A Fang Fatales Vignette by Shane Lightowler
Prague – 1826.
Darian Romanov sat cross-legged before the altar. He was naked apart from the golden crucifix he wore around his neck. The small, freezing room was dark. If his eyes were open he’d have seen his own breath. But it didn’t matter. None of it mattered apart from the carefully planned steps he was running through in his mind.
The first and most important step had already been taken care of. All of the numerous lackeys, assistants, and reluctant participants that would be needed tonight had been successfully paid off, mollified, threatened with eternal damnation, or otherwise cajoled. If his daylight practice had taught him anything, it was that the lowly in society are bound foremost by self-preservation, and beyond that, greed. This was a universal truth he was willing to stake his life on. All that remained was to ensure his mind and body were ready.
Darian slowly rose to his feet. He stretched his arms out wide, palms forward, and looked up at the ceiling. “Oh, God. Oh Jesus Christ. Prepare me with your strength, your power, and your holy spirit. Give me the courage to do what I must. Bogdi, the water.”
A young man stepped forward, no more than 16 years old. Bogdi wore a simple grey robe tied at the waist with a leather belt. He carried a large wooden bucket, and emptied its contents over his father.
“May Christ purify you,” Bogdi said quietly as the water streamed down Darian’s back. “Do you wish for the necklace, Father?”
“Yes, it is time.”
Bogdi took from his robe a necklace. It was made of iron links, dark and heavy. He stepped close to his father and placed it around his neck. The necklace was large. It draped down Darian’s chest to the bottom of his sternum. At the centre of the necklace was a locket. As Bogdi secured the necklace via a clasp at its rear, he noticed Darian was bleeding. Tiny imperfections and small iron spurs in the necklace had never been filed down. The blood ran freely down Darian’s body in brown streaks.
“The pain is bearable?”
Darian made no reply. Finally, he lowered his arms to his sides. “My clothing.”
As his son dressed him in simple black tunic, leather boots and belt, Darian recited his grandfather’s litany.
“O thou proud and pathetic servants of Seere, of Paimon the Deposed, of Belial the Ageless. I cannot judge thee as that is the task of the Divine Majesty. Rather, I scorn thee. I hate thee. I cast thee into the fire, made by Him who made thee. Him by these names – Iejovah, Zaboth, and Adonai – Almighty GOD. I, who am dignified by his celestial power and permission. I, who am commanded by the entire host of Heaven. I, who will enforce your utter destruction from this mortal existence, sending you to the depths of the bottomless pits of Hell. Christ, above all, protects me.”
“My cloak is prepared?”
“And your clothing?”
“Bogdi, my son. Repeat to me your promise.”
“I will give no quarter.”
“Servants of the dark. Defiled ones, the hungry, demons. All of Satan’s creatures.”
“You remember the techniques?”
“And if the moment comes…?”
“Sister… I will send her to the Pit. It is a mercy to her.”
“Quite right.” Darian placed his hand gently on Bogdi’s shoulder in reassurance, but he knew Bogdi was strong. His conviction could not be shaken. “Where the other clans have failed, we will not, I promise you that.”
Darian paused for a moment. He looked at his son’s face, so young and full of promise. “Bogdi, I’m very proud of you.”
“Thank you, father.”
Bogdi stepped away from Darian and into the next aspect of the well-rehearsed sequence. He approached a small wooden bench positioned in front of the main altar. Several objects sat on the table, carefully arranged. “The charms?”
Prague at night was dark and claustrophobic. Stone dwellings closed in on all sides with only the moon to light the way. Affluence was in short supply here, there were no street lights to fend off the unscrupulous. As Darian approached a side alley a man stepped out in front of him. Darian stopped before the two could collide, and for a moment, neither spoke.
The other man broke the silence. “This is no place for a priest.”
“But it is for a locksmith?”
“More likely to lose one’s keys in the dark.”
Darian smiled at the quip. “And if I’d lost my keys?”
The locksmith reached into his pocket and withdrew a thick brass ring with several keys attached.
“Then I’d replace them.” The locksmith handed the keyring to Darian.
Darian turned each key over. He was expecting five, exactly the number there.
“Be blessed, Tolo.”
“It’s not me who needs it, Romanov.” Tolo stepped back into the dark and Darian continued his journey.
The vampire was a mere inch away as she sniffed the length of Bogdi’s torso. She paused, fixated on the exposed skin just above his neat, white collar.
“Whose are you, fleshling?”
Bogdi replied, in the precise tone he had been taught to affect. “He has forbidden me to say, Master.”
He knew to call all vampires, regardless of how old or unkempt ‘Master’, as was the custom for vassals. The female vampire seemed to regard this information with only the barest of interest. She hadn’t shifted away from Bogdi’s neck.
“Fleshling…” The vampire opened her lips exposing the points of her two long fangs.
Still Bogdi was unmoved. He had been preparing since childhood for this moment. He knew how to keep his heartbeat, his involuntary reflexes, under control. To show no concern, just as an actual ‘half-life’ would. Of course, the Elixir of Stillness he’d consumed earlier was also helping.
The vampire hissed and turned away. A flash of indignance crossed her face, as it would for a creature totally un-used to the notion of following rules.
“Perhaps later.” She smiled defiantly as she took a glass of champagne from Bogdi’s gold-plated tray. Her elaborate dress flowed behind her as she departed, swooping through large double doors. Bogdi would have been relieved, could he show it.
There was no time to reflect, however, as three new guests appeared in the entranceway. Also female vampires, clearly from out-of-town, given the way they were dressed. Two door servants, genuine vassals, took the vampires’ coats. The red-haired vampire with flowers in her hair feigned biting one of the servants until her two companions noticed. One of them, the chestnut-haired, excited-looking one, laughed and pulled her friend away apologetically. Ah vampires, full of jest. The third vampire, with dark hair and a solemn look to her, was less amused.
Another thrall, human, but barely, introduced himself to the three newcomers. “I am Pernelle, welcome to the house of Duke Oldrich. The other guests are through here in the main room.”
Bogdi took the opportunity to offer the three vampires drinks. Two of them accepted gleefully. The solemn-faced one declined.
Bogdi wondered briefly whether these creatures were even able to enjoy champagne given their sustenance requirements, but then, he had never tasted champagne himself, so who was he to judge? Regardless, he banished the thought lest it distract him from his ruse.
“Cass, come on now,” urged the younger, brown-haired vampire as they strode through the double doors into the ballroom. “I want you to tell us ‘it’s just like the old days again’ then we can be sure it’s a real party.”
“Ooo I wonder if any Eldars will be here? I’d love to pick their brains on ancient Egyptian rites!” said the red-haired one.
“Marina’s here somewhere!” noted the young-looking one.
“Yes but she’s the only one I’ve met. There must be others?”
Eldars, Children of the Nephlim, the oldest and most powerful vampires in existence. Here tonight? His father had not mentioned that. As disturbing as that was, Bogdi knew he couldn’t let it affect him. He needed to get closer…
Darian counted the men and women standing before him. Thirty six. More than he had hoped. Their subterranean meeting place stood at the junction of three major sewer systems. “Mistress Sobeslav… notables missing?”
An old woman dressed in rags stepped forward. “Duke Ofed of the Rikweissen is dead. Slain by political rivals.”
“Any links to us? If this plan were to leak…”
“It is of no concern.”
“And the others?”
“Cowards. Before you ask it, calm your nerves. They will not be a threat to our enterprise.”
Darian nodded his appreciation. “Your efforts are recognised, Mistress. I can give you nothing, but you deserve everything.”
“Don’t patronise me, Romanov. I deserve revenge.”
He ignored her dismissive jab. Elandi Sobeslav was the last of her line, her entire clan having been wiped out by vampires. Elandi had been cruelly left alive by her tormentor, so that she might suffer in her grief.
“You do, Mistress, as do we all.” Darian looked around at the faces before him. Representatives, if not heads, of almost all of the major hunting clans from across Bohemia and beyond. There were so few now. He and Bogdi were of Wallachian origin, far to the east, south of the Danube. Darian had brought them both here to Prague to seize this singular, and possibly final, opportunity. One last chance to strike a blow at pure Evil. Where differences in philosophy and practice existed between the clans, and there were many, they were all putting them aside tonight. Yes, it was desperation. It was this, or likely death.
At that moment a small boy appeared in the distance, running toward the group. Darian turned to meet him. Panting, the boy said “The guests have arrived, Father.”
“And my son?”
“He is inside.”
Darian tossed the child a small cloth bag. “Run, boy. Down the second passage. Do not stop for anyone, or anything.” Darian turned back the old woman. “It is time. Your charms are ready?”
Elandi laughed. “Of course they are. Are you ready?”
Darian made no reply. He simply turned around and started walking down the tunnel where the boy had come from. The others paused briefly, then began to follow Darian into the darkness.
As prepared and practised as he was, Bogdi still found it difficult to control himself. The night was now in full swing, the packed ballroom full of the most glamorous figures he had ever set his eyes on. There were hundreds of vampires here, all dressed in the finest eveningwear their centuries-old, and sometimes longer, accumulated fortunes could afford. He had never seen such extravagance. Despite vampires not needing it, there was food and drink of every kind, and not all of it dead. Bogdi tried his best to suppress his horror as thralls, those pitiful creatures, still mostly human, practically threw themselves at whichever vampire would first accept their necks for the evening. There were dozens of these poor people. Where they had come from was a mystery to Bogdi, a mystery he tried not to consider too deeply as the implications disturbed him.
But he’d prepared in advance for all of this. He needed to focus on the reason he was here.
Holding an empty drinks tray, Bogdi moved as unobtrusively as he could through the large room, dodging dancers, those in conversation, and others locked in carnal embraces, until he found his target. There was no mistaking Duke Dubravius Oldrich, man of the hour, on his supposed 500th birthday. Oldrich was seated towards the rear of the room in what could almost be described as a golden-guilt throne. Around him were his thralls, vassals, concubines, servants and supplicators all attending his every need. One poor boy lay at Oldrich’s feet, living but near-drained. Another thrall noticed and began to drag the boy away by the ankles, presumably to retain decorum.
Bogdi reasserted his concentration. He knew that despite his preparations and defences, magical or otherwise, one false look, any unplanned expression, or even the merest tick of the eye, could give the game away. He needed to be closer. He felt for the silver dagger hidden beneath his serving tray for reassurance.
As he moved closer, Dubravius’ thralls paid Bogdi no notice. A good start. He approached Dubravius directly. Had Bogdi not received the Charm of Calmness his heart would have been racing. He would no doubt also be dead already, or worse. Bogdi opened his mouth to speak, in practised tones.
“Any further refreshments, my Lord?” he asked, as un-interestingly as he could possibly manage. Dubravius barely broke off the chatter he was engaged in with an exceedingly glamorous-looking, dark haired female vampire. Dubravius regarded the boy, as did the woman, only briefly.
“No,” he grunted.
Bogdi quickly turned away, which was convenient as he was suppressing a satisfied smile. He’d just managed to successfully issue a Command Prayer, his very first. He was now safely in. All he needed to do now was wait for the signal.
He’d taken two further steps when Dubravius spoke again. Bogdi heard the words as clearly as if it had been just the two of them, alone in the room. Dubravius was in his head somehow.
“Leaving so soon, young Romanov?”
Darian stood across the street from the Duke’s grand house and was glad that everything was as he’d expected. The iron shutters were already firmly closed, standard vampire operating procedure lest someone inadvertently open them during daylight hours. Other hunters were already attending to make sure the shutters would remain shut. The house was only lightly guarded. The vampires here had grown complacent thanks to a long period of hunter inactivity. Outside the main door was but a single doorman, a sturdy-looking human thrall. Darian approached him confidently.
“Good evening there. I’m here for the Duke’s event.”
Darian’s clearly inappropriate garb gave the doorman immediate pause. He failed to notice Darian’s accomplice sneak up from behind with a poisoned rag. Quickly, the doorman was unconscious. It had to be that way. A thrall’s master would be immediately aware of the loss of connection. At that point the remainder of Darian’s party appeared from the shadows, Elandi Sobeslav among them.
They burst in through the front door to the astonishment of the two thralls still in the waiting room.
“Excuse me, this is a private affair…” one of them was able to get out before being subdued. Once all of them were inside, Darian removed the keyring he’d been given and locked the front door behind them, jamming the snapped key in the keyhole for good measure. Elandi had already opened the doors into the ballroom.
The doors swung open. Darian and the other members of the great vampire hunting clans strode forward into the ballroom to meet their enemy. However, the room was completely empty except for a woman, a vampire, standing at the opposite end. She was regally dressed, wearing an extravagant black and red ball gown, and well-poised. Hubert, of the Germanic Odilo clan, was the first to express his surprise.
“They’re all gone?”
“Yes, Bohemian hospitality leaves much to be desired,” replied the vampire. “All the guests have already left. Sorry.”
Elandi stepped forward first to address her. “You are the Duke’s thrall?”
The vampire pulled back, as if affronted. “I am Contessa Marina da Carmino. Romanov, I regret to inform you that your plan has failed.”
Darian did not react to the Contessa’s statement. Instead he looked to one of his own party. “Wido…”
Wido Hoffsbrid, from the northern clans, stepped to the front with Darian. In Wido’s hands he held a large rune-marked hammer. Its oval-ish head was black obsidian. If the vampire was surprised she did not show it.
“The Hammer of Abu-Eshuh… now that is really something.” She smiled. “Thought lost to legend, but found again. How astonishing.” Marina stepped forward. “Just one word from its wielder and this whole room will be drenched in the light of the sun king, Shamash. But it can only be used once, and then ‘poof’! Gone for another age. Would be a shame to waste it on little old me, wouldn’t it?”
Darian’s face was a rage of anger and disappointment. “How…?”
Marina called out, “My dear, come!” From a small alcove to her rear, a girl appeared and walked in short strides to Marina’s side. The girl looked no more than eight and was wearing a white ball gown. The gown was stained red.
The sight of Darian’s daughter took his breath away. She’d not aged a single day in the ten years since he’d last seen her. Her skin, however, was pale.
“Senda…” Darian looked to her for a shred of recognition, something to tell him that her humanity was somewhere there, albeit hidden deep. But there was nothing. His Senda was gone. In front of him was a terrible caricature of what his daughter had once been, a vampire. She looked at him with eyes that no longer recognised him. This is the terrible fate of children that are turned too soon, before they can develop a semblance of a mature personality. They become undead husks, their only instincts being to hunt and to serve their masters. This reminder steeled Darian’s resolve.
“How tragic,” mocked Marina. “Come on now child, give this man your surprise.”
Senda signalled playfully to her rear, and within seconds a boy stepped forward to join her by her side. Darian recognised Bogdi instantly. In Bogdi’s eyes was the same vacant look that Senda’s possessed. He, too, was a vampire.
The Contessa, pleased with herself, continued her taunts. “Yes, yes… so tragic. Did you really think your pitiful human charms and trickery would keep us out? His sister spotted the boy almost instantly. I say ‘almost’ so perhaps take some comfort in knowing you kept him hidden for all of ten minutes. But family always knows.”
The hunters were all in stunned silence. Marina continued.
“Poor Bogdi’s final act was to ruin your plan. He told us all about your imminent arrival, your plan with the hammer and us being all locked in here with you. Might actually have worked. But you know what they say… loose lips sink ships! Or something like that. Anyway, you also failed to take into account the fact that the Duke has made some structural improvements to the subterranean aspects of his house in recent times. The back door that you cunningly blocked off isn’t the only way out anymore. The guests have already left. One can never have enough exits with people like you running around everywhere.”
Darian looked directly at Marina now, a defiant look appearing on his face beneath the tears. “The tunnel beneath the kitchen, I assume?”
Marina paused, which caused Senda to freeze in place. “What…”
“Yes, I know.” The other hunters were beginning to spread out around Darian. Marina noticed the old woman next to Darian for the first time. Unlike the other hunters, Elandi was in deep concentration. Her lips were moving. Elandi’s hands and arms were charred black, as if burned.
For the first time Marina took a step backwards as realisation dawned. “You sacrificed your own son to trick us?”
Darian made no reply as he stepped forward towards Bogdi. He drew a sword made of silver and, in one slice from shoulder to waist, cut the vampire in half. A vampire… not a boy, he reminded himself. “Bogdi was well aware of the risks.”
Quickly, intentionally so to ensure there was no chance to second guess himself, Darian took a step further to the left and swung his sword once more. The head of the vampire that had been Senda fell to the floor. It had taken all of the willpower and strength he could muster to commit those two terrible acts. Darian stumbled, knelt, and uttered a silent prayer for his children, taking small comfort in the fact that they were now no doubt in a better place.
To Darian’s rear, Elandi raised her walking stick aloft. In the air in front of her she began to outline the shape of a triangle. She started with the first point towards the south, and then the next point to the east. Marina retreated further and noticed that Elandi was standing in a neat circle which had been drawn on the floor. A spellcaster herself, in her youth, Marina mumbled, “And the third point, towards the Kingdom of Heaven,” as Elandi reached her hazel wand upwards to complete the triangle.
“Welcome, Bileth, the Pale Rider,” shouted Elandi. Marina withdrew in utter dread, covering her face with her arm as if struck by direct sunlight.
But then there was silence, and nothing. Marina tentatively lowered her arm to see that Darian, his sword black with his children’s blood, and the other hunters, were closing in on her from all sides. But that was not what concerned her… the sorceress, Elandi, was also dead, fallen to the floor, her body charred crisp. It was then that Marina sensed the greater danger. She cried out to her kin in desperate warning.
Carlotta let out an exaggerated “Ow!” when Cassandra, her nest-mate, elbowed her in the back for what seemed like the twentieth time so far this evening.
“Oh stop it, Car. Just look where you’re going!”
“It’s this dress! It wasn’t made for cross-country, you know.” Carlotta, along with the rest of the party guests, were being ushered down what seemed like a never-ending underground passageway. She had no idea what was going on or where they were going but the command had come telepathically en-masse, direct from Marina herself.
“I was just really looking forward to this party. Marina’s been going on about it for literally months.”
“I’ve seen passages like this before,” said Cassandra. “And they are never a good place to be.”
“Ah Cass,” jibed Morgana. “Never lets an opportunity to remind us how old she is go to waste. How old are you again?”
“Look, I DID tell you I had a bad feeling about this, didn’t I? But you never believe me!”
“At least you’ll get something interesting to write about, for a change, instead of endless romances set in rural France.”
“Take that back!” Cassandra shouted. “You have no idea how popular those pieces are in English high society right now. Bored wives, you know.”
As their journey continued with seemingly no end, Carlotta could tell that many of those in their group were getting impatient. Clearly, something had spooked Marina enough that she had felt compelled to command them all to leave, but nobody had a clue what it was about. Both in front of her and behind small groups were chatting, speculating as to the reasons behind their hasty escape. Humans, perhaps? Hunters? But hunters had not been seen for years! Maybe they’d resurfaced? Seems unlikely. Carlotta had heard whispers that perhaps vampires had let security standards slip in recent years since The Great Sweep, there had been barely any trouble with hunters since then. Perhaps it was something more sinister? The thought of that worried her a little.
The dark passageway they were walking through was well constructed. Stone walls and a braced ceiling. Given there were several sharp twists and turns but notably no torches, nor even slots for torches, Carlotta surmised that the passageway had been built purposefully with vampires, who could see in the dark, in mind. That gave Carlotta some confidence. There was width enough for them all to be walking four abreast, although some of her kin had already transformed into other creatures…wolves, bats, even bears. But there was clearly no need to panic. The procession was orderly.
A thin film of mist travelled forward above Carlotta’s head, obviously some other vampire who was keen to get out. Carlotta considered a transformation of her own, but had decided it wasn’t worth the effort, and truth be told she wasn’t really great at it yet. She was also starving, not having sampled any of the no-doubt-blood-filled canapes before they’d all been unexpectedly ushered out. That was a mistake! It was probably best to conserve her strength. They’d be outside in the night fairly soon.
A voice from near the front of the group called out. It was the Duke himself. “Don’t worry, my dear friends. We’re halfway th…”
His words were cut short before he could complete them. Carlotta strode face first into the tall, male vampire in front of her as the entire procession came to an abrupt halt. She fell forward slightly, tangled in his black fur cape. It was only Morgana, beside her, that stopped Carlotta from falling to the floor.
“Thanks. I’ve been doing such a good job of keeping this dress clean tonight.”
“We’ve got bigger things to worry about than your dress.” Morgana had already removed a small leather bag from somewhere inside her own dress. She was scattering pinches of dust from the bag into the air around them. The dust sparkled as it fell softly, painting faint red streaks in the air. “Oh… shitsticks.”
“Is red bad?” asked Carlotta, hoping for the best.
“Red is always fucking bad!” said Cassandra.
Suddenly there was a loud boom, followed by some kind of deep guttural rumble. That’s when the shouts started.
Carlotta could see a strange red glow emanating from what she assumed was the far end of the tunnel towards the exit. “Ok, yeah… red, definitely bad.”
The next thing they saw was the seams of the tunnel, where the walls met the ceiling and the floor, glow a hot, burning orange. It was as if the tunnel was now some kind of infernal box, and they were imprisoned within it. Carlotta felt trapped. She looked over at Morgana to validate the feeling, but was surprised to see that Morgana was reading. “This really isn’t the time…”
“Shut up!” Morgana shouted. Panic seemed to be overtaking the crowd around them, particularly those near the front, but Morgana was focussed, flicking quickly through pages and back again. A second or two later she looked up at Calotta and Cassandra. “We have to turn back, NOW!”
Carlotta was affronted, but she realised the feeling was a part of Marina’s command itself. Without thinking, she found herself compelled to say, “But… the instruction is to leave?”
“I know what she fucking told us!” shouted Morgana at the both of them. Cassandra meanwhile was staring forward towards the glowing red inferno, but Morgana’s urgent words snapped her out of it.
Carlotta had rarely, if ever, seen Morgana like this. By the looks of it neither had Cassandra. They all started back the way they’d come. Some of the others, mainly the older vampires, had similar notions. Many of the younger vampires, and almost all of the thralls, were still headed forward, entranced by the power of Marina’s command in spite of any danger. “What is it?” she shouted at Morgana.
“It’s an invocation! A bad one.”
Suddenly above them, the tunnel was filled with bats.
Contessa Marina da Carmino was forty three centuries old. She’d been a young girl the last time the Hammer of Abu-Eshuh had been used in anger. It was something she knew about only from legend.
The human wielding it now was short, dirty, of low intellect and ability. She could see, just from a glimpse of his brown eyes, that his family were a poor band of thieves. His mother was dead. His grandmother, still alive and living in a ramshackle wagon with the family. None of his lineage were remotely worthy of the weapon. Marina snarled as he raised it aloft… she’d have just one chance.
She raised her own arms and used the Shout. Her voice, a deep, dark rumble, instructed the humans to relent, to go back to their pitiful, brief, mortal lives. If the humans could see what vampires see they would have noticed, at that moment, a blue aura appearing around their group. The dead witch, Marina realised. The humans had come prepared.
“Your words have no power over us, she-demon,” shouted one of them boldly.
Marina cursed. Silently, she recanted her earlier command to her children to flee. She could sense that many had already resisted it, there was no reason to make it harder for them. That done, she issued her next command, to her small creatures of the night. Within seconds the ballroom began to fill with bats coming from the direction of the passageway. They streamed in in their thousands. With the slightest change in posture the bats flooded forward angrily towards the human wielding the hammer.
The hammer began to glow then. Initially an iron-hot red, then bright white. Its human holder did not seem harmed. As the bats drew closer the hammer’s light burst outward in a brilliant flash. Instantly thousands were disintegrated and many more mortally wounded. Marina instinctively shielded herself beneath her black cape, but it wasn’t enough. The hammer’s light shredded her protection away, biting into her flesh leaving burns over her arms, torso and face. She winced. It had been decades since she had last felt physical pain. Peeking out into the room as best she could, Marina could see the other humans racing towards her, their own weapons withdrawn and ready to strike. For the first time in a very long time, Marina was afraid…
Carlotta now had an overwhelming urge to get back to Marina. It was a feeling even stronger than the fear she felt about whatever hellish beast was chasing them from the other direction. She could tell that many of those around her, also rushing back, felt the same. She found herself giving in to the urge, pulling Cassandra and Morgana along with her in the frenzy to get back. In no time at all they were back at the passageway entrance.
“What is that light?” asked Cassandra, fearfully, as they approached the passageway entrance. There was a strange, fearful white, bright glow coming from the rooms beyond.
“I don’t know, Cass, but we have to go! Marina needs our help!” Carlotta allowed herself this one chance to convince them, but she was leaving no matter what. Luckily, the intensifying screams behind them made it a straightforward decision. Alongside about a dozen other vampires, Carlotta, Cassandra and Morgana headed, warily, into the light.
When they entered the ballroom, their first instinct was terror. The entire room was bathed in whiteness the likes of which Carlotta had not seen since before her turn. It was almost overwhelming, as if direct from the sun itself. She could barely summon the will to carry on forward, but a voice was telling her that she must. It was Marina’s voice. Then Carlotta noticed other things. The room was filled with bats in their thousands. If not for them, the light, wherever it was coming from, would surely have been their doom. There were humans, with knives and swords and stakes fending off the bats. Hunters! Some of them were already dead, their eyes and other parts shredded by their tiny attackers. One of the humans held aloft the light source, a giant hammer.
Then Carlotta spotted Marina. She was hovering, high up in the centre of the room, arms outstretched, controlling her creatures about her. Carlotta had never seen anything so beautiful or so powerful. But she could also see that Marina was badly hurt. So much of her flesh had been seared away by the light.
Marina was speaking to Carlotta directly now, a clear voice in Carlotta’s head. “You must find a way out. Through the front!”
“Marina, I’m scared. Please, come with us!” Carlotta replied. She had to shield her own face now from the light. It was already starting to burn.
“Don’t be scared, little one. You must hurry. I will follow, I promise. I will find you, my love.”
Carlotta felt brave then. Whether it was bravery of her own or if it came from Marina, she wasn’t sure. Carlotta looked to her side. Her friends were still with her. The best friends she’d ever known in all of her long years. They were scared as well and cowering from the light. So Carlotta pulled them up. If Carlotta could have seen herself she would have noticed her fangs were fully extended and her eyes black. Ordinary humans would have found this terrifying, but to Cassandra and Morgana, it gave them courage. They all stood, the light from the hammer continuing its remorseless attack on them. Carlotta issued a command of her own then.
“The front door. We are leaving!”
The three of them surged forward, all fangs, claws, and torn dresses. The humans were no match for their speed. But the priority was to get out, to escape this awful predicament, not to fight.
All of this was instinctual to them, and Carlotta felt a calmness come over her as she dodged and weaved around her foes. She reflected, in that moment, that she’d never actually seen a vampire hunter before. She’d heard only stories, stories about these terrible human monsters who would terrorise vampires while they slept. Carlotta realised now that these were not just stories. Hunters were real, and they were a genuine danger to her, her friends, to Marina and all of the others, and that made her angry. And that was all she had time to consider before Cassandra managed to smash her way out the front door first. Typical, an ancient vampire in her own right, she’d always been the strongest of the three of them. And then they were free.
As they fled into the night, Carlotta took one last look back towards the Duke’s house. She could still see the ballroom through the open doors. The glow was receding but most of the bats were dead or destroyed. The humans, albeit reduced in number, were closing around Marina who had fallen to the floor.
Darian Romanov walked past the smouldering husk that was a vampire’s corpse, towards the rear of the ballroom. Any satisfaction he might have taken was dominated by sadness and regret for his son, Bogdi, and for his daughter, Senda. Both taken before the prime of their lives had been reached. Lost forever. But even these feelings had to be put aside for the moment, as there was one last task for Darian to complete.
He walked calmly out the back and through the kitchen. Towards the rear of the kitchen was a pantry and at the back of the pantry, a secret door. Through the door, a dark passageway. Darian had brought with him a torch, but he needn’t have, as the passageway was bathed in an evil, unnatural orange-red glow. He discarded the torch and strode into the depths. The passageway was littered with more mangled, twisted, and burnt corpses. Vampires, all of them dead. All of them to an indivudual with expressions of utter terror on their faces preserved as if to confirm to Darian that, yes, they’d died horribly. Still, there was no satisfaction in it.
When Darian reached what he felt was the middle of the passageway, its deepest point, Bogdi appeared in front of him. Bogdi was wearing the same servants costume that he had been earlier, when they’d last seen each other.
“Hello Father.” Bogdi reached for his own hair and pulled his head away from his shoulders. A dark liquid spilled down Bodgi’s torso where his head had split with his neck. Holding his own head high, Bogdi continued to speak. “So this was fun.” Bogdi used his arm to turn his head around so that he could review his night’s work. “It’s been a long time since the last summon.”
“Get on with it, you wretched thing,” demanded Darian. As a man who had devoted his life to the study of the infernal enemy, Darian knew what was coming next.
“Oh alright. I thought you’d enjoy my little show.” In an instant both Bogdi and the corpses were gone. In Bogdi’s place stood a short woman. The woman’s eyes were completely black, with small pinpricks of red in the centre of them. In the dim light, Darian could not tell whether he was looking at the woman’s face or a mask. It was completely white and unmoving. “You are not the invoker,” she said quietly, although her lips did not move. “Do you know me?”
“You are Bileth, a Queen of Hell. The Pale One.”
“You do know me. Delightful! For this the price is two,” said Bileth. “but you have given me only one.”
“The Ask is one, foul thing. One!”
The woman stepped toward him and shrugged. “It’s vampires. I hate vampires. The cost would have been three, but, as vampires are Paimon’s doing, I’ve given you a slight discount. Proper wankstain she is, shitlicker.”
“The invoker, she is the first?” asked Darian.
For a moment Darian thought he’d glimpsed Elandi standing behind the woman. Elandi was crying. But then she was gone. “And the second?”
“Of course it has to be you,” said Bileth in clear amusement.
“You wish for my life, then, demon?”
Bileth giggled at Darian’s question for some time. “No, not just your life…”
Carlotta was in shock. A woman lay dead before her, a prostitute. Carlotta had already drunk her fill, but Cassandra and Morgana were still at the body. She’d always hated this part of it, but right now, compassion for humans was very far from her mind. The alleyway they were in was the fourth or fifth they’d stumbled across. They’d been desperate to get as far from the hunters and their accursed light as they could, but the effort had been so strenuous. They all desperately needed to feed.
“Lotta, you ok?” Cassandra, standing in front of her now, hadn’t bothered to wipe away the bloodstains from her lips and chin. Very unlike her.
“We’re… Marina… I can’t sense her.” Carlotta pulled away from her friend but Cassandra reached out to grasp Carlotta by the shoulder.
“We can’t go out there. There might be more hunters around.”
But Carlotta wasn’t concerned about her own safety right now. All she could think about was Marina. The connection the pair of them had established so long ago was gone. It was a connection so deep that even though Carlotta had grown used to it, she felt its comforting presence always. She felt barren without it, like a part of her physical body had been severed.
“Cass… did you see what happened? To Marina?”
“I’m so sorry honey, all I saw was what you did. Marina fighting them all off. The light….” Cassandra had to stop. Even the mere memory of the light they’d been exposed to was painful. Carlotta felt that, too.
“We have to go back, to help her!”
“No!” Morgana cried. “You don’t know what’s back there. It was…”
“Hunters.” spat Cassandra bitterly.
“Not them, Cass,” Morgana said. “Back there in the tunnel. It was… something a lot worse.”
The thought of that made them all shiver, which was notable given vampires don’t feel the cold. “It must have been invoked, summoned. Someone knew we would be in that tunnel, and sent it there.”
Carlotta fell to her knees and cried. Cassandra and Morgana knelt down to give her some reassurance. The three of them were in this together, Carlotta knew it, but neither of them were Marina’s. Marina was her Maker, and that meant that Carlotta would do anything for her, no matter what. And she knew that if she didn’t at least try to help she would regret it, quite possibly for the rest of eternity. But the sensible side of Carlotta also knew that she, and her friends too, as well as any other of her vampire kin that managed to escape tonight, none of them were in any shape to be helping anybody right now. They would need time to recover.
“Morgana,” Carlotta asked, her practical senses slowly returning. “Can you get us back home without being seen?”
“On it.” Morgana was already leafing through some kind of weighty leather bound tome. Heck knows where she’d stashed that. “The Charm of Safe Travels,” Morgana said confidently. “I know this one.” Carlotta and Cassandra nodded to her in agreement.
“Cass,” Carlotta asked. “You ok?”
Cassandra was shaking. “I guess.”
“Have you ever seen anything like that before?”
“Like that? Never.”
Carlotta knew that Cassandra did not much like talking about her past. Cassandra was old. Not as old as Marina, but still much older than either Morgana or herself. But Cass had never been particularly open to them about what that meant. Carlotta hoped that one day that might change, but she didn’t want to press it, not right now.
As Morgana began the process of casting the charm, Carlotta peered back to the end of the alleyway, to where it opened onto the streets of Prague. She’d come to this city with such incredible excitement only for it to turn out like this. This was certainly not the ending she’d expected for tonight, but she also knew that for her and her friends, this was the beginning of something. Someone very important to her needed Carlotta’s help now, and she intended to see that through, one step at a time.
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