Thank you for continuing to read DARK PRINCE. I'm glad you're enjoying it.
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I would like to refer you to my other stories appearing on Nifty: GAMES AT DEAUVILLE currently appearing in the Beginnings and historical folders as well as FLIGHT AT PEENEMÜNDE that is complete at both folders.
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Sergei Alexandrovitch Romanov sat quietly in the dark living room as the clock in the hall struck ten o'clock. He had showered, scrubbing at his arms and chest to clean himself of the half-cremated pieces and body fluids of the Fürst von Maribor. He'd buried his clothes and ensured the two men from CMUM were safely bound in the cellar. He was waiting for Emil Paulik.
The Swiss rentboy. Sergei Alexandrovitch didn't mind that Karl had taken a prostitute. They both had done so in the years before the turn of last century. He could even understand Tom's affection for the Swiss boy; after all, Americans were so silly with their pretense at a classless society. But for Karl to treat Emil Paulik as an equal to von Maribor? To make him a vampire? To love him? It was so plebeian.
It's seven on the coast, he told himself, late enough for a vampire in a hurry to get his backside home. Almost on cue, his preternatural hearing caught the footfall in Karl's bedroom, and he smiled. The boy was home.
"Gott im Himmel!" Emil's scream reverberated through the house.
Sergei Alexandrovitch guessed that Emil had seen Karl. The Swiss boy was shocked enough to give himself away. His smile grew -- he had to admit that Karl had looked worse than death when he looked in on him an hour ago.
He felt a tentative touch at the farthest corner of his thoughts. There was no penetration or attempt to read him -- just a careful reconnaissance of the terrain.
|Smart boy, Emil. It's safe. Come downstairs,| he told him.
"Karl's dead, isn't he, Tom?" Emil breathed at Sergei Alexandrovitch's ear. There was a hollowness in his voice that almost saddened the Russian's heart.
"No, mon cher, he is not dead," he said, turning slowly to face where the vampire stood. Sergei Alexandrovitch felt the keenest envy at that moment. He can see me as if it were still daylight. Gods! To be able to see again. To be complete once again. Like the Swiss rentboy was.
"You're not Tom."
Sergei Alexandrovitch smiled. "You are observant, my young Swiss friend."
"Why are you here, Sergei?" There was a coldness behind the question that Sergei did not understand but still felt was a challenge.
"You're but a commoner, Emil -- a delectable piece of arse but..."
|Bullshit!| The word exploded across the width and depth of Sergei Alexandrovitch's mind. |You're dead! You've been dead for a century. That world died a long time ago too. Look to Tom's memories, if you don't believe me!|
Sergei Alexandrovitch stepped back from the monster Karl had created. He felt Emil follow him. Not his body but his mind. He was inside him, pushing and digging. "It hurts!" he cried.
Instantly, he felt Emil pull back. In the darkness of the room, he knew the vampire was studying him. Assessing him.
"Karl went out into the afternoon sunlight to save you -- to save Tom?" Emil asked.
"I had to take over," he grunted. "Tom's jaw was broken and he'd been beaten; Karl barely made it through the azaleas after -- he'd never have made it back to the house -- you saw him."
"Two men followed me onto the grounds. They were on me before the gate could close."
"Followed Tom, you mean, don't you, Sergei?"
"Will you permit me to read your thoughts? Tom? Will you let me?"
Sergei body stiffened and he stood straight. "You don't have to ask him. I give you permission. Just be gentle."
"You're dead," he said and Sergei Alexandrovitch heard the mocking in Emil's voice. "And that isn't your body. You have no authority over it. Tom?"
Sergei twitched and started to turn away, to put this ill-mannered child in his place. But he couldn't. He felt Tom pushing him, grappling with him.
|Asshole!| the American growled in disgust, |you've just about blown it.|
Sergei surrendered then.
"Read anything you will, Emil," Tom told him. "I'm an open book. The son of a bitch can't find the defences that would shut you off."
"Was he telling the truth, Tom? Is Karl alive?"
"It was close but he'll make it."
Emil touched Tom's mind and entered it much more gently than he had moments earlier. He quickly shifted through his mortal lover's memories of the afternoon. Taking a deep breath, he looked directly into Tom's eyes, holding them.
"The two of you were right," he said. "He had to take over. It was the only way to save Karl."
"I didn't think twice after I started gagging."
"Having pieces of him come off in your hands -- yuk!" Emil crossed the room and turned on the overhead lights. "You healed up fast."
"Sergei almost has the mental stuff that vampires can do with their bodies figured out. He healed the jaw."
"Are you okay with him being in control?"
"We're going to have things to do -- things I have no idea how to do. Neither of us do. But Sergei might."
"What kind of things?"
"I know you've got two mortals down in the cellar, but I'm not going to allow whoever ordered them to get you to live." He shook his head. "We've got a bloody war on our hands, Tom. The other side isn't going to stop while Karl recovers. I need a warrior beside me to do what Karl would do."
Tom snorted. "And I start puking the moment I catch sight of blood. You're right, Emil. We do need Sergei Alexandrovitch Romanov -- but only if he's on our side."
"Let me talk to him," Emil grumbled and watched as the American's face changed subtly. "Should I call you by your title or can we work on this thing as equals, Sergei Alexandrovitch?" he asked when the other man was studying him.
Sergei Alexandrovitch laughed. "We are equals in what we wish for Karl's enemies, Emil. Will you forgive me my earlier bout of churlishness?"
"Yeah, but try to watch it next time, okay?"
"You have become quite the American in -- what? -- four months here?"
"Does that bother you?"
"No. I simply find it strange how completely this country has shaped this world of today." He smiled. "That you, Karl, and Tom live in."
"I don't know how to get to these bastards who did this to Karl and Tom -- who're trying to take over this country."
"You've done well so far."
"With Karl directing the show. Or like some member of an American street gang, prowling the streets myself. We need to have a plan and follow it. I need help with that."
"And, thus, you asked Tom to give up control of his own body to me?" He shrugged. "And here I had hopes that you found my personality endearing."
Emil smiled tentatively. "You're a lot of things, but I doubt endearing is one of them."
Sergei Alexandrovitch chuckled. "We are to be honest with each other then? Good. Tell me, are you so jealous of me?"
"Jealous? No. I was at first, but that was before I really knew Karl and before Tom became a lover. It was only then that I understood that you -- that Karl's time with you -- was over. Those times -- they're only memories to him now."
Sergei looked away. "Hundred year old memories to Karl, but only yesterday's to me." He crossed the room to the fireplace. "I am jealous of you, Emil Paulik. I am jealous of your life and your future with the man I have always loved. I am jealous of the reality that you live and that I do not. But it is mine to come to terms with that."
"You are alive, though. You stand there in that body -- your heart beats and you breathe. Aren't those definitions of being alive?"
Sergei Alexandrovitch smiled wanly. "It is a strange arrangement -- the human soul is -- dear Emi. It stretches back into a past so distant that no-one can comprehend it. To when men were little more than apes. It encompasses so many individuals pulled from all of the intervening time between then and now. Individual people who had their own lives, you must understand, mon cher."
"That's how reincarnation works, isn't it?"
"Yes, but no." He began to pace, allowing himself only the width of the fireplace before turning back. Finally, he spoke again: "Yes, the soul is an amalgam of lives, each learning from those before it through the veils that separate one life from another. Yet, the soul is also a leveller, Emil. Individuality does not exist. We are pressed into one mass -- those of us who are dead, who have gone before."
"You're pretty much an individual."
"Once I awakened -- no, that isn't right, not exactly. We are an ever-growing entity whose goal is to become self-aware. We seek enlightenment together. Do you know the German word "Volk"?"
"The poets of my century used that word to mean one entity. Das Deutsche Volk -- millions of individual people who worked together were seen as one. In a way, that is what a soul is. But its component beings are much more levelled out than are the individual people who make up a Volk. We are forced together to be one, more than is imaginable."
"But you are quite an individual!"
"Yes. Yes." He crossed the room and stood before Emil. "I am not a good little soldier yet. I was self-aware when I died. I had connected to my soul by becoming a vampire. I was part of my soul, but was slightly separate from it. Now, two lives later, I have still not accepted my place. I still seek individuality. I have not accepted my death yet."
"No," he said, holding up his hand. "I am the one who is dead. I am the one who must accept that and thus my place as one of many who can only direct -- advise -- this Thomas MacPherson. I must accept that I have to fade into union with all the rest."
"Not until Karl has fully recovered, you don't," Emil told him and, grabbing his shoulders, forcing the Russian to face him. "We can't allow the Americans to fall to these fascists. Karl almost died because of them and their hate. You too."
Sergei Alexandrovitch laughed. "Tom almost died, dear one. I can't die again."
"And you will trust me to help you? Knowing that I am jealous of you and that I am loath to giving up who I am?"
"You know honour, Sergei -- responsibility too. Karl would never have loved you all of these years if you didn't live them. You'll relinquish this body back to Tom when that time comes."
"Thank you." Sergei Alexandrovitch kissed his cheek and Emil felt the wetness of the Russian's tears.
* * *
Emil stood naked in the back car park of the small church beside an industrial park. The three cars parked behind the church informed him that he would find people inside. Towson Maryland, a suburb of Baltimore, he reminded himself and nodded as he looked down the hill towards the park. He looked to the night sky and shook his head at the snow-laden clouds.
"This is really weird weather," he muttered to himself. "Yesterday, it was in the nineties; now it's freezing." He shivered and wondered if he could really survive walking naked across Antarctica. He doubted it.
The two men Sergei Alexandrovitch imprisoned after the attack had talked. Their minds had broken as easily as eggshells. He was here because this was the CMUM's centre of operations. Orders were given and reports made here. The men imprisoned in the cellar would happily capture flies and eat them. They had been rendered as harmless as small children
He snorted at the image. Last night had been another story.
"You can't do this to us, asshole," the athletic one had spat at him as Emil ripped his shirt from him. "We've American citizens. We've got rights." Emil had smiled at him, shoving his face towards the man's. At that moment, he was glad that Sergei Alexandrovitch had insisted on turning on the overhead lights in the cellar. He wanted these men to see him. To see what he did to them.
"I'm hungry," he told the man from the Christian Men United for Morality tied before him. "You're dinner." He'd angled his head so that his mouth would reach the man's neck without touching his jaw.
"Demon!" the other man had bellowed as Emil's fangs sank into the first man's throat. He didn't go deep, a centimetre perhaps -- but he tasted blood as it welled in the wounds. The athletic CMUM jerked when he took him but said nothing, his body stiffened by fear and his vocal chords paralysed . Emil began to lap at the man's neck as his mind touched the man's.
He pushed through the sudden awareness of his true nature in the man's mind. The CMUM was the action arm of the Christian Center. The sense behind the information was like a catechism learnt and strongly believed. Their allegiance was to the leader of the Center, Bob Patterson, and his chosen heir, Reed Stephens. Their duty was to follow the preacher and do God's work on earth.
Emil pulled back to stare at the man. His eyes were closed, every muscle was hard and tight. "I do God's will, demon!" the man's thoughts screamed. "You'll never take my soul. God is my shield against the likes of you," his conscious mind repeated over and over, reassuring himself. Blood seeped in lines from his wounds.
Emil leant forward again and began to lap at the blood. |Your immediate leaders,| he commanded. |Who are they?|
He received a collage of mental pictures -- Ronnie Barber, their Group Captain; Davis Trellum, the Black man who gave Ronnie his orders; and the pastor of a small church in Towson Maryland, who gave them directions when Ronnie wasn't there. He delved deeper and got both an image of the church as well as its address.
Both men had bled in the night now past so that Emil could feed. But the men were insane, even more now than they had been before -- they existed in catatonia. And he stood on a tarmacked hill above an industrial park.
Emil looked at the back of the church and wondered if it could be considered as belonging to someone. Legally it belonged to itself; morally it belonged to God. He wondered if God would give him permission to enter.
Hesitantly, he touched the metal door with his hand. A smile touched his lips when nothing happened. He tried the handle but the door was locked. His mind touched the tumblers in the lock, sensing their position and how they could turn. Slowly, he began to move them into a position opposite their present one. When the last tumbler was in place, he tried the door again. It opened silently. He stepped inside.
"God doesn't seem to mind my being here," he mumbled softly as he pulled the door to behind him. Silence covered the back of the church building as snow began to fall outside. He extended his thoughts through the building, searching for the owners of the cars outside.
The Sunday School rooms and offices were empty, as was the church. Emil turned his thoughts to the basement and touched a man's thoughts.
He saw two more men through the man's eyes. There you are. Three of you monsters. Maybe one of you even knows something I can use.
The door at the foot of the stairs was locked. Emil gazed at it and reached again for the thoughts he'd touched upstairs. He nodded in relief when he knew they were behind the heavy steel door before him. He grinned as he began to dissolve into mist.
"The preacher wants street brawls everywhere," one man said as the mist seeped under the door and entered a changing room.
"A solid week of them, from New York to San Francisco. The queers have to be out in the streets threatening anybody that ventures outside. He wants it on the liberal press' nightly news." The man was middle aged and soft. He was bald and wore thick glasses. He sat at the head of a bench between two rows of lockers. Each of the other two men faced each other.
"Sounds like something big's going to happen, Pastor," the young man closest to the mist said, flexing his hand.
"Naw. It's just another test run," opined the third man.
"May could be the big month for us," the pastor acknowledged. "Even the preacher isn't sure. But he wants the whole organisation working on all eight cylinders, even if this turns out to be just another test run."
The mist oozed under the lockers nearest the youngest men and waited. And listened.
"We've turning the gay bashing over to the skinheads in LA and San Fran," the younger man said. "Do we go back onto the streets ourselves?"
"No. Leave the street stuff to them. It looks better to have them doing it. Just stay close and be there if they blow it."
"How do we know when it's time to go in and stop the brawls?" the third man asked. "It's going to be hard to stop the fighting with those queens in New York. They're like wasps, they don't settle down easy once you get them riled up."
The pastor sniggered. "They'll settle down fast when they see the army at every intersection. Rile them up, boys. The army shooting down some crazy queer rioter will look good on TV." All three men chuckled at images of hairy men in make-up and tutus.
The mist oozed through the floor of the locker one of the men was leaning against. Each strand coalesced once inside the locker, forming Emil's human body.
Emil understood what the three men were saying. Karl had given him enough background over the past month. And he suspected he was hearing about the putsch Karl had unearthed. Apparently, too, Karl's Trellum wasn't the only link between the American fascists. He had got no impression of him from their minds as these men talked
This man the others called Pastor seemed to have a link directly to -- wait! Was the preacher they were talking about the same as Bob Patterson? Emil felt embarrassed at nearly making that assumption. He would need to work through the man's knowledge to know that. It was a mistake that he suspected Karl wouldn't have come close to committing. At least, he had caught himself before he fell into its trap.
The three mortals were going to die. Emil had no doubt about that. But he wanted to search through the pastor's mind before he died. The other two followed orders, but the pastor might have information he could use to hobble the fascist monster until Karl could help him. But how did he kill them and still keep them together while he was doing it? He didn't need for one of them to escape. That spelled disaster for everything Karl had been trying to do in this country.
The mist was too slow, too easy to avoid. With them awake, Emil would never be able to capture them all, much less be able to hold them together. Changing into a wolf would give him speed, but it had its disadvantages too. Chief among them being that he would remain a prisoner in the locker as long as the man continued to lean against its door.
In human form, however, his preternatural strength would send the man outside flying across the space between the two sets of lockers. He would have the advantage of surprise as well.
A moment later, Emil placed both hands on the door and pushed hard. The lock broke instantly. The hinges groaned before snapping. The door flew into the middle of the aisle, pushing the man who'd leant against it before it.
"What the...!?!" the pastor cried.
Emil sprang at the man staring open-eyed at him.
He grabbed his throat and lifted him into the air. He slammed the man's head into a locker. He felt the man's slide into unconsciousness and dropped him.
"You're naked!" the pastor groaned, his eyes bulging as Emil turned to face him.
Emil heard the locker door clatter to the floor and turned to see the second man pushing himself to his feet. The man shook his head and turned to see him with the pastor.
"Son of a bitch!" the man growled as he took a step towards them, his hands already balled into fists.
Emil waited for the man to near him before reaching out and grabbing his arm. For the first time, the man looked fearful. Emil lifted his hundred kilos and flung him down the aisle like he was a basketball. He crashed into a set of lockers facing the aisle and fell to the floor. He did not move.
He faced the pastor. "Now, we can talk," he told him.
* * *
"Either there has been a change of plans or Karl's man Trellum has false information," Emil told Sergei Alexandrovitch as they stood before the fire in the living room.
"That is strange," the Russian-accented voice said from Tom's body. Emil still found that disconcerting but was becoming used to it. "This Trellum seems to be their strategist, making Patterson's dreams into reality."
Emil nodded his agreement.
"What exactly is their plan, as this pastor in Towson understood it?"
Emil stood at the end of the mantle -- close enough to the fire to feel its warmth but far enough away that he felt no pain from it. "The idea's to pull Queer Nation out into the streets. They want what looked like running brawls. After a week of that, the army's going to be pulled in."
"Martial law," Sergei said and nodded. "But Karl understood that was to follow the assassination, didn't he?"
"I thought so too. I got the sense that it was the vice president who would give the order for martial law."
"We need Trellum to find out what's happening." His eyes widened. "Trellum or one like him."
"Who? This Patterson? He's in Atlanta and I have no sense of his thoughts."
"Perhaps this general?"
"Same problem, Sergei Alexandrovitch. I have no sense of his thoughts."
"But he is in Washington, yes?"
"He's attached to the vice president. Why?"
"If I can see him, I can touch his mind, mon cher. I can find a nook or cranny there by which you can identify him."
Emil chuckled. "I was about to say that I didn't think you'd learnt how to manipulate Tom's brain enough to read thoughts at a distance."
Sergei shrugged. "I haven't. It is so frustrating, what I cannot do with this mortal body."
"Don't start putting ideas in Tom's head, Sergei -- the decision to become one of us is his alone."
"Of course. But being mortal is still frustrating."
"How is Karl?" Emil asked, consciously changing the subject.
"He still lies in a coma." He snorted. "I've had to change the linen twice since yesterday -- I think that should have been your duty."
"You do not have to breathe. I still must to live," He wrinkled his nose. "Burnt flesh is a most sickening odour."
Emil's body faded from the room as he projected himself to Karl's bedroom.
"Damn!" Sergei Alexandrovitch grumbled and started to walk to the hall and the stairs to the second floor beyond. He found Emil kneeling beside the bed, his head close to Karl's shoulder.
"He lives, Emi," Sergei Alexandrovitch told him softly. "His body repairs itself." He knelt beside the Swiss boy and put his arm around his shoulder. "See the new skin? Bone and muscle is covered everywhere now."
"He still has no hair, not even eyebrows."
"They will grow back, dear one. Very soon, he shall again be the same Fürst von Maribor whom we've always known."
Emil turned his head to look into the face close to his. "You aren't just telling me that, are you?"
Sergei Alexandrovitch laughed. "If Karl were dying, there would be no new skin. More muscle and bone would die and decompose. We would see it happening. Trust me with this please, Emi -- I would not lie to you about Karl."