I smile as I hurry after her through the glade, hearing her ringing laughter echoing over the wildflowers that surround us. She's a vision of beauty in the moonlight. Fireflies linger near her and light up as if drawn to her just as I am.
"Marcus... My love." Her whisper as she reaches for me goes straight to my heart, making it beat ever faster.
"Madeline..." I whisper in return, cupping her chin to make her look up at me. Her blonde tresses shimmer, her deep brown eyes smoldering with love for me. "I have a question of you, my Life."
"Marcus," she smiles, "I blush so when you call me that."
"I speak the truth. You are my Life, Madeline. May I ask my question?" I tilt my head at her.
"You may ask," she smiles cutely.
I grin, unable to resist. This very day I was before her father and mother, informing them of my intentions with their only precious daughter. They had approved, even been overjoyed for they adore me and know that she and I are so very much in love. I look down at her, but then slowly kneel down before her, clasping her tiny hands tightly in mine.
"Madeline de la Nuit, for four years now I have courted you under the watchful eye of our elders, and in time the love I felt for you on the first day I asked for you has only grown more and more. I trust in my heart that you feel the same way that I feel for you. I can not imagine a single day of my life without you in it." By now I can see the astonishment on her lovely face. I smile all the more, bringing from the pouch on my hip a small ring. "I know that this isn't very much, my Madeline... But I know that despite my poverty you do truly love me. That's why I pray that you will still marry the lowly son of a blacksmith and hon—"
I blink, silencing when she covers my mouth. "My word, you have always talked far too much." She giggles as I kiss her fingers, looking up at her playfully. "I have been waiting for four years, Marcus MacClenaghan, for you to ask for my hand."
My eye widen as she confesses her true heart. Four years... Not a waste by no stretch. Four years of being formal and polite, gaining the trust of her family, proving myself a worthy man and she proving herself to be a true lady. I slip the simple gold band that I made for her onto her finger, getting to my feet to press my lips to hers. I pull her tiny frame tight against my body for the first time. Never have we kissed this way. Never have we gone past the proper bounds of courtship, but this moment is so much bigger than either of us or any rule holding us apart. This is love. True love that has been blossoming and thriving for four years of joyous union.
I lift my head quickly at a sound in the trees, covering her mouth when she starts to question me. I stare at the darkness of the forest nearby. Suddenly the thought of running together through the meadow doesn't seem very romantic, or even very smart by any means.
"We should go back to the farmhouse. There could be a wolf or something out here."
She nods and clings to me as we turn and move the direction we had come, back to the safety of her parents' home where the oil lamps glow and the scent of this evening's earlier meal still linger sweetly in the air. Again I hear that sound of rustling leaves and glance behind us for a brief moment.
She halts as she cries out, her nails digging into my chest through my shirt. I whip my head around to see the dark form of a man standing before us, but this is no man. His eyes glow brilliant white in the dark of the night. Another rustling comes from behind us and I spot another... and then another... My eyes grow wide as we're quickly surrounded by a group of five, each with eyes glowing in yellow, blue, or one particularly dark one who possesses the red eyes of a demon. I hold Madeline tight to my chest, looking around, trying to think quickly of what to do. Five of them to the two of us with no protection aside from a single dagger hidden in my boot.
"That toothpick you call a dagger will do you no good," one of them laughs and the others chuckle in turn.
"Awww, look at them. Young love is so cute!"
"Have you deflowered your blushing bride yet?"
"If not, we would surely be happy to oblige."
They all laugh as they slowly draw closer. She's shaking in my arms, terrified. I'm not far from the same point, aside from the anger building in me at the foul words they dare to speak against her. I lower my face to be able to whisper into her ear, telling her of my intentions to run for the house, telling her to scream her loudest for her father in hopes of getting his help in warding off these creatures.
"Scream all you like..."
"No one will hear a sound."
My eyes widen that they could hear my faint whisper and I look around at them again. Just barely... if I had drawn a breath of my own I never would've heard it... She gives the tiniest of gasps. The next thing I know we're both on the ground in a flurry of rushing bodies. I feel hands... No, they must be steel cuffs holding me, so icy cold and hard. I'm pinned to the ground, face shoved into the dirt so I can barely breathe. I grunt and try to cry out, getting a mouthful of soil. I wrench my head back and look in her direction.
"Shut his mouth!"
I get a glimpse of my future bride's body, her clothing being torn to bare her to the glowing eyes and roving hands of these monsters. I start to scream and struggle, unable to move and my voice silenced by a hand over my mouth. I attempt to bite, but my teeth can't penetrate the flesh. Their voices become quieter... but I hear her. I hear her whimpering and squealing, sounds of utter pain and agony muffled in no doubt the same way that I am. I know without looking what they're doing to her. They're doing exactly what they'd promised a few moments ago. I scream out again, not giving up my movement as I strive to get free, to fight back, to reach the dagger in my boot. Anything! Madeline! My God, my Life!
"Pick him up. Let him see for himself."
At last I'm lifted from the ground, put onto my knees. I snap my teeth at the hand that was covering my mouth, about to cry out again, but then my eyes fall down. It's so dark, but the moon cuts through the clouds in just the right moment, shining down upon her. My love... my Life... the only part of her that remains recognizable is her beautiful face, frozen in an expression of terror. Her eyes are vacant. I slowly look up at the ones standing over me. Their mouths are circled with blood. It stains their white blouses and covers their clawed hands. It even colors the ends of their long blond hair.
"Now you truly know what it is like to suffer, foolish mortal." The one in the middle, who's eyes are solid glowing white, speaks to me. "You believe having very little money and a house with a draft was awful? Try continuing to live without the love of your life."
"Or why not..." the one to his right speaks up, "force him to be in this pain for eternity?"
For a moment there is silence from them, but slowly they each begin to laugh, quietly at first, but growing louder until it seems as if they're screaming in my ears. I wince and try to pull away from the two holding my arms, but it's useless. Madeline... I stare down at her battered and mutilated body. My future wife... She'd only worn my ring for mere moments before they slaughtered her. Tears streak my cheeks.
"You monsters!!" I scream, starting to sob as I struggle harder, pulling my arm free from one of them and lashing out. My fight is futile as the leader leaps upon me and I feel his teeth sink into my throat, pain slicing through my body. "Vampire..." I whisper.
Again I hear their laughter, but slowly my own heartbeat begins to drown out everything. My vision blurs and dims, my head growing light and dizzy, then slowly everything else fades away into nothing. I'm dying. I know without a shadow of doubt that I am dying for I have been to this point once before as a child. Through the dimness of my failing vision I see the man I have met only once before. He is a figure dressed in a heavy black cloak, hunter's clothes of leather and suede also dyed black, and a wide brimmed black hat like that of an undertaker.
"Marcus MacClenaghan, we meet again." He speaks to me, glancing around himself as if to survey the situation. "Yes, this is what I saw the last time we were together. This is the fate I spoke of to you before when I spared you from the deadly sting of the scorpion."
"But why?" I ask, my voice sounding strong and normal despite all that is happening to me.
"Because you are of a particular kind, Marcus. There is something within you that has great potential for something so much more than you can conceive of in your present state." He slowly kneels down beside me. "Do you wish to live, Marcus?"
"Without her? My Madeline..." I whimper, shaking my head. "Without her there is no point."
"Life is an ever cycling circle, Marcus. That which perishes rises again. All are reborn in some form. If you were to take what I am offering, you could live long enough to see her reborn again. You could try again, Marcus, but you must choose quickly or else I can not save you. He intends to make you a vampire of his own blood."
"Vampire... No! No, don't let me be one of the Damned!" I cry, my heart slowly breaking, but the potential of seeing her again has my attention. "Yes! Whatever it is, yes! To see her again..."
The blackness quickly fades as he turns and gives a mighty roar. Suddenly, the vampires hovering around me draw back in a panic. I see the light in their eyes fade. For the briefest of moments they all look so... human. Their eyes are wide and filled with shock and fear as a couple of them cower behind the others, the leader even seeming confused, but standing to protect the others. If not for their fangs... They look like men I would see on the streets of town. I see one of them, the dark-haired one, look at me as I think that. Did he hear me? Do they hear thoughts? He seems so sympathetic, and so saddened beyond the fear he has at the moment.
"David Heath! Master Gangrel of the Kindred clan, take your coven and be gone from this place! This soul is not for your taking. He belongs to me."
The leader, David Heath, narrows his eyes, snarling. "And just who are you!?"
"I am the war that kills a mother's son before his time. I am the plague that wipes out entire cities. I am the foul stench of rot as the leper finally falls to pieces. I am that shiver that goes up your spine each time you drain one of your victims dry." David Heath's eyes went wide at the final statement. "But you may refer to me as simply Death."
For a moment there was no movement; no sound aside from my wheezing, desperate breaths for air. Then as quickly as they had surrounded Madeline and I, the vampires disappeared into the night. Death looked down upon me once again, kneeling to touch my neck.
"You are nearly gone. Another moment and you will cease to be in this world."
"Save me..." I gasped. "Please.."
"I am Death. I can not save people; it is not within my power." He holds up his hand as I try to speak. "Fear not, Marcus. I have my ways. I will not betray you, but I can not claim a soul until it is released."
For a brief moment, panic engulfed me. I was going to die! But before I could do much else, everything went black. There was nothing. No feeling, no smell, no sound, no sight, no taste, no sensation at all. It wasn't merely the lack of these stimuli, but the complete absence of even the ability to have these feelings. I knew I was dead. What else could death possibly if not this complete absence of everything, this void of utterly nothing.
"Open your eyes... Slowly, Marcus. Do not take this too quickly."
Death's voice rings to me and slowly I open my eyes. Hearing has returned to me, but vision is nothing more than vague gray shadows. As sensation slowly melts back in I become keenly aware of feeling cold. Not just cold, but freezing. The blood loss must be to blame.
"Death..." I groan, my voice sounding hoarse and weak.
"I am here." He chuckles. "This is strange. Someone calling to me for help. Here, Marcus. Open your mouth and drink deeply of this."
I can not see what he offers me, but I do as he says, the thirst in me more powerful than I have ever felt in my life. Life... Madeline... Death.. Death! He said I was dying! Am I dead? Did I die? I blink my eyes, trying to pull things into focus.
"Am I dead?" he whisper.
"In a manner of speaking." That statement wakes me up and I sit up fast, my senses suddenly very alert. Or perhaps it was whatever he gave to me to drink. "There you are. You look well, all things considering."
I look at him and then around us, seeing we're still in the meadow where the fireflies light and the wind billows the tall grass. Madeline... Her body remains where it was. I can smell the blood... and something in it makes me shudder with need. A need akin to sexual desire, but also similar to hunger for food and thirst for drink. The scent of her blood is stirring something inside of me that frightens me.
"Calm down, Marcus. Here, drink more."
He hands my the vial this time and I get a good look at what it is, smelling it. "Blood!" I shove it back at him. "What is this?! What have you done to me!?"
"Be quiet and I shall explain everything." He waits a moment to ensure I will be still, then continues. "You died, Marcus. I revived you with this vial. It contains blood I collected from an ally of mine; a vampire in the clan Tremere. They are a clan of blood sorcerers."
"Vampire?" My jaw drops. "You said you weren't going to let me become a vampire!"
"I never said that, Marcus. I said that Gangrel was about to make you one of his blood. You are of a different clan from he. There is more within you than merely vampire blood, Marcus. You are born of darkness. Try as you have in your mortal life to be good and innocent, the sin within you is ancient and undeniable. From the sins of the father, cast the sins of the son. Many generations of your ancestors have been here before you... In fact, I am an ancestor of you as well."
"You are... related to me?" I blink at him. "But you are Death. Are you not eternal?"
"Death, as a role and a concept, is indeed eternal. Death, as in the person who takes the role, is not. Though we are extremely long-lived, partly due to our position." He sighed deeply. "My time is drawing near and you are destined to take my place. I have foreseen it and that is why I have watched over you for all the years of your life."
"I am to become... Death? The taker of souls?" I marveled at him. "This all is so... unreal. Am I dreaming?"
"Look upon your massacred mate and tell me if you are dreaming." He moved then, going to Madeline's body. "One rule as an undertaker is that you can not touch the souls of the recently deceased with your bare hands. To do so forms a connection between yourself and the soul of that person, binding them to you for all of time."
I watch in complete awe as he reaches his gloved hands into the bloodied remains of my beloved. I expect my stomach to churn, but I'm slowly becoming aware that none of my bodily functions are still... functioning. As I look on I see him pull his hands back, unbloodied, but with an orb in his hands. The inside of the orb swirls with white light and faint colors of blue and pink. I stare at it, completely lost in the beauty of it.
"Her soul is so pure, Marcus. I am forced to wonder how someone so good could've possibly loved someone so dark." He blinks and looks at me. "But then I suppose that itself is the answer. Someone would have to have a great capacity of love to bear the darkness within you."
"I don't know why you speak of me this way. I am a good person. Everyone has faults and everyone stumbles," I scowl.
"True. Perhaps your true potential has not yet grown as powerful as I perceive it to be." He held out this orb to me. "Take it. Take her, hold her one final time. She will know it's you."
I blink and look at him. It dawns on me suddenly that when he speaks of her soul he means this precious fragile orb. I reach out with shaking hands, letting him place the soul of my beloved into my palms. I stare in complete awe, watching the little flashes of light within, seeing how it brightens. She starts to glow brighter as I hold her, lifting her to my eye level.
"My Life..." I whisper, seeing a flicker within. "Can she understand me?"
"Yes. She knows all that is going on, Marcus. She knows what you're becoming and what you will be."
I wince at that thought. "Oh Madeline..." Tears well up in my eyes again. I'm holding her soul in my hands and she's completely aware of me, everything within me both good and bad. "My Life... I'm so sorry I couldn't stop this." I tilt my head a little at the rapid flickers within and look back to Death. "Do you understand her?"
"No. Only spirits and other souls can understand the language of released souls. I only know that they glow brighter when they are held by the hands of ones that they love, and they turn brilliant red when placed in the hands of their enemies." He smiles. "She's glowing very brightly. She seems very happy to know that you two are eternally connected now."
"Eternally..." My eyes widen and I look down at her... in my bare hands. "Soul takers can't touch them with bare hands or else they become bonded. So I am already like you then." I wipe the tears from my face, carefully holding her in the other hand. I blink at the blood. "What in the world?"
"Vampires shed tears of blood, Marcus. It is normal." He gains his feet and stretches a bit. "I have informed the local Tremere master of your situation. He is expecting you. He is currently residing in a village north of here, approximately twenty miles away. It is known as Loch Dulnar. You must travel there and seek him out. From there you will begin your apprenticeship to the Tremere ways and learn to be a powerful sorcerer. Your trials will be many, but if you survive and prevail then someday you will find me again and you will become what you are destined to be."
"Death incarnate," I say solemnly. "And what if I fail?"
"Then you will die again and your chances of finding Madeline will be one in a billion."
He turns and begins to walk away. "Wait! What about Madeline?"
"Release her after you have said your goodbye. Do not hold her too long for she can not survive in this realm much longer."
He disappears from view then, in a poof of mist that falls to the earth, killing the grass underneath it. I look back at Madeline in my hands.
"I feel so lost..." I whisper, looking at her. "I need you with me. How am I supposed to go on without you, even with the chance of seeing you in the future?" I begin to weep again, left alone now to my mourning. "Madeline... My dearly beloved Life. You are all I was ever living for. I love you!"
I sob pitifully, unable to stop myself, blood flowing over my cheeks. The tears of the Damned flow in thick crimson.
That was my first lesson in a life that would be more oriented with blood than that of any other vampire on earth. I released Madeline from our tragic ending that evening and began my trek on foot to Loch Dulnar, not knowing what else to do but follow this destiny that seemed unavoidable. If I ever wanted to see her again... I had to survive for a very long time. Without Death to help me I had to seek out someone else to teach me.
The Tremere master who took me in and became my Sire was an ancient man by the name of Meekara. He was of descent from some of the very first humans to ever roam the earth, wise beyond any other being I have ever met to this modern day. He guided me in the ways of sorcery, taught me everything that was required of me in the ways of magick, until the day came nearly a full century later where he informed me he had nothing left to teach me. He directed me to the New World... To America. There some of the ancients even older than him had fled from slayers and perhaps one of them could teach me. So I made the trip and began to search, wandering across the wilds of a foreign country, surrounded by places I didn't know and people who didn't speak my language. By a stroke of luck one night I found... or perhaps she found me... an Antediluvian known simple as She. She told me that she could teach me more, make me stronger not only in my magick, but also physically. She told me it was possible to learn the powers of all other creatures of the night and of the Underworld, but my trials would most likely kill me. I took her on for I had nothing to lose. If I survived then I would be allowed to ask her one question, for She was all knowing and could answer any question in all the world.
My trials lasted 187 years. I traveled the world. I battled every creature imaginable and even some beyond even the wildest imaginations. Countless times I would find myself flat on my face, unable to move and positive that my end had finally came. There were two things that drove me onwards. Madeline and the question that I wanted answered more than anything else in this world.
My final trial was simple to say aloud. She directed me to kill a black dragon and bring to her one of its scales. Little did I know what it would take first to find a dragon, much less what it would take from me to kill one. Thirteen years of combing the wilderness of the southern most tips of Australia finally gave me the black dragon I sought. He was monstrously huge, towering over me surely as tall as the grand Eiffel Tower in Paris. With nothing but a shield, a sword, and my own magick I went into battle and won. Though I didn't know I had won until two days later when I regained consciousness in the home of She.
"Welcome back to dee realm of dee livin, Soultaker."
I blink my eyes to clear them and look up at the dark face of She. "Where am I?" I ask even as my senses slowly tell me I am safe. "Did I slay the beast?"
"Dat you did, Soultaker. You so powerful now. You almost powerful as some Elders."
I slowly sit up in her bed, looking around briefly. The dragon scale is lying on her desk not far away. I don't even remember collecting it from the corpse. The last thing I remember is having to crawl inside the opening I cut into the chest of the monster just to rip its large heart to shreds from the inside out. I remember bursting out of its chest just before it hit the ground and seeing its reptilian eyes grow vacant and empty. I also remember what I was promised.
"My question, She," I demand, staring at her.
"Indeed. Ask your question, Soultaker."
"David Heath. The man who defiled and slaughtered my wife."
"Ah yes... Of course you would want to seek revenge on dee one who destroyed love's fair heart." She gets up and takes a bottle down from a shelf, handing it to me. "Drink dis. It will take you to dee one you seek." I quickly open it up, intending on downing the elixir immediately. "Donchu want to know more?"
I pause, looking at her. "I thought one question only was the deal?"
"Soultaker..." She smiles. "You very special to dee She. You only one who kill black dragon and live to tell dee tale. Dragon scale very powerful and dee She make many thing of it. Potions, powders, and even armor."
I smirk. "Tell me what I should know, She."
"David Heath... He known as Gangrel, and he dee master of dee clan he named. He dee elder and he on dee vampire council."
My eyes widen. "And how far away am I from that level of power?"
"You not be powerful like dat till you nother hundred years older!"
I groan, dropping back down on the bed. "I want my revenge damn it! Madeline deserves vengeance for what he did to her!"
"Your Madeline... Was she dee 'vengin' kind?" She asks me quietly.
"...No." I sigh.
"Then why you be 'vengin' for her?"
"Not just for her. For myself. He killed me as well. It was my destiny, but that doesn't change my hunger to taste his blood after I rip his heart from his chest," I say coldly.
"Well," she purrs, "Dee She know much bout bloodsucker ways, Soultaker, and dee She has advice. If dee Soultaker want to take dee soul of Gangrel, he better be on dee council too. Dee Soultaker better be as strong as dee elders so... dee Soultaker had better continue to train and study, so he become as powerful as Gangrel."
"Indeed..." I agree and look at the potion. "First thing's first, though, I have to get closer to him. That way I can keep an eye on him personally."
So I took her potion that day and it whisked me away to a small village not far from Salem, Massachusetts. I discovered the supposed all powerful master of his clan living comfortably in a large house, with a dainty wife and a voluptuous daughter. They were rich and popular amongst the town, for they were seen with prestige. The foolish humans thought they were regal and clamored for the chance to befriend any of them. It was then that I performed my first trickery under the powerful guise of the Jyhad.
With my charms and my magick I became close to the daughter because I appeared the same age as she. Her name was Aimee and she was a lovely thing at the ripe age of merely fourteen. With a fake name and an even faker personality I strove to make her smitten with me. I befriended her father, who did not remember me for the mortal he had once seen. Her human mother, Shantay, was not as easy. She was suspicious of me from day one, but so it goes with female intuition. It did nothing to stop the process already set to motion. When Aimee refused my advances, turned down my proposition to court her, I did what was quickly becoming the popular thing to do. I accused her of witchcraft. It was not difficult, as it seemed the stupid little girl had been spotted an odd number of times in her wolf form, and as well using her vampire powers to do menial chores.
I arranged with local thugs to have her raped while she awaited trial. No good Christian man or woman would dare answer the screams of a witch. And when he arrived to save her, I staked Gangrel through the heart. It was simple to affix him to the roof of my residence in the blaring sun where he would be weakened even further.
Shantay, the vile temptress slut that she was, offered a trade. Her mate's freedom in exchange for her body. I, deliriously high on my success, took advantage of the opportunity to bed a woman of such profound beauty. She insured I paid for my trespass, staking me with a pair of scissors while I was buried to the hilt in her body. She fetched her husband whilst I fetched a carriage, my thugs helping me to escape as the Heath family was too busy hurrying to stop the death of their daughter. I received word by messenger a week later that they had been too late. Aimee Heath had been hung at Gallows Tree and days later her parents had moved away to the next village. A month later I received word that Shantay Heath had taken ill and died as well.
Gangrel took from me what I loved most. So I returned the favor. Madeline's vengeance was fulfilled. It was not long after that I was paid a visit by an old familiar. Death came knocking upon my door.
"Your time has come now, Marcus. Great things await you now."
"What such great things could you possibly have in store for me?" I questioned, peering from my darkness as Death shadowed what little light filtered into the crypt.
"I have informed your old masters, She and Meekara, that you are taking my place. They have in turn notified the council of the position you will be assuming."
I scowl. "Yes, Death, and what does this have to do with anything? What meaning does any of it even have for me anymore?!"
"I realize you are stressed, but listen to me! You are still under MY tutelage!" He growls and lightning snaps across the sky, silencing me for I know that it was he who caused it. "You shall travel back to Loch Dulnar where you began your trials 190 years ago. As a Tremere vampire who is also the Grim Reaper himself, you are to be the most powerful Tremere in all of their lineage, save for the first, the father of their kind. So as such, you are being named Master Tremere and you will take your place on the council."
"Very well." I say solemnly. "However, you must surely realize that this is not the... death you promised unto me. I have become cold, deadened by my work. I am empty, soulless. I have performed acts of such depravity, such debauchery, and of such sin that even other vampires curl their lips at me." I sigh faintly. "And I feel nothing anymore. I am as dead on the inside as I appear to be on the outside. This is not at all what you promised unto me."
"Perhaps not, but I could not have anticipated how far your path would go. I apologize for the deep scars you bear, the unhealable damage you have sustained to your body, heart, and soul." He pauses for a moment. "Oh, did I forget to mention? There is a young girl living in Loch Dulnar."
I furrow my brow. "Of what concern is this to me?"
"None truly, but... Well, she seems to be the sort that you would enjoy. She is blond, but she has eyes as dark as night." I actually blink and look at him slowly, remembering Madeline's dark eyes framed by her bright hair. "Her name is Mattie de la Tristesse."
"I shall leave tomorrow, immediately upon rising."
He smiles. "Very good, Soultaker."
"Soultaker?" I quirk a brow at him.
"That is what She was calling you. I assumed."
"She called me that, but it has no true meaning." I pause. "Though I suppose I shall be in need of a moniker like the other elders possess."
"Soultaker it shall be then?"
"No." I look at him, reaching to take his hat from his head and putting it on. "Call me... The Undertaker."
Legalities: Madeline, She, and Mattie are copyright to the author. Christian Cage is copyright to TNA Wrestling. Gangrel is copyright unto himself. The Undertaker, Matt Hardy, Jeff Hardy, and any other mentioned characters are copyright to World Wrestling Entertainment. I claim no knowledge of their sexuality or personal lives. I gained no profit from this story. This work is complete fiction.