a tale of clifford engram
“In racing, they say that your car goes where your eyes go. The driver who cannot tear his eyes away from the wall as he spins out of control will meet that wall; the driver who looks down the track as he feels his tires break free will regain control of his vehicle.”
― Garth Stein, The Art of Racing in the Rain
Looking out the window of Father Nosceti’s raggedy little church I could see the fog that heralded the arrival of the Night Train enshroud New York City. I was running out of time. Time is relative, or so the quote by Einstein went.
When you are with someone you love, time is fleeting, when you’re burning your hand on the stove, time goes on forever. I’ve also realized that when you are in the wrong, a second can seem like forever while you figure out how to make it right.
If your memory’s good, you remember Manny, my esteemed associate, who emptied his handgun into the surprising voice of a longtime enemy and the last person we expected to find in the office of a witness protection candidate, Father Nosceti. The voice belonged to a vampire, Albrecht Fleischer, whom I had hoped to never lay eyes upon again.
Manny’s response to Albrecht was completely understandable. Secretly, though I will never admit it, I would have loved to put seven or eight bullets into Albrecht myself but this was not the time, nor the place.
Granted, Albrecht did kill his extended family. And his reason was one of expedience, not because he was starving, or because there might be a reason which might make killing a man’s family understandable or acceptable in the right circumstances, a war, or because they were carriers of a deadly plague. He killed them because they were in his way. This was a scene about to get out of hand.
And I had about one second to put it down, before it spun completely out of control.
As the bullets dropped from Albrecht’s outstretched hand, I remembered they were our bullets. Marked, sealed and sigiled for flavor.
Manny and I have worked together for nearly fifteen years and one of the reasons I don’t carry a gun is because he does. No need to replicate what is already being done better by someone else was my thinking. I used my unique skill of channeling to take advantage of our teamwork.
Using my cane, I tapped it on the ground and I activated the runes on the bullets and each came to life a spear of light pinning the vampire to the floor as spikes of light cut through him.
In their current state, they wouldn’t hurt him because I didn’t want them to. This version of the spell is meant to only immobilize him. Giving me perhaps ten seconds to make this right.
Before I can say a thing, Father Nosceti finding the situation intolerable, boomed out a surprisingly powerful “Stop!”
Everyone was momentarily frozen in varying states of weapon readiness. The four bodyguards were in action, doors bursting open and very large caliber firearms swinging into place after the first rounds were fired.
The two in the room had already taken positions in front of Nosceti, ready to protect him from vampire, mage and mercenary alike.
Manny had already dropped his first clip and reloaded, determined to meet Albrecht’s charge with a gun in his hand. Knowing him like I do, this second clip was filled with something of a more vampire-killing nature.
By activating the light cage, I hoped to avoid any further escalation. It only would hold Albrecht for a minute.
“You are all my guests. Put your weapons away. Now.” Nosceti’s display of power, faded as he fell back to his chair coughing violently. His gift was his voice, a tool of seduction, coercion, and if necessary, mind control.
After his relocation into witness protection, all of the Agency’s operatives were rendered immune to its power. It had also been limited keeping him from utilizing it with the strength he had in his youth. In these close quarters, it was still quite effective.
“Remove your spell, or I will break your long bones, slowly sucking the marrow while you watch.” The vampire was already testing the limits of the light cage, but since part of it was formed from the bullets embedded in his flesh, he was pinned from within and without.
We used this spell when we have to return targets alive to headquarters, or when we need to make a barrier to aid in a hasty retreat. He wasn’t going to break it for another minute, no matter what he tried.
I pushed Manny’s gun down slowly and he seemed to return to something resembling sanity. His pathological hatred of vampires had saved our lives more times than I can count so I was willing to forgive this breach of protocol.
“Lord Fleischer, we beg your forgiveness. We were not aware you were a guest of Father Nosceti. I will release you at once.” Tapping my cane on the floor again, the light cage fell away and the vampire fell unceremoniously to the ground.
He stood up, brushed himself off as if nothing had happened. He reached up to his chest, plucking the remaining two bullets from his undead flesh and handed them to me as if he had just plucked a couple of flowers. “I demand blood tribute for this affront. His attack cannot go unpunished. Shall he be paying for it, Engram, or will you?”
“Is that necessary, in this time of crisis, Albrecht?” Nosceti had regained his composure, apparently surprised that the vampire would invoke the blood tribute for having been wronged. This was an Old World tradition, rarely used, and generally a thing done only between vampire leaders and their thralls.
As the room absorbed the request, everyone returned to their positions and Albrecht loomed over me, his Scandinavian heritage displayed in his height and build. His blond hair waved over his face, contorted with barely contained rage.
He was within his right and I had to balance our current needs over his pride. I could challenge it and delay it, but he would want need to escalate it making it a physical challenge which could end in death.
Now that I think about it. That may have been exactly what he wanted.
I didn’t have time for his petty revenge politics. “I will bleed for his sin.”
Manny immediately pushed his way between us. Being larger and more imposing Manny looked Albrecht in his eyes while he spoke, “No, boss. I can’t have you doing that. We might need you whole later.”
I am not going to pretend I am happy with what happened next. It was just another sign of a day going straight to Hell.
Albrecht finished pushing me to the side and before I could even protest had snapped his mouth on Manny’s neck and the sick popping sound accompanied his piercing of his flesh. His fangs slashed into his carotid artery and Manny’s body tensed up like he was being electrocuted. Part of the horror of the bite of the vampire is the conflicted emotions while you are in the throes of the event. The bite is an orgasmic event masking the horror of what is happening. But to make it worse, the victim knows they are dying, even while they are unable to resist, only adding to the energies absorbed by the vampire.
Vampires feed on the blood and the terror of the victim combining them in the form of a powerful magic infused into the flesh of the vampire. The older the vampire, the greater the spiritual energy bound within their flesh. Since most vampires are incapable of active magic use, they grow more powerful with age, increasing their supernatural abilities which can vary depending on their family bloodline.
Albrecht was also transfixed, his rock-hard vampiric form had become a statue, nearly-invulnerable, a self-defense mechanism against several different vampire predators known to attack them since they are immobile during feeding. Vampires may be an apex predator in their own shard but the ecosystem of their world is as durable and dangerous as they are.
I twisted my cane on the floor, grinding its hardened tip into the wood. The teak, alive in my hand responded to my emotional state, and had begun storing my excess emotional energy, weaponizing it for potential use. I was already rolling the two bullets Albrecht gave back to me in my hand, connecting the flesh and the viscera which he was so kind to provide to me, to a powerful spell. One strong enough to kill him dead, if I wanted it to.
And maybe if I didn’t.
My spell would turn him into ash. And there wouldn’t be anything he could do about it. But that was only because he had given me his viscera-covered flesh on the bullets. Without them, his natural damage resistance would make him one of the most dangerous supernatural creatures on Earth, after angels or demons, with werewolves pulling into third place.
So your next question is likely to be why isn’t the world overrun with these terrifying and frightening undead supermen?
Vampire propagation is limited by two things. The first was, to make a new vampire, you had to have a willing subject. Part of the magic of creating vampires is tapping into the spiritual void within a soul. The greater void, the more powerful the vampire childe.
This means people who don’t want to become vampires, don’t believe they can become vampires, or simply refuse to embrace the darkness will not become a vampire even if their sire wants them to.
This means the creation of a childe is is not taken lightly, and each potential candidate is screened carefully. They have to be willing, sane and not so void obsessed that they go berserk in a few years and end up attacking their sire’s holdings, killing the help, destroying their house and maybe even attacking and killing their sire. The void was the source of a vampire’s power.
The second and riskier proposition was that creating a new vampire caused a profound weakness in the sire. A prolonged weakness that cannot be overcome until their child is secured spiritually. The sire creates a spiritual connection with their child and during this time a vampire is weakened and easily attacked.
Most vampires have to be surrounded by loyal acolytes whom they can trust during this period of vulnerability and usually go into seclusion when they find a worthy candidate.
The final word on vampire reproduction is the leadership of the Councils of the Red Watch. With the controls set by the Council, creating a new vampire cannot be done unless a vampire is destroyed.
They are a zero-population species. They rigidly control their numbers because even with such limitations, it could be possible for them to overpopulate an area in a matter of a few generations devastating the human population. But long before that happened, human fear would cause them to find the vampires during the day when they have none of their abilities and kill them. Historical record attested to this.
I knew Albrecht was taking his time, trying to cause as much fear as possible. At the rate, the average vamp draws blood, a pint a minute or so if they are trying to be neat or to extend suffering. It’s been two minutes.
Two and a half. Nosceti is staring at me. Intently. I realized why in a second. My cane was beginning to glow. I was so intent on my watch, I had lost track of my cane and its absorption of my crazy. At two minutes and forty-five seconds. I began to change my grip on cane. As I picked it up off the floor, all four guards drew down on me. I didn’t care.
At three minutes and thirty seconds, the killing would commence.
He began to slow at three. But he did not release him. I charged my cane and raised it above my head. The guards pointed at me, pointedly. Nosceti’s face was emotionless and he hadn’t moved but his guards seemed in tune with his desires and moved as one.
So no one was more surprised than I when they didn’t shoot me.
At three minutes and fifteen seconds, I struck Albrecht with my cane and his protective layer of psychic energy shattered. The blow blasted his shirt and jacket off of his body. His ghost-white flesh resounded like I had struck a marble statue.
He didn’t stop. I drew back and struck him again, this time releasing my crazy stored in cane with the force of bomb. Blood formed where I struck this time and he loosed his bite but did not stop drinking.
My third blow was designed to tear him asunder, releasing all of my channeled anger. The light came back to his eyes in time to catch my cane with his hand as I brought it down for the third time. He had the blood frenzy in his eyes. He had no intention of stopping if I hadn’t attacked him.
He dropped Manny’s limp form and whipped his clawed hand toward my face. This was going to hurt.
“ALBRECHT!” Nosceti’s voice froze the very air in the room around the vampire.
Frozen, his claws tickling my cheek with tiny beads of blood forming at the very tips. Like a vengeful angel he stood perfectly still, as the fire faded from his eyes.
I dropped to the ground to scoop up my friend wiping my cheek along the way. I drew a sigil with the blood from my cheek on the center of his icy-cold forehead. I channeled my qi into him, activating the rune. As my qi entered his body, I could feel the psychic ravages left by his attack.
The Eye of Harmony opened and closed. The spell was successful and he would be as alright as anyone could be under those circumstances, minus three and a half pints of blood.
When I looked up Albrecht had taken up his seat in the corner, this time without the mood lighting. I picked up my cane and strode to the corner.
“I invoke Blood debt. You damaged him more than you had to.” I was rolling the two bullets in my pocket trying to consider the ramifications of turning him into a smoking pile of ash. Did I want to have to explain to his father, the head of the local Red Watch Council?
“What foolishness are you playing at Engram? I took tribute. It was my due.”
Suffer not a monster to live. I closed my eyes and prepared myself to launch the spell.
Nosceti stood up and with the support of his guard hobbled to where the vampire was sitting and looked him dead in the eye. “You took advantage. I agree with Engram. You owe the Blood debt. I have dealt with your family long enough to know the traditions and I know that you do. You took tribute and then you damaged his friend. Given his mission tonight, he would have needed his friend at a higher capacity than you have left him. So you must accompany him until his quest is complete or until you save the life of his friend or his master. That is the law.”
Albrecht’s eyes flashed red. Not the ordinary thing vampires do when they just want to scare the hell out of people. No this was the other kind of red.
That horrifying thing they do just before they burn all of their inner energy in an orgy of destruction. They can supercharge themselves utilizing their lifeforce until it burns out. During that time they cannot be harmed physically and even magic can barely touch them.
This vampire blitzkrieg lasts about two minutes.
You would be shocked to discover how much damage a tweaked out, vampire on a meth-rage explosion of their total accumulated life-energy stolen over the course of their immortality can wreck. I have seen bomb scenes that didn’t match the pure devastation of this act of self-destruction.
Then the light faded, his blue eyes chilled me to the bone.
“I pledge myself to you, Clifford Engram in the place of your man, whom I have wronged.” These were the formal words, but there was no submission, no obeisance, none of the reverence the words were supposed to have. He spat each one at me like bullets. “Until such time as I return to you the hurt I have caused. Only then will my words, release me.”
I could feel the geas cover all three of us, binding us together in a spiritual obligation powered by his blood. In addition to hating this monster who just harmed my friend, now I was stuck with him until he is released by the efforts of his blood geas.
What else could go wrong?
A modem’s squeal broke the awkward silence, as it indicated the sound of an incoming fax message. Nosceti flicked his head and one of the guards disappeared in the back. He came back a few seconds later with a piece of paper which he handed to back to the old man.
He laid it on the table and the message was scrawled in big letters: ‘It knows where you are. Get out.’
“Now if we are all done trying to kill each other for the rest of the evening, I can explain what I brought you all together for in the first place.” Nosceti is helped back to his desk while I helped Manny to one of the chairs which got pushed out of the way in our altercation. “As I was trying to explain before our little incident. I know why the Night Train is here, and its my fault.”
Then the building rocked like a bomb just went off outside. A second later, car alarms and screams filled the air.
Motus Vita © Thaddeus Howze 2013, All Rights Reserved