Blood King Rising – Intro 6

Carla Drago - December 1928

Carla Drago was having the time of her life.  She didn’t feel any of the nervousness and self-awareness that had kept her from completely letting go previously.  She hadn’t danced like this in years, she thought, her limbs moving automatically in time to the magical tempo of the music while her mind roved.  In fact, the last time she had danced with such carefree, devil-may-care abandon had been when Jack was alive, and her life stretched wondrously before her – though it may have been a combination of drugs, alcohol and sheer unfettered lust that made those memories so bright.

A hint of grief tinged her mood, so she threw herself into the fast-paced steps of the Charleston and laughed gaily with the others about her doing the same.  So many pretty young things forgetting about their troubles and celebrating the sheer exuberance of their youth in closer quarters than their parents would have wanted.

She was breathless now, but the world remained in glorious colour rather than fading away into the endless grey that had been her life before encountering Madam Astrid.  Jenny, she reminded herself, the Madam wants me to call her Jenny.

Life in prison had been hard, but she was inured to pain and deprivation – her parents had been able to provide that in abundance.  She was also used to the hard manual labour that was meant to keep the convicts tired and subservient.  It was supposed to be a punishment for their many and varied crimes, but Carla welcomed the taxing activity.  It pushed her physical form to the limits of her not-inconsiderable strength and endurance, and ultimately allowed her to drop into a deep sleep at the end of each day.

What she had found hardest was the solitude.  Even in the overcrowded conditions that packed women four or more to a cell, she had been all alone.  She didn’t want to make friends – she just wanted Jack alive, well, and in her arms – so she made enemies instead.  After a few bouts in solitary for fighting back, she simply stopped reacting to the slights and provocations – whatever happened, happened.  At least it meant that she was less alone, that someone thought something of her.

Such had been her life for five long years.  Years in which she cared nothing for her appearance, nothing for her life, and especially nothing for her mind.  If she hadn’t been incarcerated, she would probably have buried her conscious mind beneath a soothing balm of alcohol or stronger, anything to stop herself thinking about what might have been.

Then she’d been released.  The cage bars had opened, she’d been given a couple of dollars, and she’d been sent on her way.  Free.  Without the monotony of her prison schedule, Carla was lost.  She had no idea what to do out here without Jack.  Prohibition wasn’t a law yet, but the Temperance movement was making life hard for the obvious bars, so she’d found a convenient drinking hole with a class of patrons that reminded her of prison.  The booze was cheap and plentiful, and at least she’d be alone in a crowd.  There was a modicum of comfort in that.

That foray into supposed normality ended badly.  Her caustic subservience resulted in her being dragged out into a filthy back alley.  The first fists struck at her face and stomach, winding her and knocking her to her knees.  More blows followed, but she couldn’t tell whether they were fists or feet.  Her cheap dress was torn, the coppery taste of blood filled her mouth, and her face was pushed into a rotting mound of garbage.  She resigned herself to whatever came next.

Light filled the alley, blinding her attackers and sent a stab of pain into her skull.  Her slitted eyes could barely make out the slender form of a woman limned by the headlights of her vehicle.  “Get away from her, you…” the woman said harshly, not yelling, just with a promise of menace that her quiet voice amplified.  She strode toward them fearlessly, calling them a variety of names – many of which Carla had never heard before – and the small group of attackers took a step backward.

Blinking rapidly, Carla tried to see her rescuer clearly and found, to her surprise, that she could see more than shades of grey.  The woman wore a blue jacket and pants rather than a skirt.  Her hair was tied up, fastened by a glittering band draped with tiny coins.  Her black gloved hands held a length of pipe in a manner that suggested she knew how to use it.

“Can you get up?” the woman hissed from the side of her mouth, before continuing her tirade of abuse in that calm voice.  “We don’t have long.  Get to the car.”

The attackers rallied and swarmed them, at least one knife glinting lethally in the glare of the lights.  Carla watched the woman swing the pipe and shatter the teeth of the lead assailant, before blocking a fist with a forearm.  The sight of that blow galvanised her into action in a way her own injuries had not.  She could not allow this heavenly creature, this Angel, to be hurt.  Without her intervention, Carla would likely have ended up beaten at best or raped and murdered at worst.  That entitled her to protection in Carla’s eyes.

The woman grinned as she saw Carla heave herself to her feet.  “That’s the spirit, toots.”  She wiped away a splash of red from her lip.  “Make them think twice.”

Carla nodded, half-entranced by the crimson streaming from the woman’s nose, but completely aware of the attackers rapidly approaching.  With a roar of anger that belied her size, Carla threw herself at the two about to assault her new friend, knocking them from their feet into the same garbage she’d been lying in moments earlier.  She slammed a closed fist into one surprised face then swung a bony elbow into another.  When she clambered back to her feet this time, she stamped a foot into unprotected crotches making the pair curl up on themselves retching.

“That’ll do it,” her rescuer laughed.  The remaining three assailants charged.  One ran straight past and headed for the back door of the tavern.  The other two closed, faces twisted with anger, eyes burning with the need for blood.  Carla saw the knife rise and put herself in the way, feeling the blade cut deep into the flesh of her shoulder.  She understood that she was hurt, but did not feel any pain yet, and her right arm hung limp at her side.  She twisted away, breaking the man’s grip on the knife without dislodging the weapon, and swung a graceless haymaker with her left hand.  When it connected, the man’s eyes glazed over immediately and he flew back onto the prior pair of attackers, knocking them over once more.

The length of pipe connected with a kneecap and the ensuing crack was followed by a scream of pain.  “Time to scram,” the woman panted, dropping the pipe, and taking hold of Carla’s good arm.  “They’ll have reinforcements in a moment.”  She pulled Carla the short distance to the car and bundled her into the back seat, before sliding behind the wheel with practiced elegance.  “Leave the knife in.  Less blood on the upholstery and better for you.”  The engine started with a full-throated roar.  “That’s the way, you beautiful machine.”

Carla stared in wide-eyed wonder as this wonderful Angel wrestled the gear stick into reverse and backed the vehicle into the busy street, before driving off serenely ignoring the fusillade of shouts and car horns she left in her wake.  Everything else was still grey, but the colours were vivid around this woman – an aura that radiated strength, beauty and grace.  Her eyes had closed as she slumped into unconsciousness, but she knew that she wanted nothing more than to protect this woman.  She promised this to herself.  No matter what it took.  No matter the price.

The dance step changed, and Carla moved along with it.  She didn’t know the tune, but she danced anyway.  The music was wilder now and the dancers about her more frenzied, but she was pulled along by her memories and did not notice anything amiss.

Over the next two years, Carla dedicated herself to keeping Madam Astrid safe.  She was the sole thing of colour in the surrounding grey and Carla couldn’t face losing her.  She offered her services freely, not expecting anything in return.  To her surprise, Jenny Astrid seemed to be tickled by the idea of a woman bodyguard and, after a short period of adjustment where they figured out how it would work in reality, decided that she needed a driver more.  That’s when Jenny taught Carla how to drive, paid her a wage, and provided her a room of her own.

Then Corwyn had entered their lives and Carla found that Jenny needed a bodyguard even more than before.  It was not just that the monsters were real and truly terrifying, it was that Carla could see Corwyn’s interest in Jenny.  That scared her to her very soul.  If a rich man took Jenny away, what would be left for her?  She’d be alone again, lost in a world of grey.  And worse, though the Madam laughed at the notion of romance, believing herself to be inured against it by her ‘armour of cynicism’, Carla could clearly see Jenny’s interest in Corwyn growing, an interest that had nothing to do with a confidence job.

Carla struggled against the memory, filled with a sense of danger and urgency.  The music was strange now, discordant, almost hungry in the way it nibbled voraciously at the edges of her mind and senses.  She kept moving in time to its peculiar rhythms while the dancers about her, their faces frozen into a myriad of fearful rictuses, moved jerkily, randomly, like broken puppets on twisted strings.  Her breath burned in her throat as she followed the unknown steps of this perverse pavanne through angles and paths that her mind refused to accept.

For another five years, Carla watched the dance between Jenny and Corwyn progress.  She cheered the steps that took them away from each other, mourned when they moved closer, and cried herself to sleep when they embraced.  All the while, colour crept back into her world until, in the midst of the most unholy carnage, she realised that her grief had faded away to the point where she could face it unafraid.

To her astonishment, she discovered that she actually had friends.  More than that really, they were comrades in arms, standing collectively against a darkness that hungered to swallow the world.  She began to remember times with her grandmother, a wise-woman of the Romani – what the gadjo called Gypsies.  The old woman had taught her much, though Carla’s own mother railed against the teachings and tried to replace it with tales of a man on a cross that had to be beaten into her very soul lest she be taken over by demons.

Carla wished she had known her grandmother better,  The recollections of a seven year old child left much to be desired.  “You still can,” whispered a faint voice that barely registered.  “Resist, chavi.”

With a world of colour about her, Carla began to investigate the possibilities.  Jenny and Constance assisted with her appearance, introducing her to designer clothing, exclaiming that a beautiful butterfly was finally emerging from its chrysalis – she thought they were just being nice.  Brendan coached her in diction until she was able to speak in a manner she thought of as ‘proper’.  In the course of that training, he introduced her to the wonders of the written word and she absorbed all he fed her, hungrily reaching for more – it helped immensely that Jenny owned a bookshop with all manner of interesting publications.  She no longer begrudged Jenny’s need for Corwyn’s companionship, recognising him as a joy in her life rather than a threat to be repulsed.

When Corwyn brought them all together as co-directors of a new agency, Carla gained something else as well.  She now had her own money.  It gave her confidence.  She didn’t have to be dependent or subservient to anyone, she could live life on her own terms.  Her growing reservoir of knowledge meant she could also assist Jenny with the bookshop which pleased them both.  In their downtime, while Jenny spent more time in Corwyn’s company, Carla explored the city and what it had to offer.

During that exploration, Carla discovered the private all-night dance clubs where chaperones were not welcome and the patrons expressed their zest for life in a variety of steps set to live musical accompaniment.  There were also rooms set aside for gold-card patrons who wished to dance in naked abandon with like-minded partners.  The knowledge had scandalised her at first but, after an encounter with yet another Cosmic Obscenity that almost shredded their souls along with their bodies, she found a need of her own to celebrate life with someone who could make her feel a modicum of joy.

It wasn’t something she did often, but there were no end of willing partners to choose from when she needed the release.  There was nothing like her connection to Jack in these moments, but on a purely physical level, it served its purpose.

You’re getting lost, chavi,” the quiet voice whispered from the depths of her mind.  “Resist.”

Carla shook her head and opened her eyes.  The sight before her was almost bacchanalian.  The music, if it could be called that, wailed about her like lost souls crying for release.  Dancers in various levels of undress spun in circles, vacant terror their only expression, as streamers of blood slid from their feet, their wrists, their fingers.  Her eyes followed the lengths of crimson until they settled on the faceless dancer swathed in cotton strips like a mummy who pranced at the centre of it all.

This capering figure spun in a lazy circle on one foot, the other leg raised high behind it, before settling into an outstretched pose pointing directly at Carla.  The black orbs of its eyes glittered coldly and, when it spoke, its voice was honey laced with crushed glass.  “The walls between this world and the next are thinning, little mortal.  The Blood King Rises and nothing can stop him!

The pallid figure twisted in place moving in ways no human body ever could and began a drawing in motion with its hands.  The blood, which had slowed, began to stream faster.  The strands of fluid, defying gravity, swirled about it in increasingly complex patterns, never intersecting, never merging.

With an adept flourish, the dancer leapt over the circling blood and sent it swishing sideways into a grey vortex hanging in midair.  The blood continued to drain from the people stuck in their continuous cycle, like dervishes only slower, feeding the crimson mandala that in turn fed the vortex.

The dancer sang, and the ever-present peculiar music ebbed and flowed with its words:

I got rhythm, I got music, I got my king

All I ask is blood by the score.

I got dancers spinnin’ round me, tears fallin’ rain

Off’ring their blood, their lives and more.

 

Snoopin’ people, I don’t mind them

Detectives all soon be dead

I got corpselight, I got nightmares

I got my king

Blood King rises very soon

Blood King rises very soon.

 

Nights will be gloomy, until He is nigh

Give your souls then don’t ask why

Days grey and lonely oh come out in throng

Blood King Rising is our song

 

I’m harbinger at play, thinning walls with blood

Your pain is mine today,

Bow, I clip the bud.

 

Snoopin’ people, I don’t mind them

Detectives all soon be dead

I got corpselight, I got nightmares

I got my king

Blood King rises very soon

Blood King rises very soon.

 

I got rhythm, I got music, I got my king

All I ask is blood by the score.

I got dancers spinnin’ round me, tears fallin’ rain

Off’ring their blood, their lives and more.

 

Snoopin’ people, I don’t mind them

Detectives all soon be dead

I got corpselight, I got nightmares

I got my king

Blood King rises very soon

Blood King rises very soon.


Carla could feel her fear rising, could hear the music growing more joyous with every panicked heartbeat, and knew there was nothing she could do.  She was all alone.

Never alone,” the quiet voice told her sternly.  “Chin up, chavi.  This gadjo dukkerin dook spins a hokkawar ghili.  You are Rom.  You have gadjo pals.  Your bebee was a chovahanee.  Cast the beng abri.”  The chiding voice made her straighten up, take control of her spastic limbs, and stand tall against the Pallid Dancer.  She had an incomplete understanding of what she had just been told but the newfound light in her mind spread until she was once again herself.  With the light infusing her, she knew that the spirit of her grandmother was with her, and comprehended the words.

“This outsider devil sings a lying song that purports to be foretelling,” she said aloud, half-questioningly.  “I am of the Romani, the Travellers.  I have friends.”  She was almost shouting now, forcefully thrusting her mind against the tuneless cacophony swirling about her.  With every word, the grey vortex shivered and shrank, while the Pallid Dancer spun and twirled as though evading bullets.  “I have non-Traveller friends – my family.  My grandmother was a Witch – a Wise-woman of high standing.  We cast you out, demon.”

She paused to take stock of what lay before her eyes and the music skirled back with a vengeance even as the tattered Dancer moved through a series of impossible angles to end up directly in front of her, its black orbs glittering menacingly.

Carla found her hands moving without her volition – though not in the same way they had been controlled by the Dancer.  She spoke and her voice echoed like thunder amidst the carnage on the dance floor.  “Miseç yákhá tut dikhen – mudaren.  Ochii răi te văd, să piară.  Złe oczy cię widzą, niech zginą.”  She spat on the Dancer’s wrapped face.

Instantly, a symbol blazed into existence on the Dancer’s forehead and the creature stiffened before folding in on itself until it was no more.  The vortex winked into nothingness and the mandala of blood gave in to gravity, the crimson liquid splashing to the floor.

Carla had tears running from her eyes.  “Bebee,” she sobbed.  She could no longer feel the old wise-woman’s presence.  But, she knew, even if this was the last time her grandmother’s spirit could come to her, she knew she was loved and that would be enough.

The people that the Dancer had enspelled turned one last time before they too crashed to the floor.  Surprisingly, most were alive, and the club began to sound like a level of Dante’s Inferno with all the keening, crying, and screaming.

Taking a deep breath, Carla put her fingers in her mouth and blew the loudest whistle she had ever managed.  Her own ears rang afterward.  When confused and frightened faces turned her way, questing in the near-dark for answers, she stepped up and began to speak.  “I don’t know what someone put in the giggle-juice, people, but this was one doozy of a party.  I think it’s time to gather your things, make yourself spiffy, and take a powder before the heat start flashing tin and finding someone to take the fall.”  It certainly wouldn’t be long before one of the victims made a call to the local stationhouse.

People glanced about at each other, discovered their own state of dishabille, and frantically began to straighten themselves up while trying to avoid touching any of the blood pooling stickily on the floor.  Within the space of a quarter hour, the place was empty aside from seven corpses and the manager’s goons.  Two of those torpedoes were eyeing her up as though for a wooden kimono.  “Take it easy, gents,” she cautioned, kneeling beside a naked young woman.  There was no sign of a wound anywhere to be found.  It was almost as though the blood had leached directly out of the veins through the skin.  She shuddered at the thought.  “You’ve got about ten minutes before the local bulls get here.  We can either bump gums like chumps or make a clean sneak like everyone else.”

The nearest sap scratched his stubbled head.  “The boss ain’t gonna like this.”

“No-one likes this, sweetie,” Carla told him.  She glanced up at the pipes running in lengths across the high ceiling and an idea came to her.  “Is that a sprinkler up there?”

“Yeah,” mumbled a second tough guy.  “But dere ain’t no fire.”

Carla nearly rolled her eyes, but figured it might not go down too well.  “There’s four of you.  One of me.  Seven stiffs.  This place looks like an abattoir after a day’s graft.  Sure smells like smoke to me.”

The four looked at each other unsure.

“Hey, bruiser,” Carla snapped at the first goon.  “Hide the liquor.  The coppers may drink like fishes in this burg, but they’ll still slap you in irons.”  She braced herself and deadlifted the girl’s body to settle it over her shoulders.  “Two of you bums grab the cordwood, we need to stash it out of sight.”  She didn’t like the idea of covering up the deaths, but didn’t know how to explain her way out of this one without dragging Jenny and the others into this mess.

She nodded her head at the fourth man.  He seemed smarter.  “Fancypants, pick a safe room the coppers won’t trip over.  We can stash the bodies in there and dispose of them tidily later.”  Hopefully the agency had access to some facilitators who didn’t mind working this close to Christmas – they’d be able to ensure the families would have something recognisable to bury.  Sad, but all too necessary.  “Then open the plugs and wash this evidence down the drains.”  She managed a weak chuckle.  “You can tell the tale of some wiseacre who thought it would be funny to drown a bunch of toffs dancing the night away.  Stick to the story and your boss won’t be too unhappy.”

The last man stroked a finger over his pencil-thin moustache, then nodded curtly.  “Hop to it, fellas.  The dame has a head on her shoulders.”  He gestured for her to follow him to the nearest wall – where he pushed something she couldn’t see and opened a section of panelling.  “What did happen here?” he asked her as she trudged past him carrying the body.

“I have no idea,” Carla answered, shrugging the corpse onto the floor as carefully as she could manage.  “I just came here to dance.”

“So why..?” he asked, jerking his head at the bodies as his friends lumbered toward them.

“I like this place,” she answered truthfully.  “Good clean establishments are hard to find.”

He gave her a half-grin and they got out of the way of the corpse carriers.  “Okay, sweetheart, have it your way.  I’d guess my boss is gonna want to grill you later, but you’re okay in my book.”

The two goons loped back for the remaining stiffs.

“Right,” Carla nodded.  “Make sure there’s no trail into this room or we’re all sunk.  Break a glass and have someone cut themselves to explain the blood that’s left over.  I’ll skedaddle off home, the coppers don’t need to know I was here, and you turn on the waterworks.”

Moustache threw her a salute.  “You’re one sassy tomato.  Go on.  Take a powder.”

Carla winked at him and walked away with an extra swish in her stride.  Explaining this one to the others was going to take some doing, but they had a meeting already arranged for later today, so she figured she had some time to organise her story into something coherent.  In the meantime, she’d have to mention the need for a bit of oversight to Corwyn’s secretary, Mrs. Ashmont.  That woman would know which feathers to ruffle to get the job done right.

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