One of the most rewarding aspects of role-playing to me is the ability to create and develop emergent stories, the journey taking twists and turns its participants never could have expected from the outset. This story about two vampires—one stoic and sinister, one playful and joyous—stems from a long exchange I had with another player in the late 2000s. A huge thank you to Rachel W who was a wonderful, story-driven partner and with whom I always enjoyed interacting.
Unlike my most recent entry from this period in my gaming history, I’ve decided to rewrite the whole story afresh, taking a new approach to an old tale, trying to meld the essence of the characters I first caught fifteen years ago with the evolution of my personal writing style in the ages since.
While there is certainly nothing explicit in this lengthy entry, be forewarned that some sections get a bit racy as these two supernatural beings from different walks of unlife try to find common ground. Admittedly it was entertaining to rediscover that part of this tale; I had forgotten the way these two characters met in the many years since running these scenes.
Johannes stepped out of the warm and comfortable limousine and into the harsh and child wind coming off the bay, giving the tarmac a blustery bitterness. Unconsciously he inhaled, smelling the familiar mix of ocean salt, tire rubber, and jet fuel. Closing the door behind him, he waited impassively as a large private jet taxied nearby, its engines slowing. A small ground crew placed the movable stairs to its exit and retired, knowing better than to get involved in whatever late-night dalliances the rich and powerful entertained. With unhindered grace, Johannes’ guest emerged, a fur-trimmed coat warding off the chill, her blonde curls gently blown about by the wind. Pausing briefly at the top of the stairs, taking in the scene before her, she smiled and descended carefully, heels clacking against the gangway.
A smile crept upon his lips at her approach, his alabaster eyes reflecting the airplane’s running lights with an unearthly glow. Bowing stiffly at the waist, there could be little doubt by his greeting that he considered Lady Audra Jetter his better. Straightening with an arm outstretched to the evening, he greeted his guest as an ancient herald might. “Baroness, may I be the first to welcome you to the Domain of San Francisco and the greater Bay Area.”
Pushing a strand of hair away from her eyes with the back of a gloved hand, she giggled in reply. “Lord Savage, it is a pleasure in more ways than you can possibly imagine to make your acquaintance. Thank you so much for your invitation and your hospitality.”
His voice was even, measured, and confident—Johannes was a predator fully in his element—his reply rolled off the tongue as if it were a canned response, something he offered to guests time after time. “I can only hope that this weekend shows neither slight nor disrespect—you honor us with your presence.” Noting her coat pulled tightly across her frame, he relaxed slightly from his otherwise military-trained rigidity and opened the sleek limousine door for her.
“While the formality is much appreciated, we might need to do away with all that,” she chided lightly, a smile reaching up to her hazel eyes. She nodded slightly to her host, taking in the chill air, before sliding into the dark crimson interior, small silver accents catching the light. Johannes followed with a tight smile of his own, closing the door tightly behind him, enjoying Audra’s reaction to the soft fabric, her hands caressing it as she cooed in approval. Silently the long car accelerated northward, the grand city of San Francisco waiting.
Though they belonged to the same political faction, one focused on the values of tradition and formality, their public attitudes couldn’t be more at odds. Johannes was a serious and demanding tyrant, serving as the martial arm of his prestigious family, while Audra was a born socialite, currying political favors and making backroom deals at expensive private galas. She first caught his attention with offhanded remarks about the “high fashion” of mid-century pilots, to which he took some measure of offense; his mortal career and efforts did not exist solely to be mocked as a style of dress decades later. He had invited her to California to show her what being a combat pilot was actually about, and on a lark she had accepted, never one to turn down new experiences.
Idle conversation passed the time as the limousine made its way through the long miles between the international airport and their destination, topics touching briefly on guests he had entertained in the past, a playfully-worded promise that his aerial instruction would not leave her too dizzy, and the subtle revelation that he was far more complex than his reputation as a pure brute—suave and well-spoken, his words always leaving more for the imagination.
The ride was not however altogether uneventful. Asking idly about “the purpose of it all,” meaning society in general, Audra was caught quite unawares by Johannes’ off-the-cuff and heated response. “Purpose? I do not believe the human race has purpose, nor direction, nor sense to use what control and direction they may be shown.” His words were spat out in disgust, without hesitation, as if he were responding to something tangible, very real yet very far away. “I believe we are, and that is enough.” His tone suggested the matter was settled and to press further would be dangerous indeed. Her eyes took on a troubled glint as she searched his features for some measure of reason or rationale for his anger, but he merely sat, rigid and stoic, for long minutes, looking out the tinted window at nothing in particular. Several times she started to speak, but the words never left her mouth. Whatever demons her host harbored, they were deep-seated and painful. No wonder he maintains such an air of ferocity, she thought with a small frown.
A wan smile came to Johannes’ lips as the limousine pulled smoothly into an underground garage devoid of other automobiles. “We arrive at our first stop, my dear.” Glad for the break in his silent reverie, Audra looked for any sign or hint of the adventure they were embarking upon. Sliding across the soft seats, Johannes stepped out of the car, offering his hand to his guest who, without hesitation, accepted his help in exiting the vehicle. Her cheeks flushed with excitement, a sharp contrast to the ever-present pallor of his own, as he graciously lead her towards an awaiting elevator.
Her heels echoed against the solid concrete walls of the empty garage as they strode leisurely. “I do apologize for my question,” she began, the first words since his unexpected outburst, “I did not realize how you felt.” She still didn’t know what pain lived inside him, but genuinely did not wish to make him uncomfortable or relive hurtful memories.
Looking down at the blonde on his arm, his face bore a neutral expression. “But of course; we all have strong opinions on particular matters. I am sorry to have been so vehement; I am not one to hide how I feel.” His words were sincere, but held no hint of real apology. She could see why many in the social elite would not wish to interact with the man, apparently uncomfortable or actively hostile to the kind of courtly games which filled their evenings.
“Please don’t apologize.” She gave his arm a playful squeeze. “I would much prefer you were open about how you feel instead of hiding it. I grow so tired of those who wear mask over mask over mask, obscuring their real emotions and convictions.” She thought about several members of her own court back home in particular, those obnoxious cads who always seemed to be playing some sort of game. She turned her thoughts instead to how comfortable she felt walking with Johannes, even though she knew not their destination.
Smiling warmly, he escorted her into the spartan yet luxurious elevator, turning a key to set the desired floor, far out of reach of mortals. “Have no fear of that with me—though we may be creatures of subtlety, you will find I am very quick to express my feelings. At least a little of my notoriety is well-deserved, after all.”
He showed her the whole of the city from the top-floor suite from which he conducted official business, intending not to impress her with the room’s simplicity but rather show her what a real, bustling city could look like—her native Illinois wasn’t exactly a hotbed of urban life. She tittered at the crush of people in the streets, San Francisco’s night life nearly as busy as the daylight hours. He offered to let her choose their next destination, after she had taken it all in.
Couples leisurely strolled down the Embarcadero, ignorant of the predators in their midst. Johannes and Audra walked, arm in arm, the bay’s soft waves lapping idly against the pylons forming a relaxing and entropic background to their pleasant conversations.
They spoke in easy tones about what had brought Johannes to the city, and of course the answer was duty to his lord, his family, and his political sect. He was well-trained, she’d give him that, a perfect, loyal soldier. One question, however, innocently asked, brought him up short. “And if you could be anywhere else, do anything at this moment, what would it be?”
His warm countenance chilled in an instant, lips tightening. Though her question was innocent, his answer came from a dark place. “I would be no other place than at my progenitor’s side when he needed me most.” Few outside his family, and the higher echelons of political society, knew that the leader and face of his family had been grievously wounded some months before, betrayed by once-trusted confidants. Though Johannes had been away tending to other official and important matters, he couldn’t forgive himself for not standing beside Lord Savage as he fought for his life.
She tried to wave off his cold response with an innocent smile, attempting to keep her tone light, to pull him back from the memories which haunted him. “Then doesn’t that mean my presence is an imposition here?” She squeezed his arm, trying to be playful, her girlish charms—as well as supernatural gifts of persuasion—in full effect.
His reply came from between tight lips, speaking with a soldier’s voice. “To enjoy pleasure, one must know what work and sacrifice wrought it. I am your host and though I do not aim to displease you or sour your mood, know that to continue this question is to invite both.”
She studied his face, that forced rigidity he doubtlessly wore when doing whatever terrible acts his family demanded. She easily saw the discipline that made him such a loyal and effective member, but try as she might she could not see any sense of joy or happiness she hoped to find in his eyes.
Her face fell from false innocence to one of regret. She turned quickly, stepping away from her host. Beginning to walk away, she spoke with sincere apology in her voice, over her shoulder. “I have done it again. These horrible things drip from my lips. I cannot apologize enough; I am an atrocious guest.” He allowed her to walk several paces, heels clicking against the hard concrete boardwalk, before catching up to her with long strides.
Again taking her arm, his voice was soft, almost intimate. Almost genuine. “I am sorry only that you do not yet know me better. I have no desire to see you wounded, either by your words or mine.” Turning to face him, she shook her head, ringlets bouncing, tears brimming her soft eyes. “Is it so bad to be distracted from pain, instead of feeling it over and over again?”
“I am no stranger to pain, good Lady. I would not wish to hide from any of my experiences, though sometimes distraction itself is an experience worthy of remembrance.”
She looked up and into his eyes, past the blue-grey contacts he wore in public, catching a glimpse of compassion. “Something stirs within you, Johannes,” she nearly whispered, as much to herself as to her hose. “There is something just underneath the surface I don’t think they’ve let you fully explore.”
Though their conversations continued, staying far distant from the harsh and severe topics of duty, loyalty, and personal responsibility, Audra wasn’t able to tease out more of that hidden compassion she saw within him. It’s too soon, she thought to herself, he doesn’t trust me yet. One way or another, she made up her mind, she’d find the real Johannes, not just the polite veneer he presented to the world.
As they neared the end of the waterfront, Fishermans Wharf an overflowing and roiling mass of humanity even in the late hours, Johannes directed his guest to the limousine parked nearby; the same that had carried them from the airport to the city in the first place. He plans ahead, she appreciated. Crafty, this one.
Exiting the car whose driver, Audra noticed curiously, had a stunning resemblance to Johannes himself, her host offered his hand as the private airfield’s brisk breeze whipped at his drab suit. Now north of the Golden Gate, she could see the mountainous forests within which Marin County lay. A twinkle in her eye, she gave a sidelong glance as the wind attempted to tussle her hair. “I think I’m nervous,” she admitted playfully.
“Oh? Don’t worry, the wind holds little sway over me,” he replied impishly, obviously more comfortable than with earlier conversations. He was closer to familiar social territory. “Care to inspect the reason for your journey?” he asked, seemingly immune to the gusts of cold sea air punching across the runway. Slipping her arm through his, she giggled coyly in return as they strode toward the lone hangar, her breath steaming in the night.
Once inside—a welcome relief from the bitter chill—Audra’s eyes danced as she saw the plane, letting go of Johannes and excitedly circling the craft. “I’m so used to big jets, I always thought personal planes would be big too.” Her golden curls danced as she reached up and hanged lazily from one of the struts, a broad smile on her lips. Chuckling to himself, Johannes began his instruction. If she thought flying was a fashion statement more than anything, he was determined to give her a glimpse at the real intricacies of powered flight. He covered all parts of the small Cessna, from its propeller, flaps, ailerons, airbrakes, and even the fuel tank. He spoke in great detail, though not with the bored repetition of an aging lecturer—it was obvious from the start that he genuinely loved talking about the mechanics of flight, sharing it with another, especially one so excited about the prospect of visiting the clouds under their own direction.
Audra continued to hang off the bar almost as a child would as she listened to him, her attention undivided. She was excited by his excitement, and enjoyed seeing him impassioned; this was the Johannes she was hoping to see. Referencing the bar she held, he talked about the necessity of struts and how they aid the plane’s structure. “So that’s what this is called,” she smiled. “And here I thought a strut was something entirely different, and a skill I already possessed.”
“Of that I would dare make no assumption, good Lady,” Johannes winked. Her light laughter filled the expansive hangar.
“When do we fly?”
Gesturing to the small passenger side-door, he gave a slight bow. “As you wish.”
Sliding her coat off her bare shoulders, she easily slung it over her arm with a smile. A slight frown though crossed her lips as she looked down at her fashionable dress. “May a lady pilot an airplane in such an outfit?”
Johannes grin was all the answer she needed. “You look as though nothing would dissuade you, whatever your wardrobe; I doubt a dress would prove any hindrance.”
Obviously entertained, he walked to the pilots door and climbed into the plane, his jacket and gloves folded neatly in the back, next to her waiting coat. After she settled herself in he began his next lecture, instructing her about all the dials, meters, buttons, and levers the small interior offered. As he pointed to each he described its importance and purpose, speckled with a slight distaste for “modern” analog readouts. Though he stayed confident and present with his descriptions, his eyes were watching something else entirely—fixed upon a time and place decades away from the small hangar.
Audra traced the instrument panel with her soft fingers, fixated on the touch and feeling of everything, the novelty of her newest adventure. A small smile played across her face as she looked to him, watching in his element. It was like he was home. “You seem much happier here,” she offered.
“Flying is a rare place where duty and pleasure coincide, baroness.”
Starting the engine, Johannes released the wheel brakes and with practiced ease ruddered the craft out of the hangar and onto the waiting runway, lit from end to end by soft blue lights. A small wink gave no warning to his sudden acceleration, forcing the small plane to full thrust as he released the last of the brakes. Audra laughing with surprised delight, he lifted the plane from the ground without a second thought, banking on a northeasterly course into the darkness. Piloting without running lights and with the instrument panel dark, Johannes still piloted the craft through the midnight hills and valleys with expertise, the sound of trees passing beneath them mixed into the thrum of engine and wind.
Cupping her hands around her eyes—an old habit from her youth not yet relinquished—she nearly pressed her face against the glass, trying to see the landscape below. “I’m not afraid of darkness,” she remarked, a grin in her voice. “My only question is, what can I touch, and what can’t I?”
Johannes answered with self-assured confidence. “Any of the dials or buttons you find, actually, save for this one.” He motioned in the inky blackness. “The rest are fine, though sadly the levers must remain where they are, as should the rudders at your feet.”
Almost cutting him off, her curiosity got the best of her, “save for which one?” She held out her hand slightly as he softly found it in the blind cabin. Holding her gently, he circled her finger around a small button he had notably skipped in his detailed rundown of the panel and all of its functions. His hand lingered on hers a moment before returning to the yoke, completing a steep bank. Though she attempted to pry as to the button’s purpose, he sidestepped the question each time with a curious smile playing on his lips, assuring her that “it should not be pressed while in the air, if you would be so kind.”
“Oh now I can hardly stand it! Can’t I even have a hint?” she pleaded, her manicured fingertips tracing the mysterious button.
“One should always be ready to accept the consequences of their actions, good Baroness,” he teased playfully. “Perhaps that is the most important advice I could give you this night.” She scoffed at him.
“There are only two forces one need consider when aloft—thrust, and lift.” Pushing the yoke in, he pressed the plane into a dizzyingly steep dive, chuckling as she braced herself against the door and seat belt, inhaling sharply at the sudden and unexpected descent. “Thrust,” he repeated calmly, as he suddenly pulled back on the yoke, arcing the Cessna into a very sharp climb, the likes of which sent Audra deeply into her chair. “… and lift.” Laughing at her surprise, he smiled as she playfully hit him in the shoulder.
Letting the plane fly level into the darkness above Marin County, Johannes almost admitted to himself that he was enjoying spending time with the debutante and her infectious positivity.
Feeling the wheels touch down back at the private airstrip, Audra could see the rigid perfection of Johannes’ moments as he gracefully landed the craft, the soft blue runway lights lighting up his face. They had been aloft for nearly half an hour and he even let her fly the plane for a period. She had enjoyed that a great deal, even with or especially due to his pointed distractions, no matter how unwieldy the craft felt beneath the yoke. She closed her eyes, letting her head fall back against the leather seat. “That was fantastic.” Breathing heavily from the experience of so many twists, turns, and raw power over gravity at her command, she nearly missed Johannes’ feral grin.
“Do you want to try my plane?”
Taking her wide-eyed expression as consent, he lead her to a small nearby hangar, unlocking it with an unceremonious nonchalance. Reaching through the doorway for the lights, he made no move to enter, instead activating the powerful motor which opened the bay doors.
The faint noise of well-oiled chains coincided with harsh overhead lights spreading their beams across the pair, illuminating the solitary machine inside. “The Messerschmitt BF-109-K4,” he stated proudly. “My plane, rebuilt from a corroded and pitted pile of scrap metal into a sleeker fighting machine than it was rolling off the factory floor.” It sat in the middle of the otherwise empty hangar, looking as if it had just come from that same production line. Its propellers sharp, the twin nose-mounted guns shined in the white light. With a perfect paint job and fresh tires, Audra could easily imagine he had lead her to an aerospace museum rather than his private hangar.
At his gesture she entered approached the craft, smiling and visibly impressed. “There is sadly one small concession I must make, and I hope it does not offend,” he apologized with a teasing wickedness in his tone. “While the cockpit has been reworked to allow for more than one to sit, it is not the most spacious of confines.”
“So there is room for two,” she grinned, tongue pressed against her top lip. “I do think I want to fly this one.”
Energetically placing a step-stool beneath the port side wing, he hopped atop his beloved craft, sliding open the glass cockpit. He offered Audra his hand to guide her onto the sturdy wing, several feet off the floor, before he climbed into the pilot’s seat, making some brief adjustments to move the control stick to make room for his passenger. Finishing his quick conversion, he looked up to Audra with mock apology. “As I said, it may be a bit cramped, but it is an experience not to be missed.”
Lifting an eyebrow as the noted the “accommodations,” her excitement at the prospect of flying in such a sleek airplane, let alone enjoying more opportunity to see a jovial side of the normally stoic soldier, she stepped between his legs, lowering herself all but on to his lap as she made due in the cramped space. He felt the heat from her bare shoulders and arms as she sat snugly against him, and murmured an apology as he repositioned her arms such that he could reach all necessary controls.
“I told you, Lord Savage, I enjoy new experiences. And I believe this one is budding to be simply extraordinary,” she complimented over her shoulder, elation hidden behind a mask of seriousness and propriety which quickly fell away into a genuine smile. He winked at her.
Handing her the two-point seat belt, he suggested “you’ll want to use this; make sure to strap it in tight,” his other hand closing and latching the glass cockpit slide. She pulled the straps as hard as she could, pressing the two even more tightly together. He slipped his hands beneath hers to grasp the control stick, feeling her gasp slightly at the unexpected presence against her sides. The cramped cabin closed and sealed, his hands on the stick, and her excited breath quick in her chest, he whispered “ready?”
Her blond curls bounced ever so slightly in response, anticipation and excitement robbing Audra of her voice.
Shifting slightly to make last-minute adjustments, Johannes’ polished dress shoes rested comfortably on the rudder pedals as he began clicking switches on the near-empty instrument panel. With a deep rumble, the beast beneath them roared to life, twin engines pulling against the brakes. “As my guest,” he offered with an unseen grin, “I give you the choice: would you care for a more scenic, leisurely jaunt, or perhaps a more … shameless exhibition?” His words nearly oozed confidence.
“Like that is even a choice,” she tittered. “Shameless, shameless of course!”
Whispering just over the roar of the turbines, close enough that she could feel his lips tremble against her ear, he gave his approval. “Very well then, good madam.”
Without further hesitation he released the brakes straining against the fierce pull of the roaring propellers. Steering the plane with the rudder pedals, not with the yoke as she expected, he turned the large craft as deftly as he may a dance partner. His passenger looked over her shoulder with excited approval, though she couldn’t find a truly comfortable place for her arms where they would be out of the way. Laughing in response, Johannes released all brakes and allowed the full-speed engines to propel the Messerchmitt to speeds the Cessna could only dream of, taking off in mere seconds.
Scarcely having cleared the runway he flipped up the landing gear, a mechanical rumbling emanating from beneath the cramped seat. With a precision of a pilot practiced long beyond any mortal lifespan, he effortlessly defied gravity, forcing the airplane at a sharp angle toward the heavens. Shocked by the acceleration and the forces against her body, she gripped tightly onto his arms to steady herself. She could almost feel his grin behind her.
Not allowing his passenger the time to get used to the climb, Johannes twisted violently on the control stick while simultaneously working the rudder pedals, banking the plane at an inhuman angle, the horizon appearing above them as San Francisco came into view over the Bay. He was rock-steady against the sudden g-forces, and Audra felt both the strength of his body and that of his will to defy even the very laws of nature; even if mankind never developed aircraft, she was sure Johannes would have nonetheless found a way to fly.
Though the tight controlled jerks tossed her around, as much as was possible within the grasp of his strong arms and the tight restraints, he hardly moved beneath her, seemingly to be one with the plane, in tune to its motions and it to his desires. Leveling out the plane, he barely permitted Audra to catch her breath before throwing it into a dizzying double barrel roll to starboard, a feat perhaps impossible in a lesser craft and certainly not imagined by the original design specifications. Without so much as a grunt of effort he righted the plane, turning it solidly toward the Pacific Ocean, dimly lit by the cloud-dappled moon.
Trying to regain her equilibrium, Audra’s hands gripped the enveloping arms tightly, “good Lord” the only phrase to escape her lips through the death-defying ordeal. Johannes’ grin was almost audible as he leaned even closer to her left ear as the fighter craft screamed toward and over the ocean, low enough that the spray from their passing could be heard splashing against its tail. Johannes laughed, a deep and sultry sound, as Audra drew a long breath, her chest expanding against his, a touch of fear shading her exhilaration. He was proving himself to be a capable—and dangerous—man with little regard for those who couldn’t keep up.
Setting the plane on a leisurely southerly bank, he began to speak to her softly, his lips almost touching her ear, framed as it was by golden curls. She almost couldn’t hear him over the roar of the engines, the passing of the wind, and spraying of the dark Pacific Ocean beneath them. “There is little that cannot be accomplished if one’s will is strong enough and one’s tools sharp enough. I built this plane with my own hands and know every bolt, every screw. Failure is neither part of its design nor of my intent. It will not fail, and neither shall I.”
Craning her neck, her hazel eyes sparkled with delight as she listened, his alabaster eyes reflecting nothing but sincere and utter conviction. He believed every word he spoke, and his confidence made her want to believe it as well. Overzealous, perhaps, but committed to a single cause. He would do anything his family asked of him, and would die before defeat. A dangerous man indeed.
Tight as she was against him, she felt how at home he was in the cramped fighter, moving the plane this way and that with the same dexterity he would his own hands. Behind his serious tone a lopsided grin inched its way across his face—he loved flying and every second of his time aloft. She wanted to believe that the company they shared was part of his elation.
Winking to her and gesturing vaguely to the murky fog banks ahead, he directed her attention forward.
“You have left me very nearly speechless,” Audra called over her porcelain shoulder, more than a hint of playfulness shading her words. “And without words how will I ever be able to distract you?”
“There is little doubt in my mind, Baroness, that your wiles extend far beyond your most capable speech,” he called back instantly, turning the plane toward the city glowing beneath the fog. Though she had given him leave to speak conversationally, familiarly, she could see he used staunch formality as a shield, a separator between business and pleasure.
She adjusted herself in the tight confines, pressing her back into his chest willfully, rather than being forced to by gravity. She smiled, admitting to herself that the evening had already exceeded her expectations. She even felt like she was making progress teasing out the real Johannes from behind his strict obedience.
As the plane skimmed the water’s surface, having taken a long bank toward the city, a magnificent view emerged from the fog—the Golden Gate Bridge. Yet, Johannes hadn’t pulled up or made any indication that he intended to fly over it, much to her disbelief.
“You are not,” she said flatly, her tone nevertheless betraying a hidden excitement. His only response was a faint breath against her ear as the lights of Alcatraz, a small beacon between the bridge and the populated cities beyond, emerged from the darkness ahead of them. Her eyes followed the hulking structure of the famous bridge passed overhead, her mouth agape. Pulling up, he laughed, making sure she saw also how close he flew to the famous island before returning to the skies proper. “Dizzying,” she whispered, more to herself than to the man against whom she was pressed so tightly.
He whispered then too, the words lost in the engine’s rhythmic churning, his breath against her ear making her shiver even without the sound of his voice. The plane turned to drift in a lazy circle above the expansive bay, office towers, street lights, and busy piers forming a uniquely dancing silhouette against the backdrop of midnight, framed by rolling fog.
“It’s gorgeous,” she murmured as she slowly turned her head to take in the view, catching sight of a wide and almost predatory grin on his face. Through the closeness they shared he could feel her release some tension, the last remnants of hesitation or discomfort fading away. He was keenly aware of her perfume, a mixture of apricot, rose, and lilac. “And now I find I do not want to distract you at all,” she continued. “I am—”
“This domain has many wonders, Audra,” he interrupted her, using her given name for the first time, “and I hope you not think it rude of me to suggest that your presence has added another.” Turning her head away with a girlish smile, she giggled and tried to conceal her blush, choosing her next words. She was finally getting somewhere with him.
“It is not rude, Lord Savage,” she offered, the memory of his breath on her ear hot in her veins, “but it is a touch … shameless.” Looking back, her eyes glittered with mischief.
Laughing heartily, a rich sound that filled the small cabin, Johannes could do naught but smile. “I believe the lady requested such.”
She rested her head against his shoulder, the scent of her hair filling his senses, as she let her hands slide from his arms and instead come to rest against his legs. He angled the plane slightly northward in a climb, steering them away from the glittering lights of civilization below. They flew in silence for a time, in the not-quite embrace of the tight quarters, in the not-quite innocent stewing of their thoughts.
“Is the seatbelt tight, Baroness?” Johannes broke the silence after long minutes of flying into the dark skies above. “I’m afraid I can still feel some looseness there, and you wouldn’t want to be thrown about with what comes next.” His tone was sultry, seductive.
“Maybe you could tighten it for me,” she replied with a low voice, biting her lip. She didn’t know what the pilot had in mind, but knew she was interested. Chuckling softly, he carefully pulled a hand from the yoke and took hold of the restraints, pulling them sharply, causing both to gasp.
The only warning was a dark laugh in her ear as the plane suddenly jerked to the left, rolling until Audra could look up at the cold sea instead of midnight sky. His hands and feet worked the controls in sharp, jerking motions, but never giving the impression he was out of control. Suddenly the plane was vertical, hanging in the air as the thrust from its stalled climb matched that of gravity. As the plane waited, breathlessly, the engines sputtered and died, plunging the pair into freefall. Audra’s cloistered gasps filled the air as the Messerschmitt plummeted like a winged rock, set on a deadly collision course with the seas far below.
Her hands dug into Johannes’ legs, her excitement and fear building in equal measure, eyes wide with anticipation and anxiety. Suddenly his voice came to her, measured and even, chillingly calm. “This is a sight that has greeted many of my foes in years gone by; a doom from which they cannot hope to escape. They had not the drive, the will, nor the ability to shake themselves of the fear of uncertainty. Death, Miss Jetter, is an absolute. Everything leading up to it is within our control.” His words burned with zeal bordering on fanaticism.
Pulling hard on the control stick as his left hand flitted about the cockpit with superhuman speed, adjusting throttle and choke ratios before igniting the engines with a solid pull on the twin starter levers by his wrist, Johannes was the very image of calm even as the plane struggled to sputter back to life, the small whitecaps in the sea below growing ever closer. Ignorant that his passenger’s grip had tightened further, he paid no mind that she was in awe of the view, of her host, and of his willingness to prove a point. She couldn’t move, breathe, or speak—everything caught in her throat. Her muscles tensed, preparing for the imminent fiery crash.
Hearing the engines finally roar to life, flipping the flaps and air brakes in response, he jolted the aircraft into a climb as steep as the dive had been, pulling their bodies through a turn the forces of which would be all but unbearable to any mortal pilot. As he brought the plane out of danger, a small gasp leapt from his throat, a palpable show of the strain he put himself through for his little stunt.
Released from her terror and abject fear, adrenaline still surging through her body, Audra laughed. “Show off!” she decried, again resting her head against his shoulder as she took as deep of breaths as the tight restraints would allow.
He tried not to notice that her fingers began to trace small circles on his legs, or that a delicate wave of heat seemed to emanate from her bare skin.
“I do only as requested, gracious Lady. You asked for something new, unique, and shameless. The first two I have covered. Perhaps yet I shall be able to show you the third during your stay.” His voice carried unquestionable promise.
The la Diamonte stood as one of the most regal hotels in San Francisco. Kindred from across the world had been entertained therein, its halls lavishly decorated and their comfort assured. No human had access to floors above the sixth, though the hotel extended a full fourteen floors into the sky; the highest building for blocks, its opulent rooftop balcony allowed guests to speak and act openly, away from humanity’s prying eyes. Arm-in-arm Johannes and Audra strolled through the gilded entrance hall, bellhops catering to guests’ needs without showing any sign of recognition or attention to the expertly-dressed pair. They knew better.
Johannes walked directly to a side elevator, wherein which he inserted a room key that looked all but standard-issue. The back wall of the elevator opened, revealing another, more private transport. Winking to his guest, he stepped backwards into the new conveyance. He once again inserted his key into a blank card reader and they began moving, a smooth and fluid acceleration. The doors opened on the seventh floor.
Johannes walked onto a decadent landing, dominated by a large double-doorway emblazoned with their political sect’s unmistakable iconography. “You’ve hardly stopped grinning since we touched down, Baroness. I don’t disapprove,” he remarked, his own smile bright.
His guest tried to pull the corners of her mouth into a more serious countenance, but after failing miserably she simply laughed, her head falling to the side as she hugged his arm mirthfully. “I very much enjoyed that, and I believe you have convinced me to no longer prefer cars as a means of excitement.”
The doors opened wide at Johannes’ gentle touch, the revealed room stunning even by kindred terms. The expansive suite, taking up the majority of the floor, was opulently detailed. Art hung on the walls, lavish rugs lay before plush couches, chairs, and old-world tables. A small sat next to another, smaller, set of double-doors to the West, but every seat available a full view of the floor-to-ceiling windows facing North, overwatching the bustling city below, fog crawling its way through the midnight streets.
Audra’s eyes seemed to catch every line, curve, and ornament as she detached from his arm to stroll the room, her hands trailing across soft fabrics and expertly-crafted hardwood. Standing with his hand resting idly on the back of a nearby couch, Johannes watched her explore the space, her eyes unreadable as she surveyed the majesty surrounding her. “Should there be anything you desire, I have little doubt arrangements could be made…” he trailed off.
“This isn’t yours,” she stated. “None of this finery, it’s not your style.”
He nodded. “My grandsire’s preference. He believes the decor impresses visiting dignitaries.”
“Is that what I am, a ‘dignitary?'” she mocked playfully, sticking out her tongue with an impish smile.
“I assured him you would receive nothing but the best during your stay,” he shrugged idly. “I would have your trip here be a memorable one.”
“You’ve shown me so much already,” she mused, continuing to explore the room. His gaze followed Audra, from her inquisitive glances up the spiral staircase, out the windows, and as she studied the various pieces of art on the walls. She pointed to a particular piece, a splash of red and black accented with streaks of silver, asking a silent question.
“We are very proud of what our family has accomplished,” Johannes offered, closing the distance between them. “My grandsire is never far from reminders of our privilege and our duty. In fact I believe I have only one item in this entire suite.” His eyes went to a simple yet expensive-looking door set into the far wall.
His guest’s gaze immediately filled with curiosity. “And what is in that room there, if I may be so bold?” she grinned, brushing a fallen strand of hair from her face.
“That is my private room when I am not patrolling the city, or entertaining guests,” he added. “And it would be a far cry to call any of your statements or actions this night too bold.” Unspoken overtones hung thickly in the air.
Giggling softly, she glanced over her shoulder at him. “I never said too bold.” Quietly making her way toward the door, she continued to run her fingers against and along those objects in her path, lingering on most. He came up behind her as she stared out the window, his haunting image reflecting his cruel eyes as he watched her look out over the city.
“How did you ever come to this place, Johannes?” she asked, without turning. “How did you become the man you are now?”
“It is an impolite story with which I would not burden you,” he replied simply, standing just behind her. She could feel the repressed pain in his voice, even if she couldn’t hear it.
She looked at him then, face illuminated by the streets far below. “I want to know.”
With a reserved sigh, he studied his guest, lips tight against the thoughts running through his mind.
The room beyond was sparsely decorated, dimly lit by small candles and a mid-century lamp atop a solid writing desk. Stacked parchment sat orderly next to a stoppered inkwell and a golden quill. The desk appeared to be dark rosewood, matching the four-poster bed, armoire against the far wall, and small cupboard beneath a mirror. The room was painted a dark forest green, with thick carpet to match. Twin shelves sat on either side of the desk, each holding a photograph. One also held an unlit candle, the other a pistol.
Peering into the room, Audra’s eyes were drawn instantly to the desk. “You still write with quill and ink?” she asked, almost rhetorically. He nodded slightly, just at the corner of her vision. Without thinking, the words falling from her lips, she continued. “Just how old are you?” Gasping, she lifted a hand to her mouth. “I apologize, I didn’t mean to, I mean—” she stammered, trying to wave away the question with a flick of her wrist.
“I am old enough to know my place,” he answered without hint of insult, “and young enough to know that I may sometimes be required to overstep my boundaries to get the job done.” His eyes never left hers, showing only the cold stare of duty.
Nodding to herself, she quickly found distraction in one of the black-and-white photographs. It was undoubtedly of Johannes, taken in some sort of military hospital decades and decades ago. His bandages, covering his legs, torso, left arm, and neck, were soaked through in places with dark blood. His gaze was listless, possibly unconscious. The picture’s frame had the words “Nie Wieder” carved into it with cruel strokes. “Never again.”
Johannes watched her look at the photograph, studying it. Her fingers stroked the edge of the frame, careful not to touch the glass. “Did it hurt?” she asked, quietly. He did not answer.
Lost in the image for a moment, her eyes flitted over all aspects of the photograph. Finally setting it back on the shelf from whence she took it, she moved to the other photograph, this one depicting two sharply-dressed men, one a teenager and one perhaps in his mid to late twenties, on a busy city street. “I wonder who the photographer was,” she remarked to herself. She didn’t touch the second image, noting the small traces of crimson on the glass. “Who are the two men?” she asked, naive to the pain in his eyes.
“My sons,” he whispered, jaw clenched tightly.
“Sons?” she exclaimed with obvious surprise, turning towards him and suddenly realizing the tension he held. He refused to speak, better served by silence than by the potential release of his tightly-held emotion. His guest, eyes downcast, turned and walked slowly to the doorway, as if to leave the room. Johannes did not move out of her way.
With neck tense, and eyes closed, a thin blood tear traced its way down his cheek. He reached into the folds of his jacket, withdrawing a single piece of paper, sharply folded into thirds. He handed it somberly to the uncertain girl before him. What horrors had her question wrought, what pain did she release in him? She could not fathom why he was showing her this part of himself.
With worry in her eyes, she scanned the letter’s few lines, typed in crisp German, her free hand covering her mouth in shock. The letter was an official announcement that one Dirk Jägerman had died during a training exercise while at military academy. The letter was dated one month prior. She realized the stains on the picture frame had been from his tears. She turned toward her host with abject horror. He stared straight ahead, his face a mask of stoic duty, though his hands were clenched tightly at his sides, trembling with the rage he held within.
Folding the letter with nervous fingers, she placed it gingerly on the desk. “I don’t know why you would show me this,” she admitted, her tone sincerely apologetic yet also innocent and curious.
With measured calm he turned his attention to her, his eyes narrow, voice clipped. “You asked.”
Stepping close, her eyes and voice showed genuine appreciation. “Thank you.”
Before she could say more, Johannes continued a previous line of thought, sharply changing the subject away from his sons. “Yes, I still write with a quill, each letter crafted as I was taught, in a style few remember but few fail to recognize. ‘The best for the best.'”
Wrinkling her nose with confusion, Audra pressed him. “I don’t understand that; ‘the best for the best’—the best of what?”
Stepping even closer to Audra, uncomfortably so given his stark and officious demeanor, he gestured to each of the parchment, quill, ink, desk, and pistol. “Each tool in my arsenal is uniquely crafted to suit both my will and intent. If only all things in life were built with such care, and used with such purpose,” he mused with iron in his voice. “I have composed letters to those whose words shake the very ground upon which we walk and have received high praise for my attention to detail and study of the ancient ways. My sire would not have it any other way.”
A fire grew in his eyes, an intensity to his voice, as if he were sermonizing. “There is never an excuse for performance that is less than perfect.” Audra took an involuntary step back, though she managed to keep her composure in the face of the towering personality before her. Squaring her shoulders, her demeanor became more professional, more courtly. Gone was her playful fancy, meeting his white eyes with her own politic gaze.
Closing his eyes and swallowing deeply, Johannes took a deep, extended breath to calm himself. When he looked back to her, some semblance of the joy she had seen in him before lurked around his eyes and his mouth, as if he were forcibly trying to temper his sense of duty and obligation with the joy they had shared that evening.
“I am so very sorry to have brought such sternness to your face,” he apologized, reaching out a hand to cup her cheek but stopping short of touching her. “You have brought such levity to mine tonight, and I have been a poor host not to return the favor.”
Her brows furrowed as she tried to make sense of the complicated monster in front of her. A soldier with unmatched passion, a father with incredible grief. A stoic brute in service to a ruthless family, a man who felt most alive when taunting death itself. A bastion of control, even though conflict raged inside him.
“I think I need a drink,” she finally shrugged, exasperated.
Whatever else he was, Johannes proved himself to be a capable host, pouring glasses of scotch for them both. He knew her line maintained the ability to taste mortal food and drink and he indulged her, even if the dark liquid tasted like ash in his own mouth. He wasn’t sure if it were her presence alone, or the use of unnatural gifts, but be soon began to feel once more at ease.
They listened to classical music and jazz piano, toasting more drinks “to the duties that bring pleasure, and to the pleasures that make duty truly worthwhile.” He smiled broadly at her proclamation and enjoyed seeing him grin in the soft light.
Their conversations fell to hushed tones, the kind most at home in the darkest hours of the night. Each pushed the envelope of social convention and propriety, both trying to get a rise out of the other—she with obsequious flattery and he with double entendres that, in any other situation, may have been brushed aside as slips of the tongue.
“I may not fly planes as well as you, but I still think I could look the part,” she smiled, putting a finger to her chin in contemplation. “I do hope those cute leather goggles won’t mess up my hair.”
He laughed in spite of himself; a discussion of “pilot chic” was the cause of their meeting in the first place. “I might be able to provide the jacket, but the rest would be up to you.”
She positively beamed at the suggestion. “Bottom drawer,” he pointed to the armoire.
Still swaying to the harmonies in the air, Audra bent to pull the worn leather coat out and into the warm bedroom air, shutting the drawer with the toe of her shoe. Handing her host the jacket, she turned, slipping her hands through the offered sleeves. She inhaled in surprise as he wrapped his arms around her, zipping up the heavy coat most of the way. He could feel her tense and hear her breath catch, and he realized he was holding his own breath.
As she turned the awkwardness of the ensemble was on full display, her fingertips poking out of the too-long sleeves and the hem of the coat far below her waist. A twinkle in her eye, she giggled. “We’ll have to try harder if I’m to fit in your clothes.”
Taking the zipper in hand, Johannes winked as he drew it down, perhaps more vigorously than required. The golden flecks in her eyes sparkled for an instant, some secret delight coming over her. His grin was nothing short of hungry as he held the separated coat. “As much as I like the coat on you, I fear it may hide some of your finer features.” Trailing his gaze up and down her frame, she pursed her lips in a coy smile as his eyes traced the lines of her slinky dress.
Regaining his composure, somewhat, he smiled at her, more teasing than predatory. “After all, this jacket doesn’t allow your beautiful curls to trail as beautifully down your face.” Absentmindedly she brushed a blond strand away with the back of her hand, smiling with thanks.
“It sounds like you prefer me without it,” she dared him, tauntingly. “Maybe you should take it off.” Her words were a challenge, even if her tone gave quiet permission.
Stepping forward, moving his hands to the neck of the jacket, he pushed it back and off her shoulders, their eyes locked. Their faces were inches apart as he tossed the garment back into the armoire, and he could feel the warmth of her skin, the sweetness of her breath. She brought up a hand to push away an imagined hair from her face, her voice hardly audible. “Oh yes, I do believe you prefer the dress.”
He smiled again, this time with an unmistakable hunger. He leaned in, barely caressing her lips with his own. “And what do you prefer?” he responded in kind.
She swallowed hard and giggled with nervous excitement. “Johannes,” she pulled back, searching his face. “Do you treat all your guests this way?”
“The best for the best.”
Her giggle faded, and with it her smile, a shadow of doubt passing over her face. Frowning uncertainty, she stepped back from her overbearing host, her voice regaining that poise and practiced civility of political discourse. “May I inquire as to where I will be staying?”
He stiffened at her reaction, knowing he had crossed a line. His voice held little trace of the animal lust present only seconds prior, replaced with a formal coolness, almost a chill. “I had expected you to stay here, while I occupied the guest quarters.”
“Through that door there?” she asked, with a small nod of her head to the room’s only other entrance, hanging slightly ajar, darkness inside. He nodded.
“Then I believe I’ll be making myself at home here,” she smiled cautiously, sitting on the edge of the bed and looking about the space.
He again nodded. “The room is yours for the length of your stay,” he offered with a gesture, expecting that while she may investigate the mementos and artifacts therein, she would not disturb them. Guests and hosts both had their responsibilities, after all.
Perhaps to break the tension, perhaps as part of his nightly ritual, he unbuttoned his sleeves and reverently removed his watch, placing it gingerly next to the inkwell. He closed his eyes with a sigh, as if contemplating, making a specific note to reflect on something important. Turning back to his guest, he did not expect to see the abject fear and terror of her eyes. A tense moment as his eyes searched the room for any disturbance, he soon realized her gaze was focused on his bared left forearm.
Nodding slowly, he rolled down his sleeve, hiding the terrible scars that began halfway up his wrist. “My apologies,” he offered sincerely. “Though we are immortal, often that which brought us into this life leaves its mark in the flesh.”
“Hmm?” she eked out, her eyes flashing to his. “No, I was— it’s not your scars. I—” she stumbled on the words, as if the capacity for complete thought had left her, replaced by anxious fear. Giving up trying to explain, she settled on a slow exhale, her eyes downcast.
Moving cautiously, in as non-threatening a manner as he could manage, he crouched to meet her level. “You were genuinely scared; frightened, just then. I can still see the flush of it in your skin.”
She swallowed, looking down at her hands folded neatly in her lap. “I meant no offense, truly. But I did visit with another of your family once. I told you before that there had been … difficulty. I thought,” she hesitated, “this time might be the same.”
Falling easily to a knee, he reached out a hand to hold hers. “Baroness, you are my guest and I your host. To do anything that would reflect poorly upon this House or my line is and has been the farthest from my mind.” His voice was sincere, somber, as if swearing an oath. “You are strong-willed and adventurous, and I commend that. You seek to live in the moment and neither in the past nor future. I hope one day you can achieve that and not let anyone’s history—either yours or mine—keep you from living the life you desire.”
As she finally met his gaze, he frowned, continuing. “I have made assumptions about you, about your value to our sect and to our society, and have found myself pleasantly surprised with the fair creature who threw caution into the wind and answered my invitation, my challenge. I fear that I have done little to adjust or correct assumptions you may have held about me, particularly given my public reputation. For that, I am deeply sorry.”
Standing, he gave her hands a light squeeze before separating. She looked up at him, a rush of emotions swirling in her eyes. She could feel his sincerity, his conviction to duty and to the rules of propriety, no matter how much they had flirted with crossing those boundaries earlier in the evening.
“You are safe as long as you are in my house, in my city,” he continued. “Those who would do ill to you, or bear you ill will, will find themselves ended by my hand should their intent reach my ears—including myself, if need be.” He looked down to her, no longer hiding behind the courtly etiquette of their society. This was Johannes at his most honest. “I do not take the protection of those in my care lightly.”
Rising from the bed, Audra took a small breath, the gravity of his words washing over her. Gently, plainly, her eyes pleading, she looked up at him, into his cold eyes. “Who hurt you, Johannes?” she whispered. “Who made you what you are?”
He watched her, unblinking eyes trying to gauge her own sincerity, to spot any game or gambit she may be playing. Finding none, he nodded to himself. “I will show you,” he acquiesced, moving to remove his tie and unbutton his black dress shirt.
Holding her gaze, he slowly pulled his shirt open, revealing skin that caught the light in cruel, twisted patterns. Not the muscular build she had expected from his prowess and physique, but instead a knotted and savaged mass of scar tissue spreading across his chest. Letting the shirt fall completely, the extent of his mortal injuries became fully apparent—it was a wonder he could have ever survived whatever grave incidents wrought their marks on his flesh. Terrible, ridged scars crawled up from his left hip and across his torso, meeting those gnarled marks which defined his left arm. Starburst patterns in his skin in varying sizes traced otherworldly shadows in the dim bedroom light, a cruelty to them the very air seemed to be wary of illuminating. Remnants of old burns, obvious gunfire, and a wicked blade-scar running the length of his collarbone were all displayed in the naked light.
Her eyes instinctively fell to his bared chest, her gaze following the contours of the terrible injuries. Her eyes reflected pain and guilt, the latter emotion a surprise to Johannes. He flexed his left arm, the knotted and twisted muscle moving, having obviously never properly healed in mortal life. The sheer destruction evident on his body, scars laying atop one another, was both horrifying and shameful to his guest.
“Please,” she began, taking a step closer to him. “You don’t have to.” Her tone was soft, but he could easily hear the sadness in her voice. He did not reply, standing stoically, watching her move closer. She reached out and took his hand in hers, bringing the backs of his fingers to her lips for a tender kiss. “I am so sorry for your pain,” she whispered, her inexplicable guilt dripping from every word. “Thank you for showing me.”
He reached out and enfolded his guest in a tender hug, which she reciprocated, her head laying against his chest. His voice quiet, tinged with somber memories, he nodded in response.
“The best for the best.”
The featured image for this post was taken by Basil D Soufi for WikiMedia Commons.
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HSBC Building and Customs House – by Mr. Tickle for Wikipedia
The Nightmare – by John Henry Fuseli (1781)
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