This is an excerpt (first 20 pages) of a completed screenplay. "The Kaiserine's Champion" - screenplay by Derek Paterson. FADE IN: EXT. CITY - NIGHT A panoramic view of a sprawling central European city 200+ years ago. Notable landmarks are the Empress's Palace and the impressive city prison. Hereabouts, the enigmatic Empress is known by her Germanic title of Kaiserine. Title: "High Sazburg, capital of the Prussian Empire, circa 1750." EXT. ALLEYWAY - NIGHT Behind a tavern filled with voices, music, song, laughter and the occasional scream. MANFRED, 20s, our rugged hero, is dragged out of the tavern and into the alleyway by NINE City Wardens wearing SCARLET uniforms. They're drunk and wanting entertainment... at Manfred's expense. WARDEN #1 Come on, Corporal! Show the scum who he's dealing with! WARDEN #2 Give him a scar to remember us by! The grinning CORPORAL draws his sword. He circles Manfred, enjoying the moment. CORPORAL Draw your sword, boy. Time you learned the price for involving yourself in our business. Manfred reluctantly draws his sword. The Corporal lunges, trying to run him through, but Manfred sidesteps and THROWS the Corporal against the wall. The Corporal SLAMS off the brickwork and collapses, stunned. The Wardens are ENRAGED. They CHARGE at Manfred, who meets their attack with his naked blade. Steel clashes against steel... and in just the first few seconds it becomes obvious that Manfred is a MASTER SWORDSMAN and the Wardens have bitten off more than they can chew. As the fight goes on Manfred becomes more and more ANGRY, and less inclined to spare his opponents any mercy. He bares his teeth as Wardens fall dead or reel back with terrible wounds. The fight ends with corpses and groaning, wounded men littering the alleyway. Manfred slowly lowers his sword and breathes heavily. He isn't exhausted by the fight, he's trying to get his anger under control. WHAP! A club strikes him from behind, scattering his senses. Manfred collapses, unconscious. A dozen NOSEYS, aka City Constabulary, enter the alleyway. They wear BLACK uniforms. The surviving Wardens draw back cautiously. Just for a moment it seems possible that another fight might break out between the two groups, but the Noseys have an unmistakable advantage in numbers. NOSEY OFFICER (to his men) Take him. His men drag Manfred out of the alleyway. The Wardens want to object but the Nosey Officer grins at them, warning them not to try anything stupid. The Wardens can only watch helplessly as the unconscious Manfred is taken away. The Nosey Officer turns and follows his men out of the alleyway, into the night. He doesn't look back. DISSOLVE TO: Black screen. The sounds of HAMMERING and WOOD SAWING. FADE IN: EXT. CITY SQUARE - DAY A team of CARPENTERS work to complete a GALLOWS platform in front of an impressive looking building with thick iron bars on all the windows. The city prison. INT. PRISON CELL - DAY Loud HAMMERING sounds from outside. Manfred sits on the straw-covered floor with his head bowed, apparently sleeping through the noise. He's chained to the wall, heavy manacles encircle his wrists. He looks up as a key rattles in the lock. The door swings open and the prison SERGEANT grins at Manfred. SERGEANT Here's your breakfast, Manfred my boy. Enjoy your last meal! The Sergeant empties the NIGHT FILTH BUCKET over Manfred, who gasps and chokes at the rancid stench. The Sergeant laughs at his little joke. SERGEANT (CONT'D) You hear that? (re: hammering) You're going to swing soon, m'lad. Rest assured, I'll be in the front row, cheering as you gasp and kick your way to Hell. Manfred wipes the filth off his face and LEAPS at the Sergeant -- but the chains snap him back against the wall. He lands painfully. The Sergeant laughs again. The sound of FOOTSTEPS from the corridor. The Sergeant turns to look outside -- and SNAPS TO ATTENTION. A tall man ducks his head and enters the cell. OTTO THENCK, 40s or older, the sinister head of the Ministry of State Security. He carries an air of absolute authority about him which isn't lost on the Sergeant, who trembles in fear. Manfred and Thenck stare at each other. Manfred wonders who this guy is and what he wants. THENCK (to Sergeant) So, this is the swordsman. You have him in chains, I see. SERGEANT Yes, sir. Extremely dangerous, sir. Killed six of the Duke's Wardens, he did, and put another three in hospital. The doctor says they'll be out of action for weeks. Duke Wilhelm is-- THENCK (interrupts) I know what Duke Wilhelm is. (to Manfred) So, what have you to say for yourself, you scoundrel? Manfred doesn't answer. THENCK (CONT'D) Cat got your tongue, mmm? (to Sergeant) I want to talk to this rogue in private. Close the door on your way out. SERGEANT But, sir-- THENCK (interrupts) He's chained to the wall, Sergeant. I think I'll be safe enough, don't you? The Sergeant hesitates for a moment, then exits. He closes the cell door behind him. The outside hammering stops abruptly. THENCK It sounds like they're ready for you. In which case I'd best make this short, lest we're interrupted before we conclude our business. MANFRED Who are you, and what do you want of me? THENCK It isn't every day I get to meet a swordsman of your caliber. Six Wardens dead and another three wounded, eh? Remarkable. Thenck draws a handkerchief from his sleeve and drops it onto Manfred's lap. Manfred stares at it for a moment... then uses it to wipe his face. He offers to return it to Thenck but Thenck doesn't want it, for obvious reasons. THENCK (CONT'D) Why don't you tell me what happened last night? MANFRED I think you already know. THENCK They say you picked a fight with the Duke's men. MANFRED The Duke's ruffians, you mean. They're the ones who swaggered into the tavern and picked a fight, not me. THENCK They picked on you? A beat. Manfred hesitates before answering. MANFRED No. A young lad, sitting quietly in a corner with his girl, doing no one any harm. THENCK A friend of yours, was he? Your brother? A cousin? (beat) Let me guess what happened. The Duke's Wardens decided they wanted the girl for themselves, and pretended to take insult at something the boy said or did. Am I right? Another beat. Manfred wonders how he knows so much. MANFRED Close enough. THENCK And so... for reasons known only to yourself... you decided to interfere, decided to help a stranger you didn't even know. (he chuckles) I shouldn't imagine the Wardens took kindly to your interference? THENCK The Duke's Wardens are indeed ruffians. But they are also excellent swordsmen thanks to Schwertkampfer, the Duke's swordmaster, who is no slouch with the blade. Yet you killed six of them. You're either very good, or you're the luckiest man alive. Which is it? MANFRED Perhaps a little of both. THENCK A good answer. It may be that I have a use for someone who possesses such luck, and knows how to use a sword. A beat. Manfred doesn't dare hope... THENCK (CONT'D) Tomorrow, if you didn't already know, is the Kaiserine's birthday. It's a very special occasion, and special entertainment is arranged. I'm looking for someone to put into the Arena. You may be that man. Manfred reacts to "the Arena." MANFRED What exactly are you offering? THENCK Your freedom, a large bag of silver, and a fast horse to take you out of the city. Assuming, of course... MANFRED Assuming I survive. THENCK Assuming you survive. A beat. Manfred licks his lips, thinking it over. THENCK (CONT'D) Oh, yes, the Arena is far different from a crowded alley where drunken soldiers trip over each other and botch their attacks. You'll be matched against the deadliest killers in the Empire. Then again, what's the alternative? A rope, a trapdoor and a quick end, if you're lucky. If you're unlucky you might dangle there for hours, dying a very unpleasant death... Manfred swallows hard, imagining the noose around his neck. MANFRED I'm your man, if you can get me out of this. THENCK Very sensible. I like that. Thenck raps the door. The Sergeant opens the door and looks suspiciously at Manfred. Manfred holds up his chains as if to say, "See? I haven't escaped." THENCK (CONT'D) Sergeant, release this man. I'm going to send someone up to collect him. Make sure he's ready by the time they arrive. SERGEANT With respect, sir, he's the Duke's prisoner. He killed the Duke's Wardens. THENCK You're wrong, Sergeant, he is my prisoner. He was arrested and brought here by my Constables, not the Duke's Wardens, who displayed remarkable incompetence by failing to kill him, wouldn't you agree? Manfred is SHOCKED to hear this. SERGEANT But what will I tell the Duke, sir? He's bound to ask. THENCK You have prisoners in the other cells, haven't you? SERGEANT Yes, sir. Petty thieves for the most part. A pair of smugglers, a husband who cut off his unfaithful wife's ears, a forger-- THENCK (interrupts) A forger! When was he arrested? SERGEANT Yesterday, sir. Caught passing wooden coins covered with silver paint. Not too clever, sir. It's fifty lashes for him, then a lengthy spell in prison, breaking rocks. THENCK I disagree. As inept as he is, his is the worst crime of all -- he was attempting to undermine the economy of the Empire. I'll respect assassins and even spies, but never forgers. Let me tell you what you will do, Sergeant. You will go to the forger's cell. There, you will bind his arms and legs securely, then gag him, and put a hood over his head. When the Duke's men come looking for this prisoner... Thenck indicates Manfred. THENCK (CONT'D) ...you will give them the forger instead. Do you understand? The Sergeant swallows hard. So does Manfred. SERGEANT Y-yes, sir. Thenck nods, then turns and exits. Conversation over. SERGEANT It seems you have friends in high places, lad. You know who that was? Otto Thenck. The Magician! You know why they call him that? Because he makes people disappear. Maybe you've escaped the noose, but there are worse deaths than hanging, mark my words. That's something else for you to think about, eh? The Sergeant uses a key to unlock the chain manacles. MANFRED Thanks. Manfred comes up fast and PUNCHES the Sergeant, who falls to the floor. When he tries to get up, Manfred kicks him in the nuts. The Sergeant rolls around in the night soil, clutching his manhood and howling in pain. Manfred hurries to the door, plainly intending to get out of here before anyone realizes he's gone... ...But stops and retreats from the door as TWO men enter the cell. They're dressed in black, wearing long cloaks and scarves that cover their faces and make them look like highwaymen. They aim their flintlock PISTOLS at Manfred. The men step aside and gesture with their weapons. You go first -- but we'll be right behind you! EXT. PRISON COURTYARD - DAY The two highwaymen escort Manfred outside. A horse-drawn enclosed COACH sits waiting, its door open. The DRIVER is another masked highwayman. He watches as Manfred approaches the coach and climbs inside. INT. COACH - DAY Manfred sits down. The door is SLAMMED shut. The coach's windows are blackened. Light comes from a vent set into the ceiling above. The coach starts off. SFX: hooves and clattering wheels. EXT. CITY STREETS - DAY The coach moves through the streets of High Sazburg, leaving the grim prison behind. INT. COACH - DAY Manfred looks up as the Driver opens a HATCH and looks in to see his passenger isn't up to any mischief. He closes the hatch, leaving Manfred alone and frustrated. EXT. CITY STREETS - DAY Still moving through the streets... INT. COACH - DAY Manfred tries the door handle. Locked, of course. He settles back to enjoy the ride as best he can. EXT. CITY STREETS - DAY The coach stops outside a red brick building with darkened windows. INT. COACH - DAY Manfred realizes the coach has stopped. He waits. What's going to happen now? A loud CLICK. He tries the door handle again. The door opens. EXT. MINISTRY OF STATE SECURITY - DAY Manfred climbs down out of the coach. He doesn't recognize the building, doesn't know where he is. The Driver shakes his reins and the coach moves off, leaving Manfred behind. Manfred watches, uncertain. The coach reaches the end of the street and disappears around the corner. Manfred regards the building. Nothing indicates what it might be or why he's here. Just then he notices several CITY WARDENS walking up the street. They haven't seen him yet, but they're coming this way. He climbs the steps, takes hold of the brass knocker and RAPS loudly on the door. A spy-hole opens! An eyeball peers out at Manfred and a muffled voice talks to him. LUDWIG (O.S.) What do you want? Manfred has to think about it. What does he want? MANFRED Otto Thenck sent me. LUDWIG (O.S.) What's the password? MANFRED Password? LUDWIG (O.S.) Didn't he give you a password? MANFRED He didn't give me anything. The Wardens are still moving closer... they'll see him any moment now! Heavy bolts grumble, and the door swings open. INT. HALLWAY - DAY Manfred looks down at LUDWIG, a dwarf, age unknown. Ludwig has just climbed down off a wooden stool which he used to reach the spy-hole. He wears a miniature black uniform and a big cavalry sword that trails on the floor behind him. Manfred goes to step inside but Ludwig pushes him back out. LUDWIG And who might you be? MANFRED I said, Otto Thenck sent me. Let me inside, quickly. LUDWIG He didn't tell me to expect any visitors. Go away. EXT. MINISTRY OF STATE SECURITY - DAY The Wardens have almost reached the entrance. They're talking among themselves. They haven't even seen Manfred yet. One of them is the Corporal whom Manfred smashed into the wall the night before, whose face is heavily bruised. INT. HALLWAY - DAY Ludwig tries to shut the door but Manfred stops it with his boot. He reaches inside and grabs Ludwig, lifting him up off the floor. MANFRED Listen, Stumpy, I told you, Thenck sent me. So let me inside, unless you want me to bash your face in. Ludwig rolls his eyes, inviting Manfred to look further down the hallway. Manfred does... and finds himself looking at TWO soldiers aiming their muskets at him. LUDWIG The Tirpitz musket is the deadliest piece of weaponry ever developed by the Kaiserine's clever scientists, and rarely misses at ranges under five hundred paces. Manfred puts Ludwig down and smoothes the creases out of his uniform jacket. LUDWIG (CONT'D) Thank you. MANFRED Don't mention it. Ludwig snaps his fingers, remembering something. LUDWIG You wouldn't be from the prison, would you? MANFRED How astute of you. Indeed I am. LUDWIG (to Soldiers) Easy, lads. This one's expected, after all. The soldiers lower their muskets. Manfred sighs with relief. LUDWIG Come inside. I'm Ludwig. What should I call you? MANFRED The name's Manfred. Manfred steps into the hallway. Just as Ludwig closes the door we hear a distant CHEERING NOISE made by a large crowd. EXT. CITY SQUARE - DAY A pair of bound legs DROPS into shot from above. The unfortunate forger who replaced Manfred on the gallows goes to meet his maker. The legs dance and twitch. The unseen CROWD cheers, enjoying the entertainment. INT. HALLWAY - DAY The closing door cuts off the cheering. Manfred touches his neck and swallows hard. But for the grace of God that would have been him. LUDWIG Sounds like someone's having a good time. Cheer up! You look as if someone's just walked over your grave. Come with me, I'll take you upstairs to the laboratory. You're very fortunate, you know. Not everybody gets to meet the great Doctor Schmidt. Ludwig waddles down the corridor, trailing his sword behind him. Manfred follows him. As they draw level with the Soldiers, Manfred's eyes are drawn to them... MANFRED'S POV: the Soldiers' faces are horribly SCARRED and MUTILATED. Patches of flesh have been SEWN together with rough stitches. Their mouths are lop-sided and their noses are shapeless lumps of flesh with oddly-matched holes. LUDWIG Didn't your mother ever tell you it's rude to stare? INT. STAIRWAY - DAY Ludwig leads Manfred up a flight of stairs. INT. LABORATORY - DAY Amber light streams into the room through high, narrow windows. Tables contain complex scientific apparatus of the era -- glass bottles connected by winding rubber tubes, brass machinery that whirs and clicks. The far wall contains a row of chains and manacles like those in the prison. Dried blood stains the crumbling wall plaster. Upon closer inspection, we see the plaster has been CLAWED by whoever was chained here. MANFRED What is this place? A torture chamber? LUDWIG Hush, fool, it's a laboratory, anyone can see that. DOCTOR SCHMIDT enters by another door. 50s, balding. He wears thick spectacles, black uniform, a scarlet officer's sash around his portly waist. SCHMIDT Pray tell, who is this fine specimen, Ludwig? LUDWIG Herr Thenck sent him, Doctor Schmidt. He's from the prison. Ludwig waves his hand in front of his nose. LUDWIG (CONT'D) Which explains the smell. Schmidt moves to stand in front of Manfred. He studies Manfred closely. Without asking permission, he opens Manfred's eye wide with his thumb and finger and studies his eyeball. SCHMIDT Please unbutton your shirt. Manfred unbuttons his shirt. Schmidt picks up a storm lantern, opens the shutter and shines the light on Manfred's neck. The light is blue. Schmidt thumbs a switch and the light changes to red. He moves the lamp down over Manfred's chest. SCHMIDT Good, very good. I notice a scar on your chest. You were wounded in the war? MANFRED Yes. A Moskovian musket ball. SCHMIDT It penetrated the lung. You are very fortunate to be alive. A fraction to the right and the ball would have struck your heart. Do you have any difficulty in breathing? MANFRED Not so much now. Sometimes I have to sit down and rest after any strenuous exercise, however. THENCK (O.S.) Well, Herr Doctor? Was I right? Thenck enters through the door Schmidt used. SCHMIDT Indeed you were, Herr Thenck. The wounds show up clearly under the lamplight. But how did you know? THENCK (to Manfred) Do you remember how and when it happened? MANFRED I was wounded in Moskovia... Thenck waves a hand, telling Manfred to shut up. SCHMIDT Once again we find that the victim remembers nothing of the incident. The filth are indeed skilful in masking their activities. The elixir will restore his lost memories. I see no reason why we should not proceed at once. THENCK Neither do I. Go ahead, Herr Doctor. Schmidt picks up a small glass bottle and holds it up to the light. He shakes it, then takes out the stopper. SCHMIDT Stick out your tongue. Manfred hesitates. Schmidt shows impatience. SCHMIDT Come now, there is nothing to fear. This will allow you to recall the memories that were deliberately hidden by the vampyre filth that drank your blood. MANFRED Drank my...? Are you insane? THENCK Do as Doctor Schmidt says, Herr Manfred. He says this softly... but the warning is obvious. Manfred opens his mouth and sticks his tongue out. Slowly, carefully, Schmidt tilts the bottle until a single drop of green liquid falls onto Manfred's tongue... WHAM! Manfred is THROWN headlong into a FLASHBACK that's about to change his life. INT. OVERNIGHT COACH - NIGHT Manfred sits opposite ULRIKE, a woman in her early 20s who charms him with her beauty and poise. The window curtains are drawn for privacy. Outside the coach, a full Moon is about to rise above the mountains. MANFRED You cannot imagine my disappointment, Fraulein Dornier, at discovering you are married. ULRIKE (laughing) Please accept my apologies, Herr Manfred. This is why I travel to High Sazburg. My husband will meet me there and we shall travel on together to Konigshaven, where he will serve with the Imperial High Seas Fleet, and I will raise six beautiful children. MANFRED I should imagine you already know what their names will be. ULRIKE Oh, yes. And what of you, Herr Manfred? What brings you to High Sazburg? MANFRED A Moskovian musket ball. ULRIKE I don't understand. MANFRED I was recently released from the Army because of a chest wound I sustained in Moskovia. I'm journeying to High Sazburg to seek employment. I have a cousin who lives there. He wrote and told me merchants are always looking for trustworthy bodyguards. Ex-soldiers receive preferential consideration. ULRIKE But your wound...? MANFRED I've been exercising steadily since I was released from the military hospital. I fence twice a day to build up my strength and stamina. I still experience a shortness of breath if I exert myself for prolonged periods, but it's getting better. ULRIKE I should hope so. I wish you good luck in finding employment. If, as you say, ex-soldiers are sought... Manfred lifts the window curtain to look outside. INSERT: a view of the FULL MOON rising over the distant mountains. Its dazzling light BLINDS US as it shines into the coach. Ulrike SCREAMS as the moonlight strikes her. She throws her arms up to cover her face. Manfred gapes, unable to understand what the hell has just happened. In the space of a single heartbeat Ulrike changes from a beautiful woman to a snarling harpy with cat eyes and fangs as long as fingers. She lunges at Manfred and pins him against his seat with superhuman strength. Her mouth opens wider than should be humanly possible, and her fangs drive DEEP into Manfred's neck as he struggles to free himself. BACK TO SCENE: Manfred opens his eyes. He's dizzy, like he's just awoken from a dream. A very bad dream. Thenck and Schmidt stare at him dispassionately. Manfred stares at the bottle in Schmidt's hand. THENCK Now do you remember what happened? MANFRED I remember only too well. There was... a woman. Or at least, I thought she was a woman... THENCK She was vampyre. Had she drained you sufficiently for death to occur, you would now be vampyre yourself. Or, if she did not wish you to become vampyre at the moment of your death, you would have become a mindless undead zombie, rotting slowly until your body eventually fell apart. Manfred touches his neck. Frowns, as his fingers touch something he didn't realize was there. THENCK (CONT'D) Yes, that is where she bit you, and imparted the Vampyre's Gift. MANFRED The Vampyre's... what? THENCK When the vampyre bites its victim, not only does it extract the blood upon which it feeds, some of its own blood also enters the victim's body. This exchange of fluids prepares the victim for extraordinary changes which will come about should the victim die and become vampyre. Physical strength is increased; the senses become sharper, enhanced far beyond normality. This is known as the Vampyre's Gift. It only lasts for a period of days, and will fade completely if the vampyre does not return to finish its dirty work. A beat. Manfred wonders if Thenck is insane... but then again, maybe there's some truth in all this crazy talk. THENCK (CONT'D) I believe this explains how you were able to fend off the Duke's Wardens in the tavern alleyway. When my Constables reported the incident to me, I knew there must be something special about you. I'm glad my instincts proved correct. Tell me, when did the vampyre attack you? INSERT: a subliminal glimpse of the vampyre Ulrike, with her cat eyes and extended fangs. MANFRED What? Oh... two nights ago. THENCK You're certain of this? MANFRED I arrived in High Sazburg only yesterday aboard the coach from Guttzeig, so yes, I'm certain. Why? SCHMIDT It is likely that the Vampyre's Gift still flows in your veins. As I have already intimated, it will fade soon... perhaps tonight, or tomorrow, who can say? Fortunately Herr Thenck arranged to have you brought here in time. I am unable to initiate the start of the transformation from human to vampyre. Only one of them can do that. But my elixir will stop the Vampyre's Gift from fading, and will also permit the change to continue. MANFRED May I ask what you mean when you say "continue," Herr Doctor? THENCK Come, Herr Manfred. You are not a child, and can be trusted to draw logical conclusions. The Vampyre's Gift allowed you to defeat the Duke's Wardens. Without it, they would have cut you into very small pieces. I instructed Doctor Schmidt to give you his elixir because without it, the Vampyre's Gift would soon have left you. The elixir is already working, pulsing through your bloodstream, transforming you into a vampyre. MANFRED WHAT? THENCK Long before the transformation is complete, you will either have won or lost in the Arena. If you are still alive at the end of the contest, Doctor Schmidt will give you the counter-elixir he has developed. This will halt the change, and return you to your human state. Is this not so, Herr Doctor? SCHMIDT I have the counter-elixir ready. MANFRED I want it now. THENCK Quite impossible. It is necessary for my plans that the Vampyre's Gift stays with you until the Arena contest ends. MANFRED Damn you, you should have asked me first! THENCK To what end? Do you wish to die in the Arena? Of course not. Had we explained everything first then you would eventually have said yes anyway, but we could afford no delay, since we had no idea when the Vampyre's Gift would leave you. What's done is done, for the good of all. You must accept it, Herr Manfred. The alternative must surely be obvious? Manfred lowers his head for a moment. When he looks up again and bares his teeth, we discover they're fractionally longer than they should be. And there's a glint in his eye that reminds us of Fraulein Ulrike in the night coach... Thenck and Schmidt stare at him, untroubled by his unusual appearance. Manfred growls, and takes a step toward them... WHAP! Manfred stops and looks around. Ludwig has climbed up onto a chair behind him and struck him across the head with a heavy wooden club. MANFRED You little--! It's as far as he gets. The lights go out just as Manfred starts falling toward the laboratory floor.
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