"Well, if you do get some sleep and decide you feel better ... I'm going to the old Mel Gibson re-release at the movies tonight," she told him.
She'd had no intention of going to the movies. Until now, of course.
Because she would like to see him again. And she wasn't fool enough to invite a stranger over.
"I'm sure as hell going to try to be there," he told her. "But you know ..."
"My last name is MacGregor. My phone number is in the book."
"Great. Is that an invitation?"
"Sure. Please do call."
She didn't want to appear too eager. She raised her coffee cup to him and left quickly. She felt elated.
She looked back, though, and frowned to see that he had doubled over.
A laughing crowd of teenagers suddenly passed her, blocking her view of him.
Worried, she hurried back to the coffee shop.
He was gone.
As if he had disappeared into thin air.
In the days that followed, Lucian learned his first defeat at Sophia's hands.
A young Viking with a rich blond beard and bright blue eyes became his teacher, his mentor, his guide-and then his friend. Lucian learned that the woman Sophia had lived among their people for many years-the man's father's father's father had acquired her during a raid on the British Isles years ago. No one was sure where she had originally come from, but when they raided and ravaged her village, they found that they had seized far more than they had imagined.
They made peace with the captive who nearly slayed them all. Two of the other vampires at her beck and call were very old, nearly as old as Sophia herself, older than the Viking could remember. The third man, Darian, she had brought home from a raid not long ago. He was dangerous, more vicious than any berserker, crafty, cunning, mean. And learned. He knew history from all over the world. He knew about legends, gods, goddesses, sorcerers.
The Viking crew sailed the seas with the vampire and her followers. They gave their masters victims. In turn, they kept the riches they plundered.
And their lives.
Their families were allowed to live as well.
The Viking's name was Wulfgar. He was careful of what he said, but there were times when Sophia was gone- really gone from the ship-and at those times Wulfgar lowered his voice and told Lucian more.
Aye, Lucian was dead. Wulfgar said so sorrowfully, and regretfully.
Well, not exactly dead.
Now he was undead.
He must have blood to survive. Aye, it could be animal blood-he had seen Sophia drinking the blood of such creatures as seals, raccoons, and more-when good human sources could not be found. She was not happy upon such occasions. She looked at them-the living among them- in such a way at those times as to make their spines chill until they thought they would snap. . . .
She kept certain of her own kind with her at all times, thus the three men who were vampires as well.
Always one was closest-a true protector, as Darian was now. There had been a leader before Sophia, she had told them once, but she had grown stronger, and destroyed him. She had learned from him, and though the bite of a lamia or vampire could create a new one of such kind, there was a law among the undead that no such creature could create more than two of their own kind every hundred years.
There were other rules.
They were not to kill one another. They were not to be found, to be caught in the act of vampirism, by any great power or strong government. They were not to bring so great a wrath against themselves that stronger forces could defeat them. They did have their weaknesses; they could be killed. Their bite was infectious-they could create others of their kind with such a touch, and with their appetites their numbers had to be limited. "That is why the heads must be removed. Too many victims would awaken." Wulfgar shrugged. "As you awoke yourself."
"I had heard legends. The undead walk by night," Lucian told Wulfgar. "Sophia moves by night and by day-"
"While you lie exhausted," Wulfgar said. "She is strong, very strong. She is old. She has learned, tested, and taught herself. Time will give you greater strength." He hesitated. "Blood gives you strength. She is also best, more powerful, at night. Sometimes the sunlight drains her."
"But it doesn't kill her."
"Set her afire to disappear as dust? I fear not."
"But I had heard-"
"There are many legends. Some true. Most not. In time, you will need to feed. But not so often. Meat as other men eat can fill your stomach." Wulfgar shrugged. "It's easy. You will not care if your lamb is cooked or not. Your situation has its advantages. Lift a cow off a field and bite in, no cooking fires needed. Rain would not matter."
He tried to smile. Lucian did not.
"You could live forever and ever," Wulfgar told him.
"Despised, loathed, feared?"
"Great leaders are despised, loathed, and feared. But they wish they could live forever!" Wulfgar reminded him. "You have power. Power is always feared-and hated." That night there was an attack again. Lucian remained on the ship, listening to the screams.
He felt her summon him.
And he remembered that Wulfgar had told him that he would grow strong. It was in the will, he thought.
He must make his will stronger than hers.
He managed not to go
She didn't try to force him. He knew that she was certain that in time his hunger would drive him to insanity, and he would have to follow her when she led.
The next day the pain began.
Hunger. Anguish. It was more than just waking with a need for food. It was a need so fierce it made him ache throughout. He was so hungry he thought he would be sick. So hungry he felt his strength deserting him.
Off the bow of a ship, he saw a dolphin. The gnawing started up so fiercely he nearly doubled over, blinded with the pain. He could feel the mammal's warm blood, even at a distance.
It was then that he discovered his own power. He concentrated on the dolphin, closed his eyes, moved with it through the water. He felt the surge of the creature's muscles, its movements through the waves.
He willed it nearer. And nearer . . .
To the edge of the boat it came. He could have reached out, seized it....
He opened his eyes and saw, suddenly, the beauty of the animal, the trust it had given him. His hand was upon it, for it bobbed by the boat. He could have hauled it up without a thought.
Swim, he thought. Swim away.
It went off in a rush. He sank to the floor of the ship, shaking. He didn't want people; he didn't want a mammal. A different pain suddenly seared him. He looked at his hands.
The salt water had burned him!
Salt water could kill.
With that knowledge, he crawled back to the bed in the hold.
When he slept, she came to him. Daylight was the time. He had no power, and no will. No strength, and yet...
What she made him feel...
He had never been more virile, known such a violent climax. And when it was over ...
He had never known such self-disgust and loathing.
The next day he stood at the bow of the ship. He kept a fur cloak around his shoulders, but it did nothing to warm him as the wind whipped around him.
He contemplated throwing himself in the sea. He stood for hours, thinking.
He heard Wulfgar at his side.
"Why not? I am a dead man."
"Don't destroy yourself."
"Why would I not?"
Wulfgar stared at him for a long time, puzzling out an answer. Then he found one.
"Because you should stay-to destroy her."
"One day, friend, I could turn on you," Lucian told him. "Lose control, rip you to shreds, tear you apart limb from limb."
"You could," Wulfgar answered evenly. "But you will not."
He heard the whistle of the wind and felt its great force. There were many things in the world that were evil. Few like her.
Living-if this was living-to destroy her. That made sense.
And later that night, he was glad.
* * *
He learned to curb his hunger with rats and birds and other small animals. He had learned that he did need blood, and he knew as well that the blood gave him strength.
He had also learned to move with his mind-to walk on water, as she had done.
Aye, indeed, he had learned to live his own wretched form of his undead life!
The best he felt in a long time had been after the day he had found the boar-the poor animal, though something of a brute itself, had surely never imagined such a savage death. He had left the ship alone, gone ashore, and hunted the boar. He smelled it on the air and felt his shape shift to that of a hunter, a wolf. He had run down the boar, attacked it, pounced upon it.
He had drained it dry of every last speck of blood, and he had consumed it, viciously tearing into it at first, then slowly savoring every drop of flesh and blood. He had eaten the meat, chewed on the bones, even gnawed the hide.
He knew he wanted human blood. And there would be times, he promised himself, when the right humans might appear conveniently before him. He had been a chieftain of a Highland people often besieged by battle. He had killed before.
He would kill again.
But if God could hear such a loathsome creature as himself, surely He would grant him power and strength. In nature there was a balance. Maybe he was part of that balance. If he fought for real strength, he could keep himself from the killing of innocents.
They traveled the sea, wreaking havoc from Scotland to Ireland, England, and Wales.
Sophia ceased to be quite as amused as she had been when she realized she had created a being determined to resist her.
One night she accosted him.
"Why? You know what you are; you cannot go back. I offer you a chance to rule with me, to become my true consort. I am all-powerful in this world, I am beautiful, and I have offered so much to you! You are just a stubborn fool to reject me."
And he had been the one smiling then, amused. "You are the fool, you ridiculous woman. You think that all you have to do is take, and a man, once a human being, will be yours. You have no concept of beauty; you are hideous to me. You don't begin to understand the concept of what a man being with a woman means; you are devoid of love, compassion-and even reason. You rule? You will not do so long. Even in our world, the world of the hunter, there must be balance. You kill for the sake of killing, for the sport of cruelty. If you keep up such excesses, you will damn all our kind, and damn yourself!" And he had turned away from her, taking pleasure in the fury he had seen in her eyes.