Rev. Jan's Fiction Extravaganza

Requiem for a Vampire: Chapter 4

Incongruous as it was, I bowed to her, hoping to seem somewhat more human than I had before. "Your kindness, though certainly not earned, is greatly appreciated," I said, catching her eyes. She did not look away, though she was obviously quite intimidated. I could not understand why she stayed with us; we had, directly or not, taken away her parents and her brothers, left her with nothing but their memories, and yet she offered us sanctuary. "Please trust me, Anna, when I say that no harm will come to you." She nodded, turned away from me, and beckoned for us to follow.

Her home was rather large, and thankfully, the windows were able to be covered so that no light would enter. I did have certain qualms about staying there; who was to say she would not turn against us, let the sunlight enter when we were in our helpless sleep? God knows she had enough reasons.

But she did not, for I awoke the next night to see her crouched by me.

"Good evening," I murmured, rubbing my eyes against the faint light that was still there. She said nothing, but smiled nervously, and held my gaze. "What is it?" I asked her, aware of the nature of the look she gave me, but unwilling to accept it.

At length she spoke. "I have nothing now," she said simply. "Nothing but the empty house of my parents, and two sisters who mean less to me." She stopped, and bit her lip; I felt a shiver of recognition at a gesture that had become familiar to me on a different face. It was a moment before she went on; in that moment she took my hands, and placed them on her neck. I shuddered and pulled them away, but not before I felt the quick pulse against my fingertips. "Do you understand?" she whispered. "If that is what you need, take it." There was a horrible accent to her last words; she did not know what they did to me.

"Oh, Anna," I moaned. "Is this really what you want?" She did not speak, but kept her eyes fixed on mine, almost pleading. "You are young, healthy, you have your whole life ahead of you. You cannot be older than she was..." Anastasia looked a little more perplexed then, but determination molded her more than misunderstanding.

"What else is there for me," she said softly. "My very name tells me so."

"But it doesn't mean you have to sacrifice yourself in order to be reborn, and especially not to someone like me..." I had looked away; now she caught my gaze again, and though I tried to disregard the need in them, it would not be ignored.

"Please, Alexandrei, do it." Her voice seemed to ache with what she felt, that which I could hardly believe. "I know you want to..."

"Anastasia!" I all but shouted. This could not be the same child who had come to us the night before, with grave tidings that had not saved us. This was someone entirely different, who had lost the one hope she still had, whose position seemed so desperate that only death was preferable. "Do you know what it is you ask for? Even if I didn't kill you, even if I only took a little -- which is not what you think you want -- even then, you could not leave me. You are far too young for this, my child, for such thoughts and... such actions..."

For now she had taken my hands again, and put them somewhat below her throat, a place they had not felt in ten years. And I could not take them away -- she knew it, as well -- I closed my eyes and shivered, because of what she would make me do. I heard her soft moan as I moved my hands; opening my eyes, I pulled her up next to me, onto the couch where I had slept. "Why do you make me do this?" I whispered, more to myself than to her. She responded with a deep kiss, and a soft smile as I removed her nightgown.

In the pale light of the moon she seemed almost to glow, her skin suffused with the texture only mortals possess. Her eyes were open wide; the purity of their colour surprised me: they were the same blue as mine, and her hair was as dark. And for her age, which I upgraded to sixteen, she was undeniably well formed -- though I am no expert in those matters. She smiled when she saw the look in my eyes; I smiled back, raising my eyebrows.

"Alexandrei," she murmured. "Why do you resist?" She undid the buttons of my coat, sighing when her fingers brushed my skin, cool and smooth to the touch. She looked into my eyes, reaching up to brush the hair from my face. And I saw what she had not wanted to reveal: she was afraid, for all her advances: even those were somewhat tentative.

"If this is what you want," I whispered into her ear, "you mustn't be afraid. I promise you, I would not hurt you for all the world, but as with everything, there may be pain." She merely nodded, and tightened her arms around me. "Anastasia," I said, untangling myself and sitting up, "would you be reborn? Would you become as I am, to see the world change and grow, and make mankind your sustenance?"

The fear was gone from her eyes, overwhelmed by emotions of quite a different sort. But though there was no fear, there was reluctance -- and there was yearning for what I could give her, besides immortality. "No," she breathed. "You know what I want. Not life eternal -- and not life."

Why? I almost asked her, but she was so serious, the worst thing I could do would be to doubt her. "I cannot kill you," I said, placing my hand beneath her neck, stroking the dark hair. "You are too much like another I have known; she died, and I would not have you share her fate." What I did not say was that it would be much worse for me if she died, for she was far too young; I would always remember her death with a shudder, and revulsion, and she deserved better than that.

"If you won't kill me," she murmured sibilantly, "at least let me know your power, like that which the Lady showed my sister. Bring me as close to death as you dare, so that I might feel as you do, you who are stranded between the two, life and death. And then --" she looked up at me with her eyes half narrowed -- "then, perhaps the other one will finish the job."

For indeed, Nikolai watched us from a corner of the room, an odd gleam in his eye, seeming both to mock me and to urge me on in the same instant. "I would," he told me, in a voice that Anna couldn't hear. "And you know she would thank me for it. So perchance you should do as she asks, and not leave her soul to me?"

"No!" I growled, baring my teeth. Anastasia saw them; I heard her pitiful moan as she pulled me closer to her.

"Let me have them," she begged. "Please, let me have them, and let me die! As my brothers died by your hand, as my sister did by your kind. Surely it would be no different from killing them, and all the others who went before them... just a bite, a taste..." She closed her eyes, and threw her head back, leaving the white throat naked before me. But not before I had seen the tears that she had tried to keep from me...

Though I had fed the night before, such a sight was enough to stir the thirst, that instinct which drove me to kill. Beyond the pale skin I could faintly see the fast throb of her veins on either side of her neck. My heart cried out to see them so: willingly given, my bite so desired. It was too much for the creature in me to resist.

I sighed one last time, and bent over her, touching my lips to hers. Her response was eager and immediate; she moved closer to me, wrapping her arms around me. "Alexandrei..." she breathed. "Please..." Then all my restraint was gone. I searched with my tongue until I found the pulse of her vein, and drove into it with the sharp points of my teeth. She stiffened and cried out at the roughness of my entry, at the hard force of my suction, at the strength with which I crushed her to me. Too soon, though, she relaxed, unnaturally, and loosened her hands. They fell to her sides; she no longer had the power to clasp them around me -- nor the inclination.

Before I felt the last beat of her heart, and before I had taken too much, I withdrew from her, swallowing the last blood she could spare for me. I could still taste it on my tongue as I spoke. "This is what you wanted, Anna, this is the border between life and death. This is what every mortal I have taken before has felt -- just before they died. Is this what you desire so? The emptiness, the darkness, the dull pain that I know you feel? I, too, have felt the border; I crossed it." She said nothing -- she had no strength to let her speak -- but her eyes opened; she gave me an expressionless stare that told me all I needed to know. She did not wish to live, or to live again.

Nikolai nodded; I could see him in the half-light of the moon. "Can you take her yourself, or would you have me kill her? It is the ending of a life; Death herself knows when you do it." I had forgotten Death, whether in my haste to take the girl, or in pure blindness to what was necessary -- but, to be sure, She had not forgotten me. In the five years that had passed since Her confession, She had almost seemed to avoid me, perhaps because I chose rogues and reprobates to satiate my hunger. But this time, there would be no escape from Her; this time, my victim was innocent.

There was no time to think about it. Anna lay gasping for breath beneath me, her very eyes telling me what she needed. There was no time for her; the only way to save her would be to let her fulfill the legacy of her name; even now she would die without my aid, as her tissues were slowly starved of the blood that had fed them. There was only time now to deliver the coup de grace, and hope that Death would be kind.

So for the second time, I sank my teeth into that vein; it beat feebly now, as though her very heart would surrender to me. I had only to taste the very last of her blood before the pulse stopped entirely, and the system that had kept her alive for sixteen years ceased to function. I felt a pang of sorrow when I released her, to let her limp form fall back onto the couch -- and then, I looked up to see Her.

She stood by the window, silhouetted by the moonlight. And though Her hair had been black when I saw Her first, on that night more than fifty years before, it was now auburn -- as it had been in the dream. She wore the linen robe of that dream. And as I looked closer, I saw the stigmata of what had occurred in the dream: on Her neck, above the vein I had enjoyed so long before, were the twin wounds I had inflicted. Her eyes alone spoke of Her true nature, blazing in the night to tell me again I had gone where it was forbidden for mankind to go.

"Such a pity," She said without prelude, stepping towards me. "She was so young. But I suppose you like them young, don't you, Alexandrei?" Her voice was filled with contempt, and with sarcasm; She appeared as young as any I had ever taken, although the look in Her eyes refuted that utterly. "'Helper of mankind?' Who gave you that name?" She sneered, distorting the perfection of Her face. "The only way you could help them is to die."

I was dismayed, not by the cynicism of Her words, but the meaning of Her words -- and not in the manner She had intended. If all She could do now was throw meaningless slurs at me, what did this suggest She had come to? She no longer fixed Her eyes upon me -- that was where the true suffering might be found -- but instead averted Her gaze, focusing on Anastasia. I did not ask Her why; who, mortal or not, could look Death in the face and make Her justify Her actions? But was She as She had been before? No. Something -- or someone -- had touched Her immortal soul...doing what, I did not know. I doubted she would tell me.

I looked at Her, seeking reason for what had come to pass; in doing so, I noticed Nikolai. He still sat in the corner, but his face was so frought with surprise that one might think he had seen a ghost. And I suppose he had; I had never told him or Constance of my visions, of my communications with Death. He didn't know how I had loved Her -- how the love had been, in its twisted way, requited.

I said to him, in his mind, "Later, I'll tell you what happened," but She heard me as well. "Why bother," She snapped, and turned to Nikolai. I watched as his expression changed from one of surprise, to one of utter astonishment, and then to one of fear, and even horror. What had She told him?

When next She moved, it was to step closer to me, and to Anastasia. "She will go with Me now," whispered Death, and reached out to touch the girl with a shaking hand. But before She did, She looked up at me, and Her gaze was surprisingly timid.

Without even realizing it, I spoke. "Who are you really," I half-growled. "Are you what you say you are? Or is there something you choose to hide even from me?" Her eyes grew wide, and She snatched back Her hand. She was gone before I could say more; the last I saw of Her was a flurry of white as She leapt from the window.

Nikolai stared from his corner, speechless, his knees drawn up to his chest where he clutched them tightly. I smiled gently at him, rising from the couch, offering my hand in support. But he wouldn't take it. "She... you..." He moaned, looking away from me. "How could you reject Her as you did?" he blurted suddenly. "She loves you, Alyosha. How many of us can expect that from Her? She would take you willingly, without pain, to..."

"To where?" I said quietly, holding my hand out still. "She may love me, but She would not be kind. You, of us all, should know that She does no favours. And," I added, catching his eyes, "I would not go with Her if She offered it; She may love me, but I have no feeling for Her. She is... evil."

He was aghast. I had denied all that he had ever known, rejecting the love of One he had longed to have, calling Her evil. I, too, would have stared like that if he had been the one to tell me -- but I knew more than he. Finally, he spoke. "You have lived for only half a century, and you already think you know better than all of those who went before you..." There was one word that he did not pronounce; it was 'heretic.'

He did not take my hand, but rose by himself, crossing his arms and looking at me severely. "When you are older, Alexandrei, perhaps then you will understand. You haven't experienced enough, or gone through enough; for God's sake, you haven't lived long enough."

"I think," I said slowly, "I have lived longer than even you, Nikolai." I didn't wait for him to answer, but turned from him and walked calmly from the room. Once alone -- for he didn't follow me -- I thought about our conversation.

Because I was, as far as he was concerned, young and inexperienced, he deemed me unable to judge the world around me, as I saw it. I imagine it was comparable to an adolescent declaring that there is no god; the theist adults around him would tell him that he, too, was overyoung, too inexperienced to know it for certain. I knew for certain that She was not my destiny, as that adolescent no doubt knew of his atheism. Of course, there was a flaw to my analogy: I had proof, whereas no human could prove divine existance. But even with that flaw, I could see I had reason to be angered, should I so choose; I chose not to, knowing that it would do no good. Nikolai was only repeating what had been told to him in the past, assuming that what he knew was the only truth. He had never been told differently; he would not think on it alone.

I heard his footsteps behind me, and turned to him with a half-smile. He smiled hesitantly back, and offered his hand. "Truce?" he said.

"Certainly," I agreed. And then I frowned. An ugly thought had entered my mind; where it came from I do not know. But I shared it with him. "Our instruments," I said. "They were in the apartment when the fire started, were they not?" Try as I might, I could not keep the tremor from my voice; that violin had a tone that I doubted could be equaled; the cello as well. To lose them would be akin to losing a loyal friend, a partner in music. The ease with which one could play them...

Nikolai winced. It took no words to tell me he meant to find out what had happened to them; he glanced at me once, threw on his cloak, and disappeared through the door. I followed quickly.

Miraculously, the building was still recognizably whole; and though the fire had swept the entire structure, the stairs were mostly intact. We climbed them swiftly, unwatched. It was eleven-thirty; no mortals were about.

We reached our room. Tongues of soot pushed from the door, a reminder of what had passed, and the nob, when touched, was still warm. I held it in my hand for a moment, my eyes closed, knowing what sight would greet us, and then, turned it slowly. I had to; the dead hands that grasped it on the other side would not give up so easily.

Finally I forced it to open, to a sight that would frighten the most stoic of men. Lying in my path, exposed by the cold beam of the lantern I had saved, was a corpse, burned almost beyond recognition. Unfortunately, its head was still mostly intact; one could observe the grimace with which it had faced death. I sighed, and stepped over it.

The instruments had been kept in a corner of the room, easily accessible while we had lived there. Now the furniture around their cases was blackened with charcoal. It stained my hands as I pulled the violin away from the wreakage.

"Thank God!" I muttered. For though the case was in sad shape, scorched in some places, almost gone in others, the violin within it had sustained almost no damage. The hairs of the bow had shriveled with the heat; it would need to be replaced, but that was no trouble. I had feared that the violin itself would have warped, or burst into flame without being touched, but by the grace of God -- or whatever equivalent it was that worked for us -- it was whole. I tried a few pizzicato notes to be sure its tone hadn't suffered; it was as beautiful as it had ever been.

But even as I felt the relief of finding the instrument intact, I knew how Nikolai must feel, as he grasped the case of his cello. It was far more solid than the violin case, by necessity; had it done its job as well? It had. Nikolai breathed a sigh of contentment at seeing the cello as it had been, the wood unhurt, the strings shining in the light of my lantern. Even the bow had come through without harm, unlike mine; his was a sound case indeed.

"Our duets have not suffered," he murmured, "though our trio has been nulled." He pointed towards the wall, where the harpsichord had rested. Its wooden parts -- the frame, some of the keys, and the leather of the plectrums -- had all been badly burned, some to ashes. Only the gold filigree and the strings had even a semblance of being unscathed. It would never be played again, I knew, even if we did find someone to play it. For Constance was also gone. Of her, there was no trace, just the silver and gold of her jewelry. Those I picked up slowly, carefully; they were the only reminders of the years we had spent together, years that had culminated with such a disaster.

Nikolai watched silently, only the tightness of his grip on the cello case revealing that which he felt. It was the grim, helpless sorrow that he had no doubt faced before, that I myself had known only ten years in the past. It is that sorrow that makes eternity so grim, the truth of our existences: we outlive even the best of men -- and women -- sometimes even those of our own kind. No force in the world, save the violent deaths we may endure, can stop that; nothing stops the mortality of those who keep it.

We left the building without words; only the occasional tone of instrument against case accompanying us. When we were well away from it, though, I had to speak. "I cannot go back there," I whispered, thinking of the empty home of the girl I had killed. He turned to me, understanding with his usual ease. But then he sighed.

"Where else is there for us to go? Morning isn't for several hours yet, but is that enough time to find a place?"

For a moment I said nothing. We walked in darkness that no mortal sight could penetrate; it was as bright as day to us. And in that light I saw, ahead of us, a cemetery. "What better a place for us than there," I muttered, unable to keep the misery from my voice. "We who have lost all things mortal -- but for the wish to stay that way -- why should we not sleep among those who have not even the wish?"

To my surprise, Nikolai agreed, glancing at me sideways, almost seeming relieved. "But have you ever spent a night in the cemetery?" he asked. "It's not a pleasant thing. In Paris, one night, when I felt I couldn't go back to Constance -- we'd quarrelled, you see -- I could find nowhere but there to go. It was horrible! Not the sort of death we're used to, mind you; the bodies were long dead, some decomposing without so much as a box to hide them. The very stench is overwhelming; it took me forever to be able to ignore it long enough to sleep." He paused, the distaste becoming evident. "But perhaps this one is better cared for. We might find a mausoleum; certainly its occupants wouldn't mind..." He trailed off with an odd grin.

"Indeed they wouldn't," I said, trying at lightness. It failed; the words brought only a grimace of distaste from us both. "But what of the instruments? Could they go with us?"

"They have to... unless... Remember Joseph?"

"Who?" I said, confused. He looked at me doubtfully, then spread his arms in a mockery of playing the violin, moving the invisible bow in exaggerated, impossible strokes. It clicked suddenly; I hit my head with the palm of my hand. "Of course! Haydn! How could I be so stupid?"

"I don't know," he said, sounding serious though I could see the smile in his eyes. "I'm sure he'd not mind keeping them for a while; we might even find a chance to play with him." I nodded, immediately warming to the idea. It was only a bit after twelve; he'd probably still be awake, perhaps writing a little something, or perhaps playing himself. I could almost hear the sonata he had shown us the other day; it began softly, then grew into a raw expanse of sound and talent.

It was what he had been playing when Anastasia came to warn us of her father's plans.

I winced, trying to push the thought away. But I could not; now we neared his rooms, and I heard the sonata with my ears, instead of in my mind. He played it over and over, stopping now and then to go back and correct a missed note. Of those, there weren't many, but somehow he managed to find fault with it. I heard a whispered curse as we walked up the stairs; before he could start playing again, I knocked on his door.

"Yes?" was the sharp reply. There was another curse -- his youthful temper made me smile -- and then the door was opened. Joseph stood in front of us, looking worn and somewhat cold. His hair was loose, flowing about his shoulders, from which he hastily pushed it back. In spite of the cold he wore only breeches and a shirt; beyond him I could see the coat draped hastily over a chair. His hands were red; the fingertips were white from the pressure he had put on them. He had frowned slightly at the intrusion, but when he saw that it was us, he brightened immediately.

"Hello, it's you!" he said, with a smile. "I was just practising; this sonata isn't going as I would have liked it to. But oh, come in; I see you brought instruments. You never told me you played."

I smiled again, accepting his invitation. "Indeed we do," I said, "And if it's no trouble, we'd be honoured to play with you." For as appalling as that night's events had been, I knew that nothing but music would soothe us, when the sleep would not yet come. He grinned, running his fingers through his hair absently, and gestured to the chairs -- three of them -- that sat on the floor.

"There isn't a lot of room, but I do actually have some trios we could try, if you wish." For in the corner of the room was a clavier; it had no doubt seen better days, but it was the sound that mattered. Nikolai spoke for the first time since he'd suggested we come here.

"Anything by you would be a pleasure," he said, bowing. Joseph blushed good-humouredly, and went to his desk, searching amongst the myriad papers for the alleged trio.

"Here it is!" he cried, and handed the parts to us with a flourish. I let out a low whistle looking at mine; the page was dotted with sixteenths and thirty-seconds; trills were scattered about as though a bird had flown in and written the music itself. The crescendos that he so loved had come with a vengeance, to let the music burst from the page, and double-stops, chords with lasting brilliance, brought out his extravagant style, so unlike the Baroque style with which we had been familiar.

He watched as Nikolai and I studied the music, with a grin to die for on his face. "Well?" he said at last, impatiently. "Shall we play?"

"Yes!" was the resounding answer. Nikolai sat down with the cello, I stood with my violin, Joseph settled down at the clavier. And so we played, holding the opening note for what could have been forever. Through the Allegro we danced, into an Adagio that was as powerful as anything Vivaldi had written -- or anything Mozart would write -- and then the final strains of the Allegretto sprang from our instruments. The music was ecstasy, as it always was to my ears, more so because we played it, and our instruments knew no bounds.

The piece was over half an hour long, but how much shorter it seemed! No sooner had the sounds of an ending chord died out than my heart cried out for more, and a page was turned back -- the others felt the same. We would play each movement several times in the course of that night, each time a fresh experience as we encountered subtleties that we'd missed in our initial -- and lasting -- rapture.

Finally, when I heard a far-off clock striking three, I laid the violin carefully in its case, and turned to my companions. I needed to say no words; a glance at them told me they had experienced the same incredible sensations as had I. But only Nikolai understood when I said aloud, "This makes all the years worth-while."

Nikolai smiled knowingly, crossing his arms around the cello as though it were his only friend -- or at least, his dearest. Franz Joseph looked somewhat confused at my remark, and very human; he leaned against the clavier with exquisite exhaustion, his eyes red and tired, his hands clenching and relaxing in unconsious attempts to stop them from aching. Even I was feeling the strain, after three hours of continuous playing; my kind may be immune to both aging and disease, but we certainly can feel the effects of exertion, no matter how blissful it is.

I stretched languidly, revelling in the tautness, and even the dull ache, of the muscles in my arms. Nikolai watched with a little smile.

"How can you allow yourself to be so cramped by that tiny instrument?" he said suddenly. "I've long played it myself; I know that with the sound it's almost worth it, but it seems to me that the cello is far better suited for the human physique." And the vampire one, he added in my mind, without Joseph hearing. Haydn himself now stared at him uncomprehendingly -- though it might have been the effect of the time on his mortal body -- as though to ask how he could even think of questioning anyone for loving the violin as he and I both did.

"I don't know what I'd do without it," he said simply. "Some things you just can't do on a harpsichord, or a cello. And the sound..." He trailed off, knowing that we all felt as he did; Nikolai had been teasing. "Though cellos were absolutely meant for times like this; what else can you lean on in that way?"

A candle sputtered out, a reminder of the time we had spent there. Joseph glanced at the table it had sat upon, raised his eyebrows at seeing how low the rest of them were. "What time is it now, anyway?"

"A little after three," Nikolai sighed, letting his thick accent come through with the words. Joseph looked startled; no doubt he had thought we were Austrians born and bred. "I was born in Hungary," Nikolai clarified, smiling in a manner I would have deemed dangerous; his teeth were quite visible. Joseph wouldn't have noticed, though; he had set himself to getting the music into a recognizable form, sleepily taking the manuscript pages from our stands.

It was then that Nikolai chose to ask our young composer if our instruments might remain there. "Oh, of course," he said, without hesitation. "But why?" There was a pause. "If they can't stay with you, does that not mean you have nowhere to stay yourselves?" Nikolai nodded slowly, his eyes on me. Haydn gave us a smile, and said, "Then you must stay here. I'm sure there is sufficient room somewhere in this hellhole, enough for a good day's sleep. But, mmm, why, pray tell, have you nowhere to go?"

"Our building burned down," I said. "A rather unfortunate accident, I'm afraid. We had enough time to retrieve what you see before you, nothing else. I thank Fate for allowing us to escape with the instruments."

"And the lady?" he asked, trying to sound casual. He was unable to keep the interest from his voice, however; it would be too painful for him to know the truth. And how would he then forgive us?

"She didn't live with us, of course," said Nikolai, glancing at me to assure himself that the lie was agreeable. I nodded slightly, relieved that the duty was not mine. "And no doubt she rests peacefully now, even as we speak." He broke off, looking away from me out into the street. In the now dim light of the candles, I alone could see his tears. His child, I thought, his child is dead, not even by her own hands. Constance deserved to live, and she died; Anastasia wanted to die, so I gave her death. Which of them had gotten the better end? I don't know; it seems to me there can be no good to death, not of those who still may think, and understand.

"Oh," said Franz Joseph. "Do you think she'll..." His voice trailed off, seeing the wet lines on Nikolai's face. For a moment he merely looked at Nikolai, something like jealousy flashing in his eyes. Then he sighed, smiled briefly, as at the passing figure of a child. I thought then that he had loved her, too, though not as we had; she was, for him, human. No one who knew her did not love her as well, whether they were mortal or not, and she always returned it. Even to those she had killed.

The sky was brighter now, slightly; the difference was only discernible to the eyes of those whose very lives depended on seeing that difference. And now our clavierist yawned, unable to stifle this symptom of his exhaustion. He spoke suddenly, sounding oddly fragile in that second, with only the light of a dying moon to illuminate him. "I am sorry she couldn't be here; if she sleeps, though, it would be perhaps for the better if we did the same."

"If you only knew the depth of her slumber..." I murmured. I saw Nikolai shiver; there was no reaction from Joseph; he had not heard. "We already sleep as she does, without the curse of True Death upon us. You would not share it if you knew, child of man." But Joseph did not hear; he was bent over the clavier, a sheet of paper in his left hand, a quill in his right. And from the clavier came a series of muted notes, testament to his ability; as far as he knew, Constance was gone for him, and yet he wrote with undiminished skill. But the melody told of what he could not show in other ways; it dripped from the clavier -- from his pen -- like tears he might have shed, if he could.

"Joseph," I said quietly. He turned slowly, unwilling to be separated from the notes that bound him to heaven. "Do you have paper to spare? And perhaps a quill?" He nodded absently, gave me what I required, and returned swiftly to the clavier. The notes came again, but they did not bother my concentration.

I added another movement to what had become the record of my life after death. Andante cantabile, and there were no solos; the orchestra played as an intertwining whole; the melody was simple and childlike, as she had been. But behind the fluid notes, a single harpsichord played staccato rhythms of advancing footsteps; it was not difficult to tell to Whom they belonged. She stalks me still.


The next night -- for Haydn had kept his promise, leaving us undisturbed during the day -- I awoke to the sound of a cello. No, it was cello and violin, joined in the exquisite sounds of a duet. It was most likely Italian in origin; the bowings were tight and spiccato; but for all its formality, there was the ever-present tension that the Baroque style demanded. It was the tension that hit me first, for though the notes flew from the strings, they were unavoidably tied to the earth, much as we were ourselves.

Looking up from the desk at which I had fallen into sleep, I saw the two who had been my company the previous night. Haydn stabbed at the notes written before him, the bow arching over the violin with careless precision.

He paid no heed to anything but the music, his and Nikolai's. For Nikolai played with the same abandon, ripping the notes from the cello with such force that I thought surely something had to break. And it did; the piece was over almost before the music fulfilled itself; the silence that came after their bows were torn from the strings -- as though by some other force -- was nearly as shocking as the music itself had been.

Haydn sat heavily back in his chair, wiping the sweat from his forehead. Nikolai sighed, his lips slightly curled into a contented smile. His long fingers were laced around the neck of the cello, white and perfect, as though they had been painted. I could not see who had written the music that had exhausted them so, not without moving from my place and disturbing them, but such was the price one must pay for curiousity. I rose silently from my chair, and approached the two from behind, stopping only when I could read the autograph that the music bore.

It read "Demetrius Benoni, the year of our Lord 1623." It did not take me long to realize that Nikolai was its creator; the very meaning of the name was something of an indication: Benoni means 'son of My sorrow'. But even without that, there was the meaning of the music. In its notes was hidden the struggle that he had known daily since his change, his never-ending fight against the forces that had bound him to this earth. Of course it was his right to feel as such, and to write it in such a way; I had done so in the beginning of my existance as well. But believe I had learned; he still fought with his life as it was, no matter what he said.

Haydn looked up at me slowly, as though coming out of from a coma -- or falling into one. "The sleeper awakens," he whispered, smiling slightly. Nikolai did not need to turn to see me; he smiled as well, and stood, handing the cello to me. I did not need an explanation. While Nikolai walked to the clavier, I placed the cello between my knees, as I had done many times before, and took his music from the stand. Beneath it was a trio for violin, cello, and harpsichord. And to my surprise, its author was Antonio Vivaldi.

Before I could ask Nikolai where he had found it, he glanced towards me, reassuring me that it was from my collection -- he had saved them from the fire as well. Thank you, I sent, and I meant it. He smiled, then signaled to Haydn that we would start.

The trio began on a light Allegretto, the violin playing sweet staccato -- but once the first movement was over, the music changed abruptly. The Andante was intense, and more strained than even Demetrius' piece had been; the notes threatened the listener with horrors unknown. This was unlike anything of Vivaldi's I had ever played; the bass hum of the cello had been transformed into long, profound, sixteenth note phrases, in a minor key that made me shiver with delight and terror.

Finally, it was over, leaving us with the peace of the Moderato; it fairly shone with the brightness of its familiar arpeggios. It ended quickly, whether to my dismay or relief I could not say. I looked around me, after we finished; Nikolai and Haydn both wore the same expression I knew I did. Joseph clutched the violin to him, staring at the music; he had turned the pages back to the Andante, only now able to comprehend their notes. He, too, had been caught up in the sheer ecstasy of playing them, and he, too, had done so without thought, without pausing to ponder their meaning. Now he did, and his mouth hung open in incredulousity.

Nikolai was the first to speak. "What do you think?" he said, in Italian. Haydn looked up, almost surprised; he said nothing. He knew, as I did, that Nikolai understood this music as well. "And Alexandrei," he added, "This work will never be published." He said it as simply and steadily as one who knows what shall come to pass.

"Why?" I asked sharply. This was my music he was talking about; if I wanted it published, I would do so, whether or not he thought it should be done. "What right do you have to say this?"

He looked at me calmly. "The right of one who knows better than you what is best. Could you surrender this to the public as it is now? Could you let them have this, to know it as we did? Could your very memory of him allow you to give this to them, when you know how much he put into it for you, and for Marcella?"

At this he stared at me pointedly, his hands prancing across the clavier, the fingers moving slowly on the keys in mockery of the music. It maddened me, both in the way that he could mimic it so thoughtlessly, and in realizing that he knew when that piece had been written: on the night we first visited Vivaldi, he had been so seized by the music that he could not contain those notes, those of the Andante and the Allegretto. He knew more than Marcella and I had given him credit for; I think he knew then that we were not of the mortal realm.

And Nikolai had found out. He had stained the memory, tarnished it with the fact that it seemed to mean so little to him.

I could not face him then; instead I looked at the music. I could still feel the power of the Andante; that one the Maestro had written so long ago, the night before his death. I think he may have known it was his last; how else could he have given so much on that night? No matter how much Nikolai said, though, he would never understand. No matter how much he knew, he would never know enough, not of my life.

I noticed suddenly that there was another score underneath the trio. "What?" I whispered, in disbelief. For the piece was one of Vivaldi's cello concerti, one that I had never heard played. It was in G minor, and as I paged through it, I could almost hear its strains. It belonged in that minor key; it could be in none other.

I felt Nikolai's eyes on me. He did not smile, but I knew that this was his manner of apology. "We can play it, you know," he said.

I smiled. "I don't think so," I said quietly. For beside me, Haydn had fallen asleep. The violin was still tucked under his arm, precariously; I took it from him and put it in its case. "Help me get him into bed where he belongs, eh?" Nikolai grinned -- I could not fail to see the eyeteeth, though they meant nothing to me -- and came to my side. Together we carried him through the darkness to his bed, and laid him there softly. I wrote an explanation for our absence, and without a noise, we left him.

That night we found another apartment, far from those previous, and it is there that I write this now.

It comes to me now that I have not explained the circumstances of this narrative. I suppose it is more for myself than anyone else that I write it; it is as much a record of my life as my Requiem will someday be. (I know it will be a long time before this is finished -- God help me when it is! -- but I know my fate, and I think now I can be resigned to it.) For as I compose my Requiem, as a part of my life is ended, I also write this, leaving a dual record of my existance.

When I read again what I have written, I am always struck by the changes I have undergone in such a short time; to think that in the beginning, when I wrote those first paragraphs -- more a test of my skills than anything else -- that I revered the one who calls herself Death. Now I doubt even that she is what she says she is.

So you, the reader, will surely find the divisions in this work; more of them when it is over. I do not know when I will next write; I certainly do not relish the thought that the time will come again, for though I like writing, I know that I will not do so until I must add again to my Requiem, and that I will not do until again something or someone has died. Until then, I will live as best I can.


The few days following Constance's untimely death were spent mostly in recouparation. Nikolai had taken a hard blow from her murder; he had been with her for over a hundred years before it, far longer than the time Marcella and I had shared; and Constance had not wanted -- or deserved -- the fate that had taken her. Nikolai lived in a state of shock for those days; he did not awaken again truly until some five years later. But that is by far another matter.

In that time, we made nightly visits to Haydn, who was as glad for company as we were. There was also, of course, the necessity of different visits, to those who kept us alive. Those we made as infrequently as was possible, both to avoid suspicion, and to save the humanity we still possessed. It was an awful, monstrous thing, to kill again after what had happened, but it was unavoidable. What made it worse was that I, at least, enjoyed it. Every death was a symbol of what I could do, what I could feel, when I tasted the blood I had taken from them.

Never once did I consider revealing myself to Haydn, no matter how sympathetic he could be; nor could I imagine taking him as a vampire. But I was not the only vampire who visited him; Nikolai was there as well. And his mind, far less stable then than mine, was no longer capable of distinguishing between those who may be killed and those who may not. He stopped in time, but what he attempted...

It was ten days after Constance had been killed. The three of us had come together again for our music, as ecclectic as it had been the first night. Once more we played the piece Nikolai had written, adding a second violin that doubled its strength. After we had recovered from its force, Joseph suggested that we try something new, a piece he had written for us. He looked at us shyly, so human, and said, "I think it catches the... well, mysteriousness of you two, your intensity... but I haven't really heard it yet; I wrote it the day before yesterday. That was the day you came so late, and so much more alive than usual, which," he added, "I hadn't thought was possible."

"Really," said Nikolai, raising an eyebrow. He said nothing more, though; at that moment he looked at the music Joseph had given them. It was, somewhat mischievously, titled "Wanderers of the Dark," and written in the key of G-minor. But the most incredible feature was the music itself, as tenebrous as we surely seemed to him at times, as we had on that night.

My part, the violin, began the somber piece with a sostenudo melody, quiet and somewhat eerie, like the sound of footsteps on a dark night. It was almost a scale, starting on the open G and going up slowly, but in irregular intervals. Then a prolonged trill brought the other instruments into play; the cello repeated my opening line, the clavier shivered with a slight vibrato. But then I had the melody again, building on the original sense of horror, climbing unsteadily to the E-string, another trill. The clavier had seemed almost an afterthought until then; now it burst into true existance with arpeggios that could only highten the suspense.

The cello found its soul, throwing off the repetition and joining us with its own wicked melody. Nikolai looked almost astonished playing it; the notes were his own, taken from the duet he and Joseph had played. It meshed perfectly with the notes of the clavier and the violin, and they wound together to create a veritable tapestry of darkness. It did not seem possible that such a man as Haydn had created it; he was so young, so human... he had never faced what had driven Nikolai to that melody.

The piece grew until it seemed that only an entire orchestra would fit its proportions -- but somehow the three of us could harness it. And then there was a pause. Through the silence came the original phrase, from the trembling hands that held the cello. Nikolai played slowly, his dark eyes half closed, seeing nought but the music -- and inside, God only knows what. The notes were more hesitant now; I found out why. For the cello was joined by a light harmony, literally. I could almost feel the sun on my face as Joseph played, an odd little smile on his face. There was no such smile on mine, nor on Nikolai's. And when my part asked me to join Haydn, I could not. The notes would not come; they reminded me too much of the cause of Marcella's death.

Joseph looked at me strangely, shrugged, and continued to play, almost by himself now. Nikolai only brushed the strings now, his movements languid and doubtful. And when his last note was played, he let the bow fall from his hand. It clattered noisily on the wooden floor; Haydn looked up from the music with a start, his hands frozen. "Nikolai?" he whispered. "Are you all right?"

Nikolai opened his eyes. I gasped. Within them was the hunger, nameless, shapeless but for the object of its need. "Nikolai, no!" I growled, caring not whether Franz Joseph heard me. It was his life that was now at stake.

Before I could say more, Nikolai had laid down the cello, rising to his feet. His eyes were fixed on the young man who sat aghast by the clavier; the look in them was more horrible than the melody that had unconsciously evoked it. For a moment he stood; the swift urgency of his breathing told me more than could words of his fight. "Don't do it, Nikolai," I warned him, shaking with fear that the call for blood would win over sentience. Joseph was paralyzed, no doubt at the sight of the canines that Nikolai had exposed in what was almost a hiss.

And then, he crumpled to the floor, clutching his face in his white hands. A moan, low and cruel, escaped his lips, and he shuddered, fighting against the hunger that had no right to come. "No," he whispered, "Oh, God, no. Not him, human as he may be..." Only I could hear him; his voice was thin, strained by need. Then the resolution that had sustained his decision was gone, and he fell into the darkness Joseph had toyed with. I slid to the floor beside him, and took his wrist in my hand, feeling for the faint pulse. It was there, unsteady as it always was, but it had not stopped. Joseph stood, shivering and staring at the figure who might have killed him.

He turned to me then, his eyes wide. "What is he? What... are you?" It was barely a whisper, this question; I knew why.

"It is not something for you to know," I said gently. "Better that you forget this, forget us. Believe me, Franz Joseph, it would be much better. You are not ready for it, yet; save your music for mortals." I smiled in a manner that I hoped would seem benifiscent, and moved quietly past him to take that piece from the clavier. It went into the fire, with the score and the two other parts; I heard his muffled groan, but he said nothing.

When the music had at last become mere ashes, I regarded him soberly. He did not speak, but still I knew the fear he felt. Finally I said, "We shall leave you now, Maestro -- that, you know you are -- for though I would dearly love to continue our music --" he winced slightly, and I went on more softly -- "circumstances make that impossible. But even for that, for what we are, be assured that you have my profound respect as an artist, and my love as a friend."

And then I reached out for his hand. He would not give it, though; he shook his head, turned slightly away from me. "I am sorry, Alexandrei, for I felt the same, but..." His voice was faint, his eyes troubled when he looked at me again. "But Nikolai... he meant to kill me. And I know little of these matters, but I fear that you might do the same, without perhaps meaning to."

"No," I murmured, though I felt guiltily otherwise.

"I cannot understand, I cannot forgive, but you tell me I must forget. Perhaps I will some day -- I'll certainly not tell anyone else -- but how can I forget the music?" He rubbed his temples, closing his eyes, and then I, too, felt the hunger, though not as strongly. "I hear it even now, I see the look he gave me, saying he... wanted me... but not me, something I could show him... I can't quite focus on it..." He trailed off and glanced at me.

"Don't," I said simply. "He was hurt, many times; I don't think he knew what he was doing, then. Constance... it can't hurt you more to know. She died in that fire. I didn't want to tell you before, I didn't think you could take it then. But for the love of God, Joseph, she was one of us, too! Nikolai loved her, he made her what she was. Her death was worse for him than for anyone; you must understand, he wasn't in his right mind when he came for you."

Franz Joseph had watched me as I spoke, his face growing progressively paler, his eyes wider. He shuddered when I finished, clenching his hands together; he backed away from me, and fell onto the bench of the clavichord. "I can't believe you," he said, tears brightening in his eyes. "How could she be like him?" He paused for a moment, shrinking away from me. "I'd rather that you just left," he said stiffly. I nodded, and with a slight bow, went to the center of the room.

"Nikolai," I whispered, kneeling to wake him. I heard his moan when he stirred; he lifted his head, glancing blearily at his surroundings. When he saw Joseph, he moaned again, and looked away quickly. "We must go, Nikolai, for his sake. Come." He rose to his knees, crawled to where his cello lay. With practiced hands he packed it away swiftly, watching as I did the same. Joseph still sat at the clavichord, gazing at us forlornly.

"Adieu," I said finally, opening the door. He did not answer, but gave me a tight little smile. Nikolai had gone before he would say anything more, but then the young man cleared his throat.

"I did like the way you play, Alexandrei," he said.

It was all the farewell I needed. "I like the way you compose, young one." He smiled again, a real smile, and whispered 'adieu' as I left. I heard his violin case open as I closed the door.

It was a sad parting for me, because I loved his music, the vivacious wildness of it, that only a mortal could put into it. But he was young, so very young, and he could not understand the ways of those of us who were so much older. He didn't need to, I suppose; he would learn in time. I recall a time when I might have done the same. And though more than fifty years had passed since then, I could still remember the feeling.

Although I put this episode on paper now, do not think that it accompanies the Requiem; Joseph Haydn remains very much alive -- and a fair amount more affluent, thanks to my anonymous patronage -- and he has not gone from my life completely. For he still practices outdoors occasionally, at night, and I am always sure to be there.

No, my Requiem will wait for a while. Nikolai has found a new source of amusement in the numerous parties of the upper class; often he doesn't return from these until almost dawn, smelling faintly of alcohol, flowers, and perfume; of the latter he grieves me no details but a wicked smile. I try to understand; it was hard for him to lose Constance; he needs a substitute, but why he chooses them from such people, I do not know. Neither do I know for how long it will last. It almost doesn't matter. Almost.


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