"The Camera Eye"
Kevin Andrew Murphy
Excerpted from Chapter II of
James A. Moore & Kevin Andrew Murphy
Copyright 1995 White
Wolf, All Rights Reserved
Night and Hollywood. The neon sparked and sizzled, granting
the boulevard new life in the fading twilight, a panoply of
rainbowed witchfire, and Ilse stepped out of the shadows of the
Not a moment too soon. With a directorial flourish, the
floodlights came on, one by one, banishing the shadows and
illuminating the lotus columns, making the grime and chipped
tiles vanish in the glory that was Hollywood. A bit of flash and
dazzle, a stage magician's trick, but that was all that was
needed. It worked, and as far as Ilse was concerened, that was
the test of true magic.
She placed the iron key back on the chain around her neck, a
key that fit no lock in the mortal world, as the charm required,
and slipped it back inside her turtleneck to where it rested
safely and comfortably between her breasts. Ilse paused to
adjust the neck strap so that the camera outside the sweater did
not press too hard, then reached into the bottom left pocket of
her vest and got out her cigarettes. Wicked habit. She'd sworn
she'd give it up the day she died. Well that
was a vow she'd broken.
Broken it for a good seventy years, almost to the day, but it
wasn't as if it were the only broken promise on her conscience.
Flash and flare. She saw the glow of the lighter through closed
eyelids. A dead girl's trick. Suck and puff. She let the warm
smoke curl lazily over her tongue. The fire was less frightening
when you played with it blind, and much more dangerous. The
thrill of danger, but safe in her hands. That had always been
part of the allure. In death as in life, the more things changed
the more they stayed the same.
She thought about swearing to give up the habit upon her final
death, but then, she'd caught glimpses of wraiths in her camera
eye, and some of them were smoking yet. Better not to tempt Fate,
and everyone knew what the gods thought of oathbreakers
It was somewhat less than what humans thought of the Kindred,
come to think, and she took a drag, letting the smoke nestle
inside her lungs and warm her dead flesh. Silly habit. But it
helped to take the edge off the Hunger, and while it was becoming
no longer sociably acceptable to smoke, drinking blood had never
been sociably acceptable.
People were already queued up for tickets to whatever the
latest film was, and Ilse smiled as she saw their auras, as
pretty and varied as the lights of the boulevard. She took
another puff and stepped back, raising her camera. "Smile!" A
flash and the image was captured. It might prove useful, and it
was always pleasant to practice her Art.
The ancients believed that the third eye had the power to see
things beyond the ordinary, and with lens, lid and iris, what
else could the camera be considered? The Path of Imagery, and
the associated thaumaturgic rites she'd developed, made it so
that the myths were true, or at least possible, and the art of
magic and the art of photography merged, like the doubled image
of a stereoscopic card.
Spirit photography, the art of capturing that which lay beyond
the pale, fleeting images that vanished so quickly that even the
most sensitive could scarcely catch a glimpse before they were
snatched way. Even the heightened senses of the Damned could
hardly hope to match a camera's arcane arrangement of lenses and
crystal, especially when it was infused with the power of
vampiric thaumaturgy, and even more so when an artifact like the
Monocle of Clarity was attached to the end.
The new Pentex was a joy to use, much better than the bulky
apparatus she'd started with in the Silent Era--even before her
fall into darkness--and it was good to return to the canyons and
hills; she'd been away far too long. Hollywood magic on a
Hollywood night for a Hollywood vampire. Nothing escaped Ilse's
notice, not once she got to the dark room. Slivers of souls
caught in the camera eye . . . and every soul had its price.
Ilse wandered out onto the boulevard, skirting streetwalkers
and dodging punks, capturing the occasional image. Puff, flash,
a stage magician's trick, it helped to take off the edge. She
made her way down the Walk of Fame and wondered: When you walked
among the stars above, were there pushers and pimps, tourists and
runaways, Scientologists selling their religion, which they swore
wasn't a religion? Celestial bag-ladies and galactic addicts?
As a parallel for the Heavens, the boulevard left something to be
Someone had played 'He loves me, he loves me not' with a copy
of Dianetics, and the pages were scattered like
breadcrumbs down the Walk. Ilse made her way along till she came
to Larry Edmund's, door open to let in the night
air, brightly lit and clean as a fresh script. She dropped her
cigarette with the dozen or so littering the ground outside,
crushed it with a twist of her foot, and stepped inside.
The screenwriting store catered to all types, professionals
and has-beens, aspiring writers and wannabes, college students
and housewives. And vampires, at least tonight. In the far
corner, where he said he'd be, was Smudge. He'd probably had a
real name once, but all that was left was a sullen look, a
leather jacket, and a smear of blood at the right corner of his
mouth. It was always there.
Like the stain on his soul, a black smudge over the red of
hurt and anger. Ilse touched the pocket, making sure it still
contained the photographs, then slipped down the aisle to where
he sat on a footstool, paging through a book.
He looked up from beneath his fringe of thinning blond bangs,
eyes wary, then carefully shut the book, holding his place with
one thumb. Ilse took quick note of the title: The Battle
of BRAZIL. "You got 'em?"
"Of course." Ilse smiled. "The question is, do you have what
"I checked out the Chinese girl, if that's what you mean."
"And the man?"
"Seen 'im. He's meetin' her again tonight." He paused and
licked his lips, nervous, but not erasing his trademark smudge.
"Can I have 'em?"
"Perhaps." She unbuttoned the pocket, but did not take the
envelope out just yet. "Do I have your loyalty?"
"I got dreams too, you know." His voice was barely above a
whisper, and the look in his pale blue eyes was that of a child.
A hurt and frightened child, but one so badly scarred that he
might just begin to strike back. "Nobody thinks much of me, but
I got dreams too. I'm gonna be somebody, and ain't you or anyone
else gonna stop me."
"Is that what you told Mickey Phoenix?" Ilse dropped her
voice even lower, silent to all but the sharp ears of the dead.
"Or Doug or Kirsten Berry? They're gone now; you're still here.
Be thankful for that." She flipped open the envelope and
fingered out the top two photographs. One showed a huge blond
man, baring his fangs for all to see--along with a T-shirt that
advertised: 'Fangs by Phoenix.' The second showed a couple with
a crazed look in their eyes, the woman fat, the man cadaverously
thin, both pale, with an inset shot on the man's tattoo, possibly
the worst Grateful Dead tribute in the history of the art, for
the singular reason that under the malformed red-and-blue
lightning-bolt skull were the words:
Ilse fanned the pictures and handed them to Smudge. "As I
said, they're dead, in soul as well as body. Truly and
permanently so. You're still here."
"They were Sabbat," Smudge whispered. "They were gonna bury
me in the ground and leave me for the worms to eat. They said
"Tell it to the Justicar," Ilse said. "I don't care. I don't
care whether Mickey Phoenix was a fox-crazy Malkavian or a
Ventrue with a twisted entrepreneurial sense. I don't care
whether the Berrys were Toreadors into kitsch or Ravnos out to
embarrass the clan. Do you understand? I don't care. You have
commited a crime unthinkable even among the Damned, what the
Elders call the Amaranth, the Immortal Flower,
and the younger generations know as Diablerie,
the Devil's Kiss. Call it what you will, it is forbidden among
our kind, no matter who or what you are, no matter how vile or
deserving the victim. It is forbidden. By all but the Sabbat,
and you know what value they put on life. You can hide here in
the Free States for a time, but the Anarch Barons don't take any
more kindly to Diabolists than do the Princes of
the Camarilla. And until you decide you want to enjoy one last
sunrise, Smudge, I own you. Body and soul."
Ilse pulled out the last picture and handed it to Smudge. It
was a closeup of him, a good likeness in good lighting, over
which were the pale reds and golds which made up his aura, like
ghost flames, beautiful, but tarnished by a large dark
"The stain isn't on the camera eye," Ilse said. "It's on you,
Smudge. It's on your soul. And you and I both know what it
"I ain't nothin'," Smudge said, his voice small, pleading. "I
ain't anyone at all. If I vanished tomorrow, no one would care.
No one would know."
"That's exactly why I do care, Smudge. You're the perfect
agent. And besides," She took a moment to ruffle his hair,
"remember what you said: You're going to be someone,
There was a faint smile across his face, a shy puppy's grin
and a need to be needed and loved, and it stuck into Ilse's gut
like a sickled knifeblade. She closed her eyes for a moment.
This was crueler than hunting, crueler by far, and she didn't
have the taste for it.
But taste had nothing to do with it, only survival and orders.
She had her orders, and it was time she carried them out for the
good of the clan.
She opened her eyes and winced again, but inward this time,
for she saw the look in Smudge's eyes and it spoke of love, love
for any attention at all, no matter how cruel or inhuman. Smudge
had been ignored, and no matter what vile or wicked thing she did
now, she was paying attention to him, and for that Smudge was
Slowly and carefully then, so as not to frighten the young
Caitiff, Ilse moved her hand to her vest's penholder and withdrew
one of her finest magical implements, Aaron's Feeding Razor. The
artifact had been crafted in the seventeenth century, but the
silver was still preternaturally bright, and with a gentle thumb
on the catch, the blade revealed itself, shining and blemish-
free. She raised it to catch the light, tilting it from side to
side, then lowered it down, carefully, and nicked herself once on
the ring finger, the left one that led to the heart's blood,
allowing a drop of her vitae to seep into the
well of her nail, notching the end of it with the razor.
She licked the drop of blood from the straight razor's tip
then, and folded the magical implement and slipped it back into
place. Hunched over so that none but Smudge could see, Ilse then
reached into her pocket and took out her compact and a square of
vellum cut from the skin of a black lamb, and the young vampire
Ilse used her used her nail as a crow quill, quickly sketching
out the Sator Square, line by arcane line, each word five by
"For privacy." She sucked the drop of blood from the tip of
her finger, allowing the nail to seal closed, then pried open the
back of the compact and slid the square in behind the mirror.
She squeezed it back together, then popped the catch and opened
it properly, setting it on the top shelf of the corner bookcase,
mirror exposed but charm hidden, as would be they to any who saw
Ilse glanced about to make certain that there was no one else
in this corner of the shop, for the Mirror of Hathor would only
hide them from those who had not seen its making. But there was
no one down either aisle, so Ilse turned back to Smudge. "House
Tremere requires the Kiss of Fealty. Where other times you would
have to drink thrice of my blood--on three separate nights--
before the ancient power of the Bloodbond took hold and made you
my slave, both heart and mind, by this Kiss you pass three nights
in one and take the Bond now, becoming my Thrall as I become your
Regnant." She took out her razor again and unfolded it with a
sharp flick, then slashed her left wrist quickly, dark blood
beading up along the line of the cut. She held it down before
him. "I cannot force this upon you, Smudge, for it is a grave
thing, and by charm and honor, it must be of your own free will.
Do you accept?"
In answer, Smudge grabbed her wrist, kissing it, sucking it,
his tongue probing the edges of the wound like a lover's kiss.
Ilse felt the thrill run through her as he continued to suck,
tongue thrusting into her, lips caressing the delicate sides of
the wound, fangs tearing it wider, and she felt the blood drain
out of her and the spell take hold.
She reached down, and with a swipe of the razor, scored Smudge
once across the forehead, dark blood staining his brow, and she
placed her hand over it, the wet warmth spreading across her palm
and the handle of the blade. "Willingly given, willingly taken,
with this blood I bind you to myself, and with this mark I mark
you as vassal of Clan Tremere. I am your liege, Smudge, and my
will is yours."
The adoration in his pale blue eyes spoke of more than mere
bloodbond, or even the charmed power of the Kiss of Fealty, and
Ilse felt the knife twist in her gut again as two blood red tears
trickled from his eyes like some miraculous portrait of one of
the Holy Innocents. He was hers to command but for the
And she was weak from loss of blood, pale and shaking. A
simple command, nothing more. "Kiss it better," Ilse said, and
with great love and sensual passion, Smudge licked the wound, the
sides of the cut sealing with the passage of his tongue, and Ilse
felt another shiver run down her as he continued to lick the
delicate skin of her wrist free from blood.
With a fluid motion she raised her hand, licking Smudge's
blood from the razor and her palm in turn, the sweet taste of
vitae sliding down her tongue with a savor like
fine cognac, a drop of wormwood underneath, Smudge's sin and the
blood and shadowed souls of the Sabbat he'd murdered a bitter
spice that matched the mad auras of his victims from the pictures
she'd taken. Yet theirs was the only Kindred blood Ilse tasted,
aside from her own, the Caitiff's vitae free of
Bond or allegiance to any others.
She folded the razor away then, sliding the implement back
into place on her jacket, and reached down and took the miserable
Kindred's chin between her thumb and forefinger, tilting his head
up to face her. She paused a moment, watching the bloody tears
trickle down his cheeks, then leaned down, kissing the mark on
Smudge's forehead and allowing it to fade away all but for a pale
silver line. "There," she said, smoothing away the saliva from
his skin with a brush of her fingers, "all better now. Now wipe
away your tears, Smudge, and listen to me."
Obediently, the young vampire brushed away his bloody tears
with the back of his hand leaving two smudges across his cheeks,
one darker than the other, and the knife twisted in Ilse's gut
again as she realized that his trademark smudge came not from his
victims but from his own tears. Tears of pain and grief, lust and
She hated herself now more than ever, but what was done could
not be undone, though she'd still do what little she could to
salve her conscience: "You, Smudge, are now my vassal, and will
serve me, and through me, Clan Tremere. But you are a wretched
Caitiff no longer, for though you are not of our blood, our blood
flows through you, and you are adopted into our House. Let no
one speak to you of your base origins, for though they are lowly,
you serve the greatest of the vampire clans, we who were made
what we are not through God's curse but through our own desire
and will. We will teach you the skills you need to survive."
Ilse paused, letting it sink in. "Even magic, if you prove
Carrot and stick, plums and lump sugar. It was the standard
speech, as kindly put as she could make it, but its effect on
Smudge was profound, and blood poured freely down his cheeks.
Ilse searched her pockets for a tissue, finally letting him mop
his face with her lens cloth.
"Thank you," Smudge said, and Ilse knew it was for more than
the makeshift handkerchief.
"Don't thank me," she said. "Don't ever thank me, Smudge."
She gathered up The Battle of BRAZIL from the floor
where it had slipped from his fingers and set it back on the
shelf, moving another book to hide the three bloody tears
staining the cover.
She sat down then, leaning back against the bookcase, weak
from the magic and the loss of blood. Smudge took her hand with
great tenderness and Ilse looked away, not wanting to see the
look in his eyes. "Well, Smudge," she said, "now that we're on
more intimate terms, tell me a couple things: First off, where is
the man I mentioned going to be meeting Jing Wei? And second,
where in this town does a girl go now for a quick bite?"