Ab AeternoFrom the everlasting
The city was dark, torches from the stores either side lit the narrow cobbled streets of the capital, flames fluttering, oblivious to the torment and blood that had bathed these very walkways not so very long ago. These days’ people moved through the darkness, their heads down and their voices low, pretence that everything was normal but a lingering sense of danger that war had seeped through to the population’s very core. It would pass, feelings were fleeting and even now there was laughter in the distance carrying over the smoggy city. Humanity was adaptable and memories gave way to new ones constantly, if one stood still they could witness the very change in the air, but so few stood still these days. The Parisian night-life was slowly but surely coming back to life as people braved leaving their homes, the bitter winter was ebbing away to a brisk spring and with the less frigid climate brought hope.
Through one low doorway in particular, there was deathly silence but though born initially of fear it mostly served to symbolise the rapt attention of the crowd surrounding the old crone sitting at the bar. Romany, it was obvious by the style of her dress and the darkness to her skin, if that was not enough the gold decorating her neck, fingers and ears would leave anybody in little doubt. Perhaps a beauty once her hair was now laced with grey, very little of the dark locks remaining, skin weathered and wrinkled. This didn’t hinder the stares though and everybody watched her, listened as the words poured from her lips. Her French was broken; every now and then she would stumble over a word and retreat to a different language in order to press her point. The subject was as morbid as they came these days, the dark, grim legends of the moroi, vampires
. The gypsy’s tales had gained new fervour on the back of the bloody war and the massacre of some of the oldest families in Europe, and the travellers were never a group to hold off on making a profit. It was more than likely they edged the legends along, in a time that was ripe for the conjecture of superstition and fantasy.
People were so desperate for some intangible fear to cling to, something that they could insist wasn’t real, something to eclipse the terror that many had witnessed. A coping mechanism exploited to make a profit and those that complained of it the loudest were merely bitter about not having thought of it first.
Every so often the old woman would pause as if her throat was sore, gold would tease more information from her lips but she would feign reluctance and exhaustion. It was an old trick, but evidentially when one pedalled tales of nightmares then one will easily get away with it. A couple watched on from the corner, close to the window, with seemingly rather less interest than the rest of the crowd.
“The thing that should be at the forefront of your mind when dealing with the beasts; is that the myths, the legends that you see, read, hear – they’re origins are all the same. Vampires are not to be trusted; their weaknesses are passed around well-known enough, but those weaknesses spewed forth from their fork tongued mouths so long ago. Would you trust the word of the devil? They would happily exaggerate the legends that don’t hurt them, that which holds no fear for them. However they would keep silent about their real-“
“You’re saying they do not work? What of wooden stakes, mirrors, crosses, garlic?” Somebody interrupted from the back but the old woman didn’t miss a beat, she had practiced her part well and often, her purse was heavy now and she was pleased enough to indulge in the way that most old women like to talk. Even though she should be heading back to camp she shook her head and forgot herself for a moment, success and liquor fogging her mind, she forgot the reason that the real weaknesses of legends were not spoken of.
“And what of your mind? Would you wield a stake before a creature that could slide inside your mind, convince your own
arm to independently drive the object through your own heart? They are not things that can be slaughtered easily; an army might do it at a push. If
they knew the key
, the only
way to properly destroy a vampire. Fire.
You have to burn it. For a beast that can regrow limbs at will, even decapitation is pointless. You’ll stop it for a while but given time even the head will regrow. Fire,
you need to destroy the body and the beast within
“Enough” a firm voice cut through the hushed silence. As one the crowd turned to face the woman that had spoken and the gypsy’s own eyes fastened to the young girl. “Do you not think we have enough tales of blood and murder to fill our nights without inventing more?”
“You think these are merely bedtime stories?”
“I think they are nonsense” Ecatarina Landau spoke, the slight girl was sitting with her husband who by direct contrast was a brute of a man. The Duke of Leuchtenberg was not only tall, but also built for fighting and at six foot one he stood almost two heads taller than his wife who barely topped five foot six, the large man didn’t move though; he didn’t even turn his head in reaction as the girl spoke. “Monsters are not real; we have enough in our midst without inventing vile creatures to haunt our thoughts in our beds.”
“What of the Archdukes of old, Counts, Palatines none of whom are returning home. Do you think that mere coincidence? The slaughter of entire lines of nobility-”
“I think that if you are implying they were vampires they cannot be so powerful if they were so easily put down by an army. There are no sinister motives behind these deaths, or at least none so far from the gains of land and money that falls to the Kingdom at the death of heirless men.” A few of the gazes shifted back to the old woman to hear her rebuttal but a great portion had already lost interest and had begun making their way to their homes. Things seemed to be taking a turn away from the macabre and heading in a far more political angle and politics were not something people discussed lightly at the moment.
“Years of easy living, isolation, it made them ill-prepared is all. Men’s trickery-“
“Again I say enough
. Go and pedal your poisonous prattle elsewhere.”
“I merely try to educate dear,” the old woman stood and collected up her money from the bar, it appeared that the story had reached its end after all. Ecatarina watched as she moved out of the room but it was another hour or so before the young woman and her husband stepped out onto the street, she was surprised to find the woman still there in the cold night air talking to a few stragglers from inside. Beneath her hooded cloak she swept away down the street but her hearing, her immaculately attuned, impossibly accurate hearing, picked up every word spoken as if she were stood right next to the woman.
“What if there are more, more to come and avenge their fallen brothers?”
“There won’t be, vampires are solitary, territorial things, their co-operation can be sustained perhaps briefly for an adequate prize but left alone they would happily destroy each other, do not fear over much. Vampires mostly desire to be alone.”
“And what of you?” The Duke walked back towards the group, his gravelly, deep voice threatening, towering above them all, his forearms were as thick as most men’s legs. “Are the gypsies not supposed to be loyal to these vampires?”
“You speak of the Szgany?” she said with a knowing smile, “perhaps there was a time long ago. But alas, there are no great lords left to pledge loyalty to.” It was obvious she was indulging his scepticism now, playing on his doubts before she excused herself and finally made her way down the street. Ecatarina watched from the shadows only stepping out as her husband drew near, he didn’t react as she stepped in line with him, he didn’t react to anything that she did not will him to. Outwardly she was mostly hidden in darkness, the midnight satin of her thick hooded cloak gave nothing but the merest glance at the porcelain skin and delicate features of the woman beneath, except for the bright, knowing blue eyes which even the darkness was having trouble masking.
It would be better for all of them when she could return back to her home, or perhaps even his, all the Duchess could do was hope that whatever the Emperor wanted from Jochen would be finished soon. Experience had taught her to be ill at ease in cities, around human’s and with so called ‘vampire hunters’ running rife all looking to make their fortune, rumour and stories were beginning to border on offensive. Still occasionally it was handy, if even to wheedle out the few who knew too much.
The old gypsy woman would be found in her bed tomorrow, every last scrap of sanity banished from her mind, rambling and fighting against sweat drenched sheets. For there were after all, some things that needed to be kept quiet and Cat was not at all fond of people knowing too much about her condition. Mystery was part and parcel of what had kept her safe this long and with so many fallen she needed to be even more careful. So as Ecatarina walked towards their home, seemingly guided by the protective hand of her warrior husband she reminded herself who she was and bit back the burnt pride that the animal within prickled at. For now she wasn’t Ecaterina Dănești, it was quite possible she would never be able to openly lay claim to that name, that dynasty
ever again, though for all the names she had brandished her own was still her favourite.
At the moment she was Duchess Catherine Landau, beautiful, young English bride of the near savage and untameable brute Jochen Landau, Duke of Leuchtenberg. Touching a hand to his arm she smiled wryly, he hadn’t been so hard to tame in the end. As they stepped into the carriage that would take them from the city proper to where their home lay on the elite outer-rings of the city, Cat sat and folded her hands against her silken skirts, she hated to ride when she could traverse the distance on foot in less time but there were always appearances to worry about.
These were dangerous times.
Morning was not too far off now, even though it would be a while before the sunlight broke through the thick cloud that obscured the stars from view, she could still sense the harmful, acidic shift of the Earth towards that hateful period of light. Jochen would be her eyes then as she engulfed herself in shadows, he had business tomorrow as he had had every day for the past week, and she was eager to find out what new developments would disturb their newly found peace. Most women would stay in the country whilst their husband attended to matters of business, but she had never been most women. It was agonising enough to remain a spectator when she should by rights be exerting her place in the world, without remaining entirely isolated and unseen as well.
She might be a woman but the thing inside her, the ever-growing thing, was not. The restrictive, weakly feminine body that it found itself housed in was a crippling, frustrating disability that it had not yet been able to transcend. Hush
, her mind soothed as it always did when she felt her insides begin to creep and crawl, no matter; we have made it work until now.
Frailties of her gender aside, it didn’t hinder the sharpness of her mind and survival was something her and the beast could at least agree on.