Transylvania, Rumania, All Saints’ Day
Nate Grey is in a train that crosses this infamous area. He asks himself what he is doing in that train, the day after Halloween, bound for that notorious place where guys like Vlad the Impaler make even Apocalypse look like a humanitarian in comparison. The reason behind this is a sick boy back in New York. Nate is the only one willing to help him. Nate himself feels like a child at heart, not unlike the boy whose life hangs in the balance. He recalls how it all began on a dark and spooky Halloween night on Greenwich Village.
Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. Nate plies his trade as telepath in Washington Square Park, predicting people’s “fortunes” in exchange for spare change. Nate is always exhilarated by the look on people’s faces when he tells them something they thought nobody could ever know. Surrounded as he is by countless children wearing Halloween costumes, he is asked by one of them, a kid dressed as a clown, what he is thinking right now. Nate replies that he is thinking the money he stole from his mom to buy that ridiculous get-up!
Suddenly, Nate spots a sad little boy, dressed in Captain America’s outfit and confined in a wheelchair. Nate jokingly asks him whether the rest of the Avengers are off saving the world. The boy introduces himself as Jerome and adds he has to be careful saving the world, on account of his being sick. He was born premature, with complications; he could “go” at any time. Nate adds that he could also “go” at any time. As he touches the boy, he senses he’s in a bad shape, probably some sort of leukemia. He probably has only six, seven more months to live. As Nate warns the boy to head back to “Avengers mansion,” since the night becomes stormier, he realizes the boy reminds him a lot of himself.
Nate contemplates on his own condition: as rapid as his psionic power burns itself out – and his body along the way – he could also die at any time. He was born with more power that a person can handle and that’s killing him. “Too bad the only person who can do anything about it is a total madman” Nate thinks. Apparently, both he and the boy have one thing in common: no future.
Suddenly, a strange old gypsy lady approaches Nate, informing him that there is only one hope for the boy, though she is most likely dead by now. Nate tells the lady she makes absolutely no sense. The woman explains that in her homeland, Transylvania, there was once a woman, a countess by the name of Absynthia von Mort, who went into great pains to cheat death itself – and eventually succeeded! If she is still alive, she should be almost two centuries old. Even though the woman insists that Nate is the boy’s sole salvation and he should seek Countess von Mort, Nate thinks she is just crazy and leaves.
However, the old woman’s words haunt Nate for the rest of the night. He wonders whether she was right about that countess. After all, it isn’t the first time someone has been able to cheat death; Apocalypse did it. This countess could help Jerome beat his illness and have a long life. Maybe she could even help Nate himself.
In the news, Trish Tilby reports that a fifth renowned socialite, Ms. Lydia Lumet, has been officially declared missing. International authorities have no comment on this, except to say that the last recorded rash of disappearances like these was at Rumania at the turn of the century, when noted alchemist and recluse Esteban Di…
Uninterested in the news, Nate turns off the TV. He can’t help but think about what the old lady told him: he’s the boy’s sole hope. He can’t ignore that; just like the heroes of this world, this “saints” of this world have taught him he has to do something useful with what little time he may have. He decides to travel to Transylvania.
Nate is sitting in a train wagon. His thoughts are interrupted by a woman with a staff asking him in German whether the seat’s taken. Her companion, a man who wears a glove in his left hand says “hello” in English. The woman tells her companion that the boy doesn’t speak German. Nate instantly learns German by reading their minds and assures them the seat’s not taken; he was just not expecting any company. The couple assures Nate they have no problem to talk in English with him. They introduce themselves as Sebastian and Teresa. Nate notices they are having in difficulty in stowing their gear but they refuse Nate’s offer to help them.
When Nate asks them what brings them there, Teresa shows him a ring on her left hand; they are newlyweds. He remarks it’s a strange place for a honeymoon. Sebastian states they always wanted to go somewhere different. As Sebastian and Teresa look each other in the eyes, deeply in love, a bag above Sebastian is about to fall on his head! Hoping they won’t notice it, Nate uses a little telekinetic nudge to put the bag back at its place.
Nate jokingly asks them if their travel agent is the Bride of Frankenstein. Sebastian remarks that his and Teresa’s journey is as much an exploratory journey to mystery as were Dr. Frankenstein’s experiments in Mary Shelley’s novel. Both he and Teresa are victims of tragic accidents, accidents that have claimed parts of them both. He informs Nate that there’s a physician in Transylvania, a woman named Dr. Cindy von Mort, who allegedly specializes in regenerative therapy among other experimental practices. If this Dr. von Mort can do what she claims, then Sebastian will regain his lost hand and Teresa will be able to walk on her two legs again without using her staff as prosthesis. They both pray von Mort isn’t a charlatan so they can start their life on a happy note. Nate wonders whether this von Mort is the same woman that old lady told him about.
At that moment, the train reaches a deserted station. Nate carries their bags outside, although he remarks they weigh a ton. Sebastian apologizes: apparently, his wife has yet to learn the art of traveling light. Teresa claims she was expecting someone could be at the station to carry their things. Nate was also expecting that. Quite strangely, he can’t sense any psi-signatures from scanning the station.
Suddenly, a strange man in brown hat and coat appears amidst the shadows, in front of a car. He assumes they must be seeking Dr. von Mort; none dare to come all the way here unless they seek they doctor. The man steps forward and introduces himself as “M’sieur Boniface.”
Everybody is appalled by his ghoulish appearance: his eyes are black with no whites whereas his skin is deathly white. Nate has an extra reason to be freaked out: he can’t read Boniface’s mind, as if he is not there or as if he’s undead! He tries to calm himself down and not let his imagination run wild. He is not in some late night horror flick. He is probably just too exhausted from making a transatlantic telekinetic journey to think straight. The man may be creepy but he is perfectly harmless.
Belying Nate’s theory, Boniface pulls a pistol and points it at him. He tells him the doctor was expecting only two guests and he is not one of them. Nate considers telekinetically crushing his pistol but can’t risk revealing his powers yet. He can’t screw this up, both for Jerome’s and his own sake. Thus, he apologizes, admitting that he should have called ahead. He explains that a buddy of his is dying and only Dr. von Mort can save him. He hopes that the doctor won’t leave a boy to die just because he didn’t book an appointment. Boniface assures him that nobody knows the mysteries of existence as intimately as Dr. von Mort; if someone can prolong the boy’s life, it’s her.
They all enter the car and Boniface starts driving through some spooky countryside. It reminds Nate of his homeworld: it is so dark and desolate, so devoid of life and light. Boniface draws their attention to the sanatorium ahead: actually it’s a creepy-looking castle. “Sanatorium?” Nate asks in amazement. “Looks more like a mortuary to…”
Suddenly, Nate screams. Worried, Teresa and Sebastian ask him if he’s okay. Nate assures them he’s alright: it was just a minor bout of jet lag. Actually, Nate thinks that if his power surges keep intensifying, then his days may be up a lot sooner than he expected. He hopes this von Mort is as legit as Boniface described her to be.
The car passes through a gate above a moat, the gate being raised by a chain-like device handled by a being even more monstrous-looking than Boniface: a man with deathly white skin and the upper part of his body horribly disproportional to the lower. Boniface informs them his name is Augustine. He had lung cancer until he came here and now sports the strength of ten men! Like Boniface himself, he is yet another living testament to Dr. von Mort’s genius. “It’s unreal!” Teresa remarks. Boniface assures them that “reality” is of no importance here: only life and death matter.
They all enter the house. Nate notices some digs on the wall and jokingly asks whether their decorator is Satan. Boniface tells them to wait for Dr. von Mort in the hall. He pleads them not to mention her condition as she’s very sensitive about it and wishes them a pleasant stay before he leaves.
Nate, Teresa and Sebastian note the portrait of a beautiful young woman, obviously centuries old. The portrait reads “Great Grandmother von Mort.” Teresa deduces she must be the original matriarch of this household. Nate wonders if this original von Mort was the one the gypsy was talking about when suddenly a voice is heard commenting on the woman of the portrait: “Stunning, isn’t she? So soulfully entrancing in her beauty… yet so very tortured.”
The voice comes from a woman who stands in the shadows in the landing of the stairs. As she starts descending the stairs, she confesses that all von Mort women have one thing in common: their passions, their almost morbid fascination for the gruesome and grotesque; the meaning of life, death and what lies beyond the void of existence. She finally introduces herself as Dr. von Mort and welcomes them to Castle Absinthe.
Everyone is a little bit shocked by her green skin. Dr. von Mort ironically notes that she must have an uncanny resemblance with her ancestress, otherwise Nate wouldn’t stare at her so much, would he? Nate tries to keep himself from mentioning her green skin. He remarks that Granny von Mort lives on her descendants. “In more ways than you can imagine” von Mort replies. She asks him who he is. She was only expecting two guests. Nate again apologizes for crashing her party but he says he did it on behalf of a friend of his who needs her help. Von Mort gladly invites him in the festivities. She remarks that, as the spider said to the fly, there is always room for one more in the belly of the beast! Nate thanks her, even though her response leaves him uneasy.
Von Mort escorts her guests to their rooms. As she leaves Nate in his room, she tells him that dinner is in an hour and he shouldn’t be late. As Nate stays alone, he realizes the situation is given him the creeps which is only natural after his encounter with the two horribly deformed men and a woman with a snot-colored skin! Feeling exhausted, Nate decides to close his eyes for a second but quickly falls asleep.
In an adjacent chamber, Sebastian and Teresa can hear Nate snoring and realize the boy sleeps the slumber of the just. Sebastian feels sorry for the boy as he has no idea what awaits him. As Teresa pulls a pistol concealed in an ankle holster, she asks him whether they should warn him. Sebastian is negative; their mission takes precedence. They have to stop this murdering charlatan, von Mort, before she has her claws on Nate like she did with her previous victims!
Teresa wonders if there’s a chance von Mort really is a miracle worker. She tells Sebastian he fought tooth and nail to get this assignment to prove his worth in the field again, despite his lost hand but, for her, he’s already a saint. He doesn’t also have to become a martyr. She asks him whether he would like to put this dangerous life behind them and finally marry for real instead of posing as “crippled” newlyweds while secretly conducting an Interpol investigation to corral an alleged mass murderer. Sebastian says he would like that and they will do that after the “doctor” is brought to justice.
Sebastian and Teresa kiss and he urges her to be careful. She replies that she always is, unlike him. Teresa slides out of the bedroom window and finds herself standing on the ledge, between two gargoyle statues. She thinks that ten years on the force – twice decorated for service “above and beyond” the call – Sebastian still can’t overcome his insecurities about being wounded in the field. Mission after mission, Teresa keeps thinking each time that she will finally have him free of all his emotional baggage. However, she has a feeling this is going to be their last mission.
Hiding behind one gargoyle, Teresa spots Augustine on the ground, pulling the mechanism that opens the gate above the moat. A truck drives in and Boniface is there to welcome it. Teresa assumes it must be tonight’s groceries or something. She keeps thinking that maybe Sebastian isn’t right and they are following the wrong trail. Maybe nothing bad takes place here. However, she decides to follow his instincts this one last time. Suddenly, though, she is shocked by what she sees.
The driver uncovers the coach-work of his truck, revealing an unconscious, bloody woman under the blanket. Teresa recognizes her as Lydia Lumet, the missing socialite. The driver informs Boniface that he got her after some fancy wingding. He tells him he that that’s one blueblood less and reminds Boniface that he has kept his end of the bargain and now wants what they promised him. Boniface is impressed by the driver’s work on Lydia: there are no bruises or missing limbs. The driver is “rewarded” by having his face crushed by Augustine’s superhuman fist, thus silencing his involvement in Lumet’s abduction. Teresa realizes Sebastian was right: the abductees are here somewhere!
Suddenly, though, she gasps as Boniface and Augustine seem to have spotted her. Boniface asks Augustine to show the lady the way down; Augustine hurls a brick to her, making Teresa lose her balance and crash on the ground. Teresa Gregor, Sebastian Kraus’ fiancé and widely considered one of the best Interpol agents is dead.
As Augustine drags Teresa’s lifeless body from the scene of her gruesome death, Nate wakes up abruptly, screaming her name. He just sensed Teresa’s death in his mind. With his fierce telekinesis, Nate blasts his way into the adjacent room of Sebastian and Teresa, screaming to Sebastian that something has gone horribly wrong. However, Sebastian is not in the room. Nate wonders how he’s going to tell him the awful news about Teresa. Suddenly, though, he spots Teresa’s ankle holster on the floor. Nate realizes that the prosthetic shtick was a fake and wonders what is going on in here.
In the dining-room, sitting in a long table, von Mort tells Sebastian his wife is late. Sebastian nervously agrees, telling her she knows how women are. Pointing a gun at von Mort under the table, Sebastian wonders where Teresa is and prays that nothing has gone wrong.
Boniface approaches von Mort and whispers something in her ear. She remarks that that’s excellent news and congratulates him on his good work. As she stands up, she tells Sebastian to excuse her as there is something that needs her immediate attention. However, Sebastian points his gun at her, ordering her to stay where she is and put her hands where he can see them as she is now under arrest. Hardly upset and grinning mockingly, she asks him what the charges are. Sebastian tells her to stop being coy with him: five people have gone missing and all the trails lead to her. She asks him whether he thinks she abducted them, brought them in this nightmarish keep and has since been experimenting with them. “How droll” she says, “yet, so very true”.
As she approaches him, she admits being guilty of charge. Why shouldn’t she? There’s no one who can stop her. After all, she possesses the greatest gift of all, a gift she will soon share with the world. The gift of everlasting life! As she says this, her eyes are glowing and she is about to put some sort of green substance in Sebastian’s mouth.
In Sebastian and Teresa’s room, Nate realizes his “honeymooning” traveling companions are actually undercover international cops. By reading their reports of “abductees” and “experiments” he realizes the evil of von Mort. Her operation sounds like what Nate and others went through in Sinister’s labs. He will never be able to purge those images from his mind but there’s no need others have to endure what he went through, especially if he’s around to stop it. He decides to take von Mort down, even if this means he’s ruining his chances at a future. However, he can’t let Jerome down. He decides that he will have to think of a way to save him later. For now, though, he has to tell Sebastian of what happened.
Nate telekinetically rushes to the dining-room where he comes face to face with von Mort, Boniface, Augustine and Sebastian. Von Mort is delighted to see that Interpol now recruits super-powered beings to do their dirty work. She informs Nate their “sting” operation has failed: one agent is dead; the other under her control and both shall serve her forevermore! She orders her three minions to attack, as she can see Nate’s great power and wants to add him to her collection.
Augustine fiercely punches Nate, sending him in the other edge of the room. Nate deduces that his superhuman strength must be von Mort’s doing. Nate’s priority is to break Sebastian out of the spell she put him. Nate rises and punches Augustine with all of his concentrated strength. Boniface approaches and his eyes start glowing; Nate’s skin starts boiling! Boniface tells him this must hurt but is but a fraction of the inferno he survived the night a pack of hoodlums set his house ablaze for their sport, dooming his family trapped inside and leaving Boniface a quivering, barely alive mass of flayed flesh. Fortunately, Dr. von Mort took him in that fateful day, restored him to health and through a marriage of sorcery and science, granted him the power to inflict his pain upon those foolish enough to threaten his benefactress.
Nate screams that this can’t be real; it’s an illusion. He is not really burning. Von Mort assures him they are all “burning.” None of them is a saint; they’re all engaged in a losing game of war, a war she intends to win now that she has him! Trapped in an excruciating agony, Nate can’t focus his mind enough to psionically combat his pain. His skin bubbles as he burns; blisters rise and burst. Nate begs Sebastian to help just before he loses consciousness. Von Mort is exhilarated that they will have Nate’s power as their ultimate weapon against the hordes of Hell; against Devil himself who dared to trifle with her, the infamous Countess Absynthia von Mort!
A little bit later, Nate wakes up, tied up in a seat in Absynthia’s lab. He addresses her with her real title: Countess. She apologizes for her “professional” ruse but one must maintain appearances in order to successfully deceive the masses. She tells him he must be proud: he was the first of all the poor unfortunates who faced Boniface’s burning gaze to survive.
Nate realizes he is too weak to free himself from these straps. He has to bide his time until his strength returns. He uses some subconscious psionic suggestion, hoping to turn Absynthia’s goons against her, to no result. Boniface even warns him to stop “tickling” his head otherwise he’ll perforate his with his gun. Nate realizes that, whatever Absynthia has done with these two, it’s preventing him from assuming control of their minds. There is still Sebastian, though. He telepathically pleads him to listen to him. He urges Sebastian to remember the day he lost his hand; Sebastian hadn’t let that experience to stop him from living. Nate urges Sebastian to not give in to Absynthia so easily and fight for himself or at least fight for Teresa.
Absynthia somehow intervenes in Nate’s telepathic tête-à-tête. She apologizes for interrupting but has much to discuss. She explains this ability of hers is but one of the side-effects of her strange genesis. She starts narrating her story.
The year was 1810. The day after All Hallow’s Eve; the day her husband, Count von Mort, died. He was the world to her. They thought love and marriage was an ecstasy that nobody could take away from them. The day she buried him she realized they thought wrong. She decided to spend the ensuing decades looking for an answer to the question this tragedy had raised in her mind: if death could cheat on her happiness, could she not cheat on death?
So determined she was to deny her God-given soul to the reaper, that she forsook the traditional teachings of Eastern and Western philosophy and started dabbling in the Dark Arts, the providence of Satan himself. She even auctioned herself for the chance to resurrect her lost love, at no avail.
Then, one day, she was approached by the mysterious Esteban Diablo. He was dashing and debonair and offered her her fondest wish and the means to achieve it. She used all the tools he provided, yet the sole outcome was failure. Then, one day, she realized she had naively deceived herself all those lonely years. The only place she and Victor could reunite was in afterlife. Diablo concocted a liquid that he claimed would provide a quick and painless passing. Anticipating death, she drunk it, but soon realized Diablo had lied. Days, months, years, a century passed and yet death never knocked on her door. As she watched people around her die and time ignoring her much-transformed body, she realized Diablo had granted her her wish to cheat death, by cursing her with eternal life.
So here she is today, almost two hundred years old, looking barely thirty, a fountain of eternal youth whose powers transform others into subservient, undying slaves, slaves that will march against her arch-nemesis, Diablo, when he reappears. Nate will also be a soldier in her army. She studied him when he was unconscious; she knows he is dying but can fix that.
As she is about to put some of the putrid elixir she secretes inside his mouth, Nate telepathically urges Sebastian to do something, telling him he has good reason to live. Absynthia maliciously declares he’s lost that reason and presents them with Teresa’s corpse. Sebastian says nothing; he has been feigning submission ever since he pretended swallowing Absynthia’s putrid elixir. Something breaks into his heart, though, as he looks at Teresa’s lifeless body. He grabs Boniface’s pistol and tells Absynthia that, unlike her and Victor, there still is a place he and Teresa can be reunited at – death! Upon saying this, he shoots himself.
Using every last ounce of his strength, Nate breaks out of his constraints, screaming “No!” He is bombarded by psionic waves of guilt and despair roiling outward from Sebastian’s mind, considering himself responsible for Teresa’s untimely death. Lashing out with a desperate telekinetic blast, he attempts to stop that bullet from rocketing out of the gun barrel and slam into Sebastian’s skull. He fails, however. As he holds Sebastian’s body, he tries his best to keep his mind alive, even with a bullet lodged in his head but even with his powers, he can’t raise the dead. It’s over.
Burning with fury, Nate cries Absynthia’s name. She orders her underlings to kill him. Nate tells her she’s not going anywhere and telekinetically constrains her, assuring her she’ll pay for all the lives she’s destroyed, particularly Sebastian and Teresa’s. Absynthia tells him she’s already paid with her mortal soul. Diablo claimed that soul when he started his sick war and now she claims his. Upon saying this, she excretes the same greens slime from her fingers and against Nate’s face, temporarily blinding him as she flees. As he regains vision, he is attacked by Boniface and Augustine but takes them both down with his psionic powers fully returned. He wonders where the prisoners are kept.
On the top of the castle, Absynthia thinks how many times she has considered throwing herself over that rampart into the rocky moat below, fully aware it would be an empty gesture. Nate appears and tells her he feels no sympathy for her and her inability to commit suicide. He knows immortality feels like a curse for her but there is a boy in New York that would give just about anything to be cursed. Absynthia claims she envies that boy’s mortality. There is no deathly peace for her.
Augustine and Boniface reappear and they grab Nate, all three of them falling over the battlement. Augustine strangles Nate as they fall but he breaks free with his telekinesis as they fall into the water. Nate again flies upwards, surprising Absynthia with the fact he just can’t seem to die! Nate demands to know where the prisoners are. He reads her mind and realizes they are in the cadaver lockers of the lab. As he picks their thoughts, he realizes they are terrified because the lab’s on fire. Nate moves them out of there in a telekinetic protective bubble until a powder keg explodes, wrecking Absynthia’s lab. Everyone’s unharmed, however – protected inside Nate’s bubble and proclaiming him a “saint.”
The local constabulary comes in time to fish Boniface and Augustine out of the moat. They will likely be extradited to their native countries to be tried and convicted for aiding a known felon. As Absynthia is arrested, she shouts Nate will pay this. Without her there to stop him, Diablo will rise again and destroy him just like he destroyed her. Nate thinks that, ironically enough, she will probably get a life sentence.
Washington Square Park, 2nd November
Nate is sitting in the square, thinking about a life overflowing with power and vitality but destined to be cut short at any given moment: his life. He never wanted immortality, especially now. He’s seen the price of immortality and doesn’t want to pay it. But he’d like to grow old with the few friends he has. He wonders how much that would cost, both for Jerome and himself. He has failed the kid and he knows it – and because of that, Jerome’s going to die a lot sooner than he’s supposed to. He doesn’t have the heart to tell him that.
As Jerome approaches in his wheelchair and carrying a ball, Nate asks him if it’s okay for him to be messing around like this on account of his condition. Jerome replies he’s spent most of his life in this chair and will probably die in it. But that doesn’t mean he can’t live a little before that happens. As his momma says, it isn’t the amount the time people spend on Earth that matters but what they do with it. Nate says that his mom sounds like a real saint. “Amen to that” Jerome replies.