This story contains sexually explicit material and is intended for adult readers. All characters are of legal age (which is clear for Vampirella, but you can't be cautious enough).

Vampirella and other prominent characters are copyright 1994 by Harris Publications, Inc. Story contents copyright November 2004 by Richard Justman. All rights reserved. This work is a not-for-profit amateur fan fiction written for the enjoyment of Vampirella fans.

Vampirella: Northern Lights builds on story elements presented in the Harris Vampirella comic series Morning in America and Fear of Mirrors as well as the Warren Vampirella story A Love Blessed in Hell. Interested readers may wish to refer to these volumes for additional background leading up to the current storyline.






      A distant clock tower chimed 10 PM as Vampirella strode westward along the edge of a riverside roadway which her pocket map identified as Dyke Road. The slim five-foot eleven beauty maintained a brisk pace as she continued along her route. She was dressed for the road in form-fitting jeans, a short black leather bomber-style jacket, rolled at the cuffs to reveal an array of gold bracelets, and her signature high, spike-heeled dress boots. Travelling light, she carried a single small valise. Casually brushing back a long strand of blue-black hair, she glanced up at the cold white October moon that shone overhead, starkly illuminating her rural surroundings. Tree leaves rustled in the gentle autumn breeze which blew in off the broad expanse of the Strait of Georgia, visible in the distance ahead, and up the mouth of the Fraser River making its way to her left.
      It was an isolated stretch for an attractive woman to be walking alone at this hour, but Vampirella was no ordinary woman, and she knew she had nothing to fear from anyone she might encounter in the night.
      The walk might have been pleasant were it not for the sense of mission that drove her onward. The air was balmy for this time of year on the West Coast of Canada. She thought back. How many lonely roads on how many nights had she traveled alone in the thirty-four years since coming to this world? Still much had changed in those years. Once she had been an alien, wandering fearfully through an unknown and hostile world, pursued by the vampire-hunting Van Helsings and the sinister Cult of Chaos. Nowadays she was the huntress, tracking down the vampiric earthly spawn of her own mother Lilith as well as the monstrous, otherworldly Hexxen from beyond the Black Mirror. And though she might not have admitted it, even to herself, her own lost homeworld of Drakulon was now far more alien to her than the Earth she had battled to protect from supernatural perils these many years. It was that unceasing warfare which had brought her to the sleepy little coastal village of Steveston to the south of Vancouver, British Columbia. Ahead she could see her destination, a quaint waterfront dotted with wooden-plank piers, moored salmon-fishing boats, and barn-like shipyard structures. Between her current locale and the slumbering town ahead, the blackened, rotted pilings of generations of crumbled breakwaters poked eerily from the moonlit river.
      But as in so many of the exotic locales Vampirella had traveled through of late, the modern world insinuated itself into the most rustic and out of the way settings. As she drew closer to town, the occasional heritage farmhouse gave way to the concrete and cinderblock gridwork of newly laid foundations for a closely packed housing development poised to be erected from stacked piles of lumber and roofing trusses. No doubt in a few years, this entire stretch of rural riverfront would be overrun by urban sprawl. The future owners of these cookie-cutter properties would be among the well off in a North American society increasingly divided between the comfortably affluent and the majority of the populace struggling to keep afloat. Their children would cavort in their postage stamp-sized backyards as their harried parents commuted off to Vancouver in their SUV’s to earn the livelihoods to pay their hefty mortgages. Such seemed to be the measure of progress on this, her adopted world.
      Pausing briefly under a streetlamp, she removed a folded newspaper clipping from her jacket pocket. "FOURTEEN DEAD IN CANADIAN HELICOPTER CRASH," proclaimed the headline. Below ran the subhead, "Military says bodies may never be recovered."
      Forty-eight hours ago she had been preparing to check out of a roadside motor lodge along a remote highway snaking through the California desert. As usual, she was on the road, pursuing leads in a paranormal investigation. A CNN newscast played in the background as she packed her meager valise. Midway through the world news segment, a televised press briefing coming from a Canadian Coast Guard station outside Vancouver had caught her attention. Onscreen, a grim-visaged spokesman was discussing an incident in which a Canadian military helicopter on a routine mission had crashed off the western mainland coast of British Columbia into the waters of the Strait of Georgia with fourteen Canadian Forces soldiers and crewmen lost. Initially Vampirella dismissed it as just another piece of grim world news, but as the assembled press began questioning the beleaguered speaker; the news event took on a macabre tone. Over the years, she had developed a sixth sense for the uncanny, events that might lead her to the workings of paranormal forces behind the scenes of the everyday world; and this certainly qualified. Questions flew surrounding an unusual display of the northern lights that might somehow be linked to the air tragedy. More ominously, the announcer clearly stonewalled when asked about the condition of the submerged wreckage or attempts to recover the remains of its occupants.
      Bizarre as the story itself had been, it was something else in the broadcast that had caused Vampirella to drop everything and run for the first northbound Greyhound. Among the audience to the televised event, incongruous amidst the neatly dressed reporters, stood a handsome square-jawed young man with longish blonde hair, wearing faded denims, listening attentively. It was a face that hadn’t aged or changed an iota in the twenty-one years since Vampirella had seen it last.
      At last arriving upon the sleepy main street of Steveston, she looked about for lodging for the night. She knew that no avenues of inquiry would be available to her at this hour and that her search would begin in earnest at first light. Again she pictured the seemingly impossible face from the newscast; the face of her long lost Drakulonian husband Tristan.



MAY 1982

      Like playful children, Vampirella and Tristan ran and frolicked arm in arm along the Croisette, laughing giddily at the passersby who turned to watch them. Even at this hour of the night, the beachfront promenade was filled with revelers heading to and from bars and late-night parties. For the two-week run of the Cannes Film Festival, the city was overrun with filmmakers, would-be stars, buyers, critics, and movie buffs.
      For too many years, Vampirella had lived on the fringes of human society. A globe-spanning nomad, she’d had no real connection to her newfound world save her grim pursuit of the forces of Chaos. Initially she’d been a lone wanderer, hiding in darkness. Later she’d traveled the world billed as stage assistant, in actuality star, of the Great Pendragon’s traveling magic act.
      Eventually the opportunity had presented itself to carve a life for herself within the world of men and, bone-weary of her rootless existence, she had grabbed at it. She had an actual career now, as a B-movie actress. Introduced to a series of producers by her friend and sometimes ally Pantha, she had landed roles in several low-budget exploitation films, the typical pulp cinema horror and sci-fi drive-in fare of the era.
      Granted, it wasn’t a calling she would have aspired to, trading on her looks, consummately acting out the male-defined role of the helpless bimbo both on camera and off. To Vampirella, Hollywood was a microcosm of the human condition and particularly of the American dream of the early 1980’s. On the streets and in the casting rooms of LA, vast privilege co-existed side by side with rank exploitation. The powerful built their success on the backs of the powerless. The dedicated sacrificed everything to pursue their impossible dreams, while self-centered egotists passed off their arrogance and eccentricity as artistic vision.
      Still, with worldly success had come money, respectability, and the power to make choices about her life instead of being constantly at the mercy of circumstance. She even owned a house now, a Hollywood mansion befitting a rising starlet. She knew it couldn’t last. She was living too high profile a lifestyle for someone with mortal enemies. But at least for a time she was able to lead a dual life with a comfortable existence and a home base to retreat to between her bouts with the forces of Chaos. Her biggest regret was that Adam Van Helsing was not currently a part of her life.
      Then on a rainy April night, had come an event that had turned her existence upside down. Quite literally arriving on her doorstep had been the emaciated figure of her Drakulonian husband Tristan. It was impossible. Tristan had perished in the dying days of their home planet before she had made the interstellar journey to Earth over a decade previously. In the end, all that had remained of him was a carefully preserved vial of his cellular material left on Drakulon, the genetic blueprint with which to someday carry on the lineage of the dying Vampyr race.
      Yet here he was, returned to her, very much alive, light-years from the lost world on which she’d left him. When she had been offered the chance to fly to the Côte D’Azur to promote one of her films in Cannes, she’d eagerly accepted. She had purchased his airfare herself, eager to introduce him to the beauty and pleasures of this world. Even more importantly, by maintaining a whirlwind itinerary of sensual adventures, she could postpone facing up to the cold reality that he didn’t belong in this world or this time. As well, she skirted the issue that after thirteen years of battling to survive on Earth, she was no longer the person she had once been on Drakulon. In addition, she now had her feelings for Adam to resolve.
      Vampirella was dressed to the nines in heels and a low-cut scarlet evening dress, while Tristan sported a classic black tuxedo. The two were returning from the Palais des Festivals where, courtesy of Vampirella’s producer, Marcel Lumet, they had attended the screening of Costa-Gavras Missing. The chilling political thriller, a thinly veiled retelling of the atrocities of Chile’s 1973 right-wing coup, was the leading contender for this year’s Palme d’Or, the Festival’s crowning award. As well, its star, Jack Lemmon, had garnered a best actor nomination.
      Vampirella had been advised that this year would be her last chance to attend a major Festival event in the graceful old Palais. Next year, the Festival would be shifted to a nearby bunker-like concrete exhibition center currently under construction.
      The juried Festival screenings taking place inside the Palais seemed a world apart from the hectic International Film Market going on outside. It was there, among tightly-packed exhibitors’ tents, that independent producers like Seymour Zull and Marcel Lumet courted global buyers, hawking the distribution rights to zero-budget films with titles like Vampire of Venice or Vampirella’s own Planet X. It was there also that Vampirella spent the daylight hours signing autographs and welcoming potential distributors to the Century Studios booth.
      As part of her contract duties, Vampirella had also posed several times for the assembled paparazzi. Her most memorable photo-op had been a shoot on the beach in front of the elegant Carlton Hotel, where she modeled in her scarlet costume, emulating the classic 1953 bikini poses by Brigitte Bardot.
      By night, she and Tristan had alternated between sampling the festivities surrounding the Festival and slipping off to explore the nooks and crannies of Cannes. On the latter occasions, they had typically ended up lustily exploring the nooks and crannies of each other.
      At length, they turned off the palm-lined Croisette, leaving behind the panoramic vista of the balmy, salt-tanged Mediterranean, sparkling diamond-like in the moonlight. They made their way inland towards their rented room along increasingly narrow side streets. There was a pecking order to the scarce local accommodations at Festival time, with the grand hotels surrounding the Palais commanding a premium. Paradoxically, the premier lodging favored by the American power elite, big-studio Hollywood moguls and dealmakers, was the Hotel du Cap located outside of Cannes proper. Producers and sales agents tended to gravitate to the Carlton or the Majestic. Not surprisingly, the struggling Century Studios had booked Vampirella a comfortable but modest second floor suite above a shopfront some distance from the Festival grounds.
      As they approached their apartment, Tristan began firmly kneading her buttocks through the sheer, satiny fabric of her dress. Already excited, Vampirella felt herself instantly growing wetter. Even after thirteen years apart, her body was conditioned to respond to her betrothed’s touch. Having raised several celebratory glasses of champagne together before leaving the Palais undoubtedly helped lower her inhibitions as well.
      On Drakulon, with its advanced civilization and lack of material needs, there had been virtually no moral or social taboos surrounding sex. Being new to this world, Tristan didn’t yet comprehend its morays regarding such issues as public display of affection. In this he differed from Vampirella, who had acquired a certain level of modesty in her years living among humans.
      They turned down a narrow lane, little more than a pedestrian alley, too tight to allow for automobile traffic. The entrance to their apartment was above the backside of the shop below, up an open metal staircase to a small wrought-iron landing. Noisily they climbed the stairs. Vampirella searched for her keys, but before she could retrieve them, Tristan abruptly lifted her and set her atop the metal railing. He stepped in between her parted legs and cupped his hands under her buttocks, balancing her. In this position, they shared a deep, lingering kiss, Tristan’s sensual tongue fervently probing her own.
      Vampirella’s floor length dress was slit high up the side, so Tristan had little difficulty momentarily lifting her and slipping it up about her waist. For a second, Vampirella’s eyes registered nervous astonishment. After all, while it was fairly quiet at this hour, there was no guarantee someone wouldn’t enter the lane at any moment.
      Tristan proceeded to tug her tiny scarlet g-string off, leaving her naked bottom protruding over the balcony rail. Delicately he began caressing her exposed muff with fluttering butterfly strokes. At first he simply brushed at the tufts of her raven pubes and softly patted the mound of her dark, pendulous outer labia. Then he carefully parted her nether lips and began tickling the moist, pink inner labia until they dripped with milky lubrication. Crouching down, he buried his face between her legs and began swirling his tongue wetly over her. She tousled his long blonde hair with her fingertips as he drew the hard knob of her clitoris between his pursed lips. In more intimate surroundings, Vampirella would have taken the time to savor the delicious sensation of his mouth on her sex, but the alley left her with an anxious sense of nervous excitement that caused her to pull him upright and hurriedly guide his penis into her slick vagina. She shivered at the cold metal rail pressing into the cheeks of her buttocks as he slowly began to grind his hot sex against hers.
       Moments later, Vampirella heard several sets of footsteps enter the narrow lane. She managed to turn her head to see half a dozen revelers, three couples, approaching, conversing amongst themselves in what she recognized as slurred Italian. From their flashy cocktail party attire and boisterous laughter, they appeared to be returning from the Festival as well.
      As they looked up at Vampirella’s exposed backside swinging overhead, they all stopped dead in their tracks. Vampirella knew she should make a dash for the apartment door almost at her fingertips. While a fair amount of exhibitionism and excess went on in Cannes at Festival time, this undoubtedly crossed the line. She suspected that calling up Marcel Lumet at 12:30 AM to bail her out of a French police station wouldn’t do much to advance her fledgling acting career.
      Perhaps it was the champagne that allowed the sensation of Tristan’s deep thrusts to win out over her own better judgement. Perhaps it was the excitement of having an audience. At any rate, far from running for the gendarmerie, the party of watchers moved in to take up position just inches directly beneath her gaping pudenda. She felt herself flush as she realized that from their vantage point, they could see every detail of her sopped pussy as Tristan’s glistening shaft pumped in and out of it. The deep reddish hue of her engorged inner labia, the curled black hairs of her luxuriantly full bush matted with her pearly drippings were all plainly on display.
      The uninhibited ministrations of her Drakulonian lifemate seemingly reawakened a side of her that had been pushed into the background in her unending struggles to adapt to this world. Forgotten memories of a world without shame or fear flooded back into her consciousness. As they did, she realized the six appreciative pairs of eyes scrutinizing her displayed sex were turning her on.
      In this position atop the rail, the hot, swollen head of Tristan’s penis stroked the roof of her vagina, milking her g-spot until she could feel it grow hard, distended with a sudden build-up of liquid. She tried to hold back, realizing that if she came now, she would shower her audience with g-spot fluid.
      Suddenly she heard the click of a shutter and saw the blue-white burst of a flashbulb between her legs. From her position, she couldn’t see whether her photographer, one of the six watchers, was in fact paparazzi or merely an opportunistic voyeur. Whichever, the sudden overpowering rush of mixed shock and excitement pushed her over the top. A copious flow of clear g-spot fluid streamed from her vulva as the contractions of a powerful orgasm rocked her. Her cunt spasmed uncontrollably, causing Tristan to ejaculate as well. She felt the hot rush of thick, sticky semen filling her up before it too dribbled out, forming a burning rivulet that coursed down her leg.
      Not finished with her yet, Tristan lifted her down and twirled her about so she stood with legs wide apart on the grate landing while her top half leaned out over the rail. Her hips sandwiched tightly between the railing in front and Tristan pressing into her from behind; there was no chance of her falling, even from this extended position. Tristan reached down and rubbed the sensitive head of his penis through the coarse thatch of her pubes. Aroused like her by the attention they were receiving, it took him little time to regain his erection. Finding her slick vaginal opening once again, he drove into her doggie-style. Vampirella let out a gasp as his thick shaft plunged deep inside her, filling her clutching vagina. Churning his hips, he thrust into her with ever-increasing vigor.
      As he did so, he reached around and dropped the straps of her dress from her shoulders exposing her full-rounded breasts. He cupped his hands along the undersides, stroking gently. For a moment his fingertips lingered over the decidedly bat-shaped birthmark on the inner side of her right breast. Then he moved up to her nipples, circling the large, dark aureole. Next he delicately brushed the tips of her nipples which were already fully erect. Finally he pinched both nipples firmly between thumb and forefinger.
      Vampirella began to lose it again as she squarely faced her audience in the alleyway below. Her dress was now wrapped about her waist so that her captive breasts and wide-open pussy were entirely on display. One of the male onlookers brought up a camera, thankfully an amateur’s pocket model, and snapped another picture. Vampirella stared him down as she stood splayed atop the landing, impaled on Tristan’s thrusting member, writhing in ecstasy.
      She could easily have snatched the camera away, but having come this far in exhibiting herself, she thought she might as well go for broke. So some lucky movie buff would be going home to wherever with XXX-rated pussy shots of the star of Planet X getting her brains fucked out in a Cannes alleyway. Talk about your ultimate Film Festival souvenir. She moaned aloud as she imagined explicit close-ups of her at her most intimate taped to someone’s grubby bathroom wall or being passed leeringly around some smoke-filled backroom poker game. Then there was the danger element of the remote but real possibility of their ending up in one of the risqué European tabloids with portions of her anatomy strategically blacked out, no doubt under some lurid headline about sin and scandal amongst the Riviera jet-set.
      Even as an adolescent on lost Drakulon, Tristan, for all his gentleness, had had a sexual adventurousness about him. He had always had the power to coax her into new adventures in sexual experimentation that she had at first resisted but always ended up enjoying. Perhaps that was one of the things she had loved in him. In coming to this world, she had discovered her own true nature as a fighter and a huntress. But in her eyes, gentle Tristan would always be foremost a lover. Now here they were, more than a decade and countless light-years from their innocent adolescence, engaging in one more erotic adventure.
      If her first orgasm had been huge, the second was unbelievable. Wave after wave of pleasure coursed from her filled loins up her arched spine and out to her outstretched fingertips. When Tristan came inside her a second time, her knees nearly buckled and she slumped over the balcony rail, panting for breath.
      Coming down at last, she fumbled once more for her keys and flung open the apartment door. Her body drenched in sweat, hair matted, cum running down both legs, she stepped through the doorway, pulling Tristan after her. Inside, she slumped against the door, clutching Tristan’s head between her tender breasts. Outside, she heard her gaggle of watchers, realizing the show was over, begin staggering onward, laughing and shouting.
      Propped against the entryway with Tristan enfolded in her arms, Vampirella threw her head back and laughed with sheer abandonment till tears coursed down her cheeks. Yet even in this most intimate moment of shared sexual ecstasy, she felt her thoughts drawn back to Adam Van Helsing. In that moment, she reflected with a mixture of joy and sadness that though her heart of hearts might now belong to Adam, her cunt was still Tristan’s. She didn’t know if hers and Tristan’s destinies truly lay down the same path or even where they would go after Cannes, but she realized that a part of her would always belong to her first beloved.




      Vampirella casually inspected her tidy little suite. Arriving in Steveston, she had spotted a pub and inn along the town’s main street. Entering the ground level pub, she had booked a room and paid two nights’ cash at the bar. As with everywhere she went, she received appreciative looks from the male patrons. She noted though that they seemed to be a good-natured crowd, more interested in their own camaraderie than in hitting on an attractive lone female. Valise in hand, she’d headed up the stairs to the second floor inn portion of the establishment.
      The bedroom was comfortable but unpretentious, done up in an 1800’s seafarer’s inn theme. Her boot heels clicked on the scratched hardwood floor as she stepped inside and secured the room door. A queen-sized bed furnished with a white down comforter and Colonial patterned coverlet dominated the room. Additional furnishings included a refinished wooden bureau and an imitation antique reading table. Several nautical-themed artists’ prints and sepia-tone photos depicting the history of the Steveston fishing fleet adorned the walls. A cushioned chair sat in front of a curtained window overlooking the main street and a portion of riverside fishing marina outside. A small, undistinguished bathroom and closet completed the suite.
      While it didn’t compare to some of the five-star hotels of Europe she’d visited in her brief heyday as a 1970’s B-movie starlet, it certainly displayed more charm and character than the freeway motor lodges to which she’d grown accustomed in her recent lone wanderings.
      Ever mindful of security, Vampirella noted with satisfaction the heavy room door with deadbolt and chain, the lack of connecting side doors to adjacent suites, and the fact that the second story window faced the well-lit and trafficked front side of the establishment.
      Spreading open her valise on top of the bed, she breathed a sigh of relief to have arrived for the night. She had her current allies, the covert FBI paranormal investigations operation known as the World’s End Circus and its special agent in charge, Harry Krishna, to thank for her ease in getting here. As a person without an earthly background, crossing international borders with the scrutiny it entailed had always been problematic for her. While she could use her vampiric abilities to metamorphose into bat form and literally fly over border checkpoints, she couldn’t carry any of the clothing or effects needed to blend into human society. She would arrive essentially naked with at most her tiny scarlet costume.
      At one time back in the seventies, she had possessed an ironclad alias as Valerie Durrell, complete with full documentation and a counterfeit lifetime’s worth of forged, planted records. However the discovery that a Mr. Spectrum, obviously another alias, the government intelligence agent who had provided her credentials, was in fact a Chaos mole had forced her to abandon that identity decades ago. Now, thanks to the World’s End, she again traveled under a fully documented persona. Still she had been apprehensive about the possibility of detection in the heightened security world since 9/11.
      From her bag, she removed her most important possession, a supply of the tiny vials of blood substitute serum she required to survive in lieu of fresh human blood. There had been times when maintaining an uninterrupted supply of this obscure formula had been the paramount challenge to her continued existence. Currently however, again thanks to the Circus, she had a reliable source. Breaking open one of the vials, she downed her daily dose.
      Despite the lateness of the hour, Vampirella could not immediately unwind from the urgency of the quest that had brought her here. Tomorrow she would begin her investigation into the mysterious helicopter crash which was her only link to the apparent reappearance and current whereabouts of long-lost Tristan. Fortunately she had a starting point in mind, an old contact of Conrad Van Helsing’s, another paranormal investigator hopefully still living near here in Vancouver.
      From a side pocket of her bag, she removed a series of Internet printouts which she spread across the top of the bed.
      The use of computers and the Internet as a research tool had come late to her. She had the vaguest of recollections of having once been adept at whatever otherworldly technology must have existed on Drakulon. Much of her earthly existence however had been spent in the company of arcane practitioners and investigators into the paranormal such as Mordecai Pendragon and Conrad Van Helsing. She was more at home in their world of dusty tomes and mildewy archive vaults than in the online world of the twenty-first century.
      But her newfound association with the new breed of Gen-X investigators who largely comprised the Circus, sharp, intensely professional operatives like Mulligan and O’Hare, had forced her to adapt to the times. Pendy and Conrad and Adam too were dead and gone, as was the simpler, more innocent decade of her original exploits. The young men and women of the World’s End were her allies now, and as a seemingly immortal vampiress, she might well outlive them and their methodologies as well.
      The first printout, a download from a Canadian news website, elaborated on the helicopter crash story.

      A Canadian Forces CH-124 Sea King helicopter from the 12th Air Wing attached to the Navy’s Maritime Forces Pacific Command crashed at sea Sunday night while participating in a joint Canadian Forces exercise. The helicopter was en route from CFB Esquimalt, home of the Pacific Fleet, to CFB Comox, Canada’s West Coast military airbase. The helicopter was carrying a crew of four and ten passengers when it went down in waters east of Vancouver Island. The passengers were reported to be members of the Canadian Forces’ elite JTF2 counterterrorism operations group. Air traffic controllers at CFB Comox indicate the flight reported experiencing an electrical power loss prior to the crash.
      Nighttime search-and-rescue operations were conducted by the 442nd Transport and Rescue Squadron out of Comox as well as the Vancouver Coast Guard detachment. Aerial searchers reported sighting floating debris in the Swanson Channel south of Pender Island, however no survivors were recovered. Dive teams were placed in the water at first light on Monday and located the submerged helicopter.
      Canadian Maritime Command spokesperson Pauline Levasseur briefed reporters at the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Esquimalt late Monday. In an unusual development, it was revealed at this news conference that no recovery operations were being conducted at this time. Initial reports out of Comox had indicated divers were unable to locate remains of the crew or passengers within the underwater wreckage, however JRCC and MARPAC sources are refusing all comment on the status of remains or the timing of recovery efforts.
      Speaking off the record, unnamed sources close to the investigation have linked the crash to numerous recent sightings of the aurora borealis in the skies around Vancouver. Though common in northern latitudes, such sightings are an extremely rare occurrence in southern British Columbia.
      The CH-124 Sea King, procured in the mid-1960’s, is one of the oldest aircraft in active service with the Canadian Forces. Twenty-seven Sea Kings remain operational, primarily deployed in ship-based anti-submarine surveillance, search-and-rescue, and fleet logistics missions. Investigators are expected to focus on electrical failure due to the age of the aircraft as the probable cause of this accident.
       Crew and passengers are officially being listed as missing, however JRCC sources have ruled out the possibility of locating survivors. Names of the missing have not been released to the public pending notification of relatives.

      A second printout carried a tongue-in-cheek filler piece downloaded from the online edition of a Toronto news weekly. By itself, it would have been more odd than ominous, but taken in conjunction with the reported helicopter crash, it suggested to Vampirella a suspicious confluence of events.



      Numerous eyewitnesses throughout the South Coast and Gulf Islands of British Columbia have claimed to have sighted the aurora borealis appearing over the Georgia Strait near Vancouver. Over the last ten days, news channels, airports, and weather services have been inundated with reports of the northern lights coming from island residents, BC Ferries passengers, and aircraft pilots among others. Meteorologists have been at a loss to explain the rash of sightings.
      When contacted, Environment Canada meteorologist Dwayne Coxford explained that the frequency of occurrence of the aurora borealis varies greatly according to latitude. Auroras occur most often in an oval ring that circumscribes the Earth at around 67° north latitude. A similar ring exists in the Southern Hemisphere. In far northern regions, auroras are visible almost daily, while in tropical zones they appear at intervals of decades to centuries. Around Vancouver, the northern lights could be expected to appear two to four times per year. Daily sightings extending over a period of weeks are an extreme statistical improbability for a specific locality along the Canada/US border.
      The northern lights are produced by energetic ions ejected from the sun’s corona. Traveling through the solar system as the solar wind, those nearing the Earth are trapped by its magnetic field and directed towards the planet’s magnetic poles. Entering the upper atmosphere, they collide with atmospheric gas molecules emitting their energy as visible light, the aurora borealis.
      Coxford speculated what witnesses might be seeing is light pollution from metropolitan centres on both sides of the Georgia Strait. "As urban development continues to occur, more nighttime ground light is produced. This in turn is reflected back to Earth by an increasingly heavy layer of urban smog being produced over the Lower Mainland and Greater Victoria. Plus there’s a credibility factor to take into account. These kinds of reports tend to build on themselves."
      Several eyewitnesses disputed the reflected ground lights explanation. Longtime Saltspring Island resident Lawrence Whitney responded, "I’ve seen the Strait in every kind of weather imaginable, but I've never seen a display like this, like glowing green tendrils writhing through the sky. As a young man, I worked up north in the Alberta Oil Patch. I’ve never seen a more spectacular display of the northern lights."
      Despite the number of eyewitness accounts, no photographs or video footage have yet surfaced to substantiate the nature of the sightings.

      Vampirella puzzled over the sheets before her. If the face she had glimpsed in the newscast really had been Tristan, why had he surfaced now after all these years? And what the hell could be his connection to this bizarre air tragedy?
      So much had happened in the years since that seemingly magical interlude in Cannes. Little had she known during those brief days of abandon, that a week later Tristan would be gone again or that in less than a year, an era of her own existence would draw to a terrifying close.



APRIL 1983

      Vampirella looked warily about as she edged along the wall of a dimly lit, brick-lined tunnel. Behind her followed Adam, Conrad, and Pendragon, looking equally unsettled traversing this maze of corridors hundreds of feet beneath the streets of Manhattan. From directly ahead, the sound of frenzied moans and breathless panting echoed towards them.
      Hours before they had begun their descent into a contemporary update of Dante’s Inferno, with each successive subterranean level revealing new horrors.
      A month previous to that, the Van Helsings had been contacted in Massachusetts by a traumatized New York call girl with a lurid tale of demoniac rape which they had initially been tempted to dismiss as the stuff of urban legend. The vampire-hunting pair had encountered diabolical cults of various stripes throughout the globe, but her narrative of an occult sex cult operating underneath New York’s Financial District had seemed too over-the-top to be credible. Consultation with fellow paranormal researchers based around New York however had convinced them otherwise, prompting an expedition to NYC to investigate. Several accounts were passed on, hinting at seemingly miraculous windfalls taking place amongst the insiders of Wall Street. While fortunes were made and broken every day on the stock markets, these were transactions that suggested foreknowledge beyond any possibility of chance or financial insight or even any conventional form of insider trading. A few of their New York contacts had gone so far as to coin the name Demon Brokers in referring to the unknown parties behind the phenomenon.
      Their investigation had received an unexpected breakthrough when a new source, apparently highly placed in New York’s financial world, had approached them. Meeting in shadowy midnight rendezvous and underground parking ramps, he had by stages passed on details of a dangerous new machination by the Companions of Chaos. The picture that eventually emerged was of an elite new circle of the Companions, a group calling themselves the Unseelee Congress, who had entered into an exchange with the dark forces of the Nethervoid in order to manipulate the world’s largest financial market. Somehow they had forged an alliance with the demoniac spawn of Belphegor, one of Chaos’ Seven Servants.
      Little was known about Belphegor up to that point. It was believed his brood were carnal entities, fertility demons more interested in wildly perverse forms of sexual domination than in the spilling of blood.
      The terms of the arrangement seemed to be to allow members of the unholy Congress precognitive vision of selected future events in exchange for a human traffic in fornicating with demons from the other side. With an absolute foreknowledge of market trends, stock prices, and world events, this cadre would possess the ultimate insider edge, enabling them to amass vast power and fortunes almost overnight.
      It came as no surprise to Vampirella that there would be those willing to submit to a few hours of sexual degradation in exchange for a lifetime of privilege. And for the unwilling, there was the option of providing surrogates to pay the cost of their obscene gain. According to the Van Helsings’ source, many of the specifics of what had been done to them were lost to willing and unwilling participants alike. A potion was administered by the Companions which submerged their experiences beneath a veil of pseudomemories.
      Beyond the activities taking place in the catacombs, the source had hinted at a broader, decades-spanning campaign of political and economic subversion culminating in some devastating future supernatural event of overt conquest. It was suggested that the occurrences transpiring beneath the Financial District were the initial beachhead leading towards that apocalyptic event. No amount of prying on their part would induce him to divulge further specifics of this larger agenda.
      Any possibility of further revelations had been abruptly cut off the day before, when their source had mysteriously perished in a bizarre convulsive fit occurring amidst throngs of onlookers right on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange. With their source compromised and themselves in likely peril, Vampirella and her followers had made the snap decision to take the initiative and move on their opponents.
      Following directions laid out by their deceased contact, they had begun their descent some distance from the Financial District, setting off through a warren of abandoned subway tunnels and service corridors. There they had encountered clusters of subway dwellers, urban denizens of the very lowest rung of the other America. These were the hardcore homeless who for various reasons had either fallen through or chosen to avoid the flimsy social safety nets of homeless shelters, city missions, and welfare housing.
      Many were addicts or the mentally ill, lost souls from amongst tens of thousands deinstitutionalized from New York’s state psychiatric facilities during the sixties and seventies. The idea on the part of community health planners and the psychiatric establishment had been to mainstream them into halfway houses, reintegrating them into the larger community. However with tightening budgets and changing social values, the halfway houses had never been put into operation and many former patients had ended up cast out onto the streets.
      Also represented was a new face of poverty in America, formerly middle or working class citizens whose livelihoods had been rendered superfluous when traditional industries like textiles and steel had moved offshore. This exodus had decimated entire communities in the South and in the Rust Belt states. For many displaced workers, the promise of the American Dream had been replaced by the new reality of Reaganomics. Some had ended up here, far below the streets of Manhattan. Looking about the squalid subterranean encampments, Vampirella had wondered if America’s most recent experiment in Social Darwinism was a political flash-in-the-pan or a harbinger of things to come.
      Proceeding deeper, they had passed through long-deserted catacombs into which toxic effluents of the city above had seeped and collected in stagnant, oily pools. Patches of luminescent yellow mold spores had taken hold and grown on the contaminated walls. Discarded motor oil, PCB’s from leaking transformers, benzene, organic solvents, and even more exotic compounds; they all worked their way downward through foundations and storm drains to form a chemical witch’s brew far below the city. Vampirella wondered how many days the others were taking off their lifespans just by passing through here and breathing the buildup of noxious fumes. For that matter, did she really know what effect it might have on her own alien biochemistry?
      Eventually they had come upon a rusted steel door decorated in art deco patterns. Prying it open, they had emerged into an incredible remnant of the New York of another era. An arched gallery some twenty feet high curved into the distance ahead of them. Vertical block walls reached from a tiled floor to chest height. Above that a curved ceiling of herringbone patterned brickwork arched overhead. A checkerboard trim of multicolored ceramic tiles decorated arched supports at regular intervals along the tunnel. Smaller semicircular openings along the sidewalls opened onto a series of block-walled storerooms. Still others led to arched side tunnels and stairwells extending to other levels. Here and there, massive building columns of rivet-studded ironwork were incorporated into the layout.
      This complex must have been a marvel of early twentieth century architecture. Perhaps it had once been a subbasement storage archive belonging to one of the major Wall Street financial institutions now directly above them. Today, decades later, chunks of the decorative ceramic trim had peeled away revealing stained gray blocks, and the once-bright colors of the brickwork were mottled from constant seepage.
      Antique incandescent ceiling fixtures still illuminated the subterranean rooms, indisputable proof of recent habitation and maintenance. Following a downward leading stairwell, the party had proceeded with greater caution. On the next level, dark robed cultists, many with raised cowls, had roamed the arched corridors, going about various tasks. A few guided blindfolded female followers in diaphanous white gowns. Vampirella had the disturbing impression that some of the forms beneath the darker costumes were not entirely human. Managing to avoid detection, they had finally arrived at their present location in a damp brick corridor along which the sounds of passion echoed.
      Waving the others to hold their ground, Vampirella proceeded forward, emerging onto a narrow gallery overlooking a high vaulted chamber. The walls around her were decorated with chipped ceramic tile murals depicting a sinister, tentacled bestiary. Peering over the solid half-wall of the upper level gallery, her eyes bulged in shocked horror.

      Yolanda Johnson savored the cool crispness of clean white sheets against her ebony skin. She lay nude on her stomach; her limbs spread wide atop a massage table. Only a strategically placed towel covered her full, upturned buttocks. Loren’s firm hands kneaded the muscles of her shoulders. Every female guest of the Resort craved the strapping blonde masseur’s touch, but as its star patron, she had first dibs on his services. Her eyes fluttered momentarily open. Before her, a series of stepped terraces lined with vividly colored exotic plants overlooked a blue Caribbean Sea far below. Nearby a churning spa pool bubbled invitingly. A fluted glass of chilled champagne rested amidst iced grapes on a small stand at her fingertips.
      The Resort seemed a world away from the Harlem apartment block in which she’d grown up with a single mother and four siblings. Thankfully it was equally distant from the noisy print room of a large Wall Street brokerage house in which she’d spent the last several years checking off requisition slips and feeding banks of photocopiers. The Companions of Chaos had promised her a life of glamour and adventure in exchange for a small service on her part, and to their credit, they had delivered.
      Yolanda’s nostrils flared at the pungent scent of clove and cinnamon as Loren drizzled aromatic oil along the length of her spine. Her eyes drifted closed again as he began to work it along her back with slickened fingers. She lapped up the delicious sensation of his hands working the tension from her arms, her legs, the soles of her feet. It almost felt as if there were more than two hands stroking her exposed body. Perhaps Loren had motioned an assistant to join him in servicing his star client. By now she was too relaxed, her body too heavy, to crack her eyelids and take a peek.
      She was aware of the towel being removed, revealing her buttocks to the warm tropical sun. She felt the nipples of her full breasts stiffen with arousal and couldn’t help grinding her pelvis into the table as a trickle of the oil ran down the crack of her butt. The astringent clove felt warm, almost burning as it flowed over the puckered rosebud of her anus. Loren grasped her cheeks with both hands and kneaded, alternately spreading them and pressing them tightly together.
      She knew what was coming next and was already squirming in anticipation as a warm, well lubricated fingertip momentarily stroked her black labia before inserting itself deep into her hot, dripping pussy.

      Kelly Braxton pondered the novel sensation of having two men caressing and fondling her naked body. Lying on her back on her queen-sized bed, she looked down at Max enthusiastically suckling a distended nipple while her husband Hugh sat contentedly, legs crossed Indian style between her splayed legs, gently tickling the insides of her thighs. Over their shoulders, the nighttime skyline of Manhattan was visible through the open curtains of their newly purchased high-rise suite. The striking platinum blonde couldn’t believe that here she was, a happily married woman, in a situation she wouldn’t even have considered as a younger, wilder single.
      She’d always known Hugh had a bit of a kinky side down deep, but since their fortunes had recently skyrocketed, he had been more relaxed, more willing to take the time to explore his and her fantasies. Even for a rising junior associate of a high-powered Wall Street law firm, living and working in Manhattan with its astronomical cost of living could be horrendously expensive and stress inducing. Her decision to exchange certain favors with the Cult of Chaos had changed all that, catapulting them overnight into a new world of financial freedom.
      Yesterday she had received a call from Max, a then-married former lover with whom she’d had an intense if ill-advised affair some years prior to her own marriage. Upon learning he was passing through NYC on business, she had been surprised when Hugh had encouraged her to invite Max to stay with them. She’d been even more surprised when, after several drinks, the two men had proposed a
ménage à trois and she had agreed.
      The affair was long behind her, but Max’s erotic touch brought back the thrill of that illicit adventure. At the same time she was doing this in the safety of her own bed at her husband’s instigation, so there would be no guilty secrets when morning arrived.
      Max, always a serious breast man, continued to probe her now-tender nipple with a flickering tongue while Hugh deftly parted her moist labia and slowly inserted the shaft of his engorged member deep into her. As Hugh began thrusting, he motioned Max to climb atop her, straddling her face with his own dick. Unsure of her own feelings about what she was doing, she took her ex-lover’s sex into her mouth as her beloved spouse excitedly fucked her pussy.
      What finally put her over the top was when her husband, still pumping away, took Max’s hand and guided it through the golden ringlets of her bush directly onto her swollen clitoris. Her own writhing climax was unbelievable as hot, salty cum simultaneously filled her mouth and her vagina while fingers that were not her husband’s tugged at her erect clit.

      Wearing only a pair of after-ski boots and a long terry robe over her skimpy French-cut bikini, Colette Robbins dashed the short distance between her room and the greenhouse-like glass hot tub enclosure. Both the white moon boots and the metallic gold European swimsuit had been purchased in the lodge’s gift shop that morning; the former as part of a new designer ski ensemble, the latter for the late evening use of the lodge’s communal hot tub. She had noted with satisfaction that the purchases had barely made a dent in the balance of one of her gold-member debit cards. Her newfound arrangement with Ethan Shroud and his Chaos followers had made this first-class trip from New York to the slopes of Vail possible. With the way things were falling into place, she might be able to do Aspen or Whistler as well later this season. By next year, she could probably retire from her stock brokerage position for good and spend the rest of her life simply enjoying the prosperity that had been showered upon her.
      Her breath was visible in the cold, thin Rocky Mountain air. Unlatching the glass door with her guest key, she hurried into the steamy warmth of the pool house. She had already started to peel off her robe, eager to sink into the steaming tub, when she realized she was not alone in the enclosure. Two young men sat immersed in the bubbling bath while an attractive brunette sat perched on the edge, her feet dangling in the water. It took a further moment to register that the trio were naked. The men’s erect cocks bobbed at attention beneath the swirling waters of the illuminated tub. The woman was even more blatantly exposed, sitting with her legs spread wide, revealing her full pubes. Colette briefly considered retreating, wondering if she had intruded upon a threesome engaging in some late-night hanky panky in the tub room. However the trio smiled invitingly at her, though making no effort to cover up.
      "Come on in. The water’s great," smiled a male model-handsome man with short black hair. "I’m Rod. This is Glen and Chloe."
      "Colette," she responded, almost laughing out loud at the unintended humor of Rod’s enormous cock bobbing in the current from the pool’s jets as he introduced himself.
      What the hell, she told herself tossing her robe aside and climbing into the pool, she was here to cut loose and have a good time. The two men were hunks, and she was half a continent from her Wall Street colleagues.
      "Care for a beer?" offered Chloe, pulling a green pony bottle from a well-stocked cooler. Colette noted quite a few empties of the expensive import were already resting around the sides of the tub.
      Accepting the brew, Colette appraised her new companions. Chloe had a softly voluptuous figure with full hips and, judging from the disproportionate size of her melon shaped breasts, had had a boob job at some point. A small but colorful tattoo of a bluebird just above her bikini line was strategically placed to draw further attention to her exposed crotch. Her long chestnut hair was matted by the steam filling the greenhouse.
      Snow bunny, Colette thought. While quite attractive in a soft sort of way, she was clearly no athlete.
      The two men by contrast were sleekly muscled with trim athletic figures. In chatting them up, she discovered Glen, the son of an Alberta oil family, was a semi-professional competition skier at home on the Canadian slopes of Banff and Lake Louise. Rod, the owner-manager of a ski instruction school, was on his home turf here in Vail. Colette, confident of her own prowess on the slopes, honed through years of winter weekends in the Hamptons, was perfectly comfortable conversing with the male athletes on their own level.
      Chloe, none to her surprise, turned out to be a former exotic dancer from Denver.
      "That’s a beautiful swimsuit," Rod commented admiringly, "but you don’t need it in here."
      The moment of truth, thought Colette. There was little doubt where things would end up if she complied. The question was, did she want to make it here with Rod in front of, or for that matter with, Glen and Chloe? Glancing again at the fleshy brunette exhibiting herself, the competitive streak that had made Colette a power player on the floor of the NYSE flared in her.
      Untying her gold bra and wriggling out of her metallic thong, she tossed them onto the poolside. Naked like the others except for tiny hoop earrings and a gold tennis bracelet, she scooted herself up onto the lip of the tub next to Chloe. The two women, each beautiful in their own right, were a study in contrasts. Colette possessed the trim figure of a top skier and dedicated exercise queen. Her stomach was flat and well defined, her legs long and firm. Her conical breasts, while smaller than Chloe’s, stood perkily upright with erect pointed nipples. She spread her legs allowing the two men to stare unabashedly at her curly, flame-red bush and the pinkish white knob of her clitoris, peeking from between her delicate labia.
      Realizing that Colette was ready to succumb, Rod pressed his advantage. Standing upright in the tub, he stepped between her parted legs and leaned in to kiss her about the neck. He placed his hands about her waist. Then, to her surprise, he boosted her to the side and deposited her directly in Chloe’s lap. Before she could wriggle free or voice an objection, the other woman wrapped her arms tightly around Colette, her fingers immediately seeking out Colette’s nipples. Colette had never made it with another woman and had no interest in doing so. She felt a momentary unease as she felt Chloe’s large breasts pressed spongily into her shoulders. More uncomfortably, she felt a sticky wetness where the other woman’s pussy pressed up against her buttocks. But she was determined not to show her discomfort to Rod, whose huge cock she urgently wanted to feel inside of her, and who was obviously getting off on choreographing the action in the pool.
       She almost forgot about Chloe wriggling against her backside as Rod kissed her full on the lips. After a few moments, she parted her lips and felt her excitement rising as their swirling tongues caressed one another.
      Reaching down, he carefully spread her smooth vulva, folding back her delicate, rose petal pink inner labia. From a gym bag sitting within arm’s reach next to Chloe, he produced a tiny plastic pillow of gel lubricant which he drizzled liberally over the tip and down the long shaft of his penis. He rubbed the head about the outside of her sex. She gasped as the tip brushed vigorously back and forth over the tiny knob of her clit. Doused with the slick gel, his thick oversized member slid easily into her, filling her tight sex.
      For several minutes she grunted helplessly, held tight by Chloe while Rod churned her stuffed vagina with his sex. Next, at Rod’s direction, Chloe slid down into the tub still holding onto Colette. Glen was now able to slip behind Chloe and enter her pussy from the rear. All four of them were now sandwiched together standing upright in the center of the tub, the girls pressed between the two men. Supported by the others, Colette lifted her feet up off the pool floor and let her arms drift out to the sides, her body sinking back into Chloe. Buoyed in this position, she churned her hips furiously to meet Rod’s thrusts.
      As he continued to pump her, she felt a tickling between the cheeks of her ass. She assumed the probing finger belonged to Glen, but as he shifted position, she suddenly realized with a flash of anger that it was Chloe whose not entirely welcome digit had intruded into her anus. She hadn’t particularly warmed to the buxom brunette, whom she’d instinctively seen as a rival, but her annoyance was tempered by the realization that she was already well on the way to displacing Chloe in the eyes of the two alpha males. Besides, truth to tell, the woman’s wriggling finger in concert with Rod’s thrusts was driving her wild. As someone who thrived on risk and adventure, the illicit thrill of being taken in a public pool by two strange men and a woman was almost too much to bear.
      Held in this position, she came again and again in an intense rush of squeezing vaginal walls and spasming sphincter muscles.

      Directly beneath Vampirella leaning over the gallery parapet, three young women were perched in varying sexually explicit positions atop alter-like stone slabs. The trio were manacled to their pedestals by lengths of chain sufficient to allow them to be manipulated into various postures while precluding any possibility of escape. There was a large breasted black woman, a bleached blonde, and a lanky, athletic looking redhead. The three of them were drenched with sweat, writhing in a state of mindless ecstasy bordering on oblivion. All of them were completely naked.
       Looming over each captive was an otherworldly thing some eight feet in height. Vampirella knew at once that these must be the demoniac spawn of Belphegor. Each of the supernatural creatures stood on two legs with a head and two arms. However their proportions and the arrangement of their anatomy conformed to an unearthly alien symmetry. Vampirella had the distinct impression she was looking at a form adapted to existence in another dimensional realm besides that of this earth. Unlike the caricatured depictions presented in mythology, these demons possessed a functional if alien physiology.
      Their heads tracked the whimpers and squirmings of their bound female captives with attentive, directed motions, though they possessed nothing immediately recognizable as eyes or other sensory organs. Their massive limbs seemed to be constructed from layer upon layer of bulbous, knotted muscles, as if they’d developed under the influence of out-of-control steroids. Steel-like tendons anchored multilobed, globular organs to a knobbed spine. The bulges and contours of this indecipherable anatomy were plainly outlined beneath a pallid, parchment-colored dermis.
      Most horrific though was the groin area of the creatures, which writhed with a slithering nest of viper-like phallic extensors. Veined tentacles extending from the demons entwined the three women, holding arms pinned and legs spread wide. Others groped the splayed bodies beneath them, fondling breasts and stomachs slick with mucous secretions. Still more tentacles penetrated the various orifices of the women, rippling with rhythmic contractions.
      For their part, the women seemed to be writhing more in orgasmic ecstasy than in revulsion. They seemed oblivious to the fact that they were being ravaged by tentacled demons in a subterranean vault. The black woman, flipped onto her stomach, her buttocks held in the air, breathlessly whispered instructions to someone named Loren as a knobbed appendage resembling a knotted length of animated rope worked its way inside her anus while another pulsing tentacle filled her vagina. The blonde lay gasping, spread-eagled on her back, her tongue wrestling a bobbing tendril which worked its way in and out of her mouth. Numerous thin, snaking appendages wriggled over her stomach and thighs, several disappearing into her vagina and reaching under her squirming buttocks. The redhead was held upright, dangling over the altar, by numerous tentacles entwined about her chest and outstretched arms. Tentacles pinched her erect nipples. Her hips gyrated wildly as a thick, muscular tentacle dripping with mucus stretched her gaping vagina while smaller tendrils wriggled about her butt and over her glistening white clit.
      Without hesitation, Vampirella leaped over the gallery rail onto the shoulders of the nearest demon. Before it could react to her surprise assault, she grasped its head and wrenched it sharply sideways. She’d had no idea how tough the demoniac creature might be, but she smiled with grim satisfaction as the crunch of shattering bone and cartilage crackled from inside its corded neck. The creature slumped lifelessly on top of the redheaded woman, its suddenly drooping tentacles sliding from her.
      Immediately, the other two creatures whirled to face her. Single minded, their flexible tentacles continued to plunder the bound women under them even as they faced off against Vampirella. More elongated phalluses shot forward, aiming unerringly towards Vampirella’s crotch. A remarkably dexterous head hooked itself about the bottom panel of her scarlet costume, attempting to pull it aside. She felt the wild fluttering of tiny villi combing through her raven pubes attempting to burrow their way into the furrow of her vulva.
      Before the obscene nozzles could penetrate her sex, she slashed out with raking fingers, cleanly severing several of the attacking tentacles. Bileish green fluid spurted from twitching stumps as the two demons bellowed in sudden rage and agony. A huge, muscle-bound fist whirled in her direction in a ponderous roundhouse which she agilely ducked. She pressed the attack, grabbing another handful of whipping tentacles out of the air and yanking them out by their roots. Stepping in close to the nearest demon, she viciously boxed its nonexistent ears. Whatever the actual functionality of its alien head, the stunning head blow sent it staggering. A precisely delivered kick to the midriff of the final demon seemed to take the fight out of it as well.
      Defeated and bleeding, the two creatures simply dematerialized, fading from the chamber with a brief, ghostly luminescence. Left behind were the remains of the deceased demon, which had tumbled onto the concrete floor and were now melting away into a frothy brown mass.
      As Adam and Pendragon guided Conrad down a narrow stair, Vampirella tugged the twisted crotch of her costume back into place. The four of them checked the female captives who, though bruised and dazed, didn’t appear to have suffered immediate physical harm from their ordeal. Eyeing the sticky fluids dribbling from their swollen sexes, Vampirella shuddered to think what the possible long-term consequences of their demoniac rape might be.
      "We’d better get out of here," Vampirella urged the others. "Those things may not have gone far. They could be back anytime with reinforcements."
      "Besides," Adam added, "these women obviously didn’t have a clue what was happening to them. They’re still Companions of Chaos. They might not appreciate your rescuing them once they come to their senses. We should be gone before that."
      "We’re not out of this yet," Conrad warned, his clairvoyant sixth sense kicking in. "I sense something more waiting for us further below."
      "What is it, Dad?" asked Adam. "What are you sensing?"
      "An ending," Conrad answered flatly, looking directly at Vampirella with his sightless eyes.



APRIL 1983

      Vampirella taking the lead, the four of them descended another claustrophobic stairwell. The level onto which they eventually emerged, though originally constructed from the same baroque tilework and masonry as above, had fallen into a more advanced state of decay. While the underlying structure seemed stable enough, more of the ceramic fascia lay in crumbled heaps on the floor. Overhead, miniature stalactites of whitish mineral scale hung from the damp brickwork. The crisscrossing arched passages were narrower and darker, though some seemed to extend into indeterminate distances, possibly interconnecting with sublevels of other buildings. Again Vampirella wondered at the extent and the convoluted layout of this multi-tiered underground which seemed too eccentric even for the document repository of a world-class financial institution.
      The party proceeded with greater urgency now, knowing that as soon as their handiwork with the demon rapists above was discovered, a general alarm would undoubtedly be sounded. Vampirella and Adam were growing more convinced by the moment that the scope of this subterranean enclave was beyond their limited resources to confront and that they should retreat before disaster overtook them. Conrad however insisted, based on his precognitive abilities, that some further discovery of earth-shattering importance still awaited them, a revelation that justified the mortal danger into which they were placing themselves.
      Unfortunately his sixth sense failed to warn them of the proximity of that danger. Without warning, a hand reached out from an ink-black side passage and grabbed Conrad who, guided by Pendragon, was bringing up the rear. Vampirella and Adam whirled about to face a tall, square-jawed man with dark, longish hair and an unkempt beard. The dark robed man held a wicked-looking ceremonial dagger poised at Conrad’s throat.
      "You!" Vampirella gasped.
      Though the details of his age and appearance had varied in the course of their numerous encounters over the years, Vampirella immediately recognized her original adversary from amongst the Companions of Chaos. After her alter ego Bambi Aurora’s abortive airline flight back in November of 1969, she had fallen into his clutches in his remote Rocky Mountain sanitarium. An arch-sorcerer of vast power and longevity, he had at that time been leading a branch of the Companions under the assumed alias of Dr. Tyler Westron. She had defeated him then and several times since, but he’d always managed to come back.
      "What does it take to kill you once and for all?" Vampirella hissed, bearing her fangs.
      "More than you’ve got," Ethan Shroud answered smugly.
      All about them in the tunnels, a half dozen or more of the tentacled demons materialized while cowled cultists emerged from the connecting corridors.
      "You can’t possibly escape from down here," gloated the sorcerer. "It’s half a dozen levels back to the surface. Give yourself up without a fight, Vampirella, and you have my word the others can go free. They’re no threat to me. We’ll take you down in the end one way or the other, but I’d just as soon not lose any more of Belphegor’s servitors in the process."
      "You’re just going to let them walk away and blow your little empire down here?" Vampirella asked skeptically.
      "Empires rise and fall," Shroud shrugged nonchalantly. "This can all be rebuilt elsewhere. You’re more valuable."
      "Don’t do what he wants," Conrad rasped, struggling ineffectually in the stronger Shroud’s grasp.
      "There’s someone waiting down below, an old acquaintance of yours, who’s quite anxious to see you again. In all truthfulness, I must admit to being a bit jealous myself, but perhaps it’s for the best."
      Vampirella frowned in puzzlement; unaware of what acquaintance Shroud could be referring to. Beside her, Adam furtively shifted his jacket so she could see the holstered .45 automatic concealed from Shroud’s view on the back of his waistband.
      "Time to choose, I think," Shroud insisted, pressing the point of the dagger against Conrad’s neck. "Will Vampirella surrender or will the old man die?"
      Turning towards Pendragon, Vampirella whispered, "Shroud’s never seen the finale of our old stage act."
      His eyes meeting hers, Pendragon cracked a flicker of a smile perceptible only to her.
      "Choose now!" Shroud snapped impatiently, jerking Conrad roughly.
      "I choose neither, Shroud," Vampirella met his threat. "I think you’ll keep Conrad alive or there’ll be nothing to prevent me from tearing your throat out.
      "And don’t call Conrad old," she tossed back, trying to divert Shroud’s attention from the hand signal she flashed behind her back to Adam and Pendragon. "He’s far younger than you."
      On cue, Pendragon waved his arms in an exaggerated magician’s flourish. In doing so, he tossed a tiny glass ampoule of flash powder to the cement floor. In perfect time with his melodramatic stage gesture, the ampoule exploded in a white flash and a puff of smoke.
      Caught by surprise, Shroud staggered backward, releasing Conrad to shield his eyes. In spite of his blindness, Conrad seemed totally aware of what was going on around him. The moment Shroud’s grip loosened and the dagger strayed from his throat, he dove for the floor.
      Simultaneously, Adam whipped the .45 around, firing at several of the human cultists. Three went down immediately while another lunged for cover. By the time the arc of the muzzle reached Shroud’s position, the sorcerer had disappeared back down the tunnel from which he had appeared.
      From out of the expanding cloud of smoke from the flash powder, a huge bat-like creature that a moment previously had been Vampirella streaked through the air toward the demons. Phallic tentacles flailed the air as the creatures were thrown into disarray by the attacking bat fluttering in their faces. Before any of the penile tendrils could snag her, Vampirella flew over their heads down a side corridor.
      Adam made a lunge in Conrad’s direction before he was brought up short by four of the cultists who, instantly sizing up the situation, dove on top of the elder Van Helsing. Realizing they only had precious seconds before the superior Chaos forces reestablished control of the situation; Adam shoved Pendragon roughly back in the direction they’d come. Under a hail of covering fire from Adam’s .45, the pair beat a hasty retreat back down the tunnel. They’d be of no help to Conrad if they all were captured.
      Thankfully, the clatter of their footfalls was drowned in the general din of running and shouting cultists which reverberated through the tight maze of corridors. Through a combination of skillful feints and blind luck, Adam and Pendragon managed to double back on the lead group of pursuers hot on their heels. Once behind the line of searchers, they were able to gain a stairwell without detection. Hoping the cultists would assume they’d make a dash for the surface, Adam silently guided Pendragon deeper into the subterranean maze instead. They just needed to put enough distance on their pursuers that the sound of their hurried passage wouldn’t give them away.
      After several minutes of twists and turns in the darkness, they reached a junction with no further forward egress save a single long, straight tunnel that disappeared into the distance ahead. As they paused to catch their breaths, a bat fluttered down an arched passageway after them. A moment later, Vampirella stood in their midst.
       "We’ve got to split up again," Vampirella told the panting Adam and Pendragon.
      "There’s safety in numbers," Adam countered. "If we get cornered again, we can put up a better fight if we all stick together."
      "We’d lose," Vampirella answered flatly. "Didn’t you hear what Shroud said? Don’t you see? It’s me he’s after. If you’re with me, he’ll only go after you to get at me. I’m going back."
      Clenching Adam’s hand, she continued, "Don’t try to follow me. I’ll get your father back, Adam. I promise. You get Pendy out. Follow this tunnel," she pointed down the long corridor. "These catacombs can’t go on forever. There should be a connection ahead to another basement or a service tunnel like the one we came in through. Get to the surface and come back with help."
      Even as she said it, she knew that convincing the authorities to conduct a raid into the sealed and abandoned subbasements of some prestigious Wall Street bank or brokerage house would likely take days or weeks rather than hours, if it happened at all. But she was determined to get Adam and Pendragon to safety. She had little doubt that once they separated, Shroud’s followers would indeed concentrate on pursuing her.
      Looking into Adam’s eyes, she was tempted to say, "I love you," but knew that if she did, he would insist on following her. Instead, without a further word, she metamorphosed back into bat form and flew back towards the heart of the labyrinth.
      At the far end of a long, downward sloping tunnel, she resumed her own feminine shape. Clinging to the brick wall, she stealthily peered out into an enormous cathedral-like vaulted chamber. The cavernous space was interspersed with gridded rows of massive arched columns, providing ample opportunity for concealment. Flaming braziers illuminated the central portion of the chamber with a ruddy, flickering light, while the perimeter walls remained largely in shadow. She was able to make out the semicircular mouths of additional downward sloping tunnels converging on this single space. There appeared to be no downturning accessways to additional sublevels beyond this one. She had at last reached the end of her descent.
      Perhaps as many as fifty robed cultists ringed the center of the room, directing obscure chants at what appeared to be an upright mirror some eight feet in height. The ornate oval glass was framed with a carved border depicting a pattern of serpentine phallic tentacles similar to those of the Belphegor demons. Leading them in their occult ritual was Ethan Shroud. Next to him stood some sort of cultist high priest whose features were hidden within the cowl of his ornate, blood red vestments. Among the circled worshippers stood an unwilling Conrad Van Helsing, his wrists now tied, his arms held tightly by a pair of the cultists flanking him on either side.
      Vampirella puzzled that what appeared to be the entire cult had seemingly dropped their search for her in order to attend this assembly. Had her raiding party’s being down here by chance coincided with some preexisting timetable for performing this ritual or had it been hastily moved up on account of their presence?
      She edged from the tunnel entrance to a position behind one of the columns in order to get a better look. The assembled cultists seemed too wrapped up in the ceremony being performed to notice her presence in the deep shadows behind them. From her vantage point, she weighed her options. It might be possible for her to reach the mirror and abort their ritual if she acted now, but with several dozen of the cultists surrounding Conrad, she couldn’t possibly hope to wade through them all before any one of them could deliver a coup de gras to Adam’s father. For all their past animosities, there was no way she was going to sacrifice Conrad, even if it meant allowing Shroud’s dark Mass to run its course.
      "Aiwass, Gnoph-Hek," chanted the dark priest standing within an elaborate pentagram inscribed on the chamber floor in front of the mirror.
      Although Vampirella was certain she had never seen this mirror, it filled her with a nameless dread. Undoubtedly this was the source of the Demon Brokers’ precognitive powers as well as the entryway for the phallic demons with whom they consorted.
      As the chant proceeded, robed acolytes lighted two concentric circles of black candles in tall, heavy candelabra mounted permanently to the floor.
      "Mighty Belphegor."
      Something about the redundant arrangement of the candles struck Vampirella as significant, though she couldn’t have said why.
      "By these names of evocation, open the Pylons of Daath that we your humble servants might receive the instrument of your passage into this world. Send forth the Metahedron!"
      As the ceremony approached its climax, the reflective face of the mirror gradually clouded with a dark, greenish-black turbidity. Vampirella got the impression that it was no longer reflecting back its subterranean surroundings but affording a window into another realm altogether.
      A current of damp air whistled from the previously still tunnel openings behind her. Puffs of mortar dust lifted from the floor and were sucked into the mirror. The vast chamber suddenly chilled. Even from a distance, Vampirella could feel the warmth being drawn from the air.
      Suddenly, serpentine bolts of blue-white electricity surged from the face of the mirror, arcing towards a spot on the floor. Vampirella shielded her eyes from the sudden blinding flash. When she turned back, she could see that a large object rested where a moment ago had been empty space.
      It was an irregular crystalline object perhaps two feet in length. At a glance, there appeared to be some sort of pattern to its multifaceted surface; but as she focused on it, it seemed to blur and she felt a strange sensation of vertigo, almost as though her mind couldn’t process what her vision was seeing. A slowly pulsating greenish glow emanated from deep within it, refracted through its many faces.
      "Stay back," Shroud warned, feeling the numbing cold radiating from the artifact. "It’s just passed through Yorlak’s Mirror from the Nethervoid. Its temperature’s probably close to absolute zero. It’ll be hours before it’s warmed up enough to handle."
      The crystal sat in a pile of what appeared to be dirty snow and gravel which sputtered and crackled on the stone floor, evaporating before her eyes. Streamers of mist sublimated off the surface of the artifact as well. An acrid, ammonia smell wafted from the area, causing the gathered cultists to step back, tearing and coughing. Vampirella guessed the slushy detritus had been pulled through the mirror along with the crystal from some benighted world within the Nethervoid. In her mind’s eye, she pictured some black planet teeming with obscene lifeforms and subject to the warped laws of nature of that dark realm.
      While the object rested seemingly motionless in its bed of snowy debris, Vampirella could feel that it was far from inert. A deep, thrumming vibration way down at the lower end of her enhanced hearing range emanated from it, setting the entire chamber to vibrating. Beyond its purely physical aura of colossal power, she sensed a profound evil about the otherworldly crystal.
      Composing himself, Shroud addressed his followers, "Tonight, we the humble earthly disciples of the Crimson Chronicles have achieved a triumph for the forces of Chaos imprisoned within the Nethervoid; a triumph which will echo throughout the universe. The Metahedron, the key to unlocking the way to the Nethervoid itself, exists in the world of men. Though our final victory remains decades in the future, tonight we have taken a giant stride towards that future. One day soon, the Conjuress’ time will come to an end and mighty Belphegor will be the first of the Seven Servants to be loosed again."
      Though the ritual seemed to be completed, Vampirella noted that the surface of the mirror still roiled with oily green and black streamers of mist. Then as she looked on, the cloudy vortex momentarily dissipated to reveal, not the reflected outlines of the vault it occupied, but another tableau altogether. The scene in the mirror was similar in some aspects to the demoniac rape of the three female cultists she had witnessed in the chambers above, but on a vastly more horrific scale.      Most terrifying of all, she herself seemed to be the victim. Tightly chained to a mossy stone altar in the midst of some damp, unknown woodland, she saw herself being ravaged by an array of rust-red tendrils extending from an enormous shapeless monstrosity. Spread-eagled over the altar, she gasped and moaned in sheer terror, struggling helplessly as the tendrils roughly violated her every opening. The source of the Demon Brokers’ precognitive visions had revealed itself, delivering what could only be a malevolent preview of her own future.
      Then she noticed the red-robed priest at Shroud’s side turn in her direction. She abruptly realized her supposed concealment behind the shadowed column had been an illusion and that the dark priest must have known of her presence all along. He pulled back the cowl of his vestments to reveal a portly, middle-aged face with balding hair and white muttonchop sideburns. It was his eyes however which captured Vampirella; dark, soulless eyes which leered hungrily at her, eyes she suddenly recognized in a moment of supreme horror.
      In that instant, everything seemed to fade around her; the underground chamber, Conrad, Ethan Shroud and his minions. Her stomach lurched with nausea and her bowels felt as if they were about to let go. In spite of the chill, she suddenly felt as if she was suffocating as she broke out in a clammy sweat. The world around her seemed to recede down an endless tunnel. The next moment, Vampirella, who had stood face-to-face with countless arch-villains and supernatural monstrosities, was fleeing in stark, blind panic.



      Adam Van Helsing looked up from the collection of folders spread across his desktop. Snowflakes drifted gently past his third-floor office window. It was already fully dark outside, though the hands of the ornate clock displayed on one of the office’s heavy oak bookshelves read only 6:30. He knew it would be much later before he left the office for the night. Hard to believe 1989 was winding down to its final few weeks. It had been a turbulent year in global politics; Tiananmen Square in June, the opening of the Berlin Wall last month, and now the Panama situation was building to crisis proportions. Speculation on the Hill was that the country would be in another shooting war before New Year’s.
      Most of the folders before him though dealt with issues closer to home:
      A draft of a proposed amendment to toughen the Sherman Act in the aftermath of the landmark Max Wilding antitrust verdict.
      A Congressional probe into the role of the late Senator Bunton in oil price fixing during the Iran-Iraq War. Personally Adam wouldn’t have put it past old Bane.
      There was a memo concerning feelers being put out by the new White House Administration suggesting the appointment of a new Presidential commission along the lines of the Meese Commission to hold public hearings into the activities of the publishing industry. Their role in circulating mass-market editions of subversive occult texts such as the Crimson Chronicles was being cited as a contributing factor in the recent upsurge in missing children cases and satanic cult activity.
      Another dealt with a request from his Boston constituency office to lend his backing to a class action lawsuit by investors wiped out in the so-called Demon Broker Wall Street scandal of ’83. If they only knew.
       Finally there was an invitation to a reception for Martine Andrecou, French delegate to the Council of the European Union. Andrecou was a leading proponent of a European Central Bank and the adoption of the euro as a common currency. By all accounts, she would be a formidable political force in years to come.
      Adam was interrupted by the sound of Valerie entering from the outer office. An attractive brunette, her shapely figure was accentuated rather than hidden by the trim cut of her stylish yet businesslike suit. Her drop-dead looks belied her acumen as an efficient, no-nonsense office manager. Valerie knew some members of Congress would have been reluctant to hire a staff member whose obvious physical assets might have ruffled their conservative sensibilities. With others, she would have had to fend off constant lecherous advances. Adam Van Helsing fit neither category. Preoccupied with his own paranormal investigations on top of the duties of his office, he had invariably treated her with cool professionalism.
      "Sir, you asked to see this as soon as it arrived," she said, handing him a courier envelope.
      On it was emblazoned the stamp of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee along with the code designation "NOFORN". As the Senator’s executive assistant and head of staff, Valerie was the only person in the office beside himself authorized to sign off on NOFORN classified documents.
      "Thank you, Valerie," Van Helsing replied. "It’s getting late. You must have Christmas shopping to get at. Why don’t you call it a night?"
      "Yes, sir," she smiled cheerfully, then added with a note of concern, "Don’t you stay here half the night either."
      While the Senator maintained a full appointment calendar and social schedule, his top aide knew he had no one to go home to and often worked well into the night, exchanging information and strategies with his network of contacts. She suspected the raven-haired beauty in the framed photo on his desktop also played a role in his single-minded dedication to his work.
      When Valerie had gone, Adam broke the seal on the courier pack. Inside was a second envelope with only the handwritten name "Greer" on it.
      With his methodical eye for detail, Adam had spotted this same name over a period of years in such seemingly unrelated contexts as a forwarded FBI file on a decades-old serial murder case in western New York and a report from a human rights agency collecting testimonies about abuses in Latin America. There seemed to be sporadic references to this man from around the globe, all of them dealing in murder and depravity. The real clincher for Adam had been the revelation by his FBI source that it had been the intelligence operative code-named Spectrum who had apparently spirited Greer out of the country and stalled the Bureau’s investigation into the murders in the town of Coogan’s Bluff. Spectrum was an all-too-familiar name from Adam and Vampirella’s past. A covert operative for the CIA, in 1976 he had strong-armed Vampirella into taking on the case of the "human marketplace" in San Francisco. A year later, in the course of a second cross-country mission, they discovered Spectrum had been subverted by the forces of Chaos. If Spectrum had smuggled Greer abroad, that begged the question of whether Greer was being employed as an asset for the Company or for the Companions of Chaos. While the Agency might look upon torture and human degradation as weapons in the war on global Communism, to the depraved Companions they would be an end in themselves.
      Adam opened the inner envelope and removed a single sheet. In typical intelligence jargon, it read:

Your request re confidential background check for ADRIAN M. GREER has been processed by the Committee. The following has been forwarded by the Information Office of the Central Intelligence Agency. ADRIAN M. GREER is a U.S. national, current whereabouts unknown. ADRIAN M. GREER is not currently an operative of the Central Intelligence Agency. It is CIA policy not to divulge information re former intelligence assets where such information could damage national security interests or pose a security risk to the assets themselves. The following is a chronology of available information re ADRIAN M. GREER summarized from non-classified public and private sector databases:

1922/02/18   ADRIAN M. GREER born Cape Town, South Africa

1948/06/21   Received M.D. degree, Pretoria University Medical School

1953/08/01   Completed residency, OB/GYN, Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town

1953-1959       Staff physician, OB/GYN, Soweto Native Hospital

1959/03/29   Emigrated South Africa—United States

1960/07/03   Naturalized U.S. citizen

1960-1964       Staff physician, OB/GYN, Dade County General Hospital, Miami, FL

1964/04/04   Malpractice suit filed in Dade County Courthouse alleges unethical
                              conduct, sexual battery of a patient. Lawsuit dropped after out-of-
                              court settlement reached with plaintiff. No criminal charges laid.

1964/11/19   Medical license revoked by Florida Board of Medicine

1969/11/01   Wanted for questioning by FBI in connection with multiple homicides,
                              Coogan’s Bluff, NY. NY State Police consider ADRIAN M. GREER a
                              person of interest in multiple missing persons cases.

1970-1976        Whereabouts unknown

1976-1977        < CLASSIFIED >

1978-1980        < CLASSIFIED >

1982/08/??   Possible sighting (unconfirmed) of ADRIAN M. GREER, Beirut,
                             Lebanon. Reported to be attached to Phalangist militia forces
                             operating in region.

There are no active investigations into the activities of ADRIAN M. GREER at this time.

      The report in his hand was pretty much what Adam had been expecting from the Committee, offering no real new information on Greer. If a freak like Greer had ever ended up on their payroll, naturally the Company would maintain plausible deniability. Still it supported his own growing suspicions that there was a potential thread linking an unsolved domestic serial murder to two decades of politically motivated atrocities committed around the globe.
      Unfortunately, thanks to Spectrum’s intervention, Greer’s bloody trail seemed to have run cold. With a dozen other crises vying for his attention, there was little more for Adam to do than wait for Greer to surface again.


APRIL 1991

      Ella Normandy slipped silently through a darkened maze of bulky insulated piping. Innumerable water mains and heating lines filled the cavernous mechanical equipment spaces beneath the prestigious Austen’s prep school. Though her senses and reactions were a fraction of what they once had been, they had still been acute enough to alert her to the faint rhythm of multiple footsteps echoing up through the heating registers from this basement level where they had no business being. Perhaps it was nothing more than a few of the girls still in residence skulking about in the early hours of a midterm break Saturday morning when most of their classmates had headed home after quarterly exams. Still, with the unprecedented surge in paranormal occurrences and cultist activity seizing the nation’s capital along with the rest of the country, it wouldn’t do to take chances. Although Austen’s security was tight, a private boarding school full of the adolescent daughters of Washington’s power elite would be a tempting target for predators of all sorts.
      The air was hot and dry down here in proximity to the big hissing boilers that heated the campus of massive interconnected brownstones above. How had she come to this, skulking through the darkness in the frail form of an elderly spinster schoolmistress?
      Her next distinct memories following the shattering events in the Demon Brokers’ subterranean labyrinth under New York had been several months later. Although she had no clear recollection of intervening events, it became evident that in her fugue state she had taken on a new persona and established herself in a new life. She had become Ella Normandy, an alias she had used previously, and was employed as an instructor at Austen’s School where she now boarded. More shocking than her surroundings though had been the change to herself. She was no longer Vampirella. Whereas a few short months ago she had possessed the appearance and physique of a stunningly attractive woman in her late twenties, in the absence of feeding on human blood or the blood substitute serum which served as a replacement, her body had prematurely aged to that of a sixty-some year old crone. As a Drakulonne, she knew that her underlying physiology was utterly different than that of humans. It would only require a single feeding of fresh blood to return to the youthful form of Vampirella, but something had kept her in this form.
      It was, she had realized, the future vision of some horrific sexual violation she had witnessed in the occult glass they had referred to as Yorlak’s Mirror. Even more it had been the presence of the cowled man with the black eyes. She could no longer remember who he was or why he terrified her, but she was certain that he knew her and that if she reverted to being Vampirella, he would find her again. Although she was cut off from her former existence and everyone she loved or trusted, as the old spinster Ella Normandy, she was quite literally another person. It was the perfect disguise, the perfect refuge from the certain fate that awaited her as Vampirella. As long as she retained this form and avoided all contact with her former life, she would be safe.
      The hardest part was never knowing what fate had befallen her companions Adam, Conrad, and Pendragon on that day she had fled the field of battle, deserting them. Still whenever she thought of resuming her place as Vampirella, the nameless terror of the unknown cowled man returned, sending her cowering.
      And so she had settled into what could only be considered a shell of her former existence. Grindingly slowly the months had turned into years. Much like a prisoner serving an indefinite sentence, she had eventually acclimated to the shrunken scope of her world. Gradually memories of Vampirella and the eternal battle against Chaos and his minions had begun to blur, to be replaced by the tedium of life as an all-too-human schoolmarm.
      The most bittersweet day of her entire lifetime had come years later when she happened to tune in to a television newscast of a much older Adam Van Helsing running for political office. She had wept uncontrollably with a mixture of gratitude that he was alive and fighting the good fight and despair that he was now lost to her. She had also had to fight to contain her bewildered astonishment at seeing his graying temples and lined brow. She could hide away from the world in her current geriatric state, for decades if need be, only to return to young womanhood after the cowled man was long gone. However the strapping handsome youth who had captured her heart was already a middle-aged man, and with each passing year she would be further displaced in time from him.
      The sound of tittering laughter returned her to the here and now of the basement equipment room. She breathed a sigh of relief that the intrusion was in fact nothing more than some of her errant pupils. Still this area with its hot water tanks and breaker boxes along with the caretaker’s workshop was supposed to be off limits to students.
      Ella held back in the shadowy piping labyrinth to see just who was down here and what they were up to. A moment later, a foursome of senior-year girls poked their heads inside before slipping through the doorway. Ella recognized the quartet as some of Austen’s brightest and most precocious as well as its most misbehaved pupils.
      "I can’t believe we’re doing this," whispered pretty, outgoing blonde-haired Tricia.
      "It’s creepy down here," added shy, redheaded Patty looking nervously about.
      "I hope you know what you’re doing, Chelsea. If old Miss Normandy ever finds out about this, we could all get expelled," piped in the stunning Vivian, daughter of a Taiwanese lobbyist and one of the brightest students ever to attend Austen’s. Athletic and model beautiful with almond eyes and olive skin, she had it all. Her next stop after graduation would be Georgetown University and a probable career in international law.
      "No one’s going to find out. It’ll be a kick. You’ll see," encouraged Chelsea Cantrell, the obvious ringleader of the foursome. Brunette and far too buxom and curvaceous for her age, Chelsea, the pampered only child of a senior vice-president of an international construction firm, had long been a thorn in Ella’s side. Sharp, adventuresome, a natural leader, but with a wild streak that couldn’t be contained by the staff at Austen’s, she and Ella had butted heads from the start. It didn’t occur to her that as Vampirella, this could have been a description of herself as well.
      A few moments later, another set of footsteps approached from the opposite direction down the corridor outside. Denny Zimmer, the school’s recently hired assistant caretaker, himself scarcely older than the female students, joined the group. This was an unexpected development, Ella frowned, continuing to watch from the shadows.
      "Bang on time," Denny glanced nervously at his watch. "I didn’t think you gals would really show."
      "Of course we showed," Chelsea boasted, the slight catch in her voice belying the grown up bravado she was trying to project.
      "Okay, then let’s get to it," Denny continued, pulling a small roll of cash from the pocket of his coverall and peeling off a few bills for each of the girls now standing nervously side by side in their school uniforms.
      Chelsea nodded to the others, reaching for the buttons of her white blouse. One by one she undid them, the other girls following suite.
      "Wow," panted the handyman looking from one to the next of the girls, who now shuffled anxiously, unaccustomed to such blatantly lecherous scrutiny. "So, the deal was that I get to see your boobs."
      Tricia, now looking genuinely uncomfortable, was the first to respond. She pulled her white cotton brassiere up, momentarily flashing conical pointed breasts before tugging it back down again.
      "This is too gross," Patty suddenly blurted, "I’m out of here."
      With that she threw her bit of cash to the ground and quickly headed out down the corridor.
      Tricia too seemed to have a sudden change of heart about this particular adventure.
      "Sorry, Chelsea," she shrugged and followed after Patty, though she held onto her money.
      More poised than her schoolmates, Vivian reached behind her and unclasped her bra strap. She stood firmly at attention facing the caretaker, her small firm breasts exposed to his stare, the deep brown nipples standing rigidly upright. Her stiff pose and tight lips however suggested that, despite her excitement, she too was not entirely comfortable with what they were doing.
      Only Chelsea seemed to be totally enjoying herself. Eagerly she snapped open the front clasp of her bra and stood in her shirttails, her full rounded breasts bouncing freely.
      In the shadows, Ella weighed her options. If she made her presence known, there would be no option but to handle this as a major infraction with families notified and expulsion the likely outcome. Her stern reputation amongst her students to the contrary, as long as no one got hurt, she had no desire to tarnish four promising careers over an episode of teenage sexual experimentation.
      "Let’s see the bottom half," Denny goaded, obviously out to push his luck with the two remaining girls as far as possible.
      Vivian frowned and nodded a slight no to Chelsea, but the brunette wasn’t to be deterred. Smiling coyly at Denny, she reached down and pocketed Patty’s discarded monies. Then she hiked the plaid kilt of her uniform up to her waist and held it there showing off her white lace bikinis.
      Only willing to be goaded so far by her classmate, Vivian briefly lifted the flap of her own kilt to one side affording Denny a brief glimpse of a flat, tautly sculpted stomach over skimpy French-cut athletic briefs.
      "Okay, show’s over," she announced, tugging Chelsea by the arm. "You got your thrill, Denny."
      "But we’re just getting to the grand finale," the caretaker cajoled her.
      "In your dreams." Turning again to Chelsea, "Are you coming?"
      "Not yet," Chelsea replied, biting her lower lip and looking up at Denny, clearly becoming more and more turned on by the act of exhibiting herself.
      "Okay girlfriend, I’ll wait for you down the hall." And wagging a finger at Denny, " If studly here gets too frisky, just holler."
      Casting a last backward glance, Vivian strutted out the door, tauntingly flipping up the back of her skirt one last time.
      "Looks like it’s just you and me, kid."
      Although she’d intended to flash a bit more, Chelsea, more naïve than she pretended to be, was taken by surprise as Denny abruptly reached out and cupped a rough hand squarely over the moist crotch of her panties.
      Ella started to step forward. Experimentation was one thing, but this situation was heating up to the point of getting out of hand. For the briefest instant the thought flashed through her mind that if Chelsea wanted to play with fire, perhaps she should let her get burned. This was quickly replaced by the realization that whatever the friction between them, there was no way she would let one of her charges come to actual harm.
      Perhaps it was the expression of utter rapture on Chelsea’s face that stopped her short. Perhaps it was something in herself. Whatever the reason, she continued to maintain her position of concealment.
      Chelsea let out a breathy gasp as Denny rubbed at the satiny fabric of her crotch panel. Kneading her between thumb and forefinger, he felt the wetness increase and a gentle warmth radiating from her increasingly engorged pudenda.
      In the darkness, Ella watched with an uneasy mix of foreboding and envy. Why, she asked herself, should she feel such an irrational sense of competition with this schoolgirl? Her own brittle loins remained dry and unresponsive, but repressed memories of herself as a young, virile woman in her sexual prime flooded back painfully sharp. A hot tear rolled down one cheek as she stood there, fingers clenched tightly, her breath coming hoarse and sharp at this unforeseen reminder of all she had lost, living the better part of a decade trapped in this withered body, paralyzed by a nameless fear.
      Denny hooked a finger through the waistband of Chelsea’s panties and eased them down about her knees. At last, her dark fluffy bush and silky smooth labia were revealed to his admiring gaze.
      Next he stepped around behind her and inserted a hand between her buttocks to reach underneath and spread her sticky labia, allowing him to directly finger the pink rosebud of her clitoris with flickering butterfly strokes. At the same time, with his free hand he cupped a rounded breast and began gently squeezing the sensitive nipple.
      For several minutes Chelsea stood panting dryly in the middle of the darkened steel and concrete service chamber facing squarely in Ella’s direction, her legs wide apart and her clothes flung open, as Denny continued to work at her pubescent body. At times it seemed as though her eyes were locked directly on Ella’s, though there was no way she could see into the pitch darkness.
      Thankfully Denny seemed to have reached his bounds and contented himself with vigorously stroking the exterior of her parted vulva without trying to penetrate the virginal opening with either fingers or other appendages. Undoubtedly he knew full well that he was playing with fire too.
      Suddenly a whimpering moan escaped Chelsea’s lips. Her head flung back and she spasmed excitedly. She clamped her thighs around Denny’s outstretched hand, pressing it tightly into her throbbing clitoris. A moment later, a syrupy dribble of vaginal fluid ran over Denny’s fingers and down one leg as she sagged spent against him.
      Sudden panic lit both their faces as running footfalls abruptly echoed from the shadows close at hand. Tugging frantically at Chelsea’s disheveled clothing, neither of them saw Ella Normandy fleeing deeper into the darkness and out of the chamber.




MAY 1991

      Chelsea Cantrell was living a privileged young schoolgirl’s worst imaginable nightmare. Bound and gagged, dressed only in her short nightgown, she was being dragged along the deserted walkways of a federal park she recognized as the Capitol District’s Constitution Gardens. Coarse hands gripped her under the arms, pulling her roughly along, oblivious to her bare, bound feet being dragged along the sidewalk. There were five of them in all; Denny Zimmer, three burly thugs, and a pock-faced, disfigured man who seemed to be directing them. She knew she stood little chance of rescue. With the sharp upsurge in brazenly violent crimes and disappearances currently taking place in DC, no law-abiding citizens would be found in the darkened park’s secluded depths in these wee hours of the morning.
      Where were they taking her, and why? Various scenarios, all of them horrific, played out in her heated imagination. Buried alive while she was held for ransom, viciously gang-raped, murdered outright, her body dumped in some Washington ghetto alleyway...
      Just a few short hours ago, she had climbed into bed in her upper floor dormitory room with an absolute certitude that she was immune from the nightly homicides and abductions going on in the mean streets of the nation’s capital. She had drifted off to sleep, safe behind Austen’s tall stone walls and elaborate security systems. Surrounded by classmates and under the protective eye of the school’s watchful staff, she would never have entertained the remotest thought that anything untoward could happen to her.
      The next thing she was aware of was coming abruptly awake, trying desperately to breathe as a huge hand clamped tightly over her mouth. She experienced utter panic as she realized there were men leaning over her in the darkness of her bedroom. She attempted to struggle, but her limbs were pinned tightly to the bed. She was helpless to resist as she was gagged and bound, hand and foot, with lengths of duct tape. Then she was hefted out the rooftop dormer window and carried like a sack of potatoes down a rope ladder, across the lawn, and, under cover of a clump of trees, over the outside wall. Outside the school grounds, she was tossed into the back of a waiting van.
      Inside the vehicle, its interior lights momentarily switched on as her captors organized themselves, she discovered to her horror that she knew one of them...intimately. It was Denny Zimmer, Austen’s young maintenance man, with whom she had shared a highly illicit pubescent sexual dalliance in the basement equipment room some weeks ago. Though she’d let him play with her pussy on the one occasion, she hadn’t allowed him to go all the way with her. Nor had she had the nerve to repeat the experience. What had she done by leading him on? Was this Denny’s way of getting back at her?
      Oddly, the strongest impressions as she was being driven away from the security of her life had been the smells. There was the mildewy stench of a rolled canvas tarpaulin onto which she had been tossed and the incredible reek of her grubby captors, all sweating from fear and exertion, wearing old jeans and unwashed leather.
      Lying on the floor of the van, she had no idea of the route being taken, but only minutes later, she was once again unloaded and dragged along on foot into a wooded section of the extensive National Mall. She whimpered through her gag, more out of unthinking terror than any concerted effort to summon help, as she was guided deeper into the park.
      Her captors seemed more startled than she did when a familiar gruff voice spoke from the darkness.
      "Don’t mumble, Chelsea," it addressed her by name. "It’s unbecoming in the young."
      Ahead of them, silhouetted by the widely spaced lamps along the path, stood a tall figure in a long raincoat. As she stepped into the light, Chelsea recognized the face of Ella Normandy.
      Chelsea’s heart raced. It was widely known among the senior girls that old Miss Normandy had been spotted on several occasions sneaking out of Austen’s late at night on some secretive errand. Though no one had ever before gone missing from the school, there had been malicious rumors, some encouraged by Chelsea herself, that perhaps old Normandy was involved in some nefarious activity involving human trafficking in young girls. Now Chelsea wondered if she had somehow ensnared herself in some self-fulfilling prophecy.
      "Kill her!" snapped the disfigured ringleader, whom the others had referred to in the van as Toomey.
      The four followers jumped to do his bidding, momentarily depositing the trussed Chelsea onto the damp lawn. The foursome advanced menacingly on Ella Normandy, while Toomey himself retreated to the sidelines. Chelsea’s eyes bulged in sheer terror, as the first of them pulled a huge, wicked-looking bowie knife.
      Then the seemingly impossible happened. As he swung the deadly blade, Ella Normandy’s frail geriatric form snapped like a coiled spring. She effortlessly parried the knife blow as she leaped upon the much larger man’s throat. Blood spurted and moments later Miss Normandy came away with her jaws wide, bearing a pair of elongated fangs.
      Oh my god, Chelsea thought, this is too much. Old Miss Normandy’s some kind of vampire.
      Flinging the first attacker away, she struck at a second with a lightning-fast kick that doubled him over. Even as she moved, she was undergoing some sort of transformation, the years seemingly dropping away. It was someone with the appearance of a woman in her late forties who slashed the throat of the third thug with razor-like talons. By the time she reached Denny Zimmer, the withered features of Ella Normandy had vanished. In their place were those of a tall, statuesque young woman with raven-black hair, who looked like she could be a combination of international supermodel and Olympic athlete. With a single tug, the young woman ripped away her long dress to reveal a brief scarlet costume that Chelsea instantly recognized.
      As the confrontation unfolded, Chelsea, forgotten on the sidelines, had managed to wriggle her slender fingers from their taped bonds, loosened in the course of her being pulled through the park.
      "Vampirella!" was the first word she blurted as she painfully peeled the suffocating gag from her mouth.
      Just days previously, she had been called upon in her dorm at Austen’s by a much older male visitor who had identified himself as her Uncle Ethan. Somehow, the unexpected visitor had charmed his way past the normally protective housemother, Mrs. McArdle. In spite of the fact that Chelsea had not recognized her caller, the two of them had been left unattended in a downstairs sitting room. As best she recalled, the strange visit had gone uneventfully enough, but it had left her somehow feeling soiled and creeped out.
      The following day, she had received a parcel delivered from this so-called uncle. In it had been a very risqué scarlet costume identical to the one she was now looking at. With it had come a detailed letter explaining that it was the signature costume of an occult heroine named Vampirella whom she should try to emulate. By then, Chelsea was convinced that her guest had been some sort of perv, not any lost relative. Nonetheless, she had kept the costume until Miss Normandy had had a major freak-out upon discovering her modeling it in her dorm room. The vampire woman now decimating her kidnappers was unquestionably the Vampirella described in Uncle Ethan’s letter.
      Vampirella snarled ferally as she descended on Denny, burying her fangs in his throat as she had her other victims. By now the man called Toomey had fled, leaving his accomplices to their fate. Effortlessly, she forced Denny to the ground and continued to drain his lifeblood as he futilely attempted to push her off him. Gradually his attempts to defend himself grew more feeble.
      For Chelsea, the horrors continued to mount as Vampirella straddled the dying handyman who lay bleeding from his torn throat. She grasped his jeans at the waistband and savagely ripped them open. She shoved the torn dungarees along with his briefs down about his knees, allowing his paradoxically tumescent member to spring upright. Then she reached down and pulled aside the narrow crotch panel of her own costume. There in the middle of the deserted park, in plain sight of Chelsea, she lowered herself on top of the turgid shaft, mounting her victim. Copious fluid ran from her instantaneously rejuvenated vulva as she roughly gripped his member and guided it between her gaping labia. Chelsea could tell that Denny no longer knew what was happening to him. He continued to struggle vainly as Vampirella wildly thrust her pelvis, riding him as if he were a toy.
      Chelsea shivered uncontrollably. Had she known more of Vampirella’s long history of battling to control her Drakulonian bloodlust, she might have better understood what she was witnessing. This was the accumulated supernatural hunger and sexual frenzy of nearly a decade trapped in the form of Ella Normandy; all of it unleashed in a single unstoppable torrent. Vampirella could no more have held back this primal force than she could have a hurricane. And beneath her was the perfect victim. Even had she been clear of mind, being the huntress she was, Vampirella would not have hesitated to dispatch a trusted colleague who had violated Austen’s security in order to betray one of their young female charges to the forces of Chaos.
      Vampirella’s breath came in hoarse gasps. She pulled aside the top of her tiny costume, so her large, firm breasts bounced freely as she continued to bob frantically up and down atop Denny’s penis. Her hormones racing out-of-control from the fresh blood which, for the first time in years, coursed through her, she exploded in an unbelievable climax. The spasms of her engorged pussy reached their crescendo even as the doomed handyman-cum-kidnapper breathed his last intake of breath.
      Chelsea, for all her tentative adolescent sexual explorations, had never witnessed actual adult sexuality, much less the blood-drenched coupling of a frenzied vampiress in heat. As the vampiric intercourse taking place before her reached its nightmare climax, her eyes rolled upward and she sank into the wet grass, her battered psyche, overwhelmed by too many shocks, retreating into unconsciousness.
      She wasn’t aware of Vampirella coming down from the throes of her metamorphosis, only to find her curled into a fetal ball amidst the torn bodies of the four thugs, lying in spreading pools of blood. Worse still, Vampirella found herself directly facing the girl, Denny Zimmer’s dribbling, now-shrunken penis still inside her fully exposed pussy. Only as the bloodlust abated, did she begin to absorb the extent of what she had just done or the emotional trauma to which she had exposed the impressionable schoolgirl. Pulling her costume back together and donning Ella Normandy’s torn raincoat; she gently picked up the unconscious girl and cradled her in her arms, carrying her away from the bloodstained setting.
      In the days to come, this latest skirmish with the minions of her archenemy, Ethan Shroud, would escalate into Vampirella’s final battle with the ancient wizard. But before he was finished, he would drag Chelsea Cantrell into an even greater darkness.



MAY 1996

      Tristan stood at the edge of a narrow 4-wheel drive trail cut high up along the sheer face of a long mesa. Before him extended a broad canyon of stepped tablelands. At its center, the silver ribbon of Kane Creek shone in the distance far below. A narrow swath of verdant green cottonwoods followed the path of the creek, bisecting a landscape that otherwise consisted of dusty red clay and rock interspersed with sparse scrub brush. In the far distance, another row of mesas formed the far wall of the canyon. Like the one from which he looked out, it was made up of stacked, scalloped layers of red sandstone. The Hurrah Pass Trail along which he stood began only a few miles outside the desert visitors’ mecca of Moab, Utah, but from his current vantage point, he could just as easily have been standing on another planet.
      The late afternoon sun was sinking low in a clear, blue-white sky, casting long shadows across the canyon floor. It was a breathtaking panorama of red-rock country, but above all Tristan was awed by the stillness of the place. In fourteen years living on this world, he could seldom recall a time or a place without a constant background drone of voices or traffic or other human activity. Yet here in the desert, the only sound to be heard for miles about was the gentle susurration of a soft breeze blowing along the length of the canyon.
      While his face hadn’t aged from that of the hedonistic young man who had once cavorted with Vampirella in Cannes, he now wore the coppery tan of someone accustomed to long days in the sun. He also appeared leaner, more muscular than in those bygone days. He was dressed for the desert in heavy cowboy boots, faded jeans, and a worn leather jacket. A frayed Stetson hat and a heavy leather belt with an ornate turquoise buckle completed his ensemble.
      Behind him along the trail sat a flashy, late-model 4x4 decked out with rollbars, all-terrain tires, and a rack of halogen headlamps. The vehicle would have been perfect for drug running or smuggling in the remote reaches of the Southwest. Indeed up until a few weeks ago, that's precisely what it had been used for. Now its former owners lay dead in a shallow grave somewhere in New Mexico along with a veritable arsenal of handguns and automatic weapons and a not-so-small fortune in neatly bagged narcotics.
      The vast empty stretches of the Southwestern desert states could be a dangerous place for the unwary visitor who wandered too far off the beaten track. Besides the typical natural hazards of heat, venomous snakes and insects, and rockslides, there was also the occasional human predator. When Tristan had stumbled upon two parties of well-armed young men engaged in a large-scale cocaine transaction out in the wilds, the stage had been set for a blood-drenched scene that had ended in tragedy –for them.
      Like Vampirella, he had adapted over the years to this primitive, savage planet into which he had been snatched. He had also discovered the natural enmity that seemed to exist between the inhabitants of Drakulon and the forces of Chaos that operated unseen and unsuspected in the shadows of this world.
      But of late, he had been driven to remote regions of the Earth on a different quest, to uncover the mysteries of his origin. Like Vampirella, he had struggled to understand his shifting, sometimes inconsistent memories of their homeworld. Unlike her, he carried the additional burden, gleaned from Contessa Alessandra Yorlak’s journal, that he might not even be the person he thought he was, only a doppelgänger of the original Tristan.
      Eventually, having exhausted all other earthly and mystical avenues of divination, he had turned back to the ancient wellspring of Drakulonian life upon which the Vampiri called in their time of greatest need. And just a few hundred yards from this trail, hidden inside a narrow fissure now inaccessible to humans on a steep cliff face, he had located a sigil of the persona he sought.
      The outback of the Four Corners region was riddled with petroglyphs left by generations of Anasazi in the years between 600 and 1200 AD. Many took the form of primitive human or animal portraits. But just a few minutes previously, he had stared in wonderment at a singular pictograph etched in stone. It depicted an aquiline, feminine face of sublime beauty surrounded by a fan-like tiara of gracefully radiating bands. It was a divine countenance strange to this earth but well known on his own world of Drakulon. It was the face of the Conjuress.
      In the course of his quest to track possible earthly visitations by the Conjuress, Tristan, a student of the life sciences on Drakulon, had acquired an impressive knowledge of the anthropology of this world. He had little doubt for instance that the Conjuress was the source of the earthly legend of Lilith, first wife of Adam, emanating in the Jewish folklore of medieval Europe. But he had also discovered even more useful references to the Conjuress in other cultures and mythologies around the globe. One such hint, glimpsed among Pueblo folk tales of their Anasazi forebears had ultimately led him to Hurrah Pass.
      Unlike humans with their various mythologies of an invisible, monotheistic God, the goddess of the Vampiri was a tangible, corporeal entity. Much like the inhabitants of this world or of Drakulon itself, she was the product of a natural biological evolution. But there the similarity ended. According to current terrestrial science, the first eukaryotic cells from which all complex earthly lifeforms developed, had appeared some 1.5 billion years ago. On Drakulon, the course of life’s development had been slightly more convoluted. The Conjuress by comparison was believed to be descended from an evolutionary line seven times that length. The origin of her kind dated back some 11 billion years to an era when the universe itself was young, when galaxies were coalescing from superheated primordial plasma and the elements that comprise the planets were undergoing nucleosynthesis in the thermonuclear hearts of the earliest generations of stars. By the time the first millipedes emerged from the seas onto dry land 450 million years ago, her predecessors had made a far more radical migration. They had extended themselves beyond the familiar four-dimensional world of perceived space and time into extradimensional realms populated with exotic states of matter and energy and governed by bizarre new principles of physics. In so doing, they had achieved levels of existence and potentiality that from a human or Vampiri frame of reference were essentially godlike.
      Revered as it was, the face seen in the petroglyph was recognized on Drakulon as being nothing more than a convenient visualization to enable communication between themselves and an entity light-years beyond Vampiri conceptualization.
      As Tristan turned to return to his vehicle, a distinctive rattle abruptly issued from close at hand. Startled by his close passage, a large rattlesnake arched its head up from within a tumble of stony rubble. Its diamondback body coiled rapidly back and forth while its segmented tail wagged menacingly. Tristan stopped dead in his tracks, turning slowly at the waist to face the reptile. He was too close and the snake too agitated to allow for any possibility of retreat. For several moments, snake and vampire faced each other down.
      Without warning, the coiled body sprang lightning-like through the air in his direction. There was a blur of motion too quick for the eye to follow and a moment later the rattler was clamped in Tristan’s vice-like grip, captured out of the air in mid-strike. It snapped its jaws impotently while its tail portion flailed wildly, but Tristan had it pinned about the base of the skull so that it was powerless to bring its venomous fangs to bear. At this point, he could have heaved it over the cliffside. Instead, he raised its white underbelly to his face, bearing his own vampiric fangs. With a swift motion, he tore a gaping rent in its pebbly leather hide.
      Once long ago such an action would have been unthinkable. He vaguely recalled refusing to aid Vampirella in killing a gronos, a form of boar-like wildlife native to Drakulon, during their last tragic days on their dying homeworld.
      He lifted the still-twitching snake overhead and threw his head back. A cool stream of red reptile blood trickled through the air and down his throat. Instantly a flash of white heat surged through his body. The life force taken from the blood of the dying rattler was too small to sustain him. Like Vampirella, from whom he’d gained the formula, he survived on the blood substitute serum in lieu of human hemoglobin.
      But for a few seconds, he was able to sense the desert much as the rattlesnake would have. There was the cooling early evening air; the softly glowing warmth of rocks now radiating the absorbed heat of day. Here and there were the more concentrated heat signatures of tiny desert rodents wriggling under sheltering rocks.
      In this state, his consciousness momentarily loosened from his normal physical senses, he tried to open himself to the mystical harmonics of this place of power on the lip of the desert canyon. The nearby petroglyph suggested that the universe-spanning Conjuress had at some time manifested her presence here. Would she return now for a lost son of Drakulon? He carefully spoke Vampiri incantations in the silence. He tossed the now-drained snake aside and raised his hands overhead, bearing a set of greenish-gold bracelets. Adorned with an intricate pattern of protective mystic sigils, they were a male variant of the Drakulonian bands which Vampirella never removed.
      Before his roving consciousness could reach out for any distance, the snake blood-induced rapture faded and he found himself once again looking across the red landscape with his own two eyes. By now the shadows were climbing the walls of the canyon as the sun turned a blood red.
      Sensing he was somehow close to the object of his search, he made the decision to spend the night in the desert. Returning to his 4x4, he wiped the congealing gore from his face and jacket with water from a large plastic jug and tossed his blood spackled shirt into the back, replacing it with a fresh one. He downed a vial of blood substitute serum that washed the last flickerings of the reptilian state of consciousness from his system. Next he gathered a propane lantern, a high-tech nylon bedroll, and a Navajo blanket from which he assembled a lookout post, propped against a large boulder by the trailside.
      As he sat, the cloudless desert sky rapidly went from pink to purple to black while the temperature dropped rapidly. Fortunately he was immune to the desert cold. Far from obscuring city lights, the sky filled with an infinity of stars. The feathered band of the Milky Way was clearly visible as well. Occasionally a meteor would streak across the sky. Vampiri did not share the earthly ritual of wishing upon a falling star, but aware of the custom, each time he saw a flickering contrail, Tristan’s thoughts inadvertently flashed back to Vampirella.
      Eventually he drifted into a dozing state, sitting in solitude under the desert stars. There was no discernable noise or physical cue which brought him suddenly wide-awake in the minutes before midnight. A full moon had risen, illuminating the silent canyon with a cold white light. With his vampiric eyesight, he could see every detail of the rocky landscape as clearly as if in broad daylight.
      His eyes were drawn to a spot some twenty feet along the cliff face where the air seemed to waver as if with heat ripples rising from the desert floor, but no warmth issued from the spot. He felt the hairs on his arms rise as an electric tingle and a sharp ozone scent suddenly filled the air. From out of the shimmering patch, a solid shape began to coalesce.
      Before him in the flesh appeared the striking face from the nearby petroglyph. She stood almost nude, facing him, a faint smile curling the corners of her lips. Her skin was a shade of golden bronze vaguely resembling that of East Indians of this world. She wore the same fan-like tiara as her centuries-old stone likeness. Her tall, statuesque body was adorned with a miniscule brassiere and thong constructed from an ornate mesh of finely spun metallic gold filaments. The garment appeared to be more ornament than covering. Through it he could make out erect nipples apparently dusted a metallic copper shade. As well, it exposed a vertical slash of tawny bush the color of a lion’s mane over a smoothly rounded vulva.
      Instinctively Tristan genuflected, lowering his head reverently. The Conjuress stepped forward and gently grasped his forearm with delicate fingers, drawing him upright again. Though her figure seemed to shimmer about the edges with a faintly luminescent aura, her touch was solid enough. Tristan found himself looking into ocean-deep eyes a stunning if seemingly unnatural shade of mauve.
      "Hello, Tristan," she spoke invitingly. "You and I have much to discuss. My time will be ending soon, but yours is about to begin."




Her pubescent figure outlined in the reddish glow from an overhead exit sign, Chelsea Cantrell stood in the rear doorway overlooking the balcony of a seedy downtown movie house. She scanned the rows of upper level seats, her preternatural eyesight taking in every detail of what went on in the blackness.
      More than a decade had elapsed since those final weeks of her former human existence as a precocious high school student at Austen’s School for Young Ladies. Twelve years ago she had encountered Vampirella and had come face to face with a sinister hidden world of sorcery and vampirism. Then that world had overtaken her, making her one of its own. For whatever twisted reasons, Ethan Shroud, the cultist leader of the Companions of Chaos, had sought to remake her in Vampirella’s image, damning her to a benighted world of eternal bloodlust and loneliness. Eventually she had descended into a sort of living death as a bloated monstrosity at the mercy of her own unquenchable thirst for blood. Then she had met what should have been her final end, impaled on the silver blade of a dagger wielded by the raven-haired vampiress whose destiny had subsumed her own.
      But now she walked the earth once more in the ripe post-adolescent form of her previous schoolgirl existence. The trappings of her wardrobe were changed though; school blazers and knee socks replaced by a Goth couture of mauve-streaked jet-black hair and dusky makeup, leather microskirt and chunky platform boots. More telling than her costume however was the change in her demeanor. Wide-eyed innocence had given way to the wary, self-assured movements of a seasoned huntress.
       She had a mission now; to travel the globe battling the forces of Chaos who had transformed her until the auroral sign came that would guide her to an unknown destiny in an unforeseen locale. It was the search for this harbinger of her endgame which had brought her to the Western Canadian city of Vancouver.
      However her first need was sustenance, a need which had drawn her to this area of town and what perhaps had once been an upscale playhouse or movie palace, now long decades past its glory days. Today perhaps a dozen patrons, all of them male, dotted the rows of the cavernous auditorium, watching a yellowed print of a 1980’s vintage porno film. Onscreen a Barbie doll starlet with a platinum blonde Farrah Fawcett mane and silicone breasts the size and shape of overinflated balloons gyrated about, impaled on the improbably large member of a black performer with a body builder’s physique, wearing nothing but a collection of gaudy gold chains and medallions a la Mr. T. A continual series of moans vaguely synchronized to the actress’s lip movements echoed tinnily through the theater. Periodically a resounding crackle punctuated the blaring, garbled soundtrack as another splice in the ancient reel passed through the gate of the flickering projector.
      No one in the tiny audience seemed to take notice of the shortcomings of the projection system or the movie itself. It served its purpose of setting an appropriately seedy ambiance for the various goings-on taking place in the theater rows.
      Chelsea sensed every eye in the gallery turn towards her as she made her way down the aisle from the back entrance and wriggled into a seat near the front, her miniskirt riding up to the bottoms of her cheeks. Like stealing candy from a baby, she smiled inwardly. It always was.
      Before the actress onscreen could slide off her partner and begin to perform an enthusiastic fellatio on his oversized member, a middle-aged man from one of the rows behind her moved forward and dropped into the seat next to hers. He leaned over and whispered hoarsely into her ear. Chelsea nodded affirmatively and accepted a sweaty handful of bills which was proffered in the darkness. The man undid his trench coat and zipped down the fly of his trousers.
      Chelsea noted with satisfaction that he was clean and well dressed. Not that she was squeamish. Still, just as in her former life, a meal was always best enjoyed when well presented.
      Her slender fingers slid inside his pants and encountered a turgid penis which she began deftly to manipulate. Instantly half a dozen heads craned vulturelike over her seat row, the onscreen action now completely ignored. Chelsea smiled coyly, looking about her. While she knew that voyeurism and exhibitionism were the raison d’être for this establishment, a room full of spectators would not do for the type of activity she had planned.
      This time she mouthed a suggestion which was quickly assented to. The two got up and walked up to and out the back exit from the balcony. In the upper level foyer outside, a second, larger wad of bills was exchanged and Chelsea guided her overeager client through the doorway of a nearby men’s restroom. A few intrepid watchers attempted to follow them inside, but Chelsea slammed the door shut and kicked a wooden stopper into place, barring it.
      From here out, Chelsea knew she was in control. Her petite adolescent appearance to the contrary, had she wished, she could have simply pinned her intended prey in a grip as implacable as a hydraulic press and drained him dry. But even as a vampire, she retained a streak of the mischievous, coquettish schoolgirl who never could resist playing with fire.
      Strutting across the worn, ceramic-tiled lavatory, she hoisted herself onto a chipped porcelain sink, pulling one knee up to her chest and resting a heel on the edge of the washbasin. Perched thus, her skirt rode completely up, fully exposing a Mohawk-trimmed stripe of bush above her velvet smooth labia. She spread her raised leg further to the side to reveal a small, bright gold clit ring piercing her pink vulva. Retaining her pose, she fumbled a moment with a large handbag before withdrawing a cigarette and a book of matches. Lighting up, she took a single deep drag and deliberately directed a long stream of smoke towards the ceiling before grinding it out on the basin between her legs. All the while she stared defiantly at the man across from her.
      "Like what you see?" she taunted.
      "Jesus, you’re one hot little pussy," he muttered breathlessly.
      Dropping his trousers, he lunged clumsily towards her. Grabbing her by her exposed buttocks, he lifted her off the sink and pressed her back into the cold tile wall. Fumblingly, he rubbed his penis about Chelsea’s moistened vulva, searching out the opening. Finding it, he shoved himself deep inside her.
      As a mortal woman, the rough penetration would have been terrifying and painful. But in her present vampiric state, Chelsea knew that very little short of a magnumload of silver bullets could harm her, certainly nothing this puny human was capable of. Even if he carried some STD, a not unlikely possibility, it would never incubate within her radically altered physiology. Therefore she allowed herself to be amused by his desperate frenzied thrusts for the brief moments until she felt a warm stream of ejaculate spurt inside her.
      It was only at this moment that she grabbed him by the hair and pulled his head upright. He was too stunned to react as he simultaneously orgasmed and felt the sharp pinch of razorlike, elongated fangs penetrating his exposed neck. Still riding his cock, Chelsea wrapped her arms and legs about him, clinging tightly as he began to stagger about the room, her sucking mouth clamped to his throat.
      It was a variation on a similar scene of co-mingled bloodlust and sexual frenzy she had witnessed acted out in Constitution Gardens and which had imprinted deeply upon her psyche, forever shaping the particulars of her own blood hunting rituals.
      As his lifeblood was siphoned away, his struggles grew feebler until his knees buckled and he tumbled to the floor with Chelsea on top of him. At last Chelsea withdrew from the sprawled figure, sparing his life. As she got to her feet, she noted a gold wedding band on his outstretched hand. No doubt in a few hours he would have a lot to answer for, awakening in some emergency ward, but at least he would live to see his wife and family again.
      Effortlessly she hoisted him up and deposited him in one of the toilet stalls out of sight of the doorway. She took a few moments to pull her disheveled clothes together and wipe the blood from her face in front of the mirror. Then she strode out the door and down the steps to the main lobby. As she headed out the front entry, she heard shouts echoing from the upper level behind her; but before anyone could pursue, she was outside on the sidewalk and had blended into the passersby.





      The late afternoon sun was already sinking low in a clear autumn sky as Vampirella set out in search of Conrad Van Helsing’s old contact.
      Earlier in the day, she had trekked into Vancouver to inquire as to his whereabouts. She had arrived early at the administrative offices of the sprawling University of British Columbia, situated at the far tip of the city’s posh West Side, overlooking the Strait of Georgia from atop high, wooded cliffs. Her last information, admittedly long dated, had been that Professor Murray Carlton had once been a member of the faculty there. She was initially informed by an officious office assistant that the Professor was not presently teaching any courses and that the University could not give out any contact information. It had taken several tries with progressively more authoritative members of the University administration before she was able to elicit the information that Prof. Carlton had been placed on extended administrative leave by the University. He apparently was now residing in seclusion in a remote house on the outskirts of Richmond, not terribly far from the Steveston hotel she had just come from. By mid-afternoon, she was on her way back.
      Her cab had deposited her along the marshy western outskirts of the City of Richmond, the upscale satellite community comprising the southeasternmost extent of the extended metropolitan area known as the Greater Vancouver Regional District. From there she had set out along a remote promontory of coastal marshland, following the system of earthen flood-control dykes which surrounded the largely flat, sea-level community situated on the Fraser River delta. Travelling the hiking trails that ran along the tops of the dykes, she left behind Richmond’s neat rows of expensive waterfront homes and was soon surrounded on both sides by an undulating expanse of reeds and cattails. Far off to her left, the glistening, blue-gray expanse of the Strait of Georgia extended out to a horizon serrated by the layered outlines of the Gulf Islands, while directly ahead, the remote, snow-capped peaks of the mainland could be seen across the waters. In the distance, a distinctive "V" formation of white Canada geese crossed the sky, honking cheerfully. Closer at hand, a blue heron standing gracefully on stilt legs watched her pass.
      Eventually a raised, graveled road broke through the brush on the landward side and turned to parallel the earthen dyke, becoming what appeared to be a private drive. Marshland gave way to a long, overgrown yard lined with an orderly row of trees. A few hundred yards further on, the track ended up facing a single isolated house perched at the end of the promontory.
      The structure was of indeterminate age and eccentric construction, a peeling, wood-sided collection of shed-like wings and additions. To the rear, an impressive radio antenna mast rose beyond it. However its most notable feature was the extent to which it was overgrown with a solid wall of tangled brush that climbed well up the seaward side. The effect was to camouflage the house from view, particularly from offshore. A rickety footbridge ran from the top of the dyke to the front side of the house, crossing a deep, moat-like brown culvert that separated the property from the trail on which Vampirella stood. This too was impassable with an overgrowth of thorn bushes.
      Vampirella looked warily about her. There was no one in sight along the trail. She stepped back to the far side of the berm to give herself a running start, then leaped across the muddy stream in what to ordinary humans would have been an impossible broad-jump.
      Landing in a crouch, her spike heels digging into the soft ground, she scanned the house from closer at hand. It appeared isolated on the landward side as well, though making her way around the side, she discovered that the protective hedgerows were not as extensive as on the front. She noted that the ground level windows were all either barred or shuttered shut, though a large upper-story shed dormer boasted a panoramic picture window providing an unobstructed view over the top of the foliage out across the marshes and the Strait beyond.
      Instinctively Vampirella flexed slightly, ready to spring into a fighting stance, as she approached the heavy front door and knocked firmly. Her acute hearing picked up footsteps on the other side. There was a pause as the occupant undoubtedly appraised her through the peephole. Then several latches and deadbolts snicked back and the door opened to reveal a heavyset man, probably in his early sixties. With balding gray hair, wire-rimmed glasses, and a neatly trimmed beard, Vampirella could easily picture this man at the front of a lecture hall or leading a University research expedition.
      "Professor Carlton?" Vampirella inquired politely.
      "I know you," the professor exclaimed, looking her up and down. "You’re Vampirella."
      "You know me?" Vampirella asked, knowing full well that she had never previously encountered this Canadian academician.
      "Perhaps I should say I know of you," he amended. "Conrad Van Helsing spoke continually of you when he was alive. You look exactly as he described you."
      "Good or bad?" Vampirella’s expression darkened slightly as she was reminded of her long and mixed history with Adam’s father.
      "All good," smiled the professor. "Although that was what, twenty years ago? But then I guess twenty years wouldn’t make any difference to you."
      "May I come in?"
      "Why of course."
      Vampirella stepped through the doorway into a spacious, wood-paneled living room or den. In contrast to the apparent neglect outside, the interior of the house seemed to be a comfortable sanctuary for this strange hermit. Filled bookcases lined the walls, with additional volumes stacked beside a worn leather easy chair, the collected references of a lifetime spent in academia. A cast iron wood stove in one corner kept the room cozily warm, in contrast to the chill seaside air outside.
      "Please have a seat. May I offer you anything? Some tea, a brandy?"
      "No thank you, Professor," Vampirella smiled. "If you know that much about me, you probably know that my taste in liquids runs in, shall we say, a different vein."
      Carlton blanched at the ominous potential behind the casually tossed-out witticism.
      "Sorry," Vampirella relented. "Perhaps I will take a cup of tea if it’ll make you more comfortable."
      "Is Earl Grey all right?" the professor recovered. "I was just brewing a pot for myself."
      "That’ll be fine."
      Carlton stepped into his kitchen. Vampirella heard the creaking of cupboards and rattling of dishware. A minute later he returned with a tray containing an antique tea service for two. He poured two steaming cups, one of which he proffered to Vampirella.
      For the next hour, Vampirella exchanged reminiscences with the old hermit about the Van Helsings and their exploits.
      "Professor," she eventually eased the conversation towards the point of her visit, "the Van Helsings spoke of you as well. I know that you and Conrad collaborated on some paranormal investigations at one time. That’s why I’m here."
      She continued, "I seem to recall that your particular area of specialization had something to do with radio, but are you familiar with some of the recent reports in the news about unusual northern lights being involved with a helicopter crash here on the West Coast?"
      For a moment Carlton stared at her in obvious surprise. "Of course I am," he blurted excitedly. "I know about what’s been in the news and a whole lot more that you probably don’t know. I can’t believe you’re here asking me this. For years I’ve been trying to get someone to take me seriously, and just when I’d about reached the end of the line, the one person in the world who could possibly make a difference shows up at my doorstep.
      "Let me show you something," Carlton set aside his teacup and guided her towards a narrow stairwell.
      Vampirella followed him up a flight to a corridor leading to the house’s second-floor living quarters then up another half flight which opened onto the single glassed-in dormer room Vampirella had observed from outside.
      "This is my radio shack," the professor announced proudly.
      A single glance told Vampirella this was where the professor spent most of his time within the house. A well-worn executive office chair faced an L-shaped bench that ran below the picture windows along the two outer walls. On it was arranged an assortment of older-vintage electronic cabinets, switchboards, tape decks, speakers, and microphones, as well as various devices unidentifiable to Vampirella. All of it was interconnected by an array of patch cords. Visored reading lamps illuminated the radio instrument faces while keeping the overall lighting at a subdued level, allowing the professor to look out over the surrounding waterways as he worked from his roof-level perch.
      Vampirella admired the view. By now the sun had disappeared below the horizon and the sky was rapidly changing from a dark purple to black. The islands and peaks she had seen earlier were now just black silhouettes. Far out in the dark waters of the Georgia Strait, twin rows of flickering channel-marker buoys guided shipping into English Bay and the Port of Vancouver, somewhere beyond their current line-of-sight.
      "So you want to know about the helicopter crash," Carlton addressed Vampirella. "I can’t tell you exactly what happened out there, though I have some theories as to what may have been responsible. I can tell you this though. That crash was just the latest in an escalating series of strange incidents that have taken place around the Strait of Georgia in the last several months. Six weeks ago an empty fishing boat was found adrift a kilometer out from the mouth of the Fraser off Steveston with no sign of what happened to the crew. Two months before that, a young woman wandered away from a late-night party on Saturna Island and disappeared off a pier, never to be seen again. Before that was a diving accident near Nanaimo; no body recovered.
      "This isn’t the Bermuda Triangle. The Georgia Strait is one of the most heavily trafficked sea-lanes on the West Coast, and one of the safest. The Port of Vancouver is a major point of entry for goods entering North America from all around the Pacific Rim. Not to mention there’s regular ferry traffic connecting Victoria and Nanaimo on Vancouver Island with the Lower Mainland. And because the Strait is sheltered by Vancouver Island to the west, the seas are a lot more subdued than on open ocean. It’s just not a part of the world where people go missing without a trace. Four separate disappearances in as many months is really pushing random chance as a plausible explanation."
      Vampirella perched herself on the edge of the equipment bench, listening intently as the professor continued, "But there’s more. You know I was collaborating with colleagues like Conrad Van Helsing around the globe by HAM radio long before there was an Internet. But I’ve also been involved in some more esoteric studies of the connection between paranormal phenomena and radio transmissions."
      "That seems like a rather incongruous pairing," Vampirella smiled with a hint of skepticism.
      "Twenty-five years ago I would have said the same thing. Then one night I was scanning through various RF bandwidths when I happened to pull in the audio portion of a television broadcast from way down in the States; Houston, Texas to be specific. You’d be surprised. With the right atmospheric conditions, sometimes you’ll pull in some fluky things on one of these big sets, but Texas to Canada is a heluva long distance for a television signal to bounce. So I wrote down the call letters, KLEE, and after about an hour the signal faded out.
      "I didn’t think too much of it at the time, but a week or so later I happened to get a call from one of my former grad students who had moved down to the States. He was applying for a research grant from some foundation in Dallas and wanted to know if he could use me for a reference. I always liked to hear how my students were doing, so we ended up shooting the breeze for a bit. He knew I was a HAM operator and eventually the conversation worked around to radio shop talk. I happened to mention that I had recently pulled in a signal from KLEE in Texas."
      The professor’s eyes twinkled as he reached the climax of his narrative. "Well, for a moment there was dead silence on the line. Then my student, who had been in Texas long enough to know what he was talking about, proceeded to tell me that KLEE was a long-defunct TV station that had gone off the air in the early fifties.
      "At first I laughed it off, but as I got talking to people, I found that a lot of insiders involved with radio communications had similar stories to tell. That ended up being a turning point in my personal and professional life.
      "I began systematically researching paranormal radio phenomena as a sidelight to my regular research at UBC. From the beginning, most of the faculty thought I was a crackpot, but crackpots in academia were a lot more the norm in the late seventies than they are today. Over the course of several years, I put together this lab. Originally it was set up in a basement at the University. Eventually I began experimenting with various RF filters of my own design."
      Vampirella looked more closely at some of the strange devices spread out on the benchtop. "And did you ever come up with anything?"
      "Over the years, I’ve come across some strange phenomena, but nothing solid enough to convince my colleagues on the faculty. When I was younger, it was fun pulling peoples’ chains. But things change. Higher education became less about independent thinking and more about indoctrinating students into a world of globalization and international corporations. I guess my way of thinking didn’t fit with the times and I gradually became more and more marginalized at UBC."
      "This is pretty marginalized," Vampirella nodded, looking about her eccentric surroundings.
      "Anyway," Carlton pressed on, "It wasn’t until late ’96 that I made a truly shocking find. I’d been using my own RF filters for about three years, trying to zero in on paranormal radio phenomena with no significant successes. Then out of nowhere, I began digging out a faint ground-based signal way down in the VLF band, apparently coming from very close range out in the southern Gulf Islands. I eventually triangulated it to Mayne Island, one of the smaller, less populated Gulf Islands."
      "I tried to get several of the Engineering and physical sciences faculty at the University involved in researching it, but they all insisted it was nothing but an artifact produced by my filtering algorithms. Shortsighted idiots couldn’t see what was right in front of their faces. When I wouldn’t let it drop, I was eventually censured by the University and most of my critical research and graduate classes reassigned.
      "Best damn thing that could have happened too. It’s given me the chance to focus exclusively on my paranormal research without any other distractions."
      "That’s quite a narrative," Vampirella acknowledged neutrally, still uncertain whether she was dealing with a revolutionary explorer into the paranormal or just a broken lunatic. "So just what is this mystery signal, and what does it have to do with people and helicopters disappearing?"
      "If you want a technical description, it’s a complex RF waveform based on a carrier signal in the in the 30 kilohertz range with several periodic waveforms superimposed on the base signal. Subjecting it to a Fourier analysis, it breaks down to one primary component, seven secondaries, and 369 tertiary periods comprising a variable resultant pattern. Based on your association with the Van Helsings, I’m sure you’ll recognize the significance of those numbers."
      "The number of entities in the Chaos pantheon," Vampirella stated dryly. "But what does it mean?"
      "Do you know much about astronomy?" asked Carlton.
      "A little," Vampirella replied.
      "There exist enormously powerful stellar phenomena, the magnetic fields of stars, pulsars, and the like, which produce massive energy signatures traveling through interstellar space. The study of these signatures forms the basis of modern radio astronomy.
      "I believe that what I’ve recorded is the radio signature of some unknown energetic phenomenon existing right here on the surface of the Earth, not forty kilometers from this very spot. Obviously we’re not talking stellar magnitudes here, but it would still have to be an enormous terrestrial energy source to produce such a signature. Normally something like that would make its presence known in any number of ways, affecting all sorts of electronic equipment, weather patterns, you name it. The only reason I can conjecture that whatever this is isn’t standing out like a sore thumb is that it somehow exists out of phase with the everyday world you and I live in, possibly existing at least partially in another dimension but extending into ours. For this reason, the output from it would for the most part pass transparently through the Earth without significantly interacting with it. What little does bleed through into our reality could well produce auroral displays or even bring down something like a helicopter at close range. What its effect on living systems like people would be, I couldn’t even begin to guess."
      "So if this whatever-it-is exists outside the normal world, how are you able to detect it?"
      "Because the filtering equipment in this lab compensates for the phase difference between dimensions."
      "I’m sorry," Vampirella shook her head. "That’s quite a leap."
      Carlton stepped over to a metal cabinet and removed a numbered and dated cassette from a carefully labeled collection of similar tapes. "As I’ve said, this is a radio signal. I could run it through an oscilloscope and you could see the waveform, but I’ve found that the best way to experience it is just to hook it up to a speaker system and make an audio recording of what comes out."
      With that, he inserted the cassette into a tape deck and hit the play button.
      For all that she was trying to give this former colleague of Conrad’s the benefit of the doubt, in the back of her mind she was half expecting some haunted house sound effect off of a Halloween album. Instead the playback from the tape hit her like a blow to the gut, taking her instantly back some twenty years to the Demon Brokers’ chambers under New York City. Despite the limitations of the recording quality, the deep, throbbing vibration was unquestionably the same unearthly tone she had heard in the nightmarish moments when Yorlak’s Mirror had disgorged the artifact called the Metahedron.
       "Satyr and Circe," Vampirella mouthed, dropping into the professor’s chair, "turn it off."
      "You know what it is, don’t you?" Carlton gasped, staring incredulously at her.
      "I have an idea of what it might be," Vampirella answered carefully, all doubts in the professor instantly vanished. "So did you ever go out to the Islands and try to track this thing to its source?"
      "I did once. My filtering setup requires special transformers and isn’t that easily portable. But one time I threw some basic directional equipment into the car, took a ferry across, and started nosing around the island. Mayne’s only about five kilometers across at its widest. I did discover that the signal was coming from somewhere up in the forested interior hills, but before I could zero in on it, the tuner I was carrying blew out. Besides, it was the height of the rainy season, the days were short, and I hadn’t really come prepared to hike. So I headed back to the mainland with the intention of trying again in a few days."
      The professor’s expression looked uncomfortable as he continued, "Well, I never made it back. I swear I never told anyone I was going to Mayne that day, and no one on the island could have known who I was or what I was doing there. But somehow everything changed as a result of that one day trip. Two days later I got the word that I was essentially being sacked by the University. Fellow paranormal investigators I’d been talking to by HAM over the years suddenly went off the air. I started hearing rustlings out in the marshes in the middle of the night.
      "The strangest thing though was that the signal from Mayne changed after that. Understand that the equipment I use to monitor it is strictly a passive receiver. There’s no possible way it could be traced or triangulated. Yet ever since that trip, I could tell that whoever or whatever it was coming from knew when I was listening. Almost as soon as I switched on, there would be a subtle change in the patterns that make up the signal, almost like they were chattering to each other.
      "And that’s how things have stood ever since. Nothing more overt than that has ever happened. Maybe whoever’s out there knows of my reputation as a paranormal investigator and they’re afraid that if something untoward happened to me, it would draw attention to my theories. But for over a year now, I’ve had the sense that just as I’m listening to whatever it is that’s going on out in the Strait, someone in turn is watching me. I really don’t know what would happen if I were to try to go back to Mayne. There’ve been times when I’ve thought of packing it in here and heading back to Saskatchewan, where my roots are, but for that matter, I’m not sure what would happen if I tried to leave here."
      Vampirella noted the resignation in his eyes.
      "But I have a feeling things aren’t going to stay status quo much longer. One of the big secondary waveforms that make up the signal has been growing stronger, almost as if whatever’s producing it is moving closer to our plane of reality. Then the auroras and the disappearances started. Now there’s the helicopter crash."
      "Is there any chance it was what they’re saying, a random mishap?" Vampirella asked.
      "It was no mishap."
      The professor thought for a moment before fishing a key from his pocket and unlocking a desk drawer. From it he removed a single unmarked cassette. He replaced the previous tape in the machine and began playback.
      A tinny voice over a background of static and engine noise began issuing from the speaker.
      "This is Canadian Forces flight Zed Niner-Zero, thirty klicks outbound from CFB Esquimalt calling CFB Comox traffic control. Requesting approach instructions. We are turning north over the Haro Strait. Our ETA Comox is approximately twenty minutes."
      "Roger Zed Niner-Zero, this is Comox tower. We have you on radar. Maintain current altitude and heading. Maintain continuous communication with tower. We’re showing JAL Flight 4701 on final approach to YVR. It’ll be passing your mark at eight thousand feet in approximately two minutes."
      There were several seconds of muted cabin chatter before a second voice called out, "Gary, check your ten o’clock high. Can you see that green luminescence? Is that the aurora borealis up there?"
      "Couldn’t be. We’re way too far south. It’s just ground lights reflecting off an inversion layer. Probably Sidney."
      "Negative, we’re already coming up on Saltspring. Sidney’s back at our eight o’clock. Besides the color’s all wrong."
      "Zed Niner-Zero calling Nanaimo Flight Services Station. Requesting a meteorological update for the lower Gulf Islands. Are you getting any reports of auroral activity?"
      "Nanaimo Station to CF Zed Niner-Zero, that’s an affirmative. We’ve been getting sporadic sightings for the last week."
      Again from the cabin, "Take a good look, guys. That’s really uncanny to be seeing the northern lights at these latitudes."
      For another minute there was just the crackle of static from the tape.
      "This is about where things start to fall apart," Carlton told Vampirella.
      As if on cue, there was the sound of a door latch clicking on the tape and a new voice speaking excitedly, "Captain, is everything all right up here? We’re seeing some kind of light coming from aft through the cabin portholes."
      "No warning lights, no fire indicators," came the co-pilot’s voice. "Everything’s reading nominal."
      "Chris, go back and do a visual check on the tail rotor."
      "Roger, Captain."
      A moment later, "Holy shit, we’ve got St. Elmo’s fire climbing up the tail. We’re lit up like a Christmas tree!"
      "Luminescence on the aircraft surfaces caused by an electrostatic charge," Carlton explained to Vampirella.
      "Get back up here fast," called the pilot. "Electrical systems are fluctuating!"
      Then came a flurry of yelling voices.
      "Hey, it’s inside the cabin. Don’t touch the walls!"
      Panicked shouts sounded in the background.
      "Controls aren’t responding. I can’t keep her level!"
      "What the fuck, it’s climbing up my arm!!!"
      "…engines are gonna stall!"
      "Christ, I’m glowing! Do something, it’s burning…"
      "Mayday, mayday, mayday! Zed Niner-Zero going down…"
      "What’s happening to us???"
      There was a final loud burst of static and the tape went suddenly silent. Slowly Carlton got up and turned the player off.
      "That crosstalk hasn’t hit the news media yet, or the story would’ve gone ballistic. But you can bet that the military crash investigation teams will have pulled the Comox tower flight control tapes and are going over them with a fine-tooth comb.
      "How in the world did you get this?" Vampirella asked.
      "It’s my own recording," the professor explained. "I usually keep one of my old receivers scanning frequencies whenever I’m working up here. And I always keep my recorders cued up and ready to go."
      "So this wasn’t just a military aviation accident," Vampirella shook her head. "Something, some force, got loose on that helicopter before it went down, something that nobody’s talking about"
      "Right," Carlton concurred, "you can bet the powers-that-be are rattled. Helicopter safety is a sore subject with the Canadian Forces to begin with. Some of those Sea Kings have been in service for decades and are way past due for replacement. More to the point though, the military, at least those outside the loop, don’t go in for the paranormal. They probably don’t have a clue what to make of the recording you just heard. How can they possibly explain to the public how the bodies of fourteen Canadian servicemen could vanish without a trace fifty kilometers off the coast of Vancouver? So naturally they’re gonna stonewall."
      Reading Vampirella’s expression, Carlton pressed, "You seem to know more than you’re telling about all this. Don’t try to deny it. It’s written all over your face. I can live with that. Conrad would have trusted you with his life, so I guess I have to too."
      Excruciating memories of the New York underground again flashed through Vampirella’s head. Carlton would of course be unaware that it was in the wake of the so-called Metahedron’s arrival and her own flight that Conrad had been lost to the disciples of Chaos.
      "Just remember," Carlton continued, "I’ve spent seven years living in the shadow of this thing. We both know something unnatural is going on here, and I’m telling you the radio signals, the lights in the sky, the copter crash are all connected. Whatever it is, it’s centered on Mayne. Something hidden and sinister and unbelievably powerful is on that island, something that’s reaching out across the Strait and causing people to disappear without a trace. And whatever it is, it’s growing."
      "I need to know one thing," Carlton’s eyes met Vampirella’s. "As far as anybody’s concerned, I’m just some washed-up paranoid who’s shut himself off from the world out here. I’ve been cut off from my entire life by this fucking thing. It’s cost me my career, my reputation, my self-respect, everyone and everything that once mattered to me. I don’t know if you could know what that means, but I just need to know that you believe me."
      Vampirella smiled a genuine smile. "I believe you."




      The sound of Professor Carlton’s excited voice roused Vampirella from the depths of sleep. It took her an instant to gain her bearings as she bolted upright from beneath the covers of a strange bed.
      By the time she and Carlton had finished brainstorming every approach they could conceive to the bizarre happenings in the Strait, it was past 10:00 PM. While she had maintained a continual momentum since seeing the televised image of Tristan, if that’s who he was, in the California motel room, the fatigue of barely stopping or sleeping in three days had finally overtaken her. And if the truth be known, she was sufficiently unnerved by the things she had learned in this remote house, not to wish to make her return along the isolated dyke trails following the shores of the fear-haunted Strait at this hour of night. She had therefore readily accepted when Carlton had offered her the use of his guestroom. She had excused herself and gone off to bed while the professor had continued to monitor the airwaves from his radio shack well into the night. By 1:00 AM he too had dropped off to sleep sitting upright in his chair.
      When the faint writhing streamers of sickly-green auroral luminescence had appeared far out in the Strait beyond the house in the still hours before dawn, neither had been awake to see them.
      Lacking overnight apparel, Vampirella had spent the night in her scarlet costume, which was tiny enough to carry in a pocket of her street clothes. When she heard Carlton calling to her from the radio shack, she quickly threw on her boots and leather jacket over the costume.
      Before she reached the top of the stairs, she knew what was going on. That unearthly low hum was coming loudly from the radio shack, setting up a resonance that caused the house to buzz uncomfortably. Vampirella arrived to find Carlton excitedly adjusting dials.
      "It’s started up again just a few minutes ago. But it’s different. I think it’s being focused right here, for God’s sake."
      Vampirella scanned the panorama outside the broad windows, looking for threats. There was only the still landscape of the isolated promontory. The weather had changed during the night. Sea and sky now merged in a silvery haze. Near at hand, a solid carpet of low-lying ground fog had crept over the marshes, while further out the waters of the Strait were flat as a sheet of glass, becalmed by an almost unnatural stillness. The low dawn sun cast a greenish ochre light over the landscape as it refracted through the mist. Surrounded by fog, the house could have been in a world of its own.
      Suddenly Carlton’s eyes bulged in horror. Vampirella followed the direction of his terrified gaze. Far out, where the reedy marshes gave way to open water, an object broke the surface followed by another and another. In quick succession, five heads popped up from the waters of what a moment previously had been an empty expanse of shoreline. The heads were rapidly followed by five sets of shoulders and then torsos as whoever or whatever pulled themselves upright from the Strait. From this distance, Vampirella couldn’t make out details of the figures, only that they were big and bulky and that they seemed to be facing squarely in the direction of the house. Without exchanging looks or words, the phalanx began to move in unison, striding through the marshes towards the house.
      "Time to go," Vampirella announced in a steely tone, grabbing Carlton by the arm and guiding him firmly toward the stairs. "You have a car?"
      "In the garage," Carlton pointed to a detached outbuilding perhaps a hundred fifty feet behind the house. Vampirella gauged the distance. Too far. With Carlton in tow, they wouldn’t make it before the things were on them.
      "What’s down that road on the landward side?" Vampirella asked, considering making a run on foot. "How far to the nearest neighbors?"
      "There’s another house about half a kilometer from here."
      "No good," Vampirella nodded. Even with a few hundred yards lead, a man of Carlton’s age couldn’t outrun the approaching intruders for any distance. "We should hole up here."
      "Maybe we can call for help," Carlton suggested, grabbing the phone from the benchtop. A moment later, he flung it aside. "There’s no dial tone. We’re cut off."
      Vampirella knew without trying that the radio would yield the same results. Carlton’s hedgerow defenses offered no more protection than a child’s security blanket. They couldn’t have been more vulnerable than in this isolated seaside structure.
      "Do you have any kind of weapons?" Vampirella asked, hoping against hope, trying to cover all bases. "A hunting rifle?"
      "Are you kidding? This is Canada, not Los Angeles. Not many people keep guns in their homes."
      Reaching the ground floor, Vampirella rapidly circled the den, checking locks and shutters. Before she could complete her inspection, heavy footfalls sounded from close outside the house.
      Without warning, a misshapen gray fist plowed through the heavy front door with the force of a pneumatic press, sending splinters flying through the air. In a moment, whatever was stalking them would be inside the room.
      Vampirella didn’t wait. Shoving Carlton roughly behind her, she leaped at the door, smashing it outward in an explosion of kindling.
      As the favored daughter of the Conjuress Lilith, Vampirella’s supernatural strength and fighting skills were without rival. She had bested vampires, werewolves, Zelators, and other creatures of the paranormal as well as such earthly opposition as tanks and missiles. Thus she was stunned when she bounced painfully off the creature beyond the door with as little effect as if she’d tried to kick over a battleship.
      Crashing back into the room, she got her first glimpse of the thing looming over her. It was a flat gray creature in the overall shape of a man with bulky, coarsely formed extremities and a flat, featureless expanse where a face should have been. A few charred tatters of clothing hung from its frame along with matted streamers of tangled algae. The effect was not unlike what Vampirella might have expected if someone had taken a life-sized wax museum mannequin and melted it with a blowtorch. The texture of the creature however, far from being waxworks, had been as unyielding as a solid block of granite.
      Vampirella knew in an instant that she was severely outmatched facing five of these creatures. If she were to metamorphose into bat form, she might stand a chance of escape, but to do so would be to abandon Carlton to certain doom.
      Springing back to her feet, she sidestepped the creature, trying to buy herself precious moments to recoup. Before she could flank it however, a second creature followed the first through the doorway, taking out a large chunk of the doorframe. She realized that within moments they would have her boxed in with no room to maneuver inside the small room. She leaped at the door a second time, this time rolling through the space between the two creatures.
      As she did so, she made a further discovery as to the nature of her adversaries. These misshapen monsters appeared as though they should be awkward and clumsy. In fact, the lead pair whirled on her with lightning-fast reflexes.
      Out on the lawn, Vampirella tumbled against a small pile of cement blocks presumably awaiting some future renovation of Carlton’s. She immediately hefted one overhead and brought it smashing down on the head of the nearest creature. The block shattered across its skull with no effect. In response, it lashed out with a backhand blow that sent her careening into a nearby tree trunk. Where it struck, she felt the searing, knife-like pain of ribs cracking.
      The thing followed up its initial attack by lunging at her. As it neared, she grabbed at an overhead branch barely within reach and used it to swing herself forward, once again colliding feet first with the thing’s barrel chest. The force of her spike-heeled boots striking barely caused it to budge. This time however she was prepared for its rock-hard invulnerability and used the recoil of her impact to fling herself backward, momentarily beyond its grasp. She landed in a crouch on flexed limbs and immediately sprang back to her feet. The pain to her injured side from the extreme acrobatic leap was unbelievable, but to succumb now would be the end of her.
      Two more humanoids squared off behind her before she could maneuver around them. It was now painfully obvious that even her formidable physical prowess was totally ineffective against these seemingly unstoppable things. Nonetheless, she would not go down without a fight. She pivoted on her toes, in turn facing down each of the three creatures who now had her surrounded. She drew her left arm up in a defensive posture, ready to block any blows while poised to strike back with her right. As the three greenish-gold bands at her wrist caught the light, the creatures abruptly hesitated in her advance on her.
      The three bracelets, along with the similarly detailed armband on her upper right arm, were her most treasured possessions, the only artifacts of her life and former loved ones on Drakulon. Bestowed as tokens of womanhood, independence, and matrimony respectively, the bands, composed of an unearthly alloy of precious metals, were engraved with an intricate pattern of mystical sigils. These were supposed to be protective talismans against forces of evil. On Drakulon with its pacifistic culture, she had always assumed this function to be purely symbolic, however here on Earth she had discovered that they did indeed exert a repulsive effect, however slight, on those creatures aligned with the Chaos pantheon.
      Unfortunately, in this instance the effect was only transitory. Steeling themselves, the gray humanoids resumed their approach. Suddenly, without warning, there was the scything swish of movement through the air behind her. This was followed by a wet crunch as a dismembered gray head flew past her through the air, trailing a greenish-black ich
or. Vampirella whirled around to see the humanoid’s torso crumpling to the ground as its attacker moved on to a second creature. A lightning-like fist punched through its gut as if it was going through paper-machē. Immediately the remaining three diverted their attention from Vampirella to the new arrival. It made no difference. Each was cut down in rapid succession by a series of shattering blows.
      With the last humanoid effortlessly dispatched, the lethal newcomer turned to face Vampirella. She let out an involuntary gasp at the handsome bronzed, blonde-haired visage that confronted her.
      "Hello, ‘Ella," said Tristan warmly. "It’s good to finally see you again."
      "Tris?" she gasped, staring wide-eyed. "Tris, is it you?"
      "It’s me," Tristan smiled, but Vampirella could see something was wrong. Tristan held up his hands, examining them in puzzlement. His fingertips had seemingly faded into nothingness. Before Vampirella could say or do anything, the dissolve traveled up his arms.
      "I can’t stay," Tristan stated with remarkable calmness for someone who was literally disintegrating before her eyes, "but we’ll meet again soon."
      With that, he faded completely and Vampirella found herself standing alone amidst the scattered body parts of the shattered humanoids.
      Looking down at the carnage, a detail caught her eye. Hanging from one of the stone-gray corpses was an intact portion of a spackled camouflage combat fatigue jacket. On its sleeve was sewn a tiny patch depicting a Maple Leaf flag. It suddenly dawned on Vampirella what the gray humanoids were. There was no doubt in her mind that what she was looking at was the remains of at least some of the missing passengers or crewmen of the downed Canadian Forces helicopter. How they had been transformed into this state, she couldn’t begin to imagine.
      Reeling from the twin shocks of seeing Tristan and her gruesome discovery, she staggered into the house in search of Carlton. The first floor was a shambles, demolished by the rampaging humanoids. Several spots throughout the room glowed redly where scattered embers from the smashed woodstove had ignited portions of the old wood structure. Tongues of flame were already licking up one wall.
      She found Carlton crumpled in an unnatural position at the base of the stairwell. He was injured but breathing. Under the circumstances, she had little choice but to risk moving him. Carefully she cradled him in her arms and carried him outside, well clear of the smoldering house. Outside, black, tarry smoke was already curling from the far side of the tinder-dry structure.
      Noting the Professor’s whitish pallor and labored breathing, Vampirella made the decision to brave the burning building one more time. She ducked inside and moments later emerged with the cell phone Carlton had discarded on the upper level. In the absence of the humanoids' malign influence, the little device seemed to be working again. Vampirella placed a 911 call, describing in careful detail their isolated location along the dyke trails.
      Waiting for help to arrive, Vampirella stood watch over the Professor in the event any more of the humanoids should appear. Looking anxiously about, she noted the bodies of the dispatched creatures were rapidly decomposing into a powdery gray residue like fine ash. Like many supernatural creatures she had encountered, once killed, their material forms seemed to vanish from this reality. By the time anyone else reached this spot, there would be no remaining evidence of their presence save a few empty uniform fragments.
      Within minutes she heard the sound of multiple sirens approaching. By then the house, with all Carlton’s revolutionary radio devices, was fully engulfed in flame. Only when she saw a train of fire trucks and rescue wagons racing down the dirt lane did she slip unnoticed into the underbrush. If she remained, there would be too many questions she simply couldn’t answer.



3:00 AM

      Vampirella stepped from the shower of her hotel room. Beads of water glistened on her lithe nude body as she examined herself in the brightly-lighted bathroom vanity mirror. The livid blue-green bruises of just a few hours ago had vanished completely.
      Like vampires of legend, Vampirella possessed extraordinary regenerative powers. Still it had taken nearly an hour for her broken ribs to knit and the better part of the day before the pain and swelling had subsided completely. While miraculous by human standards, she knew this would not be sufficient to protect her from mortal harm in any future encounter with the stone-gray creatures.
      Fleeing the professor’s house via the inland roadway, she had taken a circuitous route back into town, frequently checking over her shoulder for signs of pursuit. Whatever supernatural forces had been behind the all-out assault on the house had apparently been stalking Carlton for some time. Vampirella could only assume that he had indeed been driven into isolation because of his knowledge of dark forces at work somewhere out in the Gulf Islands. Now that she knew as much as he had, would their malevolent scrutiny turn towards her as well?
      Eventually she’d hailed a passing cab and ridden back to Steveston. Bruised and clutching her injured side, wearing only her boots and short jacket over her skimpy costume, she’d undoubtedly made an unseemly sight. Her ferocious glare however had forestalled any questions from the driver. Arriving at the hotel, she’d slipped through a side entrance and made her way unseen up to her room. She’d spent the daylight hours locked in seclusion, mending her wounds and attempting to analyze this unforeseen escalation of events. She’d come here to Canada to find Tristan, but now he’d found her first only to vanish once again.
      Yet could it be Tristan? It had been more than two decades since she’d last seen him. A week after their return to Hollywood from Cannes, he had vanished into the night as mysteriously as he’d arrived. She had never given up trying to trace his whereabouts right up until the fateful encounter in New York when she was driven to ground and had become Ella Normandy. She’d never found him again though until the television newscast of a few days ago.
      What she had eventually found after months of searching back in 1982 had been a witch’s journal belonging to a Contessa Alessandra Yorlak. It spelled out how the Countess, a disciple of the Cult of Chaos, had used the blood sacrifices of her own followers to conjure the vial of Tristan’s preserved remains from Drakulon here to Earth. With what Vampirella had recently learned of her own bloodstained passage into this world through the Black Mirror, she now had a greater appreciation of the full horror as well as the possible mechanism of such a summoning. From the recovered remains, Yorlak had apparently created a doppelgänger, a mystical clone as it were, of the original Tristan in order to trap Vampirella.
      Whoever he was, the powers Vampirella had witnessed today went beyond even Drakulonian abilities. Only one breed of bodily entity in her vast experience with the supernatural had ever demonstrated such unbridled strength: the mysterious Hexxen who had traveled to Earth along with her through the Black Mirror.
      As for the undead gray things and the mysterious forces behind them, they had all the markings of a return of her oldest foes, the Companions of Chaos. While the rise and eventual defeat of the arch-demoness Nyx had brought a horrifying new dimension to the Chaos menace, many of the original earthly covens had seemingly vanished in the last several years. However if the unearthly hum she had heard on Carlton’s tapes was indeed the same artifact the Cult had summoned to Earth back in 1983, perhaps they had been biding their time all these years, waiting for a decades-old master plan to come to its sinister fruition.
      And if it was the same crystalline object the Cultists had called the Metahedron, did that mean the obscene vision of miscegenous supernatural rape she’s squandered almost a decade of her life hiding from still lay in her future? And what of the cowled man? Was he still out there too?
      For years she had lived with too many unanswered questions, too many gaps in her memory, too many discontinuities in the narrative of her existence. Perhaps the time had come to face her lingering doubts and fears once and for all. Sitting naked and alone in her darkened hotel room, Vampirella had the sense that the choice was no longer hers, that many of the loose ends of her long and varied lifetime were moving towards an inexorable climax.
      Glancing at the bedside clock, she thought a moment before picking up her room phone and dialing a cell number known only to her. A groggy voice answered on the first ring.
      "Harry, we need to talk."
      Vampirella knew it was indicative of the level of trust Harry Krishna had in her that he made no mention of the fact that it would be just past 6:00 AM in Washington, DC and that she had obviously wakened him.
      "What would you like to talk about?" he responded with feigned glibness.
      "Drakulon," Vampirella answered flatly.
      There was a pause from the other end of the line. "Can you meet me at YVR later today?" he asked, obviously well acquainted with the shorthand designation for Vancouver International Airport.
      "I’ll call you back in five minutes with times and flight numbers."
      Waiting for the phone, Vampirella stood nude in the hotel room window and peered at the deserted street outside. The sleepy little coastal village was dead still in this, the small hours of the morning. Straining through the darkness, she could sense no further presence of the nearly indestructible gray men who had risen from the depths of the Strait to attack Professor Carlton’s.
      So attuned to the monstrous creatures was Vampirella that she failed to detect the proximity of another, more kindred supernatural presence. Even with her enhanced eyesight, she didn’t spot the pair of equally acute eyes studying her back from a shadowed recess through a chink in a plank boatyard fence. As Vampirella turned from the window, Chelsea Cantrell stepped out into the moonlight, fangs extended, her ruby lips curled in a predatory smile.




      Early afternoon of the following day, Vampirella stood in the "meet-and-greet" lounge at the far end of International Arrivals. A steady stream of incoming passengers of all races and nationalities filed down the concourse leading from Customs, ferrying pushcarts laden with reclaimed and inspected luggage. Some hurried joyously into the outstretched arms of awaiting loved ones. Some strode businesslike through the vast lounge and out the exit doors without casting a sideways glance. Still others huddled about television monitors and airport diagrams, obviously getting their bearings in unfamiliar surroundings.
      Unexpectedly, a goateed man in his mid-thirties emerged from an unmarked side door near Vampirella. Clearly the young man had received VIP treatment in bypassing the normal arrivals lineups. Vampirella smiled warmly, waving slender fingers overhead to catch his attention. Dressed in a casual print shirt and sneakers, he didn’t look like a typical VIP, but Vampirella knew that Harry Krishna was a heavyweight power broker in international law-enforcement circles.
      "It’s good to see you again," Harry smiled, taking her outstretched hand in greeting.
      "Thank you for coming," Vampirella returned. "You know I wouldn’t have asked if it wasn’t important."
      "I know."
      "I thought you’d probably take the train," Vampirella commented, referring to the World’s End’s revolutionary prototype geistgate spacefold system, camouflaged within a restored steam locomotive. The train was another big question mark to Vampirella. She knew such technology was beyond the realm of conventional earthly science. How the Circus had acquired it was a mystery she had been advised not to delve into.
      Harry glanced about to make sure nobody was within earshot. "That’s a bit of a touchy subject"
      Vampirella raised an eyebrow, inviting him to continue.
      "You were out of the country for most of August, weren’t you?"
      "Yes, after Jink and I wrapped up the "choir in the mist" affair in Ireland, I spent a few weeks assisting an old friend of Pendragon’s with a case in the Lake District. A girl’s gotta make a living, after all."
      "You did hear about the East Coast blackout on the 14th."
      "I read what was in the papers."
      "You probably didn’t read that our train was what caused it."
      "Oops," Vampirella whistled.
      "Big oops," Harry reluctantly explained, guiding Vampirella towards the exit. "Our technos were supposed to be running a calibration transit from a classified maintenance hanger at Wright Patterson in Dayton to a closed siding outside of Akron. Unfortunately the train reintegrated about twenty miles further down the line than it was supposed to, right on top of a parked boxcar. It’s a major miracle nobody was killed outright, but it put out enough of an EMP to send a power spike into the Ohio power grid. The rest, as they say, is history.
      "We had to call in a lot of markers in the intelligence community to get out a semi-credible cover story. Needless to say though, it wasn’t the Circus’s finest hour, especially coming right on top of the Wilding Sanction debacle. Both the FBI Director and the Attorney General took their turns reaming me a new one. The upshot is that our hands are pretty well tied for the moment. I’m afraid the Circus is going to be keeping a very low profile for some time to come."
      "I’m sorry to hear that," sympathized Vampirella.
      "Water under the bridge now."
      Outside the terminal, an orderly relay of variously colored taxicabs pulled in and out of a covered pickup zone. Harry waved one down and handed his luggage over to a Sikh driver in a turban and full beard.
      To Vampirella, "Sushi all right with you? The Bureau’s buying. I can never pass up the chance for the good stuff when I get out to the West Coast."
      "Whatever you like," Vampirella acquiesced.
      Harry gave instructions to the driver to locate a suitable eatery, and they piled inside. Moments later they pulled out into traffic, merging on to an expressway leading out of the airport. Ten minutes after that, they had arrived in Richmond’s Chinatown area.
      Looking out the window, Vampirella thought back to other Chinatowns she had visited in years past; dark, noirish, neon-lit neighborhoods of narrow, crowded streets and crumbling brick tenements filled with intrigue. This Chinatown was nothing like that. Instead they drove through a gleaming, futuristic commercial district of high-tech malls and shopping plazas. Signs in dual Cantonese kanji and English offered up everything from upscale international cuisine to karaoke bars to high-end consumer electronics and European designer fashions.
      Putting on his best tour-guide manner, their driver informed them that much of this area had sprung up to cater to a wealthy class of Hong Kong expatriates who had emigrated to Canada prior to their island’s reverting back to mainland China in 1997.
      At length, the cabbie deposited them in front of a chrome and glass-fronted Japanese restaurant in a trendy-looking plaza. Harry nodded approvingly at their driver’s choice of venue.
      Half an hour later, the two of them settled down to business, facing each other across a quiet corner table. Harry savored the last of a colorful sashimi platter, lovingly consumed with deftly handled chopsticks. Vampirella picked at a small but elegantly presented side salad of shredded carrot and daikon radish. The few other patrons in the restaurant conversed among themselves in Cantonese or Mandarin. None paid Vampirella or Harry any notice.
      "So," Harry came to the point, "can you tell me what’s going on up here?"
      Vampirella related the events of the last few days: the televised newscast she’d heard in California, the disappearances leading up to the unexplained helicopter crash, Carlton’s revelations of unknown energies emanating from the offshore islands, the attack by the gray humanoids, and finally the appearance of an impossibly powerful Tristan.
      "Jesus," Harry exclaimed when she’d finished, "what the hell have you stumbled into? I called up my Canadian counterpart at CSIS before flying up here this morning. They’re rattled about the Sea King accident and especially the lack of crew remains, but they haven’t put any of this together. It sounds like your friend Carlton was way ahead of the game."
      "Yea," Vampirella concurred bitterly, "and it nearly got him killed."
      "I’ve made sure Carlton’s being kept under 24 hour guard by the RCMP at Vancouver General," Harry reassured her. "He’ll be on a plane out of the province by tomorrow night."
      "Thanks for your help," Vampirella smiled. "He’s a good man who’s been put through hell for seeing what other people didn’t. I’m just sorry if I brought everything crashing down on him."
      "So you’re sure the things that attacked the house were the missing helicopter crew?" Harry asked.
      "Pretty sure. The creatures I saw were unrecognizable, barely human, but some of them had tatters of what looked like military gear hanging off them. So who was in that copter anyway? The news brief I downloaded said something about anti-terrorist forces."
      "Joint Task Force 2," Harry explained, "JTF2 for short. They’re an elite combined-service special ops unit trained in counter-terrorist operations. They keep a pretty low profile, especially since 9/11, but basically they’d be the Canadian equivalent of our Navy SEALs or Delta Force. Those guys are as tough as they come. If whoever or whatever was waiting for raw material for their own enforcers, they couldn’t have done any better. Maybe that’s why they seem to be making their move now.
      "You said last night you wanted to talk about Drakulon."
      "Listen Harry," Vampirella implored, her voice rising, "You were with me in Coogan’s Bluff when I finally learned how I really came into this world and again when we faced the Hexxen in Hong Kong. You heard one of those damned things call me its sister. Shit, you’re the one who told me I’ve got freakin’ DNA in common with the Hexxen your lab boys dissected. Now Tristan’s showing powers that only the Hexxen have; Tristan, who came from Drakulon, who was brought here the same way I was. What does it all mean? If there’s anything you know that you haven’t told me about my origins, now’s the time to come clean with it."
      "I can only tell you this," Harry replied carefully. "Your existence, along with that of other vampires and supernatural beings, is probably the preeminent question of the twenty-first century. For decades now, factions within the government have known there are supernatural forces at work in this world. We know something is going on, but we don’t really know what. Everyone who’s tackled the question has ultimately been subverted or come up against a brick wall; Spectrum in the seventies, the Danse Macabre in the nineties. Now it’s our turn at bat. And ‘World’s End’ isn’t just a codename. The battles keep escalating. One day soon, it’s all going to come to a head.
      "Some of the greatest scientific minds in the world today have been brought in to rethink the question of Drakulon and have come up empty. In the early nineties, NASA did three radio telescope assays of the Sigma Draconis system under the guise of SETI research, all based on your debriefings with the Danse that that’s where you thought you came from. All of them turned up inconclusive.
      "As for vampirism," Harry continued, "in a nutshell, I can give you the conclusions of twenty-five years of paranormal research. The Circus has recovered a number of vampiric remains from around the globe. Some, like yourself, carry genetic markers that we now know are associated with the Hexxen. Some, like your former student Chelsea Cantrell, carry an entirely different set of xenomorphic genes. These we’ve linked with an unclassified arachnid entity from the Chaos pantheon, a creature known to occultists as a sanguivire.
      "More weirdness. In 1991, thanks to Adam Van Helsing’s network, my predecessors acquired a specimen of such a sanguivire from an abandoned service tunnel beneath the Washington Monument. It sat, apparently inert, through four years of dissection and analysis. Then one day, it spontaneously vanished without a trace from inside a vacuum-sealed titanium canister in a secured laboratory at the Area Two facility in Dark Oak.
      "Still other vampires appear to be completely human at the genetic level. Of these latter, some exhibit normal cellular metabolic levels while some appear to be little more than animated corpses, truly the living dead. If there’s any common denominator in all this, no one in our organization has found it yet. I can tell you this; your particular genetic makeup appears to be unique. Perhaps I should qualify that by saying we don’t yet know anything about your paramour Tristan’s biochemistry."
      "You think he might be like me?" questioned Vampirella.
      "Like you pointed out, your histories appear to be remarkably similar."
      "I’m no further ahead than I ever was, am I, Harry?"
      "Maybe you have more of your own answers than you think. My suggestion would be that you rethink what you do know. Go back to square one. What are your first memories of Drakulon and how you got here?"
      Vampirella thought for a moment before replying, "Back in the seventies, before Ella Normandy, it all seemed so clear. I was the last of my kind, the Vampyr. My homeworld was Drakulon; a planet orbiting the twin suns of Satyr and Circe in the solar system your species calls Sigma Draconis. I was brought up by my parents in the New City, Kubek’en in the prefecture of Gosi-Bram. I had a baby sister Vampyra. Tristan, my betrothed, and I were both, well the closest earthly equivalent would be graduate students, carrying out research under the guidance of Myadol, one of our world’s greatest mentors. In the last days when our planet was dying, a NASA expedition from your world arrived on Drakulon. Starving for blood, I overpowered the crew and commandeered the ship back to Earth."
      Harry waited for Vampirella to continue.
      "After that, it all goes fuzzy for a bit. There are vague flashes of another sister Drakonia and of a cousin Evily, an evil sorceress living here on Earth in a region called Vaalgania. I remember a masked Halloween ball in her Black Forest castle. Her followers were demons and she drew her powers from an enchanted mirror that I ultimately turned on her.
      "Years afterward, I found out there’s no such place as Vaalgania, never was. Looking back now, it’s pretty obvious those were all elements of what happened to me in the Red House; the Black Mirror, the sorceress Alessandra Yorlak, Greer’s masked gathering the day of the Red Sunday Massacre, the loosed demons would’ve been the Hexxen. It was all right in front of me from the very beginning."
      "Your ‘Black Forest of Vaalgania’ sounds an awful lot like the Allegheny Forest region of western New York State," Harry elaborated, "which puts you squarely back in Coogan’s Bluff in late October of ‘69"
       "Besides, I know I don’t have any siblings on this world," Vampirella continued, "I came alone to Earth."
      "We know that’s not entirely true. You brought half a dozen Hexxen along with you."
      "Fuck Harry, are you saying Drakonia and Evily were Hexxen?"
      "I’m not saying anything. I’m just tossing out speculations. The Hexxen in Hong Kong did call you its sister. Can you see where I’m going with this?"
      "Tristan," Vampirella answered quietly, "If he’s Hexxen too…"
      "It does all fall into place. Anyway, keep going."
      "For years, up until going back to the Red House, my first really clear memories of Earth were of arriving in New York City and auditioning for a modeling contract. I remember I was using the alias of Bambi Aurora at the time."
      Ignoring Harry’s snicker, she went on, "I didn’t know the first thing about modeling, but I won the assignment. Part of the deal was supposed to be an expenses-paid airline flight for a photo shoot out on the West Coast. The plane never made it. There was an accident over the Rockies. Coincidence or not, the flight went down practically on top of the Westron Sanitarium where I had my first run-in with Ethan Shroud and the Companions of Chaos."
      "The timing fits," Harry nodded. "Think about it. We know for certain the Red Sunday Massacre occurred in October 1969. Sometime before that, Adrian Greer performed his final blood ritual to conjure you through the Black Mirror from your world into his house of horrors. On Red Sunday, the Hexxen were loosed, wiping out most of Greer’s sex cult, and you fled from Coogan’s Bluff, probably in a state of shock. From western New York, you made your way to New York City where you took the modeling contract as Bambi Aurora, probably to put as much distance as possible between yourself and the Red House.
      "The first NASA manned moon landing had just occurred on July 20th of that year, possibly the biggest news event in human history. It was the hot topic on every magazine cover, every talk show, every billboard of the era. For someone in denial, lost and confused in a world you knew nothing about, it makes sense that you’d pick up on the spaceflight of the century as an explanation for how you got here."
      "But I actually traveled back to Drakulon after coming to Earth. In August of 1977, I was blinded and nearly killed in a battle with the Blood Red Queen. Somehow another interstellar traveler called Starpatch located me, healed my wounds, and returned me to Drakulon. By then everyone had perished. Drakulon was a dead world. It was then that I discovered that Tris had left behind a vial containing a specimen of his genes. The vial was lost on Drakulon. Otherwise Tristan and I might have been the progenitors of a new Drakulon race."
      "How can I say this?" Harry searched for words. "One day, tomorrow or fifty years from now, my life will end. I’ll die and, as far as anybody knows, that will be it. But you, you’re a part of something bigger. What, I don’t know, and I don’t think you really do either. Twice you’ve died in battle, against Nyx then Lady Death, and twice you’ve come back. According to you, each of those times your soul or consciousness or whatever traveled in time and space before being resurrected. After Nyx, you claim you returned again to Drakulon. I think the answer is staring you in the face. You said yourself you were blinded, mortally injured by the Blood Red Queen. Maybe there was no Starpatch. Maybe you died and came back in 1977 as well. Maybe your astral self returned to its origins before being reborn again."
      "Well that’s certainly food for thought," Vampirella attempted to make light of Harry’s radical reinterpretation of the key events of her lifetime.
      "What about closer to the present?" Harry asked, taking a sip of green tea.
      "When I returned to being myself after a decade as Ella Normandy, the world had changed, become a darker place. From what I know, lunatic cults like the Companions of Chaos have always existed on the fringes of humanity, scheming to bring everything down. But today it’s as if humankind is trying to eat itself alive; ethnic cleansing, globalization, corporate corruption, you name it.
      "Then in ’96 everything seemed to blow up at once. It was as if the heavens themselves were in chaos. On Drakulon, the Conjuress Lilith was clinging to the end of her existence, while from the Nethervoid, Chaos was preparing to launch a new assault on this world. For thousands of years, the one overriding goal of the Companions has been to free Chaos and his Seven Servants from their imprisonment within that dark dimension. We may never know how close they’ve come, but in the end they’ve never succeeded or the world you and I know wouldn’t be here today.
      "Back in 1972, I battled a branch of the Cult at Castle Mordante in the Carnic Alps. I never knew it at the time, but through their occult machinations, one of their disciples was impregnated by Chaos himself, spawning the human demigoddess Nyx. It was another twenty-four years before Nyx came of age, but once she did, the power of Chaos was finally set loose on Earth. She murdered Adam, decimated the Danse Macabre, and then she killed me.
      "The next thing, I found myself on Drakulon. Only it wasn’t the Drakulon I remembered. It wasn’t even a planet. It was a realm out of Hell, your Judeo-Christian Hell; fire and brimstone, fallen angels, the River Styx, you name it. My real mother, Lilith, was there, regent to her vampire offspring. Adam was too. Once Lilith died, Nyx stormed Drakulon as well. Then came Lady Death, the Voidswarm, Metatron. At every turn, things became more surreal, more remote from this reality. Back on Earth, a lot of it doesn’t even seem real anymore. It’s almost as if my brain can’t process what I experienced on the other side."
      "Maybe it isn’t real," Harry suggested. "Maybe you’ve just traded one set of illusions for another. Lilith, our Lilith, is a character out of medieval Jewish folklore. The story of the first wife of Adam is only one version. The same for Chaos’ Seven Servants: Asmodeus, Nergal, Moloch, and the others. We know that different branches of the Cult and different translations of the Crimson Chronicles refer to them by different names. But they all refer back to pagan gods out of Old Testament times incorporated into Roman Catholic demonology of the Middle Ages. Yet those Chaos entities who have managed to manifest themselves in modern times, Nuberus and Demogorgon, bore no resemblance to the descriptions of their Biblical counterparts. They were more like extraterrestrial biological entities, EBE’s, than mythological demons. If anything, they sounded like a cross between oversized calamari and something you’d scrape off the underside of the toilet bowl."
      "Remind me never to take a piss at your place, Harry."
      "Very funny. My point is, mystics of every age have struggled to decipher the supernatural realm. Maybe it’s all just a way of giving a humanly comprehensible face to something that has no face."
      "And that brings us to the Hexxen," Vampirella pressed on. "We know they have a face, if you can call a head full of tentacles a face.      But they’re corporeal; they physically exist in this world. Yet somehow they’re connected to Lilith and Drakulon as well. How do they fit into it all?"
      "So," Harry summed up, "on the one hand, we have your Tristan, who may or may not be Hexxen. On the other, we have five dead humanoids, who were once Canadian Forces commandos, and probably a dozen or so more missing persons from around the Strait who could also be turned into stone-gray monstrosities. We have an occult force operating somewhere in the islands that may be this Megahedron thing you say was brought to Earth by Ethan Shroud and the Companions of Chaos some twenty years ago."
      "Metahedron," Vampirella corrected.
      "Whatever. One thing I don’t understand. You say it came through the Black Mirror. How could Shroud’ve had the Black Mirror in 1983 when it was still in the Red House just over a year ago?"
      "I never said it was the same Black Mirror," Vampirella clarified. "It took me thirty-two years to face the realization that Adrian Greer murdered thirty young women in order to snare me to Earth through the Black Mirror. If he hadn’t inadvertently brought the Hexxen here with me, I’d have probably died in the Red House as well. And once the original Hexxen massacred Greer’s circle, they fed the townspeople of Coogan’s Bluff to the mirror to create their zombie servants, the Zelators.
      "But that’s not the only Black Mirror I’ve encountered. When I first met Mordecai Pendragon, he was a virtual prisoner of a traveling roadshow troupe called Ashton’s Mammoth Carnival that had fallen under the sway of the Crimson Chronicles. They were using a funhouse mirror maze to serve up victims to Asmodeus in the Nethervoid. Even Conrad Van Helsing used an ancient looking glass known as Merlin’s Mirror to allow me to briefly enter the Conjuress’ plane of existence. Lilith’s vampire subjects on Drakulon sacrificed children to yet another dark mirror in order to call her forth. A mirror’s just a piece of glass. It’s the blood and the souls of all the sacrificial victims fed to it that open the doorway to the other side.
      "In the underground, Shroud referred to "Yorlak’s Mirror." Contessa Alessandra Yorlak was the Chaos witch who conjured Tristan’s remains to Earth in 1982 to create his doppelgänger. But she was also one of Greer’s inner circle in the Red House in 1969. She must have escaped the Bloody Sunday Massacre with Greer’s occult secrets, joined up with Shroud, and somehow acquired a mirror of her own. After he left me, Tristan apparently returned to kill Yorlak, but no mirror ever turned up. My guess is the Black Mirror I saw in New York was the same one through which Tristan was summoned."
      "So what is this Metahedron?" asked Harry. "What’s it here for? Why the disappearances and the radio signals and the auroras?"
      "The disappearances are easy," replied Vampirella. "It doesn’t seem to have any physical presence of its own, so it’s building an army of servitors to carry out whatever it’s doing here on Earth. As for the auroras, correct me if I’m wrong; I just read a download the other night that said the northern lights are caused by ions from the sun traveling to the poles along the Earth’s magnetic field. When they enter the atmosphere, they emit light producing an aurora."
      "Something like that," Harry concurred.
      "Now we have a recurring aurora where there shouldn’t be one at all, well away from the magnetic poles," Vampirella continued. Supposing something else is drawing energy down to Earth."
      "The Metahedron," Harry interjected.
      "Exactly. Now suppose that energy isn’t coming from the sun at all but from the Nethervoid. Because it’s extradimensional, it doesn’t show up on conventional instruments like radar or weather satellites. But Carlton proved with his radio experiments that it isn’t completely transparent to terrestrial matter. Under the right conditions, it will interact with earthly systems. Couldn’t something like that produce an aurora of sorts?"
      "I’m sure it could," Harry agreed. "If it is the Metahedron, that opens up another can of worms. As far as we know, Ethan Shroud died in 1983, so who’s pulling the strings?"
      "I told you about the cowled man with Shroud in New York. I never was able to get a good look at him, but there was something about him, an aura of evil, that terrified me to the bone. Looking back now, there’s only been one other person who’s ever left me that paralyzed with fear that I just couldn’t face it. That’s Greer. But I killed that murdering bastard thirty-four years ago; may he rot in hell.
      "This isn’t easy to get out, Harry. You know I’m no coward. I’ve battled doomsday cults, nightmare creatures, supernatural forces. I’ve also learned that fear can be a more devastating opponent than any of those things. The worst of it is that you can push it down so far you eventually lose sight of what it is you were afraid of. Then there’s just the fear itself. Twice in my lifetime, I’ve let my fears beat me. The first time was in the Red House, and it cost me the knowledge of who I really was and where I came from. The second was in New York City, and it caused me to squander a decade of my life. Whatever the answer to all this, I’m not going to let fear beat me again."
      "You asked me if I was holding anything back," Harry said painfully. "There is something. I know how hard it’s been for you to come to terms with what happened in the Red House, but you’ve still got one thing wrong. Back in Coogan’s Bluff last year, you told me that you killed Greer yourself after the Hexxen began running amok. I know how hard this is going to be for you, but Greer didn’t die in the Red House."




      "Noooooo!!" Vampirella moaned plaintively.
      Other patrons of the Japanese restaurant in which she and Harry were conversing glanced in their direction before turning politely away again.
      "I’m sorry," Harry continued, taking her hand. "Maybe he used the power of the Black Mirror to escape. Maybe you just weren’t ready to face him after what you’d seen and been through. I can tell you this though; once the Red Sunday Massacre was discovered, the State Police crime lab and the FBI put that house under a microscope. Every corpse was ID’d, every bloodstain was tested, every bone fragment and scrap of clothing was analyzed with the best forensic technology of the day. You know how many girls went missing in that hellhouse, so you can imagine the public pressure the authorities were under to account for every body part found. There were no remains belonging to Adrian Greer."
      "But," Vampirella stammered, "I had him in my grasp. I know I did."
      "It gets worse," Harry continued. "That wasn’t the last of Greer, not by a longshot. By 1976, it appears investigators were zeroing in on him as he moved around the Southwest. Then incredibly, it seems an agent of the CIA’s Operations Directorate, your own Mr. Spectrum to be specific, whisked him out of the country."
      "Son of a bitch!" Vampirella swore.
      "Apparently Greer discovered a new vocation in which to apply his talent for torture and misery," Harry continued. "In late ’76, an American MD fitting Greer’s description showed up in Chile, working over female detainees for the DINA in Augusto Pinochet’s notorious Colonia Dignidad concentration camp. Three years previously, Pinochet seized power in a military coup after the CIA, under pressure from U.S. corporations with interests in Chile, destabilized the socialist government of Salvador Allende. Greer would’ve arrived during the height of Pinochet’s terror campaign to eradicate suspected leftist holdouts. Some of the methods used in the camps included rape, electric shock, burns, suffocation, beatings, and psychoactive drugs administered by medically trained personnel. Sound familiar?"
      "Just like the Red House. A sexual psychopath like Greer would’ve fit right in."
      "After Chile, Greer carried on in a similar capacity for Carlos Romero’s right-wing death squads in El Salvador in the late seventies; the same terror squads who raped and killed four American missionaries in December, 1980, besides murdering countless thousands of Salvadorans.
      "Then in the early eighties, Greer left Latin America for good and established himself in war-torn Lebanon, where he took up with the brutal Phalangist Party Christian militia. In June of ’82, the Israeli Defense Force moved into Lebanon under the command of then Defense Minister Ariel Sharon. That August, with the backing of the CIA and the MOSSAD, Bashir Gemayel, leader of the Phalangists, became president-elect of Lebanon. Everyone in intelligence knew he was a butcher, implicated in the murder of his Christian militia rival Tony Frangieh. But he was our butcher, willing to work with the IDF against the PLO in Lebanon. Before he could take office, he was assassinated in a bombing in Beirut. The bomb would eventually be traced to a member of the Syrian People’s Party backed by intelligence officers from Syria. But two days after the assassination, on September 16, 1982, Israeli forces allowed the Phalangists to enter the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla. What happened in those camps was the Red House all over again, but on a huge scale. Women’s breasts and men’s genitals were hacked off, crosses were carved into people’s flesh, pregnant women’s wombs were torn out, infants and the elderly slaughtered. In all, between 700 and 800 Palestinians were massacred, maybe more. There’s every indication that Greer was in those camps and an active participant in the atrocities that occurred there."
      "I can’t believe all this," Vampirella nodded her head. "It’s too horrific."
      "Some years after the fact," Harry continued, "when he got to the Senate, Adam Van Helsing learned a lot of what I’m telling you. As a result, he started digging into Greer’s background and his connections with Spectrum and the CIA. There was so much bloodshed and horror following Greer everywhere, I think he was suspecting a tie-in with the Companions of Chaos as well.
      "Then in ’83, Greer seemed to vanish off the face of the planet; no leads, no sightings, nothing."
      "He just disappeared like that?" Vampirella asked incredulously. "End of story?"
      "Not quite," replied Harry. "There’s a curious postscript. As I said, Greer was never seen again after ’83. If you think he was with Shroud in New York City, that would make you his last eyewitness.
      "But in 1992, there were scattered accounts coming out of Bosnia of another American doctor operating in the Serb detention camp at the Velecevo women’s prison near Foca, one of the so-called rape camps. The Administration was livid. The U.S. had been slow to address the whole ethnic cleansing issue in the Balkans, and this could turn into a new embarrassment if it leaked to the press. Eventually, the Bureau’s profilers at Quantico were called in to try to make an ID on this mystery doctor, based on his MO. The name that kept coming up again and again was Adrian Greer. There was just one problem. Greer would’ve been around seventy by then. All the reports were of a man in his mid-thirties."
      "It was Greer," Vampirella answered flatly. "With the dark power of the Metahedron to draw from, he could’ve found some way to rejuvenate himself, no doubt paid for with the blood of his victims. It was him in New York. It’s him now.
      "Ever since going back to Coogan’s Bluff last year, more and more details of Greer and the Red House have been coming back to me. I remember one of Greer’s captives, a girl named Sophie. She was just a skinny little deaf mute; some lost street kid Greer had picked up. I don’t think he got off on her the same way he did his other victims. I never saw him sexually assault her. But if one of the other girls got him angry, didn’t perform the way he wanted, he took out his frustrations on Sophie. He used that little girl for nothing more than a human punching bag. The worst of it was, I think she was too mentally retarded to really understand what was happening to her or that it was Greer who was doing it. No matter how badly he hurt her, she just looked up at him with these innocent, trusting eyes until he did it again. It was the most monstrously vile thing I’ve ever experienced in my lifetime. If evil has a persona, it’s Greer’s. Three decades ago, I couldn’t cope and buried it in my subconscious. Even today it sickens me to face it.
      "Thirty-four years ago, I had that psychopathic son-of-a-bitch in my hands. If I’d finished him then, he wouldn’t have been in Latin America or Lebanon or Bosnia. Now he’s right out there in the Gulf Islands, and I have to stop him once and for all."




      This is what it feels like to be in a war zone, Vampirella thought as she scanned the twisted piles of metal surrounding her, searching for potential foes waiting in ambush. A trickle of sweat ran down her brow. Although a stiff offshore breeze was blowing in across the muddy tidal flats not a hundred yards from her, it was dead still between the towers of scrap iron which rose to either side of the dusty dirt service road on which she stood. The extensive scrapyard was piled high with the skeletal remains of shipping containers, building steel, rebar, broken industrial machinery, and other items of metallic waste, large and small, all in an advanced state of corrosion. Between the piles sat an assortment of wheeled and tracked power loaders, whose booms were equipped with either huge hydraulic grapples or disk-shaped electromagnets. Currently the wire-caged cabs of the silent behemoths all stood empty. To Vampirella, each piece of parked equipment as well as each deeply shadowed recess in the scrap heaps was a potential hiding place for enemies.
      Iona Island, on which she now stood, was one of the lesser landmasses comprising the Fraser River delta. Situated at the mouth of the river’s North Arm, it was connected by a narrow isthmus to neighboring Sea Island, site of the airport where she had met Harry just a few short hours ago. Across the wide outlet of the Fraser, it faced the tree-lined shores of Vancouver’s West Side far to the north. The long, narrow islet itself was a mix of protected coastal marsh habitats, a narrow strip of public beach to the south, and various waterfront industrial sites.
      As she had left the Chinatown sushi restaurant in which she and Harry had held their discussion, he had handed her a pre-programmed cell phone. With it came the promise that he would remain in town for another day, working his Canadian contacts to try to develop any more leads as to the ominous occurrences taking place in the Gulf of Georgia. While she never had a doubt Harry would be a helpful ally, she was surprised when the phone rang before she could even make it back to her Steveston Village hotel room, some ten minutes cab ride from the restaurant.
      Harry had excitedly informed her that, according to one of his RCMP sources, a panicked 911 call had just been placed by a GVRD worker at the Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant. The hysterical caller was apparently reporting a troop of "gray zombies" along with a "walking squid monster" roaming the plant’s extensive dewatering lagoons. Harry had assured her that, despite the outlandish nature of the report, it would be checked out, owing to post-9/11 sensitivities along with the plant’s sensitive location, directly under the runway approach corridor to YVR. Without hesitation, Vampirella had redirected her cab to the plant in question.
      By the time she had arrived, a white RCMP patrol car along with two bright yellow airport security vehicles were parked in front of the plant’s brick administration building. Realizing the futility of trying to talk her way into the plant past the assembled law-enforcement officers, Vampirella decided instead to follow the trails of the GVRD bird sanctuary, which wound through the marshes surrounding the cyclone-fenced perimeter of the facility. If more of the humanoids were indeed roaming this tiny island, it was just as likely they would be found outside as inside the plant grounds proper. Vampirella encountered no other hikers along the narrow footpaths through the tall grass. Undoubtedly the odor emanating from the plant’s rows of sedimentation tanks ensured that only the most dedicated birdwatchers would frequent the paths this close to the plant.
      Beyond the fence, Vampirella had noted a party of uniformed security guards sweeping the gravel service roads surrounding the rectangular basins of four earthen sludge-dewatering lagoons. From their hurried pace and tight expressions, she could imagine they were none-too-pleased to be there. If some corroboration of the elusive humanoids didn't turn up, Vampirella supposed that whoever had called in the report would be in for a rough grilling from the unhappy searchers.
      Beyond the lagoons, she studied the other structures which comprised the plant. There was a concrete blockhouse which she took to be a pumping station as well as four low circular buildings capped with convex domed roofs. The distinctive round structures would have housed the digesters and sludge thickeners in which sanitary waste was broken down before being discharged into the Gulf of Georgia. A network of catwalks and piping runs interconnected the major structures, while smaller cylindrical tanks and portable office trailers surrounded them. While undoubtedly state-of-the-art in its time, the installation, with its faded paint scheme and numerous retrofits, had the aura of an old workhorse, now past its prime. Aside from the extra guards, there was no sign of anything out of the ordinary occurring within the plant.
      Vampirella continued along the bird trails, glad to be putting distance between herself and the odoriferous plant. The path followed a shrub-lined land bridge that ran between two marshes to either side. Ducks lazily swam the open ponds, while tall bulrushes waved in the breeze. Closer at hand, thickets of loosestrife, with their distinctive purple blooms, climbed the banks. At length, the path emerged onto a dusty dirt truck road that provided the only vehicle access beyond the paved visitor lot at the entrance to the island. Although a few sightseers were visible in the distance, milling about the park entry, she soon left behind any sign of fellow visitors as she continued along the service road. Sparse marsh grass clung to the rolling sand dunes surrounding her.
      She could now see water to both sides of her as the western end of the island narrowed into the miles-long earthen North Arm Jetty, extending fingerlike out into the Strait of Georgia. It was easy to see how this isolated projection would make a likely landfall for the humanoids, if they were indeed about. To her right, the entire length of the island’s north shore was dotted with an unbroken row of heavy wooden pilings, to which were moored innumerable floating log booms as well as the occasional box-like wood chip barge. To her left, the narrower stone and concrete Iona Jetty, housing the outfall pipe from the sewage plant, extended southwestward, gradually fanning away from the peninsula on which she stood in a huge Y-shape.
      After perhaps half a mile, neat stacks of logs rose up on both sides of the road, cutting off her view of the surrounding dunes as well as providing potential cover for any humanoids who might be lurking about. She proceeded now with greater caution, squinting to penetrate the deep shadows between the closely spaced log piles as well as frequently checking behind her. Despite the open waterways less than a hundred yards to either side, the tall log piles effectively sheltered the roadway from the stiff breeze blowing in off the Strait. The air was hot and still, almost stifling. Vampirella paused to shed her street clothes, secreting them behind a clump of bushes. If a fight-or-flight situation suddenly developed, she preferred not to be encumbered by anything more than her elastic scarlet costume.
      After another hundred yards or so, the piles of timber had turned into piles of scrap metal. Several prominent No Trespassing signs declared the salvage yard ahead off-limits to the public by order of the Harbour Commission.
      Even with her enhanced vampiric senses, she could detect no physical signs of anyone or anything nearby, no sounds of movement or breathing, no odor of prey, no telltale heat signatures. By the same token, the incoming planes that periodically broke the silence, passing overhead on their final approach to YVR, would provide ample cover for movement, while the residual heat radiating from the tons of sun-baked scrap iron would effectively mask the presence of body heat. Her huntress’ instincts told her to keep on her guard, that the threat of the humanoids might still be close by; and maybe something more.
      She continued to thread her way through the twisted, rust-brown heaps, careful to maintain a respectable clear distance around her on all sides. Despite her anxiety, she eventually emerged on the far side of the scrapyard without incident. The piles of abandoned machinery began to thin out and even the hard-packed truck road petered out into a line of tire tracks in the sand. Ahead of her, the jetty continued westward in a narrow line, the remaining distal portion now completely devoid of signs of industrial activity or habitation.
      Passing the mottled orange remains of an ancient, rusted out semi trailer sitting on bare axles, Vampirella was suddenly aware of a faint whisper of movement through the air behind her. She whirled on a dime, fangs bared and clawlike fingers extended predatorily. In spite of her advance warning of approaching danger, she was nearly defeated by her own shock at the sight that greeted her. The shape that flew at her out of the open back of the junked trailer was no gray humanoid. It was the lithe figure of a young woman; a woman whom Vampirella had last seen impaled on the point of a dagger she herself had wielded.
      "Chelsea!" she gasped as the younger vampire fell upon her. Hesitating, she missed her split second’s opportunity to rake at Chelsea’s exposed throat with her lethal fingertips. Instead she went careening into the soft sand with Chelsea landing heavily on top of her.
      Half a dozen questions flashed simultaneously through her mind at this wholly unexpected turn of events, even as she regrouped to fend off Chelsea’s lightning-swift attack. Chelsea Cantrell was supposed to be dead, killed some nine years ago when she had returned to Austen’s as a fattened, blood-crazed vampire intent on victimizing the then-current contemporaries of her former schoolmates. Was this an imposter, some illusion conjured by the forces of Chaos? And what the hell was she doing anyway? In the end, Chelsea had been murderously lethal, yet this girl was doing little more than groping and pawing at her as the two of them rolled in the sand.
      Within moments, the girl’s intentions became clearer if no less inexplicable. She tugged roughly at Vampirella’s costume, managing to pull aside the upper panels, exposing Vampirella’s breasts. Vampirella sniffed the overpowering musk of the girl’s high state of sexual arousal as she tried to pin Vampirella beneath her. Still she was reluctant to lash out at the young woman who had once been one of Ella Normandy’s charges, and whom she had twice failed to protect, first from Ethan Shroud’s evil schemes and later from her own inability to control her insatiable bloodlust.
      Vampirella could easily have brushed aside any human assailant and had in fact done so on numerous occasions. It was quite another matter however to be suddenly grappling with another vampiress whose strength was perhaps equal to her own. She found herself in a genuine struggle to resist the younger girl’s insistent advances, particularly while holding back from applying lethal force.
      Gaining a moment’s advantage, Chelsea managed to straddle Vampirella’s waist, pinning her to the ground. With only soft sand beneath her, Vampirella found it impossible to gain the leverage to flip the girl off of her. Chelsea flailed with one hand, warding off Vampirella’s attempts to grab hold of her. With the other, she continued to pull at Vampirella’s costume. With an effort, she managed to tug loose the flaring collar piece with its large gold jump ring holding the upper portion together. From there, it was a simple matter to yank the entire front down around her thighs, leaving Vampirella fully exposed with one violent tug.
      "Why are you doing this?" Vampirella cried as Chelsea began undoing the clasps of her own costume, an even briefer variation on Vampirella’s, consisting of tiny black panels held in place by crisscrossing black leather straps.
      "It’s because of you I am what I am," Chelsea answered hoarsely, all the while continuing to wrestle the raven-haired Drakulonne. "Ethan Shroud wanted to make me into you, so he turned me into one of the living dead. The Conjuress wanted me to take your place, so she returned me to the living. Now it’s time to finish what they started. It’s time for me to become you."
      Vampirella was so stunned by what she was hearing that she ceased her struggles. Chelsea, still sitting astride her, looked Vampirella over appraisingly as the two of them caught their breaths. With impudent familiarity, she traced her long-nailed fingers over Vampirella’s full breasts with their large, dark aureole. She paused momentarily over the bat-shaped birthmark on Vampirella’s right breast.
      "And the topper of it all," Chelsea resumed, "is that you wanted to be me."
      "What are you talking about?" Vampirella asked puzzled.
      "Back at Austen’s when you were still Miss Normandy, I knew you were there in the dark watching me with Denny Zimmer in the basement that day. You got off on it, didn’t you? You wanted to be in my place, young again with a man who wanted to fuck you. Is that why you fucked and sucked him to death in front of me? Do you have any idea how that scene burned into my brain until, as a vampire, I ended up acting it out time and time again?"
      "Satyr and Circe," Vampirella exclaimed, "what have I done to you?"
      Chelsea’s questing hands continued to work their way down Vampirella’s firm stomach. Vampirella didn’t even resist when she ran her fingers through the thickly curled black thatch of her bush, whose fullness was in sharp contrast to Chelsea’s neatly shaved Mohawk stripe of pubes.
      Though Vampirella would never have considered herself a lesbian, she found herself disarmed at being brought face-to-face with yet another aspect of herself she had never confronted. The truth was that, while trapped in the withered form of Ella Normandy, she had indeed had a prurient fascination for the pubescent schoolgirl with her precocious sexuality. But she had never imagined that Chelsea had been aware of her less-than-wholesome interest or the extent to which it had shaped the course of the younger girl’s life over all these years.
      Realizing that Vampirella’s resistance had faltered, Chelsea flipped herself around on top of her, forcing her smooth pubic mound into Vampirella’s face. Involuntarily, Vampirella opened her mouth to prevent Chelsea’s gold clit ring from clattering against her teeth. As she did so, Chelsea churned her hips, grinding her velvety labia into the yielding softness of Vampirella’s tongue.
      At the same time, Chelsea dove onto Vampirella’s pungent muff, sucking her dark pendulous clitoris between her bared fangs. Vampirella shuddered as she felt a slight sharp pinch, though Chelsea exerted no pressure to injure her delicate vaginal tissues. Deftly snaring Chelsea’s clit ring with her probing tongue, Vampirella returned the intimate intrusion in kind. A single crimson pearl sprang from the base of Vampirella’s clitoral shaft and ran down Chelsea’s throat. At the same time, Vampirella tasted a salty tang as a tiny droplet seeped from the stretched piercing holding the auric ring.
      While in a sense they could be considered sister creatures, Vampirella knew that Chelsea’s vampiric origins in the clutches of Ethan Shroud’s sanguivire were far different from her own Drakulonian beginnings. She briefly wondered what if anything might result from the intermingling of their bodily fluids. That the longstanding bond which had seemingly existed between them was cemented by this erotic encounter, Vampirella had no doubt. But she also sensed that something more had been exchanged.
      Vampirella was suddenly aware of someone else standing on the lip of the enclosed gully within which she and Chelsea lay in the hot sand. She had been sufficiently distracted by Chelsea’s erotic probing that she had not detected his approach. Suddenly she found herself looking up into the face of the fellow Drakulonian she had journeyed to Canada to find.
      Her cheeks burned with unexpected shame that after all these years her former lifemate should come upon her in such a compromising position. While innocent sexual play had been a part of her Drakulonian heritage, at least as she sometimes recalled it, here on Earth having her once-betrothed discover her naked and wet in the arms of another woman instilled a momentary feeling close to panic in her.
      Then she saw the bulge in his tight jeans and the glazed look as his eyes locked, not with hers, but with Chelsea’s. With a mixture of infinite loss and profound gratitude, she knew that this moment was a turning point in all three of their lives.
      As if to underscore to whom the male vampire now belonged, Chelsea jumped unceremoniously off of Vampirella and ran straight into Tristan’s arms. Tilting her head back, she reached up to kiss him full on the mouth, ignoring the stunned look on Vampirella’s face. Tristan responded warmly to the embrace, though not without an awkward sidelong glance at Vampirella.
      Suddenly Vampirella felt exactly as she had twelve years ago in the warm darkness of Austen’s basement boiler room, left on the outside as this self-assured youngster took what, owing to fate, she couldn’t have. Here it turned out over a decade later that her instinctual sense of competition with her former pupil had had far more basis in fact than she could have known at the time.
      Releasing Chelsea, Tristan stepped over and helped Vampirella to her feet. Now it was Chelsea’s turn to scowl, though she said nothing.
      "Hello, Vampi," Tristan embraced her warmly but with a hesitation she had never before felt from him. "It’s good to see you again."
      Tears ran down Vampirella’s cheeks.
      "Tris?" she asked, her emotions reeling, "is it really you?"
      "It’s really me," he smiled broadly, his eyes twinkling, "more so than even I realized the last time I saw you after Cannes in ’82."
      "It’s hard to believe it’s been that long. So much has happened. I tried to find you, you know."
      "I know you did. I also know you were able to piece together some of how I got here, summoned through Countess Yorlak’s mirror. She thought she had produced a doppelgänger cloned from the cells of the original Tristan. I never knew myself until I encountered the Conjuress just a few years ago that she brought back more than my material form.
      "It’s me, Vampi. I’m Tristan, the real Tristan. The same Tristan you were betrothed to on Drakulon."



      "I don’t know where to begin," Vampirella looked over at Tristan as they walked side-by-side into the lowering sun. "I have so many questions. So much has happened."
      Surprising Vampirella, Chelsea had excused herself, offering the two Drakulonians the opportunity to become reacquainted. While she had started back along the beach, they had continued outward along the far extent of the jetty. After another hundred yards or so, the enclosed cut in the dunes, within which Vampirella and Chelsea had had their heated encounter, had opened up again. The westernmost reaches of the jetty, along which they now walked, consisted of little more than a narrow, elongated sand spit piled against a stone breakwall with tall pilings running along one side. Now past the shallow tidal flats, the deeper open waters of the Strait of Georgia to either side of them churned in the offshore breeze.
      "I should warn you right off," Tristan responded, "we may not have a lot of time for reminiscing. There’s something you need to know. I’m changing, Vampi. You saw a glimmer of what I’m becoming yesterday at the house on the dyke. But that’s just the beginning."
      "What are you talking about?" Vampirella asked, puzzled.
      "You know about the Metahedron which the Companions of Chaos brought down to Earth twenty years ago. With it, they plan to open a door to allow Belphegor, one of the Seven Servants, to escape from the Nethervoid into our world. They’ve waited all these years until the Conjuress had passed away and could no longer oppose their schemes. But now the endtime has arrived. As you’ve surmised, the Metahedron is here and it’s become active. But the gate swings both ways. Just as it will provide a portal for Belphegor into this world, it’s also opening the way to realms beyond, including the Conjuress’ plane of existence, which you once visited with the aid of the Van Helsings and Merlin’s Mirror. In a few days, maybe less, Chelsea and I will undergo an incredible metamorphosis and pass through into that realm, perhaps for good. Once that metamorphosis is complete, I’ll be able to help you in your fight against the forces of Chaos in ways you couldn’t imagine. But in the meantime, I’m powerless, fading in and out between this world and the next."
      "What do you know about Belphegor?" Vampirella queried. "We know that he’s one of the Seven Servants named in the Crimson Chronicles and that he’s supposed to be evil incarnate, but beyond that, we know very little of his real nature or capabilities."
      " ‘Evil incarnate’ is a subjective phrase. Belphegor has no agenda of its own beyond propagating itself. It isn’t even self-aware in a human sense. You might picture it as a sort of dimensional malignancy, a cosmic cancer. It’s an opportunistic invader that, given the chance, will spread itself into other dimensions, other universes, overwhelming whatever indigenous lifeforms may exist there. But it is a survivor, and it’s evolved an uncanny mechanism for expanding its habitat. It needs living hosts to establish itself in new dimensions. By extending its godlike powers to its symbiotic hosts, it’s able to seduce them into opening the pathway into their worlds, thereby facilitating their own ultimate destruction."
      "That’s grotesque," Vampirella winced.
      "It’s survival," Tristan shrugged. "Foolish humans in their arrogance believe they were created in God’s image, just lower than the angels. But try to imagine the consequences of a world in which God is created in the image of man. That’s essentially the scenario this planet will face if someone like Adrian Greer becomes Belphegor’s human host. Humans were never intended to possess absolute power. No matter how well intentioned, man would inevitably upset the balance of nature, plunging the world into darkness. And a sadist like Greer would unleash an apocalypse of torture and degradation."
      "Greer’s behind all this, isn’t he?" Vampirella filled in.
      "Yes, he is," replied Tristan. "I’m sorry. In the end, I’ll deal with Greer, but first you’ll have to face him one more time."
      "You’ll deal with him?" Vampirella exclaimed, suddenly feeling robbed of what she had assumed would be her upcoming moment of retribution. While in another, more innocent lifetime she had once loved Tristan for his gentleness and pacifism, she didn’t know if he had the strength of purpose to bring a monster like Greer to the justice he deserved.
      "Please Tris, I know that down deep you’re just not a hunter. But Greer’s a butcher. He can’t escape after all he’s done, all the lives he’s destroyed."
      "He’s not yours, Vampirella. You might kill him, but it won’t be enough to balance the scales. It won’t heal you. Only you can do that."      
      "How could you know all this?" Vampirella asked.
      "When I left you after Cannes, I didn’t even know who I was. All I knew was that I’d somehow been created or re-created as a pawn of Alessandra Yorlak and the Companions to get at you. I couldn’t put you at risk by staying with you. I spent years searching for my place in this strange world. Like you, I couldn’t be sure which of my memories of Drakulon were real. Eventually I came to believe the only one who held the answers I was seeking was the Conjuress herself. There are traces of her presence here on Earth in ancient cultures around the globe. I searched the world for her until one day, in a remote canyon in Utah, I found her, or perhaps she found me. But I never could have been prepared for the revelations I received in that canyon.
      "The mother of our world, a being who had lived for countless millennia, knew she was fast approaching the end of her existence. But long ago she had set a plan in motion for you, her first daughter, to take her place. You were to be her successor, Vampirella, with me as your consort. Your destiny and mine were preordained from the moment of our birth.
      "But when Adrian Greer conjured you to Earth, everything changed. It soon became apparent that you would forge a destiny of your own as protector of this world from the forces of Chaos and that nothing could bring you back to what you once were. Then when Ethan Shroud discovered Chelsea and decided to turn her into his own Vampirella, everything fell into place once again. With me to guide her, Chelsea would take your place as the new mother of a new Drakulon."
      "Just what is it you’re becoming?" asked Vampirella.
      "A being with the power to create worlds and bend time. A being whose existence is essential in order to maintain the Nethervoid and hold the forces of Chaos in check. In earthly terms, what would be called a god, though in reality, just a few more steps up the evolutionary ladder."
      "And Chelsea will become one of these beings too?"
      "Yes, now that Chelsea’s tasted your blood, she’ll have assimilated your genotype, our genotype, so there’s nothing to prevent her continuing her own evolution."
      "Our genotype?" Vampirella asked. "You mean Vampiri?"
      "If you will. You and I share a portion of the genetic makeup of our mother, the Conjuress, and all of her other Qlippoth spawn."
      "You’re talking about the Hexxen," Vampirella muttered, her heart sinking. "So it’s true. We are related."
      "There’s more to the Hexxen than you know. The Qlippoth Adrian Greer summoned to Earth along with you through the original Black Mirror were never meant to mature in this hostile environment. Naturally their growth was stunted. They’ll never become the higher beings they were intended to be. They can only rage against the race that robbed them of their birthright.
      "But to return to Chelsea, it was the Conjuress herself who returned Chelsea to Earth along with yourself in the moments before she perished. She directed Chelsea to seek you out when the signs were right, namely the appearance of the unnatural auroras produced by the Metahedron’s becoming active."
      "But I was with Lilith on Drakulon in those last few moments. Chelsea wasn’t with us."
      "The Conjuress’ physical manifestation is only an infinitesimal fraction of her being," Tristan smiled knowingly. "She was with you and in a thousand other places simultaneously."
      "It’s incredible," Vampirella shook her head. "Lilith actually appeared to you here on Earth in the flesh and told you all this?"
      " ‘In the flesh’ might not be a totally accurate characterization, but essentially yes."
      "Then you must know what we are, where we came from. How I envy you. So much of what I was has been lost to me since coming to Earth. Impossible as it seems, I’ve been back to Drakulon three times. Yet each time, it was like a different world. All my recollections are fuzzy, inconsistent. Even having been there, I can’t for the life of me remember what Drakulon really is."
      "Of course not," Tristan replied, as if trying to convey some adult concept to a small child, "and you never will. For as long as you’ve been on Earth, you must have run across the East Indian parable of the blind men and the elephant."
      "Well sure, I think every first grader knows that one. Six blind men are sent to find out what an elephant is. Being blind, each of them touches a different part of it and comes to a different conclusion. One feels the elephant’s flank and thinks an elephant’s like a wall. Another grabs the trunk and decides it’s a snake, and so on."
      "Precisely. When it comes to Drakulon, we’re all blind men. You’ve been trying to conceptualize in human terms something whose existence goes beyond a human frame of reference. As long as you and I exist in these material bodies, we’ll never perceive Drakulon in its entirety. One time it seems to be an alien planet in outer space, another it appears as the Hell out of Earth’s religious beliefs. All bits and pieces of the elephant, but none an accurate description of the whole thing.
      "So what is the true nature of the elephant?"
      "There was a popular New Age paradigm put forth by some former NASA type a few years back which might provide a useful metaphor. It was called the Gaia Hypothesis, named after the primordial Earth goddess of Greek mythology. The premise was that the Earth’s entire ecology comprised a colossal living, homeostatic system, that the Earth was quite literally a living world. Try for a moment to imagine another world where Gaia isn’t just a hypothetical conjecture but an indisputable scientific reality. Picture a planet where a race of intelligent beings live in symbiosis with the living plasm that flows through the planet’s ecosphere, forming living rivers and oceans of blood. The ‘Earth Mother’ of this world, a being we know as the Conjuress, is an incredibly advanced, incredibly ancient multidimensional consciousness, but still rooted to the material world through this living planet, which essentially comprises her body. Our race, the Vampiri, among others, are descended from the Qlippoth, the seeds of the Conjuress, spontaneously generated and nurtured in the living waters of Drakulon. But not all of the Qlippoth fell to Drakulon. Some remained in the Conjuress’ plane where they gave rise to the Hexxen. Still others passed into the Nethervoid to be corrupted into the vampiric sanguivires.
      "Now picture the world of Drakulon itself, transiting between dimensions, sometimes appearing in this terrestrial universe, other times existing in different realms altogether.
      "Think about it. It’s the ultimate creation myth, the progenitor of all other Genesis mythologies."
      "Is that what Drakulon is really all about?" Vampirella implored, amazed at the neat simplicity of Tristan’s interpretation.
      "Perhaps," he returned enigmatically, "at least as closely as could be put in human terms. Or perhaps it’s something altogether different.      
       "There are some things I can’t tell even you, things you’re meant to discover in your own time. No one should have their future spelled out for them like the pages of a book. And yours isn’t written yet. The Conjuress made sure you’re the sole author of your own destiny.
      "But I do have a path to follow, and now Chelsea will accompany me on it. She’ll walk the road that was once meant for you. She really is a lot like you before your battles with Chaos turned you into the huntress from the stars. More so than you’ll probably ever realize. But even so, there can only be one Vampirella.
      "You were my betrothed on Drakulon and my first true love. I’ll never forget the adventures we’ve shared and I’ll always love you, but we both know your heart-of-hearts belongs to Adam Van Helsing."
      "Adam’s dead," Vampirella lamented.
      "You know better than that. I was dead. So was Chelsea. So were you more than once. You’ll be with him again."
      Vampirella looked up at her former betrothed, a smile of gratitude on her lips. But the smile instantly vanished as she found herself looking through his rapidly dematerializing body.
      "I think we’ve run out of time," Tristan announced calmly, trying to reach out his fading fingertips to Vampirella. She reached out in return but found her hands passed through his like empty air. "I feel like I’m fading away for good this time. Perhaps I’ll see you again after my transition is complete. But the next battle is yours. You’ll have to stop Belphegor on your own or this world really will be lost."
      The next moment, Vampirella found herself standing alone on the desolate far extent of the jetty.



      Chelsea’s thoughts were filled with turmoil as she headed back alone along the gritty beach. Foremost among them was the realization that she had actually carried out the initial task for which Lilith had returned her to the living. She had watched and waited for the occurrence of the green aurora. Then, when the time was right, she had sought out Vampirella and performed the erotic blood exchange as she had been directed. Now that the responsibility which had hung over her for almost seven years was discharged, she wondered what direction her life would take next. Then again, according to Tristan, their destiny was still being guided by otherworldly forces, so what was the point of trying to outguess or outmaneuver them? The way events were developing, she suspected she wouldn’t have long to wait until the next phase of her existence revealed itself.
      As for the two alien vampires in her life, Chelsea knew they had a past together. She figured the smartest thing she could do at the moment was to step aside and allow them to sort out their feelings at being reunited after so many events had come between them. While the obvious reaction would have been jealousy over her recently found lover, the fact was her emotional investment in Vampirella was equally strong as that in Tristan. While her feelings towards the vampiress were a volatile mix of attraction and repulsion, how could she not be invested in the woman about whom her own fate seemed to orbit? As she had driven home during their encounter, Vampirella was, at least unintentionally, responsible for all the supernatural occurrences that had befallen her. But she had also tried valiantly to protect her from those occult forces. Finally there was no denying the erotic fixation on one another that seemed to have consumed both of them ever since the sex-charged events in Austen’s basement and Constitution Gardens so many years ago.
      Her feelings for Tristan were only slightly less complicated. He had found her on the streets of New Orleans several months ago and had immediately recognized her for what she was; Lilith’s new chosen one. The two had been lovers and companions ever since, traveling the byways and urban underbelly of America. Chelsea still found it difficult to accept that the two of them had been ordained by the Conjuress of Drakulon to be lifemates in some cosmic hereafter. The rebellious side of her would have spurned him for that reason alone. It didn’t help that he too saw her as another Vampirella, but he had proved to be a loyal and valiant protector, and he had accepted her sexual feeding fetishes without the slightest question. In the end, she had to admit there was a rare combination of gentleness and strength to him that she found deeply seductive. If she really was fated to some vampiric afterlife, she could do far worse than to have him as a guide and partner. Besides, he was the most incredible fuck, full of imagination and a wicked sense of adventure.
      Returning to the here and now, she noted that the tide was now rushing in. While the long, desolate strip of beach she treaded was above the high tide line, water was steadily flowing in across the wide, muddy tidal flats to her right. While just minutes previously the waterline had been well behind her in the direction of the open Strait, it was now virtually abreast of her as she continued landward. Despite the fact that this was incoming seawater from the Strait of Georgia, there was an unsavory quality to the shallow, rapidly filling tidal pools and rivulets. As the rising water rippled over the mud flats, it carried with it a sickly brownish froth of algae scum which piled up along the advancing shoreline.
      As the water grew deeper, Chelsea noted more and more patches of the dirty foam bobbing on its surface. To her unease, she also spotted what appeared to be several more solid masses just grazing the surface. Suddenly feeling vulnerable, alone on this remote extremity of land, she looked anxiously about her. The beach itself was a virtual ironfield, littered with rusted-out bolts, clip angles, and other smaller bits of ferrous debris. It struck her that this post-industrial wasteland seemed like a strange setting for a public park. Over her shoulder, the lowering sun glinted warmly off the roiling waters. Far off in the distance, the black line of the Iona Jetty paralleled the beach far across the filling tidal basin. With her uncanny eyesight, she could easily make out the silhouettes of walkers strolling its length, far too distant to be of any aid to her.
      To her left, jagged shards of scrap timber had been bulldozed into a continuous barrier separating the narrow public beach from the reclamation yard beyond. To Chelsea, the spiny fifteen-foot barricade seemed like overkill for a demarcation line to keep beachgoers out. Admittedly the scrap yard was filled with potentially hazardous wood chippers and power loaders. Still, the wooden barrier would have made a respectable coastal fortification to thwart a sea-borne invasion, had some hypothetical raiding force wished to overrun the tiny island.
      As the waterline pulled further ahead of her, Chelsea had the increasing feeling that something was pacing her just beneath the water’s surface. She quickened her pace, eager to reach the peopled entry lot still another half mile or so ahead. As the water rose, the sporadically appearing shapes drew closer and closer to the beach. While not ready to panic and flee the scene in bat form, she was leery enough of the shapes in the water to increasingly hug the spiked barricade on the inland side of the beach.
      It never dawned on her until too late that she was being herded. Abruptly one of the shapes rose upright out of the water, revealing itself as one of the gray humanoids reported in the area. At the same moment, a forked ribbon resembling a vastly oversized tapeworm sprang outward from a shadowed recess in the barricade. Chelsea caught the briefest glimpse of a vaguely humanoid form, its midsection writhing with phallic tentacles, to which the attacking member was attached. Before she could evade it, the twin-tipped appendage made contact with her torso.
      Instantly a powerful electric jolt coursed through her. For the intensity of the charge, she might just as well have come in contact with a high-tension power line. Every muscle in her body seized at once, her vision blurred, and a moment later she tumbled unconscious into the sand.




      Chelsea’s eyelids fluttered open as she gradually came to in unfamiliar surroundings. It took several moments for her vision to come into focus. She had to fight back a rush of vertigo before she realized the source of her disorientation. She was hanging suspended in midair, shackled to a large wood and metal ring like the rim of an oversized wagon wheel. Her body was spread-eagled inside the circular restraint, her arms stretched overhead and her legs spread wide. Her costume had been removed.
      The wheel itself was suspended vertically, mounted to the floor and to the room’s exposed rafters by four heavy cables attached at its diagonal quadrants.
      Two women looked up at her expectantly, reacting as they saw her regaining consciousness. One was tall and leggy with a raspberry-freckled complexion and a long mane of coarse, kinky black, curled hair. The other was a buxom, large-hipped black woman wearing a bushy Afro. They were both next-to-naked, wearing only brief thong loincloths, sandals, and an array of engraved metallic jewelry, including numerous rings, bracelets, and chains adorned with mystic symbols. Their full, bushy pubes protruded from the sides of their narrow garments. The most outstanding feature of their adornment was a pattern of runes or sigils prominently painted or tattooed across each of their abdomens. Both were perhaps in their late twenties, attractive in an unconventional way. Their rounded, hirsute back-to-nature looks were a sharp contrast to Chelsea’s sleek Goth appearance of crimson-streaked jet-black hair and neat Mohawk-shaved pubes. From their bizarre manner of dress, Chelsea had little doubt they were some sort of cultists.
      The room she was in appeared to have been a small church or chapel. The sidewalls were lined with small stained-glass windows, though the original scenes depicted had been defaced by more painted sigils similar to those on the women themselves. The leaded glass and the undulating silhouetted tree branches beyond cast shifting colored rays of alternating sunlight and shadow about the room. By craning her neck, Chelsea could just make out a large, sinister-looking oval mirror sitting in the chancel behind her where an altar should have been.
      Becoming more alert, she attempted to glean some clue as to her locale. She felt no residual aftereffects of the electrical charge that had stunned her. Although the urge to feed gnawed at the back of her consciousness, it had not yet reached the point of becoming overpowering. From this, she was able to estimate that she must have been unconscious for a period of hours but certainly not more than a day. She noted the damp, pine-scented outdoor air and the lack of urban background noises. Vampirella had been certain the Companions of Chaos were operating out of one of the offshore Gulf Islands, and this environment certainly seemed to fit. By the same token, it could be virtually anywhere in Western Canada or the Pacific Northwest.
      Sizing up her situation, she was confident the two female sentries would be easy prey. She didn’t sense any of the gray humanoids or phallic monsters who had previously overcome her in her immediate vicinity. Pulling against her bonds however, Chelsea made an unexpected discovery that filled her with panic. With her superhuman strength, she should have been able to break free of the wheel with ease. Never having been held in bondage before, she was experiencing for the first time a limitation to her powers that would have been all-too-familiar to the real Vampirella. As long as she remained bound, she was unable to use any of her vampiric abilities to shapeshift. Even her vast strength seemed to have been drained away as she struggled futilely against her iron manacles.
      Seeing Chelsea fully wakened, the freckled sentry whispered something to the black woman and hurried outside. Chelsea heard the sound of footfalls on wooden planking receding into the distance.
      Short minutes later, more steps became audible, this time approaching. The second guard re-entered the room along with an additional captor. The newcomer was striking, exuding an aura of simultaneous power, sensuality, and menace. She was tall and curvaceous with regal features and penetrating green eyes. She appeared to be in her late twenties to early thirties. Her platinum blonde hair, parted down the middle, hung poker-straight to her waist. Strangely, a subtle pattern of spots dotted her shoulders and throat. Chelsea immediately sensed that, unlike the runes on the sentries, these were not decorative markings, and that the woman she was facing was not entirely human.
      She wore a form-fitting metallic copper bodysuit constructed from a mesh of crisscrossing cinches and curved panels. The one-piece garment started at the bottom with thigh-height spike-heeled wraparound leggings tightly cinched at the back. From there it grew progressively more brief with the top portion consisting of little more than an intricate webwork of narrow lacings connected by metal jump rings. Curling patterns of small round perforations in the garment’s panels suggested vaguely octopoid shapes. A cutout panel at the crotch fully displayed the woman’s whitish blonde pubes and smooth pink genitalia. A disk shaped medallion, which Chelsea recognized as the Companions of Chaos’ Sundered Circle symbol, hung between her rounded breasts. Long dangling earrings as well as numerous rings and bracelets completed her ensemble.
      The blonde woman slowly circled the suspended wheel, looking Chelsea up and down appraisingly. Her fingers ran down the small of Chelsea’s back, pausing as she admired the black rose-thorn tattoo there. Coming around to Chelsea’s front again, she stopped abruptly, her eyes narrowing.
      "I’ll bet this wasn’t here a few hours ago, was it?" she commented as she stroked a long nail about a small bat-shaped birthmark on the inside of Chelsea’s right breast. "So now you bear the mark of the Opponent as well. What can it mean?"
      Chelsea looked down at the unfamiliar marking on her boob and back at her captor.
      "You don’t know me, do you?" asked the blonde woman, noting Chelsea’s look of puzzlement.
      "Should I?" asked Chelsea.
      "Indeed you should. You have me to thank for bringing your lover Tristan into this world. He was dead, you know; dead and gone. Without me, he’d never have been reborn."
      "Countess Yorlak!" Chelsea exclaimed.
      "So you do know who I am," the sorceress smiled wickedly. "All the better. Yes, in my foolish younger days, I brought Tristan back, and what was my thanks? He nearly killed me. But in the end, he couldn’t quite bring himself to finish me off. Your paramour lacks the killer instinct. Quite a fatal flaw for a vampire, wouldn’t you say? Of course we both know you don’t share that shortcoming, do you, my dear?
      "You were meant to be Ethan Shroud’s new Vampirella. As if one Vampirella hadn’t wreaked enough havoc on our cause. The old fool had no idea the kind of fire he was playing with in turning you. He and his cultists never knew what Adrian and I did about what Vampirella really was or the shape of the future surrounding her. Thanks to the Black Mirrors, we’ve always known his infatuation for Vampirella would be his undoing. Ever since the days of the first Unseelee Congress under Wall Street, the group the late Van Helsings called the Demon Brokers, we’ve waited patiently in the wings for the stage to be cleared for the next act.
      "Now Shroud is gone, Lilith is dead, we know that Vampirella will soon be in our hands. After all the decades of waiting and scheming, everything is falling into place just as the Mirror predicted. It would seem the endtimes have finally arrived. Even as we speak, human history is drawing to a close. The return of the first of the Old Gods will soon be upon us.
      "And here you show up, a wildcard in the deck. Sent back to Earth along with Vampirella by Lilith herself, Tristan’s new consort, and now you’ve shared a blood bond with the Opponent. You’ve come far closer to actually becoming another Vampirella than even Ethan would have dared imagine. Do you think you’re going to take on the mantle of Vampirella?"
      "How the hell should I know?" Chelsea shot back. "You’re the one with the magic mirror."
      "Even the Black Mirror won’t reveal beyond a certain point. The Metahedron was the source of power for all the Black Mirrors. As it comes fully to life, it draws its powers back to itself. We’ve known for decades that Lilith’s three most favored children, Vampirella, Tristan, and yourself, would be present for the arrival of Belphegor, but just exactly how events will play out has yet to unfold.
      "In your case though, I don’t think you have what it takes to become the new Vampirella. Let’s find out."
      As she spoke, Yorlak reached down and roughly inserted a long-nailed finger into Chelsea’s dry vagina. Startled by the abrupt penetration, Chelsea squirmed as the Contessa wriggled the finger inside of her.
      "With the help of the Mirror, I’ve been watching you for some time now. Even as a schoolgirl, you were always the one leading your little schoolmates astray so you could play adolescent sex games with them. Then, after you were turned, how long did it take you to become a bloated, blood-crazed monstrosity that Vampirella had to put down? And now that you’ve got Tristan for a lover, what are you doing? Slinking around porno theater men’s rooms, looking for a tawdry fuck like some two-bit whore."
      Removing her hand, she raised the finger to her lips and lapped at Chelsea’s briny secretions with her tongue, all the while looking into her captive’s eyes.
      "You’re no Vampirella. You’re nothing more than a horny little cunt. You never were able to control your urges, sexual or otherwise. Prove I’m wrong."
      Yorlak released the clasp on one of the main lacings holding together her bodysuit. As the cinch unraveled, the form-fitting garment peeled away like a shedded snakeskin. Stepping out of it, the sorceress stood nude before Chelsea except for her extensive jewelry. With the two female guards still watching in open-mouthed amazement, she climbed up onto the wheel. Careful to remain out of reach of the fangs which Chelsea bared threateningly, she leaned over her and cupped one of Chelsea’s conical breasts with long, delicate fingers. Gently she kissed it with warm, moist lips. Chelsea looked infuriated at Yorlak’s uninvited touch, but Yorlak felt the nipple come erect under her swirling tongue.
      "Get off me, you bitch!" Chelsea snarled.
      Ignoring her futile protests, Yorlak transferred her attentions to the other breast.
      In the course of indulging the sex fetishes that had become irrevocably intertwined with her vampiric bloodlust, Chelsea had indeed placed herself in frequent positions of seeming sexual peril. However it had always been secure in the knowledge that with her overwhelming vampiric powers, she remained in complete control of every situation. As such, she could play the role of the Goth girl, the sleazy coed, the street hooker, or whatever else her fertile imagination dreamed up, all in complete safety. Even going back to her days at Austen’s, she had pulled the strings of her classmate accomplices and horny males like Denny Zimmer with equal ease. She now discovered it felt quite different to have unfamiliar hands and mouths taking liberties with her body and being unable to do anything about it.
      Yorlak began working her way down Chelsea’s flat stomach with wet, lingering kisses. Chelsea responded with a string of Gen-X profanities directed at Yorlak, but all the while her breathing was becoming more ragged, belying her involuntarily rising level of arousal.
      Then something occurred which caused Chelsea to scream in horror. The sorceress’ labia parted as if possessed by a life of their own. As Chelsea watched with horrified fascination, something appeared, filling the opening. From out of her gaping vagina slithered a mucusy purple member that twisted animatedly about. The thing had an iridescent sheen with patterned spots resembling those on Yorlak’s upper torso running the length of its dorsal side. Its neck was striated with rows of ridges, while its head bristled with undulating villi, like the probing antennae of a giant garden slug. Chelsea couldn’t tell if the unnatural member was a part of Yorlak’s own anatomy or some parasitic being tucked safely within her reproductive tract. Chelsea found it strangely mesmerizing. Like Yorlak herself, it was both horrific and beautiful.
      Whatever unseen senses were guiding it, its multiple antennae all began to gravitate squarely in the direction of Chelsea’s crotch, wriggling with a seeming excitement of their own.
      "You see," Yorlak explained, "gaining immortality doesn’t come without its price, although, as you’re about to find out, it’s not so bad at all to have this inside of you."
      Now the entire organ was stretching itself, straining to reach Chelsea’s vagina. Obliging it, Yorlak moved into position to mount the bound vampiress.
      Realizing what she was doing, Chelsea cried, "No, please don’t put that thing in me!"
      Yorlak however continued grinding her pubis into Chelsea’s. As she did so, the purple member slid wetly over Chelsea’s delicate labia. Slick with its own gelatinous secretions, the thing flowed effortlessly through her clenched vaginal opening, quickly filling her with its expanding bulk.
      Chelsea was stunned by the pleasurable sensations produced by the ribbed column of slick alien flesh that rippled inside her with rhythmic contractions. The slender villi on its head wriggled wildly, tickling the bulbous tip of her cervix with frenzied motions.
      To the two female cultists, who were watching with fascination and little-disguised excitement, Chelsea and Yorlak made a bizarre sight. The young vampire was spread wide open on the wheel with Yorlak on top of her, excitedly rubbing her own breasts and stomach against Chelsea’s. All the while, the pulsating violet phallus extended in a U-shape between the two women’s pussies like some kinky sex toy come to bizarre organic life.
      Sweat began to run down her body from where Yorlak rubbed hotly against her. She felt herself growing flush with an excitement she couldn’t contain. Chelsea had experienced sex with men and women, lovers and strangers. Yet this unwilling penetration by the sinister phallic extension of her mortal enemy was without a doubt the best fuck of her entire lifetime. She realized, in a moment of despair, that it might also be her last.
      Yet all the while, a lingering doubt niggled at the back of her mind. A part of her knew there was more than a grain of truth to Yorlak’s vulgar taunts. A child of privilege, blessed with good looks and a sharp mind, everything had come easily in her younger days; popularity, grades, material things. Since the innocent days of her adolescence so long ago, she had allowed herself to become a servant to the yearnings of her precocious cunt. Later her compulsive cravings had transferred from ordinary sex to a deadly mix of bloodlust and fetishism. From Austen’s to the Rosebud Cinema, she had never had a compelling reason to curb her lusts, so she never had.
      But this assault by the sorceress was something different, meant as much to degrade her as to be a source of physical gratification. She didn’t know if she really believed all of, first Ethan Shroud’s and now Yorlak’s ramblings about her becoming another Vampirella. Even her memories of Lilith returning her to the living on a mission now seemed otherworldly and incomprehensible, which of course they were. But if some greater destiny combating supernatural demons did somehow await her, wouldn’t it demand the strength of will to master her own demons? Was bringing her to climax, pinned like a butterfly to this wheel, truly the Companions of Chaos’ perverted way of asserting their domination over her? Or was Yorlak merely playing on her self-doubts as a matter of malicious sport? It wasn’t as though the course of the universe was going to change if she had an orgasm, was it? Was this desecrated chapel any different from any number of alleys and back seats in which she’d toyed with her many victims before exsanguinating them? Besides, other than Yorlak, who would know what went on here except for the two girls whom she could easily dispose of once she broke free?
      The throbbing demoniac member felt so good in her, simultaneously kneading and pumping and tickling like no human sex ever could, driving her closer and closer to climax. Against her will, she felt the roof of her vagina growing hard and distended as g-spot fluid began to build up, ready to gush forth in a spurting orgasm. She clenched her sphincter muscles, trying to hold back the tide.
      No, she told herself. She was Tristan’s and Vampirella’s ally now. Neither of them would degrade themselves by allowing their enemies to take liberties with their bodies and then get off on it. Neither could she.
      With a supreme effort of will, she pulled herself back from the brink of an overwhelming orgasm. Concentrating first on bringing her ragged breathing under control, she distanced herself from the wildly churning organ inside of her and from her own engorged labia, which had been stimulated to the point of supersensitivity. If she got out of this predicament alive, there would be other sexual adventures and other climaxes. But this once she was not going to give Yorlak the satisfaction of turning her own sex into a weapon against herself. From what she had learned from Tristan and Vampirella, along with Greer, the sorceress was a master at sexually victimizing women in order to feed the appetites of her sinister Black Mirror. Chelsea was not going to be another victim to their evil blend of perversion and sorcery, even if it came in the guise of an erotic escapade.
      Yorlak immediately realized that she had somehow lost her hold over her captive. As Chelsea’s writhing body began to settle, she increased the vigor of her own gyrations, but when she didn’t get the response she was seeking, her own arousal quickly turned to frustration and anger.
      Just as it had swelled inside her, the dripping, slug-like extensor seemed to shrink until it slid out of her sex and pulled itself back inside of Yorlak’s vagina.
      "I’m very disappointed in you, Chelsea dear," Yorlak hissed, climbing down off of her. "Here I thought you and I could be playmates, but maybe you do have a bit too much of Vampirella in you. Maybe Lilith knew something we didn’t. Perhaps you really could turn out to be a threat to the cause of Chaos."
      If Chelsea felt any sense of triumph in asserting her defiance of Yorlak, it was to be short-lived.
      "I think the safest place for you right now might be inside the Mirror. Don’t worry, once our victory is complete, perhaps I’ll bring you out to play again in a few months or a few years. However, you probably won’t have much spirit, or for that matter much sanity, left in you by then. I think you'll find Belphegor’s ministrations a bit more overwhelming than my own."
      Turning from Chelsea, Yorlak stood naked and dripping before the Black Mirror. Raising her arms in supplication, she intoned, "Belphegor, we your humble servants offer up one who bears the mark of the Opponent. Cast open the Pylons of Daath that you might receive this offering in the names of Aiwass, Gnoph-Hek, Amalantrah, and Azathoth, the shadow guardians of the portal to the Nethervoid and beyond."
      Behind her over her shoulder, Chelsea saw the Mirror begin to cloud with swirls of greenish luminescence churning within its depths. Simultaneously, a powder of dust, which had collected in the corners of the long-deserted chapel, began to flutter into the air where it was drawn along the floor into the Mirror.
      As the face of the mirror continued to darken, a long, worm-like tentacle extended purposefully outward from its surface, followed by another and another. Two rust-red appendages curled about her wrists while two more twined her ankles. Yorlak engaged a release mechanism on the wheel, allowing Chelsea’s limp form to slump into the grip of the phallic extensors.
      Her moment of defiance over, Chelsea recoiled in horror at the monstrous fate that now overtook her, her mind shutting down as her only remaining avenue of escape. She was unaware as her nude body sank right through the glass surface of Yorlak’s Mirror and was wrapped in a veritable cocoon of writhing, probing tentacles. All thoughts of Vampirella or the forces of Chaos were banished within the first few minutes on the other side. In her mind, she was once again a precocious senior leading her classmates at Austen’s into another episode of sexually charged mischief.




      Her hair streaming behind her in the stiff open-water wind, Vampirella stood huddled over the forward rail of a BC Ferry plying the choppy waters between the Lower Mainland and the Gulf Islands. Bright afternoon sunlight glinted off the large, gleaming white vessel. Behind her, the twin jetties of the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal, from which she had departed, as well as the huge Deltaport Shipping Terminal could be seen over the ship’s starboard aft quarter, projecting far out into the Strait. The misty skyline of Vancouver was visible as well, receding behind her across the sparkling waters. Ahead, the rolling green mounds of the southern Gulf Islands loomed in front of the ship, with the larger, mountainous landmass of Vancouver Island extending from horizon to horizon beyond them to the west. Vampirella identified Galiano Island immediately ahead and the smaller Mayne Island with its landmark lighthouse to the south of it.
      Based on what she had learned from Tristan of the Companions’ imminent move, she had planned to meet once more with Chelsea and Harry to strategize a combined recon and assault on their still unidentified Mayne Island enclave. However the next morning, she had been unable to contact Chelsea, who was supposed to be holed up in a seedy hotel somewhere in Vancouver’s industrial riverfront Marpole neighborhood. From their brief, steamy encounter, it was difficult for Vampirella to assess the extent to which Chelsea could be relied upon. It was possible she had simply moved on. Still, she didn’t think so. After all, Chelsea had supposedly been directed here by Lilith on a mission as well. If she had somehow had a run-in with the Companions or the gray humanoids on her own after they’d separated on Iona Island, then she could now be in their sinister clutches. Now time was all the more critical. Abandoning any hope for a well-planned insertion onto Mayne, she had hastily informed Harry she was headed to the Tsawwassen Terminal to catch the first island-bound ferry.
      Heading westward into the sun, the ferry’s massive engines revved down as it proceeded from the open expanse of the Strait into the restricted waterway of Active Pass. Vampirella looked up at the steep rock faces of the islands that loomed on either side. Dense old-growth West Coast rainforests of mixed evergreens and deciduous trees sprang from jagged rock outcrops that rose sharply above narrow beaches, largely inaccessible except by boat. Overhead, a large bald eagle circled its nest in a towering Red Cedar. Here and there, occasional wood-sided cabins peeked through the woods overlooking the marine passage. Looking about at the primordial rainforest and sparse dwellings, Vampirella sensed she was entering a world far removed from the urban bustle of the Lower Mainland.
       The Mayne Island Lightstation that she had spotted from further out slipped by to the ferry’s portside, its automated white tower and obsolete lightkeeper’s house now clearly visible. Rounding a bend, the ferry turned landward toward an ancient gray trusswork of mechanized vehicle ramps and passenger gangways that loomed over a series of parallel ferry slips. A large sign mounted on the metal superstructure identified the facility as Village Bay. A shipboard horn sounded, deafeningly loud on the open deck, announcing their arrival. Engines revved as the ferry reversed and glided smoothly into its berth. Mooring lines were quickly secured and a metal ramp lowered into position, clattering onto the lower deck. Giant clamshell doors swung open, disgorging a sparse traffic of vehicles from the cavernous enclosed car deck below.
      Vampirella made her way to a foot passengers’ gangway and headed ashore. Having familiarized herself with a single-sheet island map and visitors’ guide picked up on the ferry; she already had an idea in mind of how to go about her search for the Metahedron and its guardians. She had some idea from Prof. Carlton’s disastrous investigation that it was secreted somewhere in the island’s forested interior, but without his revolutionary triangulating equipment, she would have to rely on good old-fashioned detective work to locate it.
      Trudging up the sloping walkway to the ferry terminal’s entrance gate, Vampirella, dressed in her skin-tight jeans and a denim blouse unbuttoned sufficiently to reveal her ample décolletage, had little trouble flagging down a passing local resident driving an old pickup truck.
      "Where you headed, young lady?" asked the wiry, silver-haired driver.
      "I’d like to get to Miner’s Bay," Vampirella smiled.
      "No problem," the older man obliged. "I’m headed in that direction. I can drop you on the way."
      "I’d appreciate it," Vampirella acknowledged, climbing inside.
      "Do you have some way of getting around the Island?" he asked, pulling out onto the road. "You know this isn’t Vancouver. There aren’t any buses or taxis."
      "Thanks, I’m meeting my boyfriend at the Lodge there," she tried to sound convincing, referring to an establishment she had noted from her tour map. "He was supposed to be picking me up at the ferry tomorrow morning, but I got away early so I thought I’d surprise him."
      "He’s a lucky guy," the driver commented good-naturedly.
      Leaning back in the passenger seat, Vampirella looked about at her surroundings. They proceeded away from the terminal along a narrow drive that climbed a grassy hillside before entering a thick stand of Douglas Fir. Underneath the dark woodland canopy, Vampirella noted the change in the island air from that of the Mainland. It was damp and significantly cooler than it had been when she’d stepped onto the ferry in Tsawwassen. The smell of moss and evergreens was pungent, and here and there tendrils of ground mist drifted across the road as it dipped through low-lying stretches. At long intervals, unpaved drives led off towards rustic homes nestled in the woods far back from the road.
      Eventually they emerged onto a meadowy hillside and descended towards a cluster of wood-sided buildings extending inland from a rocky waterfront.
      "That’s Miner’s Bay ahead," the gregarious driver told her. "That’s where you said you were headed."
      Moments later, the pickup pulled over and deposited Vampirella by the side of a T-shaped intersection.
      "Thanks for the lift," she smiled as she climbed out.
      As her ride pulled away, Vampirella looked over the handful of structures that formed the commercial heart of the tiny island community. There was a small grocery outlet of a Western Canadian chain, another local grocer, a café and sandwich shop, a garage, and various other small-town retail establishments. The tree-lined crossroads was relatively quiet, with only a handful of shoppers leisurely coming and going. Vampirella picked out a storefront labeled Miner’s Bay Pharmacy and strode to the entrance. The tiny independent druggist’s reminded her of similar shops she had seen in small out-of-the-way towns during her earliest cross-country wanderings back in the early seventies. Over the years, such quaint establishments had largely disappeared from the landscape, replaced by plastic-fronted convenience store chains.
      Inside, a young clerk reading a dog-eared paperback came to attention as Vampirella entered. The little shop’s shelves were stocked with a variety of over-the-counter remedies, personal grooming products, and various notions, though she would have guessed that the small, enclosed pharmacy counter at the rear probably carried a limited assortment of prescription pharmaceuticals.
      "I hope you’re not here to pick up a prescription," the clerk apologized. "Doc Roberts left this morning to visit his brother in Victoria. He’s not due back on the Island until tomorrow. If it’s an emergency, you could always try the Health Centre."
      "That’s okay," Vampirella answered, "I’m just here to pick up some cosmetics."
      She made a show of selecting a lip-gloss that she didn’t really need and a powder blue eyeshadow that she probably would use.
      "Where is everyone?" she asked as she brought her purchases to the counter. "A beautiful day like this, I’d have thought more people would be out and about."
      "This is pretty typical for this time of year," the young man answered. "Tourist season’s pretty well wound down for the year. The year-round population’s only about 900 for the entire island."
      "Maybe you could help me out," Vampirella changed subjects, leaning forward over the counter. "I’m a photographer for a clip-art service bureau in Vancouver. I’m here shooting stock images of the Gulf Islands and I was wondering if there were any good vantage points up in the interior where I could get a few panoramic shots looking out across the neighboring islands."
      "Well," answered the clerk, staring down Vampirella’s blouse, "Mt. Parke is the highest point on Mayne. It’s mostly wooded, but there are a few overlooks that face out over the Island. It’s classified a Regional Forest, so it’s open to the public. There are hiking trails running all the way to the top, though it’s pretty remote going in all the way. I’d recommend taking a hiking buddy if you’re planning on going up there."
      "I’ll keep that in mind. Besides the public area, would there be any other access points to the interior? Anybody living up there?"
      The cashier thought for a moment before answering, his expression darkening slightly. "Actually there’s a group living up there that call themselves the Island Women’s Collective. They live on a compound adjacent to Mt. Parke that used to be the old Flagg Hill Church Camp."
      Vampirella raised a quizzical eyebrow. "What’s their story?"
      "Mayne’s a bit off the beaten track. Saltspring and Pender are the big tourist destinations in the Gulf Islands. As I said, there used to be a Christian teens’ camp here up until a few years ago. Eventually though, they just weren’t making a go of it, and in ’96 they sold out to a group of investors from the States.
      "Once the new owners moved in, they set up some sort of New Age women’s group up there. They pretty much keep to themselves, which isn’t easy to do living on an island this size. They have their own vegetable plots and they seem to do most of their regular shopping on the Mainland. Very rarely, one of them will pop into one of the shops here on some small errand. If you’re thinking of going up there to take pictures, I wouldn’t recommend it. Most of the people living on the Island would give you the shirt off their backs, but I’m afraid you’d get a cool reception from the Women’s Collective."
      "So these are all women?" Vampirella asked, trying to draw out further information from the cashier.
      "Pretty much. The original lead buyer was male, a doctor I think. I couldn’t tell you his name."
      Vampirella paled. "Is he still on the Island?"
      "I couldn’t say. At one time he was living up there with the women. We used to see him coming and going from the Mainland. Rumor has it he was spotted a few times in Vancouver, cruising the hooker strolls on the Downtown Eastside. I can’t honestly remember the last time I saw him. If he’s still up there, he’s keeping a low profile. Another reason to stay away from there."
      "Thanks for all your help," Vampirella told the young man.
      She left the pharmacy with a greater appreciation of how small this island community really was. She had little doubt the self-isolated Collective was what she was seeking. In any moderate-sized city, she could have spent days to weeks rooting for clues to the Companions’ whereabouts. Here it had taken a single casual inquiry.
      Having lucked into the lead she sought with a single try, Vampirella decided the need to try and blend in as an island tourist was past. She slipped unnoticed around the back of the building, which faced almost immediately onto a wooded incline. Stepping gingerly through the underbrush, she crept perhaps a hundred feet into the concealing thicket. Looking furtively about, she shrugged out of her tight jeans and blouse. A skimpy black lace bra and G-string panties were quickly discarded as well. Next she wriggled into her stretchy scarlet costume, which had been wadded in an inside pocket of her street clothes.
      Standing in a wide-legged stance, wearing only the signature costume along with her spike-heeled boots and bracelets, she threw back her head and raised her arms into the air. A moment later, her body shifted as she underwent the metamorphosis into her bat-like flying form. Perhaps it was a further indication that there was an element to Vampirella which went beyond her material self that she retained an essentially human consciousness and self-awareness within a form which by all rights should not have been able to support human thought processes.
      Transformed, she flapped upward through the wooded canopy and a moment later was fluttering over the island terrain, well above treetop level. From a height, she could easily relate her current surroundings to the island map she had largely committed to memory. She headed inland, following a main roadway that essentially bisected the island. Eventually she turned upward along the wooded rise known as Mt. Parke. It didn’t take her long to spot the distinctive oval layout of a wooded campground butting up against the perimeter of the Regional Forest.
      Deciding to approach on foot, she swooped down and reverted to human form along the centerline of a deserted stretch of roadway. From the ground, the entry to the former campsite was hardly noticeable, just a break in the trees and a muddy track leading uphill. She stepped over a rusted chain barrier strung across the gate. Inside, she stealthily ascended the wooded hillside, paralleling the rising dirt drive perhaps thirty feet to one side. Here the island rainforest consisted largely of majestic Grand Fir. The ground level was relatively clear of underbrush. The forest was remarkably still, except for the occasional chirping of birds and squirrels overhead. Somewhere in the distance, runoff babbled downhill in a trickling stream. Vampirella’s footfalls were deadened by a spongy carpet of pine needles. About halfway up the slope, she was startled by the sound of twigs snapping and turned to see a formerly motionless deer bolt at her approach.
      Proceeding on tiptoes, it took her several minutes to reach the campsite. Eventually though she peered over a rise at an extensive compound nestled in the pine forest. Ahead, the dirt drive branched into an elongated circle that ringed an overgrown grass common. About it extended a series of spartan wooden cabins. At the far end stood a larger post-and-beam structure, possibly a dining area or meeting hall. Several dilapidated vehicles were parked along the ellipse.
      Here and there, a handful of women, most wearing little more than brief loincloths, went about various camp chores; stacking firewood, carrying baskets of vegetables, and such. All of them were young and attractive. All however were adorned in naturist styles of hair and jewelry in keeping with life in an isolated commune but which would be conspicuously out-of-step back in the modern urban world.
      Creeping around the perimeter, Vampirella studied further details of the Island Women’s Collective. The main campground was set on a wooded plateau along the irregularly inclined terrain leading up to Mt. Parke at the center of the island. On one side, a gentle hill sloped down to a large shaded pond, a natural swimming hole that would have been a major draw in locating a summer camp here. Further on, a more precipitous drop overlooked a large vegetable garden tilled from an open meadow far below the campsite. Vampirella could make out the distant forms of more women working the extensive patch that presumably fed the Collective. Set off a distance from the campers’ cabins, largely hidden by the dense pines, Vampirella could just make out the gabled rooftop of a large home that undoubtedly would have been the original owners’ year-round residence.
      On the uphill side, what appeared to be a small chapel sat on a narrow rise overlooking the camp. A sloping path incorporating several irregular flights of wooden stairs connected the tiny church building to the main common. Ominously, the cleanly sawed-off base of a large crucifix projected above the front end of the building’s simple gable roof, while the remainder of the cross lay discarded in the underbrush beside the desecrated chapel. Beyond the chapel, a long trail extended uphill, leading off in the direction of Mt. Parke.
      If Vampirella had any lingering doubts that this was not simply some back-to-nature New Age commune, they were quickly dispelled. As she continued to watch, a half dozen gray humanoids, identical to those from the assault on Prof. Carlton’s house, appeared out of the lower woods. Without a word, they marched in the direction of the pond, continuing without hesitation directly into the glassy black water. Within moments, only ripples marked the spot where they disappeared silently beneath the surface. None of the Collective women paid the slightest notice to this unearthly spectacle.
      Almost simultaneously with the arrival of the humanoids, one of the women, who Vampirella was now certain were Companions of Chaos, climbed the stairs to the chapel and knocked on the heavy front door. Moments later, a tall, statuesque woman with long blonde hair stepped outside. She wore some sort of laced metallic harness or bodysuit, and from her manner, Vampirella had little doubt she was in charge here. As she turned in the direction of the campsite, Vampirella recognized her striking features. Though her hairstyle and manner of dress were different, the face was virtually unchanged from some thirty-four years ago when she had stood at Adrian Greer’s side in the Red House. The woman standing conversing on the rise was the Contessa Alessandra Yorlak.



      Vampirella continued to watch from her hidden vantage point as Yorlak issued instructions to the scantily clad cultist. After a few moments, the messenger headed back down the stairs towards the main campsite. As soon as Yorlak disappeared back inside, Vampirella emerged from cover and began working her way along the rise towards the chapel. It was impossible to say if this was where the Metahedron was secreted. For that matter, if Chelsea had somehow fallen into the Companions’ hands, this enclave would be the most likely place for them to bring her as well. Clearly something was going on inside the building. She could spend hours or even days reconnoitering the campsite, but to what avail? From everything Tristan had indicated, time was rapidly running out. Without knowing just what awaited her inside the chapel, a frontal assault on Yorlak was risky, but it was a risk she felt was warranted. She would storm the building, hopefully taking whatever occupants by surprise.
      She crept her way to the upper landing without being noticed by anyone below. Then, just as she was approaching the front doors, they swung open and a kinky curly, black-haired sentry stepped through, all but running head-on into Vampirella. Before she could turn around or call out, Vampirella captured her with her eyes. She could easily have physically overpowered the female cultist with a single, well-placed blow, but her psychic senses told her that even that was unnecessary. This woman was a follower, an order-taker with a weak will and little initiative of her own. In other life circumstances, she’d have been a subservient suburban housewife, an unquestioning corporate hack, or occupying some similar conformist role. Vampirella sensed she would be totally susceptible to any form of mental suggestion she might induce. Using her powers of mesmerism, a combination of hypnotic suggestion and telepathic influence, she simply willed the woman into a waking daze.
      Stepping past her, Vampirella found Yorlak alone inside the chapel. She realized that the object standing behind the sorceress should have come as no surprise. It was a large mirror, specifically the selfsame occult mirror she had seen twenty years ago in the underground catacombs beneath Wall Street and in which she had witnessed her possible future bondage. Now as then, extradimensional energies roiled within its face.
      Yorlak turned in her direction, appearing far less startled than she should have been by Vampirella’s sudden appearance. "So," she purred, "the Opponent has arrived, just as the Mirror predicted. If you’ve come to rescue your little wannabe alter ego, you’re too late to save her...again. She’s already tucked safely away in Belphegor’s domain beyond the Mirror. I’d imagine by now even her voracious little twat is getting more of a workout than it’s accustomed to."
      Vampirella saw red at having her worst fears for the girl so sadistically confirmed. "You psychopathic bitch," she snarled, "how many young girls have been victimized to satisfy yours and Greer's perverted appetites? Well it ends here."
      "Quite the contrary," Yorlak smiled wickedly, "it’s just beginning. In just a few hours now, you’ll be chained to Belphegor’s altar, his first conquest as he begins to reshape this world in his image. You’re a fool, Vampirella, fighting to save humankind. You think Adrian and I are the aberration, but just look around you at this world. Do you really think our little Red House was any different from what’s going on this very minute in places like Damascus or Darfur in the Sudan or Abu Ghraib? All places of strength from which Belphegor draws his power."
      Vampirella wasn’t familiar with all of the place references, but she understood Yorlak’s meaning all too well, and she had to concede that there was a disturbing element of truth to the sorceress’ taunts.
      "For twenty years you’ve tried to outrun fate, but now it’s finally caught up to you."
      "My fate is my own to shape," Vampirella returned defiantly.
      "Is it?" Yorlak laughed. "Is that what Tristan told you? Back in ’82, I thought it would be such a delicious irony to see the great Vampirella murdered in her own bed at the hands of her ex-betrothed. Pity things never worked out that way. I didn’t know when I brought Tristan back that he’d turn out to be another thorn in our sides. But no matter, in the end he’s no real threat to us. He can’t take the Conjuress’ place on his own. With neither you nor Chelsea by his side, he becomes irrelevant.
      "Belphegor will be the first to escape the bonds of the Nethervoid, but he won’t be the last. No longer contained, all of the Seven Servants as well as Chaos himself will soon follow his lead into this world. After countless millennia, the end of days will have arrived."
      Vampirella met the sorceress’ threat. "I’ll do everything in my power to see that that never happens. But one way or another, at least I can promise that you won’t live to see the outcome."
      In response to Vampirella’s threat, Yorlak’s eyes bulged and Vampirella, with her telepathic powers, sensed a powerful psychic wave emanating from the sorceress. She knew without seeing that the remaining gray humanoids, however many there might be, would be shooting bolt upright from their repose on the bottom of the wooded swimming hole beneath the campsite. Judging the uphill distance to their location and the humanoids’ formidable prowess, she estimated she would have two minutes, maybe three, in which to take down Yorlak and the Black Mirror before the things came crashing through the walls.
      Taking the offensive, Vampirella rushed the mesh-clad occultist. Yorlak shifted into a wide-legged fighting stance and let out a rattling hiss that startled Vampirella with its inhuman quality. When Vampirella failed to be intimidated by the feral growl, Yorlak followed up with a lightning-quick swipe of her talon-like fingers. Vampirella arched backward, easily dodging the raking slash. She attempted to follow through by ducking low and butting a shoulder into Yorlak’s groin, expecting Yorlak’s momentum to carry her over her back. Yorlak however proved more nimble than expected and landed on her feet, now in position to take another swipe at Vampirella’s exposed backside. This time her fingers found their mark, digging painfully into the small of Vampirella’s back, leaving a trail of bloody slashes. Vampirella let out a snarl of her own and twisted at the waist throwing the weight of her body into a vicious elbow jab to Yorlak’s sternum.
      Yorlak gasped for breath, the wind momentarily knocked out of her, but she maintained her footing as Vampirella spun around and pulled herself upright. The two combatants found themselves eyeball to eyeball, momentarily too close to trade blows. In this extreme proximity, Vampirella held the advantage. Fangs protruding, she lunged for Yorlak’s throat. She managed to inflict two deep, spurting punctures, but was unable to latch on or draw significant blood before Yorlak pushed herself away. With maneuvering room once again between them, they kicked almost simultaneously. Their flying legs glanced off each other, preventing either opponent from delivering a solid blow. Vampirella did manage to hook her calf around the back of Yorlak’s knee, sending the two of them tumbling in a snarling, slashing heap. Both of them managed to deliver additional blows, further bloodying one another before they disentangled.
      Outside, heavy footfalls could now be heard clattering up the wooden staircases. Vampirella realized she now had only seconds in which to dispatch Yorlak and make good her escape or it would all be over.
       Yorlak staggered to her feet, the mirror at her back. Vampirella’s eyes narrowed and the corners of her mouth curled up almost imperceptibly. Catching the telltale expression, Yorlak realized too late her miscalculation. Before she could move out of the way, Vampirella, still lying on her back, kicked out with both legs, catching Yorlak squarely in the midriff.
      Yorlak toppled backward straight into the mirror. She flailed to grasp at the frame, but couldn’t prevent her hurling torso from passing straight through the glass pane as if it were nonexistent. As she tumbled helplessly into the swirling green vortex beyond, the mirror itself, upended by her impact, teetered on its narrow base for a moment before falling ponderously backwards. It hit the floor, the silvered pane shattering in a hail of jagged shards. Instantly the vortex collapsed.
      Vampirella lunged to her feet, preparing to dive through one of the stained glass windows as the first of the humanoids reached the chapel, effortlessly tearing one of the heavy front doors from its hinges. But before she could make her desperate plunge through the glass, she realized the gray creature was now simply standing in the doorway, making no attempt to enter the chapel. It suddenly dawned on her that for all their seeming invulnerability and overpowering strength, the fearsome humanoids must be little more than automatons. Without Yorlak’s will and psychic powers to direct and animate them, they were like marionettes with their strings cut.
      Continuing to keep an eye on the motionless humanoid, Vampirella cursorily surveyed the damage surrounding her. Clearly the mirror portal was smashed for good. Of Yorlak there was no trace. With the mirror gone, she would have to find some other means of rescuing Chelsea from the Nethervoid. In any case, knowing its perverse nature, she suspected the occult portal would have proven ineffectual without benefit of further sexual depravities performed on its behalf, something she was not prepared to inflict on anyone, even the remaining female Companions in the campsite below.
      She left the chapel, giving wide berth to several more humanoids who were now shambling aimlessly about like broken wind-up toys. Below, the campsite appeared to be in disarray, as if a general alarm had been sounded but no one seemed to know the nature of the emergency that had overtaken them. A few of the cultists seemed to have taken notice of Vampirella, but like the humanoids, none made any move to approach in her direction. Vampirella edged around the backside of the chapel and slipped back into the woods. She might have won the first skirmish, but she knew the real battle had not yet begun.



      Twilight was now setting in as Vampirella darted once more through the underbrush. She was reasonably certain the portion of the Collective compound she had previously seen held no further secrets. That left only the former owners’ residence, set off a distance from the campground proper. From her previous reconnoitering, she had only been able to glimpse the top of the house’s roofline, partially visible through the trees. Now she was nearing the top of the ridge that sheltered the rest of the house from view from what had been the campers’ cabins.
      With the fading sunlight, she became aware of an ominous new development. Through the forest canopy, she got her initial first-hand look at the uncanny aurora that had initiated this strange Northern adventure. Though it was difficult to gauge the overall extent of the phenomenon from this close-up perspective, it seemed to Vampirella that the greenish coronal streamers descending from all quadrants of the darkening sky narrowed into an elongated funnel, terminating at the house just over the rise ahead. Even without the eerie atmospheric display, Vampirella didn’t require the World’s End Circus’s psionic detection equipment to sense the aura of evil emanating from the structure ahead. Even before she reached the crest of the incline, she knew with absolute certainty that the residence which confronted her would not be a Canadian wilderness lodge.
      Exiting the tree line, she emerged onto a level stretch of clear ground overlooking the meadows far below. Rising from the center of it, bathed in green St. Elmo’s fire, stood the Red House. She immediately knew that this was no reconstruction. This was the selfsame structure in which she had first been summoned to Earth some thirty-four years ago. It was the same structure in which some thirty young women had been gruesomely abused and murdered by Greer and his accomplices before most of them in turn were slaughtered by the Hexxen during the Red Sunday Massacre. It was the same structure in which the townspeople of Coogan’s Bluff had been fed to the original Black Mirror by those Hexxen. It was the same structure she had personally witnessed burned to the ground sixteen months ago by Harry Krishna and the psi-ops operatives of the World’s End Circus. Now here it was, once again intact, thousands of miles from its original site, somehow resurrected to carry on its seemingly endless legacy of evil.
      Standing on the front porch in a relaxed pose, obviously awaiting her arrival, was Adrian Greer, flanked by two phallic demons apparently identical to those from the Demon Brokers’ underground lair. At a glance, she might not have recognized him as the same man she remembered from their previous encounters. Gone were the middle-aged paunch and flabby limbs, replaced by firm abs and the well-toned body of a much younger man. The balding top of wispy silver hair was now a full head of neatly cropped, sandy brown curls. The distinctive, long-dated muttonchop sideburns were still there. But the unmistakable giveaway that this was indeed the debauched physician were those same soulless black eyes which had haunted Vampirella’s subconscious nightmares all these years.
      Like Yorlak, he bore spotted markings, suggesting that his physiology had also been altered in some non-human way.
      Vampirella felt a sudden lurch in her stomach, and for a few seconds her knees went rubbery. Once again that overwhelming panic welled up inside her, just as it had in the catacombs under Wall Street. In that moment, she felt the urge to flee again, to hide away and shut out the world. The difference now was that she had already done that once. As much as this monster terrified her, there was nothing worse he could possibly inflict on her than the living death she had already condemned herself to once, living eight years as a virtual prisoner of her own fears.
      "You’ve come a long way, little girlie," Greer purred, instantly trying to place her in the diminutive role. "The only reason I ever brought you into this world was for a little piece of ass to liven up our gatherings in the Red House. I had no idea what a player you’d turn out to be in the great conflict. But it’s still not too late to bring you down to size. If nothing else, Ethan was right in that you’ve kept the game interesting over all these years. And now that we’re coming up to the final round, it looks like it’s down to just you and me. Ethan, Conrad and Adam, Lilith, Chelsea and Tristan, and now Alessandra; all the other major players have folded. I’m actually kind of glad it turned out this way. Nailing the great Vampirella as I become one with Belphegor will be a very satisfying climax to a very enjoyable contest."
      "In your dreams, you sadistic piece of shit," Vampirella retorted, her terror giving way to outrage. "The only thing that’s gonna get nailed is your coffin lid once I’m through with you. Too many innocent victims have suffered through your particular brand of hell on earth, all because I made the mistake of a lifetime in not killing you thirty-four years ago. But I’m about to rectify that mistake. I just have one question before we end this. How the hell does a soulless bastard like you come to be in the first place?"
      Greer just shrugged nonchalantly. "So, you want to hear my life story? Trying to make sense of it all? I guess you’d like me to tell you that I’m a product of childhood sexual abuse or institutionalized racism or some such psychobabble. Well that’s all bullshit. I had loving parents. I was brought up in a progressive household by a family who believed in racial equality and human rights. No psychosexual traumas, no buried emotional scars; I was a normal, happy kid. Life flowed along pretty smoothly with everything falling into place right through young adulthood, college, and med school.
      "Then, after thirteen years of playing by the rules, busting my ass to become an MD, it all turned to shit. I was just finishing my residency in Cape Town when I had an unfortunate run-in with a disgruntled well-to-do patient who, I later found out, had a longstanding axe to grind with the hospital where I was practicing. Some unfounded allegations of sexual misconduct were made regarding myself, which unfortunately stuck. I thought I had the world by the balls, ready to step into a prestigious Cape Town practice. But after that, my opportunities in medicine became considerably more limited. You can choose to believe this or not; I don’t really give a fuck; but, in spite of all I’ve become, at the time I really was an innocent victim of circumstance.
      "Most people go through life never realizing just how easy it is to fall off the track. All it takes is one misstep, to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, to piss off the wrong person, to become labeled. Once that happens, your life will follow a whole different path."
      "Hey," Vampirella interjected, "no one ever said life was fair. Most people get screwed at some time in their lives, but they generally don’t turn into homicidal psychopaths."
      "But," Greer continued, ignoring her, "as the saying goes, when a door closes, another one opens. It took a number of years, but eventually I stopped fighting the labels and came to embrace them instead, and a whole new world opened up to me. You’d be surprised at the kinds of opportunities that exist for a defrocked doctor; abortions, drug labs, insurance scams, you name it. But I found something even better when I discovered, first the Black Mirror in Coogan’s Bluff, and later the Crimson Chronicles. My association with the Companions of Chaos in turn led me to your old employer, Mr. Spectrum, who recruited me as well, though in a slightly different capacity. You see, the systematic application of physical duress as a means of intelligence extraction or especially political reorientation and social engineering is a precise science. Governments, paramilitary groups, covert ops organizations of every political stripe; they’re all happy to pay top dollar for scientifically minded professionals who can get the job done. I very quickly discovered that I had a natural flare for this line of work, and more to the point, I liked it. I liked it a lot. So in the end, you see, that Cape Town cunt did me a huge favor in setting me on my course in life.
      "In Latin America, I learned the hard-core realities of power in this world. Once you get behind the veneer of legal and political niceties we all deceive ourselves with, you discover that the root of power, real power, is fear; plain and simple. If you can make people fear you; you can have everything in this world. It worked for Hitler and Pinochet and Milosevic. It’s worked for my old colleagues in the intelligence community, many of whom are pulling the strings in Washington today.
      "You think it can’t happen here? Well guess again. Right now, the current Administration’s agenda is to establish a legal framework under the rubric of executive authority, homeland security, and counterterrorism for circumventing international human rights and war crimes laws regarding the humane treatment of prisoners. That’s how things really work.
      "I’ve experienced the raw, naked power of holding men’s and women’s lives in my hands, of having them beg to make the pain stop or for their very existence, and sparing them or not according to my whim. You can’t imagine how seductive that kind of power can be. But in a few hours, I’ll have infinitely more. The Metahedron will open a portal to the Nethervoid and I’ll be one with Belphegor himself."            
      Vampirella had heard enough. Without further warning, she made a furious leap for Greer’s throat. Barely flinching, the robed physician snapped his fingers.
      Like well-trained attack dogs, the two demons poised at his either side sprang forward, their multiple tentacles uncoiling like some nightmare organic jack-in-the-box. Vampirella’s airborne trajectory carried her through the hail of groping pseudopods, her claw-like fingers slashing as she went, leaving a trail of green-spurting stumps.
      Landing on her feet, she squared off against the phallic demons. It appeared she would have to fight her way through them to get at Greer. No matter; as she recalled, the things from the subterranean vaults had been better adapted to misogynous rape than to battle. They were in fact far less imposing than the gray humanoids, who seemed to be the shock troops and enforcers for this occult conspiracy.
      A tentacle slithered along the ground, trying to work its way beneath her defensive stance. She brought a spiked boot heel down on its head, causing this particular member to retreat.
      To her surprise though, the demons suddenly brought an unfamiliar weapon into play, which instantly rendered the combat less one-sided. From amid the tangle of phallic extensors, a flat, ribbon-like appendage lanced out. She was stunned almost to unconsciousness when its forked tip, merely brushing her forearm, delivered a crackling electrical shock. The intense jolt caught her off guard. The creatures she had battled under New York in ’83 certainly had never demonstrated any such capability. It didn’t immediately occur to her that this mechanism had been evolved by the creatures in the wake of that battle as a defense specifically against her.
      "Satyr and Circe," she exclaimed, her barbed wit returning as her head cleared, "only the forces of Chaos could come up with a cock with a built-in TASER."
      Vampirella however had evolved new abilities as well. Shortly after her return to being herself following her years as Ella Normandy, in Paris assisting with one of the Great Pendragon’s magic acts, a startling transformation had occurred. She had spontaneously metamorphosed into a beast-like form previously unknown to her. The new morph was humanoid but with bat-like characteristics. It was also incredibly powerful as well as extremely feral; equipped with bulging muscles, razor-sharp fangs and talons, a leathery protective hide, and lightning reflexes. Over time, she had learned to assert a greater degree of control over this dangerous transformation so that in high states of arousal she could bump up her internal metabolism and physiology while maintaining her human form and mental equilibrium. With this newfound ability at her command, her fighting prowess had multiplied several-fold, making her a match for all but the most powerful supernatural foes. With it, she had been able to take on opponents such as the zombie-like Zelators and even their masters, the rogue Hexxen.
      The painful electric shock caused an adrenaline rush, instantly kicking her physiology into metabolic overdrive. Her movements too quick for the demon to react to, she ducked around several tentacles and grasped the flattened ribbon just beneath the head, careful to avoid the forked electrode-like stalks. She squeezed with all her might, feeling chemical bladders within the appendage rupture. Whatever damage she caused seemed to short-circuit the wicked bioelectric tendril as well as causing the demon to bellow in pain. She imagined whatever chemical mix could be potent enough to generate the intense discharge she had experienced would be quite caustic when released from its biological compartments. The first creature, out of the fight, rolled on the ground in agony, its tentacles still flailing dangerously.
      The second seemed to revert to the phallic demons’ previous mode of attack, attempting to ensnare Vampirella while its multiple extensors sought to sexually assault her various orifices. The Drakulonne however was too fast and too agile to allow the monstrosity to get hold of her. She sliced through several more appendages before she got in close enough to deliver a piledriver blow to its chest cavity, her fist shattering bones and penetrating to the unknown organs within. Her clenched fingers reemerged, trailing ribbons of greenish-black offal.
      She kicked the dying demon away, her attention focusing on Greer. He met her onslaught with a powerful, well-aimed kickboxer-style leg thrust that struck her painfully in the sternum. Whatever occult transformation or hybridization had extended his longevity had also, as in Yorlak’s case, provided him new fighting capabilities. He was now a far more formidable foe than the flabby, middle-aged pervert who had once relied on a coterie of followers to assist in overpowering his female victims.
      The two opponents circled each other warily at close range to one another, their eyes locked. After several unsuccessful feints, Vampirella got in the next blow, raking Greer’s cheek, drawing blood. She followed up with a series of vicious punches that Greer largely blocked with raised forearms. He returned the punishing assault in kind. As the two skirted the front steps of the eerily glowing Red House, stray blows sent shattered pieces of the front stair rail flying through the air. Both of them continued to unleash lightning-quick moves that would have crushed mortal bones. In terms of their superhuman abilities, the two were remarkably evenly matched.
      Perhaps in the end, it was Vampirella’s determination to never again be victimized by this monster, who had robbed her of so much, which gave her the edge to land the deciding blow in their deadly showdown. Perhaps it was superior fighting experience or just blind luck. Whatever the case, she was able to pirouette gracefully under one of his piledriver kicks and get in a perfectly placed kick of her own to the back of his knee. The blow sent him sprawling into the wooden stairs, which collapsed under his impact, momentarily causing him to let down his defenses as he flailed to extricate himself from the wooden debris. In that instant, Vampirella dived in for the kill, landing on top of him, pinning him.
      She raised her arm, ready to deliver the coup de grace to his exposed throat. Despite her rage at this human monster, she held back momentarily before striking the final blow, glaring, at last unafraid, into the face of evil. She wanted him to know in the seconds before he died that, for all the pain and loss he had inflicted upon her, in the end he had not broken her.
      Sparing him the extra few moments of life, she waited for a recognition of defeat which frustratingly didn’t come. Too late, she caught the furtive sideways glance by those dark eyes. Before she could bring her fist down, something clamped around her wrist as hard and implacable as a steel vise. More stone-like hands pinned her arms and legs as the hulking gray humanoids, momentarily forgotten in the latest round of combat, descended upon her en masse. She had obviously made a fatal miscalculation in taking for granted that it had been Yorlak alone animating them.
      Greer wiped a trickle of blood from the corner of his mouth as he climbed to his feet. Vampirella gasped with the realization that in the span of a few seconds, the tide of battle had turned completely about and that she was abruptly powerless in his clutches.




      Had any errant islander or tourist had the misfortune to be wandering the uppermost Mt. Parke trails at this hour of the night, they would have happened upon a singular procession. Likely they would have paid for the encounter with their lives.
      With Vampirella captured, Greer had marshaled his disparate followers and directed them up the long wooded trail leading from the Women’s Collective off the property and up to the summit of Mt. Parke. Now taking the lead, he treaded the path in his ornate occult priest’s robes. Following behind him were two more of the phallic demons, shambling along side by side. Between them, supported by some unknown means of levitation, was the greenish crystal of the Metahedron, removed from within the resurrected Red House. The artifact was the focus of streamers of auroral energies that cascaded down from the sky, following their progress along the trail and illuminating the surrounding forest with an eerie green light. Next came Vampirella, held aloft and immobile by the gray humanoids. Vampirella counted at least a dozen of the creatures; some clad in the remains of JTF2 fatigues and combat gear, others wearing the rotted tatters of varying civilian outfits. Bringing up the rear were perhaps twenty of the female cultists from the Collective, barely clad in their sheer white loincloths, chanting some unknown mystic rite in singsong voices.
      Twisting her head as they began their uphill trek, Vampirella had been able to witness the Red House vanishing from the clearing in a luminescent greenish fog. She could only assume that with its master moving on to his fateful appointment with the Metahedron, it had served its latest, perhaps final, function, and had disappeared once more into the timestream. Vampirella could only hope against hope that this time it would be gone for good.
      Eventually they turned off the trail and continued unerringly through the underbrush. The forest about them was thick with old-growth fir trees. As they ascended, they passed several small brooks gurgling downhill between moss-encrusted boulders and rotted tree stumps. Reaching what Vampirella assumed must be the summit, they emerged into a small hidden clearing in the dense woods. There she saw something that once again threatened to send her into a mindless panic. Only with the utmost effort did she manage to keep her rampaging emotions under control.
      In the middle of the clearing, its ornately carved base covered with ivy, sat a massive, ancient stone altar. Tentacled bas-reliefs and strange glyphs decorated its worn faces. Four heavy iron manacles were sunk deeply into its flat upper surface. Had she been thinking more clearly, Vampirella would have recognized the serpentine phallic motif as similar to, though considerably older than, the decorated slabs to which the female cultists of the Unseelee Congress had been bound in the vaults beneath Wall Street. This was the altar upon which she had witnessed herself being raped by some alien monstrosity in the precognitive vision seen in the Black Mirror twenty years ago.
      Greer simply pointed to the altar with an outstretched arm and the humanoids obediently lowered her into place atop it. Vampirella attempted to struggle, but resisting the humanoids’ implacable grip was like trying to wrestle a tank. Several of the female cultists rushed forward to strip her of her costume and boots and then to secure the heavy manacles about her wrists and ankles, leaving her spread-eagled naked across the sacrificial altar.
      Vampirella felt a sinking feeling. For reasons unclear even to her, her Drakulonian powers of strength and metamorphosis were nullified when she was bound. It was a vulnerability apparently common to all vampires. Unfettered, she might have seized an opportunity to break loose. Now her chances of escape were considerably diminished. In spite of her supreme efforts, first to flee and later to overcome it, perhaps this really was to be her final fate. While still very afraid, at least she would meet it in control of her own emotions.
      Greer, obviously pleased to have his new plaything safely secured, approached the altar. Leering at Vampirella, he ran his hand over her firm breasts, feeling their fullness. Then without warning, he roughly pinched a nipple causing Vampirella to wince. A tear formed at the corner of one eye, but she refused to cry out, meeting his leer with a determined glare. The exploring hand brushed her stomach, descending unerringly towards her pubic mound. For several seconds, he playfully tousled her full, raven-black bush. He then proceeded to manipulate her clitoral area with a fingertip. Paradoxically, this man, whom she knew to be a horrific sadist, displayed a gentle, sensual touch which she found supremely disturbing. In spite of her lethal predicament, she felt her vagina involuntarily growing moist. She burned with humiliation as she saw the tiny smile on his face and realized that this was precisely the effect that Greer, a master of degradation, was hoping to elicit in his captive.
      Satisfied with his tiny victory, he abruptly turned back to his followers. "Fellow Companions, our moment of final triumph is at hand. Since before the dawn of recorded history, in every era of Man, we Companions of Chaos have worked in the shadows, nudging the powers-that-be to unwittingly serve our own ends. The majority of mankind have no clue that their greed, their fear, their lust for power serve to advance our cause. For untold millennia, we have guided events towards the day when Chaos and his Seven Servants would be loosed from the Nethervoid to reshape the universe at large in their image."
      Having engaged his audience, Greer launched into his dark ritual. "Aiwass, Gnoph-Hek, Amalantrah, Dark Lords all, and dread Azathoth, mindless ruler of the primal chaos, time and again we your humble servants have called upon you, variously offering up sacrifices of blood and of wanton flesh. Likewise time and again you have responded by extending to us the awesome power of the Black Mirrors. Now we call upon you one final time to offer unto you the infinitely desirable loins of the Opponent herself. In exchange, we call upon you to once and for all break down the Pylons of Daath established by the Conjuress, that mighty Belphegor might emerge from the Nethervoid into this world."
      As Greer continued his incantation, the auroral streamers overhead flared to new intensity. The cultists redoubled their chants, some bowing their heads while others looked nervously about at the celestial display taking place directly above them. Even the phallic demons grew more animated, their tentacles waving excitedly. Only the now-mindless humanoids remained unmoved by the spectacle.
      As the aurorae reached a crescendo of shimmering activity, the Metahedron, floating behind Greer, perhaps some fifteen feet from the altar on which Vampirella was bound, began to unravel. Its crystalline geometry shifted, the polygonal faces seemingly unfolding like an origami sculpture being disassembled. As they did so, refracted images of dizzying depths traveled across their mirror-like surfaces, affording a glimpse of the additional non-Euclidean dimensions into which the Metahedron extended.
      Watching helplessly, Vampirella realized with dread what must now be occurring. The unraveling device was forming a bridge, linking what should have been separate, unconnected realities. Under the malign influence of the Metahedron, space itself was somehow realigning to form a continuous medium with the Nethervoid. Much like a common electrical short in a frayed household wiring circuit, dark energy surged through the shunt, instantly bypassing the elaborate mystical barriers which had kept the Nethervoid isolated and the forces of Chaos in check for countless millennia.
      Coruscating currents of green arced from the Metahedron, focusing on the form of Adrian Greer, who stood with outstretched arms, facing directly into the building maelstrom that surged about the artifact. In the blink of an eye, his bulk doubled as the unfolding effect spread to him, unraveling the tissues and organs of his body. Stringy globs of dark red material flowed upward, assembling themselves into a rapidly growing column. Like a melting candlestick seen in reverse motion, the misshapen organic tower climbed higher and higher, additional mass rolling out of the glowing, electrified air surrounding the space where Greer had just stood.
      Overhead, the night lit up from horizon to horizon with elaborate auroral forms which churned and sizzled across the sky.
      The fungous, rust-red column continued to expand, its size multiplying as it rose thirty, then fifty feet into the air. As it approached the treetops, its vertical growth slowed and perhaps a dozen pseudopods the size of tree trunks sprouted radially from its central mass. One of them extended quizzically in Vampirella’s direction, hovering over the stone altar as if scrutinizing her with unknown senses. Suddenly its blunt tip split open and folded back into flowerlike petals. From the newly opened maw sprouted an array of smaller, elongated phallic tentacles. They writhed with snake-like motion as they descended greedily over the body splayed across the top of the altar. Two of them unerringly sought out her breasts and began exploring her large, dark aureole. Displaying remarkable plasticity, their tips turned inward on themselves, instantaneously reforming into voracious mouths which clamped over her nipples with a powerful suction. Her nipples distended painfully until she felt them come into contact with gelatinous, tongue-like muscles which flickered rapidly back and forth over them.
      A tentacle forced her lips back and pressed heavily against her clenched teeth. She tried desperately to block the probing appendage until she was forced to yield to prevent her incisors from being torn from their sockets by the unrelenting pressure. As her jaw relaxed, a swollen member poured down her throat. Vampirella could swim underwater for hours at a time. She knew she was in no immediate danger of suffocation. Still, the gag reflex was overpowering as the obscene thing prodded her soft palette. The tentacle felt velvety smooth, slightly supple, but when she tried to bite down with extended fangs, she discovered that beneath the spongy exterior was a core as unyielding as a steel cable.
      Tentacles sloshed over her legs and her belly. One wriggled its way between the small of her back and the stone slab of the altar. Beneath her, it turned and extended itself unerringly down the crack of her buttocks. As its tip detected the warmth of her anus, it extended a tiny knobbed finger. The elongated digit exuded a slick, mucous secretion that enabled it to slide effortlessly through Vampirella’s tensed sphincter. She realized with horror that this particular appendage must be slithering its way along her bowels as more and more knobbed knuckles plopped wetly through her anus.
      To Vampirella, the supreme horror was not the physical violation being inflicted upon her body, but the realization that somewhere behind this extradimensional monstrosity still lurked the degenerate consciousness of Adrian Greer, no doubt choreographing her tortures and reveling in her debasement.
      A tangle of crisscrossing tentacles worked their way up her legs, vying to reach her exposed pudenda. A mottled purple tentacle with a knotted cauliflower growth of variegated green-veined tissue for a head descended to hover above Vampirella’s face. The thing circled slowly, seemingly taunting the bound Vampirella, who was now impaled on the smaller knobbed member that wriggled inside her buttocks. Whether or not it could actually see her eyes bulging in shocked horror, it somehow registered her attention with its alien senses. Slowly it descended, leaving a mucous trail down her stomach and abdomen. The thing paused momentarily as it reached her thick pubes. Then it slid heavily across her clitoral mound and plunged between her swollen labia, pushing deep into her clenched vagina. Immediately, the celery-colored tip began pulsing rhythmically within her. Slowly at first, it quickly built to a throbbing hum. In spite of the obscene nature of the huge, otherworldly phallus penetrating her, the sensation was overwhelming.
      The various probing tentacles continued their churning with a relentless, almost mechanical rhythm. Her limbs held outstretched by the heavy manacles, Vampirella was completely helpless to resist the alien members that violated her every orifice. As the misogynist assault dragged on and on without abatement, her senses began to overload from the array of overpowering physical stimulations being involuntarily induced upon her helpless body. At the same time, she struggled to fight back the flood of panic and revulsion that threatened to overwhelm her. Finally, when her battered psyche could take no more, she began to disassociate from the nightmare scene.

      Vampirella lay spread-eagled on the tropical island beach, her lithe body pressed into the wet sand at the ocean’s lapping edge. Cool blue-green surf lapped at her feet, foaming between her toes as an endless progression of sparkling white breakers surged up onto the beach. Diamonds of fine white sand coursed between her long clenched fingers. The sun shone warmly overhead from an endless blue sky. Out of the corners of her eyes, she could catch the motion of lush palm fronds swaying gently in the salt-air breeze.
      Pressed on top of her was the strapping body of Adam Van Helsing. Had she been thinking clearly, she might have reflected that it was not the figure of the distinguished, graying Senator as she had last seen him alive. Nor was it the form of the sightless, muscle-bound swordsman she had seemingly encountered in a possible afterlife on Drakulon. It was Adam as a much younger man, as she had known him when they first met.
      All thoughts of her own vampiric nature, of the ceaseless battles with the Companions of Chaos and with the ever-present specter of her own unquenchable bloodlust were pushed from her mind. She was a young woman without a care in the world, save for the man she loved.
      Vampirella was powerless to resist Adam’s gentle but implacable grip. Clenching her wrists, he lifted her arms above her head as he buried his face in her neck. He raised his head, and for a moment their eyes met, before he leaned in to kiss her deeply.
      His hips churned as he steadily pumped her. She could hear the wet, slapping sound of his testicles, wet from the surf, thumping against her engorged labia. The firm, virile shaft of his penis slipped silkily in and out of her burning vagina. With each thrust, she could feel the head kneading her g-spot. She felt the roof of her vagina distending as she built towards an overwhelming climax. Another few moments and she would be helpless to prevent a torrent of salty fluid gushing from her vulva and mixing with the ocean surf.
      How she loved this man. For how many years had they played cat-and-mouse with one another’s heartstrings? She had always known that Adam loved her as well. But someone or something had always stood in the way; Conrad, Pantha, Tristan, themselves. True, they had made love before, but always with some shadow of circumstance hanging over their continued happiness. Somehow the timing had never been just right –until now. This was that perfect moment she had anticipated and narrowly missed time and again.
      Or was it? Somewhere in the back of her mind, something told her the possibility of this moment was already lost to her –at least in her current lifetime. She had watched Adam from afar, growing from virile youth to a dogged maturity while she had squandered a decade of her life trapped in the body of an aged spinster, paralyzed by her fears of this very moment. Slowly, the tropical paradise faded from her mind’s eye as she fought her way back to a nightmare reality.

      With all her strength, Vampirella yanked at the iron shackles that pinned her to the altar. The totality of her life’s knowledge and experience told her with absolute certitude that it was impossible to exercise her Drakulonian powers when bound. But in her extremity, logical thought gave way to an even greater determination that she would not submit to this nightmare fate. Ancient grout crumbled as the iron manacles’ long anchors, embedded deep into the stone altar, pulled suddenly free. Vampirella lurched upward, swinging one of the now-freed wrist cuffs with its serrated anchor spike like a club. She brought the jagged hunk of metal down squarely in the center of the petal-like maw where the creature’s multiple elongated phalluses branched from the larger trunk. Belphegor let out a liquidy bellow vaguely like the sound of a whale’s cry as several of its sensitive feelers were either gouged or severed completely by the anchor.
      The heavy trunk drew back reflexively, flexing to swat at Vampirella with what would be bone-crushing force. Before it could strike, she yanked at the remaining leg manacles with a strength she wouldn’t have believed she could muster. The metal bands ripped free and Vampirella rolled off the edge of the altar a split second before the tentacle struck the slab, sending stone chips flying.
      If its servitors, the gray humanoids, had been virtually indestructible, there was never any question of taking on Belphegor itself in direct combat. Nor was there any realistic possibility of escape from the assembled cultists and humanoids already reaching for her. In the fleeting moment before Belphegor could strike again, Vampirella took the only possible course of action available to her. With both hands, she grasped the anchor still manacled to her wrist. Putting the force of her entire body into a powerful roundhouse, she pivoted at the waist, swinging the long spike into the still-transforming crystalline shape of the Metahedron. She didn’t know if she could damage the extradimensional artifact or what the effect on the tentacled demigod would be, but it was the only potential vulnerability she might be able to exploit.
      To her surprise, the crystal literally exploded from the impact of the spiked anchor. Crystal shards flew in every direction. Sheet lightning flashed across the sky and there was a resounding pop of inrushing air as the interdimensional portal to the Nethervoid collapsed. Belphegor let out a blood-curdling shriek as its expanding extension into this world was severed from its main body on the other side of the dimensional gate. The coruscating green auroras flaring overhead erupted with one enormous final flare that lit up the wooded clearing like daylight. Then it too subsided.
      Closer at hand, the ongoing materialization by which Belphegor seemed to be expanding itself abruptly reversed. The trunk-like major tentacles drew inward and the central stalk of the creature fell in upon itself. Its rust-red mass continued to shrink until all that remained was the nude figure of Adrian Greer covered with a film of dripping green ectoplasm.
      This time Vampirella didn’t hesitate. Tearing what was left of the manacles from her wrists, she lashed out at Greer with a devastating swipe of her bare fingers. Her outstretched nails punched through his midsection, rending flesh and bone, delivering the blow she had intended some thirty-four years ago. Greer’s eyes bulged in astonishment. Red blood spurted everywhere as the two halves of his severed torso flew through the air in opposite directions...



FEBRUARY 16, 1953

      Finding himself looking up at a hooded incandescent fixture suspended from a pastel blue ceramic tile ceiling, Adrian Greer experienced utter disorientation. What seemed like moments ago, he had been out in the deep woods at the summit of Mt. Parke on Mayne Island. The last thing he recalled, the Companions’ apocalyptic summoning had been successful. The extradimensional form of Belphegor had begun slipping through the opened Metahedron, merging with his own form. As predicted, his own consciousness had easily held its own in coexistence with Belphegor’s largely mindless life force. His first act as Belphegor’s symbiotic host in this particular world had of course been to partake of the Opponent, Vampirella, with his new sexual organs. Then somehow she had freed herself, shattering Belphegor’s phallic limbs with an impossible strength before attacking the Metahedron itself, spoiling everything. His last impression had been of being momentarily back in his own body before Vampirella had sucker-punched him with a devastating blow that had ripped right through him.
      But where was he now? Something was terribly wrong. He couldn’t have survived the blow that had literally torn him in two, could he? Was he alive, dead, mutilated? An expert on the subject of suffering, he didn’t feel any of the pain or shock or paralysis to be expected from his mortal injuries. But he was nevertheless somehow too weak to move his limbs or even turn his head. His breathing was labored. It occurred to him the fact that he was breathing at all was itself significant. His eyesight was blurred, unfocused, the perspective somehow wrong. The average sized lighting fixture above him seemed blindingly bright to his sensitive eyes. Even his thought processes felt different, as though his brain was not functioning normally. Dear god, what had happened to him?
      A moment later, a huge presence loomed over him, peering down through what appeared to be a coffin-like steel and glass box enclosing him.
      "Hello, little Sophie," the figure smiled lovingly, wriggling his fingers for attention through the glass, "your daddy’s here."
      Who the hell was this stranger? Why did he sound like he was talking down to a child? The name Sophie seemed to strike a chord. Hadn’t there been a Sophie in the Red House? He couldn’t remember. He’d had so many girls to play with over the years.
      "Everything’s going to be okay," the man cooed with sickening sweetness, tears welling in his eyes. "Mommy’s doing fine and the doctors say you’re going to get better. Pretty soon we’ll take you home. Our little girl. You’re going to be healthy and normal and grow up to live a wonderful life. Your mother and I will love you and care for you and never let you come to harm."
      A second figure came up behind the doting father. Greer couldn’t seem to get his eyes to focus beyond a few feet to make out the newcomer’s features.
      "Everything’s going to work out, Mr. Amano. The brain swelling is coming down and Sophie’s breathing comfortably inside her incubator. With any luck, she should be out of there within a day or two. Now why don’t you go look in on your wife? She’s just woken up."
      Greer’s own obstetrical background kicked in. My god, he was looking out of the inside of a child’s incubator. He was in a hospital, a pediatrics ward. But certainly this was no contemporary hospital. From what little he could see with his limited field of vision, the whole environment appeared dated. Unless he was in some sort of museum or theatrical set, the antiseptic tiled decor and vintage medical equipment appeared to date from the period of his own internship back in the early fifties.
      With an overwhelming sinking feeling, an astounding realization hit him. It all fit. Though he couldn’t even turn his head to see his own form, he knew what had happened to him. He was no longer himself. Somehow he now existed within the body of a tiny girl, a newborn infant.
      As soon as the father had stepped out of the room, a younger man wearing an immaculate white doctor’s coat came forward and leaned over the top of the incubator. Now Greer knew for certain that it had all gone to shit. The handsome tanned face and longish blonde hair were instantly recognizable to him.
      Tristan, he would have cried out, if only he had a voice.
      Tristan looked furtively about to make sure no one was within earshot.
      "Dr. Adrian Greer," the young man addressed him, "I know you can hear me. You’re quite the sorcerer, so I know you’ll understand me when I explain that you’re still on Mayne Island and that Vampirella has just ripped your spinal column in two. In a few moments you’ll be dead, doctor. But you still have a great deal to do in the few seconds of life remaining to you. You see, I’m not a forgiving god. For you, there will be no heaven, no mercy, no redemption; and the hell you’re about to experience is the same hell you’ve inflicted on countless lost women and political prisoners.
      "I am Vampiri of Drakulon and I am Hexxen, one and the same. In a former life, I was Vampirella’s husband. But even Vampirella doesn’t know the true power of the Hexxen, to bend time, to create new worlds, new forms of life. She doesn’t know the extent of what I now am –or of what she may one day become.
      "My existence extends beyond time as you experience it. I’ve pulled your astral self, your soul if you will, into my realm. You’ve no doubt realized that you now inhabit the body of Sophie Amano, just one of the many victims you snuffed out in the Red House and elsewhere. Your child’s brain can’t support adult thought processes for very long. In an hour, you’ll remember nothing of who you were. You’ll be as innocent as any newborn, all the promise in the world ahead of you. And this is just the first. In the remaining few instants before your physical body hits the ground back on Mayne, you’ll live out the lives of all your victims from Sabra and Shatilla and Foca and every other political sinkhole where you spread your horror. You’ll experience their loves, their joys, their hopes and aspirations, and their final terror and degradation as their lives were cut short by your own hand. Hundreds of lives, each unique and full of promise, and each leading to the Red House or one of its sister locales.
      "You thought your dealings with the Companions of Chaos would bring you immortality. You damn near made it too. You’re about to experience hundreds of lifetimes in a moment of time. But think about this while you can. Back on Mayne Island, you’re still dying. In a few moments of real time, you’ll be gone forever –and the world will be better without you."




      With the Metahedron destroyed, the Companions’ decades-old scheme of conquest continued to unravel. Even as Vampirella had struck at Greer, the unstoppable gray humanoids had turned en masse in her direction. But now they were literally crumbling on their feet, the occult forces that had provided them a simulacrum of life suddenly withdrawn. Before any of them could take more than an initial step towards her, they had all collapsed into smoldering heaps of ashen residue.
      Belphegor’s phallic demons by comparison were briefly suffused with an eerie green luminescence that seemed to consume them before they simply faded from sight. Their inhuman aquatic death squeals were cut short as they disappeared.
      Greer’s severed torso came to rest at the base of the stone altar, which had been shattered by the shrinking Belphegor’s final flailing throes. Warily Vampirella approached it. Greer’s arms were thrown wide, his eyes glazed open. She stood over him, looking unafraid into those dark eyes she had consistently characterized as ‘soulless’. By some strange quirk, in death they seemed to reflect a quality of humanity that had been absent throughout his blood-stained lifetime. Vampirella turned away, dismissing the effect as an involuntary contraction of ocular muscles, a mere artifact of his deservedly violent end.
      Leaderless, their plans shattered, the female cultists backed away from Vampirella, several turning and bolting into the thick woods. They were no longer any threat to her. Besides, where could they go on a tiny island? Undoubtedly law enforcement authorities would soon be arriving and would be able to round up any remaining cultists at leisure.
      Vampirella bent to retrieve her costume, lying undamaged by the side of Belphegor’s altar. Oblivious to the hostile stares of the dispersing cultists, she wriggled into it while her ragged breath slowly calmed. She located her boots as well and, once again fully costumed, turned her back on the clearing.
      She was still baffled by the final turn of events. How had she broken free of her bondage on Belphegor’s altar? By all rights, she should not have been able to escape. Had she tapped into some dark Hexxen power that still lurked somewhere within her? Had the erotic blood exchange ritual with Chelsea been a two-way process, conferring additional powers on her as well as her younger alter ego? And if so, would it last? Or had it been sheer determination and force of will which had allowed her to overcome the evil fate planned for her by Greer? Even in her moment of victory, she still had unanswered questions to haunt her.
      The nightmare was over. Already there was nothing here to indicate that anything more than a particularly brutal homicide had occurred. The crystal shards of the shattered Metahedron had already vanished, as she had known they would. Even the columns of dust that had recently been the gray humanoids were scattering in the breeze. By the time the authorities reached the scene, there would be no remaining evidence that a world-shattering supernatural apocalypse had just been narrowly averted on this remote wooded rise. The mass of humanity would carry on in blissful ignorance of how close to a horrific enslavement they had come.

      His own transformation now complete, Tristan sensed a particular point along the timestream where the Metahedron abruptly ceased to exist and the occult portal through the Pylons of Daath collapsed. Clearly Vampirella had overcome the earthly forces of Chaos, as he’d known she would. The Earth was safe from this particular threat. But one rescue remained to be performed which exceeded even Vampirella’s capabilities.
      Tristan focused a small portion of his being on a particular dark dimension within the Nethervoid. Instantaneously his point of view shifted and he found himself looking outward at an intertwining network of rust-red stems and wriggling phallic tentacles of every conceivable size, which seemingly extended to infinity in every direction. This was the realm where Belphegor resided. Tristan’s seeming physical presence within the Nethervoid was an artifice; nonetheless the vista was disconcerting. He knew that Belphegor’s malignant mass filled this entire dimension. Here and there, clusters of branches faded into seeming nothingness. Tristan knew as well that these were the interdimensional nexus points where Belphegor had insinuated itself into other worlds. He also knew the apocalyptic calamity that had invariably befallen the denizens of those worlds.
      Deep within the creature’s tentacled mass, he located the region where Chelsea remained entrapped and reached out to her. From her point of view, Tristan’s luminous white form seemed to descend through the writhing mass of tentacles enveloping her; blonde hair streaming behind his virile, muscled body. The appearance of a corporeal form was however nothing more than a visualization created for her benefit. The floating Tristan figure held out a hand for Chelsea to grasp and lifted her from her horrific cocoon. Belphegor’s nightmare phalluses withdrew from the ravaged body which she herself had discovered how to isolate from her own rapidly evolving consciousness. The angelic white luminescence now spread from Tristan’s form to Chelsea’s as the two of them floated upward, hand in hand. Soon they would dispense with these superfluous forms, but first they had a parting visit to make to the world they had recently called home.

      A mile downhill from Mt. Parke, the Village Bay ferry terminal, hours previously shut down for the night, buzzed with unaccustomed activity. A huge red and white Canadian Coast Guard hovercraft skimmed noisily up the broad boat-launch ramp to one side of the ferry berths, a spray of foam kicked up by the powerful fans beneath its rubberized skirt. At the prow, looking like a buccaneer out of an old Seymour Zull movie, stood Harry Krishna, an SPAS-12 combat auto-shotgun cradled in his arms. The vessel settled onto the tarmac at the top of the ramp, its turbines powering down. Harry stormed ashore, ready to confront whatever supernatural menace lay at the end of the unprecedented auroral cascade which had descended upon the island.
      When reports had flooded in from astronomers around the world that the northern lights had suddenly erupted on a global scale, centering on this region of Western Canada, he had pulled every high-level string he could to commandeer this vessel and its crew in order to arrive in time to back up Vampirella. Nonetheless he appeared to be too late. Just as the speeding vessel had pulled into Active Pass, the mysterious green aurora had abruptly spent itself with one spectacular final eruption. The only thing out of place on the now-tranquil island appeared to be the idling hovercraft with its rotating blue emergency flashers. Around the terminal, lights were now flickering on in adjacent houses, as islanders arose to see what the commotion was. Behind him the Coast Guard rescue crew, obviously kept out of the loop, looked about in puzzlement, wondering what they were supposed to be doing here.

      Vampirella had just reached the edge of the hidden clearing, preparing to hike down through the woods to civilization. After the Metahedron’s final auroral display, Harry Krishna, along with officers of various conventional law-enforcement and investigative agencies, would no doubt be converging on the island in short order. She would make her way down to Village Bay and make sure that none of the remaining members of the Island Women’s Collective slipped past them.
      Before she had gone half a dozen steps into the forest, a blinding blue-white light erupted over her shoulders, once again lighting up the trees with an unnatural illumination. Vampirella whirled around, instinctively assuming a combat posture, fangs and claws bared. However what filled the clearing was not the sickly green light characteristic of the Metahedron and its associated phenomena. Blue-white streamers danced in the air, rapidly coalescing into the figures of Tristan and Chelsea, standing side by side in front of Belphegor’s ruined altar. It was immediately obvious to Vampirella that the two of them had undergone the transformation Tristan had predicted. Their luminescent shapes had a slight translucency and wavered like a heat mirage. Chelsea’s black Vampirella outfit was gone, replaced by a fan-shaped tiara and a tiny metal mesh costume similar but not identical to that once worn by the Conjuress. Tristan was also adorned in a brief decorative costume of fine filigree meshwork. Vampirella suspected that what she was looking at was no longer their true forms at all.
      She knew in her heart before either of them said a word that this would probably be their final earthly encounter.
      "Hello, Vampi," Tristan smiled beatifically, "I told you I’d come back to you one more time."
      "This is goodbye, isn’t it?" Vampirella said sadly.
      "For now," Tristan replied gently.
      "So much to let go of."
      "And so much ahead of you, Vampi. Your adventures are just beginning."
      "And what about you?" Vampirella asked.
      "We have to go now," explained Tristan, taking Chelsea’s hand, "but we have each other."
      Vampirella smiled a genuine smile. "I’m glad, Tris. I truly am." Then to Chelsea sternly, "You look after this man. You’re a lucky girl to have him."
      "I promise," Chelsea nodded. "Thank you for trying to protect me all of these years. I don’t think either of us could ever have guessed things would turn out like this, but I know I wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t saved me more than once, from Ethan, from myself. Without your strength, I never would have survived Belphegor’s domain."
      "You’re the Conjuress now," Vampirella told her, "or something very like her. You can do anything, go anywhere. You and Tristan hold the keys to the Nethervoid itself. Where will you go now, back to Drakulon?"
      "Perhaps in time," she answered.
      "Or perhaps we’ll create our own Drakulon," interjected Tristan.
      Chelsea stepped forward and kissed Vampirella on the cheek, embracing her gently. To her surprise, Chelsea’s glowing form felt perfectly ordinary, pliant and warm to the touch. Then Tristan slipped his arms around her. Closing her eyes, she basked in his touch for one final time, the same gentle embrace she had once thought she would share for a lifetime in their now-distant former lives on lost Drakulon. Tears rolled down her cheeks as he released her, but she smiled bravely as did he.
      Then the two shimmering bodies wavered for a moment before dissolving into blinding columns of light which leaped into the sky and disappeared.



      Vampirella and Harry stood in the morning sun on the broad airport tarmac, facing a parked private jet, its boarding stair extended in waiting. A tall male attendant in a black suit and mirrored sunglasses stood at parade rest at the foot of the stair. To Vampirella, he looked more like an FBI agent, probably ex-military, than a typical airline steward.
      Already heat radiated off the flat expanse of concrete, but it was moderated by a steady breeze blowing in across the marshes at the far end of Sea Island. This section of the extensive airport property was far removed from the massive, ultramodern main terminal complex on the north side of the island and was normally reserved for smaller commuter airlines flying up the coast. It was also conveniently located adjacent to Vancouver’s Sea Island Coast Guard Station where the hovercraft Harry had commandeered was stationed. Several older hangers, some in a state of disrepair, ringed the concrete apron. The sleek, modern jet aircraft looked out of place amid the dated outbuildings comprising the airport’s southern perimeter.
      Harry was wearing one of his typical casual print shirts and had a carry-on bag slung over his shoulder. Vampirella, always one to travel light, carried her own small valise. Already paid up for the night, she had checked out of her hotel room before first light, collecting her belongings and turning in her room key in the drop box provided. Showered and dressed, her various scrapes and bruises already healed, she showed no outward sign of her recent ordeal. Feeling exceptionally liberated this morning, she was provocatively dressed in her scarlet costume, visible beneath a sheer, form-fitting, black lace body stocking and several decorative belts slung diagonally, low over her hips. Her spike-heeled boots and leather bomber jacket completed the sexy ensemble.
      "Wow," Vampirella exclaimed, admiring the waiting aircraft, "looks like you’re traveling in style."
      Harry smiled, "The American taxpayers have deep pockets. It’s just too bad they don’t always know where their money’s going or what it’s funding. Want a lift back to DC?"
      "I think I’ll pass. I plan to get back on the road, maybe make my way down to the Four Corners region and check out Hurrah Pass for myself; that is if something doesn’t come up along the way."
      "I think I’d rather be traveling with you, but the powers-that-be want me back in Washington ASAP to debrief on what went down out here. I’ll be locked in an emergency meeting with the Homeland Security Director half an hour after I touch down."
      "With all that’s happened, do you think it’ll be productive?"
      "What do you think?" Harry shook his head. "The World’s End has never exactly fit in with the program. What we have to say always seems to go against the grain. Between you and me, it’s a pretty safe guess that what we’ve learned about Belphegor and where he draws his strength from isn’t going to sit too well with the Administration’s policy makers."
      Vampirella bit her lip, clearly displeased with the direction of Harry’s conversation.
      "Look," Harry smiled, "don’t worry about the politicos. That’s my beat. You just saved the planet from an extradimensional invasion. This world owes you a debt of gratitude."
      "Only nobody knows," Vampirella shrugged.
      "That’s right," Harry concurred, "nobody knows, and, god willing, nobody ever will. The world can go about its business in blissful ignorance for another few months or years or however long till the forces of Chaos make their next move. And they will; bet on it.
      "We came right to the brink this time. Another few minutes and the Seven Servants would have established a beachhead in our world. The aurora over Mayne Island wasn’t just a local event. The Metahedron was already starting to upset the energy balance of the solar system. We’re getting reports in from astronomers around the world. In the last few weeks since the Metahedron became active, observatories have tracked three giant sunspot clusters and 44 major solar flare eruptions. The norm would be about 12 for an entire year. There are reports coming in now that the power grids are fluctuating as far away as Sweden. If they don’t get things stabilized, half of Scandinavia will probably be sitting in the dark in the next few hours. I’m told the peak eruption, which occurred as you were destroying the Metahedron, clocked in at X17.2. I’m not sure what that means, but my techies tell me that it’s right off the scale. Astronomers are already calling it the Great Aurora of 1993. They tell me it might take another day or so for the solar wind to settle back to normal. Until then, the northern lights should be spectacular.
      "You stopped it. You stopped the Companions’ plan and you finally put an end to Greer."
      "It wasn’t all my doing," Vampirella replied. "There were larger forces at work here. At one time, I thought Lilith had no interest but to perpetuate herself at the cost of Drakulon and its inhabitants. But it seems I was wrong. She obviously knew her time was growing short and she set all this in motion. Who can say what happened to Tristan out in the Utah desert, whether she conferred her own powers on him or whether the power of the Hexxen was always within him? The same goes for Chelsea being returned from Drakulon. Obviously Lilith, Drakulon, the Vampiri, and the Hexxen are all tied together, but I still don’t know how."
      "You’ve learned a little more. More importantly, you’ve put the nightmare of Adrian Greer behind you."
      "Harry, it’s been thirty-four years since the Red House. Thirty-four years in which Greer was given free reign to rape and torture women whose only crime was to somehow be associated with the losing side of some ideological struggle going on somewhere in the world. And much of what he was doing went on under the auspices of our own government. With all the atrocities, I can’t understand how nobody shut him down in all that time."
      "Vampi, people like Greer serve a purpose to those in authority. They do the dirty work of keeping populations under control and preventing resistance movements from taking hold among the masses. Look at this world. The old saw that the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer has never been truer. The concentration of wealth and power that’s taking place globally today is unprecedented in human history. How do you think those in power stay in power? The same things that were going on thirty years ago are still going on today –even more so after September 11th. You saw for yourself what Maj. Eichmann did in Nowheresville a few months back, razed the whole fucking town. Granted atrocities like Nowheresville don’t typically take place in the States, but in places like the Gaza Strip that kind of scorch-and-burn mentality is becoming standard operating procedure for some of our so-called allies. A few years ago, people like Eichmann were considered the lunatic fringe and pushed off to the sidelines. Today they’re running the whole show. The Administration knows people are scared. They’re willing to sacrifice a few civil liberties to feel safe in their homes and on the streets.
      "There’s a Red House in every major city in three quarters of the countries around the world; only in most it’s run by a commissioner of police, often with a CIA advisor right by his side. Today with all the emphasis being placed on counterterrorism, the rulebook’s being constantly rewritten. The buzzword in Washington intel circles right now is rendition. The Administration needs a little intelligence extraction carried out on someone in their custody but wants to maintain plausible deniability. Just ship ‘em off to someplace like Syria and let them do the dirty work. Need to get around longstanding international laws on the treatment of prisoners of war? Create a new category of illegal combatants not covered by the rules of war. And just for safe measure, stash ‘em in some legal no-man’s-land like Guantanamo where they fall outside of any legal jurisdiction. Now we’ve got hellholes like Abu Ghraib popping up."
      "Yorlak mentioned an Abu Ghraib," Vampirella interjected. "What is it?"
      Harry looked momentarily startled, realizing that, in the company of his confidante Vampirella, he’d let something slip which he hadn’t intended. "Abu Ghraib," he answered cautiously, "is a US military prison in Iraq where detainees from the war are being held."
      "And?" Vampirella had to prod him, "What’s going on there?"
      "I shouldn’t have brought it up," Harry backpedaled. "It’s part of a classified military investigation."
      "But you did," Vampirella insisted.
      "All right, I’ve got a few contacts at the Pentagon. This hasn’t come out yet, but word is there’ve been...abuses."
      "What kind of abuses?" asked Vampirella.
      Harry squirmed uncomfortably. "Beatings, isolation, sleep deprivation, chemical burns from glow sticks, prisoners mauled by police dogs, male and female detainees forced to strip and photographed in sexually compromising positions..."
      Vampirella bit her lip. In the recent days since Greer’s and Yorlak’s names and criminal histories had arisen, she had become increasingly conscious of the disturbingly repetitive litany of abuses being practiced by authorities around the globe. "These are American soldiers doing this? Who knows about this?"
      "Right now, just the military and a few people high up in government law enforcement circles. But it’s too big to keep a lid on. It’s only a matter of time ‘till it reaches the press or the Internet, and then all hell’s gonna break loose."
      Harry paused for a moment and then reached for something in a zipped outside pocket of his carry-on bag. "Vampi, I’m going to show you something I just received this morning. After what you’ve learned about Belphegor and the sort of sadism and torture which empowers him, I called in a lot of markers and did some serious digging to find out just where we stand. I’m not just putting my own career on the line by showing you this. I’m putting my organization and a lot of good people’s futures in your hands. Never mind the train fiasco; if this ever gets traced back to us, they’ll shut us down in a minute."
      Harry handed Vampirella a thin unmarked folder. She flipped through a sheaf of typed pages before stopping at the title sheet. It read:


Working Group Report
Detainee Interrogations in the Global War on
Assessment of Legal, Historical, Policy, and
Operational Considerations

6 March 2003


Classified by: Secretary of Defense
Declassify on: 10 years

      "What is this?" she asked.
      "In a nutshell, it’s a draft of a top secret policy brief prepared by legal counsel from the Pentagon and the Justice Department for the Secretary of Defense’s office. It outlines legal grounds for the White House asserting executive authority to override U.S. and international laws concerning the use of torture on military detainees. It goes on to make the case that operatives who engage in acts of torture under executive authority in the furtherance of national security concerns may be held immune from prosecution."
      "Leave it to the generals," Vampirella growled sarcastically.
      "Actually, no," Harry retorted. "There’re always going to be rogue elephants like Eichmann among the military brass, but on the whole, the generals know that sooner or later it’s going to be our own servicemen held in some foreign power’s POW camps. International statutes like the Geneva Conventions and the 1984 UN Convention Against Torture have been around for a long time and have more or less set the standard of conduct for civilized nations in wartime. If we lower the standard for the treatment of prisoners of war now, it’ll eventually come around and bite us on the ass. Administration political appointees, not the military, drove the policies laid out in this document. Unfortunately there are plenty of shadowy power brokers pulling strings in Washington for whom economic and geopolitical interests outweigh human rights concerns."
      "Fuck, Harry," Vampirella exclaimed, "it’s shit like this that’s gonna serve up this world to Chaos and his Seven Servants on a platter!" Taking a deep breath to calm herself, she continued, "Whether I was brought here by design or by chance, this is my world too now, not Drakulon. I know that my destiny is to protect it from Chaos and the outer entities. But I can’t protect it from you."
      She handed the folder back to Harry. "What are you going to do with this?"
      "For now, I’m going to sit on it. To do anything else would be suicide for the Circus and all the good we can accomplish. But I’ve got a buddy at The Wall Street Journal. If things ever really get out of hand, as a last resort I’ll leak it myself." Waving the folder, he continued, "If you ever see this in print or on the evening news, you’ll know that Belphegor’s minions have once again gained the upper hand and that human liberty is probably hanging by a thread."
      Off to one side, the agent at the foot of the jet put one hand to the side of his head, as if listening to instructions from an ear mike. Noting Harry’s attention turning in his direction, he discreetly brushed a hand over his wristwatch in an almost unnoticeable gesture.
      "Well, I’d better be getting in the air," Harry smiled, his tone lightening. "I’m still going to have a very long day ahead of me once I get back to DC."
      "Harry, thank you so much for all you’ve done."
      "Sorry I arrived late for the party," he shrugged.
      "Never mind that," replied Vampirella. "Without your support, I’m not sure how things would’ve turned out, if I’d have been ready to face Greer. You’ve been a loyal ally and a good friend."
      She reached out and hugged him. He in turn patted her on the shoulder.
      "Till next time," he smiled, turning and heading across the tarmac towards his waiting plane.
      Vampirella watched for another minute or so as the boarding stair was retracted, the door pulled shut, and the plane began to taxi towards the distant runway. Then she turned and headed back through the modest departure lounge and out of the terminal; oblivious to the appreciative looks she received from the male patrons she passed.
      As she had on her arrival a few eventful days earlier, Vampirella once again found herself walking along the banks at the mouth of the Fraser, this time heading inland, away from the Strait of Georgia. She cast a final backward glance at the layered pastel silhouettes of the Gulf Islands, visible on the horizon. It was a breathtaking vista of West Coast Canadian scenery. The rugged chain of islands no longer held any menace for her. Still it seemed unlikely she would return this way again. There was too much here to remind her of a long, dark chapter of her life which was now finally over. While she might one day resume her acquaintance with Prof. Carlton, with the threat of the Metahedron gone and his own researches vindicated, she doubted that he would be returning to the site of his isolated sanctuary either.
      As she walked, she found herself contemplating a life without the tugging of her heart between Tristan and Adam, without the long, black reach of Adrian Greer hanging over her shoulder or the threat of some inescapable doom looming nebulously ahead. She realized she was not quite sure what would come next or what her next move should be. There were still unanswered questions about her own true nature, and the ongoing threat posed by the Companions of Chaos remained. Still, without the shadows of the past hanging over her, a whole new world of possibilities lay ahead.
      Her raven hair wafted in the breeze and her spike-heeled boots clicked on the pavement as she walked purposefully forward to meet her future.



MONDAY, JUNE 7, 2004

      The existence of the March 6 draft of the "Working Group Report on Detainee Interrogations" was reported today by The Wall Street Journal. The document is currently available online and can be read in its entirety at: