Disclaimer : Characters belong to their respectful owners
Fandoms : Dracula (2013), Penny Dreadful (2014)
Rating : M
Pairing : Dracula/Alexander Grayson x Dorian Gray
Genres : fanfiction, crossover, humor, probably a little OOC
Characters : Dracula/Alexander Grayson, Dorian Gray, Renfield, original character
Summary : It was pretty simple: Dracula’s habitual feeding was seen by a mortal young man (a very handsome one but it was not the matter!), so in order to protect his secrets, naturally the monarch of vampires had to kill him. Then, for some mysterious reason, the same young man showed up at his demonstration ball, alive, well and would very much like to remind the vampire how he had mercilessly ‘broken’ his heart only nights before.
VII. Blood Sport
“You don’t really have to do this,” said Jonathan with an expression that was an odd crossbreed between amusement, concern and a little remorse.
“Clarify ‘this’,” Dorian replied, covering his mouth for yet another yawn.
This had been his eighth since he sat down at the breakfast table in the middle of his spacious gallery, basked in the grace of the early sunshine.
“It means you can go back to your bed and sleep the day away. I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself.”
“I’d like to think that I’m not such a terrible host, especially since this is my first time being a morning one.”
“You don’t usually ask your ‘guests’ to join you at breakfast?”
“Firstly, I don’t invite many to stay the night.”
Jonathan blushed slightly. “Oh.”
“Secondly, those who stay are welcome to my table. Though most of them prefer to stay in bed, clothed or unclothed, till sunset. Once in a blue moon there comes one that rises so early in the morning.”
He reached for his cup, filled with steaming coffee, for a sip in a flimsy hope of warding off his morning drowsiness, which he had not experienced for a while. In his open bed robe with his hair desperately crying for the comb, the Dorian at the moment was a pale shadow to the effulgence of his scintillating and seductive person last evening. To put it short, he resembled a big version of a grumpy cat who just had his favorite sweet cream robbed away.
Sat opposite from Dorian was Jonathan, who was also a contrast of his doleful and drunken self last evening. He had had a change of clothes, his old, shabby ones discarded in favor of those Raziel had prepared for him, nothing but the latest fashion. Although he had yet to shave, his hair had been neatly combed and he looked a hundredfold better than before. He had finished his breakfast, typically English, and was sipping his favorite Earl Grey while Dorian was poking at his barely touched food with his silverware, his morning appetite amounting to that of a full-bellied python ready for a long, lazy hibernation.
How the two of them made a delightfully amusing picture of a morning lard and a night owl.
“I used to think that you might be a vampire in our earlier phase of acquaintance,” said Jonathan with a sheepish smile, “the creature made popular by those penny dreadful novels, you know.”
Dorian managed to stop poking his poor shepherd’s pie long enough to arch a comical eyebrow. “Did I look pale, dress in drags and have foul breath?”
Jonathan laughed. “You dressed fabulously, smelled and looked nicer than numerous women I’d known. Unfortunately, you always seemed to appear after sunset, which prompted me to some wild assumptions.”
“When did you stop thinking I was?”
“Once or twice I spotted you walking in broad daylight. Then I learned from your butler that you were a human cat…” Glancing at Dorian’s slovenly self (which was still more unfairly desirable than some at their best), he quickly added, “… and still are.”
“The world needs to know that there exist people who enjoy the moon and stars more than the sun.”
“The early bird catches the worms, there’s a saying.”
“Many birds don’t eat worms,” Dorian rebuked. “Nor do they prey in the morning.”
“Whatever you say,” Jonathan said, trying his best not to choke on his tea with laughter. “By the way, you are insulting Raziel’s superb culinary skills if you keep harassing that poor pie. The fillings have spilt out!”
“I’m torturing it, in case you ask.”
Shaking his head, Jonathan reached for Dorian’s silverware, to which the latter made no protest. After cutting the pie into bite-sized portions, he forked one and brought it to Dorian’s lips.
“Huhm?” he encouraged the young man.
Looking dubiously at the piece for a good thirty seconds as if being fed was an alien concept to him, Dorian finally opened his mouth. With not much enthusiasm he chewed a few times before swallowing.
“He is rather displeased with me.”
“Who? Raziel? He doesn’t look angry with his default poker face.”
“This,” Dorian explained, pointing at the remains of the former scrumptious pie on his plate, “is his way of giving me a piece of his mind. He knows well that I loathe shepherd’s pies.”
“Don’t you usually have breakfast?”
“He also knows that you are definitely an early riser. If you rise, I will rise and join you at breakfast.”
Jonathan looked baffled. “I don’t remember ever telling him!”
“Razz has a way of knowing many things, light, dark and something in between. Don’t let his exemplary butler manner deceive you.”
“I thought you were strange but your butler is even stranger!”
Dorian shrugged. “He’s the least strange from where he came.”
“And where is that place?”
“A tribe at the edge of the world.”
“Forget that I asked,” Jonathan sighed. “But at least there’s the blueberry tart you like, isn’t it?”
He forked a piece of the dessert and fed Dorian.
“A dash of romance spices things up, but here’s my advice of the day: do best not to let yourself fall in love with me, Jonathan.”
He savored the indulgent sweetness melting on his taste buds while Jonathan carefully carved the tart as he had done the shepherd’s pie. “You’re awfully blunt in the morning, don’t you know? Where have all the flirt and tease in the evening gone?”
“To bed,” Dorian replied baldly, and opened his mouth for another feeding.
“Worry not,” Jonathan assured him. “I have no intention of falling in love in the near future, especially with a man whose age almost doubles mine.”
“Good for you then. Love, as far as I am concerned, is the most grievous folly a human can commit.”
A look of hurt flashed Jonathan’s eyes but he soon had it buried beneath a layer of benign smile.
“Last time I came to this place, I didn’t see something of such a scale,” Jonathan remarked.
“The painting of the black rider, you mean?”
“That’s right. When I first saw it, I thought it looked similar. Then I remember seeing a very similar depiction in the form of a bronze statue.”
“At the manor of my latest interviewee, Mr. Alexander Grayson…”
Dorian’s sleep-laden eyes cleared up upon the mention of the name.
“I guess you must have at least heard of him. You were at his demonstration ball after all.”
“Mr. Grayson and I,” said Dorian, chuckling “can’t say we are good friends but we have a sort of… special connection. What do you make of him?”
“He has good looks and refined taste, definitely very far from the noveau-rich Yankee image some people have constructed. He seems more… European to me. No, not British or French, perhaps someone from Eastern Europe, who fancies the old ways.”
“Apart from his accent, he isn’t very American,” Dorian agreed.
“He’s very arrogant, egotistic, full of himself and a potential alcoholic from what I observed–”
Dorian’s soft laughter interrupted him. “Whiskey, I bet?”
Realization dawned on Jonathan’s face as he put two and two together. “Isn’t he the ‘friend’ you mentioned last night?”
“London is really small, isn’t it?” Jonathan shook his head in amusement. “The day before his assistant came to offer me a job. According to him I should quit being a reporter living on meager salary to become a member of his enterprise.”
“Best suggestion of the week, I dare say. And your reply?”
“I wasn’t in any shape to make such a major decision, so I asked him to give me some time. What do you think?”
“Haven’t you already made up your mind?”
“Sometimes I wonder if you can truly read minds, Dorian.”
Filling his bone china cup with steaming coffee and taking a sip, Dorian said, “Only when someone opens themself to me.”
At cue on Dorian’s suggestion, Jonathan’s mind summoned a series of last night’s passion, flooding his mind with obscene images of himself coming undone under Dorian’s sinister skills, pleasure moans and the euphoric scent of incense burning. The current state of the Dorian in front of him, robe open to expose milky skin peppered with little hickeys, was not any help.
“Please don’t drip blood onto the carpet. Razz won’t be very please.”
Dorian did not miss a chance to tease him. Jonathan felt justified to give him a scornful look, which, coupled with his flushed face, only served to amuse the bratty man further.
“Anyway,” Dorian said after he was done laughing and Jonathan was done blushing, “since you have made up your mind about working for Mr. Grayson, I believe that you have the right to know of this little truth: your employer-to-be, Mr. Alexander Grayson, is less human than he looks.”
Jonathan was puzzled. “Less human?”
“How old do you think he is?”
“Late twenties to early thirties?”
“I wager his true age is much older because, well, he doesn’t age. He never suffers any kinds of disease and most importantly, he lives not on bread and meat but on the blood of living humans,” Dorian stressed, “which is the sole point that differs him from me.”
Jonathan’s expression was a mixed between shock, bewilderment and disbelief as a result of this newfound and may not be so delightful knowledge. It took him sometime to fully digest what he had heard and initiated a respond of sort. “A vampire is what you mean?”
“Full marks,” Dorian praised, giving a mock applause. “Also, you recovered quicker than when you learned of what I am. I’m so proud.”
“Since you, who are anything but human, are here, that vampires exist may not be so inconceivable. Perhaps there’s a God after all, and everything in the Bible is true.”
“Having regret already?”
Jonathan shook his head. “Not really. Because even if there were a God, He probably doesn’t care about the likes of me.”
“… and me, Mr. Grayson and who knows how many bizarrities out there, parading in London streets,” said Dorian, raising his cup. “It’s a pity Razz strictly refuses to serve wine in the morning.”
Jonathan clinked his cup with Dorian’s and smiled. “Tea and coffee are fine by me, as I intended to pay a visit to Carfax Manor.”
“Something tells me that he wouldn’t mind too much if you are a little tipsy.”
“You’re a bad influence, Dorian,” said Jonathan. “Truthfully, do you think I should be worrying for my little life, knowing my future employer has a taste for my veins?”
“Well, the bright side is he will certainly pay better than you current miser of a boss.”
“He did promise a satisfying salary and better housing plan. Provided he didn’t make me his tea snack first.”
“As far as I know, he doesn’t make it his habit to dine on his employees – I doubt that his assistant is unaware of his eating habits. Strangers in dark alleyways mostly.”
“Mostly?” Jonathan echoed incredulously.
“The minority being those who crossed him, so try your best not to get on his less pleasant side.”
“You sound as though you know a great deal about Mr. Grayson. When did you learn that he is what you said he is? I can’t imagine he sat down at the tea table and just poured his heart out to you.”
At that question Dorian burst into laughter. “Dear Jonathan, you are talking to someone who has crossed him… and not only once.”
Jonathan had only met Alexander Grayson, his soon-to-be employer, twice and his impression of the man was a combination of awe, envy, admiration and now fear, thanks to Dorian’s thoughtful revelation. Grayson was an attractive specimen in every sense possible: his charms came not from his looks alone, which no doubt played a huge role in his magnetism, but they were also forged by the cunningness of his mind, his domineering presence and his unwavering confidence to the point of arrogance, which Jonathan had found rather vexatious at first. His approach differed greatly from Dorian’s: while the latter opted for subtleness, taking his time to coil around his target the way a serpent would, the former went for a direct strike of a wolf. A typical alpha male. It was either with him or against him, there was no middle ground.
For all the impressions Jonathan had about Alexander Grayson, he was struck speechless to see the man in such a state: his skin was cadaverous, his pale blue eyes having lost color and sunken in their sockets and although he was dressed neatly in his fashionable tailored outfit, he did not look half the man Jonathan had interviewed merely a week ago. When he emerged from the mountains of papers on his desk to give Jonathan a handshake, his hand was cold and rigid as ice. Jonathan shuddered.
“Are you unwell, Mr. Grayson?” he might have asked out of concern for his boss, had he not already learned the truth about Alexander Grayson’s nature. The words had already formed on his tongue but he held them back, being well aware of the sole reason for Grayson to look like a walking dead. Chill crept up Jonathan’s spine and he was rightfully justified to feel protective of his jugular veins. Dorian’s assurance that Grayson did not have a habit of dining on his employees was not very assuring when he was facing Grayson in the man’s study chamber, all by himself (Mr. Renfield ‘kindly’ left them alone to discuss their business). He came up with a multitude of scenarios in which the hungry vampire would assault him and how his body, drained to the last drop, would be disposed of.
“So,” Grayson started, saving Jonathan from his macabre imaginations, “since you’ve come here, I trust you have made up your mind about my offer.”
Grayson’s voice was hoarse, like a person having a bad case of sore throat, but otherwise calm as he reached for his whiskey bottle out of habit and poured himself a glass. “Would you like some tea and snacks?” he offered.
“Ah, a glass would be fine,” replied Jonathan. Drinking early was not his habit; nonetheless he needed some liquor to strengthen his nerves while holding a conversation with a starving vampire.
Grayson’s face expressed some surprise but he did not voice it. He poured another glass for Jonathan and refilled his own.
“For our auspicious cooperation,” Grayson exclaimed. They toasted and each brought his drink to his lips.
Having had fine whiskey before, this time Jonathan did not choke. He took a medium sip, sloshing the liquid in his mouth a few times to enjoy the delightful burn, and swallowed.
“What caused you to change your mind, about drinking when the sun is still out, I mean?”
Jonathan smiled, feeling somewhat braver with the injection of alcohol into his bloodstream. “A rather close friend of mine was kind enough to instruct me on the matter of abandoning some superfluous restrictions.”
Grayson’s eyebrows went up just a little. “Oh? I suppose the same friend encouraged you to make up your mind quick. Pardon me, I heard from my assistance that you were somewhat hesitant when he told you my offer.”
“You could say so,” Jonathan agreed.
“I’m in debt to this friend of yours for a valuable employee, aren’t I? Is there any chance I could meet him, or her, to express my gratitude?”
“My friend attended your demonstration ball and was very impressed, he told me. You probably wouldn’t remember him as there were many guests there. After all he missed the chance to praise your company’s invention in person, having to depart early before the night concluded.”
The last two sentences were a blatant lie. Since Dorian had told him there was a “special connection” between them, it was unlikely that Grayson did not remember Dorian. But probing into the vampire’s secrets was not a wise idea for someone who still valued their veins like Jonathan.
He found small relief that Grayson did not advance further into the subject.
“When will you be able to start?”
“I wrote my resignation letter and sent it before I came here.”
“Perfect! Because I have an assignment for you right now, Harker.”
“I guess I can start calling you ‘sir’. What would my assignment be, sir?”
“You can call me Alexander,” Grayson stressed, “and I will address you as Harker, if that’s fine by you.”
“Good. Here’s your first task.”
Alexander walked to his cluttered desk and took a brown envelope, which he handed to Jonathan. Looking at the way he walked, nothing alike to the firm strides he had taken in their interview, the former reporter had a distinct impression that a strong wind could easily knock him down or even sweep him away. Being famished could have a devastating effect on a bloodsucker. Duly noted.
The enveloped contained two photographs and a small brass key. Putting the key on the table, Jonathan studied the photos, and recognized one face at first look. He had seen it just last night, amidst the liquored-scented air and the provocative music sung by the scantily clad singer. The other was also no stranger to him,
“Stephen Laurent and Lord Thomas Ravenport?”
“Yes, I want information about them, the kind of which I think you’re already familiar.”
Jonathan looked somewhat offended. “So, that means my first task is acting as a spy?”
“It’s ‘assigning my employees tasks which suit their specialty’.”
“What’s the difference?”
“The difference is you have the right to decline and walk out of the door,” said Grayson, squinting his eyes. Their icy gaze sent a chill down Jonathan’s spine. He fought not to visibly squirm on his chair.
Do I really have a choice, the former reporter asked himself.
“You will have the result in a day.”
“That’s what I want to hear.” Satisfied, Grayson clasped his hands and smiled, showing more of his teeth than he was aware. Jonathan had to reach for his glass and downed the content when he spotted some longer-than-usual incisors. It was not hard to visualize what Grayson could do with them. Urgh. For a moment he resented Dorian for telling him this humongous secret; had he not known, he would not worry that he would be sent to an early grave with a heart attack.
“Well then,” at least he could manage his voice, “I think I should be off with my task. What’s this key for?”
“I did promise a better housing plan, didn’t I? Welcome to your new residence, Mr. Harker.”
Renfield had a distinct impression that Jonathan Harker was fleeing when he watched the young man’s tall figure hurrying out of the gate. He heaved a sigh. Harker could not be blamed for feeling threatened though; even Renfield himself, with more than a decade living together with Grayson and having seen his bests and his worsts, failed to suppress a shudder to see Grayson’s hungry eyes unconsciously descend on his neck.
He entered the study chamber to find an exhausted Grayson face down flat on his desk. Worn out by immense workload and having tried to keep a normal pretense with Jonathan Harker, no doubt.
“Sir,” he said, “you’re strongly advised to go out and hunt tonight.” Before you lose control and eat the whole household. “The young Harker was positively frightened by your haggard state.”
“Blame that goddamned Val Helsing,” Grayson muttered, pushing himself up on his elbows with much difficult. “I told you he enjoys sticking his needles in me for the sake of my suffering. Why else in the name of seven hells must he take a gallon of my blood every time he’s ‘out of samples’? Is he planning to water his plant with it?”
Renfield recalled the joyous tune the doctor had been humming out loud as he made his way out of the manor and silently agreed that his employer had a valid point.
“So you’ve assigned Harker with the task?”
“Yes, let’s see how he performs.”
Renfield rolled up his sleeve and was about to reach for the letter opener but Grayson halted him. “Don’t!”
“A little blood will ease some of your pain till the night falls, sir,” Renfield insisted. What else were friends for?
“It won’t be enough. Only by draining one human may the thirst be soothed. Furthermore, I won’t be able to restrain myself from killing you.”
“Right, sir,” Renfield said and put his sleeve down. This was precisely the reason for Renfield to stay with this vampire for all these years. Grayson was undoubtedly a vicious monster but to those few he considered ‘friends’, he was the most loyal Renfield had ever known – one of his few redeeming qualities.
“Harker is different,” Grayson remarked.
“He looks far better than the last time I met him, surely. Last time he looked a bit of a beggar.”
Needless to say, Renfield’s impression of the young reporter had not been very good. Not one to judge a book by its cover, however, looking at the Harker of that time, Renfield could not have helped a thought that his boss’s judgment of character had been erred. Fortunately, Harker had pulled himself out of whatever temporary crisis he had had and cleaned up nicely.
“No, it’s not only that. The ‘air’ about him has changed and…”
Grayson’s sheet-white face sported a scowl. “And he has the same scent as Dorian Gray’s, which is annoying and distracting.”
It was either Grayson was under hunger-induced hallucinations or his boss was obsessed with Dorian Gray, or the worst scenario, both. Whatever it was, Renfield could guarantee it was not something to celebrate.
Lady Weatherby stepped down the coach an extremely refined lady in her teal dress and her golden hair done in an elaborate style. She wore her bold makeup as usual, something a Victorian lady was encouraged not to do often, and carried herself with a domineering air as usual.
“Good evening, my lady,” Dorian greeted and kissed her gloved hand.
“Good evening, Mr. Gray,” she said, her gaze sultry on Dorian. “You look very handsome tonight.”
“And you, ravishing as I’ve always known you to be, my lady.” To return the favor, he gave her an appreciative look, his eyes subtly lingering on her curvaceous form proudly accentuated by her attire. With her high-collar, long-sleeved dress that reached her ankles, she gave off a nun-like solemnity; however, the manner in which the fabric clung on her body like a second skin spoke the exact opposite.
“Jayne, when we are alone.”
Dorian smiled, catching the hint. “Dorian.”
“So, Dorian, what shall we do tonight?”
“I imagine we could go to an opera house and watch Hamlet or Othello, or some Shakespearean play they have for tonight, but that would not be very exciting, wouldn’t it?”
Jayne’s laughter rang softly. “Ah yes, I have to admit that although I fervently adore Shakespeare, there is not a play of his that I have not already seen. Like you said, theatres rarely dare risk innovations with these classics. No Shakespeare, please. What else do you have in store for our evening?”
“Indeed I have one particular place in mind where I would very wish to accompany you,” he said. “Though I am afraid that where we are about to go is not exactly legal.”
“No real fun is exactly legal, or moral, Dorian, according to the church. Fortunately I am not very religious.”
“Nor am I. Shall we go then?”
The doorman peered at them, a pair of exquisitely dressed man and woman, through the iron-barred window on the door with a note of curiosity – a pair like this he did not get to see very often. Though the woman was a stranger but the man’s was the face that he recognized at first glance – no one would forget such a visage once seen. He lifted the heavy metal latch, opened the door and ushered them in, scanning the surroundings for some seconds before sealing the entrance away.
A conventional brick house on the outside, it was a different world inside, and under. They followed the doorman’s steps down a wooden flight of stairs to a large underground cellar, indistinct noises growing louder and louder as they advanced to its bowel. The stairs ended on a gritty ground and they were instantly, unceremoniously welcomed by the incessant clamor of its dwellers. The air was choked with an overwhelming mix of cigarette and stale beer, and the confined space resembled a cauldron boiling with all the heat radiating from its excited ingredients, clothed in all manners of attire: some of them were hot-blooded sailors, streaks of salt still not dry from the creases of their worn out clothes, while the others toiling workers, with dirt-caked nails on hands that clutched the wooden rails. Few of the more wealthy-looking ones particularly stood out amongst the sea of colors and manners. Nonetheless, despite how much their fabric cost or how many pounds they had in their pockets, they were united in their zeal for the sport going on inside the centre ring, around which they had formed a tight-knit circle. The gas light glared down on the shining beads of sweat on flushed faces. It seemed a game has just ended and now they were all glowing with its aftermath.
“Not a charming place, isn’t it?” Dorian asked the lady by his side, who had taken the liberty to link her arm with his.
“Not very far from my imagination of the fabled rat-baiting pit,” replied Jayne, whose sharp eyes were scanning around the place, dissecting it like a knife. “Won’t you introduce me to the rules? It appears to me the men are having much fun.”
“But of course. We are here solely for the game after all. Please.”
Securing a place in the circle was easy done than said, because some of the men had left for a drink in the shabby bar at the corner while some of them actually stepped back to make place for the dressy couple. Their eyes were magnetized to lady Weatherby, ogling her as if she were a rare species on display. She probably was, considering it was tacitly an all-male place where the least they expected was to see a female, let alone one of high birth. The jealous contempt was palpable in the way they eyed the ‘boy’ accompanying her. A pretty face, no more.
“I can feel the hostility thick like a cake,” Dorian whispered, smiling.
“Afraid that you may fail to be my knight in shining armor already?”
“Very much so. Especially when I am not wearing any shining armor, only a coat and shirt.”
Their flirting might continue but for a loud gong sound that reverberated around the mud and brick walls. The men once again gathered around the ring.
“A new round has begun,” Dorian explained, pointing at the dog that was brought out on the tattooed arms of a man, “and here comes our champion of the night. Flash Jack, and just as the name suggests, he is lightning-quick.”
Jayne scrutinized the terrier, with its rather small build and shaggy hair, and did not hide her doubts. “Against what is he going fight? He might be fast but at the end of the day it is always strength that wins.”
“He is not going to fight, Jayne, he is going to kill. Have a look.”
When the crowd had almost reached its previous capacity, there came another gong. A flood of rats were unleashed into the confinement of the ring, each of which fattened by the filth in London’s trenches. The foul odor from their matted fur caused Jayne Weatherby to knit her eyebrows and took out her perfumed handkerchief. The offending smell, however, did not deter the men around; in fact, they even shouted in excitement when some of the bolder and stronger creatures began climbing on the wooden barriers that enclosed the ring. Their attempted were timely nipped by a few kicks that sent them back to the heap they belonged.
“Brutes,” muttered Jayne with disdain lacing in the smirk that formed at the corner of her lips.
“The gentleman’s blood sport,” Dorian said.
The short, thin man carrying a wad of paper and a pencil in his hands came to Dorian’s beckon.
“We shall bet on how many ‘victims’ will not escape our champion’s paws?”
“Yes and no. We shall bet on how many unfortunate souls will perish under Flash Jack’s fangs.” Taking a brief pause, he added, “In a specific time: one minute and a half, no more, no less.”
Jayne arched an eyebrow. “It is more challenging than I have given it credit for. Provided no one could come up with the right number, it would be the house that won?”
“The closet number would win, naturally. Now, would you like to try a guess, Jayne?”
“I am hardly ever in Lady Luck’s favour so I would rather you made the bet, Dorian.”
A mischievous gleam reflected in Dorian’s as he kissed the lady’s hand. “As a matter of fact, I am feeling very lucky tonight. If we win, it’s yours. If not, it’s mine, how does that sound?”
“Now it is a different bet altogether, isn’t it?”
“Ninety-seven, please” Dorian told the bucked-toothed man, who scribbled the number on a leaf of yellow paper and hurried to a black board. He stuck the paper on it with a rusty pin, amongst its various siblings.
“In one minute and a half?” asked Jayne.
“He is not the champion for nothing.”
Three gongs signaled that Flash Jack’s keeper should undo his collar him and release the champion to his battleground. As if spotting his mortal enemy, the dog dived into the swarm of black furs and scuttling legs and had his first kill within seconds. He impaled his victim between his ragged, yellow teeth, grinding down on the tiny bag of flesh and bones. With the red wet on his muzzle and spotting his coat, Flash Jack shook his head, borrowing the momentum to fling the bloody carcass into the air and went for the second, the third. The panicked squeaks of the rats and the crunching noises were drowned in the wild cheering of the audience. The blood splattering the wooden barriers and the stench of innards accompanied the hill that was vastly built only served to amplify their shouting.
“Come on Jack!”
Amidst the frenzy, Dorian and Jayne Weatherby remained calm as a pair of specter haunting the ‘arena’.
“Why a dog?” Jayne raised a question. “Shouldn’t it be those vermin’s nemesis, the cat?”
“Because cats are terribly lazy creatures,” Dorian elucidated. “They kill slowly, which is a major drawback for this game; they savor their victims’ suffering – for it is more often than not a game to them – and when the fun dries out, it is very difficult to make them obey. Dogs, on the contrary, tend to do most things with a grim sense of duty and efficiency. When they are taught to kill, they will kill until there is nothing left.”
Perhaps finding his analogy amusing, Jayne Weatherby burst into gleeful laughter, the first in the night after her multifarious polite ones. “I wonder if you have many dogs and cats as home, for it appears you are a virtuoso in analysing canine and feline behaviours.”
“As my butler has kindly told me many a time, the only pet in the household is myself.”
“It must be hard for your butler.”
“I couldn’t imagine how a hopeless being such as myself would have survived without him.” Dorian shrugged.
While the pair were confiding to each other in whispers, the audience had unceremoniously begun chanting.
The clear, booming voice of the gong emerged above all the din. The final number was nailed on the board, written in blood-red ink: 97.
Jayne Weatherby’s triumphant smile was mirrored on Dorian’s face.
“Lady Luck is clearly on our side tonight,” Dorian said. “Shall we celebrate with a toast, Jayne?”
“With the flat beer sold here? Charming.”
“Actually, they do keep some finer liquor for patrons who can afford it. I shall see what we can have.”
With Dorian gone, Jayne stood alone at the edge of the ring, watching the ring men hastily sweep out the dead bodies for another round, leaving behind fetid crimson trails to dry on their own. The night was still young after all and she doubted if it was the concluding game of the day. Nonetheless, it was probably Flash Jack’s ending-day task; he had been taken away by the same tattooed man in the same manner he had been brought out, albeit in bloody fur and a tooth minus. The rats had not been entirely livestock for him to slaughter; they had fought back, tooth for tooth, with all the strength the mass of their body allowed, coupled with a desperate instinct to survive: they bit and clawed with viciousness rivaled that of their killer. Cornered animals were the most dangerous, she mused. For each fallen by Jack’s jaws, there was a small price on him and by the end of his ‘career’, how many teeth would he be able to keep so that he would not starve to death?
“Men and their bloody foolish sport,” Jayne mumbled.
“Oi, isn’t it rude to leave the lady here all by herself?”
A raucous voice entered Jayne’s ears and a hand was placed on her shoulder at the same time.
“None of your business,” Jayne said coolly.
When she turned around she was greeted with the sight of a burly man. Square-jawed and hawk-nosed, his face would not be very memorable if it was not for a centipede-like scar that ran from his forehead down to his stubbly chin. His visage aside, his worn sailor outfit and his alcoholic breath, combined with his coarse hand on Jayne’s shoulder did very little to earn the lady’s favor. Behind him stood three other similarly clothed men, all looking at their supposed ‘leader’ with awe and anticipation.
Buffoons, she thought with disdain.
“Oh, it’s every man’s business to see a lady so unattended. Where’s that fop from earlier? Did he ditch you after he lost the bet?”
Jayne’s pale eyes traveled past the drunkard, his friends and some curious men to land on Dorian, who had returned with their drinks. She raised an eyebrow in question and Dorian’s lips curved ever slightly. In his faint smile lied the implication that he would not interfere more than the small crowd gathering around them. Jayne smirked.
“On the count of three, withdraw your hand or you’ll lose it,” Jayne purred. “One.”
The drunkard’s boisterous laughter was joined by his friends’.
“M’lady, I’m too willing to pay the price.”
The man’s grinning face crumpled with a sudden introduction of pain. His eyes traveled down the length of his arm until he found the lady’s nimble fingers closed around his wrist as if the vine intertwining a thick trunk. Yet somehow the vine had managed to snap the trunk in half. She graced him with a cold smile that did not reach her pale eyes and before he could truly register just what sort of trouble he had gotten himself into, he was flat on a ground with the heal of a boot hovering above his Adam’s apple. He had absolutely no idea what and how she had done it and, God, he had not even felt it. To think that a lean, delicate-looking woman could move so fast and strike with such strength! The excruciating pain from his wrist and his fear caused him to uncontrollably soil his clothes.
The gathering men laughed and shouted like they were watching a better game than the rat baiting.
Her gaze bored into the sweaty faces that were the man’s friends. “Take your friend or suffer his fate,” she deadpanned.
At least they were sober enough to heed her warning.
Once the sailors had scurried away, the crowd quickly dismissed.
Dorian approached her with two glasses of brown-gold liquid in his hand. “Ten-year-old brandy,” he said, handing her a glass, “to the champion.”
Jayne lifted the glass to her nose and softly inhaled. Nodding, she took a small sip. “Ten years indeed.”
“I’m glad to know that I haven’t been fooled by the bartender,” Dorian said, exhaling a mock sigh of relief. “Brandy really isn’t my expertise.”
“Then why chose brandy?”
“I am adapting to my company.”
Jayne smiled wryly. “Last time it was Mr. Grayson, wasn’t it?”
Dorian did not deny. “Indeed.”
“Standing by while a lady is being disrespected,” she dawdled, her green eyes looking straight into his, the color of which was akin to the half-full liquid in her glass, “isn’t the most chivalrous act I have seen in a gentleman.”
“Aiding a lady in need is chivalrous – a gentleman’s first lesson. But interfering when she is entirely capable of dealing with it is plain rude in my opinion.” He twirled his glass just a little, and took a small sip. “And I would rather be unchivalrous than rude.”
“Seeing that I was ‘entirely capable of dealing with it’, you decided to just enjoy the show?”
“I prefer ‘admire’,” he corrected, clinking his glass with hers.
“I always feel that women are so suppressed by men that they hardly ever realize the strength they have, the strength which is more than enough to put a man in his right place. But you, Jayne, I could tell you always have the ability to give a man what he deserves…”
He finished the rest of the sentence in a whisper, “… and the courage to actualize it.”
“Sadly,” said Jayne, “our society does not encourage a woman to do so.”
“The grievous defection in our culture and belief, which I believe can be improved by learning from our neighbor. The Celt, for instance, sang legends of their female warriors.”
“Like Scáthach, the mentor of Cú Chulainn?”
“You have read about her?”
“A poem here, a prose there,” Jayne replied. “Moreover, there is a little of Celtic bloodline in my family, so I am not unfamiliar with Irish folklores.”
“That explains so well your strength and courage.”
He leaned in, invading her space so that his face was merely inches from hers. His eyes traveled from her high eyebrows, gradually slithering to the straight bridge of her nose, her powdered cheeks, and finally lingered at her rogue lips. He made no attempt to veil his smoldering gaze; he would rather she felt the heat on her skin.
“Despite your honeyed tongue, you do realize that your action is blatant disrespectful to a lady, don’t you, Dorian?”
Contrast to what was expected of a high-class lady, she took a step forward, forcing him to back down instead if he did not wish to tumble. Her gloved hand fingered his clavicle, characteristically left open by his unbuttoned shirt.
“Yes, and I do realize that the lady is absolutely able to put me in my place. The question is, would she?”
She tugged at his shirt collar and pulled him into an encounter of lips, where she sought dominance at the very first contact. Her teeth grazed his lower lips, nibbling on the tender flesh while he responded to her ministrations with a reserved gentleness that was foreign to her expectation, even to himself. She was patient at first, waiting for his sign to advance to further intimacy, but he clung onto his coyness and her patience evaporated fast. She nicked him with her teeth, drawing only a drop of blood before she withdrew.
Jayne was well aware the men were raising their eyebrows, some even staring at them, eyes as wide as goose eggs. Unashamed, she smirked at them, the color of her lips vivid with Dorian’s blood.
“Made quite a spectacle, didn’t we?” Dorian said, tending to his wound the way a cat did.
“Your timing to be a gentleman is the worst, Dorian. I can not say I am very impressed.”
“The vulgarity of this place shames your noble air, Jayne.”
Jayne Weatherby cast a glance around the place. A smile hovering in her lips, she nodded. “Do you propose we change the location? Somewhere more refined and quieter, like… your house or mine?”
The glint that flashed Dorian’s eyes suggested this one sentence was all he had been waiting for. Jayne had been right in assuming Dorian Gray could not be as pure as his face suggested. After all the events tonight, she was eager to know just how impure he really was. She had a hunch that she was going to enjoy it.
… Unless Dorian chose this crucial moment to act a half-wit. Which he did.
The light in his eyes dimmed all of sudden, a forlorn look looming over his face. “What a terrible shame!” he exclaimed ruefully. “For I have just remembered that I’m having some private business to attend tonight. I hope you could pardon me this one time, my lady.”
“I sincerely wish for your forgiveness and hope to make amends,” said Dorian, kissing Jayne Weatherby’s hand.
“We shall see about that.” A speck of rogue in his cheek and the door was closed, the coach wheeling off. Horseshoes on the cobbled street made steady wry sounds.
As soon as her coach had gone out of sight, Dorian’s cordial smile morphed into a smirk as he wiped the smudge off his skin. The tint of anger had been palpable in her cool eyes and it was precisely the result Dorian had anticipated. Jayne was a woman who was unrepenting in wanting what she wanted and was quite forceful in her approach, if their first and second meetings had had anything to tell. That contributed a sizeable portion of her allure that had drawn Dorian to her; the way in which she asserted herself, full of confidence and perhaps arrogance, so unlike the majority of women he had known, thrilled his bone of adventure – to win her was his ultimate goal, a challenge among countless challenges he set up for himself to divert his ennui, even momentarily. It was plain to see Jayne was fond of his looks (who wasn’t?); discretion was but nonexistent in her piercing eyes that screamed a desire to divest him of his clothes with each meaningful gaze. Dorian was no stranger to that sort of gaze – he felt it every now and then when passing a crowd: lustful desires hidden behind sighs and whispers. Yet Jayne was clearly set apart from those women whose hearts had grown fonder with his enchanted face over the years. She was much like himself: what she desired she would make it hers as all cost, but once she actually possessed it, and played with it, she would grow bored quicker than it had taken her to grow fanciful and discard it within a heartbeat. Dorian Gray or not, it was merely a new plaything she wanted to try her hands on – give in to her and the game was over in a night or two, a week at best. Love and romance seemed cheap and impertinent in the endless pursuits of passions, who was he to deny?
There was something else beside his desire to continue the game with Jayne Weatherby that had caused him to disappoint her. It came in the form of a haunting voice that normally would not converse with him nor him with it unless they were alone and within the safe vicinity of his sleeping chamber.
“What is it?” Dorian asked with a touch of annoyance once he was standing alone before an alleyway.
“It’s something you may be interested to know,” the voice chuckled, “your bloodsucker is very near.”
“How can you tell?”
Soon as the words left his lips, Dorian realized the redundancy of his question. If the voice had a solid, visible form, he imagined it would shake its head while laughing.
The voice hinted how amused it was with Dorian. “Come on, sweet child, you’re much brighter than to ask this dumb query.”
“The blood link.”
“Exactly. Want me to teach you how to track him?”
“I don’t recall being a blood hound,” Dorian scoffed. “Why should I find him?”
“Frankly I cannot answer that. I don’t recall being someone who hung his picture in the middle of the gallery and stared at it all day long as if he had nothing better to do.”
“Supposed I were that ‘someone’, to whom I owed this out-of-the-blue parental affection?”
“Out-of-the-blue parental responsibility.”
Dorian snorted. “What’s the price?”
“My service is provided free of charge,” the voice answered. “You and your bloodsucker provide quite an entertainment. Lighten up this dull existence, especially it is I who had nothing better to do than watching you. Now, intrigued or not?”
“Clear your mind of any unrelated thoughts, namely the voluptuous lady you disappointed.”
“You have taken an interest in her?”
“In her flesh,” the voice corrected. “Imagine how delectable it will taste with all its sins. Quite the she-devil despite her ‘noble air’.”
“Look who’s talking.”
“Direct your thought to him and allow the blood to guide you.”
Dorian closed his eyelids and thought of his dream of the blood-soaked battlefield, where he saw Grayson on his majestic black horse, a lance that impaled the enemy’s head in his hand. The dragon’s ruby eyes shining brighter than the inferno around adorning his helmet, he looked like one of the Four Horsemen as he and his soldiers cut through the land, leaving corpse upon corpse in their wake. Dorian loved seeing him like that, all cordial smiles and hollow pleasantries washed away in the carnage that he had caused, and reveled in it. An embodiment of destruction, domination and death that attracted the particular spot in Dorian that yearned for all of them like a moth craving the flame. As his thought took shape and roamed, all noises around him faded until they became mute. It was as if he had pressed a seashell tightly to his ears, and the only sound he was able to catch was the rushing of his own blood in his veins. Yet he instantly knew it was not his blood that he was hearing, it was Grayson’s, and it lit a spark in his chest.
“Easy, isn’t it? Allow it guide you, sweet child,” the voice encouraged.
But he was no longer listening to it, enticed by the low, humming rhythm that only he could hear, and indeed, he allowed it to orchestrate his feet further and further into the alleyway. Every turn he took was purely instinctive, every step unplanned. The gaslight behind the sturdy opaque glass did little to ward off the darkness that was consuming him. Not a place for a person of his class to carelessly, defenselessly wandered, where cutthroats lurking in every turn could slash his throat quicker than a heartbeat. The last time he had ventured into such a place, Dorian vaguely recalled, he had gone home with a hole in his chest and his heart in his pocket, courtesy of a certain sharp-featured vampire. Still, given another chance, he would not have thought twice about it, as he did not now, led by the peculiar song the devil had taught him to open his senses and listen.
There was a voice calling for him from behind, followed by footsteps approaching fast. He heard all of them, and he heard none of them at the same time. In his ears, they sounded distant, intelligible sounds that were far too insignificant as compared to the ensorcelling melody he pursued. He paid no mind to them, his steady pace showing no sight of faltering. It was crystal-clear now, which meant the source was very near.
It took a hard slam to the damp brick wall and a punch in the guts to break Dorian out of his trance. Low groans came from the back of his throat, not because of the unexpected introduction of pain; he was so close to his pursuit, just a few steps more.
Came into his sight was a magnified face that was for the most part forgettable save for a scar resembling a big centipede crawling from his temple to his chin. Dorian remembered him as the drunken sailor who had gotten bested by Jayne Weatherby in the rat-baiting pit earlier. Over his shoulders, bulging beneath sailor outfit, were another three men. Dorian recognized them too, three acolytes that had scurried off, intimidated by the lady’s display of power.
His untimely smile earned him another punch in the stomach, which would cause him to bend over if he was not pressed firmly against the wall. That was painful, he thought, and strangely refreshing. He had not felt pain for a while; when Grayson ripped out his heart, it had been too quick to feel anything. Pain, like cheese, needed time to ripe.
“I see you still have got a lot of spirit after the earlier incident,” Dorian smiled. “Is your hand still hurt?”
The sailor growled, his nostrils flaring like an angry buffalo. His breath hovering over Dorian’s nose stank of stale beer. No wonder why he had enraged the lady so.
His hand was big as his size suggested, and Dorian could feel the roughness of his skin through the delicate fabric of his shirt. His fingers, short and thick like a mini-baton, with nails cracked and caked with dirt, tightened around Dorian’s throat, causing him a few chokes with the lack of air. The man’s red-rimmed eyes bore into Dorian’s face as he spit out each word, “Don’t act so cocky when the bitch isn’t here to protect your foppish arse, pup.”
“What if I do?”
Dorian’s defiance and lack of fear caused a few sniggers among the three other men, which was silenced as soon as the big man turned to glare at them. Reaching into his trouser pocket, he pulled out a knife, whose edge, as opposed to its loutish owner, was thin like a blade of grass and polished to shine like a silver mirror. Far a lovelier sight than its wielder ever was, Dorian mused, even when it licked a sharp line across his cheek. Exquisite! He did not feel a sliver of pain, only a ghost of touch on his flesh. Wet, hot beads oozed from the fresh cut, rolling along the curve of his cheek bone down to his throat and were swallowed up by his pristine white collar. For a rude hand that knew little more than rough cords, the result was extraordinary.
The man may have mistaken Dorian’s enlarged pupils and panting for horror, because his smirk evolved into a feral grin so wide it threatened to split his square face in half. He applied more pressure in his grip and was satisfied to see the young man squirm in his hand. The blade’s tip nicked a spot of flawless skin as he pointed it to Dorian’s throat.
“Scared, huh? What’s good for the likes of you but a pretty face?”
“Impeccable fashion sense, for one, and good manners,” Dorian smiled, leering towards the three men behind. “And the likes of you?”
The blade pressed just a tad deeper into his throat, and his white color was dyed crimson.
“You look down on us, fine, but can you do so with a face looking no better than a fishnet?” the man sneered. “Or better still…”
The blade traveled from his neck to his face again. “… I should just cut off this pretty nose, or these lips…. Bet the ladies love them. Then shove them down your throat, maybe?”
“Oh, that would be something of a novelty.”
“Are you deaf or naturally dumb?” the man roared. “I’m telling you that I can make you one hell of a freak show!”
“My deepest apologies, should I appear to be scared? All right, what do you want with me?”
“That bitch insulted me, injured me! I want compensation or else–”
“Or else you’ll mutilate me,” Dorian finished for him. “So all of these threats come down to a couple of pounds. I suppose I can afford being a little philanthropic, but I’m afraid dead men don’t have much use for money.”
“What the hell are you babbling about?”
The seam of his lips moved to form a perfect mocking arch and yet no words came out. Dorian’s eyes looked past the men to see an approaching figure. His body, which was not large to begin with, swayed ever slightly beneath his long coat, projecting an impression of frailty. His shadow trailed a long, grotesque shape into the darkness behind him, where the gas light failed to reach, and merged with it. His face was mostly hidden under the shadow, leaving only a pair of shining eyes.
Red. The same color smeared on Dorian’s face.
He heard the rushing sound in his ears again, loud and clear for a split second, and then faded. The world fell into stillness…
Screams escaped a man’s throat when gleaming incisors descended on its jugular vein. Caged in the newly arrived monster’s arms, the body thrashed about in vain struggle, before all movements abruptly ceased with a sound. Like a twig broken in two, low and short and yet none of the men missed it. In their ears it sounded like thunder, loud and clear and bearing the messenger of death. They watched with unmoving eyes the monster lifted his head from their friend’s neck, all bloody and torn apart. The body fell to the ground with a thud and the monster’s red eyes glazed over them. Spitting out the blood in his mouth, he flashed in front of the other two faster than they could blink. Two snapping sounds, two more bodies joined their unfortunate friend.
The last man, who had been pressing Dorian to the wall, did not have time to attempt escape. He did not have time to even think about it, with the sensation of ice-cold fingers transferring from his scalp to his entire body, carrying with it a fear he had never known. Then he heard that snapping death knell and like a switch being turned off, his consciousness shut down.
Dorian looked down on the corpse at his feet with an expression that was almost pity. He swatted beside it and mumbled as though the dead man could hear his voice, “I did tell you dead men didn’t have much use for money, didn’t I?”
He lifted his head and saw a familiar handsome face. Alexander Grayson. Or should Dracula be more fitting?
“Good evening, Mr. Grayson. What a surprise pleasure to see you here,” Dorian greeted. He stood up and leaned on the wall, one arm clutching his stomach. It felt uncomfortable where the sailor had hit. When it came to physical pains, he preferred cuts than punches and kicks – there was always an elegant intoxication in the cutting open skin with a blade as compared to the crudeness of a fist. Fists left bruises, purple, blue and yellow and not one color stood a chance against the absolute beauty of crimson. Nature must have thought of it when deciding the fountain of Man’s life should flow in the vividness of red.
Dorian’s gaze flickered between the cadavers and the bloodsucker’s face, illuminated by the dusky gas light under which he was standing. He could not help a frown with what he was seeing: he was certain the last time he had seen Alexander Grayson, he had been… livelier. His skin took a pallid tone, his face gaunt and his eyes sank deep into their sockets.
“I find the trend discerning that my friends appear in worse shape than I last saw them. Are you all right, Mr. Grayson?”
Grayson did not answer. He stood motionlessly as if a statue, his eyes looking at Dorian but did not seem to see him.
“Honestly I did expect more dramatic deaths than neck snapping when I saw you. Pardon me for asking but are you on some sort of diet?”
Nudging the body nearest to his feet, Dorian continued, “This one, for instance, had robust physique and should have proven a satisfied meal.”
“Mud blood,” Grayson opened his mouth at last, his voice ragged and receding towards the end of the spectrum to be considered human, “dirtied with alcohol and diseases. Reeked of consumption…”
He stalked closer to Dorian. “…Gonorrhea. Syphilis.”
Dorian made a small disgusted sound. “You can smell that from their bodies?”
“Beside…” Grayson was face-to-face to Dorian, his body slightly pressing into Dorian’s. “Why settle for crap when there’s a delicacy right here?”
Without so much as a warning, he licked the cut on Dorian’s cheek.
The first contact had Dorian shuddered. It was cold and dry and nothing like any experience he had had prior Grayson. He would rejoice and call it a novelty in another situation, when he was not pressed by a body colder than the corpses littered around into a hard, filthy wall – his predilection for cleanliness played a major role in hindering his enjoyment. Not only were his looks strange, Grayson’s behaviors were extremely bizarre tonight. If Dorian’s memory served right, the vampire had shied from Dorian’s offer, willing to put himself under agonizing restraint instead of taking even a tiny sip. What was he doing now? Lapping at Dorian’s wound and making a trail from his cheek, down his chin and settling at his neck, where he showed no hesitation to sink his fangs into the flesh.
Pain, there was always pain when the skin was torn open but it was ephemeral and easily vanquished by the pleasure that did not lose a second to take its place. Grayson’s fangs were arguably sharper than the knife, thus making the bloody job quicker and more pleasurable. For a vampire who looked as if he had been starving for ages, Grayson was oddly taking his time with this ‘delicacy’ as he put it. Dorian felt his thought becoming soluble and drifting away with each languid draw. It was different than the last times the vampire had feasted on him – last times Grayson had been crossed and his drinking had been tainted with more than just a dash of vengeance. But this time fury was absent in his fangs – he bit, he drank, long and hard, yet he seemed to express a certain degree of appreciation in every drop passing through his throat. With Grayson’s lips planting kisses on his sensitive nerves, Dorian would certainly not complain.
Dorian thought he was hearing his butler’s stern voice. No. He was not thinking. He was hearing Razz’s voice as if the man was standing a few feet from him, arms crossed and sloe eyes silently judging the way he always did every time his deviant master walked through the door. He had no idea how on earth he could hear his butler’s voice, half-wrapped in a swoon caused by Grayson’s fangs, but he was hearing it. “Mr. Grayson!” he called out to the vampire.
Grayson apparently did not hear him.
“Mr. Grayson!” Another plea went unnoticed. Dorian writhed underneath the bloodsucker’s body that was flush against him. “Alexander!”
“Sir,” Razz’s voice called again.
A snarl was Grayson’s respond to Dorian’s struggle. He effortlessly caught the younger man’s hand and slammed it against the wall, eliciting a sharp hiss from Dorian.
The next thing he saw was the handle of a knife sticking out of Grayson’s shoulder.
Grayson’s eyes were quickly drained off crimson as he first stared at Dorian and then the knife. “Dorian Gray?” he asked, as though only now did he realize where he was and whom he was with. Snapped out of his bloodlust and recovering from it, Dorian came to a conclusion with an inward sigh. But time was not what Grayson was allowed, because right after he came to himself, he… passed out.
Dorian had half a heart to fall down with Grayson’s weight in his arms. A physically strong man was not what he described himself; now with half of his blood running in the bloodsucker’s veins and the aftermath of Grayson’s euphoric bite, he thought he would be excused for being weak.
Fortunately, Raziel was strong despite his lithe figure, and he supported both Dorian and Grayson with ease.
“Having a rough night, sir?”
“I thought I was hallucinating when I heard your voice, Razz,” said Dorian. “Why are you here?”
“It’s Wednesday, sir.”
“Ah, visiting Divina, right.”
“And on my way home,” Raziel said, glancing around at the bodies. “Why are you here, sir, in the company of an unconscious vampire and a few dead men?”
“On my way home,” Dorian replied. “These brutes picked some troubles with me and Mr. Grayson, let’s say, rescued me from them.”
Raziel’s expression spoke of incredulity but like he did most matters regarding Dorian, the butler kept his doubt to himself.
“Was this even necessary?”
“He was getting rough, sir, and I, fearing for my master’s well-being, had to act. There was a knife on the ground, which came in handy. I believe a stab in the shoulder wouldn’t kill him, no?”
“I don’t suppose it would. Though I imagine Mr. Grayson will not be very pleased when he comes about with a mysterious knife wound.”
Raziel’s eyebrows arched. “He didn’t pass out from shock or pain, did he?”
“Hopefully not,” replied Dorian. “His appearance suggested he was famished, and like last time, my blood mysteriously rendered him unconscious.”
“From underfed to overfed, how inconvenient. What to do with him then? Leave him here?”
“No, Razz,” Dorian objected, frowning. “I could give him a ride home. Get me a coach, if you please.”
Renfield was enjoying his nighttime reading by the fireplace when the doorbell rang. He immediately thought of his vampire employer – who would pay a visit at this time? It was odd, since Grayson normally would neither ring the bell nor return before all the servants had gone to bed. Feeding was a time-consuming activity and Grayson just happened to be very choosy about his ‘food’ – one of his royal traces, no doubt. Besides, scaring his servants with his blood-soaked clothes never made it to his agenda; he understood how difficult it was to hire servants that were loyal and not privy into their master’s business.
So naturally Renfield felt his heartbeat syncing with his steps as he all but dropped his book on the chaise lounge and rushed to the gate with the maximum speed his body allowed. His expression hopped from relieved to troubled faster than a blink. The good news was Grayson came home remotely ‘clean’: his clothes neat, his hair mostly in place and there was no spot of blood on his face. Even better, he was not trying to dip his head into the fountain like the majority of the times he returned home stone-drunk, which had occurred with alarming frequency lately. The bad news was, well, he did not appear to be aware of neither his surroundings nor his state, unconscious and being carried by a tall man who sported a look that pronounced he was not enjoying his assigned task one bit. And worse, there was a pale-looking Dorian, who was presenting his ever-present smile despite a bleeding cut on his cheek and a hideous bite mark on his neck.
“Are you all right, Mr. Gray?” asked Renfield.
“Please don’t trouble yourself. It’s only a scratch.”
Said the chap who was wearing a bloody shirt. Literally, a bloody shirt. Renfield’s eyebrows shot up to his forehead. Was Dorian Gray even noticing that he was bleeding? Or did he lose so much blood that he was now hallucinating?
“Mr. Renfield, this is my friend, Raziel.”
Raziel gave a small nod as he transferred Grayson to Renfield’s arms.
“Yes, Mr. Gray?” Renfield replied. For goodness’s sake if they were going to keep this façade of not knowing what Grayson truly was…
“Please pass on my gratitude to Mr. Grayson for saving me tonight,” Dorian said.
“He did and that is why I would like to invite him to my house so I can better express how grateful I am. I will send the official invitation in the morning…”
“I will, thank you, Mr. Gray.”
“… and my sincerest apologies for… that.”
“That was… me,” spoke Raziel for the first time since entering.
Only now did Renfield notice a knife handle sticking out of Grayson’s shoulder, which was oddly… understandable since Grayson had a tendency to get violent when he was hungry. When he left Carfax Manor, he had been starving. It must have been a rough night, which Renfield was sure he would want his boss’s side of the story in detail.
“Goodnight, Mr. Renfield.”
“Goodnight, Mr. Gray, and Mr. Raziel.”
“Another fine piece goes to waste,” Raziel lamented as he helped Dorian out of his bloody shirt. “The third time of the month, sir?”
“One time I dressed for the occasion and yet the feeding didn’t happen. My luck sure loves pulling pranks on me.”
“So, how did it happen?”
Raziel’s long fingers touched Dorian’s skin, examining his naked torso.
“Money, of course,” Dorian said, wincing slightly when Raziel’s fingers touched a bruise. “Since I looked positively a defenseless fop who was foolish enough to wander into the dark–”
“You are a defenseless fop who is foolish enough to wander into the dark.”
“…who was following a vampire’s steps,” Dorian concluded with a shrug. “Like most thugs, they went with the old, cliché threat of cutting off my nose and lips if I hadn’t give them money.”
“That would have been unsightly,” Raziel commented. He was wiping the cut on Dorian’s cheek with a warm cloth. The blood left a stark crimson line on the white material. “So Mr. Vampire-who-dressed-nice came to the damsel in distress’s rescue?”
Dorian laughed, “Mr. Grayson – Alexander Grayson is the name he chooses in this place and time. I suppose he was just wandering around in search for a meal. It’s a shame none of these sailors proved to be nutritious.”
“He was well compensated any–” Raziel’s speech was halted abruptly. A deep crease appeared between his dark eyebrows, his piercing eyes squinting. “Where’s one of your rings, sir?”
“Oh?” Dorian let out a small sound of surprise when he lifted his left hand and found that there were only two silver rings left while there used to be three. “It must have been lost somewhere.”
“My mother’s spell requires three rings. Without one–”
“I know, Razz,” Dorian spoke grimly. “I still can handle it. Don’t trouble yourself.”
Dorian was bare, and so was the life-sized canvass in front of him, the crimson velvet cover stripped and laid to the side. The dark bruises on his torso and bite wound on his neck began fading until his skin was flawlessly pale again. He knew where they had gone – beneath the many layers of fancy clothes to cover a rotten, empty shell.
Now, the slash on his cheek. Still bleeding even after hours.
“What a shame,” the voice said, “to mar this perfection.”
“Fix it,” he said. Almost an order.
“Such tone. Is this how you thank me for teaching you the earlier trick?”
The monster on the canvass moved in front of Dorian’s eyes, slowly bringing its hand to his face. Ghostly fingers caressed Dorian’s skin. Clammy. Cold. Dorian had not experienced this sensation for such a long time he almost forgot how he loathed it. A sudden pain caused him to cry out in pain.
There was blood on the monster’s nails. Blood on his nails too.
“Don’t get angry at me. I was merely flexing my fossilized muscles. Remember the once-upon-a-time when there was none of those freaky rings? Oh, how I miss being able to roam freely, without restraint.”
“Don’t get so cocky just because one ring was lost,” Dorian hissed.
Awry laughter. “I don’t. I merely rejoice with this beautiful and unforeseen twist.”
A line cut across the monster’s cheek in exchange for Dorian’s face being restored to its former beauty.
He pulled the cover on the frame, disgusted by its sight; still there was nothing he could do to silence the voice in his ears. “Preserve your remaining rings, sweet child, otherwise it would mean more liberty for me,” it taunted, “and less for you.”
For once it did not punctuate the sentence with a hollow laugh; the silence afterwards was more maddening than ever.
Took me forever to finish this chapter. It kept getting longer and longer. Still, it’s much shorter than my original idea for this chapter, and very different also. In the end I had to cut the remaining part and saved it for later chapters. Anyway, I prefer this couple to advance slowly, no need to rush.