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Iago Wick and the Vampire Queen

 

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Iago Wick and The Vampire Queen

Jennifer Rainey

Iago Wick and The Vampire Queen

 

 

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I.

 

 

Michael Locksley led a perfectly boring life until the night the woman in the red dress came crawling through his bedroom window. Yes, crawling. Despite her refined appearance, she had a rather animal tendency to crawl toward him. It was profoundly disturbing and a little alluring all at once. He did not regret inviting her in.

She smelled of dusty roses, but there was also something pungent and heavy about her scent. Michael surely got a good whiff of it every time she crawled on top of him in bed. He liked the way she smelled, and he liked her. He thought about her as he tended to his duties as clerk at Englewood’s General Store in Marlowe, Massachusetts. If he closed his eyes, he could see her creamy and scandalously uncovered skin, her dark eyes, her red lips.

After two weeks of sporadically encountering the woman in the bedroom he shared only with a one-eyed cat named Biscuit, Michael started staying up and waiting for her. There was something strange about her—besides the crawling, that is. He was never certain what they had done when she left, as though the night passed in the blink of an eye and all he had to remember it by was a bizarre sense of satisfaction and pleasure. He could remember only hazy details—watery moonlight and the strange, sweet flavor of her mouth.

He always woke the next morning knowing something remarkable occurred between them. He just couldn’t remember what it was.

It was peculiar, yes… but it was nothing compared to when he encountered the man in gray.

 

 

Iago Wick did not make trouble. Rather, he looked for the seeds of trouble and encouraged them to sprout and grow.

There were many people in the world like Michael Locksley, Iago thought as he sat upon the park bench across from Locksley’s small house on the south side of Marlowe. Iago wore his customary gray. He was polished and well-dressed, as any good demon should be, and appeared to be about forty years old, though his true age had recently entered quadruple digits. His brown hair was neatly combed.

The spring air was perfumed, and the townspeople were out in their frilliest and finest pastels. Marlowe wore spring like a cheap costume. Women with rouged cheeks looked like flowery corpses brought back to life after the winter’s harsh cold. The sunny weather was always uneasy. It rained frequently, and when the sun showed its face, it only made the dark corners of Marlowe seem even darker.

Easter was coming, the townspeople insisted. Iago could not bring himself to care. It was merely another Sunday certain humans used as an excuse to claim they were closer to their god than another person was to theirs. To a demon such as Iago, it was just another day.

No, Michael Locksley was the sort of man—and there were many—who was not what he seemed. Not every man with shady eyes is a killer, not every little old woman tottering to church is a saint.

And not every awkward and gangly general store clerk is entirely blameless.

“Still waiting on Mr. Locksley?”

Iago turned to see Dante Lovelace, a handsome man who didn’t give a damn if it was almost Easter and wore his usual conservative ensemble of black, black, and more black.

“He’s lethargic this morning,” Iago answered as his partner sat beside him. “Any word on our blood-sucking mystery woman?”

“Indeed. It is as you feared. The Morgans are in town.”

Iago shook his head. “Of course, they are.” He’d had quite a run of good fortune lately. Leave it to a band of vampires to spoil it. “I’ll simply have to quicken my process. The woman in question is young, inexperienced. She’s overly amorous, as bloodsuckers tend to be.”

Dante gave a small smile. “I seem to recall someone else who used to engage in more libidinous pursuits to capture sinners’ souls.”

“Ah, that was before you came along, dear Dante,” Iago said. “No, such lustful tactics lack creativity. Though she is obviously a new member of the Morgan family—and thus, largely unimportant—it would still be lovely to spoil something for the Morgans.”

The door to Michael Locksley’s house opened, and a sheepish Mr. Locksley stumbled into the sunlight. No burning. No spontaneous explosions. He was still human, though Iago had to admit there was something worm-like about him, too. This new member of the Morgan family wasn’t too concerned with physical beauty or strength, it seemed. Rather, she was a cat toying with a baby bird that had fallen from its nest.

“Ah, there is our man,” Dante said. “He looks a bit peaked.”

“He always looks that way,” Iago insisted, and he stood to follow Locksley. “Dinner. The Golden Swine. I will not be late.”

“You will, but I will forgive you,” Dante called. He stayed upon the bench so that he might enjoy the weather and observe the humans whose lives he was in the business of ruining.

Invisibility was a stalking demon’s dearest friend, and when obscured by an outcropping of trees on the edge of the park, Iago became invisible to the human eye. He hurried across grass wet and springy from a spring shower and still-damp cobblestones to reach Michael Locksley. Presumably, Locksley was walking to the general store a full—Iago consulted his pocket watch—twenty-two minutes past the time he was supposed to report to the general store. Locksley hobbled and brought a trembling hand to his throat.

Iago quickened his pace, narrowly avoided a woman pushing a perambulator, and craned his own neck to examine Locksley’s as he gained on him. There was a mere nibble on Locksley’s throat, poorly disguised by a hastily tied necktie and sagging shirt collar. The bloodsucker in question was only marking her territory so far, but vampire was a language Iago did not speak.

Suddenly, Locksley stumbled a little. He turned off the street and stopped to lean against the brick of a low wall. Locksley closed his eyes and panted as though every monster in the world were chasing him. Admittedly, two monsters chasing him was nothing to sniff at, but he had a long way to go.

Iago appeared beside him. “Mr. Locksley?” he asked gently.

Michael Locksley looked up with a start. For a moment, his watery blue eyes shimmered in terror. “Oh. Hello,” he muttered. “I-I’m sorry. I’m a little uneasy this morning.”

“You look as though you’ve seen a ghost,” Iago said, furrowing his brow in mock concern.

“I… maybe. I can’t be certain. No, I don’t think she’s a ghost,” Locksley mumbled.

Iago tisked. “Ah. An affair of the heart, then.”

“Or something like that,” Locksley said bashfully. His hand fluttered to his throat again. “I’m sorry. I’m late and…wait. How on Earth did you know that?”

Iago leaned casually against the wall and looked out upon the street. “You can always tell a man in love. There’s a profound stink about him.” Locksley wrinkled his nose before burying it in the sleeve of his coat. Iago laughed, “A joke, sir.”

Locksley gave another sniff for good measure. “I’m really not certain it’s love.” Sniff sniff. “Perhaps it is love. I’ve never been in love before. I don’t believe I know what it feels like.”

“It is an illness, I assure you. A wonderful, beautiful illness,” Iago said.

“Are you in love? And does your lady love you in return?” Michael Locksley asked.

Iago smiled and thought of the gentleman in black he had left at the park. “Let us not focus upon me, sir. You are the one stumbling through the streets, thoughts clouded and mind tormented by some member of the fairer sex.”

Michael Locksley chewed upon his lower lip. “Yes. Tormented.” Iago could perceive—as all good demons could—the lustful thoughts in Locksley’s head. The clerk thought of her roaming hands and her sweet mouth and other parts of her body which pleased him. They came in flashes, these thoughts, like figments of dream. Locksley mumbled, “I want… I want to…”

“You want to what, sir?” Iago asked innocently.

“I want… to marry her.”

Iago blinked. “Marry her?

“Yes. She shall wear a white dress. At a church,” he said with a firm nod. “I want to marry her.”

Iago had a feeling that a creature of the night who drank blood and devoured the souls of the living was not going to be terribly keen on the idea of a Christian wedding. The happy day just isn’t as happy with a bride who bursts into flames within church walls (though it is a sight more exciting). “Marry her?” Iago said again.

“Marry her. Run away with her. Start a new life out west.”

“You are quite smitten, then. Have you relayed your plans to the fortunate lady?”

“No,” Locksley sighed heavily. “In fact, I’ve never spoken to her. We’re often very close to each other, but we do not speak.”

“And yet, you love her.”

Locksley looked to the Heavens. “Yes, I suppose I do.” He breathed in spring’s sweet perfume and looked utterly pathetic.

“Then, you must speak to her. Woo her. Let her know you are well-versed in the ways of love,” Iago said.

“But I’m not.”

“A little white lie never hurt anyone. Although…” Iago trailed off thoughtfully.

“What?” Locksley asked, hands clasped.

“Although, there is a way I might be able to help you. I could, I suppose, give you the tools necessary to woo this fair lady.”

“What sort of tools?”

“Confidence, a way with words, the courage of Casanova,” Iago answered. He wrapped a friendly arm around Locksley’s shoulders. “It is not the corporeal which truly woos another. It is what one has the fortitude to do with one’s tongue.” He grinned. “Verbally, of course, although one could make other arguments.”

Locksley looked at Iago as though he were his savior, watery eyes glistening. “You could teach me?”

“Better than that,” Iago said. “For a price, I can sell you these tools. In the blink of an eye, you will be well-equipped in your conquest, Mr. Locksley. It is a bounty many men would kill for, but I will not require blood.”

“What would you require?” Locksley asked. “I have money, I…” He cleared his throat and tried to look away, but Iago reached to grasp Locksley’s chin. He forced their eyes to meet again. Iago’s demonic gaze enveloped the clerk and turned him to clay in his hands.

“I know you have money. Hundreds of dollars in your chest of drawers, stolen from your employer, correct?” Iago asked.

Locksley blanched. “How did you…?”

“I observe, Mr. Locksley. You have pilfered money from your employer for the better part of three years. Two men have lost their positions after accusations of theft, theft that you committed. Yet, you remain. Mr. Englewood trusts you, loves you like a son. ‘It couldn’t be Michael. He’s a good man. The townspeople adore him. He isn’t capable of such a crime.’” Iago shook his head. “Sad. However, money is not what I require.”

Locksley started to turn away again. “I should be leaving, I must…” He paused, and there she was in his thoughts again, pretty and horribly indecent. “What would the price be? Out of curiosity, of course.”

Iago Wick conjured from his breast pocket a black book and a quill pen. “Your soul, Mr. Locksley. I only require your soul.”

Locksley gulped. “Are you Lucifer?” he asked.

“I am a mere servant of Lucifer, Mr. Locksley. The choice is yours,” Iago purred. “You have the money, the means to run away with your new bride. I can give you the tools that, if used properly, could win her heart. She could be yours, yours to touch and hold and have and love however you see fit.” Michael Locksley’s watery eyes darkened, his lips quivering in an animal way.

 

 

Those of weak constitution were, admittedly, easy targets for a demon. Locksley signed away his soul so quickly and forcefully that he almost broke the quill pen in two. Humans were often blinded by matters of the heart. They acted foolishly, distracted by the promise of companionship and copulation (more the latter than the former, Iago often noticed).

And as Michael Locksley wandered off with a mind full of sonnets and woo ready to pitch, Iago Wick walked toward home, the apartment above Willard’s Cigar Shop. It had been an easy assignment, but a unique one nevertheless, for he now had to prepare himself for the eventuality of a visit from the Morgan family.

Now was the calm before the storm.

 

 

Michael Locksley did not arrive at the general store that morning. Rather, he walked aimlessly around Marlowe, his mind in a whirl of love poems. Beautiful, seductive words were constantly humming in his skull. He wished he’d known the demon’s name, this man in gray. He wanted to thank him with a proper letter.

“My mistress’s eyes are nothing like the sun…” Indeed, they weren’t. They were deep and dark and frankly, a little scary.

“She walks in beauty, like the night…” Locksley assumed she walked as such. He’d only seen her crawl on top of him.

“I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I did till we loved. Were we not weaned till then? But sucked on country pleasures, childishly?” She was awfully fond of sucking on his throat.

He returned to his home, where he locked Biscuit, the one-eyed cat, out of his bedroom. He looked in the mirror and spoke to himself as though he were speaking to his love. At first, he hated the sight of his own face looking back at him. He was always such a pale, doe-eyed thing. His voice was frail at the start, but the more he spoke and honed his words, the stronger his voice became. Yes, he could be the Casanova his lady of the night deserved!

And at precisely midnight, with Michael Locksley waiting in bed, his lady of the night arrived.

He drew a deep breath and invited her into bed with, “My dark-eyed beauty, you have haunted me since we last met. I am, indeed, your slave.”

Surprised, she paused in her sensual crawling, perching upon the edge of the bed like a crow. “Have I?” she said, and her voice was like velvet. She smiled. “My slave, you say.”

“Everything I touch is foul, for it is nothing like your skin. Everything I taste is bitter, for it is nothing like your lips. Everything is dross, for nothing has the weight and value of your smile,” Locksley said. He was proud of his amorous groveling, though he wasn’t entirely certain what dross even was.

His lady brightened. “Dear Michael,” she purred, and he nearly blushed at the sound of his name coming from her lips. “Such poetry.” She was upon him now, and she wore extravagant red lace. He could smell her strange, alluring scent. He wished to drown in it.

They spent some indeterminable amount of time in each other’s arms, and he whispered such things in her ears, things he never would have had the courage to say before he met the man in gray. And she melted, and she sighed. Her black hair, long like the river that curled about the City of Marlowe, fell over her bare shoulders. She leant in to press her lips to his cheek, his throat.

And then, she stopped.

A strange look came across her face. It was highly unattractive, and Locksley wished she hadn’t made such an expression.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

“You are promised to another,” she hissed. “When?”

“What?”

“Your soul!” she insisted and jumped to her feet. She placed her hands on her hips, a stance which was strange considering the way she normally crawled and floated atop him. Suddenly, she wasn’t so ethereal, but like an angry mother tapping her foot and demanding an explanation. “You promised your soul to Hell. When?”

Locksley gulped. “This… this morning. There was a man in a gray suit. He gave me means to… I wanted you… I wanted to woo you and so…”

He was silenced by a fierce wave of her hand. Her brow furrowed. “It must be Wick,” she growled to herself.

“What?”

She said not another word, but charged to the window, boots clicking against the floor. With one last growl, she leapt into the air and transformed into a dark mist that seeped out his window and into the night.

 

 

If one were to judge The Covington purely by its name, one might think it was the grandest and most exquisite restaurant in Marlowe. A rose by any other name smells just as sweet, and The Covington—no matter how it was named—left much to be desired. It was a dark and forcefully intimate place which allowed only men, and while it did not offer the most well-prepared food in Marlowe, it was good enough. The owner had lived in Marlowe his entire life, and his family had helped found the city. And so, his needs and business ventures were protected by his brothers in heritage; lineage meant everything in Marlowe.

Iago Wick and Dante Lovelace sat in one of the more private booths near the back. A satisfactorily-prepared hen sat upon Dante’s plate, while Iago dined upon fish that was poorly seasoned, but not unpalatable. Demons did not require food. However, Dante so loved watching the other patrons of the restaurant—and Iago so loved dessert—that they made frequent visits to local establishments such as The Covington and The Golden Swine.

“You’ve a ship to wreck, I understand,” Iago said.

“Not really, dear. A river boat. Nothing too grand, I promise,” Dante answered.

“There is no small tragedy, Dante. You of all people know this. What is meaningless to one destroys the world of another,” Iago said. He pushed his plate away and leaned back and wondered not if he wanted dessert but rather what kind of dessert he wanted. He was pondering when a man in a clean and well-made, but unfashionable wool suit with a rather paltry nosegay approached their table. He was a ghost of a man, with dusty hair and pale, empty gray eyes.

“Mr. Wick?” the man asked.

Until they were placed in Hell’s cross-hairs, no human in Marlowe spoke to Iago beyond the occasional polite “Good day” or “May I interest you in dessert this evening?” A demon’s presence made very little imprint upon the mind of the average citizen not targeted by Hell. Indeed, off-duty demons are truly seen only by those among the human population who have eyes to see them. (Unfortunately, that category of the human population is comprised largely of demon hunters.)

But Iago knew this man was no demon hunter. His empty eyes marked him as one of the vampires’ servants. The Morgan family took part in the blossoming European practice; their servants were part man and part machine.

Iago smiled at the cybernetic man. Unless a tempter’s case at hand is complex, with multiple targets, there is always a lull between cases to keep the humans in the area from getting too suspicious. It would be a while before his Overseer gave him another assignment. He certainly had time to tangle with a brood of vampires. “Yes, I am Mr. Wick,” he answered sweetly.

“I have a message for you,” the servant said, and he held out a letter stamped with what Iago recognized as the seal of the Morgan family.

“Is that so?” Iago asked and took the letter.

“Lady Eustacia wishes to meet with you. She will call upon you this evening at precisely midnight,” the servant explained. He cocked his head to one side, and Iago thought he heard a mechanized hum within the man’s spine.

“Lovely. And that’s precisely what this letter reads. Do vampires feed upon redundancy, as well as the blood and souls of the living?” Iago asked.

The servant blinked, unsure of how to respond before he turned and walked away. He nearly sent another man tumbling to the ground in the process, turned, coolly offered his apologies, and left.

“Lucifer Below,” Iago said. “He appeared almost perfectly human. Astounding what they can do these days.”

Dante added, “I hear the Morgans have adopted Lord Julius Weiss’s methods.”

“Weiss is a genius. A self-important fool… but a genius, nevertheless,” Iago said.

The Weiss family was one of the oldest vampire families in Europe. Lord Julius found traditional servants entirely impractical. Eventually, they would die if they were not turned to vampires themselves. They grew old. They longed for immortality and, frankly, wouldn’t shut up about it. And every vampire knew that a good servant would not necessarily make a good vampire.

And yet… he thought there was something preciously charming about that human element. So, some thirty years prior, wise Lord Julius Weiss, who had long practiced robotics, decided his servants should be part machine and part man. He fiddled with their brains and replaced body parts with metal, gears, and valves. The creatures would have little memory of what they were before they were kidnapped by the darkly handsome German nobleman.

Should the servant’s health begin to fail, the defective parts were merely replaced. It would allow a vampire to keep his valued servant for decades, because it was, indeed, so difficult to find good help these days.

“Eustacia…” Dante said. “I’ll admit that I have lost track of the Morgans, but I am not familiar with her.”

“Nor am I, but as I said, she reeks of inexperience. I saw her fawning over Locksley while I was hidden in his room, observing. She’s nothing to worry about,” Iago explained. And then, after a moment’s thought, he added, “Lemon custard. We’ll have lemon custard for dessert.”

 

 

Iago Wick was always well-dressed, but he did put additional care into his appearance that evening. Vampires were as averse to cheap clothing as they were to sunlight, but Iago was not about to be out-dressed by some fledgling bloodsucker. He took the chair from behind his desk and placed it in the middle of his small, well-kept apartment so that it faced the window. He then poured himself a glass of scotch, and he waited.

Unsurprisingly, it was precisely midnight when there was a sudden rapping upon the window. There was a fresh face on the other side of the glass, emerging from dark fog. She had pale skin and inky eyes, and she looked remarkably annoyed. Iago took one more sip of scotch and stood before walking slowly to the window. He opened it.

“Well, hello there,” he greeted cheerfully.

“Invite me in,” the face hissed from within the cloud of fog.

“Absolutely not,” Iago answered. “I am no fool. Though I have no soul to devour and my black blood would be poison to you, I still can’t trust you. If you wish to speak with me, we shall meet somewhere else, somewhere where I do not sleep, should the desire to do so take me.”

Lady Eustacia’s face twitched and rolled its eyes. “Of course. The river. Caldwell’s Dock. You will meet me there. We will speak.”

“I would be delighted, Lady Eustacia,” Iago answered. “Now, get along. What will the neighbors think if they see me conversing with strange, floating fog women at this hour?”

 

 

There was a crispness to the spring air that made the walk to Caldwell’s Dock quite enjoyable. The dock was named as such for one very simple reason: the man who owned it was named Caldwell. He allowed the citizens of Marlowe to sit and watch the river or to dock their boat… as long as they were “good Marlowe folk,” that is.

Iago did not qualify as good, though he had lived in Marlowe for nearly two hundred years. Lady Eustacia, he had a feeling, met neither of the criteria, but he would have liked to see the ancient and tottering Mr. Caldwell do anything about it.

When Iago reached the stone path that led to the dock, he could already see her in the darkness. She was a petite woman, dressed in red from head to toe. Iago supposed, suppressing a smirk, that she believed that made quite a statement. It did, but it was not as profound a statement as perhaps she wished; rather, the ensemble shouted, “Oh, I am trying so hard to look like a vampire! Is it working?”

“Mr. Wick,” she greeted as he approached, and her voice was like crystalized honey. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. I’ve heard about you from locals since I first arrived in this part of Massachusetts. You are quite a prolific and impressive demon.”

Iago raised his brows. “So I have been told,” he said. “And you, Lady Eustacia Morgan. What was your name prior to your initiation into the Morgan family?”

“Halloway. Eustacia Halloway. I was a maid to a family in New York. My sire offered me a life… an after-life… I had never dreamed possible.”

“Well, you’ve acclimated wonderfully, my dear. You certainly look the part,” Iago said smartly. “Your family has made their camp at Ravenscrest Caves just outside of Marlowe?”

“Hmm. Yes. How did you know?” she asked.

“You have a rather damp, musty smell about you—mustier than most vampires. A slight scent of mud,” Iago explained to her dismay. “Don’t worry. Your secret location is safe with me.”

Lady Eustacia’s dark eyes shimmered like the moonlight upon the river. “I would love to stand here and simply chat, Mr. Wick, but there is something pressing I must discuss with you.”

“Pressing, m’lady?”

“Michael Locksley.” Her lips tightened in a small, grim smile as though she were trying to be diplomatic, but they both knew this was going to end with a magnificent tantrum.

“Ah, yes. I claimed his soul this morning, the price for all the will and wit of Casanova. He had his eyes upon you, dear Lady Eustacia. Was he able to woo you?” Iago asked innocently.

“No!” she spat before drawing a deep breath to calm herself. “He was mine to claim, Mr. Wick. I had been courting him for some time. I had left my mark upon his throat before you contracted a deal with him. His soul was mine to claim.”

Iago looked out across the river and shook his head. “Lady Eustacia, I am not a vampire. Your mark upon his throat meant little to me. You can have his body and his blood. Just know that you won’t have his soul.”

“He is meaningless to me without his soul! I don’t wish to drink the blood of a man who has no soul to flavor it. I cannot truly make him one of my children if I don’t devour his soul!” she shrieked like a heartily offended banshee. “What did he do to attract you, to attract Hell?”

Iago tisked. “Thou shalt not steal. Mr. Locksley has been pilfering profits from his employer for several years, pinning the blame upon others. He’s not the precious innocent you think he is. It was enough to garner Hell’s attention, and now we have him, and that is that.”

Lady Eustacia stamped her foot with a hollow thud upon the dock. She breathed deeply twice, three times before she turned to Iago, a sudden softness in her eyes. Oh dear. He knew what was coming. “Mr. Wick,” she said sweetly. “I apologize. I forget myself. I understand.”

“Do you?”

She sidled toward him with a sort of seductive shuffle, though she succeeded in looking more inebriated than lustful. “I understand that we all have duties to perform. You completed your task as required. And… if I may say, you did it splendidly. Right under my nose!” she sang and dared to bop her finger upon the tip of Iago’s nose.

“Please don’t do that,” Iago said. She was close. She had a graveyard perfume about her. “I’ve been living in this town right under the noses of humans for almost two centuries. I’m rather practiced.”

“Oh, it shows,” she giggled. “I am certain even you can make exceptions, however. If you were to disregard this deal, remove his name from your black book and return his soul, I would reward you handsomely.” With something of a purr, she reached for his hand. Her grip was cold, and long, sharp nails scraped Iago’s skin. She sank her fangs into her lower lip in a manner she perhaps thought to be seductive and reached to touch his cheek.

Iago stopped her. “First and foremost, Lady Eustacia, I am happily spoken for. Second, I am a demon—we wrote the book on charm and seduction, and I highly suggest you read it. Take notes. Third, a contract with Hell cannot be destroyed. I’m afraid those are the rules. You’ll find another soul to devour. This town is full of them.”

Lady Eustacia still forced a smile. “You’re so cute. And yet, in your true demonic form, I’m sure you are a magnificent and fearsome Hellbeast.”

Lucifer Below, was she batting her eyelashes?

“I’m going home,” Iago said flatly.

“We can surely come to some kind of agreement,” she said.

“For the clerk’s soul? I’m afraid not,” he said.

Lady Eustacia’s expression soured, and she shook her head wildly. “No. You took what was mine. If you do not give it back, you will regret this night, Iago Wick.”

“Demons don’t make a habit of regretting anything,” Iago said. “So, if we’ve nothing else to discuss, I bid you good night, Lady Eustacia.” He turned to walk home.

“You would do this to the Queen of the Morgan family?” she growled.

Iago stopped. He pondered the question for a moment and looked back to her. “Most likely, yes, but that can’t possibly be you,” Iago answered. “Though demons haven’t the ability to read the thoughts of your kind, I can tell you are young. Inexperienced, if you don’t mind me saying. You can’t be the Queen.”

Like many vampires, the Morgans all tacked a meaningless Lord or Lady to the front of their name after joining the family, a pretentious cherry on top of their transformation from human to vampire. They bowed to a single king or queen, who was usually good for little more than ordering everyone else around and basking in glorious praise. As good as Lady Eustacia might have been at being pretty and doing nothing at all, she couldn’t possibly be royalty.

“Yes, I am the Queen. Roland Morgan was our King, my sire. He was killed, and with his dying breath, he made me Queen. I was his favorite, his newest child. Of course, a few of the older members of the family were not pleased, but I cast them out. Did you not know this?” she asked and looked genuinely concerned that the details of her personal life weren’t so important to the rest of the world.

Iago blinked. He didn’t know this, and though he could not dip into her mind, he could now tell one slightly disconcerting fact: she was not lying. “I did not. Forgive me, but I don’t often find myself chatting about vampire politics.”

“It is true. I am the Queen of the Morgans.” Lady Eustacia grinned, baring her fangs. They were two pretty things like ice picks. “Do you still want to stalk away, Iago Wick?”

Iago looked out over the river and sighed. He had a feeling this would come back to haunt him, but the call to cause such mischief was too resonant to ignore. “Lady Eustacia, if anything, this new information makes me even more content to stalk away. Good night, Your Majesty.”

And so, he left her fuming upon the dock while he walked toward home, certain that this would not be the last time he heard from Lady Eustacia Morgan, the Vampire Queen.

 

 

Iago was nearly to Willard’s Cigar Shop when he heard someone behind him shout, “You!”

A demon constantly embroiled in trouble tends to assume that he is the “you” in question, and so, Iago turned. Under the lamplight, he could see Michael Locksley, stumbling toward him like a lovesick drunk.

“Why, Mr. Locksley,” Iago said, “I was just thinking of you.”

“I demand you return my soul to me,” he said as strongly as he might. He had a reedy voice like an oboe.

“It’s one of those nights, isn’t it?” Iago sighed. “No, I cannot return your soul to you.”

“You must,” Locksley said and followed Iago up the street. “You did not deliver on your promise. I was unable to woo my lady. She left me, furious because I had no soul!”

Iago stopped under a streetlamp and looked Locksley in the eye. “Mr. Locksley, I did deliver on my promise. I said I would give you the language and fortitude to woo her, correct? I owed you those tools. I gave you those tools. If you did not use them properly, that is not my concern. These are matters between the lady and yourself.”

Michael Locksley drew a trembling breath and looked to his hands. He mumbled something through quivering lips.

“I’m sorry, what was that?” Iago asked.

“She’s… she’s a vampire, isn’t she?” He gulped. “I always wondered. I told myself that vampires were the stuff of fiction. But then you came—a demon—and I realized that maybe it wasn’t such a wild notion after all.”

Iago beheld the pathetic man before him and felt a twinge of sympathy. He breathed a sigh. “I’m sorry, Mr. Locksley, but I must confirm your fears. Yes, your beloved is one of the blood-sucking undead.”

“You know her?” Locksley asked tremulously.

“Unfortunately, yes.” Iago threw a glance over his shoulder, expecting to see her waiting in the darkness. “I am certain there are women around the world more deserving of your newly-acquired romantic expertise. You must find them.”

Michael Locksley slumped over, head hung low. “But I do not long for anyone else… why are there people in the world who behave this way?”

Iago cocked a brow. “Vampires? Well, there’s some codswallop that they descended from demons, but that’s nothing but a lot of nonsense and—”

“No, not vampires,” Locksley insisted. “I’m talking about people—women!—who ensnare a man and then abandon him. She didn’t really want me. She wanted my soul and my blood. I was being misled! I loved her!”

Iago blinked. “Mr. Locksley, I am sorry to be the one to tell you this, but Lady Eustacia owes you nothing. Her intent is her own. Move on. Abandon her for greener pastures.”

“Lady Eustacia,” he gasped, suddenly lovesick again. “That is her name? Oh, it is like the finest music—as though the stars themselves began to sing and their song was Lady Eustacia.

Iago grimaced and wondered if he felt bile stinging the back of his throat. “Perhaps I do owe you a refund. Good night, Mr. Locksley.”

“No! Don’t leave yet. Do you know where I can find her?”

“No,” Iago lied, “and I don’t suggest you try.”

“But she must be mine!”

“It would be a fool’s errand. Please, go home, Mr. Locksley,” Iago said and left the poor amorous creature to wallow in his own fancies and lamentations.

But even as he left, Iago could hear Locksley muttering, “No, I will have her. I will have her.”

 

 

[]

II.

 

 

The air was unseasonably cold the following evening as Iago and Dante strolled along the river. It was something they had always enjoyed in the purple glow of twilight. The path along the river was well-worn by Marlowe citizens, though the bite in the air kept them inside that evening. The two demons, perpetually warm-blooded and comfortable in the weather, could have walked the path blindfolded now. It was idyllic, and yet, Iago couldn’t help feeling as though Lady Eustacia were following him. More than once, he looked over his shoulder.

“Does the lady vampire have you nervous?” Dante finally asked with a chuckle.

“What? No, not nervous, just… I’m being attentive,” Iago said, and though he did not look his partner in the eye, he knew the critical stare Dante was giving him. “How is your current case coming along?”

“Oh, it’s a fine case. The Miss Margaret’s voyage begins one week from today. A pleasure cruise. A bit of tampering here, a spark there—and I am putting a little faith in the captain, who is a drunk. And down it will go,” Dante said.

Dante spoke of his work very delicately for his own sake. He had to consider the people on board as only numbers, and the anguish which flourished was nothing more than fodder for hungry journalists. The aftermath chronicled in newsprint was how he measured his success. One could argue that Hell forced his hand by pushing him into the role of catastrophe artist. If he truly thought of the pain he caused, his melancholia would overtake him.

The sensation of being watched intensified suddenly. Unseen hands seemed to reach around Iago’s shoulders, and they held him still. The glow of twilight softened and waned as shadows swept around them.

And at once, they were upon them: four decidedly perturbed vampires wearing various shades of red. They were terribly fond of the color, it seemed. Iago thought it a tad obvious, but these gentlemen did not look as though they would take criticism well, even if it were only sartorial in nature. Their skin was as iridescently pale as their queen’s, and their lips were as red as their cummerbunds.

“Gentlemen,” Iago greeted. Dante regarded them warily. “Admittedly, I was expecting you, but I am surprised to see you walking among men so early in the night.”

“It is true that our powers are not at their peak until night is completely upon us, but still we may walk among you now,” answered one bloodsucker. He was the scrawniest of the four—the runt of the litter, Iago supposed.

The brawniest of the four stepped forward. He bared his fangs. “Are you Iago Wick?”

“Indeed.”

“Hmm,” he grunted. “We hear you won’t cooperate with our queen.”

“And she is more than our queen,” said another. Iago could tell he was freshly-turned. He still had a bit of a lisp with his teeth bared.

“She is our mother,” said the final vampire in the rumbling tones of a disgruntled grizzly bear.

Their mother. Oh, that made the whole affair a bit unsettling. Vampire hierarchies were so terribly incestuous.

“Ah, but gentlemen, you know the rules. A contract with Hell is unbreakable. Iron-clad, I’m afraid. I am sorry she was unable to claim the man’s soul. Truly, I am deeply sorry, but I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do,” Iago explained.

It was not entirely true. There were processes, hoops through which he could jump, appeals to be made, but Hell was not known for restoring souls. There had to be extraordinary circumstances, and the Powers Below would not be inclined to restore a soul just so that it could serve as some vampire queen’s snack.

“We don’t believe you, and neither does Lady Eustacia,” Grizzly Bear growled.

“And it is our duty to defend our queen,” said the scrawny bloodsucker. “Our mother.”

“Our mother,” sighed another in amorous echo.

“Please stop saying that,” Iago said.

“Everyone has their weakness,” Grizzly Bear insisted, and he stepped forward. He had a thick beard, smooth and well-combed. “We don’t wish to exterminate you. Where is the fun in that? It’s much more enjoyable to make you miserable. You’ll relinquish his soul eventually. Maybe we’ll find your friend here while he stalks the streets at night, and maybe he’ll have a bit of an accident involving holy water.” He looked darkly to Dante. “A shame… he has a pretty face.”

“These matters do not concern him,” Iago said gravely. “I’m the one who has, in dear Lady Eustacia’s mind, wronged the Morgan family.”

The brawniest of the vampires looked like a circus strong man. Perhaps he had been, before Lady Eustacia sank her teeth into him. He gave a booming laugh. “You have crossed the wrong family, demon. I suggest you reconsider now before the battle begins.”

“Battle?” Iago spat. “Are you really going to dedicate that much time and that much effort to what amounts to little more than a tiff? I was merely doing my duty, gentlemen. In no way did I overstep my boundaries.”

Iago stood tall—as tall as he might in comparison to the towering Grizzly Bear—but he was being forced to admit to himself that this business with the Morgans might get a bit sticky. If he had known the vampire in question was the matriarch of the Morgan family, would he have so brashly intervened?

Of course.

“You’re a proud, stupid thing,” Strong Man laughed.

“If words are the only barbs with which you’re armed, I suggest you go home. Crawl back into the hole from which you came.” Iago added sweetly, “And be sure to give Lady Eustacia my regards.”

There was nothing else to be had that evening. With a collective snarl, the four men leapt into the air, dissipating into dark clouds of fog that drifted away into the darkening sky.

Dante released the breath he had been holding. “My dear, did you just start a war with one of the oldest and most prominent vampire families in the nation?”

Did he? “Oh, Dante. They are all smoke and no fire. You know that. They’re simply defending the honor of their queen. They’ll grow weary and move on. Their nature will necessitate it—vampires are constantly forced to move.” Dozens of disappearances and brutally murdered locals proved to be a bit conspicuous. Who would have thought?

They were no real threat. The more Iago thought it, the more he believed it. He looked to the sky, but the vampires were long gone. The same feeling of being watched tingled at the back of his neck again.

“All the same, Dante,” Iago sighed, “I think we should invest in a bit of garlic, don’t you?”

 

 

Michael Locksley did not often read. Books took the reader to worlds which were better and more exciting than his own, and really, Locksley found that to be terribly disheartening. Because of this, he had never before set foot inside the Marlowe Book Shop.

But upon that day, he decided that his life had, if possible, become more interesting than some of the lives chronicled in the great novels. He would need help in his endeavor to win his lady love, and people who worked at book stores were surely knowledgeable about a variety of subjects, correct? Perhaps the topic of vampires was one of them. It had just started to rain as he opened the door to the shop, the light tinkle of a bell sounding above him.

Locksley brushed a few stray raindrops from his coat. The room had the pleasantly musty perfume of old books, and the dusty scent reminded him of Lady Eustacia. “H-Hello? Is there anybody here?” he called out.

A tall, lean young man emerged from the back of the shop. He was blond with a thin moustache and a look that suggested Locksley was nothing more than an inconvenience. “Yes?” the blond man said in a flat, tenor tone.

“I, um… I need a book, I think,” Locksley said.

“How fortuitous you should find yourself in a book shop, then,” the man said.

“I… I don’t know. I’ve never done this before.”

“Read a book?”

Locksley blinked. “What? Oh! No. No, no. I have read books, of course. I mean, I’m… well, I’m writing one. I need a book so that I might research my chosen topic. I’m afraid I know nothing about it,” he explained. He had never seen the thin young man in front of him before. He was well-dressed, of good carriage. “I’m sorry, I don’t think I know you. My name is Michael Locksley. I work as a clerk at Englewood’s General Store.” At least, he thought he still did. He hadn’t reported to the store in days.

“Yes. I’ve seen you there,” the man said and hesitantly shook Locksley’s hand. “My name is Thomas Atchison. My wife and I have not lived in Marlowe long.”

“Ah. You’re married.”

“Yes.”

Locksley tried not to think of Lady Eustacia, but his heart strings were sufficiently plucked once more. “You must love her.”

“That is obvious. I married her. What is the topic of this book you are writing?” Thomas Atchison asked. What a strange young man, Locksley thought, but he had much larger problems with which to concern himself.

“You see,” Locksley said, “I’m interested in writing a book of fiction. I want to tell a story—a very scary story, I might add.”

“And?”

“And I was wondering if you knew anything about… vampires.”

That word conjured a spark in Thomas Atchison’s clear, blue eyes. “Why?”

“I told you. I want to write a terrifying story.”

“Yes, but why vampires?” the young man asked.

“They’re… they’re terrifying?” Locksley said hopelessly. “The idea has always frightened me, I should say. The concept of someone preying upon a human being in so gruesome a fashion is quite alarming.”

Thomas Atchison arched a single pale brow before quickly walking from behind the counter. “Follow me.”

Locksley stumbled to follow. The young book seller smelled of a strong and peppery cologne, a scent which trailed behind him as he led Locksley to one of the towering bookshelves along the back wall. A tall and spindly contraption was locked onto the front of the bookcase from top to bottom, a giant metal bracket of sorts. There was a crank at the bottom, and after rolling the contraption just slightly to the right, Thomas Atchison began to turn the crank. He spun it to the right, a pair of metal talons sliding upward until they had reached the top shelf. Atchison snapped a lever, and the talons grabbed one book. Then, he turned the crank in the opposite direction, and the book came clicking down the contraption, held in place by the talons. He snapped the lever backwards again, and the book was released.

“Remarkable,” Locksley said.

“Thank you. I made it. I invent. It’s… fun. I do believe it’s the reason Mr. Frye hired me in the first place,” Thomas Atchison said and, without taking a breath, continued, “This is the finest and most accurate book on the subject of vampires that I know.”

Locksley took the book. The worn brown cover was blank, but within was a title page which read: The Vampyre and Instructions for Hunting and Tracking with Introduction and Copious Index by The Great Frederick Faust. It was surely a hundred years old. “Accurate, you say?”

“In terms of the lore, of course,” Thomas Atchison said with a snort. “They’re not real, Mr. Locksley. The vampire is a creature which fascinates man, and so, many stories have been written. It’s not the case with other monsters which… supposedly… stalk the night. We speak very little of ghouls, demons.” There was something strange in Thomas Atchison’s voice, as though he regretted the lack of demonic reading materials. Had he not been preoccupied, Locksley might have scheduled a meeting between the inventor and the man in gray. “You have chosen an excellent topic, if I may say.”

Michael Locksley nodded. He paid the strange young man, bid him good day, and wandered back into the spring rain. It was cold upon his skin as he rushed home. He had not reported to the general store since he met the man in gray. They were surely unhappy with him. Locksley thought of the money hidden in his chest of drawers and of the beautiful Lady Eustacia. He was no longer in need of a position at the store, anyway. He had his happy ending in sight.

 

 

Unfortunately, someone had Michael Locksley in sight, as well. A man with a large black umbrella and a markedly stiff manner of walking followed Locksley at a distance. He held a cane in his other hand, which he leaned upon heavily. He did not truly need it, but it created the illusion of a man who was perhaps a soldier or a hardworking—and one hundred percent human—civilian injured in his line of work. Humans were always so fascinated with cybernetic men. They crowded them, asked them insipid questions. The Morgans’ mechanic was a student of Julius Weiss. He had made every servant look remarkably human already. The cane allowed the black umbrella man to walk a bit stiffly without garnering unwanted attention.

He turned his head to watch Locksley cross the street. The black umbrella man’s eyes had failed him years ago, but the Morgan family had furnished him with a better pair. He could see every rain drop with perfect clarity.

In spite of the rain, a sudden ray of sunlight broke through the clouds. It was raining and sunny at once as the man followed Locksley. The servant thought Locksley a rather pathetic whelp, but as in a clock, even the smallest piece had a part to play.

Change was coming, and though he did not know it, Michael Locksley was an integral cog in that machine.

 

 

It rained for an entire day, and upon the morning of the following day, the people of Marlowe, Massachusetts were muttering and whispering among themselves. They had stories, theories to share. A murder. It was so bloody, they say. So gruesome! The husband of that suffragette, Molly Harker. Such a frightening emptiness and horror in his eyes when they found his body. Looked as though an animal attacked him and ripped out his throat.

Iago Wick, with bulbs of garlic buried in his pockets and strewn about his apartment, knew that it was no animal attack. Vampires did not often come to Marlowe, but when they did, they always felt the need to put on a show. They were maddeningly dramatic creatures—not that a demon could comfortably criticize anyone for that.

“It is a shame,” Iago heard Dylan Courtwright say at the table beside him in The Raven’s Nest Dining Room. Courtwright was a local property owner who sat proudly upon a family fortune. His breakfast guest, a feeble gentleman by the name of Wilburn Cox, nodded vaguely. “Lyle Harker was a fine man. But something would have happened to Mrs. Harker eventually. I don’t mean to sound so grim… but she is so terribly vocal. Shrill. I have no doubt this was due to her opinions on the vote. Yes… something would have happened regardless. She was inviting it upon them.”

“Tragic,” Wilburn Cox said half-heartedly as they left the restaurant. Courtwright and Cox were foul men—this Iago knew, and he knew they gathered with the other men in The Fraternal Order of the Scarab in Courtwright’s study to plan their foul deeds. It was perhaps required, according to The Unsavory Secret Organization Handbook, that such groups engage in nasty and occasionally evil plans, but their sins would catch up with them eventually. They always did.

Shortly thereafter, Iago left the dining room. As a precaution, he stepped behind The Raven’s Nest and donned invisibility. The vampires had not acted on their promise yet, and though they were unable to follow him in daylight, he knew their cybernetic servants would be out and about.

Dante was preoccupied with his upcoming disaster aboard The Miss Margaret, and so, Iago resolved he would stay at home in an apartment which, for all the garlic upon the walls, was beginning to smell like an Italian eatery.

There was a stairwell behind Willard’s Cigar Shop which Iago used to reach his apartment on the second floor. A slight chill on the air promised more rain, and Iago found himself eagerly anticipating an afternoon at home accompanied by a glass of scotch and a good book—anything but Le Fanu’s Carmilla.

Once he was inside, Iago dropped his invisibility and walked down a narrow hall to the door which led to his small but impeccably neat room. He reached into his pocket for the key.

Iago arrived at the door.

He stopped.

He felt it in his guts, a profoundly unpleasant sensation—the feeling that he was not welcome there.

Iago slid the key into its hole. His skin crawled.

Something fierce and frightening and unseen enveloped him then. Deep within his black heart, where he was no man but only demon, he felt a sickening, primal terror, and it turned his blood to ice. He could not leave that hallway quickly enough, and he hurried away and walked back down the stairs again.

He walked until he felt safe upon the sidewalk, across the street and down a few buildings from the cigar shop. He looked up to the window of his small apartment. From where he stood, it didn’t seem changed, and yet, the idea of entering repulsed him.

“Having some difficulty, Mr. Wick?”

Iago jumped and turned to face a man leaning heavily upon a cane. A servant of the Morgan family; Iago knew it immediately. It was so terribly chilling, he thought, the way he looked into their eyes and saw nothing, heard not a single thought humming in their minds. They were such empty creatures after the vampires had their way with them and turned their minds and bodies into well-oiled machines. There was something like a smile on his slick, gray lips. How much of him is original? Iago wondered.

Despite the emptiness in his eyes, the servant appeared seamlessly human. Human-made androids and cybernetic men—even those used by the authorities in technologically progressive cities such as Boston—were never as perfect as Lord Weiss’s creations, though they were their brothers. Indeed, many of man’s technological advancements stemmed from pre-existing supernatural achievements. The androids and cybernetic men of human society were crafted by hobbyist vampire hunter Phineas Lowell after he pilfered early and unfinished plans from Lord Julius Weiss. Weiss ensured Mr. Lowell perished tragically and hideously, but not until Lowell had already unleashed his subpar machines upon the human world.

Vampires may have flirted openly with humanity more than any other supernatural species, but they were not about to stand for their creative property being stolen. Fortunately for their pride, the man-made android policemen and laborers in Boston were nothing like Weiss’s finished creations. If the blatant mechanical limbs did not give them away, the sparks or various fluids leaking at impolite moments certainly did. Though Marlowe was stuck in the past, many humans were not shocked by such pseudo-men these days… but they would have had some difficulty identifying the vampires’ cybernetic men as being cybernetic at all.

“You’re a servant to the Morgans,” Iago said.

“Indeed. My name is DeGracey. I think I smoked cigars once. Many years ago,” he answered wistfully. “The smell seems to bring such memories I cannot quite grasp.”

“You’re quite forthcoming for a servant. What have you done here?” Iago asked.

“I am only following my queen’s orders, Mr. Wick,” the servant answered. “She isn’t happy with you.”

“So I’ve gathered!” Iago spat. “What did you do to my room?”

“I am still human enough to call upon the Earth,” the strange man said. “I was reborn at the hands of the Morgan family. They gave me a new life. And when I woke, I knew things I did not know before, wonderful things.”

Iago pursed his lips and drew a deep breath through his nose. “What sorts of wonderful things?”

“Skills I did not possess before. And I honed these skills. All sorts of spells which draw upon the Earth and sky. But also different magic,” the servant DeGracey explained. “Black magic. White magic. Gray magic.”

“Gray magic?” Iago scoffed.

“It’s not quite white, and it’s not quite black, you see. Moral ambiguity, you know.”

“…Ah. Naturally.”

“You see, I am not afraid of sunlight,” DeGracey said, “nor was I afraid of the garlic you have strung about your room. It was easy for me to enter and place a benediction spell upon the room.”

Iago blinked. “Pardon me?”

“Your room is as pure and holy as the grandest chapel now, an old spell which wards off demons. Lady Eustacia could never achieve such magic because she is a creature of darkness like yourself, but I can. I can serve her, and I serve her well,” the servant said smugly. Iago wanted to hit him. “And so, I am here to tell you, Iago Wick, that you will not enter your apartment.”

“She has forced me onto the streets,” Iago laughed darkly.

“You will not enter your apartment,” DeGracey said again.

“Yes, you made that quite clear.”

“You will not…” The servant’s eyes fluttered oddly, and the corners of his mouth twitched until he wore a broad and unnerving smile that split his head in two. His head dropped to his chest. Had he suddenly fallen asleep? Was there a misfiring in his brain, perhaps? But then he looked intensely into Iago’s eyes. He drew a deep breath. “Change is coming,” he growled.

“What?” Iago asked.

“Change is coming. Our world will begin anew,” DeGracey insisted gravely. His eyes rolled. “Change is coming. Our world will begin anew.” His voice was strange, and he coughed and sputtered. Iago recoiled. The man was unnerving enough already; eerie prophetic trances were entirely unnecessary!

Then, DeGracey blinked, as though he were waking from a short nap, and his smile became even again. With a shrug, he said, “You will not enter your apartment. Perhaps you invited this upon yourself.” DeGracey shoved his free hand into the pocket of his worn trousers, the other still gripping his cane.

“Change, you say?” Iago asked. “Your world will begin anew?”

DeGracey cocked his head, his expression remarkably unchanged. “Someday my queen will give me true immortality,” he answered. “All of us. We will all be changed. No longer will we be mere servants. The Morgans have promised us this.”

Iago glared at the deluded servant. Rather than set him on fire (which would have been incredibly therapeutic at that juncture, but unwise in the middle of daylight), Iago stormed away. “Do not follow me!” he yelled and looked over his shoulder.

DeGracey stood still—smiling, always smiling.

 

 

Iago walked to Darke Street. It was not far, just a few blocks away, and he briskly traveled until he reached house number 13. It was a tall and thin house, pleasant to behold from the outside. The average citizen of Marlowe had never seen within, and unless the average citizen harbored an extreme passion for taxidermy, then that was probably a good thing.

Iago walked up the steps at 13 Darke Street and knocked twice. Moments later, Dante Lovelace appeared.

“My dear,” Dante greeted. He was in his shirtsleeves and lacking a necktie. “I was just working. What are you doing he—”

“I apologize, my dearest Dante,” Iago proclaimed as he rushed past his partner and into the foyer. “I know I promised to leave you be. Alas, I have been forced to break that promise by that blood-sucking harlot!”

“Ah,” Dante said, sniffed the air, and grimaced. “Is this much garlic really necessary?”

“Obviously, it’s done me little good! I breakfasted at The Raven’s Nest. I had every intention of going home, of sitting and waiting for these damned fangs to leave Marlowe. However,” Iago said, “that is not an option! I’ll be staying with you for a spell.” He charged into Dante’s parlor, a well-curated museum of taxidermic beasts and post-mortem photos and decorations of hair and bone. His home, though lovely without, was quite frightening within. Dante liked it that way. The room’s centerpiece, a large stuffed vulture named Montgomery, loomed over them from his spot above the fireplace. “If that’s satisfactory to you, anyway,” Iago added.

“Why?” Dante asked and straightened his notes upon his writing desk. “I mean, of course, you are welcome here, Iago. What has happened?”

Iago relayed to Dante what he’d discovered upon returning to his apartment and about the simpering minion who had greeted him on the sidewalk. He sat upon the settee in the parlor and took a glass of scotch—and two petit fours for good measure—to calm himself.

“I should not even be here,” Iago said finally and finished his scotch. “They may do the same to your home if they know I am here.”

“No, stay,” Dante insisted. “Should they curse my house, then at least we’ll be on the streets together. We cannot live in fear of them.”

“There’s no saying what they will do! They are so frighteningly… petty.” It was a most alarming trait.

Dante gave a gentle smirk. “Well, my dear, you did spit in their collective eye a little. You could have taken Locksley’s soul without being quite so demonstrative.”

“That would not have been fun, though,” Iago insisted gravely. “It was such an excellent twist in the plot. Man falls in love with soul-devouring vampire. Man sells soul to demon to win vampire’s heart. Disappointed vampire no longer wants him. The threads connect so nicely.”

“And now you are paying the price. Something tells me the vampires don’t care for your narrative, Iago Wick.” Dante sat beside him.

Iago didn’t care much for the opinions of his critics. He gave a heavy sigh. “You are correct. We must continue to live well and to work as though we’re unaffected by their nonsense. What’s a mere benediction spell, anyway? We’ll find a way to break it.”

That was easier said than done and something that Iago did not wish to consider presently. He reached for another petit four.

 

 

Several hours later, Iago Wick had paced a trench into Dante Lovelace’s floor.

He walked back and forth in front of the window, watching and waiting, while Dante tended to his work. Or at least, while Dante tried to tend to his work. The constant creaking of the floorboards and Iago’s dramatic sighing were something of a distraction. Finally, Dante looked through his notes one last time, stacked them neatly at the corner of his desk, and placed his pen aside.

“Mr. Wick, I wonder if you might accompany me to dinner,” Dante said.

“Aren’t you worried your house will become a cathedral in your absence?” Iago said.

“Not at all,” Dante said as he stood from his writing desk. “You need a distraction. You’re getting irritatingly restless.”

Irritating? I’ll have you know—”

“Shh.” Dante reached into the drawer and retrieved what first seemed to be a letter opener. No, it was a thin knife, perfectly sharp and utterly frightening. Dante drew a deep breath before pressing the blade to the palm of his hand. He whispered an incantation, eyes fluttering closed for just a moment. And then at once, there was a large, bald man in front of him. The man wore a black suit and a blank expression, and he cocked his head at Dante like a befuddled parrot.

“A Conjure?” Iago groaned in something like agony.

Dante shook his head as the wound on his hand quickly healed. “You’ll protect your master, won’t you, sir?” he asked the man.

The man grunted in affirmation.

Conjures were not actually men or even alive. They were made of all the foul and nasty particles of Hell, brought together in the form of a man so that they might serve demons on Earth. They were excellent fighters, brutish and forceful, and incredibly loyal to the demon who conjured them. A shame they had the intellect of a door knob. Dante used them frequently. Iago used them only when he was absolutely forced to do so.

“Does he even know what a vampire is?” Iago asked.

Dante turned back to his Conjure and spoke sweetly to him. “We have been targeted by vampires. Can you protect this house while we venture out?”

The Conjure gave another positive grunt and a nod.

“Excellent! Do you see?” Dante said. “You underestimate them! I’m not always fond of them, either, but they really do some magnificent work if you give them a gentle push in the right direction.”

“The last time I worked with one, I wanted to give him a gentle push off the nearest cliff,” Iago sighed.

Dante rolled his eyes. “Allow me to dress, and then we’ll go to dinner. Not The Covington—they know we dine there. The Golden Swine, perhaps?”

 

 

The sun still strained to shine through a blanket of cloud when Iago and Dante arrived at The Golden Swine. It was an ostentatious and pretentious restaurant, but one which had the finest raw oysters Iago had ever eaten. They were determined to finish dinner before the sky grew dark so that they might hurry home and relieve the Conjure of his duties—not that the brute had any other pressing engagements. One is not burdened by social obligation when one is made of nothing but Hell-fluff and brute strength.

“Do you see any of the vampires’ servants about?” Dante asked softly as they took their seat.

“No, and I have been watching,” Iago said. Though it was early in the evening, the restaurant was already bustling. There were rich men and women wrapped in their finest and a dozen waiters hurrying around the dining room as though they were on wheels. There was an extravagantly-dressed and portly man who was the physical embodiment of the phrase golden swine, and a woman who had her nose so far in the air that someone may have mistaken her for a weather vane. But the strange servants were nowhere to be seen.

Dinner was pleasantly uneventful. The room clucked in its usual haughty warble. All the same, Iago frequently looked around the restaurant as he delicately ate his oysters, expecting to see one of the dead-eyed cybernetic servants watching him from afar.

“I am, I suppose, not necessarily afraid of the vampires,” Iago said after dessert had been delivered to their table. It was a raspberry confection, something light and suitable for the season. And not inadequate. He sucked thoughtfully upon the spoon. “I simply don’t like surprises. The idea that those bloodsuckers might jump out at me at any moment is so terribly unsettling.”

“It bears repeating, Iago: you have exacerbated the situation,” Dante answered with a sigh. He slipped his finger under his tie and tugged, a strangely improper action for Iago’s companion. Dante ran his hand through his hair before remembering himself and smoothing his dark locks back into place.

“Perhaps I have,” Iago admitted, and he took another bite. “I love a good mess, but this one is becoming a distraction. All the same, they are the ones who are misbehaving. His soul was mine, fair and square.”

Dante only nodded and looked anxiously around the room.

“It’s all a show. All of it. And with last night’s incident, they won’t be around much longer. Citizens are talking. They can’t very well settle here for too long,” Iago rambled. He knew he was rambling. Each word soothed his nerves, particularly when coupled with the dessert. “All the same,” he continued, “someone must lift the curse from my room. It will—”

“Are you uncomfortable?” Dante asked suddenly. His eyes glistened feverishly, and his skin had turned to the color of a boiled parsnip.

“Uncomfortable?” Iago asked.

“Over-heated? It’s practically infernal in here,” Dante said and tugged again at his necktie. Heat was normally a demon’s friend. Something was wrong.

“No, I… Dante, are you well?”

“Just faint. A bit nauseated. I’ll be fine, Iago.”

“No, Dante Lovelace is never unwell. I’ve never seen you in any less than the pink of health, so to speak. What’s… oh no.” He looked around the room, but there were still no servants to be seen. A good thing, too. Iago might have forgotten himself and started a brawl with the robotic bastard right there in the restaurant.

“What?” Dante asked and covered his eyes with one hand. “In Lucifer’s name, what, Iago?”

“They have poisoned you,” Iago hissed. “We must take you from the restaurant. You look like death.”

“Oh, thank you, Iago. I can always count on you for a compliment,” Dante muttered and tried to stand. He failed and fell back into his seat again. Swaying like a drunken man, he drew a deep breath before he attempted to stand again. He was fading fast. Iago imagined it was something like Holy Water that had sickened him so. How they had concealed it in his dinner, however, he could not say.

“Take my hand,” Iago said, holding out his right arm.

“Which one?” Dante mumbled. “There are four.”

“Choose wisely, dear Dante, and let’s move along.”

This time, Dante managed to keep his balance. Iago threw a bit of money upon the table to aid their smooth and speedy exit, and they carefully made their way toward the door.

“This is what they want,” Dante slurred and narrowly missed trampling Iago’s feet. “The vampires want us to leave. They’re drawing us out.”

“To Hell with them. You’re in no position to stay here. We’ll get you home. Hopefully the Conjure has done his duty, or we’ll have nowhere to go.” Iago briefly thought of the Hellish beast sitting at the window and waiting for them like some forlorn puppy expecting his master. Thanks to cloudy skies, it was already purple and gray at a quarter to seven. Twilight was creeping in early.

Once they had left the restaurant, Dante pitched forward, palms pressed firmly to his knees. Iago feared for his shoes, but after a few steady breaths, Dante righted himself again without incident. He leaned heavily upon Iago’s shoulder.

“Lucifer Below,” Dante muttered, “the street lamps are dancing.”

“Are they?” Iago asked.

“They’re waltzing,” he groaned, and Iago couldn’t tell if it was a poor attempt at humor or if he was delirious. Perhaps a bit of both.

They had just passed an alley cloaked in shadow when they heard a voice say, “I guess he doesn’t like lamb’s blood—does he, Mr. Wick?” Iago turned back to see Grizzly Bear standing in the shadows, well-dressed in a deep burgundy suit that Iago begrudgingly admitted to himself was quite fetching. The ghostly servant Iago encountered that first night at The Covington lurked behind the vampire, dressed in plain wool and still sporting his nosegay. “Just a few drops of lamb’s blood.”

The servant leaned forward eagerly. “Wouldn’t want to render him unconscious.”

Perhaps not, but Iago could think of a brutish bloodsucker and a cybernetic lackey he would have dearly loved to render unconscious at present. “It’s awfully early for you to be awake,” Iago growled.

“I fed last night,” Grizzly Bear answered. “I’m feeling quite strong, and the sun is hiding. I will lurk in shadow until it fades completely.”

“Yes,” Iago said. “The suffragette’s husband. That was you.”

“Indeed. He was delicious. A little nutty… but you would have to be to marry a suffragette.”

Iago rolled his eyes. “Of course, once again you needed your lackey to help you this evening. Blessed lamb’s blood is detrimental to vampires, as well. I’m noticing a pattern. You cannot pursue me yourself. You only order your semi-human lackeys to do your bidding.”

“That ends now,” Grizzly Bear insisted gravely. “Mr. Galloway here has been a great help to me, but night will soon fall. I’ll no longer need him.” The vampire took a solid step forward and stopped. His nose crinkled in a sneer. “When the moon is high, I’ll abandon Galloway, if you take the garlic from your pockets.”

Galloway quivered deliberately. “You won’t… you won’t really abandon me, will you, master?” His eyes glistened. “I can still be of use to you, Lord Oleander.”

“Shut up!” snapped Grizzly Bear—apparently called Lord Oleander. Iago had a strong feeling that was not his real name. “Why don’t you fight me, demon? For the store clerk’s soul.”

“All this for Locksley’s soul!” Iago exclaimed. Dante leaned upon the brick along one side of the narrow alley, arms wrapped meekly around himself. “He is a weakling, a pathetic creature. You can lie to me all you want. This has nothing to do with Locksley’s soul—your queen just can’t accept that matters didn’t fall in her favor.”

“If he’s so pathetic, give his soul back,” Oleander said.

Iago pinched the bridge of his nose and said, “It does not work that way.” Demons did not often regret, but Iago was beginning to feel that twinge at the back of his skull. “I must take Mr. Lovelace home before someone mistakes him for a drunken vagrant.” He motioned to Dante, who was slumped over on the ground like a sickly ragdoll. He might have groaned a curse at Iago in response.

“True, he is looking quite ghastly. Tomorrow night, then. Midnight,” Lord Oleander said.

“Midnight! Of course, it’s always midnight, isn’t it?” Iago snapped his fingers and conjured a flame. “I assure you, I would not hesitate to incinerate you.” Lord Oleander regarded the flame uneasily, as though through all his posturing and poisoning, he had forgotten that he was poking and prodding a creature who was well-versed in the ways of fire! Iago continued, “This has gone on long enough. I would like to speak with Lady Eustacia.”

“To discuss the terms of the clerk’s soul?”

“No, I thought we’d have a good chat about the weather and the latest revue at the theater,” Iago answered. Lord Oleander blinked. “Yes, to discuss the clerk’s soul.”

Oleander considered this rather glumly. A truce would mean he wouldn’t be able to fight a demon in hand-to-hand combat, but he should have known that would most likely end poorly for him. Vampires and fire did not mix. “Tomorrow night. Midnight,” Lord Oleander said.

“I should have known,” Iago sighed.

“Find me by the river. I will escort you.”

“If you’re angling for some romantic tryst, Lord Oleander, I am flattered, but spoken for,” Iago said glibly and looked down to his partner. Dante had his eyes closed. “I think I am, anyway.” He reached down and gently shook Dante before pulling him from his daze and onto his feet again. Dante wobbled dangerously but kept his balance.

The servant, Galloway, narrowed his empty eyes at Iago as they left. Then, just as the servant with the cane had done outside his apartment, he smiled a wide jack-o-lantern grin.

They arrived shortly at 13 Darke Street, where the Conjure was sweetly concerned for his master. He fluffed a pillow and fetched a blanket for Dante before continuing to stand guard at the window of the parlor. Dante slept fitfully upon the settee, and Iago thought of how he might settle his score with the Vampire Queen.

 

 

[]

III.

 

 

The following day was uneventful. Dante woke by mid-morning with a roaring headache and the realization that The Miss Margaret would sail in one day, and here he was, a pathetic mess of a demon! Iago felt somewhat guilty, and he told Dante so, and that made Dante feel perhaps a bit better. An admission of guilt from Iago Wick was something like sighting a unicorn and a dodo bird having a picnic together.

It was a blindingly sunny day in Marlow—something the city did not often witness, even in the summer months—and so daylight lingered. When darkness finally shrouded the city, there was a sudden knock upon the front door. It was a distinctly angry knock, and Iago, long versed in such things, would not have been surprised to see a pitch fork-toting angry mob on the other side. Oh, the good ol’ days in merry old England…

Unsurprisingly, however, Lord Oleander and his motley crew waited on the other side of the door, thoroughly fuming, though Iago didn’t know why.

“You bastard, what have you done?” Lord Oleander snarled.

“Let’s see. I’ve tended to Mr. Lovelace, read a bit of Milton to pass the time…” Iago sighed. Dante came to stand behind him, and the protective Conjure came to stand behind Dante.

“I’m not playing your games, demon,” Oleander said. “I speak of Lady Eustacia.”

“What about her?” Iago asked.

“She is missing,” said the strong man vampire. “She was taken from her coffin. We can find no trace of her, and when we try to connect to her within our minds, there are only brief glimpses, shapes. She has been taken and surrounded by charms to ward us off.”

“You needn’t tell him, Lord Zephyr,” Lord Oleander said. “He is the one who took her. Invite me in!” he bellowed.

“Excuse me?” Iago said.

“Invite me in!!”

Iago blinked. “No. …I’m curious—did you think that would work?”

“Then, come out here into the darkness. Face us!”

“That is an equally mad proposition,” Iago said. “I did not take Lady Eustacia. I have been in this house all day. If you’re looking for her, I suggest…” Suddenly, he remembered Michael Locksley the last night he had seen him. He babbled madly as Iago left. I will have her. I will have her. “Lucifer Below… the clerk.”

“What?” Lord Oleander spat.

“He took her. What a powerful thing is love… or perhaps lust, more appropriately.” Iago nodded. “His devotion to her is absurd. Michael Locksley is who you seek. He proclaimed he would have her. I did not believe him. But a man in love is the brashest and most foolish creature on all the planet.”

“You lie.”

“I do not. Despite what you may believe about demons, I am an honest man.” Iago paused. “Relatively, at least. When you attempt to connect with her, to share her thoughts, what do you see? Anything at all. I can help you find her.”

“You would help us?” Lord Oleander asked.

“I wish to put an end to this, don’t I? Lady Eustacia and I cannot reach an agreement if a jilted lover has pinned her to the ground with a wooden stake.”

The vampires bashfully conceded, the youngest of the four looking to his shoes as though he’d been caught with his hand in the cookie jar again. Iago didn’t wish to consider what a vampire might keep in a cookie jar.

“Mark my words,” Iago said. “It is Locksley who has taken her. Now, tell me. What do you see? I would assume he’s not so dimwitted as to take her back to his home.”

Lord Zephyr closed his eyes. “It’s not too clear. It’s dark. There’s a lamp. A large tree? The tree… The bark is strange. There are, perhaps, carvings.”

“Lovers’ Lane,” Dante said. “At the edge of the park, closer to the river, the trail leads off into the woods to a secluded glade. It’s nearly half a mile’s walk. They call it Lovers’ Lane.”

“Well, he may have kidnapped her, but at least he’s a true romantic about it,” Iago sighed. “Vampires, allow me to retrieve your queen. This is my score. I must settle it, and we don’t want Locksley to feel threatened. If he knew enough that he could lure your queen away from you, then there’s no telling what else he has up his sleeve.” The vampires reluctantly agreed—even Lord Oleander, who looked even more sour than usual: an outstanding feat on his part. Iago turned to Dante. “Mr. Lovelace, would you like to accompany me to Lovers’ Lane?”

“Why, Mr. Wick, I thought you’d never ask,” Dante said with a grin.

 

 

Lovers’ Lane had something of an eerie quality to it when the moon was high and there was a damp chill to the air. It was a little less the stuff of romantic trysts and a little more the stuff of Grimm’s fairy tales. Iago and Dante walked with an easy tread until they saw a warm light glowing up ahead. Dante then followed a woolier path to their right so that they might properly execute their plan of escape.

At the end of Lovers’ Lane, the Vampire Queen struggled weakly against the ropes around her wrists. She wore a highly detrimental and equally unfashionable string of garlic around her neck. Charms to subdue her hung from the branches, and she leaned against the old tree where starry-eyed lovers carved their initials before they indulged in less chaste activities in the glade.

From where Iago watched twenty feet away, Lady Eustacia looked tired and angry. Michael Locksley sat before her, spouting love poems. It was not the tryst that perhaps Locksley had wanted, but he was, with the help of Byron and The Bard, going to make the best of the situation. Even Iago had to admit, he was giving her everything he had, hands flailing and eyelids fluttering like a five-and-dime store Romeo.

“Is this your idea of a romantic evening, Mr. Locksley?” Iago asked as he came upon the glade. Locksley jumped to his feet. Lady Eustacia’s eyes widened in an appeal for help.

“I… well, yes. I think this evening is going well, don’t you, my dear?” Locksley asked of Lady Eustacia.

“You can have his soul, Wick. I will rip out his throat!” Lady Eustacia growled as fiercely as she could in her weakened state.

“You see?” Locksley said pathetically. “Just a lovers’ quarrel. Playful banter, even.”

“We may have different definitions of the word playful,” Iago said.

“We shall run away together,” Locksley insisted. “She will change her mind. She will love me. Such matters can take time, can’t they, my dearest Eustacia?”

Lady Eustacia growled deep in her throat.

Locksley gave a nervous grin. “I do love it when you growl, my dear.”

“Mr. Locksley,” Iago said tenderly as he approached the clerk, “you cannot force someone to love you. Not even all the power of Hell can do that, for it would always be false. Would you want that? A false love is worse than never having love at all.”

“You told me, demon, that I could win her heart!”

Could being the operative word, Mr. Locksley! I gave you the tools. You have grossly misused them,” Iago said before adding, “And, understandably, words mean little to a person who has been kidnapped. Actions speak louder, et cetera.”

“No!” Locksley insisted manically. “I promise I can win her heart.” He dropped to the ground beside her, cleared his throat, and placed a dramatic hand to his chest before addressing her. “Oh vampire, vampire. Wherefore art thou vampire?”

“Wherefore art thou a dimwitted swine?!” Lady Eustacia spat. “Untie me, Mr. Wick. Remove this garlic.”

Iago merely raised a hand, but at the smallest movement, Locksley shook his head. He reached into his jacket to retrieve a long and unfriendly-looking stake, as ideal for pitching a tent as it was for obliterating the blood-sucking undead. “No,” Locksley said gravely and stood again. “Don’t touch her.”

Lady Eustacia grew quiet, curling up on the ground. Her eyes were beginning to look a bit glassy, Iago noticed. She was growing weaker. Iago raised both hands in surrender and said, “Now, now, we needn’t do anything foolish, Mr. Locksley. I understand. However, I don’t think your words or your… stake have wooed the lady.”

Locksley frowned deeply at the idea that he would not win the heart of his lady love, as though the very concept that he might not succeed had never even occurred to him.

The clerk turned to the vampire, stake raised and eyes glistening. “Do you love me? Did you ever love me? Could you ever love me?” His voice was drenched in melodrama. However, now that he was suitably armed, he had completely lost whatever shred of Romeo charm he had previously possessed.

“Listen to me, Mr. Locksley,” Iago said. “You sold your soul, correct? Hell, thus, awaits.” Locksley grimaced. He apparently hadn’t considered all the fire and brimstone that came along with selling his soul, either. “However, you’ve been given the tools to woo someone willing to be wooed. Use that gift. Live a full life with one who loves you in return. You’ll find that person, but I am afraid it’s not Lady Eustacia.”

The clerk still looked sadly, pathetically to Lady Eustacia. Iago put on a comforting smile despite the fact that he—a thousand-year-old minion of Lucifer—was presently playing mediator to a lovesick human and an infantile vampire queen. Lucifer Below, if word of this ever made it back to Hell…!

Locksley’s lip quivered. “No. I can’t.” And at once, he was upon her. He wrapped his arms around her from behind and placed the stake against her chest. Lady Eustacia tensed and squeezed her eyes shut. He hugged her, pressed his doughy cheek against hers and rubbed against her like a drunken cat. “She has consumed my every thought! I cannot live without her. And so, she cannot live without me.”

Terror gripped Iago’s heart at the very notion that he should be tracked by vampires for the next century or more because he was the fool who let the Morgans’ queen die at the hands of some soppy clerk skewered by Cupid’s arrow. Iago made to intervene but stopped when a voice came from the trees.

“What a splendid idea, Michael Locksley. We were about to propose Lady Eustacia’s murder, as well. My, what a coincidence.”

One by one, a group of figures emerged from the shadows surrounding them. Most wore plain tweed and linen clothing, and in the center stood the servant who had accompanied Lord Oleander the night before when Dante had been poisoned. Galloway was his name, Iago recalled. That’s what Oleander had called him, and now Mr. Galloway smiled smugly. Iago looked into their eyes, empty and glassy. They were all servants, half man and half machine.

Well, almost all of them. Dante stood among them, a gun which likely contained bullets laced with holy water pointed at his back. The demons’ plan would no longer be effective. Iago had not exactly been looking for a chance to improvise that evening, but when life hands you cybernetic servants…

“My faithful servants,” Lady Eustacia said uneasily. “You’ve come to save your queen…?”

Galloway gave an absurdly grand bow, and the others snickered. “Afraid not, Your Majesty,” he said.

Iago arched a brow and looked to the servant, DeGracey, who leaned heavily upon his cane. “So, this was the meaning of your sudden fit outside the cigar shop. Change is coming. Our world will begin anew. You never believed you would be turned. You were planning an uprising.”

The servant in question looked adoringly to Galloway. “I cannot help that there are times when my leader’s words come to my lips unbidden.”

Michael Locksley, trembling, dropped his stake to the ground and rose to his feet. Lady Eustacia squirmed like a worm in red lace. “You… you want to kill her?” Locksley asked. “You lied to me.”

“You had spoken to them?” Iago asked. “When?”

“These people helped me find Lady Eustacia. They told me they wanted to help me because they were champions of true love,” Locksley said.

Iago deflated in a sigh. “Mr. Locksley,” he began, “did you know your picture is in the dictionary?”

Locksley blinked. “Really? Where?”

Galloway gave a brittle snicker. “We knew Mr. Locksley was smitten with Lady Eustacia. He had already purchased a book on the subject of vampires in an attempt to track her. However, we knew he would be unsuccessful, and so, we intervened.”

“We gave him a few helpful hints, as it were,” said a red-headed woman in green linen.

“Gave the daytime guard over the family a sleeping draught,” said DeGracey, the man with the cane.

“And so, if Mr. Locksley was unsuccessful, we would be able to sit and watch while our vampire masters devoured him, and we would wait until the next opportunity,” Galloway explained. “We are patient.”

“Very patient,” they all said at once.

Lady Eustacia recoiled. Her voice was tremulous. “How long have you been planning such an uprising? I trusted you. We all trusted you!”

“Since long before Roland was killed. Imagine our delight when he bestowed the position of Queen upon a callow child,” Galloway said with a sneer. Lady Eustacia looked a bit indignant, but she could not argue. “It made things very simple. And now, here we are at the end of Lovers’ Lane, dear lady.”

Michael Locksley, a simple man who once had a simple life, could obviously no longer stomach cybernetic servant uprisings and vampire queens in distress. He pushed past Iago and staggered away in the direction of town. He cried for help only once before he was knocked to the ground by a servant’s bullet. He fell into a thorny thicket with a strangled warble.

“Well,” Iago began, “it seems as though you have political matters to tend to, Lady Eustacia.” He realized now that the servants were circling them like mad, grinning, and unfashionably dressed vultures. “Why commit regicide?” he asked.

Galloway rolled his shoulders, and Iago noticed that everyone else did, as well. Alone, he began to pick at the pale skin on one hand. He rolled up his sleeve to reveal a neat and artful seam about his wrist where false skin met human flesh, and he sank his fingernails into the synthetic meat. “We have been manipulated and changed… enhanced, they might say… by these blood-sucking beasts.” Galloway peeled back the flesh to reveal the mechanical hand underneath. He threw blobs of faux flesh to the ground until his true hand was revealed, all metallic joints and digits. It took something truly gruesome to disgust a vampire, but it was enough to make Lady Eustacia grimace.

Galloway flexed his metal fingers and continued, “My hands were deemed unsatisfactory. I was given these, covered by synthetic skin. Vampires are passionate aesthetes. Though our clothes are plain, our bodies must be flawless works of art. And yet, we still must be vaguely human. They say they still value the heart which comes with human servants. No. They value the fear, the desperation, the need to please one’s master to save oneself. One who is fully machine cannot display such emotion.” A strange smile twisted his lips, and he reached for the sad nosegay at his lapel. He gripped it in metal fingers and then carefully twisted the mechanical hand at the wrist until it came free. The flesh was cauterized and calloused at the dull stump of his arm. The flowers remained pinched perfectly between metal thumb and forefinger. “We were not the masters of our own future. No longer. Now, we shall have control.”

Galloway bowed once more to his queen and offered her the mechanical hand, flowers and all. She recoiled, and his grin broadened. He said, “You must perish, too, demons.”

“Why?” Dante asked as they pushed him into the circle. “These matters don’t concern us.”

“You will tell the others,” Galloway said and attached his hand again. “We are counting on chaos as the vampires scrap to determine who will take her place. Lady Eustacia will perish without naming an heir. Another hideous error on her part, but in that chaos, we will rise.”

“We will rise,” they all said at once.

Iago smelled holy water on the air. There were about fifteen of them; they could probably manage the ritual to send two demons back to Hell. “I understand,” Iago began carefully. “To be bound to servitude is a detestable lot.”

“One which you definitely do not understand,” Galloway spat.

“We are bound to Lucifer, are we not? We demons exist only to serve Him. We might toil and craft disasters and temptations which we feel are our own masterpieces, but they are not. In the end, we work only for Hell,” Iago said. “We understand.”

The words tasted blasphemous upon Iago’s tongue, and what felt even stranger was how true they rang.

“You have our sympathy,” Galloway said with a shallow bow, and they all bowed similarly. “However, I have been waiting for this since my rebirth. I apologize in advance for your return to Hell. I hope your senses are not too terribly addled by the descent.”

Lucifer Below, Iago realized, they were blinking in time. Never had so innocuous an action been so utterly horrifying. Lady Eustacia squirmed to the middle of the circle. Dante helped her to her feet despite the ropes around her wrists and ankles, and he held her steady against him. Always a gentleman, even as they were facing doom.

Iago watched them carefully, the way their fingers twitched in time, the way they swayed at once. What had the man with the cane said? Sometimes his leader’s words came to his lips unbidden. Iago said, “You say you have been waiting since your rebirth.”

“Indeed.”

“Have the others waited similarly?” Iago asked, turning to give them all a good look. The one holding the gun still pointed it toward them.

They all answered at once, “Indeed.” The circle around them grew smaller.

Dante pressed his back to Iago’s, still holding Lady Eustacia close. “A little like that incident with the werewolves in London,” he said.

“No,” Iago answered, “this situation is not nearly as—”

“If you say hairy, Iago Wick, so help me…” Dante warned.

Iago perceived something just at the edge of his line of sight. If he didn’t know better, he would have said that was Michael Locksley, tiptoeing rather sloppily through the underbrush. And indeed, it was. The clerk held his hand firmly to his shoulder. Iago could not say he had faith in Locksley to save them, but perhaps he could make use of the injured clerk. Iago held Galloway’s empty gaze and said, “Then you shall eliminate us, and I do not blame you. As I said, I understand.”

“We require neither your approval nor your understanding,” said the redheaded woman.

“Ah. Of course. What will you do with your freedom?” Iago asked. “I have often pondered that question. What would I do if I turned my back on Hell and lived as I wished?”

“We will have to teach ourselves to be free again,” Galloway said.

“Finally free,” came the echo from the chorus.

Locksley was just behind Galloway now, a large rock in his hand. His injured arm hung limply at his side. He prepared to strike as Galloway turned and knocked Locksley to the ground. The clerk cried out, and Iago saw his chance.

How strange that he felt some slight twinge of pity. Still, self-preservation was the victor. Iago reached to the ground to retrieve the stake meant for Lady Eustacia’s heart and, while Galloway was turned, lodged the weapon firmly in the servant’s ear. It made a gruesome crunching noise and stuck sickeningly from the side of his head. He turned to blankly perceive Iago.

In that moment, there was something like disappointment, the sting of failure in Galloway’s eyes. Iago felt it in his own black heart. Swaying, Galloway crumpled to the ground, and as Iago had predicted, so did the rest of them. Fifteen servants fell to their knees and tumbled, eyes still wide as they stared at nothing. Dante started to untie Lady Eustacia and remove the garlic from around her neck, the queen turning to survey her disobedient servants.

Iago stooped down to look again into Galloway’s eyes. Empty. It was only a blank stare, and yet, he could not help but feel sorry for him.

“What was all this?” Lady Eustacia asked. She swooned briefly, and Dante caught her.

“He was speaking to them,” Iago said. “I assume all of your servants have parts of their brains removed and… enhanced. That’s how you subdue them, make them obey you. Through his mind, he was controlling them. Electromagnetic waves, perhaps. The need to be the master of one’s own life, one’s own fate, is not a light that is easily snuffed out.”

There was a sudden gasp. Michael Locksley watched in horror a moment longer before scrambling to his feet. His shoulder was bleeding badly, and there was a wound on his head. Perhaps his collision with the ground had knocked a little sense into him. Without another word, he turned and ran. Moonlight picnics and Shakespeare were all well and good, but not even his blind devotion could withstand this level of peril.

For a moment, Lady Eustacia made as though she might go after him. Still, the garlic and charms had made her weak, and she wrapped her arms around Dante’s slim waist.

“Well,” Iago began and once again surveyed the glade, “we have quite a mess to clean up, don’t we?”

 

 

Iago had never before seen a vampire come to make amends. They simply weren’t the sort. They had an inclination toward arriving, tearing apart the town and then leaving again, all fangs and black mist and comically unbridled lust.

Dante was sitting in the parlor of 13 Darke Street and reading accounts of the sad story of The Miss Margaret when there was a knock upon the door. Iago answered and found Lady Eustacia Morgan upon the stoop outside. She gave her best attempt at a regal smile. “Well. Aren’t you going to invite me in?” she asked.

Their protective Conjure had already been sent back to Hell. Iago hesitated, looked to Dante for affirmation, then allowed Lady Eustacia to enter.

She did not wear her customary red, but an extravagant black dress and a veil of lace atop her head. “I am not completely uncooperative. I enlisted the help of a witch. The curse has been lifted from your room, Mr. Wick,” she said. “And I apologize for this… this feud.”

“Hmm. I apologize for crossing you, Lady Eustacia,” Iago said with a grand bow. “I misjudged you. And have your children found Locksley?”

“No,” she said as Iago led her to the parlor. “He vanished. I assure you, it is good for him. They would have torn him to pieces had they found him.”

“And the servants?”

“Of those who rebelled, all except Galloway are in the process of being repaired. As you hypothesized, he was controlling them. Radio waves, our mechanic says. I don’t really understand matters like that.”

Iago only hummed as he took a seat on the settee. He offered Lady Eustacia a box. “Petit four?”

She shook her head and sat in the chair beside him. “I don’t eat… cake.”

“Ah. Yes. That’s right.” He took one for himself.

She looked to her hands. “I loved him, Mr. Wick. Not Locksley. Roland Morgan, our king who perished and left me as the queen. I know I am ill-suited for this station. I have turned many, many men to vampires in the hopes that one of them will fill that hole that Roland left. They have not.” She held her head high. “I behaved poorly these past days, Mr. Wick, Mr. Lovelace. Pettily. Since becoming a vampire and, indeed, becoming Roland’s favored child, I am unaccustomed to not having my way. I apologize. I must be a better queen. For Roland.”

“Did you think Locksley might replace him?” Dante asked.

She laughed. “He was precious, wasn’t he? I don’t know what I was thinking. There are times I am made to feel my youth. Now is one of them.”

“How old are you, Lady Eustacia?” Iago asked.

She looked sheepish. “I was nineteen when I was turned four years ago. Roland died only eighteen months ago. I have created quite a harem for myself since then. Perhaps I should focus upon governing my family, not turning every eligible male I see.”

Iago smiled. “You’ll be a fine queen.”

“I hope,” she said.

“All the same…” Iago began, and Lady Eustacia’s eyes narrowed. “The means by which you acquire your servants are… well, cruel. To take humans and to turn them into these amalgamations of man and machine is quite grim, really. I can’t say that I blame Galloway for rebelling.”

She pursed her lips. “The Morgan family is the first in America to adopt Lord Julius Weiss’s technology. It is revolutionary.” It all sounded terribly rehearsed. Perhaps other vampires had challenged the Morgans in their adoption of Lord Julius’s practices. Then again, brainwashing humans and trailing them along with the promise of immortality was not terribly humane, either.

“Perhaps,” Iago said.

“Mr. Wick, I inherited this family. I did not decree that this is the way our servants should be acquired. This is simply how Roland commanded it be done,” she explained gravely.

“This does not mean that you cannot change that,” Iago said.

She held her head high, and her mouth turned in a frightening scowl. “You are a demon. You are hardly in a position of moral superiority.”

Iago was quiet for a moment. He smiled. “You are correct.” He stood and bowed once more to kiss her on the hand. “My deepest apologies for questioning you, Your Majesty.”

This assuaged her, and yet, Iago thought perhaps he saw remorse in her dark eyes. Lady Eustacia fiddled briefly with the black lace atop her head, gave a deep nod, and rose to her feet. “You are forgiven, Mr. Wick. I only wanted to thank you again before the family left Marlowe.”

“Leaving soon?”

“Tonight,” she said. “You might have noticed my dress. I have not worn it since Roland left me. Two of my children were killed last night at the hands of a vampire hunter.”

Iago quirked a brow. “A vampire hunter? Here? In Marlowe?”

“Yes. A man. Tall, blond. That is, unfortunately, all that the sole survivor of the attack relayed to me. Do you know him?”

Iago shook his head. “No, I can’t say that I do.”

“I suggest you keep a sharp eye out. Perhaps he dabbles in demon hunting, as well,” Lady Eustacia said.

She left after thanking them once more, though her graveyard perfume lingered.

Iago said, “Well, dear Dante, it appears I can go home now.”

“A shame,” Dante said with a grin. “I love having you here with me. Montgomery is not good company.” He looked to the large stuffed vulture above the mantle.

“Now, now. The Powers Below would deem our close quarters a distraction. We don’t want that,” Iago said.

“No, I suppose we do not…” Dante trailed off, eyes focused upon a list of those who had purchased tickets for The Miss Margaret. Twenty-seven aboard. Ten confirmed dead. Ten injured. Seven missing and presumed dead. “Lucifer Below…”

“What is it?”

“He’s upon this list of those lost aboard The Miss Margaret. I didn’t see him, but I admittedly spent little time aboard the boat. Michael Locksley. Missing. Presumed dead.”

Missing. Not dead. Iago felt it in his bones. The clerk was still alive, and he imagined he had escaped and wandered off to find the romantic adventure he thought he so sorely deserved. And perhaps with a ready tongue and an open heart, he would once again feel the passion he felt for Lady Eustacia Morgan.

Iago walked to the window. He looked upon Marlowe, eerily beautiful in its late twilight glow. The vampire hunter was likely passing through, tracking the Morgan family. Still, Iago was a bit unsettled by the development.

“Perhaps another soul collected under the name of Iago Wick on Hell’s ledgers,” Dante said. “I know you said you were nearing the end.”

“The end?”

“The end of your time as tempter. How long until they send you that letter?” Dante asked. There was a sadness in his voice which he could not conceal. Such a letter meant a promotion for Iago Wick. Such a promotion most likely meant a change of location. Dante Lovelace was miserable at hiding his disappointment.

“Oh, I can’t say, my dear. Perhaps before the year is out.”

Dante rose quietly to his feet like a cat and walked to Iago’s side. “Did you mean what you said?”

“When? I do talk an awful lot, Mr. Lovelace.”

“When you were speaking to the servants, you said you often thought of abandoning your duties to Hell, of what a life you would lead then,” Dante said. “Have you harbored such thoughts?”

Iago looked onto the empty street for a moment more. Twilight was such a sweet and delicate thing, a bubble easily broken, a candle easily snuffed. He smiled, said, “Of course not, Dante,” and took his familiar place before the fire.

About the Author

Jennifer Rainey is a sometimes-writer, sometimes-folk singer from beautiful Central Ohio. When she’s not busy writing, you can probably find her perusing antique malls or watching classic horror films.

If you liked this story, please don’t forget to review! And be sure to check out The Last Temptations of Iago Wick, the first installment in The Lovelace & Wick Series.

Learn more about Jennifer Rainey at www.JenniferRaineyAuthor.com

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Iago Wick and the Vampire Queen

As a demon, Iago Wick has made quite a career out of conjuring mischief and mayhem in the name of Hell, but this time, perhaps he’s gone a bit too far. After deliberately foiling the plans of a spoiled vampire—all in the name of fun, really!—Iago discovers that the vampire in question is no ordinary bloodsucker. She’s the newly-appointed matriarch of one of the oldest vampire families in America, and she’s very angry. Soon, Iago is caught in a war with the vampires and their cyborg servants. Will he settle his score with the clan of bloodsuckers or will Iago find himself at the mercy of the Vampire Queen? What precisely is the matter with those strange cybernetic servants, anyway? And most importantly, will Iago ever get the smell of garlic out of his clothes? "Iago Wick and the Vampire Queen" is a 17,000-word short story prequel to The Lovelace & Wick Series.

  • ISBN: 9781370697441
  • Author: Jennifer Rainey
  • Published: 2017-08-31 03:20:09
  • Words: 17582
Iago Wick and the Vampire Queen Iago Wick and the Vampire Queen