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Authors: Freda Warrington

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BOOK: A Dance in Blood Velvet
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Benedict returned home in despair and fury.

“He’d destroy the Order, rather than let me have it,” he told Karl, Andreas and Katerina. “And I’m the last to know! He understands the Book in a way I never could, and he’s summoned creatures even Karl can’t defeat... God, is there nothing,
nothing
I can do to get the better of him?”

The three vampires seemed to sympathise. Karl said gently, “This is no longer a rivalry between overgrown boys, but something infinitely more sinister. Andreas and I have both encountered the creatures Lancelyn called daemons. We do not take the threat lightly.”

“Were they afraid of the fire?” asked Katerina.

Karl shook his head. “It merely distracted them. But any danger they pose to us is beside the point; I want to know what they are.”

“So what shall we do?” said Katerina.

So warm, so lovely she is,
thought Ben.
It would be easy to get too close to her... and she’s a vampire, you fool. No, must keep my distance, keep control.

Karl opened his hands. “Continue as we are. Simon has recovered fast and he’s intelligent and amenable; he will cause no trouble. We’ll go on restoring each one in turn. Until then, Benedict, I suggest you forget Lancelyn. While he leaves you in peace, let him. I’m sure he will return to torment you soon enough.”

* * *

Under Karl and Katerina’s care, the vampires came slowly back to life. Ben watched their recovery with growing excitement, fascinated by the gleaming beauty that swelled from the husks.
But what are these creatures
, he thought,
who don’t follow any traditional folklore? They walk about in daylight, even if they prefer the night; they show no fear of holy symbols, garlic, running water, any of that nonsense. They rest in the spirit-realm, not in graves... Surely they are closer to angels than demons!

Ben relied on Karl and Katerina to control the vampires still in a semi-dormant state. Once they regained a measure of intelligence, he could dominate them with the technique he used on Andreas, Katerina and Simon: an unseen chain around the throat. He was subtle, though, not wanting to alienate them. He would only use the power if any rebelled; meanwhile, he left them to Karl and his friends, while he went back to the bookshop. It was either that or close the business.

He’d decided, at last, that Maud had to go.

Still no word from Lancelyn; no taunts, no threats. Only silence. Ben should have felt relieved, but he did not. He’d lost his brother, friend, and enemy all in one, and he felt bereaved.

He tried not to dwell on Karl’s grisly task - taking each vampire out at dead of night to spill the blood of unsuspecting men and women into its ravenous mouth... Ben was hardening himself to the horror.

We ought to leave
, Ben thought
. The cottage is too small, too near the neighbours; someone will wonder why we have so many guests coming and going at night! I’ll vanish, as Lancelyn has. But where to go?

My father’s house in Derbyshire would have been ideal. Shame the old fright’s still alive. Never mind, I’ll come up with something... So I can’t keep a coven of vampires, eh, Karl? We’ll see.

* * *

The attic was empty now. The vampires were recovering on beds and couches in the guest bedrooms. They were all - except one -taking on their true forms and personalities.

“Do you know any of them?” Karl asked, watching Katerina as she tended one of the patients in the small bedroom. There was a low, beamed ceiling, a rug on dark floorboards, fresh flowers in the tiny window.

“Some of them. The two quiet ones, John and Matthew, were on speaking terms with me, though we had nothing in common. They had strong religious beliefs that didn’t accord with Kristian’s. They thought he was a false prophet from Satan, and tried to kill him. They hurt him quite badly, I believe, but he was too strong for them. I remember others whom Kristian put in the
Weisskalt,
but they aren’t here.”

“For that, we should be grateful,” Karl sighed. “At least Benedict hasn’t summoned every single vampire in the world here.”

“But where are they?”

He went to her and stroked her shoulder. “Wherever they are, they can take care of themselves. I think we should concern ourselves with these, don’t you? Do you know this one?”

The woman on the bed had dark brown skin, so deeply black it was almost blue. She looked Indian; she had that carved, silken beauty.

“No, I’ve never seen her before,” said Katerina. “She looks at me but won’t speak. Nor will the African man in the next room, but I’ve seen him before. He was often in the castle, but I don’t know how he upset Kristian. I never heard him speak, come to think of it. We called him Malik. I don’t know the pretty silverhaired male, but Rachel was a friend of mine.”

In the corner sat an attenuated woman with white skin and a flame of red hair. Karl had heard her talking to Katti, but now she gazed out of the window as if in a trance. A waxwork princess.

Katerina went to her and stroked her fiery hair. “You knew Rachel, didn’t you?”

“No,” he said.

Katti looked pensive. “Of course not. Kristian disposed of her just before he found you, now I think of it... She was like you in many ways,
mein Schatz.”

“Another thorn in Kristian’s side?” Karl said drily. “Shall we see if the last one has made any progress?”

“The runt of the litter,” said Katerina. She kissed Rachel’s cheek and followed him into another bedroom.

On the bed lay a brittle ashen figure who’d shown no improvement, the only one who hadn’t fought them or raged for blood. They’d taken him to victims without success; he had no interest in feeding. As they looked down, the papery mouth cracked open and he mewed feebly.

“I wonder who he is?” Katerina said. “What does he want?”

Karl felt a stunning pang of pity. He answered quietly, “He is telling us that he wants to die.”

Katerina stared at him.

“It’s hopeless,” Karl went on. “He won’t feed because he doesn’t want to live. He must be another whom Kristian took by force, who never wanted to be a vampire. We’re only torturing him.”

“You can’t want to -”

“Yes. We must make an end of him.”

The decision was made. Karl fetched an axe from the garden shed and they laid the thin figure on the floor. Then he struck off its head, as easily as splitting rotten wood. No blood fell, and the skull crumbled to dust.

As they buried the remains in the garden, Ben appeared through the twilight, anxious to know what they were doing. Karl explained without emotion, but inside he felt a dreadful chill winding through him; part hope, part terror.

He put his arm around Katti’s shoulder and they hugged each other. Wind blew rain-clouds across the sky and tore healthy leaves from the trees. Benedict seemed far away, a paper figure of no importance.

“Can you imagine the strength of will it takes to refuse blood?” Karl whispered in awe. “Even in the utmost misery, blood rules us and saves us. To possess such strength, in the depths of despair...”

“We don’t even know who he was,” said Katerina.

“Only that he wanted to die.”

“And we can die, Karl,” she said, her voice trembling. “We can.”

* * *

Summer deepened towards autumn. Karl had not seen Charlotte for months. They wrote to each other, but cold sea and ice-capped mountains lay between them. They transmitted plain news to each other, not emotion.

Often Karl longed to write the truth: “Charlotte, can we not admit what we are doing? We may live from day to day without feeling pain, and be deluded into thinking that no harm is being inflicted. But we are wrong. We must stop this; we must talk.”

The words were in his mind, but never flowed from the nib of his pen.

After the burial of the vampire that had wished to die, Katerina was depressed.

“Take me to London, Karl,” she said. “Simon can cope here for a day or two. I need to escape this prison and see life.”

Benedict was surprised. A trip to London? He seemed to find it incredible that supernatural beings could want to indulge an ordinary, human pleasure.

The pleasure
, Karl thought,
is really not ordinary at all. We might live half in another realm, but we are tied to Earth. We were all mortal once, and even a creature of extremes - such as Kristian - could not completely sever himself from the world.

Kristian, naturally, had had minions to perform such mundane tasks as buying clothes, but Karl preferred to act for himself. It was an excuse to move fully in the mortal world. There was the poignant delight of innocent encounters with tailors or shop assistants; engaging them with cool courtesy, while secretly tantalised by the scent of their blood. Knowing how easy it would be to bite into an unsuspecting mortal neck... but knowing, also, that he would not.

So he found great satisfaction in taking Andreas and Katerina to the London stores, observing their fascination with new fashions and electric gadgets. Andreas deplored the modern styles, but Katerina was won round by the geometric boldness of everything from buildings to tea-cups to stark, colourful posters. She loved the mix of motor cars and horse-drawn vehicles in the streets, the trams and charabancs, the noise, the electricity. She gazed at film stars flickering in black and white on silver screens, so like vampires with their smoky eyes and porcelain faces.

“Does it seem strange to you, Karl?” she asked. They stood in Trafalgar Square, watching pigeons wheel against the grey sky, basking in the warmth of people around them. “All the fashions that passed us by while we slept, all the inventions! Were you aware of changes, or did they creep in day-by-day so that you barely noticed?”

“I noticed,” Karl said, smiling. “Some transformations were quite sudden. I don’t think it is unique to vampires, these days, to feel that you’ve stepped into a foreign world.”

“You’ve always had too much empathy with mortals,” she said. “The wonderful thing is that we’re together again, we three, as we were before. And there’s no reason for us ever to part again.”

They walked arm-in-arm with Katti in the middle. Even Andreas was happy. When darkness fell they moved through the theatre crowds, intoxicated by heat and gaiety. Andreas’s eyes misted with thirst, and he left them. Karl watched him moving down an alley beside the theatre, and knew that some victim would find himself staring into an ethereal white face with long green eyes; soon to be struggling in panic and awe as the fangs stabbed and hot blood flowed out of his heart...

They waited for Andrei, standing by a pillar in front of the theatre. And Karl saw a poster announcing a future production. The Ballet Janacek’s
Swan Lake,
starring Violette Lenoir.

“I am so happy tonight,” said Katerina. She embraced him with a passion to which Karl could not respond. She pulled back, her hands stiffening on his arms. “Why is it that every time I kiss you on the mouth, you turn away and kiss my cheek like a brother?”

She was distressed, but Karl felt only vague sadness. “I’m sorry.”

“You were never like this before! What is it; that you needed me then, and don’t need me now?”

“You were always telling me how dangerous it is to need anyone, Katti,” he said gently. “Times change, even for us.”

She shook her head, lips pinched. “I can’t stand this any more. I only want you to make love to me, Karl, not to throw yourself off the Eiffel Tower. It’s only pleasure, and nothing we haven’t done before!”

Passers-by were looking at them. Karl held her arms. “Katti, please.”

“This is the first time I’ve complained. I’ve been patient for months, waiting for you to get over Charlotte. What will you achieve, saving yourself for a lover who has deserted you? It’s so human, so banal! Pointless! I know you still want her, my dear, but what if she never comes back? Life, our immortal life, must go on.”

He knew she was right, but it made no difference. He could easily have given in to desire, taken her, tasted her blood... it would be wonderful but, in the end, it would be empty. He tried to shut away the winter landscape in his soul. “I never meant to upset you,” he said. “Katti, I love you and what you suggest would be very easy, but I can’t. After Charlotte - whether I see her again or not - I cannot feel passionate about anything. I’d be betraying her and lying to you. This is nothing to do with moral sensibilities. It is simply the way I feel.”

“Oh, God.” Katti turned away, briskly wiping her cheek. A blood-tinged tear soaked into the finger of her cream glove. “Forgive my outburst, and forget it ever happened. My dear, I hate to see you unhappy, but it won’t last forever. When your sorrow has passed, I’ll still be here.”

* * *

Holly lay in bed, dozing restlessly. The dark mood that preceded menstruation was on her, distorting simple unhappiness into grey webs of nightmare.

Ben’s strong smooth body was beside her, but she might as well have lain alone. He slept soundly, divorcing himself from worry as men could. The soft rise and fall of his ribs was like the Earth itself breathing in and out.

Holly wished she could escape as easily. Every time she looked at him, Maud’s sick lie hung between them, a demon of self-destruction.

We swallowed Lancelyn’s notions of sex being natural and sinless
, she thought.
I was the one who seduced Ben, down on the shore of that lovely blue ocean in Italy... I wanted it to be true, it should be true, but it isn’t. To think of him with Maud makes me ill! What did she offer that I couldn’t give
? the demon whispered.
What did I do wrong?

She was sure Maud was lying and yet... no amount of reassurance would ever expunge the doubt. It was like a sickness, her desperate need to trust and love her parents, Lancelyn, Benedict, someone - yet never being fully able to do so. Sometimes she felt like a child.

She kept seeing Lancelyn’s face, but the image was tainted. The idea of his “Hidden Temple”, where he used his followers as whores to exploit those with more money than sense, lay in her stomach like wet sand. Perhaps they deserved it, the thrill-seekers he blackmailed, but that didn’t make it right. She’d loved him as a father... heartbreaking to be told he was a villain.
How can I possibly accept that I adored a murderer?

BOOK: A Dance in Blood Velvet
13.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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