Vampire versus Vampire, Round I
Thanks to Starway Man, my Beta-Reader, as ever.The Prophecies Cycle
Book I: The Red Moon Rises
Chapter 15: Vampire versus Vampire, Round I18 to 24 Days until the Red MoonOutside of Castle Maestro
North of Sunnydale Town
The procession of vampires, coming in carts and riding on horses, had to be seen to be believed as it approached its destination.
The undead were out in numbers tonight, bringing along human cargo, blood bags to supplement what would have to be a diet of almost entirely animal blood, heading for the Master's prison as the convey suddenly halted. Everyone stopped moving simultaneously, as if they were one entity, merely by a raised hand from Darla.
It was somewhat difficult for Darla to maintain her focus, so to speak. Recent events, such as Angel's attempted deception and treachery, Jesse's incompetence, and some members of the Chase household escaping the castle alive, had definitely put the blonde vampire on edge. Made her want to lash out and bathe in blood, to scream and tear apart those who had made her angry. But Darla knew she had to put all that behind her (for now); at the moment, she had more important matters to deal with.
“Luke is already here.” She said softly, staring at the castle. “We're too late.”
“The Red Moon hasn't risen yet, my Lady.” A robed vampire said from behind her. “There is still time for you to procure the favored place at the Master's side, once he is released from his prison.”
Darla dismissed the sycophantic words with a simple hand gesture. “Luke has control of the castle, you fool. And we are not equipped for a siege. Neither are we able to simply assault the walls to force our way.”
“Silly Grandmother. You don't need to do that!” Drusilla said, giggling.
Darla turned to Spike, her temper hovering around boiling point. “Shut her up, Spike, or-”
“Ms. Edith says that the naughty shadowman will open the doors for us.” Drusilla giggled again. “Naughty shadowman!”
Darla latched onto those words. “Shadowman?” There was only one being she knew of that such a term could accurately describe. Julian Parthenos. Of course, his humanity was quite a bit in doubt, but...
“Naughty?” Darla turned around at the not-entirely-unexpected sound of Julian's voice. “Your words wound me, Drusilla. I'll have you know, my dear, that I'm perfectly well behaved.”
Darla scoffed at that. “Well behaved? I'll believe that when I see it.” The vampire scowled; out here in the open, there were no shadowy corners for Parthenos to hide in. And yet he was still able to turn the darkness of the night, in the area he stood, into darkness too solid even for vampire eyes to penetrate. “Curse you, Julian; why do you always conceal yourself like that? You should know it doesn't protect you – the patch of darkness you're hiding in now is too small for me to miss you, were I to attack.”
“Well, it is trite but true for me to say that darkness is what I am, Darla.” Julian replied. Then his voice came from some distance behind the undead matriarch, as the patch of solid darkness simply vanished before her eyes. Darla turned and saw another one, where he was now. “Not to mention, it is how I get around. Were I to stand in mere shadow, I'd be a sitting duck for you and your minions. But such talk is pointless distraction, let us get down to business. Believe it or not, I'm here to help you.”
“Really?" Darla said scornfully. "Well, that isn't comforting at all. Because Luke is still the one who is paying for your services, no? So forget it, mercenary, I'm not paying you a damned thing.”
“Well, to tell you the truth, I never expected otherwise. But the thing is, Darla, I don't get my money from Luke until the Master rises. And sad to say, but the old bat-nose can't rise if your two factions of the Order of Aurelius fight each other until you're both easy prey for the Daughters of Sineya." Julian said patiently, still invisible in the darkness. "And so, I aim to persuade Luke of the necessity of sharing his castle and its grounds with you and yours. Until good old Heinrich Nest finally rises from the prison he was put in six hundred years ago, of course.”
“You dare speak the Master's name!?” The robed vampire from before demanded, launching himself at Julian. It was a foolish thing to do, but then the acolyte was fairly young, had a temper and was too inherently convinced of his undead superiority.
A black tendril of solid darkness wove its way out of Julian's place of concealment and wrapped itself around the vampire's neck, lifting him several feet off the ground. With practiced ease, the tendril flung the undead creature back a dozen feet before vanishing back into the patch of darkness.
“Yes. I dare. I dare a lot of things, actually. But if you want me to ensure that Luke doesn't let his ego get in the way of your shared goals – and my payday – then you'd best make sure that none of your minions try that again, Darla.” The undead woman got the distinct impression that the human (if that was what he was) was smiling
. "Do we understand each other?"
“Yes. None of them will interfere with you.” Darla said negligently.
“Good.” And then the patch was gone completely.
“What the hell was that all about? Who was that bleeding tosser?” Spike demanded. It was amazing how he had managed to stay quiet up until now, but the Britillian vampire could no longer remain silent.
“Julian Parthenos.” Darla answered in a bored tone of voice. “Either a human skilled in the magic of shadows, some kind of darkness-based demon, or something else. It is never clear, to say the least.”
For some reason neither sane vampire could understand, Drusilla immediately burst out in gales of mad laughter.Inside of Castle Maestro
North of Sunnydale Town
“Darla and her forces have arrived outside the castle, my lord.” An armored vampire told Luke. “Simply say the word and the Three shall dispatch her, and bring her band of heretics into the flock.”
“Now that, my thick-skulled friend, would be a terrible idea.” The shadows in the corner of the ruined throne room that Luke had taken over for himself thickened, as Julian Parthenos arrived. “Not only because you would ignite a war that would decimate both your factions, but it would also result in a delay for me getting my just deserved pay. You and yours would be best served by allowing Darla and her minions to share the castle with you, as the night of the Red Moon approaches.”
“Sharing the Master's favor with heretics is-” The armored vampire started to protest.
“Oh, do shut the hell up, you pathetic fool.” Julian interrupted, sounding irritable for once. “Luke, I highly doubt Heinrich Nest would look on you with favor if you jeopardized his freedom, simply because you and Darla couldn't play nice together. And we both know if your two sides fight each other, you'll have less numbers with which to defend that imprisoned old buzzard when the Slayers come. And they will
come. In large numbers. Remember, either you or Darla must be alive – well, undead – for the Master to return. And do you really think you'll bring Darla and her faction to heel without
“What do you care for the Master's will, Julian?” Luke demanded suspiciously.
“I don't. I care for my payday. The Master's return is when I get paid, so it is in my interests to ensure that the Master returns. And unlike you undead fools, I can see how the best way to accomplish that is to keep both your sides in as good a condition as possible, to face the Slayers. You may not trust me, Luke, but you can trust my desire to put my own interests ahead of anything else. A greedy man is the most trustworthy man in the world, provided you control the purse strings.” Julian said smoothly.
Luke could hear the man's arrogant smirk in those words. “If I were to accept your advice – merely for the sake of argument, mind you – how would you propose I go about making an arrangement with Darla, then? I can't simply stand aside and let her forces in without looking weak, Julian.”
“Actually, you can, if you frame it right.”
“'It' is not a painting, Julian.”
For a moment, Parthenos said nothing; the only sound coming from the patch of darkness being a long-suffering sigh. “Very well. Might I suggest you make the offer to Darla in the sense that it is simply an arrangement to deal with the Daughters of Sineya, for when they arrive? Once the Slayers have been dealt with and Heinrich is unleashed, your two sides can fight each other to your heart's content, for all I care. You can bring back the Old Ones. Open the Hellmouth. I t matters little to me, as long as the issue of my payment is finally settled.”
Luke gestured at the armored vampire to leave, before he started discussing details with the invisible mercenary. After all, it wasn't as simple as just offering Darla an alliance against the Chosen Ones: she would suspect a trap, and might even go for a pre-emptive strike against him.
It was then that Luke remembered Drusilla...and her precognitive abilities...