Motes of dust kicked up by their entrance to the private balcony floated in the dim, gas-lit air of the aged opera house. Madame Opal, the elder vampire who had been continually involved in the development of the San Francisco peninsula from her arrival in the 1840s, stood facing the empty stage far below, as if ignorant of her guests from Sonoma County. Long seconds turned into minutes, an uncomfortable silence even for beings who could live to see centuries. Prince O’Keefe and his entourage dared not address the fabled woman, dared not interrupt her stoic reprieve. Whatever held her rapt attention was far beyond their capacity to see or hear.
Without fanfare her study of the worn-out stage came to an end and Madame Opal slowly turned to gaze upon her guests. Her formal Chinese cheongsam dress reflected emerald in the dimmed balcony lights, and her slight fingers left lines in the balcony railing’s dust as she pulled away; the placement of her hands had been perfectly preserved as if she had not moved from that spot for decades. Though her face was neutral, heavily lined from mortal age, her dark eyes held a fierceness that shook the nerves of the Sonoma County kindred. Letting her gaze flow from one to the next, she seemed to have no more reaction to the esteemed Prince than she did the youngest and least known member of the group, considering each with a flat, glassy stare not unlike a calculating shark.
Finally her eyes came to a stop on the face of Emma Sans, one who shared her blood, and whose problems with her creator had lead them all to San Francisco in the first place. Though she was a powerhouse in Sonoma County, Emma knew she was but a moth standing in the path of a tornado, under the oppressive and scrutinizing gaze of her elder. She dared not meet her eyes, staring instead at the floor, trying not to shake with the anxious terror coursing through her veins. Madame Opal said nothing, holding firm. Prince O’Keefe and the rest did not intervene.
The elder’s eyes narrowed and her lips pursed, ever so slightly; a monumental sign of displeasure from one as powerful as she. She stared more intently at Emma, who visibly began to tremble, a small rivulet of blood coursing from her nose. The others knew certain bloodlines had varied and strange powers of the mind, but none could say for certain what transpired between the two. Emma tried to hold in wracking sobs, her face contorted in a pained grimace. Still the elder stared, tilting her head ever so slightly, as if turning a mental corkscrew. Emma finally cried out in agony, falling to her knees, blood flowing freely from her nose, staining her white blouse as it fell from her chin.
The slightest gesture of O’Keefe’s hand warned his other companions against taking any action.
After what seemed minutes to the group – and hours to Emma – she collapsed on the musky balcony carpet, curled tightly in a fetal position, gasping for air. The elder’s face returned to its neutral state, and she began to turn back toward the railing, without any regard paid to the eminence or stature of the other guests, or the condition in which she left Emma. As slowly as she had first revealed herself to the group, she turned her attention to the empty stage far below, fingers returning perfectly to the balcony’s railing, exactly as they had been before, framed by decades of dust.
The heavy doors leading back to the landing opened from without – a clear sign that they had been dismissed. Helping the shaking and unsteady Emma to her feet, Prince O’Keefe and his entourage bowed to the elder and took their leave. Madame Opal ignored them.
Almost carrying the blood- and tear-stained girl back to their car, the group was all but silent when it came to the incomprehensible display they had seen. Only once safely on the 101 freeway, the Golden Gate Bridge retreating in their rear-view mirror, did they release the collective breath they hadn’t realized they were holding.
“What happened, Emma?” asked O’Keefe’s bodyguard in a whisper, a long-time friend.
“She was in my mind,” the young woman answered wearily, wiping her crimson-stained nose on her sleeve. “She wanted to know things. Secret things. Things I didn’t want to tell her.”
“But I told her anyway,” she sobbed. “She made me.”
“And in return?” O’Keefe prodded, trying to balance being respectful of the trauma his officer had just suffered at the hands – mind – of the elder and the desire to know whether or not the trip had been in vain.
She coughed, taking deep breaths, as if steeling herself. “She told me about him. About how to stop him. About how to kill my sire.”
“Thank God for that.”
The sleek luxury car sped into the darkness, taking the vampires home.
An enormous thank you goes out to the players who participated in the above scene I ran for a Vampire: the Masquerade game some years back. The legends of Madame Opal had been built up over the course of several years, and the players were as terrified of losing their characters as the characters were of losing their lives. It was a fascinating scene that was the culmination of months of behind-the-scenes work to even obtain permission to meet the honored and enigmatic elder. For many years running this scene was my favorite memory of that game, and I stand by the fact that it remains an absolute highlight.