Rev. Jan's Fiction Extravaganza

Requiem for a Vampire: Chapter 3

As before, when Deirdre left me, I was hurt to the very core of my undead soul; again, I hesitated to let myself be cured. I went out only of absolute necessity, when the thirst could no longer be denied, and then it was my instinct that reacted, not me. And although I would never let myself repeat the senseless murders I had committed the last time, my nights were just as miserable.

For five years I sulked and suffered through evenings of alternating starvation and accursed satiation. In better days, feeding had been pleasure; now it was something to be avoided at all but one cost, and I only fed on those who could be spared -- who would be better off dead: thieves, murderers, humans who had no true purpose in life. And yet I knew that I was no more superior to them than were their fellow criminals.

I did not know how to let such apathetic torments end, after a while, and so they continued. If Marcella had been with me, surely she would have helped; any partner in eternity might have. But I knew of none, and I could not bring myself to seek human aid; they would die no less horrible a death than my love, I was sure.

But then, unexpectedly, one of my kind found me.

It was November -- cold and bleak and lonesome for me -- of the year 1746. In the five years following Marcella's death, I had done very little aside from the necessary killing. On good days, when I wasn't so hungry, I did some sporadic work on my requiem, but none was really up to my standards, and most had to be destroyed. Even the composers of my day seemed more silent -- though that might have been a product of my own reluctance to interact with them.

But I digress. One evening, after I had been awake for some time, trying unsuccessfully to compose, I heard music. That in itself was not unusual, not in Vienna, but it was played in a style so familiar... it sounded achingly like Marcella; she had played with such precise, emotional skill that I had thought no one could be her equal. But here he was, his notes of the same perfection, their pitch of the same agonizing depth. Could this artistry be anything but undead?

I would not wait to find out; I took my cloak from its place and rushed outside, unwilling to lose the source of the music. It was not far from me, I knew, but I ran in my haste to be near it. I could think only that Marcella had created another before her death, perhaps a musician as talented as she -- but as I reached the place, I knew it was not so.

No woman of Marcella's kind would stay in this place: it was as run-down as our residence had been bourgeois. The shutters hung at precarious angles from the wall, and the balconies were rickety, threatened to fall apart. Nevertheless, this was from whence the music came, and it was here that I had to find the one who was calling.

And whoever he was, he certainly was calling to me, and no longer just with the music. In my mind I could hear his words, echoing through me like thunder -- like the hum of the cello. I had not known we could communicate like this, without even knowing each other, and yet here was a voice as seemingly familiar in my mind as my own. And no one else could hear it.

"Maeledisi, hesitate no further." As I heard him speak, I saw his form in the window above; through its open curtains I gasped to see the pallor of his face and hands, surrounded by rich lace, incongruous in the rubble around it. He had ceased to play; now he looked down at me with a smile, beckoning and sympathetic. "I'll come down for you," he said, again in my mind only, and I saw him disappear.

But then he came to the door, threw it open to the chill night, stood within its frame in clothing fit for a home much more elegant than this. "Allo, my friend. I have long awaited meeting you," he said, this time in a voice as perfect as the music. Then he smiled again -- showing teeth that I knew would be like mine -- and asked me inside.

I felt like a child beside him as we walked up the stairs. I said nothing, not knowing what to say, and so when we reached his room, he asked me how I had known to come. He surely knew, as surely as he had summoned me, but I had to answer. "Your music," I whispered, remembering it again, and he nodded, gesturing for me to continue. "It sounded very much like that of one I have known before..."

"The girl?" he said softly. "Indeed. I never met her -- never had to -- but she always looked happy with you."

"She wasn't," I put in quickly, grimacing. "She killed herself, five years ago. But I suppose... she was happy for a while."

"More than you could know," he murmured, but then looked up at me sharply. "Do you miss her? Is that, too, what made you come? Loneliness is the best of reasons to seek your kind. And Arcangelo -- Raul, I should say -- you have found it."

I was so startled at hearing my birth-name that for a moment I could say nothing, staring at the figure who stood before me. He was the consummate vampire; his hair was velvety black, and his eyes the deepest blue. His hands, which had drawn my attention first, hung at his sides with complete relaxation, and yet I could see that the fingers were moving, as though on a clavier. His face was... well, I find that I can't describe it, not in words, but if it could be reflected in music, it would be a symphony -- by Beethoven.

"Arcangelo? Is there something wrong?" I was startled out of this meditation by his voice.

"How did you know my names?" I blurted, though I must have known.

He grinned. "This is one of our talents, my friend. But you have not asked mine. No need; at the moment I am Nikolai, as I was in the beginning." I meant to ask how long it had been since then; he knew, and answered. "Five hundred years," he said with an odd smile.

"Mon Dieu," I gasped, barely able to comprehend such a length of time. But his next words left me still more incredulous.

"I believe you may know who... changed me," he said softly. "Her name then was Nadia; she's gone by many since then, but her latest --" he brought his eyes level with mine and thus held my gaze -- "her latest was Deirdre."

I could not speak. To think that she had been older than even he, more than four centuries gone when she made me... it did not seem possible. But Nikolai would not lie; this I knew from the look in his eyes. Five hundred years... "How could you stand it, all this time," I whispered, almost without realizing I had spoken.

He looked at me for a moment, his features softened to paternal sympathy. "It isn't as hard as you might think," he murmured. "After the first hundred, everything comes into place... and as time passes, the thirst lessens." My face must have shown the amazement I felt, for he smiled. "It has been five days now -- no, six -- since I drank; I won't need to until tomorrow."

I sighed, wishing with all my being that I had that strength -- no matter how it came -- and that I had been able to impart it to Marcella. Without the hunger, she never would have died... I felt tears come to my eyes -- and saw their effect on my companion -- before I knew that I'd wanted them to be there.

"Ah, Arcangelo," he breathed, "so much pain, in so few years..." He took my hand and stroked it slowly. "It hasn't been easy, has it. I can remember the beginning... After Nadia -- Deirdre -- changed me, I left her and my country both; I couldn't stand to be near her or anything that would remind me of her. Although I deserved this punishment; what could you have done to deserve it? You're so young..."

"Nikolai." He looked up from my hand. "I must have... a different name. You know what this one tells me, every time I hear it..." He nodded, grave and unsmiling.

"I know it," he said.

"But who can I be, now? I don't care if it means anything this time; I'm tired of that." And indeed I was; how could I bear to have someone else understand as Marcella had, the meaning of my name?

"Perhaps music would help you think?" he asked quietly, gesturing to the cello that lay on its side in the corner, and the violin that waited ready in its case. They both looked to be fine instruments, but my eyes saw only the violin. It was inlaid with unstained wood, which scrolled about it like some fantastic ivy, going from the fingerboard to the body and back again.

I didn't have to ask whether or not I might play it; from the smile in his eyes I knew it was meant for me. I struck the strings with a single ringing chord, rewarded with no less a sound than what even Vivaldi's fiddle had given. I closed my eyes to Nikolai, to the rest of the room, and drew the bow across the violin again, beginning a piece I had not dared play for five years. And it wasn't long before the crystalline sounds were joined by the vibrating tenor of his cello, and the notes resounded in our ears.

I let them die before I released the violin, and with shaking hands returned it to its case. Did he understand even this, I wondered, without looking at him. I didn't have to remind myself that he, too, had known the piece perfectly; the music had not yet died in my mind. And even now he said nothing; he had moved to the window, and was closing its shutters. "It has been long for you, as well," I whispered.

"Even so," he replied. What he did not say was easily communicated in his touch as he took my hand to help me rise. He had known more than I, always, and yet was still in love with the mortals, and their endless works. "But now, my brother, you are hungry, are you not?" I opened my eyes at last to let him see that hunger; no other answer was necessary.

"When I was as young as you are now, I wondered if I would ever be truly filled," he said, going to the door. "And now I know, when I die, when I allow mortality to catch me, then I will hunger no more. But until then --" he looked at me, the depth of his eyes -- and their message -- threatening to overwhelm me -- "I will have to be satisfied with this kind of life, and the sensations that go with it, and even with the constant presence of Death. I hope you will as well... Maestro."

He vanished through the open doorway, as I staggered under the weight of my sorrows and my astonishment to follow. There was only the line of his black cloak to guide me; I saw it sweep out behind him, his form rapidly disappearing down the stairs without a sound, and then I, too, descended them.

It was only when I saw where he was going that I allowed myself to slow, no longer afraid that he would be gone as suddenly as he had come. Of all those I knew, only he could be my teacher, I thought, because only he had seen so many years, had so many more to see. If he could live for five centuries, surely he would help me to pass five decades. Of this I had no doubts.

I heard his footsteps slowing ahead of me, then finally stop in front of an old theatre. The golden filigree that had once ornamented it now flaked from the cold stone, but from within I heard a voice that I could never forget; although I had never heard it sing, it could only belong to one woman, and she was not mortal.

"Why have you brought me to her," I hissed, through teeth that were clenched in a horrible mixture of dismay and desire. "Do you know her; do you know the way she left me?"

"I do, on both counts," he answered calmly, though I could detect an edge of anxiety in his voice. His voice as he continued belied the confidence with which he had spoken only moments before. "But I have known her for far longer than you, my friend, and..." he hesitated, looked at me sharply, then closed his eyes. "And I have distained her for far longer. This she does not know, nor does she know that you still live. I have talked to her many times, and she has told me of your creation. To hear her, and then to see you... It made me hate her all the more. What she did to you, she did to both of us. I was merely the first. And I wish to make her suffer for both of us."

I was only half-listening to him, because behind his every word was her voice, and it was not what I would have liked it to be. It was beautiful, more than she could possibly deserve, and she sang a work of Vivaldi. That, I think, was what made me agree with Nikolai, for although we had known Antonio together, to the very last day, the thought of her profaning his works was more than I could bear.

"Nikolai," I growled, "Yes!"

He needed only that word. He nodded, a predatory gleam in his eyes, and entered the building with lightning speed, past the few mortals present who dared listen to our kin. I followed, the thought of revenge driving me to her with no thought of mercy.

She stood on the stage dressed in baroque silks of black, her dark hair falling loose about her shoulders. And beside her stood a young man, obviously mortal, obviously enthralled by her very presence. But not so completely as to make him forget his voice, because they sang a duet from "Feraspe" -- Vivaldi's last opera -- and his voice would make any man jealous -- even without her.

The next few moments I can barely remember, for one minute Nikolai and I stood in the doorway, and the next I was by her on the stage, taking Deirdre by the arms, rougher than I would have been without Nikolai. Then he was again by my side, and he held her close, but ever so detached; all of us knew why. And the expression on her face could only have been resignation when he told me to drain her; her struggles ceased.

"I never loved you," I snarled, holding her down with my legs, not wanting to remember that she had said it first. And then I took her blood, until she was gasping with exhaustion, and I with horrible ecstasy. Had she been mortal, she would have died, but the vampire within her would not let her go. I looked up at Nikolai; his mouth was set in a grim smile as he carried her from the stage.

"She will, indeed, suffer," he murmured, catching my eyes, and it was in that instant that I wondered if we had done right. In the next, though, she turned her head to me with a look of absolute hatred, and I knew we could not have let her live. Not after the pain she had caused us -- and so many others.

For now the young mortal followed us, trembling with apprehension and indignation. "What have you done to her?" he whispered, the fear making his voice shake.

I answered, looking not at the boy but at Nikolai. "Only what she has done to us, and would have done to you." I turned to the mortal. "Did you know what she was?" I asked, letting the cruel eyeteeth show. He did not speak, but watched Nikolai as he held Deirdre's unmoving form. "Did she tell you, child, what she meant to do to you when she tired of your mortality?" Still he said nothing, but his eyes widened, and he looked away from her quickly.

"She said only that I would live forever if I stayed with her," he mumbled, twisting his hands in an awkward gesture of fear. "And she laughed when I asked her how. I couldn't understand, but she said she would show me, tonight."

Nikolai spoke. His voice was low, heavily accented by the tongue of his past. "Then we have saved you from a fate that can be -- if you'll pardon the expression -- worse than death." He smiled grimly at the boy, whose countenance alone revealed his wish to escape. "She is a vampire, Sebastian --" the boy stepped back at hearing his name so pronounced -- "as are we, but we would not give you immortality. It is worse than she would have let you know -- until she left you."

Sebastian stared first at Nikolai, than at me, seeking to find some hint of falsehood. There was none. "Young one," I said, allowing my voice to soften with the pity I felt for him, "she gave both of us this curse of undeath. And though it was done four centuries apart, both of us know it was done wrongly, out of hatred, perhaps of us, perhaps merely of all mortals. We would not have her do it to you as well."

"Why not?" he blurted, looking from me to the inert form that lay at Nikolai's feet. "I should think it would be wonderful not to die, to know that every day lay ahead of you for the rest of eternity, without fear of death or of pain..."

"It is there that you are wrong, Sebastian," I said, opening my eyes to him, to let him see the pain that there had been. "In the beginning, Deirdre told me only of the suffering that would come, and I have found very few things to refute her. Only the companionship of those like myself, and music, and the blood itself, are enough to soften the ages --" But then Nikolai broke in, his sentiment again contradicting those previous.

"What ages have you known, Arcangelo?" I winced at hearing that name, thinking that was answer enough, but it was not. "You have existed a mere fifty years, and though they have been hard, they have not been 'ages.' Suffering does not have to be our reason for life --" he looked down at our creator, who stared back defiantly, but as an animal is defiant -- "nor should it be. Didn't Marcella teach you that? She rejoiced in her life, until the end, and even then she only suffered for you."

For me? "What do you mean, for me?" I said, trying hard to understand, to think back to the last day, to something that would indicate that he was right. I didn't want him to be right, of course, but then I knew that he was; on her own, she would have known the pain I'd sought to hide from her, and known it without fear, accepted it as we all had to. But I'd protected her from it, or thought I had, until even I knew she had to find it for herself. It was my interference that had killed her, and it was for me that she had grieved at her death, because she alone had seen my error.

And Deirdre had never protected me; she had given me lies, but not of that kind. How could I do this to her now, knowing that she had never hidden it from me? Perhaps she had believed in the suffering, sincerely thinking that it was right, and that it was right to make me believe it. That had been her mistake, I decided, forcing upon me only one option, that of pain. It was enough to hate her, but not to kill her. Never to kill her.

I inclined my head. "You are right, my brother. There has been enough suffering. Even for her." I sank to my knees by Deirdre and took her in my arms, smiling as she closed her eyes. And then I turned to Sebastian.

"Would you be a vampire?" I asked him, aware of the nature of the question more than I had been when I made the choice. "It is a decision that lasts forever, but if you want it," I paused, glancing at Nikolai, who looked at me perplexedly, "if you want it, I will help you to live with it. As would she, though she would not hesitate to leave you."

The boy shut his eyes tight, as though to block the three undead from his vision, as though we would make him choose wrongly. When he at last looked up again, to see Deirdre in my arms, Nikolai standing apart with his arms crossed, there was no fear in his eyes. "No," he said, now sounding as strong as he had when he sang. "Though I feel that my very soul cries for immortality, I believe you when you speak of the aeons. I was not meant for aeons."

He gave us all one last smile, and a lingering look at Deirdre -- who cried out softly -- and then he left, walking with human assurance through the doorway. But then he turned, said quietly, "I am thirty years old now. Ask me again before I die. I might say yes." And then he was gone, leaving Deirdre to embrace me slowly as I held her. Her tears came silently, but though Nikolai and I both heard them, I was the only one who would hold her.

"Ne pleut pas, ma cherie," I told her quietly, stroking her hair, ever smooth. Her cries became audible, when she heard the language in which she had seduced me, so different from the harsh German we had spoken moments before. And then Nikolai said something in a tongue altogether foreign to me -- but Deirdre understood, and the tears ceased long enough for her to gaze at him. I could not comprehend its meaning; he could, and took her from me.

Part of him still loves her, I thought, shocked both that he did and that she would let him. He had told me that she had married him against her will, and then that she had changed him after some terrible occurrence, but he had never clarified it. Five centuries had apparently lessened its significance, at least to her. She smiled up at him like the child she would never be, reaching to touch the vein that lay beneath his skin. He shivered, almost imperceptibly, but she felt it.

"You don't have to stay," she murmured. "I know how it is, how you feel. You wouldn't have done this if not for revenge, either of you." She smiled, an expression that seemed painfully out of place on the ashen face. "Please know that I never meant to hurt you, Raul -- Nikolai knows his crime -- and that I would have you live long, without suffering. It is what you deserve."

Her eyes closed and the hand by Nikolai's throat dropped to her heart. She sighed, and then, was asleep.

Nikolai gave me a questioning look, as though to ask what force had made me spare her; it didn't take long for him to understand. I had never hated her, as this threat had made me realize; in fact, the hatred that I thought was for her was instead for Death. I had never loved Her, though I had many times told myself I did. Seeing Deirdre now, almost as she had been when I found her, and surely as she had been when Nikolai fell in love with her, I felt the original pity for her that I had always had.

"What did you do to her, so long ago?" I asked, my curiousity hightened by the way he held her, tightly and gently, but somewhat scornfully. He raised an eyebrow in answer, looked down at her white face, and sighed.

"It has been a long time," he muttered, "but I still hate us for it."

"Us?" I said, not able yet to understand.

He nodded. "When I was seventeen, my father decided it was time for me to be married. I chose her." He indicated Deirdre's sleeping form. "Even though she was in love with someone else, and she never fully consented to the marriage." Nikolai smiled grimly. "Her lover was a vampire. He didn't change her until we had been married for three months, when I had begun to lose patience with her. No doubt she had told him of my insistence to have her as my wife in more than name.

"On the night she returned home from that fatal tryst, I could no longer bear her insolent reluctance to be with me." He paused for a moment, frowning in the remembrance of what I could now imagine. And then he continued, his voice low and hushed, yet echoing on the empty stage. "Without foresight -- or foreknowledge, for all that -- I took matters into my own hands. When I asked her of the affair she had been having -- because, by that time, I did know -- she said nothing. And so, angered by her willingness to share herself with him and not with me, I took her by force.

"That act in itself would have been nothing if I had been the other, but from me, it was defilement, and hatred. And in the midst of my pleasure, she took my blood from me, and replaced it with her own." I knew what that meant, perhaps more than he did; he wasn't even given a choice, but the undeath was forced on him as a punishment -- as he had meant to punish her.

"And you were then a vampire," I finished for him. "Without even one to see you through the beginning." I gave an ironic smile as he glanced down at the one who had sentenced us both to this. "And which of you profitted more?"

He gave me no answer but a shrug of his black-caped shoulders, and a sigh. Deirdre moaned in her sleep, grasping again at Nikolai's coat, and her eyes fluttered open. They were dazed with unknowing hunger -- because whatever blood she had taken from Sebastian was now in me -- but when they fixed on me, they flashed with pitiful anger. Pathetic though it was, this sight of her and what she had come to, it was also frightening. With that gaze she asked me how I could be sure of my future; she told me I might also fall to this.

I looked away quickly, disconcerted and not just a little frightened at what I'd done. "Perhaps we should find... a mortal for her... so she doesn't suffer long..." I whispered, through teeth clenched against an unknown force. Again, Nikolai looked at me with a perplexed glance, but he agreed.

"And perhaps one of those?" he mused, pointing to the audience that had seemingly gathered for the singing, and stayed for the melodrama. Now they sat in huddled groups, speaking quietly, nervously, amongst themselves. I caught a shrill, half-choked laugh from one of them, stared in her direction. The laughter strangled into silence, and I looked away. And yet, not one of them left.

Before even I saw him move, Nikolai had leapt from the stage, and dragged the woman from her seat. Her eyes widened with horror at his preternatural speed, and the strength that held her, and she opened her mouth to scream, but no sound came, none but a gutteral, animalian cry. Nikolai had whispered to her, "Be not afraid; your death will be swift; there will be no pain." She twisted violently as though to escape, but at once her motions stopped, and she collapsed like an unthinking child, shivering as he carried her away from her dumb-struck companions.

Deirdre moaned as he neared her, offering the girl in silence; she had seen the fright in the girl's eyes, probably knew it for herself. But the understanding did not keep her from drinking. When Nikolai lowered the shaking form to the ground beside her, she groaned with pain and need, and knelt beside her prey, dropping onto all fours to reach the throat, white with the girl's fear. She did not stop when the girl cried out, when her teeth tore open the flesh above that vein, nor when the pathetic struggles ended and the girl was lost to unconsciousness. There seemed to be no end to the taking, until she herself gave a thin little cry, and released the body.

She closed her eyes for a moment, oblivious to the blood that dripped from her open mouth onto the silk of her black dress. It fell in crimson drops to stain forever the material, a nauseating reminder of the curse that we shared.

The silence was broken by Nikolai's contemptuous voice, as he spoke to our morbid audience. "None of you saw this happen," he told them, the very tone of the words making them true. "And this girl --" he gestured at her with a sneer -- "surely she died of some illness. Everyone knows, there are no such things as vampires." The expression on his face alone kept me from shivering; he did not like the necessity of the lie; none of us did, but we were forced to live it.

Nikolai turned from the mortals, looked down at Deirdre once, his lips parting as though to speak, but he said nothing. And then he glanced at me, his eyes at last gaining some semblance of compassion as he stepped towards me. In those eyes I saw myself as he did: an innocent, a child, devoid of the sarcasm that all of his years had taught him. In those eyes, I alone was able to feel truly the emotions that he had long since given up. No, I wanted to cry, you feel more than I could ever know, but I did not speak. And I looked away from him, to see the tear-stained face of the one who had made us.

But not for long. Nikolai took Deirdre's hands from the corpse, and with a motion long practiced, gathered it to him, as though it was some grotesque doll. Even in death, though, the girl retained her living beauty, and her hair still swung in the manner it had before. He carried her away from the stage, leaving no trace when he stepped outside into the cool night air. Deirdre made no sound as she watched him go, but the tears that fell from her luminescent eyes were proof of the twisted love she felt for him. She sighed when he at last returned, and let her gaze part from the door she had been so anxiously studying.

What is it that sustains us, I wondered, staring at both of them. We have nothing but the companionship of death to make it worth-while; why do we not all die, as Marcella did? Because we were not as young, I thought, hoping that was true. But is that all there is, mentally, or do we someday hope to be given back life? We do, I heard, in my mind; Nikolai was watching me, reading my thoughts as I stood.

"And how do we live?" I asked him. "Our bodies are dead, and yet become animated by blood. Why is it only that which can save us?"

"These are questions for another day," he told me gently, and pointed to the east, where a soft light was growing. "We have many more; let your questions wait." I nodded, and helped Deirdre to her feet. It was time to leave the theatre.

We all went to Nikolai's apartment; I because I was unwilling now to be alone, Deirdre because she had nowhere else to go: she had been living with the young mortal. I felt more safe, more comforted, than I had since before Marcella died; Nikolai seemed to me, in an odd way, quite like my father, who had certainly passed away long ago, whom I had not seen since my departure some forty years before. It had not occurred to me until then how much I missed him, and this I remarked to Nikolai.

He gave me a sympathetic smile. "We are very much alike, my friend," he said, patting my hand. Deirdre was asleep, but though the sun was up, neither Nikolai nor I felt the need to rest. It was odd to recall that we had met only the night before; we already shared the kinship of undeath, and had for what had been lifetimes. Would we be the same without Deirdre as well? It was hard to be sure.

"Without her," I thought out loud, "I would probably be dead." Nikolai looked at me questioningly; I continued, "I was born in 1678, was twenty-two when she changed me. It is now 1746, so I am sixty-eight years of age." I shook my head. "Is it hard to believe I have been dead for forty-six years?"

Nikolai laughed, his features lighting with the brilliance humour gave them. "And I, born in twelve... oh, what was the year? 1269, I think... it's been a while since then, you know. And then I was changed in 1289, so how long has it been? Mmmm, 447 years. Mon dieu, how time does fly!" He brought his hands to his face in a gesture of mock surprise, but then became abruptly serious. "It has been that long as well since I have seen the sun rise, seen its light on the smile of a child, seen it set with all its magnificence He stared at me for a moment. "Do we dare hope to see it again?"

I could find no answer, and so looked away. As lightly as I could, I said, "We'll certainly not see tonight if we don't sleep a little," and without looking in his direction, I stepped soundlessly into the other room. Through the darkness I saw his face, the eyes closed in silent thought, the hands resting with absolute stillness on his thighs. And then I saw him sigh with the reluctance of centuries of mornings, and he lay down next to Deirdre. She did not stir; he did not speak. But I heard his unspoken answer, to his final question: "Yes."


When night finally came again, Deirdre awoke before either of us; she was gone before I saw her. When Nikolai came to, I asked if she would return, and he said nothing, merely shrugged his shoulders with the knowledge that he could never know what she meant to do. "She has been ever like that, hasn't she?" I commented.

He smiled slightly. "Always."

"Do you need to drink yet?" I asked boldly, feeling the hunger strongly myself.

The smile widened. "Again, always. And I know quite well where to go. You needn't follow." He took his cloak from the chair he had tossed it onto the night before, and left without another word. But I was hungry as well; I would have to find my prey alone. And though I was no more than a few minutes behind him, I could not find him.

"Damn," I hissed, under my breath. Even with my exaggerated vampire senses, I would not be able to track another like myself; he had known his talents for far longer than I, and could use them with unsurpassable ability. I sighed, shrugged, and set off in the most likely direction.

It wasn't very long before I heard footsteps nearby, though they did not belong to Nikolai; they were those of a mortal, unable to disguise their noise. I smiled grimly, and followed, with increasing speed. When I was close enough to see the human -- and he me -- I found that I recognized him. He had been one of the girl's companions at the theatre, and now he wandered through the streets with a morose, pinched look to his face. I must have made some sound, because he turned around and saw me -- and then, everything happened at once.

He called out with a voice only slightly cracked by sorrow; it took a moment for the words to register. "He is here, the killer is here!" I heard several other shouts, shrill with frightened triumph, and then the others materialized in the eerie light of the fog. Some I recalled from the previous night, others were strangers. But they all carried weapons: swords, and a few sharpened stakes (so they had heard the legends!); and they closed in on me swiftly, without giving me time to react or to think -- which was, of course, what they had wanted.

What could I think anyway? I had done nothing to them, really, but they identified me as a vampire, one of those who had killed their companion, and to them, I was guilty of whatever they could peg me with -- as they would. For now they raised their blades almost in unison, stepping closer, closer, and I could do nothing. There were far too many to kill by myself -- at least fifteen, by a hasty guess -- and I had no weapon to defend myself with. They had come prepared for one thing -- my death -- and they were all too ready to do it.

I could do nothing but feign an attack, so I went for the nearest one, who held a sword. For a split second he looked as frightened as I felt, and surely as striken, but that second did not last long enough. He slashed with his blade, once, twice, and though my dexterity held out for those two, his next strike was too powerful. I felt a hot jolt as the sharp edge found my flesh, and then I saw a sick redness burst from my shoulder.

Then they were all around me, slicing through the misty air with practiced arms, and I could no longer tell when I had been hit: their blows merged together into a terrible haze of pain and blood. I cried out, many times, calling for aid, but no one would come. I found myself sinking into unconsciousness; with an effort I struggled to remain on my feet, for just a few more minutes... I stumbled about in their horrible circle, seeking sanctuary from the pain and the expressions of righteous hatred that they wore, but I could find none, and they would not stop, not until I was dead...

It was then that I finally collapsed to the cold, wet ground that had become slick with my blood. "Help me," I whispered, knowing that I would not be heard by those who could help, that they were gone, uncaring after all. And the mortals showed no mercy. Even as one prepared to plunge the stake through me, as they rolled me onto my back, they continued with their swords, opening new wounds before the old ones had time to stop the bleeding. The human with the stake raised it above me, holding me pinned to the ground with the aid of the others, gloating and malevolent, and I knew I was gone...

And then there came the blessed sound of unhuman footsteps. Nikolai had come, he would save me... It was the last thing I thought before my mind ceased to think, and I sank into welcoming darkness.

But the darkness was not all that I saw. Although I was perhaps on the very edge of the strength of my vampire nature, part of me would not be let go. Standing ahead of me, in countless, lightless shadows, was the figure I had known but thrice before. All I could see of her were the obsidian depths of her eyes, and the pale glow of her hands, yet they told me more than any words would.

"You have strayed very close to me this time," she said, without speech. "Almost within the boundaries of my realm -- but not close enough. The first time, you had almost come to stay, though Deirdre changed that. The second, she was dead to you, and I came in her stead. The third --" the eyes closed onto mine with inescapable force -- "you had brought the curse to another; she died that night."

I nodded, without breaking the contact between us. I had known that from the first. But looking into her eyes, I finally realized why she seemed so familiar. It was with great effort that I kept my gaze level, and stopped the shivering fear that would otherwise blind me. I could not, however, keep the new knowledge from my eyes, and so within the same instant, her eyes also narrowed; I saw her teeth as she smiled in bitter agreement.

"Yes, Raul, I am She, I am the one you have hunted for so long, never to realize you had already found Me. But do not tell Me it was not what you wanted, do not lie to yourself. You had My love -- what you ever asked for, unknowing -- and I let you discover Me for what I was. I came for you, my dear vampire, not in the manner that you thought you wanted -- but there is only one way. I deal in death, it is what I dealt you as well, for a moment. You knew it -- without knowing it." The eyes held mine for an age before She continued. "Be thankful you are cursed, Raul, or you might have to know Me truly."

And then She was gone, everything was gone but me. I was alone in oblivion, daring not to call out for the ones who would not be there, this time. They only knew me in unlife; I would not bring them here. This was mine to fight. But I did not fight, I let the sleep come for me at last, to work its subtle magic, and allow my suddenly mortalistic body to heal.

It was a very long time before I could feel again. But finally, seemingly from nowhere, I heard the stressed anxiety of a voice close to panic, that was under the tightest of restraint. Through the layers of unremitting and heavy darkness it came, stripping away the pain and the sleepiness.

"Raul... Arcangelo... Maestro... my brother... will you not awaken? You have not gone with Her, you must not now -- now you must answer me, come from this sleep into the world of the living! I beg you!" There was a pause, then, the voice lower, less controlled: "For the sake of my love for you and your life, hear me and awaken for me!"

I gave an involuntary moan, and allowed my eyes to open. Through an odd blurry haze I could distinguish a face -- it took a moment to connect the face and the voice, and then I realized that it was Nikolai who hovered over me now. Before I could speak -- rather, could try to speak -- I saw him slump back in his chair with unquestionable relief, and a sigh. He spoke without prelude, the simple joy in his features reflected in the words.

"...I thought you had died when I saw you first, lying there surrounded by those killers, with their swords and their stakes." Here he gave sort of a twisted smile, as though to mock them for their ignorance. "And not even a coffin to hammer you into -- or a crossroads for afterwards.

"Scaring them off was no problem; they scattered like dogs when they saw that I meant business -- I was trained with a sword. But there you were... I won't try to describe the anger I felt for them; they had no right! You were crumpled like a deer, killed in the prime of its life -- but with a deer, the hunters would have been more kind." He looked down at me with an ironic smile, that I would probably have shared if I'd had the energy.

"I killed three or four of them, I think," he said, after a pause. "I can't remember; it was all over rather quickly. And then I brought you here."

He swept his arm around the room; it was not his, or mine, but one of an unnamed friend. This I knew by the sight of an empty coffin, lying open on the floor. I looked away without allowing myself to think about the sort of vampire who would sleep in one of those.

"You slept for two days," Nikolai continued. "and several times, I heard you cry out, as though in pain -- which I would not have doubted. Indeed, your wounds didn't even begin to heal until yesterday. I wish I'd had the time to kill more of them, the bastards! You, of the three of us, were the least deserving of this." I let my eyes close; they felt heavy and dull; my vision was blurred still.

But there was a question that I had to ask, no matter how much it would hurt -- as I knew it would. "Why did you not come sooner? I called out, I don't know how many times... they were so loud, with their cries of triumph ... and when they struck, the power of their thoughts alone..." I turned my head away from him, not wishing to see his face. "I thought you had deserted me..."

There was a silence unlike any I have experienced before, and then he spoke. His voice sounded low, wounded, as though I had struck some unerring blow he could not escape. "Desert you? I would rather desert life than let you die; I thought you knew. I could never do that, you must believe me; you are my brother, by more than blood, by soul. I didn't hear them or you until you called out in my mind, and then I came as quickly as my nature would allow." I felt his touch on my face, silently asking me to acknowledge him. For his sake, I did, with a weak smile and a glance that would not let me see him.

"Your eyes," he mumbled. "What is wrong with them? You cannot see..." And in the same moment, we knew what was the cause, what only a mortal could truly remedy, if I were to live.

"Take my wrist," he said. I closed my eyes tightly, feeling the deja vu like a curse; it had been six years since I uttered those words -- those of their kind -- but they had not lost their pain. But I took it, though the revulsion I felt at breaking his skin was equal only to the hunger it brought out in me. For this one moment, I thought, for this moment, the consequences may be ignored. I drank deeply, as Marcella had, heedless of the grimace that twisted Nikolai's visage, uncaring of the strength he used, pulling his arm away from me. Only when it was over did I let myself think of his pain, because only then could I see its dying traces on his face.

"I have hurt you," I said, without emotion, only the empty, deadened quality of that which I felt showing through.

"Indeed," he murmured, absorbed in the pale red spot that marked the place from whence I had drunk. He looked up at me then, one eyebrow raised, and said, in a tone of complete seriousness, "Now we shall both have to go hunting again." as though nothing had happened the last time, now he wished for me to endanger my life in pursuit of those who had tried to take it.

It was not hard, though, to follow him -- again -- because this time I was not so hungry. And this time, I carried with me a sword.

He 'hunted' quickly, wasting no time in the chase, drinking swiftly and without thought. And then he turned to me, away from Death, who grinned at me with a previously unknown smile -- I, too, turned away -- and said quietly that we would go, that Constance was waiting for us. I didn't have the chance to ask who she was; he leapt away from me with a powerful thrust of his legs. Once again, I had to run to catch up -- but it was worth the effort.

Constance was the other vampire, whose room I had awoken to -- she was of the sort that slept in coffins. But she certainly didn't look it! Her eyes were bright and playful when Nikolai introduced me as "one who is currently nameless," and then she surprised me.

"I know a name," she breathed. She had a child's voice, and a woman's body -- and a vampire's mind.

"Really," I said, smiling at the contrasts with which she presented me.

"Yes, really. Are you ready? It's Russian, but it suits you -- I think."

"Well, then, tell me, minx!" It would have been hard not to play with her thus; she reminded me vaguely of Marcella before I changed her.

"Alexandrei." She averted her eyes for a moment -- I don't know why -- and smiled at Nikolai. He took her hand, and together, they awaited my response.

"Alexandrei I shall be," I said, with a bow. "And now I must learn my native language, eh? That will make four, five if you count my childish Latin."

Nikolai smiled. "I can no longer number my tongues. In five hundred years, I have lived in too many places to recall all the languages. I suppose many have sunken into the past, or evolved into other forms. But I could teach you Russian, if you'd like. And no doubt Constance will help."

I turned to her to ask her age -- not a forbidden question to those of our ilk -- but she answered when she saw it in my eyes. "A mere one-hundred twenty-eight," she said, laughter as always in her face. Seeing my next querie, she smiled again. "Nikolai was my maker -- but only because I asked him to. I was dying, no doctors could tell why -- and then he came, saw what they had bled from me, and took me away from all of them. He tells me I could barely stand, but I remember very little of that time, just the first time I drank from him, and felt my strength return to me."

I was amazed -- with good reason -- but I also knew that when faced with a choice between life and death, most humans choose life. I did; why would Constance have denied herself the years she should have had? And this did much to explain her vivacity, as she had not had athanasia forced upon her, but accepted it willingly. She didn't know the hopelessness the rest of us felt, bred of lifeless wishes for an end; she had seen the end, and chosen not to take it. That, I could understand.

"I had lived here in Vienna for my entire life -- all nineteen years of it -- while we were still really part of the Holy Roman Empire -- when he came, and after I was changed, we traveled, stayed in all of the great European cities -- and of course learned the languages -- even Moscow, though she was just getting back on her feet -- I don't think we helped much, with our methods, though we did get rid of some terribly nasty people -- am I making any sense?" She had spoken almost without taking a breath, in the manner of young, excited girls -- which she was.

"Of course," I reassured her. And then my attention was caught by a familiar object in a corner of the room: a harpsichord. Naturally, Nikolai would have taught her music as well. He saw the path of my vision and smiled to himself, and whispered into Constance's ear. She straightened, walked serenely to it, and began to play a piece that I only somewhat recognized.

It began on a low D, and for two measures, her left hand alone played progressions in that style, and then the bass was joined by a higher melody, and a third. It was a canon, I could tell that much by the was it repeated itself, and my ears told me it was in D-major, but who had written it? Even Nikolai seemed unknowing; he had the same look on his face. She began a more complicated phrase, narrowing her eyes in concentration, and for a moment I was reminded of my own lessons on the harpsichord -- and it was not hard, from there, to recall what piece this was.

Constance played the final chord, stood up and curtsied lightly. "That was the Canon in D-Major by --"

"Johann Pachelbel," I finished, at last having remembered it from my earlier days. It had been a favourite of mine, I think, because of its simplistic gaiety, and the ease with which it could be learned.

Nikolai glanced at me with a smile, and said to me only, "She learned the piece from him. And you?"

"Age has its privileges," I shrugged. "I was still in Paris then... with Deirdre."

I think it went on like this for some time, the three of us talking and laughing and remembering together, and by the time the sun threatened to rise, we knew each other quite well. It was only a few minutes before dawn that we realized that we'd have to stay together; Nikolai told me that Deirdre had gone for good, and none of us had any desire to live alone. And so by the time Constance had curled up in her coffin -- saying that it was for the ironic effect, whatever that meant -- we were a family, the three of us in our niche. I know very few solitary vampires; most of us feel that not only is there strength in numbers, there is security.


For five years our family prospered -- not always in the same location, as even we could not be circumspect enough to avoid detection -- and not always in the same manner; I remember a warm tryst or two with Constance, and I know she was with Nikolai as well -- but always, we were family. But then after five years...

I could not say when, in those years, the changes began, but they climaxed in 1751. That year, the year following the death of Johann Sebastian Bach, five before the birth of Wolfgang Mozart, was the year all of our hopes were dashed -- though it wasn't as hard for me as for Nikolai. But I fear this is nonsense to you; forgive me, for these memories run deep and troubled, and I find it hard to keep them in sequence, now that they have passed. I still cannot see them in perspective; perhaps you can.

As I said, it was 1751. For the five years we had been together, Nikolai, Constance, and I had been growing gradually closer; had nothing happened, I daresay we would have been thus forever. In our happiness, however, we allowed ourselves to forget the other world -- that of the mortals -- in all but our feeding, and occasionally, our amusements. They had not forgotten us. Especially not those who had witnessed the girl's death in the theatre. They still hunted and cursed us, in steadily increasing numbers, joined by whomever they could convince.

We had managed to escape them for five years, by varied feeding and a great many changes in neighbourhood, but somehow, they always found us. I wondered why; it had been fifty-one years since my mortality ended, and I had forgotten as well the fear and mistrust I felt for Deirdre, once I knew who she was. I can understand now, after these many years, and I suppose they must have thought they were justified in doing what they did -- but once again, I precede myself.

The music of a young composer by the name of Joseph Hadyn was becoming known to us; we heard him sometimes in our nightly walks, in the worse parts of Vienna. He was only twenty, he explained, and though he felt sure that he would come into his own sooner or later, now he could only rely upon the charity of his listeners. We were quite charitable, I think; we all understood the hardships of the art, and I know now that it certainly paid off. Even then his music was new and bold, much like the young man who played it so eagerly on his old violin for us.

It was on one of our walks to see him that we were first warned of the menace to our lives the mortals would be.

The girl that walked up to me could not have been more than fifteen. She was dressed like one of the middle class, not elegant, but not in rags. I suppose she came to me because Constance and Nikolai walked together, with hands linked; I was somewhat behind them, solitary, though not forgotten.

"Sire," she said to me breathlessly, "You mustn't return to your home tonight."

I was, then, slightly amused by her; in all likelihood, I thought, she was just another prostitute, with an original line. But it was not to be. "Why not, pray tell? Where else might I go?"

She looked at me with exasperation. "Anywhere but there; your life -- and those of your companions -- will surely be forfeit if you return."

"Tell me," I said slowly, gesturing for Nikolai and Constance to stop. They came closer, to hear the girl.

"I heard my father and some men talking, planning to kill someone." Her eyes widened with her words, and for a moment it looked as though she would cry. "They've been trying for five years, since my sister was murdered, but it wasn't until now that I realized who they were talking about. They always mentioned two men and a lady, the men somewhat pale, the lady with black hair." She paused to look at Constance -- who had blond hair, and lovely green eyes. "I guess they were wrong about that -- but they did say that the... the murderers always walked about by night, and that they liked music."

"What does that have to do with us?" Nikolai said, a trifle too sharply.

"You're them," she said simply. "I know; I've been following you for a while, since a fortnight before, when Father found your home. I wanted to see you for myself, because he also admitted that it was only the lady who killed my sister, and one of the men who helped, and one that did nothing. And he also said that..." she paused again, seeming somewhat frightened, and yet relieved at the same moment, "that the killers were vampires."

She glanced at all of us, a doubtful, expectant expression on her face, as though waiting for our denials. But we gave her only silence, unable to refute our natures. She paled, and backed away from me. She would have run away, but Constance caught her, taking her arm gently.

"If I gave you my word -- that I was not the one who killed your sister, and that Alexandrei did not aid the one who did -- would you believe me?" Her voice was soft and soothing, as my mother's had been; probably as this girl had never heard. But the fear she felt for us was deeper than that; it could not be erased by the kind words of a stranger who surely was what her father had hunted for.

"I don't know," she whimpered. "Please, just let me go. I won't tell them where you are, if you just let me go." She was truly frightened of us, even Constance, who looked at her with understanding eyes. "I don't hate you like they do -- I'd rather let you go about your business, and let the past go -- but I don't want you to hurt me..." Her words faded into the night, rising in incredulousity as Constance dropped her arm, and smiled at her patiently.

"We would never hurt you, dear child," she whispered. "And certainly not for your father's sins. But thank you for your warning -- be assured that we'll seek other shelter. And we will remember your kindness."

The girl nodded quickly, and ran away, her bare feet slapping the pavement with regular beats, the long, untied hair flying out behind her. I felt a momentary pang of hunger at seeing her thus; it was quickly drowned by the guilt I always felt at taking so young a life. I hadn't, not in ages, but the guilt would always be there; she merely brought it closer to me.

I sighed, and took Constance's proffered hand. Nikolai watched the girl go as well, without a trace of emotion on his face, but when he looked at Constance, there was something akin to scorn; she had not defended him. But she walked on, unaware of her transgression; after a moment he shrugged and fell into step with us. I wondered briefly how Constance had known of the murder, and how she had known that I was innocent -- but no doubt Nikolai had told her. His mistake, I thought with a smile, and squeezed Constance's hand.

When I had found my victim, or rather, when he found me: he had been a thief; this I knew when I felt his hand in my pocket, and I didn't mind taking him -- Nikolai looked at both of us and said, somewhat sharply, "We are, of course, going back home."

For a moment I said nothing, but stared at him in silence. Finally I spoke: "Did you hear nothing the girl said? They mean to have our lives, Nikolai, and that is no trivial thing. With all of us wounded as I was -- by the same men, I might add -- there would be no one to keep the sunlight from touching us -- and then, no one to dispose of the ashes."

"Who is to say they can defeat us all?" he said, trying at lightness. "Surely you've learned something of the art of swordplay since that night, eh? And surely we can drive them away from our stronghold without trouble. Even Constance can fight, with proper motivation." She smiled and blushed slightly; no doubt he had alluded to some previous scene. But her smile was quickly lost when Nikolai added, "And if she doesn't wish to fight, she might use her feminine attributes to help. No man can resist a vampiress."

I can easily comprehend her ire, but then when she used it to face our hunters... that I cannot understand. Why not against Nikolai, to counter his suggestion that we go home? It was, I think, her last such mistake.

We walked home in silence -- true silence; not even our steps made a sound -- to find, of course, that no one was there. Nikolai threw his cloak down with contemptuous righteousness, and turned to me as though he would say "I told you so," but at that moment, there came a tap at the door.

No candles had been lit, and the three of us made no noise; whoever was at the door thought there was no one inside -- and we heard it open. A lantern was thrust in; they could not see Nikolai and I sink into the shadows, but they saw Constance.

"There she is," a voice hissed. I don't think even Nikolai realized what they meant to do before they did it, but no sooner had the words been uttered than Constance had been surrounded by the men. In the pale light of their lantern I saw horribly familiar faces -- and I knew what they had come to do.

"No!" I screamed, jumping from my hiding-place out into the open. I took my sword from its sheath with practised ease, though my hands were shaking with outrage, and I thrust at the nearest mortal, who collapsed with a piercing wail. I had gone straight through him; it took a moment to withdraw my blade -- and that moment was all the monsters needed.

Constance writhed in the arms of her captors, her eyes widening at the sight of a torch, and a stake, and the sword that was held at her throat. "Kill the bitch," one of them growled, and the sword was drawn swiftly across her beautiful neck.

"No," I groaned, angered beyond comprehension, striking out again at the bastards who would have her dead. Two more died by my hand before the stake was thrust cruelly into her chest, and though we cannot be killed directly by that means, we suffer the same pain as if we had died. Her face contorted in agony, and the pure white of her dress was suddenly scarlet with the flood that came from her heart.

"Oh God, no," I sobbed, hardly able to see through my tears. But I could see well enough to watch in horror as the torch was brought close to her, as the flames licked at the protruding stake, and lit it, bringing the dreaded fire closer to her pitiful form. I had ceased fighting, and Nikolai, whom I had caught glimpses of before, had done the same, was watching as I did, with terror. But Constance was beyond pain now; she lay quietly where she fell, when their hands ceased to support her. And though she shuddered, once or twice, her gaze was ever upon us, heedless of the fire that crept towards her, whose light cast a light like the sun onto her face, perfect even in her suffering.

I was suddenly aware of my stupor, aware of her fate -- and in the awareness of both, I finally brought myself to action again. "They will pay for this," I growled, rising swiftly to my feet, throwing myself towards her, towards the flames that had reached her dress. She shivered helplessly as the terrible heat caressed her, burning her destiny into the pale skin below it. I did not even notice the mortals shouting around me, as I sought to smother the flames, first with my cloak, then with my body, but nothing would save her: it had reached even her hands, and her face... it was beautiful no more...

Vampire flesh burns with such rapidity that once lit, it becomes like deadwood; I don't know why, and I do not wish to think on it now. And I could not think then, could only watch with despair as the fire acted on her innocent body; she had done nothing, nothing at all to deserve this fate, but she died as swiftly as would the guilty one.

But the fire spread, once the body would no longer fuel it; it caught the Persian rugs, turning the room into a veritable furnace. If Nikolai had been stunned before, he now realized his danger. Taking my hand, slippery with the blood of our beloved, he flew to the door, pushing the frantic mortals out of the way. But I saw him stop, and lock the door before we escaped; the ones who had killed Constance would suffer as horribly as she had, trapped in the same fire.

We rushed down the stairs, shouting warnings to the other tenants; I don't know if they all got out, but I expect they did. At the bottom of the stairs we had another shock. The girl stood by the railing, her face showing the worry she felt. And then she saw us -- just as the first screams began to come from the room.

She turned abruptly pale, and seemed to draw back, but there was nowhere to run. "They failed," she whispered. "Because here you are, you live... but where is the lady?" She did not know, I thought. Even though it had been her father's purpose to kill 'the lady vampire', she did not know that the deed had been done.

"Dead," I said sharply. "Burned to death by your father -- and they made her suffer more first. And for God's sake, she was innocent!" I stepped towards her, and as I did, I could see myself as she did: my face was visibly tearstained, through the soot of the fire, and the burns themselves. I had not escaped unharmed. "Innocent, do you hear?" I was gasping now, trying to restrain the tears, and the sight of her frightened visage did not help.

Nikolai was as deeply affected, if not more; he now grasped the railing, fighting for support against the overwhelming emotions that I knew would overtake him. The girl saw that as well, and went to him, taking him firmly by the hand, leading him from the burning building. I followed; it was the only thing I could do.

But before any other words were spoken, she turned to me. "I never loved my father," she said softly. "Nor the things he did. I don't think my mother did, either. After Helene was killed --" she glanced at Nikolai; he stared back mournfully -- "Mother lost interest in everything. She died of consumption a year later." Without even knowing it, we had left this girl an orphan -- or rather, Deirdre had, ever cruel, ever unthinking. But Nikolai had caused it...

He still gazed at the girl with that odd expression on his face. Finally, he said, "What is your name?"

She shrugged. "Anastasia," she said with a grimace. "But I prefer Anna."

Nikolai smiled queerly. "Your name," he murmured, "means 'one who shall live again.' What do you think of that?"

"Nikolai," I hissed, "Now is not the time for this! Have you seen the sky?" For indeed, a hazy light suffused the area around us, a reminder of the coming day. "We must find somewhere to hide from it." I did not look at the girl, but she understood.

"My brothers were with him when he went after you," she shivered, "and my other sisters are married. You can... hide... in our house... I guess." The poor child was genuinely frightened -- probably more of Nikolai than of me, what with his hints of malevolence -- but she had also sustained quite a shock; no doubt any company would help her -- even ours.


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