IX. The Fearless Vampire Killer

Under the moon, Baron Rovenmare paced the ramparts near his tower. His research on the spectral Rider proved as fruitless as he feared it would. Every clue misled him. He followed every thread to the inevitable loose end. Necromancy rarely failed him, but the dead told him no more than the living in this unhappy case. Nor had he discovered any trace of Katia since he learned she was a vampire. The Rider, so expert at concealing his own identity and whereabouts, had to be hiding her as well.

Rovenmare frowned, and considered how he might proceed.

A bell tolled across the chasm. It was the bell visitors rang for admission to the castle. He wondered who it could be. Count Volfric made a point of impaling anyone who rang it frivolously.

The machinery of the drawbridge rumbled. The portcullis rattled up.

Rovenmare returned to his tower. As he expected, a servant arrived shortly with a summons from the Count.


Volfric waited in a chamber where he often conducted affairs of state. He sat in a chair specially constructed to support his gargantuan form. He held in one hand a partially-devoured whole roast pig, and with the other he guzzled wine from a bucket. He belched.

Rovenmare bowed. "My lord."

"Have a drink. We have a visitor."

At a table laden with decanters, Rovenmare filled a goblet with sambuca. "Who?"


"Ah. The vampire slayer."

"The very same. I've heard a thing or two about the man. What do you say?"

Rovenmare took the seat to Volfric's left, and arranged himself in it with skeletal grace. He'd also heard a thing or two about Baptiste. "What's his business?"

Volfric laughed. "Something about a vampire."

Rovenmare ignored Volfric's obtuseness, and pondered the implications of Baptiste's sudden arrival. He wondered if it might have anything to do with Katia. He sipped his sambuca, and said with careful nonchalance, "I thought you slew them all."

"Not here. In Gorna."

"Gorna?" Rovenmare recognized the name. A village on the far edge of Wungoria. He tried to recall what he'd read about it.

"Well?" Volfric said.

"Let's hear what he has to say."

Volfric rang, and sent for Baptiste.

The servant said, "My lord, he refuses to disarm."

"We'll conduct ourselves with manners, even if he won't." Volfric bit off another hunk of pig flesh. With his mouth full, he said, "Show him in, arms and all."

Volfric stood. He set the pig on a platter, and wiped his right hand on his leg.

Rovenmare rose. He smoothed his white robe.

Baptiste strode in. He still wore his wide-brimmed hat.

Rovenmare winced at the affront. He sensed a skip of Baptiste's heart at the first sight of Volfric, but the man displayed no outward reaction.

Volfric swallowed the mouthful he was chewing, and set his jaw in obvious displeasure. He extended a hand. "Welcome."

Instead of shaking it, Baptiste waved a casual salute. He hadn't removed his black armor gauntlets. Silver spikes protruded from the knuckles.

"Yes, well, joining us is the Baron Rovenmare." Volfric motioned with his outstretched hand.

Baptiste looked at Rovenmare. "The necromancer. Not the first time he's come to my attention."

"You'll at least do us the courtesy," Volfric growled, "of taking off your hat." He indicated a chair for Baptiste, and resumed his own seat.

"I've done you a courtesy by coming here at all." Baptiste took off the hat. He tossed his long black hair with brazen vanity, which was also apparent in the grooming of his mustache and goatee. "Were it up to me, I wouldn't have. My Superior insisted." He perched on the edge of the seat as well as he could without removing sword or dagger.

"Please convey my gratitude to your Superior," Volfric said. "As a courtesy to him, I won't hoist you on that sword you're wearing in my presence."

Rovenmare would have loved to see that. He despised Volfric's superstitious deference to anyone connected with the Church. Almost always, the poor fools were so intimidated that they deferred entirely to him, but every once in a while someone like Baptiste came along and proved just how much Volfric would tolerate from them.

Servants wheeled in a cart laden with hot roast beef, hens, potatoes, breads, apples, wild mountain berries, and bottles of wine.

"Here we are!" Volfric forced a more relaxed and pleasant tone. "Please, take some refreshment."

"Thank you. I will." Baptiste slipped off his gauntlets. From a pouch in his cloak, he pulled out a piece of old, dried, salted meat, which he proceeded to chew.

Volfric glowered. He took a long drink from the bucket. "Now then, how can I help you?"

"A vampire plagues the village of Gorna. My Superior is mindful of the delight you take in sporting with the evil creatures."

Rovenmare smirked at Baptiste's sanctimony.

"And so," Baptiste went on, "he directed me to ask your leave before I slay it."

Rovenmare whispered to Volfric, "May I handle this?"

"He represents the Church, mind you."

"Yes, yes."

"My dear Baptiste," Volfric said, "Baron Rovenmare oversees all matters of this sort for me. He'll negotiate the terms of your request. Good night." He slurped the last of his wine, dropped the bucket, and left.

Rovenmare went to the bar and refilled his goblet. "Won't you have a drink? Or help yourself to something from the cart?"

"I never dine with devils," Baptiste said. "Nor drink with them."

"Even if you didn't come with a request, young man, you forget your manners. Nevertheless, I'd like to show you something. If you would, please, follow me."

"Follow you where?"

"Oh, come now. If I meant you any harm, you'd already be dead." Rovenmare smiled. "Or worse. I only want to show you something. And perhaps ask you a favor of my own."

"What favor?"

"Follow me, and you'll know."

Rovenmare led Baptiste through the castle to his tower.

"Amazing," Baptiste said, looking up at it. "White--the color of purity, light, goodness, God. Somehow, you make it evil."

"What I do," Rovenmare said, "is strive for a purity far above anything your stupid, vulgar faith could ever comprehend. But let's not quarrel. I can't wait for you to see this."

They ascended to the pool chamber.

Baptiste shook his head at the pool and the skeletons submersed within, lining its sides. "So. You brought me here to flaunt the horrors of your art. This has got to be the most unholy abomination I've ever seen. Well, you know who I am. You know how I must respond." He crossed himself, then whipped his sword out.

"I also know your secret." Rovenmare didn't, actually, but he knew Baptiste must have one. His kind always did. The pool would reveal it. Rovenmare smiled and pointed. "Look again."

The water turned volcanic red. Rovenmare stepped back. It meant Baptiste held his secret with a shame beyond measure. Where Rovenmare expected a single scene to play over the surface of the pool, many scenes turbulently crowded and displaced each other like boiling bubbles. At a glance they looked identical, but as Rovenmare studied them, he saw the differences. In every one, Baptiste made horrid love to a staked female vampire. The women lay unmoving, their heads and limbs haphazardly at the lifeless angles of fallen puppets. Their faces expressed grisly mixtures of terror, anguish, agony, and hatred. In contrast to their dead stillness, Baptiste raged between their legs. The frothing ferocity of his grimace was positively bestial, almost demonic.

At the pool's edge, Baptiste groaned as if he'd been war-hammered in the stomach. The sword clattered to the floor. He paled, and collapsed to his knees.

Suddenly worried that Baptiste would vomit or faint into the pool, Rovenmare banished the visions. It was all he could do not to mock with a question like, "Don't you have a vow of chastity?", but prudence dictated restraint. "There, there," he said. "Your secret's safe with me. Now, let's have a civilized discussion, shall we?"

Baptiste stared blankly at the water.

Rovenmare summoned an image of Katia, the one supplied by the spirit of Volfric's child.

Lust seized Baptiste. He made no effort to hide it.

"Her name is Katia," Rovenmare said. "I suspect she might be the vampire in Gorna. If she is, you are not to destroy her. Bring her here to me. To me, you understand?"

Baptiste looked up. His face twisted in a question he couldn't speak aloud.

"I don't care what else you do to her," Rovenmare said. "Indulge yourself to your foulest heart's desire. But I have questions before she's done away with. Urgent questions of the utmost importance. I repeat--if she's the one, you bring her here to me. Don't cross me on this, or I'll install you in my pool." He stabbed a finger at the skeletons below.

"If she's not . . . ?"

It irked Rovenmare to hear no fear in Baptiste's voice. The man acquiesced because he was off-guard and demoralized, not cowed.

"Then by all means, destroy the filthy thing. She's the only one I want. Do we understand each other?"

Baptiste nodded.

"I'll be watching," Rovenmare said. "Now take your damned sword and get out."


Katia paced the roof of her tower. She stopped at the edge of the crater-like hole, and let her gaze fall through it.

Things were different with the villagers. The baby's disappearance broke their trust in her. They didn't dare mention it, and pretended things were normal, but she sensed how much they feared and loathed her now.

Things were different with Wendoline, as well. Katia said nothing about the baby's sacrifice, or what it cost her with the villagers, but she'd broken off all intimate relations. Wendoline, in turn, trained her harder, with a regimen that bordered on punishment.

Katia welcomed the rigor, and pushed herself to meet it. She thought of all those centuries Wendoline frittered away, waiting for a chance to strike. Katia meant to be ready as soon as possible. She'd have her vengeance and be done with it.

She looked forward to her coming test against Baptiste, whom Wendoline called the greatest living vampire slayer.

"Make no mistake," Wendoline said, "though he's only human, he's perfectly at home in our night-world. If you don't fight in deadly earnest, he will defeat you. And if that happens--well, we've already discussed that."

Katia took every opportunity to study him in the mirror. Wendoline also told her much, having kept an eye on him since he distinguished himself as a vampire slayer years ago.

Katia blinked, back to the present. Her gaze had settled naturally on the largest object on the floor below--the altar. The sight of it filled her with memories, rage, and confusing feelings she hated to acknowledge.

Without thinking, she touched her mole, another reminder of what she'd been through. She couldn't do anything about that. But the altar . . .

She reached out with the power she'd received on it, and began to levitate it off the floor. She tested how fast she could raise it. It hurtled up through the tower. She brought it directly before her, and held it there, hovering.

Just a block of stone, and yet her emotions roiled at its nearness.

Seeing Volfric in the mirror, breaking slabs of the stone circle with his enormous bare fists, had terrified her, but now she wondered if she could match it. She'd never put her undead strength to a trial quite that stark.

Her talons made it awkward to form a fist. Wendoline trained her to punch with the heel of her palm instead, and made it a regular part of her drills. "I know you like your claws," Wendoline said, "but sometimes brute force will serve you better. If you can't slash it, smash it!"

Katia drew back and took aim--not at the altar, but through it, as Wendoline always emphasized.

She roared and struck. Her strength and the honed precision of the blow broke the block to pieces. She let the rubble fall. The sound of it raining and crashing to the ground made her smile.

Reassuring as that was, Wendoline insisted Baptiste was dangerous, and Katia resolved not to underestimate him. She needed a plan, a strategy. She knew he was coming. She knew some things about him. Crossing to look out across the plain toward the village, she leaned on a battlement, chin in her hands, and began turning over in her mind this or that surprise she might prepare to her advantage.


Baptiste hid behind a tree, too ashamed for even Luke, his trusty white steed, to see him. The image of Katia smoldered in his mind. He furiously polluted and abused himself until his seed splatted to the ground, utterly wasted, an abomination unto the Lord. He never used to commit Onan's sin, but since departing Castle Volfric, he stopped often to relieve himself in this manner, each time vowing he never would again.

The aftermath of his emission left him exhausted, as always. Strange, that a spasm so strictly isolated in his loins should weaken him all over.

He remounted Luke and resumed his journey through the night.

Lassitude and melancholy sapped his will. Guilt and shame dragged him down into a slough of despond. In the depths of his heart, something waited. Not the secret. Rovenmare already broke him on that wheel. This was something older.

A story.

When Baptiste was a child, his mother told a foolish tale about a foolish young man who wanted only one thing in life--to learn how to shiver. The young man faced and overcame many frightful tests. He even won a princess for his bride, but wasn't satisfied until the night she surprised him in bed by dumping a bucket of cold water and minnows all over him. "Ah!" the young man cried, shivering and happy. "Now I know what shivers are!"

Baptiste hated the tale. It made no sense to him then, and didn't still, but it took root in him somehow, and stayed with him over the years. In it, he saw a warped, jeering reflection of himself. Like the young man, he was fearless, but he bristled at the tale's equation of that with foolishness. Like the young man, he defeated horrors others couldn't face, but the young man scorned such triumphs and yearned for something ridiculous instead. Like the young man, he never shivered, but he didn't wish to, and resented the implication that he should. Though he couldn't have said why, what outraged and disgusted him more than anything was the way the tale ended.

He shook his head, and turned his thoughts again to Katia. Her image enthralled him and drove him on to Gorna. If he didn't find her there, he'd keep looking. It wasn't about slaying her in God's name any longer, if it ever was. By that standard, he should have slain Rovenmare. In all his years, he'd never seen such a monster--worse by far than Katia, he'd wager. And Volfric was worse still. What a fitting ruler for this evil land. But Baptiste no longer pretended to a holy mission. Rovenmare stripped him of that illusion. Now it was nakedly about sating his degraded and degrading lust this one last time.

He didn't know where he'd go after that. He couldn't possibly continue with the Order. The thought of facing his Superior made him ill. He simply wouldn't do it. He'd disappear. Just like his father.

His father.

Baptiste smiled bitterly. So at last it came to this. He really was too much his father's son.

He heard something, then. Voices . . . singing?

His mind cleared at once. He realized how close he must be to Gorna. He sat up straighter, and strained to hear over the clop of Luke's hooves. The voices were raised in an old harvest song. They didn't sound joyful at their work. They had a hollow, doomed quality he'd heard many times, in those who languished under bondage to a vampire.

He slowed Luke to a walk while he cranked the string back on his crossbow and loaded a wooden bolt into the groove.

Apart from the strangeness of a nocturnal harvest, it occurred to Baptiste that no crop should be ready. He looked with sudden alarm at the surrounding fields of rye, unnaturally tall and ripe out of season. A single word formed in his mind: witchcraft. He'd never faced a vampire who practiced it. He wondered if he would tonight.

He rode within sight of the harvesters, a weird tableau under the moon. None looked up, even when he drew alongside them on the road. He scrutinized them from under the wide brim of his hat. In their pinched faces and rusty motions, he saw the shadow of despair. They weren't vampires, but a vampire had been at them, every one. That she hadn't killed them could only mean one thing: she not only drank their blood, but used them to gratify her fiendish lusts. So many men--it shocked him, what a filthy slut she was. He clenched his jaw in grim anticipation of his time with her.

He waved. "Hail, fellows!"

They stopped singing and glared at him.

"Quite a crop, this time of year," he said.

The nearest man said, "A spot of luck for once."

"Luck? Luck grows rye like this?"

Murmurs rumbled through the men.

The speaker approached, pitchfork in hand. He eyed Baptiste's armor and weapons. "Listen, friend, I don't know who you are or what business--"

"I'm Baptiste. Perhaps you've heard of me. I've heard of your vampire. My business is to slay her. Judging from this rye, there's a witch among you, too."

"One and the same," the man said, wary, but less hostile. "One and the same."

So the vampire was a witch. She gave herself up in fornication to the Devil, like the very Whore of Babylon. Lust! Baptiste's fingers, sweaty in the armor gauntlets, itched to probe her body for witch-marks.

That she'd grow crops for the living was unusual, but not unheard of. He'd seen bargains between vampires and their prey, just never on the scale of a whole village. A whole village--as he absorbed that idea, he wondered aloud, "What of your priest?"

"We've not seen him lately."

"You don't sound sorry."

"His God--your God--never cared for us like this!" The man waved at the rye.

Baptiste made a derisive, spitting noise. These people knew what a wretched price they paid, and he was in no mood for a theological debate. "Tell me her name." He shifted in the saddle, impatient to move on.


"Cheer up. You'll be free of her by morning."

They looked frankly doubtful and more hopeless than before.

Baptiste spurred Luke and raced to meet his last vampire. How fitting that she'd be the most beautiful, and most dangerous as well. Thoughts of witchcraft, terrible and thrilling, rushed through his mind. A quieter concern pulsed beneath. He didn't fear defeat. He worried he'd have to decapitate her. That was how he slew male vampires, because it was easiest and he had no reason not to. Staking was more difficult and risky, but he preferred female vampires with their heads on. He'd taken his pleasure from headless ones before, but with Katia, that wouldn't do.

If worse came to worst and he cut her head off, at least she could be restored, so long as he didn't burn the parts. He didn't know how to restore a vampire, but Rovenmare would. Of course, Rovenmare had his own intentions for Katia, and wasn't the sort to do favors out of kindness. Baptiste hated the thought of asking him for anything, and knew it would cost dearly, but resolved to do it if he had to.

He came to the village, a silhouette of gables and chimneys against the starry sky. He decided to go first to the church, to search the rectory for anything informative or useful the missing priest may have left behind. He steered Luke in the direction of the steeple, down a gingerbready street of half-timber buildings. Hearth fires gleamed in faint orange lines through shutter slats. The only real light fell from the moon. Luke's steps echoed in the quiet, narrow lane. Baptiste held the crossbow ready.

As he rode along, he had an idea. If he asked Rovenmare for anything, why not ask for everything? He didn't want just one time with Katia. He wanted to keep her for himself, always, to take again and again as often as he pleased. He wouldn't be returning to the Order, so why not? He could retire to some remote, abandoned dwelling--he knew of several from his travels--and keep her in the cellar. She'd be a worthy secret, his and only his. She'd never grow sick or fat or old. She'd be desirable forever. And she'd never bear him children, so he'd never sire a bastard. He wanted to control her. He wanted her to love him. Oh yes, he'd sell his soul for that. Could Rovenmare grant such a wish? Baptiste would ask. It no longer mattered whether he beheaded her or not. What he wanted of her now went far beyond that question, and he'd pay any price for it.

"Baptiste," a female voice called from above.

He heard in that voice the telltale huskiness, eerie and seductive, imparted by death and the grave. He snapped the crossbow to his shoulder, aiming. An instant's glance--glowing red eyes, the flash of fangs--confirmed the figure on the rooftop as a vampire. He fired at the heart.

She used her cape as a shield. Absurdly, it stopped the bolt. She thrust her hand at him in a sorcerous gesture.

He tossed aside the crossbow and whipped a crucifix up. The spell meant for him struck it like lightning. It softened and squished in his armored fist. He looked. He held a toad. He'd squeezed its guts out its mouth.

"Ugh!" He threw it away.

Katia laughed. "Ah well, that would have been too easy. You're welcome for the warning."

Baptiste blushed. Evidently she expected him--through some form of divination, he supposed--and could have caught him unawares. He knew vampires well enough to feel no gratitude. She only warned him to toy with him. Gazing up at her, he looked forward to making her regret it.

Perched atop the gable's peak, she was both more frightful and lovelier than the image from the pool. A breeze ruffled her wild black hair and cape. Her claws looked murderously sharp. Her nude, slim, pale body was a vision in the flesh of everything he craved. One of her boots sported the skin of a hideous face.

"I know why you're here," she said.

He smiled at his new plans for her, and drew a wooden stake. "You don't know the half of it."

"No," she said, "you don't know the half of it."

Something stirred ahead in the darkness of an alley.

Baptiste couldn't peer at it without taking his eyes off Katia. He eased Luke backward, to get out from under her and gain a better vantage.

"You think you're here for me," she said.

A male figure slouched into view, though still obscured by shadows.

Baptiste guessed it was the priest, reduced by Katia to a vampire or, more likely, a walking corpse. Not much of a surprise, and certainly not the nastiest ever thrown at him. "Like I said, you don't know--"

The figure shambled fully into moonlight. It looked nothing like Baptiste expected. It wore no priestly garb. It had decayed almost to bits. Worst of all, it struck an uncomfortably familiar chord in him. Despite a tightening knot of dread in his stomach, he forced himself to study the half-rotted face. One eye was nothing but a socket of dried goo, but in the one that hadn't completely putrefied, he detected a flicker of intelligence and soul. As he fixed on it, it swiveled to meet his gaze. In that instant, through the film that blighted it, the eye betrayed an astonishing maelstrom of emotions--shame, guilt, mournfulness, profound humiliation, and a strangely personal hatred.

"That," Katia said, "is why you're here."

The shock of recognition rocked Baptiste. He couldn't find the voice to say, "Father!"

Katia leaped down behind the corpse. She put her boot in its back, and shoved it forward onto hands and knees. "Finding him wasn't easy. You're welcome again." She pronounced an incantation. Her fingers wove a spell over the pitiful form.

A groan erupted from the worm-eaten throat, tongue, and lips. The arms elongated--a sickening sight that conjured visions of the rack. Not all the skin stretched. Some ripped with a dusty pop. The legs straightened. The hands and feet gnarled to stumps, and hardened into hooves. The torso lengthened. Bulges rippled through the flesh, pushing and molding it. The grate of bones formed a horrid counterpoint to the gurgle of bubbling meat. Every metamorphic burst spurted the stench of decay into the air. Black fur sprouted wherever skin remained. The nose and jaw thrust forward into a muzzle. Two bumps rose on the forehead. Points punctured through. They grew, branched, and twisted into antlers. The one good eye ignited as a red orb of hellfire. Where Baptiste's father knelt, a demonic corpse stag now pawed the ground.

Katia sprang up on its back, her own hellfire eyes blazing. "Now we're even, in a way. You've met my father, too."

Through a haze of stunned horror, Baptiste barely heard her words. They made no sense to him. "What?"

"Count Volfric. My father. I'm a bastard just like you. Hyaa!"

The stag blasted smoke from its nostrils, and charged.

Baptiste chucked the stake.

Katia thrashed it aside with her cape.

The stag speared its antlers into Luke, goring the noble steed ferociously enough to lift him off the ground.

Thrown from the saddle, Baptiste looped through the air to crash flat on his back. The impact slammed the breath out of him.

The stag bellowed, Luke screamed, and Katia cackled as he lay there fighting to suck wind. He heard a staccato of wet thunks. When he struggled to his elbows, he saw the stag stamping and trampling Luke. Blood gooshed where the hooves pierced the hide. Katia goaded the monster on to wilder fury. It bit off and swallowed a hunk from Luke's side.

Baptiste wheezed in, out, in. "Oh God, Luke."

The stag--his father--leered at him with that demon eye, and devoured the flesh of the only living thing he cared about.

His sword had fallen just out of reach. He lurched to seize it.

Katia noticed him on his feet. She drove the stag to charge. Pounding toward him, it radiated in purest form all the bitterness, rage, resentment, and disgust for him his father never entirely concealed all those years ago.

The clarity seared and cauterized even as it severed a diseased and swollen growth within Baptiste--the burden he'd carried all his life of a conflicted, sentimental longing for his father. Whatever her intentions, Katia was right. This was exactly what he sought, and the reason he was here.

The lowered antlers hurtled toward him.

He lunged out of the way. He yelled and swept the sword around, cleaving the stag's head off at a single stroke.

The light died in the eye. The head turned human before it hit the ground, and disintegrated before it stopped rolling. The body tripped and tumbled, reverting and crumbling to dust. Katia was nowhere to be seen.

Emotion jolted Baptiste, too strong and raw to name. From the top of his head, descending through his body, his muscles untensed in a pattern that felt like iron bands loosening. A new ease and freedom flowed through him, but also a disturbing softness.

He couldn't think about that now. He knew what came next. Vampires loved to pounce from behind. He set himself for it.

She jarred him harder than most. If he hadn't pushed off on one heel, if he weren't pivoting already, if he hadn't done this hundreds of times, if it weren't second nature, she'd have flattened him on his face. He barrel-rolled with her to land on top. The sword plunged through her heart with the momentum she supplied. She howled in shock and pain--but a sword was not a stake.

She bit his neck. He swore and jerked away. His sword made a poor cane in the dirt road, but it helped him stagger up and gain some distance. Blood seeped under his chainmail, bathed his shoulder, and trickled down his back. He'd never been bitten before. His silver collar!--he always relied on it to protect his throat at such close quarters. His God-damned Superior made him take it off.

He turned to see a ragged piece of skin he'd left behind in Katia's teeth. She rose unsteadily, one hand clutching her wound, and tried to put on a brave face. She sucked the dangling ends into her mouth. She worked her jaws to squeeze out every drop of blood. Then she popped the morsel out on the point of a claw, and daintily flicked it in his direction.

He rushed her, slashing to decapitate.

Her hands flashed in a snaky motion. She caught and trapped the blade in her claws. Just like that, she snapped half the length off. He knew a practiced move when he saw one. Someone had trained and drilled her to do that. For an instant, she looked surprised it worked.

He smashed his spiked mail fist into her face.

She snarled through her blood. She raked to disembowel. Her claws clanged off his armor, sparking, knocking him back a step, but not cutting to flesh.

He swung the remnant of the sword. Whole, it would have lopped her head off. It still gashed half her neck open. Stolen blood rushed out. She dropped to one knee. The fire dimmed in her eyes, and the only thing that glowed in them was fear.

He stepped up, sword raised to finish her. He saw her hand moving, again aimed at his torso. He knew his armor could withstand her claws, and began to bring the sword down. Only she didn't rake this time. She punched with the heel of her palm.

Baptiste emerged from a daze, ears ringing, sore all over, on his back in a pile of rubble. The last thing he remembered was the blow, like a battering ram. His guts felt injured, perhaps mortally. He looked around. He was indoors. The wall before him--he must have crashed through it. Luckily, he struck the flimsy, white, wattle-and-daub panel, not one of the solid timbers that framed it. He wondered how long he was out, then saw the flicker of butterfly wings against the starry sky, and realized with a start it had only been a moment.

He flopped over and dragged himself deeper inside. He vomited blood, but kept crawling. He seemed to be in the inn. There were tables and benches, and stairs to an upper story. An old woman gaped at him from the bar.

He sensed the whisper behind him of Katia returning to human form. The metamorphosis would undo all his efforts. She'd be healed and whole, as if he never touched her. He prayed that would make her overconfident and careless.

He scrambled to the hearth, where he could arm himself with fire.

She spoke another incantation.

Thankful for his gauntlets, he reached for a burning log to heave at her. He saw a ripple in the flames--she must have invoked the hearth spirit--in time to jump back before they whooshed up.

The bar-matron screamed.

Desperation propelled Baptiste up the stairs. He kicked the first door open, and leaped to the window, crashing through the shutters. He landed badly in the street below, and hurt his ankle.

He scurried on hands and knees for poor Luke's carcass. If he could only reach the saddlebags . . .

Katia winged beside him as a butterfly, and transformed again to human. He resisted the pointless temptation to defend himself, and crawled faster. Inwardly, he cringed in expectation of the death-blow, but he wouldn't stop until she stopped him. From the corner of his eye, he watched her boots keep pace with him for one step, then another.

She said, "How do I compare to other vampires you've faced?"

"You're the fairest of them all."

She moved to block his path. He summoned his last reserves of strength to die fighting. But she tipped his chin up with her toe so their eyes met, and said, "As a warrior, I mean." Before he could think of anything to say, she leaned forward and asked, "How would you bet if I fought Volfric?"

"Volfric?" A vision of the monstrous Count flashed through Baptiste's mind. At Katia's feet like a beaten animal, gazing up into her burning eyes, he couldn't doubt her power and savagery, and yet, so close to her, he couldn't help noticing how small she was, how young and pretty she must have been in life. A glint drew his attention to the wedding ring she wore. So she'd been a bride. Whatever led to her death and resurrection as a vampire had to be tragic and wrong. If it involved Volfric--her father, she claimed--so much the worse. Rovenmare's interest in her boded worst of all.

A pang of compassion startled Baptiste. It was such a new sensation, it broke his train of thought. He didn't reject it immediately, but then he recognized in it the softness that came over him earlier. Fierce loathing roared through him for the weak, tender feeling. He scorned himself for feeling it.

"Well?" Katia said.

"I pray to God he slays you, you stinking, vicious whore!"

Her eyes turned darker scarlet.

"Was your husband not enough to sate your filthy lusts? You cast your marriage off in death, and spread your lust around to a whole village. You craved new lusts, more ghoulish and extreme." This recitation aroused him.

Katia still hadn't reacted.

He wasn't done yet, however. After a deep, painful breath, he shouted at her, "Now you lust for blood, the most perverted lust of all!"

She seized his belt and collar, hoisted him over to Luke, and slammed his face in the wound where the stag had eaten the flesh. His whole head plunged into the scalding pit of gore. Blood rushed up his nose, all the way into his mouth. He strained against Luke's body and fought to free his head. Her iron grip held him fast. He couldn't endure the taste of blood much longer on his tongue. Half-panicked, he blew to clear his nostrils. Thick bubbles tickled his cheeks. In a moment, he'd inhale, and there was nothing he could do.

She yanked his head out. "Seductive, isn't it? Can you feel the lust?"

He just managed to snort, splutter, and gasp before she forced his head back in.

He groped among the saddlebags. His fingers closed on a cloth pouch. Frantically, he whipped it up and shook it, praying it would open in Katia's direction.

She released him.

He pulled his head out and scrabbled backward, choking and gagging and trying not to vomit. He wiped his face with the tatters of his cloak.

Katia writhed on her back, coughing and blinking. She slapped at the light powder that dusted her hair, face, arms, and breasts. Baptiste couldn't smell, but it had to be the garlic. He hobbled back to Luke, and drew a stake from the quiver. He hopped toward Katia on his one good leg, genuinely astonished to still be alive, with victory in reach. He let himself fall forward, the stake aimed at her heart.

Despite the garlic and her agonized expression, her eyes widened in alarm. She cocked her knee up and back for a kick. Baptiste gazed directly upon the gates of carnal heaven he so dearly wished to enter. In that instant, her foot blurred into motion. The stake would never reach her heart. The inches it still had to travel might as well have been infinity. The heel of her boot smashed across his jaw, twirling him aside and twisting him face-up.

Everything went dark. He waited for his back to hit the ground.

Something stranger happened.

The armor and clothes dissolved off his body. He kept falling, naked, through empty black space. He feared he was dead and falling to Hell.

Two red eyes glowed above him. The gleam of fangs came next. Katia formed over him, straddling him as he dropped. She lowered her mouth to the wound on his neck. He hadn't the will to push her away.

When he ravished the other vampire women, a stake through the heart immobilized them. This was something new. Katia's cold, dead body, stretched on top of his, was animate and active as she sucked. Though he should have been impotent with horror, he hardened. She teased him, rubbing without taking him inside her. She lay flat on his chest, and over her shoulder, he watched her bottom move. He began to shift her cape aside, the better to see her. Through the fabric, a firm, round buttock bumped his palm. He wouldn't have thought he could stiffen any further, but he did.

"You whore," he moaned.

She sat up. "You should be happy. You wanted this, no? Not exactly? I know how you like it, but trust me, this is better." She aligned her crotch with his and slammed down hard, joining their bodies in one abrupt motion.

He opened his eyes as if waking from a dream, but only one thing changed--instead of falling through a featureless void, he and Katia soared among the stars above the village. She rode him like a witch rides a broomstick to a sabbat.

Every cunt Baptiste had known had been for him a still, calm grotto in which he could find release quickly or at leisure, exactly however he pleased. Katia's slimy, drooling quim engulfed his manhood to the root with no hope of escape. Constantly in motion, it squeezed and sucked more greedily than her mouth had sucked his blood. It assaulted him with a life all its own, and possessed the whole rest of her body as a slave to its purpose and will. To support its urgent demands, her hands, elbows, knees, and feet sought purchase and leverage all over him, and adjusted often to accommodate new angles, different depths, varied rhythms--whatever made the torment sweeter.

A dark, looming form rose into view off to the side. He looked to see the church's bell-tower, and realized they were descending. Instinctively, he glanced around. At first he thought they might land among the graves, but it soon became clear she'd lower him directly onto the churchyard's spiked iron fence. He wanted to struggle and shout, but his will deserted him as before, and he lay beneath her as helpless as all the vampire women he'd staked.

They paused to hover just above the spikes. He felt the points on the skin of his back.

Katia stopped moving. She made a visible effort to compose herself. She hadn't reached her crisis yet, and trembled on the verge of it. "You never answered me," she said, in a voice still quavery, but closer to normal. "So I'll ask again. Be honest! Me or Volfric--who would win?"


The spikes burst through his stomach, but the top cross-rail stopped his fall. The points only protruded an inch from the wounds, but his back almost snapped. The penetration spurted blood onto Katia's face and breasts.

She caught a glob on her finger, and lasciviously licked it off.

"You're wrong," she said. "Now then, where were we?" She rested her hands on his shoulders, and leaned some of her weight onto them. She began moving again.

He held his torso absolutely rigid against the strain on his spine. If he relaxed or lost control of his muscles in the slightest, she'd break him backward over the fence.

He hadn't long to wait before she was grinding down in earnest. Her cries melted into one continuous moan.

Suddenly her voice caught. She froze and tensed.

Baptiste couldn't imagine what might happen next--he could only dread it.

And then, from between her legs, a flood of chilly fluid gushed.

It was the most uncanny thing he'd ever felt. For the first time in his life, he shivered.


Jaakko said...


Nice fight, but I can't help feeling that it would've been stronger if Baptiste had been introduced to the story earlier. It's hard to care about his father issues when the guy has only been around for two chapters. But the use of the fairy tale was bloody brilliant, and your eye for details is still as sharp as ever :-)

Curt Purcell said...

Thanks Jaakko!--I share your concern about Baptiste, but I'm not sure what to do about it. There's really not an earlier point in the story where it would make much sense to introduce him, that I can see. I'll continue to think about it!

Jaakko said...

Yeah... I guess you could always create a massive side plot about Baptiste getting slowly corrupted by his lust to parallel Katia's own corruption, but that might be a bit of an overkill... I think some foreshadowing should be enough. At least the concept of professional vampire hunters would be good to mention earlier in the story.