AN: Well, first of all a shout out to something541. Sorry I killed you with suspense (not really, but I can pretend), and thanks for sticking with me throughout the dry spells. 3 I shall post this next chapter (omg so loooong!) so that hopefully the collective interest or you (the readers) in this humble story shall be piqued once more. I shall of course be delighted by any morsels of feedback (good? bad? confused? anxious for the next installment?), because they are used to power my magic writing machine, which as of late has been running on fumes. Hmmm…maybe that's why my projected story path is getting so much more convoluted…carbon monoxide poisoning. Anyway, enough rambling on my part and enjoy this next chapter in which yet again you receive answers! (omg no waaaaay!)
Chapter 25: Mirror Mirror
The room around them was pearly white marble that was strangely fuzzy and unsubstantial around the edges, as if the difference between the wall and the air was only a passing afterthought by the builder. Towering arches lining the perimeter allowed a panorama view of swirling mist shot through by beams of sunshine. Ambrose was lounging against one of the arches, gazing out at the sky with a pensive look on his face. Occasionally he would rub a hand across his chest and release a bit of healing light.
The soft shush of cloth against marble roused him out of his reverie and he turned to see another angel approaching. She was dressed in a simple gown of pale lavender, her hair white-blond rather than pure white, and she was regarding Ambrose with concern.
"Are you well Ambrose?"
He shrugged slightly. "I am not entirely sure Geshime. I just have this feeling as if something isn't right, but I have not been able to determine the cause. I thought it might be phantom pain from that wound…but it doesn't make sense for it to suddenly appear ten years after the healing finished." He shook his head. "Were you seeking me for something?"
"Yes, and perhaps more so now than a few moments ago. When did this pain start?"
"A few days ago…" he regarded Geshime with suspicion as her face darkened.
"That is troubling news indeed, because it appears that the Devil is attempting a new maliciousness –"
"I'm surprised he stayed dormant for this long; his power took a major blow when we exterminated the vampires."
"They are no longer extinct, I'm afraid."
"A mortal – one Vladislaus Dragulia by name – made a covenant with the Devil upon his death. Three days ago, as best we can figure, he returned to earth as a vampire."
Ambrose felt the blood drain from his face and pool somewhere around his feet, leaving him woozy and weak. "We have to do something now, before he can strengthen! Why haven't we sent anyone out?"
Geshime beckoned for him to follow her. "It took time for us to confirm the rumor. It may be that, as the executor of Lothos, you might be better able to sense this new vampire. It appears," she touched his chest gently, "that we were right."
"Who else knows?" Ambrose noticed that she was leading him towards one of the gathering halls.
"The information is just now starting to spread. It will not be long before we take action.
"There is only one course of action to take: extermination."
Geshime smiled at his vehemence. "I know that; you know that. That's why we're going on a hunt – Embriel and Mordecai are going to round out the team."
"Who are those angels?"
"Embriel and Mordecai were heavily involved in the First Wave vampire wars and in tracking down the remaining fugitives. Geshime was not as much of a fighter, but she was very sensitive to their energies, which made her an excellent tracker."
Two angels were waiting for them in the hall: a female with snaky red locks and gold-tinted wings and a scarred male with tousled brown hair.
"He could heal the scars if he wanted, but he wears them for remembrance."
Mordecai offered Ambrose a sword. "Michael wants this taken care of quickly, of course."
"Of course. I can imagine he was less than thrilled when he found out."
Embriel chuckled as she checked her own weapons. "I think he's gone to perform a few miracles to make himself feel better or something."
"He'll feel better once Dragulia is killed. Where are we going?"
"Not again. I hate Transylvania."
"I'm sure it hates you too Ambrose," Mordecai shot back wryly. "Let's go." The four of them joined hands and began to radiate light. Their forms began to fade and then, in between one blink and the next, they vanished altogether. The group materialized on the outskirts of a town, too large to pass as a village, but not large enough to properly be labeled as a city.
"Unfortunately, by the time we arrived in Dracula's last known location, he had moved on. We searched tirelessly for him, as each passing day gave him another opportunity to turn an innocent victim into an unholy monster."
The memory shifted to a shadow-swathed cobblestone street, largely deserted except for the odd whore or ragtag drunk. In contrast, the two luminous beings hugging the walls stood out like a pair of lighthouses on a moonless night at sea.
"Didn't someone notice you casually strolling along like that? You do stand out."
"We wore illusions, similar to the one I used when I first approached you. The memory shows through it because it was neither something that was true to ourselves nor something I observed without knowing the truth behind it."
Ambrose split his attention between his physical surroundings and his psychic ones. Geshime had said they were in the right place, but he wasn't so sure. He wasn't getting the psychic twinge that had been present whenever they'd closed in on Dracula – as he was now known – in the past. He looked at the redhead next to him. Embriel wore a look of intense concentration, but underneath that was a hint of doubt.
"I know Geshime said she was sure Dracula was here, but all I sense is general vampiric activity," she murmured. "If he were here, it should be stronger."
"Geshime is a more sensitive tracker than either of us…could it be that we're just missing something?"
"She's more sensitive…but not to the extent that we would be picking up such different things."
We've caught the trail! Mordecai's voice floated through their minds. Quarry is approximately 2000 yards to the north of your position.
Embriel and Ambrose exchanged a glance and headed north through the smoky darkness. They both shared the same thought: as sensitive a tracker as she was, even Geshime had never been quite that precise. Mordecai and Geshime rendezvoused with them in the entrance of a bank. There was a hotel across the street, a modest establishment with a worn stone façade.
Embriel regarded the building speculatively. "I sense a vampire nearby, but –"
"He's in there." Geshime's eyes were closed as she reached out to whatever presence she'd picked up on. "Moving on the second floor…descending. I think he's coming out."
"Are you sure it's him? Because I don't sense him as strongly as I have in the past –"Ambrose hedged.
"Ambrose, he is the First Vampire, so far the oldest and most powerful. Who else would I sense so strongly?" She had a point but he still wasn't convinced.
While his comrades debated, Mordecai watched the hotel door. It didn't particularly matter to him which vampire it was, as long as they killed it. After a few moments, a creature resembling a veiled woman exited the building – he said "resembled" because even though it wore the clothes of a woman it moved in a more predatory manner, lacked a heartbeat, and most importantly lacked a soul. "There she is."
As the other three looked in the indicated direction, Mordecai noted interesting differences in their facial expressions: Embriel was already taking the measure of their opponent, Ambrose appeared to take it as a confirmation of something before turning pensive, and Geshime looked confused and trouble.
"That's not Dracula," she began, before Embriel interrupted.
"No. She's a relatively young fledgling – old enough to know what she's doing, but no trouble for us yet."
"Should be an easy kill," Mordecai commented as he unsheathed his sword. Their weapons were impregnated with holy water, making them more effective than any mortal weapon including silver stakes – after all, you couldn't inflict slashing damage with a stake.
Embriel took the lead as they followed the vampire down the alley, out of the sight of passing humans with Mordecai following on her left. The vampire paused halfway down, sniffing the air and turning to face the angelic duo.
"You look like a pair of tasty morsels," she hissed, her fangs lengthening and, oddly enough her skin turning bluish-white.
"Definitely young," Embriel muttered. "It takes at least five years to lose that tendency to be painfully obvious."
"The blue skin is new though." As one they lunged at the vampire, who obligingly met them halfway with a screech. Mordecai used the flat of his sword to pin the creature against the wall, where she struggled like some sort of giant insect until Embriel stuck her through the heart with a holy dagger. The vampire gave an eerie two-toned scream as she crumbled into dust, one that raised the fine hairs on the angels' arms.
"Like I said, an easy kill."
"One less headache for us, certainly." Embriel blew the ash residue off her dagger. A cry of pain and horror split the night again and they whirled, ready for another attack, but there was none. Instead, they saw flashes of light from the bank entrance.
Geshime and Ambrose hung back at the entrance to the bank, confident that their teammates could more than handle a lone fledgling. "I don't understand how I could have sensed her so well. She's barely more powerful than a human at this stage." Her voice was soft and distressed.
"This might sound odd," Ambrose began, "but have you felt any twinges in your chest in the past few months? They likely lasted a week and then disappeared."
His companion looked at him in surprise. "About a month ago, but they passed quickly. It was…" she paused, and dawning comprehension filled her eyes. "Exactly as you experienced with Dracula! That is very – Aaaaaaaah!" Geshime suddenly doubled over with a piercing scream, echoed by another scream from down the alley.
Ambrose helped her to stand and saw with horror that a gaping wound had opened across her breast, pouring hearts blood like a red waterfall. He laid a hand over the wound, desperately trying to heal it, but nothing made a difference. Geshime screamed again, adding her own healing efforts to no avail. Dimly he heard Embriel and Mordecai running towards the bank, but his vision had tunneled in on the dying woman in front of him. A hand crossed into his vision and pressed a wad of cloth to the wound, which was quickly soaked through. He felt her heartbeat slow…slow…and stop.
Ambrose was numb. How had this happened? Why had this happened? Someone shook him violently, calling his name, and he looked up into Mordecai's tear-stained face.
"We need to go Ambrose. We need to get her home." Still Ambrose couldn't find the energy to fight through his shock.
"He's right." Embriel pulled him up, her face carved into tragic lines. "She's not hidden anymore. We need to leave before the mortals see." With Mordecai carrying Geshime's limp form and Embriel supporting Ambrose the angels disappeared, leaving no trace of their presence save for a pool of blood on the stoop.
As soon as they returned to Heaven her body faded and dissipated, returning to energy. Silence enveloped them then, blissful, numbing silence broken by Mordecai's sigh. "We need to tell Michael about this latest development." None of them were particularly eager to seek the archangel out at the moment; he was going to be furious and they were too emotionally burned to handle that.
"Is this it then? Killing them is going to kill us?" Embriel sank to the floor, tucking her knees up to her chest and wrapping her wings around her body like a living blanket. She laughed. "Save the humans, kill ourselves? How many of us are going to die? A hundred? A thousand? Damn Lucifer! Damn him, damn him, damn him!"
Mordecai knelt next to her, wiping first her tears and then his own. "Maybe we can teach the mortals to hunt. Maybe if they kill the vampires, it won't kill us too."
"Maybe? Maybe? So you want to run an experiment where if we're wrong, it's fatal? Some poor angel just starts bleeding out and vanishes?"
"WHAT IN HEAVEN ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?" The resonant bell-like tones originated from the arched entrance, where an angel stood burning so brightly his features were all but indistinguishable.
"Michael." Ambrose stepped forward to give their report. He was aware that his blood-stained appearance would be repulsive to the archangel, but that concern was secondary to the need to shield his teammates. "Geshime is dead. We did not kill Dracula, but we did execute a recent fledgling of his. This new type of vampire is different, fatally different, and it is my belief that the Devil found a way to tie each new vampire to the life force of an angel. It is the only explanation I can come up with as to why I have been more sensitive to Dracula's presence and why Geshime was so closely linked to the fledgling we killed…killing her in turn."
The light Michael was emitting died as he absorbed the implications of this theory. "Lucifer always was a cunning one. That he should try to corrupt, in a sense, the uncorrupted does not surprise me. This is a heavy matter indeed."
"It was a heavy matter, completely unlike any we had faced before. No matter what I show you, you will not fully comprehend how terrifying those first months were, every angel scared that they were suddenly going to start bleeding out." The memory froze, its vividness fading a bit as if a gray veil had been drawn across it. "There were so many questions that needed answering, and they all needed answering immediately. How many vampires were there? Who were they attached to? How could we kill them without destroying ourselves? So many hard questions. The only easy conclusion we reached was that humans could not be used as executioners in lieu of us."
"But I've seen humans kill vampires!" Destiny protested. "Stake them through the heart, expose them to the sun – they crumble to dust!"
"For a day, yes, or maybe two, but then they start to regenerate. We kept the ashes under observation but the results were the same both times. We had no choice but to finish the kill." His voice was pained, and Destiny wondered who he'd seen die as a result. Had he looked into their eyes as they faded? Destiny realized she didn't want to know; she didn't want to feel that sympathy. It wasn't her war.
"It was a time of terrible division in Heaven. We all agreed that the vampires should be killed before they became too numerous; rather that only some should die rather than all of us. One faction volunteered to die, another faction advocated sacrificing members outside their group….both were wrong in their understanding of the problem. You cannot choose who is sacrificed by arbitrary means…what if we started down that road and realized that all the archangels were tied to a vampire? Would it be worth crippling the power of Heaven to eliminate this wave of foes?" There was pain in his voice, weariness, despair….confusion. For the time she'd known him, he'd always seemed so omniscient, so sure of his purpose….perhaps that was only in comparison to her very limited knowledge and experience.
"What did you do?"
"We stepped back." Shame, now. "We allowed the vampire population to grown in order to save ourselves, and only interfered if a vampire actively tried to tip the scales or cause undue havoc."
"Yes. And in the meantime a team was assembled to research a more permanent solution to the problem, a sustainable way to eliminate them without killing ourselves in the process."
"Did you succeed?"
It would have been easier to read a book written in invisible ink than to decipher the look Ambrose trained upon her. "In a manner of speaking. There is one more memory I can show you, but you might hate me afterwards. Time will tell."
The scene before them dissolved into swirling mist.
Next time, on As the Word Turns.....We almost destroy the world! The cosmos are very nearly thrown into chaos! Anarchy ensues! Destruction is kept at bay by a hair! Death restrained by a....Gahdswmhmdgfmg! *is dragged away struggling by miscellaneous characters*
Destiny: My apologies for that. She's been running off of hot chocolate and Double Stuf Oreos for the past two days.
Dracula: Entirely too much sugar, even for that one.
Destiny: I never thought I'd see the day.
Void: There was the Mountain Dew episode....
Destiny/Dracula: We received counseling and have put that behind us. Do not speak of that day.
Kassia: What my parents are trying to say is, we hope you enjoyed this episode of our narrative and keep checking back for the next one. We'll tie our creator to her chair if we have to, or pop into her brain in the middle of the night if we have to, but our efforts in this area are fed by reviews as well. See you next time!