The Buccaneer Chronicles:
By Karen Dunn (Despite Interference by Keith Dunn, Andy Simpkins, Adam J Purcell and Tony Gallichan)
Chapter Six - The Interview
"I can feel him sneaking around inside my head, trying his hardest to hide the fact that he's reading my thoughts.
I have never come across a mind as strong as his.
There's something almost familiar about his methods but I can't pin it down. It's unnerving. He's clearly experienced in the ways of telepathy.
I'm shielding my thoughts as best I can; hiding secrets I have no desire to share.
But if I close the door too obviously in his face, he'll know who I am - what I am. I have to be careful.
Blanche would question my sanity if I told her I planned to enter the lair of a vampire - albeit a minor vampire.
Actually, what she would say is 'You're off your bleedin' nut'.
Always has had a way with colourful phrases that girl.
But I need to know more about that creature we found staked to a tree.
Who was he? Did he have a family before some fiend sank its teeth into his neck? Are there more like him?
I know instinctively that this Stackmore can lead me to the answers. And then I can lay him and his twisted kind to rest.
After being held hostage for so long in my own nightmares it will be nice to be the hero again.
I can't stand the way Cre'at has started to question me - the way Curtis has taken to walking around the Ship armed.
He may think I can't tell he has a revolver strapped beneath his shirt, but I can.
Most of all I hate the pity I see in Blanche's eyes when she catches me in the throes of demonised dreams.
And I hate the fear that flickers across her face whenever I so much as raise my voice.
She's scared I'll hurt her and, even though I cherish her more than even I care to admit, I'm afraid I'll hurt her too.
I have to prove to them all that I am the good guy.
I have to be right again.
Otherwise what's the point?"
Macfadyan followed Stackmore down a passage that fell just short of being claustrophobic.
Although neither man had to stoop, it was too narrow to allow more than one person at a time.
The walls were a rusty brown, and dust crumbled away when Macfadyan ran his fingertips over the surface.
Every few paces a torch jutted from a tiny niche, its flickering flame casting shadows that danced and shimmered as the pair walked past.
The air was heavy and damp and felt like lead in Macfadyan's throat.
He found himself wishing that the passage would end, hating that all he could see was the back of Stackmore's coat as he strode confidently ahead.
"Don't worry, friend, we're almost there."
Macfadyan jumped, unsure whether the vampire's voice had been in his head or if he had spoken out loud.
Stackmore glanced back at him with an insincere smile, "I didn't say anything."
Before Macfadyan could berate himself, the passage ended, blossoming into a cavern like none he had seen before.
The walls were alive with paintings and murals, the floor thick with rugs of every shape, size and colour.
In the far wall a fire burned, each pop and crackle echoing in an almost homely manner.
A deep leather armchair was set in front of the hearth, its black surface warn from years of use.
A large wooden table dominated the centre of the cavern, long benches on either side and a stylised chair at the head, its arms and back swarming with intricately carved figures which Macfadyan yearned to examine.
And around the walls, curled up on the rugs and cushions, were people.
Macfadyan quirked an eyebrow at Stackmore, who raised a quietening finger to his lips.
"Don't wake them," he whispered.
"Who are they?"
Stackmore walked to the fire and held his hands out, allowing the flames to warm them, "Lost souls."
Macfadyan watched him closely, "What do you mean?"
"But you said..."
"A little joke, friend. They won't wake. Night is not quite with us."
Cautiously, Macfadyan approached a young man. He looked barely old enough to shave, his skin far too pale in the flickering fire light.
He looked dead.
Reaching out to the boy's neck, Macfadyan searched for a pulse, his eyes fixed on the chest that failed to rise and fall.
Stackmore rubbed his hands together briskly and fed another log to the fire, watching intently as embers spat and crackled and raced each other up the channel of rock that passed for a chimney.
Macfadyan watched him, wondering briefly where the chimney led, then a cold hand clamped down on his arm and he cried out in shock.
Stackmore's grin was almost cruel as he watched his guest peel the boy's hand from his jacket, one finger at a time, "I told you he wasn't dead."
The boy's eyes were tight shut.
"Why doesn't he wake?" asked Macfadyan.
He will. He knows you're there."
Pushing himself away from the hearth, Stackmore sank into the chair and let his eyes wander back to the flames, "He'll try to kill you when he wakes. Hunger, you see."
Macfadyan scrambled away from the boy and brushed down his jacket with as much dignity as he could muster.
Stackmore laughed, "Don't worry, friend. I'll not let him hurt you."
The Time Lord glowered at Stackmore, "You control them?"
"No. I'm trying to cure them."
Macfadyan snorted, "They are vampires."
"I know. But it's not their fault."
"What do you mean?"
Pushing himself out of the chair, Stackmore crossed the chamber and crouched next to the sleeping vampire.
Reaching out, he stroked a wayward lock of hair from the boy's forehead with fatherly tenderness.
"His name is Tyrel, He's 15." he said. "Until a week ago he spent his days working in his father's fields or whittling wood for the younger children.
"He had a talent for singing and a soul as gentle as an evening breeze."
He stood up and looked Macfadyan in the eye, "Now he would tear out your throat and feast on your blood before you had time to cry out."
Macfadyan studied the boy.
He was small for his age with unruly blond hair that stood up all over his head. His face still bore the chubbiness of childhood but his rolled up sleeves revealed the muscled arms of a working man.
"What happened to him?"
"Eleanor took a shine to him."
"And Eleanor is?"
Stackmore shrugged, "She's the one you came here to find."
Stackmore waved him away impatiently and returned to his chair, gazing into the fire, "If you want to play games, then fine, but I can tell you that that gun in your jacket will solve everyone's problems."
Macfadyan's hand moved automatically to the front of his jacket, brushing against the bumpy outline of the Dalek blaster while his eyes fixed on Stackmore's.
"You see, that's where I have a problem," he said. "For you to know all this must mean..."
"That I am reading your mind. Yes, you've known that all along. Your attempts to shield your thoughts were very impressive."
Macfadyan blinked at him, unsure what to say.
Stackmore smiled at him, "I have no interest in your secrets, friend. I just want her gone."
"I know what you are."
The laugh was short and too loud in the echoing chamber, "Of course you do." Stackmore's tone was mocking, "I wondered how long we were going to dance around this. I am a vampire. I make no attempt to hide it."
"Then how do I know I can believe one word you say?"
Firelight reflected in Stackmore's eyes, dancing as he smiled, "Because you're still alive."
"Comforting, I'm sure."
The armchair toppled back precariously as Stackmore leapt up and confronted Macfadyan, nose-to-nose, anger contorting his handsome features, "I have waited years for some one like you to come along. Years. Do you have any idea what it's been like for these people, living in fear of that woman?"
Stackmore walked back to Tyrel and looked down at the boy who was stirring restlessly, mumbling incoherently as he struggled to fight off the sleep of the undead.
"This is her work," he said, "Every one of them. She turns them for the fun of it then leaves them to fend for themselves."
"How do they end up here?"
He shrugged, "I take them in. Train them..."
Stackmore sighed, "They have no sense of self-restraint. They eat when the hunger takes them. Without me they would have feasted on the entire village by now. I could not allow that to happen."
Cautiously, Macfadyan knelt to examine one of the other creatures - a woman whose elfin features and slight frame reminded him of Blanche.
"If you're so concerned why don't you do something about it?"
He checked the girl's throat for a pulse, "Why not?"
Dead...undead...he wasn't sure which was worse.
When Stackmore didn't answer, he glanced across at him and saw him gazing at the boy with what could have been regret.
Straightening up, he dusted down his jacket once more, "I asked you..."
"I'm afraid of her."
It had been little more than a whisper and Macfadyan had to strain to hear, "What?"
Stackmore glared at him, "I said I'm afraid of her. She's my sire. I couldn't hurt her even if I wanted to."
Macfadyan matched the vampire's glare, "That's why you were so pleased to see me. You want me to do your dirty work for you."
He lowered his eyes, "I want you to help."
"He's being honest with me and that puts me on my guard straight away.
An honest vampire is not the most common creature in the universe.
I know now that I was right to follow him down here. I knew he would point the way.
His claim that he is working on a cure fascinates me. I have never before heard of research in this field. I must speak to him about it once this Eleanor is gone.
I will offer him my assistance.
If between us we can save this huddle of lost souls and return them to their families this will all have been worth it.
My nightmares brought me to this place and now this creature's dreams will make me a hero once again.
But I have questions..."
"We found a body."
Stackmore's head snapped up at Macfadyan's voice.
The Time Lord carefully watched his reaction, "It was staked to a tree about a mile from here. A man...a vampire."
Stackmore nodded, "That was Jaden. I'm sorry you had to see that. I was going to retrieve his body once night fell."
"Did you kill him?"
"Yes. He left us, refused to stay. He would have put the town in danger. I did what I had to."
"Where was he going?"
Stackmore's face clouded and his eyes glinted in the fire light, "Back to her."
Stackmore turned away, "Not everyone appreciates what I am doing here. Jaden wasn't strong enough to fight her. So he went back to her. If I had let him leave innocent people would have suffered and it would have been the end of me."
Macfadyan frowned, "She doesn't know where you are?"
"Yet Cre'at and I were able to find you without trying."
Stackmore's glare returned, "Surely you're not a fool. I allowed you to find me. I sensed your approach even from down here. If I hadn't wanted you to see me you would have walked straight past."
Macfadyan nodded, "Very well. I'll deal with this Eleanor character for you and then we'll take a look at your research. A cure for vampirism will be a welcome breakthrough. Why, I know of worlds in the Miletian Cluster that..."
The voice was small, wavering with fear and confusion and Macfadyan spun round to confront the source.
The boy, Tyrel, was stirring, his eyes blinking open, his face a frown.
At first he appeared not to know where he was, then he rubbed a hand across his face and his gaze fell on Macfadyan and Stackmore.
For a second it looked as though he would shrink back in fear, but then his eyes hardened with hate and, with a growl, he leapt to his feet.
Macfadyan took an involuntary step back.
Normally he would have had the boy beat for both height and build, but there was something in his eyes that promised a fight to the death, and he wasn't looking for that kind of battle.
Glancing over his shoulder he tried frantically to remember how he had entered the chamber, his legs tensing as he prepared to run.
Stackmore's thundering command bounced around the chamber in a painful echo, its effect on the boy immediate.
With a whimper, he fell to his haunches, trying desperately to cover his head with his arms.
Stackmore strutted towards him and hauled him up by the collar, shaking him harshly, "You will respect guests in my home."
The boy's eyes were huge and hungry, his trembling betraying his fear.
Stackmore thrust him away, glaring as he scuttled back to the wall and crawled behind one of the still-sleeping bodies.
Satisfied Macfadyan was in no more danger, the vampire gave an apologetic smile, "I'm sorry, friend. Some are a little too enthusiastic for the kill."
The Time Lord cleared his throat, trying and failing to exude an air of unruffled calm, "Well, hopefully he won't have that problem for much longer."
"I said I would and I am a man of my word. Where will I find Eleanor?"
Stackmore smiled, "Go back to the clearing where you found Jaden and keep heading south. There's a town. You'll find her in the tavern."
Macfadyan raised an eyebrow, "She lives among the people?"
Stackmore nodded, "She's clever. She never indulges in the hunt herself. She surrounds herself with ghouls who give her all she needs."
"What do you mean?"
"She feeds off them. She boasts she has never shed a drop of unwilling blood."
Macfadyan's face screwed up in disgust, That's barbaric."
Stackmore's smile deepened, "Agreed, The innocent may give of themselves willingly but that doesn't mean they understand what they are doing."
The Time Lord reached into his jacket and drew out the Dalek gun, "Are you sure this thing will work. I thought a stake to the heart was needed to kill a vampire."
"A stake to the heart would kill anyone, friend, not just a vampire. No, the weapon is more than adequate."
He took Macfadyan by the arm and walked him to the chamber's entrance, "I will leave you to find your own way out. I must tend to Tyrel." He clapped the man on the back, "Good luck."
With a final glance at Tyrel, who was watching him with hooded eyes, Macfadyan slipped back into the tunnel and began the long walk back to the forest.
Once he was out of sight, Stackmore's smile fell like lead from his lips.
His eyes still riveted to the tunnel entrance he shot out an arm and pointed at Tyrel.
The boy whimpered and edged back against the wall.
His master's voice was cold, "Follow him."
Tyrel bounded to his feet and darted across the chamber, edging towards the tunnel, giving Stackmore a wide berth.
He was about to step into the passage when Stackmore's voice whispered at his ear, "When you see the bitch is dead, kill him."
Tyrel's eyes lit up and he glanced back at his master, his feral smile a drool of excitement.
Without a word he slipped into the tunnel and the shadows swallowed him.
Stackmore crossed the chamber and sank into his armchair, watching the dance of the flames and waiting.