Agents of Erosion

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic


Early Vampire Writers Group Exercise.

Submitted: March 21, 2018

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Submitted: March 21, 2018

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"Death is no threat to people

Who are not afraid to die;

But even if these offenders feared death all day,

Who should be rash enough

To act as executioner?

Nature is Executioner."

---Lao-Tzu "The Te-Tao Ching"

 

 

AGENTS OF EROSION

By Abraham R. Nox

Copyright Abraham R. Nox January 2002

 

"The sands are numb'red that makes up my life . . . "

--William Shakespeare

 

If it were a coffin, all fifty of the United States would fit inside it.

The Sahara is an open air crypt. You need not even be deceased for its scouring winds and blistering heat to bake your brains, desiccate your flesh, and leave you leather-bound and insensate as an Egyptian mummy. But it helps.

Western Central Sahara is one of the most remote places on earth. Unless you have initiated your journey well-equipped with water and provisions, it would be better for you if you were dead. All it takes for ordinary H2O to apotheosize into Liquid Myth is for you to take that last swallow. Seventy percent of the human body is comprised of water. Without immediate replenishment you soon be unable to drink or eat, but instead will commence to vomit up what remains of your inner fluids, only to watch it aspirated into the sand.

 

Delirium dances in on an incandescent Mirage wave, prances cramps all over your belly, distracts you with images seemingly shattered out of the cloudless sky. The arid vampiric heat vacuums and consumes you clean of sweat, and sears away saliva, courage, even the will to move quickly for the sake of your own survival. Your eyes cook in their sockets. Finally, husked out by dehydration and wind, you willingly submit your last breath. The Desert is a dried out whore looking for moisture and life to absorb. Yours will do fine.

Consider this: the legendary furnace Hell is but a manipulative construct of mankind's dark cerebral fantasia. Nature has no bargain with invention. Her smelting heat is real, the bonfire of Her torrid imagination. During the summer the equatorial sun can torture the daytime temperature up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Yearly rainfall? Less than an inch.

At noon proper, the brutally white sunlight eats the shadows. The terrain yields up Dimension. Elevation stumbles about like a desert pirate, finally succumbing to the endless, continuum of the shifting beige sand. For company you may choose among these: the Monet blue sky, the hair-dryer hot wind, the odd bone button, camel skeleton, fragments of clay vessels, axe heads. At night the temperature drops to seventy degrees and the chill night wind rearranges the dunes as if sifting for buried and ancient treasure.

And then, the cruel Saharan tricks: Mirage, Teasing rain which never falls to earth, and the eerie night bellowing of the dune chorus, so loud it even swallows words.

**********

He awakened, crouched on a desert floor littered with sand, gravel and pebbles. Sunlight boiled at the edges of his vision and trawled along the horizon-line. A migraine stoked a branch of lightening above the bony ridge of his left ear.

So, morning then. From the agony sermons now shouting from the corrupted temple of his body, Thesley Stevens deduced he had been nasty-mouthed, pissed-leg, butt-ugly, blind drunk once again.

His tongue felt like Styrofoam. He almost laughed aloud, wondering to what sort of rum-soaked soiree he had lent his esteemed presence the night before. Surely he had romanced the lamp shade and made beery blandishments to women whose names he now could not seem to remember. He wondered why his total recall was on the fritz all of a sudden. He possessed a perfect memory, didn't he?

His fame card, always. From the useless to the occult to the momentous, Thesley's manic brain hooked and retrieved it all. His rare ability caused him to suffer exquisitely from sensory overload. Thus he lardered his person inside his darkened chateau like a misanthropic nobleman: encased in stock options and many gilded, if insular, pleasures.

No human woman was as stunning as his 19th century Meissen porcelain bust of a Renaissance lady, with her sage-green eyes, purple bodice and ornate collar of intricate lace. Not to mention she never dismissed his drunken ravings or chided him when he forgot to change his Calvins for three days in a row.

No child was as engaging, or as piquant, or as valuable as his Demetre Chiparus bronze and Ivory little girl, cast in a fabulously seeded and beaded costume replete with hooped skirt. Nor was any human child so quiet and obedient. No potty training, no screaming, no crying, no pediatrician bills, no college fund, no interruptions when he decided to play Solitaire or snooze away his afternoons with Beethoven's Fifth rumbling through his earphones. (He counted every note in his sleep, like sheep.) Besides, he didn't like children; they broke things as a reflex action.

No, he lusted only for trivia, for minutiae, the tiniest nits and chips of mosaic experience. New pieces of information glittered in his neo-cortex like varicolored sequins. Essential to his art his discriminating laser eye, and a gift of great price when it came to his all consuming hobby: He was Lord of Detail, King of Petty Particulars. And a liquor lover, too, if the truth must be toasted, from Lagavolin to Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill. If inebriation were included in the price of Incantation, he would freely ask to be enchanted. He tried again to extract the names of his contemporaries, although one couldn't exactly say he had ever cultivated genuine friendships . . .

The names had evaporated.

Incantation? he thought. Now why did that word come to mind? Ah, man, oh man, he mused longingly to himself, I could use just about anything to drink right now. Feels like I was dry-heavin' in my sleep.

A question tumbled around in his mouth, then: Rum? he thought, Was I drinking last night? And with whom? Who paid the tab? Why the fuck can't I remember?"

He tried to voice his confusion aloud. Instead of words, he opened his mouth and spat out a crusty sand bolus, and then he rolled forward, coughing for what seemed an interminable time.

His bones and his underarm lymph nodes throbbed; he felt feverish. A virus had been playing musical immune systems among his staff of servants for the last three weeks; he thought perhaps he had the flu. A sudden abdominal cramp left him prone and gasping for breath, his face in the sand. Sand gritted against his teeth, itched in his heavy eyelashes. The sound of his moaning seemed abnormally loud, for he was truly suffering in literal silence. No one uttered words of alarm, or concerns for his health. No one patted his back, or offered mentholated drops. He could not fathom such disregard. Surely someone, somewhere cared about him.

But then, he muttered with alarm, I don't really REMEMBER who I am, do I? The notion sent panic current shivering through his body.

A Tasmanian chaos in his belly caused him to fall over on his side grunting. "There be hunger here," he thought insanely. Again he started to laugh, again he wound up spitting sand. He gathered up a wad of fabric of the voluminous tunic which shroud-wound his body, and used it to brush away the particles embedded in his face, his hands, his naked feet. 

Glancing down, he realized he had no idea how he had come to be wearing such a garment. He wouldn't be caught stiff in it; a sheik suit was not his idea of sartorial elegance.

"I don't want this scenario," he announced petulantly. The originator of this scenario must have been . . . must have been . . . 

He couldn't recall.

As he tried to conjure up his past, his brow became braided with furrows not unlike the ground beneath him. Hunger Sufi-whirled in his gut while he hawked and spit, hawked and spit trying to clear his throat, and jump start his recalcitrant memory.

His mind seemed capable of offering up only a vast wasteland of shifting pointillistic recollections. None of the images coherent, none of them unified by underlying theme or moral overlays. But the worst for Thesley was the apparent evaporation of his beloved details.

For Thesley Stevens, entrepreneur, well-born artist and antique collector, this was akin to dousing his heart with turpentine and setting it afire.

Accustomed to scrutiny and hyperfocussed concentration upon the minuscule and the marvelous, Thesley's eyes began to crave objects that they might linger over, admire, love, desire.

He rose to his knees, arranged the layers of his vibrant robes so he could sit comfortably, and earnestly began to examine the sand, grain by grain.

The sun hoisted its swollen belly over the horizon with little fanfare. His own belly screamed; bloodbloodbloodblood, like a war-whooping Mongol. Thesley tried to ignore it. Instead he squinted his hazel eyes and began to examine the subtle intricacies of the sand crystals. These wind-abraded particles had tumbled across the ground for thousands of miles. They collided with one another, had been flung against rocks, battered against all manner of obstructions, continuously and relentlessly beaten, pummeled, hammered, agitated, each on a path to an individual spherical perfection that, once obtained, they would retain for millions of years. 

His long hair hung in sandy coils to the ground as he bent over, intent upon scooping up handfuls of sand in one hand and poking through his unique finds with the other. Thesley's fair skin was easily freckled, easily burned. He no longer even remembered his name was Thesley. A Louis XVI ormolu cartel clock with a circular enamel dial surmounted by a flaming urn ticked in his head

.

For every precious antique tick, he counted one grain.

For every corresponding tock, his belly screamed.

 

Bloodbloodblood.

Blood, blood, blood.

**********

"He is an interesting man," muttered the Ancient. He held a lead mirror up to his face and began to file the wrinkles around his eyes. He would not stay under so long next time, he vowed to himself; the damage to the face just was not worth a century's sleep.

Balthazar sucked in her coordinates and directed geometric wisps of smoked displeasure towards her Master. The Ancient heard the coat hangers jingle as her steam-fit found, and calculated its way through his narrow chamber.

"Well, he is," he repeated defiantly. "His memory is so acute, and so dependable, he could very well serve us as a High Archiver. We could use another one. We can't very well go about leaving Vampire History books in places where the tempfolk might find and read them, you know." He paused to stroke his forearm's poreless beauty. The Ancient revered all beauty, especially his own. He realized Balthazar was not projecting any more smoke signals. He wondered if she was even listening. He considered lighting a stick of sandlewood incense. She would be offended at the competitive emission and begin huffing like a dragon. Then he'd know where she was located in the room. Always a good thing to know, he thought. Bal could be vicious and conniving when she was having trouble with her reception anyway. But her connubial talents were considerable, not to mention the level of mystic transport one could achieve while she vibrated HER vaporous mists around his body. The Ancient sighed happily, thinking of Balthazar's phantom delights. He continued his argument. 

"Thesley's barely human as it is, with that anomalous brain of his, and Plato seems to be off his psychological feed lately. I recently asked him in what year I consecrated Dylan Thomas into the Bloodhood and he started ranting something about all poets being mad and they ought to be excluded from our eternal fraternity. Damn narrow-minded, for a genius Vamp. He's always lamenting the state of the world and all that depressive rot. He's even taken to supping bagged cow-blood rather than, as he puts it, 'contaminating his veins with anything culled from a human being.'"

He grinned broadly and showed the mirror both of his cheeks, then uttered a grunt of satisfaction when he beheld his now-restored visage. "I say, I think I will initiate him."

A stream of ectoplasm emanated from Balthazar's private dimension and landed with a rude SPLOT over The Ancient's immaculate Image.

"Damn you, Bal!" thundered he. "State your objections and be done with it. And quite hocking all over my reflection!"

Her concerns regarding the initiation of Thesley Stevens were outlined in Sumarian on the damp block of clay The Ancient provided for her use in the corner of his sanctum. He could see the stylus moving across the clay, but she kept her incarnation invisible. Shy, she was, and, for a being of no determinate or solid description, she performed calculus faster than any modern computer. After six thousand years of existence, The Ancient had accumulated so much wealth he needed her to keep track of all of it. Though she had a disturbing tendency to express herself in the language of mathematics, she was nevertheless a reliable and steadfast Vampire, even if her blood was of the numerical kind.

Her stylus sucked and stabbed at her tablet. The Ancient leaned forward and read her litany of complaint against "Thesley Stevens, human being."

CANNOT SOLVE FOR PERFECTION.

The Ancient leaned back into his stuffed Elephant chair, and coiled the trunk around his neck to muffle his laughter. "Bal, Bal, you're such a purist. After the transformation we can work on paring down his irregularities."

At the word "paring" The Ancient plucked up his file, lifted up the Elephant's arm, which he utilized literally for his armrest, and commenced to work on the Elephant's scaly crusted toenails. "I mean, what else is Eternity for," he rumbled, "if not to work on achieving one's ultimate perfection?"

The stylus imprinted the block faster and faster, the quirky characters seeming to extrude from the inside out, like bas relief.

DOES NOT WANT TO FIND ANSWER, ONLY WANTS TO DWELL ON INDIVIDUAL COMPONENTS OF EQUATION.

"I repeat, Bal, he can be taught to surrender his weird fixation with details. He has a bit of a hyper-sensitivity problem, we'll do a little serious life-threatening trauma, we can teach him how to dispense with the trivial and learn to appraise and appreciate the larger drama. So what else bothers you?"

RESISTS LOWEST COMMON DENOMINATOR.

 

"Oh, that," said the Ancient. "Hmm. You mean his upper class arrogance and elitist condescending attitude toward other people?"

 

YOUR ANSWER IS CORRECT.

The Ancient sighed. Sometimes Balthazar and her persnickety logic made him feel indeed, Ancient. "So I'll humble him a little, make him eat snakes, dump him out in the middle of the South Central Sahara without any fashionable Lagerfield exo-flesh, those reminders of his prestigious identity or past in which he takes such pride.. Let old Sahara tumble away his ego- imperfections, but first, *I'll* wipe his mental slate, Bal, so he can advent his adventure with us wearing a psyche clean and scrubbed and shining like crystal."

PARTICULAR -- WILL NOT DRINK BLOOD, warned Balthazar.

"Listen Bal, when the Sahara gets through with Thesley Stevens, I assure you, he'd drink your square root piss out of my slipper."

The stylus stopped moving.

"What?" said the Ancient.

The stylus began to jiggle across the clay again, but this time Balthazar took her time. When she had finished, a coy plume of smoke curled around and around her cuneiform communication like a trophy wreath.

THESLEY IS A POSITIVE INTEGER.

"You mean, he is handsome, don't you?" The Ancient sighed.

 

The stylus suddenly spun high into the air, nearly to the apex of his vaulted ceiling before plummeting down with such momentum The Ancient was afraid she had intended to spear him in the skull. He ducked, and the writing implement landed instead on the Elephant's leathery brow, where it protruded like a slender thorn.

"You would notice that," muttered the Master. "Well, so he is. If he survives the refining episode in the Sahara, he'll be a classy and discerning addition to our kind."

Balthazar enfolded him and the Elephant in her purring glory haze. The Ancient's aluminum mirror eyes reflected her adoration. He could not, and he did not think anymore about Thesley Stevens. At least, not until he orchestrated the necessary intersection with Thesley, in order to offer him a treasure older and more valuable than all of Thesley's accumulated rarities. The benediction of priceless blood, in exchange for the services of a unique and relentless memory.

***********

"So, you relish the spirits with enthusiasm! Might that not be to provide a therapeutic buffer against the overwhelming riot of your senses?" the gentleman asked him.

Thesley slurred blurred words and laughed. He inhaled the individual smells: perfumes, sweat, scalpy hair oils, starch, shoe polish, the aroma of the olfactory banquet, both human and food. The chandelier above tossed brilliant fragments over the partying guests. He watched the fallen light patterns shift and shiver and slink over satin jacket, sequined dress, feathered and sparkled hair, fierce jewels, metal zippers, crystal goblets, glass vase. Like highlights in a painting, Thesley found these details far more interesting than the social gathering itself. In his alcohol-saturated brain, the reflections seemed reptilian cold and somehow sinister.

The other guest had spoken. Thesley forced himself to appear interested.

"And you fancy yourself a collector of fine antiques, they tell me."

"Who tol' you?" Thesley asked. He would remember the name forever. Suddenly the pulsing facets in his crystal glass of Amontillado arrested his attention; he barely noticed his interlocutor. Thesley was inebriated and euphoric, like an artist on absinthe. He did detect an odd tone to the conversation, although the strange man in front of him had spoken only few sentences.

"Ah. Let's just say you are known for your discrimination in matters ancient. And you fancy yourself to be a maverick, and a recluse. Then there is the matter of your indefatigable memory. That must be useful . . . and tiring."

Thesley attempted to focus his eyes on the elderly man before him. He sipped his wine, rubbed his jaw, and peered again. A peculiar haze permeated the air. Thesley thought this atmospheric disturbance could be attributed to the carousel of drinks he had imbibed all evening. Cigarette smoke or incense would not explain it. Again, he stared. This time he saw the man possessed a face simple and clean as a Zen stone. Not a mole, nor freckle, nor wrinkle nor laugh line, nor crow's foot marked his flesh. Thesley ached to obsess over some detail of the man's visage, but there was none. Not so much as a hair to scrutinize -- the man was entirely bald. No eyebrows, no mustache, no beard. He had no odor. Not an exhalation of after dinner mint or a cheek-slap of cologne emanated from his personage. Thesley was intrigued. Even the man's Edwardian suit was entirely black and without ornamentation.

"You're not a geezer," Thesley said, inanely. "You only seem old." 

Thesley lost his balance and felt the other man hook an arm around his back to steady him.

"Oh, I am older than you imagine, Mr. Stevens. And that shan't be a problem, since you are partial to the bygone and the rare. Let us go for a stroll," the man said. "Here, allow me to take your glass. Now, then, I will direct you. I noted a marvelous original Netherlandish Book Of Hours in the upstairs study. Early 15th century. Marvelous piece."

Thesley allowed the man to steer him through the crowd of earnest party goers and up the stairs to the study. In truth, he was glad to leave the fever pitch of the crowded room. Thesley found drinking alone pathetic and self-indulgent, otherwise he would decline all social invitations out of hand.

"Ah, here we are. Watch your step -- the Aubosson carpet, you know."

Thesley managed a crooked grin. He staggered over to a chair and nearly fell into it. His new friend set Thesley's wine glass on a library table and sat down across from him. The strange orange haze enveloped them both, causing the light from a nearby lamp appear a diffuse yellow-green. Thesley thought for a moment he could see numerals and symbols forming out of the foggy air, which dissipated before he could recognize them. He decided he really needed to join AA and ditch the alcohol once and for all.

"'Syername?" Thesley asked the man.

"That doesn't matter now, Mr. Stevens. Perhaps it is best if you don't know for the present. I confess I have orchestrated this little meeting in order to ask you if you are interested in a certain proposition, a career change if you will."

Thesley looked perplexed. "Change?"

"Yes, yes. Permit me to explain. You might respond favorably, after all. I hope to enlist your memory in the service of a select gathering of beings, of which I am the titular head."

"Foreign government?" Thesley guessed. He felt a little less drunk. "Why me?"

The man chuckled and the cloud of smoke brightened for a moment. "Well! Foreign government, of a sort, one could say. You don't really like your fellow humans, do you Thesley? You will consort with them for the purposes of sport drinking, but you don't really relate to, or understand them. In order to be effective in this position I offer you, you must learn humility. I realize this requires you to relinquish a deeply-programmed part of your character, but I assure you it is most necessary. "

"Where t'hell you going with this?" Thesley demanded. "And where's my drink?"

"Not just yet, Mr. Stevens." The man removed the wine glass and emptied the contents into a nearby copper urn.

 

"Hey!" said Thesley. "That might be someone's dead grandmother's ashes!"

"Indeed." The man gave a thin smile. "Speaking of death, Mr. Stevens. Have you ever considered the possibility of an afterlife? Whatever will you do, if your corporeal remains are locked away in the earth -- or in an urn -- and the world of trivia is eternally beyond your grasp?"

"Count all the angels, stars and asteroids, I 'spose," Thesley muttered. 

"Angels! Suppose there is no Heaven wherein angels dwell? And suppose I tell you, Mr. Stevens, that I, and only I, can offer you a quaff of eternal life -- a draught of immortality, which will enable you to bypass death, and live until the death of earth? You can spend your time as you please, collect all the antiques your greedy appetite can bear! Only I shall occasionally ask you to exercise your phenomenal memory in service to others of our kind. If it is mankind you detest, and only drinking and accumulating antiquities you cherish, I have a treasure to offer . . . in fact, I fear I shall have to insist you acquiesce. You'll only need a small amount of burnishing to qualify, a brief spell in the crucible of transformation. For a man who keeps his throat wet with intoxicants, you must spend a defining season seeking drink . . . and not finding it. Craving the feast of your senses, and receiving only the heat and featureless face of oblivion. Survive this, Thesley, and you will survive until this planet stops spinning. And frankly, it wouldn't hurt for you to have a woman, either."

Thesley had slumped in his chair, head in hands, and was shaking his head from side to side. He felt as if he was suffering from a bacchanalia-induced hallucination. He hoped the man addressing him was entirely mad. Someone was insane, Thesley thought, and it is well possible it is I. He raised his head and gaped at the man, who had leaned forward and offering Thesley a glass of wine.

"Drink this, Alice," The Ancient said, archly. "Or it's off with your head."

Thesley would drink anything with alcohol as the principal ingredient. The aura of mist about them exuded the odor of clean beaches, and salt, and heat. He extended his hand, took the proffered drink, and sipped it with reverence. Thick and salty it was, and perhaps the daft man had slipped a sedative into the glass, for Thesley found himself adrift in a mental haze, in which computations and equations flexed and reconfigured into algorithms of metamorphosis, the anodyne for a life barren in its richness, deathless and dry for all its drinking, impossibly empty for all its detail.

**********

By noon the sun achieved its zenith position in the Windex-blue sky. Though he had spent most of the morning trudging through mile after mile of identical shimmering sandscapes, Thesley still had not figured out where he was, or how he had come to be there. Thankful for the Cossack apparently given to him by his unknown tormentor, said tormentor nevertheless failed to make provisions for some kind of footwear. Thesley's bare feet burned hours earlier in the hot sand. Although he had once been accustomed to being dressed by his man servant, he was no longer discomforted by this knowledge. His memory had been liberated from his past.

His servants would not have recognized their Master. Thesley was hyperventilating, panting like an animal in the sun. Sand lice feasted in his groin and in his armpits. His handsome face glowed crimson inside the hood of his makeshift cowl, and his hazel eyes beneath their scalded lids shone with the fervor of a soul-stung desert prophet in the throes of revelation.

The sunlight obliterated the shadows. Thesley tried to evaluate his surroundings. The view was the same in all directions. Sand, sky, sand, sky, sand, sky: a dull and inhospitable mantra chanted by indifferent nature. Though he searched diligently for visual relief from the desert uniformity of design, he beheld instead a landscape warped by the intense light. A land without dimension, without even a detectable smell, save perhaps a residual clean and organic smell of dry stone. Without water, there can be no transmission of odors. But his morning studies proved conclusively this desert only pretended to be eternally unchanging. If he paid attention to the sand itself he observed the most significant transformations. "Damn fascinating, really," he opined to his voiceless and uninterested environment.

His stomach spasmed painfully, but Thesley Stevens had advanced beyond starvation, beyond thirst. Immortal made, he could not even take refuge in death. He began to dig a trench in the desert floor using only his two hands, hands once well-lotioned and manicured. The task was time-consuming, but time had no relevance in a place that could not even be bothered with defining dimension.

When he completed his laborious digging, his gentleman's hands were rent and bloody. Thesley did not notice his injuries. Without another thought he tumbled into his hypogean grave until he was buried to the neck. He wept from the exertion, the crippling fear, from the combined effects his thirst and starvation wrought upon his body.

He covered his head with his hood and succumbed to a necessary coma.

He dreamed of rain, oases, endless love, endless blood. Moist, life-giving things.

**********

During his protracted unconsciousness, a snake found its way into the roomy folds of Thesley's blue robes. Still deeply asleep, he grasped it with both hands, brought the serpent exploding to the surface and tugged its writhing length towards his face. Thesley's jaws yawned open, his cracked lips split and bled. Fang to fang, they faced each other. Thesley bit the serpent's head off and sucked it's leaking blood with enthusiasm.

He awakened at night with scales, sand, gristle, guts, and shreds of snakeskin clotted in his mouth. The moon was monstrous in the sky, a phosphorus idol, so luminous and bright Thesley could see the captivating pattern in the serpent's body quite well. Still encased in his sandwomb, he studied the clever mosaic until he fell asleep once more.

**********

The next day a sandstorm raged across the Central Sahara. The climatic force of the incoming wind and strata of mud clouds kicked up sand waves up to half a mile high. They blanketed the desert with a dense orange fog. When Thesley braved a peek at the sun from beneath his steadily pelted hood, it was glowing a radiant alien green. That was enough for him. He utterly rejected this version of immortality. He wanted death to enfold him in her hot winds; he wanted blissful Lethe to drown his awareness forever. Thesley groaned out his misery, recowled his head, and passed out with his hands laced and folded beneath his chin as if he were praying.

**********

When he rose again that evening, he discovered a strange, quick, almost snakelike shedding of dimension was now one of his personal abilities. He transported himself towards the dusty meat-sweat odor emanating from a caravan of camels. While their human owners dreamed nomadic dreams, Thesley gargled and slurped and rejoiced in the baptism of the reeking camel blood. He hung on their great necks like a brightly-colored, albeit sandy, pendant, swinging, swallowing, gasping out his pleasure. If they reared back as if to let fly their noxious sputum, he bit them all the harder, and then he staggered away, full-satisfied, into the darkness. His free-ranging shape-shifting talents seemed, like the dunes, to be limited to the desert, but Thesley didn't give a damn. He felt confident that he would always be able to find the blood-source. The sand shifted and his priorities shifted within him.

For the first time in twenty years, he grinned with a primal, unselfconscious ecstasy. Drinking blood was better than sex, he thought, was better than escargot, even better than his 1950 Jaguar XK120 roadster, which had been black with red upholstery, six-cylinder in-line engine, twin overhead camshaft, left-hand drive . . .

The details of his precious car dissolved like the desert's descriptive statistics. The Devil was in the details after all. He resolved to embrace the infinite Overview, and strut about eternity with his eye on the Reality At Large, subject only to one pursuit -- the over-riding objective -- to satisfy a life defined by Blood.

Despite this epiphany, Thesley realized he was lonely. He deduced correctly that the camel herders would not like to offer him a seat in their tents. His robes were blood-drenched, his long hair matted and dank with gore. No one would want him at their daughter's wedding, or their book-signing party, or any class of party, that was for sure. Mankind would never have anything to do with him again, not that he ever cared much for them anyway. With that thought, came a liberating peace of mind.

Glancing upwards, he noticed the sky was nearly blotted out from the witness of the uncountable stars, sun-doused with reflected light. They appeared to be hot and wet; he knew that they were as cold and dry as a desert night. Constellations, he thought, those familiar images constructed of individual contributors -- he knew in that instant he wanted to serve, and to search for others of his own kind. He would learn their names, their faces, their histories, their pursuits, every clinical and unique detail of their individual, immortal lives and never permit them to be forgotten. And still, he felt lost in a broken archive -- who was he? He still did not know.

His memory shifted, shifted, shifted through the aggregate of his own history . . .

And then he did remember.

**********

He opened his eyes and found himself drifting in a welcoming column of smoke. He heard voices, and he thought at first it was the booming symphony of the deviating dunes, but then he knew whence the voices derived their music. The Blood Brood -- his galaxy of eternal companions.

Thesley wished for freedom from the company of men, and in return The Ancient demanded the use of his limitless, clinically perfect memory. If he could be taught to relinquish his arrogance, his perceptual blinders, and his tenacious independence, he would be given a consciousness, and an understanding, and a rejuvenating brotherhood, not even his human intelligence could comprehend. The Sahara, his crucible, flayed away his occlusions and forged him into an intractable Perfection. The Ancient was ready to receive him now. 

But first . . .

The shapeless entity of Balthazar peeled away his rude and stained habiliments, working her healing equations all over his willing body. She solved his final inhibitions; she subtracted Thesley's few remaining concerns. He felt a glorious stabbing as something sharp and fluent imprinted hieroglyphs of affection upon his flesh. Her vaporous hands were liquid silk. He shuddered and cried out with inhuman joy. His desert heart gratefully received her essence, her life-giving essence, as it flooded in through his nostrils and healed and rehydrated every broken and fragmented piece of his soul.

All the types and tastes of mankind's blood and possessions were his to explore and savor. And Balthazar was more magnificent than even the finest antique, and older, much older than any vintage rarity extant.


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