Free Sample Chapter PRELUDE She saw a beckoning shadow, which spoke to her without words, and she saw in its embrace destruction, and that which was worse than destruction. Under the eye of the shadow, she saw revealed her entire life, and its conceits: its causes, faiths, ideologies, lovers... A parade of futility, dreams broken and bleeding on the shards of bottles and needles. Now that she stood before Evil made manifest, the realization came to her that her life's petty and vulgar impurities had been nothing more than an audition for this moment; her heart, still young in years but burdened with the weight of her sins, leapt to perceive that she had been found acceptable: her tepid blood found worthy for the slaking of the shadow's need.... Without another backwards glance, she went to it. Chapter 1 THE MASTER'S WORDS In the beginning, there was nothing, and that was good. But ever so slowly, there came to her a flicker of sensation, an awareness below consciousness that her existence continued. That was less good, for the long unknowing sleep had held no dreams, no discomfort. For the essence of this sensation was pain: a quiet gnawing that never ceased, like insects worrying at the tissues of her dead brain. Then, there came to her a gradual awareness of direction. The source of the pain emanated from above her current position. That knowledge produced in her a recognition of spatial relationships: if the sensation came from above, then evidently there was something else which was below, and her entity occupied a certain area which was bounded by these other somethings. Thus, she came to an awareness that she possessed a body. So her expanding mind sent forth questings of nerve-currents, to seek the bounds of her flesh. Her torso she discovered, and her limbs, and finally sensation reached even to the tips of her fingers and toes. Yes, she possessed a body, and one of human shape, but there was no sensation to it, save only for the continuing experience of its pain, which persisted without dulling. Up to this point, there had been no sight or sound to interrupt the discovery of her body. Now, softly and faintly, she began to be aware of a distant scuffling sort of noise, muted as if it came from beyond a barrier. The sound rapidly became louder and nearer, until it was just beyond the cubicle or receptacle in which she was contained. Then there was the hard noise of the splinter- ing of wood, and a sound of lifting. Light shot into her space, piercing, crushing, and the pain became many degrees of magnitude greater. She forced her muscles into their first movement, drawing her arms up to her face to hide it from the light. There came a low, painful whine, which she slowly realized was coming out of her own throat. A voice came down from above her: "Stop that. You look like a cretin. Come along, get up, the night isn't going to last forever." She withdrew her hands, opened her eyes, and looked up the shaft of her grave to see a tall figure which stood on its edge. It was male, dressed in black garments from throat to foot. The hurtful moonlight reflected down off his high forehead and hooked nose, but left coal shadows in his eye-sockets, below the hairy brows. She was distressed by that face and tried to shrink back, seeking the safety of her casket. But he reached down, and his arm stretched all the way down to her in an unnatural fashion, and, seizing her in a wrenching grip, brought her up to the level of the ground. The man looked her over with a distasteful grimace, and then broke into a smile without humor. "You're a mess. In all the days you were conscious down there, didn't it ever occur to you that you had the power to halt the decay processes and keep all the vermin away from you?" he remarked drily. His voice was deep and harsh, but not entirely lacking in melody. His eyes remained hidden in shadow. "Excuse me, I have been remiss," he continued. "I've failed to give you the greeting which my people traditionally offer to those who have joined their ranks." He gave a mock bow, and said, with a note of derision: "I welcome you, once child of mortal flesh, now heir of the unending mastery, to the brethren of the night-tide, the keepers of the blood- quenched thirst. Spurn the agony of the day and abide with me, until the dark has conquered and ceases not." Then he strode to her and struck her across the face so that she collapsed on the ground. "And let that be your very first lesson: I am your Master in everything you say, do and think, and I have a quick and capricious temper." He smiled again down upon her. "But I am also kind- hearted when I want to be. You're nothing but an empty shell. Fill yourself." He withdrew from somewhere on his person a small furry thing which cried with fear, and handed it to her. She gripped it, turning it over in her hands, listening to its squeals. After a moment, she clutched it to her breast and looked puzzled. The Master laughed mockingly again. "You bite it, girl! Bite it and drain the good things inside it!" Following his gesture, she did just that. There was a small rush of warm stuff into her throat, which she automatically swallowed. It was bitter, and seemed to burn her a little as it went down, but after she was finished there was a slight alleviation of the gnawing pain. She smiled a little at that. She wanted more, but had no words in her to ask. She stood there, silent in the moonlight, her entire being filled with supplication to him, the provider. This helplessness in her softened something in him, so that he smiled softly and reached out to give her the slightest of caresses. She flinched at the first contact, but seeing that this was not to be another blow allowed herself to flow into his hands. Then he spoke to her again: "You're still no better than an animal. You can hear what I'm saying but you can't understand anything but the tones of the words I speak. "Should I keep you like this? Do I want yet another brute blindly following behind me, reminding me of my own hungry lower nature? Or shall I mold you into some exotic form that amuses me? I can do that. When I drained you, it wasn't only the blood that I devoured, but all of your memories with it, all your dreams and motivations... If I wanted to, I could reach into the stock I have inside me, of the uncounted millions who have felt my sharp kiss, and choose a little bit of thought here, another belief there, and make you into a completely new person according to my fancy.... "But that's not what I want tonight. I want you to be free beside me, within the limits I'll impose; for that, I am going to restore to you all your past, a full awareness of your position, and your fate." He took her face between both hands, brought it close to his, and at last she could see the fierce eyes within his sockets. They seethed and burned, and the fire leapt out towards her, causing a scorching unlike the other pain she felt. It strove against her, the light of his eyes, piercing into and violating her inner being, and planted in her mind the knowledge of what she was and was to be. "Your name is Elizabeth."
Click here for ORDERING INFORMATION