Freda Warrington, fantasy author


Freda Warrington - fantasy author

A Dance in Blood Velvet by Freda Warrington

Extract from A Dance in Blood Velvet, Book Two of the Blood Wine sequence

In my dreams I see a carnival of ice
You’re wearing white and pirouette so nice
When I stop to ask the nature of surprise
A veil of contradiction is slipped before my eyes 
Death is a ring-a-ring-a-rosey
You never reach the end
I’ll pray for you, my friend

    - Horslips, "Ring-a-Rosey"

Prelude: Carnival of Ice

A vampire woke, not knowing where or who he was.

He was lying in a blazing white tomb. Yet the tomb seemed infinite… an endless drift of snow roofed by the heavens. A gale lifted ice crystals, sweeping them in shimmering ribbons towards the blurred fringes of the plain. Arms of white mist enfolded him. The cold was absolute, but the vampire barely felt it. He was sure he’d been there forever.

Beneath a crust of ice, his body was a dark, papery husk, burned black not by fire, but by the cold itself.

Why was he suddenly aware? What was this place?

Panic. Something had disturbed him. A command, a voice in his mind. “Wake, wake.

Must obey… The vampire feared that if he moved, he would shatter into ash, but the demand was imperative. Someone was willing him awake with their last wisp of strength, their dying breath.

And the voice said, “Wake. Take revenge. Don’t let them forget me. You are my children. I commanded you to sleep and now I command you to wake!

A shiver of terror went through the vampire. Against his own judgment, he flexed his arms. Excruciating pain cracked his limbs. He convulsed with shock, bringing more pain. His whole body was shattering…

No. It was only the carapace of ice falling away. The vampire examined his naked body in disbelief. Dusty black, dragonfly-fragile, draped with false wings like torn cobwebs: he was a scrap of black lace on snow.

The sun, a bleached coin, seared him with its frigid light. The sky was a blue-black shell, pricked by fire. He saw the whorls of countless galaxies, huge ringed planets. The vampire opened his mouth and cried with awe.

How did I come to be here? Help help help…

Crystals scratched his skin like grit as he began to crawl forwards. The pain of returning to life was unbearable. An image flashed in his mind… A dark-haired woman watched a man pacing around a room in agitation… the scene must have been significant but he couldn’t grasp its meaning. He sobbed and crawled on.

No concept of time. His tortuous progress across the snow was eternal. Nightmare… Help… I’m dead and in hell… Then another memory-fragment.

A book of poetry lay open in front of him. A large hand slammed down on the page and a portentous voice declaimed, “Human poetry? Worthless, Andreas. Look on the face of God!”

Gone. But the vampire clung to the name. Andreas, I’m Andreas

Then the snow crust gave way and he fell.

Beneath him was… nothingness. An infinite sky. He flailed in terror, but his torn-cobweb wings were useless.

Tumbling through clouds of ice-flakes, Andreas had the impression of other vampires around him. Faint shadow-crosses on the mist, spiralling along their own paths. llusion? Even if they were real, he couldn’t reach them. Each one was alone in this strange, dense ocean of air.

This isn’t the world… but where am I? Heaven or hell, or…

As he left the white plains far above, the light dimmed to rich blue, then to stormy violet brushed with red flame… Andreas gasped, distracted from fear. The sky was full of gorgeous colours. Cloud-mountains sailed through the air below him. His descent slowed. A current took his weightless body, and he floated face down above peaks that rolled like slow ocean-waves. Their valleys were bottomless, painted crimson by fire. Hell lay below him. His skin – fossil-cold for an eternity – began to prickle with unbearable heat.

Silent scream. Help help help

Another fragment, without context.

A parlour, all fine furniture and oriental rugs. The same two figures were dark against the firelight. Yet how pale was their skin, how radiant! Vampires. And he knew them, hated and loved them… if he could only remember who they were…

“I can’t endure this!” said the man. “Kristian killed my wife and expects me to love him for it!”

Andreas was present, part of the scene. He heard himself say, “Karl, take the easy way. Pretend you love him, as we do.”

“You’re frightened of him,” Karl said darkly – that’s it, this was Karl, beloved Karl…

“No,” lied Andreas. “I’m lazy.”

Then the woman spoke. Dear God, what was her name, this chestnut-haired enchantress?

“If you disobey Kristian, he’ll put you in the Weisskalt.”

Weisskalt… a place of hideous winter and everlasting sleep.

She went to Karl and touched his arm. “Karl, if Andrei and I defy Kristian and stay with you, he’s sure to find out.”

“Well?” said Karl. “What will you do? You could reject me, as Ilona has. Make Kristian believe you hate me. I’d rather you and Andrei saved yourselves, Katti, than –”

“Never.” The woman embraced Karl, holding him tight. “Never.”

That was her name! Katerina. The vampire clutched at the scene but it vanished, leaving the merest shimmer of understanding.

Kristian had found them out, and punished them. That was the last Andreas could recall… Kristian’s huge silhouette. Kristian, who gave me immortality then took it away – twice, because I wrote no more poetry after the transformation. Took me away and imprisoned me in the Weisskalt.

He remembered Katti’s screams. Helpless despair.

Strangely, the pain of the Weisskalt had not lasted long. Once the cold bit into his brain, Andreas felt nothing… only faintly aware as he lay beneath the pitiless Eye of God for years…

Years. His teeth chattered with horror. He almost laughed.

Kristian put me to sleep, so it follows that Kristian woke me… Again, the voice vibrated in Andreas’s head. “Wake! I send you as the envoys of Almighty God to avenge me!”

Andreas drifted on through the firmament. Panic remained a dull whine within him. He wished to die, but his consciousness persisted.

The call came like a butterfly-shiver of the ether. It wasn’t Kristian’s harsh tone but a different pull, tentative yet insistent. Andreas felt the vibration catch him and draw him downwards towards the ruby fires of hell. Although the summons was weak, he had no strength to resist.

Cloud-mountains swallowed him. Grim twilight rushed up. He strained his tormented eyes, but all was as dense as soot. Then, with a wrench, he felt the very world turn inside out.

Oh God, Katti, where are you? Help, help…

He became aware of a ghastly change in his body. No longer weightless, he felt heavy, cumbersome, malformed inside his skin.

Darts of memory pierced the chaos. Something pale twitched in the darkness. His own hands! No longer black and ethereal, they were corpse-white and heavy.

God. Human hands!

Andreas was lying on a hard surface in thick, hot darkness. His eyelids flickered as he strained to see, discovering that this place made no more sense than the realm from which he’d materialised. Corridors of mirrors stretched in every direction, endlessly reflecting a purple splash of light.

Pungent smoke shocked his senses.

But through the incense wove a richer scent that set his frozen form burning with need…. He had to reach the source of the aroma, had to seize and bite and drink…

“It worked!” hissed a stupefied male voice. “Great God Almighty, I don’t believe it! Holly–”

Two figures in hooded lavender robes stood before him. Their reflections stretched away through the limbo of mirrors. The smaller figure craned forwards, staring down at Andreas through the eyeholes of a mask.

“It looks dead.” The woman’s voice was thick with revulsion. “Get rid of it, Ben.”

“Not yet.” The man sounded both horrified and madly excited. “We did it! We brought something through.”

“But this isn’t what we wanted!”

Ignoring her, the man took a step towards Andreas. The blood-scent became unbearable. A thin dry groan filled the air… the vampire wished it would stop, not realising it came from his own throat.

“Can you hear me?” said the man. “I am Benedict. Do you understand? Can you speak?”

The vampire was confused. The man had an incredible aura of power… yet he was only a mortal, the source of the delicious salty heat. With effort, Andreas pushed himself up onto his hands. The man and woman both gasped, caught between fascination and fear.

The vampire did not see them as people, full of passions and hopes; he saw them only as swollen vessels of blood. They drew him with an urgent promise of warmth, nourishment, everything he craved…

“Banish it, Ben!” the woman cried. “Now!”

Propelled by unnatural strength, the vampire leapt.

The man raised his hands in self-defence – and vanished. Another realm rushed in, throwing Andreas through dizzying tunnels. At last he came to rest, paralysed, his mind blank within a screaming tornado of thirst.

Dull shapes leaned over him like a nightmare forest. He was in the other-world again, while the world of humans hovered a breath away, just out of his reach. That man Benedict did this to me, he thought. Tortured me with the scent of his blood, then pushed me back into this half-death! Katerina, Karl, help me…

There was no one to hear him. No one to care if he lay on the edge of death forever. But now his fear had two companions. Burning thirst, and rage.

Copyright (C) Freda Warrington

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