Country Mansion in Derbyshire, Angland
February 7, 1878
Lady Jane Alexander, the Baroness of Petite Lorain, lay in her open coffin and the agony washed over her. She was cold. So cold. So cold it burned. Her bones stretched and contracted. She tasted red fire, smelled polka dots and satin and sour green slime screamed its bitterness in her ears while she saw grit, vanilla, coffee and lemon dancing a paisley pattern before her eyes. All while the voices of demons slithered across her skin. It hurt more than a person could bear. She was dying in agony. As she lay there in the crypt unable to move she realized that she had been dying in agony for months. Frozen in that instant of agonizing death. Her mind jibbered and jabbered, bounced about, trying to avoid the shards of pain, until it happened on a memory of Roderick.
Roderick had shown her. Forced her, really. Remembering, she shifted. Shifted in a way that she could never describe because there were no words for it. The pain was still there but she was separated from it. She could think now, distinguish what was real from what the curse made her see, hear, taste, smell and feel. Thinking, she remembered the vague nightmare state Roderick had kept her in. Roderick’s puppet. Roderick’s toy, feeling what Roderick willed her to feel. Ecstasy and agony, lust and horror all mixed together and out of her control. But Roderick was dead now; that constant bond was gone. It was terrifying.
There were sounds. Voices. Real, not delusion. Separated from her body, she could tell the difference.
“There’s really no choice, old man.” That was Anglish with a Dutch accent. Alan van Helsing. “It is not Jane. It’s a corpse occupied by a demon.”
“She was so lovely, Alan.” Anglish again, this time with overtones of Cambridge. Sir William Deforest. “So innocent!”
What on earth was that twit doing here. Innocent, ha!
Wait a moment. Freed from the agony of her body and the mist that Roderick had forced on her, her mind raced. It had to be them. They killed Roderick. A part of her, a vestige of Roderick’s spell on her, wanted to reach out and kill them in turn, but a deeper part of her was immensely grateful.
Oh, what a fool I was. When her father died and she came into her inheritance, became the baroness of Petite Lorain, with no one to answer to, she had acted the social butterfly, traveled to Angland, and spent her time flitting from party to hunt to party to ball to the theater and to yet another party. It was there Roderick saw her. He seemed such a dashing man, with his Oxford accent and his estate in Derbyshire. She let herself become his plaything. She hadn’t objected when he bit her neck and sucked her blood. By then half under his spell she’d wanted him to. He promised her eternal life and she believed him.
She should have known better. The sickness, the pain, that awful mind-shattering pain. Then she died and the pain hadn’t stopped even in death. It had become all there was.
She woke in the family vault at Petite Lorain. And there was Roderick, her master in fact, for his will completely overrode hers. He pushed her out of her body and the pain was gone or at least distanced. She was little more than an automaton under his control. They took her body and some of the soil of the graveyard. They traveled by night to Angland and his estate, where they hunted. Her in a half daze, the world a blur of horror as she sucked the blood of cattle, sheep, and people.
Then, just now, Alan van Helsing drove a stake through the sleeping Roderick’s heart. And for the first time since before Roderick bit her, she was clear-headed. Clear-headed, but a monster.
Wait! If that were true she would know it. She would have the memories of the demon. She would be the demon, have the demon’s desire to turn the others and condemn them. She would hate the lord God and all his works. Her memories of being Jane Alexander would be no more than notes in a file cabinet, tools to use against the unwary.
But she remembered. She remembered her French father and English mother. She remembered her brother who died at twelve in a boating accident. She remembered and still felt the pain of the loss of the older brother she adored. In a moment of clarity, she knew that she was still herself.
She started to tell them, to blurt it out to William and Alan. Shout that she wasn’t a demon, that she was still herself. She would have done it, but her body was still walled away. Still a puppet to be manipulated through magical controls. While she was working out how to speak, she stopped. They would never believe her. They would know that she was just the demon lying to them.
Just as she would know he was lying, if a vampire told her he was really the person he had been before he was bitten. She ran through all the things she might say and realized they were all the same things that a demon would say.
Her only hope was escape.
She was aware of her body, aware of the cold icy agony, but it was offset. She could ignore it. She reached as Roderick had taught her and controlled her body as though it was a puppet. The eyelids, pull a string of magic.
Her eyes had been closed. Now they opened. She saw the ceiling of the crypt on Roderic’s estate. A dirty granite arch with spider webs, lit by flickering torch light. The direction of the shadows told her where Alan and William had to be. She let the awareness of her body fade a little more and formed her spirit into a mouse. She peeked over the edge of the sarcophagus.
She saw William and Alan. With an effort of will, she abandoned the mouse form and sank back into her body. It hurt, but it was necessary to keep her body with her spirit. She moved.
Suddenly and silently, she was no longer in her casket but hiding behind it. It hurt. Roderick had made sure she left her body safely in the casket when they hunted. She put the hurt aside, peeked around the casket base, her head next to the floor to get a look at William and Alan. They had their heads together. William was actually crying about it, but Jane knew them too well. William would beat himself up over it, but nonetheless, he would hammer the ash stake into her heart.
It took an act of will to move her body with her as she reached up and scooped up a handful of the earth from her home in Petite Lorain. She waited and watched until they were looking away, then moved out the door of the crypt in a flickering of moonlight.
Quickly she made her way to the stables, wearing the gown she had been buried in. It was white chiffon, with pearls and lace, suitable for a ball or a wedding, not for riding. But she had no idea where her clothing had been packed. More importantly, she had no notion of where they might have locked up the money.
At the stables, the horses were terrified, but she managed to catch Prancer’s eye. That was all she needed to hypnotize the horse. She just had to convince Prancer that she was his owner and he was her mount. With the noise the other horses were making, she couldn’t take the time to saddle Prancer, so she leapt onto his bare back and rode out into the night, guiding him with her will.
Road to Londinium
Poor Prancer was ridden out when she saw the farm, and Jane wasn’t in much better shape. Besides, the sun would be rising soon. She had to find someplace where the sunlight didn’t reach.
She turned Prancer off the road and into a stand of trees. Then, hating it but driven by her need, she stared into the big horse’s eyes and put him into a deeper trance. Then she moved her head around and bit his neck.
Life flowed into her. And it was different than it had been when she hunted with Roderick. Even though the horse was exhausted, it was much more vital.
She didn’t know why. All she knew–and she was just learning it now–was that feeding while she was in her body gave her more oomph.
February 15, 1878
The sun set and Jane woke. She was hungry again. She left her body under the hay stack so that she could travel faster. She wanted to get home. Moving with vampiric speed she ran through the night, her dress perfect and her slippers not quite touching the ground.
It took her three hours to reach the chateau. No one was about and Jane moved quickly to the door.
The door handle turned, but when she tried to pull the door stood fast. It didn’t move and the handle started to burn against her hand. Then her hand turned to mist and pulled through the door handle. Her hand slowly reformed on her arm. It was a painful process. She had to use her physical body as a reference and that meant she had to touch it in that special way that the magic allowed. She had to feel her body and the pain that resided there.
Jane went around to the side of the chateau and tried another door. She used her left hand. Her right was still hand-shaped mist. She was careful not to pull too hard. When it started to burn, she released the doorknob. She saw an open window. Her hand stopped, as though the open window was walled up. Then finally Jane understood. This was no longer her house. No longer her home. It belonged to her heirs now. As a vampire she couldn’t enter it, not without permission.
And who would give her permission? Cousin Frances, Frances Marie Picard, her heir, was terrified of the undead, especially vampires. Jean Pierre Picard was a mean-spirited little man who hadn’t liked or approved of her even before Roderick.
Wanting to cry, Jane turned away from her home and retreated to her body. It took three more hours to get back to the haystack and by then Jane was ravenous. She needed blood.
She moved, vampire quiet, to the pig pen. The pigs sensed her and started squealing. Quickly she selected the largest sow in the pen and caught its eye. It quieted and she began to feed, but the other pigs were still squealing and she heard the door to the farmhouse open. Regretfully, she left her unfinished meal and retreated through the night to her body, which rested under a hay mound. Feeding in projected form was weaker, less satisfying.
Tomorrow she would take her body. But take it where? She had no home. No one to trust or depend on. She was wholly alone in the world.
August 25, 1878
Jane moved with preternatural speed. Her hand shot out and the rat had no time to react. She grasped it firmly, not concerned with fleas or disease, utterly controlled by her need. She brought the rat to her mouth and her fangs extended as she opened her mouth in that special way that was both natural and unnatural. She bit and her fangs sank into the skinny rat’s chest.
A rat has very little blood. A single slurping suck and it was dry. It wasn’t even enough to take the edge off. Her senses raged at her in that hyperalertness that was the constant state of the unfed vampire. She smelt the individual scents of each peice of shit in this part of the sewers, not to mention the amalgamated scent of the liquids that flowed down the center of the stone corridor. It was dark to even her eyes but life glowed and even the desiccated corpse of the rat gave off an echo of that strange light that all living things gave off. She could see it now as she had never been able to when she was alive. She could see it, but not touch it. Not feel it within herself. She only felt it when she fed, and that faded.
A cockroach scuttled by and though it glowed with life she knew from experience that their ichor didn’t feed a vampire effectively. She needed mammal blood. Birds or reptiles would do in a pinch, but not well. That much she had learned in her month in the Paris sewers. Her hand shot out again and another rat met its fate.
She stood now, shakily, and moved, looking for new prey, on legs that looked like bone covered only in desiccated skin. She looked like a ghoul and didn’t care. Jane had always cared about her appearance, but by now she had no energy for anything but the hunt. Nothing left to consider her appear–
In an instant, between one step and the next, her desiccated muscles healed and she suddenly had the memories of Alice Blake, a sixty-two year old grandmother with an interest in clothing styles from the nineteenth century. That interest had led her to steampunk, and steampunk had led her to the game that she had played for a while a few months back. It hadn’t been that much fun, so she had dropped out. But not before her character had been bitten by a vampire and turned. Not before Bill Goldman and Evan Von killed the vampire that had bitten her, then spent twenty minutes hamming up the decision to kill her. Even though Alice Blake had known it was just a game, Alice’s memories of the casually overdone melodrama rankled Jane’s soul.
Game Night at the Evans house, Three Weeks Before the Merge
“There’s really no choice old man.” Evan Von patted Bill Goldman on the shoulder, and held up a painted plastic cross. “It is not Jane. It’s a corpse occupied by a demon.”
“Actually, it’s still her,” Leroy Evans said. “I’m using the version four Vampire Compendium, not the version three. A vampire has a magical disease and is not dead unless exposed to direct sunlight or killed in one of the other traditional manners. Holy water, stake through the heart, that sort of thing. They do have a severe allergy to garlic as a side effect of the disease. And that matters too, because vampires can eat and should. If they don’t, they end up looking like an Auschwitz victim. But the young ones forget to eat because their need for blood is so strong that it sublimates all other needs and desires. Vampires don’t get hungry or horny or anything. At least until they have the disease under control, and that can take centuries.”
“Wait a minute,” Alice Blake said. “Remember I’m new to this. If she isn’t being animated by a demon, why does holy water work on her?”
Leroy smiled at her and reached back for a book on the shelf behind him. “Good question. Because vampirism has been declared demonic by the church, and such decrees have the force of canon law. That means that the holy water attacks the curse and the curse is usually the only thing keeping the vampire alive. The operation is a success, but the patient dies. Which most people consider an acceptable outcome, or have until recently. The liberals are starting to question whether vampires are inherently evil or just misunderstood.”
“But staking a vamp is still legal, right?” Bill asked. “Sir William is a lawful character.”
“So it’s okay to kill me as long as it’s legal?” Alice gave Bill a hard look.
Bill Goldman put his hand over his heart and said, “I could not love you half so well, my dear Jane, loved I not honor more. It’s going to break Sir William’s heart to drive a stake through Lady Jane’s heart, but he will do it because it’s his duty.” Then he turned back to Evan Von. “She was so lovely, Alan.” An overdone theatrical sigh. “So innocent!”
“Except now that Roderick is dead, I’m Jane again.”
“Nope. You’re just one more demon animating a corpse.” Evan Von grinned. “At least that’s what Alan von Helsing and Sir William Deforest know to be true. Ain’t religion great? It provides such certainty.”
But Alice was busy reading the Vampire Compendium, version IV. The vamp might actually be a fun character to play, full of angst over her conversion, but with her free will back, no longer the blowup doll that Roderick the vampire made her into.
“It won’t work,” Leroy told her when she brought up the idea. “Jane will never be able to convince Alan and William that she is still Jane under the curse.”
“Well, wouldn’t Jane know that?”
Leroy had her make two rolls. First, to determine if she realized in her confusion that she was still Jane. She did. Second, did she know Alan von Helsing and Sir William Deforest well enough to realize that they would never believe her. “Remember how confused she is,” Leroy finished.
“She’s not that confused,” Alice said. “She’s been Roderick’s plaything for weeks. Long enough to know that she was acting under compulsion, and that compulsion is gone.”
Leroy conceded the point and she rolled again. She made that one too.
“While Alan and William are arguing about killing you.”
“Freeing her from demonic bondage,” Evan Von insisted, then chugged a Coke.
“Whatever,” Leroy said. “Lady Jane slips out the back. Come in the other room, Alice, so we can talk about what Lady Jane does next.”
August 25, 1878
Jane Alexander sat in the sewer under the streets of Paris and cursed quietly in three languages. Jane’s native French, Alice Blake’s twenty-first century American English, and nineteenth century Anglish, which was similar to English but had its own set of expletives. That was the last game she played. She– Alice that is– and Leroy had talked it out. She made her way to France where she owned property, only to learn that her vampirism had been reported to the authorities. She was legally dead unless she presented herself on a clear day outside before a magistrate. Her property wasn’t hers anymore. She retreated into the sewers of Paris with her need for blood becoming all consuming. She lived on the blood of rats and other small animals in the sewers, not eating at all, the very notion of food making her feel sick. But now she knew that lack of food had hurt her. Damaged her so severely that only the narrowest thread, the magic of the curse, kept her alive. As much as the thought sickened her, she needed to eat. But the hunger, the need for blood, was still there. Lady Jane started hunting. Not out of hunger, but out of the hard headed practicality of a sixty-two year old private duty nurse named Alice Blake. For she was both of them now and more. The new whole was greater than the sum of her parts.
Lady Jane Alexander had no idea what had happened to give her the memories of Alice Blake. Whatever it was had also healed much of the damage the disease and her self-neglect had done her. On the other hand, Alice Blake had sixty-two years of experience and was rather brighter than Lady Jane. The merged person had both sets of life experiences and with Alice Blake’s intelligence, Jane had greater ability to integrate that experience. Her personality was a combination of Lady Jane Alexander’s and Alice Blake’s. For the immediate need, Alice Blake had read the vampire compendium, version IV, and knew more about vampirism than most vampires did.
As she hunted, Jane considered. Alice Blake had played her in the game, Bill Goldman had played William Deforest and Evan Von had played Alan van Helsing. If she had Alice’s memories, did William Deforest have Bill Goldman’s? Did Alan van Helsing have Evan Von’s?