Rev. Jan's Fiction Extravaganza

Requiem for a Vampire: Chapter 6

The pain had lessened somewhat by the time I awoke, but the scars were there still -- I did not know when they would fade. Neither did Nikolai; the damage to my face was not as excessive, but still he drew back at seeing me.

"Good Lord, Alyosha, what have you done to yourself?" Though his words might have stung, the tone in which they were uttered well made up for that. He shook his head, closing those blue eyes of his; I knew then that he, too, recalled that pain. He did not go out that night, staying with me as I tried with endless frustration to play; it was all I could do, and yet there was too much hurt; I couldn't even hold the bow of my violin, nor keep the violin itself from slipping; my neck was burnt as well.

But he had kept me -- and the violin -- from harm; he found the cello concerto in G-minor and played it for me, as I never could have. He had chosen the cello; he knew it as he knew no other instrument, all of it techniques and intricacies; if there was any medium for his soul, the cello was the only one that could express it so completely.

So even in my pain I had joy -- in the resolution of that concerto, and in the resolution of the notes that came before it -- even if I could not be sure of Julia, and until she called -- if she did -- I never would be. Though my feelings for her were of an entirely different nature than were those for Lucianna, I valued her still, and wished, if for nothing else, for her friendship. But she would not have me, not in reality -- though she allowed me many things in her fantasy. Would that I could fulfill it!

I felt the thirst that morning, when Nikolai ceased playing and told me sternly that I should sleep, but it was not satiated then; though I know he felt my hunger, he would do nothing, perhaps as a lesson: I would not likely forget the dawn again.

By that night the pain had subsided enough that I could leave the house -- and Nikolai did as well, no doubt to see the one he so craved. But I was craving something different; I found it quickly and drank with power I had rarely known before. And it was good; the girl who was my victim felt nothing but the inevitable bite; I kept her shivering body warm until she died. She had been asleep on my doorstep, whether by accident or Nikolai's planning I did not know, but whichever it was, it was certain she had known little happiness in life; I gave what I could in her death.

And what she gave me was more remarkable: whatever substance is contained in human blood was enough to heal me almost completely; no sooner had I tasted its warm saltiness than I felt it seeping into me where I had been hurt. The burns that had so plagued me the previous night healed before my eyes, and left naught but tiny lines for me to remember them by.

I was happy then; how soon it would change...


For six months we lived those separate lives, Nikolai and Lucianna and I; I saw her when time permitted -- and that was often -- and him when he was at home. I was madly and deliriously in love then, with the one and then the other, and I loved them both with a passion that blinded me. It blinded us all, and we all paid for it dearly.

As Nikolai and I grew closer, our conversations broadened; no longer were we satisfied with repetitive dissertations of our natures. Now we spoke, in the moments not filled with music, of mortal conflicts: their lives, their morals... their religions.

Nikolai had grown up, as a mortal, in what would become Hungary. It was the thirteenth century; in some states, the beginning of the Renaissance. Not so in his native Wallachia. Still bearing the vestiges of feudalism, she was slow to give anything up, including religion. Nikolai had been profoundly Christian then; his faith had not suffered much over the centuries, even through the defeat at Constantinople in 1453: he had fought then for what he saw as right. (These are a common boasts among vampires, the battles that we have fought in; we have too much in our blood for a peaceful life. Sometimes one needs no cause to fight; such was not the case with Nikolai. He rarely committed violence without reason -- though in his passions that reason could occasionally be almost nonexistent.)

And now it was religion about which we spoke the most frequently. Not a night would go by that one of us would mention it; even if it was only in passing, a debate would soon ensue. He always took the side of the mercenary, citing timeless examples as though to prove his faith. And mine was always the voice raised in doubt, striking his saints with logic, and his miracles with reason. And yet he had no skepticism. He countered it with unhesitating belief, with a childlike ability to accept anything motivated by God. He went on after my arguments had been silenced; in his quiet way, he would point to all the reasons I had to accept God as he had, never angered in his quest.

"It is a crusade you are on, Nikolai," I told him one evening. "And I am like the unshakable Moors; I am happy with what I have, and will not change. Until I am given proof, there is no God to me. I think," I added as an afterthought, "He Himself would have to ask me in order to gain my faith. But it wouldn't be faith then, would it? Then I'd have proof." I had almost hoped to stir him up a bit, but Nikolai only smiled. But there was a more desperate argument for my side:

"Why, Nikolai, do you put your trust in a god who will consign you to Hell at the end of this life? If He exists at all, surely He is somewhat less than pleased with your cravings, and even the most heartfelt of repentances for your many murders could not justify them, or your entrance to Heaven -- whatever that may be. All the many lives, taken in their primes; what sort of god could pardon the one who did that? But that is not my question; this is: if He would pardon even you, how could you accept it? I am certain that you know as well as I that all of these mortals would have lived, were it not for our selfish and even unnecessary acts -- no, do not protest; surely if we had wanted to stop, we could very well have used the will that He gave us to do so."

I had looked away from Nikolai as I spoke; now I saw his face again. He was white -- more than usual -- and his eyes were closed. Even as such, though, I could see the pain reflected in them. I had no doubts that this was a subject he did not relish speaking of -- nor would I -- but this was a war that we fought. And the cost could be his faith.

"Sasha," he sighed, looking into my eyes. "Do you think, for even a moment, that I could ever forget that? No, oh, no! How could I think of anything else? I have always known that I would be damned; I have felt it with each passing; every time another year goes by, I know that I must be that much closer to damnation. And yes, Alexandrei, I know that I am responsible for all of it -- but how could I let it all go? It is life that I have, even as I take it away, and even Heaven is not life! And Hell seems a slight price to pay for the happiness I have known, in these stolen years..."

Tears filled his eyes; those were the only indication of his fear. I knew he did not want the fate of which he spoke; he would not wish it on even the one he hated most -- but I knew also that it was the fervor of his youth that made him keep it. He knew what I thought then, as he always did.

"Would you have me prove it? Would something tangible refute your skepticism? Alexandrei, for you, I would give proof..." He dropped his gaze, staring at the white hands clenched in his lap. And then he rose to his feet, slowly, walking to his desk. His back was turned to me; I could not see the object he had taken from the drawer until he held it out. It was a small, silver crucifix. Its only ornamentation was the blood that flowed from the Saviour's wounds, tiny trickles that seemed almost to move in the flickering light of the candle. But Nikolai did not hold the cross itself; it hung from a chain that was impossibly intricate; the cross swung slightly with the shaking of his hand.

"For love of you, Sasha..." he repeated, mesmerized by the motion of his sacred pendulum. And he then lowered it into his left hand.

A moan escaped his lips when it touched his skin. I thought I heard a hiss -- whether from him or from the cross itself, I could not tell. But it left its mark immediately. From even this distance I saw his palm blaze red with inhuman fire; the base of the crucifix had burned into his hand. I heard a groan, realizing vaguely that it came from me, as I watched him prove his faith to me, with more pain than he could ever deserve.

"Stop it, Nikolai," I begged him, in a whisper I doubted he could hear. He did not look up, his hands shaking all the more, but his eyes opened briefly, shining wet with tears. They were not open for long; he sank to he floor, his right hand groping for support that he did not want. And even when he had been defeated so completely, the left struggled to keep its grip on the cause of its pain; he held on to the cross as though it was the only thing that would save him from itself. I could not stand to see him so, not for so pointless a reason; I fell to the floor beside him, and took the cross from his tortured grasp, throwing it across the room in what was almost anger.

"No," he moaned, reaching for it, but I would not release him.

"Nikolai, there has been too much pain; I can't let you do it again. Please, Nikolai, let it rest! You've suffered enough, too much... it doesn't matter, anyway; what you believe is none of my business..." I let the sentence die, seeing the torment in his eyes.

"Alyosha," he said, calmly, quietly, "let me go. I must see her, now; she understands this, all of it, except..." I knew what it was he could not say, what she would not understand; I did not know why he had to go to her.

And so when he left, I followed him, with the same careless precision he had shown to me: always in the shadows, always quiet -- and never seen. The moon was new, my cloak would not let light betray me, the soft leather soles of my boots made no sound.

But I gasped when I saw where he went. He turned onto a broad street; I had seen it many times before, with this same need. And when he knocked on the door that was too familiar, I could not restrain the growl. It cut off with fearful distrust, though, when the door was opened, when the light of a single candle glinted off the unpowdered copper of her hair. Then it became too low for even me to hear; I stepped towards the door as Nikolai entered, and it was closed in front of me. She had not locked it.

I stood for a moment, just beyond the light that came, flickering, through the window. How could she do this, knowing how we both loved her, and how she loved us? But both? Oh, Lucianna, you have bought no light in this...

I pushed the door open when her candle was no longer to be seen. I heard the hushed excitement of her voice even there; he did not speak. But when he did, it was of the things I had made him do, what he had to prove to me. I also heard her gasp when he told her my name, one he had never before spoken for her.

"Alexandrei?" she said. Her voice was low; the excitement had left it. I smiled ruefully, seeing her thus; I stood in a hesitant shadow, untouched by the candle flame. Nikolai sat at her feet, his face buried in the lace of her skirt. Her hand lay on his hair, unmoving; it was with her entire body that she showed the shock.

It was this that I took to be my introduction. I stepped into the light, braced myself in the doorframe. "Lucianna," I said, bowing. The shock on her face turned to fear; Nikolai had looked up as well.

"Sasha," he said, bewildered at first. "Why are you here? How do you know her -- and she you..." Then his eyes closed in an agony more piercing than even the flame of the crucifix had been. I heard him moan -- as I had -- and then he pushed himself away from her. The expression in his eyes was more horrible than I would ever have expected.

"Alexandrei." His voice was hard now, cold and full of anger. "You are familiar with this place, and with... with her?" It was only by that hesitation that I knew what he felt, the betrayal that was not only mine but also that of the one we both loved. And this could not be.

I could not answer, but with a glance I told him more than he wished to know. He groaned; it came as a growl that made Lucianna go a shade paler. It was a severe contrast to the glistening red-gold of her hair, the black simplicity of her dress, the frightened, brilliant green of her eyes. And then all emotions were gone from him -- at least visibly.

"I invoke the Revenant's Duel," he said, calmly and evenly. But there was a different look in his gaze. He was no longer the Nikolai I had known; only the thin shell of his confidence remained -- and that was leaving him quickly. He smiled blankly, seeing my confusion: I had not been in vampire society -- if such a thing existed -- as long as he had; I did not know its conventions.

But then Lucianna spoke. "Revenant's Duel?" she whispered, her lips white and trembling. "Revenant? You mean... not like the tales that peasants tell -- the vrykoulakas... le vampyre..." She closed her eyes, shaking, but that did not change the way she looked at me. There was still something of love in her glance; it was afraid, but it was there. And Nikolai saw it.

"Alexandrei," he said, "this cannot go on. You know it, too. But you won't give it up, will you?" He shook his head, his right hand on the sword at his side. "If you love her as I do, you won't. And neither will I. And there is no choice but--"

He was interrupted by a strangled cry. "You can't!" Lucianna stood at the foot of the stairs, half poised for flight, hanging tightly to the railing. There were tears in her eyes, more running down her white cheeks. "Don't you see, I love you both; how could I live with only one? How could you die, either of you, knowing that I could never forget the other, or forgive you for leaving me..." She did not try to continue speaking; she possessed no means to do so.

Nikolai did not seem to hear: he had drawn his sword. The thin metal threw spears of light onto the walls, bathing the room in the hellish red-orange of the candles. "It is almost dawn," he said, "and the loser must face it." It was nothing but a statement, but it brought fear where there had been little before. I gave it slight thought, though, as I unsheathed my rapier; it seemed to quiver in the unsteady illumination, touched by the trembling of my heart.

Through the haze that blinded me -- the passion for life that I had to have, and had to fight -- I could hear Lucianna's sobs. It occurred to me, for a moment, that none of this should happen: Nikolai and I had no quarrel but this -- but my thoughts would not stop his sword, or the wounds it might inflict. He swung at me now, his face still composed but for the grimace that pulled his lips up in an expression of pure hate.

There was no time to think of the consequences if one of us were to die, for there would certainly be consequences; there was only time to strike back, and pray that my aim was not true. But the prayers of a skeptic were not enough; though I leapt away from his thrust, my arm was practised enough that it did not miss its mark. When I next saw him, it was the blood that I saw, trickling down his neck, staining the lace. And then we both looked away from that.

Lucianna screamed at the sight of Nikolai's wound, drawing a hand to her throat. The other held something neither of us had seen before. She had drawn a light dagger, the colour of frost, the temperment of silver. And it was this sight that made me realize what we had played with. But before I could react, to stop the hand that held the blade, it was too late. She took it in both hands, and drove it with all her strength into her chest, closing her eyes against the pain as she collapsed onto the stairs. Her fingers did not leave its length, even as she lay gasping, fighting the agony.

Nikolai ran to her, throwing the sword aside; but for that, I would have gone, too. There was no hesitation when he held her close to him, pulling the dagger from her hands and her heart, drinking hastily from the wound she had made. And though I could not hear the words he said to her, I saw her cling to him as she brought her lips to his neck, taking the blood I had drawn. He would make her a vampire! But I could not stop it, even if it had been my right. Nikolai had won our battle, in the end; I wondered what sort of victory it was.

I did not see him again after that night. He stayed with Lucianna on the first day; I took all that was mine from the rooms. I left that evening, knowing what he would find on his eventual return home. I knew it, and felt it as well -- but I could not stay. There will be others, I told myself, even though I knew there would not be, not as he had been. How could there be another like him, such the mix of malevolence and purity? I have yet to know.

When I had found somewhere to stay, it was my Requiem that I saw to first. The next movement was a cello solo; it was unaccompanied by the orchestra, alone in its sorrow. There were no words to be sung, only the themes of Nikolai's music, perhaps twisted at times, but always attentive of the resolution.

And then I took up my quill and composed with words. It is nigh on a fortnight since I began this part -- but how long it seems! I do not know how much longer it will be; once again I am alone, and it is only these memories that keep me from madness. You see now that I cannot lose them, as I had after Deirdre; it is the force of these words that makes me stay alive. It is their message that allows me to continue. While there is still hope of whatever repentance Nikolai hopes for, I must live. No, I will not repent -- this is what I have of life and it is what I will keep -- but if there is a chance that Death will free me from at least Her web, I must see that chance before She entangles me utterly. I killed on this night; She would have me do it again. And I will, I know it...


The deed is done. There was nought that could be done to stop it -- we had known it would come from the first. And come it did -- but with a vengeance I had not thought possible. It has left us alone in this world, as nothing else can. But without it, I think we might both be gone.

It began after I left Nikolai's company. We had been together for nearly twenty years; a life on my own would take some adjustments, the least of which was finding a place to stay. But that was less of a problem than I had imagined. For the evening after my departure, I was shocked to sense another's thoughts of me. Julia had taken the first step: she called out to me with her mind; it had been half a year since we had last met, and I had never thought she would seek me again.

There was no effort in my answer as I pushed off the heavy coffin lid that had covered me while I slept. (I had spent the day in a morgue, for, morbid as that may be, it was the most effective hiding place I had yet found. No one opens a closed casket, even one without a name.) I did not know if she would hear me as well; I sent back, "I will come, if that is what you wish." There was a pause -- even from this distance I could tell she had not expected an answer -- and then a bold "yes" in reply. With me I brought my two rememberances: my requiem and this record; I knew she would want to see them both, if I knew her at all.

I grinned, knowing that there was no one to see those teeth on that night. There was only the moon's shallow reflection when I stepped outside -- and then the sound of hurried footsteps. In that pale light I could see the shadow of some nameless mortal, a shabby cloak held tight around his shoulders. He walked with some kind of desperation, as a man without a soul might walk. I saw him shudder once as he passed the morgue itself, crossing himself with a meaningless gesture, repeated thoughtlessly too many times to have any effect.

He had not seen me; I wondered briefly if he would have tried to fend me off in the same oft-practised manner. It was with a strange reluctance that I followed him, needing the power his blood could give me but unwilling to take the man himself. He had such blind trust in this god of his, but even He was no protection from me -- He has no power over those who choose not to fear Him. With a sigh I stepped up behind him; he didn't even hear the swift friction of the dagger leaving its sheath -- and he did not feel that blade for long. I drank quickly, without thinking of the man; the echoes of Julia's summons still lingered in my mind.

I ran away from that place then, not of any fear, but of hope, and desire. I recalled what she had written of me; I wondered how she had continued it. I ran out of pure desire to run, to feel the cold air flowing past me, the hard streets under my feet. And no one would see me, as no one ever had.

Somewhere I heard music; it was not far from me. I knew who played it -- and I knew that if I dared to stop I would never leave. And so I did not surrender to it; it hurt to leave them there, two souls lost in their immortality, but there would be more pain in going back.

I came to Julia's apartment house without a sound, found the doors unlatched and the darkened stairway deserted. It was no hard task to find her room; the flickering light of a candle streamed from under the doorway, and from inside I could hear the quivering scratch of her pen. I smiled as I pulled the latch, and entered to see her sitting at the desk, writing furiously.

She turned slowly; I saw her left hand complete the sentence before she looked up at me. "You came," she said, a note of awe in her voice. I nodded, still smiling gently. She dropped her pen into the ink bottle, rising swiftly from her chair; she came to stand by me in the hesitant light. She said nothing then, but offered her hand, smudged with ink; I pressed it to my lips, felt her fingers tighten around mine. And then she came nearer, and let me kiss her lips, the warmth of her cheeks. I held her as loosely as I could -- it was she who pulled me closer.

"Julia," I said at last, into the softness of her hair. "You wanted me to return?" I felt her nod against my chest; she did not look up. "And your story? What of it?"

"Do you wish to read it?" she whispered. "Why not... later." Then she glanced up at me, with a shy smile. I raised an eyebrow, tightening my arm around her. This time there was no objection; she took my hand and led me into another room, the one she had perhaps written about before. I was not the one who insisted; she unbuttoned my coat, untied the lace at my throat, let the white silk of my shirt fall away. And the plain velvet robe that she wore was next, until we shivered together in the light of her candle. I touched her gently, feeling her quiver slightly in response. Her skin was as smooth as mine, soft as a child's; I ran my fingers over the curves of her hips, feeling the bones beneath. In my mind I could hear the beating of her heart, fast and steady.

"Julia," I asked suddenly, "why did you call me back?"

She said nothing for a moment, but opened her eyes to look at me, a little frown on her face. "Immortality," she murmured. "I want to know what it's like; I wanted to know from the start. I made you leave before you could tell me the last time; I won't make the same mistake now. I have learned something in these six months -- and one of those things is that... I wouldn't say 'no,' if you insisted, whatever it be."

"Wouldn't you?" I murmured, moving my hand. She gasped slightly, but she did not draw away from me. When the shock was gone, she put her hand on top of mine, grasping my wrist; she let go as quickly, but her hand stayed on me.

"Don't ever tell me you aren't human," she said, a moment later. She was smiling slightly, her eyes wide; this was something she had probably not known before. The candle had gone out, so only I could see in that darkness; I saw the flushed pink of her cheeks, the excitement she could not suppress, and that every fibre in her body revealed.

"This is what you wanted?" I asked quietly, only my hands letting her know that I wanted it, too.

"Yes, Alexandrei, and more..." she whispered, touching my lips with hers. "Everything you can give; you don't need to insist..."

"And if I offered it," I said cautiously, "would you accept immortality, knowing what goes with it?" For a minute neither of us spoke; she lay with her eyes open, and I knew that though she couldn't see, she stared at me. And then she whispered something; I could not hear her over the sound of her heart, the rushing of blood through her veins, or the pulse of my own, fast in passion.

Then I let passion take over. I sought her mouth, pressing my own to it; she responded with equal fervor, and pulled me closer. "Yes?" I murmured.

"Yes," she said, the sibilant whisper growing into a moan. And she did not cry out when I entered her in the most human of ways, but sighed deeply, and moved with me, joining me in this celebration of her life. (I suppose it was for me as well, in a sense; she, like those who went before her, helped me find that emotion that makes life, and while I had it, lived it with me.)

And when she at last relaxed, her breathing fast and erratic, then I took her in a way more befitting my kind. I had no difficulty finding the vein -- again, she did not make me insist; she gave it willingly -- but I took only a taste of her blood. She shuddered when she felt my teeth inside her; she held me tightly when I withdrew them, delirious with the pleasure she had given me, both the human and the vampiric.

When the sun broke over Vienna, it did not see us.


That night, she let me read what she had written. I was not disappointed with it; it had grown as much as she had in the six months that had separated us. She sat by me as I read it, watching my face when I discovered all that I had done with her, smiling faintly at the few phrases I read aloud. She excused herself quickly, though, when I reached a break in the first part, though I did not know why; I read on, further mystified by "my" words in her story: 'Tomorrow, my dear,' I said, 'you will see what 'temporal' really means.'

The tomorrow in her story came -- and I found "myself" draining its author of all blood, to make her like me; she described the process as "deliberately drawn out; it was aching and ecstasy at the same moment; it was delirium and the clearest sight all at once. And just before the last of my vision was gone, he took his dagger and created on his throat a wound much like my own, and I drank from it as though I were the vampire and not he. Then the ache left me, and it was nothing but ecstasy..."

"Julia," I called softly, lifting my head to see her standing chastely in the doorway. "Oh, Julia, you could never know this; no mortal ever does... but you..." She stepped towards me with a slight smile, but her face was pale and colourless.

"It is fantasy," she said, standing by the desk. "You wouldn't let me know it, would you? No, don't tell me you would; I have also done some reading while you slept, my dearest; I know from your very mind that you would have only regrets for doing it for me -- as you did for Marcella. You saw what happened to her, and you assume it would happen to me as well, that refusal to live. And even if I told you it would not, still you would keep it from me -- as you tried to keep it from Anna. And I have no one else to ask, or perhaps to demand of -- as Lucianna might have."

She saw the look in my eyes, of sadness, and perhaps not a little fear, and she smiled gently, coming to me and taking my hand. "I was wrong, Alexandrei Kvoratin; it is I who insists, not you. You are still afraid of hurting me, as you did such a long time ago, but I tell you that nothing you did could hurt me now. I think that is past you, all this pain... Sasha, Constance wanted to be a vampire; more than that, she needed to. Maybe you don't remember how it feels, but death frightens us, it frightens me as well. Maybe you could never have the emotion of wanting life, at any cost, or maybe you don't trust that you are enough to live for."

At this she slid down next to me on the davenport, took away the manuscript, pulling my arms about her, as though I had no will of my own. For a moment I did not, until something she had said made me start. "She... frightens you?" I said hesitantly. "But She is nothing; I don't even know if She is real or not..."

"Not this one who says She is Death, Sasha, but the act of losing what we have had for as long as we've known: we fear the loss of thought. And I doubt that She has anything to do with that, no matter what She may have said to you. By your own words, you know She is not what She says; that you stress more each time you encounter Her. She is not to be feared, but to be pitied..." Julia let the sentence trail off while she stroked my hands, all the while looking at my eyes. I could not look back; she would see that I had no pity for Her.

After a while I said, numbly, "It's late for you, is it not?" And before she could protest I pressed my lips to the palm of her hand. "You must let me think, dearest -- and you, as well. Will not the life you have left satisfy you?" I would not hear what she said; I kissed her roughly before I half-pushed her away, leaving her to walk to our room in silence.

But she understood; when I joined her later that night she merely held me; when the first light hit the window, she whispered, "It will; but only with you."


Three nights passed. I awoke late then, feeling distracted and confused. It had been three days since I last drank, and though Julia gazed down at me with a look that said she would allow anything, I could not do that to her. Not to appease the hunger. And so I left her at midnight, promising to be back in no more than an hour; were it not for love, I might have.

Though it was only October, there was snow on the ground, new and white. It dusted my boots as I walked, following the footprints of another man. They were heavy and stressed; the man had been running from something, or, I suppose, to something. But that mattered little to me; my only thoughts were of the blood he would give me, whoever he was.

I saw him ahead of me then, wearing a scarlet cape that whirled behind him in his wake. In one hand he clutched a bottle, half-empty and already covered with crystals of ice. He lurched to one side suddenly, and fell into the snow with a cry. I walked towards him with something of a smile, and offered my hand, asking if he needed help.

The man shook his head and struggled to get up by himself -- and almost collapsed again when I grasped his wrist sharply and pulled him to his feet, closer to me than he would have cared to be. His face distorted horribly in an overture to disgust; I could smell the alcohol on his breath. I shook my head once, and then with one practised motion, slit the artery beneath his clammy skin.

Before the shock could make his struggles stop, I pulled him even closer, fastening my teeth to his neck, drawing the blood into my mouth. He screamed when he heard my moan, though no one would hear him, and then he fainted, held up only by my grasp. His pulse slowed; with it, the intoxicating flow of the blood. And intoxicating it was; even its taste was different, made bitter-sweet by the alcohol in it. I sank to the ground beside him, trying to get the very last of it before he died, and then left him in the snow. I took the bottle with me, tasting it as well. But it had no effect on me -- and if it did, it was lost in the heat of the blood.

As I stepped away from the body, wiping the redness from around my mouth, I noticed another set of footprints in the snow. These were small, slight, the soles of dainty slippers, if anything. I traced their track with barely a motion, and saw that they led into an alleyway nearby, where the snow had not yet penetrated. And I knew who they belonged to; I did not know why she had followed.

"Julia," I called softly. "I know you're here, dearest; why did you come? This was not for you to see, not yet, not unless this is what you want." She did not answer; I walked towards the alley, still holding the bottle -- now only one-fourth full.

I saw her before she looked up. She sat with her back against the rough bricks of the wall, one hand covering her face. Her shoulders shook in silent testimony to her tears; her dress was wrapped tightly around her legs. Her left hand was clutched to her throat; her fingers caressed it as though looking for the marks I had made the night before; when she found them, she half-cried out, and sobbed aloud.

"Oh, Julia," I breathed, coming closer, kneeling down beside her. "What have I done to make you so frightened, so small..." She did not try to move away, but opened her eyes and wrapped her shivering arms around me. I could do nothing but hold her, feeling the soft coldness of snow falling on us both; then I took her in my arms and carried her home.

When she would speak again, she told me in a whisper how she had followed me. "I wanted to see you do it, Alyosha. Because I wanted to know everything, before I decided that I wanted to do the same. Have you ever watched someone die? Not one that you've killed yourself, but one that another vampire had taken?" She tried to suppress a shiver, and failed. "To watch you -- Oh, God, that is the most intimate thing that you can do with anyone, Alexandrei, that absolute closeness, and you chose a person like him... I won't say it was jealousy that I felt, it was more like fear, that when I'm like you I'll do the same."

She stopped speaking suddenly; she, too, realized what she had said. Not if, but when she was like me. "You really want it, Julia, still?" I asked, taking her hands. She nodded, her hair falling forward so that I could not see her eyes until she looked up again.

"Don't ask me why," she murmured. "You know the reasons, all of them. But now I'm at your mercy, Sasha, because I can't change myself; you have to do it for me, at least in part. Oh, I could make you do it, as easily as Lucianna did -- but I hope that it doesn't take that much. I don't like pain. I don't think even immortality could make me do what she did -- but would you let me? I don't believe you would."

And she was right. I would not have let even Lucianna do that, if I had known she meant to. Where was she now? I wondered, for a moment lost in her memory. So like all the rest she had been; even Julia resembled her -- and as Death had said, I liked them young. But Julia was different. She knew what she wanted, and she would get it no matter what the cost. Ah, the cost!

But now I stood and let her hands fall; she gazed up at me with something like awe. She, of them all, knew what I was.

"Time," I said, "I must have time, and so should you." She looked away with a slight grimace. "Perhaps it will go like your story after all," I said, and walked away. A melody had come into my mind, one I had not heard in years; I released it through the strings that had played it even then. When I finished I snapped those strings, deliberately, with no great effort.

I did not hear Julia come in to see it; no doubt she had wanted to inquire of the composer. She asked nothing, though, when she saw the frayed ends of the strings in my hands, and the crimson points of blood on my fingertips where the pressure of playing had cut into them. She came to me then, took my hands and kissed them, hesitating at the left hand, but only for a moment; she drew my fingers across her lips, leaving a faint red trace. And that she licked away, closing her eyes at its taste. I could say nothing; I watched, detached, as she took the violin from me and set it carefully in its case.

And abruptly, she spoke. "Yes or no?" she said, kneeling before me almost as Deirdre had so many years before.



And there it is. I didn't kill her that night; there were more before she decided that the moment had come. Even with her eagerness there was some reservation -- and not only on her part. She had known before the hesitation that I felt, that I had felt since Marcella's death. She knew everything that I had written, all that I had experienced, all that I knew that was left to experience. And all that I knew of her was of her wish not to die.

She would not die; I saw to that. On the evening of her transformation, we went to the symphony; we sat in an unlit box, surrounded by strains of Haydn's music. There, I brought her close and bit into the vein at the base of her throat; she held tightly to me, shivering with cold by the time I had been satisfied. "Was it as you thought, dearest?" I whispered, pausing before I let her be warm again.

I made the mark on my own throat, using the clean silver of my dagger. Her eyes widened when she saw it, but then she saw the blood. Already it was changed, hers and mine mixed as one; she sighed and leaned over my neck, seeming tired and even unwilling to take what she had to. "Julia! Now is too late to change your mind!" I whispered hoarsely. My body did not take well to the silver; the wound ached, felt like a great gash in me. "Would you have both of us die?"

That was all it took. She bent to catch the blood; her hair brushed my neck, only for a moment letting me forget the pain. And then I felt her mouth on the wound, her tongue pressing it, probing it, drawing out the blood. I gasped, closing my eyes tightly against the sensations; would they never stop? It had been so different with Marcella; I felt then none of the painful concupiscence I certainly felt now. Julia was closer to me than we had ever been, even through the new silk of her dress, the linen of my shirt. She was so warm next to me, still human; I wondered how I must seem to her.

I pushed her away finally, when I could almost hear my heartbeat, slowing ever so faintly; when I could feel the swelling in her veins, linked to mine by something more than human. She leaned against me, breathing slowly, deeply; I could not read the look in her eyes. But I knew it was not fear.

When the symphony ended in a last flurry of chords, she rose quietly, still holding my hands, as though I were the last thing she could bear to leave, now that even her mortality was gone. "Come, Alexandrei," she murmured; "I want to see what the night looks like now, since it is all that I have." She paused for a moment, then: "I watched the sun rise yesterday, after you went to bed. It was so full of colour, so alive; I could have watched it forever -- but I can't." She looked away from me, towards the stage, where the curtains had separated us from the orchestra. Her eyes seemed to sparkle in the light of a thousand candles; and she knew they would be the only light she would now know as she spoke. "I have now the stars alone, and you are all that remains of my colour."

We walked home in silence, the streets empty but for the sounds of our footsteps, muffled by the snow with all its whiteness. Julia looked about her with undisguised wonder, seeing the stars with new clarity, no doubt smelling that inescapable human scent of life and blood. It was hard to look at her that night; there was a new hunger in her eyes that would not fade quickly. Hunger for life, and for death; now that she would never know it, she had to have it through others.

But there was no indication that she would give up as Marcella had, none of that despair for losing the light of day, or the sheer companionship of mortals. She has kept that; on the nights that she is gone, I know where she will be; though her absence must have been hard to explain, she still talks with her human friends. I don't know if she's told any of them of the change; she doesn't tell me of their conversations. That is a side of her I have not seen since the day I met her with them -- but I know why she keeps it. It is hard for anyone to give up the human life, to sacrifice it completely for the blood; even its power is not sometimes enough to make us lose humanity.

And then there was Death. The first time Julia and I went together to find a mortal -- the very night after I changed her -- She came as well, standing at a distance while Julia knelt by her victim. Julia never saw her; I did, though her presence meant nothing to me by then. In fact, I believe I smiled at her, and though she did not return the smile, she gave me a greater surprise than that would have been.

"What would you say if I told you I was like you, and her?" She said in my mind. "What would you think? I do not want to know," She moaned, while I stared at Her, perplexed. But She would say nothing more, disappearing into the night as quickly as She had come.

I shivered suddenly, almost for no reason; Julia had heard the voice as well, and looked up to see from whence it came. But Death was gone, leaving us alone in the darkened alleyway; Julia rose from beside the body, her cheeks made red with the force of the blood; she took my hands and led me away from the place.

We spoke no more about it, not until later. She watched me as I sat by the window at home, as still as a posted guard. But then the silence was too much, for either of us; when I caught her eyes, she smiled, and came closer to me. "Alexandrei," she said quietly. "You saw Her tonight." It was not a question, but a statement; she knew the answer. She did not understand it as I did -- perhaps that was for the better.

"Yes." I could not look at her; I knew what she would see.

"And now you know what She is..." Julia knelt down beside me; at the very edge of my vision I could see her, the grey of her eyes bright with worry.

"No," I cried, though it came as a whisper. "She is nothing! Don't you see, Julia, that's all death is, can ever be -- nothing! And that is why we fear it so!" And now it was she who looked away. Through the open window I could hear the muted, airy sound of a cello and a harpsichord. She heard them as well; she knew what I thought at that moment, and she knew why I cried.

"Would you leave me for them, for the sake of your fears, for the music?" She leaned up against me, her hands holding my arms as though she were the one who needed support. "I can hear the music as well, Alexandrei, and I know what it means to you, as they do; I know that you want them back. I would not stop you if you left -- how could I? But if you went back to them, know that I would not be far behind, ever; I, at least, would not forget you."

They played a duet that I had written. In my mind I saw them playing, as Nikolai and I had, Lucianna at the harpsichord, Nikolai draped around the cello, as he was meant to be. It was simple, this music, but even through the distance I could feel the tension surrounding the instruments; arpeggios flew between them like snow, only to end in an abrupt chord -- and begin again without a pause. And as I heard the notes that had come from my pen, my heart ached for them.

I did not realize it when I rose from the windowsill; I did it without thought, without heed to Julia. She fell away from me with a startled cry, and looked at me with frightened eyes. That brought me back as nothing else could; I knew by the sick feeling within that I had hurt her.

"Julia," I groaned, sinking to the floor beside her. She whimpered and shied away; I caught her in my arms, lying on top of her. I meant to be gentle... "Julia, I love you, you know that! I wouldn't leave you for the world, if even Death herself came to take you." I kissed her roughly, opening her mouth to mine; when she relaxed, crying silent tears, I held her closer, pressing my head to her breast; I could still hear the music over her heartbeat.

"They call to me, mein liebe ," I whispered, "With all that flows between us; I know they want me back. I don't know why, I can't understand -- but I loved them both, Julia; it's hard to refuse them." She sighed -- and suddenly I heard her voice, as clearly as though she had spoken, but she had not.

"I hear them as well, Sasha. They plead with me to surrender you; there is no jealousy, no contempt, only a yearning; they do want you... more even than I, perhaps, but not for the same reasons. Nikolai -- I thought I knew him, through you and your 'requiem', but I hear him now, and he is close to tears with wanting for you. Lucianna as well, though hers is a different sort... there is something wrong..." Suddenly her thoughts ceased, at least those she sent to me, and I knew only one person to blame.

She went limp in my arms, her head falling back to reveal the marks my teeth had made; now they seemed red and exposed, though they should have disappeared after I changed her. I knew who had done this; I could not understand why. And so I took her in my arms, and followed the music to the one who had done it.

They knew I was there before they saw me; they could feel my presence, and Julia's. "He comes." I heard Nikolai's whisper through the door; it was opened in front of me. There he stood, unchanged but for the tired circles around his eyes, the new lines in his face that had not been there before. "Alexandrei," he said, though it was more a moan than anything. His eyes closed in something like relief, and then he offered his hand, taking Julia by the other. I trusted him enough to allow that; how could he harm her?

And then there was Lucianna. I drew in my breath sharply at seeing her, so much had she changed. Gone was the sometimes-innocent smile; now I could see the points of her fangs behind the red lips. Her hair was long and uncurled, hanging past the cruel waist of her dress. And her hands! Long and white were the fingers; even through the skin one could see the bones. And there was no blood to soften them.

And yet she smiled, made me a little curtsy, as she had the first time we met. Her voice had not changed; when she spoke it was low, hushed. "Do you know why we wanted you back, my love?" I did not answer, glancing instead at Julia where she lay in Nikolai's arms. It seemed so odd to see her there, when she had always been mine. When I looked back at Lucianna, she didn't seem surprised, only resigned. "We want you to come back to us, if you'll have us. It was a mistake the last time, all of it -- all but our love."

I shook my head, not trusting my voice to speak. And I walked to Nikolai's side, laying a hand on his shoulder. He understood. He bent to place Julia in my arms -- but first he put his lips to her neck, on the wounds that I had made, and I could see the gentle suction between them. Julia moaned then, awakening; she opened her eyes to see him -- and she knew who he was. She wrapped her arms around his neck, and surrendered absolutely to the embrace.

And Lucianna came to me. She grasped my cold hands with her own, pressing them to her breast. I inhaled sharply, realizing both that I could not, and did not want to, pull them away. I knew that we were being seduced, both of us, but I could not stop it. They had so much more power than I; Lucianna had the wisdom of five centuries to help her, for I could faintly hear her speaking with Nikolai, though I could not find the words. I succumbed to her power in far less time than it took for my mind to recall what she had done, and by then, it was too late.


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