Rev. Jan's Fiction Extravaganza

Requiem for a Vampire: Chapter 9

1771. We have been here for seven years, the last five without great incident. Of course there have been the petty fights, the comings and goings of old vampires and new ones, the little scandals, but for all that nothing has changed. The Citadel remains static in a world that is in rapid transition, from what we once knew to what the mortals wish it to be. Revolution is the spirit, and no doubt before the decade is out, Europe and the New World will be wearing different colours. So says O'Kerry, who has been again to the Americas, and seen what Europe has done to the colonies. There will be revolution.

Of course, we have our own standards of time. For us, everything happens quickly in the mortal realm; we see so much that history itself is part of life and memory, while the mortals are frightfully swift at forgetting it. Their revolutions occur within a heartbeat for us; we see the world on both sides of their barriers and God help them, it does not change! The classes will always be as they are; the strong survive and the weak are purged. That is the way of both nature and society. And yet their leaders seek to change the unchangeable. I do not blame them for trying -- and it is interesting to watch their struggle...

Meanwhile we have learned much here, about ourselves and how to best live as the parasites we must be; and about the great world around us. I have taught many the ways of music; we now have a passable orchestra, and a choir. They have designated me the Maestro despite my relative youth; I suppose it fits, as few of the other vampires bothered to investigate music in the past. And yet their talents are remarkable! Iphigenia has a perfect soprano voice, and has taken up the flute and the violino piccolo to match it; Theophilus is a bass, and complements it with the cello and viola; Lucifer has mastered the violin under me, and is learning to control his tenor. Sebastian... well, if I give him an instrument, he will play it; he is competent on all of them.

We have considered giving a concert here; the auditorium will hold a thousand, be they mortal or immortal. Theophilus has left the decision to me: "You are the Maestro, Orpheus," he says. "If you think we are ready, then we are." And I think we are. It would almost certainly attract more of our kind; word of mouth or even mind is all we need. Julia agrees, though she wishes most to see the reaction of a mortal audience to our unnatural talent.

I am curious as well. I will have them play a symphony of Haydn, I think, and perhaps a few short Italian concerti, give the best a chance to show off a little. And for an encore? Perhaps we can improvise. That is a sight which would leave the mortals astounded. I have only to present them with a theme; it is shared by all our minds, and we can build on it in unison, adding counterpoint and sharing that a moment before it is played. Our minds function as one then, and the music we create -- the spontaneous outpouring of so many -- is more intense than anything we could write alone. We've only tried it twice as yet, but even then it left us gasping with the sheer beauty of it. Even those who do not play instruments, who watched us, could feel its greatness; I looked up at them once to see their eyes wide with the power of our music, and their minds shared it as well.

What would the mortals think? Could they share it with us? There is only one way to know. I will give the concert.

 

I chose to perform a symphony in D-minor by Haydn, Vivaldi's cello concerto in G-minor (none of these mortals had ever heard it; they listened as though it were modern!), a cantata by Bach, for the choir, and after the intermission, I asked Theophilus to give the theme on his 'cello. We made it a quartet first, with Lucifer and I on the violins, Sebastian on the viola, and of course Theophilus as 'cello; then it was gradually built upon by the upper strings, adding the basses one at a time. It grew into a magnificent fugue, wave after wave of it coursing through our minds, a climax that seemed to have no end.

I added a solo violin to it, re-introducing the original theme; amidst the pulsing chords of the rest of the orchestra, I created my own harmony, flights and leaps of arpeggios springing from my mind, subsiding finally to let Sebastian echo the solo, and then Theophilus. It could have gone on for hours, and the mortals would have been enthralled its entire length, but we let it die, allowed it to descend to the final chord, a throbbing of strings, a hint of the melodies trapped within.

When we finished the auditorium was filled with a silence more penetrating than the music. And then the audience rose to its feet as one; the applause was nearly deafening, but more than that, we were flooded by their amazement, their mad love of the sounds they had heard not only with their ears but with their hearts and minds as well. And the orchestra sat stunned, completely unused to recognition it so richly deserved -- myself included. Our kind rarely receives praise; this was overwhelming! But finally we remembered to stand, to bow as they sought to convey their enraptured thanks.

As we left the stage it lessened somewhat; I could hear the murmur of their words to each other, their reluctance to depart this place. And then above them all, the voice of one who was far from mortal. He spoke only to me but I was the only one who needed to hear it. "Orpheus himself could not have transfixed us so thoroughly, my friend; you make me wish to join you." I turned slowly, hoping he would be there behind me; there was nothing. And yet I heard his voice again, cold and mocking. "But Orpheus lost in the end for all his trials and his greatness; I wonder if you would do the same?"

I was alone in the wings of the stage; even Julia had gone. But the candles that lit it had not been extinguished; a shadow caught my eye, disappeared as quickly. A whisper of sound passed through me; I shivered. Whoever was there was very powerful, enough to escape the senses of the masters who had built this place. To him, I was yet a child; if he wished to kill me he could do it in less time than it takes to breathe and no one would know it. But he had not tried; he had not even approached me yet. His mind was utterly closed to mine but for the tendrils that escaped to find me, and I wished I could barricade mine as completely.

However, I could not, and I was as open to him as I was to any other vampire. Even now he was no doubt reading the thoughts that leapt from my mind; if he were, he knew everything that I saw, heard, and felt; he knew the speed of my frightened heart and the numb, frozen sense that I could not escape. He knew that I was trapped: if I chose to run he would know immediately where; if I called for help, he would invade the minds of those I called for and make them forget. My only option was to wait, and so I did, my violin still clutched in shivering hands.

"You learn quickly, Alexandrei," he said, this time aloud. "For that I feel I must reward you." Suddenly he appeared in front of me in the glow of the stagelights. My initial impression was of his eyes. They were the colour of the sea I had once seen as a mortal; it imprisoned the blue of the sky and amplified it until it seemed more real than the sky itself. But those eyes were deeper than any sea. When I could at last look away from them, it was the red of his hair that caught me; I remembered that to the Greeks, red was too rare to be anything but supernatural -- in a culture where colour was nearly always dark -- and that children born with it were thought to become vampires when they died. Blue eyes made it worse... and it seemed that their tales had been true.

He had the visage of one of their gods, perhaps Apollo or Ares -- though more appropriately Hades. It was altogether noble, from the set of his eyes to the regal bridge of his nose and the proud, unmoving mouth. He smiled at my reaction -- reading the thoughts as surely as you are -- and disappeared again into the shadows. "You will tell no one of my presence here," he said into my head. I nodded -- though I had no need to -- and turned to the door. "Ah-ah, not yet," he murmured, paralyzing me where I stood, no doubt with a single thought.

"Tell no one but Theophilus. Tell him that Perdita's... father is here. But tell him only if he asks you why you did not come sooner. He may not know it if you lie... but I will." He released me abruptly and I stumbled, free of the invisible bonds.

"But why do you ask this of me?" I whispered, recovering my balance, holding the violin closer.

"Because you are the Maestro," he said patiently, as though I were an errant child to be educated, "and because he will understand it from you. And Alexandrei, because you are of my blood, and few of these others are. Four of our generations separate us, and in that time, many have given up, died as they wished to. Not so of me, my friend; though two millennia have passed since my creation -- yes, I too had a creator! -- I have not yet tired of this changing world. I tell you this because you have given many the will to continue, as have I. I see the world through the eyes of your kind."

And then he was gone.

I ran for the door at the back of the theatre but I had not gone even halfway before I heard a snap. I stopped and looked down, to see that one of my strings had broken -- and it had been no accident. I heard the vampire's silent laughter fade away all around me, and knew beyond the slightest of doubts that I would not lie to Theophilus. This vampire -- with his warning and his proof -- would not allow it.

Julia looked at me strangely when I came out. "You've been thought missing for ten minutes, my dear," she whispered. "Theophilus told us not to seek you but I almost did it anyway." Then she saw the broken string and nodded as though she understood. "He wants to talk to you now," she added.

On impulse I kissed her warmly before I went to him, leaving her slightly surprised. What I felt was a scared excitement, one that would not dissipate so soon -- merely remembering that he was still here, probably watching us even now, sent chills through me. Theophilus could sense it from me, and bid me follow him to one of the rooms so we could speak unnoticed.

"He is here, isn't he," he said without prelude.

"Yes," I whispered, and then louder, bolder, "Yes. And I do not know why. He says that he came to me only because I am, as he said, the Maestro, but you are the leader here, and closer to him in his line besides. He frightens me, with his power and his incredible age, and yet it is me that he comes to with this message that is nothing."

Theophilus' eyes narrowed. "Nothing, you say? Surely he had some words for you to convey, not merely that he is here but that he is here for a reason? Open your mind, Orpheus, and show me what occurred."

Hours -- minutes in reality, but hours within -- passed us before he was satisfied. "He is very close now," he mused, drawing away from me. "I felt it before, but I didn't know what it was. And to think it was him, father of us all..." I think he would have continued, but suddenly the door was open and there he stood.

He glanced at me once -- Thank you, Maestro, he said in my head -- and then his eyes were focused wholly on Theophilus. I watched, transfixed, as the two of them spoke as I had not thought was possible. There was such strength between them, so much tension that I could almost see it. And there was no sound; none was needed, for even their thoughts were magnified, tangible in this tiny room, as words and images flowed from them both. Somewhere I thought I could hear music, the intense, darkened notes of the viola, the tremulous softness of the 'cello -- but it was so far removed from this scene that it seemed unreal.

The contact broke as it had to. Theophilus moaned, closing his eyes to the lights around us; this Other stepped closer to him and took his hand. "I will find her, my friend; she will not do this again, not if I am able to stop her -- and I am." The image he sent was so powerful I hesitate to describe it; as it was, I wished for only one thing in that instant: to be as far away from that place as I could.

And I was.

I cried out, the cold wind of God knows where stinging my face and hands -- and worse than that, the light! I could feel it burning me, while in the same instant the chill cut to my bones. I sank to my knees, seeking whatever protection from the sun's cruelty there was, finding none. Now I could feel my ravaged skin blistering, cracking wide in the terrible light, and the blood that poured from it, freezing in the same instant. The pain was nearly unbearable, but I could not let myself sink into unconsciousness; surely death would be next. I smiled bitterly; how could I miss my own death?

There was nowhere to escape to in this place; wherever I was, I would die, perhaps buried in the snow, frozen in unlife. No one would find me; I thought briefly of the Citadel, my home, and of all those I so loved, and of Julia, my second child, her life only recently begun, mine now ending. And I thought of Theophilus, and Lucifer, and the Lady Death... and the Other...

I screamed, finally, when the cold crept into my very eyes. I could no longer see; dying blind... I imagined my violin, saw it burning even as I was, and then the darkness was merciful, taking thought from me as well as sight... My last urge was to write, to leave something of myself to the world, if only a few more notes. My requiem was still unfinished, and who would complete it for me? It no longer mattered. I was gone...

However, this requiem is in the style we call first person. As long as the words continue, even in the past, the author lives.

I was not gone; in fact, when I regained consciousness, I found myself slumped on the floor of that same room; Theophilus kneeling beside me, worry in his eyes, and anger besides.

"Orpheus? Alexandrei?" he whispered. The next words were not directed at me: "If this one dies, I swear to you, you will suffer for it. I am not alone in this Citadel..." I shivered, clenched my hands together, as much for warmth as to assure myself that they were whole, not the bleeding things I had felt in that place. "Oh, God! Alexandrei!" he cried, embracing me in his relief. It radiated from him -- but even that did not last.

He rose from beside me, his eyes like slits, staring at the Other. But before he could say a word, he was cut off. "I gave him only what he wanted," was the Other's benign explanation. "He wished to be as far from here as he could be; now is as good a time as any to learn that one should be careful of what one wishes for, don't you think? Especially with his power; someday he might do that to himself, and die for it." And he smiled, showing the doubled canines that we all possessed.

"He should learn to control it," the Other finished gracefully, "before he hurts himself with it. And Theophilus," his voice gently chastening, "you of anyone should know that I would never let such a young one die like that, not in reality." To me he turned and offered his hand. "I hope you will forgive me, Alexandrei, and let the vision go as a mere lesson." I did not wish to; I could still feel the remembered pain of the sun, but his charisma was too much. I took his hand -- it was slightly warm, but as soft and unmoving as porcelain -- and felt his strength as he helped me up. I could understand now why Perdita had such loyalty to him, such love; he was two thousand years old, but had all the grace of the eighteenth century, and a charm that Don Giovanni himself would be second to.

"Now, my son, you will leave us here. Go and find your Eurydice; she worries for you -- not, as you know, without reason." She may welcome your interference in what is perhaps to occur, he added within -- and for that I left them quickly. I would not lose her as I had nearly lost her twice, not if my immortality would prevent it.

The music I had heard before was louder now; as I closed the door I fixed on its source. It was a simple duet but one that did not lack power; in my mind I saw Julia and Lucifer, awash in the sounds that poured from them, a spontaneous, ever-changing mesh of notes that neither could fully control: it came from both.

It ended awkwardly, suddenly, as Julia's bow fell from her hand. Her eyes snapped open and she seemed disoriented for a moment; then almost as one she and Lucifer bent to retrieve it; in their haste, each grasped it, and their eyes met over it. Slowly, deliberately, Lucifer set down the 'cello he played, with his free hand reaching out to touch my child. My heart gave for a moment as, in my mind's eye, I watched them fall in love.

I told myself, I should have known; I should have seen it before. But with everything I had to hold on to, it was easy to miss a loss until it was too late -- was it too late for Julia and I? How could she forget, I had given her this life! She at least owed me for that...

The scene disappeared as I realized the meaning of my words. She was a human being, a vampire like myself, and her life belonged only to her -- even if she chose to ignore my contribution. Still, it hurt, more than I like to admit; I tried to keep my pace slow as I walked towards the room they had chosen, and let the signals of my presence reach them well before I did.

Both looked up when I walked in, Julia rising smoothly, a hint of a smile on her lips. "Alyosha," she murmured. "You had me worried earlier this evening. I wanted to come for you, but Theophilus stopped me, and said it was unnecessary. I see that he was correct. And then Amadeus came to me with this lovely duet; I couldn't pass it up..." The sentence trailed off and she looked up at me, almost apprehensive.

"You needn't justify it to me, my dear; I understand." I tried to be gracious, God knows, but inside there was still the pain... "And you certainly don't need my permission to do as you please; you're a grown-up now; your judgment is sufficient for me. I'll leave you two alone, if you'd like..." It was one of the hardest things I have yet done -- how could I forget the way she had used his given name, not the chosen one? In this place, it is customary to use the chosen for casual contact, the given for more... intimate functions -- and she used the given. I smiled, though, as I left; I hoped neither could see through it. I wanted them to have their love, even if it meant losing my child -- I could not take the choice from her, not if I were to remain human in even this small way.

I went to the mirrored room and tried to practice a little. But the music wouldn't come; I could say that it was the aftermath of the concert, but why lie to myself? I could not bring the notes to come knowing what was happening with my Julia, knowing that I had not the power over her to stop it. I sat alone for awhile, listening to their notes, muted as they reached me, but retaining their intensity for all that. No one could play that way without love, I thought sadly, but worse was the sadness that came when the music stopped. I knew where they would go, and I knew that Julia would not be with me when morning came.

I might have spent the rest of that long night in such a way, had Iphigenia not chosen that moment to enter the room. "Good evening, Orpheus," she said, stepping though the door with the ease of a cat. "What brings you to such a state as this, especially after the triumph of your concert?" She did not have to ask; such indeed was my state that I did not have the strength to block my thoughts, and my evening was quickly summed up in a memory.

"Poor dear," she sighed. "I know how that can be; you have my empathy, as well as..." I looked up at her, astonished. "But surely you knew that long before now? I suppose you couldn't. Alexandrei, I have loved you from the first moment I saw you -- I thought it was obvious. My antipathy was, I am afraid, a result of the jealousy I couldn't help but feel for Julia..." She did not have to add her displeasure at Julia for denying me this night; I could almost feel it from her, as she meant me to.

"Would you like to duet for awhile?" she murmured, taking the violin from me gently. Hers were practiced hands, hands which I had taught myself -- which had learned with astonishing ease. I would not so mind a tryst with her... and with that thought in my mind, I was gone.

I nodded -- and when she turned away I spoke. "If you're trying to seduce me, Sarah, I'll have you know it just might work." She froze briefly at the sound of her true name -- just as quickly relaxing as she handed me a viola, stained a deep red, reminiscent of fresh blood. It had a lovely tone; that much was evident even as we tuned to each other's instruments.

She had chosen a duet by Bach, intricate and slightly erratic, beginning on a strange off-beat. But though the notes themselves were difficult, it was all too easy to warm into this sinister music, and the few pieces that followed; we played for an hour or two -- and then the pretense of music was dropped. I put the viola down, reaching for the violin as well; she let me take it, and then offered her hands.

"Not here," I said simply; we went quickly to her room, and let all of the pent-up musical passions take flight, spilling over us like blood, or the notes themselves. And the taste of her blood was music; it had a scent to it that I had never found before, a quality I had not thought entirely possible. It was almost as though I were tasting my own blood; the texture was like my own, the flavour and the richness of it all... It took me a moment to realize that in human terms, she was something like my aunt; Theophilus had created her in 1436; she had the same Changed blood that Deirdre and I did. But the affinity was something more than that; why, I was not certain; I would not learn it for some time.

When dawn came the vampire I now knew as Sarah sank quickly into sleep. I, however, was not so fortunate. I had time on my hands; what to do? This. I wrote what you now read, whomever you may be, and then I took out my other manuscript, and composed, quietly, gently, for this was the Lacrimosa. It was nearly dark again when I finished; Sarah looked up from the bed and gave me a little smile.

"You have stamina," she commented, turning onto her side. "I would have collapsed long ago, je pense. What are you writing? Or rather, which of your talents do I have the honour of interrupting?"

"I don't mind," I said shortly. "It's the 'Lacrimosa' of a requiem mass; I'd love to have it played for you but I think the chorus might object; it's more than mere music. The words, I mean; I assume you know Latin?" She nodded in affirmation, but shook her head when I handed her the pages I had completed.

"Thank you, but no," she sighed. "I am immortal now, but the fear of God is still strong within me -- even when it does not show. And I do not know if He would pardon me for such a transgression."

"Reading the words of His church -- a transgression?"

"You have seen what the cross can do, have you not? If you knew Nikolai at all, you have -- and that from a mere symbol! What are the His very words capable of? No, I'll not chance it, not yet..." The voice faded as I traced my fingertips across the paper notes, staring into her eyes.

"It does nothing to me, ma petite," I said quietly. "And I am made of the same stuff as you... Do you not want to hear it? It would not take an orchestra but for the one in my mind..." There was a moment of confusion in her eyes, and it was then that I let the music start, the notes that I had written still fresh in my mind, the words still ringing through. They took wing on the high, pure voices of the soprano I imagined to be Sarah herself, joined gradually by a chorus of immortals.

"Lacrimosa dies illa/ Qua resurget ex favilla/Judicandus homo reus/Huic ergo parce, Deus/Pie Jesu Domine/Donna eis Requiem!" The words spoke of a day no doubt very real to Sarah, the Day of Judgment; they spoke of the tears and the sadness -- and of God's eternal mercy even in the face of sin. They spoke of hope in the face of damnation -- could we have that hope? Could Sarah? Could I, or Nikolai, or Theophilus, or -- shall I? -- even Lucifer himself?

"Alyosha," she whispered. There were tears in her eyes, tinged lightly red. "There will be mercy..."

 

I saw Julia again later that night. It was All Hallow's Eve, and the mischievousness in all of us had prompted a field-trip of sorts. We took to the streets of Vienna shortly after sunset, fanning out to encompass it in our great web. And though I stayed by neither of them deliberately -- preferring to let them come as they would -- both Sarah and Julia followed me, within hearing and sometimes sight.

And then Theophilus called us to a halt. "Ladies, gentlemen," he intoned within us. "Now it is time for our celebration." I felt Julia come up close behind me, but I did not turn. "Do as you wish until midnight, but at my signal... well, you shall see."

"What does he mean to do?" Julia whispered at my ear. The other voices were dimming now as our legion dispersed further; a few blocks down I could faintly detect Sarah's steps, but they did not seem to be gaining.

"I don't know," I murmured back. And suddenly it seemed that she was a stranger; when I abruptly turned and grasped her arms, there was shock in her eyes. "Julia!" I nearly hissed the name, and her eyes grew wider. "I do not know!" And the words implied more than that: I did not know her. "What has happened?" She was startled; she looked away. I daresay she did not know me, in this guise; when I let go her arms, she walked quickly away. I could hear the faint echo of Lucifer's summons to her; I let her go.

In the distance I heard church bells. It was ten o'clock now; the stars shone meekly through the clouds that had gathered above. And it was All Hallow's Eve, the night before the Feast of All Saints, two before All Soul's day. The churches were full; the services continued even now, as the faithful sought to cleanse themselves and the dead that they had buried. And, I decided, I would join them; Sarah's words had not been entirely in vain. It was curiousity that drove me; what might make me stay?

The outer doors to the sanctuary were closed; I opened them quietly, for there was silence within. When I entered I saw the congregation bent as one in prayer; the priest in his gaudy robes muttering a chant; the choir stood passively behind him, their thoughts bored and tired. At last the priest ended his Latin invocation with a clipped "Amen;" I winced when the sound struck my ears. The pain itself was less surprising than the notion that there could be pain; I had been writing the words of the Mass for my entire life -- such as it was -- and there had never been such trouble. What now was the difference?

I sighed, fulfilling the rituals of entry almost by instinct. The candle in its silver mooring, the water sprinkled briefly in the shape of the cross... and the burning on my fingertips... what was this? I gazed down at my hands and the skin was raw and tender, just as it had been the morning I was caught in the sun... I had seen it on Nikolai's palm the night he tried to prove himself to me, and I saw it now on myself. But I did not understand. "Perhaps the flame?" I whispered. I did not worry further, though; instead I sat down in the pew closest to me, and awaited the voices of the choir.

What I heard was far more than music. The wash of those voices swept back all my incredulity, and I thought, My God, their tone is so perfect, so impossibly pure... it is simply inhuman! At that instant it seemed that even the vampires of the Citadel could not equal them -- and I could not see why! It could not be the voices -- my singers had centuries of experience; it could not be the architecture of the cathedral -- the Citadel's hall was designed with acoustics in mind; it could not -- it must not be the music! For such a thing to be true... Qui salvandos salvis gratis...

But my heart would not allow me to forget all the many times I had written notes for those words; when I thought of the words, their meanings, it was with the phrases of the notes, the beauty of those phrases that I considered them. And I had never heard them sung except in my mind, without conviction of the faith the words expressed. Could I have been so blind? Could it be that Sarah had spoken truth -- and I had refused to listen? But as the last phrase ended, it did not seem so; a choir member coughed numbly into a white handkerchief; the priest scratched himself somewhere beneath his robe; the parishioners shuffled noisily in their seats... the spell was broken, and even the echoes of the place were human again.

The power that music has... it was then that I realized how tempting that music had been, what a hold it could have over one's mind. How many lost sheep had come to this place expecting God, and simply been pacified by this music? If it could take even me, the numbers must be staggering; and yet these mortals did not seem to notice any of it -- they took for granted the voices, the words -- their faith had long since been captured; to them this must be a mere affirmation.

But what of my pain? In this state of mind, could a simple suggestion cause a physical reaction within me, cause the burning and the scar that now appeared, impossibly red, upon my fingertips? This was something I would have to study; surely those of my kin who were enamored of natural philosophy -- science, as it is now called -- would have some ideas. But even as I held these thoughts in my mind, the music called to me again, and I decided -- a true effort of will -- that I would, for now, surrender myself to it, and see where it would take me. The service was over, and I allowed myself to be carried along out of the church with the mortals around me, my mind drowning in the prayers still repeated within their tired minds.

I distanced myself from them once we had left the sanctuary, hiding myself in the shadows offered by the intricate stonework of which the building was composed. My kin were still inside somewhere, I knew, even as the sounds of their wordless speech competed with the music in my brain. I still did not completely understand what they were planning; even had I known, I would not have understood, so foreign was their state of mind.

At last all of the faithful had departed, including the priest in his familiar robes, and the church bells struck midnight. The streets were silent; superstition still had a firm grip on my city, and no one stirred in the square. Even their thoughts, so ever-present on less formal nights, seemed muted; those whose minds were strong enough to find me reflected only on their dead, in wordless reminiscences that were more obligatory than desired. More powerful now were the thoughts of my comrades in immortality; their minds were linked again as they were during our concerts.

 

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