Rev. Jan's Fiction Extravaganza

Requiem for a Vampire: Chapter 7

I awoke without knowing where I was, surrounded by darkness. But once my eyes had adjusted, I saw, as though in the distance, the two who had been my lovers for so long. And now they held me as though I were a prisoner -- and Julia as well. She lay next to me, whiter than anyone should ever be. Her breathing was far too shallow, and when I searched for a heartbeat, there was only a slight murmur to be found. She did not wake when I called her, softly; the pattern of her breathing did not change. There was no movement. And I knew then what they had done to her. First they took her mind -- or at least her consciousness -- and then that which fed it. I had no doubts that she could still think, but whether or not she would live to do so...

"So you have come back," Nikolai said quietly. "You don't know how sorry I am that it had to be this way, Alexandrei, but some things went unsaid the last time we parted." No, no! I thought; I could only guess at what he had left to tell me, he and Lucianna; they were not pleasant things. Could their hatred still be so strong that they would kill the one I loved, to make me surrender? Part of me would not doubt it. We were vampires; death was a necessity to us. But death amongst ourselves? It would not be the first time, God knows. Still, I would not let them take her from me.

"Nikolai, why do you do this?" I murmured, looking straight into his eyes. "If you wanted me back, at least for this, you only needed to ask, not to threaten. But for this, I still love you both... it cannot last long if you find it necessary to torture us."

"Torture?" he said, raising his eyebrows. "How is this different from anything else we've ever done? We all find pleasure in pain; do you not recall the sensation of near-death? This is all we've done to her; I took all that she could live without, and she allowed it. She knew what we would do; Lucianna told her before you came. And you knew as well. You were as guilty as I in Lucianna's death, and yet you left us without a word."

"What words do you have for me, Nikolai?" I said, keeping his gaze though he tried to look away. "All that had to be said was said before we parted -- both of us live still, even with your Revenant's Duel. We never fought -- and now, why do we need to?" Before the words had stopped coming I knew I had made a mistake in saying it. His eyes clouded over with undisguised emotion; I knew what he would do.

"We never fought," he repeated, glancing at Lucianna, then at Julia. "There was never a loser -- and the Duel is not to be invoked without being lost or won. It was with my honour that I began this, Alexandrei, and it is with honour that I must finish it." And with that, he unsheathed his sword, turned it in the moonlight, let me watch it flash. "It will not be dawn for some time; we cannot begin with this end until half of an hour before it. For now, I will take you to find a mortal, so that we may be even, as we were then."

I closed my eyes, saying a quiet prayer to a god I did not have. And then I rose from Julia's side, and slipped into my boots and my cloak. Nikolai led the way -- until we were outdoors, and then he took my wrist, holding it tightly, almost cruelly. "There will be no running away," he whispered.

When he found someone for me to take, he let me go, but kept a watchful eye on me. As I drank, I could feel his stare; somehow it made the death all the more sensuous, and I held the girl in my arms, pressed close, until her heart stopped and she collapsed. And I held the last of the blood in my mouth for a moment, savouring its taste as mortals might a vintage port.

And Nikolai watched as I did, his eyes narrowing slightly -- but it was not anger that made them do so. Julia was right; Nikolai knew it. "Come," he said finally, with resignation, and this time he only took my hand, and held it with something more than warmth. And yet though I wished this sorrow on him, and all those that followed, should I die, I thought that perhaps he deserved better than this, for all his years. To chase down one that he had loved, for vengeance -- how much farther could he fall?

I thought I heard a choir in the distance, singing of salvation and angels; I remembered when such things had concerned me. But even with the promise of death so close -- for Nikolai in all his years would surely kill me -- I felt nothing of fear, and nothing of remorse. And here was the very image of death walking beside me, his face pale and worried. Though he would never willingly have me know it, he was afraid; even he could not conceal it from me. And what need had he of doing so? If I knew, I could win. I did not want him to die, for all the threats and the promises; he had saved me where no mortal could. And now he would kill me.

Julia was awake when we returned. She still lay where they had put her the night before; her hands were folded across her chest, in the manner of a corpse, and for all that I saw, she could have been one. Only her eyes betrayed her, seeking mine in the moonlight, begging for help, for blood. But Lucianna sat by her, reading the manuscript they had played the night before. She looked up when I came in.

"Alexandrei," she whispered, her voice husky, almost as though she'd been crying. "Would you play with me, like we used to? But with your music? This duet, it could be made into a trio; we've never all played together, and -- it may be our last chance." She glanced at Nikolai, with a little grimace -- but that changed with my answer.

"After what you've done?" I said slowly, quietly, "I would rather die than do anything to make you happy. For the vengeance of death, you brought an innocent into this; you've nearly killed her, for God's sake, and for what? Would it give you pleasure to know that you had killed, not only one who had been your lover, but one whom he loved? If I had any emotions left to give, Lucianna, I would give you nothing but hatred, and scorn; how could I love someone who's done something like this? No matter that I loved you before, Lucianna; I love her more; I created her, by her own choice, and mine. There has been no force thus far, and yet you choose to end it that way, for the sake of your own whims? I could never love you again."

She would not look at me then, but closed her eyes tightly, and I knew that it was a fight to keep me from seeing her tears. And I had meant it to hurt, as much as it did. They had no right! And still for their honour I would die.

Julia was gone again. Her hands had fallen to her sides, limp and no doubt cold; Lucianna moved them to their former position, sighing. I knew what I would have to do to save us; I had never wanted this, it was not my honour at stake. I would not have, in my most violent of states, conceived of something as terrible as this, but for the sake of my love and my life, and an honour that I had not chosen, it had to be done. And it had to be done before the dawn.

Using all the power I could as yet command, I blocked their thoughts from my mind. They would not hear me, either -- I depended on that, at least. If it worked -- or if it failed -- there would be two of us alive. And that was the only certainty. I turned quickly to Nikolai, who still stood beside me.

"Have you forgotten, Nikolai, the years that we shared? We had half of a lifetime between us, and now you will throw it away for a conflict that has been resolved, a battle that was fought and lost -- by the both of us -- and you wish to forget, to let it all die for the sake of your foolish pride. Honour, you call it, but an honourable man would not have called for that duel in the beginning." I slipped away from him silently, towards Julia; I knelt down beside her and gashed my wrist, holding it to her lips. That alone made her wake, and she took it eagerly, pulled at the vein with what strength she had left.

Lucianna made no move to stop me, but I felt her stare; I could almost feel the words she tried to make me hear. And Nikolai, standing behind me now, put his hand on my shoulder; then I could not avoid his thoughts. "An honourable man would not have followed a friend, Alexandrei -- or left without saying good-bye. I loved you more on that night than any other, and it was pride -- yes, pride -- that made me do what I did. I had to; you hit me where no one had before -- in the very centre of my pride, in my ability to love..."

"Loved me?" I half-cried, turning quickly to him, my eyes flashing. I know; I felt his surprise. "If that was love, I hope I never live to see your hatred. There is no one who could hate as completely as you did that night, not that I can imagine; your thoughts then were almost as painful as the words you expressed them in, and so much darker..." I drew away from his hand, wincing when Julia at last let go of my wrist. "I loved both of you -- truly, with my heart and my mind -- until this night; now, if I could, I would..."

"Yes?" murmured Nikolai. I could feel him trying to find me, to get into my mind; now I would not allow it. "Ah, this is a new game, my friend. Your mind is closed -- what kind of love is that?"

"There is no more," I said; I managed to keep my voice steady this once. "There are many things I would do, and you will know none of them until I choose to let you know."

"Is that so?" he said, amused and contemptuous. "Threats now, eh? How soon we forget -- it is there that you are right. But yes indeed, we will see."

I took Julia in my arms and brought her to sit by the door. She looked up at me with uncomprehending eyes, but said nothing. And then I turned again to Nikolai. He stood calmly, smiling faintly, his arms folded across his chest. Lucianna was at the harpsichord, turning the pages of my manuscript; how many hours had I taken in its creation? Would I be able to save it from them, from... The smile disappeared from Nikolai's face; now there was worry -- only enough to notice, to make me realize I had let something go. But now was too late to let it stop. Now there was only time to act.

"I think, perhaps, I shall play with you after all, my dear," I said to Lucianna. "It has been some time. But my violin? Or did you take that as well?" With a little smile, she pointed to it where it lay, close to the cello; its case was still singed. It wasn't long before I sat beside her, scanning the music, adding the violin part in my own mind. I had never known there would be three of us when I wrote it... I should leave it at that. But I know I won't.

Nikolai began with a slowly growing baseline; I allowed a second note from the violin; it became a fragmented minor scale. And then the harpsichord, erupting into a series of barely muted arpeggios; I glanced at Lucianna, and knew that they would trust me. When the music was almost too loud to bear, and I could feel tension between us, I let my last phrase die away. Without looking back, I slipped from them, holding my violin still. I opened the door, pushing Julia out as well; I didn't have to tell her to run.

I knew there would not be much time before Nikolai came for me, when the music allowed them to awaken and react; Julia needed no explanation. We ran from the building, far away it before we heard their footsteps; I stopped only once, to hide my violin in the shelter of a doorway; I would find it later, if I still lived to want it.

The streets were deserted that night, and the wind blew cold, sending snow from the rooftops. They would not see us easily -- but vampires do not need sight to find their prey. At last I found a place to hide for a moment; I pushed Julia up against the alley wall, trying to stifle her breathing and mine. I spoke quietly: "For the sake of your life, do not let them hear your mind. If they find you, it will be absolutely over, for both of us; if you can, block their thoughts from you as well. You must! I love you!" It was my final plea; their steps came closer, slowing; I knew they would find us, and then it would be ended.

I drew the silver dagger from beneath my shirt, felt its cold blade on the skin of my hand. It would be nothing against Nikolai's rapier -- but it was not him I expected to fight.

But he came first, his cape swirling black in the snow, his eyes shining with more than moonlight. "Alexandrei, if I find you now, there will be no pain for you, not until dawn. But what you have done has also made your lover a victim, and you know we wouldn't hesitate to do whatever was necessary..." I wanted to tell him that none of it was necessary; I bit my lip, drawing blood, and I did not speak.

When I saw him next, he stood opposite me, out in the street; I could feel his eyes and I knew he saw me, but he did not come. And then Lucianna came into view, more as I had known her: she was frightened, though she did not show it. And she saw me as well, and Julia in my arms; she looked away. And so it was then, in the one moment of weakness, that I chose to strike.

It was the hardest thing I had ever done -- but I did it. She turned her back to me, as though to speak with Nikolai; I did not give her the chance. I came up behind her suddenly, and with all the force I could allow, I brought the dagger down on her throat. Its silver penetrated skin, muscle, bone, nerves... It only took one strike to sever the spinal cord; a little more pressure and I had killed her. She might have healed if I had stopped; now it was too late. There was only a faint scream, almost a wail, and then her body lay in the snow. I was thankful for the hair that covered her neck; I did not want to see what I had done to her.

Nikolai could not react. In that one moment, his guard had been down as well; he had never expected this, and could not comprehend it. I let the wall in my mind collapse; I heard a moan, and realized it was mine. I felt his anguish, the torturous, twisted agony that I had created; he no longer had thought, only a nameless pain like the point of a knife thrust into his heart. I had caused it. I killed her as coldly as he might have killed me; I did not know if it was right.

Nikolai fell to his knees beside her, unable to touch her for the same fear that I had. The tears dropped into her hair, became icy and white in the chill wind; he made no move to stop them. And I could only watch, shivering not from the cold, but the power of his thoughts as he wept. I knew then that he would not kill me; he would never see me again. This had been our parting; he might always know where I was, but we would never again seek each other.

I would have run from the scene if I'd had the strength to do it; but then I remembered Julia. She had seen all of it, and understood none; I lifted her from the snow where she had fallen, unconscious. "Do not awaken yet, Love; I don't want to make you see it..." I whispered; I knew Nikolai could hear me, but he did nothing.

With Julia in my arms, I walked away from that sight, left it behind me in all but memory. I found the violin, carrying it with me to the place Nikolai and Lucianna had made their sanctuary; it was hard to enter, but it was only for a moment, to find the case of my instrument, and take away the music that had been mine. I did not want to leave it with Nikolai; I did not want him to suffer more.

Julia didn't awaken until we were home, when the bells of a church tower struck four. She rubbed her eyes, looked at me; then she moaned, remembering. "Was it all a dream?" she murmured, taking my arm. "I wanted to meet them, after reading your manuscript -- did it happen? Because I remember something about death, of an alley, and a scream... I didn't want it to be her."

I did not ask what she meant. I nodded gravely, holding her gaze. There would be no sense in saving her from what had happened, nor in denying that it had. But she looked away; I could see the brightness of tears in her eyes. "You killed her, Alexandrei. Did nothing of what you went through matter? You loved her, before..." I touched her hand; she understood. She did not speak further.


I have heard nothing from Nikolai since that night. I had never expected to, but I have learned not to assume anything, not about my kind. With no scruples to bind us, there is very little we will not do.

As I write now, so too does Julia, though hers is a very different story. I do not wish to think long of it; what more of it I have read shocks me greatly: it consummates in her death -- true death, not like this. I have asked her, more than once, if it is mere fantasy -- as in the beginning -- or if she means it to be real; she will only smile, and does not answer. I dare not press -- it is her life to live as she would, as she always has -- but I wish she would tell me. I love her with all the strength I have left.

On the night of Lucianna's death, I began this part, and its companion in my requiem. I do not know which reveals more of the sorrow -- the minor key will hide nothing, as my words might -- but there are some things that cannot be said in music. I hope that I have said them here. I do not wish to forget.


Not even a fortnight has passed between this and the words preceding, but time is of no relevance here. Or rather, it is the greatest subject of any.

The night following the ones described above, we were found by others, vampires whose existences I had never suspected. They had never given us warning of their presence; perhaps they had not thought us capable of recognizing them as yet. But after I killed Lucianna -- then they came.

We had awoken soon after sunset that night, pulled from unconsciousness by some force more powerful than light. I could feel the last shadows of their minds leaving me when the darkness was complete; I knew Julia felt it, too. We did not speak; I could see in her frightened eyes that they had not left her as peacefully.

We dressed quickly, in silks of purest black; Julia wore man's breeches, as dark as mine and so much more revealing. In fact, even the lace shirt that she wore was mine; though the sleeves were too long, and billowed out of their own volition, she was more beautiful then than she ever had been in her slippery dresses.

We escaped into the night, both of us feeling the thirst that had come too soon. There were no stars; a mist slid over the ground and concealed even the buildings opposite us; it was the stuff that nightmares are made of. But we were nightmares to ourselves, and so there was no fear -- none but that which grew slowly in the backs of our minds, hovering dangerously like those who moved around us. For there were no mortals out on this night -- the presence was only that of our own kind.

And we needed blood; there was no way to get it besides entering one of the sleepless inns that I had come to despise. But here were some who wished to die; we did not deny them that, though I hated to bring Julia into such a place. We drank quickly, mercilessly; our victims did not ask for mercy, or forgiveness; their blood was spiced with alcohol; their breath stank of it.

We left as casually as we had come, bidding the innkeeper good night. He did not answer, but stared at us sullenly. I don't know, perhaps he felt the others there as well. I can no longer guess.

As soon as we were outside I saw them, their cloaks swirling in the mist as surely as did the fog itself. And they were so close, I could almost read their thoughts -- but when I tried, they were gone. Their images remained, numberless forms standing pure against the cold, faceless shapes that didn't have to seem real. I wanted to speak, to ask them who they were, had they come for us now? but no words would come. I was given answers soon enough.

One of them stepped forward, his dark face becoming clearer as he neared us. "Alexandrei, Julia," he said without inflection. He bowed slightly, his features remaining impassive, inhuman. "We have come to speak with you; it has been sixty-six years since you were Changed, and we know you have wanted answers since that day. Now we will give them to you, and to your consort as well. That is, if you wish us to."

They did not need to ask, these vampires; I knew that I could not keep them from my mind if they wished to enter. But I also knew that they would not try -- unless I gave them reason. However, I nodded once, and held Julia's hand more tightly. The dark one gave a little smile, that, not surprisingly, showed nothing of his soul. I wondered briefly if there was anything to be seen; then he motioned for us to follow.

We were surrounded by them; I could feel the chill of their many years around me as tangibly as the mist. But it was safe! I felt almost more safe within this circle of murderers than I ever had when I was mortal. Wherever I looked, they were there; some would smile, and wink at me, as though I were just a child, sharing some grown-up conspiracy. To them, I suppose, I was.

Their hands shone against the darkness of their clothing, and the night that encompassed us. I became so absorbed in them, the very essence of their movement, that the sudden appearance of the Citadel before me was more than I could comprehend. I cried out softly at seeing the rich marble of its façade, the pure blending of red and grey, touches of gold at the intersections between the stones. It was built to resemble not so much a castle, but a fortress, and I could vaguely see the blood-red banners flying above me.

The mist dissapated somewhat; I saw that the ones who stood around us were not all of my sex. Quite a few among them were female, wraithlike in the blackness of their clothing; I shivered and pulled Julia closer. I'm frightened, she sent; I could only agree. And then the dark vampire moved his hand slightly, and doors of hardened oak swung silently open.

"Please, enter our stronghold, as our students and our guests. We have taken the liberty of preparing a room for you both; we do expect you to stay for quite some time." His voice was one that would not submit to a challenge; we followed close behind him, and the vampires who had flanked us dropped behind.

The outer façade of defense had been just that; inside, it would dazzle a monarch. The hall was well lit; a chandelier, heavy with crystals, was suspended from high overhead; it cast a diffuse light to the corners of the room. But the shadows were sharp and numerous; I could see passages in at least six directions, and no doubt there were more. The hall itself stretched the entire length of the building, perhaps a fifty feet to both sides and thirty feet up. There were several floors; through the banisters I saw eager eyes; there were more of us here than I had thought possible, certainly more than the dozen who had come for Julia and me.

They turned to us now, so much more real in the light of a thousand candles. As I looked from face to face, what struck me the most was the bored serenity with which they saw the world. How long had it been since these creatures saw the light of day? I didn't have to wonder for long.

The dark vampire, his face as hard as chiseled granite, stepped forth. "You wish to know of us, Alexandrei? Very well; I would hardly be an adequate teacher if my years were unknown. My name is Mephistopheles; I have existed since the fall of the Roman Empire -- the true empire, not this pathetic excuse they now call holy." He flashed a sardonic smile, black eyebrows arched at the surprise I felt. "That is some thirteen hundred years, Alexandrei; mortals need barely fear me now. And yet, you are both afraid." He paused, and for a moment I saw kindness in his eyes. "Your fear is almost tangible," he continued, softer now. "Let me tell you, Raul; there are two-score of us in this place; you need fear none."

And then he raised a powerful hand, and the vampire closest to us stepped forward. "I am Wolfgang," he said, with an accent no language could hide. "I have a mere two-hundred years to my credit; it is because I wish to have more that I am here." He bowed to me, catlike, and pressed his lips to Julia's hand. I noted with not a little jealousy that she did not seem to mind -- but here there were more of them; I could not call attention to it.

The next lowered his head in a slight greeting. His voice was deep, carrying far across the hall though he spoke in barely a whisper. "There are some here who call me Lucifer," he said, "and I have nought better for myself. I am six-hundred fourteen years gone; since the foundations of this country have I lived." He stared into my eyes. "I am here to teach those who might learn from me."

The others introduced themselves; they ranged from two-hundred to a thousand years of death. But all wore that tired, bored look; all had renounced curiousity for safety.

"Is that what you feel, then?" one of them murmured. She called herself Iphigenia, and indeed, she looked as though she had been sacrificed. Her black hair was pulled severely back into a single plait, and her pure white skin was crossed with lines of indigo. There was a pale scar on her chest, testament to an attack that had only succeeded in part. I could not suppress the shiver I felt when looking at her; she, of them all, seemed the most malign.

"If it is, why should you care?" I asked. "Every one of you has seen more years than I; every one is capable of more than I have dared try. If anyone should be afraid, it should be me. And yet, I feel so much freer than you must; my years are not a chain, but a guide, and I know that whatever awaits me, it will not be boredom."

"Let us not speak of these things now, my children," said Mephistopheles. "This is a place of learning, not of quarrels -- and the light will break your tongues, if nothing else will." It was nearly dawn; though there were no windows to this fortress, I could feel the sun as though it were upon me. There was a heat within my veins that had not been there before, the stigma of the rising sun.

Iphigenia shot one last look at me and, almost before I saw her move, was at the foot of the stairs. Mephistopheles must have seen my surprise; he smiled slightly and said it was among the tricks I might learn here, that extraordinary power of movement. And then, before my eyes, he disappeared. There was nothing where he stood, though I felt a breeze as though something very fast had gone past me. When I next looked up the stairs, he was there, standing as quietly as though he'd always been there.

"Come now," he breathed, though I heard him without difficulty; he had also spoken within my mind. "We have much to show you tomorrow night; now you must see where you will stay." Taking Julia's hand, I walked towards him, up the marble staircase; he retreated, his eyes ever on me. We reached a door, no different from the rest as I could see; he opened it with a swift movement of his wrist, and gestured for us to enter.

It blazed with candles -- the only light it would ever see. Everywhere I looked there was silk and lace and on everything, gold trim and velvet... There was a shape like a window opposite us; behind draperies of tapestried hues lay a sight so real it took me a moment to realize that it was not the true sun I stood in front of, but an exquisite rendition thereof.

The canvas was crossed with smears of sunset; it touched the streets that no one would walk upon, on buildings which had never existed, on the white faces of my company. All was more real than Julia could bear after all that had taken place, still so hot in her mind; she turned from it swiftly, facing Mephistopheles with rage in her eyes.

"Whose obscene trick is this?" she demanded. "Who of you could do a thing such as this -- not just the sunlight, but its victims -- we will not see it again, and yet here it is, a mockery of our kind -- I could hate you for this, if for nothing else."

The dark one stood before her as he had previously; though Julia would not see it, he wore a look of amusement, even pleasure, at her anger. "Dear child," he said at last, "am I to earn your hatred for so simple a thing? I myself am the painter of that scene; as a proper artist should, I suffered for it. On the night I decided to paint it, I stood outside and watched it go down, unprotected and unaccompanied. Naturally my comrades were horrified by the results of the exposure -- but for Art, who could do less?"

And then I felt the same disgust that she did. "How you must hate this life," I whispered. "To do such a thing -- as a mere amusement..." The image he gave me, though, said that the hell of boredom his life had become was worthy of a little pain to change it. I saw him in the light, the radiance of it playing over the ecstatic agony of his face, his bare arms outstretched as though on a crucifix... The images faded, and I saw in his eyes that he wished I, at least, would understand.

"Much as your conversation calls me to stay, I fear that I have not the stamina you possess; I must sleep." He smiled at us both, bowed deeply to Julia, and in a single sweeping motion, he was gone. The door closed softly behind him.

Julia said nothing then, but turned to me and circled her arms about my waist. "Please, Alexandrei, hold me. I... I need to know that you'll still be here when they come for us in the morning, that whatever they do, you'll be mine and not surrender to them..." She pressed her head to my chest; I felt her shiver and knew that her fear was very real.

"I would never leave you. I couldn't; you know it. I will stay with you for as long as we're here and longer; you are my Aphrodite, my Athene, my Eurydice..." She lifted her head and I saw the tears; I also saw the faint smile, the brightness returning to her eyes. She did not know that myth; Orpheus could charm a soul from Hades; he could have taken hers but for the glance that made him lose her.

As we lay entwined in bed, surrounded by pure lace and scented sheets, I thought of the myths I had read in a time that seemed centuries ago. Our rural France had not been devoid of culture; I was able to obtain volumes of history, both the true and the mythological. Mephistopheles -- he needed no explanation, nor did his contemplative companion Lucifer. Those names were as familiar to me as my own; fire and brimstone had been my earliest erudition in the hands of the priests.

Iphigenia was different, the sort of a much more ancient myth. It was the time of the Trojan war; her father's conquering ships were to aid in the destruction of the city -- but the wind wouldn't take them. And so Iphigenia was sacrificed -- by her own father -- to whatever god would listen, to change the wind. It worked; her sacrifice enabled the slaughter of hundreds of Trojans -- and then, when her father returned, his own death at the hands of his wife.

It was a brutal story, and that is not the end: to avenge his father's death, Iphigenia's brother Orestes killed his mother, at the behest of Apollo, god of music, light, and prophesy. And his grief had only just begun: he was hounded by the Eumenides, the Furies, punishers of those crimes most heinous. Finally, Orestes sought Athene's help; she gave the Furies a haven in her city in exchange for their defeat: Orestes would be allowed peace. But Iphigenia was gone, and her death had opened the door for thousands of others.

Hers was a fitting name for a vampire; though all I knew of this Iphigenia was her curse, that was enough to know. I hoped I would not make an enemy of her; if she was at all as the name inferred, she would be better as an ally.

But to them, I would be Orpheus: I had brought my love to Hades, and I did not know if I could release her.

The light of day, though I could not see it, commanded me to sleep. I did; thankfully, there were no dreams.


I was awoken the next night by a summons sent directly to my brain. Come to us now, Orpheus; we would show you our world; see if it would be yours as well.

Julia moaned as she was called; I could hear the echoes of their words through her soul. "Young one, we ask that you be with us. We have one who wishes to appease you... You need only give us your Name."

She sighed softly, her eyes still closed. "Eurydice," she whispered, her hands clenching into tight little fists. And then they told her who she was! Her eyes opened wide and she stared at me in horror; I could see only the reflection of their words, but it was enough. Eurydice was the wife of Orpheus; when she died, he went all the way to Hades to save her. The lord of the underworld agreed -- after not a little musical persuasion -- to let her return with him. She would walk behind him all the way -- but if he looked back, just once, she would stay in Hades forever. Needless to say, Orpheus could not trust the bond between them to guide her out; the last he saw of her was the terror in her eyes as she was pulled back underground.

And now I saw the same terror in Julia's eyes, when she realized what past she had committed herself to. "Julia, Julia," I murmured to her, "I would not doubt you as Orpheus; this is life, not mythology; it has no significance to us. I love you; I would not leave you here if Hades himself barred me from having you." She smiled weakly, patting my hand -- but though my words may have consoled her, they did little for me.

Sooner than I would have liked, we joined our counterparts downstairs. But there were more than I had remembered; those who slept the night before were here now to greet us. And amongst the immortals, young and old, there was one who would die.

Julia gasped when she saw this man; he had been amongst vampires for some time; so at ease was he that for a moment I could not believe he was mortal. But when I saw his throat, the bruise over the vein we so needed, and another on his wrist, I knew his purpose. How he had come to such a sorry state was no mystery to me; there are those who enjoy the sensation of near-death, and have the constitution to withstand several bouts of it. This man was one of them.

He stepped forth as Julia came down the stairs. "You are Eurydice?" he whispered, his voice raw and dry. "They have told me you need me, and so I am yours for the taking." Her eyes darkened, not only at the name -- but at the need she truly did feel. I watched her, almost as casually as the others did; she walked to him steadily; only I felt the hunger she sent.

"I do not wish to take him, Alexandrei," she said, without words. "But he compels me -- or perhaps it is they who do so... I must heed it, Love; please forgive me..." She stepped closer, and touched the mark on his neck with something like reverence; he pulled her to him, his eyes closed, his breathing already quickened by her presence. I heard his whisper: "Do it, now! I need it as much as you, mein liebe..." and then the voice was choked off by a moan. I looked on from the stairs, felt the hunger rising in me as she fed, clutching his rigid body to her.

After what might have been minutes or half a lifetime, she lifted her mouth from the wound and pushed him lightly away. A red line of blood trickled from his neck, like the droplets that remained on Julia's lips; when he fell, Lucifer was quick to catch him. There was no expression to his face when he glanced at her, but she turned away from him, to me.

The stagger to her walk was not the only indication of the potency of the mortal's blood; her eyes had dilated to the point where I could barely see into them. What I did see was the haze of euphoria; my arms were all that kept her from sinking to the floor. "Julia, what have they done?" I murmured to her. There was no response -- not from her, at least.

The dark one, Mephistopheles, stepped forward with a smile on his face. "We have done nothing, young one," he said, almost genially. "Eros has that effect on many of us; I am sure he would for you as well. But he needs to recover before another can take him; if you feel the need, we have others... All of them, I am afraid, suffer the same addiction as Eros -- and it isn't only this morbid one. Have you ever heard of laudanum? I believe it was slightly after your mortal time..."

"You fiend," I growled. "To do this to them, for the promise of their drug? Better to kill a man outright than to do it slowly like this; to what point do you mean to bring them? My God, you have their very souls in thrall! The mask of death is all around them, and they can do nothing..."

"Oh, come, come now." The voice was still gracious, coaxing, but his patience would have to snap eventually... "It's hardly as hopeless as that; everything they desire, they receive; when they need the drug, they know we'll let them have it, and they know what they pay for it with. Tell me, Orpheus, who is the parasite here? We give them what they feel they need, they give us what we must have. Mutually profitable, non? Tell me, Orpheus --" he moved closer, keeping his eyes locked on mine -- "which of us suffers more?" He was right, I thought, as in a dream; everything he said was true, and both were happier for the arrangement...

These were not my thoughts! I closed my eyes and turned away quickly. If he could change that much of me in so little time, what could he do if I let him? Again my mind was my own, and I knew the savagery of this place. How could I escape it? I was not given the moment to think; Mephistopheles put his hand on my shoulder and pulled me gently towards him.

"Orpheus, you mustn't fight it. Have trust in it, as your namesake should have had. You needn't make his mistake; allow yourself the release that faith gives; don't fear it, enjoy it! What else do we have, but faith in that which we do not understand? And there is so much you do not yet know..." He sighed slightly, smiling, and patted my shoulder in a gesture that, from any other man, would have been friendly. From him, it was anathema.

Lucifer suddenly appeared behind me, still holding the mortal. When he spoke, I could not be sure whether it was his voice that was so soft, or if it was merely in my mind. "Your Eurydice will awaken soon; she will need you when she does -- or she will need Eros again. As it stands, my unfortunate mortal has given her more pleasure than she usually has; as most do, she will not understand the pain when she comes to. Your blood will make it stop." I turned to him, to catch the sympathy in his eyes. "I might suggest you not indulge when Mephistopheles offers it. Find some other way..."

Then he was gone, taking Eros to an adjoining room. And Mephistopheles stood next to Julia -- I could not bring myself to call her Eurydice; he looked down at her; she lay on the marble staircase, shivering from time to time. I did not like the nature of that look; far from it; I wished he was not so old, so accustomed to his powers. I could not protect her from his ages. But I could stop him from seducing her as he almost did to me...

"Mephistopheles," I said, stepping closer, closer, until I was opposite him, by the perfection that was Julia's unconscious body. He glanced up with question on his face. "If you have no objections, I would rather like to see the rest of your sanctuary; I assume Eurydice will be able to join us?"

He was not able to catch the worry before it escaped to his forehead, and though his composure was regained in fractions of the time it would take a mortal to notice, I was no mortal. "Khonyeshna -- ah, of course," he blurted; he could not even conceal his Russian heritage. I smiled; only Lucifer knew why. "Eros is not so potent that he could keep one of us sleeping for long. Perhaps, however, we should let her rest for now?" It was not a question, but an order; he assumed it would be followed.

That was not to be. I knelt beside her, whispering softly to her, taking her in my arms like a doll. And then I bit my lip, hard, so that the blood flowed before I lowered my mouth to hers. She moaned slightly, caught the drops on her tongue -- though no one else saw it; it appeared to be a kiss like any other. Her eyes fluttered open, though she winced at some pain of which I could feel mere echoes; when the blood would no longer come, she bent her head to my neck, bit once, gently, and let it come for all of them to see.

She did not take much, stopping after a few moments to smile at me and the rest of them; all but Lucifer seemed almost shocked; no doubt it had taken them far longer to recover. But Lucifer was grinning -- it was the first time I had seen him smile -- and I knew then that at least he would be an ally in this place.

The hunger stirred faintly within me; though it had been only a night since I had last drank, Julia had hastened my thirst. And I could not drink here; Julia did not have the blood to do as I did. But it was faint enough to be ignored for this little while. There was much to be seen now, and three hours of darkness left for it. That sentiment I allowed to broadcast; Mephistopheles caught it first, and agreed.

The structure that had been finished before all the others was the sepulcre, as he called it; he lead Julia and I in alone. Though our vision vaguely outlined the room, there were torches near the door; Mephistopheles lit one without a flame, with only the briefest movement of his eyes.

The walls were lined with coffins, all exactly alike but for their ornaments: on one was a dagger; on another, a stylized engraving of the sun. And on one that Mephistopheles pointed out to me was a lyre, the instrument of Apollo and Orpheus; above it was one whose only adornment was a single rose.

"This is where you will go if there is danger," he murmured. "There is a coffin for each of us, each with an inner lock and lined with a lead alloy. Should we ever be discovered, the perpetrators will have an extremely difficult time with our removal; not only are they quite heavy, they are nearly impossible to open from the outside. The only threat is fire -- and lead does not burn, not easily. This, young one, is why our kind chooses coffins over beds for our rest. They are, quite simply, safer." I could not disagree; it seemed a valid enough statement. And indeed, I would feel much safer, knowing that humans of the kind that killed Constance could not get at me.

The following room was something of an antechamber; though extravagantly furnished, it was not unique. The next, however, had the look of a hospital -- but in those times, that is not saying much. Every bed was, to my surprise, occupied; these would be the other mortals Mephistopheles had spoken. They lay as still as corpses, none stirring but for the brief hiss of breath -- aye, they looked dead, under the influence of the drug they so craved.

I heard Julia moan as though it were she who was in thrall, as they were. Mephistopheles heard it, too, and glanced at her, an inexplicable desire for nothing in his eyes. "They are well-cared for, you know, my dear," he said softly. "We only require their blood, and not often. It isn't so bad; is it worse than killing them quickly in an alley, not knowing who else dies with them? These are all castaways, judged unfit by their society; our theft harms no one. Not even them."

I shook my head, realizing then that I wanted to agree with him, knowing that his justification was almost right, his reasoning almost true. But the margin that was left was too great for the human in me to accept. I said nothing, though; I took Julia's hand -- she was, by now, shaking with what must have been fear -- and we left that room and its morbid scene behind.

Although there were several doors next to this, Mephistopheles would enter none of them. "They are rooms like your own," he said; he could not hide the fact that he was not telling us everything. But he paused before opening the one closest to the end of that great hall, his lips parted in an easy smile. "Orpheus," he murmured. "Such a name for a vampire." And then he was serious again; "We took the liberty of bringing your things here -- I daresay I didn't think you would mind. But wait, give me no objections until you've seen what we brought."

And with that, he flung open the door. The light caught me by surprise, and for a moment I stood blinking from its seeming radiance. But once I could see... The room was lined with candles, hundreds of them, and their light magnified by the mirrors that covered the walls behind them. (And we, too, cast reflections; I haven't the slightest idea where the myth that we have none came from, unless the pure swiftness of my kind provided the base.)

Beyond the candles was an sight I had not known in what could have been aeons. In the middle of the room stood the most elaborate harpsichord I had ever seen; its double manuals white-on-black, inlaid with fanciful designs of gold but so smooth the player wouldn't even feel it; its lid painted with a hunting scene -- of the vampire sort. Though slightly grotesque, the figures were so real it seemed they would move suddenly, the arms of the vampire wrapped tightly about his victim; she had surrendered, there was no doubt to that.

Surrounding the harpsichord were, of all things, my instruments: the violin Nikolai had given me so long ago, a cello I had bought for Julia -- once she read of my duets with Nikolai, she decided she would play as well. And older strings as well: in the corner sat a viola di gamba, cousin to the cello; on the clavichord -- one I myself had solicited -- lay several recorders, tenor, soprano, alto, and bass.

Even the shock of the light was not so great as this. To think that they had this kind of society -- and they had music as well... But the shock was quickly replaced by excitement. It had been long since I last played, and now it was as though all the days had been years; I did not care that the others saw; I could scarcely maintain by composure as I walked into the room, and I know the smile showed obviously on my face.

My violin had not been harmed -- what I might have done if it had been! -- and was indeed barely out of tune. I lifted it with all the patience I could sustain, with a touch that could be nothing but gentle; but only those who know music could understand the urgency with which I took up the bow, and drew it sharply across the strings. The first piece that I could express was Vivaldi's Concerto in A-minor, so simple and yet so undeniably powerful... I had learned it with the Maestro himself; it is not vanity that lets me say that no one who heard it went untouched.

At last the notes died away, their tones made infinitely richer by my unadorned surroundings. The echoes persisted for some moments before Julia smiled, entering the room to sit by me at the harpsichord. It was the first instrument she had taken, and though she still had much to learn, her technique made it easy to call her a virtuoso.

And then, to my surprise, Lucifer stepped in, his eyes shining, friendly. "We are all students of this art, Orpheus; I had the fortune of taking lessons on the violin from your Joseph Haydn some time ago; I found him quite capable as a musician. I was saddened when he felt it necessary to terminate our relationship; I'm afraid he recognized some of my characteristics, after your own final night with him."

He waited a moment to let his words reach me. It did not take long; Julia told me later that I turned quite pale -- more than I had been, apparently -- and that the violin almost slipped from my grasp. But such was my surprise; I had known that Joseph had been taking students, out of financial need; it had never crossed my mind to think there was another immortal among them. And why should it? Nikolai and I had thought we were virtually alone; if these vampires could hide themselves from even Nikolai, I had no way of knowing, ever.

"He knew because I told him," Lucifer continued. "Oh, he'll not remember it, fear not. We avoid detection in the guise of forgetfulness. When it seemed the knowledge was too much, I told him he had never known it; I also took the liberty of allowing him to forget your state. He recalls all but the reason of your departure, mine as well.

"But this is not what I came for, Orpheus; it was to share the music he taught me to play. Not the elementary items of the lessons; the sounds they enabled me to know. Are you familiar with Handel's work? Never mind; I see that you are. We have the instruments for his concerti; the music is on the stands." And indeed, it was; the harpsichord part was simple enough for Julia, the violins enough of a challenge that Lucifer and I had quite a time of it: it was an interpretation I had not seen before, a mix of the Baroque counterpoint, and the newer, freer dynamics.

Our impromptu audience stood motionless while we played; Mephistopheles lead the applause when it was over in the flash of a chord. "Bravo, my friends; the Orpheus of legend could not have bettered you on that." His smile was wide, but he avoided my eyes; I saw where they lay. Julia sat transfixed under his stare, her lips parted slightly -- and not only from the exertion of playing.

This time, I did not interrupt. Julia was, I thought, capable of her own defense -- if she wanted it. And none of us heard their thoughts, so guarded were they; had I known them, I might not have been so sanguine.

Lucifer stood and bowed to me, holding his violin close. "It has been some time since I've known the pleasure of a musician such as yourself," he said grandly, breaking the silence. Even Julia looked up -- which, I assume, was the purpose. Mephistopheles was not quick enough to hide his chagrin.

"I'm sure I speak for all of us when I say that I could listen for hours longer," he said, recovering his suavity, "but now only an hour of darkness remains, and while you may be in the practice of going about in the sun, I most assuredly am not." A little smile hid what could have been in his eyes; by some signal, the rest of the group dissipated, leaving only the four of us.

When he had assured himself that they were out of range, he stepped into the room; had I not known he was there, I would not have seen him move. He had been alive for more than thirteen centuries, and in that time had learned to use every bone, every muscle in his body for his stealth. As it was, I could not track him: one moment he stood in the doorway; the next, the door was closed and he sat by Julia at the harpsichord.

He said nothing to her -- as though his very presence was enough -- but turned to me, that broad smile on his face, that blankness in his eyes. "I give you my most humble welcome to 'La Sang de Coeur'; that is now what we call this place. It does change; in fact, it used to be 'La Coeur Baroque'; say it in English." I raised my eyebrows at him; I knew enough English to realize that he had not lost his sense of humour entirely. It was now something like 'Heart's Blood', and had been 'The Baroque Heart'.

Lucifer grinned -- how apt his name seemed! His hair, pulled back in a ponytail, was blond, almost golden in the candlelight. His eyes were a disquieting grey -- until he smiled, and they became blue. Fair-skinned by nature, he lost nothing to pallor. By all rights, he was the very antithesis of what a vampire should have been, not the melancholic, morbid creatures his fellows were -- but more of the sort Marcella had been...

"You would not imagine the trouble we went through, trying to have this built with none of us to supervise. Eventually Mephistopheles convinced someone to do it for us, gave him the plans and instructions at night." Lucifer sighed, and I suppose asked Mephistopheles, in his mind, to continue.

"The mortal's name was Sebastian Szeryng. I would guess that he was somewhere in his thirties, perhaps as 'old' as forty. But he had no fear of us! Even though the so-called myth of the vampire was far from well-known, he seemed to know almost at once what we were -- or at least, he could guess: we would meet him only at night; with our pale, cold skin, and the blood teeth we knew he could see, it would be hard to mistake us.

"It was not until the work on our fortress was completed that he asked why there were no windows, why we felt it necessary to include so large a crypt -- we had labeled it as such on the plans -- and why the theatre and the sleeping quarters and the teaching rooms were there in one building at all. It was nearing dawn; I did not wish to explain, but Iphigenia had taken a liking to him, and told him everything in a glance. Of course he had known, but to be told in such a way... He knew of our ways of speech; what exactly he thought I do not know, but he left with Iphigenia that day, and when they came back, he was one of us."

Sebastian. The name was familiar... I heard myself moan when I remembered who he was, the youth Deirdre had taken, before Nikolai and I drove them apart. "Ask me again before I die," he had said. And we never had to. To think that he was here... Oh, God! Was Deirdre as well?

"She stayed here for a time," Lucifer said, his voice soft, his eyes penetrating but not hostile. "It was five years after your last encounter with her -- though she still had much to blame you for. Sebastian came not long after, no doubt answering her call. But she was gone when he came; she and Mephistopheles did not get along. We did not reveal to him then who or what we were; none of us intruded upon his thoughts to see if he knew. We did know that he had consorted with Deirdre, and that you and the one you call Nikolai had made them part."

There was a long silence before Lucifer or Mephistopheles would speak; though I knew they spoke alone, I did not know what they said. But it was Mephistopheles who continued. "In your years with Deirdre, did she ever tell you who changed her? No; she wouldn't have. And Nikolai? He merely told you it had been one of the peasants." He shook his head slightly, with a brief smile. "That wasn't quite the truth." He looked directly into my eyes and said, "It was I who made Deirdre a vampire."

I could say nothing. This coincidence was almost beyond what I could believe; how many more were there? But to think that Mephistopheles had begun this cycle, that Deirdre and Nikolai and Julia and I -- and how many others? -- were of his blood, for all practical purposes, his children... "How long have you known this?" I whispered, wishing I had Julia's hand to hold. "How long did you feel it was necessary to make us wait, before you would tell us who we really were?" My mind was spinning; the implications threatened to take away my sanity.

"I changed Deirdre only because she asked it of me -- and only after she had used the power for vengeance did I know the mistake I'd made. Of all the others I have created in my time, she is the only one I regret -- but I could do nothing to stop her. I... she was the only one I loved. I have tried to stay away from her; I knew what she was doing; when she left you in Paris, it was because I called her to me. Fifty years later, after your encounter, I brought her here. She wouldn't stay. She had changed in those years, as had I; there was no more love.

"It was through Lucifer's contact with Haydn -- and with Nikolai -- that we found you. For nearly ten years we've watched you, waiting indeed until your need for companionship overrode your fear. Even though you have Julia; there was more to know than either of you could find on your own. And," he paused here, for once letting the emotion show on his face; it was happiness, "you are my children, if not in lineage, at least in blood. I wish to teach you, as I should have taught Deirdre, and Iphigenia, and Wolfgang..."

There came a knock at the door, and one of the vampires we had met earlier entered. "Sunrise is imminent," she said, with a timid smile on her face that nonetheless could not hide her doubled canines. Mephistopheles thanked her, and rose from his place by Julia.

"We will continue tomorrow, if you wish," he said cordially. I nodded once, still unwilling to speak. He bowed, and then was gone.

Lucifer turned to me. "Before we go, please, allow me to play just one thing for you..." Julia smiled and relinquished the harpsichord to him. And then, he did something none of his companions had dared to do: he opened his mind to me, and his thoughts came pouring out, flooding my brain, until it seemed I must become him or be responsible for wanting it... And then he began to play; the flow became more structured, as the chords did. I saw the music -- no, I felt it -- and the memories, the people... Constance was there, and Nikolai, though their names had changed, and then Mephistopheles, and the German cities that the one I now knew as Amadeus Kehr had known, the wars and the blood, always the blood...

When at last he stopped playing, when the memories had faded -- though I would never be able to forget them -- then I felt the hunger, more insistent than I remembered it to be. I opened my eyes, saw Julia, horrified, for I could see in my reflection the thirst, the thousands of nights we had hungered, Lucifer and Nikolai and Constance and all of us begging for mercy, if mercy it was whose name we called, constantly, unheeded forever, the madness we endured for the sake of a few more years... centuries... I felt the wetness on my cheeks and realized it was tears I could not suppress; I felt the cold touch of Julia's hands on my face, on my arms, felt them closing around my waist as she sought to comfort me, but only Lucifer could.

He was suddenly by me again, clasping my hand. "There is no comfort for this, no consolation in our lives for the ones we've taken, and will take. But Alexandrei, you understand, it cannot be helped; unless we wish to starve -- and I have shown you that as well -- we must take them; why not let it be in ecstasy?" He leaned over me and touched my throat lightly with his lips; he let me feel the pulse as he did, fast now, frantic from the images of his time on earth.

"We are not chained, my friend, no more than are mortals; the strand that keeps them alive is merely more tenuous. We can break it, if we wish, if the need is so great -- just as they can break us. But no more of this," he said, standing swiftly; "Now we must all away, for the sun grows hot on the city."

Before he left the room, though, he turned to us again, and approached me. "Julia, Alexandrei, I will always help you," he vowed in a whisper reserved for friends. He bent to pick me up; did so, seemingly without effort. And I felt the touch of his mind as well; now he knew as did Julia that I would need sustenance as soon as it was available -- that I would need aid in simply reaching our room. I was only peripherally aware of their conversation at the time. I can remember it now as vividly as though I had been fully conscious, but then, it was like a dream, surreal and frightening, as though I were mortal again.

It was from Lucifer's arms that I was delivered to sleep. He opened his mind again, this time filling me with images of peace, the sostenudo sounds of a violin sonata, broken into phrases by the workings of his brain, lulling my thoughts into oblivion. Julia whispered something to him; echoes of the words floated past, though I could not seem to catch them; he laid me gently on the bed, stepped back. The last thing I saw was the grey iris of his eye as he smiled, and then it was black, everything.


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