Older And More Powerful

Part 5 of Night's Longing

The way Carmen looks deep into my eyes, it’s like she sees all the way down to the depths of my soul, like she already knows all there is to know about me, and it’s just a matter of being willing to confess the truth and thereby earn her trust.

I speak, almost without thought, telling her everything they said to me about the resurrection of Dracula before I slaughtered Daniel Boltman, Carlo Boltman, and the unimportant hangers on that comprised their hunter cell.

“Good girl. Did you truly fight them all by yourself?” Her eyes are the color of the full moon, and they show such genuine delight when I recount the deaths of my relatives. I practically jump at the opportunity to clarify the tactics I used.

“I ambushed them. Killing them while their backs were turned and while they were asleep or distracted. Carlo was awake. He spotted me, but I had the element of surprise, and I finished him off before he could draw his weapon.”

“Impressive work. Very clever of you, Hanna.” Carmen’s smile wraps me in a warm blanket of affirmation, and I melt in my seat at the vampire’s attention. I hold my tongue in eager anticipation of the next question, and when she finally asks, I trip over it to share my answer. “How did you manage to sneak in?”

“Easy! No sneaking required at all once I found their safehouse. I just walked up to the door and persuaded the hunters to let me inside. I told them I could help, and that I wanted to join them.”

The elder vampire nods encouragingly. “Wonderful. That must have been hard to do, given how hunters are known for their secretive ways.” I’m all but panting, waiting for the next question, hoping there’s more I get to give Carmen. “How did you convince them to trust an unknown girl like you?”

Liz hisses a warning at me, but I barely notice it. I’m earning Carmen’s attention and her respect and her trust. When she moves her lips to speak, I hang on every approving word. I drown myself in the depths of her eyes, and I forget that there was ever air to breathe. Vicky understands, surely. She gets why I have to tell Carmen everything she wants to know. Still, I make sure my voice is adequately lowered. See how good I can be at keeping secrets, Carmen?

“I’m Hanna Boltman, daughter of Daniel Boltman. I was trained from birth to be a vampire hunter, and they took me in because I know their shibboleths and their codes, and I could convince them that I was already an ally.”

“That’s enough!” Liz slams the table with an open palm, breaking the spell I hadn’t even noticed I had succumbed to. “I don’t care who you are, you have no right to steal secrets from my property. We are leaving with our bloodbag.”

I shake my head clear. What happened? Did Carmen really just hypnotize me? But how?

“Come on, Hanna. You too Vicky.” My sister stands and pulls me by the arm.

Vicky looks torn, glancing back and forth between her sister and the hot butch, clearly hoping to salvage the possibility of a foursome that at least half of us here at the table are still interested in. “Maybe we can—”

Now, Vicky.”

Vicks and I know we’ve lost. Carmen stands and offers a hand to help her up. “I apologize to all of you for my transgression. Please, I will not try to keep you, but let me offer my telephone contact information, if I may, before wishing the three of you a lovely night.” She retrieves a business card from the pocket of her jacket and presses it into Vicky’s hand. “If any of you learn more, I would be most gratified to hear from you again.”

As she speaks those last few words, Carmen’s gaze brushes against mine, softly, invitingly, whispering an understanding that I have become a thing of interest to her, and that it will be to my benefit if I should get my hands on this card and make contact with her again.

The image of her piercing eyes and the beautiful lilt of her accented speech cling to my mind and follow us home. Despite the violation of my mind, I’m still smitten badly. After all, if I were the type of girl who was put off by someone exerting power to control me, I wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place.

Later that night I sneak a peak at the card and type Carmen’s contact info into my phone. After a solid five minutes of self control, I message her to say that I’d love to see her again when I can.

I feel a little out of sorts for a quite a while after that. Not just on the trip back home, but for days afterward. I didn’t even notice that she was using vampiric hypnosis on me. Are elder vampires that much more powerful? Or just that much more subtle?

I love my sisters, I do, but they aren’t the most powerful vampires here by a fair margin. The more time I spend within vampire society, the more I’m forced to acknowledge that Vicks and Lizzy are very likely near the bottom. Carmen, though… Just how powerful is she? I shiver at the thought.

With Liz at work tonight and Vicky having vanished to do her own thing, I find myself restless, leaving the apartment to go for a walk through the city’s beautiful underworld. When I’d first heard of underground vampire tunnels, I foolishly imagined dank, cramped concrete cylinders with little nooks for people to duck into, but the reality is beyond anything I could have conceived.

The sheer scale is staggering. I can’t imagine how anyone could have excavated this much earth. I can’t imagine how or where they moved it. I can’t even begin to understand the engineering required to keep it all from collapsing. The underworld is a work of art sculpted in arches and high-tension cables and reinforced steel beams, further decorated with ornate sculpture and frescoes and mosaics everywhere you turn, treating the eyes to fantastic scenes of rich and bloody decadence.

Unlike the city above, there are no blank walls in stark white or drab gray or self-effacing beige deflecting attention to the nearest billboard. Every surface I cast my eyes upon is decorated in luscious crimson hues, abounding with countless flavors of beauty to catch one’s gaze and tantalize the mind. It’s a culture that acknowledges we must leave to feed our bodies, but it promises that when you return, your home will feed your soul.

I pass by a mural depicting a lesbian orgy with a dozen participants, each with a different body type, all lovingly rendered with an artist’s deep appreciation for women of every shape, size, and color. It makes my heart ache with a longing for the connection depicted here. These women could have come from everywhere around the world, but they’re all united in undeath and sapphic desire for one another.

I step to a street’s edge and peer over the side at floor after floor descending downward, lights arranged in grid patterns along the walls like looking at a city skyline mirrored upside-down. These heights are dizzying, intoxicating in their own way. It speaks of power, true power, the power to shelter your people and care for all of them in comfort and luxury.

Down on the floor below me, the gentle splashing of a fountain catches my attention. It’s sculpted to resemble an abstract representation of four humans, the fountain gushing upward from each of their bared necks. It’s all water, I’m sure, but the water has been dyed a brilliant ruby for greater appeal.

I guess this is what you get when wealth is concentrated among people who think very long term. No matter how long a project takes to be completed, the planners expect to live to enjoy it. Also perhaps vampires are simply more community minded than the humans who adopt selfishness and independence as their prime virtues. Animals. They deserve the way we treat them no better than cattle to be slaughtered.

There’s something else I can’t help but notice. No cars down here. Nobody wants to breathe all that exhaust, and the streets are designed for foot traffic. From across the walkway here I watch people coming and going from a bustling marketplace for hand-crafted goods. Tailors, sculptors, cobblers, tanners, soap makers—everyone is practicing their craft the same way they have for a century or more. This is a paradise unrivaled by anything human hands have accomplished. It’s so beautiful it nearly makes me weep.

“Well, look what we have here. A dog slipped from its kennel.”

Shit. Ylio. Too lost in thought, I haven’t been paying attention.

I whirl around to face them, wracking my brain for something I can say to avert a violent confrontation. “Hey there, Ylio. What are the odds we bump into each other like this, huh?”

They look down their nose at me. “Well it’s true that I have to go rather out of my way to visit this side of town, but I do find it worthwhile to create little opportunities like this.”

I’ve got nothing. My equipment is in a human storage unit on the surface. I have only my wits, a somewhat-beyond-human physique, and a properly educated vampire hunter’s polite familiarity with theurgy. Meanwhile Ylio is definitely stronger than my sisters, who I already know I’m unable to overpower with brute strength alone.

“Listen,” I say, stalling for time. My fingers curl into what I’m pretty sure is the proper form. “I think we can negotiate something mutually beneficial, can’t we?” My tongue begins tracing the matching invocation behind my lips, while I offer my best approximation of a simpering smile.

“The mutual part is of minimal interest. Goodbye, dog.”

With a shove from Ylio, I fall backward over the edge. The ground catches up to me quickly. I never hear the sickening crack as my body crumples into a heap.