Beyond the Night
Pain—hot, raw, red—suffused her body from the inside out, obscuring her vision, burning through her veins. The scent of dirt, decay, and desiccation permeated her senses, the feral compulsion to bite, a persistent, torturous drumbeat in her head . . .
Red . . . she couldn’t shake the pain lodged deep in her chest, clawing at her heart and biting into her soul.
She remembering dying. She remembered being reborn.
She awakened now, slowly, warily, the redness distracting her, clouding her mind, her perception, her world.
She’d had a bad dream. It had to have been. People had drunk blood. People had died. Someone had been saved. Someone had been turned.
She’d witnessed it all.
She’d experienced . . .
Drom Manor had burned. But she wasn’t at Drom.
. . . How . . . ?
She felt a tightening in her chest, at the yawling center of the pain. The blood pounded in her ears. Red washed over her. A sudden, horrible, overpowering urge welled up. . . .
She grasped the edges of the shroud and pulled it tight around her, as if it were a shield. Pain knifed into her chest with terrifying precision as she realized . . .
She whipped it off with a mewl of horror, her heart pounding wildly.
She knew where she was—Dominick’s town house—but she didn’t know what she was doing here, only that it was imperative she get out.
She scrabbled to the edge of what was a coffin-shaped cavity under a bed and painfully pulled herself onto the floor. She lay there, stunned at her screaming need to crawl right back into the foul-smelling muck.
Then she rolled over and sank into it again, breathing deep the fetid smell of death that now was life to her.
Red enveloped her senses and carried her away again so she didn’t have to think about the fire, the deaths, the blood—
She sank deeper into oblivion.
Dominick was dead. The Countess couldn’t save him. She couldn’t save him.
They’d all died and had been swallowed by the barren landscape of the ruins of Drom as if they’d never been. Death to dust. Dust and death, and resurrection in eternity.
And she—burned out, hollowed out, bitten, blood-soaked—was now bound to a new reality made up of dark dreams and unholy desires.
She couldn’t escape it, recant it, undo it, or make it go away.
She felt as if she were on the edge of an abyss, a terrifying step away from a darkness that could consume her forever.
She pulled the shroud tighter around her. Dominick had slept in this cavity, wrapped in this shroud. The thought comforted her even as the pain overwhelmed her.
He couldn’t have died. Despite what she’d witnessed. She had to believe he still lived, because he’d never leave her like that.
He would come. Soon. She had no doubt of it. And then the pain would go away.
And so she lived, even in death. The thing Dominick had sought to save her from turned out to be the thing that had saved him, the Countess, his mother, bribing her to rescue Dominick by offering her eternal life.
This was not the ending she’d envisioned when she’d devised a plan to worm her way into the care of a wealthy family by claiming to be an indigent relative. It had been an ill-conceived ruse at best, and worse, a plan that had spun utterly out of her control when the Countess had answered her “solicitor’s” letter with an eagerness that should have made her wary, and invited her to come live at her country estate, Drom.
She couldn’t bear the pain of the bites. But the painful memories of the way the Countess had outwitted her was another thing altogether. Her chest felt as if it were on fire. She felt the slashed skin around the wounds constricting as if it’d been burned and felt the flow of blood like a balm as she lay there in unbearable agony.
She could die from the pain. She started panting. She was dead.
She had to get out of here. The fetid air choked her as she inched her way out of the cavity, pain crippling her every movement, until she fell onto the floor.
The torturous throbbing sliced through her every coherent thought.
If Dominick didn’t come . . . ?
She’d be alone again, as she’d always been, an orphan, with no family, friends, acquaintances, a street urchin who’d lived by her wits and a couple of magic tricks to scrounge up a couple of pence to pay for a meal, a place to sleep.
She’d concocted a lot of schemes on the street, but until she’d come up with her indigent-relative scam, she’d never been that careless about what came next. Worse, she’d played the deception heedlessly and without planning a way out, and this was where she’d wound up—on the edge of another dark hole: eternity.
All she saw was a black, bottomless pit, and herself falling into it. No end, no relief from the violent urges that had started pounding in her blood, and a life in which she transformed into a monster constantly surrendering to those impulses.
Dominick warned me. I didn’t know. I couldn’t conceive. I have to move.
She forced herself up on her knees, then sat back on her haunches. Even that was too much of an effort. She felt nauseous. So unlike the hours after the carnage when she’d been in such shock, when she’d felt nothing but the raging need to find Dominick.
Now, in her blood-drenched clothes and her chest bare with the festering wounds from the Countess’s mauling her, she comprehended only one thing: she’d wanted to save Dominick.
Even that was cold comfort. Dominick wasn’t here and nothing made sense, except . . .
She heard noise downstairs. Someone violently pounding at the door. Voices.
Knoll, the butler, grudgingly said, “All right then, come in.”
A voice, rough, angry: “Where is she? I know she’s here.”
Charles. By the damned—now what?
She took a deep breath and the pain knifed into her again. She couldn’t cope with Dominick’s newly turned half brother, not after he’d compelled Lady Augustine, who had been her benefactress, to believe he was her son, Peter.
Because Peter was dead, he had to be.
She couldn’t move. She didn’t see how she could avoid Charles.
Let me disappear.
She felt an odd sensation as she heard Charles rushing up the stairs, another of those uncontrollable impulses, this time her body was disintegrating, melting into the carpet, becoming a scattering of dust and dreams.
Charles burst in the door. “Goddamn. Where is she?”
Senna held her breath, her fear superseding her pain, aware that she had somehow transmogrified into a collection of dust motes tumbling randomly across the bedroom floor.
“Son of a bitch.” Charles flung open the closet, tipped over the bed. “Son of a . . .” He raced out of the room and back downstairs.
She remained still, sentient. She felt no pain in this state, and the relief was incalculable. She could stay this way forever.
She heard Charles berating Knoll.
I have to get out of here.
She heard a bone-chilling howl, followed by dead silence.
Too quiet. Fear gripped her again, and she took a deep breath. Immediately she was enveloped in a vortex of dust that swirled around her until her whole body reconstituted.
As she willed herself upright, pain scorched through her, but she ignored it, ignored the blood. The silence from below made it imperative that she get away.
But—wait. The obsidian. She’d had it clutched in hand when she’d awakened at Drom. Frantically, she dove back into the cavity, groping for it. Her fingers swiped heavy clumps of dirt, nothing that felt like a stone. She started to panic. Obsidian deflected the sun. It had been how Dominick had walked among them, and she couldn’t survive daylight without it.
There! Her fingers brushed against something hard and oddly shaped. She grabbed it, pulled herself to a sitting position to examine it. Yes. And for all the pressure she felt of time wasting, she slowly eased herself upright and got out to the landing without mishap.
So quiet. Charles could be anywhere. She had to get away.
She crept down the steps, feather light, because it was so quiet down there. Too quiet.
She stopped suddenly, grasping the banister in horror. Knoll lay sprawled in the entrance hallway, his throat ripped out, blood spewing everywhere.
The roaring in her head drowned out everything else, even the pain. Every vampiric urge swamped her senses.
By the damned— NO!
She felt her body seize up, her hands form into claws, her jaw shift, and her palate move as her fangs became visible and prominent.
Senna flew down the steps, pushed her face into the wellspring of bloody life that poured from the wounds, and tasted, drank, devoured with the thirst of a monster.
An hour later—a minute later—she lay across the butler’s corpse, panting. More more more more. Nourishment. Lifeblood. More. Blood spurted onto her face as she ravaged the butler’s neck. More. She drank like a greedy child. She couldn’t get enough. She wanted to bathe in it, absorb it into her skin, into her soul.
By the damned. She wiped her hand across her mouth. Blood. Everywhere. All over the hallway, her clothes, her skin, dripping from her mouth, smeared all over her bared chest. As if she’d been wallowing in it.
She licked her bloodstained lips. She had been wallowing.
She swallowed hard. She wanted more. There was so much of it. The pooling at the juncture of his shoulder and neck. The veins. The heart.
She caught her breath at the thought of it, an endless feast on his lifeless corpse.
Alone, in this big, old house—she could maneuver the body into that cold, closed-up formal parlor and just give in to the orgasmic bloodlust until she sucked the last drop of luscious blood from his desiccated body.
She started shaking. No, no.
Her body was washed with cold and she pushed herself violently away from the corpse.
No, I didn’t do that—I didn’t, I couldn’t, I—
She couldn’t stop the tremors that coursed through her. She willed herself into the adjacent small parlor and collapsed on the sofa that fronted the bow window.
She felt her body contract, the fangs retract, the tension in her hands ease even though the yearning for blood still gnawed at her. The thing she’d become in the maw of that lust terrified her.
But she still wanted more.
I can’t let this thing take over my life.
But the bloody body beckoned . . . just beyond the door. Where no one could see . . . just a little more—
She grabbed on to the sofa arm, as if she could forcibly restrain herself from flying from the parlor.
She needed clothes. There was a wardrobeful at the home of Lady Augustine, whose ward she had been in that other life, the one Dominick had created for her before they’d all died.
She could transport there, but the thought of making the effort sent a pain piercing through her. She’d rather feast than forage. She’d rather drink and drown. She’d rather—
She heard the rattle of keys as someone came down the hallway, probably that young maid who was the only other servant Dominick had hired. For appearances, she remembered him saying.
She heard a prolonged shriek as the maid beheld the gory remains of Senna’s meal, followed by the maid’s footsteps running back down the hallway.
The pain was excruciating now. Time to go. She still wasn’t quite certain how it worked. Before, she’d closed her eyes and whispered Lady Augustine’s name. Now, just as heavier footsteps pounded toward the small parlor, she breathed Lady Augustine’s name again, and by the time the door was thrust open, she was somewhere above and gone.
Dead silence. The pain had ratcheted down to a dull ache. Senna almost didn’t dare open her eyes. Something was wrong. She knew she hadn’t transported to Lady Augustine’s house because the grave-rot scent surrounding Senna was too familiar. And she was horizontal.
She’d willed herself back into the coffin cavity, she thought despairingly, and they would surely turn the house upside down, looking for the monster who’d savaged the butler.
The thought galvanized her. She opened her eyes and simultaneously raised her torso. Not the coffin cavity. Relief swept over her icy body. She could not have sat upright in the coffin cavity.
She was in the secret room in Lady Augustine’s house. Peter’s coffin cavity. Peter. Involuntarily she touched her neck, seeking the evidence that he’d . . . he couldn’t have—she’d fought him, he didn’t get to her, he didn’t bite her—
If only she could see what she couldn’t feel. And if she couldn’t feel those two little punctures—if he hadn’t dug his fangs deeply enough into her neck to—
Draw blood . . .
She touched her chest, still oozing from the Countess’s bite.
She had to leave.
Peter could return at any moment to this coffin, which was accessed through a secret panel in the armoire in what had been her bedroom.
If he were still—did one say alive when speaking of the dead?
His room, Lady Augustine had told her. Down a short flight of steps, through a door that was to her right, and you stepped right into his reeking-rot-larded vampire resting place.
She had to get out; she wanted to stay. More than any of that, she wanted a good wash, for the unrelenting pain and bleeding to subside, for Dominick to come. And she consciously suppressed the memory of her ravaging of the butler.
She pulled open the door and walked out of the armoire into the bedroom. Her bedroom while she’d lived with Lady Augustine. Dominick had created the scenario and hypnotized Lady Augustine into believing that Senna was her ward. But the litany of events leading up to that moment was so incomprehensible, she still couldn’t order them in a way that made sense. Except she knew it involved the Countess’s secret plan for her to marry Dominick’s half brother, Charles, and later her stumbling upon the Countess sucking the blood from small furry animals.
Dresses still cluttered her bedroom from her haste to flee after discovering a bloody body in Lady Augustine’s parlor.
The room was beautiful, furnished for an aristocrat’s daughter, with a vanity table, a washstand, a roomy bureau, a massive armoire holding dresses bought for a manipulative sharper.
And a secret room to house a vampire.
She tipped the ewer and found it still held about two inches of days-old water. Relieved, she sank onto the vanity-table chair.
How many times had she sat here wondering, worrying? She glanced in the mirror and was shocked that she saw nothing. No one. No reflection. No movement. The Senna who had occupied this room for the previous couple of months did not exist in that mirror.
She felt so tired, weak from the pain, filthy with blood, and daunted by the truth that she’d regenerated into this altered state, she couldn’t move.
She just lay her head in her arms and let the memories flood in.
She’d never known where she came from. It seemed to her that she’d always been on the street, always fighting for scraps, for money, for a place to rest. Until the realization hit her that her street life was limited, and at some point, when she was not much older, she’d have to resort to selling her body.
Which was when she’d devised the seemingly clever idea to write, in the guise of a kindly solicitor, to a random list of wealthy families claiming a distant kinship, and asking if, in charity, they could take her in.
The instant response of the Countess Lazlaric offering her a home should have made her wary, along with the long, eerie trip to the isolated Drom Manor, the unexpected son, the unexplained noises, the notes she’d found in the library warning that Nicolai was watching, the odd habits, the dead creatures littering the grounds . . .
By the damned, she’d been so utterly jubilant her ruse had succeeded she brushed away the inconsistencies.
Until the Countess suggested she marry her son Charles, because she wanted an heir. The conniving Countess, counting on Senna’s having no compunction about bartering a baby for a lifetime of security.
Senna bolted upright. That was a memory she didn’t wish to pursue. The upshot was that she’d wound up in an overturned carriage in Kensington Gardens in London, and the ward of the solicitous Lady Augustine, who immediately rescued her.
And here, in this luxurious room, was the result of that: all those beautiful dresses; her entrée to the best society; Dominick, the man of her dreams, seducing her slowly, deliciously, in ways she didn’t wish to remember now that he’d abandoned her.
She swallowed hard. Wallowing in the past got her nowhere and it surely didn’t reduce the pain. Any of the pain. She needed to be practical now. She needed somewhere to go, to formulate a plan.
Washing and changing her blood-stiffened clothes seemed like a good first step. She would shed the imprint of her foul deed along with her clothes. She’d wash away her sins. She’d be reborn. Again.
But she couldn’t ignore the reason there was so much blood, or that her dress was torn, that her wounds still oozed, that the pain persisted. Or that Dominick was gone.
She stripped and washed, feeling every inch of her body carefully for other wounds, sores, scrapes, aches. The punctures on her neck. Instinctively she bent once more toward the mirror to look and pulled back sharply as if she’d been stung.
No reflection. No Senna. She had to remember that. She felt along her shoulder line. Were there depressions? She couldn’t tell and didn’t want to know.
She tore off a fresh strip of the pillowcase and carefully washed around the swelling edges of the X-shaped bites on her breast, then fashioned a bandage that she wrapped around her chest before she dressed.
Each day dress reminded her of the joy of being pampered like a child of wealth. The compliments, the choices, the accessories, the pleasure it had given Lady Augustine to play with Senna’s clothes, dressing her as if she were a human doll.
All because of Dominick.
Tears of frustration welled in her eyes. Every outfit was too complicated, with ties and hooks and bows and no one to help fasten them. How quickly she’d gotten used to that.
She fell onto the bed into a froth of dresses, the pain swelling against the tight fit of her makeshift bandage.
I will figure this out. This is no different than any other tight spot I’ve ever been in. I’m not inhuman. I can still be Senna. I’ll find Dominick. I am NOT a Tepes. Not not not.
The words beat like a chant in her mind. She rummaged in the armoire for something more suitable—a shirtwaist and skirt would do, although it was obvious the Senna who’d inhabited this room had too easily been seduced by silk dresses.
She was not that Senna anymore. A robe would do now. Just something to cover her body. And slippers. The obsidian.
She felt armed and prepared.
Where was Lady Augustine?
She felt a tremor shimmer along her spine.
She didn’t have to give in to it. She felt the urge to just close her eyes and will herself someplace else.
She closed the bedroom door behind her.
The bad feeling escalated as she went downstairs and turned toward the parlor. The double doors were closed. There wasn’t a sound in the house. She remembered the night of Lady Augustine’s séance when the name of a murderer had been revealed. A mysterious name that no one could identify except Senna.
Nicolai. The name on the mysterious notes she’d found at Drom.
She remembered herself and Lady Augustine discussing the first bloody murder Senna’s first days in London; Lady Augustine’s impatience at feeling confined until the authorities investigated; the Vanquish the Vampire Ball; the second bloody murder; the idea that there were vampires among them.
By the damned, there were vampires among them—and she was one of them.
She flung open the parlor doors.
Lady Augustine was indeed in the house, sprawled on the floor, immobile, her body blood-soaked, her throat and chest ripped to violent shreds.
Senna felt no shock, no surprise, no remorse. Not even the impulse to feed. Nor did the sight of Lady Augustine’s body horrify her. It just was. Almost as if she’d expected it. But it made things that much more dangerous for her.
She herself had witnessed that Lady Augustine had been alive mere hours ago, sitting in this very room, with the newly turned Charles Sandston by her side, calling himself Peter, acting as if he were her son.
It had been a chilling moment. Senna had still been unnerved and unsteady from her own turning, virtually only an hour or two removed from having awakened from her own blood death.
She could do nothing for Lady Augustine now. Nothing for herself at this point. Peter was gone. Charles might keep hunting her. The Countess had been drained of blood. Time stood still for just that moment, the tipping point of a future that would go on forever.
It didn’t matter who’d murdered Lady Augustine. They could even apprehend her—it didn’t matter when all of them could escape the bonds of mortal earth so easily.
And then return to decimate their enemies yet one more time.
She gazed dispassionately at Lady Augustine’s corpse. All that blood burbling from her wounds . . .
Did she have time—?
All she had was time. She had nowhere to go.
No! I’m not that monster, I’m not. She started moving toward Lady Augustine’s body as if she were hypnotized.
She was. She knelt and fed. A kaleidoscope of images tumbled through her mind, her past, her schemes, Dominick, who she had been, what she was now, haunting her, taunting her.
She’d had a predictable life not that long ago. A cozy place in a kitchen in exchange for odd jobs now and again. A shilling for a magic trick. A ha’penny to read a palm. A doorway in which to huddle at night. Mirya when the snow fell.
She’d had Mirya then.
She paused, her hunger abating for a moment.
She’d had Mirya.
Mirya knew nothing of what had happened to her. She was probably wondering, worrying. She’d been the closest that Senna had ever come to having a mother. An irascible, superstitious, trick-wielding, cryptic palm-reading, fortune-telling intuitive witch of an elderly mother.
Mirya would help. Senna had somewhere to go.
Feeding was a messy business. Her robe was soaked, her slippers stained. The sun had gone down by the time she finally felt sated and ready to face Mirya as herself, the Senna Mirya had known, and not this new and reckless creature.
She hadn’t seen Mirya since before she’d gone to Drom. She doubted if she’d even told Mirya that her ruse had worked or that she was leaving. Nor did she have money to offer her.
It could be argued she had something better. But surely threats wouldn’t be necessary. And why would she even think about coercing her? Mirya had always been good to her. She just needed a place, a respite, so she could figure things out. Make a plan. Mirya, of all people, would understand.
Senna discarded her blood-soaked clothes and unwrapped the drenched bandage. The wound was still raw, the pain still lanced through her when she moved in certain ways.
She wondered, as she washed thoroughly, if the pain would ever go away, if the raw edges would ever heal.
She touched her neck and shoulder, still feeling for the puncture wounds she couldn’t detect. She had to believe the bite hadn’t gone that deep, that the Countess’s blood could defeat any alien blood infused in her.
She had to.
She sifted through the dresses on the bed for the one with the fewest hooks and buttons, that fit without the torturous undergarments she’d had to wear. She had to fashion another bandage to cover her wounds, to which she sacrificed another petticoat. Tucking the obsidian between her breasts, she dressed carefully since she couldn’t check a hem or see if all the buttons were fastened.
Once dressed, she felt normal. Well, as normal as a creature with an unholy bloodlust, and urges warring within her that she had yet to learn to control, could be.
But Mirya wouldn’t know that.
It was time to go.
She stood on the threshold just inside the outer door of the town house and envisioned Mirya’s hovel, tucked in between two buildings at the end of a long alley, well away from the heavily traveled Lombard Street.
Mirya’s place, she thought with a surge of unaccustomed feeling, and in an instant she was standing at the corner of the alleyway, in the midst of a stream of people and carriages.
The noise of wheels rattling and people talking felt deafening. She saw lamplights burning all along the alley. As she drew closer to Mirya’s hovel, she heard scraping and scratching, as if something was being moved around. And then dead silence.
She knocked. “Mirya.”
“Mirya!” Even Senna heard the feral tone in her voice.
“Go away.” Mirya’s rusty, old voice, laced with fear.
“Mirya—” Still that snarling voice. Senna tried to tone it down. “It’s me, Senna.”
“No. It is not you. Go away.”
How did Mirya know? “I’m coming in,” Senna said with an authoritative growl, certain that her desire would transport her where she needed to go.
But it didn’t work this time. She couldn’t penetrate the walls, she couldn’t seep in under the door. The creature Senna was not welcome because she had not been invited in.
“Let me in.” Her voice sounded tight, cold, impatient. She’d compel the old witch if she had to. She didn’t want to have to. “Mirya—?” She couldn’t get that anger out of her voice. She focused full force on Mirya’s mind.
Invite me in.
No response. Senna girded herself. Mirya knew all kinds of mystical things. She could read minds and foretell the future. She might well be chanting some spell or putting up some kind of magic barrier against Senna’s attempt to control her.
“MIRYA!” A command Mirya could not deny.
She felt the give in Mirya’s soul, the resignation and admission that Mirya was too old and too fatalistic to put up much more resistance.
“Invite me in.”
“Come if you can,” Mirya answered her grudgingly. It sounded as if she was moving whatever furniture she’d thought would be a barricade away from the door.
Senna closed her eyes. Inside. She found herself in the small front parlor of Mirya’s home, a room in which Senna had confessed, cried, slept, sought comfort, a room Mirya was now ready to defend with her life as she reached for the fireplace poker and turned to face Senna.
They stared at each other for a long moment, Mirya’s eyes dilated with fear, as if she saw the bloodlust in Senna’s eyes, and the struggle.
“I know who you are.” Mirya’s voice cracked. “I know what you’ve become and what you’ve done. And I know you’ve come to kill me.”