The jagged slate face rose to the velvet-black sky. Crystalline mist drifted ghostlike on the face of the moon. A stone cracked underfoot and fell into the abyss. Eyes flashing through shades of blood and violet, the Count watched it tumble. Sparks flew as it struck the wall far below. Shivering, he turned, wind tearing in his cape as he made his way around a boulder blocking the path.
The peak was visible now, and he could see the holy star. Gemlike, brilliant diamond points cutting the night sky, blinding the eye to all but the light. His usual reserve vanished, the Count felt terribly alone. A scythe passed in his heart, icy needles stabbed at his brain, and he couldn't turn away -- he could only stare, seeing visions of the bowels of hell . . . of magma exploding up to the star-gates of heaven.
He'd lost his soul to the fang long ago, now it was reborn. Falling to his knees, he covered his eyes, trying to hold back the pain. It proved impossible, he screamed in ecstasy and agony. Raising his hands, crabbing them to claws, he bared his fangs and hissed at the star. Then a curtain of fire rose, bringing a vision of his life.
Running on a windy plain, stumbling on the eroded earth, headed for the trees. His enemies were holy men, crusaders, and the rising sun. Safety and a deep cave were within reach. The Count was going to make it -- he leapt up a mound, then the spear hit. It pierced his lower back and carried his torn spleen into the sunlight. Impaled, he caught the gore-soaked shaft and went down, blinded by pain and a river of bright blood.
His skin was dry, but his lips frothed as the holy water scorched his tongue. Chalices, gray stone, velvet curtains, stained glass and the long faces of priests and crusaders faded in and out. Then he awoke on a marble altar and recognized the face looking down on him. It belonged to the pope, but Gregory had changed -- the once handsome monk was now withered, lines of corruption twisted into the leather of his features. His staff was without Godly luster – a patina on the crown, even the velvet of his robe had faded.
Latin issued from Gregory's parched lips, but the sacred words had no power. They were no more than dead intonations from the dust.
Raising his head, the Count blew froth from his purpled lips and spoke. "Gregory, your faith is gone. You are with me now."
Cardinals gasped and crossed themselves; priests fell to their knees cradling silver crosses in their palms. Gregory fell silent then confusion and fright lit his features as his staff began to smoke. Flames licked from the cross, so he tossed it away and knelt, praying for forgiveness as his minions panicked and tried to flee.
Evil was now the only power, and the vampire had more of it. Leaping from the altar, the Count took the battle to them. The throats of cardinals he slit with stained glass, crusaders he staked with their own holy relics, priests he hung from the bell tower ropes. Only Gregory was left untouched, and in the end, the Count drank the blood of choirboys as Gregory prayed. Then he passed him the sacred knife and watched him thrust it in his heart and fall into the blood pooled on the altar.
Rubies of fire -- scintillation -- the star reappeared. So this is judgment, he thought. The mountain another altar. I have been judged a wicked being, but not guilty like mortals or popes. People who should have been kind.
The star drifted southeast, Venus transformed to an angel for the holy lands. Mild pain and memories of his first wife drifted in with the mauve of false dawn. He saw her snarling face as he nailed her coffin shut, leaving the sharpened stake he was unable to use at her side. He'd been too kind. Cut off his wife's head and leave garlic in the skull. Drive a stake through her heart. He couldn't do that . . . and because he'd been weak, she returned with the moon, and took him for the fang.
At the summit, of the mountain and of his life, he looked down. Death reigned in the abyss and death owned the worlds above. No one is immortal, he thought. To live again you must die. He was certain the star symbolized death as well as life.
Life is light, death is darkness, he considered it as the star spoke in his mind, then he listened and the final words were, "Journey vampire, and fly home. You have lost heaven, earth and hell. Your home is the heart of the sun."
If the truth claims your life, you cannot deny it. Not even if you're a vampire and it means working under the morning sun.
He went about his business methodically -- with ease -- even humming as he strained in the mountain air. Using an ax, he made from slate he pounded at the vines and shrubbery until he had the pieces he needed. His vampiric strength remained with him as he kneaded his materials to the desired form.
When he finished, he went to the edge, sat with folded hands and stared coldly at the rising sun. Never flinching, mind clear, he waited. Soon the orb was high enough and he went to his wings -- the wings he'd fashioned, because the only way a vampire could fly in the sunlight was like Icarus, with a man-made contraption.
Throwing his cape aside, he fastened the wings, finding them sturdy and aerodynamic. They caught the wind and he was nearly blown off before he gained control.
Fierce gusts spun through the vines, the leaves hummed, and he ran to the edge, leapt and took flight. Rising in the updraft, he caught the upper winds and soared. Circling, he took a last look at the valley below, then the currents slowed and he began to glide even.
Waxen wings of Icarus, and the death of all beings, but he was determined to fly. Seeing the star again, he soared straight up -- fire and smoke of the dragon -- ashes and the beak of the phoenix rising again. Wings of plasma reaching home into the heart of the sun.
------ The End -------