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Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Visitor from Abroad


            The vampire edged across his lavishly decorated great hall, stepping towards a woman in a very Ophelia-esque dress who was draped across a low couch, her eyes half opened like a drunk’s.


            “Listen to them,” the vampire cooed as he slid a finger across her neck and tilted her chin upwards. The howling of wolves echoed around the stone walls from the open balcony, and he cracked a toothy smile, revealing his delicately pointed canines, “The children of the night…”

            A man walked down the ramp of the almost completely empty movie theater, wincing to himself at the cheesiness of the line. He scouted the rows of empty seats until he spotted the only two occupied ones. A tall man who was so beautiful that he looked like a baroque painting lounged with his booted feet up on the back of the chair in front of him with one hand on the wrist of a woman in a very expensive evening gown. They both stared at the screen in silent fascination, their bodies stiff and unmoving.

            “Excuse me? Monsieur Chevalier?” The man asked quietly from the isle. His expertly pressed suit and high necked dress shirt couldn’t quite hide the long, tell-tale scar that ran from his chin to his chest like the rays of a stylized sun.

            The patron turned his head away from the screen just long enough to hiss, “Quiet!”

            On screen, the vampire nuzzled his lips against the woman’s throat and bit down. Despite the fact that the film was black and white, the vibrancy of the blood reflected in the patron’s eyes and he lifted his delicately carved lips into a smile. After a few seconds of breathlessly staring, he turned to look at the man in the aisle.

            “You have to admire these old films,” Chevalier smiled, “They weren’t afraid of decadence, didn’t shy away from caricature. They were so over the top that they were fascinating.” His strange, predatory green eyes flicked towards the other man once again, and their strange luminescence couldn’t be entirely attributed to the light from the screen, “What is it?”

            “The Lady sent me,” the man in the suit said, “She told me to bring you back immediately.”

            Chevalier grimaced and ran a hand over his face. His long, jet-black hair that was pulled into an almost Victorian ponytail at the nape of his neck brushed the shoulder of the woman at his right and she shuddered, her eyes never leaving the screen, “Very well, if my lady commands.”

            “She does,” the thrall in the aisle said with a slight bow. The scars on his neck, the mark of his service to his vampiric master, stood out slightly as he bowed lower, “It is urgent.”

            Chevalier nodded and looked over at the woman again, “Well, let me just finish my meal, and I will join you.” he lifted the woman’s wrist and sank his teeth into punctures that had been carefully hidden under her bangles. He finished her off in seconds, regretful that he couldn’t continue the slow drain that he’d been maintaining for the past few days, but, he figured, all good things had to come to an end.

            He dropped her wrist when he finished and she flopped over in her seat like a ragdoll. The thrall muttered, “I’ll arrange a clean up.”

            “Make sure you do. I enjoy this theatre, and should like to be able to return.”

*******



            Le Minuit Chambre was situated smack in the middle of the 16th arrondissement, and it was a large, squat house that was strangely reminiscent of a dark cloud sitting amongst the other buildings.

            Chevalier knocked on the broad oak door, noting, as he always did, that the street lamps that fended off the night around the building were still lit from gas. He only waited for a few minutes before it creaked open and a human with the same sunburst scarring across his throat answered the door and let him inside.

            To Chevalier’s infinite surprise, he was led into the foyer instead of to the ballroom where he was used to meeting with the Lady, and once he was inside he found her sitting in a high backed chair, her long, metal-sheathed fingernails tapping on the arm agitatedly. A second attendant in a five hundred dollar suit stood at her side, gently trying to give her a glass of blood to no avail.

            Chevalier swept into the room and bowed low, hiding his surprise at finding her in such an open, unprotected room behind a large smile, “Countess,”

            The Countess Elizabeth B├íthory de Ecsed turned her heavily veiled face towards him, and nodded slightly. Once a noble woman of Hungary, the Countess had murdered hundreds of young women for their blood until she was caught and put under house arrest in 1614. The human records stopped there, but the Tigress of Csejte had been summarily executed by her own vampiric brethren, with her head completely severed from her body, and it was only through an act of pure unadulterated will that she had managed to regenerate from the experience. The cost of her life, however, had not been light.

            She lifted a hand swathed in fine silks and gestured him closer, her once light and melodious voice now hoarse and gravelly, “My vassal, we have a…visitor from abroad who has a task for you.”

            Chevalier took her hand in his own, trying not to flinch when her bones ground together in his palm. He kissed the silk at the base of her metal nails and lifted his head to look at her shrouded face, “And who is this visitor to ask?”

            The countess pulled her hand away abruptly, and from her stiffened spine Chevalier could tell that he’d misspoke, “No concern of yours. You will hear and obey.”

            “But-“

            The countess rounded on him, and through the veil he could see the subtle glint of her metal fangs as they flashed in her mouth, “Do not question!” she hissed.

Although she was doused in strong rose water, Chevalier caught a brief whiff of the stench of decay as she turned her head to the man at her side and took the chalice from his platter. Instead of lifting her gorget and wimple to drink, she daintily dipped one of the long silver needles on her fingers into the cup and slid it under her veil to daintily lap at it, “He is awaiting your arrival in the ballroom. I suggest that you do not keep him waiting.”

            “My lady,” Chevalier bowed low again and shot a covert glance to his mistress’ hands. They were shaking ever so slightly, the silver nails ringing against the chalice as she did so, but whether it was from rage or fear Chevalier couldn’t tell.

            He hurried to the door out of the foyer and traveled along a long hallway towards the ballroom, scowling as he considered what he had just seen. In all of his four hundred years, he had never seen his mistress be anything but poised and commanding, no matter the circumstances.

            The ballroom was everything that a French aristocrat’s mansion should be. The floors were made from Macassar Ebony sealed to a mirror finish, and the ceiling far above was painted with a fresco of a blue sky dotted with pink-bottomed clouds that seemed to lazily float around the ice-like diamond chandelier.

            Chevalier wandered inside and looked around, curious to see who the traveler from abroad was. At first, he thought he was alone in the room until he spotted a young man lounging in one of the only two chairs in the room, his attention completely absorbed by a large black book so old that the cover had long ago rotted away. The boy toyed with a strange gold and lapis pendant around his neck that reflected the light back into Chevalier’s eyes and made him cringe.

            The French revenant wandered over to the boy, but as soon as he set his eyes upon him they went out of focus, in much the same way as looking directly at a star. He blinked a few times just as the young man’s eyes flicked up to him and he smiled.

            Chevalier cleared his throat, “Are you here to take me to see the Lady’s visitor?” the young man silently appraised him and Chevalier tried rubbing his eyes to clear them, “I was told to meet him here.”

            “I’m not to take you anywhere,” the boy’s voice was thick and honeyed, with the strangest lilt of an unfamiliar accent, “Perhaps you should like to wait with me?”

            Chevalier nodded and sat down, aware of a sudden pressure at the base of his skull. He shook his head and glanced over at the man, but once again it was if the atmosphere around the boy were slightly warped, like the air above hot pavement.

            “What are you reading?” Chevalier asked, making sure that his voice conveyed that he was not actually interested.

            The young man folded the book in his lap neatly and stared down at the cover, “Just a text from my homeland. I’ve been carrying it with me for so long that it’s become like an old friend.” the boy extended a hand, “I am Bey.”

            Chevalier sniffed and folded his arms dismissively, “And I was told not to keep our visitor waiting.”

            “Why is that? Is the person you are supposed to meet ill-tempered?”

            “I don’t know,” Chevalier snorted, “I have not met him yet.”

            Bey stared at him, and a sudden weight descended upon Chevalier. He shivered slightly, although the air was still and warm, and for a minute as he glanced at Bey from the corner of his eye he thought that he saw an imposing dark figure curled on the chair like a cobra. He blinked and his eyes shot the man’s face, but once again he was simply a young man, although Chevalier couldn’t seem to focus on more than a single aspect of him at a time.

            “I am also waiting.” Bey said with laughter in his voice.

            When he didn’t elaborate, Chevalier cleared his throat, trying to rouse him to his point. Bey didn’t seem to notice, so the French revenant sighed and asked, “What for?”

            “I’m not sure, really. A sign?” Bey laughed, and the noise clattered around the hall like breaking glass, “Something to let me know how to proceed.”

            “Proceed?” Chevalier blinked at the boy, but he just went more out of focus. The strength seemed to waver in Chevalier’s limbs, and his mind couldn’t quite stay on track. He stood up abruptly, “I don’t have time for this, I’m supposed to be in a meeting.”

            “And you can’t be late for it?”

“No, I can’t.” Chevalier clapped a hand to his head, which was suddenly throbbing with pain. He snarled, “I don’t know why I’m even bothering to sit here and chat with you, my time is important, and the person I am meeting is important, and I don’t expect a servant to understand.”

            “A servant?” Bey laughed, and a chill ran up Chevalier’s spine, “I believe you misunderstand. I am no one’s servant.” he stood up, and as he did so he seemed to grow in height like a wraith, the light around him contorting and bending. the ground beneath him began to shake slightly and the gas lights in the room flickered out.

            For an instant, they were plunged into darkness, and even though Chevalier, like all of his kind, could see as well as a cat in the natural night fall, this was an unnatural, inky blackness that seemed to fill his throat and nose, it’s mass pushing against his eyes like heavy water.

            “You are my servant, childe.” Bey’s voice had risen to a crackling crescendo and even Chevalier’s very bones seemed to vibrate. He collapsed to his knees as the voice split through his head and blood gathered in the lips of his ears, “My will is absolute. I have a task for you, and you will obey me.”

            Chevalier looked up with eyes rimmed with bloody tears, “I…I know who you are…”

            “Hear me and obey, Trystram Le Maingre Chevalier.” At the sound of his full, true name, the pressing weight in his head grew too much to handle and Chevalier collapsed to the floor, his eyes rolled so far back that only the eerie bloody whites could be seen.

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