Chapter 1 – I am a Vampire
Location: Country Mansion in Derbyshire, Angland Time: 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’d 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. Separated from her monster’s body, she examined it. The black hair, the rare violet eyes, set wide apart in the moon pale face, delicate features, arched eyebrows, well formed lips. A face that in life had reflected every passing thought in wide relief. It wasn’t the face of a monster. And her body was thin, a dancer’s body, not the body of a monster.
Wait! If I were truly a monster, I would know it. I 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.
Location: 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.
Location: Petite Lorain Time: 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.
Location: Paris Sewers
Time: 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 piece 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.
Location: The Johnson house, Houston Texas
Time: Game night
“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 Johnson 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.”
Location: Paris Sewers
Time: 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. Jane made her way to France where she owned property, only to learn that her vampirism had been reported to the authorities. Jane was legally dead unless she presented herself on a clear day outside before a magistrate. Her property wasn’t hers anymore. So Jane 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.
Which brought her to, well, now. As she sat in the sewer, she wondered about Alice Blake. Not Alice’s past. Jane knew that past as well as her own. No, what she wondered was if Alice even knew what happened.
Had that moment of perfect oneness that left her with Alice Blake’s memories and knowledge touched Alice in any way?
Did Alice Blake remember being her?
Was Alice Blake a vampire now too?
Interlude 1— I’m a Vampire?
Location: Roselli House, Houston Texas
Time: Dec 30, Merge Night
Alice Blake was working the night of the Merge as a private duty nurse for Carl Roselli. She was reading a book and Mr. Roselli was watching a Vampire Knight marathon on pay per view, so neither of them was watching the news. Alice was just getting to the climactic scene of the murder mystery she was reading when, for just a moment, the words seemed in a different language.
Alice was not bilingual, but Jane Alexander was. Jane spoke, read, and wrote game world French and Anglish, which were quite similar to Merge world French and English, but different enough to qualify as different languages. Also the printing style, of game world French especially, was florid and almost script like. For just a moment Jane Alexander’s memories made the print face of Alice’s book seem both mechanical and Teutonic.
Then the smells hit her. Alice was inured to the smell of a twenty-first century sick room. Jane Alexander wasn’t, and along with Jane came the enhanced senses of the vampire she had become. Alice/Jane smelled the alcohol and disinfectant, the soap, and the blood. Especially the blood.
It was all just too much. In an instant, Alice was standing next to the chair, but she was different. At least three inches taller. She heard a sound and turned to see her body in the chair, head lolling to one side and the book on the floor. Her body, but not her body. For the body in the chair was Alice Blake’s, and the body image was that of Lady Jane Alexander, the Baroness of Petite Lorain. Jane had a body and face that looked a lot like Audrey Hepburn, but with violet eyes like Elizabeth Taylor, a body that was a bit more lush than Hepburn’s.
Alice/Jane heard a gasp and looked around. Carl Roselli, forty-one, with fourth stage lung cancer was staring at her. His eyes flicked from her to her body in the chair and back again
Alice could feel his start of fear. It was like a drug, that fear, like crack. Without thinking about it, her mouth opened in a wide hungry smile, and her fangs came out.
He screamed and tried to get out of the bed, but he was tied down by the drip bag of drugs and the progress of his cancer. She moved then, with all the speed her vampiric abilities provided. She moved across the room to his bed in the blink of an eye.
It wasn’t Alice Blake that caused her to hesitate. It was Jane Alexander. Jane’s memories of the blood-drenched months under Rodrick’s spell, of the months in the Paris sewers, hiding from the world, living on rats, trying to survive, trying to atone for what she’d done under Rodrick’s control. Her mouth grazed Carl’s neck and almost she bit. The fear was so strong so delicious . . . maybe just a little bite.
She bit and energy—life—flowed with the blood, into her projected form. And Alice was reminded that you got more oomph if you were in body when you bled someone. She stopped, lifted her head, patted Carl on the cheek and went back to her body, ignoring Carl’s gibbering terror for the moment.
Back at her body, she examined it. It was five four, stocky by genetics, and a bit overweight by a fondness for pasta and bread. The hair was sandy blond going to gray, and the face was a bit jowly. The eyes were closed, but if they were opened they would be blue gray. She looked again and noticed that her body looked less jowly, and perhaps a bit thinner.
She remembered the pain of her body, the constant agony . . . and she didn’t want to go back into it. But those memories were Jane Alexander’s and the body before her was Alice Blake’s. Carefully maintaining her separation, she occupied her body, putting it on like an ill fitting suit. She carefully opened a pathway and felt . . .
No agony of random neural firing, no tasting purple or feeling sour, no burning agony. Just the ordinary sensations of a normal living body. Not even most of the aches and pains of Alice Blake’s sixty-two year old body.
She wasn’t breathing. She told her body to breathe and it did. Using her vampire senses, she looked over Alice Blake’s body. Its heart wasn’t beating. It took a few moments to figure out how to make it beat, but once she did she got a feeling of satiation. She didn’t need blood, not right now. This body, her body, was feeding her, even if it didn’t feel quite right to her vampiric memories. She stood, taking her body with her, and felt at a distance the protest of a body being moved at greater speed than it was used to.
Alice looked at Carl, who was holding his neck and staring at her. When their eyes met, he asked, “What are you?”
“I’m really not sure,” she told him. “But whatever I am, it’s probably best if you don’t remember that little nip on your neck.” She caught his eyes just as Rodrick had taught her and put him into a trance. “You fell asleep and had a dream about vampires. The dream was very realistic. But it was just a dream.”
That didn’t solve the problem of the bite marks on his neck, but it would hold for now. Meanwhile Alice needed to figure out what happened to her. “Oh, and you won’t notice the bandaids on your neck.” She went back over and bandaged the two puncture marks on his neck, remembering from her undeath under Rodrick’s control that the wounds left by feeding could be obvious and deadly, but were usually small things easy to miss. In fact, the vampire should always be careful to keep them small and easy to miss.
Her memories as Jane and her memories as Alice lined up in her mind. Jane’s becoming a vampire. Alice’s use of drugs during nurse training and occasionally after that. Her marriage to Tony and the two kids, before she realized, well, finally accepted, that she was no more to him than a source of drugs and an occasional booty call. The children that Jane would never have. Alice’s son Tony Jr., forty, and daughter Jane, thirty-eight.
Jane was why she named Jane Alexander Jane. And it was Alice who named Jane. She rolled up Jane for a game of WarSpell. The plan was to play Jane as a vampire hunter and amulet wizard, an ally and competitor to Alan Van Helsing, a customer of Sir William Deforest. She started out as the nineteenth-century steampunk version of a valley girl. To let her learn the game, she played a parallel game to Bill and Evan. Then came the night of the bad rolls, when she succumbed, rather than escaped, the vampire Rodrick. They called the game for that night and Leroy Johnson, the game master, promised to come up with a solution.
He did, sort of. He switched from WarSpell’s third vampire compendium to the fourth vampire compendium. But Evan Von wasn’t willing to play along, and Bill Goldman sided with Evan, so Jane escaped to the sewers of Paris where Leroy said she could play a parallel game again, until she was powerful enough to go up against Alan Van Helsing and Sir William Deforest.
By then Alice was mostly bored by the game and pretty pissed off at Evan Von. She didn’t go back.
Back in her Alice Blake body, she wondered if she was the one having the vivid dream. She looked over at Carl Roselli and saw the bandaid on his neck. This is real.
She walked back over to Carl and grabbed the remote off his bed. Carl had turned off the TV after his “frightening dream about vampires.”
When she picked up the remote, he said, “I don’t want any more Vampire Knight tonight.”
“I want to check the news.”
Alice took the remote anyway and turned on a news channel, only to see a dragon in Central Park. For several minutes, they just watched. As the reports of magic spread from the northeast across the country, FOX was debating whether this was the beginning of the end times, and MSNBC was sure that aliens had landed and it must be an invasion, else they would be honest about it.
Alice was engrossed in the reporting and didn’t notice when Carl Roselli reached up and touched his neck. “Can you turn me, Alice?”
She turned to look at him and he had his eyes firmly closed and his right hand on his neck over the bandaids. Alice realized that somehow Carl knew. The first thing that popped into her mind popped out of her mouth. “Did you play WarSpell, Carl?”
“No. Never!” Carl said. “Is that what it was that made you a vampire?”
“Open your eyes, Carl.” Alice put all the force of will she could into that command. But Carl’s eyes stayed stubbornly closed.
Jane Alexander was a very young vampire and the ability to compel in a WarSpell vampire was a function of two things: age, measured in decades or centuries, and the character stat Mental Toughness. Jane’s mental toughness was eighty-two. Alice remembered from her character sheet. The range went from 30 to 190 with average being 110, leaving Jane not quite thirty points below average. It was unlikely she could compel Carl Roselli to have pasta for dinner, much less forget she was a vampire.
Alice sighed loudly. Then turned and carefully went back to the chair and sat. She had to be careful because she was moving her body at a remove. While she moved carefully, her mind whirled almost out of control, bouncing off walls and memories. Vampires were hunted things and rightly so. They were—in the eyes of humans—blood-sucking killers who were a continuing threat as long as they walked the earth. Granted, this was a different world, but would this one be any different? The world was freaking out over magic starting to work. And it was WarSpell magic. She recognized it from Jane Alexander’s memories. So how were they going to react to WarSpell vampires?
She turned back to Carl. “Why on earth would you want me to turn you?”
“Stage four NHL.”
Alice nodded. Stage four Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma of the particular version that Carl had was, at this point, about ninety-nine percent fatal. He had from three to six more months, most of that in considerable pain. On the other hand, being turned by a vampire made the pain of death by cancer seem like a gentle breeze across your skin. “Carl, you don’t know what pain is!”
“What! How dare you? You’ve never had cancer.”
“No, but I am a registered nurse with almost forty years of experience and I’ve had two babies and broken bones. I’m an expert in pain. How much drug this pain needs as treatment, how much drug that pain needs. How pain A compares to pain X. And as of about fifteen minutes ago, I had my whole notion of what pain is reset. Enough pain can kill, Carl. And the pain of being turned goes way beyond the amount of pain that would kill you, because the magic keeps you from dying.” She went on to explain about the vampirism of the Compendium IV, based on both her experience and her reading of the booklet on vampires as player characters.
Carl asked intelligent questions. After all, he was an investment banker or had been one until the cancer. Alice ended up telling him that she—her body—wasn’t that constant wellspring of agony that Jane Alexander’s had been.
“It sounds like you got the magic part, but not the disease part,” Carl said consideringly. “And if that’s the case, then you giving me some of your blood wouldn’t make me sick. It might or might not transfer the spell part, but it wouldn’t give me the disease.”
You’re guessing,” Alice said. “Maybe the disease didn’t transfer, but maybe it did, and whatever it was that did this, didn’t damage my body, my Alice Blake body.” She pointed at her chest, “I could have the disease right now and in three days this body will be in just as much agony as Jane Alexander’s was when Rodric pulled me from my body in the family crypt in Petite Lorane. You can wait a few days, can’t you, Carl? To avoid agony that makes what you’re suffering now seem like nothing.”
“I’m not convinced that the agony is that bad.” He held up a hand that was sprouting needles and tubes. “I’m not saying you’re lying. Just that you could be wrong, and it could be worth it, even if you’re right. I wouldn’t mind being able to leave the pain my body’s in right now.”
Alice looked at him, seeing the life swirl around him, interrupted and distorted by the wires and leads. And she knew that he was lying, or at least concealing something. “That’s not the real reason you want me to turn you now, is it?”
He looked back at her and she knew she was right. She waited.
Finally, he gave in. “No. I’m afraid you’ll make a run for it.”
Alice thought about that. It was more of the truth but not all of it. Then she had it. “You’re afraid I’ll decide that killing you is easier than turning you.”
The fear spiked. It roiled through his aura. That was it, all right.
“I’m not the only one who knows,” he blurted.
“Oh. Who else?”
“Those guys, the ones you played WarSpell with.”
“How would they . . .” Then she knew how they’d know. The only game of WarSpell she ever played, the only character she ever played, and she got the memories and the curse. Did they get their character’s memories?
He pointed at the TV. It was showing a woman riding a horse through the air fifty feet or so over Loop 610. “You aren’t the only one this happened to. Maybe it didn’t happen to everyone, but it happened to a lot of people. I don’t know how it works, but if you only played one character, that pretty much has to be the one who’s memories you got.”
He was right. Leroy, Evan and Bill would know, and if Evan and Bill got the memories and attitudes of Alan van Helsing and Sir William Deforest, they might well be coming after her. She wasn’t sure about Leroy. What happened to a gamemaster anyway?
“You’re going to need allies and money,” Carl said. “I have money and good lawyers.”
“Okay, Carl. you’ve made your point. But there’s something you should be aware of. The bond between the Master vampire and the newly turned is pretty strong and mostly one way. Rodric kept me in a sort of daze almost constantly until he was staked. Do you really want to give anyone that sort of power over you?” But she could tell he didn’t believe her.
“I’ll chance it,” he insisted.
And suddenly she didn’t want to argue any more. There comes a point where you stop arguing with a fool who insists in jumping off a cliff and she was past her point. “Fine.” She moved then taking her body with her and using a fingernail she opened her wrist, then shoved it into his mouth. “Drink!”
He drank and as he did something passed from her to him. A tiny seed of the magic. No, not a seed. A line of magic. A thread. The same sort of thread that Rodric had used to control her. It was ancient and subtle and words spilled from her mouth without her willing them. “Corhith inemonak alisa kia.” It was old. Older than Greek or Latin. Maybe Sumerian, or maybe even older. Not a language she knew, yet she knew what the words meant. “As I feed you you are mine.” And he was. The magic was sinking into his body even as he drank. She pulled her wrist away and watched as the magic closed the wound.
She stepped back and, using the connection between them, commanded him to sleep. She returned to her chair while she examined the link. This was different from anything she remembered as Jane Alexander. But, then again, Jane had never turned anyone.
She wondered how Jane was doing in that imaginary world that seemed so real in her memories. Was she real at all, or was it just the memories and the magic?
Location: Paris Sewers
Time: August 25, 1878
No, Jane thought as she sat in the sewer. Alice Blake couldn’t be a vampire. Magic didn’t work in Alice Blakes world. She envied Alice for that. She looked around. She had problems of her own. 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, perhaps all, of the damage the disease and her self-neglect had done her. Also, 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 a 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?
Chapter 2 — In the Air and Underground
Location: Cheapside, Londinium
Time: August 25, 1878
Tom Blackwell kept his left hand on the steering lever, pulled on the brake lever with his right and pushed on the gear pedal, bringing the steam coach to a stop. He reached over and twisted the stop valve to the right to stop the steam. His cab was black and rusted, with a steam engine in the back. Tom called it Betsy and it was owned by the company he worked for.
Even before Betsy was fully stopped at the entrance to the dirigible docks at Cheapside, the toff leapt out the door and ran for the stairs. The toff had his left hand on his top hat and his right was carrying a long leather case of the sort that held big guns.
Tom shouted “Ho there, Gov’ner! The fare!”
The toff half-turned and shouted “Bring my luggage,” then turned back and kept running.
Cursing under his breath, Tom turned around, reached to the roof of the cab, and unstrapped the bag. There was just the one and it wasn’t all that big. Bag in hand, Tom leapt down and chased after the toff.
Sir William Deforest leapt from the hansom cab as it pulled up at the dirigible port in Cheapside. The cab had a large steam engine in the back. It puffed out coal smoke from one exhaust pipe and steam from the other. It was painted black and had hard rubber tires on wooden spoked wheels. It had springs, but not shock absorbers, so the ride over the cobblestone streets had not been pleasant.
The cabbie, in a coachman hat and worn waistcoat, yelled, “Ho there, Gov’ner! The fare!”
“Bring my luggage,” Sir William shouted over his shoulder. There wasn’t much, just his bag. He had the pulse gun in its dumbdumb leather case in his right hand. His left was holding his top hat on his head. The truth was that the exorbitant price he paid for the pulse gun left him a bit short of the ready and he was going to have to get a loan from Alan von Helsing to pay the cabbie.
The dirigible dock was three flights up a girder work of rusty iron pilings and cast iron stairs leading to a wooden ramp that entered the large gondola at the base of the magical balloon. It had to use magic to magnify the lifting force of the heated hydrogen or the balloon would be rediculously large. As it was, it was almost twice the size of the gondola and the gondola was made as lightly as possible, out of bamboo and pressed paper panels. The pressed paper panels might look like hardwood, but they weighed less than balsa wood, and made up one large magical item suitable for crafting the ramp spell into.
Sir William was on the second level landing and the cabby was behind him when he suddenly got the memories of Bill Goldman. The knowledge was just there. A whole other life, longer than his own, with hopes and dreams, failures and successes, attitudes and beliefs. The game too. Bill Goldman’s memories of the game and the two previous games where Bill had played Sir William. One with Evan Von and the one before that with Evan and Alice Blake playing Lady Jane Alexander, a young woman of good family who had been bitten by a vampire. And in remembering, he suddenly knew that Jane had not succumbed at least not in the way that he and Alan von Helsing thought she had. She had been turned, but when they killed the vampire that turned her she was freed from his thrall. From what they said in the game, she had the curse under at least some control.
He stumbled. It wasn’t anything in Bill Goldman’s real life that had thrown him for a loop. It was Lady Jane Alexander. She was out there somewhere. Not exactly alive, perhaps, but still herself. Until that moment Sir William knew with religious certainty that the “undead” were in truth dead, their corpses occupied and controlled by demonic forces.
The cabbie was puffing up the stairs behind him and Sir William realized that he still had to deal with the immediate problem of the cab fare. He rushed up the last staircase to the dirigible docks and ran across the gangplank, hotly pursued by the cabbie.
He saw Alan and waved. “Alan, old chum would you pay this fellow? I had to get the pulse gun and I’m a bit short.”
Alan gave him a disgusted look and reached under his coat for his billfold. Then he patted his chest where the billfold should have resided in the left breast pocket of his gold lamé waistcoat. Van Helsing had his problems, but a lack of funds wasn’t one of them. “It’s gone!” For a moment Alan van Helsing looked around like he might spot the thief, then he pulled himself up short. “Oh, blast and beelzebub. I left it in my case in the stateroom.”
Now it was the cabbie who was looking around for a copper.
Alan van Helsing sniffed without disturbing the red crystal monocle that covered his right eye and said, “Very well. Follow me, my good man. We will go to our cabin and I will provide you with payment.” He turned and marched off with his Prussian military background clear in every step. Without looking back, he added, “And bring the bags.”
Sir William Deforest followed along with the cabbie, wondering where Lady Jane was. And what had happened to her after she had escaped the night they killed Rodric.
Tom Blackwell followed the kraut and the fop to the cabin, recalculating his tip. Unfortunately, recalculating it down. German nobles were notoriously stingy. The only good thing was that he was getting a look at the Angola. Tom had a fondness for airships. If his family had had the money he would have gone to Cambridge, to the school of applied magics. He looked over at the pressed paper panels colored in an imitation of oak and he wished he could see under the outer coating to the magical symbol structure beneath. But the hoity-toits didn’t like seeing the mechanics of magic, so everything was covered in veneers of wood or painted to look like normal walls. They turned a corner and went three doors down a corridor to a stateroom. It was a good size room, larger than you would see on a seagoing ship, if a little smaller than in a hotel.
He looked at the window. There was no glass in the window which Tom knew was a matter of weight, not cost. It did have shutters hinged at the top. They were raised at the moment, but could be closed if it got chilly. There was a small desk and two bunks in the room and in one corner a set of bags including one with a cross, a star of David, and words in what Joe thought must be Islamic writing. He’d seen that sort of case in the music hall skits. It was a vampire hunter’s case.
The kraut went to the stack of cases and shifted the vampire hunter’s case out of the way, then started going through the others. Tom waited. Tom had been stiffed by more toffs than working men. The kraut went through the second bag muttering all the while.
“I’ll catch you up as soon as I can get to a branch of the bank,” the toff assured the kraut.
Tom crossed his arms and spread his feet, making it clear he was prepared to wait right here until he got paid or they were ice skating in Hades. The kraut turned his head and the red monocle stared at Tom. Then he snorted and went back to the vampire hunter bag.
Just then there was a lurch and it was only Tom’s wide stance that kept him from stumbling. The toff did stumble, though he caught himself quick enough, throwing out a hand to grab one of the handholds that were attached to the walls of the room. The other hand held the long gun in its leather case. The kraut went arse over teakettle and the bags went everywhere. The vampire bag came open and a billfold came flying out, along with crosses, stakes, bottles, and other stuff.
Tom looked out the window and London was moving.
The toff looked out the window too, and then he looked over at Tom, then back at the kraut. “No hurry now, Alan. In fact, probably no need. It looks like our good cabbie here will be joining us at least for the first leg of our trip.” He looked back to Tom. “There is a branch of the Bank of England in Casablanca. I’ll be able to get funds there.”
Tom barely heard the man because he was too busy watching his whole life float away beneath him. “I have to get off,” Tom said, even though he knew it was too late. The magic that allowed a balloon as small as they used to lift as much weight as it did was not a single spell, but a complex of them, and they all had to interact just right. The first spell simply magnified the lifting power of the balloon. But the second spell acted as a ramp, redirecting the force acting on the gondola from straight down to forward and down, and in combination with the magnified power of the balloon, let the balloon move forward through the air and even angle upwards a bit. Once started, the ramp spell had to be allowed to run its course or be dispelled. In either case, it had to be recrafted and recast at great expense. The price to turn around and go back to the dirigible docks now was the same as the cost of the trip to Casablanca. Not the same as passage on the dirigible. The same as hiring the whole dirigible for the trip to Casablanca.
“But I have a family,” Tom complained, “and I’m responsible for the cab. I have to tell the company where it is, and even so they’re liable to let me go. My mom and my sister need the money.”
“We’ll hire a bird,” Sir William assured him condescendingly. “Once we’ve assured the company that you were not at fault, I’m sure there will be no problem.”
Tom was sure there’d be no problem too. Not for the toffs and not for the company. The company would pick up the cab, hire another driver, and Tom would be out of work, with his mom taking in laundry and Missy probably forced into . . . well, the only job open to a young girl with no prospects. But none of that would be a problem for these toffs.
The kraut was looking at him with that red-monocled stare again. “No, Sir William. Everything will not be all right, not for this fellow. It is quite clear that you being short of the ready has put him into an irrecoverable situation.”
“What? Say Alan . . .” The toff, Sir William trailed off then started again in a different tone. “The economy stinks, doesn’t it? Jobs are hard to come by and there are a dozen applicants for every position. They’ll fire you?”
Tom blinked “Fire me?”
“Oh, sorry. Terminate your employment.”
Now the red monocle focused on Sir William, and the kraut spoke again. “What caused you to use such an expression? It’s common in the Americas, is it not? And your aura is different, now that I look at it. It doesn’t appear to be a possession. It’s well integrated, not one aura overlaid on another, but different.”
The kraut moved toward his bag, and after a startled glance Sir William started to grin. “Alan, feel free to try the cross and holy water on me. But not the stake, if you don’t mind. And I would remind you that I came sprinting along the boarding ramp on a sunny day.”
“But something is different.”
“Yes, it is, and I will explain it all. But first let’s see what we can do to settle this fellow’s problems, shall we?” He turned back to Tom, still holding the long gun, then finally noticed it. He turned to one of the bunks and with the dirigible moving smoothly proceeded to put away the gun, talking all the while. “I’m Sir William Deforest and that’s Alan van Helsing. He’s Dutch, by the by, not German, but he went to school in Heidelberg and did a stint as an officer in the kaiser’s forces during that dust up with the Frenchies a few years back. I’m Cambridge, by way of Sandhurst, myself. Not well suited for military discipline, so I ended up a gentleman adventurer, don’t you know.”
“Don’t expect the fact that I am Dutch to help with the tip,” Alan van Helsing said.
“It’s true. Alan’s tight as a Scottish purse string, even if he is obscenely wealthy.” Sir William looked at van Helsing. “You’re going to need to buy a needle big enough to let through a whole herd of camels if you expect to get into heaven, old boy.” Sir William turned back to Tom. “Family money, you see.”
“That’s how rich people stay rich,” van Helsing said. “We don’t give it away.” Then he heaved a sigh. “However, in this case, we may be morally obligated to make an exception.” He sent a pointed look at Sir William. “Both of us. Since we are the cause of this fellow’s troubles, we have an obligation to see him made whole.” Then, red monocle winking in the light of the setting sun and with a finger pointed at Tom, he added, “Within reason, my man, within reason.”
Tom wondered what the kraut—no, Dutchman—would consider reasonable. But that thought was interrupted by Sir William, who went to the desk and sat down, then waved Tom to a seat on one of the bunks. “Tell us about yourself, man. Start with your name and tell it all.”
Gingerly, Tom sat on the made bunk. The quilt was fancy and his trousers none too clean. Cleaners were expensive and Tom made almost enough to keep a roof over his head and a bit of food in the cupboard, not enough to pay a laundry. “My name is Thomas Blackwell. I’m twenty-four. I live in a flat on Baker Street with me mum and sister. And I drive the cab.” Tom wasn’t good at this. He never knew how much to say, what was needed information and what was bragging. He had gotten a scholarship to Cambridge, even if he hadn’t been able to go. His da had gotten sick about then, and he’d had to go to work. He’d studied on his own, and he could do a little of the rote magic, and knew about mechanicals. He sometimes managed to borrow a book, though he didn’t have the money to get a library membership. And he was good with his hands, which was how he’d gotten the job as a cabbie. He had fixed a pipe on a boiler. The company didn’t like to pay two people if they could find one that could do both jobs. But how much of that to say? Tom didn’t know.
But over the next few hours, Sir William and Alan got it all out of him.
A bell rang.
“That will be dinner,” Alan van Helsing said. “Come along, Thomas. We might as well get your ticket now, so you can eat. You coming, William?”
“Never miss a meal if I can help it.” Sir William patted his stomach over his waistcoat. It was leaf green satin. His coat was forest green and his trousers nut-brown, worn with shined black boots. But without seeming to notice, Sir William put an arm over Tom’s patched and worn, coal-smoke covered, gray jacket.
They followed Alan out of the stateroom and down the corridor.
The steward took one look at Tom and moved to intercept them. He was a youngish man with blond hair, wearing a pale blue double-breasted tail coat with dark blue chevrons on each arm. His pants were black and too tight for a man’s comfort. They were too tight for Tom’s comfort just seeing them.
“Ah,” Sir William said, “just the fellow. Tom here stowed away, through no fault of his own. I’m afraid it was all my doing. He’s going to need a ticket at least to Casablanca.”
The steward sniffed at Tom, then brought his heels together and gave Sir William a sharp little bow. “Of course, sir. We can find him a bunk in the servant’s cabins. There is the matter of the fare.”
“Oh, I think we can do better than the servant’s cabin . . .” Sir William started turning to van Helsing.
Tom saw van Helsing’s expression and said, “The servant’s cabin will be fine, Sir William. I’m more concerned with getting word back to Mr. Smithers at the cab company, and I’m worried about my ma and sis.”
Sir William opened his mouth, but van Helsing beat him to the punch. “Good enough. I will pay Blackwell’s fare and see to the hiring of a messenger bird. You can pay me back when we get to Casablanca.” Reminding Sir William that, for now at least, it was van Helsing who would be paying for anything they did. The air ship carried messenger birds that would fly back to their homes in Londinium, carrying notes that were shrunken down, but the cost of sending a bird was high. Tom knew that much, but he didn’t know just how high.
Tom found himself in the more congenial quarters of the servants. There were eight bunks in the room and six of them were taken. Tom had his choice of the top bunk on the left or the top bunk on the right, and was told to stay in it rather than taking up valuable floor space. The food was bangers and mash, brown bread, and cabbage. The drink was small beer, and the talk was of the various lords and toffs who were taking the trip to Casablanca and why. Why mostly amounted to some sort of business they had and a few were making connections to make a tour around the southern Mediterranean to visit places like Alexandria, the pyramids, and the ruins of Carthage.
In the lounge, Alan was finally getting to question William about the strangeness of his aura. “And don’t tell me it’s a problem with the glass, Willy. It was you that charged the thing this morning.” The lounge was shaded by the dirigible’s balloon, but out the windows the land passed under them like a perfectly rendered map. They had passed over southern Angland now, and were over the Isle of Éire. It was a beautiful place at this height. All the trouble and revolution were impossible to see. The table was covered in a white linen cloth and stewards brought fine foods to the passengers on wheeled carts. William was having pheasant and Alan was having saddle of lamb.
“Yes, and I won’t, Alan. But do try not to get too upset when I explain. As I was running up the stair, I suddenly got the memories and experience of a fellow named Bill Goldman.”
“A Jew?” Alan asked, then looked around, embarrassed.
William was caught for a moment. “Not a practicing one, certainly. I, that is Bill, was never all that interested in family history, but from his memories I would say his great-grandfather was a converted Jew. Bill was raised as a Baptist. One of the odd Christian sects that sprang up in the colonies—well, the States, I should say—in the last century.” William stopped and his expression darkened.
“Bill Goldman was married for twenty years. He had a seventeen-year-old daughter and a fourteen-year-old son. I remember them, Alan. I remember them as though I were Bill Goldman and I will never see any of them again. It’s as though I just lost my family and I can think of nothing to do about it. Even could I get to that other world with that other history, what business would I have doing so? If there is a Sandra Goldman, there is a Bill Goldman lying next to her in their bed.
“You can be sure of this, Alan. This, whatever it is, was not Bill Goldman’s doing. He didn’t have the least ability in that way. And he wouldn’t have wanted to, not at the cost of his wife and children.”
“Comfort yourself in the knowledge that if they were real, they are still real. Even if you can’t see them, they are not dead.”
Interlude 2—The Goldman’s
Location: Goldman House, Houston, Texas
Time: Dec 30, Merge Night
Bill Goldman was watching the news with his wife Sandy. It was a strange night. The networks had interrupted a movie to show what purported to be magic working. Sandy was muttering, “Tomorrow’s New Year’s Eve, not fucking April Fools. Don’t those idiots check their sources at all?”
“They’re claiming that it’s live coverage, so if it’s fake it’s a really good fake.”
“If it’s fake?” She pointed at the screen. “That’s a goddamned dragon. Of course it’s f—”
In that moment, Bill felt he was two people in two places.
Then David was screaming. Bill was out of bed in a moment, but not before Sandy. They ran down the hall to David’s room, but as fast as they moved, by the time they got there David had stopped screaming, he was sitting up in bed eyes wide and panting.
“What happened?” Bill asked, just as their daughter Becky showed up at the door.
“I was falling,” David said panting “I died. I remember. I hit the ground. Then nothing.”
“Just a nightmare,” Becky said, somewhere between disgusted and relieved. Becky was Bill and Sandy’s seventeen-year-old daughter.
“No. It was real,” David insisted, “I took the broom, but it was damaged. I was at five hundred feet when it died. You remember, Dad.”
“You mean from that game we played?”
Bill did remember the game, mostly because it was the only time that David ever played WarSpell. “That was four years ago.”
David had insisted on playing a Harry Potter character, in spite of the fact that it was a standard WarSpell campaign taking place in the Kingdom Isles. The game master accommodated him by making him a natural/book wizard from a wizardry school. But that was the sum total of the similarities. The broom was a just-built magical item that hadn’t been aged long enough to hold a sweeping spell, much less a flying spell. But David had shoved magic into the thing until he was exhausted, then it had crashed on him.
“I know it was. But it wasn’t. It was just now, and it was real,” David said, sounding confused. “I remember falling and I remember the rest of it. Not just the game. My whole life.”
And, as though that was the trigger, Bill remembered too. Not that game, not the one time David played, but another game, a game that Bill played just last Friday over at Leroy Johnson’s house. And, like David, he didn’t just remember the game. He remembered the whole life of Sir William Deforest, right up to where they left off the game, just as he was getting ready to board the dirigible with the cabby hot on his heels.
“Lord of hosts, preserve us!” Sandy said and Bill looked at her because that was not something that Sandy would ever say. They attended church, but Sandy was more inclined to say something along the lines of “what the fuck?” or “oh shit!” than “Lord” anything.
“What is it, Sandy?” Bill asked, his surprise at her choice of words driving his memories of Sir William back a step.
“I too remember another life,” Sandy said in a voice that was hers and yet not hers. Then she proclaimed, “I am Sandra of Corinth, Sword Virgin and Knight Templar, who has never known a man’s touch.”
“I can’t say I like that,” Bill muttered. Then, louder,”For right now, I think the real issue is David.”
“Yes, of course,” Sandy agreed. “What do you know of his memories?”
“I know the character he was playing died,” Bill half whispered.
Sandy—or maybe Sandra of Corinth—sat beside David on the bed and said, “But you’re not dead. Even if that other you did pass beyond, you have his memories. You maintain his soul.”
Two hours later, they were all in the dining niche. The TV was on, showing a repeat of a newscaster—from California, of course—merging on live TV.
They had established that each of them had the memories of a character they played. Bill, Sir William Deforest, Sandy, Dame Sandra of Corinth Sword Virgin and Knight Templar, David, David Welsley of the Gryffindors, and finally his daughter Rebecca, Becky the Hand, an eighteen-year-old fourth level thief in a Dickens era Londinium slum.
And only one character apiece. Bill had played dozens of characters, maybe hundreds in the years he’d been playing WarSpell. But the only set of memories he got were those of William Deforest. A thirteenth level amulet wizard with only a couple of zero level spells that didn’t need amulets. He did have Sir William’s fighting skills, which weren’t great but were better than Bill’s. He didn’t even have the see magic spell. That was cast into his, Sir Williams’, goggles.
Bill went into the living room and used his memories to cast dewrinkle. It was so weak that it didn’t even clean clothes. It just removed the wrinkles in whatever clothing he was wearing. In this case, pajamas. It took him about fifteen minutes to construct the spell. It would have been quicker to drag out the ironing board. Of course, part of that was the fact that Bill was being exceedingly careful. The experiment worked. He, Bill Goldman, could do magic.
When he returned to the living room, it was to see a jug of milk take itself from the fridge, fill three cups, which then migrated to the microwave and from the microwave to the table where hot chocolate mix added itself to the cup and mixed into the milk without benefit of spoon. The three cups of hot chocolate then delivered themselves to David, Sandy, and Becky.
“Sorry, Dad,” David said. “You weren’t here, so no hot chocolate for you.”
“I was checking to see if I could do magic.”
“And I perceive you can,” Sandy said. “Though a more slothful spell I cannot imagine. Magic is not to be used as a servant, but only to do God’s work.
“Is Sandy still there, or are you entirely possessed by Sandra of Corinth?” Bill asked. He chose the word possessed, with malice aforethought, because he wanted to shock Sandy into thinking, not just reacting with the, apparently, fanatical devotion of Sandra of Corinth. Until now Bill had been the more devout of the two of them, with Sandy going to church more as a social event than a religious duty.
There was a pause. Then Sandy said. “I’m not sure. I just seem to be me. It’s more like I am more aware of the way the world works, more certain of right and wrong, than I was, and so am freer to express that certainty.”
“Sandy, I can’t speak to the game world of Sandra of Corinth, but in this world Jim Jones drank the kool aid too. Certainty isn’t proof of rightness.”
“You make an interesting point, Bill, but I remember my morning devotions and the Lord of Hosts’ hand upon my soul. In this case, certainty flows from proof of rightness. I wonder how my other self is dealing with the memories of married life?”
That got nods around the table, for they all wondered how their game selves were dealing with the memories. All except for David, of course. Bill wondered how Sir William was dealing with them. At least he wouldn’t be dealing with a pastor wannabe.
Location: The Airship Angola, over Southern Angland, Approaching the Isle of Éire
Time: August 25, 1878
“You sound like a pastor, Alan.” William shook himself. “Never mind. It was a different world and a different time.”
“A different time . . . was it the past?”
“No, the future. Well, a future. Not our’s. It was the twenty-first century, Alan, but a twenty-first century that didn’t have magic. They had dirigibles, but they were monstrous things that didn’t use magic at all, but just the difference in the weight of gasses to provide their lift. And they had airplanes . . .”
“What’s an airplane?” Alan asked, after waiting for a few moments and seeing William’s arrested expression.
“An airplane, my friend, is a heavier-than-air craft that works on principles that ought to apply in our world just as well as they did in that other world, the one that Bill Goldman lived in.”
“Is this another one of your projects?” Alan asked, feeling a bit of trepidation. Sir William’s magical experimentation was often useful but always, always expensive. In fact, his friend could live quite well on his income from his small estates, if it weren’t for his constant experimentation.
“It could be, Alan. It could be. The thing is, Bill Goldman was a history professor, not a scientist. He knew about airplanes and had a basic idea of how they worked, but not the details. If it works, though, it will be faster than an airship, and I think rather less expensive to build.”
“Do you hear yourself, my friend? You think less expensive to build than an airship. My family is wealthy, Billy, and they indulge me, but not so much that they will let me spend the cost of an airship on the whim of a mad man.”
“I’m not mad, Alan.”
“Perhaps not. But you will certainly be seen as mad if you repeat this story of Bill Goldman to the wide world.”
After he got William’s nod of agreement, Alan looked around the lounge again. No one seemed to be paying them the least attention. There were some Egyptian gentlemen in their white suits and fezs two tables over, but they were speaking Farsi, not one of Alan’s languages. “For now, I think any discussion of your friend Mr. Goldman should be tabled. Curious as I am, I think we should wait for more private circumstances to speak of him and any ideas that he may have. For the moment, I think it better that we discuss this cabbie you have attached to us.”
Chapter 3—At liberty
Location: The Airship Angola, over Southern Angland, approaching the Isle of Éire
Time: August 25, 1878
Tom knocked diffidently on the airship purser’s door. “Come.” Tom opened the door to see a middle-aged, chubby man in a fancier version of the same uniform worn by the steward. It was the same pale blue but instead of the chevrons, it had shoulder epaulets that would have made one of Napoleon’s generals green with envy. But the jacket was open and the purser had a five o’clock shadow. “Ah, the stowaway.” Then he smiled. “Not your fault, man. Something like this happens every third trip or so. What do you need?” “The gentleman, Mr. van Helsing, said he would hire a bird to take news back to Londinium. I need to write out messages to my boss and my ma. I was wondering if . . . Can I get a sheet of paper and a pen?” “A whole bird all your own while we’re still in the air? That’s going to cost a bit. Usually, people just wait until we get to Casablanca. We’ll be there by morning.” Then, apparently seeing Tom’s expression, he added. “If it’s a rush for some reason, they mostly share a bird.”
“How’s that work, sir?”
“We have an amulet wizard on the airship. A good one. Mr. Allenby is a graduate of the School of Applied Magic at Cambridge. He loads his own amulets and he has some spells that will shrink a six-inch wide, foot long, sheet until it will fit in the capsule that attaches to the leg of the pigeon. The sheet has room for five hundred letters and we charge for every letter, laddybuck. A shilling a letter, and that includes spaces. If your patron buys a bird, that’s twenty-five pounds.”
Tom swallowed hard. That was six months’ wages and tips, near enough, just for the use of one little pigeon.
“They can afford it, lad. The toffs who ride on airships can afford a lot. It’s still less than your ticket to Casablanca is going to be.”
The purser gave him the sheet, and Tom went back to the bunk room, climbed up on the bunk, and used the top of his hat as a writing table while he worked out what to say.
He still hadn’t worked it out when he got called back to the toff’s cabin.
“I’ve talked to the purser and the prices they are charging for messenger birds are ridiculous,” van Helsing said. “I will not be gouged like that by the airship company. You can hire a pigeon from Casablanca to Londinium for three shillings, and Sir William here can load an amulet of shrinking. It’s not going to take that much longer to get there, and I fail to see an emergency in this.”
“I have an amulet in my luggage. Not the carryon you brought, Tom, the stuff I sent ahead. I’ll be able to get it once we get to Casablanca and I think it’s already loaded.”
Tom knew that much about amulet wizards. They loaded a spell into an amulet which stored it until they needed it, but they had to have the right amulet for a given spell. An amulet of shrinking wouldn’t work for a spin spell and an amulet of igniting wouldn’t work for a spell of attaching. But it didn’t matter. “Mr. van Helsing, if I leave the cab out of service for a whole day, they are going to charge me for the money the cab was supposed to bring in. There’s a minimum you’re supposed to bring in each and every day.”
“That was a possibility anyway,” van Helsing insisted, puffing out his mustache and marching around the room. “I will not be held hostage to these ridiculous fees just because they have me here. If they are going to overcharge like this, I am not going to buy, and that’s flat, my man.”
Tom bit back a hot response. The law was on van Helsing’s side.
Location: Grand Hotel, Casablanca
Time: August 26, 1878
Sir William Deforest looked out of the window of the gondola at the Grand Hotel. The hotel was eight stories tall, made of stone, but it managed an airy feel because the stone work was a complex of intersecting arches. On the roof was an airship dock, but just a dock, not a full port.
The Angola would dock here for only an hour to disembark passengers and their luggage, then proceed to an airship station seven miles southeast of Casablanca, where most of the cargo carried by the airship would be offloaded. Then the Angola would be made ready for the next leg of its journey, which would be to Nigeria where it would stop for a day. It would then proceed to Teixeira de Sousa, in the Portuguese province of Angola, for which the airship was named. William wondered if they would be continuing with the airship.
Things had changed since he and Alan had planned this trip. Sir William had changed most of all. Bill Goldman was a middle school history teacher, not an expert on the architecture of North Africa. But with the addition Bill’s memories, this place had what he could only describe as a “Casablanca feel.” Not the real Casablanca, but the movie Casablanca. He expected Humphrey Bogart to be waiting at the checkin desk with directions to Rick’s American Cafe. It was a comparison that Sir William would not have seen. This world didn’t have movies or movie stars. With Bill Goldman’s memories and abilities added to the mix, William was seeing a lot of things differently.
William was concerned about Jane Alexander, Tom Blackwell and most of all Alan van Helsing. Taken in order, then.
If William remembered The Vampire Compendium IV correctly Jane wasn’t dead. Not quite. Bill had skimmed the booklet, but not read it in detail. It seemed that vampires were stuck in a moment just before death until the spell that kept them suspended was broken by the death of their body. Hence the stake through the heart. Sunlight probably weakened or even broke the spell. There was something in there about litches, but William couldn’t remember what. So Jane was alive or undead or whatever, probably needed his help.
There was Tom Blackwell, who might be in need of a new job. No face it, William, he told himself, probably needs a new job. Which shouldn’t be much of a problem because from what he and Alan wormed out of Tom last night, the man might well prove deucedly useful to them. But Tom was also the sole support of his mother and his sister, and William and Alan had a tendency to find themselves in some hairy situations from time to time. Plus the fact that with all his projects, Sir William was perennially short of funds. Which meant he would have to apply to Alan for the support of Tom, his mother, and sister.
And that brought William, with his new perspective, to Alan. Alan, who had been Sir William’s mentor and friend for the past four years and who was, William now realized, the next best thing to a fanatic on the subject of vampires. They had put off discussion of William’s new set of memories by mutual consent, but that delay couldn’t last. Evan Von was an atheist with a pronounced distrust of anything approaching faith, but he had played Alan van Helsing as a committed Protestant and utterly certain of his beliefs. Evan’s harping on the religious certainty that had inspired Jim Jones, David Koresh and Alan van Helsing, not to mention the 9/11 hijackers and Pat Robertson, got on Bill Goldman’s nerves. Remembering it and trying to figure out how to explain to Alan that Jane wasn’t necessarily evil, Sir William Deforest wanted to strangle Evan Von.
The Angola bumped up against the stays, almost causing William to fall. Immediately the horn hooted.
“Disembarking passengers, please proceed to the ramp as quickly as possible,” came over the ship’s megaphone.
William rushed. Alan was at the ramp along with Tom Blackwell and a crowd of passengers being rushed across the ramp onto the roof of the Grand Hotel. “What’s the bleeding rush?” William asked as he joined them in the queue.
“Ship’s weather diviner is saying we have fifteen minutes before the wind changes.” Alan was looking at his pocket watch and didn’t look up as he answered. “Thirteen now, and they have forty-three passengers and servants to get off loaded.”
“Cap’n wants to be in the air when the wind shifts, not tied to a spike at the top of the Grand Hotel,” Tom added. “Can’t say as I blame him for that.”
The line was moving and Alan continued. “It means that they won’t be unloading our luggage here but at the dirigible station. They will have it delivered but it will be a few hours.”
The Grand Hotel had two reception desks, one on the ground floor, and one on the top floor for airship passengers. The one on the top floor was old wood, polished continually over the course of decades. It was manned by two clerks overseen by an older gentleman. The clerks wore hotel uniforms, the older man wore a conservative dress, a frock coat in dark blue, with a black bowtie over a white shirt. He had a goatee and a hairline that was receding like the tide. He was immediately called over as soon as Alan said there were three of them rather than the two for whom they had reservations.
After hearing the particulars, he said, “It is but a minor matter, sir, but the hotel is fully booked at the moment. We can put him up in the servant’s quarters or we can have a trundle bed put in the dressing room of your suite?”
Alan nodded. “Have the trundle bed put into the dressing room and please be prepared to extend our stay for another few days. It looks increasingly like we will have to send more than one bird back to Londinium and receive responses here.”
“Very good, sir. The next airship to Angola will be Thursday, so I will reserve the room until then.” He tapped a bell, and a young man ran up. “The Gold Suite.” He turned back to Alan. “The trundle bed for your man will be up by noon.”
While Alan was talking to the head clerk, William looked around the registration desk. There was a booklet attached to the desk with a brass chain. William opened it and it contained drawings and adverts for the amusements available in Casablanca, and there on the third page was Rick’s American Tavern, with a picture that looked quite a bit like the first scene of the movie. William could almost see Peter Lorre running into the place just ahead of the cops. He had to visit Rick’s while they were in Casablanca. Had to.
As it happened, the trundle bed got to their dressing room considerably before the luggage, so there was plenty of time for William to explain the new memories.
“You’re saying that our world is all just some sort of pretend game that this other fellow is playing?” Alan asked in a tone that made it clear he was close to calling for restraints.
“You were willing enough to take my word that I had the memories of Bill Goldman, Alan. Why is this part so much less believable?”
Tom Blackwell tapped his knuckles on a side table. “With all respect, sir, this feels real enough for me.” Then he grinned, showing a crooked front tooth. ” ‘Course, it would, wouldn’t it? Me being make believe too.”
“I’m not saying this world is make believe,” William insisted. “I can tap the table too and it’s real. But from my memories, there is more than one reality. And in that other reality, this was just a game.”
“So you’re saying it’s a higher order of reality?” Alan asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe it’s just a different reality. But at the very least there seems to be some connection. In that reality, this was a game. I was being played by Bill Goldman and you were being played by Evan Von.”
“Then why don’t I have this Evan Von’s memories?”
“I haven’t got a clue.”
They talked for a while, then got to the Vampire Compendium. “My memories say that Jane isn’t inherently evil. Leroy said he was using the version four rules, and by those rules vampirism is a disease.”
“That’s impossible,” Alan said. “Julia was dead. She had to be.”
William had not known Alan when his sister was turned and went on a killing spree in Amsterdam, but he had heard the story. With his new perspective, he had no way of knowing if she was evil or not, but it seemed unlikely that she had been dead when Alan had staked her. He couldn’t say that, though. Not if he expected any sort of cooperation from Alan ever again. “Perhaps there are more than one form. I have to assume, based on my memories, that Jane Alexander was not evil once she was freed of Roderick’s influence. She ran because she didn’t see any way of convincing us. And she chose to run, not to kill. Remember, Alan, Jane didn’t attack us, even though she could have.”
“We were both wearing crosses and garlic. I had holy water,” Alan said. “We were not easy prey.”
“True enough, my friend, but she was clear-headed enough to figure that out. Not a mindless monster.”
“Vampires are not mindless, William.” Alan stood and grabbed up his deerstalker cap. “That’s what makes them so much more dangerous than zombies or were creatures. And it’s what makes them so much more evil as well. They know what they are doing and glory in it.” He walked out, clearly unwilling to hear more, at least for now.
Tom Blackwell looked at the door, then back at William. “You think I should go after him? To see he’s all right?”
“No.” William sighed. “Alan can take care of himself. In most ways he can take care of himself better than you or I.”
There was a knock and the baggage finally arrived.
The amulet for the shrink spell was actually two amulets. Two matched boxes, one twelve times the size of the other. The amulets had to be loaded together putting part of the spell in one box and part in the other and tying the two boxes together with lines of magical force. But invoking the spell wasn’t difficult. William opened the larger box and took the letter that Tom and Alan had written and placed it in the larger opening. He then closed it, and touched his left hand to the jewel on the top of the first box and his right to the jewel on the top of the second box. He said, “Compreso.”
Then he opened the second box and removed the now much smaller sheet. “Let’s get this sent.”
They went to the desk. It was the top floor desk again, because the pigeon roosts were on the roof next to the airship dock.
“Yes, bill the room,” William said to the desk clerk. The clerk gave him a note for the birder and they got the pigeon off.
William looked at his watch. “Yes, there’s still time. Let’s go to the bank, Tom. I need to get some cash. That pulse gun really did leave me penniless.”
By the time they got back from the bank, Alan was back.
Chapter 4 – Casablanca
Location: Grand Hotel, Casablanca
Time: August 27, 1878
“All right, all right,” Alan complained. “It’s my fault. This time at least, it may be.”
They had just gotten a bird back from Londinium. Tom was indeed at liberty, because the cab company released him. And his sister and mother were in real danger of being thrown out of their apartment. They were relieved that Tom was still alive, but they had no money at all.
Respect for his betters aside, Tom was about ready to paste Alan van Helsing a good one. All very well to stand on principle and refuse to be gouged, but it was Tom’s mum and sis who would be paying for it. Then he saw Sir William. The toff was making a calm down gesture, but he was doing it with his left hand hidden from van Helsing. Tom, with effort, followed the advice. Sir William said yesterday that the best way to handle Alan van Helsing was to give him time and let him talk himself into things. If you tried to push him, he just got stubborn.
“My principles are right,” Alan insisted for the third time since the letter arrived, but more calmly this time. Then he continued. “But they are my principles, and Tom’s mother and sister should not be made to pay their cost. I will instruct Karl to provide housing for them.” He stopped his pacing. “Would your family members be interested in employment? If I am going to be providing room and board anyway, might as well add a wage, and in exchange get some workers.”
Tom considered. “Ma is a fair cook,” he started, but both Sir William and van Helsing were shaking their heads.
“Alan’s chef is a genius, but Joseph is also a prima donna. He allows no one in his kitchen, not even Alan.”
“For now,” Alan said, “I’ll have Karl put them on as general service maids. It will be light work because we have adequate staff already. What about that farm of your’s, William, old chap?”
Sir William turned to Tom. “How would your family like to move to the country?”
“We’ve lived in Londinium my whole life. And me ma’s, from what I’m told. I’m not sure they would know what to do on a farm. Ma and Missy are both good with a needle and thread.”
“This is going to take some working out,” Alan van Helsing said, then looked at Tom. “Meanwhile those clothes you’re wearing simply won’t do. William, be a good chap and take Tom down to a clothier and get him a proper kit.” Then, with a look at William, he added, “Very well, put it on the hotel account and I’ll cover it. But do go away, both of you. I have to think. I have to think about Tom’s family and about Lady Jane Alexander.”
Tom followed Sir William out of the suite still worried.
“It will be fine, Tom.”
“If you say so, Sir William, but will it be fine, in time? We rent by the week and the rent’s due day after tomorrow.”
“Plenty of time, Tom. Plenty of time.”
Once they were gone Alan sat down and started the process of loading his pipe while he thought. He had one of the new Singer sewing machines. They were interesting devices that used magic to move a curved needle through a curving pattern. Another part of the device held the cloth to be worked in just the right position so that each stitch would be just the right distance from the last. They could produce almost five hundred stitches in a minute. All of which meant that Tom’s family wouldn’t be employed as seamstresses, no matter how skilled. Still that wasn’t a matter of much concern. If they weren’t absolute dolts, they could be put to work loading some of the magical items that the household used. Including the sewing machine, which needed to be loaded before each use.
No, the real issue was Jane Alexander and William’s contention that Jane might still be Jane rather than the animated corpse that Alan had known she was. Jane and all the other vampires that he had staked in a career of vampire hunting that had now lasted almost a decade and had started when he had been forced to stake his own sister. But mostly Jane, because Jane Alexander was one of the few vampires that had ever escaped.
Location: Paris, Near the Seine
Time: August 27, 1878
Jane crept out of the sewer and looked at the night sky. It was, she guessed, a little after three in the morning. She was healthier now, but not entirely healthy. She had stomach cramps. That was the reason for this excursion. She needed food. Specifically yogurt. The digestive biota that Alice knew about, but Lady Jane hadn’t. She needed to restore her internal biota to restore her ability to process food and gain the nutrient value from it. The moon was bright and the waters of the Seine were black, but Jane saw the glow of the fish swimming in the river. She realized that what she was seeing wasn’t infrared. Fish were cold-blooded. What she was seeing was different. What she was seeing was life, or at least akin to life.
She made her way up river on the left bank of the river, flitting from shadow to shadow. going in a frozen instant from complete immobility to movement to fast for the eye to follow. She was still in rags, but she had torn them into strips and wrapped them around her legs and arms. She needed the protection from the cold because the cold didn’t bother her. The hurt from the cold was one of many things she didn’t notice unless she consciously thought about it. She had to remind herself to breathe, even to cause her heart to beat.
As she moved upriver, Jane thought of Bill Goldman and Evan Von and for the first time she wanted to kill. She had killed before, under Rodric’s control, but had been horrified by it. She’d never wanted to kill anyone, not until now. She knew it wasn’t fair, but the way Bill and Evan had played, and overplayed, their noble self-sacrifice as they planned her murder made her furious.
She kept moving and she wondered. Would Sir William have Bill Goldman’s memories? Would Alan have Evan’s? She didn’t know what happened, but she had the memories of the life and the game. Alice Blake was a nurse, and worked with the elderly. She knew about biota and she had read the game books, so she knew that Jane was still alive. The difference was that now Jane felt alive. Alive, but at a distance. She kept going up the Seine until she reached the outskirts of Paris, where the houses started to turn into small farms.
The road changed from cobblestones to dirt and was hemmed in by trees and stone fences. The moon painted the world in black and white, but her feel for life added color that wasn’t color. Off the road to the left there was a small barn. She could see vaguely the life within it. Two cows and a draft horse, as well as a mother cat and some kittens. There were mice too, but they were staying carefully hidden. She sniffed the air and smelled among the other scents, milk, butter, and she thought yogurt. Before she was turned, Jane could not have told the scent of yogurt from the scent of milk or butter.
Without thinking, she leapt the stone wall that marked the dividing line between country road and farm. Her leap was accomplished half by strength, half by magic, but when she landed, she twisted her foot. She stopped and felt the ankle. It was a bad sprain, probably not a break. But it wouldn’t have happened if her—call them vampire instincts—didn’t take over in the moment of going over the stone fence. It was only three feet high. She had not needed to jump it.
Carefully, she started moving. She was aware of the pain but didn’t feel it. There was none of the vagueness that might come with drugs, just a wall between body and self. She paid careful attention to the ankle as she walked to the barn and noted that it was being further damaged by walking on it.
The cows in the barn started lowing. Ignoring her ankle, Jane moved with vampiric speed into the barn. She had to quiet the cows and the draft horse before they alerted the family. The instinctive response of animals to a vampire or a were was gibbering terror, increasing as the magical creature got closer. It could be countered, but only with one animal at a time. She pulled open the barn door and in her haste she ripped the top leather hinge loose, then ran to the first cow.
She grabbed its head and forced its eyes to meet hers by main force and, using her will, forced it to calm. Then it was on to the next. Then the horse. The cat was hissing at her. She looked at it and it jumped aside, avoiding eye contact. She had to get that damned cat calmed down. A scratch or clawing would wake the other animals from their trance and she would be back at the beginning.
Jane stopped, arrested by a memory from Alice Blake. Suddenly she felt she was in a Marx Brothers movie, or maybe a Three Stooges, but one of the old black and white movies that you saw on late night TV. She was Curly and the cat was Moe. She sat down on the straw and laughed. It was, she realized, the first time she had laughed since Roderick bit her neck.
She was still laughing when she heard a footstep. She looked over at the torn loose barn door to see a boy of about ten. He was holding a pitchfork but not like he was sure what he should do with it. The handle was old wood and the iron head had three tines. It was a foot taller than the lad holding it.
She smiled at the boy, not trying to hypnotize him, just the sort of smile she would have given him before she ever met Roderick. He had curly black hair and a wool cap with a short bill that was too big for him. His pants were patched, but it was done with care. He wore no shoes and his feet were dirty.
In her mind’s eye, she could see him sneaking out of the house to face down the trouble in the barn. Scared, but old enough to be embarrassed by his fear. Out here on his own to prove to himself that he was brave. She must be a horrible disappointment to him. After all, she was only five foot five and didn’t look like a vampire. She stopped laughing as she looked at him, but was still smiling.
“You tore off our barn door,” he accused.
“Yes. I’m sorry about that,” Jane admitted. “I was in a hurry to calm the animals.”
He looked at her, then at the barn door. It was opened half way and the leather hinge on the lower part of the door was still attached, but the upper one was ripped out, with the nails that used to attach the leather strip to the door pulled loose. “How did you pull it loose? Papa put that hinge on himself. I watched, and it was only a couple of months ago. It’s a good hinge and well attached,” he insisted belligerently, as though she were going to accuse his father of shoddy workmanship.
She looked. “Yes, it was a good hinge. And I am sorry. I’m stronger than I look.”
“Why did . . .” He stopped and went back to basics. “What are you doing on our farm?” He took a firmer grip on the pitchfork.
“I needed some food,” Jane said. She knew that she could hypnotize the boy, but she didn’t want to. Suddenly Jane remembered. Her gown, the one she was buried in, and which she was still wearing the rags of, was beaded with pearls. The lace was tatters now, and she had used it to tie the rags of her dress into something like trousers. Now she untied one of the ties and searched it for one of the beaded pearls. “This is a pearl. It’s not a very big one, nor is it of very good quality, but it’s worth a couple of livres.” She looked at the door again, and went looking for a second pearl. “For the door,” she said, holding out the two pearls, “and some yogurt.”
Cautiously, the boy approached, still holding the pitchfork. She handed over the pearls. He retreated back to the barn door, and indicated a clay pot covered in cheesecloth. “The yogurt is there. You’ll need a bowl. I’ll get you one.” He then turned and ran off before she could say anything.
The pitchfork was left lying by the barn door, and the cat was still hissing at her, but seemed satisfied to just hiss since she wasn’t making any threatening moves toward its kittens.
Jane got up and went to the pot that held the yogurt. It would be much tastier with a bit of honey, she thought, but beggars can’t be choosers. Also, the boy was right. She didn’t want to just dip her hand into the yogurt. All of Alice Blake’s training screamed “no” in her mind, and the idea wasn’t appealing to Jane either. She heard a commotion from the house and was tempted to run. Very tempted. The boy was a boy. His parents would be much more suspicious and might do something that would force her to act. Force her to be a vampire.
But it was too late. They were already coming. She went to the barn door and picked up the pitchfork and laid it against the wall of the barn, not in immediate reach of the door. Then she went back to the pile of hay and sat down so as to appear as unthreatening as she could.
The man who came into the barn, looking up at the torn leather strap, was an older version of the boy. Not a tall man, but not overly short, he had an unshaven look and the same curly black hair as his son. But his eyes were tired, beaten down by life in a way that his son’s weren’t yet. She had seen men like him every day of her life and never given them more than a moment’s notice. He looked at her and his right hand, which had been held in a fist opened to reveal the two small pearls. “Where’d you get these?” He looked at the rags she was wearing. What had, months before, been a beautiful gown. “Where’d you get that gown? It’s silk, it is,” his tone accusing her of theft.
“I was buried in it,” Jane said. It just slipped out. Jane might be a vampire who had sucked the blood of rats as well as people, but she wasn’t a thief. It was insulting. But having said that much, she was unable to get control of her mouth. “I’m a vampire, you cretin.”
He looked at her, then at the door, and started backing away.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Jane snapped. “If I had wanted to suck your blood, I would have. All I want is some yogurt, and I paid for that.”
“Vampires don’t eat,” the man said, but he stopped backing away.
“It’s hard to explain.”
He looked at her again. He looked at the door, then he looked at his son who was staring wide-eyed. “Go inside and fetch that bowl you were after before. And a spoon, as well.”
Once the boy left, he stepped into the barn and looked around, then headed for the pitchfork. “Try,” he said.
“Try to explain.”
“I need the yogurt to get my guts working again. Then I’ll be able to eat proper food.”
He nodded. “What about blood sucking?”
There was a practicality to the man that would have shocked Jane, but it was not unfamiliar to her. French peasants were the most practical people in the world. She ended up explaining that the curse left her a heartbeat away from death, something that Jane hadn’t understood but Alice had read in the Vampire Compendium. She didn’t explain about Alice. She didn’t understand that part herself.
Jacques, the farmer, arranged to have yogurt, milk, and bread for her for the next several nights, in exchange for five more of the pearls and fixing his barn door.
Two hours later, Jane, wearing work gloves, stood on a ladder and used a block of wood to push a nail into the door frame.
Jacques was pragmatic but curious. “Why not just use your hand?”
“The magic adds strength but doesn’t protect my body from injury.” She showed him the block of wood with the dent in it where the nail head had compressed the wood. “Shoving the nail into the wood would hurt my hand.” She wasn’t using a hammer because she still didn’t have that much control over her vampiric strength and she didn’t want to put the hammer through the barn wall. Jane was now well fed on yogurt, her stomach still unhappily adjusting to its new circumstances, but ignored. She stood with her good foot on the ladder, consciously avoiding further injury to her twisted ankle. Restoring her body and getting it into balance with the magic was going to take some time.
Jane didn’t have that many pearls, so she was going to have to make a living somehow. Unfortunately, she was poorly equipped to make a living. She could do embroidery, load household magical items with the spells that operated them, make pleasant and witty conversation at dinner. However, there was little need of embroidery on a peasant farm. Loading the spell into a magical item required that you actually have the magical item, and even the most basic of magical items were beyond the means of a small farmer with twenty acres four miles outside Paris. And she was pretty sure that a discussion of the Londinium fashions and who was sleeping with who among the gentry would bore these people to tears. Alice Blake had a lifetime of experience in healthcare and Jane’s vampiric sight was potentially a great aid in that work but, really, who was going to trust a vampire nurse?
Jane hopped down the ladder, using a careful combination of physical and magical movement. When she was first turned and for all the time Roderick controlled her, she had barely moved her body at all. After she escaped to Paris, she moved her body constantly, but almost entirely by magic, dragging it along like a weight. It was only since she gained Alice Blake’s memories and the healing that came with them that she started trying to integrate the magic with the physical.
Maybe she could get some money from William and Alan, assuming they got the memories of Bill and Evan. It was the least those two clowns owed her. It occurred to her that if Alan did get Evan’s memories, it had probably been quite a shock. That thought made her smile.
Location: Rick’s American Tavern, Casablanca
Time: August 28, 1878
Sir William tossed the dice down the table. This was Rick’s, and yet it wasn’t. The women were in gowns of this century, not the next one. No world war was looming over them. France was governed by the Third Republic, and a variety of European interests had set up shop under the auspices of the French government
William looked over at the door. He might as well, he had just crapped out. And in walked Captain Louis Renault of the French polizzi. He was even wearing the same hat. William’s memories filled in that blank. It was a standard hat of the French gendarmerie, had been for years. He was heading to the roulette wheel, and a memory from Bill Goldman surfaced. A man handing Renault his winnings from the roulette table just as he announced that he was shocked to find gambling in Rick’s casino.
William shook himself and decided that perhaps he had had enough of Casablanca nightlife for now. He also decided that should the universe ever arrange it so that he got to meet Leroy, he was going to strangle the game master on general principles. Tom was standing by the door in his new clothing. Bowler hat, and a sack coat, with sturdy trousers, looking uncomfortable.
William was halfway to the exit when he suddenly had a thought. Captain Renault in the movie had gotten his payoffs from Rick’s crooked roulette wheel. What if someone else bet the same way? It might not work . . . but it might. It was better odds than a roulette wheel normally offered, even an honest one. He turned and followed the police captain to the roulette wheel, pulling his billfold from his coat pocket as he went. If it didn’t work, Alan would be irritated, but Alan irritated was something Sir William Deforest had long since learned to live with. Besides, William liked to gamble.
Renault walked up to the table and waited until most of the people had placed their bets, then put a one livre chip on 29 black. Almost William copied the bet exactly, but prudence got the better of him. Instead, he placed a louie on the third 12. The wheel spun and Captain Renault was looking at William with less than full approval. Sir William looked back and his mouth twitched in a half smile in spite of himself. After all, if they were going to use a crooked wheel there was no reason at all that William shouldn’t take advantage of it. The wheel stopped and sure enough it was 29 black. And that was in the third twelve, so while Captain Renault picked up his winnings, William picked up his. His bet paid only two to one, but it was two louies, not livres. He had just received more than the captain’s bribe.
He turned and walked away, not noticing the little man in the corner.
Tom Blackwell was looking at him strangely as they left the casino section of Rick’s. Bill Goldman had never been much of a gambler, never had a poker face. And while William gambled quite a bit, it was betting or the horse or playing craps, not something like whist, where you had to hide your expression. He didn’t exactly wear his heart on his sleeve. He was an Anglish gentleman, after all. He could deal with adversity and keep his upper lip quite as stiff as needed. But he was no old stone face in the face of good news.
They stopped for a little while in the club part of the tavern, where there were tables and a young woman singing love songs, supported by a spanish guitar. There was a piano, but no one playing it tonight. They listened to a couple of songs, then headed back to the hotel. It was only five blocks away, so they walked. They had just turned into a dark cross street when Tom shouted.
William turned in time to see the knife and his practice took over. His left hand went down sharply and deflected the arm of the man holding the knife, but the little man had some skill and went with the blow, so didn’t lose the knife. He pulled back and started in again, but Tom grabbed his shoulder, trying to pull him off William. The little man, not much more than a shadow, twisted with Tom’s pull and tried to knife Tom.
Now William reached in, grabbed the knife hand, and pulled. There was really no choice, not if he wanted to end it quickly. William pulled the little man’s knife hand into the little man’s gut and moved it back and forth. Hot blood and intestines spilled from the wound. That, at least, was not at all like the movie. The little man screamed and fell. He rolled over on his back and said in a breathy little voice, “I just wanted . . .” and died. It was the voice that clinched it.
Sir William had just killed Peter Lorre.
Ugarte was dead in an alley, and William, with Bill’s memories, figured the transit papers were safe. He leaned against the alley wall, breathing hard. “Tom,” he panted, “go fetch that police captain, if you would. I’ll wait here.”
The police office didn’t look like the set from Casablanca. It had much more of a late-nineteenth-century feel. Stone, but almost dungeony. Not that they ever got to the dungeon part. They were taken to Captain Renault’s office, and their papers were checked. A runner was sent to the hotel to confirm that they were indeed who they said they were.
And that was odd. From Bill Goldman’s memories, the cities of the late-nineteenth century should have had telegraphs and been close to telephones. But they didn’t. There were several messenger services, one using homing pigeons, another using professional dreamers who, for a fee, would have their dreams invaded by one another to send messages across long distances instantly, but only at certain hours of the day or night. There was knowledge of electricity, but how it differed from the magical force that powered spells and magical items wasn’t well understood. The notion of transmitting it by wire either hadn’t been thought of yet, or at least hadn’t reached the general public. There might be some magical Johnnies at Oxford and Cambridge working on it, perhaps even at that new place in Boston. But if there was a Thomas Alva Edison in this world, Sir William had never heard of him. Nor had he heard of a telegraph.
With his thoughts on this, William remembered his studies of the American Civil War and the Franco-German war of more recent vintage. Both had involved the extensive use of scrying, but neither had used telegraphs. They had used gunpowder, but often ignited it through use of small single-use magical items. Items that were called oddly enough blasting caps.
While these thoughts had been running through William’s mind, Captain Renault was apparently doing an excellent job as an investigator. It didn’t seem that corruption and incompetence necessarily went hand in hand.
“I do not know whether to thank you or imprison you, Monsieur. How did you know that I would win my bet?”
The question was sudden, out of the blue, and William was still thinking about the little thief. “I didn’t. It was just a guess.” William hadn’t meant to say that last part. It came out because of the suddenness of the question.
“What did you base your guess on, Monsieur—” Renault looked down at his notes. “—William Deforest? Sir William? A member of the Anglish gentry?”
“Yes, Sir William Deforest. I’m a gentleman adventurer.”
Captain Renault rolled his eyes and William felt his cheeks heat.
“And what brings you to Casablanca, Sir William?”
“Just passing through, Captain, on our way to southern Africa and the temple of Symbaoe.”
Renault nodded sagely. “And why are you still here? The Angola left yesterday, and it will be a week before the next airship arrives.”
“Well, It was all my fault I’m afraid, Captain. Tom here got caught on the Angola because I was a bit short of cash, and, well, that caused more problems and while we were straightening them out, the Angola left without us.”
The interview continued and Captain Renault got quite a bit out of both William and Tom, switching back and forth and occasionally switching subjects. Willian did manage to avoid mentioning that he remembered the captain and the crooked roulette wheel from the movie, but in the process he apparently left the captain with the impression that he was a clairvoyant of some sort. Which got him banned from Rick’s and every other casino in Casablanca for the remainder of his stay.
“And, Sir William,” Captain Renault ended with a half-smile of his own, “when the next airship leaves, whatever the complications, be on it.” And there was no smile left at all by the time the captain finished saying that.
“William, really,” Alan said. “This is the hinterlands. When will you learn to behave? You’ve gotten us thrown out of several places since I’ve known you, but Casablanca?”
“Apparently they don’t approve of any one but the police killing off their thieves. At least, that was the impression I got from Captain Renault. Also, the only reason I’m not in the gaol is that I’m Anglish gentry, and he doesn’t want the political headache in detaining me.”
Tom snorted. He was sitting at a table, going over William’s new pulse gun with a magnifying glass and cleaning fluids. “If it had been me shoving the knife in, I’d be in the hole, that’s sure and certain.”
Alan looked over at Tom. “Well, both of you, stay out of trouble. We have six more days until we can catch the next airship. And if either of you gets arrested again, I’ll not be paying your bail.”
Interlude 3—Vampire Huntress
Location: Goldman house
Time: Jan 02, Merge Plus 3
Evan Von, aka Elronmesa of Amonre leaned back in the chair so that it was balanced on the back legs. He shook his head and said, “I won’t be bailing you out.” Elronmesa was a half-elf wizard and acrobat.
“I did not ask you to,” Sandy said.
“I won’t bail you out either, Sandy,” Bill said. “In fact, I will testify for the prosecution at your trial for premeditated murder.”
“Me too.” Leroy Johnson leaned forward across the table. Placing his left hand on its surface, he lifted his right hand with one finger extended. “First, we don’t know for certain that Alice Blake merged with Jane Alexander. Yes, it’s likely, given what we know, but it’s not certain.” He extended a second finger. “Second, even if she did, we don’t know that the curse came across.” He wiggled the second finger. It was a perfectly normal finger, but before the Merge it had been missing its tip. “The Merge cured my hand, and from all reports it cured pretty much any disease anyone who merged had. People were popping up from persistent vegetative states all over the world three nights ago. There is no reason to believe that it didn’t cure vampirism.”
Sandy put both hands on the table and leaned across it to put her face a bare foot from Leroy’s. “Vampirism is a curse, not a disease. The vampire is a corpse animated by a demon.”
“Not according to the Vampire Compendium IV. It’s a disease, granted with aspects of a curse, but at least part disease.”
“Which might well make it worse. Leaving the vampire with all the strengths, but without the weaknesses natural to their kind.”
“And third even if she is a vampire with the disease, she is still a human being entitled to all the rights of any other person.”
“And what of her victims’ rights after she has turned them into her slaves or sucked their blood to sate her unnatural appetite?”
Evan Von let the chair fall forward to the upright position. “I imagine you won’t respect those either. Look, Sandy, I know you’re suffering from delusions of righteousness since the Merge. I’ll even concede that the fact that you seem to have caught a mental aberration from your player character indicates that it’s at least possible Alice Blake did too. But we don’t know that she did. She may not be a vampire, and even if she is a vampire, she may be a perfectly nice vampire, who’s living off cow’s blood and perhaps an arrangement with the local blood bank.
“We have no right to act against her if that’s the case. And even if it’s not, we aren’t the cops. And you know as well as I do that the reason you want to do this yourself is because you’re afraid that if the cops do go after her, it will mean we get outed as merged.
“So here’s what I recommend. We have Leroy give her a call and find out if she merged. And especially if she merged with Jane Alexander, or if she played a game with someone else’s group. which is not beyond the realm of possibilities. And if it turns out she did merge with Jane, that still doesn’t necessarily mean she’s a vampire. The Merge may have cured her, leaving her with only the memory of being a vampire, and whatever else she gets out of merging with a twenty-something ninth-level party girl. If it turns out she is a vampire, we’ll talk about it again.”
Grudgingly, Sandy agreed.
Location: Roselli House, Houston, Texas
Time: Jan 02, Merge Plus 3
Alice Blake changed the bag of saline for Carl Roselli. He was asleep with no sign that he was about to vacate his body. The connection was there and the heightened senses. She’d had to more than double his intake of morphine over the last three days as the bond and the increased effect on his sensory input had formed just as they were supposed to, but the agony and confusion hadn’t happened. It was that agony, that utter distrust of all sensory input, that forced the spirit from the body. Alice was now convinced of it. Just pain wasn’t enough, else the cancer and cutting off his pain killers would have done the job.
Alice went back to her chair and carefully put her body in a comfortable position. Then she stepped out of her body and assumed Jane Alexander’s form, complete with the pearl-encrusted ball gown that Jane was buried in. She returned to his sleeping form and, using her connection, examined him.
She could tell which were cancer cells, Alice was almost sure that she could. They were the most active, most alive, cells in his body. In the last three days she had learned that she could feed off Carl’s life force at will. That decreased the amount of blood she needed, but increased the amount Carl needed in the form of intravenous feeding. She was just about ready to do an experiment when her cell phone rang. Not the room phone, her cell.
She picked up and saw it was Leroy Johnson. Sighing, she answered and heard Leroy’s voice. “Hey, Alice. I’m calling to see how you’re doing?”
“I’m fine.” There was a pause.
“Alice, are you there?”
“Yes, of course, I’m here.”
Another pause than Leroy apparently talking to someone else. “She answered, but I’m not hearing her. Wait. There’s a beeping in the background. Can’t be the phone.”
Alice hung up. Because in that moment, through a combination of Jane’s memories and what she had read in the Vampire Compendium IV, she knew what was happening. Vampires in projected form could be seen by anything living, but not in mirrors or, in all probability, by devices like cameras. And apparently their voices worked the same way. Heard by the living, but not picked up by microphones.
The question was, what should she do now. Get back in her body and call Leroy back? Call him back and say what? It was pretty clear he wasn’t alone. So probably Bill and Evan were there. But were they Bill and Evan or Sir William Deforest and Alan van Helsing? Did they want to talk or drive a stake through her heart?
She looked at her body, then over at Carl. The thing about Carl was he was a bit of an asshole, but he was a smart asshole, at least in terms of business and law. He was just the guy to give her advice. If she could get him into a condition so that his pain wasn’t clouding his mind.
What had been a slow, careful project was now urgent. With resolve, she walked back over to Carl’s bedside and, using the link between them, reached in and fed off his cancer cells. She ate their life. They didn’t die. That was part of the magic. As long as the spell was in effect, Carl—and presumably his cells—could not die. Which Alice realized meant that chemo was no longer an option. But the cancer cells could go dormant, so after she fed off their life force, she forced those weakened cells to go to sleep.
It was the best she could do for now. At least the cancer wouldn’t grow.
Then she woke Carl and fed him some marijuana based brownies that a friend had smuggled in from Louisiana. They were a better option than the opiates, especially when it came to thinking clearly.
“I think we are going to need a lawyer,” was Carl’s response when she explained the situation. He must have seen something in her face, because he laughed. “Hey, there’s nothing illegal about being a vampire. We may even get a discount since now we’re blood-suckers too.
“Look, Alice. Lawyers are actually good about client confidentiality, especially when the confidential thing isn’t illegal. And, to the best of my knowledge, there is no law against being merged, being a vampire, or even sucking blood, as long as it’s consensual. Let me call my lawyer. She’s business law, but her firm will have criminal lawyers. And I can ask about the legal ramifications of the Merge and even about what happens if you merge with a bad guy like that chick on the news who merged with a bad elf.
“But first I’m gonna need a bed pan and some privacy.”
Half an hour later, the buzzer buzzed and Alice went back into Carl Roselli’s sick room. “Okay. I talked to my lawyer and she charged me triple for the after hours call, which is coming out of your pay by the way.”
“Take it out of the million dollar bonus you’re giving me for turning you.”
Carl laughed. “Not a chance, but we’ll deal with that later. For now, here’s what my lawyer says. There have been a lot of cases arising out of the Merge, but most of them haven’t gotten up to the appellate courts yet, much less the Supreme Court. So while the general trend is that you can’t discriminate based on the fact of the Merge or who you merged with, that could change. On the up side, there is, in fact, no law against being a vampire and no legal justification for staking you or even making you go out in the sunlight.” He held up a hand. “That doesn’t mean that some town clown won’t bust you for some made up charge and drag you out into the sunlight on your way to jail.”
That wasn’t good news. On the day after the Merge Alice had, as an experiment, put her arm in front of direct sunlight. It wasn’t quite like shoving her arm against a hot iron, but it was bad enough. Her best guess was that exposure to sunlight while in her body wouldn’t kill her, but it would damn sure hurt her.
“It also doesn’t mean that some nut job vigilante won’t stake you for the good of humanity. They might think you’re worse than abortion doctors—” He shrugged. “—or maybe not.
“In spite of that, my suggestion is that you fess up to Leroy and even agree to meet him. Make the meeting away from here and leave your body here. That will limit the damage they can do to you. Hell, go as Jane Alexander. Not just in projected form, but in Jane Alexander’s form, not Alice Blakes. You don’t want to encourage them to make a mistake. You want to keep this as non-adversarial as you can manage.”
Alice could take either Jane’s form or her own pretty much at will, but mostly from habit it was easier to go about as Jane. She called Leroy Johnson and admitted that she had merged with Jane Alexander, and that she was part vampire. “The disease didn’t come with the Merge. Just the magic.” She evaded on the subject of needing blood by saying, “I can feed off the life force that my body generates. It mostly means I need to eat more.”
Leroy sounded skeptical, but didn’t push the point. He did want to meet, and he confirmed that Bill had merged with Sir William, but Evan hadn’t merged with Alan van Helsing.
Location: Papa Joe’s BBQ, Houston, Texas
Time: Jan 03, Merge Plus 4
On Carl’s advice she wasn’t here alone. She was with Lionel Mercader, a lawyer from the law firm he used. It wasn’t his lawyer. This one specialized in personal injury and criminal law.
He opened the door and followed her in. Papa Joe’s was in south Houston, only a few minutes from Leroy’s house. And as it turned out, Leroy wasn’t alone either. Evan was there, and so was Bill, along with a woman in a severe dress.
They clearly didn’t recognize her as Jane Alexander. Just the description from the game wasn’t a lot to go on and she wasn’t dressed in the pearl-encrusted burial gown, but in a pantsuit. She walked over to the table and said, “Hello, Leroy, Evan, Bill,” giving each a nod. “I’m Alice Blake and this is Mr. Lionel Mercader, my attorney.” She waved at Lionel, then looked at the woman at the table. “And who is this?”
“Dame Sandra of Corinth, Sword Virgin, and Knight Templar.” The woman gave a slight dip of the head, but like a martial arts bow, her eyes never left Alice.
Alice also noted that Bill winced when Sandra introduced herself. She thought Bill’s wife was named Sandy. Could she have merged? Then she remembered “sword virgin.” Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving guy. That whole hammed up murder attempt after they killed Rodric still rankled.
“Well, Evan, do you still want to stake me?” Alice asked.
“Not me,” Evan Von said, and his hand flicked at Sandra of Corinth. “But it might be better if everyone had a seat and we spoke about this in calmer tones.”
Once they were seated, Leroy asked, “Why are you here in projected form, Alice? Or is it Jane now?”
“It’s still Alice, though I am, of course, influenced by Jane’s memories and personality. But I’m sure you know what that’s like, Leroy. In fact everyone at this table knows what that’s like.”
“Not me,” Lionel Mercader volunteered. “But I am curious. I know about Alice’s merge but not about the rest of you. Well, I imagine that Sandra of Corinth is the player character. Who’s the player by the way? I don’t recognize you from Alice’s description of the game.”
Hesitantly they identified themselves.
“Thank you all. Now, Mr. Johnson, you called this meeting. What did you want to talk about?”
“She is a vampire,” Sandra said.
“Not entirely. Besides, being a vampire is not a crime. And in any case, Ms. Blake didn’t volunteer to be a vampire.”
“It’s not about blame,” Leroy said. “It’s about public safety.”
“As I am sure many would say about all the merged. About each of you.” Lionel Mercader paused, looking around the table, then focusing on Bill and Sandra, added, “And, I dare say, your children as well. There was a report today about a teenage boy named Kenneth Harper. It was flashed all over social media that he had merged with a vampire. That boy was murdered, a stake driven through his heart.” He looked around the table again. “My client has no desire to be murdered, because someone finds out that she merged with a vampire. No more than Kenneth Harper did. No more than you or your children do. Everyone merged is in danger from unreasoned fear. You folks don’t want to increase that danger. And in this case, there is no reason to.”
They talked some more and it was pretty sure that Leroy, Bill, and Evan were willing to live and let live. But Sandra of Corinth . . . not so much.
Alice, of course, didn’t eat, because the only thing she could consume in projected form was blood. But she did order a doggy bag of ribs and potato salad.
As they were getting ready to leave, Alice asked, “So Bill, what do you think is going on with Sir William?”
“Assuming that Alan paid off the cabbie, we ought to be in Casablanca or maybe headed into Central Africa.”
“So you don’t think that getting your memories will have changed things?”
Bill considered. “Maybe if I, ah, William, can convince Alan that he’s not possessed and that the memories mean Jane isn’t a demon. But I wouldn’t count on that.”