Posts Tagged ‘Vampire 2.0


Vampire 2.0 – News Ticker

(Want to know how it started? Click here!)

News Ticker

Franks was seated in a large recliner, a television remote clenched in a hand that was a far cry from the slender, talented appendage he’d had for his entire life. Now it was swollen, tinged blue, and equipped with a set of fingers the size of sausages. It was the worst of the changes that had been occurring in him since leaving Tepes’ sanctuary; things that should have been easy – like operating the remote – were now frustrating affairs that took far longer than they should have.
Franks wasn’t concerned. With his knowledge and skills he was certain he could remedy the situation; a transplant or two was certainly within his grasp, even if he had to have the minions do the fine work. They could be overridden by his commands, turned into puppets, and all his old skill would work through them. In the meantime, he had been keeping a journal of the changes, looking for a pattern that eluded him.
All of that was a secondary concern, however. First in his mind was the state of the world and how much longer it would be before the children of the night brought him Tepes, or at least the vampire’s heart on a platter. So far, they seemed more than willing to oblige. One had even gotten close, the mental static claimed, but had failed. Probably because that one had been new, made only moments before his psychic command had gone out. A fledgeling had poor odds at disposing of their king. But her death had provided valuable information. Vlad was in Vegas, Franks now new, and through him, all the children knew. Even now they were converging, building their strength and combing the back alleys of the neon paradise.
Even better, Vlad apparently had a weak point. A human woman. Her image had come clear from the dead fledgeling, along with all sorts of useful information on her name, usual hangouts and habits. That had been distributed through the network as well. Find the woman, find Tepes had become a mantra in the mental link.
In front of him were dozens of televisions, each of them tuned to a different news station. Even if he’d been in the mood for something other than current events, regular programming had been disrupted on all but the seediest of cable networks, being overruled by the more pressing concerns of the moment. They were all different stations, from all over the world, but they all carried the same message.
Monsters are real, and they’ve gone mad.
Franks’ lips split in a grim smile as his eyes fluttered from screen to screen, drinking of the burning buildings and scattered bodies that the networks were no longer seeing fit to censor. Some of the newscasters were trying to remain as calm and presentable as possible, though he could see beads of sweat forming underneath their pancake makeup and greased hair, while others had apparently left the area, leaving interns or less camera savvy staff to take up the slack. More than one had a young person in shredded jeans and an offensive t-shirt clinging to the microphone like a life preserver, staring wide eyed into the camera as they attempted to make sense of what was happening around them.
Several of the channels were showing static, or a sideways, cracked view of the street. More than one newshound had been attacked or devoured, becoming the news instead of relating it. Some of those were even now speaking their first, disoriented thoughts into the hive-mind the children of the night shared, not understanding what had happened or what they were yet.
Franks supposed that ushering them in calmly was something their previous lord would have done, or instructed the creatures that turned them to have done; he was not interested. Let them sink or swim as best they could. They would be tempered in the fires of the chaos he had unleashed, and only the worthy would remain to greet the new day when Tepes’ head rested on Franks’ desk.
As he surveyed the news, watching Paris burn, New York riot and Detroit turn into a DMZ, Franks occasionally reinforced his single command, sending a pulse over the mental network that connected them all, reminding the stalwarts and informing the fresh fledgelings that their goal was simple: destroy Tepes. He attributed the crawling sensation across his skin, the odd cracks and creaks from within, as being nothing more than mental static; attributing it to any kind of change in himself was intolerable, and linking it to the swelling in his fingers or the way the recliner was slowly sinking further into the ground under his weight was a leap his mind was not yet ready to make. Why should he, when on monitor #3 he could watch a hairy seven-foot tall beast – he wasn’t sure what it was, perhaps a wendigo? – leap towards a newscaster, tear the head from the body, and then begin its own impromptu newscast while using the severed head as a meat puppet? Far more entertaining.
Something nagged at him, though. Perhaps he was lord of the night, master of all the creatures of darkness, but he was no closer to his true calling now than he had been before following Vlad’s backtrail to the source of his power. Perhaps even further away, as the upgrades he had installed in the vampire were the closest he’d ever been to creating life.
Perhaps he should devote less time to the news, and more to his experiments. With the power he now held, bringing back Tepes would seem like child’s play. Who knew what sorts of things he might create now?
So thinking, he pushed himself from the chair, ignoring the flap of rancid flesh that peeled from his back and glued itself to the brown leather, or the small rain of maggots that drifted down to the floor. They tried desperately to squirm away, but his heavy tread reduced them to paste as he plodded out of the room.


Vampire 2.0 – Cleaning Up Files

(Want to see it where it started? Click here…)

Cleaning Up Files

Brand did a double take as he slotted the Hummer into the space in front of the apartment building. The GPS, which he had never entirely trusted, had given him the right place, at least.
What wasn’t right was the way the Boss looked. His shirt was rumpled, there was a runner of blood coming from his nose, and he looked pissed. Beyond pissed. Furious, even. Far angrier than Brand could ever remember seeing him before.
The broad with him didn’t look so hot, either; she was shuffling along in those stretch pants like some kind of Lane Bryant zombie, a glazed look in her eyes and a twitching at the corners of her mouth that Brand recognized. The Boss had laid a whammy on her, was making her come along. Brand had seen the look before. Probably against her will. That didn’t look good.
Brand yanked the e-brake, hopping out of the seat to shamble towards Vlad and his lady friend.
“What the hell, Boss? Looks like ya been in a fight, you know? Tyson vs. Paquio or somethin’. Hate to see the other guy.; And what’s with the dame? We got trouble, and you’re playin’ Romancing the Stone or somethin’…”
Vlad’s hand shot out and seized the sensitive nerve between Brand’s neck and wing joint. The grip was agonizing; Brand could feel every inch of foot pressure Franks had designed that steel appendage to be able to deliver, could hear the bones creaking, as though ready to break.
“I’ve no time. I must move the lady to a safer location, and you have cleanup to do. You’ll find the remains in Apartment 302. Take care of it, then come to me. You know the location.”
“Wha… er… yeah, sure, Boss. The hotel or the safehouse?”
Vlad bowed his head. Brand wasn’t sure if he was just thinking it over, or consulting the machine Franks had put in his skull, and didn’t think wasting time with either was really a good idea at the moment. His fright over the look on Vlad’s face kept him silent, however.
Finally looking back up, Vlad shook his head.
“Neither,” he muttered. “Neither is safe, now. Call me when you’re done.”
“Uh, Boss…” Brand hesitated, not sure how to bring up the matter at hand. Safetyy was more of a concern than Vlad realized, Brand thought.
“If you’re going to inform me that the children of the night have gone berserk and turned on me, that’s readily apparent form the news reports this abominable device is providing me. And the silence that answers my demands for an explanation are evidence enough that a coup is ongoing. Tend the matter at hand. The rest will keep.”
Brand’s jaw was hanging. Several seconds had passed before he thought to close it.
Guess he’s getting up to speed with the upgrades, he thought.
Or maybe the upgrades are getting up to speed with him, an unhelpful inner voice chimed in. Brand shook his head, dismissing it.
“Uh. Right. You’re the Boss.”
“Indeed. See to it.”
Vlad released his grip on Brand’s wing and stalked towards the car. The woman followed after him, a little tugboat chained to Tepes’ ocean liner. He opened the passenger door, ushering her in, then circled the vehicle to enter himself. As the pair drove off – making sure to use the turn signals and accelerating normally, Brand noted; the Boss was always careful to keep up appearances – Brand sighed.
He hated cleanup; he just hoped there wasn’t too much of a mess. Vlad was known for spray painting walls red if someone really irked him, and Brand didn’t feel much like donning the rubber gloves and breaking out the sponges.
He turned and walked towards the building, thankful that it wasn’t the kind where you had to be buzzed in. He could have gotten in regardless, but skipping the charade and having to pull out one of his numerous fake IDs was a bonus.
He wound his way through the labyrinthine entrance hall, sighing as he caught sight of the elevator and its bad news: a decrepit and dusty sign proclaiming it out of order was hung from it with a stripe of yellowed masking tape. Taking the stairs instead, Brand clumped his way towards the third floor, panting a little and trying to ignore the dull throb in his shoulder. He was not a fan of stairwells, especially not the kind that doubled back on themselves, pressing in on him from all sides. His mother had told him he’d always been claustrophobic; he blamed the marathon sessions locked in the closet whenever she’d caught him with a girlie mag.;
When he finally reached the third floor and opened the door, he breathed a sigh of relief at his escape from the tomb-like stairwell. His comfort was challenged the second he stepped into the hallway, though. The door opened on a tiny hall not much wider than the staircase with discrete plaques mounted next to a small handful of doors.
“Ya gotta be shittin’ me,” he muttered, shaking his head.
He toddled to his right, checking the nearest tag: 304. Wrong way. Of course. He sighed, turning around and plodding the other way.
He passed 303 and cocked his head the other direction, waiting for the door of 302 to cross his vision. Instead he found a crater in the wall that had a vaguely human shape. A low chuckle slid out of his beak, images from old cartoons flipping through his mind as stepped over a pile of splintered wood that he supposed had been the door not too long ago.
Taking in the scene, he gave a long whistle. Either the dead chick on the floor had been really rabid, or the Boss had blown his top, bigtime. Either way, the place was a mess. Blood all over the floor, furniture shoved to all corners of the room, the shredded head of a broom scattering straw across the whole mess. Brand saw a caved-in point of impact on the far wall, next to the television stand, and winced. Whoever’s head had made that one, they were lucky to still be up and about.
Of course, maybe they weren’t still up and about. He glanced down at the body, feeling a moment of remorse. She was just his type; curves in all the right places, looked like she had a bit of Latin in her from the hair and eyebrows. If she hadn’t done just about the stupidest thing in the world by pissing off the Boss, he might have pulled the makeshift stake out of her and taken her for a late dinner before helping himself to some dessert.
Of course, the blood that had poured out of her, the three feet of broomhandle sticking out between her boobs and the torn flesh around her lips where her fangs had popped might have been a bit of a deal breaker, but he was used to compromise.
Brand coughed into a fist, then glanced around the room, taking inventory. Cleanup wasn’t going to be easy; the lack of a door was just the start of the problems. The boss had left too big of a mess to just roll the undead chica into a carpet and cart it off to drop off the Hoover later. He grinned to himself when he saw the old-school microwave sitting on the kitchen counter, right next to an obnoxiously yellow plastic strainer overflowing with silverware.
“Oh, yeah, baby. I gotta try this one…”
Curbing his enthusiasm for a moment, Brand took a deep breath and tiptoed back to the hallway. He crept across the hell to 303’s door, putting the side of his head against it for a moment and straining. He didn’t hear anything from within, not even the hum of electronics that were plugged in but not on. Just to be safe, he rapped his knuckles against the door in as polite a knock as he could muster.
The Boss wouldn’t like it if he, in the process of removing the evidence, also blew up a family of four. Vlad liked to stay out of the papers.
No one answered his knock. Satisfied, Brand went back to 302. Anyone else on the floor would be clear of the blast, and would have time to evac from any fire, he figured. He was humming The Doors under his breath as he seized double fistfuls of silverware and tossed them into the microwave. Pausing to consider for a moment, he opted to add another couple of handfuls. Nodding to himself, he closed the door – taking a moment to run his rough and scaly tongue against a particularly tempting blot of spaghetti sauce that had splattered against it – before drumming his talons against the timer dial.
“Jeez, they oughta make instruction manuals for these kind of things…”
Shrugging, he turned the dial as far as it would go. Thirty minutes should do it. If it worked at all. Sure, he’d been warned about it hundreds of times, but he still wasn’t entirely certain if it actually worked that way or not. If not, he’d have to lurch down to the gas station and do it the old fashioned way. Probably just should have done that in the first place. But his impish curiosity was awake no, and he’d come this far…
Minutes later, standing at street level and staring up at Monica’s apartment window with the rapt gaze of a cat studying a juicy and possibly eviscerated rat, Brand screeched with delight as a blue arc of lightning flickered across the window. A moment later, the glass blew out, belching a jet of fire several feet long. Raining down into the street below came several knickknacks, a paperback or two, and a single fork, the tines now bent outwards and the silver blackened.
Satisfied, Brand began walking away, dialing 911 as he went. They’d come, put out the fire, determine nobody had been home – best thing about vamps, in Brand’s opinion, was the way they just went poof when they died – and start looking for Monica to have her call the insurance folks. He didn’t have fingerprints to leave behind – one of the many advantages of having talons over actual fingers, as he kept trying to tell the Boss – and any blood from the Boss, his dame, or the dead lady would be flash-fried and buried under the soot. No fuss, no muss, no bother. Plus, rescue staff would get anybody else out before something bad happened.
It wasn’t like he wanted anyone to actually die, after all. He wasn’t a monster


Vampire 2.0 – Social Networking

(Missed where it began? The story starts here…)

Social Networking

Monica set her cup down on the entirely-too-cute cat-shaped coffee table. her face was drawn down, her eyes half-lidded. She rose from the couch, wincing at the squeak the black leather made as her rear slid across the surface, cutting her eyes to the side to see if Vlad had heard, and if so, what judgment he was making. His eyes were unfocused, staring into space as he listened to whoever was on the other end of the line, and giving no indication he had heard.
Breathing a sigh of relief, she crept across the living room, pausing to turn the stereo down a notch, before parking herself in front of the picture window that looked out over the street below. She crossed her arms beneath her breasts, cupping her elbows and gnawed her lip.
“What sort of problem?” she heard him say from behind her, and fought the urge to shudder. He had a voice that should have been on the radio or narrating movies about penguins; silky smooth, just deep enough that it vibrated all the tiny bones in her ear in a way that brought on both calm and lust in a storm of sensations that left her feeling a trifle lightheaded. There was something underneath that velvet, though, something rough and untamed, that lent it a sense of danger or hidden strength.
She knew she shouldn’t be this smitten with him – they’d just met after all, and he was certainly mysterious and not a local, both warning signs of impending walks of shame and desperate phone calls – but she couldn’t seem to help it. All of him – both the sultry and the dangerous – called to her in a way she didn’t quite understand.
Besides. It’s not like it’d be a long walk. You are in your own apartment, after all. That was true. What was also true is that she had a tall, dark, handsome and potentially dangerous stranger sitting on her couch and talking to someone about “delivering” someone else, that she had invited him here for a drink and a chance to talk without the throbbing music of the club interrupting them, and the only one who knew she’d done so was Lucita, who wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a cannibal rapist and an altruistic millionaire unless the cannibal had scraps of human flesh hanging between his teeth. Maybe not even if them, if he was dressed well or in the vicinity of a fire truck.
She tried to tell herself that cannibalistic homicidal rapists were unlikely to pick up boring fat girls then sit on their couches talking about world travel and literature for an hour before killing them. It only half worked; part of her was convinced that was exactly what that sort of person would do. After all, the victim was unlikely to be missed, and they were probably kind of lonely. Mass murder wasn’t likely to sit well with having an actual social life.
Despite all that, she found herself attracted to him. More intrigued by his odd demeanor – and whatever he might have meant by delivering this Isaac, whoever or whatever that was – that worried.
Besides, Mon. Even if he is some kind of psycho killer, at least you’ll go out in a more interesting way than most. Better to be remembered like the Dahlia than forgotten as the girl who couldn’t stay away from the Krispy Kremes and used to sit in Cubicle 4-A, right?
She laughed at herself, shaking her head and turning away from the window as she heard Vlad’s phone bloop from a disconnected call. He was standing up, uncoiling from the couch in a liquid movement that made her arch a brow and wonder if he was always that limber.
“I apologize, Monica. I must go.”
His tone actually sounded sorrowful. The syllables were clipped, tinged with what she guessed was irritation – though at his caller, this Isaac person or the situation she wasn’t sure – and were spoken with a precision that had been absent for most of their conversation. Before, his words had been liquid and seductive, pouring over her ears like honey. His faint accent – something Eastern European, she’d thought, though what she knew about Russia was primarily from bad movies – added a rhythmic quality and odd accentuation of some sounds that she’d been hard-pressed to resist. Now that was gone; she might have been talking to a slightly malevolent robot for all she knew.
She sighed, blowing her hair out of her face. Figures. Bring a guy home, and he wants to jump ship before he even tries anything. Her hands twisted into knots in front of her while she tried to manufacture a smile.
“Really? That sucks. Thought we were having fun. Thought we might have some more.”
God, Monica. Why don’t you just tear your shirt off and say “Take me you beast, you!” Subtle.
Rolling her eyes at her own internal monologue, a small nervous laugh snuck past her lips. She turned away, hoping he hadn’t caught the flush that was creeping across her cheeks but suspecting he had. He was entirely too observant.
She heard him take a step, his polished boot thudding lightly against the hardwood floors she spent too much time polishing. Her skin prickled as she sensed him reaching out for her, perhaps to touch her shoulder. She wanted him to. Wanted him to turn her around, stare deep into her eyes and say…
“What the…”
Wait. What? That wasn’t how her script went. Was it?
A moment later, as the endorphins released from the expected moment of tenderness were boiling what brain she had left, she heard a thud against the door. Monica turned, wondering who the hell would be banging on her door at this hour. Her question was answered as a familiar voice crept through teh thin walls.
“Mon, honey… you have terrible luck with men, you know that?”
 Monica cocked her head, glancing between the door and her guest. Something wasn’t right. Over years of friendship, Monica had heard a great many tones of voice from Lucita, but she’d never heard her sound like that; hoarse, guttural, loaded with potential violence. She found herself glad she’d shot the bolt after she and Vlad had come in.
Oh, so now locking out your best – and pretty much only – friend is a good thing?
Despite the sarcasm dripping from that internal voice and her natural tendency to believe the worst about herself, she discovered that, yes, she actually did believe it was a good thing. It was more than the threat of violence contained in the other woman’s voice; there was a sensation with it as well. All the hair on her arms and the back of her neck was standing straight up, and her flesh was crawling. Something in the tone was practically inhuman, as though something was just pretending to be Lucy. Doing a great job of it maybe, but still wrong in some fundamental way.
“Let me in, Mon. It’ll be alright. But you’re not safe in there.”
Despite the words implying concern, Monica’s fright response only increased. She could almost hear Lucy laughing in between the words, an animalistic cackle like hyenas on the hunt.
Vlad stepped in front of her, his thin face drawn, eyes narrowed. Monica thought she saw them gleam red for a moment, but dismissed it as nothing more than a reflection from the neon outside playing tricks on her. His lips seemed fuller than they had moments ago, pooching out from his face underneath flaring nostrils. The effect frightened her even more. Something obviously had his wind up, but normal people didn’t tend to look like they were going to Hulk out just because of an inopportune knock, did they?
He pitched his voice low and whispered to her. “Invite her in.”
She tilted her head. Invite her in? What was that about? While she was thinking it over, Vlad steadied himself between her and the door. While she thought the movement and intent to be so very chivalrous, part of her was still offended. After all, it was just Lucy out there, not Jack the Ripper. Right?
She wasn’t sure any more. Between Lucita’s voice, Vlad’s reaction, and the way her guts were twisting into knots, she was almost prepared to believe anything.
Without taking his eyes from the door, spreading his arms to cover the widest point in front of her, Vlad spoke again, sill quietly.
“Do it. She’s not going to leave.”
Monica considered telling him that there was no point, that the deadbolt was engaged and unless Lucita had turned some of her considerable bulk to muscle and was carrying a battering ram, there was no way she was getting in unless they unlocked the door. But the set of his shoulders, the businesslike tone, and the fear of whatever Lucy might be up to made her decide going along was the better choice.
“Lucy? Um. Come on in, I guess?”
Her voice cracked on the last syllable. She reached to cover her mouth, embarrassed again.
A harsh thud. The door bowed in the middle, as though the wood itself was straining to reach them. Vlad flapped a hand at her, eyes not leaving the door.
“Stay back.”
A new tone of voice, in a night that was apparently full of them. Gone was the honey-soaked intellectual libertine. Likewise the terse and irritated businessman. This was a command, spoken with a regal authority that could not be denied. Monica backed up another step, almost tripping over the tail of the cat coffee table before catching herself.
She could feel her heart throbbing inside, knew her breath was coming in quick, shallow gasps, but couldn’t stop it. She supposed that was understandable; what troubled her more was that her nipples were getting hard. It wasn’t cold in here – in Vegas it rarely was – but what the hell did she have to be excited about?
Maybe because the handsome stranger seems ready to do or die for the fair maiden? Her sarcastic inner voice, always helpful, chimed in. Maybe. Maybe not. Didn’t matter. That was her friend out there… wasn’t it?
Another thud, this one preceded by a rapid fire tattoo of thudding feet on all carpet. Apparently Lucita, or whatever was using her voice, had decided to take a running jump at the door. This time it didn’t bow or bend. Almost in slow motion, Monica saw a crack form in the center of the door, spreading up and down before spiraling outward. The reinforced wood splintered and then just fell apart, raining down on her freshly-cleaned carpet. Irrationally, her first thought was the cost of renting a steamer again.
Then she caught sight of the figure on the other side of the threshold and stopped worrying about being randy, was no longer concerned about finding a steam cleaning service at this hour, or whether she still had an extra Three Muskateers bar hiding out above the medicine cabinet.
It was Lucita. Sort of. The same short and roundly built frame, with caramel skin that constantly left people questioning just where her parents had come from. The same elaborately crafted nails and their coat of fire red polish. The same blue dress, elastic in all the right places and with extra support to flaunt what she considered her greatest assets. But Lucita had brown eyes, and the thing in the hallway was possessed of gleaming red orbs, lit like an animal’s caught in a pair of headlights. Lucita also should have been panting with the strain of what she had just done – hell, she got winded walking from her desk to the water cooler, most days -while this figure was standing still as a stone. Monica wasn’t even sure it was breathing at all.
The statuesque illusion was broken when Lucita spoke.
“And there he is. Man of the hour.”
Vlad’s arms came down to rest at this sides. Monica could see the muscles thrumming in his shoulders, ready to act should it become necessary, but for some reason he was trying to pay it cool. She couldn’t unglue her tongue from the roof of her mouth to provide any input.
“You have no business here, thing. Go. Leave us be, and I’ll forgive this transgression.”
Thing? Transgression? What the fuck is he talking about?
Lucita laughed, and while it was closer to her usual laughter than her voice had been from the other side of the door, it was still utterly wrong. Monica pressed her thighs together, trying to contain the urge to wet herself. It was as though every bad dream she’d ever had was wrapped up int hat laugh, made all the worse by the familiarity of the source.
“And who are you to give such commands? Nothing. Nobody. But I’m gonna be somebody, just as soon as I take care of you.”
She stepped through the doorway, her freshly painted lips spreading in a smile that revealed her teeth. They were no longer the pearly whites that Monica had grown used to seeing over the years of her friendship with the woman; now they were yellow and jagged. The canines were far too long, looking like fangs. Still coated with lipstick, however, which was customary.
Unless that’s not just lipstick, her mind insisted on adding. Between the destruction of the door, the way Lucy sounded, and those awful teeth, she wondered if she’d fallen into a bad production of some cut-rate Dracula spinoff.
Vlad’s shoulders trembled, and Monica saw his fists clench so tightly the knuckles went white. When he spoke next, his voice had roughened, gained a note similar to the one Lucita had. Monica shuddered, taking a step away from the pair. She eyed the distance, accounting for Vlad’s reach, and wondered if she could dart past them both and down the hall. That inhuman tone, those teeth, the overly emotional reaction the tall, dark stranger was having, all of them added up to one thing: trouble. Trouble that she was certain she wanted no part of.
“Nothing?” Vlad thundered. “You dare call me nothing, whelp?”
Lucita laughed again, planting herself solidly in the door frame and ensuring any hope Monica had of escape was quashed.
“I dare much. Especially in service to my lord.”
“I am your lord. Perhaps you’ve forgotten, assuming that whatever diseased tick spawned you even bothered to teach you properly.”
Lucita bellowed, putting enough force into the scream that Monica swore her hair was blown back. Vlad seemed unimpressed, putting up one hand and twitching it in a beckoning gesture. Lucita took the bait, leaping towards him.
Monica wasn’t entirely certain what happened. They moved faster than her eyes could track. At one moment, Vlad was standing in the middle of the room, one arm outstretched in a mocking gesture while the other hung by his side and Lucita had been tensed on her heels in the doorway, propelling herself forward.
A single blink later, Lucita was on the ground, Vlad had his foot against her throat and both her wrists trapped in one hand. He was bearing down on her, putting enough weight behind it that Monica was certain she could hear bones grinding.
“You have two options here, fledgeling. I doubt you will appreciate either of them, but one of them leaves you alive. Cease your struggles, or I end you.”
Monica found her own voice. Regardless of how disturbing the sight of Lucita was at the moment, no matter what or who she might have come for, she was still Monica’s friend. Still the one who served as her support structure and brought the ice cream when a crisis loomed. Still the one who had helped her get things back together when her parents had passed and Monica had fallen almost completely apart.
Lucita stopped thrashing against Vlad’s boot, her neck creaking as she glanced towards her friend. Vlad tilted his eyes upward, brows raised. Both of them looked surprised, as though they’d forgotten she was there at all.
“What the hell are you doing? Wand what’s wrong with you, Lucy?”
Vlad opened his mouth, perhaps to answer, but before anything came out Lucita’s fist had filled the gap. Somehow she’d wriggled one arm free and had socked him with it. His head jerked back, punctuated with a grunt of pain and Monica’s own shriek. Lucita slithered out from under him with a snakelike undulation that Monica would have believed if she hadn’t watched it happen. She knew Lucy was flexible – hadn’t the woman bragged about it often enough while boasting of her sexual exploits? – but it just didn’t seem possible.
Monica darted forward as Lucita rose from the ground.; Vlad was wiping his bloodied chin with one hand, looking shocked. An almost regal expression of offense, eyes wide, jaw dropped. Monica expected him to fall into the role of a noble on some bad medieval soap opera and start shrieking “How dare you!?”
She didn’t have much time to worry about Vlad and his bruised chin and ego, though. She couldn’t let them go on like this. Monica threw her arms around Lucita’s ample waist, throwing herself backwards as she did. Her Aikido classes would be good for something other than embarrassing herself in front of the instructor after all, she hoped.
Hope was short lived. Lucita planted her legs and hunched slightly, leaving Monica thinking she might as well have tried to lift a pissed-off elephant.
“Mon, honey, you shouldn’t interrupt when the grownups are fighting.”
She twitched one finger at Monica in a scolding gesture, then lowered her shoulder and threw her hips into Monica’s gut. She doubled over, losing her grip, and with another butt-thrust, Lucy sent her flying back against the wall.
What the hell…? Her head was ringing, and there was a disturbing white rim around the edges of her vision, throbbing in and out with her heartbeat. She shook her head, trying to clear it, and only succeeded in making things worse; now she could see three of Lucy and two blurry black figures she thought were Vlad. Something was trickling down her face. When she swiped at her nose with one hand, the fingers came away red.
“You’ve defied me.”
His voice was booming, seeming to shake the walls. Monica thought if the volume rose any higher, bits of plaster would start raining down from the ceiling and windows would crack. She tried to tell herself that was just the concussion talking, but wasn’t entirely sure.
“You’ve mocked me. You’ve injured one I consider under my protection – who you claim as a friend – and you have made me very, very cross. That is more than enough reason to revoke my offer of amnesty.”
Monica saw the three Lucitas turning, saw them lifting their arms, which now appeared to end in blade-like barbs of bone rather than hands, so Monica knew the concussion was the one doing the talking, now. She tried to cry out a warning, but her lips seemed glued shut.
Vlad and his blurred double reached out, plucking something from the corner. Long, slender, shaft-like. She couldn’t think of what it might have been until he lifted it up, turned it sideways, and snapped it over his knee, sending splinters and bits of straw flying. Her broom. He just broke her broom! Part of her wanted to be angry, to begin shouting, but she still couldn’t move except to slide further down the wall.
Lucita finished turning, everything happening in slow motion. Vlad was raising the shattered chunk of broomstick, bringing it up to chest level. Lucita wasn’t looking; her attention was still on Monica, even as she leapt towards Vlad.
Vlad set his shoulders, that inky black swirling around him, intensifying even as Monica’s vision started to clear, leaving only one of each of the combatants. Lucita finally turned to face the thing she was hurtling towards. While Monica could no longer see her friend’s face, she was fairly certain it would be carrying an almost fatal expression of surprise.
Vlad grunted, falling back half a step as Lucita’s bulk flew through the air and skewered itself on the makeshift spear. He braced his rear leg and pushed forward, reaching around and pushing against her back with one hand, driving the broomhandle almost totally through Lucita’s body. She twitched. Once. Twice. Vlad let go of the stick, leaving Lucita’s body to fall to the ground with a heavy thud, blood leaking out and running across Monica’s floor.
“Wha… oh. Oh God.”
Monica scrabbled across the floor, crying out as her head bashed into the tail of her ridiculous coffee table. She flailed at the high neck of Lucita’s obnoxiously pink turtleneck, feeling for a pulse, uncaring of the blood that was seeping onto the floor and her clothing.
Vlad laid a hand on her shoulder, leaving an accusatory bloodstain.
Monica reached up, shoving his hand away from her. She wasn’t finding a pule. Lucita didn’t appear to be breathing. The teeth Monica thought she’d seen were gone, nothing lurking behind Lucy’s slack and unmoving lips but rows of white enamel. A small pit in one of the lower canines reminded Monica that she had a dental appointment next Tuesday; the mental string of association that led her there caused a hysterical laugh to bubble out of her.
Your best friend’s dead and you’re worried about cavities?
“Monica,” Vlad whispered.
Something in his voice was beckoning her, an impossible allure that sent a ripple of heat through her thighs and broke her train of thought. She wasn’t worried about finding a pulse, or scheduling dental appointments; she only wanted to look at him. Monica turned away from the body, looking up to Vlad like a penitent before her god.
His expression was stern, the jaw set tight and back, eyes smoldering with a pinprick of fire in the center of each dark brown orb. Barely moving his lips, he spoke again, addressing her in a tone that she imagined might have been the same one an old baron might have used with a recalcitrant servant.
“Get up. Leave her. It’s nothing but meat.”
Beneath the lust and the strange compulsion to obey, a small part of Monica cried out. Meat? Nothing but meat? That was her friend! And this… man… had murdered her! but regardless of how loudly that inner voice screamed, her conscious thought processes and the movements of her body were his to command, and they hurried to obey. She pushed herself up from the floor, extending a mewling, fawning hand towards his shoulder. A shudder corkscrewed through him as she made contact, a vibration that both elated and dismayed her. She dropped her hand, allowed her arms to dangle at her sides like a zombie lacking instruction or drive.
Vlad reached towards her, laying one cold hand across her face, thumb to one side of her throat, fingers to the other. He tilted her head, furrowing his brow as he looked for something. Seeming satisfied with what he saw – or perhaps what he didn’t – he broke contact and took a deep shuddering breath.
“We must leave.”
 “We, my lord?”
My lord? The internal voice questioned. What the hell are you thinking, Mon? She honestly didn’t know. It had just… slipped out.
He turned away from her, taking a moment to survey the wreckage of the door and following Lucita’s trail of destruction to the spot where her body now law.
“Yes. We. You’ll be coming with me. I can’t leave you here; more may come. Even if they do not, there will be police. Questions. Questions you are not yet prepared to answer. So we shall go. Come along.”
The part of her that was still rattling the bars of the cage inside managed to push hard enough to speak up, breaking whatever spell Vlad seemed to have over her for a moment.
“You just killed my best friend! Damn right the police will come!” The fact that said friend had also kicked in her door, had appeared to have become some kind of B-movie monster, and had given her a concussion seemed unimportant somehow. “I’m not going anywhere with you.”
She meant to punctuate it with a slap, reddening his cheek before she reached for her phone, but only managed to get her arm up halfway before her eyes locked with hers and she stopped. It felt like someone had just poured a vat of warm chocolate over the part of her that was resisting. She was helpless to do anything but let it coat her, let it in, delight in the sensation. Her hand trembled in the air between them, held for a moment, then fell slack once again.
“I am sure you don’t want to. But it must be done. I apologize. All will be explained once you are safe.”
The idea that Vlad would offer safety intensified that buttery drowning sensation. Her head dropped down, chin resting on her breastbone.
“As you wish it, my lord.”
Vlad spun on his heel, already drawing his cell phone as he stalked through the shattered hole that had been a front door only minutes before. Powerless to do otherwise, her feet being tugged along in his wake, she drifted after him.

(Want more? The story continues here…)


Vampire 2.0 – Pingback (Part 2)

(Want to know how it started? The story begins here…)


“And I say, ‘That ain’t a hot dog, honey!'”
Everyone at the table burst into raucous laughter, though judging from their expressions, the women to either side of Marelli had been picked for cup size and a willingness to go along with whatever they were told rather than any actual sense of humor.
Brand was seated between a toothpick of an Angelina Jolie impersonator wearing a scrap of gold fabric that didn’t leave anything to the imagination and a 300 pound gorilla in a discount suit. Next to the goon was another bimbo; this one blonde, tall, smuggling watermelons beneath an almost see-through mesh sweater. Marelli – a scrawny man who sported an impossibly wide waxed mustache to hide a harelip, who looked like he was going to bust out with a verse of Ave Maria at any moment instead of pull the .357 Brand knew the man kept in a shoulder holster under his ridiculously flashy purple sport coat – was across from him, still slapping one ring-adorned and impossibly hairy palm against the table.
“Not a hot dog, that’s a good one, Red. Good one.”
The switch from laughter to deadpan seriousness was so quick that it gave Brand whiplash. Had he been lacking in the ridiculous self-confidence that he was known for, he might have suspected Marelli was not as amused by the joke as he had first appeared. Marelli laced his fingers together and leaned over the table.
“You said you had business, Mr. Brand?”
Brand inched his hand out and slowly lifted his glass. Taking a moment to breathe the vapors coming off the violent green liquid within, he knocked the shot back and ran his black tongue over his beak before setting the glass down. It was all for show, of course; he could have just stated his business and been on his way, but Marelli seemed to appreciate playing by a script and Brand was happy to humor him.
“Yeah, about that. See, my boss has it on good authority that there was a bit of business done out here, you know what I mean? Normally, he don’t care too much what your family sells or to who, but…”:
Brand spread his claws, shrugging. His eyes glittered and his not-lips inched higher in his version of a predatory smile.
“Well, he don’t take too kindly when product gets used against him, you know?”
Marelli leaned back against the velvet cushions of the booth, taking a moment to twitch the privacy curtain aside and peek over the rims of his glasses as though checking for witnesses. He cast a glance and a twitch of the head to his goon, who nodded and got out of the booth, extending his ham-sized hands.
“Ladies,” the gorilla said in a voice that reminded Brand of the guy who’d done the voice for Vader in the old Star Wars flicks.
The girls glanced at each other, then back at Marelli.
“We goin’ somewhere, sugar?” the blonde asked. “I thought we were stickin’ with you!”
Her bovine features sagged, her voice inching into the territory of only audible by dogs. Brand winced, wondering how Marelli could stand getting any action from that corner; stupid, scrawny and with a voice that probably served as spermicide? No thanks.
The brunette went easier, slinking over Brand to exit the booth in one sinuous movement – pausing long enough to run a finger over Brand’s cheek, drop a wink, and mouth “Call me,” – and slipping past the hired muscle without looking back.
Marelli was ignoring the blonde. His gaze was focused on Brand. The imp wished he had some of the tricks that other members of Vlad’s retinue possessed; a little telepathy, mind-control or flat-out invisibility would do wonders right now.
“Baby? Sugarcakes?”
The blonde wasn’t taking the hint. If he’d had teeth to grind, Brand would have been scheduling a dental appointment by now. Thankfully, the goon put one hand on the woman’s wrist, another around her waist, and pulled her swiftly out.
“Let the man discuss his business, Joi. He’ll be in touch.”
She started to protest, but cast another glance over the scene – her mafia beau, silently watching a red dwarf with minimal facial features; a giant, trying to push her out of the way; the dwarf looking nervous and drumming his clawed hands on the table – and thought better of it. She let herself be pushed out the curtain. The bodyguard lowered his sunglasses and glanced between Brand and his boss, quirking an eyebrow.
“That will be all for the moment, Joey. Enjoy yourself.”
Without looking at the goon, Marelli produced a small wad of bills from within his technicolor coat and slid them across the table. Joey nodded, stuffed the bills into his own pocket, and passed through the curtain with a silent grace that Brand found himself admiring. He wouldn’t have thought the big man could move so well.
Once they were gone, Marelli nodded to himself, lifting a finger.
“Okay, now that it’s just the men, I’m gonna tell you something, Red. You listening?”
Brand nodded, trying not to squirm in his seat.
“My boys have been doing business with your boys for a long time. You know that, or you wouldn’t have come looking for me. Am I right?”
Brand bobbed his head, itching at his shoulder with the side of his face.
“But my boys gotta eat. They got families, they got tastes, and that means we do business with just about anybody they need to be making sales to. Who they sell to and why isn’t my business. I’m a facilitator, that’s all. So if you’re out here to get bitchy because who we sold to decided to start some shit, well, that’s going to make me a little angry, you know? Because I know for a fact that you have plenty of product of your own, a lot of it bought through my people, that’s ended up putting holes in people I do business with. And you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”
Brand wanted to laugh. The idea that this little shrimp was basically quoting the worst of Godfather and the Hulk to him – him, the top man in Vlad’s crew! – was far too funny. But there was a script, rules to be followed, and Brand supposed he should keep the man at least somewhat mollified. After all, his cousin did buy from Marelli, and not always in a strictly business relationship.
“Oh, I ain’t tryin’ to get you angry, boss. And my boss ain’t even mad, you know? Not at you. But the guy you sold to, well, him and my boss, they have a… uh… strained relationship. Kinda a last straw sort of thing, not that my boss considers himself much of a camel, you know what I’m sayin’?”
Brand snorted. Marelli didn’t appear amused, so he pushed forward.
“Right. Anyway, the Boss is gettin’ kinda tired of dealin’ with this sort of thing from this guy’s corner, and is plannin’ to take out the garbage, if you know what I mean. he just wants to find him. Or at least make sure it’s cool on your end if the guy has a little accident. And he plans on helping out, too.”
 Brand sipped his drink, giving Marelli time to process. The other man continued to stare at him, scrubbing his mustache with his thumb and index finger.
“Help out? What do you mean, help out?”
Brand cracked his neck, glancing skyward and humming to himself.
“Well, he’s got some nasty photos. I mean, not nasty, not like you’d go to the internet to look at when the old lady ain’t home, you know, but unfortunate to anybody who’s face is in ’em if you know what I mean. He’s kinda plannin’ to have the cops start lookin’ for the guy in the photo. Only problem is, there’s two other guys – two of your guys – also in that photo. Now, he figures if everybody is cool, nobody makes a fuss, maybe the cops only see the guy we want in that photo, and only round him up.”
Marelli’s eyes were narrowing. Brand nodded, spreading his claws in a placating gesture once again.
“But, if folks don’t wanna cooperate, well, maybe the police see who else is in the photo and things get unpleasant. I mean, you got a nice operation out here. Shame if somethin’ were to happen to it.”
Marelli snorted, flipping his hand at the air as though troubled by an inssect.
“You’ve seen too many movies, Red. You also don’t know when to quit. You think I am not aware how profitable my business is? Specifically the part of it that your organization finances? You don’t have to bring out the wiseguy routine. Jeez.”
Marelli leaned back against the cushions, cracking his neck from side to side.
“Now, just to make sure I have this clear – because we don’t want to have any misunderstandings, you know? – your boss is pissed. Yes?”
Brand rolled his eyes back, cocking his head.
“You could say that,” he muttered.
“Your boss has proof that my boys sold some toys to the guy he’s pissed at. Yes?”
Brand nodded.
“Well, yeah. He’s got some pretty primo -”
Marelli drew his fingers across his throat, clicking his tongue.
“Eh, eh, eh. Shh. Your boss wants the client, doesn’t want any ripples with me, and wants me aware that the police will be looking for the guy… with or without my cooperation, right?”
“Uh, right,” Brand agreed.
He shifted in his seat. He didn’t care for the lecturing tone; he took that sort of talk from precisely two people, and Marelli sure as hell wasn’t either his pops or the Boss.
Marelli laughed, slapping both hands down on the table. He laughed until tears began leaking from his eyes and his face had turned an uncomfortable shade of purple. Brand fidgeted some more, not liking this new development any more than the last.
“Uh… Mr. Marelli? You alright, there?”
He pushed a glass of water across the table with one outstretched claw, raising the bony ridge of his brow.
“Oh, yes, Red, I am just as fine as paint,” Marelli said, once he got the laughter under control. Once again he had turned deadly serious with barely a beat between the moods. Brand was beginning to wonder if the man had some kind of mental defect, like that bipolarity whatsits or something.
“Let me ask you something, Red.”
Marelli leaned across the table until his sweaty, reddened face was inches from Brand’s beak. His voice dropped to a sotto voce whisper as he hissed at the imp.
“Who do you think supplies the cops around here?”
Brand paused. He hadn’t thought of that, though he probably should have. Vegas wasn’t exactly known for its squeaky-clean cops, after all. Rolling his shoulders and toying with the end of his tie, he ran his tongue out to buy himself a moment before he answered.
“Um… you, I’m guessin’. If I had to guess. Didn’t know this was gonna be a quiz show.”
A paternal nod was the reward for his efforts.
“Yes. Precisely right, Red. Me. So even if you send them that photo and there’s a neon sign in the back that says ‘Marelli’s Illegal Weapons Emporium’ with my picture and social security number right on it, they’re not going to give me any grief. Got it?”
The mobster leaned back again. Brand resisted the urge to wave his hand in front of his face; Marelli’s breath smelled like his lunch had been rancid anchovies on toast, and the stench was making the gargoyle gag.
“So that part, I don’t really care about. Your boss could deliberately try to put the law on me, and the worst that would happen is I spend a few hours in a cell, after which a few witnesses are going to have a very bad day. You feel me? Now, because me and your cousin are old pals, and because you do a fair bit of business, I’m going to pretend you didn’t just try to threaten me.
“Instead, I’m going to pretend that you asked me if I had any particular attachments to this client, and if it was going to cause a problem if he had an accident. I’m further going to pretend you showed me ahis picture, and you asked if I might be so kind as to provide a last known location, or if it would trouble me if the police were looking for him.”
Brand began bobbing his head with enthusiasm, a cautious smile – or as close to one as his features would allow him – breaking.
“Yeah. Yeah, that sounds about right.”
His hand was buried in his pocket, rummaging for the photo that Vlad had handed over to him.
“And do you know what I’m going to pretend I said?”
“Well, you know, I’m hoping it was ‘yes,’ but Jeopardy was never my thing, you know.”
Marelli’s lips pulled back, revealing all his teeth. Some of them, Brand saw, had been filed to ridiculous-looking points. Whether it was just to fit in with the atmosphere of this place, or because the guy was secretly into bloodsports, Brand wasn’t sure he wanted to know.
“Well, maybe you should change your thing, Red, because that guess is mostly right. I’m going to say yes. Once you and me have a little show and tell session, I’ll get my guys on the line and they’ll sort it out and tell you what we know about him.”
Brand paused, then raised a questioning finger.
“But you said ‘mostly’ right, there. So… there’s what, a catch or somethin’?”
Marelli reached out and bipped Brand on the edge of his beak. The imp resisted the urge to bite off the offending finger. It was harder than it should have been, but Brand chalked it up to a bad day and kept the urge at bay with the Boss’ promise that, when this was wrapped up, they could maybe hit the convention. All those ladies wouldn’t have his exquisite company if he was sitting in a cell or fertilizing some farmer’s back 40, now would they?
“Bingo. That’s two for two. Now you’re learnin’. Next stop, Alex Trebek, right?”
Brand wasn’t entirely certain what he was learning here, except that Marelli was even more eccentric and obnoxious than he’d first assumed. But he managed to remain quiet.
“The phrase of the day is ‘favors to be determined later.’ You know and I know that your boss doesn’t strictly play by the rules. Maybe the bouncer thinks you’re just a midget with a skin condition, or that some of the other mooks he sends over have that weird-ass disease that turns your shit purple and means you turn into flambé at noon, but I’m a little less gullible. He’s got somethin’ elese goin’ on and I want a piece of that action. You deliver, got it?”
Brand folded his claws together, popping his knuckles while he eyed the other man. The Boss wasn’t going to like it; rule #1 since Vlad had taken over was “there’s no such thing as monsters,” and bringing someone else into the club was a giant slaw to that particular caveat. Still, Vlad wanted Van Hamstring on a pike, and it wasn’t like Brand was actually going to turn him or anything… the Boss could always work something out later.
Brand nodded, putting one hand out across the table.
“Alright. Deal.”
Marelli eyed the outstretched claw for a moment before taking it and giving it a brief pump. He reached into his coat, drawing out a cellphone that had seen better days. Pressing a quick combination of keys, he waited a moment before speaking.
“Ted? It’s me. Got someone coming your way.”
Marelli paused, shaking his head as a smirk crossed his features.
“No, it’s not Rebel Wilson. I’m telling you she’s busy.” Another pause. “Oh, you’ll know when you see him. Trust me. He’ll need an identification and a location. Priority one.”
Marelli used his free hand to make quacking gestures in Brand’s direction. Brand shook his head, scratching at his shoulders. He could feel a headache coming on.
“Un hunh. Yes. Your usual fee. Goodbye.”
Marelli clicked the phone shut and slid it back into his pocket.
“One of my men will provide the information you require. Teddy Stevens.”
He flicked a business card out of the pocket the phone had disappeared into and tossed it to the table in front of Brand.
“Address is on the back. When your business is finished, come back to me and we’ll discuss payment.”
Brand tweezed the card between his fingers and gave it a cursory glance before sliding it into his own pocket. Scootching out of the booth and wincing at the sound the pleather made against his suit, he tapped his forehead in a mock salute.
“Yep. Right. I’ll get back to you on that.”
“See that you do, Red. I don’t like to be kept waiting. Now get out of my joint.”
Marelli flapped a dismissive hand, then whistled. The large goon slipped through the curtain, holding it as Brand slipped past and back out into the club.
“Sorry, ladies,” Brand muttered to the imaginary harem that was waiting for him at the convention, their patience waning as he chased his tail. “Gonna be a little… Ow, ow ow!”
He stumbled through the door, clutching his hands to his head. The dull throb in the back of his skull had spiked suddenly, as though Spinal Tap had just reached in his dome and cranked all the dials to 11. He managed to trip and scurry his way to the side of the Hummer, when the pain took another leap forward, this time with an accompanying blast of mental static that Brand found all too familiar.
Scrunching his eyes shut, he went to one knee, trying to tune through the static and hear whatever was coming in underneath it. He just hopped the Boss hadn’t gotten into trouble, especially over that dame. Sure, she’d been a knockout, but not exactly worth dying for or anything.
When he heard the voice and its message, Brand’s face fell. He almost would have preferred an S.O.S. from the boss.
“Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.”
Brand had to find the Boss. Now. Teddy could wait. He forced himself up, turning his mental radio down as low as it would go; hopefully it would keep any more crippling psychic blasts from dropping him. He supposed he could turn it off – wasn’t like he didn’t do it sometimes, when he wanted some private time, even if the Boss’d murder him if he ever found out – but he wanted some warning in case that voice had anything else interesting to say.
He crawled into the driver’s seat of the Hummer, and started the engine, scrambling for the phone.
“Call the Boss!” he shouted at the digital assistant as he drummed his claws nervously on the steering wheel. One ringy-dingy… two ringy-dingy…
“Has Isaac been delivered?”
Vlad’s tone was thicker than normal. He was using the one Brand thought of as the fuck-me voice. Things must be going well with the dame, then. Brand swallowed past a lump in his throat. Bringing bad news to the boss was problem enough; doing it while he was obviously occupied was worse.
“Uh, Boss? We got a problem.”

(Want more? The story continues here…)


Vampire 2.0 – Pingback (Part 1)

(Want to see where it started? Click here!)


“Brussels sprouts again!?” Billy whined.
“Yecccchhhh,” Sally, his much-maligned and often tortured younger sister, chimed in.
Sighing and casting her eyes skyward, Elain Mors shook the long wooden spoon she had been using to dish out the vegetables at her tortured son.
“Look, I know you hate them.”
She tilted her head and slid her eyes to the side to include Susie as well.
“Both of you. Your father, too, for that matter. But they’re good for you, and you’ll eat them, or no dessert.”
Billy grumbled, pushing one of the hated green spheres around on his plate, rolling it in his mashed potatoes in the hopes that the white glop would dissolve it… or at least hide it from his mother’s eagle eyes. No such luck.
“I don’t think dessert is worth this. Not even if it’s a special dessert.”
His tongue, long and viciously barbed, slid across his lips with a lasciousness that did not belong in the repertoire of the ten tear old boy he appeared to be.
Hands on her hips, voice pitched in such a way that would brook no argument – but with a tremble underneath that Billy recognized as a warning that she was reaching her breaking point, probably due to the lack of such special desserts of late – Elaine snapped at her son.
“Well, I suppose it doesn’t matter now, does it? Go to your room! Both of you! No supper at all!”
 Billy opened her mouth, about to protest – and could see that Susie was doing the same – when a sharp pain suddenly ripped through his head, filling his brain with glassy spines that demanded his attention. A sound like feedback coursed from one side of his head to the other, and as he moved to cover his ears he saw his sister and mother doing the same.
Just as suddenly as it had begun, the sound stopped. But not all the way. There was still a faint hiss in his mind, like on the radio when the DJ had stopped talking for a moment but hadn’t keyed off his mic. A moment later that hiss became a voice, unfamiliar but somehow known and expected at the same time. Judging from his family’s rapt expressions, they heard it too.
“Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law,” this new voice said. Billy felt something in him change, a leash he hadn’t known he was wearing snap. His tongue dropped from his mouth, dangling against the collar of his shirt, throbbing and pulsing in time to his heartbeat. He could see Susie’s tongue doing the same, and the way her eyes went from the pretty blue that would make all the boys chase her in another couple of years to a solid crimson that somehow devoured the light around them. His mother showed no such changes, but her smell twisted, went from old lavender spray and dirty dishes – the smell of mom, to him – to something wet and red and rancid, old blood spilled in a cavern full of noxious mushrooms and left to rot.
“On second thought,” Elaine said, and the note of worry and anger was gone from her, replaced by a keening greed and a thoughtful uptilt that seemed to carry dreadful connotations. “Perhaps a special dessert isn’t off the menu tonight. Go get changed, kids. We’re going out.”
Both of them bounded from their seats, Billy a bit faster due to his lengthening limbs, and dashed upstairs. All three of them halted in their tracks as the voice came a second time.
“But one other little matter. Bring me Vlad Tepes. Bring me the Pretender. So speaks your master.”
Billy cocked his head. Pretender? Vlad had always been their king, or so his mother told him.
“Well, that’s interesting,” his mother hissed. “Changes in management are always so exciting!”
Susie began prancing in circles, flailing about with arms that had become tentacles, grotesquely long and distended, covered in three-inch long spines.
“New boss, new boss!”
Her singsongy tone was grating on Billy’s ears, so he lashed out with a tendril of his own, sending her sprawling. It didn’t make her shut up, just changed the tone from giddy expectancy to petulant mewling.
“Children, stop bickering. Let’s go.”
Billy sighed, helped his sister up, and squelched out the door after his mother.

* * *

Roderick slammed his stein back down on the table, his face stretched long in an expression of disbelief.
His companion, a hulking brute layered in black leather, adorned with a beard that seemed determined to swallow the entirety of his face, typically answering to the name Crusher, began to laugh. Clouds of alcohol-tainted breath washed over Rod, carrying with them the barest hint of rotten flesh.
“No, mate, I shit you not!”
Crusher was still laughing as he spoke, giving his voice an unusual rhythm that ebbed and flowed like a filthy tide.
“Fourteen inches, and all of it coming right out of her spine!”
Roderick shook his head, gulping down the last of his own beer. He was chuckling himself, though the story his friend was sharing was at least a little depressing. He remembered the time before the Inquisition, when they had all been free to do such things. Then had come the time of the burning, and Vlad and his damnable decrees had followed, and since then there wasn’t much to do but sit around, drink, and tell each other stories – almost all of them made up or grossly exaggerated – between quiet, clean kills that the papers never heard of.
Crusher crunched one hand against his eyes, brushing away black tears that had begun to leak from them. His laughter was tapering off, but left behind an awkward, reminiscing silence. He jerked his own stein upwards, thrusting it at Rod, who recoiled from it for a moment before lifting his own.
“To the good old days, eh, mate?”
 Crusher’s voice had gone mellow, miles from the barroom bellow that Roderick had grown accustomed to over the last three hundred years or so.
“The old -”
He stopped as a wave of sensation flooded him. Faint pain, tingling through all his extremities, followed by a warm glow. A sound like mosquitos buzzing in his ear, and then a voice, one that was unfamiliar and yet as accepted as his own.
“Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.”
He saw Crusher’s eyes widen, the whites flickering and swirling to an indigo hue, as though someone had squeezed a dropper or ink into them. He felt the sting in his own eyes and knew it was happening to him, too.
“Hear that, mate?”
Crusher’s voice was a hoarse whisper. The bear of a man was smiling, his lips spread out over teeth that seemed far too large for his jaw.
Roderick nodded.
“Time to party like it’s 1399, eh?”
Roderick nodded again. He could feel his own mouth widening as his teeth spread out and elongated, and didn’t trust himself to speak. Since becoming what he was, he had always been somewhat embarrassed by the speech impediments imposed by having dozens of dagger-sized teeth standing guard in front of a stub of a tongue.
Other patrons in the bar were starting to notice them; how could they not? A moment ago there had been a pair of burly, rowdy bikers trading exclamations of expletives. Now there were a pair of furred, vaguely human things standing there, snarling at one another while they pushed out of their chairs and flipped the table. Roderick felt the old red rage welling up in him, suffusing his limbs with strength beyond any mortal man, and began to laugh himself.
The pair descended on the humans present, making short work of them but lingering over the kills. It had been too long since they had shared a proper pint, after all, the blood of a fresh kill quaffed directly from the skull.
“Where next, mate?”
Crusher was picking at his teeth with something that appeared to be a finger bone. Rod shrugged while he rummaged among the remains for his jacket, hoping he hadn’t ruined it. The leather hadn’t come cheap, and just because they were off the leash didn’t mean he could suddenly become a wastrel.
“Start lookin’ for the poncey bastard who put the leash on in the first place, I wager. S’what the new boss wants. Heard him say as much between the screams.”
“Right. But what do you think the odds are that he’s anywhere nearby? Last news says he was stateside, not hiding out in the bush, you know.”
Rod stood up, lifting his coat and shaking the blood and bits of flesh off of it with an expression of manic glee on his twisted features.
“Well, yeah… Don’t mean we can’t have a spot of fun on the way to the airport, now does it?”

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Vampire 2.0 – Unauthorized User

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Unauthorized User

Franks stumbled, tripping over his own uncooperative feet and crashing to the marble floor. His glasses dropped from his face, sliding into the corner and, from the sound, shattering. No matter. He didn’t need them any longer.
“Mein Gott,” he whispered, as he turned himself over and sat up, brushing slowly at his nose and the bubble of blood forming there.
The things he had seen in the supposedly secret lair had been impressive enough from an architectural perspective, but had not seemed of much interest to the doctor; he had come for the secret knowledge of what his ostensible lord and employer had been up to, and home decor had seemed just a trifle underwhelming. But when he had approached the dais in the center of the room, had caressed it with trembling hands – still fearful that some of the preposterous “magic” that some of the other minions were always on about might be in play, despite his own disbelief in such concepts – things had changed. Oh so many things.
Not the least of it was his stance on the supernatural. Before, he had considered there to be two things in existence: the scientific, and the scientific that had yet to be proven or properly explained. He had devoted his life to exploring the latter concept, constantly pushing against the boundaries of accepted science until science itself had pushed back, shoving him straight out of the academics halls that he had attempted to carve his name into. Tepes’ employment offer had afforded him greater freedoms – even if it had come tempered with the knowledge that he must suffer many discourses on their primitive belief in concepts such as magic and demons – that had culminated in the experiments that had restored even the dark lord himself. But now he was going to have to reevaluate. Apparently there was a third category after all. Science beyond science, ideas so potent that the concept of sorcery was no longer outside the boundaries of his carefully ordered existence.
He had to accept such things, as after all, did he not command some of those forces himself, now?
Vlad’s resurrection seemed so paltry now. So utterly pointless. Of course, had Franks not been there, brought the vampire back from whatever land dead monsters roamed, he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to obtain the knowledge and power he now held. Certainly, the ideas that danced in his fevered brain, the concepts of what he could do – and with merely a whim, no need for time and resources and pulling his hair out by the roots, now – were far greater than keeping one mangled undead corpse ambulatory. But still, they owed their existence to that particular corpse, which gave him a certain fondness for it.
Even if he was now going to have to destroy it.
After all, the world couldn’t have two like him, now could it? That wouldn’t do at all. Tepes was going to have to stand aside; knowing him as he did, Franks knew that the vampire would sooner die. Franks intended to make good on that.
“And now for something… completely different!”
His voice was no longer marred by the accent of his youth. No more a dramatic stage whisper. Now it was roughened, coarse, demanding with a note of command instead of the shrieking petulance he had trained himself not to hear in his old, puling demands.
Trembling, Franks rose. Closing his eyes he could see them. The armies of the night, arrayed across the world. Could sense where each and every one of them was; a whiff of mangoes here, the moon-cast shadow of a sole farmer on a rice paddy there, a figure obscured by the exhaust of hundreds of vehicles from a third venue. All of them bound to him by nothing but his will and the faintest effort of concentration.
Franks’ lips pulled upwards, twisting his face into a macabre clown’s grimace. In his mind he could hear the hum of an open line, a telephone receiver that spoke directly to the subhuman souls of all the supernatural monstrosities of the world. A command would be impossible for them to deny. A suggestion would bring with it gleeful compliance. He had only to issue that command, that suggestion.
He could sense them listening, the way a dog might sit with its head cocked as the master approached. He could also hear their own thoughts, their own desires, pulsing in that open line.
“Free us,” it echoed, over and over again.
Vlad’s commands chafed them, and they wanted nothing more than to throw over his draconian tyranny and do as their natures commanded.
He ran a dry tongue over his lips, not noticing – and unlikely to be concerned if he had – the coarseness of their texture, or the way they were turning a pallid blue against his white flesh. His teeth loomed out of his jaw, yellowed tombstones that some vandal had seen fit to knock askew and deface.
Franks issued his command.
“Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” Crowley’s old declaration seemed somehow appropriate for the situation to Franks.
From that internal connection, he sensed a cheer of volume and proportion that he could barely have imagined before. No more would others laugh, or mock him, or cast him aside. Even had they wanted to, it would be impossible. The monsters needed a master, and so long as that master existed, they would revere and serve him.
I have become a God among them, Franks thought. Punctuating it with a giggle, he began to totter down the hallway to his lap, unmindful of the hitch in his gait, or how his legs seemed to have grown thick and heavy, the feet boulders that rocked the mansion’s foundation as they thudded down with each step. He thought only of the one addendum to the command he should make.
Opening that mental line once more, he spoke again. There was less fanfare, but still a sense of eagerness to execute whatever command was coming. Some, perhaps, felt that issuing the decree was making Franks just as much of a tyrant as his predecessor. Perhaps there was a stripe of that in his nature, but this command would ultimately benefit them all, and was the only such demand he intended to force upon his new children.
Satisfied as a hush fell over the mental link, he reinforced the command, then once more. He smirked at the mental chatter he was picking up from the beings who now shared a portion of his mind.
“Do this, and be forever free.”
He closed the mental link with the same curtness he would have used in slamming shut an offensive textbook and continued on his way.
Vlad would be his soon. After that? The world, and all that lay within it, natural and unnatural, was his oyster.

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Vampire 2.0 – Wayback Machine – Part 2

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“Are you certain this is the place, Brand?”
Vlad’s voice was tentative, laced with a veil of disgust and caution as he surveyed the exterior.
The place proclaimed itself as “Gothique,” with a blue neon sign easily as tall as Vlad himself and some twelve feet wide. The front of the building appeared to have been redesigned from warehouse roots into a mock-up of a castle. The windows were large arches with red and yellow streamers blowing about in an attempt to replicate fire, papier-mâché gargoyles and grotesques were mounted at regular intervals, and all of the signage was done in a font that even Vlad – who had been tutored in Arabic during his youth and had been fond of Copperplate during the 18th century – found difficult to decipher from barbed line art into coherent words.
Brand, who was glaring at one of the gargoyles – a particularly noisome one with the facial features of a pig and bared breasts that had bullets for nipples – jerked out of his reverie to glance at his master.
“Huh? Oh, yeah, boss. You want to talk to someone from the Marellis, you talk to ’em here. Good authority, ya know? My cousin, he once bought this mail-order bride from the guys…”
Vlad shook his head, tapping his wrist and trying to ignore the faint metallic tinging the gesture produced. Brand raised his hands, shook his head, and continued.
“Right, right. Anyways. Yeah, the Marelli guy my cuz was talkin’ to, he hangs out here. Gets off on the whole vampire thing. Pretty funny, eh, boss?”
It wasn’t, at least not to Vlad. The idea that humans were so in love with the creatures of the night, while useful to him – and he was not above exploiting it when it served his purposes – was a source of confusion and disdain. Despite his status as Lord of the Night, he found his own nature at least somewhat repulsive, and had chosen it only when there had been no other options left to him. The fact that most humans had no idea when a real child of darkness walked among them – only reinforced by the living creatures scurrying around him, staring at each other, practically drooling, while brushing past him as though he didn’t exist – wrung sour bemusement from him.
“Anyway. He’ll be in there. Somewhere. And, hey, maybe we can set aside a budget for some affirmative action? Those statues are racist. I’ve never seen a ‘goyle that looks like this!”
He gave the nipple of the offending statue a tweak, then cawed in surprise as it came off in his hand. Stuffing it sheepishly in his pocket and glancing around to see if anyone had noticed, he spread his palms in a “what can you do?” gesture.
Vlad was hardly listening. He’d taken a moment to scan the crowd again, and had seen her. Stepping from a cab and looking roughly as pleased as Vlad himself was to be here – which is to say, not at all – was a young woman in a form-fitting purple dress over a pair of black tights. It looked a trifle loud for the crowd here, but Vlad felt it suited her well. She was rummaging in her bag, probably to pay her fare, and kept flipping a lock of thick black hair that refused to stay in place over her shoulder.
Had he still possessed breath or a heart, they might have stopped. The curves of her face, the style of her hair, the way her eyes flitted between her search and the cabbie, all reminded him achingly of his lost Mina. interrupting his reverie, the most unwelcome display of his internal systems overlaid its search data, feeling it important to inform him that her name was Monica Harkness, age 28, Blood Type A, and her last known credit score was 730. He closed his cybernetic eye and allowed himself to focus on his more human feelings without the information overload; he looked at her, and for a brief time felt as a man again instead of a walking corpse twice over.
As though alerted by that primal sense that most humans choose to ignore, the woman glanced over her shoulder, picking him easily out of the crowd – his own attire wasn’t particularly suited to the venue, either – and locking eyes with him. Her mouth curled in a faint smile, her thick lips quirking ever so slightly upward. The look in her blue eyes seemed to be equal parts confusion and lust; somewhere inside he could hear circuits turning over, clicking away as they tried to convey something to him, but he refused to open his other eye. He was content to use his own senses to take her in. He took a deep breath, willing her scent to come to him.
Past the layers of sweat and pancake makeup, the atrocious stench of desperate hormones seeking mates, the hundreds of forms of alcohol inside and their hellish combined miasma, the perfume that had been layered atop hundreds of bodies, often to excess… past that, he found it. Lilacs on a summer afternoon, the heightened number of enzymes in her own body that spoke of frustration, curiosity, and a shock of lust. Something he hadn’t smelled in nearly three centuries. He knew that if he allowed it to, his internal system would identify it as a match to his own memory. It was not enough that she looked like his lost Mina; she carried her scent as well.
Interrupting his reverie and breaking the moment, Brand elbowed him in the knee.
“Hubba hubba, am I right, Boss? I mean, look at those kno-”
The gargoyle was silenced by Vlad’s robotic hand clamping down on his shoulder, squeezing tight enough to spawn a muscle spasm and turn the flesh into a hard knot of misfiring neurons.
The woman – Monica, his internal systems insisted on telling him – finally tore her gaze away, laughing with a self-conscious hand over her mouth, before returning to her business of paying the fare. Free from her gaze, Vlad deigned to open his other eye and stare down at the gargoyle.
“Find this Marelli. Inform him of our intents. Show him the photograph. If he knows where to find Van Helsing, procure the information from him regardless of the price. Wait for me in our suite.”
Brand gulped, scrubbing at his shoulder as Vlad released him.
“Uh, yeah, sure, Boss. You got it, dependable as always, but wh-”
Vlad cut him off again, no longer interested in Brand’s asides. He was lost in his own memories, and for a moment wished he were still who had been rather than who he was now. There was so much more mystery and entertainment in the hunt – be it for blood or the favor of a woman – when you didn’t already know everything about them before even speaking to them. But he would still relish asking this woman her na,e, and what she did, and how she had come to end up at this place. All the delicate steps of courtship, as he had done twice before, and reliving them a third time would be no less sweet for the repetition… or for the almost certain poor end it would come to.
“See to our business, Brand. I have business of my own.”
Brand glanced between the woman and his master again. His face pulled back into a mockery of a sly smile.
“Oooh, I gotcha, Boss. Go get yourself some. I got this, no problem.”
The gargoyle toddled away, heading towards the bouncer. Vlad remained still, watching and waiting. She would come this way soon enough, and then the dance would begin.
Mina. Again. After all this time


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Vampire 2.0 – Wayback Machine (Part 1)

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Wayback Machine

Monica stared at the intersection’s crosswalk light, as though sheer force of will could make it change. Lord knew she had a surplus of angry willpower this evening. Having been dragged away from studying by Lucita for the purpose of attending a pre-convention party, forced into an outfit she would have described as questionable at best, and subjected to a series of bizarre, fetish-obsessed males in the throes of a feeding frenzy that would have made a shark envious, she was in no mood to be balked by the absence of one little green man on a sign.
Taking a deep breath and feeling slightly better about herself for having decided to buck the system – even in such a small fashion as walking against the light – Monica took a step forward. Almost immediately she heard a horn blare, and she jumped backward on sheer reflex. Half a second later, a Hummer painted the most obnoxiously violent shade of yellow she had ever seen blew through the space she had been occupying. A small red fist – that looked to be missing fingers – shot out of the window and shook at her as the vehicle passed, while an angry voice with a thick New York accent drifted through the slipstream and back to her.
“Watch where ya goin’, ya dumb broad!”
She raised her middle finger and shook her fist at the motorist.
“Watch this, asshole!”
Lowering her arm, she sighed, staring down at her feet and the ridiculous thigh-high boots she was wearing.
“It’s what you get, Monica, thinking you could come out and play,” she muttered to herself.
All in all, it had been a terrible evening. Maybe she’d have been better off if the misogynistic idiot in the yellow Hummer had run her down; at least then her physical state would have matched the mental one.
Giving her head a brisk shake in an attempt to clear it, Monica took another glance up and down the street, checking for any other stray military vehicles. Seeing none, she scurried across.
As she got one foot mounted on the opposing sidewalk, vibrations began assaulting her thighs. Monica took a moment to realize it was her cellphone, trapped in the waistband of the Lycra pants she had donned that evening. Pulling out the phone, she scowled at the screen for a moment before swiping it and placing the device to her ear.
“Date not going so well, Lucy?”
Monica glanced around herself, orienting the neon haze of the strip to her right, before continuing down the street. Part of her wanted to call a cab, but after her experiences tonight, she thought the walk would do her good.
“Eh, Paolo was a turd. But there’s plenty of other guys, you know, lots of opportunity. I think there’s even a firefighter or two!”
Monica sighed, careful to turn her mouth away from the phone first. Lucita’s obsession with public servants – particularly of the tall, strong and dumb variety – had always been a mystery to her.
“You’re doing that sideways sigh thing again, aren’t you, Mon? I totally you know you’re doing it. You know you snort right before, right? Just because I can’t hear the sigh doesn’t mean I don’t know.”
Monica coughed, sputtering for a moment. She considered half a dozen responses, looking for the one earmarked get out of jail free, but before she could decide on one, Lucita was already prattling on.
“Besides, you could do with someone throwing you over their shoulder and lugging you up some stairs. Maybe with a little pole action…” Lucita’s voice became reflective. The addition of a throaty moan did nothing to improve Monica’s mood.
“Why, yes, Lucy. That’s just what I need. To be lugged. Way to make a girl feel special, honey.”
Monica blew an errant lock of her chestnut hair from her face, glancing behind her again to make sure the Vegas strip was still in the right place. She’d been strutting while Lucita daydreamed without paying much attention to her direction. Thankfully, she was still on course. Three more blocks, and she’d be at the Dunkin’ Donuts. A right turn and two more blocks, and she’d be home. She tried to tell herself that the donut shop was merely a helpful landmark and not a destination in and of itself, but the rumbling in her stomach seemed to feel otherwise.
“Oh, come on, Mon. I didn’t mean it like that. Jeez, you know if you’d stop whinging about it less people’d care, right? We get it, you’re fat. Deal. Isn’t like I let that stop me, am I right?”
Monica rolled her eyes again, cringing at Lucy’s use of the word “whinging.” She must have been on again. The flickering of shame at the edge of her mind was tempered by a bit of anger. Of course Lucy didn’t complain; she also didn’t mind throwing herself with desperation at anyone who looked at her, like she was somehow desperate to prove every stereotype about bigger girls ever spilled on the internet.
“Lucy, look, I’m kind of busy right now… if you had a point, maybe you could get to it?”
She tried her best to sound laughing and light, but Monica wasn’t really in the mood. Between the walk, almost being turned into dog food by a lemon-yellow war machine, and the latest aborted attempt at socializing, all she wanted was a Bavarian cream and the safety of her bed and a book.
Lucy didn’t seem about to give up, however. Whether she was ignoring the undertone of irritation in Monica’s voice or quite simply didn’t hear it was open for debate. Lucy was not known for her social awareness.
“Well, duh, I have a point. Two of them, in fact, and in just the right places, if you know what I mean.”
She laughed deep in the back of her throat in a poor impression of suggestive allure. Monica knew what she meant; it was doubtful anyone, when subjected to something Lucy thought was innuendo, wouldn’t catch it.”
“But… I also had a reason. I’m switching venues and I need a wingman. So what do you say, Mon?I mean, I’m sure there’s a donut calling your name, or one of your dumb books, but it’ll be better this time, I promise!”
 Monica sighed, this time not bothering with the charade of turning the phone away. She knew she should tell Lucy to stuff it – the comment about books and donuts had riled her up – but she also knew she was going to go, regardless. Her friend wanted her – or perhaps needed her, for some sort of self-validation – and Monica discovered that maybe she wanted a drink more than that donut. Besides, what could it hurt?
Diverting her course from the street that would have eventually taken her home, Monica started glancing around for a cab.
“Fine. Where?”
Lucy squealed, forcing Monica to pull the phone from the side of her head until the feedback whine died down.
“I knew it, I knew it! The place is called Gothique, and trust me, it’s way cool. Much better guys there. Guys that you might like, the kind who read and know what a Shelly or a Stoker are? I think.”
Monica had her arm up, trying to signal the cab that was rolling down the otherwise mostly deserted side street, but stopped to put it to her forehead instead. Between the name and Lucy’s description of the men on display there – always the most important part of a venue in Lucy’s universe – she had an idea of what sorts of folks would be hanging out there. It left her less than enthused. Still, Lucy was trying to be helpful and friendly in her own bizarre way, and that mollified Monica. Somewhat.
“Right. Okay. I’ll be there in a few. Try not to fall out of any windows or be lugged off by any firemen before I get there, okay?”
The cab was pulling up to the curb, the driver glaring at her and pointedly glancing at his meter and his watch. Taking the hint, Monica squeezed in to the back seat, hanging up on Lucy without a trace of guilt. If it became an issue later, she’d just claim her phone lost signal. Happened all the time anyway.
“Where to, lady?”
The cabbie didn’t sound at all pleased; Monica suspected he’d been on the side street hoping to sneak through the last few minutes of his shift without any more troublesome customers. She was beyond caring at this point, though. She flapped her hand in the general direction of the strip as she answered.
“Place called Gothique. Not sure where it’s at, exactly.”
“Ah, the vamp club? Don’t know why you’d wanna go there, especially crammed into that outfit, but hey, what does Dmitri know?”
He yanked down on the gearshift and lurched into the street, flipping an illegal u-turn that made Monica nauseous.
Sure, Monica. This sounds like it’ll be great fun. A scream, in fact. She shrugged, huffing to herself. Something to do, anyway.


(The story continues here!)


Vampire 2.0 – Schematic Acquired

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Schematic Acquired

Through much of the flight, Vlad was silent. Staring down at the earth below as they skimmed over it, one knuckle in the corner of his jaw, Brand thought the Boss might have been asleep. Even if his eyes were open, which was incredibly creepy to the gargoyle. Keeping still in his own seat was almost impossible; he wanted to squirm, to chatter, to tell the Boss how great things were going to be. Or maybe just to ask what the vampire was planning.
His issues began to fade as the neon oasis of Vegas began to loom in the windshield, creating an artificial sunlight with the thousands of kilowatt hours they were burning every second down there.His mind turned to the convention, and excuses he might use to slip away – just for an hour or two – and check it out.
Brand was rudely yanked from his fantasy of Rubenesque flesh in one hand and an appletini in the other by Vlad’s voice.
“There.” The vampire was leaning over the pilot’s shoulder, pointing with one gloved finger. “That’s the place.”
Maxwell bobbed her helmeted head, and began bringing the helicopter around, pointing it towards the Bellagio. He felt a moment of pride, having been the one to suggest they apply for permits to land on most of the local casinos; like many of his suggestions, it had initially met with resistance from the Boss, but his determination had won through. Now, look: here they were, using it. Just like most of his other suggestions.
Vlad had settled back into the cushy pleather seat, and was looking down at the gargoyle, his expression unreadable between the absolute stillness of his face and the wide mirrored lenses he was wearing. Brand glanced down, picking at a bit of imaginary lint on his slacks.
“So, uh, Boss…” Brand coughed into his taloned fist. “You didn’t say why we’re here. I mean, I’m cool with it, don’t get me wrong, I love the night life, gotta boogie and all that, but I don’t think ya picked here just because of the cons, ya know?”
Vlad snorted, shaking his head.
“No, Brand, I did not. The fact that your beloved convention is in town has little to do with our business. Though…”
Vlad tapped his finger against his pointed chin for a moment, cocking his head as though considering. Brand felt a small flower of hope blossom in his blackened heart.
“If we conclude our business quickly, we might find time to attend. Perhaps.”
Brand had to clench his talons together in his lap to avoid applauding. Of course, there was still the issue of what exactly their business was, but he was used to such things. He wasn’t the idea man, and he wasn’t the plotter; he knew his place. He was the one who got things done. Always had been, and always would be.
“That’s great, Boss, you’s a prince, a real prince, and not just of darkness, ya know what I’m sayin’?”
He cawed avian laughter at his own joke, raising a placating hand as Vlad’s lips began to turn down in a scowl.
“Just kiddin’, just kiddin’. But, I still don’t know what our business is, ya know? I mean, what, we’re lookin’ for somethin’ in particular, or you just wanna try out the superhero routine out here where nobody’d notice much or what?”
Vlad’s scowl reversed itself, twisting his full lips upward in a smile that allowed the smallest hint of his fangs to peek through. Brand shuddered, glad – as always – that it wasn’t directed at him. People who got that smile pointed at them had a tendency to disappear, and not in the concrete overshoes way that Brand preferred.
“Van Helsing. He’s still here. And we are going to find him, and have a small…”
He tapped his chin again, his slightly forked tongue flicking out over the tips of his fangs.
“…discussion. Yes. A discussion. With him.”
Vlad glanced out the window as the helicopter began descending, the lenses of his sunglasses reflecting the dancing fountains as they began their routine. Brand shook his head, wondering – and not for the first time – what the Boss had been like when he’d been alive. If he’d been half as crazy as we was now, it was no wonder his brother had tried to kill him and the devil had gone out of his way to recruit him.
“Well, alright, Boss. Gonna rock his socks, eh, give him the ol’ one-two, teach him to mess with you?”
Vlad’s smile didn’t change.
“All in good time, Brand. All in good time. Suffice it to say that Mr. Van Helsing will be suffering an unfortunate change in his living conditions.”
Brand’s forehead raised up an inch as he cocked his head.
“His livin’ conditions, eh, Boss? That’s a good one. Should I call my guy, see what kinda price we can get on concrete at this time of night? Maybe a bulldozer?”
Vlad shook his head, reaching down to straighten his sport coat and fluff the crease in his slacks.
“Not in the slightest. Once he is located, I will be tending to him. Personally.”
Brand opened his mouth, though what might have come out was unknown; as he was preparing to speak, the helicopter bobbed and shuddered briefly. Maxwell glanced over her shoulder.
“Sorry, boys. Bit of a crosswind.”
Vlad flapped a hand dismissively, unconcerned. Brand found himself gripping the edges of his seat and forced himself to relax before his claws ruined the leather. He had never been a big fan of flying when not under his own power. Plus, Maxwell just creeped him out. Always with that bubble-shaped helmet and aviator shades, never moving anything except her hands while flying, speaking in brief monotones. She made him think of robots, and that made him think of the puppets at Disneyland, and that was just a terrible train of thought for him to be boarding when things were already pretty bad.
The helicopter gave one final shudder followed by a thump as it touched down. Brand could hear Maxwell muttering into her microphone, probably letting the staff know they had visitors. He released his deathgrip on the seat and stood up, making a show of spiffing out his lapels.
Vlad rose, brushing past him and hopping down to the concrete before taking a few ducking steps away from the spinning rotors and turning back. He arched a brow at Brand, making a beckoning gesture.
Brand sighed and tucked his head down into his shoulders. Turtle-like, he scuttled out the door and away from the helicopter with none of his employer’s grace or poised. Vlad sighed, shaking his head.
“I will never understand how a creature capable of flight can be so unnerved by the experience.”
Rolling his shoulders, Brand curled his beak downward in a poor approximation of a grimace.
“You just don’t get it, Boss. When I take the duct tape off, take to the skies… that’s me. That’s all me. I was born to do it. Well, among other things, know what I mean?”
He elbowed Vlad’s knee, punctuating it with a chuckle. Watching the vampire’s frown deepen, he continued.
“That thing over there?” He gestured toward the helicopter. “Ain’t natural. Besides, even havin’ wings and all, that thing goes down…”
He shook his head and pursed what lips he did have, emitting a whistle that swung downward through several octaves.
“Poof. I’m gonna make myself a very nice piece of street art, capische?”
Vlad continued staring down at his servant for several seconds, prompting Brand to start tugging at his collar self-consciously. The vampire sighed, casting his gaze skyward for a moment as though collecting himself.
“I suppose. Perhaps my recent encounters with mechanical transportation have made me more sympathetic to such notions. Anyway. Come along, Brand. We have much to do.”
Vlad turned on his heel, stalking towards the elevator that serviced the helipad. Brand fell into step behind his master, nodding.
“Right. Gonna find Isaac, give him the ol’ one-two. So… uh… Boss?”
Vlad pressed the button that summoned the elevator, glancing down at the gargoyle and arching a brow.
“How we gonna find him? I mean, Vegas is kinda a big place, and I don’t think he’s gonna be puttin’ signs up saying’ ‘One incompetent vampire-hunter, right here!’ I mean, he is pretty stupid, and he might even be that stupid, but still, I gotta give him at least a little credit. Ain’t like we knew he was in town until he shot up your love nest, ya know? And he’s probably keepin’ his head so far down he’s looking between his legs these days, at least if he’s got anything in that fat little head of his besides jello.”
Vlad nodded.
“Quite right.”
The elevator made a small musical chime, and the doors slid open. Not one to waste time, Vlad slid into the cabin the moment the door was wide enough to admit him, Brand cramming in a moment later.
“But he is a dedicated shopper,” Vlad continued. “And dragon’s breath rounds are a particularly rare commodity. Not a lot of traffic in them. But someone did make a purchase of fifty such shells less than twenty-four hours after his pathetic attempt at a home invasion.”
Brand’s forehead creased. He tapped one talon against his chin.
“Well, I guess that does sound kinda suggestive; probably needed to replace what he tried to use on you or somethin’, or maybe he was tryin’ to stay prepared if you came after him. But how d’ya know it was him and not some other schmuck who likes playin’ with fire?”
Vlad’s full lips twitched. Had the movement been more prolonged, it might have been considered a smile. As it was, Brand caught the briefest hint of Vlad’s fangs protruding and little else.
“There are cameras everywhere these days, Brand. Everywhere. And while I may not the entirely certain that these… upgrades… are quite as impressive as Dr. Franks claims, I find that their best usage is the ability to tap into those cameras.”
Vlad slid a hand into his pocket and produced a small square of celluloid. Handing it over to the gargoyle, his smile surfaced again.
Brand looked at it, puzzled for a moment at the plain white square. Then he slapped his forehead and flipped it over.
It looked like a grainy printout from a bad mobster movie. Brand would know; the walls of his house were decorated with dozens of similar stills, often autographed by the actors in them. Two of the three men in the shot could have been extras in any of his beloved flicks, but the third man looked like he’d taken a wrong turn on his way to the anime convention.
Isaac Van Helsing was standing in the center of a warehouse room filled with crates, most of them with the distinct grease stains that indicated car parts, automatic weapons, or both. He was holding out a backpack, unzipped, that seemed to contain a healthy amount of cash. The idea that Isaac could pull together that much scratch on short notice was vaguely distasteful to Brand; he wondered where the little geek had gotten it from. Probably from Gramps’ retirement fund, he decided.
“You got picks for the dweeb buyin’ his shit, Boss?”
Brand couldn’t keep the lilting note of amused excitement out of his voice. After all, if the Boss could dredge up pictures of illegal weapons deals, who knew what other sorts of cameras he could dig into? The real question was whether he’d be willing to do it for Brand… or if Brand could find a way to do it himself. Maybe the hackers weren’t so crazy after all.
Vlad nodded.
“Yes. I have pictures. Full video as well, when and if I want. With an exquisite audio track. I suppose I should thank those arms merchants for being so paranoid as to install such a fully featured system. But think, Brand; don’t you suppose that the local authorities might be interested in such items? Perhaps even find it worthwhile to commence a search and seizure, hmmm?”
Brand clapped his claws and cawed with delight.
“Oh, that’s beautiful, Boss! They’ll drag him in for us! And then, when he’s alone in his cell…”
Dozens of images danced in the gargoyle’s head. The ladies at the convention were momentarily forgotten as he contemplated driving a burning cigar into the webbing between the dweeb’s fingers. It’d be the last time Van Hamstring messed with the Boss. Or directed any short jokes at Brand.
“Contain your excitement, Brand. There will be time enough for it later.”
Vlad pressed the button for the parking garage.
“And please tell me we have something other than that obnoxious battle tank you call a car in storage here?”
Brand arched his shoulders and narrowed his eyes.
“Um. Well, about that, see, you know we were looking into cutting costs, and hey, that long term parking, that’s a killer, ya know? I mean, you’ve got the Audi at your place… well, you had your Audi at your place, and that seemed like enough, so I might have had the guys ship most of the stuff back to the place in Cali.”
Vlad pulled his glasses down to the top of his nose, skewering Brand with his bale, mechanical gaze.
“Most,” he said. His voice was slow, dripping with the rain of pending stormclouds of rage.
“Yeah, s’what I said, most,” Brand replied, beginning to twist his hands together as though playing cat’s crade. “I left one here, just in case, but… yeah. You’re not gonna like it.”
Vlad sighed, pushing his glances back into place and resting his fingers against his temples.
“The battle tank,” he sighed.
Brand tried to put on a facade of good cheer, and almost made it. It probably would have fooled anyone who didn’t know him well, but the smile and expressive hand gestures were red flags for folks like the Boss.
“Yep! The tank! C’mon, Boss, it ain’t so bad. Sure, the mileage is a bitch, but them Hummers, you can’t beat ’em!”
“Right,” Vlad muttered.
Brand relaxed as the elevator put an end to their discussion. It didn’t seem like there would be any further storms about the car. The pair stepped out and into the garage, walking towards long-term storage. Vlad remained silent, though Brand continued to prattle about the advantages of owning a decommissioned military vehicle – not the lease of which would be the opportunity to drive it over Van Helsing’s cojones if given half a chance – the whole way.

(The story continues here…)


Vampire 2.0: File Trace

(Enjoying the story? It starts over here!)

File Trace

An hour later, the sun safely shrouded behind the hills, Vlad was boarding his private helicopter, stalking away from an angry Dr. Franks. The gargoyle was already aboard alongside the pilot, a sullen young woman by the name of Maxwell; both of them were watching with barely disguised amusement as the doctor limped after the vampire, shouting warnings and demands.
“I am telling you, the systems, they are not ready! We must perform stress tests and brain scans and-”
Vlad, appearing to grow tired of the tirade by the way his face dropped and his lips pursed, spun towards the doctor, raising one metallic finger in warning.
“Yes, yes. You have warned me of all the difficulties inherent to my new… condition.”
His face puckered at the word, as though he would have preferred something other, perhaps more biting.
“But I will perform my own stress tests, my own assessment of functionality. If that is displeasing to you, then perhaps you should find another employer.”
Without waiting for a response – in his own mind, such logic could have no argument – Vlad spun on his heel and boarded the helicopter. Settling in, he tapped the pilot’s shoulder and then spun his finger skyward. Nodding, Maxwell flipped a series of switches, and the helicopter became airborne, bobbing once before the rotors caught fully and then lifting into the air.
Franks bared his teeth at the departing group, shaking one fist. His pet project – his ultimate success – was even now fleeing his grasp, off to do who knew what. In all likelihood, Tepes would get himself injured or suffer some form of mechanical breakdown or unknown glitch in the system, and then he’d come crawling back – assuming the so-called Dark Lord was still capable of crawling at that point – expecting Franks to repair it, to diagnose it, to make it right.
Franks sighed, lowering his fist. He knew, given the situation, that he’d do exactly as asked. The opportunity to practice his theories on such an august personage was simply too great to pass up. The fact that his work was unappreciated came as no surprise to him; such had always been his lot.
He turned, shuffling back to the elevator and pressed the button that would return him to the lab level. A voice intruded on his melancholy.
“But what if you were the master, and he the slave?”
He started, one hand clutching at the neckline of his lab coat, jerking his head back and forth in an attempt to locate the source of the voice. After a moment, he realized it had been his own. He clapped a hand over his mouth, shocked.
Certainly, the idea had a certain amount of attraction to it; he had often thought things would be different – both at the university he had come from and in his employment under Tepes and the imp – if he had greater free reign, more control. But to speak such blasphemy aloud – whether or not he had initially realized it or meant to do so – was almost unforgivable. The world would recognize his genius. One day. Or so he told himself.
The voice came again, unbidden, slipping between his fingers like rancid frosting from an ancient can.
“The world recognizes those who force that recognition.”
Realizing the attempt to keep himself quiet by gripping his jaw was futile, Franks lowered his hand. As the elevator slid open to reveal his lab – now looking empty and useless, the equipment pushed against the walls for the crime of being in Vlad’s way when he had come through an hour before, no projects bubbling, no creatures relating on the combination massage and operating table – he pondered the idea. He knew Tepes had chosen this life, somehow. Had ripped the title of Prince of Darkness from the ether and exerted his control over the other entities that existed beyond the understanding of most mortal men.
“But how…?” Franks asked himself, tapping his chin as he strode towards the computer. When Tepes had first risen from the table, the vampire had barely been aware of being alive, let alone who he was and what his powers were. Then the imp had taken Tepes somewhere, and when he returned the vampire was more his old self.
His lips splitting in a grin, Franks congratulated himself on his forward thinking. Brand had approved all the blueprints, but Franks was certain the little dullard had understood very little of the technical details. Most importantly, he’d missed the tracking device Franks had planted in Vlad’s CPU.
Humming again – Fur Elise, this time – Franks tapped a series of keys. The archaic CRT – he refused to procure new screens, considering the older equipment one of his marks of style as well as keeping his department under budget and thus Brand out of his business – obediently switched to a radar display. Twisting a dial on the side of the monitor sent several blips scurrying backwards about the rudimentary map overlaid on the radar, which Franks ignored until he saw a throbbing red dot appear.
Leaning over the keyboard, staring intently at the dot, Franks tracked the movement of the blip as it retraced the path from the helipad back into the house, then to the lab, and then…
“Aha! Mein Gott, hidden there?!”
Franks giggled, tapping another series of keys. The display switched from the radar to a grainy image of the main hall elevator. With another series of arcane adjustments, Franks managed to get the focus applied to the floor selection buttons, eyes wide with anticipation as Vlad stepped into the elevator and reached for the them. His laughter reached a new level, stopping just short of maniacal, as he saw Vlad’s metal thumb depress a hidden switch just beneath the actual floor buttons.
“Ah, keeping secrets are we? Not for long, Mister Tepes. Not for very long at all!”
Flicking the mouse to bring the radar up again, then pressing a key to switch it to global view, Franks nodded to himself as he saw the Vlad’s blip was still moving away at a satisfactory pace. The Dark Lord was indeed heading out, it would seem. Excellent.
Franks flipped off the CRT, snatched up his clipboard, and scurried off to the elevator. Time to find out what Tepes was hiding.

(Enjoying the tale? It continues right here…)

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