Benj turned to the Beares. Mrs. Beare flinched as he shifted to her.
“Look into my eyes, Mrs. Beare,” Benj said, sitting down next to her on the sofa.
“No! No! Never look in a vampire’s eyes!” Sophie wanted to scream, but she did not. Their son kicked in her womb. He fought against what his father gave into as Benj pulled down the ice bars holding back his inner beast. Sophie sensed Benj take Mrs. Beare at the same moment her son flinched. Benj took her to his secret place. The place in his mind where they had danced, where they heard their child’s heart beat for the first time. He drew Mrs. Beare close just as he had once brought Sophie close. His desire mirrored the attraction Sophie often experienced. Tears slipped down her face.
How dare he take her there?
Both thoughts flooded her heart and mind.
Someone slipped a warm hand over her shoulder. Sophie looked up. Stan stood beside her. He smiled a half smile, a sad smile. Sophie grasped his hand like a life line in a violent sea. A warm human hand to hold while the cold hand she loved held another. Her son ordered her to look away. Look back at Stan. Look anywhere. But Sophie could not obey.
Her vampire took Mrs. Beare’s head in his white hand. He turned her just enough to expose her neck. With one arm around her back, he bent over as he moved her against himself. Benjamin sank his teeth into her white skin and drank deep of her blood. His lust spread it’s wings over the sea of ice inside him. He allowed the darkness to fly free and unfettered. He give himself to it.
Sophie’s son scream deep inside her.
Benj jerked free with a gasp. He tumbled off the sofa in his hurry to get away.
“Go!” He waved at Morry. “Go!”
Morry hustled the Beares out the door, both the men supporting a dazed and fainting Mrs. Beare. Benj cupped his head in his hands. “God forgive me…”
Sophie heard the front door close behind them, but Mrs. Beare’s essence remained. She remained in the room and Benj wanted her, wanted her blood, wanted her body, wanted her dying in his arms.
“Sophie,” Benj called her.
The world slowed as he climbed to his feet. Everything moved one century long moment after moment. The window framed him against the night, a vampire in his true glory. The moon shown on him and Benj grew taller. He wrapped fear and hopelessness around him like a cloak. His eyes glowed red in the darkness.
“Sophie,” he called to her again. His voice echoed in her ears and in her mind.
She came to her vampire. She came at his call with no ability or desire to do otherwise.
He took her. He covered her in his darkness.
Benj bent her back supporting her with one arm. He brushed her gray hair back from her face and trailed his fingers down her cheek to her white neck. His lips, warm and full, touched her skin. A frightened chill ran up her spine and danced over her. She trembled in his arms. Benj sank his teeth deep into her vein. Sophie gasped. She felt him. His full concentration of blood lust crashed down upon her. He wholly succumbed to its seductive song. Benj no longer existed. Benjamin drained her, taking her blood. Her child, their child, rested at the bottom of her womb. He cried out at the monster attacking his mother. Sophie faded into Benj. She forgot her love. She forgot her child, Cora, everything, overcome by his powerful desire. Her world turned red.
“Get her away from me,” he groaned.
Gentle hands set her down. Sophie smiled up at the kind face.
“Son?” Sophie whispered hoping she had been given a chance to see him again, to calm his fears, and chase away his nightmares.
“Nope. I’m Stan. Remember?”
Reality collapsed onto her. Sophie sat up on the threadbare sofa. Stan and Jack backed up.
“Benj!” She tried to leap up, but her limbs would not respond. Lifeless and dumb, they lay on the floral cushion.
“Don’t try to move,” Stan said.
“Drink this.” Jack handed her a glass of grape juice.
Sophie gulped it down and held the glass for more. Her link to Benj flared to life. Dear Benj. Almost at the breaking point, so overcome with lust for the blood of two women. He hated the lust. He wanted more. He wanted all their life in himself. He hated himself. He had betrayed the woman he loved most in the world.
Mixed with all the raging emotions fluttered a tiny, throbbing hate. It came from their son. Sophie put her hands around her womb.
“What have you done?” she yelled, terrified.
Benj shifted from some personal hellhole to her side in an instant. He put his hand on her womb afraid for his son’s life. The hatred flared.
“No! No! He did it for me!” Sophie sobbed.
“What’s going on?” Stan asked, ready to dash for a doctor, not that a doctor would be much help.
Sophie dropped her head back. Sweat broke out all over her body. Heat chased chills up and down her body.
“My son hates me. He sensed my lust and he thinks I have betrayed Sophie. He does not understand,” Benj spoke each word calmly and succinctly, but his heart broke as his family slipped from his fingers. Sophie tried to swallow the wail before it escaped her lips. She bit down on her tongue until it came out a muttered moan.
“Give us three hours and then we will finish this one way or the other,” Benj said to Stan as he scooped up Sophie and shifted back to their room. He laid a blanket over her and tucked it in around her.
“Sleep my dearest love. We have a long battle before us.”
Benj sat on the floor by her head with his back against the wall. He watched while Sophie slept. Even with her eyes closed, her heart closed, her mind closed, even in her dreams, two red eyes glowed in her darkness.
Sophie called to Cora and the young girl appeared before the veil. Only a few hours remained of the night. Even now the power of the sun reached golden fingers into the darkness, expelling it.
“Ready?” Sophie asked.
“Are you?” Cora said.
“No, but we can’t wait any longer.”
Cora reached out and her hands filled with blood. Sophie raised her own hands, and watched her palms fill. Benj shifted between them.
Sophie closed her eyes to the world and opened them in her inner soul, her core. Cora and Benj, now just a wisp of a shade, joined her in her forest. Sophie sighed. Benj had never been given corporeal form in her forest. If only she could take his hand and walk beneath the branches with him. If only they had time.
“You look like you did when we met,” Benj touched a brown curl hanging in her face. Sophie reached up to take his hand but her fingers slipped through his incorporealness.
“Our son is here.” Benj faced the forest.
“He’s usually in there with you.” She pointed to the dark spot in her woods where two red eyes had once watched over her. Now they were gone. “He’s alone in there.”
Benj hung his head. Sorrow welled up inside Sophie. Why had she made him do this? Why had they been made to do this? Torn apart before they even got to be together. She feared her ability to continue in this world sundered from her husband and her son.
“Let’s roll,” she said to keep the deep scarring of her fate at bay.
In unison, Cora and Sophie both reached through Benj’s shade and clasped hands. Far away the doorway of a ruined soul flared and a line appeared between them. Power like the magic of midnight soared through them. Sophie threw back her head and laughed. The two adventuring sisters raced towards the door, hand in hand….
….everything went dark….
Sophie saw Manson. He spoke with someone, but this time things were different. This time Sophie controlled the vision. She chose to come here. Pews, rows and rows of them waited in two lines in a large room. Stained glass windows – saints and sinners trapped in glass – dark now, slept and waited for the risen sun to bring them to life. Manson stood by the pulpit but over his head ranged scaffolding and clear tarps. Buckets, tools and wood sat haphazardly throughout the front of the sanctuary. A vaguely familiar shaped darkness in the shadows spoke with Manson.
She pulled out of the vision not wanting him to know she had a link…
Like smashing into a brick wall in a full out run, Sophie crashed back into her body. Benj caught her as she fell to the floor. Sophie flinched at his touch. She sensed his love and worry, but it was laced with him scenting for her blood.
“I am sorry.” He set her down on the sofa and stepped back. Her discomfort saddened him, but what choice did they have?
“Space between us does not weaken our link,” Sophie reminded him gently.
“Did it work?” Stan pulled up a chair and sat down giving Benj a reproving glance.
Sophie almost laughed but Benj’s pain kept her silent. She held her hand out to him. He shifted to her side, and she pulled him down onto the sofa. The lust grew. His love remained, constant as always, but as he sat down, Sophie sensed him smelling her. She sensed the dark place in his soul, no longer trapped. It had conquered the icy land of his core, and gave full reign to lust, want, and murder. Benj fought against it, one small, brave light against a towering darkness. Sophie shuddered but did not let go of Benj’s hand. She focused on his love and held herself there. The light inside grew.
Their son protested, and pushed his father away.
Sophie wrapped her free hand around herself, divided between the weak light in Benj and the flaming hatred of their son. She could not quench the one while she fed the other.
“Manson is in a church building with stained glass windows,” Sophie said wanting this all to end.
The three men looked at her.
“Anything else?” Stan asked.
“It’s under construction.” Sophie added.
“That could be anywhere.” Jack slumped in his chair.
“I know where he is. Cora and I are still linked. I just wanted to be careful,” Sophie explained.
“St. Jude’s,” Stan said.
“Excuse you?” Benj said.
“St. Jude’s is being remodeled. There was a fire there last year. Three children were killed. I wrote several articles about it then and one last week about the remodel. It’s not far from the trap house.”
“Let’s go,” Jack said.
“Someone was with him there. I couldn’t see him.”
“It could be one of the Gray or it could be a vampire. Fortunatus said some might join with him. I saw evidence of him catching some vampires’ notice, but I do not think it is another vampire. To us, Manson is only a young witch, an evil pet. He will have to become more powerful for many vampires to take note. It will be one of the Gray,” Benj said.
“Wait just a second,” Sophie said. She cocked her head as Cora spoke to her from before the veil.
“Benj. Take me with you. Cora and I are going to keep Manson busy while you’re on your way.”
“Is that a good idea?” Benj asked.
Sophie sat up and kissed his cheek. “I have your body with our blood flowing in it and that has made the link strong. You saw me as I am in the spirit. I’ll be fine.”
Benj picked her up. A sharp desire for the warmth in her, and the smell and feel of Mrs. Beare’s blood washed through him again. Their son reared up. Sophie screamed in pain. Benj set her down, confusion and heartache rolling off him in almost visible waves.
“Peace, my son.” He held out his hand over Sophie’s womb.
She gasped as their unborn child fought to escape her womb to get to Benj.
“He hates you,” she whispered.
She clutched Benj’s hand holding it close to her face and kissing it with the hope of convincing their unborn child to love his father. But Benj could no more dispel his lust than Sophie could remove the twisting in the pit of her stomach as Mrs. Beare kept bubbling to the surface of his feelings. He wanted them both. He wanted their life force flowing through him. He shouted at the darkness attempting to hold onto his love for Sophie and rid himself of lust. He turned pleading blood shot, haunted eyes on Stan.
“You get Sophie.”
“No!” Sophie yelled reaching out. Stan helped her up and followed Jack out to the car.
“Where did he go?” Stan asked as he held her arm to help her into the car.
“He went after Manson.”
Without another word, Sophie slipped into her forest. Cora waited for her armed and ready. The two joined hands and charged through the ethereal space between souls right to the door of Manson’s castle in his inner core. It crashed open under their combined force.
Sophie drew her pistols.
Her voice echoed through the black empty chambers of his soul. She followed the rebounding noise into a giant room with a throne squatting in the center, a throne of ruined, torn, tortured souls. For the first time since meeting him, Sophie watched Manson stumble. He fell back from his chair startled at their attack.
“How did you…?”
She raced for him, pistols raised. Behind her Cora fired bullet after bullet from a silver derringer. Sophie aimed the noses of her guns in his face and fired. Manson raised his arm to protect himself. Bullets sliced through it with a sickening hack. It chewed through flesh and bone. Manson screamed in pain, clutching for the broken parts. Sophie fired with her other gun. The bullets ate away his arm and left only the stump. He stumbled to the back wall of the chamber.
“You bitch! How could you? You damn bitch!”
He called to his hall. Axes and blades flew from the wall. Sophie ducked, narrowly missing a blood-stained axe only to have to jump up to avoid a curved knife hacking at her feet. Her pistols elongated into two strong shotguns. Sophie grabbed the barrel and batted a scalpel across the room. Blades and chains flew through the air. Sophie and Cora stood back to back fighting against Manson’s soul.
The whirlwind of blades stopped.
Far away, along the line which bound her, true terror flowed. The terror made all she had suffered the last few days pale in comparison. In her distraction, a butcher knife plunged into her shoulder. It drove her from the hall.
Sophie opened her eyes and oh, how she wished she had kept them shut. Stan held her up, his left arm around her waist, her right arm over his shoulder. He held his gun in his right hand. Jack laid at her feet. His life’s blood pooled around them rushing from a gaping wound where his neck had been ripped out.
“Jack?” She whispered unable to understand what she saw.
Stan’s gun aimed across the room. Sophie followed its black nose. A vampire with glowing red eyes held Benj in an unbreakable head lock. Wounds covered his body. An engraved silver collar clasped his long white neck.
“Sophie,” Benj called to her.
Love, pure love laced only with sorrow flowed from him untainted with lust and desire for another woman. The darkness inside him had lost. Benj sagged. His feet gave out from under him, exhausted. Sophie’s blood ran over the flagstones of the church, not in him. The many wounds covering his body did not heal. Manson stood next to him returning to his body from their battle. He face paled as blood poured from his arm. He had not lost it, like inside his soul, but a vicious gash cut across the muscle. His blood joined Benj’s and Jack’s on the floor of the empty church building.
“I could have killed him,” Sophie whispered, her horror building. “I could have killed him.”
“You have met Fortunatus I see,” Manson gasped each word from between clenched teeth, indicated the vampire holding Benj. Fortunatus stepped fully out of the darkness. Sophie recognized the shadow she had seen in her vision. Bile rose in her throat.
“You!” Stan said, his fingers tightening on the grip of his .357.
“Quite a fight,” Manson said. “I didn’t see that coming. But you didn’t see this.”
He pulled a stake from his belt with a bloody hand and lunged with all his might at Benj. He drove it deep into the saved vampire’s heart. Benj’s eyes flew wide. He looked past Manson at Sophie. His violet eyes faded to nothing. He disintegrated and turned to ash. The silver collar clanked on the floor.
“Benj?” she whispered.
He was not there.
She could not sense him. Nothing. No Benj. No love, no feelings, no soul connection, not even a hint of blood lust. Nothing.
“Benj!” she screamed.
Deep inside herself their child screamed. Manson waved at Fortunatus.
“Kill him, but leave her for me.”
“Master,” Fortunatus nodded and shifted towards them.
A silvery veil appeared in his path. Cora lunged out at him and flung him across the room. He plowed into a row of pews. Scaffolding rained down around him. Stan fired at Manson again and again, empting his cylinder of bullets.
Manson dove for cover.
Stan hauled Sophie from the sanctuary.
They drove for days. Sophie never asked where they were going. She road in the brown Buick, numb and gone. In a cheap hotel room she gave birth to a solemn baby boy with dark hair and deep, gray eyes shot with violet.
“Benj named him Crow,” Stan told her.
Only Crow brought any light to her eyes, the world was distant and cold. Only Crow kept her alive, all her reason for living, all her love had blown away, ash in the wind. Crow lay in her lap. A tattoo of a torn bloody veil draped over a moon-lit coffin adorned his chest, a black raven his back, a list of X’ed out names on his right shoulder below which was written -
I love you for always
And miss you forever…
…Join me, next Friday, for the continuation of the tale…