Snippets of this book will be posted Tuesday and Thursday.
French Roast Apocalypse – Prologue
French Roast Apocalypse (Fall Of Veils 01)
By Ryk E. Spoor and Kathleen Spoor
Cimetière du Peré Lachaise
Keenan Murray stood before the marble gateway to Hell, the long dark curls ringing his face intruding slightly on his sight as he peered up at its decadent gates and fine-carved reliefs. It was posh for a churchyard. Not that the dead minded posh — he knew spirits that had a fancy for elegant marble tombs, and the finery of a carved bust of their living vessel as it rotted beneath the Earth. They often lived in the past; most of the dead did.
And who could blame them? Life as a cemetery ghost was a bleak, drab thing. It really was just about as low on the pyramid of supernatural power and prestige as you could get. They’d missed the express elevator to the Pearly Gates or the turnoff to the highway to Hell, and got stuck. Most of them weren’t even able to manifest to mortals, or even wander far from their graves. No wonder they mostly ignored what passed around them and focused vaguely on reminders of their old life, idealized in stone and words.
His thoughts continued their wandering musings as he walked towards the towering marble opening. There were tourists trickling around the entrance, chatting about the famous tombs and hauntings of the cemetery. He heard giggles at Jim Morrison, and raves about Chopin. He decided he’d visit Chopin, if he had time to kill before the ritual. Chopin was also along the path toward the outer edge of the cemetery, where he needed to place his markers.
The markers. The boy dug into the pocket of his travel bag and felt the familiar cool touch of the runestones. He had several, enough for a symbolic circle. The graveyard would give him plenty of juice to pull off the ritual; he just needed a focus… and the power of being a medium.
Claudius was watching; Keenan could feel it. The youth closed his eyes and concentrated. He sensed his owner’s telepathic contact, guiding Keenan’s thoughts with Claudius’ will. He never let Keenan do anything alone. Keenan was a bold thing, after all, something Keenan was often reminded of. Too bold to be trusted with important tasks alone.
But Keenan didn’t want to disappoint his master. That had been drilled into him until, now, he believed it. Mostly. “He’ll be happy with me this time,” he said to himself. He watched his feet as he strode under the arch and into the cemetery. “I won’t be a daft little Irish punk anymore. I’ll be important.”
Using his map, Keenan quickly made his way to the first marker. Pierre Brasseur, a comedian who died in 1972. He was interred in a low-lying gray stone vault that lay between two other graves along a dirt path. There was no spirit in the tomb, but that didn’t matter; Keenan was only there for the location. He dropped a runestone and quickly made his way along the circumference of the cemetery.
Have to place them symmetrically. Ritual circles control power. Asymmetry in the circle means the power will not flow smoothly, and the amount of power in this ritual… that’d be a fecking mess and quick, too.
It wasn’t an easy task. The cemetery wasn’t a perfect circle. It had streets and tombs situated around plotted gravesites, and in some cases, he had to wander around graves and even climb over tightly-fitted monuments to find the right place to lay a stone. It was a long, often frustrating job.
He knew he would have relished at least some of this in his younger, less reserved days. He had loved to climb and do unrefined things when he was a punk. But he couldn’t do that anymore. He didn’t want to do that anymore, really he didn’t! Claudius wouldn’t be happy with him if he did.
Pulling his long, hip-length curls back, Keenan quickly bound them up into a clip. He shouldn’t have worn his long blue silk leaf-cut poet’s shirt today; it was too dressy. But it, along with the dark blue pinstriped waistcoat he wore, had been a gift from Claudius. The highblood vampire had promised to take him out someplace special afterwards, so Keenan had dressed for the occasion. He hoped it was to a grand club; Keenan fancied clubbing, loud music and lots of people filled with creative energy. Music and crowds like that made him feel good, strong; he wasn’t just a vampire, he was a leanan sidhe turned by a vampire. He needed blood, but he needed human energy, especially human creative energy, even more. Such events were especially precious since Claudius wouldn’t allow him to sing or perform anymore. They always starved him now, since he was rubbish to them most of the time. They’d told him so.
He was so angry at them sometimes. His mother had promised that the anger would go away if he would just accept that there was no other life to live. If he’d just become good at it, he would become happy. He repeated this to himself as he continued. I’ll become good at this and I’ll be happy. Claudius will be happy, and that will make me happy, too.
Most of him believed it. But there was another part of him that didn’t… and another, darker something that waited, and wasn’t really him at all.
A glance at his map told him it would be easier to reach the next site from one of the side roads. He quickly picked his way over to Avenue Bion, and briskly walked down the tight brick road past the rows of gothic mausoleums with black iron doors toward Avenue Circulaire.
A family of four walked by, two adults, holding the hands of two small children, and Keenan felt a tight knot in his gut, and his gaze followed them. There was affection between them. The woman smiled down at her children as they laughed and grabbed on to her hands: a boy and a girl. It made Keenan think of his twin sister and himself in younger days.
The man spoke softly and pointed at one of the mausoleums. He even picked up the smallest one so she’d have a better look at the carvings on the pointed roof of the building. So many people that day, touring the tombs. Would any of them be lodging in the nearby hotels? He swallowed. How many were the ones behind this ritual, the ones guiding him today, willing to sacrifice if he overdid it?
On the other hand, young souls were certainly a bonus. Had he really thought that? Was he really that selfish now? He watched the humans, with envy growing in his heart. They were so happy too! Certainly he deserved some of their happiness. Just a taste! What he wouldn’t give to have had parents who cared! How dare they show love in his presence! It hurt deeply, so deeply he wanted to take it and make it his own.
His denied hunger stirred and quickly washed over his thoughts, tugging at his conscience and the leanan sidhe‘s eyes rolled. When was the last time Claudius let anyone touch him? When was he last held or loved? When was the last time he heard music, or was allowed to play the violin? When was the last time he fed from anyone? The boy found his vision darkening, contracting around the edges.
He couldn’t remember. Leanan sidhe needed physical contact, or creative energy from being around musicians or artists. Too long, too long, the last nip he had was from the small vial he wore around his neck, but there was barely enough blood to sustain his needs. Claudius could be cruel that way. “The place is full of tourists, Claudius,” he said hoping his master was listening. “This should be a gas.”
“Excuse me, what should be a gas?”
“Shite!” Startled, Keenan stopped walking and turned. He had said it softly enough; no mortal should have heard him.
“Hello, mademoiselle,” the small voice said from a bench in front of a particularly pathetic looking gravesite with a long flat stone, and the name Cybele Bellard, 1802-1808. Sitting on the bench was a small girl with golden hair curled around her shoulders dressed in a simple white frock with lace frills under the hem, and a bonnet around her heart shaped face. She smiled innocently at him, and hopped off the bench. “What is a gas?”
She was speaking French; she was also mistaking him for a girl.
“It means fun; now be a good little babe and jog on!” Without another thought, he turned away from the child and continued on down the road. She probably couldn’t follow him. There were ghosts that could, driven by rage, by the manner of their death or a terrible purpose left unfulfilled; those became either vengeful ghosts, visiting spectral terrors on their targets, or, even worse, revenants, undead spirits bound to a walking corpse that was almost impossible to kill.
But this kid wasn’t a revenant. He could tell. She had no anger, just dim curiosity in her dark eyes. She’d start to fade when she was a few meters outside of her plot.
Worried that he’d drawn attention, Keenan sped up his walk. He should have brought a camera; that way he’d look like a tourist. Occasional glances at the tombs told him the little girl wasn’t the only spirit lurking about. Many looked out at him with dull, dead eyes, wondering what a monster like him was doing there. The leanan sidhe tried not to look too closely. The dead terrified him. They always wanted something.
He was about to turn the corner on to Avenue de l’Ouest at an old peak-roofed white marble tomb behind a tree when he felt the hair on the backs of his arms stand on end.
“What are you doing here, mademoiselle?”
“I am not a ‘mademoiselle’,” he said as politely as possible. “I’m a bloke, miss.” Bloody hell. She’s a strong one for a graveyard ghost.
“Cybele,” the girl told him with a delighted smile. “And you are the first one to see me in a very long time!” Delighted, she bounced on her heels, beaming. “What is your name? And why do you look like a mademoiselle?”
“Keenan.” Why did he give her his name? Was he actually feeling sympathy? The young man leaned his hands on his knees and dug his fingers into the fabric of his black jeans. “Cybele, I’m bogged down with a very important job right now. Can’t play, do ye understand?”
She shuffled the tip of her toe into a crack between bricks. “But I want to talk. Please I can come and help? What is bogged down mean?”
“Busy. And no.” He straightened and waved her away. “Go and pester someone else.”
He turned quickly down the road, hoping the child would listen. She had to have limits; she didn’t seem to have a real purpose, and a truly unbound ghost almost always had one. She’s stuck in this maze of marble for eternity. He really did feel sorry for her.
She’s following, the part of him that was cold whispered and sent shivers down his spine. Terrified, he clenched his teeth, and glanced briefly behind him.
Cybele cheerfully followed, big eyes watching him though a mop of blond hair. He could try… but no, he knew what would happen. He could never trust that part of himself. Absently, his hand strayed to the blood-red ruby pendant about his neck. It was cold to the touch, and deep within he heard whispers crowding into his mind. Sometimes it was hard to tell what was him, and what was their influence on him. They were feeding his monster; they were driving his hunger and stirring his hatred. It was hard to control. He almost wretched the pendant from his throat, but a lancing fire wrapped around his mind and pieced his thoughts. Fool! he thought desperately. He had gone too far.
Keenan Murray’s body jerked and the nineteen-year-old grabbed at his head. Just for a moment, the control over his mind shattered, and the selfish frightened starved creature he had been vanished.
The real Keenan Murray was free. Free for maybe only the briefest of moments, but free, able to think for himself, able to despise the groveling arse-kissing slave he’d been only seconds before.
But time for that later; he remembered what he had to do. What he always did. If he fought, he’d have control, perhaps he could sort himself out, he might even be able to stop the ritual, but Claudius… the bastard knew the real Keenan was there, waiting just under the surface of the conditioning Claudius had put there, ready to interfere with the highblood’s plans. Could he really fight Claudius now? The vampire was ancient, powerful; he had such a hold over Keenan…
But that was self-defeating ballocks. What did Daniel his aul man always say? “Stop whinging and bust some dials!”
The memory of his old bodyguard brought a smile though the tears and pain. He missed the aul man. They’d taken him away, the entire lot of them, and they had to pay! With all his strength, the leanan sidhe — the real youth, the one under the brainwashing of vampires and the influence of the dark, dark spirits collected in the amulet for this ritual — fought the pain ravaging his brain and pushed with all his will. He wasn’t going to let Claudius win this time. Not this time. Too many lives and souls were at stake! He knew what would happen to this place — to everything and everyone around the cemetery — if he failed now.
His brain was in a vise, crushing in; the world around him twisted and swirled, a storm of scarlet flames. He staggered, and the voices grew louder. How many of them were there? So many… but he could do it! He had been bred to have a strong will! How else could he channel so many spirits at once? “I brought you over from the other side, and I can send you back!” he snarled at the black, insistent voices, and drove his own will against their desires, sent them down, turned shrieks to murmurs.
Energy crackled around him, and he was aware again of the world around him. The small intersection he stood in was a path covered by a canopy of trees, and did not see heavy tourist traffic. Those buried there were not famous or cared about save by family or close relatives. Still, he realized dimly the urgency for a hasty battle. If he used his power, his aura would be seen even by mortals.
Breathing deeply, he focused, and forced all his thoughts and anger into the wall of hate seething around him, imprisoning him. He tapped the fire inside of him, and in a blaze of fury, blue-green fire rose around his slender frame.
“Time to knack yer ballocks in, Claudius and send yer little friends back to hell where they belong!” He set his mind on the pendant, and his fingers curled about the thin golden chain. Just as he pulled at it, her voice shattered his concentration.
The child! If she was too close when he —
Only a second. Just one second, one instant of distraction, and the blackness came like the curtain on the stage after a particularly dreadful performance.
The true Keenan Murray slept, and the world went on around him, like it always did when they took his body. Which one of them it was this time, he wasn’t sure. It could have been any of them. But eventually, when he finally came to himself, he was Claudius’s slave again: eager to please, desperate for love, and hungry, so very, very hungry.
He stood in the middle of the cemetery now, in a “T” intersection between two roads, the Chemin du Quinconce and Chemin des Anglasis. There was a large white marble tomb behind him with a colonnade and an iron black door. Around it were other grand structures, ranging from large trapezoidal coffins to iron fenced plaques, memorial statues to mausoleums. Only the rich and notable were buried here. Many of them trapped behind the iron; souls couldn’t move past the material. Too bad for them; they will be more fuel for the ritual, he reflected, only the veriest trace of protest emerging, dreamlike, from his true self, buried far within, far deeper.
It was night, late night, for the full moon was almost in the center of the cloudless sky. The child was gone, but he didn’t give that a second thought. He had a job to do. If he was in the center, the runestones were all laid. All he needed to do now was place five of the seven souls sealed in his pendant into the stones about the circle. He could do that from here, now that the stones were properly placed.
He went over the rest of the ceremony in his head. Simple enough; he could do this ritual in his sleep. After all, he was a medium, and not just any medium. In all likelihood, he was the most powerful one on the planet — and all the more unique because he was a leanan sidhe medium. His kind were almost never mediums. A spiritual feeder, a vampire of souls, who could reach out and channel souls of the living and dead into him? No wonder they called him monster. No wonder he had to be enslaved and controlled by Claudius. Claudius was just protecting the world, training him, watching him…
Dropping to a knee, Keenan quickly made a circle from a piece of chalk in his pocket and drew a pentagram. It was large enough for him to stand in, for that would be necessary for the ritual. He’d be in the center, with the pendant held overhead in the proper position. Around the pentagram he drew runes, and placed small candles at the tip of each point from his travel bag. The candles represented the souls he’d be channeling to cast the ritual.
When finished, he studied the diagram. He was a poor artist, but the design was simple enough to pass, and his inherent mystical talent would make up for the minor deficiencies.
Deliberately, carefully, he stepped into the center of the circle, and lit the candles. The moon was almost at its apex, and the shadows around him crawled and shivered from the faint breeze rustling the trees above.
So much iron around! The leanan sidhe removed the pendant and held it aloft. With their help, it shouldn’t matter. He let his mind drift and ebb with the whispers flowing from the pendant and started to sing.
“Mé a thoghairm dhuit an ceann a bheith,
an ceann a chaill a saol, n-sonas, teaghlach agus cairde Glaoim anois ar an oíche!”
His native tongue rolled from his lips as he called to the dead and poured their spirits into the circle. He felt a spark of energy and his aura blazed out, igniting the circle around him. Distantly, the runestones he had placed caught blue-green fire and burned brightly in the night. The circle was complete.
Above, black clouds gathered and thunder rumbled overhead.
The iron around him fought to drain him, but Keenan drank in the roiling energy of the storm and repeated his Song.
The wind whipped around him, tearing his hair from its bonds. Freed, it coiled about him, weaving like dark blue-brown serpents. He could feel the power as it flooded into him like the winds of the storm. The pendant trembled and fell from his fingers. The leanan sidhe tilted his head and arched his back. It felt so, so good. Power, pure beautiful power flowing though his body. He stretched his hands out to the sky and felt the cool droplets of rain kiss his cheeks.
The circle around his feet bloomed brighter, and the light of the stones joined into one continuous ring. The souls in place were playing their part. The leanan sidhe felt a tug of resistance from the spirits around him, but sacrifices had to be made.
Holding his hands out, he sang his command, this time pulling on them with all the power he had. There was a tremendous shattering roar as lightning split the sky.
The aura around Keenan rippled out over the landscape, the earth shook, and there was a mighty crack and a wave of dank, stale air, as the tombs broke open. The young man gave a gasp. He felt them, all of them as they poured into him like a torrent in a flood. He convulsed. Never in his existence had he taken in so much at once. It was intoxicating, euphoric, blinding, painful. He screamed.
It was then he felt it. Something deep within him stirred, the thing that was always there. The sixth soul was still in its place. The boy whimpered in a mixture of fear and anticipation as the malevolent presence edged its way into his mind and took command of his body. Yes, it was pleased.
Bit by bit he felt his limbs fade. It always started with his toes, and climbed his legs, up and up it went. The monster, the ancient, evil spirit that was the greatest of the spirits he had channeled, took him, and slowly he felt everything about him fade until he could just see the world at a distance, as if he were in a long tunnel, looking out.
Today it was kind; it let him taste the swarm of tormented lost souls he swam in, taste… but not consume. He was hungry though, starved and forbidden to eat once more.
The undead necromancer kept Keenan’s hands raised and chanted this time in Latin. The death-mage’s voice was lower, more controlled, darker than Keenan’s.
“Stillnes in tenebris, qui in itinere conamur auxilium
videant umbras suas agitari audite verba rumoresque
incertis clamoribus audimus ut congregem,
cum eorum genus,
ne in sancto gloriæ natas ut serviamus in caelum scopuli, sive igneo ut serviamus per solstitium, aequinoctium!”
Then, no longer in ancient tongues but in the words of this world, the ancient sorcerer finished. “I, Fendral, command these gates between our worlds to open, and bring forth the powers locked away from my ancestors these three millennia agone! COME FORTH!”
At the final words, his foot slammed down, smashed the red pendant. An explosion of brilliant light and a wave of pure energy burst from him in a blinding release of power that seared him with agony. The souls were torn free, consumed by the unspeakable demands of the ritual and the power that had been unleashed.
And the power came for Fendral, too; beneath and behind the necromancer’s mind, Keenan could sense it, dragging at the blackest soul to ever walk the world, pulling Fendral towards it just as it clawed at the hapless ghosts of the graveyard.
Fendral froze then, paralyzed in horror with the sudden realization that he, too, was a sacrifice, that those who had worked with him had planned all along to eliminate him as well as the vessel, remove all possible challengers to their power in the same moment that the ritual was completed.
In that instant, Keenan Murray awakened to himself once more, broke the bonds that held him in the extremity of terror and hatred and need, fought the darkness, desperately struggled for his existence as the ritual ravaged his mind and dragged him towards the pits of nothingness.