The Circle - A Tale of the Trickster

Roam Albino VampireBy Ian Hunter

Sho Loa Ling looked across the sea at the dying sun, its fire quenched on the distant horizon, boiling the ocean, making it pure. She raised her head high, higher, and gazed at the night, descending like a hood delicately pulled over this part of the world. She shivered. He had risen, she could feel it.

A few stars adorned the darkening sky, and there was the moon, its face marred, unlike her own pale, round face. Whatever troubled her was well hidden. It had to be.

She looked down, past the ramshackle homes, not so far different from the shacks which clinged tenaciously to the hills overlooking the rice fields in her distant land, then her gaze turned to the lights of the little taverna. She could hear music, a bouzouki playing, fast, joyful. Hands were being clapped, glasses struck against the scarred, battered tables in time to the music. Beyond that, something splashed through the water, coming towards them.

"They come."

Behind her, there was a long, weary sigh. "How many times have I told you not to talk!" snapped Jamie Connor. "You forget your place."

"I was merely –"

The tall Irishman strode across the room and towered above her. His arm moved back and she flinched instinctively, but he did not hit her, for once. "I am the Senior Apprentice, you are…." He smiled, but it only made his handsome face cruel. "The Lower Apprentice." He laughed. "The Loa Apprentice."

"I only –"

His hand darted out, closing on her cheeks and squeezing. "You are nothing, remember that? Nothing. Tonight I will receive the Master's gift and become one with the night. You would do well to remember that, Sho Loa Ling."

She swallowed, tears in her eyes, but she could still talk, despite the pressure on her face. "You are a fool," she hissed.

Fury sparked through Connor's dark eyes, but he opened his hand, pushing her backwards. "We’ll see who the fool is when I am changed and the Master has left you alone in the dark. Listen well to the night noises, little pale one, because one of them might be me coming for you." He gestured towards the door. "Now, go. Get ready, they are the last to arrive."

She held his eyes, thinking what a poor vampire he would make. Striking and arrogant, but far too emotional, so unlike the Master. The Irishman would do well to last a tenth of the Master's long span before his tainted half-life came to an end.

*        *        *

"Damn girl," Connor hissed, but she had her uses, for him as well as the Master. They each had desires which needed to be satisfied. He watched her leave the room, then slipped forward to take her place at the window, staring down at the small boat being tied to the little dock. Two figures lumbered on to the rickety timbers and walked closer. He smiled, hearing every word they were saying.

"I need a drink."

"Better to keep a clear head, and our wits about us."

"You think?"

"I know. We are late, and Belanger may be displeased. We should hurry. The church is up ahead."

"Church?"

"Don't worry, it is long abandoned."

Connor smiled. He could see them clearer now as they emerged from the last of the little homes to the start of the path that led to the church. One small and thin, clutching something to his chest. This was the misfit German wanted by the authorities while the other one was taller, wider, a bag over his shoulder. A traveller, he reckoned, one who had seen a bit of the world since being forced to leave his native America for crimes committed during the Civil War. Both men had a fair bounty on their heads, as had all of the Master's guests. There was a small fortune in infamy gathered here tonight. In fact, they had paid a small fortune to be here, for the chance of immortality, and to fund the Master’s itinerate lifestyle. But even that payment did not secure them entry, there was the small matter of the Gift.

"What a godforsaken place. Who lives here?" asked the smaller man, turning round.

"Fishermen mostly, living off the sea. Or sponge divers, taking their hauls to the bigger islands to sell at the markets."

"And still this place has a church?" the German marvelled. "With a vampire inside?"

"Belanger the Trickster, as he is sometimes known, perhaps he tricked God into leaving."

"I’ve heard he can hold silver," the little man said. "So the fact that he lives in a church should come as no surprise."

"I suppose not," agreed the American. "Maybe, our vampire is not a vampire after all, but a ghost."

"Yes," hissed his companion. "Pale and thin, with red eyes. Devil’s eyes. Hot coals that can burn into your soul."

"Red eyes are the sign of the devil," the larger man rasped and spat on the ground for luck and to ward off evil spirits."

"If this Belanger is not a devil, then he is a demon, an imp in human form with pale skin and white, white hair. I heard it turned white because he was scared to death. He died and came back but his hair stayed white, and his body became that of an albino."

"Then pray the same thing does not happen to us," said the bigger man, laughing.

The smaller laughed as well, and above them, Connor joined in.

"Something amusing you, Jamie?"

Connor whirled. The Master was standing in the doorway, newly risen, looking more fragile than normal. The bloodlust would be uncoiling inside him, clouding his thoughts. This was a dangerous time for anyone who got in his way.

"No, no," Connor said quickly. "I was listening to the last of them arriving."

Belanger seemed to brighten a little at the news. "They are all here? Good. Go down and greet them, but search them thoroughly."

The Irishman hesitated. "But they come here willingly, master, on your invitation."

"I haven’t survived this long by not being careful." Belanger pointed out. "Do you understand?"

"Yes."

*        *        *

Of course, all the doors had been deliberately locked by the pale hand which went ahead of him, holding the other set of keys. So the dammed Chinese girl had got to them first, but the door was left wide open, revealing the scene to any passing Greek peasant.

Connor rushed forward, closed the door and locked it, then leaned back against the wood and sighed. This part of the church had been stripped bare. The floor empty save for the chest they had brought with them. There was nothing religious here, except intricate stain glass windows, depicting scenes which meant nothing to him, and even less now as only darkness pressed against them, denying them life. Fortunately there were many candles positioned about the room. The Master liked candles. He could spend forever staring into their flickering depths.

Connor pulled out his knife.

"Your bag, sir."

The big man looked at him and smiled, making his pock-marked face look even uglier. "I could make you eat that thing before you thought of using it."

Connor flicked the knife. "No, matter. My Master is a cautious man."

"Dead man, you mean," came the reply, but the large American carefully opened his bag and took something out, wrapped in paper. Slowly he unfolded it and held out his hand. "My payment."

The Irishman glanced at the jewelled scorpion. He had seen its kind before. Beautifully crafted, the stinger on a little hinge which allowed it to move. "It will do." He turned to the smaller man. "And you?"

The German's large, round head nodded several times as he held out a leather bundle.

Connor wagged the knife.

"No, you open it."

The man nodded again, and struggled with the string that held the leather tight, but eventually he loosened the knot and rolled open the leather to reveal a doll.

Connor frowned. The doll had a cracked face, and a small coloured stone for one eye. He couldn’t believe it. What a paltry gift. The Master would not accept this, and Connor would have to slit the little man's throat, and that would leave only eleven instead of twelve, and –

"For me?" said a voice from behind.

Connor managed to hold the sigh inside him, and glared as Sho Loa Ling looked up at him, the faintest smile on her porcelain face. He gritted his teeth, fighting back his anger, forcing it down inside him, but later, when the sun was up, and the Master was at rest, he would let that anger rise, and so much more. Then he grimaced, remembering. he was going to be one of the Twelve, changed forever, his time of rising would forever be in time with the Master.

Belanger moved past, looking small, thin, and very, very pale, as if there was no blood left at all within his veins. Eight other men entered the room behind him, most of them wanted across Europe, a few had even faked their deaths to avoid capture and certain execution.

"Oh, I do like this," said Belanger, taking the broken doll. "And in her bridal clothes too." He laughed and looked at the bearer of the gift. "I'll bet this has a story attached to it?"

"Yes," said the German. "It was – "

"Later," hushed Belanger, holding a finger to the little man's lips.

"Is this a joke, Belanger?" a deep Scottish voice asked. "Some sort of sick perversion?"

The albino grinned. "Oh, I do like the sound of that." Connor did his best to suppress his own smile. This was the Marquis of Carmichael and he was clearly unhappy about something.

The Scotsman jabbed out an accusing finger. "Don't be impudent, Belanger. I am referring to this….fellow."

Belanger held up his hand, indicating the tall, muscular black man whose own grin revealed perfect white teeth. Like rows of white tombstones, Connor thought.

"You mean Pearl Diver?" said the albino.

The Marquis looked disgusted. "That is his name?"

"And his occupation, as well," Belanger revealed. "Pirates employ him to kiss the ocean bottom to bring up treasures they have missed, sometimes in the pockets or around the throats of those they have thrown overboard. This dark Pearl has paid handsomely to be here tonight."

"But still –"

The albino shook his head. "Still, his name is a legend in these parts, while you are a mere nobody, just another foreigner with a strange accent and even stranger manners."

The Marquis' mouth dropped open.

Belanger walked into the centre of the room. His red eyes began to glow and change colour. One of the men muttered something, a prayer, perhaps. Connor smiled. God was long gone from this place.

"Every hundred years I bestow this gift," said Belanger. "Twelve form the circle, eleven mortal men, and me, but the eleven leave changed."

Connor looked round. Sho Loa Ling was moving to the chest in the corner, opening it and taking out something she cradled to her chest.

"My apprentice will give you your fangs, gentlemen. They are sharp, but hollow. You will suck blood and swallow it."

Connor held out his hand and accepted the fangs. The others had placed them into their mouths, grinning widely. They looked like imbeciles, but for all that, they were somehow unsettling, like mad, capering apes.

He watched Sho Loa Ling pad back to the chest and return with a bottle.

"Sho Loa will mark the spot on the throat where you must bite, and swallow fast, blood is too precious to waste."

Connor sniffed as she opened the little stopper and something sharp assaulted his nostrils. She walked among them, dabbing each one on the throat, staining it yellow. All except him.

He turned, heart pounding.

"Never fear, Jamie," Belanger told him. "I know where to bite you."

He nodded. Of course, the Master was going to bite him. It was an honour.

Belanger, stepped back and clapped his hands. "Now gentlemen, form a circle, one behind the other. No, Pearl Diver, I think you should go behind the Marquis."

Pearl Diver grinned.

"Enough of this insolence," snarled the Scotsman. "No black will touch my skin, let alone bite it. You have had your fun, Belanger, but now I am leaving."

The pale vampire strode across the room and grabbed him by the hair. The nobleman turned and lashed out at the albino's chest. Roam ignored the blows and seized the arm and squeezed. "I don't need you, not really," he said calmly, as if his words were of no importance. "I could kill you now and go down to the taverna and get a Greek fisherman to take your place. Do you want that ?"

The Marquis spoke through gritted teeth. "No."

"Then stand in front of the Pearl Diver."

Nursing his arm, the nobleman reluctantly did as he was told.

Connor looked over his shoulder. Belanger was positioning the little man who had brought the doll behind him, making him stand on a small wooden crate. Connor took his position in front of his master.

"That's it, now move round everyone. Bend forward slightly, and drink," Belanger told them. "Drink and be transformed."

*        *        *

Belanger moved, fangs slipping into place, gasping slightly as the little man bit him in the neck, and he punctured Connor’s skin, and the Irishman leaned forward, biting the man in front, and so it went on. A strange dance, an even stranger embrace. Not without difficulty, but it had been done before, and before that, so many times.

As it would be again.

He smiled, hearing them gasp and groan, hearing them gulp down the blood which gushed into their mouths.

And he fed too, Jamie Connor flowing into him, all of his petty little life, so different from the starving youth he had taken under his wing years ago. Innocent then, but now a monster, one he had created, and while this was distasteful, feeling these things, in a way, it was his duty. Connor had been his creation. Poor Sho Loa Ling. How she had suffered. He would have to make it up to her.

Now he could feel them all, as they filled up with each other’s blood, choking on it, but never fast enough to replace their own diminishing supply. Memories echoed around inside his head. He was there at the bottom of the sea when a shark brushed past a youthful Pearl Diver, and he shared his panic and desire to race to the surface. He was here, right now, as the Marquis made a fortune from the slave trade, plucking people from Africa and killing most of them on the way to the new world. The little man behind him was there too, and Belanger sought out those memories in particular, and here was the story behind the doll and the little girl it had belonged to.

Ah, perfect.

In front of him, Connor was dying, they all were.

And Belanger continued to feed, as all the thoughts and memories and everything in the heads of the eleven men began to fade, replaced by panic, but death had them now, holding them tight.

"Enough!" he said, stepping back, letting go, and Connor fell away, glassy eyes looking at nothing.

One by one, they toppled over, except for the little man behind him. Belanger reached back and tried to push him off the wooden crate, but the little man clung on tenaciously to his neck in a strong, death grip. Roam gave up and reached back, fingers lengthening, becoming sharp and serrated, and he gripped the little man’s face, and squeezed tighter, digging into skin and muscle. With a gasp he tore off the lower jaw, and grimaced as it took a junk of his neck with it. The little man crumpled on to the floor.

Roam sighed and suddenly laughed out loud at the sight of the ebony form of Pearl Diver lying across the Marquis of Carmichael, dark arm wrapped around the nobleman's body. They looked so peaceful, like lovers united forever in death.

Sho Loa Ling rushed forward, holding up his cloak. He wrapped it around his body and stared at the eleven dead men littered on the floor.

"All changed, monsters and monsters-to-be," he muttered, gazing at Connor's body, then looked at the slight Chinese girl in front of him. He reached out and brushed her cheek. "You are Senior Apprentice now, and we will find an assistant for you soon, I promise."

"Yes, Master," she said, bowing. "Thank you, Master."

"I have to go," he told her. "My mind is awash with thoughts and dreams. Memories and atrocities. I must commit them to paper. When I am finished, we will leave here. I will wait in the boat, while you burn this place. Candles can be such deceptive things beautiful but so dangerous if left unattended Do you understand?"

"Yes, Master."

He smiled. "But until then, I think you will find some hollow fangs in the chest that might fit a mouth as small as your own. Why don’t you amuse yourself with Connor’s body until I am ready ?"

Sho Loa Ling smiled.

Belanger nodded, watching her skip across the floor, leaving a trail of bloody footprints. Rather like my own across history, he thought, closing the door as she turned with a sharp mouth and bright, eager eyes.