Chapter One - Indifferent
“Sometimes the end is just a beginning.”
* * *
Chantelle's cold, dead hand slipped into my own like velvet ice.
“The balcony, Monsieur?”
“Please, Jean. You know formality makes me feel old, Princess.”
“Are you not?” she giggled.
I gave her a narrow-eyed glare.
In sashaying majesty, she led me out onto the moonlit balcony, a slight breeze stirring the purple silks of her gowns and tousling those flowing, raven locks. Neither the orchestra, nor revellers, noticed our absence, all far too absorbed with their petty pleasures.
Scattered geranium bushes emitted a faint pomade into the night in wafts of delicious perfume. The fragrance circulated in the evening's air currents mixing with Chantelle's own exquisite scents. She was everything a man could have desired, perfection personified.
“Come here.” I pulled her close, uncaring of prying eyes. I cared for nothing else, so why should that have mattered.
“Come here Princess,” she corrected, pressing hidden curves against my body.
If I could have remembered what happiness felt like, then that moment would have come close, her demure eyelash batting only adding to the allure.
“Beautiful, is it not, Jean?”
“Not as beautiful as you,” I said and leaned out over the balustrade. The red waters of the Danube looped their turgid way around the palace perimeter forming a natural barrier to uninvited guests. That was the exact purpose of their design. Nature had never had a say in it.
“Shall we?” Chantelle purred, as the reinvigorated orchestra drew my attention back from the river. There was only one kind of music for such occasions: Strauss.
We waltzed in slow circles to the ironic notes of the Blue Danube. I doubted the composer would have generated the same response to his masterpiece if titled red. A searchlight moon shone down from amongst a twinkling eternity, as we twirled across the polished, ebony floor. Could there have been anything better? I very much doubted it. Just because one was dead did not preclude them from appreciating the finer things in life.
I'd been experiencing the best of life for the last five hundred or so years and unlike some, I'd enjoyed every second. What was there not to have liked? To have wined and dined with those of undeniable breeding, shared tailors with kings and queens, walked along gothic promenades without fear, that was the life, or death, I'd dreamed of. I'd never missed the sunlight and felt it terribly overrated. The sun had given such a false sense of wellbeing to the living. Only in the crystal clarity of a sparkling moon did the true reality of an object shine. The snake was not a slithering, ugly beast, but a sensual, seductive coil of a creature. The bat far outshone the bird for it required none of the adulation that the avian so craved. And the wolf, ah, the wolf, what could one say? To see the grey wolves of old backlit by a hunter's moon was a thing of surreal majesty. In a world of sculpted pleasures; toned to compliment the night; crafted for exuberance, I had walked unhindered. Who was I trying to convince, I hated it all! How I envied the wolves their freedom the one thing I would never possess.
“Shall we remain out here under the stars, Monsieur?”
The beautiful French accent of my partner snapped me from my musings.
“Tell me, Jean, what is your wish?”
“To be with you.”
“You can be with me anytime, but in this moment only once.”
“I can close my eyes and imagine this moment anytime I require.”
“That is not the same thing and you know it,” she berated. Another batting of those dark lashes caused a brief disturbance in her sparkling, amethyst eyes.
“No, probably not, but I shall still enjoy doing so.”
She tilted her head to one side as if it helped her think. “You know, Jean,” she whispered. “With your long, dark hair and those brooding, black eyes, you really are to die for.” Chantelle flicked her hair back and grinned, her elegant, porcelain neck beckoning.
It was a momentary thing, an uncontrollable urge, as I plunged dagger fangs into flesh, and sucked, and savoured, and drank.
How long I sated, I did not know, but it was too long. By the time I'd finished, the metallic tang of her blood saturated my tongue, and she was gone. I had taken her past the point of no return where Eternal lust and immortality merged. My lapse shattered the one sacrosanct law of Eternal life, the original sin, the forbidden link to a shameful past: I'd killed Princess Chantelle of The New Europa Alliance, sole daughter of King Rudolph and for the first time in an age, panicked!
As a rule, I was quite unflappable, after all, what was there to get in a flap about when you were already dead? But killing a princess certainly qualified. So, I kept on dancing, holding Chantelle close, and edged my way past the double doors to the balcony's edge. Twisting our conjoined forms around, I surveyed the merriment within the ballroom: revellers swayed to the orchestration ignorant of all but themselves. A smirk escaped the confines of my lips. Once sure of our privacy, I leapt the rails with my burden. It was a drop of about thirty feet, nothing to such as I, and quickly made my way to the tree-lined riverbank. Clutching Chantelle tight, as a lover might, I again made certain of our solitude. Where my Eternal eyes could not see my senses, scent and hearing, took charge. They all confirmed that there was nobody present but me and my corpse. I waited for an opportune cloud to obscure the moon and then flung her departed form far into the claret waters. Chantelle's limp form hit the surface with an undignified plop, and then slipped away in stages, her raven hair the last to depart as kelp in a wavering sea. I'd have liked to say I was sorry to see her go, but to be honest, I was at best indifferent.
Retracing my steps to beneath the balcony, I had a sudden epiphany: I could not go back the same way. People were bound to have seen us both step onto the balcony. No, another escape route was required.
Not wishing to be found outside alone, I spotted some sturdy looking climbing ivy and, in a reversal of parasitic behaviour, scaled it to the top of the palace. I felt no lethargy as I hauled myself up and over a particularly hideous gargoyle to the palace roof, Chantelle's blood had quite reinvigorated me.
Having always enjoyed a spectacular view, I took a moment to savour my surroundings. It was incredible! Class told, and that most opulent of pleasure domes dripped with it. Positioned with a full view of both mountains and river, the Comte de Burgundy, a clever play on colour as he was certainly of no royal heritage, could keep his vampiric eye on all and sundry. Not that there was anyone to keep an eye on anymore, but I suspected him a tad insecure and it probably aided his sleep. I envied him his home though. If he'd built it for himself, I could neither remember, nor recall witnessing, but it showed him in a finer light than he warranted. I could not stand the little runt, otherwise.
I meandered across the inclined roof looking for somewhere to gain access to the main halls, when I realised, I'd been revealed.
“Good evening, Jean,” came the whining voice of Sir Walter Merryweather.
“Good evening,” I responded with a casual air.
“Taking a stroll?”
“No, I am in fact lost. I was looking for the latrine and somehow found myself in front of the wrong kind of pot.”
“Tee-hee, yes, quite.”
“Boredom, as always.”
“You could get into awful trouble for saying something like that.”
“I could, but I won't.” He gave me a wink and touched the side of his nose with a green, velvet-gloved finger that perfectly matched the rest of his outer garb.
“Always. The Danube is an impressive little stream. I never tire of watching it pulse across the land like some bulging virgin's jugular vein. Ah, those halcyon days,” he added, with a stifled yawn. “Ditched Charlotte, have you?”
“Chantelle,” I corrected. “And I would rather say I have eluded her cloying overeagerness, for a short while, at least.” I watched Walter closely, but he did not react, and I suspected my secret safe. “Do you wish to return to the ball?” I asked.
“Not really. I deplore all that showy bravado. My fangs are bigger than your fangs, etcetera, etcetera. Have we really become so melodramatic?”
“Well, this is the end of the world, or so they say. May as well go out with a flourish.”
“May as well,” he agreed. “Although, I'd still prefer to be ripping out human throats and sucking up their souls.”
“I can only imagine.”
“Ah, I forget how young you are.”
“And I, how old, you.”
“Losing humanity marked the beginning of my torpor.”
“If you say so.”
“Let's just agree we would both find it infinitely preferable to drinking from a bag.”
“Too true,” I concurred, as he stood to brush the moss from his garish outfit.
“Right then, let's be off, rejoin the tedium and all that.”
“After you, I said, gesturing with my hand.” Always smooth under pressure, I smiled to myself and followed him off the roof through a door I hadn't even noticed back to the strains of more Strauss. I didn't expect I'd ever feel the same way about him again. I much preferred Wagner, anyway.
Merryweather led me through a labyrinthine set of stuffy passages, the purpose of which quite eluded me, before we eventually reappeared in one of the royal boxes that overlooked the twirling throng.
“Makes you sick, doesn't it, Jean?”
“All this.” He spread his arms wide to encompass all the massive ballroom, with no apparent care for who might see him.
“It provides some entertainment,” I said, whilst wiping a long, dark lock from my eyes.
“Bah! Entertainment indeed! We have machines that can move mountains, the ability to create near endless resources, yet this is the sum of our achievements, to frolic.” Merryweather slammed one velvet-gloved hand down upon the parapet. I was sure for effect rather than genuine anger.
Already bored with the fop despite his sudden leanings to rebellion, I decided to take my leave. “I really should be finding the princess before some other dashing Eternal sweeps her away before dawn.”
“Ah, fancying a midnight dip, are we?”
“I don't swim.”
“Who said anything about swimming?”
“Hmm.” I rolled my eyes at the beaming fool. “Anyway, I must be going.”
Merryweather regarded me with something akin to suspicion before doffing an imaginary hat. I was dismissed, and I didn't need telling twice. After a quick check below, I jumped the parapet and dropped the rather long distance to the ballroom floor, landing conveniently at the feet of the Marquise de Rhineland and a gaggle of her cronies. It was a pompous title for a pompous woman, but she did have exquisite legs.
“Ladies,” I said, and gave a mock bow.
“Ooh, Jean, you're looking particularly delicious tonight. As tall, dark and handsome as ever, I see,” oozed the Marquise. Her ice-blue eyes shimmered in the light of a dozen chandeliers
“As do you, Marquise.”
“Oh, Jean, you know to call me Portia.”
“Sorry, Portia, I sometimes forget myself.”
“Are you not with the princess?” she asked, which caused her overripe friends to titter.
“I was, but I suspect I may have upset her. She is punishing me by her absence.”
“Is it really such a punishment?”
I leaned in closer, or as close as I could to someone dressed as a trifle, and whispered, “Not really.”
“Ooh, Jean, you are a very naughty Eternal Lord.”
“I could be.”
The glint in her eyes matched the licking of her lips: wanton.
“Would you like to leave this most boring of balls?”
The Marquise looked about, as though searching for somebody, before grabbing my hand in her gloved own. She bade a hasty farewell to her compatriots, then languidly led me from the ballroom. Nobody spared us a second glance, all far too advanced in their merrymaking.
Out through the gold laden double doors, and into a corridor of polished ivory we strolled. That gave me a chance to fake an admiration of some of the more dramatic murals that covered every spare inch of the place: a sure sign of overkill and bad taste. Then, out through the sparkling, crystal palace entrance and onto the grand, marble staircase. Taking a dramatic stance, the Marquise beckoned a footman who had her carriage brought forth post-haste. What drew the carriage, I had no idea, unless it was of horses whose colouring matched that of the night? With no acknowledgement to any of the scurrying servants, she climbed the inlaid tortoiseshell steps into her mobile boudoir and sat with her back to the coachman. I followed, doing my best to avoid standing on her gowns, and took a white, leathered seat opposite.
“It seems a very long time since I last had you alone like this,” she cooed.
“It must be the better part of a century, I should imagine,” I replied, whilst straightening the cuffs of my jacket.
“I see you refuse to submit to the whims of others, ever the rebel.” The Marquise lifted her chin to my jet-black attire.
“You know me. Old habits die hard.”
“I know exactly what you mean.”
If the Marquise was about to further divulge her thoughts, the juddering start to our drive prevented it. In a moment of fang baring brutality, the Marquise bashed twice upon the frame of the carriage and shouted to the coachmen to not jolt her again. The crack in the side panel where fist met wood demonstrated what a facade of decorum she perpetrated. As always, I found it disgusting. Turning back my way, once again angelic, she continued.
“Have you missed me, Jean?”
“I've seen you on many occasions. This formulated world is too small to miss someone for too long.”
“You know what I mean,” she giggled.
“Not really,” I answered honestly.
“Hm, playing tough won't work with me. I see through your veneer of disdain.” Moonlight shone through the carriage window and gave a strange look of madness to her eyes as she lent closer.
“There is no veneer with me. My feelings to this life have not changed for centuries.”
Sitting back in her seat, I watched the Marquise ponder my words with the look of a child unable to comprehend a question.