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SHADOWS OF FALLING NIGHT

by S.M. Stirling   <joatsimeon@aol.com>


 

CHAPTER ONE: Paris

 

"If you're evil and you know it—
Give a shout!

Rape and torture, drink their blood,
Grind their hearts into the mud!

If you're evil and you know it—
Then you really ought to show it!

Shout "Hurray!"

 

"This fascination with vampires... " the young Frenchman said as she finished the song and collapsed backward onto the sofa.

"Tsk, Henri," Adrienne Brézé said. "Not vampires. Vampires are a myth. We Shadowspawn are the source of the myth, and of many others."

Henri grinned. "Then my innocent and merely human self has fallen into the hands of beings out of legend, who are inflicting upon me an evening of superb food, drink and intriguingly varied sexual intercourse as a prelude to their more sinister plans?"

"Exactly! We are loup-garou, sorcerers, oni, ghūl... Nearly all of the wicked ones, in fact. We aren't really supernatural, of course, though we thought so until a few generations ago. In practice that makes little difference."

"Ah, merci, Monica," the man went on. "Champagne? Excellent. And is Monica another... Shadowspawn, is that the word?"

Monica Darton was wearing a charming smile, a set of faint but fresh red whip-marks on her back and buttocks, and a sheen of sweat from her recent efforts as she handed around the flutes of champagne, a pleasant follow-up to the hot, damp jasmine-scented towels she'd distributed a moment ago. She was still panting a little too. Adrienne took her glass and cast an appreciative glance at the results.

"No, merely my enchantingly flexible minion. Does she not scream and weep and beg in the finest style?"

"Ah, good, I would hate to think ill of her."

Henri stretched. He was a leanly muscular man with short-cropped dark hair and the build of a racing cyclist. That showed to advantage as he leaned back naked in the lounger. It was late, but the lights of Paris were a multicolored splendor beyond the window. The pale white-and-gold splendors of the apartment had once been part of a palace, here in the 7th Arrondissement, and you could see the sparkle on the Seine to the north through the balcony windows closed against the chill.

And my revered ancestors keep complaining about how the Eifel Tower ruined the neighborhood, Adrienne thought. There are disadvantages to immortality, at least to immortality for others. Generational rivalries get completely out of hand.

"This quantum manipulation story is an interesting pseudo-scientific explanation," Henri said. "It would make a good cinema or perhaps a book of the science-fictional kind. Still... this obsession you Americans have with the blood-sucking creatures, it is so... so odd."

"American?" she winced.

"Were you not born in California? So you mentioned. And mostly raised there?"

"Name of a dog, Henri! Jesus Christ was born in a stable, but that doesn't mean he was a horse."

The Frenchman laughed. "Your French is impeccable, better than mine, but you must have learned it from Napoleon the Little," he said. "I've never heard anyone talk as you do outside an old movie. Or use those antique and sacerdotal swearwords. No, I lie, my grandmother did once when she dropped her teapot."

Adrienne joined in his chuckle, as if conceding the point; ironic jokes were best when unintentional. She had learned the language from people born in the 1870's, the period when the breeding program had reconcentrated the Shadowspawn genes enough for postcorporeal survival. And from their children born in La Belle Epoque. Even in their original bodies her breed aged more slowly than true-humans; she was twice the twenty-something she appeared. It all stretched things out, as if normal humans were unfolding in a time-lapse film.

She shrugged expressively. "It's only to be expected that my language is so... pure. I am an old-fashioned girl."

In a way not seen for twenty thousand years or so.

She tried to keep her idioms current, if only because there was something... disturbing... about the way so many of the postcorporeals were frozen in time. Sometimes what she'd acquired early slipped through anyway; she always used the full ne-pas double-negative unless she thought about it, plus her r was less guttural and closer to a trill. And there was a very faint trace of Auvergnat, more a matter of sounds than the actual dialect. Her great-grandparents had spent much of their childhood on the family estates there, in the tail-end of the period when it was normal for aristocratic children to soak up the local patois from servants and nannies and playmates before they learned the French of Paris from tutors and schoolmasters.

She went on: "So please, call me an inhuman monster, a depraved killer... but not un Américain!"

Monica's smile grew a little sad and wistful as Henri ran a hand over her hip and gave her a slap on the rump. She leaned into the caress for a moment and kissed him on the crown of his head.

"You are as American as Monica here, Adrienne," he went on, sipping his champagne and then stopping and giving the glass a startled glance. "My God, what is this?

"Krug Clos d'Ambonnay," she said. "Nineteen ninety-five."

"I thought only Chinese plutocrats could afford such things these days!"

"That was a superb year, yes. And it is impossible to be as American as Monica, unless one is an Indian," Adrienne said, sipping herself and savoring layers of taste without the least heaviness to the complexity. "Is that hint of black cherry somehow slightly mineralized? And Monica is as American as... as Marilyn Monroe."

"Oh, I wish you'd stop saying that," Monica said as she curled up next to her on the sofa. Her French was fluent but heavily accented. "I just absolutely hate it."

"I know you hate it, my sweet," she said.

She took a sliced quail egg with a dollop of Ossetra Reserve caviar off a white tray of nibblements and paused to savor it before she went on.

"I do it to embarrass and humiliate you. I am a murderous sadist, after all. What's the point of having you as my lucy if I don't abuse you mentally as well as physically? Here, have one of these."

She popped a second caviar-and-egg concoction into the other woman's mouth, which involved some pleasant finger-nibbling.

"Lucy?" Henri asked, smiling. "A middle name?"

"Ah, an ethnic dialect term, taken in jest from a classic of the Victorian period. It means... my bitch, basically," Adrienne replied over her shoulder. "Blood-bitch. Though it's a unisex term. One must not be phobic."

Monica rolled her eyes as she chewed and swallowed. Then she pouted:

"You never brought Monroe up before Ellen started talking about it and how we both looked like the Warhol paintings of her. It makes me feel ancient, my grandfather used to go to Marilyn Monroe movies. And Warhol was dead before I was born. Euuww."

"I didn't realize it until it was pointed out, and Ellen wasn't the first, she just had the artistic references. I seem to collect women of that particular type. Self-knowledge is always valuable."

Monica did resemble the actress, the more so as a minor Wreaking had turned her brown hair pale blond; unlike merely human means it lasted indefinitely, appeared entirely natural and extended even to the finest body-down showing against her tanned skin. She looked rather younger than might have been expected of a thirty-year-old mother of two; her curving figure was full but more toned than had been fashionable two generations ago, the product of dogged Pilates and a genuine passion for tennis and swimming.

"Now for the relevé," Adrienne said, showing her teeth.

"The main course? Do I have to watch?" Monica asked unhappily, looking at the young Frenchman. "I'll probably throw up, and you don't like that."

"Not this time," Adrienne said, rubbing her hands together. "It's going to be loud, though. Delightfully loud and wet and... primal. Earthy, like la matelote d'anguille à la bourguignonne."

To the intrigued Henri, as she stood and pulled Monica up by the hand: "I'll be back in a moment. And remember, I'm being far less metaphorical than you think."

He looked between them, puzzled. "What does Monica so strongly not wish to see? She has seemed as charmingly free of inhibitions as you yourself, so far."

"Oh, she is far more inhibited," Adrienne said. "Particularly with the messy parts."

"And who is this Ellen?"

"A once and perhaps future victim of mine, currently married to my twin brother Adrian. Who is—but of course!—gorgeous, sexy, intelligent... yet distressingly egalitarian."

"Ah, a socialist?" Henri said. "Perhaps you're not so American after all, your family."

"Not exactly a socialist, except that he believes in equal rights for food. Yet I love him dearly, in my fashion. Perhaps that is why my attempts to kill him never quite come off, try though I may. Though one episode of torture and violation was truly delightful... and then there are the children... ah, the joys of family. I have a complicated culinary life," Adrienne said.

"Culinary or amorous?"

"We're also the source of the succubus and incubus myths, remember. So for me, there is as it were little distinction between—" she dropped into English for a second, for the sake of the alliteration "—feeding and fucking."

"That seems true. When my friends hear that I was seen eating a galette of pigs' feet with a jus de veau and truffles at Dominique Bouchet, in the company of not one but two beautiful women in Adeline André exclusives... they will conclude that either I have won the lotto or become a gigolo. We've certainly piled one intense pleasure on another this evening!"

"A moment, Henri," Adrienne said, leading Monica away. "And then more intense sensations, I promise you. Ones you've never dreamed of."

The bedroom was a little more modernist than Adrienne really liked, stark and pale except for the 3-D wallscreen, with a faint scent of clean linen and lavender. This apartment was one of those at the service of visiting Brézé scions, and her not-quite-living ancestors strongly encouraged them to use what was provided rather than make their own arrangements.

That meant putting up with their habit of simply hiring the most expensive architects and interior decorators around, something they wouldn't dream of doing for the antique splendors of their own quarters. Still, you did not ignore polite suggestions from Étienne-Maurice Brézé, Duc de Beauloup and lord of the Council of Shadows. Or from Seraphine, his even more appalling spouse. Not if you wished to avoid the Final Death, and Adrienne was not even postcorporeal yet.

Monica turned down the covers of the great bed and threw herself down on her side, clutching one of the pillows around her head with both arms and radiating an enchanting dread mingled with unwilling fascination. Adrienne lay on the bed as well, carefully putting one of the pillows under her head—she found it gave her an annoying stiff neck afterwards if she went into trance lying completely flat. Her arms crossed, each hand resting on a shoulder. The shaman's posture. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, releasing it slowly, decoupling from the false perception of a world obedient to laws rather than will.

Mhabrogast drifted through her mind, scratching at the brain with dreadful meaning; the lingua demonica, the operating code of a universe chaotic at its core, deduced from that raw foam by minds that evolved to manipulate it directly. When her race still believed in legends, they had called it the native tongue of demons, the language spoken in Hell. An adept at her level didn't need to vocalize for the basics:

Amss-aui-ock!

A twisting silvery dart of tingling pain that traced along her whole neural system, and she sat up. Then she stood and swung upright, looking down at her birth-body with happy vanity. Shorter than the human norm, to be sure—all near-purebreds were. Apex predators did tend to be smaller than their main prey species. Slimly taut, subtly curved, the sleeping face regular in a sharp-chinned triangular fashion, skin a smooth light olive and long hair feathery-fine and raven-black... Adrienne clenched her fists under her chin for a moment.

"Oooooh, I am such a hottie!" she murmured, not for the first time. "My God, I'm turning me on."

Then she turned and walked through the interior wall into the apartment's lounge. There was a moment of darkness as the nightwalking pseudo-body slipped through the atomic matrix of plaster and stone.

This was where young Shadowspawn sometimes made amusingly fatal mistakes. If you let yourself get impalpable enough you fell right through the surface and into the earth and couldn't get out, whereupon your personality matrix disintegrated and the vacant body eventually just... stopped. It was a good idea to check for silver threads, too, since those were the commonest defensive measure. Stumbling into them in your aetheric form was the equivalent of running naked and at speed into a mass of razor ribbons.

There were silver threads in the outer walls and ceiling and floor, installed well over a century ago. Shadowspawn were always the primary cause of death and Final Death for each other, even more so than carelessness about silver or sunlight. That was natural enough for an apex predator too, but the fact that Shadowspawn existed only in various mixtures with true humanity made the problem worse. The conflicting drives didn't produce the most stable of personalities.

Light again, and a pushing effort; her body became fully palpable once more, became something only the Power could tell from the real thing. Henri started violently as she came up behind him and touched his neck, spilling a little of his champagne on his chest. Adrienne grinned. Even in this hominid form her nose was sensitive, and under the sexual musk and the sharp almost citrusy bite of the sparkling wine came the first delicious scent of fear. And the direct sense of it, drifting from the human's mind like the most appetizing of cooking odors. Like meat lightly brushed with garlic-infused olive oil just starting to sizzle...

He didn't believe when I told him the truth but it prepared him for the last, true moment of horror as the lid is yanked out from beneath his feet and the fall into Hell begins. Ooooo, this is going to be fun!

"Holy God, how did you get here?" he asked, craning his head around to look at her. "That is the only door out of the bedroom and I was watching it all the time!"

"I walked through the wall, Henri," she said.

"Your eyes... " he whispered.

They were a blank solid yellow now, the color of molten sulphur, the way a Nightwalker's eyes looked unless you made a special effort.

"I really wasn't lying, Henri," she chuckled. "Or making it up. All true, dear little kebab, all true."

Then she snarled, a shrill racking squall, the hunting-call of homo nocturnis. The man started backward and tumbled out of the lounger and fell painfully against the table. He lay on the floor in a tangle, staring as her lips peeled back from white sharp teeth in a way not quite possible for his breed. A hundred thousand years of inherited dread wrenched at Henri Desmarais, a genetic legacy of the first Empire of Shadow, something far older than the age of polished stone.

His first ancestors had painted hints of it on the cave-walls of Chauvet, in those aeons when humans knew why they feared the dark.

"What are you doing?" he half-screamed.

"I promised you intense sensations, Henri," she said, stalking smoothly nearer. "First the agonizing violation of your body and mind, then the rending and tearing and feeding. You're going to die now, Henri, in a degradation and agony beyond conception. Now meet your fate."

She reached within, where the coiled helixes of knowledge were stored, the remembrance of blood taken into herself long ago. Pain more exquisite than orgasm seized her for an instant as she changed; sight grew dimmer, but a universe of scents poured into her wet nostrils as her long red tongue hung over the bone-white fangs.

The human squealed in terror as he scrabbled away on his back, not daring to turn away and put the impossible sight behind him. The great black wolf lifted its head and howled a long sobbing note before it sprang.

 

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"Mmmmm," Adrienne sighed happily, as she opened her eyes again and stirred luxuriously against the Egyptian cotton of the sheets.

The renfield cleanup team that came with the apartment would be on its way. Blood was so intoxicating when fresh; you never tired of it, but it went off quickly and then it had a truly vile stink.

And Adrian actually drinks it cold and dead, filched from the Red Cross. Well, at least sweet Ellen has helped him with that perversion. Though drinking happy blood all the time... it would be like living on nothing but mango juice and beignets dusted with powdered sugar!

"Is it over?" Monica said, lifting her tear-streaked face from under the pillow.

Adrienne chucked lazily and touched a finger to the base of the woman's spine, drawing it very lightly upward.

"Not for you."

Some time later Monica bent back head and bared her throat, whimpering, then gave a long breathy moan at the sting of the feeding bite at the base of her neck and the sudden flood of ecstasy. It stopped too soon, and she cried an inarticulate protest through the moan.

"Ah, dessert! And now, sleep," Adrienne said lazily, licking the blood off her teeth and lips. "Tomorrow, I will destroy the world. Or make a good start, at least."

Monica sighed. Adrienne went on: "And you can have a Skype call with Josh and Sophia."

"Oh, wonderful!" Monica said. "Mom takes good care of them when I'm travelling, but we miss each other so much."

"I visit my children mentally now that they're staying with their father. Skype is an analogue, I suppose."

Adrienne could feel a slight frown in the human's voice as she went on.

"Still, he's... well, you and he haven't always gotten along. And Mom... she's wonderful, but... I think she has problems with my lifestyle choices."

"But ma chérie, you have no lifestyle choices; you are helpless in my cruel hands, a mere thrall, subject to unspeakable suffering and degradations."

"Well, that's what she has trouble understanding, that I'm OK with that. She's wonderful, but... a bit judgmental."

 

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Copyright © 2012-2013 by S.M. Stirling <joatsimeon@aol.com>


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