By Mark Cunningham
The Master was old. He had been turned late in life and that turning had taken place a long time ago. There were those of his kind that were older, but most of them had long ago ceased to concern themselves with the world and its doings. It was assumed that they still fed. Beyond that, who could know?
The Master was also wise, though his wisdom had often been ascribed more to cunning than awareness by those who had encountered him and survived to form an opinion on the matter. This wisdom, such as it was, had served him well. He had successfully positioned himself as the leader of all vampires, no small task in itself. That he had been able to do it at a time when there had been a field rich with contenders, many of them considered to be of greater lineage was considered by many to have been nothing short of genius. A student of history, both human and vampire, The Master had devised a strategy older than himself. He had divided and conquered, fanning the flames of petty jealousies and rivalries until a conflagration had swallowed and engulfed most all of those that would stand in his way.
The celebration that had followed his coronation had lasted one hundred years, and the backstreets of the world had run red. Any that would still defy him were hunted down and given a simple choice; serve him and slake their thirst, or be staked and forgotten. Those few that had evaded his minions had faded into the night, all but one.
And so it was that The Master had consolidated his power, rewarding fealty and utterly crushing even the slightest hint of dissent until he now stood at the precipice of his destiny.
All Vampires had the capacity for creation. They could turn a human, beyond death, into a vampire, but this was not the creation of life. That simple gift was taken from them when they entered into their dark existence. Yet The Master had found a way. After centuries of study, of endless nights spent reading lost tomes of forgotten lore, printed in blood, bound in the skins of sacrificed maidens, he had finally discovered the secret to the creation of life. With this power, he would become master of everything natural and supernatural. As he ruled night, he would rule day and all would bow before him and all would despair. His time was upon him. He stood at the very brink.
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of approaching feet. It was his servant Hadrian.
“We have word of Balfour, the Scot.” Hadrian kept his eyes down.
“Tell me.” The Master’s voice was calm, but his eyes were red with memory.
“He was seen in France, in Provence. He was in the company of Isabella, the Tuscan whore who…”
“I know of Isabella. They are on their way.” It wasn’t a question.
“They are on their way,” Hadrian’s voice echoed in the chamber. “They will arrive in time. We have made sure there will be a trail that will lead them here.”
“Do not underestimate Balfour.” The Master stroked his lip. “I made that mistake once. It’s a mistake you will not survive.”
Hadrian raised his red eyes quickly, but lowered them when met by his master’s gaze. “Balfour will be expecting a trap so we have taken great pains to hide it just so. He will work it out and follow, thinking he has surpassed us. He cannot know the part he will serve. His cleverness will be his undoing.”
“Yes.” The Master agreed. “Balfour was always a clever one.”
They discussed the plan until The Master was satisfied. Finally he smiled lazily. “I grow weary and the hunger lies deep.”
Hadrian smiled and said simply, “Follow me.”
They travelled on the wind for a time until they came to a glade in a deep wood. There was a fire and large wooden pole stuck deeply in the ground. Three vampires and a mortal man waited. Chained to the tree was what looked like a young girl, perhaps twenty years old. Her hair was gold and her eyes were green. She was beautiful and shimmered in the light of the moon.
The Master stepped down from the wind and approached the gathering.
“Hail Dorval the Hunter. I see your skills have not waned with age.” The Master was courteous, surprisingly so as it was a mortal he addressed.
Dorval stood tall and lean, dressed in black with black hair tied back to frame angular, hawk like features. His face had a weathered look, but his wiry muscles and stance made him look younger than his years.
“My skills have sharpened with age, Master Vampire. No man alive could match my eye; no man dead for that matter.” This last was meant for the three vampires who stood around him. They bristled slightly but he ignored it.
The Master nodded in acceptance, then turned to study the girl tied to the pole. She was shivering and afraid, but trying to hide the fear. She had an aura of sad nobility that was not lost on The Master.
“Tell me child, what is your name?” The master’s voice was quiet and soothing.
The girl spoke, but no words came forth. Some might have heard music, the sound of chimes in the wind. Others would have heard birdsong, low and mournful, or the sound of quiet raindrops falling through leaves. The Master heard only magic. This was no girl. It was a wood nymph and from the pattern of her song, it was obvious that she was old, perhaps older than the master himself.
Turning to Dorval, the Master spoke. “You have outdone yourself my friend. She is exquisite.”
Dorval bowed quickly. “I serve you Master Vampire. Remember that service.” Dorval paused to study the nymph. Her song had changed, its rhythm taking on added dimension. “Such a pity.”
The Master smiled at the uncharacteristic softness in the hunter’s voice.
“Pity Dorval?” The Master chuckled grimly. “Does the eagle pity the rabbit?”
Smiling himself at the momentary weakness, Dorval answered.
“I am going to Singapore. I have heard rumors of a Mermaid.” His eyes gleamed with the thought of it. “I will send word when I have secured it, until then, remember my service and the promise of service yet to come.” He walked out of the clearing, followed by two of the vampires.
The Master smiled and approached the Nymph. Her song became discordant at his approach.
“Calm yourself my dear.” The Master’s voice was deep and soothing. His crimson eyes began to glow as they locked on to the green of her own. It took some time, but she finally grew still and quiet.
“That’s better.” The Master smiled and his smile filled her green eyes until she was left with no choice but to return it. She began to sing again, and this time her song was beautiful and free.
‘Yes.” The Master closed the distance quickly and held her in his cold arms. Tears began to form at the corner of her eyes as some part of her deep inside realized what was happening, but her song was unchanged. “Think of the sun. Remember it’s warmth. Feel it on your hair and skin.” He placed his hand on her head and slowly tilted it, exposing her golden neck. “Let it flow through you and into me.”
He struck, sinking fangs into her and now her song was such that no human ear could bear it. It contained all that she was and the anguish at the loss of it. As her life flowed out of her, it grew softer until the last of it hung on the breeze for those heart breaking final seconds.
The Master pulled back and wiped his lip, stained green from the blood sap of the nymph. Her lifeless husk had turned back to wood and fused to the post, a vague form that was no longer beautiful. Those who might pass by in later days would see that post and the wood that seemed to grow out of it and feel a strange and inexplicable sadness and loss at the sight. Better for them to keep on walking as nothing good would come from a closer look.
“Is there anything else you require Master?” Hadrian asked dutifully.
“Nothing at the moment.” The Master answered. “I will spend some time here in these woods before returning to sleep. When I wake there will be much to do before Balfour’s arrival. We must not disappoint him.”
Hadrian turned to leave and cast himself on the wind when the Master began to sing the wood nymph’s song. He shuddered at the sound of it in spite of himself.