Morgana felt oddly claustrophobic as she entered the spacious lobby of the convention center. In its silence and emptiness, the clicking of her high heels echoed strangely from its glass walls and high ceiling. Some indistinct instinct warned her that she was being watched, but her secretive examination of the well-lit area revealed nothing. Still wary, she turned to examine the map before her.
She was not surprised, then, to hear two faint voices approaching. In the map's reflective surface Morgana could see a well-dressed man and woman enter the lobby behind her. Indulgently, she turned her head to monitor them. She heard them wearily argue, then frowned when the man took the woman loosely by the shoulders, stopping her and turning her around.
"Erica, you know you need my recommendation to Robert if you want to get that promotion," the man said coaxingly. "We could maybe talk about it, say, later tonight, in my room?"
Erica looked away and shook her head. "I just don't know, Martin," she replied weakly. "Maybe..." Over Erica's shoulder Morgana could see the conniving gleam in Martin's eyes, and she pursed her lips.
Martin released Erica, a smug smile on his face as he lit up a cigarette. Erica glared weakly at the cigarette: "Martin," she said, "you should try to cut back on your smoking."
"I've tried everything, Erica," replied Martin in exasperation.
Morgana brightened. She turned and walked boldly toward the pair, politely saying "Excuse me, but I couldn't help overhear that you're having trouble trying to quit smoking" as she approached. When they turned and mutely stared at her she smiled broadly in apology and continued "Have you considered hypnosis?"
She surreptitiously dealt a card from the bottom of her card case and held it out to Martin. Martin took it and read it aloud: "Dr. Morgana Black, Clinical Hypnotherapy for Habit Control." He started to hand the card back, saying dismissively "I don't believe in any of that hypnotism mumbo-jumbo."
Morgana pointedly ignored his gesture. Piqued, she said conversationally "Frankly, I don't either. Hypnosis is a serious psychological tool," as she looked up at him, her dark eyes widening, searching out his gaze. "It is not some 'mumbo-jumbo' where all I would need to do to hypnotize you is to say 'Look into my eyes; you are going into a deep hypnotic trance, where you will hear and obey only my voice'," she continued, her voice strangely resonant in the silence, commanding, dominating.
Morgana's night-black eyes drew Martin's gaze deep within their dark depths: when she finished speaking his eyes quickly closed and his head nodded forward under their mesmeric power. "Then again, I guess it just might be 'mumbo-jumbo' after all," snickered Morgana mischievously at the sight.
Morgana chuckled wickedly as she turned to Erica, who just stared at Morgana, her mouth agape. "I couldn't help overhearing your whole conversation: you didn't really believe he was going to recommend you, did you?" Morgana asked scornfully. "I mean, that's the oldest pickup line in the business world."
"Well, I didn't know what to think," Erica replied. "Why?"
"Because I could see he was lying through his teeth," Morgana stated flatly.
"How?" Erica asked, her once suspicious eyes now wide with curiosity and alarm.
Morgana smiled wearily. "Being able to read faces comes in handy in therapy. But if you don't believe me, why don't I just ask him?"
Stunned, Erica only stared blankly at Morgana in response.
Morgana shrugged and turned to Martin. "Martin," she commanded, "answer me truthfully: are you going to recommend Erica for a promotion?"
"No," answered Martin flatly.
"Because I was going to recommend Philip instead."
Erica hissed in outrage. "Philip?! He's only been with the company nine months! Why, that b--"
Morgana silenced Erica with a touch on her arm. "It sounds to me like he's trying to work the 'good ol' boys' network and get a piece of action for himself," she said fiercely. "Not nice.
"Do you want me to arrange some sort of punishment for him?"
Erica nodded, savagely.
Morgana retrieved her card from Martin. "Martin," she commanded, "when I snap my fingers you will count from one to ten slowly and then you will awaken. You will totally and completely forget me, forget everything I said and did, nor will you notice any interruption in your consciousness, but in the next public meeting with your boss you will remember all the times he ignored you, all the meetings you humiliated you, all the raises and promotions he refused you: you will then tell your boss exactly what you think of him.
"Do you understand?"
Martin nodded in compliance.
Erica stifled a laugh. "I want to be there when that happens. Oooh, that'll be fun to watch." Erica paused a moment, her eyes brightening. "Maybe I can even arrange it to be when he's supposed to recommend Philip for the promotion. Thanks," said Erica, grinning, "thanks a lot."
Morgana laughed. "Let's keep this all just between ourselves, okay?" she said conspiratorially as she looked deep into Erica's eyes, which glazed over momentarily. "Good luck," she continued, patting Erica's shoulder. She absently snapped her fingers before Martin's face as she walked away.
Morgana returned to examining the map. Behind her she could hear Martin slowly counting, and she watched their reflections carefully. At '10' Martin blinked himself awake to see Erica staring at him with a fierce, defiant smile on her face. "I'm going back to my room," she announced, turning and stalking across the lobby, "alone." Martin sputtered in surprise. His confused and exasperated inquiry was cut off as they passed through the glas double doors that led into the attached hotel at the end of the lobby. Morgana's wicked laugh echoed in the now vacant lobby, and she returned her concentration to the map, noting with relief that her feeling of being watched had faded as they had left the lobby.
She found the maze of hallways, rooms, and small shops in the convention center daunting but not impossible to divine, and after several moments of examination and memorization Morgana turned away from the map. One escalator, two turns, and three corridors later she stood before a nondescript, half-open set of double doors: loud voices and louder music spilled out from within. She slipped through the door and found several groups of people occupying most of the tables and chairs scattered around the large room. Rock music blared from twin towers of speakers near the bar at the far end of the room.
Morgana suddenly felt again the sensation of being watched: as her eyes swept the room she spotted a woman staring frankly at her with what appeared to be one blood-red eye. Morgana turned to get a better look but the woman stepped behind a passing crowd of people and disappeared from view. Morgana scanned the whole room, searching for the mysterious woman without success, when an insistant voice from across the room called out "Dr. Black? Over here!"
Morgana turned in the direction of the voice. The man who had called to her stood out in his grey suit amidst the casual attire of the rest of the crowd, standing next to a blonde woman wearing glasses with pink-colored lenses in the center of the largest group of people. Aware that she was now the focus of attention, Morgana projected her utterly confident on-stage personality, all thoughts of the red-eyed woman reluctantly and regretfully pushed aside. She easily cut through the crowd and boldly approached the man, held out her hand out, and said "You must be David Bishop: nice to meet you in person."
David shook her hand, staring at her: long glossy black hair framing a beautiful heart-shaped face highlighted by large, expressive dark eyes and a broad, amused smile. A head shorter than his own average height, and slender to the point of being called petite, Morgana still projected a definite strength of character and will and an air of total self-confidence that made her seem much taller. Impulsively he bowed and kissed her hand, which prompted a rich laugh from her.
David turned to the blonde woman beside him. "Carolyn, I'd like you to meet Dr. Morgana Black: Morgana, this is our Author Guest of Honor, Carolyn Knight." Morgana held out her hand, and Carolyn shook it warmly.
Morgana grinned eagerly and said "I greatly enjoy your Starchildren novels. Their premise of an immortal, mysterious, magickal race living among unknowing mortal humans is a fascinating one."
"Morgana will be presenting her seminar on hypnosis here tomorrow evening," David continued.
"You're invited to come and watch, Carolyn," said Morgana. "I'd like to hear your professional opinion of it."
"I'll do that," replied Carolyn cautiously, releasing Morgana's hand and eyeing her carefully.
Several moments after beginning her presentation, Morgana looked over the expectant faces of her audience in the tightly-packed room. She had the hundred or so fans so enthralled that only she noticed Carolyn slip into the room to stand beside the door against the back wall.
"I have a Ph. D. in psychology, with a specialization in hypnosis and hypnotherapy," Morgana said confidently. "I do these stage shows and seminars partly to dispel some of the myths about hypnosis." She stopped and grinned. "And partly because I like it," she continued lasciviously. The audience chuckled in response.
"One of those myths is that hypnosis is a form of sleep. Let me make one thing perfectly clear: hypnosis is not sleep," she enunciated into her microphone: "hypnosis is another state of mind altogether, a natural state of concentration." She paused a moment. "You've all been in a hypnotic state," she continued, "when you are so caught up in watching TV or reading a book what you completely lost track of time."
Morgana snuck a glance at Carolyn, seeing her cautiously nod in agreement, a wary but noncommittal look in her eyes.
"But if I mentioned hypnosis to you I suppose you'd think of those movies where the magician entrances his victims by looking into their eyes." She paused and stared menacingly at the audience from under narrowed eyebrows, then blinked and waved her hand dismissively. "That isn't hypnosis, folks," she continued, shaking her head. The audience laughed in response, telling Morgana she had supposed correctly. Carolyn, still wary, only nodded slightly.
"All hypnosis is really self-hypnosis. If someone does hypnotize you, they are being a guide, nothing more: you still do all the work. Because you hypnotize yourself, no one can really hypnotize you against your will or make you do something you wouldn't normally do." In back, Carolyn nodded her head affirmatively.
Morgana tossed her head, sending ripples of light down the glossy blackness of her hair. "Anyway, enough with the obligatory explanations, now lets get down to what you're really here for." Looking toward the back of the room she saw Carolyn fold her arms before her and lean back against the wall, a wary but non-commital look in her eyes.
"First I'm going to conduct a suggestibility test, to select the participants for my show. Anyone who wants to participate should put their hands on their lap, their feet flat on the floor and sit straight up in their chairs." A general rustling sound rippled through the audience, the sound of hands and feet moving into position combined with the shuffling of chairs as nearly everyone complied.
Morgana's voice deepened, turning from conversational to commanding. "Lock your hands together before you and close your eyes. Imagine your hands becoming magnetized, sticking tighter and tighter together, so tight that you cannot pull them apart!
"Now, try to pull your hands apart. The harder you try, the tighter they pull together! Your hands are stuck tighter and tighter and you cannot pull them apart!"
She examined the audience carefully, noting that most had pulled their hands apart but a significant number were still struggling, then she said "Stop trying to pull your hands apart and just relax; as you relax your hands will slide apart and you will feel more and more relaxed. Just listen to the sound of my voice and relax." Most of the people struggling a moment earlier were now relaxing into their chairs, their hands sliding apart to fall limp beside them.
"With every breath you take, with every word I say, you are becoming more and more relaxed: deeper and deeper, more and more relaxed," repeated Morgana, looking about the room. About every fourth or fifth person in the audience responded, far too many for the six chairs on the small stage behind her. Her voice softened, becoming soothing and gentle without losing its firm commanding tone. "You are now deeply relaxed, a wonderful, drifting feeling. No thoughts, no cares; empty your mind of everything except the sound of my voice, and relax; listen only to the sound of my voice, and relax."
Morgana continued to softly, soothingly, murmur "deeper and deeper; more and more relaxed" several more times as she examined the audience again critically, noting the individuals who, by her practiced eye, appeared to be in the deepest trance. In back, she could see Carolyn raise an eyebrow, nodding appreciatively.
"Now, when I touch your shoulder and speak your name, you will open your eyes but remain deeply relaxed. You will go to the stage and sit down on one of the empty chairs. When you sit down your eyes will close and you will relax deeper and deeper."
Morgana stepped off the stage and walked into the audience, stopping first before an attractive blonde in the front row. Reading her name badge, Morgana said "Victoria" softly in the woman's ear as she touched her lightly on the shoulder. Victoria slowly raised her head as her eyes fluttered open, staring blankly ahead, then she slowly stood and walked slowly to the stage. The audience watched silently as she sat down on one of the center chairs: her eyes immediately closed and her head drooped to one side. Morgana watched her levelly until she closed her eyes, then moved on to select her next subject.
In quick succession Morgana selected a tall black man named Steven in a Star Trek uniform; a short woman named Kim with short curly brown hair; a woman named Stephanie with long, straight brown hair; and a broad man named Eric wearing a convention T-shirt. Only Kim gave Morgana any trouble, pausing in sleepy confusion halfway to the stage until Morgana walked up behind her and whispered a series of reinforcing suggestions to her, after which she continued to the stage and sat down.
Finally, grinning, Morgana selected a large, fierce-looking man in Klingon makeup and uniform, wearing a name badge with the name Kelek, who sat comically slouched in his chair, leaning heavily against the indignant woman next to him, also dressed as a Klingon. Laughing wickedly, the woman informed Morgana that his real name was Lester, when Morgana failed to get any response by saying his Klingon name: as Morgana said his real name, 'Kelek' stood and walked entranced to the stage.
When she was finished, Morgana smugly strode up to the front, looked over the six deeply entranced people before her, and grinned to herself. Then she swirled the microphone cord around herself, stepped confidently onto the stage and turned to face the audience. In the back, she noted Carolyn glance over her six choices and nod once.
"Now only the people in the audience, listen to me very carefully. In a few moments I'm going to count from one to five: when I reach the number five you're going to awaken feeling relaxed and refreshed. But for the rest of this night, and only for this night, whenever I snap my fingers three times you will close your eyes and return to this deeply relaxed state.
"Now: one, you're feeling more and more aware; two, you're feeling wonderful; three, you're becoming wider and wider awake; four, your eyes are starting to open; five, your eyes are now open, you're completely awake!"
The entranced audience members blinked themselves awake and looked around themselves. Some appeared disheartened at not being selected.
"Please don't feel bad if I didn't select you," consoled Morgana. "There's only so much room on the stage." She looked out at the audience looking expectantly back at her. "However, I'll be around the convention all weekend, so if you want to talk to me later, feel free.
"Now, what shall I do with these sleeping beauties, hmm?" asked Morgana of the audience, tossing her head over her shoulder in the direction of her six subjects, a mischievous smile flickering about the corners of her lips.
There was a chorus of suggestions from the audience ranging from the silly to the possibly obscene. Morgana chuckled at the list, then silenced the audience with a wave of her hand.
"No, I know what we'll do first." She stepped behind the line of chairs and began to speak confidently. "Everyone on stage, listen to me. You're in a contest to pick the next host of Mystery Science Theater 3000. In a few moments you'll open your eyes and see a movie screen. I'm going to describe the movies you will see on the screen: you know what to do then. When it's over, I'll count from three back to one and you'll close your eyes and be deeply relaxed. Now, open your eyes and see the movie screen!"
Six pairs of eyes opened and stared into the air above the audience.
"I hope this is better than last week's movie," said Steven from the far right end of the row. "What could be worse than flying saucers on wires?"
"Here's the first movie: 'The Invasion of the Mechanical Monsters', starring Rex Reason, Ralph Richardson, and Rocky Rhodes!" said Morgana.
There was a collective groan from the six subjects. "It's worse," groaned 'Kelek': "it's stunt men in gorilla suits and diving helmets!"
"Didn't I see these aliens on 'Doctor Who'? What's this, recycled rubber monster men week?" replied Kim.
The audience, unnoticed by the six subjects on stage, roared with laughter. Morgana smiled secretly: her instincts, born of decades on the stage, told her that this is going to be a fun evening.
The con suite was closing at around two o'clock in the morning; Morgana had spent the rest of the night in cheerful self-absorption with a crowd of appreciative fans. As the crowd began to dissipate and depart in search of late parties or their rooms, Morgana stood in the rapidly-emptying hallway, slightly piqued at her unusual lack of success at finding someone to Feed from, when she heard a hesitant voice from behind her say "Er, Dr. Black?"
Morgana turned in mild surprise to see a tall, slender man in his mid-20s standing several feet behind her. She briefly narrowed her eyes in examining his open, earnest stare, short blond hair and loose T-shirt advertising last year's convention, then nodded to herself in satifaction.
"I know it's late," he continued, taking her nod for permission to continue, "but I didn't want to interrupt you earlier. You did say we could talk to you later. That is, if you still have the time tonight."
Morgana smiled broadly, warmly. "Of course I have the time: the night's still young," she said. "What did you want to talk to me about?"
He looked aside and down at the floor, everywhere but directly at Morgana. Finally he looked up and stared confusedly at her. "Well, I ..." he stammered a moment, then looked down at the floor again.
Morgana smiled indulgently, reading the name 'James' on his badge, then stepped forward to take his arm. James gave one small, surprised squeak as she gently pulled him along, beguilingly smiling to him to silence any resistance. She led him through the maze of corridors until they come to a small, hidden alcove, where a pair of large padded chairs rested against the wall. Morgana sat in one of the chairs and directed James to sit in the other.
"You were at my show this evening, weren't you? In the front row?" asked Morgana, leaning over the arm of the chair to study him intently. James nodded, staring back at her in mingled wonder and confusion. "I thought you looked familiar. What did you think of it?"
"It was, it was ... fascinating," he replied in amazement. "I had never seen anything like it."
"Did you participate in the suggestibility test?"
James shook his head. "I wanted to see what it was like, first."
"And what did you want to talk to me about, James?" she asked provocatively, flirtatiously tilting her head and lifting one expressive eyebrow in inquiry.
James blushed a furious, fiery red. Unbidden, a loud laugh escaped Morgana's lips. He tried to stand, but Morgana laid her hand on his; when he turned in bewilderment to her, she caught his eyes and gently commanded "Sit." Unable to resist, James relaxed limply back into his chair, his face still burning red.
Morgana smiled knowingly. "You want me to hypnotize you, don't you?" she said calmly, raising an eloquent eyebrow in amusement.
James looked away. "I don't think I can ask ..." he began.
"You don't have to ask, James," she said seductively, interrupting him.
James turned back to Morgana with a wide-eyed look of astonishment.
Morgana smiled inwardly. Based on her long experience, she easily recognized that he was a highly susceptible hypnotic subject, that her beguiling charm and beauty and his fascination with her and hypnosis had already totally captivated him, and that his reaction was already awakening the heat of her Hunger.
"Listen very carefully to me now, James," said Morgana, her voice turning low and sultry. "Look into my eyes." He responded immediately, staring raptly into her dark eyes. She opened her eyes wide, revealing a captivating wheel of deepest night that grew larger and larger in his sight as she leaned closer.
"Look deep into my eyes, James; concentrate on my eyes," she said slowly and distinctly. "My eyes are making you sleepy, James. It is very late, and you are very sleepy. You are going to sleep now, deep, deep sleep. Surrender to my eyes, James; surrender to sleep."
James' eyes began to water and flutter as he surrendered to the soft, sultry voice that spoke so soothingly of sleep. "Your eyes are tired," she suggested, "tired and heavy, heavier and heavier with sleep." His eyes began to blink heavily, each time taking longer and longer to open.
"Heavier and heavier, your eyes are very heavy now, James; so heavy with sleep," said Morgana, her voice growing slower and softer. "Your eyes are very heavy, James; very, very heavy. Close your eyes, James, and sleep; close your eyes ... and sleep: deep, deep sleep."
James sighed softly as his eyes closed, and he sank back into the depths of the chair with a sleepy smile of pleasure on his lips. Morgana smiled kindly as she stroked his forehead for several moments, murmuring all the while "sleep; deep, deep sleep," then she tilted his head back and leaned forward and sank her fangs into his jugular. James shuddered at the momentary flash of pain, then surrendered to the ecstasy of the Kiss.
Morgana drank deeply, then withdrew, all too quickly said a deep, hidden part of her mind, which she ardently ignored as she licked the wound clean and healed. James settled back into the chair, a blissful smile on his face.
Morgana smiled as she stroked his forehead and began to speak, when she heard a tiny noise behind her. Turning, she could see Carolyn standing behind her, staring wide-eyed and holding a tiny golden cross before her. The light reflecting off the cross glittered painfully in Morgana's eyes, and, wincing, she involuntarily turned her head aside, barely succeeding in keeping a wary eye on Carolyn.
Silently Carolyn approached, holding the cross out before her. The light reflected off of the cross into Morgana's eyes no matter how Carolyn held it. Morgana backed away against the far wall of the small alcove, watching Carolyn warily. Carolyn stopped beside James and turned her head to observe him.
"He hasn't been harmed," said Morgana, wiping a thin, drying trickle of blood from her chin. "Not much, that is, but he'll be okay. Now would you please put that cross away?"
Carolyn glared back wordlessly, the fierce look in her eyes saying all that needed to be said. Morgana shrugged, then, steeling herself and averting her eyes, she quickly stepped forward and slapped away Carolyn's hand. With the cross out of her line of sight she caught Carolyn's gaze in her own. "Put that cross away, and leave it there. And don't make any attempt to flee or call for help," she commanded.
Unable to move or turn away from the power of Morgana's eyes, Carolyn instead glared angrily back in response. Morgana's will struggled with Carolyn's for several long, tense moments before Carolyn's eyes suddenly glazed over and she slowly slid the cross under the neck of her blouse. She blinked once, twice, returning to full consciousness, then tried to withdraw the cross again, only to have her hand clench uncontrollably as she brought it to her neck. She tried to flee, but her feet seemed firmly attached to the floor. She tried to call out for help, but her tongue froze in her mouth.
In desperation and resignation Carolyn glared at Morgana. "What are you going to do with me?" she asked bleakly.
Morgana had knelt to examine James; she looked up at Carolyn, saying amusedly in reply "I'm going to let you go." Morgana grinned at Carolyn's startled expression. "After we've had a little talk, that is. But first let me finish with James here: I don't want any distractions."
Morgana reached over and stroked lightly James on the temple. "James, do you hear me?" she said softly.
James' answer was a quiet "Yes."
"James, listen to me very carefully. I'm going to wake you up now. When you awaken you will feel refreshed and wonderful. You won't notice anyone else here; we're the only two people here. You'll thank me and then leave to go back to your room. You do have a room here, don't you?"
James nodded once.
"Good. You'll go to your room, go to bed, and sleep deeply and well, restoring yourself for tomorrow, then awaken at your usual time.
"Do you understand?"
James nodded again, a slow bobbing motion repeated several times.
"Excellent, James. Now, at the count of three, you'll wake up. One, two, three." With that, Morgana snapped her fingers several times, and James opened his eyes and smiled and blinked at Morgana. He then yawned and stretched, saying "That felt wonderful," as he looked at his watch.
"Jeez, look at the time! I've got an early panel tomorrow!" He bounced to his feet, smiling to Morgana and ignoring Carolyn entirely. "I'll see you later." With that, James blindly stepped around Carolyn and walked swiftly out of the alcove.
"Pleasant dreams, James," called Morgana softly.
Morgana relaxed in her chair, impassively watching Carolyn slump into the other. "This is all too much," said Carolyn, shaking her head and tensely massaging her temples. After a few seconds she closed her eyes and breathed deeply several times. When she opened her eyes, she leaned forward in the chair. "You said you wanted to talk?" she asked warily.
"I did," Morgana replied to Carolyn's question. "What prompted you to get involved?"
Carolyn folded her hands before her. "I knew there was something different about you when I met you last night, something dark and strange, but I couldn't tell what, so I decided to keep my eye on you."
"Interesting," remarked Morgana, leaning over the arm of the chair. "Most people never notice anything unusual about me at all. And I never noticed you watching me, except at the show. Interesting indeed."
"Then, when I saw you meet James, something prompted me to follow you: when I saw you feed from him, I knew I had to do something." Carolyn shook her head in defeat. "But now I can't do anything."
"You risked yourself to try and save James," consoled Morgana, nodding appreciatively. "You're very brave, Carolyn.
"And you're going to have to be even braver. To put it bluntly, Carolyn, for your protection and mine, I can't let you keep the knowledge you have. Fortunately for both of us, I can completely remove your suspicions and knowledge about me, but to do it right, I really need your cooperation. Will you trust me?"
"Why should I trust you?"
Morgana sighed. "Didn't King Ember ask the same question of the leader of the Starchildren, Derek Michaelson? And what was Derek's answer?"
"'You have no choice. I can only hope that I will earn your trust instead of demanding it.'" recited Carolyn. "You actually have read my books," she continued in surprise.
"I started reading them when I discovered you trained in hypnosis under Milton Erickson, just like me," Morgana said proudly.
Carolyn again blinked in surprise. "You trained under Milton?" she replied in dubious surprise.
Morgana grinned. "I did a year of post-doc work with Milton at Wayne State in '46, after I got my Ph. D. in Psychology from Northwestern." Morgana stopped, smiling at a long-forgotten memory. "I was a favorite of his, too," she continued after a moment. "He discovered that I was a vampire, but he never told anyone or used it against me. When I found that out, I had to remove his memories: it hurt me to do it, just like it hurts me now, but I had to do it. Just like now."
"Why do you have to do it, though?" asked Carolyn. "Make me forget."
"Just like your Starchildren, vampires live among humans who would fear us and hate us, so we, too, like your Starchildren, maintain the illusion of nonexistence, what we call the Masquerade. Your knowledge is a blatant breach of the Masquerade, and if it were discovered, it could mean your death and my destruction." Morgana leveled her gaze at Carolyn. "I didn't want that to happen to Milton, and I don't want it to happen to you, either."
Carolyn returned Morgana's earnest gaze impassively.
"Carolyn, you were sensitive enough to recognize I wasn't mortal. What does that sensitivity tell you about me, now?"
Carolyn took Morgana's hand. After a long moment, she replied, faintly embarrassed, "It tells me that you aren't the evil monster that I expected to find in a vampire."
"Just like you take pains to point out about the Starchildren, we vampires are not as irredeemably evil as the legends paint us: 'There is good and evil and all shades of grey in between.' as Derek once said," said Morgana, chuckling. "So, I ask you again: will you trust me?"
Carolyn closed her eyes for several moments, shielding herself from Morgana's gaze, then suddenly she nodded in resignation. "Very well, what do you want me to do?"
Morgana gently turned Carolyn's face toward her and took Carolyn's hands in her own. "Empty your mind, Carolyn. Relax, and look into my eyes," she said consolingly; "I know it sounds melodramatic, but that's the way it works."
Carolyn boldly met Morgana's eyes.
"This won't hurt a bit, Carolyn, I promise," placated Morgana.
Carolyn nodded, her eyes staring directly into Morgana's. She breathed deeply, then suddenly her eyes opened wide, entranced.
When it was over, several long moments later, Morgana stood and looked down at the entranced Carolyn. She pushed back a lock of Carolyn's fair hair from in front of her face. "Carolyn, go back to your room and rest."
At Morgana's words, Carolyn silently stood and began to walk back into the hotel. Morgana accompanied the still-entranced woman through the empty hallways of the hotel to the door of her room and smiled sadly as Carolyn opened the door and disappeared within. "Rest well, tonight, too, Carolyn: pleasant dreams," whispered Morgana.
Several minutes later, in her own room, Morgana searched through her purse, finally withdrawing a small address book. She opened it, flipping rapidly through the pages before stopping at one entry in particular. Sitting on the bed, Morgana took up the phone and began dialing.
The phone rang several times, but Morgana was patient, and finally a bleary voice on the other end answered "St. Anthony's rectory. Hello?"
"I need to speak to Father Mitchell: this is very important."
"Who shall I say is calling?" asked the tired voice, crossly.
"Tell him," began Morgana, then she paused a moment. "Tell him Michelle Brown is calling."
Morgana impatiently waited several minutes, then she heard a familiar, deep voice over the phone. "Michelle? What is this all about?"
"White pawns, Father; white pawns."
There was a sudden pause. "I, see. Just a moment, then." There was a brief burst of static over the line, then Father Mitchell's voice returned. "The line is secure, and I'm alone. What is so important that you have to talk to me about, Michelle, at 3:30 in the morning?"
"The Celestial Chorus keeps an eye on potential Mages, don't they? Keeps track of them?"
"Yes, most every Tradition does: we have a data base solely dedicated to monitoring potential candidates for the Tradition. Why?"
"I just encountered someone who is definitely a potential candidate, and I need to know if you're keeping an eye on her."
"Just a second, and I'll check; what's the person's name?"
Father Mitchell laughed. "Oh, her. I don't need to check the data base for her name: she's a prime candidate. Several members of the Chorus, myself among them, appreciate how she integrates her spirituality into her writing and personal life in a way that parallels much of our teaching: she would have little trouble being quickly accepted into our Tradition, and I suspect she would find our Tradition very compatible." He stopped for a second. "Why are you so curious about her?"
"If I read the signs correctly, she is very close to Awakening."
"Oh?" replied Father Mitchell. "How so?"
"She was sensitive enough to recognize that I wasn't mortal when we first met." She paused a second: "you know how difficult that is."
"Indeed I do, Michelle: please continue, this tale is becoming very interesting."
"Then she followed me unnoticed for most of the evening: only someone a powerful arcane ability could have cloaked herself so well.
"Finally, after she saw me feeding, she was able to use her cross to ward me away momentarily."
Father Mitchell murmured in surprise.
"Father, you know crosses don't particularly affect me: that she was able to make it unpleasant for me at all is significant enough."
"I see. Is there anything else?"
Morgana sighed. "Yes: I had to entrance her to keep her from doing anything rash while I explained things to her. She almost resisted me, as if she were Awakened! I don't think that I could have removed her memories of the incident if she hadn't consented."
Father Mitchell's surprise was evident in his voice. "How did you convince her to let you remove her memories?"
Morgana laughed. "Father, you know how persuasive I can be."
Father Mitchell returned her laughter. "All too true, Michelle, all too true. But what does all this have to do with the Tradition?"
"I know you Mages dislike the Orphans who Awaken outside the established Traditions, and I wouldn't want to see that happen to Carolyn." She paused, breathing deeply. "Right now, almost anything could Awaken her: I think someone should ensure she does it within your Tradition."
Father Mitchell chuckled low and slowly. "Michelle, you amaze me. A vampire, and a Ventrue at that, freely demonstrating concern for a potential Mage? You transcend the stereotypes my Tradition assigns to your Kindred, and it is my pleasure to know you. I shall make some inquiries and be in touch with you soon."
Five minutes later Morgana heard a knock on her door. Throwing back the deadbolt and silently turning the lock on the door handle, she stepped back, palming a small derringer behind her back. "Come in," she called loudly.
Father Mitchell opened the door; over his shoulder Morgana could see, instead of the hotel corridor, the oak paneling of his office reflecting a warm amber glow of a chandelier. "Enter freely, and of your own will," said Morgana, grinning slyly.
Father Mitchell turned his face Heavenward, then stepped through the door and closed it behind him. Morgana's derringer disappeared unnoticeably to its hiding place in the holster in the small of her back. Father Mitchell approached and took her hand, grasping it warmly in his large, rough hands. "You're looking as well as ever, Michelle, but that's to be expected, isn't it?" he said in his deep, bell-like voice.
Impulsively Morgana hugged him, and he responded by absently stroking her glossy black hair. "You're looking well yourself, Father," said Morgana as she pulled back from her embrace. "But why have you come now? Couldn't it wait until later?"
Father Mitchell smiled gravely. "This may be more serious than you expected: there is word that the Marauders are interested in Carolyn, not to mention possibly even the Technocracy; black knights after our white pawn." He paused a moment. "You've done enough already: you don't have to do endanger yourself any further."
"I want to see this through to the finish, Father," replied Morgana. "Besides, I've no love for the Mauraders or the Technocracy: if I can tweak their noses by helping the Chorus, I'll do it."
Father Mitchell patted her shoulder. "I only wish more of your brethren felt the same as you, Michelle. Now, shall we see about our prospective Mage? You wouldn't happen to know where I could find her, would you?"
Morgana nodded her head. "I walked her to her room, so she should still be there. We'd better get moving, though. Dawn comes at around 5:15 here, so I've only got a couple of hours left tonight."
In reply, Father Mitchell bowed slightly, then stepped aside and waved her to the door.
Morgana led Father Mitchell down a flight of stairs and down the silent hallway before stopping before room 307.
Standing outside the door they both heard a man's supernaturally persuasive voice within, saying "... all of the pollution of man's technology will be wiped clean, and the world will be renewed, a world of harmony and peace, of wonder and magic."
"Marauder," mouthed Father Mitchell quietly.
Morgana gestured toward the side of the door with a nod of her head, soundlessly saying "Just like last time." He nodded, quickly and briefly sketching a cross in the air above Morgana's head, then seemed to merge with the dim shadows of the hallway.
The Marauder's voice continued from within: "And you, Carolyn, can be an important part of this renewal, if you will only join us this night."
Morgana stooped before the door and produced a pair of thin probes, which she inserted into the lock, thankful that the hotel had not yet switched to the new electronic locks. She silently manipulated the lock, sliding the bolt back quietly. She replaced the probes, palmed her derringer, then boldly pushed the door open.
Inside Morgana saw Carolyn standing in the center of the suite staring mutely in fascination at the man standing before her. Morgana recognized him from earlier that evening: he was dressed as Carolyn's charismatic Starchild character Derek Michaelson, richly garbed in a tunic, breeches, and cape of glossy black satin with intricate gold needlework. The sound of the door opening caused the Marauder and Carolyn to wheel about to face her.
"Fancy meeting you here," said Morgana conversationally. She took several steps into the room, noting Carolyn's half-entranced stare that contrasted with the man's challenging one.
The Marauder mocked her with a smug, self-satisfied grin. "The world of magic I work for has a place for creatures of the night, vampire," replied the Marauder persuasively. "You may join us this night, too. After all, I have you to thank for preparing this prospective Mage's will so obligingly."
Angrily, Morgana shook her head in dismissal, casually brushing aside his supernaturally-persuasive words. Instead she stared directly at Carolyn, capturing her vacant gaze. Morgana seized the opportunity: "Carolyn Knight," said Morgana suddenly, "sleep!"
Smiling, Carolyn quietly said "Okay" as she crumpled to her knees, then fell sideways onto the bed. At the same time, Morgana felt a sudden rush of air from the doorway as a furious blast of wind hammered at the Marauder. He fell backwards and rolled to the far wall. He lay pinned against the wall for a moment, then he produced a long white bone wand from under his garb and swept it out before him: the wind ceased immediately.
The Marauder looked past Morgana, and she could hear Father Mitchell step inside and close the door. The Marauder pointed the wand at Father Mitchell and said three harsh, flat words; Morgana heard Father Mitchell gasp and stagger against the wall.
Turning toward Morgana, the Marauder raised his wand in her direction. "Now that your companion is busy saving his own life, I can deal with the likes of you, Corpse, then finish your Mage companion," he said vehemently.
Defiantly, Morgana raised her hands, pointing the derringer at him. The Marauder haughtily examined the tiny pistol held in Morgana's hands. "That cannot hurt me," he sneered, quickly gesturing with the wand, "but my magic will hurt you."
Morgana felt a wave of pain as ghostly claws broke through a suddenly shimmering wall of light before her to rake her left arm. She stifled a scream of pain and glared balefully at the Marauder. "I'm a master of magic myself," said Morgana ferally; "what do you think of this magic trick?"
The derringer in her double-fisted grip barked and bucked: a long wide cone of white flame spouted from its end, completely engulfing the Marauder. The blast knocked his wand from his hand to bounce off the wall out of reach. The acrid stench of burning phosphorus hung in the air as a shotgun shell dropped away from the derringer.
Behind Morgana, Father Mitchell's deep voice chanted several words in Latin. Bolts of lightning leapt from the electrical appliances and outlets around the room to strike at the Marauder. He jerked in an aurora of St. Elmo's Fire, his limbs trembling and jerking in a grotesque version of St. Vitus' Dance. Morgana fired another burst of flame into his midsection as a final jolt of electricity played along his form.
There is a terrifying moment of silence as the Marauder stood erect, facing them defiantly, then he fell face-first to the floor.
Morgana looked at Father Mitchell, who had come up to kneel beside the unconscious form of Carolyn. "Will she be all right?" she asked, concern evident in her voice.
Father Mitchell pulled Carolyn's eyelid back, noting the rapid response. "She'll be fine. After a display like this, though, she's definitely going to Awaken, and soon. I've got to get her to the Chantry, fast."
Father Mitchell picked up the unconscious Carolyn and cradled her against his shoulder, then hurried to the door. He chanted a long singsong rhyming Latin phrase in his deep, bell-like voice. When he finished, he opened the door to reveal a brightly-lit room. Morgana, walking up beside him, saw within several men holding a variety of automatic weapons or arcane talismans. Father Mitchell nodded to them, then motioned over his shoulder and said "Clean up detail." Three men crossed over the threshold and scurried toward the fallen Marauder.
Father Mitchell looked at Morgana. "Carolyn is in good hands now," he said, smiling, and Morgana nodded and smiled in reply and satisfaction. Father Mitchell took one step forward, crossing the boundary. Suddenly he reached backwards, quickly taking hold of Morgana's hand and pulling her through after him.
Morgana suspected that this Chantry had heard more oaths and shouting in the past ten minutes than it had heard in all the centuries of its existence.
"I cannot believe that you can permit the presence of such demon-spawn in our sacred Chantry, Father Mitchell!" shouted the leader of the guard detail, an ascetic-looking man wearing silver robes marked with arcane symbols of the Tradition.
Ignoring the controversy, Morgana sat down on a nearby chair and concentrated on regenerating the wound she took from the Marauder's attack. The wounds on her arm slowly closed, and she shuddered at the large blood price it cost her.
"This 'demon-spawn' endangered her own existence to succor a prospective member of this Tradition, Michael," responded Father Mitchell, the thunder of his voice easily overcoming Michael's. He stood before Michael like an Old Testament prophet, his silver-grey beard and hair lending him an air of absolute authority. "She has more than earned the right to be here.
"And if anyone so much as considers harming her either by action or inaction, I will personally perform the ceremony of Gilgul upon them and cast them out of the Tradition."
He paused, staring at the others. "She is my guest, and will be treated as such," he continued, softly but finally.
A dead silence followed, combined with Michael's sullen but defeated glare. Father Mitchell smiled in grim triumph and nodded to Morgana. "If you will awaken our Initiate here, Michelle, we can begin the Initiation."
Morgana approached Carolyn sitting in a comfortable chair, brushed the hair back from her face, and said softly, almost tenderly, "Open your eyes, Carolyn."
Carolyn's eyes fluttered open, staring blankly ahead, and Morgana stared deep into her entranced eyes and whispered "Awaken, and remember."
Carolyn's blank expression was suddenly replaced with one of extreme confusion and shock. She stared in wonder at Morgana as the flood of suppressed memories seemed to pass by her eyes, and Morgana smiled in affirmation. Morgana then nodded to Father Mitchell, who knelt beside Carolyn and began to explain.
Thirty minutes later, garbed in a blood-red robe, Morgana accompanied Father Mitchell, resplendent in a shimmering gold Adept's robe, and Carolyn, in an Initiate's robe of white, down the corridor to the Chantry's chapel. To Morgana's eyes Carolyn still appeared overwhelmed by the rapid sequence of events, but she also seemed strengthened by Father Mitchell's reversed collar and Morgana's presence at her side, as the three stepped into the chapel.
It was decided to use the chapel as the site of Carolyn's initiation into the Tradition: the familiarity would serve as an anchor for her. It more resembled a cathedral to Morgana, with its high vaulted roof and numerous pews, filled with gold and silver robed members of the Tradition. Carolyn sighed as she saw the high altar of her Catholic faith before her, and Morgana stole a glance over Carolyn's shoulder at Father Mitchell, who smiled and nodded knowingly in return. Above the altar the cross-like symbol of the Celestial Chorus Tradition was embedded in the wall in golden and clear stained glass. A strong white light shone through the glass, but Morgana did not feel the characteristic torpor of the day within her, so she knew the light is only light and not Sunlight.
The Master of this Chantry, a tall woman with flowing golden blonde hair that merged about her shoulders with her flowing golden robe, stood in the light before the altar. "Who comes before the altar of the Most High and the Powers of Light to ask Initiation into our Sacred Tradition?" she said, beginning the ritual.
Carolyn, quickly but carefully coached just moments before, stepped forward and replied hesitantly "I, Carolyn Porter Knight, come before the altar of the Most High and the Powers of Light to ask Initiation into the Sacred Tradition of the Celestial Chorus." Her voice strengthened as she spoke, finishing strongly and assuredly.
The Master nodded her assent and motioned Carolyn to kneel before her in the light. "Who vouches for this Initiate?" next asked the woman.
"I, Father William Mitchell, Adept and Deacon of this Order, vouch for her," announced Father Mitchell proudly. "I vouch for her spirit and will, her faith and charity, her knowledge and understanding, by my Oath to the Tradition and my own Avatar." With that, he stepped forward and placed his hand on Carolyn's shoulder.
"Who vouches for this Initiate?" ritually demanded the Master, looking around at the members of the Order seated before her.
"I vouch for her," replied Morgana proudly.
The audience of gold and silver robed initiates broke into a confused outcry of voices, the voice of Michael loudest among them, but the Master silenced them with a glaring glance. "How can you vouch for this woman?" she asked harshly. "You know nothing of our Tradition."
Morgana smiled smugly. "I know something of the Traditions, of the precepts they practice, the powers they wield. And I, Morgana Black, vow to you that this woman embodies the finest traits the Celestial Chorus holds dear: a deep, abiding spirituality and a belief in the Oneness of All and the Light that shines not just through her writing but through her very life itself." Morgana lowered her eyes and crossed her hands outstretched before her in a gesture of submission. "'May the Light of the One turn away from me, and the songs of my Brethren fade from my hearing, that I be lost forever in the silent Darkness, should I speak falsely.'"
There was a surprised pause among the audience, followed by a low murmuring. The Master looked inquisitively at Father Mitchell, who only shook his head in bewilderment, then stared long and hard at Morgana. "You do know something of our Traditions, after all," replied the Master softly after several seconds. "I accept your vow."
Morgana stepped forward and laid her own hand on Carolyn's shoulder.
Turning to Carolyn, the Master continued. "Carolyn Porter Knight, by your request and cognizant of the vows given I now Initiate you into this most Scared Tradition. Be you now consecrated to your new position."
The chorus to one side began a long, musical chant in the background, as the Master took up an ornate chalice from the altar. "This is not the chalice of your faith, Initiate, but of a deeper tradition, a symbol of the Tradition we revere. By taking it up, you acknowledge your entry into the Tradition of the Celestial Chorus. Take, drink, and be one with us in the Order."
Carolyn took the chalice in hand and looked within. Inside was a heavy dark wine, and its heady fumes momentarily made her feel dizzy, but she pushed the feeling aside as she raised the chalice and drank deeply.
The empty chalice fell from her hands. There was a timeless, electric moment which engulfed Father Mitchell and Morgana as well, as Carolyn felt her perception expand beyond herself, beyond the Chantry, to encompass the whole of Creation itself. She felt her soul sing, part of a vast, unearthly chorus singing praises to the Light, and for a moment longed to join that chorus forever. Then she felt a gentle pressure to return, anchored by the two presences beside her. The longing remained, but she recognized her responsibility and returned to her mortal shell, carrying deep within her a small measure of that Light.
The moment also had its effect on Father Mitchell and Morgana. Father Mitchell wept tears of joy at the acceptance of another member of his Tradition, while Morgana felt a timeless moment of mingled wonder and revelation at the vastness of the Universe and her small but important place in it.
The chalice struck the floor. The sound revived Carolyn, Father Mitchell, and Morgana from their reverie. They looked at each other in mingled amazement and wonder as the Master announced "Brothers and sisters of the Celestial Chorus, welcome our newest sister, Carolyn."
A silver robe was produced, and Carolyn substituted it for her white robe. She stood, staring frankly at the Master, a broad smile on her face.
"There is one other matter to attend to, Master," said Father Mitchell suddenly. He placed his hand firmly on Morgana's shoulder. "This one risked her existence to succor our sister, and is owed a debt by the Order."
Startled, Morgana stared at Father Mitchell. The Master gazed impassively between him and Morgana. "What say you? What would you have of us in return for your assistance?"
Morgana could only slowly shake her head. "I can't think of anything right now," she said with a confused look on her face. "Maybe you can put it on my tab?"
The hollow, echoing voice resounded in the chapel and every eye turned upward to see its source. A figure in obscuring glowing white robes appeared to hang in mid air before the stained glass symbol.
"This one has earned a reward, and a reward she will receive."
A beam of purest white light streamed down from the center of the stained glass symbol, enveloping Morgana completely. Several of the initiates cried out, some in plain surprise, others, like Michael, saying that her just punishment had found her at last.
Morgana froze in place, wondering too if she is being punished, then she felt the light penetrate her very being. The light was warm and gentle, and a gentle woman's voice in her mind soundlessly reassured her. She felt a quickening deep within her, stirring something long dead or long asleep, and she reveled in the feeling that expanded to fill her body and soul with an onrush of light and power as she had never known before.
Suddenly the figure vanished. The light winked out, leaving Morgana standing alone in the aisle, smiling.
The Master silenced everyone present with a curt gesture, then approached Morgana. Morgana opened her mouth and extended her fangs, touching them gently. The Master blinked in surprise at the sight, then laid her hand upon Morgana's head. "Impossible," she said in wonder after a long pause.
"Where the Oracles are involved, very little is impossible, Clarissa," said Father Mitchell, approaching Morgana. "If I am not mistaken, however, it would seem that they have, however, created a miracle: the Awakening of the Avatar of a vampire. Am I correct?"
The Master nodded in amazement, staring in wonder at Morgana.
After the ceremony Father Mitchell led Morgana back to the portal.
"Father," said Morgana suddenly, "Carolyn will have to return to the convention, or else there will be too many difficult questions raised."
Father Mitchell nodded. "We'll make sure she's back before she's missed."
"She'll need protection, too."
"I daresay that the convention will have several more attendees over the weekend. She'll be protected.
"But what about yourself?"
Morgana stopped, gazing questioningly at Father Mitchell. "I don't know: I can only assume I have taken another step toward Golconda."
"If so, you have been blessed beyond measure," he replied, pointing his finger at her, "And have given the Traditions something to argue about for years to come."
A merry, fey chuckle escaped Morgana's lips. "Good."
This story was brought about because of a dream.
I had spent the last four days working for MarCon, an SF convention in Columbus, Ohio, back in May, 1994. I was staying a friend's apartment, which meant a drive in to and away from the convention every day, on his uncomfortable sofa bed. Sunday night, I was too tired to sleep, so I entered a hypnogogic dreamlike state. I thought of the of character Morgana, my gaming character that I was writing about. I wondered how she would react at an SF convention. Then I remembered that Katherine Kurtz was to be the GOH at MarCon the following year. I know Katherine; not only is she an Ericksonian trained hypnotist but she also has a very deep interest in spiritual and occult matters. She would make an excellent Celestial Chorus Mage. Suddenly this story rolled through my head.
The story has changed a little, as I tried to sell it to White Wolf for their anthology series, which has not been sold yet. Katherine became Carolyn for obvious reasons. The convention organizer David Bishop is Paul Knight, the guy on whose sofabed I rested so uncomfortably and so must share part of the honor or blame. The mysterious woman with the red eye was a yet-unresolved mystery that had been appearing in several White Wolf stories: characters would notice an otherwise-unpreposessing figure with a red eye, who would never be seen again.