The Burning:
Deleted Scene 4

The Burning

Carpathian Mountains, Transylvania, December 1819

The wind tore off the snowy peaks behind him as he guided his sturdy mountain horse down the torturous path toward the tiny village in the valley. It was not that he did not feel the cold, but that his soul welcomed it. Outside should reflect inside should it not? Warmth was denied him. Love was denied. And rightly so. Had he not challenged the Rules laid down by his kind? And was not the fruit of his labor evil, an evil that those he had known forever had been forced to fight, down to the bloody last? They had barely stopped the evil from spreading until it wiped out everything. The balance between human kind and vampires was precarious. His actions had nearly tipped the balance. And all because he disobeyed the Elders' Rules.

His soul was dead. He had no more will to go on living in the world, shouldering the burden of his crimes. Any life left to him was at the place where he began so many years ago.

He wound his way through the tiny village of Tirgu Korva that served the stone pile on the mountain beyond. He had no attention to spare for the rough tavern, the thatched huts, the horses standing head to tail in their pens. Several bearded men came out of the tavern as though to accost him. They might look dangerous to some. Light spilled across the snowy yard, and raucous singing drifted into the night. But they felt his vibrations. Their fathers, a hundred generations back, might have recognized his face, but these would not. Still they touched their forelocks in the age-old salute and melted back into the tavern, to light and life.

Stephan raised his gaze again to his goal rising out of the mountain ahead and touched his horse with his heels. The moon came out from behind the clouds and lit the stone spires. They seemed to glow from within. The translucent onyx that formed the battlements and towers of the monastery was dotted with occasional squares of light. The night was Mirso's time. Others would call the sight other-worldly, evil, frightening. To Stephan it was home.

The horse crunched across the snowfield to the track that wound up the mountain. He had grown up at Mirso Monastery. It was amazing really. Mirso was a last refuge to those of his kind who had grown too stale, too bored, too mad to live in the world anymore. Yet he had started here, abandoned by his mother, taken in by Rubius and the Elders as a miracle, one of the last born to his kind.

The monastery disappeared above him as he started up the trail. He was not a miracle. A spectacular failure of judgment, a cause of pain and suffering, unworthy of the love of the only one he had ever cared for in all those years…he was those things.

Rubius should never have sent him away. The Eldest said he must experience the world before he could renounce it. It would have been better if he had been locked away at Mirso to begin with. He hadn't wanted to leave. A thousand years of experience, or closer to two thousand, and all he wanted was to be allowed back through its gates for good. The world was not for him. It never had been.

Would Rubius take him back? Would he be allowed to take the Vow? Once he took the Vow, he could never leave Mirso. A life of ritual, chanting, a path to peace, even if it was a slow and torturous one; this is what he craved. He craved…forgetfulness. He wanted to forget what his mistakes had cost the world.

Stephan shuddered, but not with cold. Pray to whatever gods you believe in that you're was allowed to stay, he thought. It was the only refuge left him.

It was nearly an hour before he came to the great doors, heavy beams studded with iron straps in a defensive plaid. He got off his sturdy horse as the snow began to swirl around him. The huge round iron ball held by iron strapping waited for him to knock. It would take more than human strength to lift it, but that was the point was it not? Still, he could not move to beg for entrance. The moment when it might be refused was too terrible to contemplate.

He did not need to knock. Inside the gates the rasp of the huge bar he remembered sounded. Stephan held himself still, resisting the urge to run from this place before he could be denied the last refuge. There was no where to run.

The gates swung open in remarkable silence for being so heavy. A monk stood there in black robe and rough rope belt, his hands tucked in the opposite wide sleeve, face hidden in the shadow of his cowl. Snow dusted the wool of his habit. Stephan set his lips. "Stephan Sincai to see Rubius," he bit out in the old language. The words were taken by the wind.

"I know who you are," the figure said. Stephan did not recognize the voice. "Rubius does not receive visitors."

"He receives Aspirants. I wish to take the Vow."

There was a long moment of silence. Then the figure inclined his head and turned on his heel. Stephan followed. It didn't mean Rubius would allow him to stay. Stephan strode behind the monk, who seemed to float across the great empty courtyard, covered in several inches of snow. It was all as he had remembered it, the towering stone walls, the fountain burbling in the center a mere pile of rocks in a simple stone circle. That fountain was the beginning of it all, though. Mirso had been built around it. The Old One had contaminated it with the infection in his blood, and that infected humans so many eons ago that only Rubius remembered it. Only a few lived through drinking that water. From that simple Source, had come that which made them what they were. He had played around it as a child. Now his heart turned to stones like the ones in the fountain. Their kind had been cursed by that fountain and the parasite it contained. The monks at Mirso might revere it, but to him it was a symbol of his pain. Sooner or later the weight of years or their own sins always got the better of them, and they needed refuge. In his case, it was his sins that brought him here. He didn't believe in forgiveness. He just hoped he had a chance to get beyond the guilt and the torment to something like peace with his past.

He followed the monk in through the doors at the far end of the courtyard, up the circular stone steps that wound around the inside of the main tower and into the small receiving room, where the monk left him. The room held only a straight chair with a carved back. Supplicants for an audience with Rubius did not deserve comfort. He tried to still his thoughts as he waited, but it was no good. If only he had not wanted to challenge the Elders' Rules about killing made vampires. How naďve to think that they could be valuable citizens of their society! They were not the same as born vampires and they never would be. It had been pure pride to challenge the wisdom of millennia. And if he had not fallen in love with Beatrixtrix, Asharti might not have gone so mad as to nearly bring down the world of vampires and men. If he had killed Asharti when he had the chance in Paris, all the evil and the killing that followed could have been avoided. Had she not displayed even then all the ruthless evil that followed in the desert? Naďve. And soft. He had always been too soft. So much death. So much suffering.

All his fault.

He had sinned at every turn. He had let Langley live too, even though he was a made vampire, just because Beatrix loved him. Weak. Best he get out of the world before he did more damage. All that was left was Mirso Monastery.

"Rubius will see you."

Stephan jerked his head up. He had not heard the monk enter. He was slipping. He rose and ducked through the low door at the far end of the bare room, which closed behind him.

Rubius's quarters were a stark contrast to the Spartan feel of the rest of the monastery. Tapestries hung on the walls, Turkey carpets covered the stone floor. A fire snapped in the grate and joined candles set about the room in casting a warm glow over padded leather chairs, a sideboard laid with brandy and sweetmeats and Rubius's collection of art work. That collection astounded Stephan more now than it had ever done as a child. He glanced around to the familiar pieces: an Etruscan stone fertility goddess, Roman glass from the first century (Stephan remembered him acquiring that one), Greek vases in black and red, a Chinese jade horse. His collection had grown in the centuries Stephan had been gone. He recognized a Da Vinci, a fine Byzantine triptych, a Mayan calendar from the New World. That brought back painful memories. Stephan let his gaze wander over the room for a moment before it rested on the old man in the center.

"Hello, Rubius."

The old man nodded. He was an incongruous head of vampire society, a fact lost on Stephan in his youth. Overweight, white haired, with a full Beatrixrd and a ruddy complexion, he looked more like a jolly St. Nicholas than the chief representative of what humans thought was evil incarnate.

"Sincai." He motioned to the brandy and raised his brows.

Stephan nodded, his breathing uneven. Rubius poured out a glass and handed it to him. Stephan downed it, hoping it would steady him.

Rubius poured his own glass and motioned to a chair. "Why are you here, boy?"

"You know that," Stephan managed to croak. He did not sit.

"But I want to hear you say it," Rubius said softly, studying him.

Stephan took a breath. This was it. Push down pride. There was no pride to be had after what he had done. "I beg to be allowed to take the Vow."

"Well, I find that most interesting," Rubius said, almost in a whisper. It was as if after all these years of only speaking to his own kind, with their acute hearing, he had lost any desire to do more than murmur. He put down his glass and laid a finger aside his ruddy nose. "One who broke our Rules, nay tried even to demonstrate, so foolishly, that they were wrong, now wants to avail himself of our most precious Rule of all."

This was it. Rubius wouldn't let him in. He had known despair for much of his life. But the emptiness that sat in his belly threatened him with insanity. "I was wrong," he said. No pride. "Made and born vampires are not equal."

"Your little experiment with the Arab girl nearly destroyed our world, boy!" The whisper was outraged. "Wrong doesn't begin to cover the situation."

"No." Stephan's voice was bleak in his own ears. He acquiesced, knowing acquiescence would not be enough. Rubius was not going to let him in to Mirso.

"What were you going to do? Challenge the Elders for authority when you proved our Rules were wrong?"

"I… I don't know. I thought made vampires could be valuable citizens…"

Rubius waived that naiveté away with one hand. "Pride. Rebellious pride and nothing more. We raised you, boy, taught you, considered you precious. So few were born even then. And you repay us with treachery." He had begun to pace, his bulk moving with surprising grace back and forth in front of the fire. "And even when your experiment went wrong and the bitch tried to kill Beatrixtrix, who was born, and rule the Continent through that human general, what was his name?"

"Bonaparte, Eldest." He kept his voice flat. It wasn't hard. It matched his soul.

"Even then, you let her go."

"I thought exile…."

"Don't excuse yourself!" Rubius rounded on him. "Were you soft" Or hadn't you given up your little conceit in spite of all the evidence of disaster?" He clasped his hands behind his back and paced. "Look where it led. She found an Old One, took his blood. She was almost so strong none of us could stop her. Made vampires everywhere," he muttered. "Khalenberg and Davinoff, Urbano and the others have had a time of it trying to find them all."

"I volunteered…"

"How could we trust you to go?" Rubius almost spit the words across the carpet.

"You couldn't. I understand." That was the worst pain of all. He hadn't been allowed to help his kind survive the consequences of his crime.

Rubius paused in his pacing and turned his back to the fire. He chewed his lip. Stephan held himself still and dropped his eyes to the floor. He was penitent. Rubius must see that. He was throwing himself on the Eldest's mercy; he had no choice but to be humble.

There was a long silence. Rubius rocked back and forward on his heels. "Well. Now you want the refuge of the Vow."

"I beg you to allow me to remain at Mirso, Eldest. You will find me a humble and eager Aspirant." Stephan kept his gaze riveted on the carpet at Rubius's feet.

"Will I?" Rubius mused.

"I swear it," Stephan said, unable to keep the emotion from the edge of his voice.

"There is a price," Rubius whispered.