I haven't been frightened of anything in the last 372 years. I can still remember the last time it happened; I'd been foolish, allowed myself to get caught up in the affairs of mortals and wound up on the wrong side of a civil war. I spent the day they beheaded King Charles hiding in a beer barrel in a tavern run by Royalists, gripped by a desperate thirst and convinced that my benefactors would betray me to the Roundheads before night could fall. I was wrong, but only by a matter of minutes--the setting sun stung like a swarm of wasps as I burst from the rooftop of the burning building and fled to the docks. I spent the next six weeks clinging to the underside of a sailing ship bound for the West Indies, only emerging to slake my thirst on the last night with port already in sight. I strode onto shore in Barbados with the blood of a dozen men flowing through my veins and never looked back.
I thought I'd forgotten what terror felt like. I thought I'd left it in England along with the last shreds of my mortality, conquered it on that blood-soaked night when I took my revenge for my humiliations on a crew of sailors who no doubt had no idea I was there and took no interest in politics. I believed I was strong and brutal and decadent, easily besting the disorganized oppositions of would-be van Helsings and taking whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, wherever I wanted in this new world. I lost the memory of my guts turning to water and the panic nearly stirring my dead heart to race with fear. I believed myself to be an immortal, unchallenged king of pain--the breeder of horror, not its recipient.
It's funny what comes back to you.
Her body is waifish, so light that I could no doubt wrap a single hand around her pale pink neck and lift her clean off the ground... but the strength in her blazing eyes pins me to the spot. I can't reach out for her, I can't run, I can't even so much as raise a hand to block the blow as she slaps me hard across the face. "You fool!" she hisses, anger turning her voice into an inhuman growl two full octaves below what she sounded like back at the bar. "You useless, pointless, bloodreeked walking corpse of a fool! Oh, I'll see you suffer for this. I'll make you wish you'd fucking stayed in the unhallowed ground where they buried you, just you watch."
Her eyes didn't look like this when I was watching her back at the bar. Her big coke-bottle lenses magnified the soft, doe-like hazel gaze of adoration she turned on her boyfriend, the big strong man who bought her one drink after another until she was almost too tipsy to walk. I was distracted, I admit--I was already thinking about how good her blood would taste seasoned by alcohol, and making my plans to lure them into the alley with my hypnotic powers--but I'm certain I would have noticed a pair of vertical pupils set into viridian sclera that glowed with actinic hate. I'm observant like that.
"Do you know who he was? Do you have even the slightest comprehension of the work you just ruined?" she snarls, gesturing to the body of the athletic young white man that lies crumpled on the ground between us. He's already growing cool, his blood congealing on the concrete surface of the alleyway between the bar and a tattoo parlor that exists in a symbiotic relationship with it; I didn't bother draining more than a couple of gulps before I let him crumple to the pavement with a pair of razored gashes in his throat. At the time, I thought of him as nothing more than an appetizer, a tough and stringy hors d'oeuvre before my delectably tender main course. Of course I didn't know who he was. Do you know which cow provided your steak at dinner?
She kicks me in the shins again and again in a petulant tantrum, her physical strength no more than a mere mortal's. The blows are almost unnoticeable, and it would be funny if I couldn't feel the power of her will holding my mind as easily as I once imagined holding her slender neck between my fingers. I haven't been hypnotized since my last night as a mortal--I didn't even think I could succumb to that kind of insidious mental pressure anymore--but the sensations are similar. Only she resolutely refuses to smother my fear beneath a blanket of warm, drowsy bliss. My terror dominates me as readily as her inhuman power.
"Seven years!" she shrieks, her voice ringing out in the silence of the alley. It shouldn't be this quiet--I've just murdered a man, and his girlfriend is screaming at the top of her lungs--but if the entity inside her can imprison a creature of the night within its own body with the casual ease of a single glare, I suspect she has no difficulty concealing our presence from any passers by. Which means no one will come to rescue me. It's bitterly amusing; I've spent centuries avoiding priests, and now I'm lamenting the fact that there's never one around when you need it.
"Seven years my followers have worked to draw me up into the soul of this host, easing her path from the arse end of nowhere to a scholarship to the most prestigious institute of learning in America all so that she could be in the right place at the right time to find my sigil on a clay pot in a crate full of finds from Mesopotamia. Seven years I've planned and schemed to arrange her chance meeting with a handsome, charming young man who would be instantly besotted by her winsome innocence, who would be so enchanted by her that he would lie to himself about the changes in her personality. Seven *fucking* years I've waited for the chance to seduce and manipulate him, to marry into one of the most powerful political dynasties in the Western world so I could carry out my will and bring about the day of reckoning for this pitiful, benighted species. And what happens?"
She pushes me hard. I topple like a stone statue onto the pavement, unable to make even the slightest movement to cushion my own fall. It's more embarrassing than painful; the terror comes from the realization that breaking eye contact with her hasn't diminished her power over me in the slightest. "Some dumbfuck 'creature of the night' swoops up behind us and rips his throat out! Fucking misery, you couldn't even have left him in a state to turn, could you? A vampire would have been nearly useless to me, but I would have at least had something to work with. But no, you wanted to leave me terrified, didn't you? You wanted to show me the power of darkness."
She lifts me up casually, one-handed, and flings me the entire length of the alley to slam into the brick wall hard enough to crack the masonry. "I INVENTED DARKNESS!" she roars, gliding toward me with inhuman speed and lifting me again, and I give myself over completely to terror now. Her skin boils and writhes, barely able to contain the demonic power within it, and I wonder for a moment what I'll see if it splits to show me what's beneath the surface. I had heard that there were things in this world more wicked than me, but I never truly believed it until this moment. I want to fall to my knees, to beg and grovel and pledge my genuinely eternal fealty to her if only she'll spare me from the ignominy of a death long delayed, but I still can't move a muscle. Her power is too complete.
But instead of tearing my head from my shoulders, she lets me drop. My muscles finally relax, and I collapse to my hands and knees with a whimper of pain. "No," she says, her voice filled with icily controlled menace. "No, it won't be that easy for you. I promised you suffering, fool, not death, and while it would please me so much to watch your skin flake away to ash in the morning sun, you have seven years of hard labor ahead of you before your debt is sufficiently paid to allow you a chance at the mercy of oblivion." She smiles cruelly. "If your soul wasn't already burning in hell, I might choose differently. But I can only inflict pain on you if you survive."
She gestures, and my body jerks upright like a puppet on strings. "Obviously, I can't rely on any kind of relationship with Preston back there to put me in his family's good graces; we were only dating for a couple of months before his untimely demise, not long enough to meet the parents. And they'll no doubt be upset about his death. They might even blame me." She snorts, the sound a gunshot of cynical laughter in the stillness of the night.
She frowns, deep in sinister contemplation, and I can see her skin becoming gnarled and knobbled as she stops bothering to hide the true nature of what lies beneath the mortal flesh of her host. "There is one advantage--wealthy men tend to have big families. The other sons are too old or too young to suffice as alternate thralls, but Preston had a sister. Margaux. She's only a year behind him at school here, and she knows me already. She's straight, or at least she thinks she is, but sometimes you just need to work with what you have. Especially when some idiot interferes and fouls up all your plans." I spin around and bash my head into the wall. Needless to say, it wasn't my idea.
"Naturally, I can't just show up at her dorm and say, 'Well, your brother's dead, time for a roll in the hay,'" the demoness mutters, speaking to herself almost as much as me. "I'll need some sort of a bonding experience, something to bring us close enough together emotionally to allow my talents to bridge the gap and make her believe that she's simply discovering something new about herself. Shared grief won't do it. We'll need to overcome some sort of challenge together, something that unites us--and I suppose it wouldn't hurt if it also explained how her brother wound up dead in an alley with his throat ripped out, wouldn't it?" She smiles, revealing a mouthful of needle-sharp teeth.
"I think I've got it, o faithful servant!" she crows jubilantly. She turns and heads back down the alley, and I trot along behind her like a dutiful hound, my eyes cast down at her ankles. The terror hasn't ebbed, but it's flavored with the bitter dregs of humiliation now; even when I put myself at the service of kings and queens, my hypnotic gaze always ensured that the true power in the relationship always rested with me. I've never been so utterly stripped of my dignity before. Even on the night I was turned, the power of my sire left me believing that I willingly gave my soul over to the embrace of darkness.
We stop next to Preston's corpse, and when she turns back to face me, she looks entirely human again. The winsome innocence is back in her hazel eyes, and her skin once again has the pink flush of vitality that so attracted me when I saw her earlier. If I didn't know any better, I'd swear she was still a mousy college freshwoman. But I can feel her hooks in my mind. I'll never be free of her, not even if I survive until doomsday. And I have a terrible feeling I might just do exactly that.
"You're going to bite me now," she says, meeting my gaze with a confidence that I haven't seen in centuries. "Be careful not to shred the flesh--I don't want any nasty scars that might remind Margaux of her brother's death when we make love--but make it look messy for when they find me. I want it to look as though I barely survived your terrible predations, and my loving boyfriend died defending me. Then you can leave... but don't go far. You've got a starring role in the little drama I plan to play out with sweet Margaux, the villain in a horror story that will bind us together through shared struggle. We're going to solve the mystery of her brother's death and avenge ourselves on the undead fiend that murdered him, you see. It's going to give you plenty to do, and I don't want you thinking you can depart until the final curtain."
I can already imagine just how final she plans my exit to be, but instead she merely smiles. "Oh, don't worry. We'll make it look convincing, of course, but I don't have any intention of letting you out of your service that easily. You owe me, vampire... and I promise, you will give the devil her due." She bares her neck, and I take a small, cold satisfaction in my obedience as my fangs finally rend her tender flesh.