by Timothy Toner (17 Jun 93)
In honor of Mr. Toner's 22nd Anniversary on this godforsaken mudball, I, his jester, have been commanded to whip up the following delight for you kiddies out there. Call me a romantic: I just like the idea.
Comments, Criticisms, and Questions always welcome, and always replied to.
They walked, together, holding hands, while the wind breezed rapturously off the lake. They were almost one. Almost. One day, one sliver of light in an endless sea of shadows, seperated them.
"Are you ready?"
She squeezed his hand gently. "That's the fifth time you've asked me tonight. The fortieth time this week. The 185th time this month. You know the answer. You knew the answer...the first time you asked." She looked up at him expectantly. She wanted him to say something profound, or else nothing at all, and ravage her in his silence.
He smiled softly, just like that first time, four long months ago, when he approached her at the party. They continued walking, allowing the waves lapping on the breakers, to speak for their souls.
"I need to know. You gain so much...and lose so much."
"I gain you. Forever. That's all I need to know."
They stopped here, at their favorite spot, where he Kissed her for the first time, where his craven hunger was rewarded by a taste of something other than bitter blood, tainted in fear. He had touched her soul, and found hidden love.
He wanted to repeat that act. Here. Now. Tonight. But she would need her strength. He did not want to deprive her of her final day, as he was, thirty years before.
"Let me see it."
He removed a slim piece of paper from his coat, and unfolded it. It was brittle, almost old, but yet smelling of fresh ink and melted wax. He handed it to her.
She took it from him, allowing her warm fingers to caress his gentle chill. Opening it, she read the words softly to herself. They were in Latin, but these she knew by heart. There were three signatures at the bottom. One was hers, a quivering mass of ink, unused to using a quill. The next was his, bold and defiant, yet, after 30 years, still inexperienced.
The last was the smallest. Its grace and simplicity spoke of years of experience writing with such instruments. Of all the things that terrified her about the next sunset, it was him, the center of the elaborate web she had been shown, and soon would be a part of, that caused her pulse to beat faster and faster. Looking in those cold, dead eyes, lacking all love, all hope, all life, she almost hesitated.
And now she stood, her final fear overcome. She gripped his hand tightly, acknowledging that she was his forever, and beyond forever. She brought the two hands, entwined as one, to her lips, and kissed them gently. One day was too long a wait. Tears flowed slowly down her cheeks.
He looked at her, sobbing softly, and caressed her cheek, wiping at a single thread of tears that tracked her face. His touch was cold, but her own warmth brought the lost heat back. Bringing the finger to his pale lips, he tasted the salt, and looked out, over the lake, remembering.
"Savor this, my dear. Of all that is humane, I miss tears the most. Cry once, for me, tomorrow."
She broke the grip, and instead embraced him with both arms, her passion flooding into him, enough for two.
After a time passed in silence, he broke contact, and looked down at her. "You remember everything?"
"Yes. All that you have taught me. All that I need to know, to be in your world. I will recite them with pride, determination, and love."
"And the Ritual?"
"Each word burns in my heart."
"Excellent. You'll make me proud, tomorrow."
Somewhere, softly, a bell pealed out its sad song.
She looked up, moistned eyes filling with concern. "It's time..."
"No. There a place, close to here, where I may dash into. I want to stay with you, here, as long as I can, holding you. Maybe...maybe I can see you in the sunlight." He held her, his back to the rising sun, waiting patiently.
"There's something else..."
"An item. Tomorrow, you will see many thing, meet many people. Carry with you that one item which best embodies your final day. Keep it, and we shall cherish it together. One day..." He fell silent. They were both silent, together. And apart.
The sun seeped up in the horizon. He stayed no more than ten seconds, before the sun's radiance scorched his neck, weakened his spirit, and he staggered off into the darkness.
She was left alone, with the coming, cursed dawn, with his final words, whispered in agony and desire. The final words of the Ritual. "I do this for Love."
She whispered them softly to the dark hole where he now slept.
"I do this for love."
Dashing home, she slept soundly for four hours, allowing herself strength for the busy day ahead. She had already completed all the mundane tasks, such as cleaning out the fridge, and preparing her "room." Now was the time for symbolism.
She grabbed a handful of bikinis, haircare products, wrinkle cream, and diet books, and dumped them in the miniature barbecue on the patio of her Gold Coast apartment. Dousing them in lighter fluid, she set aflame all her mortal failings. It felt good to be free. Tarrying a moment, she watched the flames licking up, destroying in an acrid pyre all that she once stood for.
She noticed one thing left in the box. Her Black Book. She was his now, and she no longer needed these clumsy, naive bastards. Her companionship was eternal, not even til death do they part.
Almost tossing it into the flames, a wicked grin flashed across her lips. She took a piece of masking tape, and placed it on the leather cover. She then wrote on it, "Herd." Might as well use them for something...
A quick shower later, and she was ready for the world. She had established her itinerary two weeks ago, making minor modifications as it suited her. Each stop was to a place that was best beheld in the full light of day, something she would never experience again.
First, a small brunch at a cafe across from the Art Institute. That ediface was also on her agenda, but he reminded her that such places were open at all hours, to the right patrons.
Then to the top of the Sears Tower. The weather report said it would be overcast today, but he told her not to worry. He had a friend who would look into it. Sure enough, it was a gorgeous sunny day, with not a cloud in the sky.
All the places swirled in her mind. The zoo, the beach, the shops...Argh! She gritted her teeth in frustration. "Savor," was the best advice he could give. "Savor each bite, each glance, each moment."
All she knew now was that she would begin at Le Francais Chou, and end at Three Happiness, in Chinatown. He, in fact reccomended it. "You won't be going into Chinatown again," was all he would say about it.
Before she knew it, she was in a cab, rocketing down Michigan Avenue, on this, her final day on earth.
It had all happened so fast. Three years in the ad business, and she was already burned out. Her needs, however, reqired her to languor on in this drudge job. Meanwhile, at might, she sought to regain the little girl she left in college, so many years ago.
She found her in his eyes, those eyes that spoke of age and innocence. She never thought that what she saw was arrested age, and captured innocence. She succumbed to his spell, and would have followed him anywhere, to his place, to another country, another world, hell...the lake.
He tried to do...something...at the lake. He failed, not in doing, but in trying to do. He lacked the will to take her. To take her with his mind. With his teeth. Without her permission.
He did the unbelievable: he asked. She did the unthinkable: she allowed. And it was rapture from the start.
Never being religious, never being a great fan of the day, never being one of the herd, she fell in love with his world, of night and passions, and forever. Especially forever.
He told her all, of his existence, of his fears, of his people. Had they known, he would have died, as would she. His love for her was so great, however, that he could keep nothing from her.
Making gentle inquiries, he asked, and was well received. If she so chose, she could become one of them. One of the elite, the shepherds, the wolves. When he asked, her eyes filled with tears of joy, the first time she wept for him. So filled with love, he too began to weep, and their rivulets -- his crimson, hers clear -- mingled as a sign of what was to come.
He had been denied the pagentry of the Embrace. Taken almost as an afterthought by a suicidal vampire, his first days were filled with pain and danger. He would take her gently through that dark night, and they would emerge, together, triumphant, as it was done in the past.
He warned her: she would be tested, in infinitely subtle ways. This final day would drag on her, he warned her. But she laughed it all aside. "I'll probably sleep through the damn thing, anyway."
They were there, at the cafe. It was time to begin.
"You work nights?" she asked the cab driver.
"Nah. Got family at home."
She tipped him heavily. She'd never see him again.
Slowly stirring her cafe au lait, she nibbled at a buttered croissant, while pigeons swooped on high, and harrassed invisible breadcrumbs. She still sat in the shadow of the Art Institute, just across the street, and enjoyed its cooling embrace. Soon, however, the sun would melt her comfort, and it would be time to move on.
"Excuse me, ma'am. Is the seat taken?"
She glanced up at the speaker. He was a tall man, dressed in army fatigues from a bygone war, with numerous necklaces adorning his chest. Beads and green seemed to define him best. He carried a book bag, and seemed a bit fidgety.
A quick look around the streetside cafe revealed the obvious: she was the only one currently seated. She smiled at him. "On the prowl, eh?" she thought to herself.
He smiled back, not understanding the private joke. She nodded, and motioned to the seat.
"My name's Chris." He extended a friendly hand in her direction. She took it.
"Denise. So what are you doing this fine morning?"
"Well, I'm taking classes part time, at the Institute," he glanced and motioned towards it, as if she was a blind moron, unable to see the huge building looming in front of her. "I was on my way to one just now, when I saw you sitting there."
That was it. His whole pick-up. She sighed within, cursing his lack of creativity. Still, there was an eagerness to him, that might make him fun to play with.
Indeed, despite the unkempt look of his clothes, he seemed rather attractive. His hair, buzzed short on all but the top, was a complete loss, but his eyes and his smile saved the day. She bet he would taste...
The blood drained from her face, and she began to tremble, almost dropping the cup. He was there, catching the cup in his large hands, and ignoring the pain of hot ceramic scalding his fingers.
She stared at him, passionless. "So have I become like them so soon?" she whispered to a secret part of her, that was locked away four months ago, and would be executed tonight. "Can I not appreciate him, as a human being, and not as a potential meal?"
He had lowered the cup to the table, and smiled deeply at her. "Hey, it's OK. What's wrong?"
She weakly smiled back. "Nothing. It's just that time..." An old joke she told around the office. Everyone was aware of her mood swings. The joke wouldn't be funny after tomorrow.
No children. No grandkids. When she was in college, she lost both of her remaining grandparents. Their one dream was to see her married, with children. She felt it a long way off, a lifetime away. A lifetime that would never happen.
Something inside her consoled her. "Oh, you'll have children, Denise. All the kids you'll ever want." She died a little, inside, glancing back at him, still jabbering about the incident. A strange sensation, like a deep hunger, began to rise the more she contemplated Chris. "Better get used to it," was all she could reply.
"So whatcha doing after this?"
Denise had been ignoring the conversation, like an idiot. "Pardon?"
"Well, you seem to have a piece of paper there, with a load of fun places on it, places I haven't been to since I was a kid, and I was wondering if I could, y'know hang out."
"Don't you have class?"
"Just that one, and it was pretty boring anyway. Tell you what, say the word, and I'm outta here. OK?"
She was about to say it. Today was a time to be alone, to contemplate mortality, and all its joys. The "word" almost passed her lips, when she checked herself. "Why not?" she muttered. This might be fun."
"Wait." He reached into his bag, and retrieved a 35mm camera. Taking a few steps back, he pointed, and clicked a few times. "There."
"Well, I'm supposed to do a drawing of something rare and unique, and you, sitting there, like that, was the rarest thing I'd ever seen."
She glanced down. In the short time since he sat down, the sun had wrapped itself around the sheltering building, and smothered Denise in its warmth. And she didn't even notice.
The only world to describe it was "whirldwind." Denise had left his kind back at school, where presumabley they recycled themselves to create the next generation. "Dreamers" was the nicest thing she could say about them.
But this short time with Chris was magical. He know so much about the city, having grown up here as a boy. Every sight, no matter how mundane, he enhanced in a subtle, mystical way. There was a kindness, a hope reflected back at her whenever she glanced into his eyes, to plumb their true depth. There was substance, value to dreams, and Chris was the richest person she knew. If only she'd known him before...
Before Glenn. They were in the park, heading for the lakefront, walking hand in hand, when she realized. His touch gave warmth, not draining. His eyes were not glassy, but clear. Chris had nothing to hide, nothing to be afraid of. And slowly, step by step, Denise was falling in love.
He looked up, glanced at the distant skyline of buildings, catching sight of something. "4:30...shit! I gotta be in Hyde Park at five. Will you...will you meet me? Later?"
A rock developed deep within her, and a part of her picked it up, and began bashing at the cell door that held her in. "When?"
"6:30? I can meet you in Chinatown..."
"Okay." She was amazed at how warmly that came out. "6:30 at Three Happiness."
He smiled and walked off.
She remained, watching the same waves she only listened to last night, lap into the breakers. There was something else, something else Chris could give her.
In all this time, lo these four months, she and Glenn had never...consummated their relationship. She had asked him, once, and he only smiled back. "I can do it, but it would be hollow, a facade. And you would know the difference." The Kiss had always been enough, but now...now she needed something else. She did not want to go into tonight, without knowing...
And at 6:30, she'd know.
Once, long ago, the Third Tradition was enforced with an iron hand. Anyone created without the proper formalities observe was hunted down and destroyed, despite the status of the sire, or boon owed. From this time, when such things mattered, comes the Tradition of the Final Day.
The subject of the final day is grist for many a Toreador's muse. By recollecting on the myriad sights and sounds savored on that day, some believe that life can be breathed into the dead art most practice. Subsequently, Toreadors are most likely to follow this Tradition. Others, such as Tremere and Giovanni, who relish formality and pageantry, especially when culling bloodlines, enjoy the ceremony this day provides.
There is no set rules to the day, save that the mortal who will be Embraced must be approved of by the Prince and all the Primogen. A "no" suffices for the Prince, but the Primogen must come up with a tangible reason to deny the Embrace otherwise.
Usually, the sire will stay with the Childe until the dawn, and the Childe will go about, finishing his business with the mortal world, before returning at dusk, to accept the passage into the ranks of Kindred.
There is a Ritual, a mere formality to the Embrace, that some choose to follow. It is a series of responses that Sire and Childe repeat. Any hesitance is duly noted, and the Embrace halted until such at time as it is prudent to continue (minutes, days, months...). The final response is usually the reson for the Embrace, such as, "In the name of Honor, I do this," or "Tradition," or "Admiration," or, most common, "Love." After the Ritual, a party is thrown to welcome the neonate, and it is said that some Camarilla parties rivalled the Sabbat in their depravity, when an especially choice Childe was brought over.
Also, in less recent times, the Final Day was used as a true test of the prowess of the candidate. All who opposed the sire would be alerted to the event, and could do anything in their power to stop her / kill her. Once this was done, however, the Neonate could not be harmed by any who participated, unless, of course, the Neonate precipitated it.
There are three reasons to perform this tradition. Two are well known and obvious, the third only rumored at. The first is that it better prepares the neonate for what lies beyond the threshold. The need to cast off one's past life is an essential part of being Kindred and surviving at it. Second, by the time the Ritual is complete, there is not doubt as to the legality of the Embrace. During darker times, the Record of the Embrace was vital to survival, as Archons swept towns, looking for violators of the Third Tradition. The Recond gains you status automatically equal to your sire, in case of his death, or detainment because of torpor, so respected is the document.
Finally, it is rumored that a minor part of the Ritual, the Item, carries the most significance. Indeed, some say that during the final day, the mortal concentrates part of his mortality, what he once was, into the object. It is believed by these that there exists a Tremere ritual that allows this power to be tapped. With this, the full brunt of lost humanity is released, and can be used to redeem vampires who have gone too far.
It is further rumored that an Item, properly prepared, contains so much of the mortality of its host, that it can return the Childe back to that original state at any time. Such a journey is one way, and the restored mortal can never become kindred again. Records indicate that this belief, mostly a superstition, is the source of the Item. Some unscrupulous Kindred, however, have theorized that the vital force can be stolen, and used to turn them back into mortals. Such an action, it is theorized, will drain the Childe of any mortality that still remains, extinguishing the poor wretch.
Game Stats: I don't know...you make them up. Make a Level 5 tremere ritual that drains one person of Humanity through the item (Stamina + Empathy, diff 8. Each success robs Childe of One humanity, up to 0, and gives to recipient, up to 10. Doing so on an unwilling Childe results in an automatic Humanity loss). As for becoming mortal...you're on you own.
She stood, feeling the night approach, as the heat slowly drained from her body. Chris was all too happy to listen to her concerns, to help her in this little way, to give her what she desired most. And in an odd sort of way, she felt fulfilled.
She felt it in her purse, a momento of the time they shared. Given to her by him, it meant more to her than anything. She reflected back for a moment on all she was abandoning, by choosing this, this painful course.
She would have taken longer, but suddenly he was there, behind her, wrapping his hands around her. So cold...
She turned into him, and returned the hug. Suddenly remembering, she wanted to get it over with. Denise looked deep within his eyes, and spoke, "I'm ready."
He smiled back. "Laying a kiss, the first kiss, on her brow, he whispered, "In honor of the Night."
"In honor of the Night."
A kiss on the right eye. "Who hides us and protects us."
"Who hides us and protects us.
A kiss on the left. "In honor of Caine, the first."
"In honor of Caine, the first."
On the lips, still burning from another's touch, "Who gave us eternity,"
"Who gave us eternity,"
"Through defiance, and not mercy"
"Through defiance, and not mercy"
"In honor of the Clans"
"In honor of the Clans"
"Who now are my family,"
"Who now are my family,"
"And the Masquerade"
"And the Masquerade"
"Which is our Cloak"
"Which is our Cloak"
"I give this gift to thee"
"I give this gift to thee"
Finally, a return to the neck. He glanced into her eyes, and she did not waver. She clutched the Item strongly, willing it to give her strength, to endure.
"I do this for Love." Teeth extend, and descend upon smooth, silk skin, with rapture and affection. And hunger.
"I do this for Love." She cried her last true tears, in the name of Glenn.
And struck true.
The Item, a stake lovingly crafted by Chris, pierced Glenn to his withered soul. He dropped to his knees, and collapsed forward, driving the stake further. In seconds it was over.
And she was alone. The knowledge she kept in her head, of his life and his people would make her wanted, would make others want her dead. That was okay. Chris had friends, and with any luck, a few of Glenn's kind would end up dead.
As the van pulled up, to cart Glenn's caracass away for proper disposal, Denise thought back on what could have been. An unlife, as hollow as everything Glenn promised. A hollow love, the central bloom in his withered bouquet.
Nothing was more precious than love. Not even immortality.