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CHAPTER 119: The World Has Cracked Open
Voiceover by Humbert Allen Astredo: “Death comes to the great house of Collinwood, on this night in the year 1840 … for Angelique has managed to transcend time, and in doing so, she may have signed her own death warrant. Meanwhile, forces have aligned against the others who dwell on the great estate … and a familiar face, back from hell, may find that those same forces have changed his destiny.”
Something was terribly wrong with the world.
Edith Collins lifted herself up on one elbow and gazed for a moment at the sleeping, weasel-like face of her lover, made a disgusted clucking sound, then rose from the bed naked. She padded to the window and gazed out into the rainy night. Another thunderstorm at Collinwood. Of course. When my powers are at their height, Edith swore to herself, I will cast a spell that will stop the rain from falling permanently.
She saw her reflection in the glass, glaring furiously, and then smiled and shook her head at her own idiocy. She would never waste her powers on something so trivial, so inane. No, Edith Collins had greater plans than toying with mere meteorology.
The warlock in the bed in one of the forgotten rooms in the East Wing snored suddenly, and Edith jumped. She was disgusted with herself all over again; jumping at shadows, she scolded herself; it isn’t Gabriel, Gabriel couldn’t be here, Gabriel can’t walk. He’ll never discover you; he never pays any attention to you.
Which meant he would never guess that there was more to Edith Collins than met the eye. The affair was one thing, but the witchcraft … ah, but the witchcraft was quite another.
Nicholas Blair was a lawyer, he claimed, new in town, but Edith knew better. The night she came to him for legal advice, to seek a divorce from her puling, weakling husband, she became caught up in one of Blair’s rituals, an attempt to raise from its hiding place the dreaded Mask of Ba’al. Of course Edith, until then, had never heard of Ba’al or his mask. But now she knew better, didn’t she. That the world was full of all kinds of special things that she had never suspected existed. Not until now.
She had grown tired of Nicholas. Edith knew now that his vast repertoire of powers included spells to make him a far better lover than he could currently take credit for, but he didn’t use them. Didn’t figure he needed to, she suspected, though even Gabriel had pleasured her more than Nicholas ever had, and that wasn’t saying much.
So eventually she had begun to pleasure herself. Those spells were easy.
I shouldn’t have to use them, she thought petulantly, and watched Blair’s sleeping face. She hated it, suddenly, would like to crush it, erase it utterly. It would be so easy …
His eyes were open, gray and mild, and they watched her lazily. His mouth split into a sneer suddenly. “Dear Edith,” he purred. “Thinking naughty thoughts?”
Her heart skipped for a moment, but she had also mastered the art of shielding her thoughts – she wasn’t an idiot, after all – and so she composed herself, smiled her thin-lipped smile, and said, “Something is wrong, Nicholas.”
He rose from the bed, naked as well, his tiny penis a shriveled brown peanut, barely visible through the thatch of black hair that grew below his navel, spiked through with shocks of white. He was still smiling. “I’ll say.”
“Nicholas –” she began, but his hand lashed out before she could quite finish his name and slapped her across the face, rocking her head backward so far that she was certain she heard something inside snap.
Then she was on the floor, and the only thing she heard besides the thunder outside Collinwood was the pattering of blood as it dripped from her nose and struck the filthy hardwood floor beneath her.
“Do you think I’m a fool?” Nicholas purred above her.
She looked up. He stood over her, his eyes black holes now, charred pits that flared here and there with flecks of glittering red.
“Do you?” he said, and prodded her bare backside with one gentle toe. “Do you, dear Edith? Did you really think that your paltry witchcraft could keep your thoughts safe from me?” He kicked her now, nothing gentle about it, in the side, just above her ribs, and she rolled away from him with a muffled scream. “You bitch. I am two hundred years old, dearest. My powers are legendary among our kind,” he said, his voice rising to a pantherish scream, “and you think you can keep me out?” He lifted a finger and she rose into the air as if held by invisible hands that slammed her against the wall so hard that her teeth clicked together. She tasted blood, slimy and coppery, in her mouth.
“Something is wrong, Nicholas,” she choked, then felt the hands release her, and she dropped to the floor with a bone rattling thud. She lifted her head again; he was blurry, but still looming above her. “Listen to me!” she screamed. “Something is wrong in the world!”
He hesitated. “Oh?” he said, purring again. “Do tell.”
“I don’t know the exact details,” she said, and pulled herself up. She groaned.
“Stay down,” he said, and gestured, and she was knocked back down. Something broken inside her ground together, and she bit the scream back that wanted to fall from her lips. “What do you mean, ‘wrong’?”
“I woke up and I just knew,” she said. Inside her head, she was already chanting the spell for healing that would reverse whatever damage he had done to her. He didn’t know she possessed such power, but what he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. Yet. “The world is different now.”
“Idiot woman,” he said, and shook his ugly whippet’s head, “the world is always different.”
“Someone has come to this time and changed the events that happened originally,” she said. “I don’t know how I know it, but I do, and if you took a second to think, you’d know it too.” She grinned with bloody teeth, but the blood was already fading away, because she wasn’t hurt anymore. “Wouldn’t you.”
He blinked, clearly taken aback. “You’re right,” he said after a moment. “Satan’s necktie; you’re right.”
“There are people in this time who shouldn’t be here,” Edith said. “That’s possible, isn’t it? Time travel?”
“There are methods,” Nicholas said thoughtfully, though he wasn’t really listening to her, she thought. “But only the most powerful sorcerers can summon dark enough energy to accomplish it. And there’s only one I can think of at this moment.” His eyes flashed black again, and he ground his sharp little teeth together as he spat the name. “Angelique.”
Let me go, she wanted to scream, but he wouldn’t listen, was growling and slobbering like a mongrel dog, insane, the mad red lights of his eyes glittering like rubies; and the lights behind her eyes were growing dim, the pain, everything dimming, fading away; and suddenly the power surged (SURGED) through her, lightning, golden and crimson, filling her, filling her, over filling her, too much, and she threw her arms out and she knew that her eyes had turned as black as dark night, and the power, the magic, flew from her and knocked her vampire lover backward, across the drawing room of the Old House.
“I told you to let me go,” she growled. The power walked and talked inside her, shivering, shimmering, and it felt good, Hades, it felt good. She glanced down at her tiny white hands, and the tips of her fingers shimmered with scrawls of black and silver energy like little lightning bolts. It hadn’t been that long since that bitch Edith Collins split her into two, but the power – oh, the power felt marvelous. I can do anything, she thought, I can do whatever I want, and no one will stand in my way.
Barnabas lay before her, growling. His eyes were fixed on hers. “I don’t care what it costs,” Barnabas snarled. “I will destroy you, witch, once and for all.”
She raised her right hand, and the spell came back to her so easily; emerald witchfire crackled between her fingers; the golden tide roared and sang inside her … then it collapsed, and she stumbled backward, her eyes wide, the black falling from them and leaving them crystal blue, and the magical energy faded away. No, she thought, horrified at how quickly the power overtook her, how it affected her. I would have destroyed him, she thought, he wants to destroy me. “Barnabas,” she said shakily, “Barnabas, it’s me.”
“I know who you are,” the vampire snarled before her. “And I know what you are.” He stood up, his hands clenching and unclenching. He was grinning.
She stood her ground. “I’m Angelique,” she said. “From the future. From 1969.”
He stopped, glaring. “I don’t believe you,” he said at last.
“We don’t have time for this idiocy,” she said after a beat, and blasted him with a bolt of magic so potent that it sent him sprawling, seized him, then lifted him high and held him against the wall. She walked toward him determinedly, hips swaying, eyes locked on him. “Now,” she said sweetly, and looked up at him where he was pinned against the peeling wallpaper and rotting timbers that lay behind them, “you aren’t going to give me any more trouble. And you’re going to listen to me. And you’re going to be reasonable or I’ll keep you here until you change your mind.”
“I’m listening,” Barnabas said at last.
“I finally made it back to you,” she said, softening somewhat. “Alexandra March helped me. And … and Victoria Winters.”
He narrowed his eyes and glared at her. “What do you know of Victoria Winters?”
She sighed heavily. “You must trust me, Barnabas,” she said, “or we are all lost. I tell you, I am the Angelique from the twentieth century, the woman who was, until a few moments ago, utterly powerless.” A thought suddenly occurred to her, and she looked down at her hands. “Say,” she said, “how do I happen to possess a body again?”
“You stole it,” Barnabas hissed. “You took it from Valerie Collins after Julia and I released your spirit from the walled up room in the West Wing.”
“Valerie Collins,” Angelique smiled, “of course.”
“You knew her?”
“I knew of her. I watched the family for two centuries from behind that wall. I knew each of them: their names, their sins and lies and peccadillos, who they loved and how they lost them. I was prepared to destroy your family when I came to you as Cassandra.”
“As Cassandra,” Barnabas whispered. “Oh Angelique. Angelique, what have you done to me?”
“What do you mean?”
“Can’t you see?” he groaned. “Can’t you tell? I am a vampire again.”
A cold finger probed at her heart. “What do you mean, ‘again’? Barnabas, what happened to you before –”
His eyes began to glow red once again. “You did this to me,” he snarled, revealing his fangs. “You put something inside me. A monster. More than a bat. A demon. And now I must destroy. All I want to do is desssssstroy …”
He threw back his head and howled, a chilling glissade, the lonely, furious sound of a wolf, and Angelique, unable to help herself, took a shuddering step backward, shaking her head, her eyes stinging with tears. “Oh Barnabas,” she whispered, “oh Barnabas, no! No!”
“I’m so afraid,” Samantha admitted, then immediately regretted the words. Her brother-in-law was staring up at her with his big blue eyes forcibly wide, then his mouth split into a weasel’s grin. She felt disgust well up inside her, and she swept away from him. “Oh, why do I even bother with you,” she snapped. “You hate me. You’ve always hated me.”
“You’re wrong,” Gabriel said softly, and she looked over her shoulder, shocked. “I always thought you hated me. And so here we are, around and around. Like that toy merry-go-round your son professed such love for.”
“In the playroom you had constructed for him,” she said, and all the rancor drained out of her, leaving her with a feeling of intense exhaustion. “He’s there now, you know. He spends most of his time in that room.”
“I love him,” Gabriel said simply and wheeled his chair so he was beside her. “I know you don’t believe that, but I do.”
“Of course I believe it,” she said. “Oh Gabriel, I am afraid. Something is happening here, in this house, in this town, and I don’t understand it, and it frightens me so.”
“Witchcraft, dear sister-in-law,” Gabriel said, and took her hand in his and held it firmly. She made a sputtering sound and tried to pull away, but he held her tightly. “You don’t believe me; of course you don’t; you never have. But I speak the truth. There is witchcraft being practiced in this house.”
“Don’t be insane,” Samantha said. That old disgust welled up inside her again, choking her like vomit in the back of her throat, but he wouldn’t let go of her, and his hands were damp, they were wet, slick and clammy. She tried to pull away again, but there was such strength in those hands; of course, of course, she thought, he has to wheel himself all over this house, of course he’s strong. She imagined those hands around her throat, those fingers, the strength in them, crushing her windpipe –
Then he released her, and she stumbled away and watched him warily, like a dog that would bite if she let it any closer. “I am not insane,” he said, and he sounded sad. “How I wish I were. It would make everything so much simpler.”
“I need to go to Tad –”
“There is witchcraft being practiced in this house, Samantha,” Gabriel roared suddenly, “and it is your husband – your beloved Quentin, my bastard brother – who is at the root of it.”
“Get out of here, Gabriel!” Samantha shrieked, her voice warbling and feline. Her eyes filled with tears, burning, and she leveled a finger at the drawing room doors. “You’re a monster, a monster!” The tears caused her eyes to flicker with their own degree of madness, and hysteria forced her mouth into a wide, savage grin. “Can’t do it yourself? Not strong enough, not fast enough? I understand, I see! Let me help you, dear Gabriel!” She ran to the doors and flung them out. “Now get out, get out, get out!” she screamed, and covered her face with her hands.
For a moment there was nothing; then the familiar, infuriating squeal of his wheelchair as he maneuvered it past her. He said nothing, but she fancied she could smell him, smell his lunacy, a sour, bestial odor, like a dog’s.
She was panting. He had upset her so. She mustn’t allow him to do that to her anymore. She took a deep breath and tried to regain some semblance of control. No, she swore to herself, and dropped her hands from her face; no, she would not allow Gabriel Collins to upset her ever again.
Daphne Harridge stood before her.
Samantha uttered a small shriek, a mouse-like sound of fear, and stumbled away from the dark-haired woman. She felt a stab of hate, both for what the governess represented to her security as mistress of the house, and for allowing her to frighten her so, for forcing her to make a sound of such weakness.
“Mrs. Collins,” Daphne said, and smiled her knowing little smile.
“Ms. Harridge,” Samantha said with as much curtness as she could muster. “You might announce yourself before you enter a room. As a servant in this house –”
“Oh, I am sorry,” Daphne said. “I thought you heard me come in.”
“I did not.”
“My fault entirely.” And she chuckled, put her hands to her mouth to smother the sound, but it wouldn’t be smothered, so she dropped her hands and simply allowed the wicked sounds to fall from her pretty lips.
Samantha frowned at her. “Stop that at once,” she said. “I will not stand for this impertinence, Miss Harridge. If you think that, just because my husband has a weakness for you, I will tolerate such behavior, you … you are quite …” The words died in her mouth. Daphne no longer laughed. She stared instead at her employer with her face dark with hate, her eyes blazing, that pretty mouth twisted into a snarl. “Miss Harridge,” Samantha said, all her fury and self-importance blown away as if by a wind, “Miss Harridge, what is the matter with you?”
“The Master is dead,” Daphne said, and for the first time Samantha heard how her voice buzzed, how inhuman it sounded. “The Master is gone, and he has left me behind to work his will.”
“What are you talking about?” Samantha cried. She took a step backward – into the room, a distant part of her whispered; you fool, you’ve stepped into the room, go to the doors, the doors – and then the doors slammed, seemingly of their own accord, and Samantha screamed.
Daphne’s face was white, so white, as if no blood pumped through her veins. Her eyes glared at Samantha above hollows so blue they were almost black. She took a step toward the other woman and reached out with her terrible white hands grasping … grasping …
“He will love me after you are gone,” Daphne’s dead voice buzzed, “he will love me, and I will take your place …”
“No,” Samantha whimpered. She cried out as her back struck the wall, a miserable sound, like a lamb.
Daphne was relentless. “You are not blameless, Mrs. Collins. I know what lies within in your heart and behind your eyes. You would have killed me. You wouldn’t have been offered a choice.”
“No!” Samantha wheezed, “that’s not true!” She couldn’t catch her breath. My heart, she thought, and pressed a hand against her breast, my heart …
“It is,” Daphne said. She was close now, her face only inches from Samantha’s, and Samantha could smell her. A black smell, a rotten smell, like a dead chicken she and Roxanne discovered as children, murdered by their father’s favorite dog, its body left to rot under the summer sun. “It is true. You are going to die, Samantha Collins. Look upon me – look at my face – see what you will become!”
Samantha’s drilling shrieks of horror rose to a fever pitch as the governess’ face changed, rippled as if it emitted a ferocious heat, and beneath that white skin lay a skull still dappled here and there with puffy chunks of green and purple flesh, and its eyes, its eyes still lived, they saw, and they hated her, yes, they hated Samantha Collins so much that they would do anything to destroy her –
“My god!” Quentin cried, and Daphne spun around and ran to him, allowed him to enfold her in his arms.
“Oh Quentin,” she sobbed, “Quentin, it’s terrible! Mrs. Collins … I heard her crying out … I tried to save her, but it was too late!”
“Samantha,” Quentin whispered, extricating himself from Daphne’s not-entirely-unwelcomed embrace, and knelt beside his wife. His gorge rose. Her eyes bulged in their sockets, and her face was a ruddy purple color rapidly turning black. Her tongue emerged from her lips. “She’s dead,” he groaned, and rose to his feet.
Daphne was crying. “I don’t understand,” she said. “I don’t know what happened to her. I didn’t know what was wrong with her!”
He embraced her again. “Samantha had a very weak heart,” Quentin said, his voice troubled. “She knew about it, of course; Dr. Thornton has been telling her for years that she shouldn’t be so active, that she needn’t watch over the servants like she does, that she doesn’t need to do everything herself.” His voice cracked, and, astonished, he realized that what he was feeling was genuine grief. For Samantha? he thought, bewildered. But I hate her. I’ve hated her for almost a decade, wished her dead a million times.
She’s dead. She’s really gone.
He thought he might be sick.
Daphne’s tiny, cold fingers slid through his own. He stared down at them, their linked hands, wonderingly, then back to her face. Her dark eyes were wide with compassion and sympathy. Her face was streaked with tears. “I’ll send Ben Stokes to fetch Dr. Thornton,” she said. “Then we must tell Tad.”
“Oh, Tad,” Quentin groaned.
“He must be told, Quentin. I’ll be with you. I promise. I’ll be there all the time now. If you wish it.”
He opened his mouth to reply, to rebuke her perhaps – weren’t they standing over his wife’s corpse, after all, still warm? – but one look into her eyes and he found that the words died. She was so beautiful, he thought dreamily, just as he thought the night she came to Collinwood and he hired her on the spot. Quentin Collins had a weakness for beautiful women. Samantha knew it and hated him for it. Just as I hated her, he thought, hated her, yes, hated her so much …
“Come along,” Daphne said. “There’s nothing we can do for her now.”
After they left the room, Julia appeared, and with a great effort. Anyone that happened to see her in that moment would know her for what she was: a spirit, transparent, nearly completely invisible, the portraits of forgotten Collins ancestors glaring down from the walls clearly visible through her. She was gasping, though she required no breath, with the effort of staying in this room. Or is it more than that? she thought, disturbed. Is this feeling of struggling against a tide pushing me along, pushing me towards something inevitable … is it really a force trying to drag me out of this time entirely? Is it trying to send me back to where my spirit is intended to be? Back to 1897?
She glanced at the corpse of Samantha Collins and felt a stab of remorse. I could have saved her, Julia thought, then remembered the pledge she and Barnabas had made that first night they arrived in this time. “We must be cautious, so cautious,” she had told him, because she knew how he was, how impetuous he could be, and he would want to save them, just as he had wanted to save all those people in the parallel Collinwood. “We don’t know what consequences our actions will have in the future. We don’t know what terrible effects we’ll see once we return … if we return.”
Samantha was fated to die; Julia had known that all along, from her recent studies on the Collins family in 1840. Only I didn’t know what part Daphne Harridge would play in her death, Julia thought bitterly. I had no idea she’d become a zombie or a creature of the devil or whatever it was Gerard did to her.
Her eyes went wide. She’s fated to marry Quentin, Julia thought, revolted. That … that monster is going to become the mistress of Collinwood.
Despair rose up in her. We have to allow it to play out the way it did originally, she thought. We aren’t here to save these people or to change the past. I know how Leticia stopped Gerard; now we must return to our own time and allow these people to live their own lives, for better or for worse.
Barnabas will want to stop any tragedy that will arise.
She couldn’t allow that. Julia had materialized here, in the Collinwood drawing room, with the hopes that Barnabas would be there, that he would have returned from the Old House with the knowledge they needed to stop Angelique, or at least bind her in some fashion until the twentieth century Angelique had joined them.
I can’t wait anymore, Julia thought. I have to find Barnabas now, this minute, and then we must –
“I told you, Nicholas,” Edith Collins said from the doorway, and Julia froze, cold horror turned to ice in her non-existent veins. Not him, she thought distantly, not here … not now!
But it was, of course. Though it had been six months since Nicholas Blair’s immolation for her and more than a century for him, he looked exactly as he had the last time Julia had seen him. “Fascinating,” he said. “So your newest cousin is a ghost. Or a spirit. Or perhaps …” And he stroked his vicious little mustache with his thumb and forefinger. “…perhaps she is more than that.”
She tried to vanish, to dematerialize, but Nicholas was quicker than she, and she found herself struggling against what felt like invisible mesh surrounding her, holding her fast to the Collinwood drawing room. “Not so fast, my dear,” he said, grinning, then turned to the beautiful, icy woman at his side. “You see, I don’t even need to lift a finger to hold her here. That is the kind of power I wield, and the kind of power I hold over you.”
“Of course,” Edith said neutrally.
He patted her gently on the cheek; it did not escape Julia’s notice that Edith’s face twitched involuntarily, that it was very apparent she was holding back a moue of disgust.
But Nicholas had already retrained his attention on Julia. “Tell me who you truly are, spirit of Julia Collins,” and he bared his teeth in a wicked, piranha-like grin, “or I will sentence you to walk the earth in an agony of loneliness for the rest of time.”
“I …” She hesitated. Should she lie?
History must not be changed. We are all in danger.
“I come from another time,” she said haltingly.
The warlock’s eyebrows jumped. “A time traveler!” he purred. “How exquisite. And you are here with Barnabas Collins. Is he from the future too?”
She hesitated for only a moment. Then she nodded.
“You aren’t lying,” Nicholas purred. She stared at him with her eyes wide and flickering. “No,” he said, “no, of course you’re not. I could tell if you were. From which year do you come, spirit?”
“1969,” she breathed.
“1969,” Nicholas breathed, just as she had. He released his hold on Edith, who took a step away, glaring, her eyes dark and furious. “A far off year, to be sure. Tell me, my dear Miss Collins: do I exist in this time?”
“Yes,” she admitted. I will not tell him the whole truth, she swore to herself.
“But?” She tightened her lips. “Is there a but, spirit?” Julia did not lower her eyes from his. “You know me then,” he snarled, “don’t you?”
“I do,” she said. “I first met you in the summer of 1967. You came to Collinwood because Angelique was at Collinwood. She called herself Cassandra and was married to Roger Collins.”
“Dear Angelique,” Nicholas said musingly. “So she is there as well, free from the wall where Barnabas consigned her. How delightful.” He was grinning again, his teeth like a barracuda’s, and he turned to where Edith had stood, saying, “Really, my dear, you could learn a lot from –”
But the other woman – the witch, Julia knew – was gone.
Nicholas’ mouth dropped open. “Where is she?” he whispered. He strode to the drawing room doors and hurled them open, roaring, “Edith? Edith, where are you?”
Julia closed her eyes. She wanted to weep. He certainly wasn’t the suave, calm, cool and collected Nicholas Blair Julia knew from her encounters with him in the twentieth century. He’ll wake the whole house, she thought, he’ll …
But no. Quentin was on his way to village to find a doctor and the constable, Tad and Gabriel were in their rooms, Ben was almost deaf, and Daphne …
Daphne, Julia now understood, and with something akin to despair, Daphne wouldn’t come either.
Nicholas turned back to her. “Did you see her go?” he snarled. “Did you see where Edith went?”
Through gritted teeth, Julia spat, “I didn’t see anything.”
“You know what I am,” Nicholas said, glaring, “you know of my powers. If you are holding anything back from me, spirit, I swear –”
“I didn’t see where she went,” Julia snarled back at him, “now let me go!”
“There’s something you aren’t telling me,” Nicholas said, his voice silky. He took a step backward and stared at her appraisingly. “There’s something you know. Not about Edith. What is it? What could it be?”
“Let me go,” Julia growled.
“That’s it,” Nicholas said. “I don’t have time for you.” He closed his eyes for a moment and bowed his head, and when he lifted it and glared at Julia, his eyes glowed a malevolent obsidian. “Baron Samedi, lord of the dead,” he intoned, and his fingers crackled with emerald witchfire, “hear your servant’s plea.” Julia recoiled, and cried out. Shackles composed of that same emerald fire began to glow around her wrists, her ankles, even around her neck. Grinning, Nicholas chanted, “Open a door, dark one, to the world of the dead. Show this spirit of Julia Collins my power … and yours.” She was growing weaker; whatever his spell intended, it was draining her of the dim spark of life she clung to, her hold on this time, this world, so that she wouldn’t return to the grave. “Take her, lord of darkness,” Nicholas spat, “take her now, back to the –”
“You will fail!” Julia cried, almost against her will, but though she would weep for her actions later, she knew that she intended them. He scared me so, she would tell Barnabas (if I ever see him again, she now thought miserably), I thought he was about to destroy me; I’m sorry, Barnabas, I’m sorry –
History must not be changed.
And here, she thought sadly, here I thought Barnabas was the one who would change things.
The warlock had paused mid-incantation. His fingers were frozen into convoluted patterns. The witchfire dissipated. He raised a single eyebrow. “I will fail?” he purred. “At what, dear Miss Collins? Do tell.”
“The Mask,” she said, sobbing, unable to stop. “The Mask of Ba’al. You came back to Collinwood to find it –”
“I am seeking it now,” Nicholas said darkly. “Surely you knew that.”
“Yes,” Julia whispered, “but that isn’t why I’m here, or why Barnabas is here. You died, Nicholas. In 1968. You were destroyed in fire without ever recovering the Mask.”
“I die,” Nicholas whispered, and for a moment he seemed taken off guard. Then his face hardened into an emotionless mask. “I have died before. It does little to stop me. Now tell me, Julia Collins –” And he reached for her, and somehow he was able to catch her about the wrist, his fingers sinking into the ectoplasm that composed her being, and held her tight, and though she twisted in his grip, she was unable to free herself. “— who kills me?”
They stood outside the front doors of Collinwood, witch and vampire, restored to their former roles once more. Angelique thought she had never seen Barnabas appear more haggard, more drawn, his face absolutely without blood, than she had tonight. And it’s all my fault, she thought miserably, in so many ways, including the most literal one. Because I laid the curse upon him again, and it was my idea to send Julia back to this time so she could free me. My fault that I couldn’t arrive in time. All, all, all my fault.
“You are thinking things better left unthought,” Barnabas said, ridiculously, and she stiffened and turned to look at him. It was difficult. She hadn’t been able to bring herself to meet his gaze since they decided to return to Collinwood to find Julia and update her on the situation.
“I can’t help it,” she whispered. “Oh, Barnabas. Everything that has happened to you is because of me.”
“That isn’t true,” he said softly. She knew he was struggling with the hunger, the malignant desire for blood that he had not satisfied since the curse took hold again. “I have learned much in my two centuries on this earth, though I know that very often it seems that I haven’t.” He touched her shoulder as gently as he could. His touch was icy. She tried not to shiver. “I must accept responsibility for my own actions. Seducing you – abandoning you – murdering you –”
“We don’t need to talk about this all again,” she said, and lowered her head. Dull shame beat against her. Were they doomed, really, for all eternity, to circle back again and again to the same stupid mistakes they’d made in the past? Was that what their lives were always to be?
“We do,” he insisted, “if only so that you will stop blaming yourself. We will return to our own time, Angelique, and when we do, we will never allow these … these shadows to fall over us, controlling us, ever again. The past will be the past, and we will leave it there. Agreed?”
She looked at him, wide-eyed, and that same old desperate love for him washed over her again. “Agreed,” she said at last. She wiped away a tiny tear that had formed at the corner of her eye; Barnabas smiled, and leaned forward to kiss her, softly, on the mouth. Then he pulled away as if struck by a sudden pain. She understood only too well. The vampire, she thought wisely, bitterly; the vampire wants to tear out my throat and drink my blood. Perhaps I should let it. Perhaps I should end this torment now.
But the torment wouldn’t end. Killing her would kill Barnabas too, and besides, she didn’t want to be a vampire again.
There was too much at stake, after all. They had encountered Quentin Collins, 1840 vintage, only moments before, as they had approached the house. Perhaps, Angelique reflected, if his wife hadn’t only just passed sadly into the infinite he might have considered it strange to see his stepmother walking in the dark with a supposed cousin he barely knew, but grief and shock does funny things to a person, as Angelique herself knew well. Quentin was off to saddle his horse and ride it to the village; “Samantha is dead,” he told them, “heart failure. I must ride for the doctor at once.” This came as a surprise to them both, though Angelique was sure that Julia must have known that Samantha’s death was imminent, after all her studying the early nineteenth century of the family.
But she knew it hurt Barnabas deeply, as the death of any of his family members tended to do, past, present, or parallel, she thought, again with that customary streak of bitterness. In the old days, she wanted his love and his focus, and everyone else could go hang. She liked to believe that she had changed since then, but she had seen firsthand, during their adventures in parallel time, how difficult it could be to change his course of action when he set his sights, and she knew that he must be struggling with an intense desire to help these people, to save them from the pain he sensed must await them.
They have to go through the pain, Angelique understood, and wondered how well Barnabas really did. If they didn’t – if they changed the past any more than they already had – who knew what would await them at the Collinwood of 1969? Whatever terrible things awaited the denizens of the great house in this year, they would have to face them without interference from Barnabas Collins.
Then, from inside the house, a terribly familiar voice screamed, “Edith? Edith, where are you?”
“That isn’t Gabriel,” Barnabas said, his forehead creased. “It sounded like –”
“Nicholas,” Angelique said darkly. Her teeth gritted as she spat the hated name. “Nicholas Blair.”
“I’m going to destroy you, Julia Collins,” Nicholas gloated. “Does that trouble you? I won’t keep you on this earth or send you to the next world. I’m going to destroy you. Utter destruction. Absolute. There will be nothing left. Not even a void. Simple … nothing. Do you understand what that means?”
“I won’t tell you anything more,” Julia cried. Terror filled her, and she felt her energy draining away, just as she had when Nicholas began to cast his spell, and even before that, when she felt her astral essence trying to return to the time where it truly belonged. But he holds me here, she thought, and I can do nothing about it. Absolutely nothing.
“So be it,” Nicholas said sadly. “It’s too bad, spirit of Julia Collins. I admire you, you know. A woman like you, with a will like yours … with the ability to transcend time …!” The witchfire began to crackle between his fingers again, and his eyes darkened to that hateful obsidian once more. He clucked his tongue with mock-sorrow. “Alas. Such foolishness.” He began his incantation again: “Baron Samedi, lord of the dead, hear your –”
“Blair!” Barnabas roared from the doorway, and Julia lifted grateful, agonized eyes to the man she loved.
Then she saw him, really saw him, and despair washed over her.
His eyes glowed red. And his teeth …
He is a vampire again.
She narrowed her eyes into cat-like slits as she saw who stood at his side, her own face scrawled into a knot of hate at the sight of her old archenemy.
The witch. The witch is responsible, of course.
I am going to destroy her.
“Barnabas Collins,” Nicholas sneered, then bowed mockingly. “It must be. I’m afraid we’ve never had the pleasure, though according to my new friend here, that isn’t the case as far as you are concerned. Ah, the tricks time can play on a person.” He chuckled. “Only you aren’t exactly a person, are you. And neither am I.”
“What are you doing here, Nicholas?” Angelique hissed.
“And don’t think I’ve forgotten you, Miranda,” Nicholas said, his smile fading. “I still owe you a favor in kind for your treatment of me back in Bedford. And it will come, Angelique.” His hands flared with sudden balls of fire that flared up and hissed balefully, and before Barnabas and Julia’s horrified eyes, he flung them out so that they struck Angelique as she screamed and screamed, digging into her, burrowing into her flesh, and then igniting her into a writhing, shrieking scarecrow. “Perhaps sooner than you think,” he purred.
TO BE CONTINUED ...