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Jul. 15th, 2017

Face

Full Circle

Ian has posted an account of his experiences. Do read it here: http://ian-manning.livejournal.com/ And yes, he remains my guest even now.

So this is what happened.



----


Curious moment. Some brutal sense of Ian as a vessel which I might plunder, my tongue in his heart. As I approached, he stood fast but something in him which clung to life shrank back.

And I really was going to drink from him. If one thing was certain it was the unquenchable hatred that this thing had for the Talamasca. It took every opportunity to attack or possess them and this vengeful anger was locked inside me. Hours of talking had produced one terrible solution. When the demon recognized Ian, it would pass to him through the mingling of our blood. Ruth would trap the thing inside his living body ending the terrible danger I posed, both to the Talamasca and the world at large.

For now, I didn’t want to think about what would come after that.

Louis, Ruth and Greg were there, but I let all awareness of them fall away. Just Ian. Just this. I let the possibility of his blood quicken my pulse. I hadn’t fed in weeks, but I would not allow my hunger free reign.

I brought his throat to my mouth. His breath gasped against my skin. A human hand warmed my back. No pain, my silent voice soothed. The thing inside me stirred, but this gentleness was mine alone to give.

The blood was warmer and all the sweeter for this old connection between us. I tangled my hand in his hair. His heart opened up to me. And with what was left of my soul I formed a single thought Talamasca, as if every thump of my heart could give that word power and urge the spirit out.

Almost against my will the dreams came, and I gave myself over to the full sorcery of them.

It seemed at once that I rose up and the dark spirit inside me, like rolling fog, rose with me. It enveloped me, swelling tightly in my heart and my head.

Yes, Talamasca. The thought surfaced again and I put the full force of my will behind it. A stab of fury. The visions lost their vibrancy and dissolved. Alarmed, I hung on a thread of knowledge that I was still flesh and blood but gradually these things were nothing more than a memory. I was aware and drifting and unable to move.


Talamasca. The word was there in the darkness with me. It vibrated with urgency as my panic crested. Something constricted inside me and I felt a rush of pure malevolence that was not my own and yet consumed me.

A kaleidoscope of images came, dizzying and fast. I saw a place made of stone and the slit of a window without glass. I felt the inky cold of deep shadow and the collective terror of mortals which quickened me like hot blood. I saw the cowering figure of a man in filthy robes, his head concealed within the folds of a hood. Others came, all in homespun clothing, their booted feet shuffling across the stone floor. They raised their arms as if to ward me away and I sent out a taste of my fury and they blew away like so many curls of paper. Sudden triumph.

Light and heat. The sound of voices crying out. I drew on my senses like I was gulping air. I had weight and form. I could move! I heard a low sound like a large, captive animal. Someone cried out.

I opened my eyes.

I saw Greg.  His arm was on Ruth’s and in her hand was a knife. Ruth’s other arm was extended, dripping with blood. I remembered the spell which she had used on Greg. I remembered how she had cut her own hand to bind the magic. Then I saw Ian lying motionless at her feet. I had killed him!

I blinked away the cloud that lingered on in my mind. No, I could hear Ian’s heart. I could see life in the tissues and sinews of his flesh. He was unconscious and weak, but alive. And as he slept, the demon slept with him.

Ruth was looking down at Ian. Her blood spotted his face. Greg moved away. He had the knife. Ah, but Ruth was in danger too. Didn’t she remember that it can move through blood! Then I recognized the spell, the melodic rise and fall of intelligible words, the spell that would bind the demon to living flesh. But the sound was different somehow, the rhythm was wrong. The chanting came from Greg, not Ruth. My head was swimming. The fear in that old stone room still pricked at my skin.

I felt Louis’ hand on my shoulder. I clamped my own hand to it. Gone. Yes. Little smile.

The chanting continued. I could smell the ointment that Ruth had once used on Greg. More candles burned on a table top. They guttered in the salty breeze from the open windows. Light flickered over Louis’ face. I fancied I could see the white bone beneath. I heard the swish of robes over a stone floor.

‘Something is wrong!’ I called out to Louis, but he was looking past me.

I followed his gaze back to Ruth. Her eyes were slitted black. The animal noise came from her, thrumming through her chest like a growl and a trail of spit hung from her mouth. She was blazing with rage, but it was not for me. Talamasca.

Suddenly, she lunged for Greg.

In an instant, I had caught her. Twisting in my arms she went instead for Ian, her whole body thrusting after him so that if I had not been hold her tightly she would have launched into the air and landed on top of him. I stood like stone as she struggled against me. Human teeth against my skin. Rings grazing my face. Her clawed hand in my hair, her own hair catching on the buttons of my shirt but she could not break my skin.

Then she let out a wail. The spell had been cast.

Greg turned his back to hide his anguish. I looked to Ian. He was propped up against the wall, weak but lucid. He nodded. We knew what must be done.
My tone was firm. ‘Greg, it’s time.’

‘Are you sure it will work?’ Ian’s eyes were closed in exhaustion. I understood. Greg had worked with Ruth. Greg must be the one to give the signal. He looked from Ian to me then to the knife in his hand.

Ruth’s breath came in short pants. Did the demon inside her know what I must do?

Louis loosened the knife from Greg’s fingers. Its blade was streaked with blood. Then Greg took a deep breath to speak and I knew that was the moment.

With a rapid motion, I broke Ruth’s neck. The body sagged in my arms. Ruth’s suffering ceased.

It was done.

Louis met my eyes. His mouth was as impassive as ever, but I could see a flicker of relief in his eyes.

Greg’s hand was pressed hard to his mouth. He had forgotten to breathe.

Then suddenly Ruth’s back arched in my arms. Her whole body jolted. Horrified, I stepped back.

I heard Ian gasp. The lips moved but nothing but a rasping breath came out. The heart wasn’t beating. Her eyes were dead. She reached out a wavering arm, her head lolling at a dreadful angle.

‘Don’t!’ Greg’s anguished voice caught in his throat. I understood. Don’t let her move, he meant. Don’t let her tear her own flesh. Keep her safe.

Don’t make me watch this.

We acted quickly.

I used my yacht to transport Ruth to the mainland. She was sealed in a long box which I secured to the back of a waiting truck. She had scratched at the lid all the way. Horrid noise.  The thought of being imprisoned in dead flesh appalled me.

Ian stayed on in the guest house, too weak and dispirited to move.

Greg stared out beside the nameless driver. He held one of Ruth’s silver rings in his hand. The truck would take Ruth to a place where she could be cooled to an impossibly low temperature. Magic would give way to science and the body could never decay.

We sat in silence as the waves rolled and ebbed, like the push and pull of a breathing animal. The night was old and the distant lights around the bay had turned to black. Louis was deep in thought.

‘What?’ I asked, finally.

‘What right did we have to imprison it?’ he said. ‘It’s alive and eternal like us.  We’re malignant things too.’

I watched the sea for a moment.

‘It wasn’t intelligent,’ I said. ‘We got that wrong. We thought that it had a purpose but it was angry for what the Talamasca had done to it and nothing more.’

‘It was clever enough to use you.’ Louis’ voice sounded bitter.

I shrugged. I’d felt nothing from it but raw emotion. I had learned nothing of Magnus from it. I felt deflated.

‘What if it didn’t know what it was?’ Louis continued, softly. ‘It might have existed without any knowledge of where it had come from.’

Ah.  I merely watched him, the breeze spiking in his hair, the way he held his hands tightly in his lap.

‘There are no answers,’ I said. But for once there were.

The call came soon after. I wasn’t surprised that the Talamasca had my cell number but I was astonished at their audacity. Before I could hang up, the voice pleaded for a chance to speak.

‘You must hear this!’

I didn’t recognize the voice. Little tang of some accent I couldn’t place. I didn’t care.

‘Don’t tell me what I must do.’

‘There has been a terrible mistake, monsieur de Lioncourt.’

‘Who are you?’ I snapped. ‘How dare you use this number! Who are you to use my name!’

‘My name is William Marshall. Please listen because this concerns you. We must make amends. We’ve just uncovered a terrible lie.’

‘What is it now?’ There was a pause. William Marshall was clearly taken aback by my acidic tone.

‘If you are wasting my time I will pay you a visit next time I’m in England. Tell me now or go to hell.’

‘It’s about Magnus.’

‘I’m not interested in anything you have to say about Magnus.’

‘Please, you must listen! James Belfort Gray was a member of our Order over two hundred years ago. He chronicled many of our important findings.’

‘Terrific. I’m on my way.’

‘Wait! We used his letters to piece together what had happened to Magnus. He wrote many things, but among them he claimed that the entity had chosen you as the perfect vessel for it.’

The speaker paused, unwilling to deliver the punchline.

‘And?’

‘Based on this, we thought it was vital that you became involved in the project. We thought it was still trying to claim you!’

‘What are you saying?’

‘Monsieur, it’s all been a terrible mistake! The demon didn’t choose you then and it didn’t want you now. It didn’t have a purpose for you! We were wrong. Please…’

I hung up and went back to where Louis waited for me on the beach.

I resumed my study of the ocean. Louis gave me a quizzical look.

‘My grand love affair with the Talamasca is over!’ I announced.

He merely smiled.

Jun. 27th, 2017

Face

Kicking.

This damn thing has taken over my life and I won't have it.

I'm weary from concentrating. My ever waking moment is dominated by it and I'm starting to doubt my own soul. Am I thinking these thoughts or feeling these sensations? Does it make incusions into my waking mind? Or have I begun to feel it nestling like the proverbial viper in my breast? I must stay utterly focused. I can't drift into a world of emotion and sensation because that's how it takes control. It feeds on my anger and my lust for life. When I was angry, I killed for it. When I was impassioned, it had me charge all the way to London. My conscious mind and my will keeps it at bay.

So I'm told. I really don't know, do I? It's all so much mumbo jumbo to me. And it's this uncertainty that utterly frustrates me. This and the things I just can't do.

I can't share blood. It moves through blood. That's how it got me: it opened up a wound. It almost took Armand when he attempted to drink from its human host. I can't hunt because the very essence of killing is to release something primal and feed on the rapture of death.

And before you say it, it definitely, absolutely, unquestionably doesn't talk to me. We don't chat. I was unaware of it when it took hold of me and for the most part, I'm unaware of it still. Now that I'm alone with Louis' silent worry and the sweet roar of the ocean, I do sometimes wonder if I can sense something like black smoke or like the imagined presence of someone who has just left the room. Something out of the corner of my eye. It's not Amel. It isn't a confined and infinite being, desperate to uncoil its invisible form into a legion of immortal bodies. It's something else and it's getting on my damn nerves.

We immortal beings can all become detached from what happens around us. It's in the vampire manual. Second nature. I have this to fall back on. And if anyone knows how to dissociate themself from strong emotion, it's Louis. His presence calms me but I will never learn the art of absolute dispassion. It just ain't me. Yes, I have to maintain control. Yes, I have to avoid provocation and anger. I'm not happy about it but once my will is set against something, corporeal or not, it's history. The fire isn't lit, but I can work with ice.

You bet I'm serious. I'm a creature of passions. This is a hellish thing to endure but if you're going to taste hell, you might as well do it from paradise. I can make self-denial into an artform. And you'd better believe that.

We have left Armand's great mansion, where so many immortal beings come and go, and retreated to the Indian Ocean, to one of our beach-side haunts. Armand was glad to see me leave. I've asked enough of him already and his house is set too close to the mortal world. I'm avoiding London. It drove me there once to do its bidding. You want me there, parasite? Good luck with that.

I'm not beaten. Just because I haven't yet found a definite answer doesn't mean that I won't. You can bet your bottom dollar that I will. I've been busy. I've got some ass kicking to do.

The first kick: I have asked Ian to come to see me. It's a big ask considering that I almost ripped out his heart, but he has already arrived. He's brought Ruth with him which I have agreed to. She does demons. He does heads. He is a powerful mind-reader. We might not be able to dislodge it, but we can find out what it wants.
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Jun. 21st, 2017

Face

Revelations.

So yesterday I met with Ian, who was pushed by desperation and pain to request my blood. It wasn't a good idea, but I went anyway. I was taken aback by the sight of him, weak and tormented, hardly able to stand. The drive to end the pain had carried him from England, but now he was spent. And so I opened the vein in my wrist and invited him to drink.

As he approached, something remarkable happened. I clamped my other hand to the cut and flew backwards, out of reach. The blood was pounding in my ears and my whole being flamed with sudden rage. Ian's face was blank with shock, one arm outstretched as if to pull me back. He mouthed a silent word: what? As if that word could articulate all his thwarted yearning and his confusion at my erratic behavior. The rage beat through my body, looking for release. I gasped for breath.

'What's wrong with you?' he asked, moving closer. 'Don't you know how much I need this? Please. Give it to me!'

I moved almost before I knew it. I tossed aside the small table that lay between us and grasped him by the shoulder, throwing him against the wall. The very sound of his voice incensed me. The very feel of his human flesh beneath my hand demanded that I crush him to pulp. He fell awkwardly, but mortal fear propelled him to his feet almost instantly. I could smell his terror, a piquant stroke to my lust. I advanced, ready to tear him open like fruit.

There was nowhere for him to run and he knew it. He flattened himself to the wall and called out my name. His cry pierced through the fog in my mind, the cadence was familiar. It was my name as Ian would say it, it was Lestat, as it's said by an English tongue, and this was Ian who called to me, no menacing enemy nor frantic prey, just Ian.

The hunger in me had fully woken. I could feel it like a prowling beast in my limbs. I wanted to take him, to splinter his bones and shred him like meat. I imagined the riches contained by the dark blood in the soft organs of his chest.

I stopped.

Ian's face was transfixed, mouth wide open, eyes unblinking on mine. Terror rolled from him but there was something else too, something tired and exhilarated which welcomed me. In that ancient, unspoken language of the soul he ached for death.

I drew back. And we stared at each other for a full minute, until Ian sagged, resting his hands on his thighs, his heart shuddering in his chest.

He flinched when I took his arm, but I merely led him to a chair. I set the little table back on its legs and sat down beside him.

'Well, that was unexpected,' I said.

Ian shot me a look of pure horror, then suddenly he started to laugh. He laughed long and hard, banging his hand on the table top, until the fear and relief had had its way with him. When he looked up, I was smiling too. He wiped at his eyes.

'I'm sorry,' I added. It was probably inadequate as apologies go.

Ian laughed again then shook his head as if to clear it.

'I won't harm you now,' I said, because it needed to be said aloud.

' I have some good news and some bad news,' he said, finally.

'If you're telling me I'm not invited to the June banquet at the London motherhouse, I'm ahead of you there.'

'You're not to blame for this. It's also not your fault that you attacked Ryan McKay and Kaitlyn Kennedy.'

I raised an eyebrow. 'You know this, do you?'

Ian nodded solemnly, for once resisting the impulse to brag. 'The bad news is that the demon did it. Lestat, it's already inside you.'

I shook my head. 'That's impossible. I'd know.'

'It's the only rational explanation for your actions.'

'Rational! Nothing about this whole thing can ever be rational.'

'It's more than that,' he said in a steady voice. 'I sensed it. I know it's there.'

'Now you're being ridiculous!' I was getting heated. 'I do not have anything inside me!'

Ian tensed. 'Please calm down. You must hear this. When you attacked, I reached into your head to see if I could stop you.' He made a gesture of futility. 'It's all I could think to do. And I felt a dark presence there which had nothing to do with you.'

I got to my feet. 'Really? Do you hear it in my voice? You know this is me, not some ghastly entity from the Talamascan vaults. It's not controlling me.'

'I don't have all the answers,' he said patiently. 'I only caught a glimpse, but I'm telling you, Lestat, that you have thing inside you now.'

'I don't believe you! I said. But I did and we both knew it.
Face

Part Five.

Events have rather over-taken me, but you must still wonder what happened with that damn spell.

--

Gitano’s dark eyes watched me as I helped Ruth prepare her ritual. His face glowed with rage.

How can you help them? he asked me. Don’t you know what they have done to me?

Thin streaks of rain pattered against the window.

Armand held the glass jar of pungent ointment lightly between his thumb and middle finger as if he were about to drop it.

Ruth had cleaned my blood from Greg’s skin and at my insistence she had thrown the cloth into the fire.

Greg hadn’t moved a muscle. His breathing was soft and quick.

Ruth added something to the glowing charcoal of an incense burner. Then with minimal drama she cut her own hand and added several drops of her blood. The scent pulled at my senses.

Everything comes back to blood in the end.

Finally, she laid the weight of the book across her arms and looked over to me. I nodded. The words emanated from her like plainsong, rising and falling. My mouth opened in wonder. I have no idea what I had expected this spell to sound like, but I knew that it wasn’t what I might have imagined. Her tone was soft and caressing and the cadence was simply lyrical. I could close my eyes and dream to this sound.

There was a low sigh from Greg but he didn’t move. His face was damp and pale.

Gitano’s voice came again. You never really cared about me, did you?

Armand flashed me an innocent smile.

The chant continued. I didn’t know the language, but I could sense the meaning: words that called upon the power of the spell, lost words that had no meaning, not even to Ruth: words that formed invisible chains about our foe like the silken threads of a web.

A squall of rain rattled the windowpane. The storm was passing, thrashing the small town outside with the last of its life.

Ruth’s voice gained in volume and power, her mouth bruised and misshapen, her eyes fixed on the page before her. The sweetness of the chant gave way to certainty.

Abruptly, she stopped.

I glanced at Greg and back at her. Silence.

‘Well?’ I said at last.

‘I don’t know!’ said Ruth. She was exhausted. She laid down the book as if she had been about to drop it.

‘It hasn’t worked,’ said Armand quietly. He pinched out one of the candles.

‘Is that right?’ I demanded. ‘Where is it?’

‘It should have worked!’ Ruth’s voice was strained. ‘There is no reason why this shouldn't work.’

‘It didn’t have him anymore,’ said Armand, peering down at the sleeping boy. ‘It’s gone.’ Had he known all along?

'Gone!' I groaned in frustration. 'How can it be gone!'

Ruth slipped past him to touch a ministering hand to Greg’s face. She looked close to tears.

'It must have left him when you had him in your arms. His body was suddenly still.'

It had all been for nothing. The demon had known what we were about to do and made its escape. It was the only explanation. The dratted thing was learning fast.

And this time, we hadn’t the slightest idea how to find it or what we might do to defeat it.

Greg and Ruth were packed off to London. Armand returned back to his impossible palace above the sea and I was left alone in my half-hearted search.

Jun. 19th, 2017

Face

Another confession.

The heat was sultry in England, even in the small hours before dawn. I'd passed the ghostly cliffs of the south coast and rolling countryside lay below me, shadowy and silent.

My head was swimming. Suddenly, I felt quite disorientated.

I stopped at a small village, still several miles from London and I swear to you on my honor as a bloodthirsty fiend that I had no idea why I was there. I had a notion that I was going to the old Talamascan motherhouse, but I can't tell you why or what I had expected.

I do know that I was angry with Armand. I muttered truculent curses all the way. I do remember the journey, just as clearly as I should usually expect to remember it, but I don't know why I went there. I have no idea!

The village was dead to the night. Doors locked, not a single light to suggest a living soul. Something swept over me, a feeling of alarm and relief combined.

And I turned tail and I left.

Jun. 11th, 2017

Face

Part Four.

Immediately, burnt spots appeared on the leather and the exposed paper caught fire. I pushed Ruth towards Armand who caught her with admirable gentleness and I reached into the fire, snatching the book free. The binding was blackened and acrid smoke curled from the pages, but I’d been fast enough to prevent a catastrophe. Greg was moving again, the usual humming of his human thoughts now veiled. His face had crumpled into rage and his eyes were a perfect, shining black. Ruth darted forward to take the book, her face covered in blood. He lunged for her again.

‘The book!’ I cried out, but Armand had pulled Ruth to safety.

Then I felt the fierce sting of the letter opener as Greg drove it into my cheek.

Angrily, I knocked away the blade and pinioned Greg’s arms to his side, pulling him tight against me. My mouth filled with blood and I spat it out. I was choking with it. Whatever possessed Greg’s body strained against me. His flesh burned. His head twisted at an unnatural angle as if to help his body twist and break free, yearning against me. An incoherent stream of noise came from him, hissing and groaning and finally words which I couldn’t understand, but one thing was clear: he was going nowhere. Finally, we had it! I felt a jolt of triumph.

Ruth was slumped beside Armand, shocked but lucid. Surely her skills were still strong enough to tackle this demon. Greg had finished his work and the book was damaged but not entirely lost.

I called out to her, my voice thick with blood. ‘Is it still there?’

She was cradling the book. ‘Ah, but not Greg. Why Greg? How did this happen?’

‘Ruth! Can it be done?’ I urged her. Now was not the time for grief. Greg’s struggles abruptly ceased. His eyes were closed. I inspected him carefully. My blood was smeared over his white face and stained the sleeve of his jacket. It matted the ends of his hair. In an unconscious gesture, he licked his lips.

Armand’s Mephistophelian gaze fixed on me. I nodded. Neither of us had sensed anything more. Out like a light.

‘Ruth!’ My voice was sharper. ‘We need you now. Can you do this thing?’

She climbed to her feet, a hand pressed to the cut on her head. ‘I’m all right,’ she muttered. ‘Yes, the pages we need are undamaged.’

Greg was breathing softly. His body was still and unresisting so I eased him back into the chair, where he lay as if dead.

‘Do it!’ I said. ‘Quickly! Do what you can. Do this spell and trap it.’

‘It’s going to kill him.’ She was distraught.

I took her gently by the shoulders. ‘We have no choice. We don’t know how to remove it without killing him instantly and we can’t allow it to escape again. If it does, it will kill others. You know this.’

‘Drug him,’ Armand offered. ‘Mortals can survive a long sleep and it will sleep with him.’

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘We’ll find a way. You’ll take care of him. The Talamasca knows how. We must do this and we must do it now.’

Outside, the rain was falling hard. I could feel the cold emanating from the window panes. The light above us flickered, but it was only the result of a distant storm.

Ruth moved wearily but with purpose, gathering up a few small bottles and pouches which appeared to be full of herbs and some substances that I didn’t recognize.

I rubbed at my cheek where the wound had begun to tingle and knit together. My reflection was that of a cold statue. Somehow, the demon had followed us and yet we hadn’t known of its presence. That thought bothered me.

A sweet and sharp smell announced the lighting of candles. Ruth had prepared an unguent which she smeared on Greg’s skin.  I watched him as he slept. Somehow we would save him.

Perhaps this is the motivation they need, Armand’s silent voice added.

Perhaps it was.
Face

Part Three.

Finally Ruth answered, her voice low and hesitant. ‘I don’t know where the demon came from or what the Order did in the past. I don’t know any more than you do, but please believe me when I tell you that we only wish to help you now.’

‘Oh, you’re only doing this to help me!’ I snapped, but for once I took a deep breath to push away my irritation. ‘All right then. We are allies in this. On that we can agree. It’s obvious that I can’t do this alone but neither can you, can you? That’s why you need me. So, let’s just find this thing and stop it.’

‘Don’t underestimate it. It’s dangerous.’

‘If it can’t touch me then how dangerous can it be?’

‘We don’t know what it’s capable of! It’s like nothing we’ve known before and it attacks for no reason.’ Ruth suddenly looked tired. She stirred up the fire with brisk strokes.

I sighed.

‘I assure you that I take no pleasure in the deaths of your friends and I would stop it if I could. You say that it had a hand in making me, which I might believe and I might not, I haven’t yet decided. It wants me. This seems true enough.’ I shrugged. ‘But the fact remains that it’s powerless to hurt me. Perhaps that fact gives me some advantage. What if I can communicate with it? If wants me, it might listen to me.’

‘I thought you’d already tried.’

‘Then I’ll try again. All it did was attack me and fail, perhaps next time I can reason with it. What else do we know? Is it really immortal? We know it can skip from one mortal body to another and that it can also survive as an intangible and malicious force, but what the hell can we do against it? Can we hurt it? Can we stop it?’

‘That’s what I want to know.’ Armand’s shimmering presence filled the room. ‘There is nothing that can’t be destroyed.’

‘The answers lie in the original magic.’ When I turned to Greg, he put both hands up just as if I was holding him at gun point.

‘I really do know how the original spell was done.’ He continued, quickly. ‘We can duplicate it. The Talamasca simply locked the demon into the body of Magnus and this diminished its power. When Magnus died, it was too weak to take possession of anyone else. As far as we know, it vanished for centuries unable to affect anything or anyone. It’s old magic. Really powerful stuff.’

I had to smile at his earnestness. ‘Ah, Greg, will you forgive me my ill temper? Please, go on.'
He smiled weakly.

‘Greg is one of our most talented researchers’ said Ruth. ‘He’s found the means to do this and I will use it,’ she glanced pointedly at Armand. ‘It’s taken time, but now you must let us finish it.’

But Armand wasn’t paying attention. I felt it too: fear, a jumble of tired thoughts and urgency. A mortal was approaching the door. He solemnly pressed a large bundle of cloth into Greg’s hands, carefully avoiding any eye contact with Armand and myself. He left immediately, leaving behind the soft scent of rain. Greg unwrapped a large leather-bound volume. Terrific. More books.

 ‘I didn’t expect it so soon!’ Greg’s face was flushed with excitement as he reverently opened it on the table before him. He gently pried apart the brittle pages with the tip of a letter-opener. Each page was covered in uneven lines of faded ink. His lips moved rapidly as he read.

‘Is it there?’ Ruth moved closer. ‘Can we use it?’

‘I’ll need a day or so to be sure. It’s from our library at Rome,’ he said, for my benefit. ‘It’s taken weeks to discover that we even had it. This is not the original text, but it should be an accurate copy…’

Then Greg’s face registered sudden astonishment. What little color his skin had drained away.

‘What?’ I asked shortly, my gaze flicking to Armand who was watching him intently. If we were all going to talk Medieval Latin, I was out of here.

Greg staggered backwards, steadying himself against the wall. He shook his head, his skin glowing with sweat.

‘Help me!’’ Ruth had trouble supporting his weight. ‘He needs sugar. I’ll get it.’

‘What’s this to us?’ Armand’s silky voice sounded close to my ear, but I had already deposited Greg in the chair while Ruth rummaged through the pockets of a rucksack.

Ruth tore a chocolate bar into chunks. ‘He’s worked through the night and frightening him hasn’t helped.’ She sounded upset. Greg’s hands were shaking. His face was quite blank.

‘We will leave,’ I said gently. ‘Will he need a doctor?’

Before she could speak, a shudder went through Greg’s body, his face tightened and he pushed up and out of his chair, shoving at Ruth with enough force to send her crashing head-first into the fireplace.

She moaned, disorientated, as the fire flicked at her arm. I snatched her free and cradled her in my arms, catching sight of Armand’s intense face behind us. Greg was now on his feet, staring at his hands.

Then he picked up the ancient book and tossed it deep into the flames.

May. 29th, 2017

Face

Part Two.

Armand leaned against the wall like an insouciant teenager, thumbs hooked into his jeans. Ruth had taken another chair directly opposite mine.

I addressed her again. ‘As I said, this demon is utterly bound by its mortal flesh. It can’t sustain it. It doesn’t know how. All the humans it’s taken have lasted no more than a week or two.’

‘All the more reason for it to want you,’ Ruth agreed.

‘But why me? Won’t any immortal do?’

‘It has fixated on you. It chose you when it possessed Magnus and it remembers that.’

Well isn’t that terrific.

‘How do you know?’

‘We know.’ Ruth’s mind was not impossible to read and I picked up nothing that might concern me. I didn’t press the point. I had no desire to stay longer than absolutely necessary.

I continued. ‘It has conscious control. It doesn’t understand mortals but it has learned how to mimic them. It moves and speaks and controls all decisions, but the human soul is still trapped inside.’

‘What do you mean?’ she asked softly. Clearly, she didn’t know everything.

I shrugged. ‘We sensed the soul of the mortal woman. It’s trapped inside, aware of what is happening but utterly helpless to prevent it. The demon doesn’t eject the soul. It simply displaces it.’

‘That fits in with what we think we know about Magnus.’ Greg found a shaky voice. ‘It’s all a question of control. I mean, with your kind it is. With vampires.’ This seemed to require a nod from me before he found his tongue again.

‘We think it only managed to get control of Magnus because it took him while he was still human. It was already there inside him when Magnus became immortal. That’s why it can’t possess you. You’re already a powerful vampire and it doesn’t have enough strength to overpower your will and take control of you. Not directly.’

I nodded as if anything to do with demons or spirits could ever make sense to me. The disembodied spirit had knocked me off my feet but I hadn’t registered any other sort of attack. I knew exactly what that felt like. Presumably it couldn’t penetrate this immortal body of mine, or my soul, however this worked.

‘In other words, I’m safe unless I drink from it.’ A log shifted in the fire with a brief show of sparks. ‘Well then, what happens if I simply kill the mortal?’

Greg exchanged a glance with Ruth.

‘You know,’ I smiled, ‘Speaking as a monster who does such things.’

‘It’s all still theoretical.’

‘There’s one sure way to find out.’

‘You can’t kill it, ‘said Ruth, stating the obvious.

 ‘It would just have to find another human host. Or stay in its disembodied state.’ Greg sounded genuinely apologetic. ‘I really don’t know what would happen.’

‘And so, you still know nothing,’ added Armand in a low voice.

‘Actually, we do.’ Ruth’s fingers stopped their steady drumming on the cover of her book. ‘Quite a lot. We’ve found details of the original ceremony that was used on Magnus. It’s not complete, but we now know how the demon was imprisoned in his body.’

‘Yes. The spell which destroyed Magnus and released this demon into the world to plague us all.’ Armand really would make a superb diplomat.

‘The spell which prevented Lestat from being possessed by it,’ Ruth said firmly.

‘Are you waiting for my gratitude?’ Now I was becoming irritated. ‘We still don’t know why the Talamasca were meddling with this thing in the first place!’

‘Perhaps they summoned it,’ added Armand.

‘The Talamasca have never directly intervened…’

‘Walter Vanhoutte did a lot more than that.’

Ruth’s face colored. ‘He acted in secrecy! We had no idea what he was doing. He was obsessed with power. This isn’t what the Talamasca represents!’

‘Gitano would disagree.’ I gazed pointedly at her until she looked away. The fire crackled contentedly. Outside, I could hear the patter of rain and the distant sound of a dog barking. I wanted to feel that rain on my skin.

May. 28th, 2017

Face

Part One: Demons and Dissension

I had told Armand that under no circumstances should he come with me to see Ruth and Greg, the Talamascans who had been assigned to deal with the demon or quite possibly with me. Naturally, Armand had arrived first, greeting me at the door with an innocent smile. The room was small and filled with books but the fire gave off a welcoming glow. Greg sat at a desk, his fingertips brushing the keyboard of a laptop, but his eyes never left mine. I flashed him a smile which he didn’t quite know what to do with.

Ruth told me to sit down, so I crossed my arms and remained standing. Armand was slinking through the room behind me, picking up a book only to drop it again without opening it. This could be a really long night.

I began by telling them how we’d been able to track the demon, which inhabited the body of a woman. We’d watched it for some time but realized immediately that it was still confined by the human needs of its fragile host.  It had collapsed from exhaustion, slumped against a wall in a narrow alley, and we guessed that the demon must sleep along with its host. Armand concocted a plan to capture it while it slumbered. Keeping the body sedated, he had tried to drink from her to steal the demon’s hidden secrets, but connected to him by blood, it had almost taken possession of him. Jolted awake, the woman had taken flight. I’d easily snatched her up before she escaped, only to find that the woman was dead and the demon was gone. We’d been unable to find it again.

‘It looks like you’ve ruined our best chance of defeating it,’ Ruth said, just as if she wasn’t addressing two of the most fearsome creatures on the globe. Her fingers were covered in silver rings. To complete the image of a scholar, she wore a pair of thick spectacles and clutched a small book to her chest. Greg was silently willing us to leave.

‘Remind me why we need you.’ Armand’s voice was emotionless. I gestured him to stay quiet for all the good it would do.

‘This is painstaking work and I can assure you we will find a solution.’ Ruth’s voice was strong and unwavering. ‘And so far, we haven’t needed you at all.’
I laughed out loud. Point to Ruth.

‘You told me that you would find an answer and so you will.’ My tone was soothing and extracted a nod from Ruth. ‘I appreciate your help. I am sure you understand my concerns.’

Greg was watching me so intently that he didn’t notice the slight figure appear beside him like a malevolent ghost. Armand arched an eyebrow at the screen then snapped the lid shut. ‘At least I have information.’

The last threads of my patience snapped too. ‘This is getting us nowhere!’

‘We should kill these mortals and find the demon,’ he replied, slinking closer. Greg looked quite ill. Armand peered malevolently at Ruth. ‘Which of them do you want?’

‘Oh, that’s really helpful. We’re not killing anyone.’

‘Then that’s where we’re going wrong.’

‘Are you taking this seriously?’ Beside us, the Talamascans radiated a steady wave of tension.

‘Are you?’ He touched my arm in a gesture that might have been a challenge or affection or both.

I shrugged him off, installing myself in the seat by the fire. I was determined to get this meeting over and done with. I resented having to report to the Talamasca intensely, but they had pledged their help and if anyone knew how to get shot of a stalking demon it was them.

May. 27th, 2017

Face

Missing, presumed missing.

I'm not sleeping. I'm not dead. I'm not an ice-clad captive, nor hiding from the infamy of my latest sins. No-one you know is dead, nothing has been burned to the ground and everything is more or less where I left it.

I've been enjoying that rarest of things: a little bit of time alone. Sometimes, it’s simply the best possible thing to do. I don’t really feel like myself, but since I’m alone, no-one else is feeling me either.

Louis has no idea where I am, nor Armand or Nicki or The Talamasca - especially The Talamasca - or either of my mortal agents, or anyone else for that matter. I'm not in London, nor Paris, nor the cliff-top mansion in which Armand offers sanctuary or in my old island paradise.  As far as they know, I'm anywhere or nowhere.

As for the demon, yes, we have been busy with it. Armand and I chased it across several hundred miles for several weeks. It consecutively inhabited the bodies of several mortals, mostly female, some young, some old. All are now dead.


I don’t know how that story will end because I think I’m still several chapters in, but for now all is quiet on that front.

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