Danse Macarbre

I gotta stop doing this high-grade weed. It gives me fucked-up vibes like you wouldn't believe.

Like tonight.

It's late Friday night. Or early Saturday morning. Whatever. The dance floor's packed out, and people are tripping in more ways than you can count. Somebody thought it'd be a cool idea to do 70s and 80s retero, and to my surprise, people are liking it. Or maybe they're too stoned to care.

Only there's this one guy that feels just wrong.

He's young. Late teens, early twenties, maybe. Long red hair. He had a red silk shirt on when he came in, but he lost it at some point. Now he's bare-chested, and you can see his muscles rippling as he writhes and twists like a trapped animal caught in the jaws of the music. His whole body's covered in sweat, and as he lifts his arms, I can see that the red hair in his armpits is matted with it, too. He's been hurling himself into it for about half an hour, and I'm wondering where the hell he's getting the energy from. He's like the fucking energizer bunny, he just doesn't quit.

.. I'm your Venus, I'm your fire, at your desire...

I shiver. The air con in here is screwed up, tonight. I keep getting hit by these freezing cold gusts of wind.

Red-hair isn't just doing the usual pelvic-thrust thing, though. His whole body is a come-on. I mean, no fucking way am I a fag, man, but even I can feel the sex he's giving off. It's just rolling off him. He knows it, too. There's this whole bunch of people he's obviously performing for. Guys as well as girls, dressed in everything from leather to heroin-chic. He spins from one to the other, never settling in one place, always teasing, never making good on his promise. At one point he's down on the floor, literally staring up a girl's short skirt as he makes this little erotic wriggle go through his body. Then with a sudden flip, he's on his feet again, pressing his bare chest against a guy's leather jacket and sliding down, leaving a wet trail of sweat, before he leaps away again.

.. I'm so excited, I just can't hide it. I'm about to lose control, and I think I like it...

Shit, where the hell is that damn cold breeze coming from? Feels like ice cubes running down my back.

I notice he's mouthing the words at the people he's giving the come-on to as his body leaps and contorts. I'd think he's just a slut who swings both ways, but like I said, there's something weird about him, something I can't put my finger on.

... when you lose control and you've got no soul, it's tragedy...

I'm looking at him as he mouths that line, and my gut clenches. There's something in his face, just for one tiny instant, something mocking and cruel and... gleeful. Something murderous that would take joy in the act of murder. He's looking at the girl whose skirt he looked up, but her head is turned away, and she doesn't see.

Is he a psycho? It takes me a second to realize that I've started to tremble. I want to use the bathroom, bad, but as the Bee-Gees number closes, he finally takes off from the dance-floor and heads for the men's room. No way do I want to be anywhere near him. So I wait. And wait. Five minutes. Ten. Fifteen. I notice that the folks he was going for have left the dance floor as well, and I figure, maybe they went off someplace together. Maybe the men's room is clear now. And I can't wait much longer.

So I head to the bathroom, open the door, and...

Oh, sweet Jesus.

Red hair is lying back on the floor in a pool of blood. Looks like he cracked his skull open on the urinal as he fell back. There are gaping wounds all over his arms and neck and chest, but there's not much blood. And around him...

Around him are the people he was giving the come-on to, but I barely recognize them. They're covered in a thin film of frost, and they've aged. A few minutes ago I'd have said the short-skirted girl had only gotten into the club on a fake ID. Now she looks like she's in her nineties. All of them are lying around, twitching and moaning. They look like they're trying to get up, but they can't quite make it.

I feel a warm liquid running down my leg as I dive for the bowl to puke.

When I get out, there's a man waiting for me. Oh, shit.

Tall, dark and handsome pretty much covers it. Long wavy black hair, brilliant green eyes, very pale skin, classic cheekbones. Oh, and he's carrying a big knife, or a small sword.

Somehow, the gag from Crocodile Dundee doesn't seem funny any more.

Red-hair's body is still there, but where the other clubbers were there are just piles of clothing, and what look like a few bits of yellowed bone. My stomach starts to churn again, but there's nothing left to come up.

"I regret that you were forced to witness this", says tall-dark-etc. Deep voice with a weird accent. "I believe it would be best if you were to forget it. You over-indulged in recreational hallucinogens tonight and passed out. You may have experienced some fevered dreams but they were not real. Do you understand me? Not real"

Those green eyes are boring into me like lasers.

"As a result of this experience you may wish to reconsider the harm which you are doing to yourself by the more extreme effects of your lifestyle. Consider a change of direction". The voice drones on, soft, persuasive, implacable. I feel trapped by that bright green gaze, but somehow I know it's not affecting me like it should. Over the guy's shoulder I see the sign, THANK YOU FOR NOT SMOKING.

Only it doesn't say that. Someone's changed it. Right now it says, IT FIGHTS A GREATER EVIL

I gotta stop doing this high-grade weed. It gives me fucked-up vibes like you wouldn't believe.

***

"Want to talk about it?"

Dr. Marie Branomir looked up. "I understand why you had to do what you did".

"But that doesn't make you feel comfortable with it". Ranuf settled himself in the armchair opposite her. He was wearing one of Raguel's black bathrobes, which, being too large for him, covered him almost completely, leaving only his feet and head visible. In one hand he held an expensive cognac, which he swirled absently as he talked.

She shrugged. "I'm the token mortal here. I knew it wouldn't always be comfortable when I signed up"

Ranulf nodded quietly. "Blood, and sex, and death, Marie. The Old Faith is primal in its magic and its worldview. I know that's not something a child of the modern world can be comfortable with..."

Her face hardened. Savagely, she spat out, "I've performed surgery on dying kids in war zones, Randy. Don't you dare - don't you fucking dare - tell me I don't understand about blood and death. I know it, intimately. I hate it, intimately. And I fight it". She drew a deep, shuddering breath. "I don't use it. I don't make myself a... a conduit for it. I don't welcome it".

Ranulf sat quietly for a long while. When it was obvious that she'd said all she was going to say, he set down his glass and sat back.

"You put a gun in Raguel's mouth. You threatened to kill him to save the lives of those kids, and we both know it wasn't a bluff. You were willing to become a "conduit" for death to serve a greater purpose. Don't kid yourself that there's a moral difference just because I used magic and you didn't"

"I wasn't dancing when I did it". She sounded tired, and uncertain, rather than accusatory. "I wasn't enjoying it"

"Dance and emotion are part of the magic. Part of the power. Could you have brought yourself to threaten to kill, without the fear, the anger, the hate? The emotional pitch?"

"No. So maybe this is about me, not you"

Ranulf picked up his glass again, and took a sip. "You're only human"

She forced a grin. "More than anyone else here can say"

He shook his head. "The Sabbat we killed would have agreed with you. Maybe even Raguel would. But they're wrong. We can be immortal, Marie. We can be sorcerers, we can be centuries old, we can be undead. But we can never stop being human. All that we are, for good or ill, comes from humanity"

"To humanity, then?"

He raised his glass. "To humanity"