heard only the usual night noises of the city.
Whirling round, he took up his candle and lit it as quickly as his trembling hands allowed. Making for the cupboard, he reached inside and withdrew the box from its spot. With a steadier hand, he traced the design on the lid, a design repeated on every surface of the box; the sign of the cross.
She wasn't coming. Several hours had passed since sunset and David could wait no longer. He paced the narrow confines of the shop and came to a decision. He was going to the tavern at the end of the street and he was, for the first time in his life, going to get drunk. His father's ghost might approve of such a manly activity but even that consideration failed to deter him.
Throwing his coat on hastily, David left the shop, locking the door behind him, and turned left. The night was chilly and a mist curled up from the stones beneath his feet, making walking hazardous. David concentrated on avoiding the noisome refuse that littered his path and was only vaguely aware of a carriage waiting further down across the street, blocking the entrance to an alley. His concentration was broken by a scream from the alley, an anguished cry that cut off abruptly. In a city, those ill equipped to protect themselves are slow to come to the aid of others. David had no intention of crossing over to investigate the cause of the scream but he could not help glancing in the direction from which it had come. He heard hurried footsteps and a creak as the carriage door opened. When it then slammed shut, he peered across to catch a glimpse of the person inside the vehicle. In the shadows he could discern nothing, but the voice that imperiously ordered the driver to move on was unmistakably that of his mysterious visitor.
Shrinking back into a doorway, David watched the carriage drive down the street towards his shop. He hesitated for a second, and then ran across the street to the dark alley. Standing in the street he strained his eyes, trying to see into the thick shadows that cloaked the narrow corridor. After a moment he cleared his throat and nervously called out, "Is there anyone there?"
When the silence grew more ominous than the scream had been, he plucked up sufficient courage to walk a few steps into the alley. Almost immediately he found what he half expected. A body, still warm, but lifeless beyond any doubt. Shuddering in distaste, David took hold of the corpse and pulled it a few feet into the comparative light of the street. As his eyes took in the ghastly sight before him he recoiled, his hand automatically reaching for the cross around his neck. The cause of death was apparent; vicious neck wounds, livid against the pale skin. But there was no blood. Such wounds should have bled copiously but David saw only a faint smudge of red around the injuries. Dragging the body back into the concealing shadows he felt a confused tangle of emotions; pity for the victim, shameful excitement over the implications and fear.
But David was at heart a scholar. Over all of these feelings was a shining gloss of curiosity and it was this that sent him back to his shop where he knew she would be waiting for him.
David walked into his shop, with a boldness that belied the trembling in his limbs. He saw that this time his visitor, who lounged casually against his counter, paging through a book, was not alone. As he closed the door behind him, two bulky figures stepped forward and stood on either side of their mistress.
"So, sir, you have learned much of me in a short space of time, have you not?" she asked calmly, setting the book aside and gliding over to him.
David made an effort not to flinch and replied, "I have learned that the aid the grimoire can give is not to mythical beasts but real creatures who walk amongst men and from what I have seen this night, I stand before three such demons now."
"And knowing this, you still returned to face me? Or did your concern for your treasure box outweigh your caution?"
David saw that her hands were gloved and guessed the cause. As if she read his mind she laughed and turning, pointed to a cloth-shrouded object near the door. "It was not so well guarded after all, was it now? And my hands will heal very quickly I assure you."
Anger at her utter lack of regard for him as an opponent prompted rash action. Flicking out the cross from under his clothes, he held it up and advanced towards her, stepping between the three vampires and the box as he did so. "Please leave," he said politely. "You are no longer welcome here."
"Too late. This shop is open to all, we need no invitation to enter and your cross will not help you."
Moving so fast that she seemed to disappear for a second, she swirled past him and picked up the box. David tore the cross from his neck and clasped it in his palm. Moving towards her quickly and taking advantage of the fact that her hands were encumbered by the heavy box, he slapped his hand to her face. She cried out in surprise and dropped the box but David had little time to triumph. His hands were grabbed and forced behind him by one of the male vampires, a swarthy, stocky man in his late thirties, and he was dragged towards the counter and thrown against it with great force. Gasping in pain, David looked up at his assailant and cried out in shock. The face of the man was altering as he watched in a hideous fashion, ridges appearing above the brows and along the cheekbones and the fangs - they were the stuff of nightmares. From the vampire's throat came a low continuous growl that underlined the bestiality of his true nature. David would have fainted but something warned him that if he did, he might never wake up.
Swallowing convulsively, he looked at the woman and was amazed to see that she was smiling and her face seemed untouched. "T-the cross -" he stammered. "Why did it not harm you?"
"I do not know," she admitted. "But I intend to find out. Let me see it."
The vampire holding David seemed reluctant to prise open his hand to get the cross and with a withering glance, his mistress took it herself. David noticed that she kept on her gloves and did not let the cross touch her flesh.
Staring at it closely with a puzzled expression, the vampire seemed at a loss. Then a flash of recognition crossed her face and she laughed. "This is your mother’s cross," she said to David. "Was her name not Elizabeth Walton? And before her marriage, Elizabeth Darnley?" David nodded assent. "And did you not discover portions of the grimoire amongst her possessions?"
David swallowed. How could she know that? His mind flashed back to the discovery of his mother's belongings, bundled up in a chest in the attic. He had been longing to discover more about her and the books that she had read seemed to form a bridge between them. The occult books had seemed dull at eleven and he had put them aside but returned to study them, as he grew older. The pages of the grimoire were locked within a small box, keyless and requiring a simple spell to open. Once he mastered the spell and read those few pages, a hunger for more had filled him. Since then, careful negotiations and research had allowed him to add to the collection of fragments but the book was far from complete.
He had never felt any sense of wrong doing in his actions but now he was beginning to wonder if the flower strewn path down which he had traveled led to a quagmire, waiting to suck him into its murky depths.
"Your mother," said the vampire clearly and with a cruel lilt to her voice as she watched his face react to her words, "was a powerful witch and died when she tried to become a vampire using the grimoire instead of more traditional ways. She searched desperately for the secret of eternal life coupled with the ability to walk in the sun, a new breed of vampire. And you expected her cross to save you? It is as cursed as she was, as you must surely be."
The vampire's words seemed to echo in David's head. He stumbled away from the counter, pushing heedlessly past her bodyguard. Slumping into a chair and ignoring the taunting laughter from his tormentor, he began to piece together much that had been unclear before.
He had been told that his mother had died in a fire, her nightdress set alight by a lamp blown over by the wind. The servants had once shown him the room where she had died. He had seen the scorch marks on the wall by the window and shuddered in the oppressive stillness of a room never used nor visited in many years.
Now he had been told that she had been experimenting with magic, had been trying to render flesh immortal through vampirism and yet impervious to sunlight. Her death by fire could have been caused by exposure to the sun, her experiment a failure. Yet, was that likely? His logical mind rejected the idea that someone would test invulnerability in such a way. Why not allow a ray of sunlight to fall onto the hand, easily snatched back out of danger ?
Abruptly he stood and walked back to his three unwelcome visitors. Staring coldly at the woman he demanded, "Madam, tell me your name. I have much to discuss with you and I grow weary of this secrecy."
He had startled her, he could tell. A faint glimmer of respect touched the glittering green eyes. She inclined her head graciously in acknowledgment of his fortitude in the face of such shocking news. "My human name is gone and unimportant," she told him. "Being turned, becoming vampire not human - it is like being reborn and we often choose new names. I am known now as Ysabel. Does this mean that you will work with me? I warn you, I can take the grimoire pages by force and leave you dead if needs be but I would like you to help me with them. I know that you have studied the pages for many years and I can reward you well."
David smiled. "Tell your men to leave us," he said. "You cannot fear me and I would prefer that we be alone."
She looked at him thoughtfully and then flicked her fingers in dismissal to her guards. They left, both now with human faces, but they moved like sleek hunting animals.
Once they were alone, she moved towards David and wound her arms seductively around his neck. David felt desire flare within him but recognized it for what it was; part of the vampire's hunting technique. He pushed her away and shook his head. "You are beautiful, Ysabel, in this form at least but that is not the reward I seek. I have a mirror and unlike you, I can see myself truly. You cannot convince me that you want this body and I confess, you now appear to me as an apple, perfect on the surface, worm ridden within."
She hissed angrily, temper distorting her features and he almost glimpsed her demonic face before she regained control. "David," she said. "You are either very brave or very foolish. Do not count on my continued ability to remain in this form. I have fed tonight but the hunger is never sated."
"Then best we turn from foolishness to business, Ysabel. Tell me all you know of my mother's death and I will tell you what I desire as my reward."
Ysabel began to talk and continued to do so for nearly an hour, David questioning her eagerly, jotting down notes and becoming so immersed in the story she told that he almost forgot her true nature.
If she could be trusted (and David had reservations about her reliability in certain areas) then his mother had indeed believed that she could safely complete the transformation. She had taken advantage of her husband's extended absence from their country home and concocted a tale of an illness that kept her abed and secluded. With the assistance of her devoted maid, another practitioner of magic, she had spent a day and night preparing for the spell that would leave her dead yet allow her to rise again.
The spell had been cast, and the maid guarded her mistress's body, waiting for the vampire to awaken. When it did, it was close to dawn. The vampire was hungry and maddened by the transformation, which, Ysabel said, was flawed in some way. She had attacked her servant, who fled the house after managing to lock the vampire in her room. Weakened by the struggle and needing to feed, the vampire had tried to break out of the window, trusting that she was immune to the effects of the rising sun. This proved not to be the case and she died, horribly burned.
"But," Ysabel finished, "there was still a body to be buried and that means that your mother did achieve partial success."
"How?" said David frowning. "The sunlight burned her. She failed and we have no proof that she was actually a vampire even. The servant might have been misled or lying."
"Vampires do not burn in the sunlight, David, we are consumed by it, ashes and dust in a matter of seconds. Had your mother been a true vampire, she would have essentially vanished as the sun's rays touched her. We need to follow her experiments, need to see where she was led astray, need to - "
Her voice trailed away and David looked at her grimly. "Need to see if perhaps existing vampires can be protected using the spell?" he inquired. Her face gave him answer enough. He frowned and asked her, "Ysabel, how come you to know all this? How did you find me and how did you learn so much of what went on in my mother's final days?"
"Can you really not guess, David? Do you not wonder what became of your mother's servant? She died, a few hours after your mother. Died of blood loss from a wound on her neck. Died and awoke, trapped underground in a flimsy coffin. Your mother did more than discover a partial immunity to sunlight, David. Common vampires can only create new children when their dying victims feed from them. Your mother's bite alone was enough to ensure that her servant was turned. An innocent woman was condemned to death, then new life as a monster. Doomed to forever walk in darkness."
She stood and David watched in horror as her face altered hideously.
"Now, do you understand who I am, who I was and why you will help me or die?"
David felt that he had endured enough for one evening. Forcing down his fear, he spoke soothingly to Ysabel, now fully transformed to vampire, her once lovely face that of a beast from hell. "I am sorry, Ysabel, truly sorry for the fate that helping my mother doomed you to. I will do all I can to help you but you must understand that I have less to work with than she did. The grimoire is not complete and what little I have is confusing and unclear at best."
Ysabel studied his face and seemed to judge him sincere. Relaxing, she allowed her human face to resurface, much to David's relief.
Walking to the shop door, she opened it and spoke briefly to the waiting vampires. Each reached inside their coat and removed a package, handing them to their mistress.
Ysabel closed the door and returned to David, passing him the two parcels.
"After I had risen as a vampire," she told him, "I went back to the house and searched for the book in her room. I was not insane as was your mother. The people I fed from remained dead too, but I was as weak as she for some time and could not move quickly. A servant saw me as I was at the top of the stairs and thought me a ghost. I panicked and dropped the book, which fell over the balcony and split apart. The servant ran away to fetch help. I hurried to pick up the scattered pages but I was interrupted by more of the servants and I was only able to salvage some of it. This is what I have."
"And I have what was left,” said David. “The servants could not read for the most part; they would have stored the papers, not destroyed them. In the confusion after my mother's death, they ended up in the attic, where I discovered them. But there must be other copies of the book; I have tracked down more pages over the years. They must have come from -."
"They came from me," interrupted Ysabel. "I had copies made of certain portions and allowed you to purchase them, in hopes that the time would come when you would be curious enough to - "
"To be easily convinced by your tale?" David finished for her as her voice faltered.
In the first unstudied reaction he had seen, she grinned at him, the expression lightening her face and making her seem much younger. "Did it work?" she asked flirtatiously.
"Your bait is well nigh irresistible but if I am to undertake this task I need to study what you have given me and I cannot begin tonight; I am weary. Leave the pages with me, if you trust me; take them with you until tomorrow night if you do not. Although I cannot wait to read them and begin work."
"You may keep them, David. But should you betray me, I will show you no mercy and your death will not be swift, I promise you."
David raised an eyebrow ironically. "Do all vampires employ the language of the theatre, Ysabel? Go; I could no more harm a book than I could fly and this book above all is precious to me."
Ysabel hesitated, then gave him a swift kiss and left.
David raised a hand, trembling with reaction, to his lips that still felt the brief press of her mouth on his. He could not be sure that he was unobserved, not until dawn came to give him a breathing space. Moving unsteadily, as though drunk, he took the two parcels and his own box of papers and went upstairs. Thrusting his burden into a cupboard and not even bothering to lock the door, he fell, fully clothed, onto his bed and slept a dreamless, deep sleep until daylight.
The next morning he worked swiftly, collating the three portions of the book into one and ascertaining that all the pages were present. This took him most of the morning as the pages were not numbered. By noon he was at last able to sit and read the book from cover to cover. A few hours later, hunger a distant ache in his stomach, his eyes strained and weary from reading the faded print, he was done.
Sitting in his chair, his eyes closed, he began to picture a world where every vampire victim rose and could prey on others both night and day. A world where soon the undead would outnumber the living and there would be no escape, no hiding place from creatures with supernatural strength and speed. A world where sunrise brought no hope and sunset cloaked the unending bloodshed in shadows.
He had not lied to Ysabel when he said that he would not destroy the book but he had been less than truthful when he said that he would help her. He no longer wondered at her need of him; the book was plain enough on one point. Doubtless it was disregard of this instruction that had caused his mother's transformation to be less than perfect, and Ysabel, her only childe, incapable of creating new vampires each time she fed or walking in the sun.
The spell had to be cast by a human and a virgin. David's lips twisted in an ironic smile. In his youth he had longed for the fleeting joys of physical release, described in such detail in the erotic books he had found hidden in his father's desk and secretly read. Then he had slowly realized that though he could buy such pleasure easily enough, he was unlikely to have it offered to him by someone overcome with love for his short, thin body and plain face. And he was too fastidious to pay for a whore and too romantic to buy a wife. Now he was to get his reluctant chastity rewarded by the promise of eternal life. Tempting! But with visions of the world he would be living in, a world where vampirism would spread like a plague, rather than being a fairly limited threat, well, he felt he could resist quite easily.
Which meant that he had to shatter Ysabel's dreams. If he destroyed the book, she would kill him. He was of no mind to die, no matter how noble the cause. If he hid the book, she would torture him until he revealed its location. If he told her he could not perform the rituals and spells required, she would kill him and use someone else. His thoughts spun endlessly round in circles, and no matter how far he traveled, he came back to the same point; Ysabel had to be stopped.
Time was growing short; already the sun was beginning to sink and she would be with him in an hour or less. Pacing his room, he desperately tried to capture a fugitive thought. He had always assumed that vampires were myth and the grimoire a relic of superstitious times. With this belief, he had tended to skim any reference to the creatures in his books and concentrate on the proven spells and magic. But there had been one book; where was it? It had been so matter of fact about vampires, so detailed in its description of their history and habits that it had read like a textbook. He seemed to recall that it had mentioned a circle of people who existed only to control the spread of vampires and other threats from the demon world. If vampires existed, then so might their enemies.
Moving as quickly as he could, David began to search for the book. It had been bound in red he recalled, shabby and faded leather hiding its secrets from the world. Precious minutes passed as his search grew more and more frantic but just as the sun's rays sent blood red light into his room, he found it.
Paging through it swiftly, he came across the reference he dimly remembered. The circle was called the Council of Watchers and they controlled the Bane of the Vampires. They trained and guided the Slayer.
David read another few paragraphs then looked up, puzzled. "The Slayer is a girl?" he murmured.
As David finished reading about the Chosen One, as the Slayer was apparently known, the sun finally set. Pushing the book amongst many others on a shelf, he took up the grimoire. Setting aside the first score of pages, he took the others to his table. After making tiny notations on some of the pages, he mixed them together , destroying the progress he had made that day to the casual glance. In fact, he knew that he could now reassemble the book very quickly.
When Ysabel arrived he took the wind from her sails by producing the first portion of the book proudly, with an air of having done excellent work, deserving of much praise. Ysabel could read but slowly and David's progress, though disappointing, was therefore credible. She sat down to eagerly read what was, to her, new material. David was relieved to see that it took her over an hour to read pages he could absorb within ten minutes or so.
He told her that frequent visits would only hinder his progress. Assuring her that he would close the shop temporarily and devote himself day and night to research, he obtained a breathing space of a week in which to plan.
As soon as she had left (and he tried not to dwell on her nocturnal activities and those who would nourish her with their blood), he began to draft a letter to a friend who lived outside the city. The friend, like David, was interested in the world of magic and David recalled that he often traveled to England. David needed to contact the Council and enlist their aid in countering this threat but he could think of no viable way of doing this in person. Ysabel would not allow him to leave the city, he felt sure, let alone the country.
After several drafts were discarded as being too vague or too detailed and the paper carefully burned to avoid leaving any hint of his activities, David sat back in his chair and realized that he was making a mistake.
His plan was dependent on too many variables. First he had to convince his friend that vampires were real. Jeremy was likely to be dubious about his sanity. Secondly, he had to persuade Jeremy to set sail for England during winter, when few ships crossed the Atlantic and those that did ran the risk of shipwreck. Thirdly, Jeremy had to find this Council, no easy task in itself, and convince them of the need for urgent intervention thousands of miles away. He simply did not have the time to wait for all that to happen. He also suspected that the Council would advocate immediate destruction of the grimoire and count his inevitable death as unfortunate but necessary.
David sighed as the brief hope that he could push his problem into more capable hands faded. He was, as ever, going to have to do this alone. At least the book on vampires had given him some ideas on how they could be killed. He had never learned more than the basics of swordplay and his poor eyesight had made him an equally poor shot, but shoving a stake in a certain spot, how difficult could that be?
After a brief, inspiring daydream in which he twirled and staked several vampires in a graceful dance of death, David was once again betrayed by his logical mind. Vampires were stronger, faster and more brutal than he was. For that matter, he thought glumly, so were most people over the age of ten. His only superiority lay between his ears. He had to think of a plan to outwit his adversaries rather than confront them physically.
His eyes widened and he felt a savage burst of joy as inspiration finally struck. "Yes," he muttered. "Yes, I can do this."
Grabbing at the pages of the grimoire, he feverishly scanned those portions that, as far as he knew, Ysabel had never read. His plan was to replace certain pages with ones he had written. He would subtly alter the spell enough to ensure that it not only failed but also was fatal to the vampire involved. Ysabel would not look too closely at the parchment he used and he knew ways to make paper look aged, especially when it was unlikely to be viewed in daylight. The ink and the handwriting he could likewise make convincing. The real problem was altering the spell without alerting Ysabel to its dangers. She had obviously been little more than a novice when she worked with his mother, but that did not mean that she had not advanced her magical knowledge in the score of years since then.
In some ways, the days that followed were happy ones for David. Here at last was a research project that stretched his mind and the spice of danger was not unwelcome. For once, David was living his fantasies, preparing to face down an enemy as so many of the heroes in his beloved books had done. When he was done, he had counterfeited three pages so well that even he had difficulty in identifying them and the spell had been reversed in some key areas, the cumulative effect being such that after the spell was cast, any strong light - including moonlight - would be fatal. As a final precaution, David inserted a reference to the additional benefit of performing the spell outside under a full moon.
After all his work was complete he had one more day before Ysabel was due to return. Indulging in a rare glass or two of wine he suddenly realized that a simpler way of ruining the spell would have been to go out and find himself a woman for the night thus making him no longer a virgin. Spluttering with laughter and more than slightly drunk, he decided that he would do just that.
"Better be safe," he slurred. To be sure, using that solution alone would have left Ysabel and her two guards alive and an angry vampire might not be too charitable in the throes of disappointment. No, his work had not been wasted, he decided.
Of course, something could go wrong and he might die anyway. Did he want to die a virgin? Discarding his scruples, his romantic notions and his shyness as the wine suffused his veins, David went out of his house for the first time in days, filled with a heady anticipation.
He made his way rather unsteadily towards a rather notorious house, run by a woman whose reputation was for providing the more exotic refinements of her trade. David was too bemused by drink to pay close attention to his surroundings. Taking an unwise short cut through an alley he became aware that part of his brain was frantically trying to send out a warning. Alley. Girl. Body. As he began to realize the potential risks inherent in his situation, the actual threat made itself manifest. An arm snaked out from the shadows, his neck was bent backwards and David looked once again into the face of a vampire. As the fangs pierced his flesh he only had time to gasp,
"Ysabel! I am hers!"
The vampire sank his fangs into David's flesh and began to feed. He had been turned because of his impressive muscles rather than any intellectual excellence, and in the grip of blood lust, his thought processes were even slower than normal. When David's words finally registered in his mind, fear and a basic instinct for self-preservation, made him do what little else could, and he stopped feeding.
Looking down at the contorted features of his victim, he recognized the human that his mistress had visited some days before. Had he been alone he would have killed David and hidden the body. Unfortunately he knew that his mistress was close by, never liking him to stray too far away from her. Indeed, as he hesitated, gripped by indecision, she appeared at his shoulder. "What, my sweet," she murmured, "no appetite tonight?"
Glancing idly at his choice of meal, she stiffened and the sultry softness in her voice disappeared as she demanded, "What have you done? What possessed you to feed from this one of all people? You utter fool! You have ruined all!"
"He is still alive, mistress," said the vampire, fear in his voice as his sire's anger bit into him like chilled acid.
"Still alive, barely, but not for long," she growled.
Pushing down her instinctive desire to rend the flesh of her childe, Ysabel thought quickly. Until she knew what progress he had made with the spell, she needed David alive. Nothing human medicine could do would save him; already the blood loss had weakened him dangerously and his throat was ripped badly. Her new childe was no dainty eater. "We must turn him," she said decisively.
"But, mistress, does not the spell require -?" began the vampire, eager to make amends for his error by pointing out a vital fact to his mistress.
"You will be silent!" she hissed, taking David's body from him.
Bending her head she fed briefly and as David's mouth gaped open to gulp in air that was no longer needed by his dying body, she tore her own flesh and pressed him close. As her blood flowed sluggishly into David's mouth, it began to pool and drip from his lips. Just as she began to fear that it was too late and his body jerked as death took it, his throat rippled and the blood was swallowed in a reflex action. Laying the body on the floor she turned to the cowering vampire.
"Take him to the crypt and place him in a coffin. Fail me in this and you will die at sunrise, I swear it. When you have done as I command, meet me at his shop. There is much to do."
The vampire hesitated but spurred on by the lambent fury still smoldering in her gaze, left quickly.
He had not been gone for more than a minute before Ysabel remembered that the spell had to be performed by a human and realized what her childe had been trying to tell her. Throwing back her head, she howled in rage. Trembling with the strength of her emotions, Ysabel allowed the fury to possess her utterly for a moment and then forced it to drain from her, leaving behind a calm determination. Turning on her heel she went in search of a very specific victim.
David awoke to an utter darkness and stillness, like none he had ever known. Disorientated and scared, he began to struggle, his hands beating against the wood scant inches from his face. Images swirled in front of his eyes; memories battled for precedence and slowly, with a dreadful inevitability, the truth of his situation dawned on him.
With a roar of terror transmuted into fury he thrust upwards with all his strength and shattered the coffin lid. Grasping the sides of his prison, he sat up and looked around him wildly. With his night vision improved to that of a cat, he had no difficulty seeing the details of the crypt and he realized that he was alone.
Thinking was difficult somehow. It was as if waves were crashing down on him, then receding, each wave smoothing away a little more of all that made him David. Inexorably, the demon spirit within his blood began to assert itself and David hung on grimly to what he could of his old personality. His memories were intact when the battle ended but they were like food behind glass; they had no flavor, no taste and he could not reach them.
Raw power, hunger that was painful in its intensity and a need to hunt swept away any scruples or morality. For the first time in his existence, David was drunk on the utter freedom that he had. He answered to no one, he feared no one, but he had to feed. Rushing towards the door of the crypt, David cried out as he realized that it was barred from the outside. After beating against it fruitlessly with his fists, he sank to the floor and into a dream like state once again.
Some measureless time later, the door opened and Ysabel stalked in, followed by the two male vampires. One of them was carrying a struggling young woman in his arms and as David blearily tried to focus on them, he had but one thought in his mind - if he did not feed soon, he would surely die. The scent of the girl roused him from his torpor and he felt himself change for the first time, felt his fangs emerge and his face tighten and shift into its vampire state. Growling low in his throat he grabbed at the girl as the vampire guard thrust her towards him with a mocking grin on his face.
Looking down into her pleading eyes, he felt a wicked amusement at her terror. Instinctively, he pushed back her head, exposing her neck and with no hesitation he bit deeply down, piercing her flesh as easily as he had bitten into ripe fruit in the past. Her blood shot into his mouth in spurts as her heart beat faster with her terror. The taste was more than physical, it seemed to contain within it every pleasurable emotion that he had every felt, magnified a dozen times. It was the most thrilling moment in his life and he lost himself in it, reveling in the taste of the blood, the feel of her body jerking against him as she died and the energy that suffused him.
Ysabel laughed softly and pulled the girl from his arms, letting the body slide limply to the floor. Taking David in her arms, she kissed him deeply, her tongue searching out every drop of blood that remained. David returned her kiss fiercely, both of them now in human face and followed her eagerly to a wide, low platform, covered in rich fabrics. The two guards left with the girl's body and Ysabel looked at David in lustful anticipation. She had no intention of making him her lover in the future but she knew how voracious and insatiable a fledging vampire was when it came to feeding, killing and sex. She wanted to bind David to her and she wanted to take his heat while it flamed so high that he was still half animal.
David's emotions were a maelstrom of violence and desire. He pushed Ysabel down to the makeshift bed and knelt beside her. She gazed up at his face, marveling at how it had altered. He was still plain of feature but the power and certainty within him rendered that irrelevant. Had David been human, Ysabel would have found him to be a gentle, considerate and surprisingly inventive lover. As a vampire, the first two characteristics were lost but the third remained. In the hours that followed, Ysabel discovered that, to her cost. When David had done with her, she was torn between relief and regret and uneasily aware that the balance of power with this new childe was far from clearly in her favor.
Rising from the bed without a glance at her, he moved towards the door. "Where are you going?" she called. "Sunrise is not far away. This is no time to hunt."
He hesitated, and then turned back to her. "I was going to go to my shop," he admitted. "I need to collect certain books."
"There is no need for that. You have been in your coffin these past two nights. I have collected the grimoire from your home and brought all I could see that was connected with it. To conceal your change, I killed a man of your build and age and placed his body within your rooms. You are now thought to have died in the fire."
David stood as if turned to stone. "The fire?" he said at last in a still, cool voice. "What fire is this?"
"Why, the one at your shop. I had to set a fire or the body would surely have been seen not to be you. It is no matter; you will scarcely be a shopkeeper now and, as I said, I have the grimoire safe. We can find some human to cast the spell and - "
Her voice trailed off as she saw the insensate fury upon his face. "You burned my books?" he asked, his soft tones in hideous contrast to his face. "You did that?" Crossing to where she stood, he grasped her throat in one hand and began to choke her. She did not need to breathe but she was in considerable pain.
"David, I'm sorry!" she gasped. "You can get more, you have eternity to - "
David laughed then and released her. Walking over to a chair he said, "You have the grimoire I faked, Ysabel. You have, unfortunately for us all, destroyed the pages I hid. The spell will never be cast and you will walk in darkness for the rest of your life."
"No!" she whispered in despair. "Why would you have betrayed me thus?"
"I'm not really sure now," admitted David. "It seemed to me that you would become too powerful, would eventually threaten humanity. But fear not; you will have to endure eternal night no longer."
Snapping off a chair leg with ease, he walked over to Ysabel and thrust her against a wall. She had never fought much as a vampire, using her beauty to lure victims and avoiding confrontations with more powerful creatures. She fought now but to no avail. David watched her struggles with a grim smile on his face, then, tiring of the game, slowly pushed the jagged wood against her skin.
"You should not have hurt my books, Ysabel," he said, almost sadly. With one thrust, he drove the stake home and stepped back as Ysabel turned to dust, her lovely mouth open as though to kiss or scream.
David stood, the ashes of Ysabel swirling around him in darkly sparkling motes. His hand still clutched his makeshift stake and glancing down at it, he flung it aside as he would a hot coal. He was becoming aware of a sense of urgency connected with the approaching dawn, now an hour or so away. He was safe here from the light of day (odd how easily he accepted that light was to be feared!) but sunrise would bring with it the return of Ysabel's guards and they were a more pressing threat.
Looking around the crypt, he began to search through the carelessly piled belongings that were heaped in one corner. He soon found a collection of wallets and clothing, doubtless from victims who had been stripped of both life and possessions by their killers. David poured the assorted coins into one larger bag and put that in turn inside a leather satchel. He extracted some clothes that looked as though they would fit him, added those to the satchel and then looked for weapons.
He found none and this puzzled him for a moment. Then he realized that a vampire generally would have no need for weapons, certainly not against humans. David felt a thrill of satisfaction as he thought of all the bullies he had encountered during his life. None of them could withstand him now. The pleasant glow of that thought faded as he compared himself to Ysabel's minions. He was still a weakling amongst his peers...but he had a brain and he decided that he would use it to kill the two who had certainly participated in the destruction of his shop. It was more than revenge, it was self-defense. Ysabel had left no remains but her absence would surprise them and when it continued, they would get suspicious and attack.
David also felt a simmering resentment that the larger of the vampires had tried to feed from him. Illogical perhaps, as he had now experienced the hunger and knew how impossible it was to resist but the resentment remained.
He looked around for the grimoire with particular attention. He had told Ysabel that the pages he had duplicated were lost and so they were, but he felt certain that he could remember sufficient of them to perform the spell. He discovered that his former objections to the side effects of the spell now seemed foolish. He was determined to render himself immune to sunlight as soon as possible. With a sigh of relief, he found the pages in a chest and placed them beside the satchel. To his annoyance, he discovered that they would not fit inside without bending them, which he was loath to do.
His next thought was for the immediate future. Could he survive a day with the two guards and then escape as dusk fell? He might be able to convince them that Ysabel had gone somewhere on business connected with the spell and planned to return the following night. Did vampires automatically fall into deep slumber as day began? That might help. It struck David that he knew almost nothing about the creature he had become and he cursed the loss of his books that would have provided him with much useful information. He could however, recall quite clearly how to kill vampires and the most useful method in this case seemed to be fire. Gathering together as much kindling as he could by breaking up the furniture in the crypt and dragging in some fallen branches from the trees outside, he made a sizable bonfire in front of the crypt door.
Using the utmost caution, he kindled a flame with his tinderbox, still tucked into his coat pocket, and set alight a torch placing it by the door. He held ready a bottle of brandy, to scatter over the bonfire so that it would set alight almost at once and settled down to wait.
Fortunately for his fraying nerves, the two vampires appeared a scant ten minutes after his preparations were complete. As soon as he saw them he thrust the torch into the kindling, now soaked with alcohol, and withdrew it when he was certain that the branches had caught light. Gripping the torch firmly, he stood within the doorway and watched the vampires begin to run as they grasped his plan. By the time they reached the crypt, the fire was burning strongly. They could not approach it safely and there was insufficient gap between it and the door for them to circle behind it.
David totally ignored all the questions and abuse that they hurled at him but kept his attention on the sky, which was beginning to lighten imperceptibly. As the two vampires also sensed their peril, they began to look for other places to hide, but in vain. The crypt that Ysabel had been using belonged to a family that had died out totally and so had fallen into disrepair, making it easy to break into. The surrounding area was dotted with simple gravestones, trees or crypts that were well kept up and locked securely.
With only minutes remaining before the sun rose, the vampires grew more desperate. They began to edge closer to the fire, which barred their way to sanctuary. David was uneasily conscious of the fact that the fire was dying down and it was clear that the vampires had noticed that also. The largest, the one who had attacked David, pulled aside his fellow and they murmured to each other for a few seconds. Roaring, they turned and raced at the door, intending to leap the flames and thus gain entry.
As they leapt together, they collided and the smaller vampire cried out in horror as he fell down into the flames. A human would have escaped with minor burns but he seemed to explode into incandescent light, his body utterly consumed in seconds, his screams dreadful to hear, even for so short a time.
The other vampire managed to land safely inside the crypt but stumbled amongst the small obstacles that David had scattered on the floor, anticipating such an attempt. As he staggered off balance, David darted forward and thrust the torch against his hair and then his clothing. The vampire cried out in pain and fell towards his attacker, beginning to burn, but wanting nothing more than to take David with him into hell. David backed off swiftly and tried to fend his attacker away with the torch. The vampire flinched away, fell backwards and landed on the table with the satchel and grimoire, just as he burst into flames. The satchel was safe, being leather, but the grimoire seemed to ignite at once, almost as if the flames were greedy for the magic within the pages.
David stood, victorious yet aghast amid the ruins. He turned towards the door and gasped as the early morning sunlight streamed through the opening, like a sword ready to pierce his body. Running to the coffin next to the one in which he had awoken, he climbed in and pulled the lid over him, there to stay until night fell, prey to thoughts that long kept sleep from him.
David lay in his coffin, alternately dozing and waking, a hunger beginning to gnaw at him. The need for blood was a torment; he sought not just the quenching of thirst and the filling of his empty stomach, he craved the rush of sensation that came with the death of his victim. To occupy his mind until the blessed moment when the sun sank behind the horizon, he began to assimilate the astonishing changes in his life in the last two weeks. Two weeks? Yes, it had been only that long since Ysabel entered his shop and turned his life into chaos.
He was safe in one sense; the only people who knew what he was were dead. However, he could see no way of returning to his old life and keeping his true nature secret. He felt adrift, all his goals set for naught. He would live forever - far past the mortal span, yet he could not enjoy the usual human fruits of success and he had no idea of what to do next. He determined that whatever it was, it would not involve living in a crypt. The place was too cold and damp for books, even though he himself seemed to be no longer bothered by such matters. Curious, he felt for a pulse, a heartbeat and found none. He felt a thrill at the idea of the research he could do into his new state, the books he could write; under a pseudonym of course.
He decided that in his case, being turned into a vampire had not changed him at all. He had to feed of course and he rather relished the idea of feeding from young girls in particular, but that was no different from his enjoyment of a rare steak as a human. He smiled at the thought that as a human he had deemed himself to be at the pinnacle of life on earth, the master of all that walked, flew or crawled. As a vampire he had ascended to a higher plane indeed and was now able to see humans for what they really were; food, mindless, stupid and ignorant food. But he was still essentially David he thought smugly. His demon made him blind to the horrors that he would be committing each night, deeds that would have caused his former self untold guilt and misery to contemplate, let alone perform.
Night came and David cautiously left the crypt, taking with him his satchel of money and clothing. He planned to investigate the remains of his shop but that would have to wait until he had fed. Deciding that he could combine his goals, he made for the area of town where he had lived. He knew that on the way, he would pass through streets that he had normally avoided for fear of being robbed or killed by the inhabitants.
Stepping into an alley, following the example set by Ysabel, he waited for a lone traveler, making a note that he must not be too fussy about his choice. After an hour had passed he grew impatient. Why did no one use this alley? To be sure, he would have had to be forced into it at knife point when human, it looked so dangerous but there must be some brave souls out there. He heard footsteps eventually and was pleasantly surprised at both the acuteness of his hearing and the fact that he could smell the human who was just about to emerge from the shadows. His plans for a swift kill were soon to be ruined. Hesitating before attacking, David found himself gripped by a mighty hand and lifted from the ground by what was surely a giant.
"So, little man," growled his captor, who did indeed stand a full foot taller than David. "Let me see, this is where you give me all your money and then I kill you. Make it fast and so will I."
David felt a wave of helpless despair flood him before his emotions triggered the change into his vampire face. Reaching up to the hands that gripped his shoulders, he dug his fingers in and was rewarded by an anguished cry. The man dropped him abruptly and reached inside his coat, bringing out a sharp dagger. Furious now at the reversal of his plans, David moved closer and let the man see his face, smiling to reveal the fangs which he hoped to use on this man's neck ; if he could reach it.
The grand hunt and kill was more of an ignominious struggle, the man managing to stab David several times before he collapsed to the floor after David struck him a lucky blow to the stomach. Once he was there, David lost no time in grabbing his head and biting deep into his neck. This time, the feeling of euphoric pleasure was expected but nonetheless delicious.
As he stood and looked down scornfully at the robber, David became aware of his wounds, which were decidedly painful, if not life threatening. Glaring angrily at the body on the floor he drew back his foot to kick and then paused. The wounds on the neck were clearly bite marks and he felt that concealing the cause of death might be wise if he was to remain in the area feeding. He made a note to experiment with how long he could go between hunts; this was exciting but risky. Using the man's own dagger, he hacked away at the neck to obliterate the tell tale marks, searched quickly for any money the man had (several purses which indicated that David had not been his first victim) and then left the alley to look at his shop.
Sorrow flooded him as he saw the blackened ruins of what had been his dream for so long and which had lasted for so short a time. Cautiously, watching out for anyone who might have known him, he moved over and slipped into the shop through the gaping door. He cried out at the sight of his books, either burned or soaked by the water that had been used to put out the fire. The stairs were impossible to navigate so he could not check for the hiding place where he had left the three pages from the grimoire but it scarcely mattered now. Before he left, unable to remain amid this nightmare, he looked at the shelf that ran under the counter. There, protected from both fire and water, if reeking of smoke, were a few books that he had set aside to post to a customer in the countryside. Clutching them to him, he left the shop, determined never to return.
Decades had passed since David had been turned. He called himself Dalton now; a shortened form of his human name, and he had a certain reputation for being a scholar amongst his kind. Not terribly difficult since most vampires suffered from the common flaw of those chosen for immortality for the wrong reasons. They were beautiful or strong or excessively evil, but not usually intelligent. Those that were above average, who based their plans on obscure texts or ancient rituals in foreign languages. well, they generally needed help and that was where Dalton came in.
He still hunted now and then but one thing he insisted on when he was working was that his food be brought to him. It left him more time to be with his books, and sometimes he could go weeks without leaving whatever gloomy crypt or abandoned building his employer called home.
Looking back over the years, he felt some mild sorrow that his dreams of glory had come to this. Then he tried to actually think of what his dreams had been and could remember none that had not involved books, so perhaps he was happy after all.
He was in Sunnydale on a rescue mission of sorts; the Master, a vampire so old and hideous that David felt handsome in comparison, was trapped after failing to open the Hellmouth. His followers could all come and go; their master could not. David discovered details of a feast called the Harvest. It was many years in the future, a night where the Master could break free using the power gathered by a chosen minion, the Vessel. The Master was not overly fond of waiting but he had no choice. Dalton, like many of his kind, felt drawn to the Hellmouth that lay beneath the small town and decided to stay after his research was complete. There were many advantages in being in a town that seemed blind to its more unusual inhabitants.
Dalton stared nervously at Spike and Drusilla. They had taken over after the Master and the Anointed One had died. Dalton had survived this long by being useful and inconspicuous in equal proportions but Spike seethed with such fury and impatience that even his camouflage was inadequate protection. It was long since Dalton had been physically hurt but Spike thought nothing of slamming his fist into Dalton as a sort of punctuation mark to his words. Dalton might have left; he owed Spike nothing, but he had a wistful adoration of Drusilla, seeing in her a faint echo of Ysabel's beauty and charm, though Drusilla's madness made her unpredictable in the extreme.
Spike was helpless to deny Drusilla any wish that flitted through her bemused mind. He had assembled the Judge, an unstoppable killing machine, as a monstrous birthday present for his beloved. Dalton had endured much to help in the project, only to lose a portion of the Judge to the Slayer. He shuddered as he remembered Drusilla's reprisal; a threat to put out his eyes. He couldn't believe that she would do that to him. but he knew what he would have done if she had and that was walk out into the sun the very next day. Unable to read, he would be dead indeed. Spike had, surprisingly, intervened and given Dalton another chance to take back the box.
Now the Judge was assembled and had emerged into the crowd of well-wishers who were celebrating Drusilla's birthday in style. Dalton sipped at his glass of wine and continued to watch Spike and Drusilla, marveling at Spike's ability to command even when so weak that he was in a wheelchair.
Dalton decided that he did not like the Judge but felt no particular fear. The Judge could only kill those with some spark of humanity within them and as a soulless vampire, he felt fairly secure. It was therefore with a faint sense of shock that he heard the Judge begin to threaten those who had assembled him, Spike and Drusilla.
"You two stink of humanity. You share affection and jealousy," the Judge proclaimed.
Spike would have faced down worse than a slightly unsteady demon in an odd shade of blue if it was a matter of protecting his lover (or himself). He earned Dalton's admiration as he coolly replied, "Yeah. What of it? Do I have to remind you that we're the ones who brought you here?"
Wisely perhaps, Drusilla intervened and sweetly asked the Judge, "Would you like a party favor?"
Her arm swept out to indicate her guests who began to edge away uneasily. Dalton felt himself freeze as the Judge's eyes rested on him with scorn in their murky depths.
"This one is full of feeling. He reads. Bring him to me."
Dalton gasped as hands held him tightly and he was turned towards the Judge. The creature placed his hand on Dalton's chest as he cried out in denial, not of his love of books, never that, but of his fate, so undeserved, so cruel. Pain ripped through Dalton and he felt himself begin to burn, burn as Ysabel's minions had burned, turn to ashes as Ysabel had done, die as had his mother. All thoughts and pain ended as his earthly body vanished.
"Do it again! Do it again!" cried Drusilla, her girlish excitement a gruesome contrast to her gleeful reaction to Dalton's death and Dalton passed from life, unmourned and forgotten within moments.
David woke with a start
and looked around him. He was in a sunlit room,
lying on a soft bed and he was, well, he was not a vampire. He didn't
feel particularly human either though. The sun; blinking his eyes, he
stood and made his way over to the window. With delight, he looked out
over an endless sea, blue and green, glittering in the sunlight.
Dalton's room was at the top of a high tower of white stone it seemed.
He turned back and saw that the room had no door and was simply
furnished with a table and chair and a small bookcase. On the table
were ample supplies of paper and ink.
David moved to the table and sat down heavily. He was unsure of what had happened after his death but this was neither the heaven that he had forfeited nor the hell that he deserved. This was –
"This is your new home," said a voice.
David looked toward the window and saw an elderly man standing, looking out at the sea, just as David had done.
"I don't understand," said David. "I was a vampire, I should be in hell or I should just be no more. I have no soul."
"No, you lost that, but it was not your doing and you were planning to defy Ysabel and defeat her plans were you not?"
David frowned. It was all so long ago; had he really been that brave?
"I think so," he said doubtfully.
"You cannot enter heaven, you will end and vanish into nothingness but I have, temporarily at least, extracted you from that inevitability. You can return to your ordained path whenever you wish, but until that time, I have need of you here in this place."
"Need of me?" asked David. "What could I possibly do that would warrant such efforts on your part?"
The man laughed ruefully and gestured at a wall. It vanished and David saw a room that stretched into eternity.
"I have here every book that was or will be written, David. I keep them safe. I take them from burning temples and sacked libraries. I save them from zealots and fanatics, from those who think a book is a foolish waste of time. Here; do you recognize this?"
David cried out as a book appeared in front of him, the very book that had fallen into the ocean on his voyage to America.
"And why do you need me?" he whispered, scarcely able to believe what he knew the answer must be.
"I need you to join my staff here, David, to help me in my task. All of you were martyred for your love of books. This is your reward, though some might deem it unending toil. They will keep on writing these humans, heaven knows why."
David stood and walked into the vast chamber as though in a dream, an incredulous smile on his face.
He is there still and will be until the stars grow cold and the universe dies, and when it does, he will doubtless murmur, "Yes, yes, but I just have to finish this chapter first, you know."
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