Nocturnes and Neon
In the Californian bayside cities of New
Barrington and West Sussex, a secretive underground society exists.
Amoral, arrogant, sinister and predatorial, the brotherhood of THE
MOON-CHOSEN rule the night. Two investigators, friends of an immortal
vampire-hunter, venture into a world of dark dangers as they confront the
reality that vampires exist in their world!
The pallid rays of silvery moonlight
burned down through the thick cloudcover to be lost amidst the electric
glare from the streetlamps and the neon from various resteraunts, theatres
and bars. The low whistle of the wind from off Borrego Bay was overpowered
by the technological din of traffic from narrow aging city streets clogged
by too much traffic. Shadows grew long and only barely resembled shapes of
the objects, cars and buildings and signs, that cast them as the clouds
blown in from the far north by the jet stream altered the angles at which
they focused the moonlight.
Litter and debris danced in the breezes. People huddled in small groups or
in bland-faced pairs together in the face of the cold, not letting the
sudden chill damper their night time plans for dinner, dancing, drinking,
theatre-going or for the odd clandestine ren-dezvous in a dark place. In the
dark alleys and in stairwells behind buildings, illicit money changed hands,
lies were told, hearts were broken, and immoral things were plotted.
Occasionally a sudden shout of surprise or a high-pitched bleat of shock or
alarm cut the general city-din, slicing through the familiar fog of routine
noises and the faint sound of a police siren ululated over it all like the
swiftly fading wail of a soul cast into one of Hell’s deep fiery pits.
The windows in the grimey converted industrial face of Manticore’s Way
seemed to blink from the light cast from within it’s depths, like the eyes
of a brick and steel Jack O’Lantern winking at frightened children as they
passed by. The doors to the nightclub opened every now and again, letting
more people in and others out into the night on unimaginable errands, and a
lacey puff of steam would blow out from inside, like the breath of a
restless dragon. Manticore’s Way had sung it’s siren call to the Children of
Bleeding Sin. The Moon-Chosen gathered within, celebrating their dark and
seemingly endless lives and telling one another tales of pain, betrayal and
corruption as an electronic industrial beat blared, pounding in the
background like the manic pulsebeat of a mad robot. A large number of the
younger Nightrunners danced with reckless abandon, as if purposely ignoring
the beat of the near tuneless industrial-goth music, and others swayed and
bobbed to the jackhammer melody. Other Moon-Chosen flitted from group to
group meeting old friends, renewing acquaintences and trading secrets. The
older and more powerful of Sin’s Children sat in enclaves at candle-lit
booths and watched things happen, or not happen, with an almost reptilian
patience. Three nights each week,
Manticore’s Way was their communal home, a place for the gathering of the
The air was thick and humid inside the nightclub, throbbing with desire and
danger. Outside it was cold and thin, bleeding away Hope and Love with each
swift cutting breeze.
Father Clement Frey and Professor Patricia Silver huddled close together
across the street from Manticore’s Way and wordlessly bolstered one
another’s courage as they committed themselves to the goal of entering the
Wampir nightclub. This was not some-thing they looked forward to. This was
not something they were sure was even the correct thing to do. But, right
now, it was the only thing they could think of doing. They were feeling the
edgy bite of desperation and had just spent nearly half an hour arguing
Just an hour after Quinn had left to meet with Lorenz Novembre, Doctor
Romann Reaves had unexpectedly emerged from his depressed stupor, leapt out
of the chair in Quinn’s apartment with a feral shout, and ran pell-mell out
the penthouse door. Father Frey had been in the kitchen making a few
sandwiches and Professor Silver had just emerged from out the bathroom. Both
she and the priest were deep in thought reviewing their recent research into
Mustain Industries, hematological disorders, and the possibilities for
biological terrorism that the Abyssinian Project presented. They’d both
barely registered Dr. Reaves’ drunken presence since he’d lapsed into
silence after Quinn and Vic Towers had left. The man had seemed deep in the
morass of his depression and
bereft of any will to move at all.
So when he hoarsely screamed a cry of wretched despair and bolted they were
caught flat-footed. He was already down the outside corridor to the
elevators, sobbing about faces and being unforgiven and betrayal, when they
first stepped outside the penthouse after him. There had been no strategy to
the pursuit, it was all purely primal: hunt for spoor and follow the trail;
and it had taken everything they had to just try keeping up with the running
maniac after that.
It had brought them to this place, nine blocks away and uphill, to
Manticore’s Way. It was the place Quinn had warned them never to visit
without him at their sides.
They’d seen Romann Reaves run stumbling exhaustedly through its doorway
inside . . .
“We shouldn’t do this. We should wait for Quinn to get back”, the priest
said softly, his eyes locked on the shadows surrounding the recessed door
into the nightclub. “I’ve only heard about this place third-hand. A few of
my younger parishoners, you know, the obligatory slacker/goth-types that
make up the fringe element amongst the youth in-town, have mentioned rather
disturbing . . . episodes . . . they experienced in there. Some of it may be
the result of introverted teenage angst run amok, but I know in my heart
that some of it was true . They play some dark games in there. And they’re a
close-knit bunch. Outsiders stand out. If there really are Nightrunners in
there, I’m damn sure I don’t want to stand out more than I already do.”
Patricia Silver ran a hand through her hair and frowned. There as a fine
sheen of perspiration on her cheeks and forehead and her attention, like
Father Frey, was focused on the doorway into the haven for the secretive
enemy they dreaded to confront. She was by nature a quietly forceful woman,
never reluctant to take charge of any situation she felt she could
contribute to, but she was feeling less than confident about the way this
situation was unfolding.
“Yeah, well I’d prefer to wait for Quinn, too, but what are we going to do?
We need Dr. Reaves and the information he has in that mess of neuroses he
calls a mind. And we need to know why he ran away, if he’s somehow under the
vampires’ thrall and whether or not they planted him on us, like a stalking
“Yes, Patricia, I know all that, too. But we’re not equipped to defend
ourselves should the worse come to pass . . .”
“You mean if any of them in there decide to ring the dinner-bell.”
“I do indeed”, the priest said glumly.
“God, this is ridiculous! We don’t really know that these creatures really
live on blood”, she mused aloud. “Well, do we? Have you ever seen them feed?
Have you ever even seen a corpse they reputedly left behind? I know I
“This is a hell of a situation for you to start expressing your doubts in”,
Father Frey grumbled angrily. “Having a crisis of Faith? Or trying to
convince yourself that we’re not in any danger? Either way, your timing
“I know, I know. Sorry”, she mumbled. She took a deep breath, shook her head
and then turned to face the priest. She gave him a darkly stern, solemn
stare. “We have to do this.”
Frey turned away for a minute and then reached up and slowly fidgeted with
his tunic. He unbuttoned and removed his white cleric’s collar. He sighed
raggedly as he did so; the act of removing the collar when he was about to
confront, in their dark sanctuary, the enemies of all that he believed was
Good in this world almost seemed a betrayal of the vows he’d taken over
twenty years ago. After all, when he’d been a soldier he’d worn his uniform
into battle, why not now? For surely he was now about to go into battle
against the Encroaching Dark, so why not proudly declare his allegiance for
all to see? The answer resounded within his mind like the tolling of a bell:
“You were far better armed and better prepared for battle, then, soldier,
and the enemy was, like you, merely human—the enemy you face now is
stronger, bolder, more cunning and as alien as The Man in the Moon.” The
moon . . . Father Frey stifled a nervous giggle. In all those hoary old
Grade-Z movies full of Halloween cliches, whenever the courageous
vampire-hunter confronted the Undead the Full Moon always rode the dark
skies overhead. He looked up. All he saw was the cold yellow-white glare of
a street lamp vying with the harsh neon sign above the nightclub for
dominance over the growing twilight gloom. Father Frey stared at the white
collar, tinted with red from the sign over Manticore’s Way, the stiff thing
curling like a cardboard smile in the palm of his hand, and then he pocketed
“Okay, then. Let’s do this.”
Together, they crossed the street, a divide that felt as wide as a football
field wherein time passed in huge sluggish chunks wherein they each
experienced the emotions of fear and self-doubt and then anger and righteous
indignation, indignation at the thought that they must place themselves at
risk like this because the Moon-Chosen had brought violence and evil into
their world, and, still together, they walked up to the door of Manticore’s
Way . . .
Where suddenly, appearing as if from out a puff of dirty smoke, a short
coke-bottle shaped young woman in modernized velveteened Victorian dress
with an outsized partially-exposed bosom and pouting lips was between them
and the door’s handles. She looked at them irritatedly, as if they were in
her way, her dark eyes full of fire and challenge and then cold with haughty
dismissal, and she wrenched the large metal doors open to vanish into the
neon glare within so quickly she appeared to be no more than a swiftly
Startled, the pair looked at one another meaningfully and Professor Silver
mouthed the girl’s name soundlessly. Helinor. It had to be her. She matched
Quinn’s description of the arrogant little murderess perfectly.
Without further hesitation they went in, half expecting Helinor to be
waiting for them inside. She wasn’t. She had disappeared deep within the
place to pursue her private affairs and left no trace. The shadows inside
that doorway threatened to swallow them whole.
They entered a short curved corridor, moderately narrow but made even more
so by a few sullen leather-clad men and women who loitered within it’s
dimly-lit confines, that led to a stormfence chain-link cage in which a
young hatchet-faced woman checked
people’s passes. Brilliantly green-eyed like a cat in human form, the young
punk female possessed an odd opaque milky pallor and an incredibly thick
thatch of unruly blue-black hair that masked half her face, a face on which
a Chinese I-Ching character had been tattooed in red-brown henna ink. She
looked disinterestedly at Father Frey and at Professor Silver and held out
her hand expectantly.
“Private club”, she said nasally. “No pass, no entry.”
There was a sudden shift in the deeper shadows near the steel cage and
something flickered in the half-light. The young woman frowned and looked
behind her, her hand still positioned out and palm up, awaiting the
key-token of Manticore membership.
Softly, sibilantly, a disembodied male baritone spoke in a whisper that
reeked pure scorn. A voice that seemed to wind it’s way softly down from the
ceiling and all around them like smoke sent a chill down Patricia Silver’s
spine as she recognized the clipped
Highland Scottish accent.
“My, but yuir a rude dirty sow. They’re bloody royalty, they are, and they
need no guff about ‘passes’ from the low-born likes of ye. Let ‘em in or
I’ll be eatin’ yuir liver while yuir eyes are still open.”
Confused and now a little alarmed the girl opened her mouth as if to
speak—and then was abruptly yanked soundlessly, bodily off from her barstool
in the cage at near supersonic speed to disappear from sight, her Army
Surplus GI-Infantry booted feet flying into the air higher than her
shoulders. Three heartbeats later she was roughly deposited back onto the
barstool. She was trembling and dripping a shiny, cold-looking
sour perspiration and her feline emerald eyes were wide and sightless as a
“Go on in”, she said through a tight throat. She seemed to be having some
difficulty breathing. She frowned and looked down at her knees as she
whispered wheezily to seemingly no one in particular, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry
. . . , please . . . , I’m sorry.”
The priest was slowly backing away from the cage and looking for something,
anything on which to focus his attention, some familiar threat he could
confront, and thus root this macabre tableau in some recognizeable reality.
He was fully in the grip of his primal fight or flight response when his
narrowed eyes caught those of Professor Silver who said, as calmly as she
could although her own insides were racked with tiny fear tremors, “We
should be okay now, Clement. We should go inside now quickly.”
“What was that voice, that whisper? It sounded like it belonged to the Devil
Silver allowed herself an off-balance grin born of secret knowledge and
anxiety. “A recent friend of mine. He’s trying, in his own way, to be of
help. We shouldn’t question his intentions or his methods right now.”
“Thank you, Lucien”, she said under her breath.
“Wise lassie.” The Scot’s whisper hissed from beyond the shadows.
“Let’s go”, Silver said. With Father Frey still peering frantically into the
dark places in the corridor, they walked past the terrorized gate check-girl
and passed through the waist-high turnstile at the landing to the stairs
leading down into the club.
* * *
The interior of Manticore’s Way. The lion’s dark den . . .
It was like a cross between an underlit, tastelessly over-decorated
Hollywood set of a discotheque and someone’s converted factory building
loft. There was a lot of chain-link storm-fencing and thick hanging drapery.
Gargoyles on pedestals and bas-relief faux-Dore scultures lined the walls.
Neon signs advertising beer and harder drink clashed with black light beams
shining on posters of panthers under full moons and comic book illustrations
of Bela Lugosi amid the crumbling ruins of Carfax Abbey. A kung-fu movie
projected distortedly on a billowing white sheet running from floor to
ceiling, played silently as the shadows of dancers meshed with the cinematic
images. Cigarette smoke and the faintly sickening scent of old perfume and
hashish smoke teased the nostrils and created small headaches for the
newly-initiated. And the sound, the sound of an over-ampped DJ mixer-board
playing ‘80s rock songs from Bauhaus, New Order, The Cult and Lords of the
New Church and then morphing into 90s Gansta-style rap from Machavelli, Mia
X and Silkk the Shocker, fairly raged through the club, setting moods and
inspiring bored-looking dancers to act out their emotions or to hide behind
a theatrically false face. Here and there, the sound of raucous laughter,
hints of desperation and the faintest edge of sadistic derision robbing it
of joviality, broke the thundering tempo of the music’s hypnotically-blended
bassline. The place was a veritable laboratory of psychiatric and
sociological theorems run amok, too, it was a place where embryonic
nightmares waited to be born.
It was repellent. It was exciting. It was adolescently silly. It was
simultaneously bright and garish and yet dangerously dark and menacing.
And everywhere there were the beautiful and ageless, strangely extrahuman
expressionless faces of the Moon-Chosen, some animated in conversation, some
openly expressing licentious intent, some moody and dark as they suppressed
some murderous urge here within a place of sanctuary, and some looking
impossibly lonely and saddened as they watched their brethren with that look
one gives to family members they wished they weren’t related to.
Silver overheard Father Frey mumbling prayers to himself as they selected
and sat down at a table near the stairwell, on the edge of the dance floor.
She sighed irritatedly and locked the priests’ eyes with an angry stare.
“Dammit, Clement, knock it off. You actively TRYING to get us noticed and
“I’m TRYING to understand”, he roughly whispered, anger finding it’s way
into his voice. “What have you allied yourself with? Does Quinn know about
your dark ‘friend’? Does this friend watch over you all the time?”
“Yes, Quinn knows and yes, I believe he does. So drop it”, she snapped.
The priest shook his head. “Boy, I am having some fun now”, he remarked.
Silver shrugged. “I have no idea. Now we watch and scan the crowd until we
see Dr. Reaves and then we try to get him out of here.”
“And if he doesn’t want to go?”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it”, she replied tensely.
A waitress, an aerobic queen-thin woman in a modified tuxedo jacket over a
revealing skin-tight shiny latex bodysuit and high heels, came over to their
table. The nervous priest and Professor Silver unintentionally examined her
every physical detail as she exasperatedly waited for them to order. She
flicked a fuschia-dyed stray lock of her hair and gave the two of them a
“Two drink minimum”, she intoned in a voice tinted with a Bostonian accent.
She did not look at them. She no doubt thought them tourists or trendy
Yuppies slumming with the predominantly Goth crowd.
Frey ordered. “A lime margarita, Cerveza Gold and extra salt, and a Guinness
The unfriendly woman strolled away with a wave of her hand signifying she’d
taken the order and would be back . . . eventually.
The two exchanged a look and silently agreed, answering their unvoiced
question: the woman seemed human enough, normal enough. She wasn’t one of
“Didn’t take you to be a margarita man”, Silver quipped.
“I’m not”, he replied feigning mock insult. “We’ll arm-wrestle for the
They didn’t talk for a few moments after that and the relentless bass-heavy
beat of the music pulsed like some dark pagan god’s heartbeat. It seemed to
drive the clutch of over-dressed funereal-faced dancers into a momentary
frenzy as they collectively recognized a tune they all liked. They looked at
the gyrating crowd and they despaired of locating Dr. Reaves in the forest
of flailing arms and bobbing heads and flickering neon lights.
The waitress returned with their drinks. Patricia Silver reached into her
purse for her wallet. The waitress shook her head and pointed past them into
a partially-enclosed booth. “The Big Man’s paying for it. Says he knows a
friend of yours.”
She shrugged and walked away.
Father Frey and Professor Silver sat still as statues. They didn’t know
anyone here. The only friend they had in common was Quinn. And Quinn was no
friend to the Moon-Chosen by any stretch of the imagination. Their eyes met
and the fear passed between them like a quick flash of quiet lightning.
A tall hawk-nosed woman, exotic and sensual, with darkly twinkling almond
eyes and a massive-muscled taller man who shared facial similarity and yet
was actually prettier than the woman silently stood at either side of the
table where Frey and Silver sat. The pair emanated a physical threat. There
was something reptilian about their silence and their patience, something
calmly psychotic, as they eyed the seated duo like guard dogs awaiting the
command to attack.
“Mr. Cartarrian would like to offer you the hospitality of his table”, the
woman hissed. “I believe your Mr. Quinn has no doubt mentioned his
association with Mr. Cartarrian. Many people can find their first experience
here at Manticore’s Way somewhat unset-tling so Mr. Cartarrian would like to
shepherd you through the somewhat . . . outre . . . rules and customs at the
club. Make you feel at home, as it were. Please come along now.”
The model-pretty bodybuilder in Gauthier leisure-wear smiled like a Great
White shark just before feeding. There was nothing friendly nor recognizably
normal in the expression and they felt ill at-ease staring at their own
reflections in his dark sunshades.
To Professor Silver’s surprise, it was Father Frey who responded first and
who spoke with an arrogant edge to his words. “Thanks for the drinks, but we
like where we’re sitting and we have some business we need to attend to.
That means we’re not going to do much socializing. So thank your Mr.
Cartarrian and tell him we’ll get back to him some other time, won’t you?”
“Sure about that, are you?” the woman commented lightly. She seemed amused.
She was fingering an ornate Rosary that swung over her exposed cleavage.
Instead of a crucifix at the end of the Spanish-style neck chain, though,
there was a finger-length blue-steel replica of a human skeleton with the
wings of a bat.
“You’re breathing my air, doll-face,” Frey growled. His eyes stayed fixed on
the crowd of dancers.
“I like you”, the woman said grinning. “I’ll bet you’re a bleeder. Bleeders
are always fun.”
The dandified bodybuilder looked bored. “Let’s go”, he said and turned away.
They left without further comment and for a moment neither the priest nor
the doctor spoke. Then Pat Silver allowed herself a small smile and she
turned to face the priest.
“Well, I guess you told THEM”, she chided. “I know you are an ex-military
man, but were you always such a tough guy?”
Father Frey rubbed his stubby-fingered fist across his brow and replied,
“Being a priest in modern day California, home of Silicon Valley and
multi-cultural Gang-Bangers and the Hollywierd drug-culture doesn’t make for
faint-hearted clerics, Professor.”
A moment later they both surrendered to the feeling of a presence hovering
near them, pulling at them like something so massive as to have its own
gravitational pull, like a rogue celestial body, and they looked up into the
dead face and blood-red eyes of Cartarrian himself. He did not look amused.
Fists the size of gallon jugs were wrapped around the silver handle of a
cane that looked like it was made of wrought-iron.
‘Jupiter’, Patricia Silver thought, ‘if the planet Jupiter had human form,
it would look like this man.’ And in the next fleeting thought she realized
that ‘Jupiter’ had also been the name the Greeks had given the God of the
The Romans had called that same god ‘Hades’.
“You seem to be under some illusion that you have a say in the matter. Let’s
not play games, shall we? We all know who and what we each are. And you are
far too vulnerable here, in this place. And I do not see your protector with
you.” He paused, the sound of his rumbling, echoing, otherworldly voice
fading briefly like thunder from a passing storm. Silver noticed that the
man did not seem to breathe. “So get the fuck over to the booth like you
were told. You’re in MY world now. MY rules. You can both live or die in the
next few seconds, MY decision. Now move. Besides, it’s rare when I feel this
They moved. They quietly rose from their table and walked the short distance
over to the surprisingly spacious and Italian Restoration-designed ornate
booth. The brother and sister team of psychotics awaited them and rose to
wave them to sit on the interior curve of the booth’s padded bench. They
then sat to bracket the pair as Cartarrian lumbered over and sat at the
opposing end of the bench. The man moved like he was heavy as a battleship
and yet he seemed unbelievably liquid and graceful; he was a combination of
restrained power and ancient primordial rage, held barely in check. Though
it was obvious the brother and sister were his bodyguards it was just as
obvious that he didn’t really need them. Frey and Silver wondered just how
much protection the pair could actually provide to someone so obviously
extrahuman, and obviously powerful, as Cartarrian.
The big man waved his cane at the DJ booth in the mezzanine and the music
faded out. He nodded solemnly to someone beyond the neon glare over the
dance floor that the pair couldn’t see. The dancers began to walk off the
dance floor. Some of them looked
annoyed that they’d had to stop dancing, but none of them expressed that
annoyance nor looked directly at the big man.
“As I said”, Cartarrian rumbled, “MY world, MY rules.”
“What do you want with us?” Silver asked haltingly.
Cartarrian turned his expressionless face to her, his eyes unhuman red orbs
that seemed to give off heat, casting red highlights across the pallid gray
flesh of his cheekbones. “Why, I thought I’d share in my enjoyment of a
little dinner theatre.”
He turned away and faced the dance floor area where club staff had quickly
erected a small stage composed of a trio of wooden chairs, a barstool, a
wrought iron candlabra with seven branches that held red candles and a
waist-high brass sculpture of that leg-endary hybrid beast known as a
“griffin” or “chimera”.
A tall thin man dressed like a modern matador in plum-black clothing sat on
a barstool in the center of the empty dance floor. He began to play an
acoustic twelve-string guitar with incredible grace and skill while a
flutist, a willowy woman wearing a delicately crocheted floor-length black
dress that showed off her colorless nakedness beneath, played a haunting
accompaniment. A muscular black man, wearing a leather mask that covered
half his face and dressed like a riverboat gambler in charcoal gray, played
a delicate and complex choral structure on an aged and expensive-looking
violin. As he played he began to sing a darkly fugue-like tune, seemingly of
old Celtic origins, about being blinded about the morning light and the
forgotten face of a lost love.
Two punk rock dandies in customized Army Surplus clothing and leather chaps
led a blindfolded mixed pair of young adults onto the dance floor. The punks
walked with an elegant ballroom strut like princely dancers. The blindfolded
couple stumbled as they
walked and suppressed a silly giggle. They felt their way along like young
actors performing in a senior class play. The young man, a blonde with a
classic swimmer’s build and dressed in the latest shopping mall biker-chic,
and the red-haired woman, in a floor-length emerald-green sheath ballgown,
looked fresh-faced and eager to participate in whatever it was they’d freely
agreed to participate in. Those observing the strange scene could feel their
excitement pulse and build like a low-level electric field. Anticipation
made the heart beat faster.
Nightrunners and humans . . .
Pat Silver felt herself beginning to breath faster and she felt a rush of
dread that made her nerves on edge…
The punks began pantomiming a very solemn waltz with the blind-folded pair,
eerie since the pace of their movements really didn’t match the musical
accompaniment and yet there was a strange blending of the dance to the
scene. The musical shadings wound
through the shadows and across the floor, almost a solid physical presence
like another person, old and withdrawn and bitter, and the young man and
woman began to laugh more freely as they were spun about while they danced.
Their faces were flushed, their movements somehow growing more sure as they
surrendered their trust to their dance partners.
Then a hooded, muslin-cloaked monk appeared from off-stage and he carried a
very long, ripple-bladed dagger with a jeweled pommel. He approached with
Father Frey involuntarily reached for and grasped Pat Silver’s hand as the
monk drew into the light, center stage.
The professor herself, on the edge of her seat and feeling hemmed in by
Damon, Pytthias and Cartarrian, felt her anxiety grow.
“I know that the news media and the tabloid press these days are making much
of the Generation X club phenomenon called “Blood Clubs” and “Bleedings”,
social gatherings of bored slacker-Goth types and psycho-sexual adventurers
at private parties where they pierce one another’s flesh and drink of the
blood”, Cartarrian sneered as he passed a baseball mitt-sized hand across
his ruby-hued eyes, his voice ripe with an air of unimaginable ennui, “And
I’m sure there are those who believe that imitation is the sincerest form of
flattery. You condemn on one hand and feign repugnance and moral repulsion,
yet you ape our appearance and our mannerisms and now you physically try to
imitate our hunger. It’s pathetic. Truth to tell, you sensory-deprived,
sensation-retarded, mayfly-lived creatures haven’t a true clue to what it is
like to have to, to be driven to, consume the warm blood from another being
to sustain your own existence. It is incredibly heady, dark and primal
stuff, to feel such a need.” He paused.
When he resumed speaking he had reached across Father Frey’s chest to grasp
the front of the woman named Pythias’ exposed neck, which he caressed with
an air of ownership. She began to breathe heavily and her brother Damon
slowly licked his lips, momentarily exposing his pierced tongue, his eyes
flickering to his sister’s passion-twisted facial expression as she began to
subtly but rapidly rock in her seat. The priest shot a cold raging stare at
the Elder Moon-Chosen and put his hand across Cartarrian’s thick forearm and
pushed it off his chest. The Nightrunner lord released Pythias’ neck with
reluctance and she cooed disappointedly as he let go. The big man smiled
humorlessly at the priest. “Consider yourselves fortunate. You will be
amongst the very few human normals who will ever see The Need fully exposed
and exhibited without actually being victims to it.”
Across the vast nightclub chamber, up in a semi-secluded loft area on the
mezzanine off the girdered catwalk, Dr. Romann Reaves leaned on the
waist-high wrought-iron bannister and stared down at the macabre tableau
unfolding on the floor below. A long Art Nouveau-styled rasberry-colored
sofa and a matching wingback chair sat on opposite sides of a claw-footed
marble-topped cherrywood table. Helinor reclined on the sofa, the ever-dour
Malachi standing behind the sofa gently massaging her shoulders. She watched
Dr. Reaves alarmed anxiety and his nervous pacings with a mixture of delight
and distaste. Helinor’s other Thralls, Josene and Piotr-Nikolevitch, sat on
the tiled floor, pewter goblets of lemon Bacardi in front of their folded
legs, and they watched the conflicted hematologist like sleepy reptiles.
As he watched, Dr. Reaves couldn’t resist the morbid fascination he felt for
what was about to occur next as the punks led their human charges through a
series of showy and baroque spinning dance steps. The musicians played ever
more sinuously, the music
becoming more ominous and yet compelling. He wanted to look away and yet he
couldn’t. The scene brought out memories of the text of the organic
forensics report he and other team members of Abyssinian filed at Mustain
just two months ago.
“The commonly-held mythology surrounding the feeding habits of a sentient
vampiric human are just that: myths. There is actually no basis in factual
biological science nor in natural physical development for a nocturnal based
higher-order mammal with the capacity to draw sustenance from consumption of
fresh human blood in the manner described first by Bram Stoker of literary
‘Dracula’ fame. The idea that a creature of human origin with standard human
skeletal restrictions and facial musculature can
suck enough blood through elongated razor-sharp dental incisors to sustain
life is beyond merely being ludicrous—it is patently impossible.
“While using the extra-long sharp incisors to bite through the exposed neck
and into the carotid artery IS indeed within the realm of possibility, it
would be impossible for any blood to be drawn up through these same teeth
and it would be equally impossible for the vampiric creature to ‘drink’ and
swallow the blood gushing from a severed artery fast enough to avoid choking
on it. Moreover, quickly drinking seven pints of ANY liquid at one sitting
would be enough to paralyze most mammalian animals into painful systemic
shock. The natural, although involuntary, digestive response to such an
action, for which humanoid thoracic musculature and biochemical digestion is
not designed, would be to immediately regurgitate almost all the blood
volume that had been ingested.
“And, frankly, there is nothing in mythology nor in fact-based biological
hypothesis to indicate that humanoid vampires throw up a lot after they eat.
“Careful examination of the parallel sub-species vampiric entities in the
laboratory indicate that there is an accordian-like ‘bladder’ at the base of
the esophagus, just before the connection to the stomach chamber, that
expands to collect upwards of three full pints of liquid and that squeezes
this liquid, by degree, into the stomach interior as digestion provides more
space. The blood is drawn from the victim via a lamprey-like hollow tongue,
a muscular tube surrounded by thin walls of flexing muscle, that attaches
itself to the wound created by the twin incisor teeth. It is through this
ribbed, hollow tongue—which in external physical appearance closely
resembles the normal human tongue—that the blood is drawn directly from the
carotid throat wounds in volume.
“So, whereas it would normally take a victim of deep carotid arterial wounds
of a size matching the circumference of human incisor teeth over half an
hour to bleed to death, the lamprey tube-tongue allows the vampiric
sub-species to feed on a full three-quarters of involuntarily-released
normal human blood volume in just over three and a half minutes. The
esophageal-abdominal bladder then temporarily allows the vampire to store
the blood it cannot immediately keep within the stomach without initiating
the regurgitative anti-shock response. Too, there is present in the common
mythology an element indi-cating that after the initial bite(s) is made, the
vampire’s victim falls into a languid sympathetic mood, a trance, wherein
the victim appears happy to accommodate the vampiric feeding and may
actually draw their parasitic assailant physically closer to them, to
embrace the vampire, to further aid the feeding process.
“There is some truth to this. There has been discovered present in the
bite-wounds traces of a natural organic narcotic, a variant on the endorphin
hormones, that is absorbed into the victim’s body and is quickly transported
via blood flow through to their brain. This concentrated high-strength
endorphin-variant induces a state of lassitude and euphoria that keeps the
victim from struggling too much and to thus hamper the vampiric feeding. It
is delivered into the victim by way of a pair of tiny muscular sacs located
behind the sharp, hollow-centered vampiric incisors, injecting the hormone
much the way a cobra or rattlesnake injects venom into victim’s of their
“All in all, this is a relatively efficient predatory feeding system for a
creature dependent on surprise and secrecy . . .”
My God, Reaves, thought, how could we have written so impersonally about
such an efficient manner of homicide? Didn’t we believe what we’d seen with
our own eyes in that damned laboratory? Did we just not allow ourselves to
react to the awful predatory bestial reality of what it is these Moon-Chosen
creatures are? My God!
“What’s the matter, Doctor? Feeling queasy? Are they really dancing that
badly down there?” Helinor chided between sardonic giggles. “Or are you just
beginning to see a far bigger picture of what this world is all about, our
world, a world view far larger and far more dangerous than the sterile safe
human-centric view within your secluded laboratory?”
God. He tried to block out her arrogant taunting voice, but couldn’t.
“Tell me Doctor, how’s your guilt-level these days, huhn?” She clapped her
hands and lay back on the sofa laughing nastily.
Malachi allowed himself a thin-lipped feral smile, ripe with superiority, as
he watched Reaves wipe sweat off his brow. Josene coughed a hoarse laugh and
made rude sucking and slurping noises behind Reaves’ back. Piotr-Nikolevitch
simply sneered and sipped more lemon-flavored rum.
Reaves couldn’t help holding his breath as he stared down to the dance floor
below, fighting dread and fascination as the scene continued to unfold . . .
The silent monk drew nearer the dancers and as he did, they began to
gradually step up the pace of their movements and widen the small invisible
circle they danced within. As the shadow-masked robed figure glided closer
to center stage, his robed shape seeming taller, thinner and more predatory
with each passing step, strange atmospherics began occuring; the lights in
the vast room dimmed at sporadic intervals and the air seemed somehow
thicker, smokier, and there was a sweet scent on the eddying air currents
that wound their way through the watching crowd, something somehow organic,
even animal, and yet old and far removed from these surroundings.
The movements of the dancing couples seemed to physically slow to where even
the flow of the folds of their clothing as they moved took on a time-lapse
aspect, more like that of swimmers underwater imitating the land-borne
antics of dancers. The sounds of the string instruments sounded lower and
slower, still in tune and still darkly melodic, but more mournful. The long
knife glittered under the muted light.
And then the monk was right there with them, dancing with them like their
shadows given substance. He twirled when they twirled, dipped when they did,
stepped into a long slide and suddenly changed direction, arms swathed in
his voluminous sleeves extended balletically just like theirs, even as they
executed the same movements.
It was beautiful. And yet it wasn’t, it couldn’t be; the intent was too
The dagger danced with them.
Father Clement Frey’s heart felt as if it were stuck in his throat and it
was with a start as he came out from his growing sense of dissociation to
realize that he had been softly and urgently chanting the phrase
“NoNoNoNoNoNonononono . . . !”
He looked over at Patricia Silver and saw that her eyes were locked not onto
what was happening on the dance floor, but instead onto Cartarrian’s
grinning face. What he saw there frightened him. She looked like one of The
Furies of legend, her stare was all cold judgment and hatred, her mouth a
thin grim line, her posture stiff and formal.
When the first slice of the dagger cut home, swiftly and effortlessly
cleaving the flesh of the blindfolded man’s back through his shirt, Frey
felt as though lightning had struck.
The man yelped and instinctively jerked his body away from the path of the
rippled blade. Surprised, he tried to pull himself out of the embrace of his
parahuman dance partner. He failed, of course. Nightrunners were several
times more physically powerful than even a very athletic human normal. His
failure drove him to a panicked frenzy as the dagger slashed yet again and
again and laid open his back and sides down to the bone. He howled as his
blood flowed, soaking his clothing.
Hearing the pain and fear-maddened cries of her partner, the woman quickly
reached up and pulled away her blindfold—and then began screaming her throat
raw. Her own dance partner laughed gaily and pulled her yet more closely
against him. Arms that could effortlessly rip a car door from off its frame
squeezed with enough force to completely silence the poor woman in
mid-scream. Her facial muscles froze into a constricted grimace as the air
was forced from her lungs by the bear hug. Her feet kicked weakly.
“The boy’s blood”, Cartarrian said calmly, “is tainted. He is a
self-destructive unclean beast. He is a recovered cocaine addict and he is
HIV-positive. We could never willingly feed off such filth, although our own
bodies would be immune to the mutagens and viruses his blood carries. It’s
simply a matter of not wanting to consume garbage. The spilling of his blood
is purely ceremonial. The girl is, however, a completely different matter .
. . She is clean, free of disease and narcotics abuse. And now the adrenalin
hormone will flavor her blood. In the right combination, it is an
The slashed boy had fallen to the sawdusted dance floor. He was propped up
on one elbow, lying on his side while shaking like a frightened dog. His
mouth opened and closed soundlessly like that of a hooked fish out of the
water and his saucer-wide eyes were locked onto the wildly pirouhetting
figure of the macabre monk. Arms outspread, the monk suddenly spun lowering
himself to the floor next to the boy and with a balletic flourish he plunged
down with the dagger. The blade of the knife tore into the young man’s chest
with such force the blade ripped out through his back and struck the floor
with a metallic sound that resonated like a broken bell.
Damon’s hand swiftly clamped over Father Frey’s mouth like a steel trap
slamming shut, knocking the priest’s head back against the padded wall of
the booth, just as Frey tried to shout an outraged warning to the girl.
Cartarrian slowly turned his massive head, seemingly as large and heavy as
that of a bull, to face the cleric and the only facial expression he allowed
himself was the momentary raising of a thick hairy eyebrow in an archly
“Behave, please”, he said softly, “We don’t want to have to resort to
unnecessary violence.” He looked past the priest and over to Professor
Silver. She stared coldly back at him, her face frozen but her eyes blazing.
“I see that you completely understand your somewhat neutral-by-decree
observer status, Professor Silver”, he commented.
She said nothing. Her eyes never left his. Cartarrian’s eyes narrowed at her
unspoken challenge and he held her gaze for a long moment, then he frowned
and then turned his attention back to the dance floor.
The musicians were no longer playing their instruments. They were now
gathered into a small circle, facing one another, backs turned to the gory
spectacle behind them, and they were chanting a musically percussive choral
arrangement that scaled the octaves.
It was unearthly and otherworldly. Somehow the choral music they made evoked
bleak emotions black as pitch.
“The ceremony is important to us, helping define our culture and as a way of
sharing our communal history”, Cartarrian explained.
“It is a Passion Play, an allegory, that tells of the story of our trials
and tribulations as a people during the Inquisition of the Middle Ages and
how we survived the Great Blood Pogroms of the Elizabethan Era. It
illustrates our joy in celebrating our differences from
normal humanity and the sadness we feel as outcasts forever draped in
misinterpreted defamatory legends and persecuted for our very existence.” He
paused, looking thoughtful. “I have to admit, too, that it is a great way to
celebrate and express the passions we feel during the hunt and the kill.”
At this point Cartarrian rose from the table, a planet leaving its orbit,
commanding the night sky and pulling all eyes to him as if emitting the
intense lethal pull of a gravity well, and he strode with the arrogance of
exiled royalty to the dancers, the monk ceasing his small balletic movements
long enough to bow in obeisance to the Moon-Chosen Elder, the edged blade of
the knife scraping the floor.
The punk rocker swayed and whirled, carrying his seemingly weightless
captive in that damnable iron embrace over to the massive vampire. As Pat
Silver watched, she noted that the pale face of the ensnared girl was a
classic study in absolute terror . . . well, yes,
what other emotion could there be but terror as you’re forced to watch a
friend being murdered, slaughtered like livestock for food . . . and the
Professor felt a growing sense of disconnectedness as her own emotions shut
down seemingly in geometric opposition to the increasing horror and hysteria
of the poor doomed soul on the dance floor. Silver watched as rivulets of
sweat raced down across the girl’s cheek, as panic and dread brought a
fiercely hot blossom to her exposed flesh. The entrapped victim trembled
incessantly as she entered the vampire lord’s field of influence, feeling
his presence like the heat from the fires of damnation.
“Child . . .”, he rumbled in a tone like muffled thunder and he reached out
to stroke her face. It was a graceful, almost feline gesture, surprisingly
tender and intimate, yet at the same time it was a gesture of ownership, of
At his touch the girl stiffened, her fearful tremors stilled and her facial
expression froze, her head tilted to lock her eyes upon the Moon-Chosen
Professor Silver and Father Frey held their breath. Expectation weighed on
them like a physical thing, creating an unyielding pressure that grew
heavier and more oppressive with each heart-beat.
They both knew instinctively what was coming next, but they continued to
deny the undeniable as the scene played out through to conclusion. Their
hearts pounded in their chests, their skin felt a thousand electric
prickling tingles and they wanted to look away, oh God but they HAD to look
away . . .
The punk rocker unfolded his arms from around the girl like a bird unfurling
its wings and she was suddenly left standing on her own. She started to
stumble, but clumsily righted herself before completely losing her balance
as, in contrast, the punk danced lithely away, feet barely touching the
ground as he moved with inhuman grace. She gasped lungfuls of air like
someone who’d come close to drowning and she tried walking a trio of
unsteady steps before suddenly whirling about to physically confront
Cartarrian. Her arm reached out to him to fend him off and he reached out
for her theatrically with both arms, like a loving parent. She was rooted to
the spot as he drew near enough to touch her hand . . .
. . . and then he was gently caressing her neck and shoulders with hands
large enough to cover her entire head. She jerked back at first and then,
incredibly, she leaned in towards his massive chest, turning to rest her
back against him.
. . . and then he ducked his head towards her in that cinematically-familiar
imitation of a lover’s intimacy as he lightly brushed his lips against her
neck and jawline, finally stopping to kiss the nape of her neck and then
lingering on the sides, one kiss for each. Her eyes were closed dreamily
while his burned madly, open wide as the Gates to Hell.
. . . and they didn’t want to see what happened next. They didn’t. God,
blast out their eyes and leave them blind before letting them see what just
HAD to happen next and have that vision haunt them forevermore . . .
When Cartarrian ripped her throat out, the move was so quicksilver fast and
fluid that it didn’t jar or rock the girl’s body. Only her fiery red hair
fanned out as Cartarrian’s head ducked away, trailing a thin comet of blood
from his lips, the strands of her hair fluttering in mimickery of her hands
vainly seeking solid purchase to keep her standing as strength left her
body. She began to fall and he was there letting her drape across his huge
arms and then himself descending with her as he again locked his mouth onto
As she fell, he drank.
As she fought to catch her next breath, he drank, more deeply still.
As she grew colder, his darkness embraced her. She spasmed once and then
became still, one arm falling limply to her side.
From up above on the mezzanine-platform, Dr.Romann Reaves let loose a deep
and echoing bellow of abject shame and horror. He fell to his knees and
began repeatedly hitting his head against the ornate railing surrounding the
small loft alcove as he sobbed. Behind him, Helinor chuckled throatily and
sardonically shook her head watching his mournful histrionics.
Below, Cartarrian lowered the girl’s dead body to the floor and slowly
walked away without a backwards glance, his face like stone but his eyes
like red furnaces as he rivetted Silver and the priest with a fierce unhuman
The silence in Manticore’s Way was deafening.
Jupiter settled back into orbit as he returned to the booth and sat down at
one end of the padded bench. Cartarrian sat quietly for a dozen heartbeats,
his face slack with remnants of euphoria from his hot feeding. Then he
turned to face his human captives, his arrogant composure returned.
“Now you can say that you have SEEN what it is vampires do. Now you can say
that you KNOW what vampires are about. Now you can cast your doubts aside
and BELIEVE”, he said harshly, his voice the hiss of a midnight’s rainstorm.
“And what good will this knowledge avail you? Who will you tell? The police?
The F.B.I.? Who? And if you DO tell them will you be prepared for the
bloodbath that will surely follow when we at last unleash our formerly
carefully controlled hunger against the unsuspecting citizens of this city?”
The real question was unvoiced, masked by the brutish threat, but Silver and
Father Frey could not mistake what it was the Moon-Chosen Elder was asking:
However will you stop us?
“Go. Now. You are no longer welcome here. You have seen what you wanted to,
no, NEEDED to see. We are done and you have no place here.”
As he rose to let Pythias move away and let Professor Silver out from the
booth, a trio of nightrunners quietly cleaned away the gory mess on the
dance floor and the D.J. began once more pumping beat-heavy tuneless
industrial-goth music through the club’s speaker system.
“Go”, he commanded and did not again look at them as Damon guided them over
to the stairs leading up and out from the club.
Clement Frey lingered a moment, nearly frozen into immobility by his outrage
and his need to avenge what he’d just seen. There were tears on his face and
his hands were bunched into fists. But after a moment his shoulders slumped
and he turned away to leave, too confused to do anything else.
But as she walked, feeling drained and weary and somehow dirtied, Patricia
Silver held communion with the shifting shadows near her and said in her
softest lowest voice, “I understand.”
“Good lass. Good. And what would ye do now?” The response was so light as to
be mistaken for a delusion, a misinterpretation of a more familiar noise
amongst the growing disco din.
“Set things right”, she said flatly.
“Ah, but it’ll cost ye, lass, it’ll cost ye dear.”
“I know”, she said. After that she was quiet.
Then, within two dozen steps that felt like a journey through a dark
eternity, they were suddenly outside in the cool air of early evening, a
three-quarter moon winking down at them through the moving cloudcover.