Title: The Ground Beneath Her Feet (chapter 1)
Author: E.A. Week
E-mail: The Tenth Doctor and Reinette are caught up in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse between Death Dealer Selene and Marcus Corvinus, the first and most powerful vampire.
Category: Doctor Who; mystery/ romance/ supernatural. Crossover with the movie Underworld: Evolution. Sequel to "Eyes on a Moon of Blindness."
Distribution: Feel free to link this story to any Doctor Who or fanfic site, or distribute on a mailing list, but please drop me at least a brief e-mail and let me know you've done this.
Feedback: Letters of comment are always welcome! Loved it? Hated it? Let me know why!
Disclaimer: Copyrights to all characters in this story belong to their respective creators, production companies, and studios. I'm just borrowing them, honest! Special credit goes to Greg Cox, whose Underworld novelizations have provided invaluable background material.
Possible spoilers: This story takes place at some point in the indefinite future of the new Dr. Who series. Minor spoilers through the end of season two/ early season three.
The story title and all chapter titles are shamelessly stolen from U2.
Datclaimer: This story is rated "M" for sexuality, creature violence, and profanity.
I. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
The car whispered through city streets, light from street lamps and oncoming vehicles illuminating its passengers. In the front seat, Michael Corvin watched everything go past. Not far away lay his grubby flat and the hospital where he'd been interning for months. He could have driven to either place within an hour, but they might as well be on another planet for all that he could return to them.
Beside him, driving the Jaguar, sat a woman he knew only as Selene, and his first encounter with her forty-eight hours earlier had altered Michael's life forever, causing an upheaval that even now he'd just begun to process.
There really is no turning back.
With Selene, he felt whole and fulfilled, although he doubted they'd exchanged more than a thousand words, many of those hostile. He didn't know what the future held for either of them, only that he wanted her at his side. Since the death of his fiancée some years earlier, he'd been a shell, a walking mockery of a man.
Except that now, he could no longer consider himself a man, properly speaking. He'd become something else, something other, something he could barely begin to fathom. Something that separated him irretrievably from his former life.
He twisted around to face the two passengers in the back seat. A fair-haired woman named Erika lay prone, covered with a tan overcoat. Her eyes were closed, her breathing shallow. Just thirty minutes earlier, she'd suffered multiple gunshot wounds. A human would have bled to death by now, but Erika still lived, her body mending itself. Like Selene, Erika was a vampire.
The man who sat next to her, stroking her hand, looked completely ordinary, but his scent revealed he was no more human than Selene or Erika—or for that matter, Michael himself. Though his manner could be disconcertingly jovial, his eyes told another story. They were old, old eyes—older than Selene's—the eyes of a creature that carried about its own hell wherever it went.
Michael preferred to think of him as Van Helsing. Selene and Erika called him the Doctor.
"How's she doing?" Michael asked.
Erika's eyes opened to slits. "I've been better."
"You'll be fine." Van Helsing regarded the blonde vampire tenderly.
Michael asked them, "Wanna know how the war got started?"
"Lucian fell in love with Viktor's daughter, Sonja," Van Helsing provided.
Michael raised his eyebrows questioningly.
Van Helsing said, "We overheard your conversation with Lucian. The werewolves used to be the slaves of the vampires. Viktor had Sonja put to death for marrying Lucian."
"She was carrying his child," Selene put in abruptly, the first time she'd spoken. "Lucian's child. A hybrid. Viktor killed her to kill the baby."
Van Helsing absorbed this in silence.
"What now?" Michael finally dared ask Selene.
She didn't answer.
They'd reached the countryside now, streaking past tiny towns set into the rolling hills north of Budapest. Dark fir trees closed in. After a few more miles, Selene turned off onto a side road. A metal gate loomed before them, rusty and forbidding, a dilapidated "No Trespassing" sign hanging from a chain. Selene hit a remote control button on the dashboard, and the gate swung open.
The Jaguar rumbled slowly down an overgrown and potholed dirt road. Stygian blackness pressed in on the windows, and Michael felt uneasy when Selene parked and switched off the engine. Then he wondered what he was afraid of. There was very little in the world that could harm him now, at least not on a simple physical level.
"This way," she said.
They all got out of the car, and Selene fetched a large flashlight from the trunk. Michael reached into the back seat and gently eased out Erika, lifting her into his arms.
Van Helsing took the flashlight—it was probably for his benefit anyway, since Michael and Selene could see perfectly well in the dark. Still, Michael was glad for the comfort of the light if not for its actual luminescence. He saw they were walking along an old, crumbling set of railroad tracks that led into the side of a hill.
"Abandoned mine," Selene provided. Drops of ice-cold water dripped down from above. She paused beside an old door and opened a concealed control panel. The heavy door rumbled aside to reveal a set of metal steps heading down into darkness. Selene went ahead, Van Helsing behind her. Michael followed with Erika.
At the bottom, Selene stopped short with a gasp, and an instant later, her Beretta exploded with a deafening report that ricocheted off the walls of the subterranean chamber. Van Helsing's flashlight shone across the room, illuminating the ferocious maw of a werewolf.
"It's dead." He stepped around Selene and crossed the floor. Michael saw the creature had been strung up in some horrific contraption that resembled a medieval torture device. Van Helsing's nose wrinkled. "For a while." He turned to Selene with a disapproving glare. "What's all this?"
"Research lab," she said dispassionately. "I don't know much about it. I only killed lycans; I didn't care about their anatomy." She found a fuse box and flipped on the overhead lights. Michael squinted in the sudden harsh glare that revealed the chamber as a weird combination of laboratory, military bunker, and high-tech security center. "Put Erika there."
Michael set the wounded vampire on a metal examining table and went to stare at the dead werewolf, his weird kin. He supposed he should feel revolted, but the events of the past two days had left him reeling, and he was too tired to summon much moral outrage. Van Helsing looked a hell of a lot more angry about the vampires' inhumane research project; Michael recalled that he'd been equally repulsed by the lycans' experiments on live, human subjects.
Erika whimpered softly, drawing both men back to the examining table. Van Helsing folded up his pinstriped jacket and placed it beneath her head. Selene was checking the security monitors. Abruptly, she turned to the others, her black leather coat whirling around her legs.
"I need to go back to the mansion," she announced.
"I'm going with you, then," Michael said.
"No, you're going to stay here and tend Erika," Selene responded, helping herself to weapons stored in a metal locker. "You're still part lycan, Michael, and the guards at the mansion would kill you on sight. These safe houses are connected on one mainframe. For all we know, we've already been detected. There isn't much time."
Van Helsing stood at the sink, washing some medical instruments. "What are you going to do?"
Looking troubled, Selene said, "I'm going to tell the Council what happened. They'll need to awaken Marcus—he's the last surviving Elder, and he'll have permanent leadership of both covens, unless the Council decides otherwise. If I can plead my case for you, Michael, you might be granted sanctuary."
"Marcus is the only one who can restore Reinette's memories," Van Helsing pointed out. He always called the blonde vampire Reinette. Selene had told Michael that Van Helsing had a crazy notion that Erika had been Madame de Pompadour in her mortal life.
"That may take some maneuvering," Selene warned. "My first priority is seeing that Michael is protected. He's an innocent—he was pulled into this conflict completely against his volition. He's not an enemy of the vampires. If I can persuade Marcus of that, then maybe I can bring up the subject of Erika."
"How reasonable is Marcus?" Van Helsing asked skeptically.
Selene sighed. "I don't know how he'll react to all this," she admitted. "Of the three Elders, he's the one I know the least." She glanced at her watch. "I need to go. Hopefully I'll reach the mansion before sunrise. You three stay here and lay low." Nodding toward a steel refrigerator in a back corner, she said, "There's cloned blood in there, if you need it." Her meaningful expression included Michael.
Shit, he thought as she departed, does she actually expect me to drink blood?
Van Helsing was already laying out instruments on a metal tray. Michael hastened to wash his hands. When he turned back, Van Helsing had removed Erika's boots and eased down her leather trousers, covering her modestly with a paper examining sheet.
"I'm going to put you out completely," he told her. She nodded. He placed his fingertips on her temples, pressing in hard, once, and a moment later, her eyes closed, head lolling to one side.
"How'd you do that?" Michael asked, but Van Helsing didn't answer. He pulled on a pair of plastic surgical gloves, passing a second pair to Michael.
They worked together in silence to remove the last silver bullet, lodged in Erika's left femur. After they dug out the projectile, they cleaned and bound the injured leg. Van Helsing began removing the bandages he'd improvised earlier from strips of his own shirt. Beneath them, Erika's skin had almost completely healed. Michael still marveled at that, at the phenomenal recuperative abilities of both immortal species.
He stripped off the latex examining gloves. Maybe it was the stress of the past few days, maybe the concentration required to remove the bullet, but his head had begun to spin. He became aware of an odd rushing and roaring in his ears, like ocean waves booming into a subterranean cavern or the noise of jet engines. A wave of dizziness struck him, then a horrible pain clenched in his guts, as if a rat were eating his insides. Michael realized he was famished, so hungry he literally couldn't think of anything else.
Van Helsing returned to the sink, washing his hands and the instruments they'd used. Michael found himself staring at the alien, assessing his height and weight and strength. He stood as tall as Michael, but far thinner, his shoulder blades visible beneath his t-shirt as he leaned over the sink. Surely he couldn't be very strong. The alien had an enticing, intoxicating scent, and Michael yearned to crack him open like a piece of fruit to see if he tasted as good as he smelled. The alien's neck beckoned, skin smooth and pale. Michael began to salivate uncontrollably. His long ebony claws extended at the tips of his fingers. Just a few more steps…
"If you're hungry, there's blood in the fridge." Van Helsing turned around, wiping his hands on a paper towel.
Michael was so startled he staggered backwards, bumping into the instrument tray and knocking it over with a loud clang.
"What, you think I can't hear someone sneaking up behind me? Especially when they're drooling down their shirt?"
Self-consciously, Michael wiped his mouth, mortified by what he'd nearly done. Van Helsing went to the fridge and opened it, tossing Michael a plastic IV bag of dark red fluid, identical to those Michael had seen in the vampires' Budapest safe house. Ziodex Industries, the label read—the company owned by Selene's coven. Cloned blood.
Now way, Michael thought. No way am I drinking blood! Fuck that!
"Give it a try," Van Helsing encouraged. He emptied a second bag into a clean glass beaker. Sniffing the fluid, he said, "Smells kind of… plastic. Not bad."
From the metal table, Erika groaned awake. Van Helsing hastened to her side, gently propping her up. He glanced at Michael again. "You need to drink that, Michael. I know you don't like the idea, but you'll starve without it."
"How do you know," Michael asked abruptly, "that that's what I need?"
Van Helsing tapped his own jugular. "She bit you. Those bite marks on your neck—two little puncture marks. They're too neat to be a lycan bite. You're a hybrid now. Lucian's hybrid. You."
Michael rubbed his neck where Selene had bitten him.
"Kraven shot me with silver nitrate," he explained. "Selene did this to save my life. Lucian was dying. He never planned for it to be me. It just… happened."
"You're half-vampire, then," Van Helsing nodded. "You need that blood. Go on, give it a try."
Michael stared again at the bag. He imagined getting a beaker and helping himself to the stuff, but the very thought turned his stomach. Van Helsing was coaxing a few sips into Erika, crooning to her in French, as if he were feeding chicken soup to an invalid. That was the last straw for Michael. He set aside the Ziodex bag and noiselessly slipped up the stairs.
Outside, darkness still lay over the cold, wintry landscape, though Michael could feel dawn in his veins, immanent. Despite his vampiric blood, he didn't fear the sun, knowing instinctively that his lycan blood would protect him. The two species had fused perfectly in his body, negating each other's greatest weaknesses. Michael felt an incredible giddy rush, despite his worries and the nagging hunger.
He headed in the direction of a tiny hamlet they'd passed on the way to the mine. Going back by the road would be about ten miles, he estimated, but as the crow flew, he figured it was closer to two. Michael struck out through the woods, inhaling the cold air and enjoying the strength in his limbs. He felt weightless, like he could run forever and not stop.
He reached the edge of a rocky cliff, the ground below easily twenty feet down. Until today, Michael would have needed to find another way around. Now he leaped off the edge. Wind whistled past his ears as he dropped, and he experienced another rush of euphoria. He landed like a cat in the leaf cover, almost silently. It was like being a kid again, imagining he had superpowers. Only now they were real.
The terrain leveled out here, and Michael jogged through the trees, his keen ears picking up the sound of automobiles. His nose detected the pungent scent of petrol. Before long, he'd reached the edge of the highway. Across from him sat a low wooden structure, lights glowing in the darkness. Cars and jeeps and trucks were parked outside, some refueling at a pump. A truck stop.
Michael ran across the road and through the parking lot, slowing to a walk as he entered the establishment. He inhaled the rich smell of Hungarian food: paprika, potatoes, savory meats, cabbage. God, he was so hungry.
The patrons at the wooden tables turned to stare at him, their faces grubby and creased and careworn. He felt suddenly, conspicuously American. Approaching the bar warily, he asked the middle-aged woman, "Could I get some breakfast?"
"One minute," she responded, and Michael absently wondered why she was speaking English. He found a seat at an empty table, belatedly checking his pockets. His own clothes had been destroyed in the fight, and he'd taken these garments from a dead lycan about his size. Thankfully there was some Hungarian currency in the coat.
He listened to the conversations around him, realizing he could understand everything. They're all speaking English. He tried not to stare at people, aware that they were regarding him with some hostility. One old man gave him such a dark look that Michael finally shot, "What're you staring at?" The man glared, but then lowered his gaze.
A wall-mounted TV was set to an early-morning news program. Michael listened to the anchor's quiet drone. For some reason, the tavern had opted for an English-language station.
The barkeep brought over Michael's food, a plate of potatoes and cabbage and fish, all liberally spiced with paprika. It smelled wonderful, and he tucked in immediately. The first few bites went down fine, giving Michael a sense of relief. Maybe Selene was wrong. Maybe he'd still be able to eat ordinary human food—he was a hybrid, after all, neither fully vampire nor werewolf, so who was to say what he'd need to eat? It would make sense, Michael thought, shoveling forkfuls into his mouth, to do some experimenting and see what he could tolerate—
His entire digestive tract constricted violently, as if a giant fist had squeezed his stomach. Michael dropped the fork, gagging. The boiled potatoes seemed suddenly intent on working their way back up his esophagus. The other patrons stared at him openly now, not bothering to be subtle about it. Michael clutched the edge of the table, gasping, horrible pain tying up his chest in knots. He realized what a mistake it had been to come here and try to eat this food.
The TV news anchor's report caught his attention: he heard his name. "…Michael Corvin, an American medical intern wanted by the police in connection with the metro shooting two nights ago…" A grainy photo of Michael from his hospital ID card appeared on the screen.
Two policemen in a nearby booth began to stand up.
The tavern door banged open, cold air blasting in, and Michael detected Van Helsing's unique scent. The alien swept into the room, holding out an ID card, and barked, "Nobody move!" Such was the authority in his voice that even the two cops froze. "National Security!" He hauled Michael to his feet. "Hands behind your head!"
Michael complied, even though his guts were roiling, and Van Helsing marched him out of the tavern.
"Right," he said, once they were safely outside. "Let's get under cover before they figure out it's a sham."
Michael tried to answer but instead projectile vomited an arc of undigested potatoes.
"That's right, better out than in. Keep moving!"
Van Helsing steered him across the highway and back into the woods. Michael tried to move faster, but with nearly every step, he had to double over and puke. Finally, they got out of sight behind a strand of fir trees. Michael finished retching up the last of his unfortunate breakfast.
"What's on that card?" he gasped raggedly.
Van Helsing pulled the thing out, showing it to him. Michael stared at it, just a blank piece of paper in a leather slipcase.
"What the fuck?" he grunted.
A moment later, the paper transformed into an official-looking ID card: Farkas Rossz, a lieutenant with the Hungarian National Security Office, accompanied by a grim photo of Van Helsing.
Then the paper went blank.
"It's psychic," Van Helsing explained, pocketing the leather case in his tan overcoat. "Says whatever I want it to say."
Michael started to say that was impossible, but then he thought, I'm a vampire-werewolf hybrid, and I think his little piece of psychic paper is impossible?
"Everyone back there was speaking English."
"They were speaking Hungarian. You just heard English. You were inside my ship, and it translates languages in your head." At Michael's blank look, he explained, "It's a gift of my people I've allowed you to share."
"Right." Michael trudged along, urged by Van Helsing, who kept looking back over his shoulder with a worried expression.
Hunger slammed into Michael so violently and horribly that he had to grab onto a boulder for support. He looked down and saw his talons extending.
"Get away from me!" he snarled, but the beast had taken over completely, and Michael lunged for Van Helsing. The alien hopped away nimbly, tearing among the boulders, faster than Michael had anticipated. Then he seemed to vanish altogether, though Michael could still smell his scent. He growled with frustration, stalking among the trees and stones.
Van Helsing sprang out from behind a boulder so suddenly that Michael froze: he hadn't expected to become the hunted. Then something cold and smooth was shoved into his face. Van Helsing's right hand locked around the back of Michael's head, pulling his face into the slick plastic. "Bite down!" he barked.
Michael fought, but he was weak from hunger, and the alien was stronger than he looked.
"Bite into it!"
Michael struggled to breathe, and Van Helsing pressed the plastic into his mouth. Michael's fangs pierced the IV bag, and a taste like cold saline poured down his throat. Michael couldn't fight it: the stuff kept coming in a thick tide of liquid copper and salt. He grabbed the bag from Van Helsing, squeezing it to drain the last drops.
The cloned blood had an astonishing effect: the weakness and hunger left Michael at once. His head stopped spinning. Scents and sounds resolved to normal levels, and his vision shifted from black and white back to color.
"Better?" Van Helsing asked kindly.
Still numb, Michael nodded. He licked his lips. "Not bad," he finally admitted.
"You should drink some of that every day, or you're going to lose control and kill someone." Van Helsing's sympathy shamed Michael.
"Sorry," he muttered.
"Don't worry about it."
"No, I am. You've done nothing but help me, and what'd I do? I knocked you unconscious and tried to eat you twice."
"You had reason to be afraid of me." Van Helsing pulled the tan coat more tightly around his thin frame. "Do you know what a monster is, Michael?"
"Is that a trick question or just a rhetorical one?"
"A monster is something that has no regard for anything except itself. A monster is incapable of love and compassion. I've been all over the universe, Michael, and I've seen plenty of monsters. Trust me when I say you're not one of them. You might not be human any more, you can't control that, but it's your choice to be humane."
Michael blinked, afraid he might burst into tears. Van Helsing's words were the kindest and most reassuring thing he'd heard since this whole nightmare had started. As much as Michael loved Selene, comfort wasn't exactly her strong suit. He folded the empty Ziodex bag and stuffed it into a pocket. Regaining his composure, he said, "So exactly what planet are you from?"
Van Helsing didn't answer the question. "Let's get moving."
They headed deeper into the woods. "Is it anywhere near Earth?" Michael persisted.
"No." That one syllable slammed like a door in Michael's face.
"You're worse than Selene. How old are you?"
Van Helsing walked slightly ahead of Michael, striding through the predawn gloom, his breath puffing in the frosty air. Michael realized that the roaring sound he'd heard earlier was the sound of the alien's heartbeat and circulation. He listened intently now, fascinated, sensing something odd about the percussive rhythm.
"You have two hearts," he blurted.
Van Helsing's loud sigh indicated a kind of long-standing exasperation with this topic.
"Sorry," Michael said. "You must get that a lot."
Van Helsing stopped short, his head turning. Michael listened, then he heard it, too, the sound of rough male voices.
"…went this way!" one of them said.
"Run!" Van Helsing hissed.
They took off, but their crunching footsteps betrayed them.
Van Helsing moved like a crazed deer: fast, zig-zagging in a random pattern that suggested he was accustomed to being pursued. Michael followed behind him, grateful for the meal that had put strength into his legs.
The policemen were closing in, and bullets whizzed through the air. Van Helsing dove behind a rocky outcropping. Michael, behind him, took the brunt of the weapon, bullets hammering into his back. He staggered and fell. Van Helsing grabbed him, dragging him behind the boulders.
They ran pell-mell through the woods, shouts and gunshots following them.
"We've got a problem," Van Helsing gasped. Ahead of them loomed the cliff. Michael knew he could jump to the top, even wounded, but Van Helsing couldn't, and Michael wouldn't abandon the man who'd saved his life. He panicked, wondering frantically what to do, when something sleek and black dropped down in front of him: Selene, looking like the angel of death.
She tossed her car keys to Van Helsing. "Get Erika. It's not safe there any more. Michael, stay with me."
There were half-a-dozen policemen, all armed with assault rifles. Dodging bullets, Selene wrested away the weapons from two men, sending both of them sprawling with one swing of her arm. She moved with preternatural speed, leaping out from behind a tree at the others, disarming and disabling another two in rapid succession. The remaining pair she chased away with her hunting face: glowing pale eyes and bared fangs. Lucky for her that vampire lore still held such strong sway over the local imagination: even the cynical cops weren't going to take chances.
She turned her attention to Michael, who sprawled at the base of the cliff, bleeding from nearly a dozen bullet wounds. "Here." She opened her gauntlet and bit into her wrist. Holding up her arm to his mouth, she ordered, "Take it."
"No," he mumbled.
"Michael, you're wounded! You'll die without this. Now, drink!"
He took hold of her arm, pulling her wrist to his mouth. A wave of unexpected arousal swept through Selene as he sucked at the open wound and her blood flowed into him. She gasped quietly, understanding viscerally why vampires so enjoyed biting each other. With care, she gauged how much Michael drank before reluctantly pulling away her arm.
"Better?" she asked.
Michael's fingers groped around inside his jacket. Selene watched the bullet wounds mend.
"Did you drink any of the blood in the safe house?" She helped him to his feet.
Michael produced an empty Ziodex bag from his pocket.
"Just that one?"
"Only after Van Helsing practically shoved it down my throat."
She blinked, confused, then she almost smiled. "Van Helsing. It suits him."
"I tried to attack him," Michael confessed. "He smelled so good."
The very idea nauseated Selene. Drink from an alien? She regarded Michael with concern: the Doctor's scent hadn't tempted her in the least.
"Be glad you didn't," she said. "He's from another planet. For all we know, his blood could kill you." She nodded at the cliff. "Jump."
They both sprang up, flying to the top of the sheer granite face.
"This does have its moments," Michael joked. Selene didn't answer, wasting no time in getting under cover.
"Why'd you leave the safe house?" she asked.
"I was hungry. The thought of drinking blood…"
"You're not as strong as you might think," she chided him.
"What's that supposed to mean?" he asked indignantly.
"There's never been a hybrid, Michael. You're unique. For all we know your powers may be limitless, but like it or not, vampires depend on blood. If you don't feed on a regular basis, you won't be able to anticipate your cravings, and you could attack humans. Trust me, you don't want that on your conscience."
"So I learned."
They crunched through the dried leaves and pine cones.
"Look," Michael said. "I'm grateful for what you did last night. I wasn't ready to die. But all this… it's a lot to get my head around. I need time to process, and it's been one life-or-death crisis after another. You were lucky."
Her gaze went hard. "Lucky how?"
"When you first became a vampire, there was a whole coven to help you… make the transition. Tell you what to expect. Right?"
"Yes," she admitted. Viktor, in particular, had been her mentor, easing her through the process. She hated thinking about that now.
"You've helped me all you can, but it's not like there's other hybrids I can compare notes with." Michael paused, then said, "I dunno, Selene. Everything's changed."
"If it helps, everything's changed for me, too," she offered. He stared at her, and Selene felt that pulse of raw emotion jump between them again.
"Why'd you come back?" Michael asked. "I thought you were going to the mansion?"
"I was." Selene anxiously searched the sky. "I was driving, and I heard something. I looked up and saw…"
"Just for second—something." She continued, "I know this sounds mad, but it looked like a man with wings. It was heading toward the safe house."
Michael regarded her incredulously, uneasy when he realized she was completely serious; a Death Dealer like Selene wouldn't be given to flights of fancy. They both froze. Up ahead, a flock of crows suddenly took to the air, calling in agitation.
"Shit," Selene whispered. She heard the same noise she'd detected in the Jag, a sound like the steady flapping of great leather wings. And there, sailing through the air like an enormous vampire bat, came the creature she'd glimpsed briefly through the car's windows, a demonic vision that had made her turn around and head straight back for the safe house.
"What the fuck?" Michael wheezed.
A long talon snapped out of midair, knocking him off his feet and sending him sprawling. Selene pulled her Beretta, and the talon snapped again, knocking the weapon from her hand.
The creature descended, landing several feet from Selene. Its skin rippled black with muscle, its face repulsive: nose flattened, nostrils like slits, its mouth full of jagged, shark-like teeth. But its eyes—its eyes were jet black.
Like Michael's. Hybrid eyes.
The wings rocked Selene. Human folklore held that vampires turned into bats, a ridiculous superstition, but the creature's wings were unmistakably those of a great bat: like an extra set of arms on which was stretched a leathery black membrane, the wingspan easily ten feet across.
Viktor's words came back to Selene: the sons of the Corvinus clan, one bitten by bat, one by wolf. She saw then the elegant black silk trousers, girded about the waist with an ornate gold belt. The stunning truth hit her at that moment.
"Marcus," she said. How in the gods' name had this happened to him?
"Selene," he rasped, stalking toward her. "I know what you have done. The blood memories of this wretched creature have shown me that Kraven's treachery knew no bounds."
Fighting to keep her voice steady, Selene told him, "Then you know Kraven deserved his fate. And Viktor was no better."
"Viktor deserved his fate many times over," Marcus agreed. Selene could scarcely reconcile the Elder she'd known with the monstrosity bearing down on her. Marcus had been slender and handsome, with red hair and aristocratic features. Now, it seemed, he'd become the living embodiment of the rabid bat that had bitten him so many centuries ago.
"A terrible business, the slaying of your family," Marcus went on. "Yet so much effort was taken to conceal this matter from me." Selene kept backing up, but she'd run into a boulder, and there was nowhere else to go. Marcus continued with his relentless questions. "What do you suppose Viktor had to hide?" He shoved Selene against the rock, his strength even more formidable than Michael's. "Or perhaps it is you, Selene, as the last of your wretched family, who has something to hide?"
Selene had not the least idea what he was talking about. Her family? They'd been dead for centuries, murdered by Viktor—what secrets could mortal peasants possibly have possessed?
Marcus seemed determined to learn this for himself: his head leaned in toward Selene's neck, mouth open—
BLAM! Selene's Beretta exploded. Michael had regained consciousness and found her gun. He squeezed off round after round, pumping the hideously transformed Elder full of silver bullets. Marcus released his grip on Selene, snarling in pain. She grabbed Michael's arm. "Run!"
They tore through the woods at top speed, bursting out onto the road. An empty flatbed truck approached, the driver half-asleep. His eyes went wide when he saw the couple in the road, and he slammed on the brakes. Michael held his arms straight out, shifting into his hybrid form as he shoved against the grille of the cab, bringing the truck to a complete stop.
Selene whipped around to the driver's door. Baring her fangs, she asked in Russian, "Mind if I drive?"
With a thump, Michael landed on the hood of the truck, showing his hybrid face through the window. The terrified driver scrambled out the passenger side door and ran for his life. Selene climbed in behind the wheel.
She heard a familiar noise, and Marcus burst from the treetops.
"Hang on!" Selene threw the truck into gear and stomped on the gas pedal. Michael flew over the cab, landing on the flatbed in the back.
She felt a jolt as Marcus slammed into the truck, throwing Michael against the rear window of the cab. The glass shattered. Shit! she thought, watching the fight through the rearview mirror. The two hybrids would normally be of equal strength, but Marcus was older, an Elder—and as Selene now knew, the original vampire. The fight went badly for Michael, and Selene watched him tumble off the flatbed, only grabbing a stray chain at the very last instant.
She turned around, firing her gun out the broken window, emptying a full clip of silver into Marcus. He howled in pain as the force of the bullets flung him toward the back of the truck. Selene watched in her side mirror as he somersaulted in midair, wings opening out, regaining strength for another attack. Michael was struggling to pull himself into the bed of the speeding truck.
Marcus flew alongside the vehicle, pulling even with the driver's window. Selene reloaded the Beretta and fired, keeping her right hand on the wheel, steering the heavy truck around the precarious turns of the mountain road. Her gun clicked: out of ammunition.
Hovering alongside the truck's cab, Marcus leered in at her. "Dead or alive, Selene, you will give me what I want!"
Too late he heard the motor of a rapidly approaching car. Selene would have known that engine anywhere. The Jag appeared in her rearview mirror, the Doctor at the wheel, his expression almost demented. Much to Selene's disbelief, Erika had pushed her head and shoulders out the passenger's window, hair whipping in the slipstream, a Death Dealer's gun clutched in her hands.
BLAM-BLAM-BLAM! Silver bullets peppered the Elder. He somersaulted away, then renewed his attack, heedless of his bleeding injuries. His vampiric nature dominated, Selene realized, and although the silver must burn, it couldn't really harm him. He smashed through the passenger's side window, crawling halfway inside, long talons reaching for Selene's throat.
She swung the truck hard to the right, catching Marcus against a sheer granite cliff. His shrill screams of agony echoed off the surrounding mountains. Selene kept going, heedless of the damage to the truck, crushing him between fast-moving metal and unyielding rock. At last the cliff ended and she swung out onto the road, watching his bloodied body tumble heavily to the asphalt like roadkill. The Doctor and Erika followed behind her in the Jag. Selene kept one eye on the rearview mirror, and to her dismay, the last thing she saw before rounding a curve in the road was the Elder hauling himself to his feet.
He wasn't dead, but at least Selene had damaged his wings badly enough to keep him grounded. He couldn't follow them—not until he'd had time to heal. She exhaled; they were out of immediate danger.
Michael slid into the passenger seat. "He's a hybrid, isn't he?"
"Yes," Selene answered shortly. Now that she had a moment to think about it, she realized how it had happened: Singe, the lycan scientist. Viktor had killed him, but no one had removed the body from the Elders' crypt. And so while Selene and Viktor and the Death Dealers had gone to fight the lycans in their underground bunker, Singe's blood had flowed down into the sarcophagus occupied by Marcus. The lycan's blood had awakened the slumbering Elder, transforming him into a creature of unspeakable power.
"We have another problem," said Michael. The truck was heading due east, and over the mountain peaks, the sun had begun to rise.
II. Love is Blindness
The converted naval frigate Sancta Helena plowed through the waters of the Black Sea. Overhead, a sleek black Lynx approached her deck, mighty propellers thumping. The craft landed on its helipad and a dozen armed, black-clad men hastened to greet it. The propellers came to a stop, and the men inside began to transfer out a series of body bags.
Samuel hastened inside the ship, through the buzzing central communications center, and up to the bridge, where the ship's master, Lorenz Macaro, waited. The old man's face bore no signs of strain or worry—he was always inscrutable—but from the way his gray gaze kept flicking to the central ops room, Samuel knew the events of the past few nights troubled him deeply.
Now the piercing eyes turned to Samuel. Light flashed on a signet ring as he unfolded his hands.
"Show me what you have," he ordered.
Samuel set the laptop on Macaro's desk. In contrast with the Sancta Helena's high-tech military trappings, the old man's study resembled something from the nineteenth century rather than the twenty-first, all polished wood and brass. Macaro kept a box of ivory stationery on his desk, a fountain pen, and an hourglass. Samuel sometimes wondered that Macaro didn't write with a feathered quill.
Samuel plugged a memory stick into the laptop, bringing up the image of a Budapest metro station. The place had been devastated by gunfire: broken glass, shattered tiles and light fixtures, walls pockmarked from a fusillade of bullets.
"We cleaned up the ammo and recovered the bodies of two Death Dealers," Samuel reported. "One torn to pieces by lycans, one burned alive by UV ammunition."
Macaro's expression didn't change. Samuel inserted a second memory stick into the laptop, now showing the grainy images of Cleaners working in an underground bunker. The lens zoomed in on a blackened, mummy-like corpse.
"Amelia," Samuel said. "Also burned to death by UV ammo." The camera panned to the right, across a bloodstained concrete floor, to reveal the body of a man with long hair, prominent black veins showing in his face, the unmistakable sign of silver poisoning.
"Lucian," Samuel provided. The lycans' most famed and powerful leader, dead. Samuel fast-forwarded to a scene of a dirty, water-filled chamber. "This is another room in the lycans' underground base." Two more Cleaners were lifting a man's corpse into a body bag. The video image on the laptop revealed that the man's head had been sliced off. "Viktor."
Macaro nodded slightly. "And the innocents who witnessed?"
"We're putting out a story of gang warfare," Samuel told him. "We bought the silence of those who saw more than that."
Macaro nodded again. Hungary was still a poor country, most of its citizens too willing to accept his bribes in exchange for their discretion. Usually it was more money than any of them would see in one lifetime, a small price to pay for keeping the immortals' twilight war out of public view.
Hell, Samuel thought, it's not like anyone would believe them anyway.
He popped in another memory stick, showing two expensive cars parked in a darkened alleyway. More Cleaners were removing four charred corpses. "Three of these were Death Dealers," he said. "The fourth we identified as Kraven, based on his jewelry."
The next memory stick provided footage of a lavish mansion—or the remains of it; a raging fire consumed the entire structure.
"Ordoghaz," Samuel said. For centuries, the great house had been the primary residence of the Old World coven, ruled over by Viktor and Marcus. Amelia, the third Elder, had been leader of the New World coven. "The fire was still blazing when we left; I doubt if there'll be any way of identifying the bodies—provided there's anything to find. If any of the vampires escaped, we didn't find them."
"No sign of Marcus?" asked Macaro.
"No, sir, none. It looks like he destroyed his own coven."
Almost to himself, Macaro said, "It was never his coven." Then, "There's an American medical intern named Michael Corvin who the authorities in Budapest are looking for. We need to find him."
"Last seen in the company of a Death Dealer named Selene," Samuel nodded. He popped a fresh memory stick into the laptop. "And two others. This is footage from the security cameras in the vampires' safe house north of Budapest." Macaro's team kept close tabs on both the vampires and the lycans. Long ago, his hackers—culled from the ranks of the world's criminal masterminds—had broken into the vampires' security system and had been spying on them ever since.
Macaro and Samuel watched four figures enter the subterranean safe house. The dark-haired woman wore black leather and carried the weapons of a Death Dealer. A tall, athletic young man followed her, his casual demeanor and open face marking him as an American. He carried in his arms a fair-haired woman, placing her on a metal examining table.
"The second woman's a vampire," Samuel provided. "We don't have her name; she may be a low-ranked member of the coven. She's not a Death Dealer." He and Macaro noted the profusion of bloodstained rags wrapped around various parts of her body: improvised bandages. "We think she was wounded in the bunker shootout."
The female didn't interest Macaro. "And him?"
"We don't know," Samuel frowned. "He looks human. Strange."
They watched the video footage. The unidentified Caucasian turned to speak to the female Death Dealer. Samuel studied his features but didn't recognize him from any of Macaro's previous intel. The stranger stood about six feet even, long-limbed and painfully thin. He wore a plain t-shirt over narrow pinstriped trousers and black Converse basketball sneakers. His hair and eyes were dark, probably brown, his features pleasant if unremarkable.
"I'm having Cleo check the database," Samuel said, "but I've never seen him before."
Softly, Macaro said, "I have."
The ship's morgue was cold, gloomy, reeking of formaldehyde. A series of x-ray slides hung on nearby light boxes. On the gurneys lay four bodies, awaiting autopsy, though Macaro doubted the exams would reveal very much. Kraven and Amelia both had burned to death, killed by UV ammunition; Lucian had died of silver poisoning; Viktor's skull had been sliced in half.
The cause of their deaths didn't interest Macaro. He opened Lucian's body bag, studying the lycan leader with dispassion, then opened the folds of Lucian's coat and shirt. He frowned: where was the medallion? Lucian had never been seen without that precious pendant, which had originally belonged to his lover, Viktor's daughter Sonja.
Macaro opened Viktor's body bag, thinking the Elder might have stolen back the pendant from his ancient enemy. He didn't flinch at Viktor's nearly decapitated corpse, focusing on the Elder's neck and chest. Nothing. Macaro glanced across the room at the two bags holding Kraven's and Amelia's remains; there was no reason for them to have acquired the pendant. He doubted if either one had understood its true significance. Maybe Amelia, but certainly not Kraven.
The x-rays caught his gaze, and he moved closer to the light box, studying the various images of Viktor. Immediately he noted the anomaly on the Elder's ribcage. Macaro donned latex examining gloves and picked up a nearby scalpel. He sliced into Viktor's chest, making a long, y-shaped incision, then drew back the folds of skin. He'd seen so much death, in so many grotesque forms, that he didn't flinch at the sight of Viktor's exposed muscle and bone.
There it is. With effort, Macaro pulled out the circular gold disk; time had caused the thing to adhere to Viktor's ribs. You clever bastard. Macaro washed the disk in the morgue's sink, examining it more closely in the light: a tiny, shallow dish with four grooved indentations around its circumference. He stripped off his right glove, inserting a fingernail into one groove. Even the untrained eye would recognize this disk as a female component of sorts, designed to connect with an interlocking piece.
The first half of the puzzle, Macaro ruminated, gazing about at the dead vampire and lycan leaders. But where's the second?
He left the morgue, the disk tucked into an inner pocket of his long, black coat, moving noiselessly up the steps to the ship's climate-controlled library. Entering the library, like entering the bridge, took one back in time. Fitting, Macaro thought. Volumes lined every wall, many of them valuable, some priceless. A computer on a small, elegant table in one corner provided the library's sole concession to modernity. Although he'd lived on the Sancta Helena for years, only in the library did he truly feel at home.
A man with nothing but time on his hands could indulge in any number of hobbies; for Macaro, most of those were intellectual pursuits. From a shelf he withdrew an ancient volume, a leather-bound manuscript illuminated by a Benedictine monk in 1350. Carefully, Macaro turned the vellum pages until he reached the illustration he sought. The stylized drawing showed a young knight slaying what appeared to be a dragon. The knight had fair hair and wore a pale tunic, though the artist hadn't known what to make of the man's clothes, awkwardly rendering the outer garment as a surcoat. The knight wielded a mighty sword with two hands, driving it into the body of the horrid creature. The artist had depicted the thing as a dragon—probably because he simply never had seen anything like an alien species before.
Macaro found a second book on another side of the library, a scholarly analysis of the Kent State University shooting in 1970. In one of the grainy black-and-white photographs stood a fair-haired young man in striped trousers and a plain shirt. Placing the modern book side by side with the medieval manuscript, it was patently obvious the two pictures showed the same man. More than six hundred years had passed between the slaying of the "Great Beast of Leicester" and the Kent State tragedy, and the blond man hadn't aged a single day.
Macaro's fingers roamed along another shelf, pulling out yet a third book, a paperback account of the 1989 San Francisco earthquake. He turned to an often-perused photo: the same young man, helping to carry an injured woman to safety. His head was turned to one side, mouth open, as if calling to someone out of the frame.
Only the medieval manuscript identified the man, referring to him as "The Scientist." In the other two, he was just a face in the crowd.
This strange man had become something of an obsession for Macaro. From what he could tell, the fellow had been popping up throughout the course of human history, from the very earliest written records. He was mentioned in Mayan codices, Egyptian hieroglyphs, in fragments of lost Aramaic testaments, in the writings of Greeks and Romans and Arabs. Scribes of China's Ming Dyanasty and Japan's Heian Period made reference to him. Every civilization, it seemed, had been touched by this man at least once.
Scholars had referred to him by any number of titles: Teacher, Healer, Scientist, Wizard, Wise Man, Old Man. But in modern writings—anything after the European Middle Ages—he'd almost exclusively been called the Doctor.
Macaro had, over time, amassed a vast trove of information about the wandering traveler. It hadn't been easy at first, because the man's appearance often seemed so radically different—tall or short, old or young, dark-haired or fair-haired or white-haired, stocky or slim. For the longest time, Macaro had doubted they even were connected, or perhaps the honorific "Doctor" represented a legacy of sorts, passed along from one man to the next.
With the advent of computer technology had come some startling revelations. Macaro had tapped the files of UNIT, a military branch of the United Nations dedicated to combating alien threats. The Doctor had been their chief scientific advisor for many years, and their records included photos of several different men. The accompanying reports, however, made very clear that all these men were in fact the same person, the same being.
A year earlier, Macaro had acquired the private memoir of Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart, a late brigadier with the British military, a man who apparently had known more about the Doctor than anyone on Earth. His lucid and provocative autobiography revealed that the Doctor was a member of an alien species, that he'd been visiting Earth for centuries, that his ship could travel in time as well as space, and that he had a phenomenal ability to regenerate into a completely new body when he was close to death. The brigadier's memoir tied together all the disparate evidence Macaro had compiled and explained many—though certainly not all—of the Doctor's mysteries.
So far as Macaro could determine, the Doctor had taken on the physical appearance of ten different men—he may have had more forms than that, but only ten were documented in Earth history. Macaro switched on the computer, and after it booted up, opened his folder on the Doctor, selecting a composite photo of all ten forms. He had no way of knowing their correct chronological order, but he always found a side-by-side contrast useful. The photo in the top row to the far right provided a good likeness of the man on the surveillance video: seemingly about thirty-five, Caucasian, tall, thin, brown hair, brown eyes, brown clothes.
Macaro leaned back in the chair, ruminating. Every account of the Doctor made it clear that he most often turned up during times of urgency and disaster. Scholars divided sharply on whether he caused trouble or solved it—Macaro suspected both—but it seemed that whenever the man appeared, violence erupted, tragedy struck, and people died. Depending on one's perspective, the alien was either an angel of mercy or a walking genocide. Of all the descriptions Macaro had read of the man, none intrigued him more than the colorful summary penned by a long-forgotten Viktorian scholar:
The Doctor is a legend, a myth woven through time. When disaster strikes, he's there. He brings the storm in his wake, and he has one constant companion: death.
And now the Doctor turned up in Hungary, on the eve of perhaps the final cataclysmic battle between two immortal species. Macaro didn't think it was an accident.
Michael forced himself to stay calm. "Get down," he instructed, sliding over and wrapping his arms around Selene. He took the truck's wheel from her. "Keep your foot on the gas. I'll steer."
Selene complied, scrunching down and doing her best to stay in the dashboard's shadow, but the first rays of sunlight crept over the horizon, slanting into the cab. Up ahead, a dirt road veered off to the right. Michael steered the truck in that direction, and they barreled down a slope toward a large, dilapidated building. He smelled burning flesh; the sun's rays had found Selene's exposed skin. He panicked, visions of her immolating completely before he could get her to safety. An instant later, the truck smashed through a pair of wooden doors and into the blessed shade of the building, colliding loudly with the derelict cars parked inside before shuddering to a stop.
Michael killed the motor. "Wait here." He hopped out of the cab and found a big tarp, using it to cover the cab's window. With a quiet purr, the Jag pulled into the building and came to a halt. Van Helsing hopped out from behind the wheel.
"Where's Erika?" Michael asked.
"In the back." Van Helsing surveyed the interior. "Cold war factory?"
"A garage or a body shop," Michael said. "It looks more like they were fixing cars than building them. We need to cover those windows. Thank God the place is shut down."
He spotted paint cans on a nearby work table. Inspired, he used his talons to rip one open, flinging black automotive paint at the window. He opened another, then another. While he worked, Van Helsing found some large canvas tarps and rigged up an improvised curtain over the shattered door.
When the entire shop lay in a kind of dim twilight, Michael opened the cab, helping Selene out. He pulled the tarp off the truck's cab and threw it over her head: fingers of sunlight still beamed into the shop through gaps in the black paint. The back half of a trailer truck lay nearby, propped on blocks, the doors fastened shut with a padlock and chain. Michael grabbed the chain and gave it a yank: it snapped like a licorice rope in his hand. He opened the door and hustled Selene inside.
"You're hurt," he said, stripping off her gloves. The leather had peeled back, the skin of her hands red and blistered. Her face had been burned as well, along the jawline.
"I'm fine," she insisted, but Michael wouldn't hear it. He raced from the trailer into a filthy old men's room, where he found a first aid kit mounted over the sink. He ripped the metal box clear off the wall and hastened back to the truck. Setting down the box on a nearby crate, he rummaged through the supplies, looking for antibiotic cream and bandages. When he turned back to Selene, she stood there with a bemused expression. He examined her hands, finding the skin pink and unblemished. Amazed, he checked her jaw, finding the same thing.
"See?" she asked gently, almost smiling at him. Michael immediately felt foolish: of course he knew how fast their species healed. For someone like Selene, a few burns were a minor nuisance. Yet Michael couldn't bear the thought of her being in pain, even for only a few moments. From the look in her eyes, he knew his crazy display of heroics touched her. That familiar spark pulsed between them again. Michael hesitated, then leaned forward and kissed her.
She didn't push him away, and Michael kissed her again, enfolding her in his arms. Selene's hands came up, pushing his shirt and jacket down his shoulders. He unzipped her leather corset in the back, then slowly and deliberately unzipped her suit in the front, opening the shiny black fabric. Her body was taut and pale and perfect, more beautiful than Michael could have imagined. He pulled Selene close, kissing her fiercely, the smooth curves of her breasts molding to his chest.
"Michael," she whispered in his ear, almost inaudibly.
"What?" he gasped.
"Close the doors."
Michael hastened to do her bidding, pulling shut the trailer's doors. Van Helsing and Erika could fend for themselves.
Erika waited in the Jaguar, growing restless. She heard the Doctor moving about, his quiet footsteps and a few scraping noises. A heavy tarp covered the car's windows, and she couldn't see what he was doing.
She rubbed her thigh: the wound had healed almost completely, only a dull throb deep in the bone remaining.
How does Selene cope? Erika shuddered. How many times had the Death Dealer been injured in her war against the lycans? This is as much pain as I ever want to feel, Erika thought. I'm a lover, not a fighter.
With a rustle of fabric, one side of the canvas tarp rose up and folded back. The rear door opened, and the Doctor poked his head inside. "It should be safe now. The sun's shifting. Give me my coat—it's freezing in here."
Erika passed him his long brown overcoat, then cautiously slid out of the Jag and into a gloomy place of filth and decrepitude, full of rusty, broken-down cars and trucks. Like some weird automotive graveyard. Her nose wrinkled.
"Where's Selene and Michael?"
"From the sound of things, they're putting Michael's favorite obscenity into action." The Doctor's head tilted in the direction of a big rectangular box. From her endless hours of TV viewing, Erika recognized it as the cargo hold of a trailer truck, though she'd never actually seen one. The thing looked sad, propped up on concrete blocks instead of wheels.
"Not my idea of a honeymoon suite," Erika laughed. Curiously, she strolled around the abandoned shop, studying the different kinds of vehicles. Since her arrival in the coven, Erika had never left the mansion; certainly, she wouldn't have been allowed to drive one of the vampires' many cars. She didn't even know how. She could only assume that all the rusting metal objects scattered around the shop were involved in the maintenance and repair of these cars and trucks.
The Doctor puttered about, seemingly content, collecting a large crate full of odds and ends.
"What're those for?" asked Erika.
"My ship," he explained. "I never know when I'm going to need to make repairs, and I usually end up improvising from whatever I can find… so it helps to keep lots of things at hand."
Erika recalled the jury-rigged, junk-shop appearance of the ship's console, so different from the sleek spaceships of science fiction, where everything always seemed gleaming and brand new. She debated mentioning that to the Doctor, but she felt stupid that her only knowledge of outer space came from watching silly fiction on TV. It was like assuming you knew everything about another country from books or movies.
Keeping her tone light, she said, "So there's nothing like this for space ships? No shop where you can bring the TARDIS for repairs?"
"Oh, there's facilities in every inhabited galaxy," the Doctor said. "But none of them would know the first thing about a time machine."
"Can't you take it home?" asked Erika, surprised. "Your own people must…" She faltered; he was giving her a long, hollow stare. "I'm sorry," she murmured, sensing she'd trodden onto sacred ground.
"Don't worry about it." The Doctor tossed something metallic into his collection, easy and lighthearted again.
"These cars are so…"
"So pathetic?" he finished.
"Yes," she laughed.
"Lots of old Russian-made Ladas in here," the Doctor chuckled. "Not quite in the Jaguar class." He used the sonic screwdriver to unlock the backs of the other trucks, examining the contents of their cargo holds. Erika cleared space on a nearby work table and pulled herself onto it, sitting with her knees drawn up to her chin, legs crossed at the ankle. She enjoyed watching the Doctor work, his happy, absorbed expression.
Her head tilted toward the tractor-trailer box, where the sounds of passion had intensified: Selene and Michael orgasmed simultaneously. Erika envied them. The Doctor feigned a kind of cheerful obliviousness.
"What's it like in space?" she asked abruptly.
"Pretty much the same as everywhere else," the Doctor murmured, flipping through a dusty manual. "Depends which species are involved."
Erika stared at him, mouth agape, then burst out laughing. "I meant what's space like?"
His ears turned pink. "Oh!" He set aside the manual, charmingly flustered, putting his hands in his coat pockets. Regaining his composure, he said, "It's beautiful, fascinating, exciting, dangerous, terrifying. There's things out there you can't even begin to imagine—so many worlds, so many species, so many cultures. The variety alone is staggering."
"I wish I could see it," Erika said wistfully.
His face lit up. "You could! When all this is sorted, when you have your memories back, you could come with me."
"You must be joking. Me?"
Erika started to say she wasn't important enough, but they'd already had that argument. "I can't go out in the sunlight," she reminded him.
"Earth's not the only planet that has night-time," he grinned. "We can chase sunsets all over the universe if you want to."
"You'd really do that?" she laughed nervously. For me?
"Of course! I was going to take you with me, before—" he broke off, abruptly solemn.
"Before what?" Erika prompted.
"Before you died," he answered softly.
Shaking her head, she countered, "I never really died."
"Yes, but I didn't know that." So much regret lay beneath those words, taking Erika by surprise.
"Don't be sad. I got immortality into the bargain, so dying a mortal death seems like a fair trade to me." She added, "Don't forget, if Marcus hadn't turned me, I never would've met you again."
"No," he said abstractly, looking very far-away.
Erika's curiosity got the better of her. "What was—what was my life like, back then? What was I like?"
"You've never read about Madame de Pompadour?"
"I never even heard the name until you mentioned it when we first met. I don't read history," she admitted, thinking of the trashy romances and potboilers she'd devoured by the boxful—like television, they'd provided a useful way of passing the endless hours in the mansion.
"You used to," the Doctor said. "You were educated and incredibly accomplished. You could read and write, you played the clavichord, you could dance. You designed the Petit Trianon at Versailles and planned the layout of the gardens." His eyes had taken on a warm glow. "You were admired and popular; you influenced any number of the king's political decisions… you were a woman to be reckoned with."
"I was the king's mistress?"
"Louis XV," the Doctor told her. "Believe it or not, he had an official mistress—in addition to his other unofficial mistresses."
"Sounds like he was busy," Erika chuckled.
"Your father-in-law was one of his courtiers, and he suggested you for Louis's official consort when his previous mistress died. In no time, Louis was smitten with you; he made you a marquise and gave you your own estate—Pompadour, which is where your title came from."
Erika still found all this impossible to believe. It was like a children's story, where the lowly servant girl discovers she is in fact a royal princess.
"So, how'd I meet you?" she asked.
"That's a long story," the Doctor hedged.
"It's a long time to sunset," Erika pointed out.
The Doctor leaned back against another workbench. "I'd landed on an abandoned space station in the fifty-first century," he said. "There were these… these portals all over the ship, each one a window opening onto a different point in your life. The ship's repair droids—that's a kind of robot—had gone a bit mad. They'd killed off the ship's crew, using their body parts to make repairs."
"But the ship's computer was broken, and to fix it, they seemed to think they needed your brain. So they kept opening up time portals onto your life. The ship was thirty-seven years old, and the droids were trying to find you when you were thirty-seven, because they figured, in their own mechanical way, that that was when you'd be compatible with the ship's computer."
She shook her head. "But why? Why not take the brain of… I don't know, Einstein? I wouldn't have known the first thing about running a spaceship!"
"I never figured that out," he admitted. "The droids must've malfunctioned."
"So, what'd you do? Blow them up?"
"No need," he grinned. "I just kept them from taking your brain. They eventually ran out of power and shut down."
"And that was it?"
"That was it."
She cocked her head to one side. "Why're you lying?"
"What do you mean, lying?" he said indignantly.
"Your left eyelid twitched."
He immediately began to rub the offending piece of skin, muttering quietly to himself.
"So, why didn't you take me with you? You said you wanted to."
"I already told you—it was too late."
"But you just said I was thirty-seven when that happened, and you told me the other day I died when I was forty-three."
"One of the portals had something wrong with it—each time I went through it, I'd reappear in your time a bit further along—first by months, then by years. I'd nipped back to the spaceship, and about five seconds later, went through the portal again to Versailles. When I got there, six years of Earth time had passed. You were dead." He sighed almost inaudibly. "Or so I assumed."
"But you have a time machine!" Erika burst out. "Couldn't you have come and found me again sometime in those last six years?"
"I could have," he agreed. "But it… I don't know. You were going to die so young… I couldn't have prevented that. You were an important historical figure by then… I couldn't interfere with your timeline."
"You only wanted to spare yourself the pain!" she accused.
He didn't deny this. Impulsively, Erika uncrossed her legs and jumped down off the table, going to stand beside him.
"Were you in love with me?"
He looked away. Erika reached up and took his chin in her hand, turning his face to hers. The grief in his eyes startled her, a sadness that seemed to stretch back endlessly.
He said nothing, but his longing expression didn't need words. Erika hesitated, then reached up and tried to kiss him. He backed away.
"What?" she said, confused. "What's wrong?" A terrible suspicion dawned on her. "Do I repulse you? Because I'm a vampire?"
"No!" he said, genuinely distressed. He took her hands, squeezing them gently. "Not at all! You're still Reinette. Nothing could change that."
"So why haven't you tried to…?" His lack of sexual overtures baffled Erika. Soren would have fucked her twice and made a few phone calls in the time it had taken the Doctor just to admit his feelings.
"You can't remember… Reinette, you don't even know me. I'm a complete stranger as far as you're concerned." She could feel his skin growing warm and hear the increasing tempo of his pulses.
"You're such a gentleman," she teased, sliding playful hands under his coat. "And what if I invited you to take advantage of me?"
"No," he insisted, turning red. He tried to push away her hands. "Not until you get your memories back and can make that decision completely of your own will."
"Were we lovers before?" He didn't answer, but his pink flush grew even darker, delighting Erika. His scent had changed, becoming noticeably more musky. "I'll take that as a yes."
"Once," he admitted. "Well, more than once—but it was only one night—"
"Versailles. The night you met the king. It was a big masquerade ball in honor of his son's marriage. You'd already caught his eye, but you danced and flirted with me to make him jealous, to make him want you even more." His eyes gleamed with reminiscence. For one instant, Erika sensed how magical that evening must have been.
"And then?" she prompted.
"Next thing I knew, you were blindfolding me with my own necktie."
"Sounds like fun," she breathed.
"You… dragged me off to another part of the palace." The musk of his scent intensified as he recounted this tale of clandestine lust.
"What do you think?" he huffed. "D'you want a diagram?" He was trying—and failing—to keep his dignity together. "It's all a little hazy, anyway—I was rather drunk at the time."
"Who was on top?" she asked wickedly.
"You were," he blushed. "Well—at first, anyway."
Erika pushed him against the table, kissing him and rubbing herself against him. The Doctor thrashed briefly in protest before relaxing in her embrace and returning her kiss with the wild passion of pent-up longing. His arms tightened around her, and his tongue probed into her mouth.
"Reinette," he gasped when they parted for air. "You haven't lost your aggressive streak."
The shop offered precious few places to recline at full length. The work bench looked as good as any, and Erika cleaned it off with one powerful sweep of her arm. Machinery and work tools went crashing to the concrete. She retrieved the tarp from Selene's car and spread it over the grubby surface.
"Give me your coat and jacket," she ordered.
The Doctor complied wordlessly. Erika added his garments to the improvised bedding. She tugged off her boots. He still looked uncertain, so Erika unhooked her top and casually let it slide off her shoulders.
That was all the persuading he needed. His eyes went enormous: deep, round orbs, surrounded by narrow golden-brown rims. Erika kissed him lightly, teasing his lips, then hopped up onto the work table.
"Come on," she said, recognizing that she'd have to take the initiative. He was so different from her paramours in the coven, those cocky, swaggering vampire lords. Playfully, she added, "Madame de Pompadour awaits your pleasure."
He climbed onto the table with her. To Erika's vast delight, he fished into the pocket of his striped jacket and produced a silk necktie. She started to take it from him, but he shook his head, smiling widely.
"Not this time," he said, winding the strip of fabric around her head. "It's your turn." He tied the blindfold and kissed Erika, drawing her down to the table and turning her onto her back. His breath was warm on her cheek, and his tongue flicked playfully against her earlobe. "You don't need to be a courtesan for me," he whispered. "This is all for you."
Selene heard the crashing noises from inside the trailer. She sat up in alarm, but Michael put a shushing finger to her lips. "Wait," he whispered.
They heard a few quiet murmurs of conversation, followed shortly thereafter by the unmistakable sounds of pleasure.
"She's fucking him," Michael snickered. "And he's an alien!"
Selene smacked him playfully on the shoulder. "And you're a hybrid."
"And you're a vampire. At least we have something in common. Not to mention we both were born on the same planet."
Selene had to admit he had a point.
Out in the shop, Erika let out a shriek that echoed off the ceiling.
"Jesus, what's he doing to her?" Michael wondered.
"Well, I'm not going to go look!" Selene chided. She burrowed more closely into the warm circle of his arms, and they listened with amusement to the noises of the other couple. After a while, the amorous racket began to stir her—and Michael as well. His hand slid down to her thighs.
"How much more time do we have?"
She swallowed hard. "Hours."
He shifted so that she could climb on top of him. "Good."
She awoke sometime later. Michael had already dressed and left the trailer. For a moment, Selene lay in the rough bedding, not wanting to move; the past few hours had been so perfect, more beautiful than anything she'd known in her life. At last, reluctantly, she reached for her clothes. When she did, something metallic fell out of the black leather, landing on the floor of the trailer with a clink.
She picked up Sonja's pendant, staring at the delicate design, thinking about the forbidden love it represented—first between Lucian and Sonja, now between her and Michael. With a sigh, she set the thing aside and drew on her Death Dealer's garb, swiftly pulling up the zippers. She strapped on her gun holsters and drew on her leather coat. With that gesture, it seemed, the honeymoon had ended, and it was once again time to face reality.
Outside the painted windows, the sun had almost set, and when Selene stepped outside the trailer, she found the drafty, vast interior of the shop lit by a dozen or so battery-operated lanterns. Michael and the Doctor were working on a boxy Land Rover. The doors to Selene's Jag stood open, and Hungarian pop music drifted out from the car radio. Erika sat on the concrete floor, watching the Doctor work, tapping her foot. Her pale hair hung in waves around her shoulders, and she looked extraordinarily young—mostly, Selene thought, because her habitual conniving expression was completely gone.
Selene strode to the shop entrance and pushed aside the heavy tarp. The sun had set, bathing the snowy mountains in a purple glow. She checked the sky apprehensively: no sign of Marcus. Breathing a sigh of relief, she stepped back inside. She opened the Jaguar's trunk and transferred boxes of weapons and emergency automotive supplies to the rear of the Land Rover. With a businesslike click, she reloaded her Berettas. Then she loaded another gun and brought it to Erika.
"Thanks." Absently, Erika stashed the weapon into her coat pocket, not taking her eyes off the Doctor's feet.
"Here's one for you, Michael." Selene handed him a Beretta.
He popped out from under the hood. "Thanks."
"Doctor, would you prefer a Beretta or a Desert Eagle?"
"Neither," he huffed from beneath the vehicle. "I never carry arms."
"Suit yourself." Selene turned back to Michael. "You forgot this," she murmured. As she went to pass the amulet to him, her thumb pressed down on the small green stone. With an almost inaudible click, four small, jagged pieces sprang out from the edges of the pendant. Selene made a noise of surprise.
"What the hell?" Michael asked, taking it from her and holding it up to the light. "It's never done this before!"
Erika stood up to have a look. Michael played with the pendant, touching the green stone to make the edges pop open and then close.
Selene couldn't stop staring at the thing. "I've seen this before!" she said, stunned. "I've held it in my hand! Like this, in the open position. When I was a child. I'm sure of it!"
"When you were a child?" Michael echoed. "That was centuries ago!"
The Doctor scooted out from beneath the jeep and stood up. "What'd you find?"
"Look at this," said Michael. "This pendant—it belonged to Viktor's daughter, Sonja. After he put her to death, Lucian stole it from him, and he wore it for the next six hundred years. I've been carrying it around for a couple of days without realizing it could open up like this."
Curiously, the Doctor examined the pendant, passing his sonic device over it, making the jagged teeth pop out without pressing the stone. He turned the pendant over, studying the back, then handed it to Michael.
"I know I've seen this before!" Selene insisted. "I must have been very young, no more than five or six." The recollection was maddeningly blurry, but Selene knew without doubt that the memory was real.
"When and where did you grow up?" asked the Doctor.
"I was born around 1405," she said. "In northwestern Romania."
"This is a key of some sort," the Doctor stated. "Look at those teeth. They're like the jagged edges of a key. That pendant is meant to unlock something. The question is, what?"
"I'll bet Marcus knows," Michael said quietly. "When we were fighting, he tried to take it from me." Selene and the Doctor stared at him with matching expressions of dismay.
"Listen!" Erika suddenly broke in. The other three fell quiet, and Erika hurried over to Selene's car, turning up the radio volume. They listened to the newscast in progress, the announcer's crisp voice.
"…still no word on the cause of the fire that destroyed an extensive private manor outside Szentendre. The mansion itself is of some historical note, dating back to the Middle Ages, and it's currently owned by the multinational biomedical conglomerate Ziodex Industries. At least three dozen bodies have been recovered from the wreckage, all too damaged for positive identification, though authorities are hoping that DNA samples will provide…"
"Oh, my God," Erika whispered. "The mansion!"
"Marcus," Selene said grimly. "That was his doing! He must've murdered the entire coven and the Council, that bastard!"
"What're we going to do?" Erika panicked. "Where will we go tomorrow morning?"
"It'll be all right," the Doctor assured her.
"Selene?" asked Michael. "What're we gonna do?"
"Talk to someone who can give us some answers," she said. "Let's get going."
While the other three buckled themselves in, Selene maneuvered the Jag to a far corner of the shop, cut the engine, and set the alarm. Then she covered the car with a few big tarps, hoping that when this whole nightmare with Marcus ended, she could come back and retrieve her faithful vehicle. True, it was just a car, but she'd rather not see the local peasants strip it down and sell it for cash.
The Land Rover's engine was running, and Selene hopped into the driver's seat. Michael rode shotgun, with the Doctor and Erika in the back. Selene threw the vehicle into gear, and they roared out into the winter night.
"So, just who are we going to see?" asked Erika.
"His name is Andreas Tanis," Selene provided. "You never met him, Erika. He used to be the coven's official historian, until Viktor exiled him three hundred years ago for spreading what he called 'malicious lies.' Of course, it turns out now Tanis was probably telling the truth."
"So how do you know where he is?" asked Michael. "Three hundred years, he could be anywhere."
Selene gave him a cool sidelong glance. "Because I'm the one who exiled him."
III. Mysterious Ways
The Sancta Helena had left the Black Sea and was cruising up the Danube toward Budapest, site of the previous night's battles. Macaro stood on the bridge overlooking the ops room, listening carefully to the babble of voices and languages that came in from all over Europe. For the past few minutes, he'd been listening to a news report on the burning of Ordoghaz, but now a different voice caught his ear: Hungarian, a frantic cop, his voice crackling over a police dispatcher's line.
"… American fugitive, Michael Corvin. Request immediate backup!"
"There!" Macaro shouted, pointing. He caught Samuel's eye. "Get your men up there, now!"
Without a word, Samuel turned and sprinted for the helipad.
The Land Rover sped along mountain roads that glittered with ice. They hadn't seen any signs of civilization for more than an hour. Selene handled the vehicle superbly. Not quite the Jag, Michael thought, but the four-wheel drive Land Rover held the winding roads better than the sports car would have. She'd been grim and quiet for the entire drive. Periodically, Michael would finger the pendant stashed in the pocket of his trousers. A key. A key to what?
In the back, the Doctor kept twisting around to peer out the back window, but if Marcus was abroad, he'd kept himself hidden.
Up ahead loomed a massive stone cross that seemed to have been carved right into the mountainside. Selene slowed the Land Rover, pulling off onto a dirt road, leaving fresh tire tracks in the new snow. The road ended at a large gate, wire stretched across a wooden frame, like a chicken coop. Faded signs warned "keep out" and "beware of the dogs."
"A church?" asked Michael.
"A monastery," Selene provided, bringing the Land Rover to a halt. "More like a prison, now. We're probably the first people Tanis has seen in centuries."
The Doctor hopped out and used his sonic device to spring the padlock. He opened the gates and walked behind the Land Rover as Selene rolled into the darkened courtyard.
That was too easy, Michael thought. Then, Listen to me. I'm starting to think like Selene.
The Doctor made a gesture for silence. The other three climbed out into the cold night, Selene indicating for everyone to stay behind her. Her hand went to the holster on her thigh, pulling out one of her Berettas. She advanced slowly toward the grim rock face, keeping eyes trained up for signs of danger from above.
The danger came from below: a large trapdoor opened beneath her feet. In a twinkling, the Death Dealer vanished, the doors snapping shut.
"Selene!" Michael shouted, ready to sprint after her. The Doctor held out a warning arm.
Michael heard it then: the quiet rattle of a chain, and the even more ominous noise of an animal growl. Michael swiftly pushed off his jacket and shirt, his body changing into its hybrid form.
"Lycans!" Erika said fearfully.
"Get inside!" Michael snarled. An instant later, a great, slathering beast burst from the entrance to a subterranean tunnel. It hit him with a mighty tackle, and Michael went tumbling down the side of a snowy slope. Not waiting to see what would happen, the Doctor and Erika ran for the big wooden doors.
Selene landed in a crouch, finding herself in a dim underground tunnel. Her eyes adjusted automatically. An upward gaze confirmed the trap door had closed above her, easily twenty feet overhead.
An all-too-familiar growl announced the approach of a fully transformed lycan. Selene readied her gun, heart pounding. The beast roared around the corner. BLAM-BLAM-BLAM!
The bullets slowed the beast but didn't stop it. Selene pulled her big hunting knife from its sheath and when the werewolf was almost on top of her, she plunged the silver blade straight into its skull. The thing dropped to the tunnel floor, dead. She yanked her knife free, noting that the animal had been trussed up in some kind of titanium harness. She remembered the sign on the gate: beware of the dogs. The sense of humor failed to amuse her.
Another snarl came from the same direction, and the blurry form of a second lycan materialized. Selene flipped her dagger from hilt to tip and whipped it through the air with a powerful sideways fling. The weapon embedded itself in one of the lycan's eyes, dropping the big, shaggy body in its tracks. Selene exhaled, retrieving the knife, grateful for her centuries of training. If there's one thing I'll always be good at, she ruminated grimly, it's killing lycans.
She proceeded cautiously down the tunnel, heading into the mountainside beneath the monastery. Almost certainly, Tanis knew she was here. I'll have to ask him where he picked up the guard dogs. She followed the dead werewolf's chain as far as a small dungeon. The confined space reeked of excrement and rotting flesh, the floor littered with bones. Selene noticed with disgust that some of the skeletal remains were definitely human.
Two flights of steps led upward. And down one of them, another chain began to rattle ominously.
With a soft whoosh, Michael landed in the tunnel beside her, shirtless, skin gleaming black. The blood on his trousers announced he'd dispatched at least one lycan outside. He snarled, "Get out of here!"
Another werewolf leaped down the stairs into the tunnel. Selene sprinted up the second staircase, heading into the lower levels of the monastery.
The Doctor held out his sonic device, swinging it back and forth, as if searching for something. From above the great doors came the tinkling noise of glass breaking, and then a small cloud of smoke puffed into the frosty air.
"What was that?" asked Erika.
"Infrared sensor," the Doctor told her. "It's what opened the trap door. See?" He hopped up and down on the doors, wood thumping hollowly underfoot. "Selene fell through when she tripped it." From underground, they heard a loud snarl, and from behind them came the sound of Michael battling the lycan guard.
"Inside!" The Doctor used the sonic device to undo the door's large, rusty lock. Erika heard the ancient mechanism give way. The Doctor pushed against the heavy slab of wood, urging Erika inside first.
They paused for a moment, eyes adjusting to the gloom. Erika's nose twitched.
"What?" the Doctor whispered.
"Three vampires," she mouthed, reaching for the gun in her pocket. They advanced cautiously, keeping the stone wall to their backs. Around them stood crumbling statues of saints in niches, the floor littered with abandoned holy relics and artifacts. Erika's nose detected the musk of sex and the cool, delicious scent of vampire blood. A flight of stairs opened off the passageway, and she gestured the Doctor in that direction, following her nose. Noiselessly, they crept down the twisting stone steps to a corridor full of boxes and barrels.
A tall, scantily clad brunette swept out of nowhere, powerful and voluptuous, like a cross between a Soviet-era heptathlete and a Viktoria's Secret model. Erika fired the Beretta, striking the female in the chest and sending her staggering back. A second vampire, this one a blonde, whirled out of the shadows and tried to wrest away the gun. Erika struggled wildly, and the gun, pointing up, fired at the ceiling, sending down a spray of chipped stone. The Doctor grabbed a nearby crate, slamming it onto the female vampire's head. The tall blonde released her grip on Erika's arm, falling to the floor, stunned but still conscious. The injured brunette started to haul herself upright.
Selene appeared. With one well-aimed kick, she sent the blonde flying into the wall, then ruthlessly broke her neck. She grabbed the brunette in a headlock and dispatched her the same way.
"Thanks," Erika wheezed.
A gunshot echoed off the walls, and a blinding light filled the corridor. Instinctively, Erika ducked, seeing the dim outline of a man wielding a fearsome-looking rifle. The Doctor pointed his sonic screwdriver at the weapon. The device whined, glowing blue, and with a small bang, the light mounted beneath the assault rifle blew out.
"Tanis," Selene said dryly. "I see your aim hasn't improved."
The Doctor's ploy had revealed the vampire as a thin, mousy-looking male wearing an ermine-trimmed silk robe. His pale green gaze went from Selene to the Doctor to Erika with mounting incredulity.
"Reinette?" he said stupidly.
Selene's eyes hardened. "How do you know her?" she demanded.
Tanis tried to bluster his way out of the question. "Still the same as ever," he sneered. "You don't scare me any more, Selene!"
"We'll have to work on that."
An instant later, a wooden shutter exploded outward, and Michael burst into the corridor, still in hybrid form, slamming Tanis against the opposite wall. The AK-47 flew from his grasp, and Selene casually snatched the weapon out of midair. The historian made a tiny, whimpering noise as he regarded Michael's ebony face and white fangs.
Selene told him, "We need to talk."
Tanis had made his home in the wine cellar. Selene took in the decadent trappings: a lavish bed, strewn about with sheets and cushions and items of lingerie. The air reeked of blood and sex and alcohol. On one wall sat a modern security system, the monitors overlooking the main entrance. Pacing the room, she said, "You exile is rather more comfortable than I remember."
Tanis stood uneasily, eyes darting about the room. He licked his lips. "Since when have you worked with a freak squad?"
Michael, sorting through a rack of clothes for something clean to wear, deadpanned, "Hey, all we need is a theme song." He pulled on a brown jacket. "How does a vampire have lycan bodyguards?"
Tanis didn't answer.
Selene heard the sound of fabric ripping and turned to see the Doctor tearing down a tapestry from the wall.
"Probably in exchange for these." In a recessed niche, Selene saw rounds of UV ammunition and some kind of complex glass lab equipment. So Tanis had been the one manufacturing those deadly ultraviolet bullets.
"You were supplying Lucian?" Angrily Selene rounded on the historian. "How long have you been in the business of killing your own kind?"
Tanis poured a glass of wine for himself. "My loyalty to the coven ended on the day Viktor betrayed me."
"Betrayal is something he did well." Tanis gave her a disbelieving look, so she told him, "Viktor's dead. I killed him."
"You? Kill Viktor?" Tanis laughed. "I think not! The stench of his blood still lingers in your veins. Unless…" Understanding dawned. "Unless you've learned the truth. So, your eyes are finally open." He tried for sympathy. "An unspeakable tragedy, committing such a horrible crime. And then turning you! My protests are what put me here, of course—"
Selene shot him an irritated look. "Spare me."
Tanis turned his gaze to the Doctor, who was making a methodical circuit of the room, pulling aside curtains and examining the books that sat on the recessed shelves. Spectacles perched on his nose, he opened a heavy volume and studied the cover page.
"What do you think you're doing?" sputtered Tanis, circling around the wooden table. "Outsiders aren't allowed to—"
The Doctor grasped the sheaf of pages in one hand and casually flicked through them. "Interesting." He took up a second volume and did the same. Behind the spectacles, his eyes moved too swiftly to follow. "Excellent fiction." He flipped through a third. "Terribly overwritten." Selene realized he'd read each tome in a matter of seconds.
Tanis approached the alien, sniffing. "What the hell are you? Where'd Selene pick you up?" He glanced over at the Death Dealer. "It's not in your nature to trust anyone, let alone someone of a completely different species."
"You know Reinette," the Doctor stated, thumping a book onto the table. "How?"
"How do you think?" sneered Tanis. His nostrils flared. "The same way you know her. You're wearing her scent like cheap perfume. I'd know the smell of that cunt anywhere."
Selene didn't see how it happened. One moment Tanis was standing, the next he lay sprawled on the floor, moaning. Blood trickled from the side of his head. The Doctor stood above him, clutching an ornate candelabra. Selene hadn't seen him pick it up. She felt a strange pressure in her sinuses, then her ears popped. A glaze of sweat coated the Doctor's skin, his scent suddenly acrid, as if he'd made some tremendous physical exertion. His expression frightened her: utterly without remorse or pity; even by vampire standards, his eyes were cold and hard and blank. At that moment, she absolutely believed he was an alien: he looked like nothing that could possibly be of the Earth. Erika and even Michael shrank back, aghast.
Nudging Tanis with his foot, the Doctor calmly said, "How do you know Reinette?"
Tanis groaned. "Who are you?"
"I'm the Doctor."
"Shit." Tanis didn't try to stand.
"You know him?" Selene asked.
"I've read about him." The historian hauled himself to his feet, regarding the alien with trepidation. "You really should have studied something besides lycans, Selene. Your friend there has a fairly lethal reputation. Be glad he's not your enemy."
"What do you know about Erika?" Selene demanded. Tanis didn't answer, so she barked, "Michael, hold him." Tanis tried to dodge away, but in an instant Michael was on top of him, holding the historian immobile. Selene yanked up his right arm, pulling back the ermine-trimmed sleeve and said, "Erika, Tanis would like you to have a drink. On him."
She looked frightened, but the Doctor urged her, "Go on."
"No," Tanis whimpered as Erika sank her fangs into his outstretched arm, none too gently. The whimper turned into a whine of pain. Erika's eyes glowed, her lips glistening crimson. The Doctor watched the bloodletting impassively. Then she jerked her head away, and with an angry, banshee-like noise, struck Tanis across the face, her long talons leaving deep red welts.
"What?" Selene asked. "What did you see?"
The Doctor provided, "Those two vampires you killed… she was once like that. One of them." His habitual compassion had returned, and he put an arm around Erika's shoulders. "When?" he asked gently. "Do you remember now?"
"A hundred and forty years," she answered. "Here. With him."
"Oh, come, it wasn't all that bad." Tanis bound his bleeding wrist. "We had some lovely times together."
"Shut up," Erika hissed.
Tanis fell silent.
"Do you remember anything before you came here?" the Doctor asked.
"No." Erika rubbed her forehead. "It's all a fog before then."
Tanis had decided apparently that cooperation was the better part of prolonging his immortal existence. "You came here in 1805," he said. "Before Marcus went into hibernation. He put the block on your earliest memories, and he's the only one who can remove it."
"You were babysitting her," Selene realized. "Until Marcus woke up."
Tanis nodded, looking defeated. "He had a secret manor in southern Germany… after he turned you, Reinette, that's where he brought you, so he could enjoy you in private. You were his mistress for fifty years, and when it was time for him to awaken Viktor, he brought you here." Tanis took a gulp from his wineglass. "He hid you partly out of sexual jealousy. He was besotted with you, quite understandably so. But he also said you possessed a remarkable secret… something he was particularly keen that Viktor not learn about."
"But wouldn't Viktor have found out anyway, when Marcus awoke him?" asked Erika.
Tanis chuckled. "These are Elders, my dear. They can very easily tuck away certain facts into corners of their minds, so that the knowledge won't pass over during an awakening. They all kept secrets from each other, all three of them."
"So, what was Marcus hiding?" asked Michael. "What was Erika's big secret?"
With a shrug, Tanis answered, "I honestly never knew. Marcus was very mysterious about that knowledge, very excited."
"Why'd he trust you with her?" Michael wanted to know.
"Marcus trusted me for a few reasons. One, I was already exiled, the rest of the coven forbidden from having contact with me. The other vampires were unlikely to discover her. Two, better that Reinette share a bed with only one other man than an entire houseful of them. Three, Marcus and I have a particular… bond." Tanis looked smug, pleased. "His own son sired me."
"And Marcus wiped Erika's memory to keep her from sharing this secret with anyone?" asked Selene. "Then hid her with you?"
"Marcus planned to retrieve her as soon as he came out of hibernation."
"How'd she end up in the coven, then?" Selene pressed.
"Soren wanted me," Erika broke in. "Tanis couldn't say no, because he'd been spying on Lucian."
Selene stared. "Is that true? You were double-dealing?"
"You don't think Kraven actually trusted Lucian, do you?" snorted Tanis. "Just because they were conspiring together against the Elders? No, Kraven ordered me to report everything Lucian said, which wasn't much—I'm sure Lucian had his suspicions."
"So Kraven knew about the UV ammo," Michael said.
"Of course he knew," Tanis shot impatiently. "He might've been an arrogant prick, but he wasn't stupid. Sometimes he'd come here himself, sometimes he'd send Soren… and when Soren set eyes on you, Reinette, he was like a man possessed. I let him share you a few times, but that wasn't enough. He wanted you in the mansion, where he could have you whenever he pleased. He asked Kraven if he could bring you to Ordoghaz. What could I do? If I'd refused, Kraven would've told Lucian I was spying. But I couldn't let you go to the coven as you were, not with all the things you'd seen here. So I employed a bit of hypnosis to block your memories and created the identity of 'Erika.' I hated to see you go, my dear. Marcus, of course, would have killed me if he'd known I'd given you to Soren. But Marcus was supposed to die in the coup, along with Viktor."
"And your reward would be the end of your exile," Selene finished. "A welcome back into the coven." Tanis nodded in confirmation. "Exactly what did Kraven plan?"
"Lycans would attack Ordoghaz. Before that, Amelia would be murdered on her train. With the Death Dealers preoccupied defending the mansion, Lucian would murder Viktor and Marcus while they hibernated. Kraven would take the leadership of both covens in the chaos and forge a treaty with the lycans, establishing himself as both savior and peacemaker."
"It didn't work." Selene folded her arms. "Viktor and Amelia both died in battle. Kraven and Lucian, too. Marcus is awake. And he's a hybrid now, even more powerful than Michael."
"This just gets better and better, doesn't it?"
Selene nodded toward the recessed niche. "That's what tipped me off. The UV ammo. The lycans played their hand a little too soon."
"I did warn Lucian to be circumspect," Tanis grumbled, pouring more wine.
Michael held up Sonja's medallion. "Marcus is after this." He threw the pendant to Tanis. "He's willing to kill for it. Why?"
Tanis fingered the talisman, gently pressing the green stone. The four hidden teeth sprang out. "Ah, yes," he said, dismay etched into his features. "Yes, he would be after this."
"Why?" asked Erika. "He had nothing to do with Lucian and Sonja."
"Oh, you're wrong there. He was very much involved." Tanis rummaged among his recessed bookshelves, pulling out one volume after another. As he worked, he spoke, almost absently. "Some history is based on truth, some on deception. The Elders, Viktor in particular, were masters of deception." He set a heavy volume on the table. "The greatest battle of our kind wasn't, as you might imagine, the war between Viktor and Lucian. Oh, that was long and bloody, but lying beneath it was an even greater battle, the one between Viktor and Marcus."
Tanis began flipping pages. "Viktor was not, as he wished us to believe, either the oldest or the most powerful vampire. Nor was he a pureborn. Viktor was once human."
Selene absorbed this. "Marcus turned him," she realized.
"Marcus is in fact the source—the first true vampire. Viktor was a powerful warlord, the terror of Hungary in the mid-sixth century. At the end of his ruthless life, when the next breath meant more to him than gold or silver, Marcus approached him with an offer. Marcus would grant Viktor immortality in exchange for Viktor's army. Once Viktor's men were also turned, they became soldiers in the war against the very first werewolves, a dangerous and highly infectious breed—a savage horde created by Marcus's own flesh and blood. His twin brother, William."
Tanis turned the book around, and the other four gathered for a look. The old woodcutting showed a massive beast, pure white, towering over the armored men who struggled to subdue it. Even on the page, it looked terrifying. A chill crawled down Selene's back.
"But these weren't the lycans we know today." Tanis shot a glance at Michael. "Disgusting though your brethren may be, they are at least evolved to a degree. The beasts that William created were raging monsters, never able to take human form again. It was only later generations that learned to channel their rage and assume a human guise.
"William's appetite for destruction and rampage was insatiable. He had to be stopped, before he infected the entire continent. And so, once Viktor's army was turned, he tracked down and destroyed the animals created by William." Tanis turned back to the niche and selected another book. "Then they locked him away, Viktor's prisoner for all time."
"Why let William live?" asked Selene, surprised that Viktor hadn't simply killed the great beast outright.
"The same reason Viktor never conspired against Marcus: fear." Tanis flipped through a few pages. "He was warned that should Marcus ever be slain, all others in his bloodline would follow him to the grave. And since all vampires ultimately trace their lineage back to Marcus, that would mean the complete extinction of the race."
"But the death of William wouldn't mean the death of the vampires," Michael argued.
"No, but it might mean the death of all lycans," Selene pointed out. "Viktor's slaves."
Tanis glanced up from a page he was scanning. "Your eyes really have been opened, haven't they?" Like Kraven, he seemed to take inordinate satisfaction in exposing Viktor's dirty secrets to Selene.
Skeptically, Erika said, "It sounds like a lot of superstitious rubbish to me. How did Viktor know that Marcus hadn't just made up that story to keep Viktor from killing him?"
With an admiring glance, Tanis told her, "You're right, my dear. It was a clever deception, but one Viktor was hardly willing to put to the test. This was the sixth century, and people had a very different mindset. Magic was something real to them. Viktor himself was the beneficiary of a kind of magic, so you can imagine he wasn't going to take foolish chances. By keeping the two brothers alive, Viktor ensured—or so he believed—the perpetuation of both species."
"What part did Amelia play in all this?" asked Erika.
"A buffer," Tanis provided. "Marcus sired her as well, a formidable warrior in her own right, not long after he sired Viktor. And like Viktor, she brought her own men to battle against the lycans. She tended to side with Viktor in military matters, and she supported him wholeheartedly in his campaign to imprison William. But she and Viktor could never conspire against Marcus, out of fear they'd both die if he died. The three of them made an oddly effective team, though, balancing each other like the legs of a tripod. Take away one leg, and the other two fall over. And Amelia wasn't unsympathetic to Marcus—in fact, they were lovers for a time."
"Viktor wasn't jealous of that?" Selene asked.
"Not as long as his wife was alive."
"Viktor was married?" said Erika.
"Sonja's mother," Michael reminded her.
"She was a descendant of Alexander Corvinus." The Doctor had been quiet for a while, but now he spoke up suddenly. "Am I right?" Though his scent had returned to normal, Selene still regarded him warily. He might not be as physically strong as a vampire or a werewolf, but she suspected he possessed powers that were no less formidable.
"How'd you work out that one?" asked Tanis.
"Sonja was able to conceive Lucian's child. Therefore their blood must have been compatible. She possessed the same genetic mutation as Michael."
"Very good," Tanis allowed grudgingly. "Yes, Viktor's wife was a great-granddaughter of Alexander Corvinus. Viktor turned her deliberately—never dreaming, of course, that one day their daughter would be capable of conceiving a lycan's child."
The Doctor went on, "I imagine Viktor must've had a bit of an inferiority complex about himself—he was a mongrel, tainted by his own humanity. It can't have sat well with him that Marcus had been born an immortal and then became the first vampire. In spite of the animosity between them, Viktor would have wanted to mate his own bloodline as closely to the Corvinus bloodline as possible."
Selene nodded. "I can believe that. Viktor was obsessed with the so-called purity of the vampires."
"Anyone who considers themselves part of a master race usually is." The Doctor cleaned his glasses.
"Indeed," Tanis confirmed. "Viktor was determined to father a pureborn vampire child. Imagine his joy when his wife safely delivered a healthy daughter. And Sonja was a bewitching girl—Viktor doted on her endlessly. When she came of age, he began to make plans for her marriage. And no ordinary vampire would do. The husband Viktor selected for her was nothing less than the pureborn son fathered by Marcus."
Michael whistled. "I think I know where this is heading."
"By the time Viktor and Marcus arranged for their children to marry, Sonja was already in love with Lucian. It was Lucian who murdered the son of Marcus."
"So not only did Lucian sully Sonja, he ruined Viktor's eugenics project," Selene realized. "No wonder he hated Lucian so badly."
"Hate is too mild a word," said Tanis. "Lucian and Sonja paid dearly for their love. Viktor had Lucian tortured for hours, forcing Sonja to watch. Then he forced Lucian to watch as Sonja was burned alive. An exquisite understanding of psychology, Viktor had. He knew there's nothing more horrible than being powerless while someone you love suffers."
"So what does Marcus want?" Erika ventured fearfully. "Revenge? It's too late for that; Viktor's already dead. We know he doesn't want control of the coven—he murdered the other vampires and burned the mansion to the ground."
"Did he?" Tanis shook his head. "Not that the Council would have accepted the leadership of an abomination." When Michael raised an eyebrow, Tanis hastily added, "Present company excluded, naturally." He turned a few pages of the book in front of him. "No, Marcus has one aim, one obsession, one wish that's been eating him alive for centuries. He wants to free his brother, William."
Selene spotted something peculiar as Tanis flicked pages, and she said sharply, "What's that?" Her Beretta thumped down onto the book.
Tanis turned back to the previous page, revealing a series of detailed sketches—diagrams, almost like an architect's blueprints.
"I recognize those," she said, bewildered.
"You ought to," said Tanis. "It's the door to William's prison—the prison your father was commissioned to build."
Selene just stood there, stunned, staring at him. Flickers of childhood memory came to her: playing in a castle, she and her sister painting on a wall while their father worked…
"What is it?" Michael asked urgently. "What's wrong?"
Tanis told him, "She now understands why her family was killed."
"But that was many years later," Selene protested.
"The winter of Lucian's escape," Tanis nodded. "Your family knew too much. Viktor couldn't risk having Lucian find them… especially since he possessed this." He held up the pendant. "The key to William's prison. Freeing the first and most powerful werewolf would have tipped the war irretrievably in Lucian's favor."
"And I am the map," Selene realized.
"The only person living who has seen its location," Tanis nodded. "Oh, Viktor knew you'd be too young to remember explicitly. But Marcus knows the memory is still there, the location of his brother's prison—hidden away in your blood."
"So why's Marcus looking for him after all this time?" asked Michael. "The war's over."
"Because he can," said Tanis impatiently. "Viktor and Amelia are dead, the Old World coven destroyed… there's nothing to stop him." He paused, his gaze flicking over to Erika and the Doctor, who stood absorbed, looking at one of the big volumes. "What've you got there?"
The Doctor turned the book to face Michael and Selene. "Is this Marcus?"
"Yes." Tanis and Selene both nodded in confirmation. Selene thought the woodcutting a good depiction of Marcus, though stylized and medieval, capturing his perfectly oval face and aquiline nose. Unlike Viktor, Marcus had always worn his hair long, the lower part of his face framed by a small, neat beard. His most striking feature had been pale, luminous blue eyes. Most vampires' eyes only turned that color under the influence of adrenaline—usually either sex or danger. But Marcus's eyes were always that shade.
"I've seen him," the Doctor said. "The night Reinette was introduced to Louis XV. He was there, at the ball. I remember him staring at me."
"Of course he would have stared," said Tanis. "Nothing personal, but in a crowd of humans, your scent is pretty hard to miss."
Erika regarded her sire's face, shivering.
"He loved the French court," Tanis told her. "And he was besotted the moment he set eyes on you. If it hadn't been for Louis's interest, I think he would've turned you that night. But you were too prominent a person; you'd be missed if you'd suddenly vanished, and even Marcus knew he could never stand against a mob—or the French army. Anyway, he had time on his side. He just waited until you were on your deathbed, and he turned you, just as he'd turned Viktor."
The Doctor flicked through a few more pages. "Who are these knights?"
Selene studied the woodcutting, which depicted a group of mounted warriors riding past a mass grave. Their tunics and shields bore a peculiar emblem, one she'd never seen, the letters C and V intertwined in a circle of Celtic knotwork—like the letters on the Elders' tombs.
"Vampires?" Michael asked curiously.
"Mortals," Tanis provided. "Men loyal to Alexander Corvinus."
"Alexander?" Selene asked. She knew the name, of course: the first true immortal, the father of both William and Marcus. Michael was a direct descendant of Alexander Corvinus, through one of his mortal sons.
"Indeed." Tanis regarded the woodcutting with a measure of pride. "The father of us all. And just as Viktor's army became the first Death Dealers, the men who served Corvinus became the first Cleaners."
"What are those?" asked the Doctor. This term surprised even Selene: she'd never heard of the Cleaners.
"The men who've kept the vampire-lycan war out of humanity's view. After battles, they're the ones who clean up the mess and dispose of the bodies." Tanis gave Selene an amused look. "Did you never think of that? Did you never imagine the hue and cry that would arise if a single werewolf or vampire body made its way into human hands? Or what would happen if the human medical establishment acquired even one test tube of our blood?"
"Immortality, engineered in a lab," the Doctor put in. "And available to humanity—for a price. A ruling class of immortal elites, lording it over the masses too poor to afford treatment. People going to war, slaughtering each other for the chance to escape death."
"Shit," Michael breathed, his medically-trained mind immediately grasping this scenario. "He's right. That's exactly what would happen."
Selene felt chagrined, almost ashamed that her quest to exterminate all lycans had blinded her to possibilities such as these. It was something she'd simply never considered.
"And that's what the Cleaners do," Tanis concluded. "Of course, they haven't been able to hide absolutely everything. People see things, and they talk. Vampires and werewolves have become a part of human legend and superstition, tales to tell around a campfire. Though it's incredible how many people in this region still hang garlic over their doors and windows."
"So, what do we do now?" asked Erika, bringing the conversation back to the present, to the problem at hand. "How can we possibly stop Marcus—let alone William? Marcus is so powerful now we'd practically have to drop a bomb on him."
"First, we keep him from finding William," Selene declared.
"He's gonna keep coming after us," Michael warned her. "We can't run forever."
"I know someone who might be able to help," Tanis revealed. The other four turned to stare at him. "Perhaps I could arrange a meeting… in exchange for your discretion, of course."
"Of course," Selene smiled thinly. Tanis had provided so much information, it really would be unscrupulous to kill him.
Not that that would have stopped her.
"Go to Budapest," Tanis told them. "Pier 19. It's the moorings of a ship called the Sancta Helena. Ask for Lorenz Macaro." He wrote all this on a slip of paper and handed it to Selene.
"Our Land Rover was trashed by your lycan bodyguards," Michael said. "I don't suppose you have an extra set of wheels?"
"No, I'm afraid I can't help you there," Tanis stammered.
Michael began to change forms.
"Oh, all right!" Tanis burst out. "Lucian gave it to me… would you like the shirt off my back while you're at it?"
Selene nodded toward his small armory, the racks of gleaming UV weapons. "No. Just some of those."Continued in chapter 2…