They entered the lonely dog park, and Flint walked to a large oak, jumping effortlessly into a low-lying branch.
“Come on up, Plenipotentiary,” Flint said quietly, rubbing the oversized sweater against his skin. “There's not much left of the night, and I'm a little curious as to why you were after me during the Waltham days.”
In the blink of an eye, Cadmus was on the branch beside Flint.
“I had heard rumours, and rumours of rumours, that a powerful presence walked the old forest, taking the blood from hapless travellers and hunters, and that he had often been spotted in the village, the spitting image of a man who had whisked himself away one night for no reason at all. No one ever knew for sure, but they certainly believed in his existence, at least up to a point. But there was one...one human...who seemed faithfully aligned with this spectre.”
Flint's heart skipped with curiosity at Cadmus' words.
“You don't say,” he said, his voice quiet.
“Oh yes. A very old man who was keeping himself to himself in a cottage as close to the forest as it could possibly get. His arms were a jagged testament to a long-time association with a Vampire. Could that Vampre have possibly been you, Flint?”
Flint looked down from his perch, setting his mouth in an expression that combined the emotions of nostalgia, pain, and confusion. “His name...?”
“Well, let us save that for later, shall we?” Cadmus smiled, allowing his now shining mantis eyes to magnify a sense of innocence. “For now, suffice to say that I no longer wish to kill you, Flint. I find you...compelling.”
Of course, that was a lie, at least up to a point. Cadmus no more found Flint compelling than a hiker did an unseen ant. There was this niggling issue dancing around the peripheries of his vast mind, though; the conundrum of Flint's absence from Cadmus' unequivocal radar. Having such a Vampire walk the Earth was a danger, especially to one like Cadmus, who dwelt in the Night without fear because he was the most powerful, and wished no one of his kind to challenge that. No one dared to steal their way into his presence without his knowing exactly who it was, why they were there, and in what way he planned on dispensing with them.
He turned his attention back to Flint, who was watching him with an unblinking stare, waiting for some sign of honesty. This was an observant one, Cadmus had to give him that. Letting the full flow of his Glamour surround Flint like a whisper in the velvet night, Cadmus returned the stare and waited.
Flint began to melt with relief and wonderment in the full onslaught of Cadmus' magicks. His heavy-lidded eyes rested at half-mast and his smile was that of a man intoxicated. Cadmus leaned forward, cocking his head to the left, and flared his nostrils against Flint's aura. The heady scent of opium and tobacco roiled off the Vampire as his pheromones geared into high alert.
“You and I,” Cadmus said, his voice one of dead silence scattered amongst the lilies and dry leaves. “We are cut from the same cloth in many ways.”
“How...do you figure?”
Cadmus moved his head away from Flint, and averted his eyes back at him, giving Flint a sidewise glance that had the perfectly desired effect. Flint could not stop looking at him, so enthralled he was with the Pariah.
“Well, Flint, it seems that you and I are the only Vampires who walk this Vale of Tears, who can mask our passing from others of our tribe. Only the very special can do this and, apparently, I am not the only one, when all this time, I thought that I was. This is a monumental discovery, my Absinthe-eyed friend.”
Flint smiled widely. “That was what he called me, the Vampire who brought me over.”
“And you did not keep the name? Why is this?”
Flint shrugged. “I preferred my own.”
“Well, Simon Flynt, to be honest. But it just morphed into Flint in these contemporary times.”
Cadmus could not wrap his mind around this ludicrous Vampire. He tried very hard to mask the emotions that spilled over when he least expected them.
“So, you are telling me that you have not truly changed your name in over six...hundred...years...? And you abandoned a perfectly good name aligning yourself with a perfectly wondrous drug for this common little cognomen with which you were born into mortality?”
Cadmus felt his grasp of his Glamour slip a little, and saw Flint lean away from him, unsure as to what the Plenipotentiary was going to do. The hint of anger in the Pariah's voice disconcerted him enough to shake the unquestioning desire stabbing at his heart, if only for a few seconds. This was a dangerous creature, Flint surmised, and he must be very careful indeed.
But it was only a brief moment of hesitance before Flint was back in the throes of desire, sitting on this tree branch with the greatest of all the Darklings who still walked the Earth.
Cadmus had returned to his regal state of imperviousness, exuding every shred of Glamour he could muster on Flint without killing him with the enormity of it all. Flint seemed drunk from the effect...until he reached into his jeans pocket, pulled out an almost broken cigarette, popped it between his lips, and lit it with an equally bent match.
Cadmus did not know what to think of this. Flint should have been nigh to paralysed by Cadmus' magickal attentions. He knitted his brow and pursed his lips, watching the younger Vampire take a long drag off the scraggly fag. Flint cut his eyes back to Cadmus, an earnest watchfulness shining in their strange greenness, and he said, “One of the great things about being a Vampire is you can abuse your body all you want and nothing ever affects it. You can smoke ten packs a day, and your lungs will remain like two pretty pink roses in your ribcage!”
The Dark Chylde of Night closed his endless eyes and pulled a deep breath, taking in the secondhand smoke along with the long gulps of oxygen he craved to calm his fury. What madman had turned this person to the night? Cadmus danced on the edge of desperation to know, so he could go murder him, if he were in fact still alive.
Opening his eyes to Flint again, Cadmus reached over and brushed his knuckles along the young Vampire's jawline. Leaning in, he touched his lips to Flint's, but did not truly kiss him. It was a gesture, one of promise of the Ambrosciata to come. Of course, no Ambrosciata would be engaged in this night. Sometimes you had to caress the crude beast in order to persuade it into the slaughterhouse. Cadmus felt Flint sharply take in a breath as the Plenipotentiary ramped up the attentions and intentions. And then Flint took the offering of the kiss by pressing in to Cadmus, fully engaged in his essence. The dark surrounded their indulgence, the predator and prey, spiralling in an exquisite dance of unspoken desire. Cadmus placed his hands at the sides of Flint's neck, pulling him even closer, allowing the youngling to fully immerse himself in Cadmus Pariah's wicked and luxurious beauty.
Cadmus could sense that Flint had been softened enough. He was primed and ready. Now it was time to share with him the tale of how he had learned more about him as the Waltham Phantom. Flint had seemed so concerned with the old man Cadmus had encountered in the village near what was now Epping. The assumed response on the part of this clownish Darkling should prove to sweeten the Blood on an almost incomprehensible level...and Cadmus had intentions to take Flint's lovely eyelids and add them to his Harming Tree as simple baubles of decoration in remembrance of a chance encounter with a lesser creature.
He pulled away from Flint's adoration of his flesh, looking at the disheveled Vampire with a barely-veiled contempt, despite his deft control of the Glamour wrapping around Flint like a lover’s caress.
“You had asked me about the old man who had spoken of you in those days of yore in Waltham Wood.”
Flint blinked and came down from his sexual high, but only a little.
“Yes. Tell me about him. What was his name?”
Cadmus cocked his head in mock askance.
“Why would I ask his name? He was but an unimportant little mote, so eager to share with me what he knew about you.”
“Gareth would never have betrayed me in such a way. He was my best friend, the brother I never had.”
“Ah, Gareth was it? Let me assure you, Darkling, that Gareth did indeed betray you. I have discovered over my long years dancing as the Dark Chylde of Night, that humans will disclose every nuance of their lives if they think it will allow them to take in one more sad little breath, allow them to see the world with living eyes instead of staring out into the Void of the Real, aware of their dessicated bodies lying helpless in the ground.”
Flint leaned back now, his eyes clearing of the haze of desire.
“Did I take his life?”
“What would it matter to you?”
“Like I said,” Flint replied, his voice tinged with an exasperation that should not have been possible under Cadmus’ insidious influence. “He was my best friend. My brother in every way, but biologically. Gareth Owen...my dearest and most-loved. Did you murder him?”
The question was more insistent and quite accusative, despite Cadmus' well-held Glamour over Flint. He dipped his head and looked at Flint with that impetuous look of fraudulent innocence. His eyes gleamed uncharacteristically, considering Cadmus had only recently been able to reflect light with the windows to his endless soul, rather than absorb all that was around him.
“Let me tell you about Gareth Owen,” he said, intentionally using the last name of his human victim to cement the truth of his involvement in the death of Flint's human friend. “Since you seem to have loved this simple little human with an affection best reserved for those of your own kind, let me tell you about his last pathetic moments on this plane of existence.”
Flint looked at Cadmus, an expression of unmentionable sadness on his wholly common face. Cadmus smiled at him, actual amusement wrinkling the corners of his owl eyes. He swallowed, then cleared his throat, readying himself to tell the story.
“Well,” Cadmus began, blinking his large eyes seductively and enjoying Flint's reaction of hesitant lust. “I came upon Gareth in the twilight of one lovely Spring day, the shadows of the Waltham Wood cloaking his quiet little cottage like a raven's wing over the remains of a raptor's kill. If I remember in the vast recesses of my mind, he was cooking a small chicken over the fire within the one dark room that comprised his abode, humming slightly to himself, when I knocked upon his simple wooden door.
“He answered and was most hospitable, inviting me in almost immediately. I was well-gratified by this, and entered without concern. He offered me wine. He offered me bread. He offered me meat from the bird he was boiling. Being an entity that was then unable to consume such decadent delights, I politely declined, and turned my attention to the scars on his ancient arms.
“'What has happened to your arms, good sir?' I asked him, pretending a curiosity I did not feel.
“'Oh, just scars from old war wounds,' he said, obviously lying to me. There had been no wars during that time. The Great Mortality had been the only wager of war during those years, and the only winner.”
Flint lowered his eyes, remembering the stories his mother and father had relayed to him of those dark days. And his mind drifted to the memories of his most-beloved friend, the beautiful Gareth Owen, his arms scarred from love for his friend who had been taken from him and sacrificed to the dread night of the soul. Turning his gaze back to Cadmus, he raised his eyebrows in askance to the Plenipotentiary to continue his story, half afraid of what he would hear.
Cadmus smiled, his full lips stretching like dry sails on a ghost ship under star-stricken skies.
“I sat with Gareth by the fire in silence and a stillness pregnant with the conversation to come. He watched me with a mild fascination, since I actively focused on keeping the Glamour from his realm of influence. He seemed a kindly octogenarian, if not exceptionally...unexceptional. I asked him again, 'Old man, what happened to your arms?' And I Compelled him to answer me truthfully. You should have seen his face as he struggled with my unequivocal question. How he fought, and so valiantly, I might add...
“But he did not succeed in overcoming my demands for answers. I pressed him to the point of breaking and beyond. By the time he answered me truthfully and without hesitancy, the old man was in tears and bleeding from his eyes. I recall taking the drops upon my fingernails and placing them within the sanctity of the chalice, allowing them to transubstantiate as I further dallied with Gareth Owen.
“As he lay bleeding on his modest little cot, he told me of the Waltham Phantom, opening his mind to me regarding his best and beloved friend, the one taken from him to walk the night in a kind of increasing loneliness for seeing his family and friends age and die. He gave to me the scents and visions of this creature, the strange essence of tabac and opium, the furtive eyes staring with a kind of innocent longing from the borders of the great wood out of which their owner had been born.
“'Please do not hurt him,' the old man begged me. 'Whatever you are, whatever you want with him, please do not hurt my friend...my brother. I gave him my blood willingly, and he took it only when he needed it and could not find another. He promised to never leave me for as long as I lived. He is a good soul, stranger, and one of the loveliest men to grace this world. Please, please do not hurt my friend.'
“'If I do not find him,' I said, 'I will not hurt him. But you...you are an altogether different matter, my friend.'
“And I took Gareth Owen by the throat, lifting him upward until his toes were inches from the dirt floor of his filthy little shanty, and I carried him outside into the growing depths of the blessed dark. Once there, on the edge of Waltham Forest, I erected a large pike with my free hand, and I turned the choking man to see its magnificence.”
Cadmus paused, waiting for Flint to process all that he had so far relayed. Flint had bowed his head, his lank blond hair falling over his face in a strangely organised mess of spider silk. Cadmus saw a single tear fall from Flint's concealed visage, splashing the bark between them, and he was well-pleased with this long-overdue expression of something other than laissez-faire. Finally, Flint was showing something more than a mild sense of amused detachment. There was nothing amusing about this. Nothing at all. Except for the sense of satisfaction Cadmus was feeling at the horror now enveloping his bedraggled little meal. When Flint raised his head, Cadmus saw his phosphorescent eyes glistening with grief, and this heartened the Dark Chylde of Night even more.
Opening his sculpted mouth, Cadmus continued.
“I rested his unwashed feet upon the ground, but kept my hand firmly around his fragile throat. The old man had begun to weep.
“'Why is it that you cry, Gareth Owen?' I asked him, attempting the philosophical apex of concern. 'Why is it that you weep so, when your life has been forfeit long before now? You died long ago; your body just has not caught up with the reality of it.'
“Gareth wept harder. 'I do not care what you do to me, demon. I weep for my friend, should he have the misfortune of finding himself in your dark presence.'
“I clicked my tongue at him in mock commiseration, allowing my hand to gently explore the folds of flesh I would soon be slicing into.
“'Your concern for the Waltham Phantom is admirable,' I said. 'What is his name?'
“The old man deigned to give me a reproachful stare in the silence that began to knit between us once more. I Compelled him mercilessly, but he would not speak the name of the Phantom. Blood poured freely from his eyes and ears as I crushed his brain with my thoughts. I left him alive, but only just, so that I could bleed him into the chalice.”
Again, Cadmus paused, watching Flint closely, soaking in the waves of despair sloughing off the younger Darkling like layers of useless flesh. Cadmus basked in the emotional suffering he had inspired, allowing it to wash over him and pour into him like some exotic elixir...like...Absinthe.
Flint was remembering. Flint was reliving his time with Gareth, that time before his transformation, when all was well and their youth was awash in the promise of tomorrow. And the time after his transformation, when Gareth opened his veins to feed his friend and brother, his greatest love. For decades they shared this bond of blood, and it only deepened their ineffable friendship. There had been no greater affection and trust than that shared between Gareth and Simon Flynt.
On impulse, Cadmus froze Flint with his mind, and leaned forward again, kissing him fully on the lips this time. He could feel Flint's revulsion at this act, knowing now that he was being used for some unholy purpose by the murderer of his best friend. Cadmus sat back, but kept his telekinetic hold on Flint. The only thing he allowed the Vampire to do was breathe and move his eyes.
Flint held Cadmus' gaze with his own grievous one. The expression of hatred and fear combined with the unwanted but undeniable sense of desire was more than evident, and this also amused Cadmus. He watched as Flint fought against the paralysing hold on his person, and grew even more amused when he heard a tiny squeak come from the young one, the sound of great effort coming from a throat that should have been locked against all sound.
“Squeak for me little mouse. Squeak like the titch that you are. But, before you do, let me finish your bedtime story.”
Cadmus pulled Flint to him, turning him carefully around on the branch until he was lying in Cadmus' lap like a child about to sleep. The young Darkling glared up at the Plenipotentiary with all the fury he could muster in his inert state, but lay there like a rag doll as Cadmus cast his eyes to the sky already growing slightly lighter with the threat of morning. Cadmus sighed dramatically, then continued with the tale.
“I forced my fingers into Gareth's mouth, holding him still whilst taking my favourite knife, the one made from my dragon matrice's claw, out of the belt beneath my robes. So very slowly, which is the only way to do things such as this, if you want the blood to hold its gamey essence, I let the sharp point of the black claw slip into the aged flesh of your dearest mortal, my sweet Flint. You should have seen the look of surprise on his face, despite his already knowing that I was going to slaughter him. They never quite believe it, neither mortals nor Vampires, until you begin to take the life they had always assumed was their own away from them, one heartbeat's worth of blood at a time. Gareth Owen gasped for the breath he could not catch, with his throat so open to the air, and he moaned deep within the secret cavities of his chest as I let him bleed into my chalice.
“When the flow ebbed, slowing to a hearty trickle, I decided to let that remaining blood waste into the Earth. Turning the body of Gareth Owen upside down, I plunged an iron spike through the meat's ankles and into the pike I had erected. I then finished its decapitation with my claw knife, and I secured the head to the top of the wooden post.”
Once more, Cadmus paused, letting a genuine smile grace his lush mouth, making his face shimmer in the moonlight like icy star shine behind a veil of thin clouds. He pulled the air in quickly through the nostrils of his patrician nose and he looked down at his captive audience.
Continuing, Cadmus purred the last of the cruel tale. “But I wasn’t finished exacting sacred atrocities upon this nonentity’s cooling flesh. Oh no. I found a nearby branch and affixed it to the base of the pike and, taking Owen’s arms, I tied them to the ends of the rotting wood. He was a veritable English Saint Peter, he was. And I should know…my former master arranged for that apocryphal Jewish dissident to endure the profanities of reverse crucifixion. Despite what you may have been taught in whatever religious past you may have, it wasn’t Peter’s idea, that. It was all the Apostate, may his desiccated ashes never light in peace. At least you can take comfort, my odd little friend, that your mortal blood brother was quite dead when I strung him up like the sacrificial bull that I had made him. Oh, and the way he looked hanging there, softly swaying in the cool country breeze! It was indeed a work of art, Flint. A true piece de resistance, even for one so skilled as me. Moments such as these are the reason memories, and Polaroids, are made…to capture in the full magnificence of time that which might forever otherwise be lost.”
Cadmus allowed himself another small smile in mock honour of Gareth's gory memory, and in reaction to Flint's increasing horror and rage. He lightly caressed Flint's cheek with his blanched fingers, enjoying the reprehension his act of pretend affection elicited. Looking down at his frozen charge, Cadmus wondered at the horror he found there, his expression filled with a beatific grace that was in no wise pretense. Flint could see it on his face like a tattoo of sincerity, and his spirit died a little.
“As I said, he was long past dead, by then, dear Flint. Long past it indeed. But the reflection in his drying eyes held a distant recollection of his most cherished friend, that of the Waltham Phantom, the soul he had all but given up in the last moments of his brief and sad wee life. The only thing he had not divulged was the name of the Phantom; however, had I found it important enough to do a little detective work, I would have easily discovered the name of 'Simon Flynt,' and followed the warm trail straight to your doorstep.”
Cadmus leaned down and kissed Flint on each trembling eyelid.
“But I want you to know, Flint, under no uncertain terms. I want you to know...you were never that important. For all intents and purposes, your friend Owen died for absolutely no good reason at all, save for a few heady draughts of transubstantiated Blood from my chalice.”
And that was when it happened. The geasa Cadmus held on Flint was suddenly and violently broken, and Flint was free and instantly at Cadmus' throat, his fangs bared in fury. He flipped over Cadmus, straddling the dark Vampire, the two of them balanced precariously on the tree branch. Flint looked directly into Cadmus' ebony vortices, looking for but finding no soul to tell. He did, however, find surprise. There was surprise roiling up within the depths of Cadmus' eternal gaze. Flint tapped into that and realised that he was one of only two Vampires to ever have broken one of Cadmus' geasa. And that other one, he was long dead, both as Vampire and as mortal...
“You...” Flint seethed, spitting the word through gritted fangs. “You...you murderer.”
Cadmus lazily blinked his angelic eyes as though nothing at all were the matter. He said nothing to Flint, although he was amazed at the younger Vampire's ability to overcome his powers and maintain that power for as long as he had. Cadmus prodded along the edges of Flint's psychic awareness and found that the break in their bond, of one Vampire's power over the other, was firmly torn asunder. Cadmus could tell that it would actually take his working to overcome this rift and reestablish his power over Flint. He was wholly uncertain that it would be much of a bother, truth be told. Perhaps it was just time to take the Vampire's Blood and leave his husk to greet the speeding morning.
He moved to bring his face to Flint's throat. And found himself incapable of doing so.
“Murderer...” Flint whispered.
Rage began to build in Cadmus' breast as he felt Flint's psychic hand staying his own. “Take your filthy psyche from away my Will, little rat.”
“You are a murderer,” Flint replied flatly.
“My dearest, we are all murderers. Vampires are just that. You should know this by now, or are you really that thick?”
“Shut it,” Flint replied, his lip curling in enmity. “Most of us do not relish in such evil, not like you do.”
Flint felt the Compulsion to let loose Cadmus, but he resisted it with every fibre of his being. He saw Cadmus' eyes again widen with surprise, and this drove him to tighten his grip on the Plenipotentiary. Flint tipped his head to one side and smiled.
“You're not used to this, are you? Your thoughts and feelings are vague, but I can still tell your distaste for this state you find yourself in. I can see it the secrets of you face.”
Flint closed his eyes, then opened them again, moving them across Cadmus' face as he studied the Elder with his keen, unflinching stare.
“The only one who has ever done this to you was your mother, Kelat'menan. Why is it I can do the same thing?”
“Let me go, you titch of a rat,” Cadmus commanded. But Flint ignored him. Instead, he pulled another cigarette from his pocket, placed it between his lips, and lit it with the match he'd ignited on the tree trunk. He blew smoke in Cadmus' face.
“Don't call me titch.”
Cadmus averted his eyes, fury wrenching his spirit.
Flint leaned down and sunk his fangs into Cadmus' throat, drinking in slow draughts of the Plenipotentiary's Blood, prolonging the humiliation. Cadmus could feel himself fading with each gulp of Blood Flint took. He directed his whole being into releasing himself from this agonising position. Flint fell backward, his cigarette dropping to the ground, smouldering in loneliness.
Slapping Flint hard across the face, Cadmus tightened his lips and glared a hole into Flint's spirit, his expression one of pure madness. Flint leapt from the tree and landed easily on his feet, looking up at the great black bird of night.
“This may not be the night, Pariah,” Flint growled. “But one night soon, I will return to you and I will kill you.”
“You haven't the power, little rat.”
Flint let his consciousness reach outward in an attempt to imprint Cadmus' essence on his himself. This would be the way to find him and avenge his Gareth once and for all. But Flint was unable to take on Cadmus' presence. He then felt Cadmus attempt the same thing on him, and realised that he was equally unsuccessful. They cancelled one another out. Flint grinned morosely.
“Don't think I won't find you, when I have more night to play with. As you walk beneath the moon, remember me, Cadmus Pariah. Think on the fact that I may be anywhere at any time, waiting for my chance to rip you to shreds.”
“You silly little man,” Cadmus purred. “You may have escaped me this night, but there will be other nights. There will be endless opportunities to invade your mind and let you feel the last moments of Gareth's pathetic life. And you will die in dissolution. You...will...die.”
Flint's eyes gleamed their otherworldly phosphorescence underneath the street lamps. “I don't think so. You wanna know what I think, hm? I think that I'm as much of a blind spot to you as you are to me. What was it you said? We're cut from the same cloth? You may be right. Why this is, I don't know. I don't question shit, I just go with the flow. One thing's for certain, you hateful git; if you ever cross my path again, I will kill you. It doesn't matter if I die in doing it. At least I'll die knowing that Gareth can finally rest.”
Cadmus swooped down from the tree branch and came within centimeters of Flint's face. His eyes flared, their blackness all-encompassing. “Take care with your words, titch. You never know when you will end up having to eat them.”
Flint looked up at Cadmus, his lips setting grimly. “You may well take your own advice, Pariah.”
And with that, Flint let the spirals of Anubis take him and his swirled back into his rat form before dashing back in the direction of the movie house. Cadmus watched him take cover before the inevitable sun rose over Los Angeles. He smiled just a little and marked this night as deeply momentous. The Pariah rarely faced a challenge, so it was heartening to encounter one, despite that challenge being ridiculous in so many ways. This wee Flint would be fun to hunt. Let loose the Vampiric foxes on Epping Forest. The Waltham Phantom was a marked man, of that there was no doubt.