The Blackening Process

 

A Transcription of the History of
Sir Henry Seadon in Three Parts

 

(Draft Version - 1996)

 

Christian Carter-Stephenson

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PART 1

I shall begin by telling you something of my early years, since I feel they have a direct bearing on what came later. I was born in the town of St. Albans in 1451. It was a time of great uncertainty, with the land in utter turmoil. Henry IV was rapidly proving himself to be a thoroughly inept king, and as a result, the plight of the peasants was the worst it had been for a long time. I was born a peasant and if things had worked out differently, I might well have died one too.

My father was a blacksmith and my first memory is of being left alone in his workshop. I can remember amusing myself playing in the dirt with a pile of horseshoes and clambering over the enormous anvil. After a while, however, these games lost their appeal and I began to look around for some other form of diversion. It was then that I became enthralled by the fiery lustre given off by a bar of metal that my father had left in the fire to heat. I gazed at the piece of metal, thinking it to be some kind of magical artefact, before finally stretching my hand out towards it inquisitively. The pain that lanced through my body when I touched it brought tears to my eyes, but it also left me with a feeling of immense satisfaction, such as I had never felt before. I was so taken by this strange sensation that I could not keep from touching the burning bar again and again. When my father returned, my hand was a throbbing mass of blisters. It was this sensual experience that taught me how exalted hurting myself made me feel.

The next thing that I can call to mind is the Duke of York sacking St. Albans. I was barely four years old when it happened, but it is etched into my memory as clearly as anything else I have ever experienced (save perhaps when I became a vampyre, which I shall come to by and by). The King arrived at St. Albans, intent on crushing the army which the Duke of York was amassing in a village nearby. As you can probably imagine, his presence caused considerable excitement amongst the villagers. They lined the streets to cheer the royal procession and were still celebrating long after they would normally have been in bed. Only my father apprehended the ominous implications of the King's arrival. He forbade my mother and I from taking part in the revelry and charged us with avoiding anyone connected with the king at all costs.

The following day we arose at dawn. When we had broken our fast, my father went down to the forge to begin work, while my mother set about the domestic chores. In those days children were required to work alongside their parents almost as soon as they could walk and I was no exception. On this particular occasion, I had been entrusted with sweeping the floor. As I toiled away diligently, I tried to alleviate my boredom by listening to the clanging of my father's hammer, drifting up from below. The abrupt cessation of that familiar sound should have set alarm bells ringing in my ears, but it did not, and it was only when my father burst into the room, still dripping with sweat from the heat of the furnace, that I began to perceive that there was something amiss. "Carla!" he shouted fearfully. "Fighting has broken out in the village between the king and the Duke of York. I think it will be safer for us to seek refuge at the abbey until it is all over, than to remain here." He caught me up in one of his strong arms and grabbed my mother by the hand.

We hurried downstairs to the forge, where my father took the precaution of arming himself with an axe that he had just finished making for a local forester. When he had hung the axe from a loop in his broad leather belt, he pushed aside the curtain that closed the forge off from the open front of the shop and we dashed out into the street.

All around us people were running to and fro in a frenzy of consternation. They knew all too well that nobody would think twice about running their sword through a peasant in the heat of battle. In truth, the good people of Saint Albans were about as important to the feuding nobles as cattle fodder. My father led us quickly towards the abbey, passing numerous minor skirmishes without raising an eyebrow. He had seen fighting before and knew well what it looked like. What he did not expect was to find that the marketplace was the centre of the fighting. The opposing forces flooded the streets that should have granted us passage to the abbey and frustrated any hope of reaching it. My father was not about to let such a small obstacle prevent him from safeguarding his family, however. He conducted us swiftly to a nearby inn, reasoning that such a building must be more soundly constructed than his own rickety abode.

When we hastened inside, we discovered that we were not the only ones to have availed ourselves of the security of the inn; a number of our fellow villagers had come up with the same idea. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that there were more villagers in the common room than there were guests. Most of the interlopers had known each other their whole lives, but the atmosphere was as taut as a drawn bowstring. Some of them were seated at the sturdy oak tables, listening intently to the sounds of combat from outside, whilst others paced the rush-laden floor nervously. A tall man in a brown woollen cloak; a pair of young boys, covered from head to toe in mud; a beautiful woman with flowing golden hair; and too many others to mention. My father scanned the room for the innkeeper, who was leaning against one wall, playing with his greasy black moustache anxiously. He studied the portly little man for a moment. The fellow appeared to be utterly absorbed in watching a group of chattering women, who had gathered around one of the villagers for some reason. As we drew near, I was able to discern that the focus of their attention had been mortally wounded by an arrow. One of the women was ineffectually attempting to staunch his bleeding chest with a wad of cloth. The rest were discussing whether or not it would be advantageous to remove the offending shaft.

My father put me down and went over to speak to the innkeeper about something. I looked around for my mother; she seemed to have forgotten about me in her rush to assist the wounded man and was already hard at work endeavouring to make him more comfortable. I wandered over to watch. The sight of a man literally bleeding to death should have sickened my infantile mind, but it did not. On the contrary, I found it to be a decidedly agreeable experience. The glimpse I was given of his wound excited me in ways that I will not waste my time trying to describe and his agonized groans were music to my ears. Death is the most sensual experience that a mortal ever has and it was almost as if I was sharing in this man's death in some small way.

I stood there watching the women attempt to avert what I somehow knew to be the inevitable conclusion of the episode, with ecstatic fascination, until my father pulled me away. My disappointment at being prevented from watching the man die was so great that I actually began to cry. My father must have assumed that my tears were born out of horror at the things I had already seen, since he put his arm around me and told me to try not to think about it. I resisted the urge to shake off his embrace and resume my observation of the captivating scene, though I will not claim that it was easy. My father swept me up into his arms and carried me over to the tall stone fireplace that dominated the wall furthest from the entrance to the inn. The gaping hearth was virtually obsolete at that time of the year and all that remained of the last blaze were a few ashes. My father instructed me to conceal myself in a small recess behind the mantel at one side. I ducked into the fireplace obediently and stowed myself in the dismal little niche. There was barely enough room to move; it was almost like being shut up in a coffin and buried alive. A musty smell hung in the air, the stone was caked with soot and it was so stuffy that I felt as though I was going to suffocate. The particles of dust that continually molested my nostrils made it difficult to suppress the need to sneeze. I doubt very much that I could have done it for long, had it not been for the distraction of a crack in the mantel, which I noticed while surveying my dingy surroundings. Through this tiny hole I could see everything that was happening in the common room.

My father was talking urgently to the innkeeper and gesturing in my direction every so often. The wounded villager had apparently expired, judging by the disconsolate weeping that was coming from the women around him. A few of the men had gone over to comfort them, but the majority had not moved. All of a sudden, the door of the inn flew open and an elderly man in bloodstained plate armour burst into the room. He was closely followed by a group of soldiers, whose livery proclaimed their panoplied leader to be the Duke of Somerset. One of the soldiers pulled the door quickly shut and shot the bolt across. The duke, who had wrenched off his helmet to reveal a shaggy mane of white hair and was now leaning against the wall while he caught his breath, looked around him distastefully. "You there! he said to my father rudely. "Barricade the door."

It was odd to see my broad-shouldered father rushing to obey this weasel of a man. I suppose that even though he towered over everyone in the room, he was so dutiful that he would have stood on one foot and sung a nursery rhyme if the duke had told him to. Of course, the broadsword in the duke's gauntleted hand and the array of weaponry with which his men were equipped provided strong incentive for obedience. While my father busied himself dragging a table in front of the door, the duke strutted across the room to find out the cause of the commotion near the dead villager. He struck me as the kind of person who would have had the wailing women executed for crying over the death of somebody so unimportant, had it not been for the presence of my mother. She was an uncommonly beautiful woman, with shimmering auburn hair that fell about her shoulders in a cascade of ringlets and flashing green eyes, the colour of jade. The duke stood looking at her for a moment - she was kneeling on the floor with her head resting against the dead man's bloody chest - then approached and laid his hand gently on her head. She looked up, as he began to address her in a surprisingly tender voice, "It is such a shame to see one so pretty, stricken with grief over something so trivial. What is the death of one peasant? Just look around you; there are plenty more."

"This unfortunate man was an individual and special in the eyes of God," retorted my mother tearfully.

"Seek not to console yourself with religion," said the callous duke. "God cares nothing for the likes of you. Peasants do not go to heaven. Still, if it is any consolation, there is much pleasure to be had here on earth. Come with me after the battle and I will show you what I mean." He winked at his men, who laughed raucously.

My mother stood up slowly, looked at him, and then slapped his face. "I am a married woman!" she exclaimed. "Kindly keep your impure thoughts to yourself you licentious old man."

"You cannot speak to me like that!" roared the duke. "I ought to have you executed for your impudence. If I decide to take you to my bed, then nothing will stop me from doing so, so you might as well resolve yourself to enjoy it." He tore my mother's dress from her shoulders and began to stroke her breast. "You see," he continued, "this is merely a taste of things to come. I can instruct you in pleasures that will eclipse anything you have hitherto felt."

My father, who had now noticed the liberties that the duke was taking with his wife, stormed across the room towards them. "Take your hands off her!" he bawled.

The duke looked at him defiantly and continued to caress my mother's exposed breast. My father was so incensed by this cantankerous display of indecency that he planted a fist in the duke's face, sending him sprawling to the floor.

"Seize him!" screamed the duke, trying to ignore the blood gushing from his crushed nose. Several of the soldiers flung themselves at my father, knocking him roughly over. After all, he was big, but he was certainly not invincible.

I watched the flailing limbs and tumbling bodies with something approaching dispassion. Do not misunderstand me - I wanted my father to emerge victorious, but it was more out of loyalty than love. He was a hard man and had kept me on a tight rein for the entirety of my short life. I was beaten severely for the smallest misdemeanour; is it any wonder then that something within me was not averse to seeing the man responsible receive the same treatment?

My father stood little chance against the armed soldiers, who soon overcame him. They left him in a bloody heap on the ground. In the meantime, the duke had managed to struggle to his feet. He hefted his sword threateningly and approached my father. "For that display of arrogance," he snarled, "I will see you dead." He was on the verge of saying something else, when he stopped himself, apparently to consider some new idea. Then turning towards my mother, he went on angrily, "First though, you shall watch me realize my designs on the woman you sought to protect. For by ancient feudal law, the peasantry are subject to the nobility in every respect."

The duke gestured to his men, who proceeded to drag my mother over to a table and pull off the rest of her clothes. Oblivious to her struggling, they laid her on the table, holding her arms and legs so that the duke would be able to climb on top of her with as little resistance as possible. The duke leant his sword against the wall, unbuckled part of his armour and loosened his breeches. My father, who had succeeded in pulling himself up into a sitting position, groaned balefully as the duke strode casually towards his wife. I could almost feel the hatred in his eyes, as he watched, but he was too weak to do anything.

The duke would assuredly have made himself master of my mother's person, had she not somehow contrived to wrench one of her legs free and kick him in the groin, as he prepared to clamber up onto the table. He staggered backwards with a look of absolute agony on his withered old face. Some of the peasants in the common room sniggered, but their amusement was short-lived. The duke snatched a crossbow from one of his men and hobbled back over to the table. He stood imperiously over my mother for a moment. She thrashed about, trying desperately to escape the soldiers, but to no avail. "Let me go," she pleaded. "What have I ever done to deserve this?"

The duke positioned his crossbow over her temple, before answering coldly, "Save it for Satan!" She was dead almost as soon as he pulled the trigger.

Silence fell over everyone present. Even the battle-hardened soldiers were stunned to silence by their master's ruthless deed. The group of men who had been restraining my mother dropped her lifeless limbs and stepped away with downcast eyes. The duke looked pretentiously around; then stalked across to one of his speechless men and handed him the crossbow roughly. "What are you gaping at?" he demanded. "You," he said, gesturing at another of the soldiers, "bring forth the peasant who dared to raise his hand to the Duke of Somerset."

My father was hoisted to his feet and conveyed over to where the duke stood. The duke addressed him authoritatively, "I had intended to kill you, but in the light of what has happened I have changed my mind. There has been enough death; I shall content myself with relieving you of the hand which struck me." My father gave no indication of having heard this little speech. The soldiers let him fall to his knees and placed his hand on the table, next to my mother's naked body. My father made no attempt to move it, so they did not bother fixing it into position.

The duke went to collect his sword and then returned to the table. "Do you have nothing to say to me, now that I have generously deigned to spare your life?" he asked, as he raised his sword above his head.

"I died when you killed my wife," replied my father desolately. His gaze was fixed on my mother's corpse.

"She was your wife?" the duke inquired, lowering his sword slightly.

"She was," my father affirmed caustically, though his eyes never moved.

"Oh," said the duke, raising his sword high again and bringing it down with such force that the blow sufficed to completely sever my father's hand from his wrist. My father let out a frightful scream and dropped to the floor unconscious. The blood spilled out from his terrible wound, like a river of crimson, to form a puddle by his side.

At that moment, a loud pounding commenced on the door of the inn. One of the duke's men ran over to a window and looked out. "York's army has surrounded us!" he exclaimed. The duke put his armour into order hastily, just as the table in front of the door was propelled forward, by the door itself bursting open in a shower of splinters.

The hefty soldiers responsible stood in the shattered doorway triumphantly - at least they stood there until the duke's men filled them with crossbow bolts. The duke stepped over their corpses unconcernedly, in order to speak to the forces amassed against him. "You shall never take me alive," he declared, shaking his sword at them in defiance. "I live only to serve my king and I defy the treacherous dogs who have seen fit to question his wisdom."

"Nobody here doubts the king's wisdom," came a voice from outside. "It is his counsellors that we object to."

The duke sneered and said derisively, "You only object to me, because I do not advise in your favour." He stepped away from the doorway. As he did so, a crash of breaking glass rang out through the common room. The soldier who was keeping vigil at the window screamed out in pain and stumbled backwards, clutching at an arrow, which had just pierced his throat. The duke averted his eyes, as the man crumbled to the floor, choking to death on his own blood.

"If you do not surrender, then you are next," said one of the duke's enemies outside.

"I will never surrender!" shouted the duke. He beckoned for his men to gather around him and said to them formally, "They are weaker on the left. If we attack them there, then we may be able to break through. They outnumber us, but we have right on our side. If we are destined to die this day, then let it be serving our king." He donned his helmet and levelled his sword at the open doorway.

This motion sent the group charging out to meet the opposing army. The consequent clashing of steel that reverberated through the inn brought my father back to his senses. He lay on the ground groaning, until he succeeded in attracting the attention of a couple of the villagers. They helped him to his feet, proclaiming all the while how sorry they were for not assisting him when he really needed it. My father did not appear to notice their apologies and bade them support him for a moment. They nodded quickly and helped him to hook an arm around each of their waists. The three of them then made their way over to the doorway. The two villagers probably assumed that my father wanted to watch the battle, but I knew better. The poor man was insane with grief. For one thing, his wife was dead; and for another, the loss of his hand had rendered him incapable of performing those things which his profession required. His rage and despair had so obscured his reason that he had forgotten all about me; he felt that all he had left to live for was revenge. Summoning up all the strength left in his heavily muscled body, he shook off the villagers and pulled free the axe, which still hung from his belt. Before anyone could stop him, he was running out the door, crying maniacally for the Duke of Somerset's blood. I did not actually see what happened next, but from what I can gather, my father dealt the duke such a blow with the axe that it breached his helmet and rent his head in twain. Once he had accomplished this, I am told that my father fell to the floor exhausted and the duke's men hacked him to pieces.

When the fighting was over, a number of the villagers went to inform the Duke of York what had happened in the inn. The rest busied themselves with covering up the three corpses and laying them out next to one another on a table. When they had done this, they began helping the innkeeper to clean up the mess, which the Duke of Somerset's intrusion had generated. They were so absorbed in what they were doing that they did not notice a tall handsome man, in shining silver armour, enter the inn. The newcomer had thick black hair, which hung almost to his shoulders and youthful eyes that sparkled with energy and vigour. He walked up to the innkeeper and placed a genial hand on his shoulder. The innkeeper, who had been engaged in sweeping up the broken glass scattered across the common room floor, looked up in surprise. There was a frown on his greasy face that suggested he was just in the right mood to berate whichever member of his staff had dared to interrupt him in the pursuit of his duties. When he saw the man before him, this angry expression melted easily away and he gasped, "My lord."

"Richard of York sent me to ascertain what has occurred here," the man announced.

The innkeeper nodded and informed him of the events which I have just described. He even went so far as to apprise the stranger of my own presence, behind the mantel of the fireplace. The benevolent young man was so struck by my unfortunate situation that when he had heard everything the innkeeper had to tell, he immediately strolled up to the fireplace and began trying to coax me out. It was his manner, rather than his words that won me over in the end. There was something about him that inspired me with such a sense of security and well-being that I quickly became convinced I could trust him. I crept out from the hearth and he welcomed me into his arms. I felt like he was the only friend I had left in the world and so decided to make him my confidante. "He killed them," I said flatly.

He answered me in a gentle voice, "Under the circumstances, I am sure that the Duke of York will look after you."

 

PART 2

The youthful noble told me that he thought the Duke of York would look after me; he was not wrong. The duke was most sympathetic to my plight. He spoke to the king on my behalf and before very long I was warded to a childless old gentleman, by the name of Sir Michael Seadon, who raised me as if I was his own son. Sir Michael was not much to look at - he was paunchy and had lost most of his hair - but he was a benevolent man. His wife, who was twenty years his junior, was also kind and amicable. They were not particularly rich, but afforded me everything deemed necessary for a growing boy, including one of the most respectable tutors in the land. By the time I reached manhood therefore, I had a detailed understanding of grammar and theology; I could play the lute; and I was unequalled in the genteel pursuits of fighting and hunting. These accomplishments, along with my dedication to my stepfather, won me the love and respect of all who knew me. Sir Michael and his wife lavished affection on me and made no secret of their intent to bequeath me their moderate estate. As the years passed, I grew more detached from my dismal memories, and though I was given to periodic bouts of melancholy, I was for the most part happy and contented.

All that changed on my eighteenth birthday, as you shall hear presently. In keeping with his overwhelming generosity in all matters concerning myself, Sir Michael had arranged an enormous banquet to celebrate this important occasion. No expense was spared - the oak-beamed walls of the great hall of the mansion were hung with fresh flowers; the table was graced with the finest silverware the family had at their disposal; and the servants were even instructed to buy new napery. We dined on mutton, venison and wildfowl, all roasted to perfection. Sir Michael was attired in his most elegant doublet and hose. His wife wore an embroidered silk dress and was bedecked in jewellery. Even the servants had made an effort to look their best.

The day went very much as I expected, until Sir Michael asked to speak to me alone in the parlour. I accompanied him without so much as a word, though my head was teeming with intense conjecture as to what he might want to talk to me about. Sir Michael's parlour was decorated with tapestries. Two heavy oak chairs and a large rectangular table stood at the centre; a number of other chairs were positioned along the windowless walls. I had of course, been in the room on numerous occasions, but on that particular day it seemed strangely sombre, despite the warm glow given off by the crackling fire, which burned in the hearth. Sir Michael settled himself into one of the chairs by the table and interlaced his fingers over his rotund stomach. He had obviously prearranged this interview, as two foaming mugs of ale stood on the table in front of him. "Close the door behind you and sit down," he said formally. I pulled the sturdy wooden door shut and sat in the vacant chair opposite him. Sir Michael took a swig from one of the mugs on the table. "That one is for you," he said, nodding at the other vessel.

"Thank you for thinking of me, but I have had quite enough to drink already," I told him.

"You may well change your mind when you hear my tidings," replied Sir Michael. He studied me in silence for a long time. Finally he made as though to speak; then lapsed back into mental contemplation. This happened a number of times, before I took the initiative and asked him what news he had to impart.

Sir Michael scratched his head and availed himself of another gulp of ale. "I hardly know where to begin, "he said slowly. "Do you remember when you came to live with me?"

"I remember the circumstances leading up to it," I replied slowly. "My world was savagely torn asunder by the cruelty of the Duke of Somerset. By rights, I should have been left friendless and destitute, but like a guardian angel, you swept in to rescue me from the oblivion of an existence without mother or father. Who knows where I'd be now if it wasn't for you?"

"I took you into my house as a personal favour to the Duke of York," Sir Michael continued, "but the sense of duty I felt towards you, quickly blossomed into paternal affection." He crossed his legs under the table and clasped his hands together, "What I am trying to say is that I will always see you as my own son and that I will always love you."

"I know that," I said bashfully. "I beg you to come to the point, father, I am finding the suspense almost unbearable."

"Very well," Sir Michael responded. He took a deep breath and then proceeded, "I presume that you are aware of the contents of my will?" I lifted my eyes from the cup on the table next to me and nodded. "In the absence of a cognate heir, I resolved myself a number of years ago to leave you everything that I own." He paused for a moment and said the next sentence in a rush, "I can no longer adhere to that decision."

"What do you mean?" I demanded.

"After years of barrenness, my darling wife has conceived a child," Sir Michael explained. I snatched up my mug of ale and drained it in one go. "Given her advanced years, we thought it best not to make the revelation common knowledge, in case she cast the baby out before its time. Unfortunately, it is getting to the stage now, where it is obvious to anyone who looks closely that she is pregnant. Any further attempt at concealment seems somewhat futile. I wanted you to know before I made the announcement. Try to understand - what sort of father would I be if I did not pass on my estate to my own offspring?"

"I understand perfectly," I told him, as I rose from my seat slowly. In reality, his words had stunned me. It had never occurred to me that Sir Michael's wife might still bear him a child. I could not blame Sir Michael for his intentions, of course. He had been kind enough to take me in when I was orphaned. This in itself was more than most men would have done in his place; I could hardly expect to inherit his property as well. Nevertheless, I needed some time to digest what he had just told me. "I would like to be alone for a while," I said, turning towards the door.

Sir Michael hung his shoulders miserably. "I am truly sorry, Henry," he murmured.

I trudged away from my despairing foster father; and then before I really knew what I was doing, I had flung myself at him, toppling his chair to the floor. I fastened my hands around his throat and squeezed with all my might, completely caught up in a tempest of fury that had rushed upon me from out of nowhere. I could feel Sir Michael's pulse racing under the palms of my hands, as he thrashed about in convulsive desperation. He was a strong man, but I had caught him of guard and his efforts to free himself were wholly in vain. As his life's breath began to desert him, my anger vanished; replaced by that same sense of erotic fascination that I had felt watching the wounded villager in the inn pass away. The only difference was that this time it was intensified by the fact that I was actually responsible for causing the death. The more Sir Michael endeavoured to disengage himself, the more aroused I became. I cannot describe how incredible killing somebody makes you feel. You have absolute power over their life, which effectively puts you on a par with God.

I managed to confine one of Sir Henry's flailing arms under my knee, relishing in the sickening crackle of breaking bones, as I applied pressure to the limb and twisted it out of shape. Sir Michael did not have enough breath left to scream, but his eyes betrayed his agony. As death approached, an expression of extreme distress stole over his face. This made me feel all the more ecstatic and supplied me with additional strength. I smiled down at my victim, as his eyes slid shut and his body went limp. At length, I relinquished my grip on his neck, then stepped back to admire my work. Sir Michael's face had turned a livid black colour and his heart had stopped beating. Without a shade of remorse, I dragged his lifeless body across the floor and threw it into the fire, thinking to cover my tracks.

I then set off in search of his wife, having already made up my mind that she must die too; partly to secure my inheritance and partly because I yearned to feel the thrill of killing again. As I left the parlour, I glanced at the door. It was Sir Michael's custom to leave the keys to such rooms in the locks. As a result, I was able to lock the parlour and pocket the key, with the idea of returning later to dispose of whatever remained of my unfortunate foster father.

When I returned to the great hall, I was informed that my foster mother had retired to her bedchamber. Barely suppressing the need to run, I proceeded there with all haste and knocked loudly on the door. My anticipation built as I awaited a response. Finally I heard my foster mother say, "Who is there?"

"It is your son, Henry," I told her, pushing open the door, without waiting for her to give me leave. My foster mother was reclining atop the coverlet of her lavish four-poster bed, though she was still fully clothed. The draperies that hung from the bed were partly drawn, to keep off the draft and the hearth was alive with flames. She seemed somewhat taken aback by my premature entrance, but smiled warmly and asked me what she could do for me.

"I am afraid that I am the bearer of dire intelligence, madam," I told her.

"What sort of intelligence?" she inquired, rising from the bed and ambling over to the carved wooden chest, in which she kept her jewellery. "Whatever its purport might me, I have a piece of good news that will counteract it." She lifted the lid of the chest and began pulling off her rings. When she had removed them all, she bent over and placed them carefully in the chest.

"Sir Michael is dead," I said abruptly.

The emerald pendant that my foster mother had just taken off clattered to the ground and her legs gave way under her. She fell to her knees with a heavy thud and began to cry plaintively. "That is so terrible that words fail me!" she stammered, through her tears

"On the contrary;" I replied, "call no man happy till he dies, he is at best fortunate. So said Solon and so say I."

"How can you argue that your father's death is not a tragedy?" my foster mother demanded hysterically.

"You misunderstand," I told her gently. "I only meant to lessen your grief, by reminding you that he has gone to a better place." I walked up to her and put my arm around her comfortingly.

"Oh, I see," she said, looking up at me with her bleary eyes. "You always seem to know exactly what to say in times of crisis. As long as I have you, I can survive anything."

"You can rely on me to take care of you to the best of my limited abilities," I assured her, as I led her back over to the bed and sat her down.

I watched thoughtfully as she mechanically unpinned a broach from her dress and began playing with the fastening. Her sobbing had subsided to a quiet but persistent snivelling. "What happened to him?" she asked after a long silence.

I could stand to wait no longer. "He annoyed me!" I exclaimed, grabbing the broach from her and plunging its pin into her eye, while at the same time, smothering her mouth with one of the pillows from the bed, to muffle her screams. I pushed her over backwards and planted one of my knees upon her heaving chest. I could feel her head pushing against the pillow as she tried to cry out. She was thrashing around like a fish out of water, but could not escape my knee. Climbing astride her, I secured the muffling pillow with my other knee and pried the lids of her bleeding eye apart with my free hand. Her muscles convulsed with the pain of this, but I hardly noticed and proceeded to hook the eyeball out of its socket with the broach. She was still struggling wildly, but I was just too mesmerized by the river of blood that was flowing down her agonized face and soaking into the pillow, to notice. To put it in simple terms - her pain was my pleasure.

All of a sudden, a curious thought flashed through my head. Since Sir Michael's unborn child was equally to blame for my disinheritance, it seemed only apt that it should suffer every bit as much as its parents. I pulled out the dagger that I was accustomed to wearing at my side, and slashed open my foster mother's stomach. Her back arched in a spasm of pain and I have no doubt that her screams would have sufficed to arouse Father Time from his perpetual slumber, had her mouth not been buried in the pillow. I plunged my hand into her severed womb, plucked out the tiny foetus and sliced carelessly through the umbilical cord, relishing in the blood that splattered my hands. The erotic feelings that were coursing through my body by this time are indescribable. I held the accursed infant triumphantly up in the air for a moment, then dashed its brains out on the cold wooden floor. I am aware that most people would consider the murder of an innocent to be a monstrous atrocity, but I have to say that it felt positively divine. The look of horror on my foster mother's face, as she watched the death of her child through her one remaining eye, only added to the moment.

I do not know which of us was more drenched in blood by this time. What I do know is that my foster mother had lost more than I thought a human body contained. She was now too weak to struggle and at length slipped away into unconsciousness. I cannot stress enough how frustrated this made me feel. I was on the verge of an emotional climax the like of which I had never known and she had deprived me of the source of my excitement. Her lapse into senselessness was a far worse torture than anything I had inflicted on her

I paced the room impatiently, as I waited for her to exhibit signs of coming around, feeling more and more tormented all the time. Faced with the barrier of her unconsciousness, I could not maintain the feeling of ecstasy that had previously possessed me. As this became apparent to me, my dwindling exultation was replaced by what was literally vials of wrath. My foster mother had utterly ruined my enjoyment of the murder! I remember being so angry at this deprival of the chance to consummate a killing that before I really knew what I was doing, I began to hack away at my own arm with my dagger. The more I dwelt on what had just happened, the more I found myself seeking solace in inflicting pain on myself. Eventually I happened to look down at the floor sulkily. A trail of fresh blood led from the edge of the bed to my feet, and though some of it undoubtedly belonged to my foster mother, the majority was mine.

A low moan alerted me to the fact that my foster mother was finally awake. I was so furious with her that before I could stop myself, I had bounded across the room, seized her by a clump of hair and slashed her throat wide open. The blood blasted out of the savage cut I had made, in a fountain of crimson. Her body thrashed convulsively as the life force ebbed out of her. When she finally lay dead, I set about wrapping her mangled corpse in the tapestried coverlet of the bed and carrying it over to the roaring fire. A portrait of one of Sir Michael's ancestors frowned down at me from the panelled wall nearby. "The things you have witnessed are not for discussion," I informed the picture solemnly, stuffing my bundle into the fireplace and watching with satisfaction as the flames engulfed it. I allowed myself to savour the atmosphere. A delicious aroma of burned flesh filled the air, titillating my nostrils and the fire crackled with hearty vigour. I grinned reflectively, but only for a moment. It was too early to start congratulating myself fully. There was a great deal to be done before I could consider my work complete.

I pulled a sheet from the bed and wiped myself clean as best I could. This was by no means an easy task, but I accomplished it relatively quickly. I then used the bloody shroud to wrap up the battered remains of my foster mother's baby. You might suppose that I would have felt a pang of guilt at the sight of the dead baby, but you would be very much mistaken - I felt only a sense of extreme satisfaction. Another sheet served to scour the floor. Both shrouds then joined my foster mother's body in the fire. I was now adamant that no trace remained in the room of my crime, apart from whatever the flames failed to consume (I had already decided to throw this into a lake conveniently situated on the edge of Sir Michael's estate). I sauntered out of the bedchamber, locking the door behind me. I paused briefly to ensure that the door was indeed locked; then, dropping the key into my pocket, alongside the one to the parlour, I set off back to my own apartments, where I could wash myself clean of any residual blood and change my clothes. I felt a touch of regret as I glanced down at myself. I was wearing an aquamarine satin doublet, pale blue hose and a velvet cloak. All expensive garments, which were unfortunately quite ruined and would have to be burnt.

The following morning found me munching on an apple in the parlour and pondering how I was going to explain the disappearance of Sir Michael and his wife. So far I had managed to deceive the servants into believing that they were confined to their beds and desired not to be disturbed, but this would suffice for a day or two at most. I had come up with a multitude of elaborate ideas, but not one of them proved to be even remotely viable when I began to examine it more closely. My reverie was interrupted by a pounding on the front door of the house. A few minutes later, I was informed by the seneschal that the caller was a young lady, who had specifically asked to speak to me. She had given her name as Lady Amelia Tristophan - this name meant absolutely nothing to me. I sent the seneschal to tell her that her proposed audience had been granted and slouched back in my chair to await her arrival, chewing on my apple thoughtfully. I could not imagine what she wanted. The only women of breeding that I knew were born before the Battle of Agincourt and seemed to me as old as the hills. I became so absorbed in trying to envisage what she might look like that I did not hear her approach and only became aware of her presence when she coughed delicately.

I looked up and my eyes almost bulged out of my head. Lady Amelia's beauty surpassed my very wildest expectations. She was a tall curvaceous woman, with ivory skin and a mass of shining blonde hair. Her overly scarlet lips and strangely hollow eyes lent something unnatural to her appearance, but my overall impression of her was that she must be the loveliest creature in the whole of Christendom. As far as I was concerned, she was perfect in every respect. Her complexion was flawless; her features were the most aesthetic I have ever seen; her hair was soft and thick, like spun gold. I have already mentioned her languid eyes, but I have neglected to say how mysteriously enthralling they were. Even when she glided across the room towards me, I could not stop looking at them. "Henry Seadon," she said, in a soft but resonant voice. It was a statement as opposed to a question, but I answered in the affirmative anyway.

For a moment I thought that Lady Amelia regarded me with something approaching derision, but the look was gone so quickly that I would not swear it was ever there. I pulled myself straight and looked at her amorously. She was wrapped in a long hooded velvet cloak, which must have cost her a small fortune. Nevertheless she seemed to have no qualms about letting it fall from her shoulders and slide gently to the floor. My half-eaten apple dropped from my hand, for beneath the cloak was a green silk dress, which was so low-cut that it revealed more of her ample bosom than it covered. I felt my cheeks colour with embarrassment. With the cloak Lady Amelia had been something to look at; without it she was positively stunning. It seems strange to me now, but all I could think about at the time was how presumptive it was for mere men to impose their ideas of modesty over something that nature had made so beautiful. Lady Amelia seemed glad to be free of the heavy garment. She shook her head gaily - setting her bounteous hair swaying over her naked shoulders - and said softly, "I did not know boys of your age still blushed."

"I am not a boy," I began indignantly.

"You may be eighteen years old, but you are still a boy," she interrupted, leaning on her hands over the table in front of me and affording me an even more explicit view of her cleavage, "though you may be much more than that after today."

My cheeks flushed an even brighter hue. "What do you mean?" I stammered.

She grinned, and before I knew it, had draped herself across my knee. I gasped at her boldness, but I was too busy savouring the enchanting scent that emanated from her impeccable form to read anything into it. "You know perfectly well what I mean," she purred, running a dainty hand across my burning cheeks.

Lady Amelia's hand dropped to the inside of my thigh and she leant to kiss me. Her salaciousness was now beginning to make me a little suspicious. I was a good-looking lad to be sure, but I was not conceited enough to think that all she wanted was to enjoy the pleasures of my body. "What can I really do for you?" I asked, rather more abruptly than I had intended.

"Anything you want later," she murmured. "For now you are going to offer me the use of your most luxurious bedchamber for as long as I desire it."

Until that moment I had been overawed by her beauty. The impertinence of this comment brought me back to my senses. "Why would I do that?" I asked curtly, pushing her from my knee. "This is not an inn!"

"Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares," she snarled. I have to confess that she looked nothing less than divine, but I could not believe any servant of God to be capable of the immodest behaviour that she had exhibited. "Besides," she went on, "I know that you murdered your foster parents."

I was positively stunned. After all, I had spent most of the previous evening ensuring that no evidence of my crimes remained in the house and now a complete stranger had divined my guilt without even troubling herself to look around. "How?" I gasped, pressing a hand to my forehead in a vain attempt to gather my reeling thoughts. The only explanation I could come up with for her insight was that she had seen me deposit a large sack in the lake earlier and guessed the sinister implications of this action.

"I read your thoughts," proclaimed Lady Amelia, fixing me with a piercing gaze that added a great deal of credence to the statement.

"Do you mean that you are some sort of witch?" I inquired, casting my eyes around the room in search of something that could be used as a weapon. My initial shock had been supplanted by an extreme sense of self-preservation. I no longer cared how Lady Amelia knew about the murders; what was important was that she did not live long enough to tell anyone else. My gaze settled on a heavy poker that hung from a hook on the wall by the fire. I stood casually up from my chair and strolled over to it.

"Not a witch, but a vampyre," Lady Amelia replied. I raised my eyebrows at her incredulously. You no doubt think me a young lady, "she continued. " I am in fact a remorseless predator, who has wandered through countless ages in the pursuit of blood - the hand of death to more unfortunate people than I care to remember. You are a natural born killer, Henry, and so am I. The only difference is that I am immortal!"

"We shall see whether you are immortal," I cried, seizing hold of the stout iron poker. I rushed towards her, my mind awash with the anticipation of killing again. I was certain that the destruction of such a thing of beauty would feel delicious. Lady Amelia calmly watched me lift the poker high into the air and I would swear that a smile flickered across her luscious scarlet lips as I brought it speeding down towards her delicate head.

At the last possible moment, her hand fastened around my descending arm like a vice, stopping it dead in its tracks. She raised her other hand to my throat and used it to lift me from the floor. I could scarcely believe the strength in her slight body. "Now do you accept what I have said?" she demanded. "I could kill you in the space of a heartbeat, but I do not want to kill you, I want to make you as I am."

"Let me go," I gasped, clutching desperately, but ineffectually at the hand around my throat.

"You are not listening to me!" Lady Amelia exclaimed impatiently. "I said that I want to bestow onto you the gift of eternal life." All of a sudden, she exhaled in exasperation and hurled me across the room into the far wall, with a careless flick of her wrist.

"Such is my power and such can be yours," she said passionately. "My strength is of ten men; I can control the tempestuous elemental forces and the bestial denizens of the night; my body is not confined to one physical form. In short, I have been moulded into the very likeness of a goddess. Imagine what you would be able to do if you were like me - how many people you could kill. Surely you recognise the value of what I am offering you."

Lady Amelia had moved so fast before that I had not even be able to brace myself for the impact of my flight across the room and it had practically knocked me senseless. I say practically, because I was still vaguely aware of what she was saying to me. When I regained myself, I found I was lying in a crumpled heap against the wall. I had dislocated my left arm, and though it now hung useless at my side, the nerves grated fiercely. My lungs were throbbing; my breathing was laboured and uneven. Yet a raging anger rendered me impervious to all of this. I picked myself up, snarling viciously and then charged towards Lady Amelia, waving the poker wildly with my good hand.

I was on the verge of reaching her, when she stepped neatly out of my path. I blundered past her, caught my foot on a chair leg and went careering headfirst into the stone mantel of the fireplace. Blood streamed down my face from a gaping wound in my forehead. I stood up and swung sharply around to face her. As I approached, her hand shot out and snatched the poker from me. She looked at it contemptuously, weighing it between her hands; then - moving so swiftly that her intent only really became clear after she had accomplished it - she looped it around my neck. Her eyes burned red with rage at my obstinate refusal to drink in her words. She gripped the poker at either end, apparently making ready to bend it tighter and strangle me. "Sir Henry," she began in a harsh tone that became uncommonly fervent as she proceeded. "I love you!" She used the poker to pull my floundering lips down to her own and we shared a kiss that was so erotically sensuous, it set my heart ablaze with palpitations of lust and made me forget my aching body.

Lady Amelia's most eloquent entreaties could never have tamed my rabid heart as effectually as that kiss. It extinguished a literal whirlwind of explosive fury. Her lips were a gateway to desires that I had not known lay dormant within me. I closed my eyes, clasped her closer to me and allowed myself to be carried away by a river of molten passion.

It was Lady Amelia who finally pulled away. Before I could say anything, she raised a finger to her mouth and bit down on it hard, until the blood began to trickle down onto her hand. I had no conception of what she was doing, but I did not interrupt. She placed the injured finger on my lips and watched complacently as they became saturated with her blood. She then withdrew her hand, and to my utter amazement, I saw that her finger no longer exhibited any trace of rupture. I licked the blood from my lips compulsively. As I did so, my body was pervaded by a rush of warmth and energy that left me dizzy. The feeling lasted no more than a few seconds, but for that short space of time I felt more alive than I had ever felt before. I was so disappointed when the sensation stopped that I hardly even noticed that the agonizing pain that had previously racked my body had also stopped and that my extensive wounds had miraculously healed. I was drawn to Lady Amelia's power as though it were a magnet and I a particle of metal. "I love you best in all the world, but before I give myself to you, you must promise me something," she said suddenly.

"Anything," I proclaimed zealously.

"You must promise me that you will welcome the gift of immortality with open arms and eager heart," she continued.

"Why is it so important to you that I become a vampyre?" I inquired.

"I was in the inn the day your parents died," she informed me. "I observed your detached lack of emotion and it fascinated me. The latent killing instinct that even then lay within you, cried out to me, like a child crying out to its mother. From that day forth, I made it my duty to watch over you, with a view to nurturing your tendency towards violence and one day, when you came of age, recruiting you to the ranks of the undead. My interference was to prove unnecessary however, for corruption flourished unassisted, and as I watched you hunt the birds and beasts of the forests with a vigour that would have made the most bloodthirsty vampyre proud, I felt myself warm to you in a way I had previously thought never to experience. This emotional attachment soon matured into love. When you killed your foster parents, I realised that I could keep away no longer. Eternity is nothing to me now if I cannot spend it with you."

"Your words amaze me, Lady Amelia. We have known each other but a short time and already you are professing your undying love for me!" I exclaimed. "What is even more amazing is that I feel exactly the same way. I would do anything to be with you and if that means becoming a vampyre, then so be it."

"That is all I need to know," Lady Amelia said quietly, taking the poker from around my neck and tossing it aside. Her eyes blazed with desire; her bosom heaved voluptuously. She encircled me with her ivory arms and our lips conjoined once more. This time there was nothing to part our rapturous embrace; nothing to prevent us exploring the pleasures of one another's bodies. My fingers sought out the fastenings of Lady Amelia's dress and began systematically undoing them. Lady Amelia was equally eager to deprive me of my clothes and it was not long before we were both as naked as newborn babies. I stepped back from Lady Amelia, to allow myself to drink in the glory of her flawless body. Her skin shone like the richest variety of marble from beneath her cascading golden hair; her breasts seemed impossibly large and firm. I amorously studied the tangle of hair between her supple legs. It was darker than the hair on her head - a veritable jungle that I could not wait to explore. I reached out my hand and ran it gently through the silky curls. Lady Amelia bit her lip in silent pleasure. As I felt her dampen beneath my probing fingers, I sought out the palpitating lips at the centre of the mass of hair.

My heart pounded against my chest as Lady Amelia returned my caresses. Her hand moved up my inner thigh and found my straining phallus. A moan of pleasure escaped from my lips and I decided that the time had come to claim the trophy that I was being offered. I eased Lady Amelia backwards onto the floor and clambered on top of her. She gasped out my name, as I pushed myself inside her. In and out I went, delighting in the titillating squeeze of her luscious passageway. Lady Amelia locked her legs around my back as I thrust vigorously into her. I tried to suppress my elated groans, by passionately kissing her, but could not keep them inside. In a few moments, I had planted my seed, in a burst of ecstasy, but our coupling was far from over. Lady Amelia knew more lovemaking games than I had known existed. We proceeded from one carnal delight to the next, with Lady Amelia seemingly implementing every invention of prurient lust in order to heighten the experience. The remainder of the morning was passed in an exquisite ebullition of erotic intimacy.

When we had satisfied our desires, exhaustion usurped passion and my head sank down onto my concubine's breast. "That was simply divine," I murmured ardently.

Lady Amelia smiled and ran her fingers gently through my hair. "The best is yet to come," she crooned. My eyes slid shut, and I began to drift in and out of a contented sleep. The drowsiness that had crept over me soon passed. I extricated myself from Lady Amelia's cosy embrace, and paced up and down the room thoughtfully. Lady Amelia stood up to watch and began pulling her clothes back on.

Lady Amelia had declared herself to be a vampyre and although I was starting to believe her on this score, a number of things still puzzled me. For one, it had occurred to me that vampyres were supposed to be confined to their coffins during the day. I pointed this out to her. "That is one of the many popular misconceptions about vampyres," she told me. "While it is true that we do have to repose in our coffins from time to time in order to rekindle our vital energies, we can get by without doing so for a good couple of weeks. As for heaven's furious sun - we may not come into direct contact with it, but this is no great obstacle to our freedom. On overcast days we are relatively safe, because sunlight filtered through clouds cannot harm us. When it is warmer, defensive garments, like the cloak I was wearing earlier, serve admirably to preserve us. Where tends this discourse, my love? Now is a time for pleasure, not questions. Put your clothes on and we will share an experience that will make what we just did seem banal and insignificant."

"If you wish me to carry you over the chasm of destruction, you must first allow me to take you to the edge," Lady Amelia told me, when I had finished dressing. "Death is the most confounded disease known to man and for extreme diseases extreme remedies are most fitting. Of course, this trial is not without its danger. Death comes fast to those who are weak of will. Even as you feel your life ebbing away, you must cling onto it with every ounce of your being. If at any time you entertain doubts as to whether you wish to return from the brink of oblivion, then you will not survive." She looked deep into my eyes at this point for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, she seemed satisfied and continued, "The crucial moment has now arrived. You are about to embark on the most incredible adventure you will ever have." She drew me into her arms, smothering me with a torrent of tender kisses.

Lady Amelia's lips glided over my cheeks and down my neck, like a pair of succulent strawberries soaked in morning dew, with each kiss vying against the last in its warmth and passion. I surrendered myself utterly to the pulses of delight that pervaded my body each time she kissed me and it was not long before I was nigh intoxicated by my desire for her. Her dainty hands caressed me, sending me into raptures of pleasure. Prurience ran rampant through me and as she continued to kiss me and our bodies began to move together, the world ceased to exist for me and I was overwhelmed by a burning need to make love to her again. My hands wandered eagerly over her shoulders and back, fuelling my longing, until my body was physically alive with lust and a raging fire burned in my loins. I could stand to wait no longer. My body throbbed with an exigency for completion. I wanted her so badly that I was vaguely aware of myself moaning aloud in bliss.

In the next instant, Lady Amelia had pulled her head sharply back from my neck. My immediate response to this was to cry out in confusion. Lady Amelia's mouth whipped open to reveal a pair of grotesquely sharp teeth. Her overly red lips were as fascinating as ever, but I now knew them to be as manifest a warning of danger as any poisonous snake's skin. Lady Amelia's fangs gleamed with a spectral incandescence that mesmerised me. I watched helplessly as they descended towards my throat and sank smoothly into my soft flesh.

Pain blasted through me! I gritted my teeth in agony as Lady Amelia supped on my blood. I was grappling with her fiercely, but she continued oblivious. Gradually weakness washed over me, forcing me to abandon my rebellious struggling. I dropped to the floor and my eyes slid shut. Still Lady Amelia carried on feeding. There was no feeling in my extremities and I was having trouble breathing. I could sense that my life spark had begun to flicker. I forced my eyes open and sucked air into my lungs compulsively. The room was spinning; I could no longer think clearly.

Just when I thought I must surely die, Lady Amelia drew away from me. I was too debilitated to move or speak. She loosened her gown, baring her voluminous bosom. Then her eyes settled on the blood that flowed from the two puncture wounds in my throat. For a moment she seemed to obsequious to it to continue what she was doing. Finally, with what seemed like a supreme effort, she looked away; raising a hand to one of her exposed breasts and slitting it open with a tapered nail. Blood poured freely from the wound, but she seemed hardly to notice and set about pressing it to my mouth. "Drink deeply of me," she intoned, "for the blood is the life."

My lips fastened onto the gash and I began lapping up Lady Amelia's blood in a way that was not dissimilar to a newborn child suckling on its mother - though perhaps a trifle more feeble, because of my anaemic condition. I suppose that in a way I was a baby, in the process of being born again as a vampyre. As Lady Amelia's warm blood gushed down my throat, I felt the feeling return to my body. Strength swept back into me, my vision cleared, my mind became focused once more. It was so invigourating that I felt an overpowering desire to consume as much blood as I possibly could. I gulped at the sanguinary elixir, becoming more eager with each passing moment. My lips kneaded Lady Amelia's soft flesh voraciously and power roared into me with a fiery vehemence that threatened to consume me. In fact, I was so thoroughly inebriated by the experience that before I was fully aware of what I was doing, I had begun to tear at Lady Amelia's breast with my teeth to get at the blood more quickly. Lady Amelia cried out in pain and alarm, pulling away from me.

I lunged towards her, in a desperate attempt to reattach myself to her mangled breast, but she thrust out a restraining hand. "The essence of it will make you immortal," she gasped, "but if you ingest too much, it will destroy you." Her words somehow penetrated my mania and I made a concerted effort to check my seething thirst for more blood. As I did so, I became aware of my surroundings once more. The parlour was not particularly well illuminated, but to my great astonishment what little light there was now seemed almost blinding in its intensity, whilst everything around me had become startlingly vivid. This was marvellous enough in itself, but it was far from the only change I detected. My ears were now sensitive enough to pick out and accentuate the tiniest of sounds. I could for example, hear the servants moving around the rest of the house - though they sounded more akin to elephants than people. My brain had also been considerably enhanced, resulting in a terrifying calm descending over me. I had access to the furthermost reaches of consciousness; memories I had thought close to extinct pulsated with new energy; my entire life was as salient to me as if I had lived it all the day before; I was positively overflowing with new ideas and thoughts. It was as though a cloud of fog had been cleared from my head.

My eyes roamed the room, soaking in its lucidity and savouring the rainbow of colours. I settled my gaze on Lady Amelia and saw at once a multitude of things that I had not previously observed. Her hair was not all one shade, but a variegated feast of gold that came together in an explosion of magnificence. She had a tiny mole on her right cheek that she covered up with powder. These things and numerous others had now become apparent, but what I noticed most was the blood which had congealed on her bosom. Of course, the tattered flesh had miraculously healed itself, but the dried blood that remained shone out to me, like a solitary star in the inky curtain of night. I was drawn to it by a terrible longing that it took all of my willpower to resist. This craving for blood is something that I have never sated.

Lady Amelia studied me reflectively as she put her dress back into order. The rustling of the shifting garment was poignantly clear to my honed ears. "Now do you understand what it means to have real power?" she asked. Her voice resonated through my head like thunder. "Power such as other people only dream about! Your sensory perception is sharper than that of a hawk and you have the physical strength of a pride of lions. What is more, you will outlive the very mountains. Such faculties could make you a mighty killer. I trust that you will not waste this potential."

"It is incredible," I stammered. Lady Amelia grinned condescendingly. "I feel as though I have been plucked from vulgar obscurity and set up alongside God himself."

"Et resurrexit; et ascendit in caelum, sedet cum Patris," Lady Amelia proclaimed theatrically.

A translation slipped out of my mouth unbidden, "He rose again; and ascended into heaven, where He sits with the Father."

"Exactly," Lady Amelia agreed. She was smiling sweetly, but there was an unsettling air of satisfaction about her. I can only compare it to the contented appearance of a cat that has just succeeded in catching an elusive mouse.

"Denounce me as paranoid if you will, but I sense that there is a price to be paid for what you have given me," I ventured.

Lady Amelia cocked her head to one side and looked at me smugly. "There is always a price to be paid," she told me, "though in this case it is not overly exorbitant."

"What is it?" I inquired tentatively.

"I want you to kill somebody for me," Lady Amelia replied.

This excited a good deal of curiosity within me. "Who?" I asked eagerly.

Lady Amelia glided over to the roaring log fire and stared into the flames for a long time before answering. "A man called Francis Kemp," she said eventually, enunciating the name with a distasteful sneer, "who has made it his mission in life to hunt down and destroy our kind. Naturally he is not the first person to have done so, but he has proved himself to be a little too successful for comfort - probably because his wife and daughter were stolen away from him by one of us and revenge is a powerful motive. At any rate, he has managed to execute twelve vampyres as far as I am aware, several of whom were close associates of mine. This fact alone would have been enough to cause me unrest, but imagine how much more unsettling the situation became when he started to interfere directly in my own affairs. I am not easily fazed, but I have to admit that I am finding him to be a considerable nuisance. Wherever I turn he seems to be waiting for me with a stake and hammer. It is getting to the stage where I cannot even feed in peace. I am being harassed beyond all endurance by this pestilent peasant and I am fast reaching the end of my tether. I want him dead before he can cause me anymore irritation. Kill him for me, Sir Henry. I cannot take much more!"

Lady Amelia's voice had risen in volume as she made this little speech, until she was as good as screaming at me. This loss of composure frightened me far more than anything she had actually said. My earlier violence towards her had hardly even ruffled her feathers. What must this man have done to produce such an effect? It didn't bear thinking about. Lady Amelia struck me as a dangerous person to cross. The fact that she did not already have the situation well under control, suggested that this Francis Kemp must be a formidable opponent. On the other hand, I had tasted the power of the undead and I could not believe that any mortal was a match for a vampyre. "Why do you not kill him yourself?" I asked suspiciously.

"Believe me, I have tried!" she exclaimed, slamming her fist into the wall. For a moment hatred veiled her lovely face, then she was serenity itself once more. "I cannot get near him. Every time I try, he is waiting for me. It has been that way ever since we first crossed paths a number of years ago, shortly after I took up an offer of companionship from a German vampyre, called Klaus Von Starkenburg. My union with Klaus was one of convenience you understand, as opposed to one of love. I craved the knowledge which a thousand years of life had imparted to him; he craved the body of one who could satisfy him more completely than any of the prosperous young women he delighted in ruining, through artful seduction. This is not to say that it was not interesting to share the intimacy of killing with another vampyre, but it was not enough to convince me that we are not made to live a solitary existence as lone hunters in the emollient clutches of the night. To return to the point, however; Klaus had taken to involving me in the bizarre games he liked playing with his victims before he ended their lives. On one occasion, he procured an invitation for the two of us to stay at the house of one of the richest noblemen in England, which he quickly accepted. He then had me wheedle my way into the affections of the man's young son, whilst he was hard at work captivating the unfortunate fellow's daughter. One day, shortly after I had succeeded in winning the boy's love, Klaus bade me entice him into my boudoir, where I was to convince him to partake in a pitcher of drugged wine.

"When the rest of the house was abed, I crept to the boy's bedroom and knocked softly on the door. He answered in only his breeches and stood in the shadow of the doorway regarding me amorously. I will not attempt to deny that I felt some degree of desire for him. There was something indescribably attractive about the sprinkling of fluffy hair on his chest and the intelligent eyes that blazed out from beneath his raven-coloured hair, but my commitment to Klaus compelled me to resist him. Smothering the impulse to kiss his innocent lips, I put forward the proposition that he accompany me to my rooms, where we could talk without fear of being overheard. He readily agreed to this suggestion.

"The boy was similarly compliant when we arrived at my bedchamber and I offered him the wine. He seemed to see its hasty consumption as a challenge or a way of proving his manhood to me, and before long, had consumed far more than would have been good for him in the best of circumstances, let alone those he was now facing. I watched as his mind became more and more befuddled. Eventually he became so disorientated that he could not even recognise whereabouts he was in his own house. When this happened, I reluctantly proceeded with the next part of Klaus' scheme. My instructions were to convey the boy to his father's bedchamber, under the pretext of conducting him to a place where we could indulge our passion for each other in complete privacy. I led him through the silent house, not knowing what to expect next. How did the boy's father fit into the picture and would he be waiting for us when we reached our destination? I did not have to wait long to find out the answers to these questions.

"Klaus was waiting for me in the bedchamber when I arrived. He informed me that the boy's father was away on business until the following morning and that he intended to leave him a nasty surprise. I took a cursory glance around the room and noticed that Klaus' conquest was also present in a similarly intoxicated state to her brother. The girl lay on the tall four- poster bed, basking in the pallid moonbeams that stole through the fronds outside the open window. She was sparsely clad in an opaque lace nightgown that clung to her provocatively and seemed to emphasise rather than obscure her youthful curves. One arm lay above her delicate head, amidst a sea of shimmering black tresses; the other reclined atop her pert little breasts, which rose and fell in time with the gentle moans that escaped her lips at regular intervals. Her smooth skin shone in the cold light. She was a picture of fragile mortal beauty.

"Klaus was leaning against one wall, with a blank expression on his face, watching her as she lay there murmuring for him to fulfil her aching need for him. I can remember being somewhat surprised to see him apparently unaffected by her virginal sexuality, but I did not say anything and waited patiently for him to acknowledge my presence. When it became apparent that he had no intention of doing so, I silently guided my companion over to the bed and lay him down next to his sister. He looked only one step removed from divinity. His face was almost androgynous in its graceful beauty and his firm body pulsed with the strength of youthful masculinity. He looked so perfect that I had to fight down the urge to climb on top of him and have him make mad passionate love to me right in front of Klaus' face. Klaus would probably have tried to rip my heart out if I had done so, but I felt it was almost worth it - almost.

"Brother and sister lay on the bed together, like a pair of iridescent roses, waiting for Klaus and I to pluck them, but this was not what Klaus had in mind. He gestured for me to join him at the other side of the room. After a moment's hesitation, I complied. We watched in silence as the boy looked around him. It was only then that he seemed to notice his sister lying next to him. Given his mental incapacity at the time, his next actions were perhaps only to be expected. Mistaking her for me, he took her into his arms and began kissing her gently on the neck. She groaned ecstatically and the hand she had on her on her breast began moving over the rest of her body. No doubt the two of them would have unknowingly committed incest - as Klaus presumably wanted - had things been allowed to run their course, but at that moment there was a clatter from the adjoining room. Somewhat annoyed by this disturbance, but assuming it to be nothing more than one of the household servants, Klaus sent me to investigate. As I hurried to obey him, I began to ponder his motivation for setting up this monstrous scheme. The only thing I could think of was that he hoped to glean some kind of perverse pleasure from the couple's realisation of the terrible crime they had committed or else from the father's reaction when he discovered his children clasped in each other's arms the following morning. Pushing such thoughts from my mind, I began to search for the source of the earlier noise. This turned out to be a precarious pile of books that had somehow overbalanced. As soon as I had ascertained this, I made to return to the bedchamber.

"I pushed open the door, only to behold Francis Kemp plunge a stake through Klaus' heart. The cunning devil had been concealed behind an arras in the corner the whole time, waiting for the right time to attack my undead paramour. As luck would have it, my entrance caught him unawares. Before he could move to defend himself, I had pinned him to the floor and was demanding to know who he was. He informed me, with a great deal of dramatic gusto, that he was the worst nightmare of all vampyres and that I was to be his next target. Upon further questioning, he revealed that he had been pursuing Klaus for some time. Apparently when he had learnt where Klaus was staying, he had set about convincing the master of the house that his family were in terrible danger from his preternatural guest. The alarmed nobleman had then agreed to help him set a trap for Klaus, which we had just sprung.

"I was about to kill my indifferent adversary, when I noticed someone emerge from the arras out of the corner of my eye. It was Kemp's aristocratic accomplice. He rushed forward, armed with a stake and hammer. Preferring not to face two men, who were schooled in the art of vampyre disposal, I dissolved into a cloud of fog and fled the house long before he reached me.

"It was my intention to annihilate Kemp at the first opportunity, but from the moment of our initial encounter he seems to have been attuned to my essence in some incomprehensible way. It is as though he has some kind of unearthly perception that alerts him to the presence of any previously encountered vampyre. I have tried to get at him several times, but he is always ready for me. I barely escaped from my last attempt with my life. Put an end to him Sir Henry, before he puts an end to me."

Lady Amelia had grasped my head between her hands as she concluded her narrative. I drew away from her and sank down into a chair to contemplate what she had said. I was not so much afraid of Francis Kemp as wary of him. I knew that he was potentially deadly, but I considered myself to be more than a match for him. If Lady Amelia spoke the truth, he would not be aware of my approach until it was too late - this was presumably why she had decided to make a new vampyre to help her. She had specifically chosen me, because of the love she claimed to feel for me. Beneath this though, was her certainty that my violent nature was exactly what was needed to ensure success. Do not doubt that I had strong feelings for Lady Amelia, but I was not about to passively submit to this kind of manipulation. "This Francis Kemp sounds like a dangerous man," I said finally. "What if I refuse to go after him for you?"

"Obey me and I will love you as ardently as ever a woman loved a man; defy me and I will destroy you!" she replied vehemently.

I could well believe Lady Amelia capable of carrying out this threat! She had had several centuries to come to terms with her power, whereas I had only just begun to learn about mine. My vast potential was irrelevant. At that precise moment, her knowledge and experience gave her the upper hand. Besides, there was a good deal that I hoped to learn from her, so it was in my interests to stay on her good side. "Very well," I said resolvedly. "I will do as you ask; I will kill Francis Kemp."

Lady Amelia informed me of the whereabouts of the village that Francis Kemp had made his home and the following evening I saddled up my horse and set out to do that which I had sworn to do. I had a long journey ahead of me, so as soon as I passed under the great gatehouse that marked the entrance to the inner courtyard of my newly acquired estate, I spurred my mount into a plunging gallop. The moon was completely obscured by cloud, but my prodigious eyes could see everything as clearly as if it had been the middle of day. Hastening along a winding path through the forest that bordered the edge of my grounds, I began to think about how Lady Amelia and I had finally explained the disappearance of Sir Michael and his wife. It was an inspired story - far too improbable for anyone to think it was fabricated. Firstly Lady Amelia had convinced all concerned that she had been dispatched from London to inform us that the luckless couple had been set upon and killed by bandits, whilst on a secret mission for Edward VI. Next I had explained to the servants that because of the serious nature of the undertaking, Sir Michael had instructed me to conceal his involvement, in the hope that he and his wife would be back before they were missed. I cannot say for certain that the servants believed all of this, but they would not have thought to question it. In the absence of Sir Michael, I was the master of the house and what I said was as good as law. The servants knew their place too well to dispute anything that I told them.

I was anxious to reach Francis Kemp's home as soon as possible, so I continued to urge on my horse mercilessly, until I had to hold onto the reins with all of my vampyre strength to keep it from bolting. The dark clouds rolled in the heavens above me as the animal rushed onwards through the gloomy night, seemingly faster than the wind itself. It was a desolate ride, but I did not feel the gnawing cold or the loneliness of the bleak plains and dreary woods. Such things were subordinate to the burning need for blood that had plagued me ever since I first drank of Lady Amelia. It was an agonizing sensation that seemed to increase in tenacity with each passing moment. The pounding of the horse's heart did not help. In fact, it was utter torment to have such a convenient source of nourishment and not be able to take advantage of it. Mind you, I suppose I should have been thankful in a way. It was only the lust for blood that kept me from reflecting on the possible consequences of what I was about to attempt. Francis Kemp had managed to exterminate twelve vampyres - it was not unthinkable that I might end up as number thirteen.

By the time I arrived at my destination, my horse was foaming at the mouth and utterly exhausted. I patted his head soothingly, before swinging down from his sweaty back. A light drizzle had begun to fall and the wind was howling relentlessly, so I led him over to the leafy shelter of a nearby copse and tied him to a tall elm. When I had done this, I turned my attention to Francis Kemp's quaint little house. I could not help but smile to myself as I looked at it. Sturdy wooden shutters enclosed the windows and the walls were hung with garlic - garlic has no effect on me whatsoever, incidentally. If Francis Kemp thought that such trifling measures would preserve him from a staunch vampire, then he was sorely mistaken.

I walked round and round the modest abode, pondering how best to gain access. Of course, I could quite easily have just torn the door from its hinges, but this would assuredly have awoken Francis Kemp and alerted him to my presence, so I needed to come up with something else. It took several minutes of mulling the problem over, before something viable finally occurred to me! Lady Amelia had spoken of her ability to transform into an insubstantial mass of fog. If I could only work out how to emulate this feat, then entering the house would be as easy as counting to ten. I paced up and down, clenching and opening my fists compulsively, as I mused on how it was done.

It occurred to me as I considered the problem that most of the sorcery I had read about involved a supreme act of concentration. It seemed logical, therefore, that a concrete image of my transformation, together with an unswerving belief in my ability to accomplish it, should be enough to trigger the change. To put it in biblical terms - I was certain that if I had all faith, I could remove mountains. Placing two fingers on each temple, to help me concentrate, I willed a picture into my head. It was transient at first, but as I forced myself to focus on it, it ceased to waver and became as tangible as my very surroundings.

The first indication I received that my exertions were worthwhile was the bitter cold feeling that sprang up inside me. This sensation gradually overran my body, until I felt something akin to an intrepid explorer, battling his way up a blasted mountainside. Numbness crept into my extremities - I had to visually reassure myself that they had not dropped off altogether - and I heard my heartbeat start to slow down. As you might expect, these things were rather unsettling, but I forced myself to ignore them and continue to devote all of my mental energy to willing myself to transform. What followed is not easy to describe; a feeling of dispersion, as though the tiny particles that make me up were in some way scattering themselves. Then all sense of feeling was gone and I realised with a start that I had succeeded. I was now a malevolent wraith, with no more substance than the night itself. It was incredible! The constraints of my body were behind me. I was as light as gossamer and as free as the wind. Not that my appetite for human blood or my desire to kill again had abated. In fact, I was so intent on fulfilling these cravings for the night that I barely paused, before drifting easily under the door of my enemy's cottage.

Only those who have experienced a vampyre's bloodlust can ever truly appreciate how seldom it is banished to the back of consciousness. My appearance in Francis Kemp's house was one of those rare occasions - so amazing was the room in which I found myself. It was positively replete with artistic wonders, which had been gathered together from all around the world. This was hardly what one would expect from a simple-minded peasant, who had apparently devoted his life to the pursuit of vampyres. Paintings covered the stone walls - most notably pieces by Donatello, Giotto di Bondone and Fra Angelo - and graceful sculptures stood on various ledges and tables around the room. It was a veritable shrine to the world of art. Even the long dining table and chairs that stood in the centre of the room were the work of a master craftsman.

When I had finished marvelling at this peculiar sight, I allowed myself to solidify and strolled thoughtfully over to the fire that blazed on the hearth in one corner. It had occurred to me that the things in this room probably meant a lot to Francis Kemp and what better way to initiate my attack on him, than by destroying what was dear to him? I began snatching paintings from the wall and tossing them into the fire, savouring the enchanting smell that permeated the room as the flames greedily devoured frames and canvases that age had rendered only too vulnerable. The fire blazed brighter with each painting, until it seemed to burn with all the fury of hell itself. Still I continued to feed it.

I suppose that in a strange way I was doing more than trying to injure Francis Kemp. I was also exerting my superiority over the artists, who had to some extent achieved immortality through their work. The years I supposed had gone into creating the feast of sublimity that surrounded me, only made obliterating it seem all the more appealing. I was like a whirlwind, flinging priceless landscapes and icons into the fire faster than the human eye could have followed. Finally, there were no more paintings left to burn and I stood back to watch for a moment as the flames licked at the curling papyrus and vellum of masterpieces that would in all probability cease to be remembered.

The havoc that I wreaked on Francis Kemp's home made me a good deal bolder than I had been outside. I was no longer concerned about waking him up, because I felt powerful enough to kill him, no matter how he tried to defend himself. Fastening my hands onto my hips, I gazed imperiously around the room. There was a broom propped up against the wall in one corner. This was exactly what I had been looking for. I grabbed hold of it and began smashing sculptures left, right and centre. I made short work of the task. Soon all that remained was an elaborate Greek pot that stood on one end of the narrow mantelpiece. I picked it up and scrutinised it carefully. It was the work of Euthymides and decorated in the black-figured style. This was undoubtedly the crowning glory of Francis Kemp's collection and worth an absolute fortune. With a derisive sneer, I held it aloft. I was about to fling it to the ground and shatter it into a thousand pieces, when a melodious voice caused me to hesitate. "What in the name of heaven do you think you're doing?" the voice demanded.

I swung around to face whoever it was that had spoken and found myself looking at a tall hunchback, with vivid red hair and an unkempt beard. He was dressed in a pair of dishevelled stockings and a loose-fitting shirt, as though he had just got out of bed. The skin on his face was pockmarked and his hands were rough. He was standing by the ladder that led to the upper portion of the cottage, so I assumed that this was where he had come from, though how he had descended without me hearing was a mystery. There was little about the man to suggest that he was anything more than a common yokel, but something in his bearing put me on my guard. He regarded me through strangely wild eyes, then looked at the wreckage around him with a mixture of horror and fury. Considering where I was, I though it safe to assume that this was Francis Kemp.

I met his gaze levelly and for a long time neither of us moved or uttered a word. It was Francis Kemp who finally broke the silence. "Do my eyes deceive me or is it a so-called gentleman who has mindlessly laid waste to the finest art collection in the entire country - a collection it took years to put together? Who are you and why have you done this?" Francis Kemp's voice was quite at odds with his vulgar appearance.

"Your eyes do not deceive you, I am indeed a gentleman. My name is Sir Henry Seadon and I am at your service," I said scoffingly, glancing up at the pot that I was till poised to smash. "As to why I have done this, that is quite simple. You love art; I love destruction." I let the priceless pot fall from my hand to emphasise this point and watched blithely as it crashed to the floor. "If it is any consolation, I gained more pleasure blitzing this room, than you would have gained filling a room ten times bigger."

This display of wanton violence had rendered Francis Kemp almost too weak to stand. He stumbled over to a chair in the middle of the room and fumbled to support himself against one of the arms. A tear rolled down his cracked cheek and splashed onto the leather cushion of the chair. "Do you see what you have done to me?" he asked miserably. "Without my collection, I am nothing." He groped his way around the chair and fell back into the seat. "When people look at me, they see a loathsome creature. I am as ugly as the wrath of God! Art was my way of overcoming this. By surrounding myself with beauty, I was able to forget my own grotesque appearance. You have destroyed my solace, and as a result, you have destroyed me." His head rocked forward into his waiting hands and he started whimpering softly.

It was such a pathetic sight that I could almost pity him, but I had come this far and I was not about to turn back now. "I have only just begun to destroy you," I told him coldly. He did not appear to have heard me, as he made no response to this remark. I watched in disparaging disbelief, as he sat crying away to himself. It was almost as though he had forgotten my very presence. "This is ridiculous," I said finally. "Lady Amelia told me that you were a dangerous man; as far as I am concerned, you are not a man at all..." I broke off abruptly. At the very mention of Lady Amelia, he had stopped snivelling and lifted his head sharply.

"Was it Lady Amelia Tristophan who sent you?" he inquired in that oddly compelling voice. I nodded slowly. "Well let me tell you something about her!" he exclaimed. "She is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end; she is the devil in human guise; she is evil incarnate and she is not to be trusted. Do you know how many lives she has taken?"

My shoulders shook with silent laughter at this outburst. "We are vampyres," I told him. "We live on the lives of others. Lady Amelia kills in order to prolong her own existence. For the blood is the life and without it no vampyre can endure."

"That is not what I meant," Francis Kemp said sharply, rising from his chair and pulling himself erect. "I have murdered twelve vampyres and they all died for their love of her."

I shook my head frantically and cried out, "You are lying! I know all about you - you hunt people like me."

Francis Kemp flung his head back and snorted loudly. "Correction," he said matter-of-factly, "I kill people like you, but it does not have to be that way. If you leave this place now and promise not to seek me out again, then I will give you my word that I will never raise a hand against you."

I drummed my fingers on the mantelpiece for a moment, then retorted stubbornly, "I cannot do that."

"You are making a terrible mistake," Francis Kemp said wearily. "Lady Amelia is using you. She does not care about you or anyone else for that matter. She will pretend to love you for as long as it suits her, but as soon as you have outlived your usefulness, she will do away with you as easily as you did away with my art collection.

His deep voice oozed with veracity, but I could not believe Lady Amelia to be the monster that he was describing. He was obviously trying to lure me into a trap and wanted me completely at his mercy, but I had no intention of falling for the deception. It seemed that my earlier assumption about him being a formidable opponent was not so outlandish after all. "If you think that I am going to take the word of some unsightly lout over that of a woman who loves me with every inch of her being, then you are a bigger fool than I thought. I gave my word that I would kill you and I intend to keep it," I said resolvedly.

Francis Kemp shook his head and smiled wistfully. "Then I suppose we had better get this over with." He took a step towards me. I looked him up and down speculatively, as I readied myself to meet an attack. "I think I should tell you," he went on, "that if you were after me for any other reason than that which you have stated, then I would not fight you, but vengeance for what Lady Amelia has done to me is the only thing I have left to live for. If you intend championing her, then I must go through you." He frowned and studied his feet earnestly.

Then he sprang, with bewildering rapidity. I was caught off-guard and went flying backwards into the wall. The breath rushed out of my body. Francis Kemp was on top of me now, lashing out wildly with his rugged hands. I raised my own hands in a desperate attempt to fend off the volley of blows, but even with all of my great immortal strength, I could not seen to prevent the majority from getting through. His fists were like hammers pounding against my head. I could feel a river of warm blood flowing down my face and my brain was so groggy with pain that it was a miracle I managed to cling onto consciousness. I watched Francis Kemp continue to hit me through eyes that swam with dizziness, and as I did so, I felt anger surge up inside me. Anger at him for daring to suggest that Lady Amelia did not love me, anger at Lady Amelia for possibly sending me to my destruction, but most of all, anger at myself for letting my adversary take me so completely by surprise. This anger gave me the strength I needed to fight back. Almost before I knew what I was doing, I had wedged my foot against Francis Kemp's chest and used it to send him tumbling over into the table behind him.

He was up in a flash and coming at me again quicker than I would have thought possible, but the temporary respite had allowed me to rally myself to some degree. I hauled myself to my feet, using the wall for support, and prepared to defend myself against his next assault. With a bestial roar, he leapt at me. I have to own that he was phenomenally quick, but this time I was prepared for him and managed to get out of the way. Taking advantage of his forward momentum, I shoved him into the wall with all of my might. I now had the upper hand and was swift to exploit it. I grasped him firmly by his hair and began smashing his head repeatedly into the wall. He cried out frantically, but I hardly even noticed. The thrill I get from inflicting pain was creeping over me once more and I could think of nothing except indulging in it.

The agony that tormented my body as a result of Francis Kemp's earlier attack had become subservient to my desire to kill again. My adversary's head was bleeding profusely and the wall was splattered with gore! This sight reminded me of my burning need for sustenance, but even this could not break the proverbial spell that I was under. I grabbed hold of one of Francis Kemp's arms and twisted it up behind his back, until I heard the delicious snap of breaking bone. "So you kill people like me, do you?" I demanded delightedly. "Let me tell you something - there is nobody else like me. I am the greatest vampyre of them all and I am the perfect killer. Die now, as you deserve to die!" I was quite ready to force him to the floor, but this was not necessary. He had passed out while I was bashing his head against the wall and crumpled over as soon as I let go of him. I snarled in disgust at his low tolerance for pain, kicking idly at his bleeding head. His mouth fell open, and to my enormous surprise, I saw a pair of fangs inside it, gleaming insolently in the firelight.

Astonishment chased away my wish to kill Francis Kemp. I could hardly believe my eyes; he was a vampyre. Either Lady Amelia was oblivious to this fact or else she had deliberately kept it from me for some reason. I had to find out which without delay, but first I needed to satisfy my craving for blood. I sank down beside my prostrate enemy and bit into his neck, trembling rapturously as the sickeningly sweet fluid coursed through my racked body. When a vampyre drinks from another of his own kind, he ingests something of the other's power. It is the most invigourating experience possible. No words can describe the blissful relief that Francis Kemp's blood brought to my aching body. My tenacious hunger had been sated, at least for the time being.

 

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