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Cleansing Fire

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Louis believed he had lost his Claudia, and his rage fueled the fire that burned the Theater of Vampires, his scythe cutting down all who would try to escape the inferno. They deserved it for the hypocrisy of their laws condemning Claudia to death, and the innocent Madeleine with her. When he ran from the burning building into the mist-covered dawn of a new day he half expected to die eternally, only to see a coach go past driven by Armand's boy. The back opened, offering him protection from the rising sun and, once again he chose this immortal life over eternal death.

As the thick curtain fell back into place Louis felt a small familiar body fall into his arms.

"Claudia?"

He looked across the cabin to take in the soft smile of Madeleine before setting his preternatural gaze on Armand, mouth tightening in anger.

"You said you couldn't save them," he ground out to Armand. "I saw them entwined. Watched them crumble to dust beneath my fingertips."

Armand looked contrite as he spoke softly.

"My dark gift is one of premonition. Small glimpses of the future with no means to identify when or where it might come to pass until I have seen the place with my true eyes. I had this premonition many years ago. When I first stepped into the Theater of the Vampires and found the circular room open to the sun I prepared for it. A hidden trapdoor, a sculpture of a woman and child made of earth that would turn to dust after an hour baking under the hot sun and crumble with a touch." He shrugged.

"And yet you said nothing."

"What would you have me do? I could not speak for there were those among our kind who would have overheard and made certain my premonition had a... less desirable outcome."

Louis shook his head. For a whole night he had believed Claudia lost forever, and he had waited in the darkness plotting his revenge on the apathetic creatures performing the same pointless routine night after night, knowing they would enjoy one last feast of blood before he ended their miserable existence with cleansing fire.

"You knew what I planned to do... and yet you did not warn them."

***

Claudia held tight to Louis for the longest time before pulling back to rest against Madeleine's side. She had learned early on that each newly turned vampire received a dark gift, all it seemed except for Louis unless his cursed empathy for mortals was his gift. Claudia shared Lestat's gift for reading minds but where Lestat was bombarded on all sides her gift was tuned solely to those of their own kind - to Vampires - but only when she concentrated, and not those who shared Lestat's blood.

Her thoughts returned to the hours before dawn on the previous day. Too caught up with the making of her new companion and the toll it had taken on Louis, she had not heard the vampires approach or read their intent until they were back within the Theater of Vampires. Her senses were overwhelmed with the angry and fearful cries of Louis and Madeleine as they were pulled apart, carried up narrow stairs and thrown into a round cell high above the theater. She did not possess Lestat's power to rise into the air and the brick was too smooth to climb. Only one doorway led into their prison cell but it was too thick and heavy, barred on the other side. They could not break through and finally they huddled together facing the doorway, and waited as the sky lightened high above. Several hours passed before Claudia felt a brush across her mind, of Vampire thoughts coming from close by. By now the sun was moving across the opening of their cell and she lost those vampire thoughts for a moment, drowned out by fear and her own screams as their skin began to blister beneath its deadly rays.

They fell backwards into blessed darkness, thrown against a far wall as Armand slid an earthen sculpture of a terrified woman and child into the circular cell. He ordered them to silence with a finger against his lips but Claudia needed to know, whispering harshly, "Where is Louis?"

"Safe for now. I will free him, but you must wait here in silence until I come for you or we shall all be put to the sun."

He left them in the darkness of a different kind of cell, and the only reason they did not leave was because she had heard Armand's mind whisper, "Trust me."

More hours passed, their burned skin healing slower without fresh blood coursing through their veins, and though Claudia could feel the weight of the day dragging her down she kept her eyes open, clinging to Madeleine just as she had done earlier. At first Madeleine held onto her just as tightly, lips pressed against her hair as she murmured promises of forever, the trauma of the past hours sealing their path together, but eventually the newly turned vampire succumbed to the day and slumbered. Claudia held onto her, fighting against the last of the dying day until she could hear the thoughts of so many vampires awakening from their daytime slumber. She knew they would have to wait through the long night until the last of the Parisian vampires had returned to their coffins.

When Armand came for them the sun was rising on a new day. She had expected to see Louis with him but followed him in silence down the narrow stairs and along disused passageways to a small door leading outside. Screams and the smell of burning filled the air as Armand handed them heavy cloaks. A heavy mist had settled across the city, shrouding the streets from the sun but it was still strong enough to turn them both to dust. They rushed to the coach waiting outside, huddling together as the heavy curtains kept the sun's deadly rays from piercing the interior. Armand entered in a rush of motion, the door closing behind him as Claudia and Madeleine pushed further into the darker shadows inside the coach. He was alone.

"Louis?" she demanded as Armand thumped on the carriage roof to order the driver to move on.

Claudia and Madeleine shrank back as Armand threw open the back and called out. Moments later Louis was inside the carriage, and Claudia threw herself into his arms.

As Louis remonstrated with Armand, hearing Armand's explanations she found his reasoning selfish, callous even. Jaded like the many vampires Louis had killed this day but he had saved Louis for a reason that she could read from his mind, needing someone connected to this modern world to help him survive through the next hundred years. Claudia knew she and Louis had to part company, thankful she had her Madeleine as her companion. She said goodbye to him in the inky darkness of Calais before boarding a ship heading across the La Manche - the English Channel - to Dover and then on to London, quietly confident they would meet again one day

It took another century before she truly understood how the years could wear down a vampire, with an ever changing world bringing new fears of discovery as technology advanced. It was the year 1994, and perhaps it was time for her to return with Madeleine to the New World and seek out her beloved Louis once more.

END