Unlike Dance of the Undead, the first in a proposed series of short stories and novellas about Alexander Drakos, an individual in search of peace and redemption, The Forces of Evil has never before been published. I haven't given up on my dark anti-hero. In time I will develop him as planned and write the further adventures of Alexander Drakos.
"May I see your invitation, sir?"
The young man at the door looked up from his clipboard after a few moments had passed and no invitation had been presented to him.
"Sir, your..." Suddenly he had no idea as to what he was going to say. Nor did the young man seem to recall who or even what he was as his mind drifted for a moment in a grey lethean void that begged to be filled.
"You have my invitation," insisted the deep, controlled voice of the tall man at the door, his manner one of perfectly calm nonchalance. "It is in your hand. See it." This was not a question but a command.
The young man dropped his bewildered gaze to study his empty hand and replied, "Yes. Yes, of course. Go right in, sir."
The tall dark man, moving with powerful grace, entered the ornate ballroom and immediately melted into the elegant crowd, blending in despite his almost regal, commanding manner and appearance. There was but the briefest moment of confusion for the young man at the door, he rubbed his eyes, then resumed his duties as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
"Good evening, madam. May I have your invitation?"
"But really, sir!" exclaimed the old retired British colonel. He was one of several people sitting around an expensive, exquisitively carved mahogany coffee table. "I have heard and seen many strange things in Europe and the Orient, and what I know of the subject very much contradicts most of what you are telling us."
The man who had insistantly dominated the conversation smiled sarcastically. He was a rather plain looking man, a bit overweight, with dark hair and glasses, surrounded by an air of self-importance and an overabundance of unwarranted self-confidence. As he sat there smiling, slouching, his hands resting atop his paunch, one could not help but to be annoybed by the way he took himself so seriously. Whenever he began an oration on his favourite topic, his special field of interest, one would at first think that he was surely joking. However, as he continued to speak it became obvious that he was not a leg-puller - that he, in fact, possessed no real sense of humour, especially about himself.
"Obviously, Colonel, you do not then know much about the subject," the man pompously replied. "Vampires are individuals who must drink human blood. It is not a psychological manifestation, but rather a genuine physiological need. However, they are not what you believe them to be. I have interviewed over fifty vampires. They are not the dead who have returned from the grave. They are living beings who have never crossed the threshold of death and they have no special powers or occult abilities. Vampires can walk in the daylight, although of course their sensitivity to the sun's ultraviolet rays forces them to wear cosmetic makeup and creams."
"Vampires ... walking in the sunlight? Poppycock!" The British colonel clamped his firm jaws down on the stem of his briar pipe and turned away from the egotistical man.
"Kap," said a dashing but spoiled rich 'kid' (who was thirty-five years old and had never worked a day in his life), "do they have hairy palms, glowing red eyes and ghostly white flesh?"
The tall dark man, but a shadow in the crowd by his own choosing, frowned, glancing down at his smooth but incredibly creased palms.
There was no smile on the self-proclaimed vampire expert's face. There almost never was.
"A computer-generated profile of the average female vampire, for instance, tells us that she looks about twenty-one years old, has green, not red eyes, has blonde hair and is about five feet eight inches tall, weighing around 120 to 121 pounds. As for the average male vampire, he appears to be around twenty-two, has blue eyes, again, not red, has brown hair and weighs about 160 pounds, standing approximately five feet ten inches tall. They do, as a matter of course, have a very fair complexion."
"They could be models!" the playboy's buxom and faux-sophisticated companion exclaimed.
"Many of them are," the pretentious man replied in his usual deadpan. "Generally," he continued with boring casualness, "vampires are not the monsters the public thinks them to be. There are no Christopher Lees or Bela Lugosis among their kind. Frank Langellas maybe. And I may count among some of my closest friends several of the over 200 to 250 vampires who reside in the United States and Canada."
There was silence as the crowd around the pretentious man thought about what he had said on the subject with an air of authority which apparently only the white-haired colonel doubted.
"Excuse me." All eyes turned toward the dark man whose back, until then, had been turned to the group. As one, everyone there shuddered ... except, of course, for the self-proclaimed vampire expert who did not even bother to turn around at the sound of the deep, perfectly modulated voice. As for the others, whose senses were not so dulled, each felt instantly overcome with a mild sensation of fear, both repelled and strongly attracted to the conversation's newcomer - the powerful man with the dark complexion, thick black hair and mustache, and the very black eyes. "I presume that I have stumbled upon the very gentleman I thought might be able to assist me. Mr. Stephen ..."
"Doctor," the pudgy man insisted as he rose to his feet, turning around to face the man. Their eyes met and the man froze as if suddenly hit by a powerful psychic force that for a moment caused him to forget even his own name.
"Doctor then, if you wish." Amusement touched the corners of the dark man's severe mouth. "However, doctor, I must say that I am guilty of eavesdropping and have concluded that you will not be able to assist me in my search after all."
"S - search?" There was something about those eyes that seemed to consume a person's will.
"For vampires." The dark man glided more than walked around the sofa, so smooth were his movements, and stood before the pudgy man. "You cannot assist me because, quite frankly ... what is it you Americans say ...?"
"He's full of shit," the old colonel snorted.
The dark man smiled at the British gentleman with as much warmth as was possible for him.
"Precisely the phrase I had in mind."
"Sir," the self-important man indignantly replied, "I know what I am talking about! I have interviewed over ..."
"Yes, yes," the dark man interrupted, waving aside the protest, "I have heard everthing you told these people. You have interviewed over fifty 'vampires'. Perhaps you think you have, but I, sir, believe that you have never in your entire life encountered a genuine vampire ... nosferatu, dearg-dul, vukodlak ... whatever one wishes to call ... them."
"Are you calling me a liar?" The pudgy man, his ego outraged, showed the only real emotion in public that he was capable of showing.
"Yes," the dark man calmly replied. "You may be lying to yourself, and you are certainly lying to these people. You would not know a real vampire if you met one," he leaned closer to the pudgy man, "face to face."
"Don't tell his publisher that," the old colonel grunted with a smile.
"Why you ... I ... I ...," the man began, but the words froze in his throat and a cold shudder racked his plump body.
There was the tiniest red glow, mere pinpricks of light, like hot embers within the centre of the dark man's deep black eyes. The phenomenon lasted for only a moment, and apparently only the corpulent man seemed to notice while something unseen passed between them - unseen but felt by everyone around them. Something unpleasant.
Without another word the tall man turned his back upon the wide-eyed egotist and passing through the crowd as if he were royalty he left the ballroom.
The self-important man stood there, slack jawed and stunned by a powerful force he had never before encountered and which he understood not in the least.
The retired colonel chuckled, breaking the spell that held the others.
"I think I agree with that chap, doctor, and I daresay, if you will all pardon my use of another Americanism, he just broke your cherry!"
The stout man, eyes still wide with fright and wonder, mouth agape, turned to look at the elderly colonel as the snowy-haired gent once again chuckled, most of the others joining in. The man's expression in itself was hilarious, but at this elegant cocktail party the dark stain on the crotch of the egotist's expensive slacks was even funnier.
"Children of the Night! Listen to me!"
The huge, old inner city theatre was filled to capacity with human figures shrouded in darkness. Light fell only on the stage and the speaker thereon, and that dimly. The speaker was a tall, slender man with a deathly pale complexion and burning eyes. He gazed out over his audience in the condemned and boarded up playhouse, eyes occasionally catching the dim light and glimmering crimson.
"We are the first of our great race that will come out of hiding. No longer will we slink in the shadows and hide from mankind. No longer will we seek to keep our presence on this planet secret. It is not the meek who shall inherit the earth.  We will inherit the earth! We will rule! We will govern! You and I, my brothers and sisters, the Children of the Night will soon take that which is ours and feed upon the human cattle who are unfit for any other purpose but to satisfy our needs, quench our thirst, satiate our hunger.
"You ... all of you ... are the Forces of Darkness which will soon sweep across the face of the globe, toppling governments, destroying the rotten and hypocritic human society, so that we may rule!"
The creature on the stage lifted his arms in a typhonian sign and with his ghostly white face raised heavenward he bellowed with a voice that shook the very foundation of the old building.
"We will topple the heavens and destroy God himself and show humankind that the real devil is not some fairy tale caricature with horns and a tail! We will show them that the real devil lies within the heart of each and every man and woman on earth and while most only flirt with him, we, the Children of the Night, the Forces of Darkness, accept him within ourselves and recognizing the devil in us as the only true god we give him manifestation, denying him nothing! It is the devil that rules this world ... and we are him!"
The theatre was filled with a cacophonous horror of sound, the demonic equivalent of applause and cheers. Any sane human being who might have stumbled into that broken down theatre during the hellish meeting would have been driven instantly mad by the sight, sounds and stench. This had, in fact, happened earlier that very day before all were assembled, but the hapless wanderer had only moments to lose his sanity for he had been taken within seconds of his grim discovery. What remained of him was a carcass that had been horribly mutilated and torn apart, limbs and body parts, barely covered in rent fabric, strewn all over the stage at the speaker's feet. The head of the luckless victim, an expression of utter terror frozen on his face, glared up at the maniacal leader of the large assembly ... and surprisingly there was little blood on the dry, warped stage floorboards.
"The Forces of Darkness," the white-faced creature bellowed, his eyes burning redly, blood dripping down the corners of his cruel mouth, "will soon sweep humanity off its seat of power and we ... we shall rule!
"We shall rule! And nothing ... no one ... can stop us!
Down the corridors of time his mind wandered as Alexander Drakos laid in his secret place, protected from the rays of the sun - shining scimitars of light that would cut through the unliving flesh of most of his kind, utterly destroying them, consuming them in fire, but which would only rob him of the use of his physical body, his only means of movement and action in the physical world. Death, so desirable, was an estranged lover. The stake merely immobilized the physical vehicle until such time as the mind could discover and lure some weak mortal and command him to remove it. Even from the flames of a hell on earth could one of his kind resurrect himself so long as the ashes had not been scattered. Yet, in the case of Alexander Drakos, one who has existed for millennia and acquired tremendous power, even cremation and the scattering of the ashes could not put an end to his consciousness. At most, should this occur, it would take years, perhaps even centuries for him to reassemble his physical form, time which he could not waste and doubted he could endure, and then that form would be horribly mutilated and weakened, perhaps so much so that he would not be able to continue on with his quest for freedom - for release from the curse.
"What you see before you, my son, is what you may well become."
Drakos remembered the elder as he appeared when he had said this. He was old. incalculably ancient. And he appeared to be more like a gruesome wooden puppet on a string or an animated skeleton with leathery, scared and burnt flesh stretched over it, than an actual animate being. The elder's face was more horrible than the face of Death itself - Death who had turned his back upon him forever. His head was a deformed skull covered in diseased and blackened flesh resting upon a twisted, tortured body.
"I have had the stake driven through my heart." The elder touched his sunken chest with a boney, skeletal finger. "It merely held me, imprisoned in my immortal body, until I could draw to me some hapless mortal to free me and then feed me. I have been burnt ... burned to ashes! ... and the last time those ashes were scattered, scattered far and wide. Oh how I wanted to die, my son! How I wanted to die. But I could not. I have existed too long. The curse has become too strong. I could not help myself. I continued on even though my physical form was no more. My mind, my consciousness persisted, and still held in the grip of the curse, the survival instinct too strong to ignore, it ranged out. I found a guileless mortal and tricked him into shedding his virgin blood over some of the ahses of my earthly remains. I caused him to take his own life so that I might reassemble, oh so slowly, so painfully, my mortal form, though I longed for sweet death, release and freedom from the curse. And this ... this weak, frail, hideous form ... is the result."
Drakos shivered again as he had shivered then, his otherwise still form in the darkness showing no other signs of life, his chest still, the heart motionless, or nearly so.
"Now I am worse than a brukolakas. Now I am too weak to seek out those I have placed under the curse. Nor can I hunt for sustenance that can, if not return me to my original form, at least give me the strength to go on in search of release ... first for my victims and thus for myself. If I do not drink I still linger on, weaker and weaker, yet the survival instinct is uncontrollably strong and still I feed ... on spiders and rats, stray dogs and cats ... but it is not enough ... and there is no hope for me.
"I cannot be the strong hunter of men I once was nor can I find complete release from the curse. I am doomed to an eternity of existence ... miserable, joyless, horrible existence in eternal darkness."
"How can I avoid this?" Drakos had asked the elder.
"There is only one way now. You cannot die as easily as the majority of our kind, my son. If you were of my line perhaps I could release you, but you are not. No, there is only one way for you to find release from the curse ... although there are many ways for you to become like this." He spread his skeletal arms wide, pain showing upon his ghastly features. "You must seek out all of those that you have created, my son. You must destroy every child of your line. To achieve a release from the curse yourself you must first release those whom you have placed under the curse ... just them, not every victim of your nightly hunts, not those you have drained quickly unto true death ...but those whom you have killed slowly or those who have tasted your blood and whose blood is now infected with this disease, this curse, and made one of us. Just them must you utterly destroy."
Drakos was aghast.
"But I have existed for so very long ... for centuries upon centuries ... and I have made hundreds, perhaps thousands of our kind. My line has grown great and it would be a daunting task to search for and release each and every one of them, most if not all of whom will resist my attempts to free them being so dominated by the curse that they see it as a gift, a blessing! It could take decades. Centuries!"
"It could take æons," the elder said, making an effort to shrug his corpse shoulders, "but it is the only way you may know release yourself ... or end up like this ... damned for all of eternity."
Alexander Drakos shuddered again and this time his deep black eyes opened in the embracing darkenss of the box he rested in. Back through the tunnels of time he raced to awaken in the present. The sun had been down for nearly an hour and that was an hour of wasted time - time he could have spent upon his quest, the hunt for his dark children. Like Father Time himself, the Dragon had to swallow his children. It was his only hope for freedom. The death of those he had created over the centuries was the only gift of courtship that Death would accept from him. And Drakos desired Death - nearly as much as he desired love and the simple ability to walk in the warm, bright sunlight. Yet he felt certain that he had lost the capacity to love, to truly love, and should he attempt to bathe in the radiance of the sun his body would be shrivelled so that like the elder he would be unable to go on with his quest, unable to sustain his strength, doomed forever to exist in the hellish embrace of the curse.
Death, then, a complete release from his miserable existence, was all that Alexander Drakos dared hope for. Death which meant freedom to him. However, it was a freedom that would not be easily won - and yet, is any true freedom easily and with little cost won?
The vampire lifted the lid of his box and filled his accurséd lungs with the stale air of his underground retreat, the burnt remains of an old cathedral overhead. His heart beat stronger, although not so strong as the heart of a living man, and the tainted blood flowed through his ancient veins. It was again time for the hunt, but not the hunt for innocent mortal blood. The thirst was always with him and it was always strong, that would never change, but no longer did he have to feed every night. As he grew older and stronger in both mind and body, Drakos discovered that his immortal form used blood more efficiently and the need for feeding grew less with each passing year. He could now go for weeks, perhaps even months, without once feeding, however unbearable the thirst for blood, the hunger for human vitality. And now, endeavoring not to take mortal life as he had so casually, so enthusiastically in the past, Drakos fed almost exclusively on the tainted blood of those vampires that he could catch and release from the curse, whether they be of his line or another. It was unsatisfying, but not without an exquisite kind of intoxication, and the tainted blood satisfied his thirst, taking care of his need for renewed strength.
Drakos arose from the long coffin-like box and looked towards the old cellar stairs that led up to the ruined ground floor of the cathedral remains. It was not yet late enough for the moon to have risen, but the starlight spilled down those fragile stairs. Starlight. Moonlight. The artificial light of mankind. But never the sunlight. Never again the light of the glorious golden day star. Unless he could find release from the curse, from the darkness, this would be his world forever, as it had been his world for more centuries than he could count. Only the brief periods of rest - rest without sleep - approximated sweet death, blessed nonexistence. And yet his sleep was always haunted by the horror of his existence and the memories of his ancient past.
If I cannot live by the light of day, Drakos thought, at least let me have the absolute darkness of eternal night ... the eternal night of death.
But he had no more time to waste in memories and longing.
He was already late to the hunt and his current prey had eluded him for a very long time. At least twice before the vampire had cornered Demias Ecacologon only to lose him at the last moment. Long had he searched for Demias since then, finding and releasing others along the way, yet Demias continued to escape from his grasp. Demias, one of the oldest of his dark children, his line. One of the most powerful of the Children of the Night.
This time, Drakos thought, I will not, I must not lose him.
Demias, he was certain, rested somewhere nearby, on the very edges of the great metropolis of New York in an area so blighted that it looked like a war zone. And unlike most of their kind, Demias had greater dreams than those of mere personal survival and personal power. Even as a mortal Demias had thought himself a christ, an anointed saviour. It was a great mistake to bring him into the family, for having attained the power of a brukolakas his madeness, his megalomania increased a thousandfold. Whereas the vampire's salvation is to be found in death, the mortal's is to be found only in life, yet like some demented gnostic Demias thought to save the world by destroying all mortal life. Mixed in with his pseudo-christ perception of himself Demias revelled in the power that the curse conferred upon him, for now he could perform the many miracles attributed to those men, real and mythical throughout the centuries, who had been called christs, messiahs, saviours and sons of god. He could perform these largely mythical miracles and much more, and as his power increased so too did his madness. So too did his great ego, the demon that dogs every man and woman whether mortal or vampire.
Demias would not be easy, had never been easy to even locate, so Drakos had to go as slowly and cautiously as he could. The appearance at the gala cocktail party had been a mistake. He had overexposed himself to mortals, some of whom might serve Demias for all he knew, but he was impatient and could not wait to meet the man who had claimed to be an expert in "vampirology". Upon meeting the self-proclaimed expert Drakos was disappointed to learn that he knew next to nothing about genuine vampirism, that he could not lead him to a single one of his line, and that he was nothing but a pompous, fat, strutting clown.
Drakos shrugged. It was not the first mistake he had ever made in his long existence and surely it would not be the last one. Yet he had to be more careful. He could not afford to let himself become impatient and careless again. That was, after all, how Demias had escaped the last time ...
The slender, almost serpentine albino took one look back and laughed maniacally. "Bloody fool!" he screamed. "Are you so old and feeble that you cannot catch me? Come! Come, Dragon, and catch your child if you can!" Demias turned, his long silky white hair floating in the air about him, and dashed into the ancient catacombs.
On the heels of the ghost-like being Alexander Drakos, his long black cloak billowing out behind him like bats' wings, plunged into the stygian cavity of the earth. The moon had gone down long ago and it was very dark because of it, but pure brilliance compared to the almost tangible darkness of the musty, evil-smelling catacombs.
Electric torches, "flashlights" the Americans would later call them, had not yet been invented, but Drakos had no need for such things as he ran headlong into the dark labyrinth. His preterhuman vision pierced the inky blackness and led him unerringly along his way. From time to time he caught a brief blimpse of his prey, so pale that he was nearly luminous, but just when he felt as though he were catching up to Demias the albino vampire would elude him. The fact that Demias continually escaped Drakos did not surprise the more ancient blood-drinker because he was not that much less ancient than Alexandros the Dragon. Demias was one of his first Children of the Night and he was almost as fast, as powerful and as intelligent as his mentor. He was even more dangerous than most because of this, and more dangerous still because of his insane messiah complex.
Drakos, who had discovered the only means of release from the curse nearly a century earlier, in his quest to find and release his children from the curse of vampirism, tracked Demias to this venerable European city where he had tried to create an army of fellow beings to overrun and rule the European continent. He had come very close to bringing about the collapse of the city when Drakos discovered his whereabouts. The small army of mindless, crudely created vampires had been scattered by the arch-vampire and were at this moment being tracked down and destroyed one by one by the mortals who had been terrorized by these malformed and misbegotten creatures. Demias, however, was far too powerful and wise to be easily cornered by mere human beings, and his release from the curse had to be effected by Drakos - Alexander Drakos who was responsible for his being.
So long ago that the mortal mindof man would be unable to comprehend the possibility of it, Alexandros the Dragon and Demias Ecacologon had been the best of friends. they were mortal then and because of his albinoism Demias was either revered as a blesséd one or feared as a demon. Drakos, however, was the only person who treated him as a man and because of this, although he secretly loved the attention, the rumours, the reverence as well as the fear, Demias felt comfortable only in the presence of his friend. Only in Drakos could Demias confide his innermost thoughts and feelings. Thus the bond between the two men was strong. After the Dragon had been attacked by a night visitor, brought to the point of death and resurrected, as it were, in the form of a creature of the night, caught up in the euphoria of his newly acquired powers, mistaking the curse for a blessing, it was only a matter of time before Drakos convinced his friend to join him. His intention had been to share his gift, his power, his virtually eternal life with his dearest friend, Demias, but the blessing proved to be a curse sooner with him than it did with Drakos. The albino began to revel in the reverence and fear that always surrounded him, and Demias began to believe the things people thought of him now that he possessed the power to perform what people called miracles.
The egotism grew. The madness, only a tiny seed when he was mortal, blossomed fully, and with his study of gnosticism, most especially the degenerate forms of that wisdom, the messiah complex grew until Demias began to see himself as a god-man, a saviour like the one the priests often spoke of. He had witnessed and experienced much of the pain and sorrow of mortal life, often desiring death as the only possible release from the wheel of suffering, and so it was no great leap in logic for him to come to the belief that the only salvation for humanity was death and a return to the Plethora.
While Drakos was solely concerned with personal power and eternal life, his concerns apparently derived solely from ego gratification, Demias spoke as if he were sincerely concerned for the plight of humanity, while in fact his desire for personal power went well beyond the more typical desire of his friend. Drakos saw himself for what he was, a man who had acquired certain powers by having become a creature of the night that was driven to feed upon human life to sustain his own existence. He never failed to recognize the fact that essentially he was a man, if indeed a kind of supra-human. At a later date, after centuries of existence that proved not to be true life, Drakos came to change his belief in his nature. He ceased to see himself as something greater than human and began to view himself as sub-human in some ways - incapable of many of the wonderful things most mortals are capable of, things which humanity in general takes for granted.
Demias, on the other hand, saw himself as a god incarnate and that sense of godliness increased with the centuries until it became and overpowering obsession, an obsession that eventually drove a wedge between him and Drakos until finally the two parted company and went their separate ways.
Demias inevitably became the arch-vampire's greatest enemy, especially after the two had come together again many centuries later and Drakos had explained to him that he was tired of the curse and how he proposed to free himself from it. There had been a time, long ago, when both men were mortal and Demias would have gladly given his life for Drakos, as the Dragon would have sacrificed his for Demias, but at this time the albino's madness was too strong. Demias would not accept what he had been told, what the elder had explained to Drakos. Thinking himself eternal, immortal, in an absolute way, not only because of his vampirism but also because of the "sign" of his albinoism, Demias thought himself to be a saviour and a god. He believed that like the mortals all vampires, all of which were of course inferior to him and only relatively immortal, had to die the physical death to find release - not from the curse of vampirism, for that in his eyes was a blessing, but rather from the curse of physical existence. Thus Demias vowed to free his friend, the Dragon, but in his own way - not by taking his own "sacred" life!
The twists and inconsistancies of Demias' thinking were at times difficult to follow, but one thing was certain: He would cling to his beliefs and his life tenaciously. Nothing would convince him to discontinue his perverse course in life, and if he could "free" his old friend, his eternal enemy, Alexander Drakos, he would. He was incapable of understanding that the means he would employ to "free" Drakos could only succeed in eternally enslaving him to the curse as the elder had been forever damned.
Now Drakos chased his archenemy, the best friend he had ever had, through the rat-infested catacombs under a great European city and his overriding thought was to release Demias from the curse for his sake as well as for his own freedom.
He had to kill Demias.
"You must be getting slow, my old friend!" Demias called back, his wild voice echoing throughout the somber tunnels. "Come on! Catch me, you wretched pile of bones!"
Drakos growled, baring his sharp white teeth and pointed fangs, pushing himself on to greater speed, his feet hardly seeming to touch the bone-dry earth.
For a long time he failed to catch sight of his prey, only hearing his chiding voice from time to time, and the tunnel through which he ran twisted and turned.
So deeply involved in the chase had Drakos become that he did not realize that the catacomb tunnels which began with a gradual descent had now taken on the nature of a subtle ascent. He did not realize that in the caverns he then found himself in there were few split offs, and he forgot that a vampire need not be where the sound of his voice seemed to be coming from.
Up ahead there was something - something white - and Drakos ran for it. As he made the sharp turn ahead of him, only briefly aware of the white silk scarf jammed into the catacomb wall, the vampire suddenly found himself above ground and surrounded by brilliant, blinding light - the light of the early morning sun. Instantly the vampire howled, lifting his arms to shield his eyes and face from the deadly rays while behind him echoing insanely he heard the mad laughter of his enemy.
Flesh already burning, Drakos recoiled, quickly retreating into the blessedly cool darkness of the catacombs and for the first time realized that he had been growing lethargetic with the rising of the unseen sun. It was no wonder he had failed to realize his situation and the trap that had been ahead of him. His concentration upon the chase and the distractions of his goading prey along with the growing dullness of mind that accompanied the rising sun worked together to nearly bring about disaster.
That day, long ago, Alexander Drakos rested in the tunnels of the dead, knowing that somewhere else in those catacombs Demias also rested, as threatened by the sunlight as he was. However, after sunset, Demias was nowhere to be found and by the time Drakos left the catacombs he sensed that he had left the city, perhaps the country and could be anywhere in the world.
Pagan and Heather shared one thing, one very fascinating thing, in common. Both of the attractive young ladies were deeply interested in the occult. They were not, however, the typical, flighty sort of occultists one is all too likely to meet, but extremely intelligent ladies whose interest and degrees in psychology led them to a unique understanding of the grain of truth that is to be found in all occult beliefs, generally misunderstood and misrepresented by outsiders and occultists alike. Perhaps in part it was their mutual loathing of crass materialism and the failure of the world religions that led them into the esoteric. Perhaps it was also the names that their parents had given them. Pagan, derived from the Latin paganus, means "belonging to a village, rural, rustic" and not "godless" as she would emphatically point out. Heather is a name derived from the Middle English Hadder, being a shrub common to the British Isles and from which comes the word "heathen", meaning "one from the heath", the heather-covered wastelands of the British Isles. As it is with the word "pagan", "heather" did not originally mean "godless", a meaning given to it by representatives of a religion who could not accept or tolerate the concepts of God developed by others.
Whatever their reasons for the ladies' interest in things arcane, Pagan and Heather shared a deep and sober fascination with the esoteric aspects of life and death. That was one of the few things that the young women had in common. Even in their appearance differences were radical. Heather was as dark and sombre as the wastelands she had been named after. She was five feet four inches tall, and had a slight tendency towards plumpness, but the kind of plumpness that many men considered voluptuous. Her dark beauty was reminiscent of the ancient Picts. Pagan, on the other hand, was lighter in colour with a fair complexion, stood five feet ten inches tall and while she was also "well padded in the right places", she was more slender and much more supple. While Heather seemed to be the incarnation of the dark, cool night, Pagan with her mass of brilliant flaming hair and sparkling green eyes embodied the exciting brilliance and heat of the day. The bright spring sun danced in her eyes with the joy and rapture of life.
There were other differences between the young women, such as their various tendencies, special interests and leanings in the esoteric arts and sciences, occult myths and facts, but which was interested in what was not immediately apparent.
Heather tended towards the "sweetness and light" approach which involved "new age" spiritualism, herbalism, UFOlogy and the like, while Pagan's interests were primarily centred upon the ancient traditions of magick, ghosts, boglins, shapshifters, werewolves ... and vampires. Pagan was also an avid reader of the works of a deceased British gentleman named Aleister Crowley. Although her interest in the works of To Mega Therion, one of Crowley's magical names, seemed to intensify the darkness that shrouded her fields of interest, this man who had been and continues to be so unfairly slandered, as well as his works, shone like the sun that dispelled the darkness of these subjects - a darkness not necessarily a part of her occult interests but rather generated by the ignorance that surrounded them.
Pagan proudly called herself a Thelemite, a follower of the teachings of Aleister Crowley which are part and parcel of the philosophy of Thelema, the Greek word for "Will" which implies "purpose for existence" or "course in life". This devotion to Crowley and Thelema irritated Heather, who, like so many misinformed individuals, believed the often absurd stores about "A.C." and accepted the appellation hung upon the man by the yellow journalistic press of his day: "the wickedest man in the world." Surely a moniker more suitable for a man like Adolph Hitler than that of an unconventional man ahead of his time.
Together the women were difficult to figure. Heather appeared dark and foreboding while her interests seemed so bright and positive. Pagan, to the uninitiated, struck one as being sanguine and inviting while her interests suggested darkness and negativity. Yet the truth of the matter was that of the two, Pagan's approach to the esoteric was far more rational, more accepting of reality and much better balanced. She recognized and accepted the interplay of the positive and negative in life, the need for this apparent difference, and the fact that nothing was absolutely positive or negative, good or bad - that nothing was absolutely anything on this relative plane of existence. Possessing an excellent sense of justice, of right and wrong, Pagan was of the opinion that good and bad depended very much upon one's point of view. "Dirt," she would brightly say, "is 'good' in the garden, but 'bad' in the kitchen!" And that would pretty much sum it up so far as she was concerned.
Heather, in contrast, despite her basically rational approach to the occult, would proclaim that "God is All, God is Everything", and then practically in the same breath used to announce that "God is Light, God is Love" she would deny that such things as darkness, death, hate and war are parts or aspects of the same God she claimed is everything. Her rational approach from time to time broke down when she was forced to face things she did not wish to accept in life. Heather would turn away from the distasteful rather than face it, accept it as an inevitable part of life, and come to terms with such facts of existences that seemed to her somewhat less than beautiful.
Pagan accepted and loved the essential unity of such concepts as life and death, while Heather feared death, vainly tried to deny death, clinging far too desperately to life. Consequently Heather was often worried sick about one thing or another that she had no immediate control over and such counterproductive worrying tended to have a "negative" effect upon her outlook on life as well as her general physical and emotional well being.
Pagan, on the contrary, loved life and moved through it with joy, taking pleasure in everything - the struggles as much as the joys. Life for her was an eternal play in which she acted, an interaction of apparent opposites for the sake of contrasts, for the sake of being itself, such things as sorrow serving to make the joys of life seem all that much sweeter.
It was Pagan's interest and enthusiasm for adventure, dark and mysterious, which led the two young women into the blighted part of the great city, the rotten core of the big apple. As the sun began its descent in the west the women tramped through the ruins, feeling like the last survivors of a nuclear holocaust. All around them were vacant, half fallen and completely demolished buildings, trash, and the occasional sound of a rummaging stray dog or skittering rat - rats, Heather noted, nearly the size of dogs!
There had been talk in some of the less frequented night spots of the city, the kind of places entered by way of a dingy alley door, of a weird cult operating out of an abandoned theatre in the blighted area. It was rumoured that the members of this cult held their rituals at night only and that they were drinkers of blood - human blood when it could be obtained. The increased number of missing street people in the city, which the authorities paid little attention to being glad to be rid of them, added weight to the rumours in Pagan's mind. The conclusions Pagan reached were inevitable and she felt that investigating this cult might be her only chance to discover just how much of the ancient beliefs were true and how much was sheer nonsense and fancy.
Heather accompanied Pagan more out of friendship than personal interest. Such things as blood-drinking cults did not fit in well with the philosophy of the darker woman. Heather was far more interested in the idea of a wise and humourous discarnate sage speaking through a pretty young woman or handsome young man, so-called "trance channellers". Brightly illuminated "flying saucers" bringing big-eyed "space brothers" to earth to enlighten and guide us was of greater interest to her. Vampires, well, Heather would prefer not to think of such things and leave them to Pagan and Hammer films.
Stealthily the women moved through the ruined quarter of the city. About Pagan's elegant neck there dangled a delicate silver pentagram, an intertwined five-pointed star within a circle, properly consecrated and magically charged according to Thelemic tradition. In her handbag Pagan carried a large calibre automatic. Magick was excellent protection, but sometimes a loaded gun was more effective!
Heather wore about her neck a large ornate crucifix that her mother had given her when she had begun to show an interest in the occult during her high school years. To this she clung desperately as her dark eyes fearfully darted back and forth in the ever increasing gloom.
"Why the hell couldn't we come here in the afternoon?"
"You know as well as I do, Heather, that they sleep during the day and come out at night. Our chances of finding them now are increased since they will be up and about."
Pagan's tread was lighter than her friend's, with less conscious need to be stealthy.
"Well, I hope you don't mind me saying, Pag, but I think you are fucking crazy."
"My goodness!" Pagan replied with mock surprise. "You never learned language like that from your mother!"
"I learned it from you!" replied Heather with a nervous smile.
"Well I'll be damned."
"Most likely," Heather replied, catching Pagan's eyes for a moment.
"Oh ha, bloody ha," Pagan chuckled, "very funny."
The redhead's smile quickly disappeared knowing that the more foul her goody-two-shoes friend's language became the more frightened she was.
"Don't worry so much, Heather. If we find them we'll just watch and listen for a little while from a discrete distance and then get the heck out of here." Pagan shrugged and laughed quietly. "Anyway, it'll probably turn out to be a bunch of teenagers or stoned punks playing satanists, smoking a little pot, popping a few pills and drinking some Mad Dog 20/20 out of a plastic Halloween skull."
"I hope..." Heather began to say, then fell into silence and froze. "Did you hear that?"
"What? Hear what?" Okay, Pagan thought, so the cat's out of the bag. I'm fucking scared too!
"Sounded like a footstep. Behind us. Someone is following us."
"Probably your imagination," Pagan replied none to convincingly.
Then Pagan heard something move slightly in the thick rubble and rubbish behind them that even a cat could not have moved through in absolute silence.
"So did you hear my goddamn imagination that time, Pag?"
"Yeah. Quit thinking so loud." Pagan tried to laugh but found it impossible.
"I thought I heard something before, just outside of that old cathedral. Kind of reminded me of a wooden crate being opened. Then it was quiet before I could mention it."
The women looked at one another apparently competing for Miss Scared-shitless 1988.
"In the immortal words of Sister Mary Elizabeth," Heather said remembering a golden moment from her Catholic school days, "let's get our asses in gear and get the hell out of here!"
"I'm doing just that," the redhead replied, having decided that this was not such a good idea after all, "but I'm taking my pretty little ass that way." She pointed ahead of them in the direction they had been headed. "You can take your fat ass back the way we came if you want to run into whomever it is who may be following us."
"No thanks! And get off my ass. It's not fat."
"Right. 'Pleasantly plump', yeah, I know."
The girls laughed, but only a little and nervously at that, then continued on their way, Heather Christopher's dark eyes occasionally looking behind them as well as ahead.
After a time, Pagan spotted the large looming structure ahead of them, unmistakable even in the darkness of the night which had crept upon them. It was an old abandoned theatre in which the blood-drinking cult was rumoured to hold their nightly rituals.
"This must be the place!" Pagan's smile was a bit shaky. Her full, pouty lips trembled as she moistened them.
"Must be," Heather agreed. Rolling her eyes she added, "And that's why I keep thinking 'Feet don't fail me now!'"
"So which way do you want to go, scardy cat? Back the way we came and probably into the arms of who knows what, or ahead into..."
"The arms of who knows what?" Heather said.
"Want to flip a coin?"
"Why bother? Couldn't see if it was heads or tails in this darkness anyway. It's six to one, half dozen to the other. Let's go Madam Van Helsing!"
And so they went, carefully, entering the lobby of the broken down playhouse.
The sun had just barely set but Drakos could not stay a moment longer than he had to in the wooden box that served him as a coffin. The old crate provided a perfectly light-free environment once the lid was lowered, the crate placed below the main floor of the old cathedral, offering the best protection possible against the sun's rays that he could find in that place.
As Drakos stepped out of the box he instantly sensed mortals nearby. Young, healthy mortals, to judge by the scent of their blood. The scent drove him to distraction and he began to ache with the desire to satisfy his growing hunger, quench his maddening thirst. He fought the urge to attack the mortals who had so unwisely wandered into that blighted area, that desolate urban wasteland. So long as he existed Drakos knew that the urge could never be defeated and that the struggle with it would be an eternal battle to maintian balance - a precarious and dangerous balance.
Carefully Drakos followed the humans, women by the feel of them, but even he found it difficult to move about the rubbish-heaped avenues without making any sound whatsoever. Several times he made noises that to his ears sounded almost deafening, and while Drakos realized that human hearing was inferior to his keen sense he knew that at least once he had to have been heard by the women ahead of him.
What, he wondered, are they doing in this place? Even as he questioned their unusual presence the answer came to him in the few words that they whispered to one another. Their quest was similar to his, only less deadly and more dangerously pursued.
As Drakos followed the women, listening to every whispered word that they exchanged, sensing their intellect, feeling their fear, their excitement, it was easy for him to come to an understanding of their essential natures. Automatically he constructed very accurate character profiles, noting all of the similarities and differences between the two women. By the time they reached the rundown theatre the arch-vampire felt as if he almost knew them - as if he had known them for centuries.
Drakos studied the crumbling façade of the old threatre. Inadvertantly the mortals had led him to the very place he himself had sought. All of his senses told him that this was the place where Demias and many others rested. This was the lair of his enemy.
The scent of tainted vampire blood was heavy in the air.
Although he had been awake for many minutes, his pinkish eyes open in the darkness of the coffin, the albino laid motionless - listening, feeling, taking stock of the changes, the subtle differences in his surroundings.
Mortals had invaded his territory.
And there was another ...
Very carefully, so as not to produce the slightest sound, Demias lifted the lid of his coffin and swung it up on its well-oiled hinges. Silently he commanded the still forms lying all around him on the floor to remain in their places and move not an inch. There were many dozens of them laying on the dirty floor, half on top of one another, looking for all the world like corpses - pale-faced cadavers such as those found in the mass graves and abandoned gas chambers of Nazi concentration camps at the end of the Second World War. Yet as pale and deathly as these creatures, this half-mad, ill-created vampires were, their complexion seemed positively ruddy compared to the whiteness of Demias's flesh.
Silence, my brothers and sister, the vampire mentally commanded. We have intruders and I do not wish to frighten them off. Be still. Move not. I wish to catch these flies that have flown into our web.
His feet barely touching the ground, Demias left the subterranean level of the old theatre and practically glided up the stairs.
Women. Young women, he sensed.
And the other? Different. Not human. Probably one of his kind. A new follower? One who had been converted by another of his kind - an inferior member of his species? Maybe, but there was something familiar about this other - something that stirred ancient memories - memories both good and bad.
With trepidation the women entered the cavernous theatre to scan the aisles, seats and stage with their flashlights in search of any hint of current or previous activity. Heather's beam, defined by the dust-laden air, cut through the darkness and fell upon the grisly remains on the stage. The sight caused both women to gasp in surprise and horror, but to their credit neither screamed like a grade B horror film scream queen. The light seemed attracted to and then became fixated upon the mutilated human head, its staring eyes seeming to implore them to leave before it was too late.
"Oh Jesus," Heather gasped.
"Come on," Pagan said after a moment, dragging her eyes away from the stage, "let's go up to the balcony and hide ourselves."
"I have a better idea," Heather replied. "Let's just get the hell out of here."
"And go where? Back the way we came? Something, we don't know what, may be back there waiting for us, remember?"
"Yeah," Heather agreed, "but while we don't know for certain what is behind us we now have a pretty good idea that whatever is before us is not very pleasant."
"Good point," Pagan agreed, "but unacceptable. We've come this far. I have to go the full distance. Come on." Pagan led the way to the balcony stairs and soon they were hiding themselves behind the short protective wall to look down upon the stage.
Demias stood at the top of the cellar stairs and smiled wickedly.
Good, he thought, you have found excellent seats for the event. Then let the show being.
The albino moved through the theatre unconcerned now about any noise that he might make. As he stepped up to the stage the girls watched him intently, fear gripping their hearts as he raised a dim light on the stage to reveal his incredibly white, fierce features and his long, silky alabaster hair, accentuated by the dark clothing that he wore.
Without having to look in their direction to actually see them, Demias knew the precise location of the mortals. He was, however, confused as to the exact position of the other intruder. The alabaster vampire raised his arms in his characteristic typhonian gesture and called out loudly:
"Awaken my Children of the Night! Come to me oh Forces of Darkness!"
En mass the creatures in the cellar arose and climbed the old stairway. Filing into the theatre their numbers proved great for the playhouse was designed to seat hundreds and it was becoming crowded with the throng of horrible creatures. They had the look and stink of death about them - rotting, decaying death with half-mad faces and either wild or vacant eyes. These caricatures of humanity, these "undead" atrocities did not possess the almost regal appearance and air of the being on the stage, the obvious leader of this great army of vampires.
"Oh Jesus," Heather once again, almost inaudibly, exclaimed.
"Don't bother calling on him," Pagan whispered, "'cause there's no way in hell he's going to come to catch this little show!"
Out of the corner of her eye Pagan caught sight of three creatures coming into the theatre from the lobby, from outside. They were ghastly in appearance but somehow not quite as bad as the majority of the things.
Suddenly her attention was taken away from the trio and drawn to the stage.
"Children of the Night, the sun has again died and before it is reborn we must seek out human life, feed on that life, and free the poor mortals from the hell of existence. Let us, the saviours of humanity, go out among them, but carefully ... carefully ... until our numbers are increased yet further. Take only those stragglers from the human herd who are weak and careless - those who have strayed into our places - those who are alone and unaware of the fate that dogs them."
Demias looked over the eager and the apathetic faces before him, his pale eyes glancing just briefly towards the balcony.
"Now will we take the weak and infirm, the solitary stragglers, the forgotten and unwanted ones. Now we feed on and release from the curse of existence the outcast and unfit, the beggars among humankind. Blesséd are they for the end of horrible life comes to them soonest. But soon, soon my brothers and sisters, we will go out among the others, moving through the streets of the city around us as a great army and nothing ... no one ... can stop us!"
The auditorium was filled with an insane cacophony as the creatures voiced their approval of their master's plan.
"God," Heather whispered, "I wish Gary were here."
"Gary's a self-righteous, pompous, egotistical know-nothing-know-it-all," Pagan replied softly. "Why would you want him here?"
"Because he knows about these ... these things; he was in the army and he works in a munitions factory." Heather held Pagan's look. "And I'd like to see him blow this fucking place straight to hell where it and all these monsters belong!"
Pagan looked away from her friend and back towards the stage. Had the albino glanced up at them? Did he know they were there? A heavy shiver ran up and down her spine.
"Sounds like a good idea to me."
"Now we must go out and quench the thirst," Demias continued, "but we do not have to go far to begin our feeding tonight, brothers and sisters. We have but to feast on what has been provided for us this night." The gruesome audience became agitated, saliva dripping from their mouths and fangs as they looked about their numbers with anticipation and eagerness, just then beginning to sense the human presence in the building. "There!" Demias shouted, one long white finger pointing to the balcony. "There is the first course of this evening's feasting! In the balcony are two mortal women who beg us to release them from the curse of material existence. There! There!
The women panicked, jumped to their feet and began to run for the balcony stairs without realizing that would lead them directly into the clutches of the very beings they hoped to escape. They did not, however, get very far. In their way there stood a man - tall, powerful and dark. His black hair was thick, as was the mustache that drooped over his upper lip. His deep black eyes were piercing and hard. The man was dressed in dark clothing and a long black coat that was unbuttoned and seemed to drape over his shoulders almost as if it were a cloak.
"Not that way!" he hissed. "Slowly back out of here and go right. There you will find another door. Take it. It will be safer." The women just stood there, stunned. The glimpse of white fangs that Pagan noticed did not make it easy for her to trust this stranger, the man who had apparently been following them. "Do as I say. Now! I will distract them. Go. Go, damn you!"
As the women passed by him, brushing against the arch-vampire, Drakos yearned to take them, to bury his fangs into their lovely necks and drain them of every drop of their rich red blood. With great effort of will he restrained himself and focussed his attention on the task ahead of him. Pagan, while passing the vampire, quickly gazed up into his eyes to see the tiny points of fiery red light therein. At the same instant Drakos looked down into her sparkling green eyes, saw the sunlight fixed in them, and felt a trace of something he had not experienced in a very long time. Then they were behind him and doing as he had commanded.
"Demias!" the arch-vampire said, turning to face the stage ahead and below him. "It has been a long time, my friend. I think we have more important things to concern ourselves with than two worthless little mortals."
"Drakos!" the albino hissed. "I felt your presence but I did not recognize it at first. It has indeed been a long time. You did not perish in the catacombs."
"An obvious fact, my friend, but as I have told you, my demise is not so easily won. However, it did take me a long time to heal and my mission was greatly hampered by the lost time."
"Your mission is a farce!" Demias screamed.
"My friend...," Drakos began.
"Stop calling me your friend!" By the constant use of the word and his mere presence Drakos had succeeded in driving Demias to the point of mad distraction. He fairly foamed at the mouth as he screamed up at the arch-vampire, no longer noticing the two women who were backing off of the balcony. The throng of creatures were held in a thrall by the contest of wills between their leader and the intruder. "You seek to kill me, to destroy me. Is that what a friend does?"
"I wish to release you and by so doing free myself a little more from the curse that is ours," Drakos replied. "My desire to free you is not entirely altruistic, admittedly, but I am your friend now more than when you and I were mortal - more so than when I mistakenly made you what you are today."
"Release me from the curse," Demias spat out. (The women were just about off the balcony and into the hallway behind it.) "What curse? This blessing that is ours, Alexandros? You and I, we are gods! And these ... these ...," he spread his arms wide as if to embrace the horrible creatures that filled the theatre, "these are our children, the inheritors of the earth once we have freed the last human parasite from the horror of life."
"You're mad, Demias, my old friend." Demias glared redly up at the balcony as Drakos spoke. "We are not gods," the dark one continued. "We are not even men any longer. We are cursed, diseased things, sub-human, and if life is so horrible that the best we can do for mortals is to kill them then why do you wish to live ... to let live these ... these ... things that you have created?"
"Mad! You call me mad? It is you who is mad, my enemy! You know that we do not live! You know that we, you and I, all of us here, have died! Now we are above life! Free from the restrictions that bring sorrow and unhappiness to the living! We are eternal! Immortal! We are gods!"
"We are not gods, nor are we above life. You and I, my friend, are cursed to wander between life and death. Neither are we alive nor are we dead. We are the undead." Drakos forced himself to take his eyes off of Demias in order to touch upon every accurséd soul in the audience. (Silently he took note of the women's position and urged them on.) "You say we are free from restrictions. What then of the stake which driven through our heart either kills us or places our foul bodies in a state of suspension and paralysis? What of the sun, the rays of which burns our cold flesh? We cannot walk about in the daylight. We cannot move about as freely as mortals can, as the living do. And what sorrow and unhappiness it is to live without feeling the soft caress of the sunlight upon ones face, to see the life about us by the pale reflection of that light from the moon." Drakos looked over the chalky pale, deathly faces of the crowd below which had all turned to look up in his direction. "Eternal? Immortal you call us! The stake, the light of the sun, fire ... these can easily put an end to our gross imitation of immortality! And what of the time when all living mortals are killed? What if you and your children achieve your goal? What then, my friend? To continue this foul existence our kind must begin feeding upon one another for strength and eventually our numbers will decrease as we destroy one another!" His eyes embraced the hideous audience. "All of you ... you will be forced to destroy one another to survive, and yet eventually you will all succumb to the very same fate!" Drakos turned back to Demias, his eyes boring into the albino's. "Do you expect to be the last survivor? How can you bear existence in an empty world, my friend? Friends you may not need, but how will you ever survive without followers? Without worshippers?"
The inhuman audience began to mumble and stir about, looking from one arch-vampire to the other.
"When the last human is freed," Demias said, "after the last of our kind passes away ... then will there be eternal peace on earth. We shall all be one in the Plethora ... and I am that! Existence is the curse and that which courses through our cold veins is the gift of Nonexistence so that with it we may bring all, including ourselves, to it!"
Drakos shook his head sadly. The women are in the hallway heading for the door they had been instructed to take. Good.
"You cannot be reasoned with, my friend. It is the fault of your Christian upbringing and the perversion of wisdom as well as the fault of your unfortunate birth and my mistake."
"It is you who cannot be reasoned with! You are the mad one! You are the defective one! YOU, ALEXANDROS THE DRAGON, MY SWORN ENEMY!"
Some of the creatures in the audience began to notice the disappearance of the women, their hunger for human life stronger than anything else, and to give the women more time Drakos suddenly roared loudly, throwing his head back, baring his fangs, shuddering the very foundation of the building, and then leaped from the balcony to land on his feet amongst the crowd of startled vampires.
Frightened by his sudden display of power, the creatures moved away from Drakos, giving him a wide berth as he walked towards the stage. However, once he had made his way through the crowd of walking corpses, Drakos was surprised to find the stage empty. Demias was nowhere in sight.
Pushing the first several out of his way, Drakos commanded the demonic creatures to move. As they obeyed the command he dashed from the theatre and out into the colonaded lobby. The door he had directed the women to led out into what was once a side alley. Rushing through the front entrance Drakos headed for that side exit.
"Oh God no!" Heather screamed.
She and Pagan stopped abruptly as they exited the building, for standing before them was the white-faced vampire, Demias.
"If you are speaking to me the answer is yes." Demias leaned forward smiling evilly. "Yes," he hissed.
The women tried to turn and run but the vampire was incredibly fast. So quick and smooth did the vampire move that he seemed to simply vanish and then reappear. Pagan began to slowly back away, afraid to take her eyes off of the creature. Heather, she noticed, did not move - her dark eyes held by the creatures blood-red eyes. Pagan grabbed Heather's arm and tried to drag her backwards with her, away from Demias. It was like trying to drag a statue of stone. Heather was powerless in the grip of fear.
So subtly and smoothly did Demias move forward that before Pagan realized how near he was to her friend, Demias reached out with his clawed alabaster hands and grasped the dark woman. Heather did not struggle - she did not even scream, although a shaky sigh escaped her trembling lips - but Pagan screamed and drove herself into the vampire, fists pummelling a body that did not easily feel pain. Demias laughed at the vain attempt to hurt him and while holding the dark woman secure with one slender but powerful hand he swept aside the redhead, throwing her several yards from him and to the rubble-strewn ground.
Pagan's head hit some fallen masonry and she was momentarily dazed. As if through a thick, dark mist, she watched the creature take her friend into its powerful arms. Weakly Pagan called out Heather's name and this seemed to break the spell she was under. Heather struggled and surprisingly managed to break out of the thing's grasp. Her hand automatically went to the large crucifix secured around her neck by a long gold-plated chain, and grasping its lowest end in her fist she held the religious object out towards the vampire in an attempt to ward it off.
Demias laughed, throwing his head back for a moment, then levelling his gleaming red eyes on the woman.
"Superstitious barbarian! The symbol itself means little. What matters is if and how the thing is charged. Whatever ritual blessing this thing received is completely ineffectual." Demias' long pale fingers suddenly reached out. He took hold of the cross and tore it from the woman's neck. Demias held the crucifix before Heather and very deliberately crumbled it in his hand as if it were just so much dry wood.
Heather remained frozen to the spot, her concept of reality destroyed, her ability to think and reason gone. Demias advanced upon her then quickly took Heather, pulling her warm body close to his cold form, bending her head back and baring his fangs. With a sound like that of a striking cobra, he plunged his fangs into the woman's neck. Sharp enamelled daggers drove into Heather's jugular and with a hideous sound the creature began to quickly drain the woman of her hot, salty blood.
Pagan was horrified but unable to control her muscles. She struggled trying to make the necessary mental connections, but there seemed to be a kind of short circuit caused by the blow to her head.
Demias finished with the woman in seconds. His head fell back as he sighed heavily, blood spilling down his chin, his eyes full red and glowing as if they were filled with blood and alight from within. Carelessly he allowed the body to slip out of his hands to fall to the ground. So drained was the corpse that it seemed to almost float to the earth.
"Now ...," Demias began, focussing upon the fallen redhead.
Pagan's vision began to clear. Through a tremendous effort of will she forced herself to make the appropriate mental connections for the desired motor responses. As the vampire slowly moved in on her, Pagan's hand reached into her handbag and from it she pulled the large calibre automatic. "Bastard!" she screamed through clenched teeth then squeezed the trigger - once - twice - three times. The report of the gun was deafening, echoing forever, it seemed, in that lonely man-made wasteland. Each slug hit the creature's body and forced him to jerk back with the impact, but none of them halted his forward movement. As each lead slug invaded his body, Demias smiled and laughed, obviously unhurt - the wounds inflicted upon him healing almost instantaneously.
Demias stood directly over the woman. As he grabbed the gun in Pagan's trembling hand, Pagan squeezed off two more rounds that passed directly through his body with no apparent effect upon him whatsoever.
"A superstitious barbarian and a hopeless rationalist!" Demias laughed. "How dare such foolish mortals waste my time with such stupidity." He pulled the pistol from the woman's hand and squeezed. Metal was compressed as if in a powerful vise and that which Demias threw to the ground hardly resembled the mechanism that it once was. "Must my adversaries always be this easy to defeat?" Demias reached down for the woman's throat. Moving more quickly than he had anticipated, Pagan ripped the silver pentagram from her neck, held it firmly and brought the shiny metal symbol down upon the vampire's hand. As the magically charged silver pentagram made contact with the icy flesh it began to burn into the vampire's hand like heated metal into ice. There was a great deal of smoke and an acrid smell as the vampire leaped backwards, jerking his hand back and screaming in very mortal pain.
"I will kill you for that!" Demias bellowed. "I will tear you apart and make the pain last for an agonizing eternity!"
As he moved forward to make good on his promise, Demias abruptly halted and held himself in check, looked up as if sensing something in the air, showed fear on his enraged face, then looked back to the woman. "Next time, bitch! Next time you die!" Then he was gone. So suddenly, so gracefully did Demias turn and run that to Pagan's sluggish human senses it seemed as if he had simply vanished. Yet as he disappeared Pagan heard the vampire cry out: "To arms, my children! Forces of Darkness, upon the intruders!"
Almost in that same instant, things moving so fast that Pagan's mind could not keep up with the sequence of events, Drakos appeared. It was obvious that he wished to pursue the albino but he too had heard the parting command. Drakos halted, assured himself that Heather was dead, then looked to Pagan. He sensed her mental confusion and dysfunction. She could not outrun the hoard of vampires he felt bearing down on them. She probably could not even stand, he judged.
"You must come with me," Drakos said, reaching down to the woman. She hesitated, aware that at least in essence this dark man was no different than the other. "Yes. I am like them, but not one of them. I seek their destruction. I will not harm you." Drakos looked up. The creatures had erupted from the theatre's front doors and were about to round the corner. "Come," he commanded, his dark eyes blazing redly in the night, and she obeyed.
However, before Drakos could whisk the girl away the mindless aberrations were upon them. Fiercely the vampire pushed the woman behind him and faced the hoard. He bared his fangs, eyes burning with hellish intensity, and roared angrily, shattering the air about them, slowing down the onrushing monstrosities. Then Drakos reached out and in both powerful hands grasped two of the things, lifted them over his head and threw them to either side as if they were nothing but rag dolls. Once creature landed roughly, cracking his skull wide open upon jagged stone work. After a moment he regained his feet and stood uncertain as to what he should do next, blood and brains oozing down the side of his corpse-like face. The other creature was not so lucky - or he was luckier depending upon ones point of view. This one was instantly impaled upon a split two-by-four, its rough point thrusting up from a heap of rubble. The creature's body jerked spasmodically before hanging limp in final death.
Again Drakos reached out to grasp one of the creatures, a female this time, newly infected with the disease. He took her in one hand, bent her head back and plunged his razor-sharp fangs into her neck. In moments he had drained her of the tainted blood that coursed through her veins, releasing her from the curse, and then Drakos dropped the empty carcass to the earth.
"Who is next?" Drakos roared. "Who? Who? I thirst for more blood!"
The mindless monstrosities shifted about, daring not to move any closer towards the arch-vampire. Leaderless, far weaker than the being that now stood before them, they were uncertain as to what they should do next. Drakos, however, was very certain about his next move. If he gave them enough time to think with their dull half-moronic brains they would eventually realize that the odds were in their favour and by sheer numbers alone they could overcome and defeat the arch-vampire. Therefore, without wasting another moment, Drakos turned, took the woman in his arms as if she weighed practically nothing, and ran from the blighted area.
Pagan's mind was a muddle of confusion, events being so outrageously unnatural and occurring so quickly. Before she could even begin to assess her situation, Pagan had been scooped up into the arms of a demon who moved with incredible velocity through the chilly night, the wind rushing coldly over her face to revive her confused mind. Desperately she clung to the dark man's neck, her arms wrapped around him. So fast did this being move, his fierce dark face concentrated upon the way ahead of them, that his feet hardly seemed to touch the earth. He was, in fact, moving so swiftly that in places where there was soft earth Drakos failed to make even the slightest impression.
After what seemed paradoxially like a breathlessly brief eternity, the arch-vampire slowed his pace until finally he came to a stop many miles from the old theatre.
"Do you think you can walk now?" The woman nodded, too breathless to speak. He set her down upon her feet, catching her as she nearly fell. Soon Pagan steadied herself and was able to stand unaided. "In the rush to get you out of there I gave no thought as to where I was taking you." Drakos looked into the night sky. "Sunrise will come sooner than I like." He looked back towards the girl with the sunlight in her eyes. "I have no place to rest ... nowhere to go to escape the sunlight."
"I - I understand," Pagan replied, licking her wind-dried lips. "I have a loft. In the city. Not far from here."
"I must have a place completely secure from sunlight in which to rest."
"Yes. I know. I am not unfamiliar with ... with ..."
Drakos smiled, almost warmly.
Yes." Pagan smiled nervously. "That is to say, I am intellectually familiar with vampirism."
"Now you are more intimately familiar with the subject. I hope you will not be too disappointed to learn that some of the stories about us are pure fable." Again the vampire smiled, the warmth increasing a little, and the woman responded with a less nervous smile of her own. "Take me to this loft of yours and show me where I may rest."
"Can we talk along the way?"
Drakos looked behind him to see if the creatures were following and sensed that they had instead dispersed, then he looked to the sky again and quickly calculated the duration of the night that was left.
"I think we have the time. And this may be your only chance to learn something about us firsthand. How could I deny the pursuit of knowledge? It is, after all, one of the few benefits I have enjoyed as a result of this curse ... many lifetimes to learn many things. I have survived an inhumanly long time to acquire knowledge. The least I can do for the ...," he smiled grimly, "the less fortunate is to share some of that knowledge I have acquired."
And so as they slowly walked to Pagan's apartment, the vampire's appearance having become more human so as not to attract too much unwanted attention, the woman asked many questions of Alexander Drakos.
Of the many things they talked about it was a simple personal anecdote that most interested Pagan.
"Aleister Crowley?" Drakos said. "Yes. I met the man. He was most impressive. I don't mean that merely in the physical sense - his height, those interesting eyes, that sort of thing - but in a more subtle sense that you mortals only barely perceive. Of course you must realize that our meeting was brief and I am not sure if he fully understood my nature or not. His mind was one of the most complex I have ever encountered. Yet it was quite enough time for me to come to the realization that this was indeed a very unique and special human being. One that should be more honoured than he is today.
"It is a shame," Drakos continued, "that he could not have the vampire's span of years, that he had to die at the tender age of only seventy-two in ... when was it?"
"1947 era vulgari," Pagan answered Thelemically.
"Yes," Drakos mused. Seems like only yesterday."
It was not until they had reached the spacious flat that the impact of Heather's death struck Pagan with full force. She wept bitterly, at one point almost hysterically, in the vampire's arms. Longing to hold the woman in his arms forever, Drakos sighed, looked down into her tear-filled green eyes that reminded him of the sunlight after a spring rain, and after wiping her tears away asked where he might rest, safe from the sun and all possible intrusion. Pagan, controlling her sorrow admirably, led the vampire to an inner room. It was small and windowless as well as pefectly empty. This room Pagan used for meditaiton purposes. It was a room she had never before allowed anyone else to enter, but which she was pleased to share with Drakos.
Pagan provided the vampire with a heavy blanket to drape over the door so that any indirect sunlight that might show through the spaces between the door and doorjamb would be blocked out. She also provided him with the old fashion key so that he could lock the door from within.
"Do you require anything else?" she asked.
"No," the vampire smiled, knowing what was on her mind. "Even if it were necessary, you could not provide me with soil from my native land and a coffin is unnecessary. It is only important that I do not come into direct contact with the sun's rays. A bit of indirect sunlight, for a short time, may not harm me much, although it would be most uncomfortable. However," he said, looking the empty room over and taking the heavy blanket in his hands, "even that should not be a problem here. Thank you very much, Pagan."
The woman turned to leave, stopped, then turned back to the vampire.
"Alexander, it was stupid of me to go to that place. I above all others should have known better, but I ... I guess I thought deep down inside that there were no such things as ... as vampires. I suppose I really expected to find only a group of drug addicts playing devil worshippers."
"I wish that were indeed the case."
Yeah. Me too. Anyway ... thank you for saving my life."
"Thank you for saving mine." He glanced at the room then back at her.
Drakos thought to warn Pagan of how many times he had considered taking her life as he held her in his arms, felt her heart beating against his chest, felt the warmth of her mortal body, almost tasting the hot saltiness of her blood in her scent, but that, he decided, would have been unwise. She might then have second thoughts about harbouring such a monster as he felt himself to be.
"You will take care of the matters we discussed?"
"Gary? Yes. Of course. After all, I have a score to settle with those ... those things."
"Good. Then I can trust you to complete the task well before nightfall so that you will be in as little danger as possible?"
"Yes. Certainly, Alexander."
"I do not think Demias will rest in the theatre this day. He will be far from there. He may, in fact, never return. He may leave the city entirely at sunset."
"I'm sorry, Alexander."
"There is nothing that can be done about it," the vampire shrugged. "The others will surely return to their habitual resting place, however. They are too dull-witted to do otherwise. And who knows? Demias just may return to them after all. They are his army and I sensed that he is growing impatient and that he would not then be willing to start over again, not after all of the previous setbacks he has experienced."
"You can trust me, Alexander."
"I know I can," Drakos smiled, a warmth he had not felt in ages growing within him more and more with each moment that he shared with the mortal.
The dark man suddenly grabbed the doorjamb feeling dizzy, weak and very tired.
"It is very near to sunrise. I must shut myself away now and rest."
"Will you dream?"
"Oh yes. I will dream. But how I wish that I would not. Such dreams that haunt my rest, my sleepless rest, would drive most mortals insane. You cannot imagine how much I desire sweet oblivion, Pagan. To close my eyes and experience absolutely nothing, to become nothing, to become non-existence itself. If the stake could give me that I would thrust it into my own accurséd heart." The weakness again came upon him as he slumped against the doorjamb. Pagan rushed forward and grabbed ahold of his arm as he began to slide to the floor. When she looked up into his tired eyes he saw the tears running afresh from those sparkling jade pools of exquisite life. These tears, he knew, were not tears of self-pity, nor tears of sorrow over the loss of her friend. These tears were for him and he thought about how long, how dreadfully long it had been since anyone had shed a tear for him. "I must ..."
"I know," Pagan replied quietly, releasing him. She seemed to regret the broken physical contact almost as much as he regretted it.
Without another word, Drakos closed the door between them, hung the thick blanket in place, and stretched out on the floor of the absolutely dark room. Immediately he fell into a troubled but refreshing rest, safe from all danger, protected by the cool darkness and the love of a mortal woman.
"Incendiary devices? Is that what you want from me!"
And they were off. It took Pagan the better part of the morning to explain to Gary what she wanted, little knowing herself just exactly what it was she wanted, and then after Gary's explanations as to why he could not get the napalm bombs, why it was impossible ot simply walk off with timers, Pagan resorted to the oldest trick in the book. She cried. Gary, a dark-haired man going bald, caved in nicely.
"Okay, okay. Please stop crying, Pag. Listen, I can't get anything out of stock as everything is so carefully inventoried."
"But you are in charge of the inventory ...," she whimpered, sniffling, wiping a tear from her big green eyes, "aren't you?"
"Well ... yes ... but ..."
She began to sob again.
"Okay. All right. Listen, there is something I can do. I just have to juggle a few numbers around, that's all. The timers will be easiest of all since we have an ample stock of those plastic digital things. But you gotta remember that this stuff is dangerous to have around. We have a kind of jellied gasoline, you know, like the stuff used in flamethrowers, partly a combination of naphthenic and palmitic acids. It's not the kind of stuff you leave laying around."
Pagan blew her Irish nose in a ladylike fashion.
"The devices I can get you are obsolete now and no one wants them. They've been sitting around here for a long time. Slated for destruction. Some of it may not even be any good. Only one way to find out." Gary, who was always eager to do favours for Pagan without thinking to ask about them, began to think. After all, Pagan had not just asked to borrow his tennis racket. She wanted goddamn incendiary devices! "Pagan, just what the hell do you want this stuff for anyway?"
And that led to another round of debate and tears.
"Vampires! Freakin' vampires! You gotta be kidding!"
When Pagan explained that Heather had been killed, telling Gary the whole story ... almost the whole story ... he finally agreed to help her if, as she said she could, Pagan would prove that they were real life (excuse the pun, he said) vampires.
Gary was not seriously worried about being attacked by vampires. He accepted the possibility that Heather had been killed, probably in some kind of an accident, but thought that perhaps feeling guilty for her death Pagan's imagination had gone wild in search of a scapegoat. The worst he felt he had to worry about was being arrested for disturbing the peace, unlawful possession and use of explosive devices, or something of that nature. He knew the area she was talking about, the place where the old theatre stood and where Heather was supposed to have been killed. It was a wasteland on the edge of the city. If the building turned out to be empty, filled only with the creatures that haunted Pagan's imagination, then no real damage would be done. And anyway, working around all that stuff and never getting to play with any of it, well, maybe it would be kind of fun. Like setting off firecrackers when he was a kid.
That afternoon Pagan and Gary drove as near to the old playhouse as they could. The rubble forced them to hike the last few blocks. In backpacks they carried the devices and timers. Once Gary had to make a quick lunge for Pagan as she stumbled and nearly fell. In seconds he was bathed in perspiration at the mere thought of what could have happened if she had fallen on the backpack - and that made Pagan nervous about the explosives they were carrying.
At the threatre, although not really wanting to, Pagan searched for the remains of her roommate. She was both relieved and disheartened to discover only a little dried blood and the chain to which Heather's crucifix was once attached. She also found what remained of the crucifix itself, and while Gary seemed somewhat impressed he remained unconvinced. After all - vampires? an army of vampires?
Pagan looked up into the face of the sun then back down at Gary.
"You want proof?" Sure, he said, his concern for her sanity growing. "Then come on ... but we have to hurry. We have a lot of work to do and I want to get the hell out of here before sundown. Besides, at sundown I have to be there when my friend arrives." She had explained a great deal of the occurrances of the previous night, but Pagan wisely left out all references to Drakos. How could she explain him? How could she explain that she had befriended a vampire? Pagan realized that the story as she told it to Gary was already rather difficult for him to accept. If, to get him to go through with everything that had to be done, she had to tell him about Drakos, Pagan would then tell him everything.
Stealthily, more nervous now than Gary had been when she stumbled, Pagan led him into the theatre. She remembered where she had first seen Demias and had already reasoned that the others, perhaps even Demias himself, no doubt rested in the cellar of the building. They made their way down the cellar stairs, Gary nearly falling through a rotten step, just barely catching himself on the railing, then the two of them froze toward the bottom of the stairs and gasped in complete amazement and horror. The sight was awesome, horrible, incredible. The large cellar, pitch dark, stank to high heaven - or perhaps more accurately, it stank like hell. When they played the beams of their flashlights over the floor (Pagan had brought them along for just this purpose) the light revealed literally hundreds of bodies overlapping one another like maggots on a piece of rotting meat - fortunately motionless and obviously unaware of their presence.
"Oh Christ! What killed them?"
Pagan looked up into Gary's horror-stricken face.
"Demias ... but they are not exactly dead. Look again. Look at their mouths ... their faces."
Gary, holding down his bile with a herculean effort, turned the light upon the faces of some of the nearest corpse-like things at the bottom of the stairway. The light glistened on moist fangs that protruded over blood-stained lips, blood smeared around their mouths and chins, soaking their filthy, ragged clothing. This was too much for Gray. Abruptly he ran to the top of the stairs and vomited. Pagan, although she did not enjoy being left alone in the cellar and felt no better than Gary, gave him a few moments before joining him at the top of the stairs.
"Are you all right?" she asked, clutching her own stomach.
"This is bloody insane!"
Pagan was tempted to ask "Pun intended?" but decided against it. Gary was in no mood for humour.
"Maybe," Pagan agreed, "but crazy or not it's true. How else could you explain what you just saw? Even if they are only lunatics who think that they are vampires, do you want them running around loose?"
"There are hundreds of them!"
"I know." The redhead glanced back down the black pit at the bottom of the stairs and then back up at Gary. He looked almost as pale as the stinking things in the cellar. "Do we have enough of this stuff?" She shrugged her shoulders to indicate the backpack full of explosives.
"Yeah. Sure. If any of it works, and I sure in hell hope that it does!"
"Come on then," said Pagan, "and let's start placing the charges the way you showed me to."
"I gotta put some down there."
"In the cellar?" Pagan asked with wide-eyed surprise.
"Yeah. I don't want to ... believe me! ... but we gotta make sure those goddamned things are burned to a crisp. I'll put some down there as far as I can reach from the stairs and just under the steps, then we'll place them around the building, inside."
"Sure you're up to it?"
"Shit no. I'd puke again but it hurts too much. This if freakin' crazy!"
Pagan only nodded. What else could she say? It was freakin' crazy.
By late afternoon their work was completed and evening was fast approaching.
Gary insisted upon going home with her, said he could not stand the thought of being alone at night, so on the way to her loft she saw no other choice but to tell him everything she had held back before. Two things in particular worried him a lot. One was that she had befriended one of those things and that the thing was taking a little beauty rest in her flat, and the other was that she was determined to return to the old theatre that night to make sure that the job they had done that afternoon was not wasted effort. Gary did not like any of it.
From a window that faced west, Pagan watched the last red rays of the sun fade to a shade of deep indigo while Gary sat next to her staring at the locked door in her loft. As the last bit of light seemed to melt out of existence in the sky, the two of them heard some stirring about in the small windowless room. There was a sound like that of curtains being taken down - the blanket over the door, Pagan remembered - and then the key being turned in the lock. As the door opened Gary clutched the arms of the chair, his knuckles white with the tension. When Drakos stepped into the artificial light of the loft Pagan smiled, truly glad to see him and to know that he was all right. Even Gary felt a modicum of relief at the sight of the tall dark man with the thick black mustache. He had expected to see one of those corpse-like creatures come lurching woodenly out of the room. Drakos looked almost - normal - practially human.
Yet there was something about those cold black eyes that sent a chill up Gary's spine.
"Pagan," Drakos said in acknowledgement, with as much warmth as seemed possible for him, then his eyes turned towards the man. "This must be your friend, Gary."
Gary tried to say hello but found that his throat was too dry to speak.
"A recent convert,"Pagan quipped.
Drakos raised his dark eyebrows.
"You went into the theatre then?" Pagan lowered her head like a little girl who knew that she had been bad and said yes. "Well, no harm done. I thought that you might have to in order to acquire Gary's assistance. Those aberrations, in their stupor, probably could not have sensed your presence. However, if Demias had been there ... well ... he would have known you were present and he may have been able to do something about it. You were lucky."
"Even in his state of torpor?" Pagan was amazed.
"Yes. The more ancient, more powerful of our kind need not be completely restricted to the physical body to be aware of what is going on in the physical world and effect changes in it. We do not sleep as mortals sleep, and the more ancient ones, such as myself and Demias, rest like wild jungle beasts - always aware of our surroundings and ready to react whenever danger threatens." Drakos glanced at Gary and then back to Pagan. "Had Demias been present when you invaded his resting place I daresay neither of you would be here now."
Pagan and Gary exchanged looks and seeing the expression upon his face she very much regretted involving him in all of this. Gary, she thought, might never recover from what he saw, what he had learned this day, and his perception of life would forever be darkened by it. As for Pagan herself, as frightened as she was, as paranoid as it made her feel, it was in a way thrilling. The adventure was for her like an adult version of a rollercoaster ride with the added feature of having had some of her wildest sounding beliefs proven to be facts. In one night, beyond all doubt, the reality of vampirism and the efficacy of magick had been prove to her.
Drakos stepped over to the window and looked out over the city. Gary shrank away from him, Drakos ignoring it, accepting it as a normal human reaction, but Pagan drew closer to him. If Pagan had reacted to his presence as Gary had Drakos realized that it would have bothered him - hurt him. He was relieved and pleased that Pagan reacted to him as she did. He was also very concerned for her.
"I have seen many cities, all over the world, thoughout the centuries, like this ... at night," Drakos then stared out into space, "but it has been a very long time since I have seen the sunlight dance upon water, and never have I seen its reflection in so much glass. Think of that, Pagan. Think of all the times you have looked out over the city and seen the sunlight dancing on the windows. You have buildings out there that look as though they are made of glass, made of pure crystal. How beautifully the sun must illuminate those surfaces. This city must look like a giant's collection of precious jewels in the light of day. All that glass, the polished metal and the colours ..."
"I never thought of it that way," Pagan said, looking out over the twinkling city lights. "I guess I never really saw the city before ... not like that ... but you are right, Alexander. I tend to think of it mostly from the street level. I see only the litter in the streets, the air pollution, the dirt and the filth. I never thought of it as a cache of diamonds, emeralds and rubies, but you are right. It does look something like that from up here during the day."
The vampire turned and looked down into the tall woman's green eyes - the eyes that held sunlight in them.
"I wish that I could show you things as I see them in my mind as well as with my eyes, Pagan. I wish ..." He turned away to look back out of the window.
"What?" she asked, her voice soft, resting her hand upon his arm. "What do you wish, Alexander?"
"It does not matter. Forget it." For a moment Pagan felt genuine warmth emanating from this - this man - but now he had become cold again, aloof and impersonal. She knew that he had closed a door within his heart, a door he did not realize could even be opened, and that he had closed the door thinking only of her safety, her happiness - not his own. "We have already wasted too much time. Are you sure you want to come along?"
"And you, Gary, will you be joining us or do you prefer to remain behind?"
Gary looked at the tall man then glanced in Pagan's direction.
"I won't think ill of you if you stay here, Gary." Pagan smiled with complete understanding.
"No," Gary said. "No, I won't be staying behind. I'm coming. Pagan may need me. The explosives might need a little coaxing if they don't detonate. And you might be busy with ... with ..."
"Demias," Drakos said. "His name is Demias, and he was once a very close friend of mine."
"Yes," Gary replied. "I know. Pagan told me all about it. Everything you told her."
Drakos turned to the woman, a brief look of anger in his eyes, then it was gone. He shrugged and smiled as best he could. "It is well that she did. You should know everything now that we have dragged you into the midst of this hell."
"So," Pagan said as brightly as she could, "let's get a move on, guys! All this talk, talk, talk is starting to bore me to tears. Let's have a little action!"
There were tears in Pagan's eyes as she began to realize that once this night was done, if all went well and they could walk away from it, she would probably never see Alexander Drakos again.
Evening was but half an hour old, but soon, Drakos assured them, the creatures would arise from their rest. "The younger ones, especially those who have been ill-conceived such as these monstrosities, take longer to come out of their torpid state. The more carefully conceived, more ancient vampires become alert much more quickly after the sun's setting, while those who are more ancient still ..."
"Like you and Demias?"
"Yes, Gary, those who are like us are always alert, and we become instantly active when the last ray of sunlight is gone."
Gary checked his wristwatch.
"Very soon now." They were a safe distance from the old theatre, behind the cover of a partially standing wall. Gary noticed the arch-vampire's expression. It was as if he were listening to something that neither Gary nor Pagan could hear. "What is it?"
"They are coming out of it. I think you set the timers perfectly."
"I hope Demias gets here soon," Pagan remarked. "I want to see that bastard get his."
"He may not return, Pagan." Drakos continued to watch the building while keeping his senses alert for the approach of Demias which he too hoped for. "He knows that he may be walking into a trap if he does return."
"And if he does return to the theatre?"
"Demias," Drakos answered, "would probably sense the explosive charges and flee from the building before they can do their job."
"And the others?" Gary asked.
"Too dull. Essentially moronic. They will not know about the explosives until it is too late."
Gary checked his watch again.
"Ten, nine, eight ..." he began to countdown.
The sounds of movement in the playhouse were increasing, so much so that the man and woman now heard them.
"Seven, six, five ..."
A creature, then another, stepped outside and stood at the entrance. They seemed to be looking for something - for someone - Demias, who was nowhere in sight.
"Stay there," Pagan whispered tensely. "Stay there."
"Four, three ..."
There was a sound behind them. Pagan jumped, as did Gary although he coutinued counting down the seconds out of habit.
"Two, one ..."
As Drakos turned to look behind them there was a hissing sound that reminded Pagan of a huge threatening cat - a very fierce and unnatural cat.
It was Demias.
"Zero!" Gary called out.
Nothing. No explosion. Three more of the creatures stepped out of the building.
Demias, instantly aware of the nature of the situation, threw his head back and laughed maniacally.
Had he arrived earlier and disarmed the incendiary devices?
Suddenly there was a terrific explosion. The wasteland was illuminated as if by a tremendous bolt of lightning as the entire theatre was enveloped in a massive ball of blue-white fire. The creatures who had been standing just outside of the building were shot forward, their clothing, their half-decayed flesh on fire. For a long time after the initial explosion the creatures ran about wildly, screaming insanely, then finally fell to the earth to quietly burn to a fine ash that was scattered by the hot wind evoked by the blast.
The explosion pushed a wall of searing hot air away from it. The force of the concussion was so great that part of the wall that the humans and the vampire had taken shelter behind fell, but fortunately without serious damage to them. Despite the force of the blast Demias remained standing atop the heap of fallen bricks and masonry, staring with horrified eyes at the slaughter of his precious Forces of Darkness, his Children of the Night. In one fell swoop Drakos had engineered the destruction of all his work - again.
"Damn you, Drakos! Damn your ignorant interference!"
The explosion died down but still the flames burned brightly, turning from a bluish white to red, orange and yellow, the flickering light casting an eerie surrealistic illumination over the man-made wasteland and the creature of the night that stood before and above them.
"You will pay for this, Drakos! First I will kill the man and then ... then I will take the woman as my mate." The albino's eyes glowed redly. "And then I will release you, my old friend, from the curse of existence."
"You can make my existence more hellish, Demias, but you cannot so easily destory me. I wish that you could. As for these mortals ... they are under my protection and I will allow no harm to come to them."
"Especially the woman," Demias said lewdly. Drakos remained silent. "Oh, I know, I know. We are very much alike, you and I, and I know what you are feeling. I know that as much as it is possible for our kind you ..."
"Silence!" Drakos commanded.
Demias laughed again - it was a sound even more hellish than the screams of the dying creatures, those who had not been instantly incinerated.
All of a sudden Demias stopped laughing, levelled his gaze upon the three of them, roared, showing his sharp teeth and fangs and flew at the trio.
Drakos pushed both Pagan and Gary to one side, leaping to the other side himself so that Demias missed them all and crashed into what was remaining of the wall. Quickly he turned about ready to spring upon them again. First he looked towards the humans, wishing to do as he had threatened, but then he turned towards the arch-vampire knowing that it was him that he had to deal with first.
As Demias stood there, crouched like an animal about to spring forth, fangs bared, growling deep in his throat, hands clawed and ready to rip and rend, Drakos straightened, pulling himself erect to well over six feet. As he did so, as the two arch-vampires squared off, Pagan and Gary watched in fascination the transformation their associate underwent. Gradually the dark eyes began to glow with a crimson fire until they had the appearance of fiercely burning embers. The two fangs in his upper jaw seemed to elongate and become much sharper, while the fingernails on his powerful hands also grew longer and sharper, giving his hands the appearance of claws, the fingernails seeming to be as thick as talons. The stern features of their protector took on an almost insanely beastial appearance, seeming less human and far more demonic. Drakos' long black coat, almost never buttoned, billowed out in the heated breeze, giving him an almost bat-like appearance - a horrible combination of man and beast.
Demias screamed like an outraged banshee and dove straight into Drakos. The struggle began as clawed hands ripped clothing and flesh - sharp teeth and fangs sought out soft flesh to tear.
Like two demons in hell the vampires fought, Drakos too involved in the struggle to pay any attention to whatever else might be going on around him - the two humans enthralled by the inhuman spectacle. Neither were aware of the movement on the other side of the half-fallen wall. Neither Drakos nor Pagan had remembered the three creatures who had entered the theatre the night before, not from the building's cellar, but from without.
Without warning Pagan and Gary were grabbed from behind by two of Demias' lieutenants, creatures conceived with more care than those that had perished in the explosion. The third one, a female, stood before the captive humans, grinning evilly. She grasped Gary's throat in her hand - fingernails like razor-sharp stilettoes. Pagan screamed and it was only then that Drakos became aware of the presence of the other three vampires.
Before Drakos could do anything the female's hand went up into the air and then quickly swept down in an arc, the talon-like fingernails slicing through the man's neck, producing spouting gouts of blood that she then locked her mouth over.
Drakos turned to his antagonist, growled and with a burst of power thrust him far back into the darkness, slamming his white body against a half-fallen brick wall. As quickly as he could, Drakos turned upon the three that held the humans. Sensing him the female turned in his direction, blood smearing the lower part of her face, covering her half-exposed breasts and abdomen. Howling, she leaped away from her victim and at the arch-vampire. As her clawed hands dug into his neck, Drakos took both sides of her head in his hands - and squeezed. The female creature took her hands away from his throat and began beating his face and chest frantically as Drakos continued to apply pressure on her skull. Literally lifting the creature into the air, Drakos continued to add pressure. The thing screamed horribly as its arms and legs jerked with lessening strength until finally there was a terrific cracking sound as her skull was crushed. Blood poured out of the limp body's mouth, eye sockets, nose and ears. In disgust Drakos gave the head a quick twist, ripping it from the limp body, which dropped to the ground, and cast the foul head from him to level his burning gaze upon the creatures that held his human companions.
The humans were suddenly released. Pagan ran some distance from her captor while the remains of Gary fell to the earth. They drove forward, screeching insanely, but when they reached the spot where Drakos had been they found, much to their surprise, that he was no longer there. Stupidly they looked to one another and then they were grabbed by the neck from behind and lifted into the air. The more ancient vampire was swifter than these hapless creatures and it had been an easy thing for him to elude them.
Throwing one of the vampires hard against the wall to stun him, Drakos took the other and began forcing him down upon a stack of fallen, split timber. The creature's eyes widened in horror as it saw the wooden point coming closer to its chest and he tried to push himself away from the stake. However, Drakos was relentless and his strength was far greater. He pushed, once being attacked from behind by the other vampire, warned by a scream from Pagan, but he backhanded the attacker and knocked him away. With an extra effort Drakos jerked the creature forward impaling him on the splintered wood, the rough point tearing through cursed flesh, shattering the heart muscle, and erupting from the thing's back, dripping with its tainted blood.
As Drakos turned around the remaining vampire again came at him, clutching fingers locking on the arch-vampire's throat. Almost instantly the thing suddenly froze, an expression of shock and terror on its hideous visage. The hands relaxed on Drakos' throat and he pulled away from the creature. Behind it stood Pagan, dirty and smeared with blood. In her hand was a long broken rod, a bit of debris she had picked up from the ground. This she had thrust into the creature's back and with Drakos a safe distance from the thing she cursed, and with all of her strength thrust it the rest of the way through, piercing the heart and then the chest cavity altogether. Still Pagan would not let go of the rod and she pushed again, then twisted, cursing at the thing the whole time, murder and hysteria in her eyes.
Drakos had to pry her hands free and pull her away from the rod.
The vampire walked woodenly about for a moment, blood pouring out of it, the rod driven through it, then the thing fell to the ground and ceased moving.
In the distance Drakos could hear approaching sirens. No doubt police and fire engines. They had to get out of there, and fast, but it would do no good to leave the bodies, in the condition that they were in, laying about.
"Pagan. Pagan!" Her green eyes turned to look dully at Drakos. "Are you all right? Pagan?"
"Y - yes," she answered in a drowsy manner. "All right. All right."
"I'm going to take these bodies and throw them into the fire. I want you to wait for me on the other side of this wall, in the open so that I can keep my eye on you. Do you understand?"
"Understand," she said as if half asleep.
Drakos dragged the two male corpses to the fire and pitched them in as Pagan stood where she had been told, out in the open. Then he went back for the female's body and the corpse of Pagan's friend.
"No," she said, "not Gary. Please, not Gary."
"It will be better if I do. The more of a mystery all of this is to the authorities, the less they know, the better ... for you, for myself, for everyone."
Pagan looked up into his dark face, tears in her eyes, took one last fond look at Gary's body and then nodded in assent.
Drakos tossed the female creature's body into the raging flames as if it were so much garbage to be disposed of, then as gently as he could, laid Gary's form in the fire.
"I'm sorry," he quietly said. "I should have made you and the girl stay behind. There was no real need for you to be here tonight."
Drakos turned to look at the woman.
"I know. I heard them earlier. Sirens. We must get out of here."
"I think I can make it," Pagan said as he came up to her.
"I know you can," he smiled, then lifted her into his arms, "this way."
Drakos took one last look behind him at the raging inferno then looked ahead to where he had last seen Demias. The albino vampire, during Drakos' struggle with his lieutenants, had taken the opportunity to escape. He had been willing to sacrifice the three from the very beginning for just such a purpose and that was one of the reasons he had them quartered elsewhere.
"You lost Demias," said Pagan. "It's my fault."
"No. Not your fault. Mine. I made another mistake. I should have known better. I should have remembered those three."
Flashing lights became visible as police cars and fire trucks tried to make their way to the burning building. They would eventually give up and be content to stand by just in case, secure in the fact that there was nothing of worth anywhere near the burning structure in the blighted area. Their inability to get close to the fire gave Drakos plenty of time to run away from the scene, unnoticed, with Pagan in his arms. Based upon rumour and supposition, the fact that several bodies had been identified via dental records as runaways, criminals and street people, the authorities were quick to conclude that the bodies found in the remains of the old theatre were members of some weird devil worshipping cult. They told the press that there must have been some kind of an accident with explosive devices that they were apparently storing in the abandoned theatre and then quickly closed the case without further inquiry. There were, of course, no signs of fanged teeth during the dental examinations since the vampires resumed their human appearance upon death, and there was nothing left to suggest that things had been other than they had been portrayed as being.
Most of the bodies were never identified, among them the remains of Heather and Gary. both were later reported missing and at the insistance of Alexander Drakos, Pagan said nothing about them to the authorities. He had even coaxed her into helping him remove and dispose of Heather's belongings and lie to the police officers, telling them that Heather had left while she was away, leaving no note of explanation. Perhaps the police would conclude that Heather and Gary had run off together. Pagan and Drakos left it up to their imaginations ... if they even bothered to give it any thought.
Within a week the fire and the deaths, as well as the disappearances that were apparently unrelated, were forgotten by the general public as well as the authorities.
But Pagan would never forget.
Alexander Drakos stood at the window overlooking the city lights. Pagan came up to him, resting her hand on his arm. He did not turn around to look at her, but she noticed that his jaw set more firmly.
"I know," she said quietly. "You have to go. You have stayed here too long. Demias and the others are still out there ... somewhere ... and you won't be free of the curse until you can stop them, until you can release all of them."
"Pagan, I ...," but he did not finish what he was going to say.
"I know that too, Alexander, and I feel the same way." Her voice faltered. "And I realize that you can't stay, that it's all ... impossible."
Drakos turned, taking her shoulders in his powerful hands, and looked down into her eyes. Therein the sunlight still danced, the only sunlight he had seen for an incredibly long time, but now there were also shadows flitting about in those jade green eyes. They were the shadows of memory, of horrors she had witnessed, forever imprinted upon her mind, her very soul. More than at any time before the vampire felt like weeping, crying for the woman's lost innocence, for the marring of her beautiful, brilliant soul - but cry he could not. Oh, the tears welled up in his eyes, but they would not fall - could not fall. And even if he could weep for this woman he refused to do so - at least in front of her.
If only ... If only it were possible to ... But no. It was impossible. It was selfish and certainly not in the woman's best interests.
Reading his thoughts in his eyes, tears in her own eyes, Pagan said, "Alexander, it is possible. It is. Make me like you, then together we can ..."
"No!" Roughly he pushed her away from him and turned back to the window. "Never! I will not enslave you to the very curse I am myself trying to break free of. You don't know what you are suggesting. It would change you. You would cease to be the person you are, Pagan. I will not do it! I cannot do it! Not you! Never you, Pagan. I have brought enough harm to you already. Two of your friends are dead because of me and you have been marked forever by all that has occurred. I refuse to make matters any worse because I ... I ... Never, Pagan!" Fiercely he turned upon her. "Absolutely never, do you understand?"
"Yes. Of course I do and of course you are right. But it is just so hard." Pagan put her arms around him, pressing the side of her face to his chest. Hesitantly the arch-vampire put his own arms around her and for a long time they stood there in each other's embrace. After a time he broke away from the woman. Without a word Drakos walked to the door.
"Alexander," Pagan said. He stopped at the door but did not turn around to face Pagan. "I love you."
For a moment the dark man stood there, his back to the woman, then quietly he opened the door, stepped outside, and closed the door behind him.
Pagan, tears in her eyes, walked over to the door as she wiped her eyes dry. For a second she stood there then turned to rest her back against the door. It was then that she noticed it - on the floor - right where Alexander Drakos stood when she confessed her love to him.
It was a tiny spot on the floor, just the barest hint of moisture.
A tear had fallen there - a tear shed by a man who had not shed tears for hundreds of years.