The Buccaneer Chronicles:
By Karen Dunn (Despite being interfered with by Keith Dunn, Andy Simpkins, Adam J Purcell and Tony Gallichan)
Chapter Two - The Turning
Twenty years ago
The house was a wreck.
Perched precariously on the side of the hill like an open wound, it reminded Eleanor of a haunted mansion she had read about in a tacky horror novel years ago.
The windows were a mess of jagged glass, the walls grey and imposing and speckled with moss and strings of ivy.
The door had long since fallen from its hinges and was lying askew of the frame, the gaping hole making it look like the house was screaming.
The roof was sagging but intact and at one corner of the building was a tower topped of with castle-like battlements from which one could see for miles.
The path to the house was steep and overhung with trees, their branches protecting it like a canopy, and when Eleanor took her first cautious step towards the building she realised some one somewhen had taken the time to put down gravel.
Her footsteps crunched loudly, sending a flock of birds squawking from their hidden nests into the afternoon sky.
If it had been nighttime Eleanor would have turned and ran.
As it was, the sun was hot on her back and she would be glad of the shelter of the house, however ramshackle its appearance.
Her grandfather had given her the key before he died but the house had probably not been secure for years.
As she made her way up the path she kept her eyes on the gaping yaw that was the door and felt a chill ripple down her spine, immediately and illogically terrified.
Her steps faltered and she reached into the pocket of her dress, seizing the large brass key tightly, aware that nerves had made her palms clammy.
The house cast a long shadow in the afternoon sun and she stopped at the very edge of its reach, loath to allow it to swallow her.
Breathing deeply, she willed her racing heart to calm down.
It was just a house - an old, tumbledown mess of a house that she would probably have demolished so that she could sell the land.
There was absolutely no reason to be afraid and her body's instinctive urge to turn and run was ridiculous.
If the place harboured any ghosts they were played up by the fertile imaginations of the village children.
The same children who accepted a dare or a double dare to run and touch the broken door as a demonstration of courage while their playmates hid in the branches of the trees far, far down the path. Safe.
Swallowing her fear she took her first step into the shadow of the house and immediately wished she had brought a coat as an unseasonable chill ruffled her hair.
"Great, a cold wind...and for our next cliché..."
Taking a deep breath, Eleanor marched toward the house and clambered over the splintered remains of the front door.
The interior of the house might once have boasted an elegant beauty to visitors.
A wide hallway greeted Eleanor as she stepped across the threshold, closed doors to the right and left tempting her to explore further.
Before her lay a staircase, broad at the bottom, narrowing as it neared the landing.
There was something almost regal about the way it swept up to the first floor of the house.
"Yes, and the second I set foot on it it will creak like the Devil."
As her eyes adjusted to the gloom, Eleanor realised that the house was bare. No furnishings dotted around to gather dust, no faded photographs of long-dead ancestors.
She felt absolutely cheated.
Haunted houses should have dusty furniture and faded pictures. It was part of what made them so spooky.
There should be tattered portraits hanging on the walls of mad uncles with staring eyes, not the endless expanse of yellowing wallpaper she saw before her.
"Thanks, grandpa," she muttered, her curiosity leading her to the foot of the staircase, "I've always wanted to own a dust magnet that may or may not be haunted, depending on which urchin you speak to."
Running her hand along the banister she sneezed as the dust swirled under her nose.
Taking her first step towards the landing she waited for the ominous creak of aging floorboards that had confirmed to many a curious child that the place was definitely, 100 per cent haunted.
With her attention fixed on the landing above and her hand drawing patterns in the dust caking the banister as she considered whether or not to explore further, it came as something of a shock to Eleanor when the staircase gave out beneath her, sending her plummeting with a panicked scream into the cellar below.
Life before the short, sharp trip through the floorboards of her inheritance - thanks again grandpa - had been simple.
There had been no incidents, no accidents, no adventures in all of her 23 years.
Some would call it boring but Eleanor enjoyed the tranquillity.
She had a roof over her head and all the books she could read. She had access to the university labs and could mess around with her experiments to her heart's content.
She knew that one day she would have to bite the bullet and produce some real work - there was only so long her parents would pay for her extended education - but she had no worries just yet.
She was daddy's little girl and, unless her fed up mother actually dragged him to the divorce courts over the amount he spent on his daughter, he would happily show off the depths of his wallet to keep his angel happy.
Not that she was spoiled. God, no. He had made it perfectly clear that he expected to see results from his generosity and had kept track of every brass farthing he had given her to use as emotional ammunition should she lapse into student apathy.
Not that she ever would. She was too much like her mother.
"A day in which you achieve nothing is a day wasted."
How often had she heard those words?
They would engrave them on the woman's tomb. But Eleanor knew it was a sentiment she would always share.
Which was why lying in the rubble of what had once been the staircase in her reception hall was not an option.
Not only would she achieve nothing, but a rather large spider was taking a keen interest in her left hand and if it lay one spindly leg on her she would scream and bring the rest of the building down on top of herself.
And that would make furthering her education rather difficult.
With a heaving cough that did nothing to clear the dusty gunk lining her throat, she flicked her hand at the inquisitive spider, sending it scuttling into the gloomy depths of what she assumed to be a cellar.
Okay, so at least her left arm worked fine, but what about the rest of her?
With some trepidation she took inventory of her body parts.
Toes...seemed to wiggle, legs...bent in the right places with no bones poking out at alarming angles, back...she could sit up with only the slightest twinge, head...
"Ow! Damn! Bugger!"
So there was a problem with the noggin, and something was dripping into her eyes making them sting like crazy.
With a sigh, Eleanor reached up and tentatively ran her fingers across her forehead, holding them up in the pathetic light.
They were covered in blood.
Of course they were.
Dragging her palms across her eyes to clear the worst of the blood, Eleanor climbed to her feet and made a redundant attempt to dust herself down.
Blinking up through the trickles of dust at the hole that had been the floor of her newly inherited reception hall, she gave fleeting thought to climbing out.
"And for my next trick..."
No, she would have to find a back door.
"Grandpa, why couldn't you leave me a porcelain pig in your will like normal grandfathers do, or enough cash to buy me a month or two on a desert island being waited on by oiled hunks? It would have hurt less and I wouldn't have ruined my favourite dress."
Of course, she could sit here in the encroaching darkness and keep the spiders amused by screaming for help.
And considering the house was more than a mile from town and she had no idea how long she had been unconscious so all the brat children were probably home for the night, help was sure to come running.
"Sarcasm when no one is listening is the most desperate form of wit..."
So she tried screaming for help anyway and was promptly bathed in a cascade of loose rubble.
Grumbling, she flicked pieces of plaster from her shoulders and shook her head vigorously, spluttering as yet another shower of dust tickled her face and caked her mouth.
"Can I help you?"
When he spoke, his voice was quiet, almost refined but the sound was enough to make her scream again as she spun to face him, fists clenched before her.
The man was handsome in a restrained way. His hair was dark and fell to his shoulders in an ebony wave, his build was slight, unthreatening, and his eyes were black as jet.
He was regarding her with curiosity, his hands clasped behind his back, his head to one side, an amused smirk tugging at the corner of his mouth.
"Can I help you?" he asked again.
Eleanor allowed her gaze to travel down his body. From his pressed shirt to his immaculately polished shoes, everything he wore was black.
"Give him a little white dickie bow and he's look like a waiter."
Eleanor clamped her hands over her mouth in horror, "I'm so sorry. I have a habit of saying what I'm thinking. I don't mean to. I think my brain and my mouth are out to get me."
He was going blurry so she blinked her streaming eyes frantically until he came back into focus, "Sorry."
"You already said that."
He smiled and she found herself melting into his gaze - he had the most beautiful eyes she had ever seen.
He looked her up and down as if apprising a side of beef, and his smile faltered as he stared at the gash above her eyebrow.
"Oh...yes..." Eleanor gestured pointlessly at the gaping hole in the ceiling, "I kind of...well, I fell..."
He stepped closer and, before she could blink, ran his hand across her brow in the gentlest of caresses, his fingers tickling the wound as they passed.
Eleanor was finding it hard to breathe, her eyes locked on him as he slowly raised his bloodstained fingers to his lips and licked them clean.
It was the most disturbingly erotic thing she had ever seen.
She swallowed audibly when he raised his heavily lidded eyes to hers and purred, "Delicious."
"Why am I not fighting this? Why am I not questioning this? Why am I not demanding to know what this freak is doing in my grandfather's cellar?...Why can't I move?"
When he reached out again her brain screamed at her to run but her treacherous body was a statue, rooted to the spot as his eyes ate her up from within.
She could do nothing as his arm encircled her shoulder, pulling her to him in a crude imitation of a lover's embrace.
"Why can't I run? Why can't I run? Oh God, why can't I run?"
As he lowered his mouth to the wound above her eye, his tongue darting across every torn scrap of flesh, her soul began to scream.
"You're not real...this is not real...I know what you are but you're not real...please..."
She hardly noticed when he nibbled a trail down her cheek and latched on to the pulse in her throat, sucking gently.
It was only when two razor-sharp teeth sank into the flesh of her neck and buried themselves deep in her throbbing artery; it was only when her hot blood began to pour into his mouth as he lapped and slurped hungrily; it was only then that she found her voice and began to scream.
As her vision blurred into a red haze, Eleanor felt his hand stroke her hair, his touch ridiculously gentle as his mouth violated her throat, and his voice somehow echoed in her head, deep and sultry: "Shh, quietly..."
"Leave me alone, leave me alone, leave me alone..."
Did Hell have cushions?
People who were sucked to death by vampires always went to Hell. It was something to do with losing ones soul, which was completely unfair as, if she'd had a choice, she would have hung on to it as if her life depended on it.
Which, as it turned out, had been the case all along.
Did soulless ghouls such as herself have any need for cushions?
Was this some kind of strange Hellish torment designed to drive her crazy?
And why did her head hurt?
Did the dead feel pain?
"Well, it wouldn't be much of a Hell if there wasn't any pain, would it?"
She tried to open her eyes and sit up but the throbbing inside her skull and the buzzing in her ears forced her back down onto the cushions with a heavy groan.
"Don't try to move yet. You're still very weak. It will pass."
The voice was a whisper next to her ear and Eleanor jumped, trying desperately to open her unresponsive eyes, "Who's there."
A gentle hand hooked itself behind her head and helped her into a half sitting position, while a glass mug was placed at her lips, "Drink this. You'll feel better."
Her head fuzzy, Eleanor took a cautious sip from the mug, pulling away when a bitter liquid coated itself around her tongue, "What is it?"
The mug was back at her lips again, the voice insistent, "A tonic. Finish it."
She took another sip and the bitterness lessened, the liquid becoming sweeter the deeper she drank.
In seconds she had drained the whole mug and felt herself lowered back into the cushions.
As sleep enveloped her, the same rich voice slinked through her muggy brain, "Sleep now. Tonight I will teach you all you need to know."
Some one was making tea.
Someone was making the most aromatic tea she had ever smelled.
Off to her left a deep voice was humming a melancholy tune and beneath her the heavenly softness of downy cushions was caressing her body.
She felt absolutely wonderful.
Opening her eyes, she found herself staring up at the filthiest ceiling imaginable, it's dirty brown paint speckled with cobwebs.
Sitting up in one smooth movement, she yawned luxuriantly and took in the rest of her surroundings.
The room was large and spacious, the grimy ceiling low and heavily hung with aging wooden beams.
There were no windows and in one corner a rickety staircase lead up to a trap door.
"I'm in a cellar."
"One man's cellar is another man's home."
Snapping her head sharply to the left she found herself face to face with her attacker.
Bracing herself for the expected urge to run in terror, she was surprised to find there was none.
It might have been the fact that the blood-sucking fiend was smiling at her warmly while proffering a steaming mug of tea, but she found herself fighting a bone-deep need to slap him.
Glaring at him she allowed images of his violation of her soul to wash through her mind along with fuzzy memories of drinking some God-awful liquid under the promise that it would make her feel better.
Licking her lips she detected a faint residue of something coppery.
"You son of a BITCH!"
A resounding slap reverberated around the cellar and Eleanor was left shaking her stinging palm as the man touched his fingers to his reddening cheek, his black eyes flashing dangerously.
"My tea usually receives a much warmer reception, my love."
"Your love? YOUR LOVE?" She was standing toe-to-toe with him now, a furious blush colouring her cheeks, "You twisted, evil bastard."
The man took a deep swig of the tea, amusement replacing danger in his eyes, "I have displeased you?"
Eleanor was beyond rage, "You sucked my blood, you stole my soul. You made me drink that...that...STUFF. You stole my life "
"I gave you a better life."
He shrugged, "Call it a gift."
He drained the mug and turned away from her.
Eleanor felt a growl building in her throat and, with a howl of anger, threw herself at his taunting back.
Before she could touch him he spun round, hurling the mug to shatter against the cellar wall, while the other arm snapped out and snatched her out of mid air by the throat.
"You will not strike me a second time, my love. I am not known for my patience."
His words barely registered with the furious woman. Her attention was split between fighting the impossibly strong hand that was gripping her throat; long nails digging into the sensitive flesh; and the twisted mockery of a human face now warn by her attacker.
His eyes, once darker than dark, were yellow, almost cat-like, his skin deathly pale. His mouth was a red gash housing two rows of sharp yellow teeth, a set of extended canines gleaming sharply against his lips.
"...oh my God..."
His voice was a growl, "I doubt very much He would wish to be seen here."
Eleanor fought back tears as his grip loosened, "Your face..."
He let go of her neck, allowing her to fall to the floor, "Is a perfect match for yours, my love. They do say anger brings out another side in people."
Swallowing a lump of fear and trepidation, Eleanor reached a trembling hand up to her face.
Her skin was cold, but she put that down to shock.
But her mouth...oh God...
She ran her fingers over a vicious-feeling set of extended canines and burst into tears.
"Are you feeling better, my love?"
"Why did you do this to me?"
"I was lonely."
"That's not much of a reason."
"I could have killed you. You were trespassing on my property."
"It's MY property. My grandfather left it to me in his will."
"No one has lived here for more than 150 years."
"How do you know?"
"Because I have lived here for more than 150 years."
"I guess grandpa forgot to mention that."
"I guess so."
"So what happens now?"
"Now you tell me your name, my love."
"Beautiful. It is a p pleasure to meet you, Eleanor."
"I am Laurence Stackmore, Lord of Glenhaven, one-time master of the Eastern Estates."
"The Eastern Estates burned down..."
"150 years ago. Yes, I know. I wasn't able to stay there any longer. People were starting to notice that I wasn't aging and there are only so many bodies you can hide safely. I didn't feel charitable enough to allow some one else to own the place so there was a mishap with a tinder box and a gallon of oil."
"You're 150 years old? Will I live that long?"
"If you're careful and stay clear of slayers."
"Do I have to kill people?"
"It's a perk."
"That's not funny."
Sigh "You don't have to kill people but once you have the taste for mortal blood you are lost."
"Are you lost?"
"Many thousand times over." Grin "I have a particular affinity for blondes. Spicy. Most of the others go for the darker ones but I like that virginal feel."
"Others? How many more are there."
"I'd say we're down to 50 or 60 now, what with slayer sweeps and the odd vigilante mob. It's a tough life being a blood-sucker."
"I don't want to be like that?"
"Then I hope you enjoy the taste of rat blood."
"You made me drink your blood - it tasted terrible."
"Cold blood from a cup cannot be compared to the warm, sweet nectar as it pulses through living veins."
"I won't drink blood."
"If you want to live you will." Shrug "It's a vampire thing."
"I can't believe this is happening to me."
"You'll get used to it."
"Thanks a lot."
"You know, you're being very ungrateful. I give you a new life and you wallow in self pity."
"Well, I hadn't finished with the last life, thank you very much."
"Was it interesting being you?"
"What did you do?"
"I'm a research student."
"Were a research student..."
"You're crying again, my love."
"I could go out and find you a peasant if you're hungry - a small one -- get you started on something easy."
"I WILL NOT KILL. I WILL NOT DRINK BLOOD."
"So you said."
"I don't have to accept this."
"THIS! This thing you've turned me into."
"Well, unless you plan to find yourself a slayer or take a stroll in the midday sun, there's not a lot you can do about it."
"I can try."
"You would be wasting your time. There is no cure for vampirism - it's like ginger hair - you have to bite the bullet and accept it as part of you."
"Apparently time is something I have plenty of now."
"Then you won't mind if I start my research straight away."
"Be my guest."
"Just keep the noise down - I sleep during the day."
Twenty years later
In the back room of the King's Cruelty Eleanor kissed Rafe's brow and watched as he slept the sleep of the sated.
His blood had been sweet but was sitting heavy in her belly, the usual dose of guilt weighing it down.
Lifting his arm, she licked tenderly at the double puncture holes on his wrist, causing him to groan in his sleep as her tongue teased the wounds.
She hated what she had become, hated using these young fools for her own needs, but she was so, so close to finding a cure.
"And how many times have you told yourself that over the last 20 years. Keep it up, girl. You might start believing it one day."
Rafe had promised her an extra day. He had sworn to bring her people on whom to try out the drug.
"They are NOT people. Don't think of them as people. They're soulless devils...just like you."
But if the experiment failed, if the drugs didn't work, she would have to let this band of infants loose with orders to kill Stackmore.
And when they failed, he would destroy their souls.