Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Now that you’re all here, I would like to ask you to sit down and make yourselves comfortable. I have a feeling this is going to be a long night for you, and I certainly don’t want you jumping up and trying to run out of here mid-tale. Truth be known, I’ve satisfied my needs for the night and I’m in no mood for that sort of scene. Besides, the doors are all locked, so where would you go?

I’ve allowed you to enter my world because I felt you were of an open mind and might have something to offer besides that maddening essence I smell pumping through your veins, so don’t make me regret my decision. Trust is a hard thing to come by with my kind, and once it’s broken, we are a nasty sort to deal with.

And just exactly what is my kind, you ask? I think you know by now. Did you really think it was fiction I was laying down? Please, give me some credit. If it was art I was seeking, I’ve been known to be quite literate with a knife.

That was meant to be a joke, though I suppose I can’t blame you for not laughing. My sense of humor tends to be a bit…depraved. I should warn you, there are others of my kind here, and some not nearly so agreeable as myself. For instance, that toothsome fellow lurking in the corner over there would sooner devour you than give you the time of night. Normally his tastes run more to younger flesh, though judging by the way he’s eyeing the lot of you, I’m sure he would forego that preference tonight. However, we won’t concern ourselves with that at the moment. I assure you, you’re quite safe…for now. Even he wouldn’t violate the sanctity of my lair.

Ah yes, that is what we call it—a lair. No white picket fences or two-car garages for us. We tend to like things a bit on the murky side, and we’re sticklers for our privacy. It suits our lifestyle far better than picture windows and prying neighbors.

Where was I? Oh yes…I have a tale to tell you, though I’m not sure what I’ll do with you once I’m done. You see, revealing myself to you is a direct violation of the code we live by. Hopefully, none of my brethren will rat me out on this one, though I may have to promise them something special to buy their silence.

But I’m stalling, and you’ve been so patient. Or is it fear that has sealed your lips? Either way, I won’t bore you with all the superstitious nonsense you hear and read about us. Let’s just cut to the meat of it, those philosophical issues that separate our species, the first of which would be guilt.

Despite what you might have heard, it’s not an issue with us. To experience guilt would imply a sense of morality, and I’m afraid that’s a purely human attribute, a tool used to keep you from indulging your bestial instincts. What use is that to creatures such as ourselves? We ARE the beast. We kill because it is our nature, and because, like all creatures, we want to go on.

To bring the concept closer to the bone, do you feel guilty when you bite into that steak on your plate? After all, it was once a cow. See, not so different after all. The thing that separates us from the other predators is that we are the most vicious and indiscriminate of all, and you, unfortunately, are our prey.

Oh, and there is one other thing. A pretty big thing, actually. Immortality. Yes, we can live forever, if that is our choice. And why wouldn’t it be, you ask? Well, I would have to agree with you there–why wouldn’t anyone want to live forever? But there are others–elders of our kind and some unbalanced fledglings—who’ve either lost or never had the stamina for immortality. And stamina is a requirement. It can sometimes get pretty lonely, watching all that you know whither and die, but after a few mortal life spans you learn to adjust. You either become a sponge, soaking up the latest trends and tempo of the mortal world, or you involve yourself in the nightly intrigues of your brethren. The key is to stay busy.

Naturally, there are ways we can meet our end, prolonged exposure to the sun being the biggie. We’re not exactly great worshipers of that fireball in the sky. Our skin isn’t configured to soak up rays, and so far, there isn’t a sunblock with a high enough SPF rating to change that. Not that we immediately turn to ash when caught out after dawn. That’s another misconception. It’s more like a slow burn…imagine popping yourself into a microwave on a power level of, say five. Yeah, you get the picture. Not very pleasant, to say the least, though one can survive it—if the damage isn’t too severe.

I could go into other, less appealing methods of thwarting immortality, but it’s probably best I save those for another time. After all, there is a point to this gathering, and I promised myself I would stay on topic tonight.

Why am I telling you this? Hmm…good question. Maybe it’s your silence, who knows? It’s fascinating, actually…mortals who can keep their mouths shut. I’m quite sure you’d be singing like a canary if you knew half the stuff that goes on around you while you sleep. That is, until I ripped your throat out. Can’t have you talking to the wrong people, can we?

You there, sit down. I already told you, I’ve satisfied that need for the night. But you’ve distracted me again. As I said, I have a reason for revealing myself to you, which will become more obvious when I’ve finished my tale. But first, you deserve to know what you’re getting into.

There’s a whole world out there you never see, and that’s just the way we like it. Birth, love, hate, ambition, death…much like your own world, but one of greater beauty, darkness, and savagery. And it all starts with a simple act of passion we call the Change. That’s what happens when a mortal is made one of us.

Naturally, it’s not all sweetness and light. In fact, it’s completely hellish, when you get down to it. Just ask any of my kind. The Change can be a beautiful experience, or it can be a trip straight out of a page from Dante. Regardless, dying isn’t fun, and unfortunately, that is a requirement to become one of us. It’s pretty traumatic stuff; certainly not for the feint of heart. That’s why a lot of potential fledglings never make it. They haven’t the stomach for it.

That first kill is, well…a killer. There are no words to describe the compulsion that drives you toward it. You simply have to experience it to know, and for those of us who have, it’s something you never forget. It haunts us every night, especially if we go too long without feeding. Believe me, that’s not a pretty sight. No, dieting is definitely not a wise decision for us.

Other than that, unless you look closely, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell we’re any different than you. It’s only when we step into bright light or begin to move that the guise becomes obvious. Yes, we move differently than you. See, like this. No, I’m over here now. You didn’t even see that, did you? I walked slowly…for us. And yet, when we want, our movements can be languid, almost hypnotic, but then, you knew that, didn’t you? That part of the legend is true. We are sensual creatures…creatures of dark passion and darker desires. I could make you scream with the most intense pleasure with just a touch. Would you like to see?

No, I thought not. Besides, I’m sure than would make short work of the evening’s intent. Even I don’t have that much self-control.

But you look like you could use a drink. A little wine, perhaps? Please, feel free to help yourselves to a glass. I’m a bit thirsty myself from all this talking. Shall we take a break? No? All right then, I’ll get started.

My tale begins in the coldest winter anyone could ever remember in the high passes of the northern Italian Alps. The year was 1784. I was seventeen; the only daughter of an errant thaumaturgist. That’s what you might call a sorcerer today. Actually, sorcerer might be a little overdoing it. While a direct descendent of a Druid priest, my father really wasn’t much of a conjuror. My mother was the one with the power—a witch who passed her gift on to me—but she’d had the good sense to die in childbirth. I say good sense, because it saved her from meeting my father’s fate. But I get ahead of myself.

Superstition was the national past time in the mountain villages in those times, and with good reason. There was a cabal of bloodthirsty warlocks in the vicinity who made traveling at night more adventurous than hailing a cab on a Friday afternoon in Harlem. Yes, we all knew about them, but back then there was such a thing as respect for beings like that. There were no assault rifles and flame throwers, the likes of which have been used to take out entire clans of our brethren while they slept in recent times.

Anyway, these warlocks, who went by the pretentious moniker of The Order of the Black Star, developed a personal interest in my father. They were recruiting, you see; sort of like corporate head-hunters, scouting the best talent for their cause. They approached him several times, on the sly, of course, though he recognized them for what they were and would have none of whatever it was they were selling.

As you can imagine, that didn’t sit too well with the haunchos of the Black Star hierarchy. No one refused them and lived to brag about it. So they decided a little taste of revenge was on the menu for my father.

Now if you think they merely killed him to satisfy their iniquitous sense of justice, you don’t know anything about Thelemic orders, which is really not surprising, since that’s just the way they like it. And The Black Star, being the poster child for covert operations, took that one step further. The Cosa Nostra have nothing on this bunch. They especially prided themselves on the originality of their retribution. Scorn, in particular, seemed to bring out their perverse streak.

So my father had no idea what he let himself—or me—in for. I would imagine straws were drawn up in the Black Star homestead to see who would be the one to exact the punishment. As it happened, the lucky winner was a man known only as Invictis, a former magician from Vienna—which happened to be Black Star Central, as geography goes. He was dispatched to my father’s house to do whatever it took to defend the cabal’s good name.

In those days, I slept in the garret above the little cottage that housed not only our living quarters, but those of a small and varied menagerie of animals that kept my father and I from starving during the frigid days and nights of winter. Three stories from the ground would seem a safe, albeit cold, place to spend one’s nights, but that wasn’t the case when it came to these supernatural jackals. The walls were easily scaled, the tiny window offering no barrier to the larger creature’s passage. He slipped in and crept into my bed without a sound. The only evidence of his presence was the unnerving chill that accompanied his advance under my gown.

I awoke with his cold breath on my face, his black eyes holding mine in thrall as he slid his icy hands around my neck. Part of me was terrified, but at the same time, I had to admit to a growing sense of excitement. After all, life was pretty boring in our village, and winters were especially tedious. I was lost in a twisted adolescent fantasy that maybe he wasn’t as scary as he looked when his lips brushed across my neck and his teeth entered me. I became aware of the most exquisite pain in my throat as his mouth began its deadly work, sucking my blood from the wound. I was growing weaker, a feeling akin to floating overtaking my limbs, my own heartbeat pounding in my ears, and then gradually even that grew silent. It was the last time I ever heard it.

When his mouth finally pulled away, I remember in some dim portion of consciousness wanting to cry out. I was painfully aware of everything around me—every sound and scent, regardless of how insignificant—though I could not process the information in any known form. It was as if I merely existed as a sponge for these stimuli.

I heard something tear, like flesh being punctured, and then he was pressing his wrist to my lips, and the first searing drops of his blood trickled into my mouth. At that moment, every desire I’d ever entertained was answered. I clutched at the offered limb, attacking the wound with eager abandon. More, my body screamed, but my cold-hearted sire had already pulled away.

I was starving. Not the kind of hunger you’re familiar with—the unspecific growling of an empty stomach. No, this was a hundred times worse, and it radiated throughout my body. I was certain it would consume me if I did not feed it as soon as possible.

As I mentioned before, the Black Star were a treacherous lot, and they lived up to their reputation that night. My sire, knowing how I would awaken to his world, called down to my father, who was asleep on the floor below my own. By that time, I was ravenous and ready to devour the first thing that came within reach. Unfortunately for my father, that meant him.

My existence after that night became a blur of blood and suffering. I’m not proud to say I was little more than a rabid animal, killing anyone and everyone who crossed my path. For my actions, my new captors punished me, locking me away without blood for weeks at a time, hoping by their cruelty to force me to control my bloodlust long enough to develop my magical abilities. All their efforts accomplished was make me hate them even more. While part of me was as anxious as they were to get my deadly appetites under control, I had no intention of playing good little soldier for their twisted agenda.

Eventually Invictis, growing tired of babysitting what he called a mindless, rabid dog, washed his hands of me and turned me over to the Council. They unanimously voted to end what they called a pointless experiment by having my Sire put me to death. I will add here that it is the accepted protocol among our kind that the Sire be the one to destroy an errant child. In this case, however, my sentence was postponed by an unknown benefactor who left the door to my cell unlocked the night before my execution. Needless to say, I wasted no time taking advantage of the reprieve.

I likely would have ended up finding death regardless had I not stumbled into the territory of a clan of vampires who, it turns out, were sworn enemies of The Black Star. I agreed to provide them with information about the cabal’s operation in exchange for protection. In the end, we all got what we wanted. The Black Star’s ranks were all but decimated and I received the long-overdue training to control my bloodlust.

Yes, I agree this is all ancient history, but there is a point to my tale. You see, while The Black Star’s power was indeed crippled by the efforts of my adopted clan, a few of them managed to escape their brethren’s fate. They went into hiding, no doubt hoping to out-wait our campaign against their order. Over the years, we have managed to weed out many of the survivors, but there are still a few stragglers left.

Ordinarily, we would be content to simply live and let live—after all, we’re in no position to throw stones–but warlocks are a tenacious lot. Once they latch on to an ideal, nothing short of death will change their minds, which means every time another one surfaces, he starts recruiting new neophytes to rebuild the cabal. And trust me when I say that is something you do not want to see happen. The Black Star makes the Third Reich look like a boy scout troop.

And that brings me to the point of tonight’s gathering. You see, you are all in danger of being recruited to the cabal’s cause. That priest your congregation holds in such high regard–the one who enthralls the women and elicits such admiration among the men? Well, let’s just say he isn’t from Omaha, nor is his name Father Raymond. And those changes he’s recommending? A slippery slope, my friends. It all seems to reasonable now, but then, it always does—at first. By the time you realize everything isn’t as innocent or reasonable as you thought it was, it’s too late.

I know, coming from me, that statement seems a bit innocuous. And yes, it very well could be me who is lying right now, though I challenge you to come up with a reason. After all, the only thing I could possibly want from you is your blood, and I could take that whenever I chose. I have no need to spin fantastical tales to win your trust. If you don’t believe that, I’ll be more than happy to provide a demonstration.

So what is the danger, and why am I risking my very existence by revealing all of this to you? Well, consider this. Since we wiped out their hierarchy, The Black Star has had to adapt, become more subtle in their approach. People don’t fear magic or warlocks any more. The new magic is logic, and they have become masters of manipulating it. Manipulation that can take the form of a priest who inspires unwavering trust and devotion among his flock. After all, Jim Jones’ followers didn’t believe the warnings about him either.

What’s that? Who is Father Raymond? Finally! I was beginning to think you would never ask. The truth is, the man you know as Father Raymond is, in fact, my old Sire, Invictis. Which brings me to the reason why I’ve risked telling you.

You see, you're going to help us rid the world of him, once and for all. And please note—that was not a request.



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