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CHAPTER 126: The Legions of the Damned
Voiceover by Kathryn Leigh Scott: “Long ago betrayals return to haunt the people of Collinsport as fiends thought dead live again and walk among us … and not everyone will survive this night …”
Maggie wanted to scream, but the pain was too great. She was filled, with the steel of Nicholas’ blade, but also with a white-hot agony that filled her mind and scattered her thoughts. For a moment random images flashed before her: Pop, pushing her on the rusty swings at Collinsport Elementary School, and how the chains squealed like little piglets, like young girls; her mother’s face, half forgotten, smiling kindly, her eyes brown and full of love before darkness descended and filled them with thick obsidian; Quentin stroking her bare shoulder; then Nicholas jerked the dagger upward in an especially savage manner, and Maggie threw her head back to scream.
“Dirty pool, my girl,” Nicholas purred, and pulled the dagger out of her, then wiped it clean of her blood, gently, oh so carefully, on a handkerchief he pulled from his pocket. He didn’t even look at her as she rolled off the couch and landed, both knees crying out, unnoticed amidst the red cloud of pain that knit itself up around her, onto the hard wood floor. She began to crawl, her mouth gaping open, toward the door. “You took me by surprise, which isn’t an altogether easy task. Still, I suppose it is rather my own fault, or, at least, I had a hand in it. I did teach you everything you know, after all.”
Where was she going, after all? To the door? Why? Where would she go after she opened the door? Nicholas wasn’t going to allow her to live.
Cast a spell. A counter curse. Something … anything!
She stopped and hung her head. The panting of her breath was very loud in her ears.
“Aren’t you curious to know how I’m alive?”
She closed her eyes. Swallowing was an effort. Her knees gave out, her arms gave out, and she fell onto her side. Everything hurt.
“It’s rather an amusing tale, I must admit. Do you know who I have to thank for the miracle? Why, your old friend and mine, Dr. Julia Hoffman!”
Maggie’s eyes were fluttering. She didn’t feel cold, as she’d always thought she would when death finally came for her, but heat. A dreadful, searing heat, like pricking needles all over her body.
“Yes! Isn’t that fascinating, my dear? She and our friend Barnabas and dearest Angelique time travelled again, I’m afeared, and meddled quite spectacularly with events best left untouched. Can you guess which year they visited, as if it were, oh, say, Disneyland?”
He had knelt beside her, and the bristly hairs of his mustache were tickling her earlobes. She wouldn’t allow herself to moan; wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.
“Why, 1840! And you know I was there, of course, living as a lawyer in the town. I wanted the Mask of Ba’al, as I always wanted the Mask of Ba’al. I didn’t find it, but I did find something else, even more precious, it seems – a way back to the mortal world!”
Her eyes were open, she was fairly certain, but there was nothing but darkness, then, out of the black, vague gray shapes, pulsing in and out with color. She was shivering despite the heat and the prickling sensations that continued to jab at her relentlessly.
“If Julia hadn’t spilled the beans, why, I’d still be a prisoner at Collinwood!” The amusement drained from his voice and there was what she knew lay beneath the sardonic veneer all along: cold, cruel fury. “Because that’s what I was, you know, after the little treatment you administered me. Locked into the wood and the stone and the goddamned glass, unable to touch or to feel. That happened to me before our friends dabbled their fingers into the waters of the past. But this time … oh, this time it was different.”
She could cast a spell. She could stop this from happening, or at least begin to heal, force the ball of guts that had slipped from the wound Nicholas inflicted back inside her.
Let it be over.
“Julia didn’t tell me who killed me, but she did tell me how – by fire, of course – and she even told me when. 1968.” His voice grew musing, almost dreamy. “I couldn’t stop it, as it turns out, and it never … never … occurred to me that you would be my murderer, Maggie darling.”
I don’t deserve to live.
“Still – I was able to make some preparations. I had to die; that was clear, and none of my counterspells were able to prevent my death. However – and this is the part I’m the most proud of, dearest – however, I was able to circumvent death … at least partially. Something you wish you could do right about now, am I right?”
Let me die.
“Hmmmm. Perhaps I’ve been hasty. You do wish to be released from the mortal coil, don’t you. Been feeling useless as of late, isn’t that part of your problem? You needn’t fret, my love. That’s why I’ve come.”
“Nicholas …” She managed, somehow, to say his name. She wasn’t sure how. Her strength was failing. She couldn’t see, could barely feel. The pain was gone. That was a blessing by itself.
“As I was saying – the spell I cast that eventually proved successful and saved me from my prison was contingent on our merry trio’s return to this time. The moment they re-entered this time, I was released from my prison. I was made flesh again.
“And the first thing I did was come to see you.”
She was dying.
“But not,” he whispered into her ear, “for the reasons you’re thinking.”
Valerie Collins knew that she was the image of a long-dead witch; hadn’t Daniel said it, over and over, after their marriage, even before the senility and the dementia claimed him? “You have her eyes,” he had told her on their wedding night, unconsummated, his touch gentle. “The same blue, the same green, the same gray; they are the same.” And he had a tiny picture, a sketch, by Barnabas Collins himself, that he’d kept since his boyhood, and he proved it to her. Why, Valerie remembered thinking, she looks just like me!
The Witch. Angelique Collins. Rumors throughout her girlhood of witchcraft, dark dealings, covens, murders, insanity.
Daniel’s own sister. Dispatched with a stake, same as Valerie, eventually. Because, as she learned, vampires were real.
And her happenstance resemblance to a long-dead sorceress locked her tightly into this nightmare.
Well, she thought now, gazing at her new acolytes, I suppose it’s time I made the best of a bad situation.
She knew Samantha had hated her because she perceived Valerie to be weak, a milksop; Gabriel hated her on general principle, while Quentin, after a failed seduction in a dusty West Wing bedroom, only ignored her. As did Tad and the endless parade of housemaids and governesses who actually returned attentions of both father and son, for Tad was no innocent, no he was not.
Didn’t matter. He was dead; Samantha was dead; they were all dead, but Valerie Collins remained.
She felt the fangs like daggers in her mouth. She was no milksop; not any longer.
She had a purpose.
She remembered Barnabas’ teeth in her throat, the love she felt for him, the desire.
False, false, false. All lies.
“Look,” Tom Jennings said, and shifted uncomfortably on the tombstone upon which he sat. The spring evening was lovely around them, the sky melting into colors of deeper, darker blue; the whippoorwills were singing somewhere near the edge of the cemetery, and Valerie closed her eyes for a moment, just enjoying them. In her mortal life, she had loved the sound of birds. All birds. She liked to watch them from her window at Collinwood, when Daniel was at the peak of his insanity and Quentin locked him away in the tower room. And wasn’t she as much a prisoner as Daniel in the end? Trapped in a loveless marriage, trapped in an endless house with people who despised her? Not the birds. They sang and sang and called to her beyond her prison. How she had longed to fly back then. “Look,” Tom said again, and beside him, Danielle Roget glared at him with distaste bordering on hatred, “I’m not sure how keen I am to follow another vampire. Our dear Miss Drew has efficiently killed my taste for teamwork in general, and anyway, I think I feel like setting out on my own.”
“Imbecile,” Danielle muttered under her breath.
“I’m sorry?” Tom said, leaning over to her and baring his fangs. “What was that? Did you have something you’d like to add?” He snuffled her like a beast. “I would love to rip you open,” he purred, “and see what’s inside you, see what makes you tick. And then eat it.”
Danielle raised her stiletto. “One move in my direction, pretty monsieur,” she replied sweetly, “and I’ll gut you like a fish. Your heart will be in my hand and you’ll be dust, so much useless ash.”
Valerie said nothing. They’d bickered for the past half hour and she had allowed it; why should they trust her? Do as she bade them? They were all that remained of Roxanne’s army, raised to fight something called the Enemy, to prevent it from destroying the world. She didn’t much care. I don’t need much of an army, Valerie mused as Danielle flickered her blade back and forth before Tom’s crimson eyes.
Which one? Which one shall it be?
“You selfish creature,” Danielle was saying to Tom. “You fool. A brute, like all of your kind. No style, no finesse. Just the kill. Well I savor my kills, monsieur, and I shall savor yours.”
Yes, Valerie thought, yes.
Shaking his head in disgust, Tom turned back to Valerie. “As I was saying: why should we follow you? Do what you say? You’re something of a newbie, aren’t you, despite your age? Lay moldering in a grave for a century, and now you’re back to do … what exactly?”
Valerie shrugged, smiled prettily.
“You don’t say much, do you,” Danielle said. “Hmmm. I think the idiot vampir may be correct for once. Why should we do anything you say? What can you offer us that Roxanne could not?”
Valerie thought for a moment. Then: “An end,” she said. Her voice sounded rusty in her ears. “A true end.”
“I don’t know,” Tom said, “I just don’t know. This Enemy hasn’t made any kind of move, not at all. I’m beginning to think it was all some kind of delusion Roxanne had. Maybe it isn’t even real. I don’t know.” He began to pant, and his mouth grew larger, longer, began to transform into a snout jostling with wolf teeth. “I do know that I’m hungry. Starving, actually.”
“I shall feed you,” Valerie said. “I shall provide. If you bow down to me; if you do what I require of you.”
“What makes you think you have enough power to –” Tom began, but Valerie was no longer where she had been.
There was a sound then, before Tom finished his sentence, a wet sound, a shredding sound, and suddenly Valerie stood before him, smiling, her eyes red, her tiny fang teeth red with blood and strings of flesh, and she was holding out to him the head of Danielle Roget. The dead woman’s mouth gaped open accusingly; her brown eyes stared with fury into nothing.
“Take it,” Valerie said. “Drink.”
“I’ve never seen anyone move that fast,” he said, awed, and took the head. “How did you –?”
“I am your god now,” Valerie said primly. “I told you. I will provide. All I ask is that you do what I tell you.”
Tom slurped and drank from the severed neck of the ancient murderess, and nodded and smiled up at her while he did it.
“This waiting is making me crazy,” Carolyn said. The woman who looked enough like her to make her uncomfortable (almost constantly) nodded. Carolyn’s mother was having a far more difficult time dealing with her daughter’s doppelganger than Carolyn herself, however; Elizabeth spent more and more time in her own room, which also made Carolyn nervous. Despite Elizabeth’s declaration that she was going to be involved in Collinwood’s defense, Carolyn wondered if the constant parade of supernatural creatures was beginning to wear on her.
“Me too,” Leticia said. She picked absently at the green arm of the couch she sat upon. “I feel rather useless, love, to be perfectly honest.”
“Julia brought me here for a reason, only I don’t seem to be able to actually do anything. No one’s seen hide nor hair of Gerard in months, right?”
“Right,” Carolyn said. For a moment the events of that night in late December flashed before her eyes: the séance, Eliot’s staring eyes, Gerard’s hands all over her, preparing her for death …
She shook it away with determination. “We’ll find him,” Carolyn said. “And you can destroy him.”
“But when?” Leticia said, and stood up, pacing restlessly across the drawing room. “When, Carolyn? Who else has to die before we do anything?” She noticed the pain that caused Carolyn’s face to begin to crumple, because she strode to her side and put a comforting hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry, love. I didn’t mean to –”
“It’s okay,” Carolyn said, and wiped away the useless tears that gathered in the corners of her eyes. “I’m on your side. I think we’ve wasted enough time. We should take the fight to Gerard instead of waiting for him to show up and slaughter us.”
“Excellent,” Leticia crowed, and clapped her hands together.
Her hands …
Carolyn squinted. Why, she doesn’t look that much like me, she thought; her hands are older, for certain; are those liver spots? Or the beginning of them? And there are lines around her eyes, I’m sure of it …
But Leticia had spun away from her in her moment of delight. “I can find him,” she sang, “I know I can.” She tapped her forehead. “The Sight, don’tcha know.”
“Of course,” Carolyn said. Her smile faltered.
I thought Julia said Leticia was my age. Maybe I was wrong.
But Leticia had already lit a candle and was holding it high, staring into its flame. Her eyes, the same turquoise as Carolyn’s own, grew enormous as shadows flickered across her face. Outside, thunder grumbled. “Show ‘im to me,” Leticia growled in a low voice unlike her own, at least as far as Carolyn had heard it. “Show me the bastard. Show me where he lies! Show me Gerard Stiles!”
Carolyn watched her uneasily. Perhaps we should find someone to help us, she thought, Barnabas or Julia or Quentin, maybe …
“Spirits that watch and that know!” Leticia cried. “Guide me in the proper direction! Show us where lives the embodiment of evil! Show us Gerard Stiles!”
Thunder outside. Carolyn felt a spike of sudden terror. The sky was clear only a few minutes ago, she thought, a beautiful clear evening in springtime …
“I know!” Leticia crowed, and nearly dropped the candle in the midst of her fervor. “I know where he is!
Carolyn took a breath. We’re making a mistake, she thought, suddenly dizzy; a big mistake, a deadly mistake.
“He’s been right under our noses this entire time,” Leticia continued. “He never left!”
“Rose Cottage,” Carolyn said, guessing.
“Just where he was the last time I vanquished him,” Leticia said. She seized Carolyn’s hand. “And we’ll do it again – just you and me!”
“No you won’t,” Elizabeth Collins Stoddard said in her most imperious tone. She stood in the doorway of the drawing room, one hand on the door, her eyebrows raised to a truly astonishing height. In her other hand she held a little clutch purse that had belonged, Carolyn thought, to her mother.
“Mrs. Stoddard,” Leticia began, while at the same time Carolyn pleaded, “Mother, if you’ll just listen –”
“No,” Elizabeth said firmly and strode into the room. “I won’t have you put yourself into danger, Carolyn.” Carolyn opened her mouth to protest, which was the moment Elizabeth reached into the clutch and brought out a tiny revolver. Carolyn’s eyes widened. Elizabeth’s mouth settled into a prim smile. “Which means you won’t be going to Rose Cottage alone.”
Maggie was aware of heat and wetness on her forehead, and a dim howling sound somewhere in the distance. She groaned and tried to move, but her limbs were too heavy. She was lying on her back on something cold and hard, like stone. Maybe it was stone. She groaned again. Her guts ached dully.
Nicholas’ voice. He was chanting something above her. She tried to open her eyes. Wherever the bastard had taken her, it wasn’t completely dark. Dim though. Greenish light played off strands of foul smelling mist that drifted about the empty air. Maggie found she could lift one of her hands a few inches off the stone if she tried. She squinted. Her hand, she saw with some astonishment, emerged from a foam of delicate, antique-looking lace. I’m in some kind of fancy dress, she realized; what the hell did he do to me?
“Maggie Evans,” Nicholas intoned, “I have anointed you with the blood of the owl … and the raven … and the bat.”
Her eyes widened. She recognized these words. Where had she heard these words before?
“You will dwell with me forever as one of the damned.”
Her lips formed one word over and over: no, she tried to say, but she had no voice; the sonofabitch had robbed her of her voice; no, she tried to say, no no no oh no please no.
He leaned over and pressed his lips to hers, but it wasn’t a kiss he offered her: his mouth was full of some bitter fluid that he passed into her. Her throat worked, and she swallowed it involuntarily.
“… bound to me now and throughout eternity …”
All I wanted was death. I deserve to die.
But she wouldn’t die.
“Let the legions of the damned salute you!” Nicholas thundered; she caught a glimpse of him above her, his arms outstretched, hands splayed wide, black sparks of magic dancing between his fingers and then, answering, the shrieks and howls of fiends, undeads, creatures from the depths of hell, and she could see them as they approached; terror rose inside her but she was frozen, paralyzed; she could see their marble-white arms, their clutching hands answering Nicholas, spider fingers, and they were all over her, pulling her from the altar, and still she couldn’t scream.
They buried her.
And amidst the ice and marble and crawling slime of their flesh, she could feel Nicholas’ mouth on hers.
And she couldn’t even scream.
TO BE CONTINUED ...