The year is 1763. I cannot believe so much has occurred in such a short time, nor can I believe what has occurred. In seven years I have lost the one who has been perhaps my best friend, my ally, the one who has been so alike and yet by far so different. And such a foolish loss, so easily prevented, if not for pride, pride and love! Oh, God, if not for love, life would be so much easier. But then, there would be no reason for life. But this is for another time; now I must record the event that has so greatly hurt me, if only for my own eyes, my own memory.
It began a year ago, here, in Vienna. Leopold Mozart had brought his two children, Wolfgang and Maria Anna, to this city on their European tour. The boy was not yet seven, and here he sat, playing melodies it would take months for others to perfect. His audience was enthralled, including myself -- and a certain young lady by the name of Lucianna. At least, that was the name she gave me. "For short," she said.
We whispered together during a pause of the children's performance. "And what is it 'for long'?" I asked playfully.
She took a deep breath, making me smile. "La Contessa Maria Lucianna Isabella Francesca di Concordia. And you?"
"Ah," I sighed. "I knew I heard an accent. I lived in Italy for a time myself. My name is Alexandre le Queron --" for her, I decided to be French -- "not quite as noble a name as yours, but it serves me as well."
"To be sure," she nodded, smiling warmly. "Is this the first time you have heard les enfants? They played in Venice, and it was said that their tour was to continue here. I decided to follow them; I'd wanted to see Vienna for some time anyway."
"It is a fair city, full of music, but not as beautiful as Venice," I said, thinking briefly of telling her of Vivaldi -- but that was twenty years ago; I knew how young I looked, and she would never believe me. "I came here for the music as well." A sudden thought crossed my mind, but at that moment young Wolfgang began to play again, something Baroque that even I could not perform, with all my years experience. I found him amazing then; who knows what he will be in the future. But anyway...
When their recital was at last over, Lucianna asked me to accompany her to an apres-musique party; even Herr Mozart himself would be there. "And you look as though you could use something to drink, eh? You are so pale, so cold." For she had taken my hand in hers, small and perfectly dainty, as she was. Her hair was red-blond, luxuriously soft even in the ridiculous style that had become popular, swept up on top of her head. I longed to pull out the pins that held it and run my fingers through its ringlets, but that could wait.
"I am afraid I cannot attend," I said, feeling a pang of remorse at the lie. I had never imagined myself such an easy liar as Nikolai was, and though I would have done a great deal to know her better, I would rather have done so in a more private setting. And I felt the thirst, and knew that she was not the one to quench it. Not, perhaps, yet.
She frowned, seeming disappointed, so I added, "Perchance I might see you sometime later? We could have our own music; do you play anything?"
The frown quickly disappeared. "That would be so nice! I do play the lute, and I am learning the clavier... Where shall we meet?" It was settled that we would play together two days hence, in her home. She lived alone here, with only a few servants to help her in daily routine -- there would be no one to bother us. Not as far as I knew.
We parted happily, going our separate ways, I to feed, she to attend her gathering. It was cold, this night, and the moon was new; the only lights were those of the buildings I passed. They grew fewer as I walked, into the country surrounding the city, the marshes whose life I had become familiar with in my night wanderings. I had found a horse path through them some time ago, winding miles down to the stables of Esterhaza, the Viennese home of the Hungarian Prince Nicolaus. A year before, Haydn had found a post as something of a court composer; occasionally I heard the sounds of his music from the great halls. It was nothing like the nights in his apartment, but it was still his music, still as youthful and capricious as ever.
This night, there were different sounds coming from the building; the steady hum of human conversation, the Baroque point and counterpoint of a string quartet. The windows glowed brightly with the light of a thousand candles; the French doors to my left were open, allowing music and mortals to spill out. But among those mortals I saw one who was not.
Nikolai walked by the side of a lady, speaking in a low, gentle voice. I couldn't hear what he said, but the lady seemed to agree, holding tighter to his arm as he guided her away from the building into the dark arborium. Intrigued, I followed, thinking surely he would not notice me.
Was this how he now found his victims, among the elite and upper class? But it did not seem that he would take her; they sat together on the cold ground in a more human embrace. I could not see her face; he kissed her deeply, only the strength of his arms holding her up. But then he stopped suddenly, glancing towards me, though I had hoped the shadows would hide me. Her face was still obscured by the folds of his cape; she did not see me, but Nikolai did. The thought he sent me was a wordless strike of humorless distaste, not quite anger. I raised an eyebrow at him as the girl murmured something to him and tugged at his sleeve, and then I turned to go.
As I walked again past the stables, I heard a noisy footstep behind me. I looked back, not stopping -- until I saw that the step belonged to one of the servants.
"Pourquoi est-ce que vous ne dansez pas, Monsieur?" I do not know why she spoke in French; perhaps she was the maid of a French visitor. But I answered in the same language.
"Est-ce que vous voulez danser avec moi?" I smiled at her somewhat evilly, showing the long canines, but she did not see them. Instead, she moved towards me, hands outstretched. I took them tightly in my own, pulling her closer to me, and we danced to the music that poured from the open windows. When it stopped I kissed her, first lightly, and then, seeing that she was more than amenable, I held her closer yet. She moaned when I paused; I continued, kissing the length of her neck, feeling for the vein that was always there. I found it swiftly, but rather than enter her there, standing, I pulled her to the ground beside me. There was not enough light for her to see the need in my eyes, nor the kind that it was; I decided it might be interesting to play with her before I killed her.
I unlaced the simple bodice of her dress, caressing the white skin that lay beneath it. She shivered with the iciness of both the cool wind and my hands; I spread my cloak about us to warm her. "N'arrette pas!" she murmured into my ear, and so I did not stop. I found the vein again, and without hesitation, sank my teeth into it. She did not cry out, to my surprise, but held me tighter, writhing against me as I pulled the blood from her. And then I felt her shudder, and moan slightly, and then her arms loosened. I almost gasped at finding her asleep; even so, I lost the vein. Such wounds heal almost as quickly as we do, even in humans, and I didn't feel it was necessary to reopen it.
For now I heard different footsteps; true, they were far off, but I imagined that they would not look lightly upon this sight -- no matter how many others like it there were. I picked up her limp -- but breathing -- form, and left her sleeping on a doorstep. No doubt her mistress would be less than pleased at finding her so, but it was likely that her sleep would be blamed on excessive spirits rather than our encounter. And it would likely be forgiven; I knew well the ways of those like her employer.
At last I found the path that would lead me back into the city unnoticed. Or so I thought. After only a few hundred yards I became aware of another, whether human or vampire I could not tell. I walked faster, concentrating on the lights ahead of me. The one behind me kept pace easily, adjusting his stride to match mine precisely. Were it not for the accuracy of my hearing, I would never have detected the sound of his steps; as it was, I waited until the path turned, and I could slip away from my pursuer.
Into the trees I went, far enough into their shadows that whoever it was would not see me. And as I had hoped, I saw him walk past. It was Nikolai! But why would he follow me? And why did he say nothing? I knew he had found me, for he stopped quite near to me, looking about him; if I so much as moved he would see me. And what of it? I thought, and stepped out behind him.
"Nikolai," I said, keeping my eyes level, though my heart raced.
He smiled tersely. "Alexandrei. I've been looking for you -- though you might have known. I had expected you to attend Herr Mozart's reception, especially considering that you heard his children play before it. Everyone said it was marvelous."
"Yes, even her." Nikolai seemed unusually irritable; his words were sharp, but the voice behind them struggled to hide some different emotion.
"And what of her?" I did not guard the words; rather, I let him interpret them as I knew he would; his agitation could mean only one thing. "She lives yet, does she not?"
"Of course," he said, sounding incredulous at the very thought. "Alyosha, I felt more than mere passion for her this evening, I love her! As a man, not as the creature inside me; I want her as a human; I want to love her as one." He was genuinely distressed; there was an uncomprehending wildness in his eyes.
"Why should you not love her?" I murmured, recalling the sight of them together.
"It is too soon," he half-cried. "And she is too human!"
"'Too soon' after what?" I could not refrain from asking, though it seemed every question made him more anxious.
"How can I love again, so soon after Constance was killed? I loved her for a hundred years... And how can I love one so like her, and so different? How will I stop myself from changing her, as I know I will?" He was shaking; I saw him brush a tear away from his eyes with the lace of his sleeve.
"Ah," I breathed. I stepped closer to him, taking his hand in both of mine. "Surely you will find a way. Remember the mistakes we have made in the past -- remember them when the temptation comes. The decision you make will mean her life -- let her decide with you. Do not forget that you love her; should there be any doubt in your mind, do as you would in human guise. And Nikolai... do not wrong her as we were wronged."
He said nothing. I let go his hands, and watched him slip away into the darkness. Slowly, I followed.
The first thing I heard upon entering our rooms was the tremulous bass of his cello. It took me a moment to realize that what he played, I had written; it was the solo to the third movement of my requiem. I said nothing, standing in the doorway, watching him play those tortured phrases with leisurely precision, as though they were nothing more than the lilting notes of Telemann or Corelli. Only when he briefly turned his head could I see the tears that my music had brought to his eyes. Still I did not speak, not until he played the last chord and released himself from the spell.
"You do me too great an honour with your tears," I smiled. I think, though, that he knew what my true meaning was, behind words that tried at lightness. He remained silent, staring first at the music, and then into my eyes, as though to call back the emotion I had felt when it was written. I was the first to look away; his glance was more of a reminder than I needed.
"I would not have her die for all the pain in the world," he said, one hand pressed over his heart. "This is the pain that would come if I did, Alexandrei, this music of yours. We both know it, but what if one were to forget?" He stopped speaking, closing his eyes against some horror only he could see.
"I need her," he whispered. "I need her now, with all my being... it frightens me, my friend, this need... it isn't as simple as hunger, it is far above lust, it is so much more than love... Can you understand? I no longer know what I have felt in the past, all I know now is how much I need her. It will not be appeased by anyone or anything but her, not even blood. Good Lord, not even her blood! Alexandrei, what I want, what I need, what I hunger for with every desire I possess... it is her soul I crave!"
I was beyond sound, watching the one who had saved me so many times from death, as he fell into the hunger that was worse than death. He half-pushed the cello from him, as though the very need would contaminate it. It slid to the floor with a hiss; he stood quickly and backed away from it.
"Nikolai, Nikolai..." I murmured. I stepped towards him, reaching for him in the pale light of a single candle. When my hands found his, he moaned, his eyes closed, but he did not push me away. I embraced him slowly, tentatively; still he did not resist. I could hear his ragged breathing, so close, and I felt the shudder he could not repress. "She will not die," I whispered, feeling a tight constriction in my throat even as I spoke. "And she need not, for you to know her soul... Love her, Nikolai, and she will give it willingly!"
And now I felt his sobs as he held me tighter. They died away into the darkness; the sounds of his heartbeat were the only sounds in the room. And then I heard his voice, low and impossibly clear. "Alexandrei... it is not only her I need..." There was a pause; I held my breath, unwilling to disturb the silence. He continued, more softly. "I need you as well, as a friend and... perhaps more..."
"I know it," I whispered, moving slightly. "I think I have always known it." I saw his eyes widen in the dark, and then he smiled faintly, and drew back. I let the world fall away from me, and then, I undid the lace at my throat. It took no more than that before he was close to me again, drawing the blood of so many from me.
If the sun had been allowed into those rooms, it would have found only one of them occupied. And in that room, the hearts of two made one. But even that would save no lives.
The next night, Nikolai was gone before I awoke. I smiled unashamedly, rolling over onto the warm place where he had lain. "Ah, Alexandrei," I whispered to myself. "What was it that you allowed yourself last night?" But I knew, as did Nikolai. That was all that mattered.
There was a message on the music stand, next to a copy of Nikolai's duet for violin and cello. The writing was hurriedly written, the letters slanting exuberantly. "Alexandrei -- have gone to find cello strings, will return when I can -- before midnight, with luck." There was a scribled signature at the bottom, and a crude representation of a frayed string; an arrow from it pointed to his cello, I looked down, and indeed, the C-string was close to snapping.
I sighed, smiling, and opened the manuscript of the duet. The music was marked fortissimo from the very beginning, the notes heavily accented, often played in double stops and long arpeggios. This I had not heard in six years, this incredible, dizzying piece, with all of its intense chords and unbelievable melodies; I loved him all the more for choosing it.
He returned not long after, with the promised strings; after replacing the worn C-string he sat down with his cello, next to me, and readied his bow. "Shall we begin?" he murmured, giving me a crooked smile. I returned it with a similar look, and, taking a deep breath, struck the first note.
From then there was no distinction between his instrument and mine. All we could hear were the shared harmonies, all we could feel was the sheer ecstasy of the entwined notes. All that we had ever felt, both of us, was contained in that music; it was all the more incredible when heard by ears that missed no sound, played by hands that would not miss a note.
I did not need to look at him to know that he felt as I did, for we shared thoughts as well, letting them flow from our minds as the notes did from the strings. It was so much more than humans could ever know of music; it was as though we were one person with extensions that took form as the twin voices of violin and cello. There was no division in those moments, no sensation that we did not share -- and yet we were undeniably separate, even in that bliss. If one of us had been human, I know not what would have differed; was this the manner in which Nikolai could have the very soul of his love? In those moments, I neither knew, nor cared.
It was only the next night, after the notes had finally died away from my mind, that I allowed that thought to come. And on that next night, I had not much time to think; I would again have music, but this time with Lucianna, my bringer of true light.
I cannot imagine a more perfect setting for our music than in the rooms in which she stayed, or a more incredible night than the one that we had chosen. The rays of the moon, brilliant in its fullest phase, lit my path as I walked to her house, barely conscious of the violin I carried with me. The same light was reflected by the gold filigree that glittered from the stone of her building, and the knocker that decorated the wooden door.
When I tapped at it, her response was immediate and enthusiastic to the highest degree. "Alexandre!" she cried, throwing the door open. "I did not know when you would come, but I knew it would be soon! I have so eagerly awaited your coming; I have no one else to make music with, and I so like it!" She took my hand without hesitation, pulling me inside. "I missed you at the gathering; they had a quartet that made me think of you."
I almost agreed with her, telling her I knew, but stopped when I recalled my circumstances there. "I am glad to be here as well," I told her, following her exuberant steps. She lead me to what was undeniably the music room; it was dominated by that archetypical Baroque instrument, the harpsichord. The double rows of keys, white on black, carved individually in flowing curves, were set off perfectly by the silver of the case; when she opened it, I marvelled at the exquisite details of the painting inside, depicting a scene of the nine Muses at their subjects.
She played a single chord on it, to which I might tune the violin; its sound was of a quality that only the design could match. Mine was one of the few instruments that rarely needed tuning, but I affected an 'A' just to make her happy. And it did. It seemed that there was nothing that could spoil her mood, at least that I would know.
At last she was satisfied that I was properly adjusted to the harpsichord. "Come closer, Alexandre," she said, gesturing to the chair she had set nearby, so that I might look on at her music. I stepped forward, catching sight of the music she had brought. It was by Handel, favourite of England; though he had died some three years before, his music had remained popular.
This was a set of six sonatas for violin and harpsichord. Although I had never heard them performed, or even seen the music previously, I knew Handel's style; when these sonatas were written it was his practice to be as light and as Baroque as one can imagine. This was no exception. Though occasionally in the slow sections even I felt somewhat moved, these works were of a nature as perpetually jubilant as Lucianna herself, and when we had finished playing them we fell into uncontrolled laughter.
"Do they not make you wish to dance?" she cried, when she could at last speak. "Will you dance with me?" she added, more softly. And how could I refuse the dear child? In the course of our laughter her hair had come undone, and the luxurious golden streams of it coursed down her back. Her cheeks were bright with colour, her eyes sparkling with her energy.
"Mais oui, ma cherie," I said with a low bow. I took her hand and led her into a minuet, humming under my breath. But soon our steps slowed, and she pressed closer to me, murmuring little endearments in Italian. I silenced her with a kiss -- and she would not let me draw back when we paused for breath.
"Don't," she whispered, her hands tightening around me. "Do you think I would ask you here merely for that? For that innocent music? Alexandre, perhaps you will think me too forward, but I wanted you here for much more than that..." She ceased speaking, looking up into my eyes. But I would not return the look, instead drawing her nearer to me. She was not disappointed, though, when she felt my hands unlacing the ribbons at her back.
But there I stopped; and then, taking her in my arms like a helpless child, I carried her from that room into her own chamber. The darkness surrounded us like a mantle, but though she could not see, what I saw was enough. Her bed was hidden by a cloud of misty curtains; I broke through them gently and laid her on the bed, standing over her as I watched her blink in unaffected surprise. But she was not afraid.
I bent closer, pulling slightly at the bodice that had previously threatened to fall from her. And now it did, revealing the silken skin, the soft roundness of her form. The rest of her dress followed quickly, as passions I had not felt since Venice were aroused in me, until we huddled together in the chill air, unclothed and unprotected. I kissed her again, now feeling her skin against mine, unable to stop the shivering that had come over me. She noticed, and smiled, almost laughing into my lips.
"Will you love me forever?" she whispered suddenly, searching for my hands in the dark.
"Yes," I murmured, unwilling to say otherwise. And perhaps unable as well. At my answer, though, she sighed softly, and pulled me down next to her.
"Should I believe you?" she asked, though it was more to herself than to me; I ran my fingers over that smooth skin, delighted with the very humanness of it. She gave a little moan, then shifted so that she lay above me, her hair falling about my face.
"What will you do now?" she said sibilantly. She did not let me speak, though, pressing her lips to mine before I could answer. But speech was not necessary. I moved against her, almost imperceptibly, but the action could not have been missed. Her eyes closed for a moment, she held me closer, and then she allowed the motion to take her as well.
Afterwards, while we still lay gasping for breath, I could not help but think that we had only known each other for a matter of hours before this tryst. And I felt briefly the same sort of revulsion that I had for la femme de nuit -- why, I did not know, for Lucianna was nothing like them, or perhaps only in the fact that she had surrendered so quickly to the flesh. But it had been long since I had last taken anyone in so human a manner, long since I had felt that mortal ecstasy. So long, in fact, that in the exquisite fatigue that had come over me, it was difficult to say whether or not I did, indeed, love her. It felt so like love, but who was to say I could not have been deceived?
I let those thoughts die, though, moving closer to the warm one beside me, losing myself in the calm and quiet darkness. I might have stayed there until the light of the sun came upon me, but for the unexpected dream that came to me.
There was music, everywhere, surrounding me with its greatness, lifting me with its buoyancy. And then it abruptly changed, becoming more like Nikolai's duet -- but instead of harmony, there was dissonance; instead of the rush that came of its final peace, there was a chill feeling of fear. I could not see, for the fear that took even my barest senses; I could only hear that music. But then a picture burst into my mind, like a horrific bolt of lightning: Lucianna stood alone, in the midst of this combat, threatened by an unseen force that I knew would have her at last.
I was torn awake by this vision, so much did I fear it; I was reassured only after feeling Lucianna's sleeping form beside me. But then I saw the sky; the moon lay far to the west, almost below the horizon. The sun would soon rise to conquer it -- and me. I had no choice but to leave her. I wrote a quick explanation for my absence -- appointments in the morning or some such thing, and I left quickly, without looking back. If I had, I might have stayed.
When I arrived home, Nikolai was waiting.
"Joined the mortal coil again, I see," he commented.
"How did you know," I said, smiling. But even I could tell it was a weary smile, if nothing else; it had been two days since I last fed, and the thirst was beginning to wear on me. I had not dared take blood from Lucianna -- though in our passion she might have forgotten it -- and besides, who was I to decide the manner of her death? No, I would hunt again tomorrow, with the memory of her closeness still near me; hunger was less of a force than it had been in the past; I could live with its ache.
"Oh, I know much more than that, Alexandrei," he grinned. "You have done much more than merely join them; you have been absorbed by them. Or at least, by one." He raised his eyebrows at my silence, but what could I deny?
"By only one, thank you," I said at last. "But at least you recognize that it was I who was, as you put it, absorbed; she remains intact -- for perhaps the same reasons the one you love does."
"I see," he murmured, staring at the case of my violin. He added, as an afterthought, "Would you care to play at all this morning? I found more of your Vivaldi manuscripts; there are several that we could manage..."
"I don't think so," I said. "Much as I'd like to, I really can't; I was tired before last night; now I don't dare play. I'd probably fall asleep at the first Adagio. You know how it is." I gestured uselessly, almost dropping the violin.
"You are tired," he said, half-amused, half-amazed. "To refuse music? Though I suppose by all accounts you have reason." He smiled abstractly, without telling me why -- I could certainly guess -- and came forward to take the violin from me. I gave it willingly, and went to my chamber, closing tightly the curtains that kept the light from me. The moon, by this time silhouetted dimly by Vienna's buildings, was the last thing I saw before I drifted into true sleep.
I awoke at dusk, feeling the sharp pangs of hunger twist at my veins. Nikolai was gone again, as he now often was in the evenings; perhaps he was seeing this new love of his, perhaps he merely went to feed. I would likely never know; we had an unspoken agreement that mortal matters were to be taken up only outside the apartment, and our natures were to be kept secret for as long as was possible. So he would never bring the woman here, nor tell her of our immortality, unless she was of the slight minority that could bear such knowledge.
But these things I only touched upon as I dressed, I daresay rather carelessly in my haste to feed. For though the years had lessened the frequency of my hunger, they could not ease its power. I had barely the will to pull on my cloak; every fibre in my body demanded that it be given blood, without this delay. And so I left swiftly, pausing only to sheathe the dagger I had taken to carrying. Why should mortals know my curse, even in death? It was far simpler to come at them from behind, and draw the blade across their unguarded throats, to drink from the wound that had been pierced by metal, and not by inhuman teeth. In this age of murders, mine could not be distinguished from those of more human killers.
I took to the cold streets, looking about me for those who might be my prey. Thirsty though I might be, I would not kill without some consideration as to the one who would feed my passion. Never the very young -- I had too much sympathy for them; never those who had life left to give, as Marcella had; never those who so deeply deserved to live. No, the ones I selected were of the worst sort, perhaps thieves, or more violent criminals. In this alley, it did not take long to find one. In fact, one might even say he took the initiative; he came towards me with a cruel smile, and a knife in his hand.
He did not know what I was. And in that near-darkness, he did not see the look in my eyes -- the anger, the thirst...
"Spare a coin for a stranger?" he said mockingly, with a grin that might frighten other men. I did not speak; I held my ground in a manner that he could not understand. But it did not seem to bother him, for he stepped again towards me, now bringing the blade into view. I growled, deep in my throat, and though I could not be sure he heard, his confidence did falter. He dropped the knife, scrambling backwards in a sorry attempt to regain it; I did not hesitate to unsheathe my own.
I came up behind him -- unseen by his nervous, human eyes -- and before he could react, I drew the dagger across his neck. He gave a strangled cry, clawing at the air, and collapsed, his breathing harsh and stressed. I pulled the body closer to me, fixed my lips on the gash I had made, still feeling the rapid beats of his heart. I knelt on the snowy ground, all my senses turned inward to the warmth that flowed into me; I could feel it in every artery, every vein, pulsing through the vessels that could not have my own blood. And yet this human substitute did not seem so bad...
Eventually my victim's heart ceased its pounding; his skin turned cold, losing all colour through my ravenous suction. I left the body where it had fallen, stopping only to find the coins he had already accumulated. Had they been gotten, perhaps, through other murders? In all probability, yes, but that would not prevent me from using them. After all, I had taken them in the same way; my motive was far removed, but my actions were no different. I emptied the heavy purse into my own, and walked away from the corpse without looking back.
For the rest of that night, I wandered the streets of Vienna, merely watching the mortals at their frantic acts. It seemed that they would not stop for anything -- and how could they, when death awaited them with unquestioned certainty? I stopped in a tavern, sitting among mortals who might have been my age, when I was changed. I almost smiled at the urgency with which they spoke, of places they had yet to see, at their confused horror when I suggested that perhaps they should slow down? They looked at me with something close to shock, these children -- children to me, at any rate -- saying that they could not slow down; there was still far too much life to live, and so little time in which to live it. They looked away from me quickly when I laughed.
And then, in a hushed voice, I wondered out loud what they would do if given immortality. They looked at me strangely, some frowning as though in deep thought; one said that he would quite like to live forever; how much better, then, to savour life's variety? His companions agreed immediately; some went so far as to say that they would consent without hesitation to any offers of eternal life. They laughed at that, as those of their age do, but I saw no humour.
"Would you really?" I said, when they had become more quiet. "And at what cost?"
"Why, any, of course," a girl volunteered. "To be able to live forever is worth anything. Isn't it?" She looked at me doubtfully, obviously unsure of herself but curious of my reply.
I smiled patiently. "Where would you draw the line, though, my friends? How much will one sacrifice for immortality? Wealth, happiness... humanity?"
All were shocked by my last example; I know. They stared at me queerly for a minute, and then one suggested hesitantly that perhaps there was a point where one must stop. And somehow they concluded without speaking that it was time for their departure, for they stood to leave, thanking me for the conversation. But the girl who had been so enthusiastic stayed behind, hanging back uncertainly.
"What is it, my dear?" I asked gently. Remember now that I appeared to be only a few years older than she; and she had been alone with her friends, somewhat uncomfortable in her celibacy. Why she had no one I did not know; she was quite pretty, with dark brown hair, and green eyes that suggested sunshine. Her dress was made of an emerald silk that matched those eyes perfectly, and a lace choker was fastened around her neck -- something of a pity, I thought obliquely.
She frowned slightly, taking the seat next to mine. "Why did you ask those things?" she said, without prelude. "You couldn't possibly know of someone with such a power, for how could it exist? I mean, when I was a child, my nurse would tell me tales of such creatures, those who could live forever by taking the lives of others, but those weren't true, just stories to frighten the very young." She smiled nervously. "I know they scared me, but only until I realized that they couldn't be true. And what would you know of them, anyway?"
"You mustn't be too sure of what is unreal," I said, after a pause. "How can you be sure they were only stories? I myself could be one of them, and you wouldn't know it..." This was the closest I had ever come to revealing myself, and to a child I didn't even know.
She said nothing, but looked at me carefully for a moment. I could almost feel her eyes on me, as she took in every detail, from the pale, vaguely pink colour of my skin, to the fingers of my hands, long and white; and I knew the conflict between reality and imagination that she felt in her mind when she stared again into my eyes.
"Well?" I said after a time. "Am I human, or am I immortal?"
"I don't know," she whispered, looking down, as though ashamed. "I can't tell. But if you were," she said, glancing at me sideways with a little smile, "would you tell me? Would you share it with me, or tell me of your experiences? If you were, would you remember being mortal, and understand those of us who are still?" She looked away again. "But I suppose I'm just being foolish. Who am I to want these things?"
"Julia," I said, drawing her attention; she had never told me her name. "You are no fool." I took her hands, surprising her still. "If I were immortal, you would certainly be one I could share it with. And if I had a story to tell, I would tell it to you. I remember mortality well..." I stopped in shock; I had not intended to say that. She drew back a little, but did not take away her hands; they only held on tighter.
"Is it true, then?" she breathed, staring openly now. "Are you truly immortal? But if you are, are you... one of them? As my nurse told me? Oh, if you were... When I grew older, I remembered the things she said, and I thought about what it would be like, both to live forever, and to live the way they had to. She meant to scare me, but... I'm not frightened now..."
"Indeed," I said, smiling so that the tips of my teeth would show. Her eyes widened, and I heard the slight intake of breath that so often meant fear in mortals. But she didn't seem to be afraid, just perhaps startled.
"You really are..." she whispered. I nodded, the smile gone now, and stood to go, still holding her hands. She rose with me, following me to the door. "Where are you going?" she asked quietly. "To... to..." She could not say the word, but I knew it.
"Not now, my dear; and you needn't fear for yourself, either." I kissed her hands briefly, looking into her eyes even when she blushed. "And now I must return home," I said, gesturing to the east, where the sky had begun to blush as well. "Shall I see you again?" I asked, thinking only of Lucianna. Though Julia was certainly sweet, she was a child; how could I make that mistake again? And yet she was so eager to know...
"If you'd like," she said, reaching again for my hands; I had let hers fall. She pressed them to her, though, drawing closer to me; I could not have been more surprised when she pulled me down to kiss me -- though I did not object. She smiled warmly at me in the new light when we parted, and then she walked away.
"Wait!" I called, almost without meaning to. She stopped and turned slightly to me. "You don't even know my name!"
"Well? What is it, then?"
"Alexandrei Kvoratin, and I'll meet you here in two nights!" She smiled, and began walking again. I sighed, unable to suppress it; was this right? Could I allow myself to have her and Lucianna? I didn't know; I went home as well, without thinking about it.
On the next night I went to see Lucianna. Again, I brought my violin -- but this time I brought my own music as well. It was a sonata by Vivaldi, one of those I had taken nearly twenty years before. She was quite pleased when I showed her the manuscript; she was far too young to have known Vivaldi in his prime -- she was only twenty-eight -- but she delighted in trying new things, and this was certainly new to her.
And this night, there was no break between us, none of the stiffness that, despite our closeness, had been present the previous night. We went from each movement to the next without stopping; there was always the spontaneous flurry of notes to guide us. And we were not lost when its guidance ceased.
She glanced at me, shaking out her hands, and then back to the music, absently flipping the pages. "Alexandre," she called quietly, still looking at the music. "Show me how to do this part, eh? In the 'Aria'? It's been bothering me since we played it."
"I found nothing wrong," I said, though I came closer anyway. The passage she pointed to seemed simple enough -- until one tried to play it. Even I was challenged. "How could I have overlooked this?" I wondered aloud.
Lucianna smiled. "If you had seen your face while you played it, you would know. Alexandre, you lose yourself in this! I might have been in an entirely different key, and you wouldn't have noticed! Unless, of course, it clashed with your part. But my mistakes were negligible to you; I myself could barely hear them over my awe at your mastery. It is no surprise you did not hear my mistakes; I ceased playing in that bar. How could I destroy that music?"
I said nothing -- for there was nothing I could put into words for her -- but I sat down on the bench next to her, slipping my arm around her waist. "We are about to do Vivaldi a great disfavour, my dear; we will play this for four hands. And you may take the melody." She grinned, patting my leg appreciatively, and began that movement.
I should think it goes without saying that those sonatas were not the only things we did together on that night. Our "four hands" soon became three, and then two, having found themselves occupied in other, non-musical areas. And I am sorry to say that the piece deteriorated quite rapidly after that, until there were more hands on the players than on the piano... It makes me smile to remember her enthusiasm, and the ways she used it.
I left before dawn the next morning -- awakening Lucianna this time, to bid her good-bye. She didn't understand why it had to be so early, she said, but though she did not seem to mind, there was the strangest look of deja-vu in her eyes...
That night, when I came from the coma that was sleep, Nikolai was there, too. I bade him good evening, but he said nothing.
"What is it?" I asked him in French. He frowned.
"I hunger, Sasha," he said, pressing his hands together. "And it is not for blood; it is as I said before, for the one I love. Oh, God! I do not think she would mind it, so great is her love; she welcomes all I do now -- but it is nothing compared to what I want. But she would have that as well, I know it!" He turned from me quickly, and went to my desk.
"What is this?" he whispered, his fingers stroking the title page of this very manuscript. And underneath it, there was the voluminous sheath of paper that was my Requiem. He faced me with not a little awe in his eyes, glancing at its notes -- the very ones he had played not long ago -- but only until he began to read this as well. He hadn't seen more than the first few paragraphs before he looked up again, incredulous.
"Alexandrei," he murmured, "this is what I feel. Your words, they make it tangible, but She haunts me now as She haunted you then. How could you know those truths then, and forget them as you grow older?" He let the sentence trail go, skimming the neat French script in which I had written the first part. "Oh, Nadia; why..." I heard him whisper once, as he turned the pages, and then he was silent, narrowing his eyes at her actions.
He ceased reading and put the manuscript back onto my desk. "I should have killed her in the beginning," he said at last, sitting heavily in my chair. "What she did..."
"I would be dead now without it, Nikolai," I said, fastening my cloak about my neck. "And I think I would rather live in these times, even the way I have to live, than to have no life at all. I met a girl the night before last, who told me this; she is very young, only twenty. She wishes to live, and will, no matter what it costs her. And she wishes to know why we feel we cannot. I go now to tell her -- at least, to tell her why most cannot -- and why they are wrong."
He looked at me blankly for a moment, and then smiled. "I see," he said, sounding somewhat doubtful. "We shall speak of this again, to be sure, but not now. I also have a rendez-vous, as you say, and I would not keep her waiting..." He smiled again, though there was also worry in his eyes.
"Do nothing she will not forgive you for," I cautioned him. But I knew he would not listen...
I met Julia as I had promised. She was alone, waiting calmly for me by the door of our original meeting-place.
I bowed to her, kissing her gloved hand. "And where would mademoiselle care to spend the evening?" I asked lightly, smiling.
"Ah," she sighed, returning the look. "Anywhere Monsieur would care to take me... mmm, but aren't you supposed to be Russian?"
"Da -- but you'll have to stay with me for quite a while if you want the whole story. I was born in France... perhaps you would care to discuss this over a bit of theatre?" She nodded, offering her hand, and stepped daintily away from the building.
"'The Game of Love and Chance' -- you know, by Marivaux -- is to be played tonight, as a revival," she commented as we walked, and so it was that we went to see. I'm afraid I cannot say whether or not I liked it; we sat in our own box, and discussed life and death -- namely mine. Julia was surprised to learn how long I had lived in Vienna, though not as much as at learning my other cities, and that I had been on such familiar terms with Haydn -- she had heard his music before, she said, but now that she knew a man who had been there when he composed it, she would pay much greater attention. I wondered how much of a difference it would make, but kept my thoughts to myself.
When the performance was over -- it was only eleven then -- she fairly shocked me, asking if I would like to spend a few more hours with her -- in a more private setting. And I shocked myself by agreeing. I doubt I would have consented had I known what desires she would bring out in me...
She stayed in an apartment with one of the girls I had seen with her before; the other was not at the moment home. It was furnished in good taste, if a bit sparcely; the room's main feature was an old writing desk. It was covered from end to end with paper, some blank and some profusely written upon, and a bottle of ink lay on the papers, a fresh streak of black holding it fast to them. And her quill pens were scattered about, one of them recently used.
Julia flushed slightly, moving towards the desk hastily, as though she had forgotten its role and the disorder it could produce. "No," I said quickly, smiling, "it's all right. Believe me, my own is much the same." She glanced at me, almost amused, but looked down before I could tell for certain.
"I was writing..." she began, stepping to the desk, "...well, I can't tell you what it is yet. But I was thinking about my nurse's tales -- of your kind -- and of you -- and I really couldn't help writing some of it down..." She blushed again, sorting the papers nervously into hurried piles. I drew in a quick breath, coming up behind her. And I caught her arm; she looked up at me, surprised, but did not resist, instead dropping the manuscript onto the table. I could just make out the first few lines, written in her tight calligraphy: "When I saw him first, he spoke of eternities. Now he speaks with such temporal insistences that I must yield..."
I must have made some sound, a chuckle, perhaps, for she almost cried out, seeing that I had read it. She tore away from my loose embrace, scattering all the sheets that comprised the remainder of her manuscript, and then faced me with shuddering breaths. She was so young, the emotions came quickly to her, and her happiness at having me there was quickly replaced with the annoyance at my seeming invasion. (There was more to her melodrama than I would know then... but that is for later.) "How could you? What I write is my business, you had no right to read it --"
"Not even when I am, even partially, its subject?" I interrupted. "But Julia, there is nothing to be ashamed of, not with that prose, especially since it is so true..." for you are too human to know that what you've said is undeniably what I want, I thought, reaching for her hands. But she would not give them, backing away still further, until she came up against the desk. She pressed herself to it, awkwardly, shivering slightly.
"True?" she said, her voice barely a whisper. "And what would you insist?" She turned away, though, almost slipping on the papers in her haste to be far from me, fairly throwing herself towards the chair that sat nearby. And when she reached it, she pulled her legs up underneath her, burying her face in her hands so I would not see her tears.
I approached her silently, laying a hand on her quivering shoulder. She started, but did not pull away. "Julia," I said gently, "I would never demand anything you would not freely give, no matter what it be. I would never let it come to that, not for the sake of you life and mine. If you wish, I'll leave you now, to your fantasies... I know as well as any other that they sometimes provide better than does reality. And if you should want to see me again, to make them real -- and you know I would not hesitate to do so -- you merely need call me; if the wish is strong enough, I will hear it."
She shuddered again, wiping the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand. And then she took my hand, standing quickly, and touched her lips to mine. "Yes," she said quietly -- but in my state of passion for her youth, I misread her intentions, and pulled her closer again. And her struggles I took for pleasure, until she pushed me away, gasping, convulsed with fear. Then I knew I had done wrong; as in all the other times, I ran from my mistake, vanishing through the door that had so hospitably let me in. And as I wandered about the streets, I did not see the sun rise until its hateful light touched me.
Oh, God, the pain was as I had imagined, but worse! Wherever it found bare skin, it burnt its terrible rays into me. It blistered my hands, my face; I fairly flew home, trying with all my being to avoid the light, the heat of it; and there was so much pain! Nikolai was already abed when I stumbled through the door, staring with horror at my hands: it was as though the flesh had been burned away from it entirely, for now the inhuman veins stood out with a vengeance, and the bones they crossed were defined in their entirety. I was dizzy with the agony, and yet I could only think that this was the way Marcella had died...
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