31

ONE RULE FOR EVERYONE

The door to the study crashed open, and Jamie jumped around in time to see Larissa fly across the room, her eyes molten red, and grab for Grey’s throat with hands that were curled into claws.

Surprise flashed briefly across the ancient vampire’s face, but then centuries of instinct took over. He reached out, gripped Larissa by the neck, flipping her over in midair and slamming her onto the floor on her back. The air rushed out of her, and he knelt across her chest, pinning her shoulders with his knees, looking at Jamie and Frankenstein with dark, gleaming red eyes. Morris rushed into the room and gasped at the scene before of him.

“What is the meaning of this?” Grey said, his voice like midnight ice.

Jamie looked at Larissa, who was squirming and cursing under Grey’s weight. “I don’t know,” he said, honestly. “Larissa, what the hell are you doing?”

The vampire girl howled, bucking and kicking like a wild colt.

Then, abruptly, she stopped struggling, lifted her head, and spit in Grey’s face.

He recoiled, disgusted, and wiped his face with his shirtsleeve.

“Ask him!” she yelled. “Ask him why he didn’t just kill me and get it over with!”

“Oh God,” said Jamie, realization flooding through him like cold water. This was the man with the tattoo from Larissa’s story. He reached for his T-Bone without realizing he was doing so, until Frankenstein stepped forward gripped his arm.

Grey’s eyes reverted back to dark green. He looked down at Larissa, and Jamie saw recognition leap into his face. Then he looked at Jamie and Frankenstein, remorse contorting his features.

“I didn’t recognize her,” he said. “I thought she was here to kill me.”

“I am,” spit Larissa. “I’m going to kill you for what you did to me.”

“What’s she talking about?” rumbled Frankenstein.

“He’s the one who turned me,” said Larissa, her voice dripping venom. “He bit me and left me for dead. But I didn’t die.”

“This is the man you saw in your garden?” asked Jamie. “The one from the fair?”

Morris looked at him, confusion all over his face.

“This is him,” said Larissa. She had stopped struggling, but her chest was rising and falling rapidly. “I’ll remember his voice forever.”

Grey looked down at her, and an expression of such anger crossed his face that Jamie was absolutely sure that he was going to reach down and kill Larissa there and then. But the moment passed; instead Grey stood up slowly and reached a hand down toward Larissa. She slapped it away and pushed herself to her feet. The two vampires stood, eyeing each other warily.

Then suddenly the room was full of vampires, and everyone started shouting at once. Lawrence was first, his eyes a blazing red, his neat suit rumpled and torn. He stared at Larissa with fury in his eyes, then saw the expression on Grey’s face, and went to his friend. The residents of Valhalla followed him into the study, drawn by the commotion. Their faces were full of concern for Grey, and suspicion for the outsiders who had punctured their peaceful village.

“What’s going on in here?” demanded one of the vampires, a woman in her thirties wearing a pretty yellow sundress. “Grey, are you OK?”

“I’m fine, Jill,” he replied, and gave her an unconvincing smile. “Everything’s fine.”

“Everything is not fine,” said Larissa, fiercely. “This is the vampire that turned me four years ago. I don’t know how you make that fit with your precious rules.”

Jill clapped a hand to her mouth, her eyes wide.

“What’s she talking about, Grey?” asked John Martin.

There was a murmur from the rest of the vampires in the room. Jamie looked around, saw that there were at least fifteen of them in the study, and a chilly thread of fear crept up his spine.

If they turn on us, we’re dead.

Grey looked at the men and women crowded in his study. His face wore a shiny veneer of calm, but it faltered under the gazes of his friends. An expression of terrible misery emerged, as if from a great depth.

“She’s telling the truth,” he said.

There were gasps throughout the room, and a vindicated snarl of triumph from Larissa. “I told you,” she said. “He-”

“Shut up,” said Lawrence, his eyes almost black. “Not another word from you.” He turned to Grey, who was standing alone in the middle of his study.

“What do you mean, she’s telling the truth?” Lawrence asked, his voice almost a growl. “How can she be telling the truth?”

“I mean I turned her,” said Grey, simply. “She reminded me of my wife, my Helen. So I followed her, and when I found her on her own, I drank from her. Then I came home. I thought she was dead.”

Jill, the vampire in the yellow dress, started to cry. A young vampire in a red T-shirt put a hand on her shoulder, and she gripped it, tightly.

“What about our rules?” said Lawrence, his voice like thunder. “What about everything we stand for? Everything you started?”

Grey looked at his friend, his eyes wide and pleading. “I’m weak,” he replied, his voice hitching. “I always have been. I know it’s wrong, but I can’t help it. Do you understand me? I can’t help it. ”

Clarity flooded into Jamie’s mind. “This wasn’t the first time, was it?” he asked, softly. “Larissa isn’t the only one.”

Grey looked at the floor, and a chorus of gasps and groans filled the study.

“How many?” asked Lawrence. “How many innocent humans?”

“A lot,” replied Grey in a strangled voice, his eyes fixed on the uneven wooden floorboards. “One every few years, since the beginning.”

“Every time you told us you were going away to clear your head?” spit Lawrence. “Every time you told us you were going out into the world to remind yourself why Valhalla was so important, you were taking human lives. You were betraying the one thing we stand for above everything else.”

Grey said nothing.

“I can’t bear to look at you,” Lawrence said, his voice shaking. “You’re worse than any of them, the vampires out there killing and feeding. At least they don’t pretend to be something they’re not.”

“What do you want me to do?” cried Grey, his face hot and full of shame. “I can’t bring any of them back. I wish I could, believe me I wish I could, but I can’t. They’re gone. If you want me to leave, I’ll go. If you want me to destroy myself, I’ll do it. Just tell me how I can make this better.”

“You can’t,” said one of the vampires near the back of the room. The crowd parted, and he stepped forward, a heavyset man in his forties, wearing a thick woolen jumper and a pair of dusty black jeans. “You can’t undo what you’ve done. But you can leave and never come back. That’s what I want you to do.”

Several of the vampires around the man shouted in protest, but he didn’t even acknowledge them. He stared levelly at Grey, his face as rigid as stone.

“That’s what I want, too,” said another, and the crowd hissed and gasped anew. The second voice belonged to a middle-aged woman wearing a long smock covered in garish splatters of paint.

Grey looked at the two vampires who had spoken and then helplessly at Lawrence, who stared back at him without an ounce of pity.

“Is that what you want?” he asked, his voice trembling. “Do you want me to leave?”

Lawrence looked at his old friend. “Yes,” he said. “It’s what I want. It’s all you deserve.”

Grey put a hand over his eyes. For a long moment, it seemed as though no one in the room was breathing; the silence and stillness were absolute. Then Grey lowered his hand and looked around at the men and women gathered in his study.

“All right,” he said. “I’ll go.”

There were shouts of protest, but he raised a hand and silenced them.

“I let you all down,” he continued. “Worse than that, I let you believe better of me than I deserved. I’ll go, and I won’t come home until I find a way to atone for the things I did.”

He smiled, the wide, genuine smile of a man who has been keeping a secret for too long and is relieved beyond measure to have finally let it out.

“If you would all excuse me,” he said. “There are some things I need to say to our visitors. I’ll come and say my good-byes before I leave.”

Slowly, reluctantly, the vampires of Valhalla began to file out of the room. Lawrence was the last to go, casting a final look at Grey as he closed the door of the study behind him. The expression on his face was one of profound disappointment.

Grey watched them go, then turned his attention to the Blacklight team standing silently in front of him. Larissa was looking at him with open hatred, a look that Jamie was loyally replicating. Frankenstein and Morris were expressionless, staring at Grey as though they didn’t quite understand what had just played out in front of them.

“Before the Russian Revolution of 1917,” Grey said, “men who were convicted of treason against the czar were offered the choice of death or exile. The majority chose death. It seemed only fair that I allowed my friends to make the decision for me.”

He walked back around his desk and flopped into his chair. “I understand why you came to see me,” he said, looking at Larissa. “But did the rest of you have something you wanted to ask me? Lawrence thought that you might.”

Jamie stepped forward. “There is something,” he said. “We’re looking for Alexandru Rusmanov. We were told you might know where he is.”

Grey looked at Jamie, then burst out laughing.

“My dear boy,” he said, gently. “Did you look around as you made your way up here? We live where we live for a reason; because it is hundreds of miles from the nearest vampire. We have no desire to associate with any of them, especially not someone as violent and unpredictable as Alexandru. I’m afraid you were misinformed.”

Jamie looked at Larissa, who refused to meet his eyes.

“I must confess, I thought you were here about Dracula,” said Grey.

Frankenstein flinched. “Why would we want to ask you about a vampire who’s been dead for four hundred years?” he asked.

Grey looked at him with surprise on his face. “Because you know as well as I do that Dracula was not destroyed,” he said. “His throat was cut, his heart was pierced, and he bled out, but his remains could easily be revived. I thought you were going to ask me how to destroy him permanently.” Jamie’s head was spinning with questions. Thankfully, Morris asked the two most important ones first.

“Why would we need to know that?” he said. “And why would we think you would have the answer?”

“Even all the way up here, we hear rumors,” said Grey. “From the vampires who return here from the outside world, from the wolves making their way north. Even Blacklight must be aware that Valeri has spent the last century trying to revive his master; it is my understanding that he is close to accomplishing his goal.”

Fear shot through Jamie, and he looked at Frankenstein. “That can’t be true,” he said. “Can it? They can’t bring Dracula back, tell me they can’t.”

The monster looked at Jamie. “It’s theoretically possible,” he said, slowly. “With his remains and enough blood, it could be done. But you don’t need to worry. The remains are lost forever. At least three expeditions in the last century have dug over every inch of the mountain where Castle Dracula stood and haven’t found a thing. He’s gone.”

“If you say so,” said Grey, looking at Jamie as he spoke.

He’s not lying. Neither of them are. But one of them is wrong. God, I hope it’s not Frankenstein. Please let it be Grey.

“In which case,” Grey continued. “My information is useless to you. If you’re sure there’s no chance of his return.”

“Stop prevaricating,” growled Frankenstein. “If you are going to tell us what you know, then tell us. If not, then we’ll bid you farewell. It’s up to you. But I am not in the mood for games.”

Grey nodded. “Fair enough,” he said, his tone conversational. “I’ll tell you. In 1971 I spent some time in New York, for reasons that are personal. Over the course of several months, I became friendly with Valentin Rusmanov, the youngest of the three brothers. We frequented some of the same clubs on the Lower East Side, and I attended some of the parties he threw. He was a notoriously generous host; vampires from the length and breadth of the East Coast would come to his building on Central Park West, to take speed and cocaine, and drink from the seemingly endless supply of teenage runaways Valentin was able to supply.”

Grey’s eyes glazed over at the memory, and a shudder of revulsion ran through Jamie.

“There was a particular party, for which I don’t remember the occasion, that became legendary. By the time dawn broke, the inside of Valentin’s house looked like an abattoir. There must have been two hundred vampires there, and God only knows how many boys and girls who never saw the sunlight again. Valentin and I ended up on the roof, watching the light creep across Central Park, waiting until the last possible second to go inside and rest. While we waited, he told me about his family.”

The old vampire looked around his study and smiled, almost shyly. “I was a little bit in awe of him, I must confess. He was beautiful beyond comparison, and he was turned by Dracula himself. In the circles I moved in, he and his brothers were like gods. And they knew it, too. So when he started to tell me how Valeri was just a loyal soldier who had no idea how to think for himself, how Alexandru was little more than an immortal psychopath but was the only creature Valentin had ever been afraid of, I felt like I was being given the key to the inner circle. So I asked him about Dracula, and he told me that the stories failed to do him justice: that he was a greater man than history had ever recorded and a more terrible monster than any legend had ever conveyed. And then he told me that he hoped he never came back, because he liked the world the way it was, and he had no wish to watch Dracula burn it down.”

Everyone in the study stood motionless, hanging on Grey’s every word.

“I reminded him that the accepted wisdom held Dracula to be dead, and he laughed. He told me that there was only one way to kill Dracula, and slitting his throat with an American cowboy’s knife was not it. I almost didn’t dare ask, but I knew the chance was never going to come again, so I swallowed hard, and I asked him how to kill the first vampire that ever existed. He didn’t even flinch; he told me that only Dracula’s first victim could destroy him. So I laughed, and said that he was pretty safe, as Valeri would never let himself be used against his master. And Valentin went very still and looked at me in a way that made me think I’d pushed my luck. I remember thinking very clearly that he was going to kill me. I don’t think he wanted to, but I thought I’d given him no other choice. But then he laughed and said that Valeri was not as important as Valeri thought he was. When I asked him what he meant, he shook his head, and refused to say anything more. Then the sun crept onto the roof of the building, and we went inside. I haven’t seen him since, although I’m led to believe little has changed in Valentin’s world.”

“What did he mean when he said that Valeri isn’t as important as he likes to think?” asked Jamie. “What did he mean by that?”

Grey looked at the teenager. “I can’t pretend to know for certain,” he replied. “I’ve come to believe that the accepted story-that Valeri was the first human turned by Dracula-is just that, a story. I believe that’s what Valentin meant.”

“If Valeri wasn’t Dracula’s first victim, who was?” asked Morris.

“I don’t know,” replied Grey. “I’ve thought about that night from time to time, but I’ve never taken it any further. I busied myself with Valhalla, and the outside world became less and less interesting.”

“Apart from when it came to the blood of teenage girls,” said Larissa, sharply.

“Indeed,” said Grey, and had the decency to look embarrassed as he did so.

“Well, that was fascinating,” said Frankenstein, sarcasm thick in his voice. “But it amounts to nothing more than half a solution for a problem that isn’t going to arise. So forgive me if I fail to see why we should waste any more time here.”

“Why are you looking for Alexandru?” Grey asked Jamie, ignoring the monster. “Most men would do everything in their power to avoid him.”

“He has my mother,” said Jamie.

For a long moment, no one said anything, then Grey spoke again. “I wish I could help you,” he said, looking directly at Jamie. “If I could, I would; you may believe that or not. I won’t hold it against you, either way. But I will do something that I should have done a long time ago, something that I believe will help you in the long run, no matter what your friend may think. I will go and find the person that I believe Valentin was referring to, the first victim, and I will bring him to you. Consider it penance for past crimes.”

“Thank you,” said Jamie.

“Let’s go,” said Frankenstein, abruptly. “There is nothing of value for us here.” He headed for the study door, and Morris followed.

Jamie gripped Larissa’s shoulder; the vampire girl was staring at Grey, and showed no sign of leaving. “Come on,” he said, softly. “Let’s go.”

She resisted for a second, then the muscles in her shoulders relaxed, and she allowed Jamie to lead her toward the door. They were about to leave when Grey called her name, and she turned back.

“I’m sorry for what I did to you,” he said, softly. “I know that doesn’t mean anything to you, but it’s the truth.”

“You’re right,” Larissa replied. “It doesn’t mean anything to me.”

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