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Some things are not meant to die…
When David stumbles upon a tragic young woman in a sordid Limehouse pub, he has no idea she’d recognize him as the last vampyre alive, nor that she’d be the one to pull out his story. Yet as he recalls his life from the sweltering vineyards of Ancient Rome to the cold horrors of Medieval Romania – as well as his tumultuous past with the mad and mysterious Lucius – he realizes she is much more than what she seems.
Gothic horror and mythological fantasy blend seamlessly together in this thrilling adventure, breathing new life into vampire lore as it reveals its true origins. The Ancient Ones is a tale of myth, mayhem, and magic … with a dash of romance that bites.
Ah! It’s so glorious! I’m definitely in a vampire mood after binge watching the entire 4 seasons of Castlevania on Netflix. They just have great, spooky autumn vibes. Vampires and zombies, but don’t let me get too carried away… let’s jump right into the excerpt from The Ancient Ones!
She was crumpled against the ancient oak tree with her head buried in her hands, tufts of raven hair between her fingers.
Although he longed to comfort her, he found he was unable, his own grief squeezing at his chest. Around them, the Upperrealms sighed with melancholia, the turquoise skies cooling to a dreary cobalt as the stars ceased their dance to hold space for their weeping mistress. The animals in the enchanted forest had halted their stirring to watch them, a single crow swooping down to rest on her narrow shoulder.
“You cannot ask this of me,” she said as she looked up at him, tears streaming down her face. They pooled at the dip of her collarbones, threatening to spill down her chest. “We just settled in here.”
“It is the only way,” he said, falling onto the moss beside her. The crow respectfully returned to its branch, letting him draw closer. He reached up to tuck a wayward curl behind her ear, amused as it sprang back up in defiance.
“I will tear him apart,” she muttered between gritted teeth.
He couldn’t help but smile, proud as always of her spirit even in the midst of tragedy. “I have no doubt that you shall,” he told her.
She suddenly jumped to her feet, her sorrow rapidly replaced by indignation. The skies responded to the shift, lightning cracking through the darkening, thunderous sky. “We created the earth, how can we be ousted from it? Just like the old religion, warped beyond recognition with the Roman gods our replacement. We are no longer wanted.”
“The world has grown much bigger than us,” he agreed. “Look how many gods now exist. We are but two.”
“I know,” she sighed. “As I know the earth follows its own rules, like the mothers who created her.” She attempted a playful smile but could not free herself completely from her building distress.
He rose to his feet, pulling her hips against him so she was close enough to be kissed. “Humans do not have to remember who we are, but it is still our duty to protect them. That is why we must make this decision. We cannot let him destroy everything they have built.”
Her stony exterior dismantled once more, overwhelmed by anguish. “You cannot ask this of me,” she repeated. “How can I live here without you?” With her last word, she pushed him away, the skies erupting into a full fledged storm, as flocks of birds echoed her cries, and the clouds released their downpour.
He pulled her back to him, holding her tightly as he buried his face in her dampening hair. “Do I have to tell you the story of the Lovers, the ancient gods destined to find each other always?” he murmured into her ear.
She closed her eyes, nuzzling into his neck. Her vulnerability was so uncharacteristic, it nearly threatened his resolve. “Please tell me,” she said in a small voice.
He shut his eyes, memorizing the press of her body against his, the smoothness of her skin, and the earthy redolence of her hair, like the woods after summer rain. “There are two souls who will continue to find each other until the end of time, the first lovers, whose love for one another transcends all,” he began as he folded her hand around the handle of his knife. She let out a sob as she realized what he was doing. They were now drenched in frigid cloudburst, a river gathering where they stood. He gripped her tighter. “They circle the realms throughout different lifetimes, restless and incomplete until they find each other … but find each other, they always will.”
“Remember me,” she wept.
“Remember me,” he whispered, bracing himself.
And with a battle cry laced with the purest despair, she thrust the knife up into his stomach, the realm screeching her pain, crows swooping in to catch her as she fell away from him in unrestrained sobs. He dropped to the ground, picturing her face over and over in his mind, determined never to forget her eyes.
The earth shook, squalls of wind roaring around him as he perished, the Upperrealms incensed by his departure. And then, in the midst of chaos similar to that which he’d been born of, he died, and all the worlds around him faded to black.
Out of the shadows, he emerged.
The chill of approaching autumn nipped at his skin and he pulled up the collar of his overcoat around his ears. The city was smothered in thick September fog, a putrid mixture of factory smoke and the noxious gases that floated up from the River Thames. It hung heavy in the air, reverberating with the laughter of intoxicated streetwalkers in the midst of late-night chicanery. As he moved further into the city, the stench of decay lent its acidity to the unpleasant combination, revealing the presence of wasting bodies packed like spoiling sardines in the alleyways.
As the century turned, overpopulation had rendered London defenseless to an abundance of filth, with rotting excess cluttering the streets and rancid water pooling at its crossings. Crime added to its deterioration, and soon, unsolved murder became as common as the thefts heralded in the daily newspapers. London’s citizens were either as poor as the dirt they slept in or rich beyond measure. Those blessed with prosperity paid the suffering wretches on the streets no mind, carrying on in willful ignorance as they explored the slums in elegant horse-drawn carriages, hoping to discover some scandalous bit of entertainment before retiring to their grandiose, upper district homes. The stark dichotomy between rich and poor in the city was so commonplace that no one paid it any mind, assuring the lone wanderer that his presence would also go unnoticed.
The combative wind threatened his top hat and he paused to readjust, combing back his rebellious locks with his fingers before tightening it around his head. He made a habit of keeping his appearance artfully concealed, lest someone notice the peculiar blue undertone to his skin or the slight edge to his teeth when he smiled. But perhaps his biggest obstacle was his eyes, for if one looked past the odd size of his pupils in the lamplight, they would be transfixed by their abnormally brilliant shade of green, reminiscent of the forest after a spring rain. He preferred to have as little attention on him as possible, a stranger in the shadows. His name was David, and for more centuries than he cared to recall, he’d been what the penny dreadfuls called a vampyre.
The clock tower in the square chimed midnight as he entered the more populated section of town. Lamplighters were finishing their nightly rounds, nodding to him as he passed. The sound of coach wheels churning up water from the previous night’s rain floated to his ears, blending pleasantly with the abundance of drunken chatter bellowing out the taverns. He walked now towards his favorite one, tucked inside a rickety old building on the far side of town. There was something about the Eastern Pub that instantly seduced him, provoking him to spend long hours there, seated in the back as he observed the colorful characters that passed in and out its doors. Occasionally, someone would glance at him, wondering what would draw a gentleman to such a tavern, but more often than not, they were too engrossed in their gluttony to give him a second thought. The inhabitants of the East End districts had long accepted it was best to mind their own affairs.
The lushery boasted its usual pandemonium when he arrived, bursting at the seams with inebriated mirth. Local men and docked sailors, all ruddy with ale, argued amongst each other as a cigarette smog choked the air. Cards were slapped on wood tables as glasses overflowing with cheap ale splashed the perpetually stained floor. David leaned over the bar, meeting the barkeep’s eyes. The man faltered for a moment, for as accustomed as he was to seeing David, his appearance never failed to unsettle him. “The usual, sir?” he managed.
“Please,” David nodded. He turned as the man fetched his drink, absorbing his surroundings. A stout man with oily hair was seated across the room, helping himself to glass after glass of strong ale, his friends cheering him on. A group of scantily clad prostitutes were perched in the corner, whispering amongst themselves as they gazed in his direction. But what drew his attention was the solitary woman of the night sitting nearby, an obvious outcast, her long legs peeking out of her skirts as she swigged her ale. Her haphazardly strung corset barely contained her curves, though her build was tall and thin. Hands with dirt-caked fingernails fished about her dress in a futile attempt to produce a cigarette. Perplexed, she looked around and met David’s eyes. They were a listless grey, shadows of terminal illness collected beneath them.
“You got a smoke?” she asked, noticing his stare. She didn’t bother to adjust her pose nor her expression into the seductive manner consistent with her occupation, though she was seductive all the same. Her face was rigid and fierce with just a hint of apathy towards the world around her. David liked her immediately.
He withdrew from where he sat, glass of dark liquor in hand, as the group of women behind them did all but audibly scoff with annoyance.
“Look at this fine gentlemen come to call,” she greeted him with an amused smirk. “Overdressed for this place, though up close, you look about as dead as me.”
“Perhaps.” He mirrored her smile as he seated himself across from her at the table, producing a cigarette case out of his pocket and prizing it open to reveal her desired intoxicant.
“Machine rolled, eh? Seems an awful bit of work to me,” she remarked as she examined the tightly packed tobacco between her fingertips. She moistened her lips before lifting it to rest between them.
David studied her as she moved. Her skin was the color of blanched parchment, hollowing at her cheeks. He surmised that she had once been a great beauty, but the imminent death claiming her body had drained her of its promise. She coughed, and he could almost see the pustules of blood clustered throughout her laboring lungs. Her dark hair was brushed back from her face, collected and tied with a piece of fabric at the nape of her neck. Several loose strands grazed protruding collarbones dotted with bruises, poorly concealed by nude paste. Her fingers were long and thin but calloused, knuckles swollen and cracked, revealing tiny lines of dried blood in their crevasses.
“What was your profession prior to this?” he asked her, curious about her hands.
She chortled at the question, nearly erupting into a fit of coughing before she quieted the spasms with a sharp inhalation of cigarette smoke. “I was a gardener by day, evil witch by nightfall.”
Flashes of unwelcome memories suddenly assaulted David, provoked by her words. He struggled to force them away, looking down at his drink. She noticed the shift in his expression, tilting her head slightly to one side as if she were a confused pup. “I didn’t peg you for a religious type. I assure you, I only jest. Though I’m sure I’ve done my fair share of evil in my lifetime.”
David composed himself, taking a careful sip of his drink. Moderation was a practice he’d adopted after the unpleasant discovery that his stomach would recoil at anything that wasn’t his main source of nourishment. The revulsion upon consumption faded as quickly as it came, but it was enough to pull him back from the morbid reflection of his past, and he looked up at her with a smile. “I suppose all of us are capable of evil from time to time.”
At that, she laughed genuinely, allowing a few more ragged heaves to slip out of her frail body before swilling down the last of her ale and slamming the empty glass back down to the table. “Enough pointless banter. I need to smoke something real.” She snuffed out her freshly expired cigarette with emphasis. “Will you be joining me, kind sir?” Her eyes sparkled as they met his, and he realized they were actually a muted shade of blue.
“I would be delighted.”
The brisk night air welcomed them as David and his stumbling counterpart descended deeper into the bowels of London’s East End. Neither of them hesitated, strolling past the shadowy figures nestled between the looming tenements and the factories narrowing the poorly demarcated streets. She struggled to keep her balance, gripping his arm as the aroma of alcohol, violets, and a hint of decay wafted up from her skin into his nostrils. It suddenly occurred to him that as close as she was to him physically, he could not hear her thoughts, something he’d become accustomed to with humans. He surmised she kept them hidden subconsciously, a common practice he’d observed in souls whose lives depended upon secrecy.
The opium dens of Limehouse were perhaps more sordid than its pubs, their congested, smoke-filled rooms teeming with languid bodies sprawled out in various stages of inebriation. The one they entered was no exception. Heavily painted Chinese women moved from guest to guest in a tranquil promenade, silently offering more brown tar for their pipes or removing tools from open palms that had relaxed with the onset of oblivion. This particular den was the best kept secret in London, catering to the elite while remaining cleverly concealed in the slums. Although the décor remained perpetually blurred by thick, brown opium vapors, the walls were papered red, matching the Oriental curtains draped over the windows. Over-occupancy obscured the view of the bedding strewn about the floor for customer comfort, but David knew from experience that it was also covered in the same silk fabric. Soft, exotic music emulated from one of the rooms, but for the most part, the den was quiet.
A small woman greeted them, wearing a deep-set frown. The black oil paint she’d used for her eyebrows had smeared across her powdered face, giving her an expression of contempt. After offering his companion a look of disapproval, she nodded politely his way. “The usual, sir?”
The woman at his side looked at him, amused. “You’ve been here before, have you?”
David didn’t respond, nodding in the direction of the owner. “Yes, that would be fine. Thank you.”
She led them through the congested mass of bodies, a few erupting in disgruntled interjections as the three of them stepped around their sprawling limbs. At the back of the main den was a curtain so large, the owner was forced to awkwardly lift it, revealing a locked door. She retrieved a set of keys from the pocket of her dress to open it, exposing a secret hallway of private rooms. She scuttled down the corridor to the one furthest from the entrance, throwing open its respective door and gesturing them hurriedly inside. “Quickly now. Large crowd to watch tonight.”
David pressed more than adequate compensation into her palm, which she wordlessly but gratefully accepted before she hurried away. Although the owner applied the utmost discretion to his occasional visit to the dens, casting a blind eye as he lured patrons quickly approaching self-inflicted expiration into the backrooms, he never wanted her to grow too suspicious, and made a note to monetarily ensure her compliance whenever he could.
His companion flopped down on the cushioned floors, in open wonderment of the room. On the far table rested an opium pipe brimming with fresh supply, a lit oil lamp, and matches arranged in a glass bowl. A bottle of rice wine was stationed nearby.
“My luck to have run into you,” she murmured, pulling the cork from the bottle to take a celebratory swallow. Her lips pursed in displeasure. “Bloody hell, how do they drink this shyte?”
David laughed as he removed his hat, freeing his rusty blond curls.
She admired him from where she lounged. “Ah, so you’re Irish, like me.”
“Close, but not quite,” he responded cryptically. He imitated her reclined position on the floor as he watched her lift the long pipe fashioned out of bamboo. A bowl packed with a fresh opium pellet was secured at its base, which she aimed directly over the flame of the oil lamp. She inhaled as it caught, the murky haze escaping from her mouth as she exhaled. She immediately succumbed to a coughing fit, pounding at her chest with frustration. “My bellows are long past their proper function,” she explained between spasms, passing the smoldering pipe his way.
He mirrored her movements, pleasantly surprised at the warmth that soon flooded him. He had never smoked the opium before, only experienced a diluted sensation of pleasure as it flowed through an intoxicated victim’s blood into his own. Smoking the tar directly, however, surpassed those sensations, and he let the delightful languor wash over him before placing the pipe back into her eager hands and settling comfortably into the cushions.
She inhaled and exhaled more deeply this time, the smoke that escaped her lungs filling the room with muddy brown. She sighed with pleasure. “Whatever numbs me and kills me faster,” she murmured.
David was suddenly overwhelmed with her thoughts, flooding him like the euphoric poison now coursing through his veins. She was alone, dying of consumption, without any desire to live on. Her life had become exactly as she briefly revealed, a series of hours spent scouring the earth for anything that would anesthetize her final days. But her death was slow and painful, ravaging her body for months with no sign of release. Flashes of her as a cherubic youth with flowing raven hair, dancing freely in the fields of the English countryside. Images of her pulling herbs from the earth with an equally beautiful mother, the knowledge of a bond strengthened through tragedy and solitude.
She peered at him coldly, a sudden sober severity flashing in her eyes. “Now you mustn’t do that, doll, it takes all the fun out of it.”
David blinked, finding himself at a loss for words.
“Yes, I know what you are and that you can read my thoughts,” she offered, her voice suddenly robbed of its playfulness. “Don’t think I found you by accident.”
He felt the rush of his preservation instinct, prepared to either flee or sink his teeth into her neck until her heart ceased its toil.
“Oh please, not yet,” she said as she sat up to retrieve the bottle of wine. “I’ve grown weary for good conversation. My life has been without it for quite some time now.”
“You know what I am.”
“You are a vampyre, are you not?”
David winced. “I suppose that is the word for it now, though I’m not nearly as dashing as Lord Ruthven.”
She raised an eyebrow, her eyes sweeping over his crisp suit and the top hat sitting on the table. “Then perhaps you shouldn’t fit the part so nicely,” she pointed out with a smile. “Regardless of your preferred title, you are a blood drinker, are you not?”
David sighed. “That I am.”
“You probably don’t remember the night I first saw you, but I will never forget it. I grew up in the countryside, a novice herbalist and midwife like my mother, who immigrated here when she was very young. The absence of a male in our home immediately cast suspicion upon us, as it always does. So many years after the witch burnings, but still the hatred for independent women remains.” She took a generous sip of the rice wine, ending it with another disgusted grimace. “I don’t know how she contracted the pox, I can only surmise it was from one of the gentlemen callers who visited her while I was safely tucked away in my warm bed, dreaming a child’s dreams. But I witnessed the sickness as it ravaged her later. No concoctions nor any salve we could muster helped. Our most faithful customers drifted away. Whispers trickled throughout our village that she was cursed, a whore, or both. We were forced to leave our countryside home, the home I grew up in, to come to this rotten place. My mother took on the only occupation left for a destitute woman alone in this world. One evening, she left me, as customary, with an older lady of the night turned nanny for the children of the whores. But I knew tonight was different. I knew my mother was ready to die. I followed her into the alleyways, concealing myself in the shadows. And that’s when I found her … and you.”
David peered at her as the memory became clear. “You abhor me then.”
“I do not, actually,” she replied, tucking her long limbs beneath her. It struck him how childlike she appeared; boyish, disheveled, sickly, but lovely, like a once cherished doll that had been tossed into the trash heap. “My mother wanted to die. She begged for it. She never spoke the words aloud, but I knew. I was not only a gifted herbalist, but I inherited her intuition. You relieved her of her pain. I am grateful to you, actually.”
David recalled the delicate, sickened woman who had fallen submissively into his embrace, begging him with soft whispers to end her suffering. He hadn’t picked up from her thoughts that she would be leaving behind a child. She must have been a clever mystic, even in her final hours. “Is that how you came to follow in her footsteps?” he asked her gently.
“Aye,” she nodded. “There is no place here for healing women like me, and I was too young to flee this dreadful abyss. So I became a part of it. Now here I am, sick and dying, just like her.”
David lifted the smoking pipe to her lips. Grateful for the kind gesture, she smiled before she inhaled. Yet her lungs could no longer bear the abuse and she erupted into a coughing fit, her body convulsing with the exertion. Blood spewed from her mouth onto the blankets before her, running down her chin as she halted the hacking with a labored sigh. She paused, fingering her bloodied lips for a moment before seductively lifting them to his.
David closed his eyes, enjoying the tease of her blood. A wave of empathy for her settled over him, and he enjoyed the brief reminder of his long abandoned humanity as her taste sweetened his tongue. “Do you wish me to take you now?” he asked her, reaching up to caress her face.
She placed her hand on his, shivering at its chill. “Do you hate my company that much?”
“Quite the opposite, in fact,” he replied honestly. She was the most intriguing individual he had spoken to in a very long time.
“I’ve told you my life, now what of yours?” she asked, removing his hand so she could rest her head in the folds of his lap, as a child might her father. Her raven hair blanketed his legs in streams of black. “The night is young and I adore stories.”
About the Author
Gothic horror writer Cassandra L. Thompson has been creating stories since she got her grubby little hands around a pen. An Ohio native, she earned her BA in History from Cleveland State and her MLIS from Kent State. When she is not busy managing a house full of feral children (human and canine), you can find her wandering around cemeteries, taking pictures of abandoned things, exploring lonely patches of woods, or in the library doing research. She is the founder of the gothic fiction press, Quill & Crow Publishing House and she writes short horror stories for her blog, Tales From the Shadows.