WELL MET BY MOONLIGHT
She stalked towards me, pale and trembling, but the pistol held clenched in
her fist was steady, aimed at my heart. Disheveled hair hung over her face, a
thin curtain through which a pair of mad eyes burned. Her skirts rustled as she
took one careful step at a time. Click, click, click went
the crimson heels of her shoes on the floor. The muzzle never wavered.
This was my murderer. There was no appeal. I was fated to die.
But perhaps my tale would make more sense if I began at the beginning.
My name is Alice Russell. I am a former governess, who, on the night of January
3rd, 1895, was in danger of succumbing to starvation and cold. I had no one to
fall upon in my hour of need. The family to whom I had given four years of loyal
service had dispensed with those same services some two weeks prior to the evening
in question. I had given satisfaction, yet India beckoned them and native servants
are far cheaper than their English equivalents. My former employers were kind
enough to give me a good reference, but London was bursting at the seams with
governesses, nursery nannies and other superfluous females of genteel background
and very little experience or education.
Had my father seen fit to send me to Oxford instead of my wastrel brother -
who squandered his allowance on liquor and licentiousness and blew his brains
out on account of gambling debts - I should not have come to such an unpretty
pass. It was just as well that neither Father nor Mother lived to see their hopes
and dreams smashed by a bullet. They spared no thought for me, of course. Being
female, my future was not a great concern. After all, I could always take up residence
in a relative's household, become one of those silent, broken women who are welcomed
as a source of free labor, a household drudge mannered enough to make up an odd
number at dinner. An advantageous marriage was never to be dreamed. I had no wealth,
no position, no great beauty to lure a monied suitor.
My duties as a governess were quite respectable until they ended, and I was
left with hardly two shillings to rub together. Too proud to beg at a distant
relation's door, when I was finally forced to the unpleasant realization that
pride did not fill an empty stomach, it was far too late to seek assistance.
My landlady turned me out of my rooms into the teeth of a snowstorm. I'd not
eaten in five days. She kept my single trunk, filled with my pitiful worldly possessions,
but I managed to retain my coat, thin though it was. As I staggered through the
empty streets, virtually blinded by snow and near paralyzed with cold, I found
myself moving in the direction of the St. Jude Church on Thaddeus Street. There
was a small cemetery there. In my agony, perhaps I thought of taking my eternal
rest in that place, allowing myself to fall into a soft, deep snowbank and drift
away. When I finally reached the graveyard, touched the frozen iron fence that
surrounded the place, I was exhausted. I sank to my knees, rested my forehead
against the bars. The wind whipped my scarf away but I could no longer muster
the effort required to care. All I wanted was rest and an end to my tribulations.
Some slight sense of self-preservation remaining made me struggle up, move
through the gate and go just far enough into the cemetery to take shelter in the
doorway of a nearby tomb. All strength was gone; the feeble spark of life guttering
in my breast. I was nearly insensible, and utterly numb. Flurries of snow piled
around me. Death beckoned. I was about to succumb to the seductive lure of eternal
oblivion when I felt arms around me, a face pressed against mine.
I forced my eyes open, and was confronted by an apparition of such beauty,
I was quite overcome.
Her great black eyes were thickly fringed with lashes. Her cheeks and brow
were pale as milk, in contrast to the rich scarlet of her mouth. Although her
hair was thickly powdered with snow, the color shone through - an earthy mink
brown, which matched the collar of her coat. I fear that I openly gaped at her,
but I cannot be blamed for my reaction. As far as I knew, I was dying alone. Was
this an angel of the Lord sent to fetch me to Heaven?
Then she smiled, and I saw the enlarged canines, a little curved and wickedly
sharp. The pupils glowed crimson, the very hue of blood. I saw the bestial ridges
rise on her forehead, drawing her dark brows together into a vee, the point centering
above the bridge of her nose. Her nails were like claws, digging through the thin
woolen coat and into my skin. She hissed softly, and licked my cheek. Her tongue
was rough as a cat's.
Even this threat could not shake me from my stupor. The cold had sapped me
in every way - mentally, physically and emotionally. One death was very much like
another. I could not protest, nor did I want to. Indeed, what I felt was a kind
of mild irritation. There I was, in a cemetery in the midst of a snowstorm, happily
freezing to death, and lo! Instead of a genteel demise, I was to be exsanguinated
by a mythical creature whose existance I had not guessed until that moment. I
only hoped that my body would be found sooner, rather than after the spring thaw.
That was my last rational thought. When the fangs touched the side of my neck,
I'm afraid that I lost consciousness.
Awakening at all was my first surprise. That I should also be wrapped in blankets
and installed in front of a roaring fire was my second. The third came in the
form of a slender, well-made figure who brought me a cup of hot broth shortly
after I opened my eyes. It took me ten seconds of furious concentration to realize
where I'd seen her before. When I did, the cup went one way and I rolled the other,
in an attempt to escape the vampire woman I had last seen in the cemetery. She
was quicker. I'd not known that vampire reflexes were superior to our own.
She straddled my body, her knees on either side of my ribcage, my wrists pinned
above my head with her hand. The vampire now appeared entirely human. I should
not have given her a glance if we passed in the street, except that she was even
more beautiful now, her skin flushed by firelight. As I stared up at her, it occurred
to me to wonder why I had been spared. I've always had a rather calm temperament,
particularly in emergencies; when others lose their heads, I remain sensible.
Adopting the no-nonsense manner that had stood me to good stead in the schoolroom,
I asked if she meant to kill me. She surprised me again by throwing back her head
and laughing heartily.
"You have more courage than most," she said, leaning down so that the loosened
strands of her mink brown hair tickled my face and throat. "You remind me of someone.
A friend from long ago, whom I miss terribly." She sat up, releasing my wrists.
"I am Ekatherina Yelizaveta Ludmila Iryna Korzo, Countess Dargorad. Of course,
the title is an ancient one, but I suppose you've already deduced that. Since
I despise the English formality, you will please call me Katka."
Katka grinned, showing ordinary teeth. I touched the side of my neck. Two tiny
scabs, hardly wounds at all, greeted my questing fingers. Kat's grin grew wider;
she cocked her head to one side. "Da, I thought to drink from you, but
then I looked closer and changed my mind. What is your name, lastochka?"
I told her. Katka's expression turned solemn. "I will not hurt you, Alice Russell,
I swear it. My word is more binding than sleep, more binding than death, more
binding than the promise of a hero. You'll be a sister to me, like one of my own
blood. I place you beneath the mantle of my protection; your enemies are my enemies,
any insult to you will be avenged. " She stood in a single fluid movement, and
reached down a hand to assist me up from the floor. Strange as it may seem, I
found the odd ritual soothing.
When she asked me to stay with her, I agreed without hesitation. Katka did
not offer me harm; it seemed her intentions were entirely the opposite. Ironically,
I had been plucked from the brink of death by a vampire, although Katka called
herself by the Russian term, a vourdalak.
Lest it be supposed that I am a naive fool, I should point out that Katka could
have killed me at any time, and I was perfectly cognizant of that fact. She was
faster and far stronger than any mortal; a grown man in excellent health could
not have defeated her. Had she wished to drain me, I'd have made a perfect victim.
No one cared; my body would have gone unclaimed. I doubt Scotland Yard would have
Katka took nothing without my consent, and asked for nothing in return save
companionship. It was the least I could do for the one who saved my life. If I'm
to be brutally honest, some self-interest did enter into the matter at first.
Countess Dargorad could afford to stay at the Savoy Hotel, dress in Worth gowns
for dinner, wear jewels that made wealthy matrons gasp in envy. She was generous
to a fault, too. I lacked for nothing. I had only to express a desire to find
that it had been fulfilled. I soon learned to be circumspect, to avoid an embarrassment
Katka never offered me harm of any kind. She treated me gently, and with a
tender concern that my own mother had never shown. Rather than seek human prey,
as I expected, she pretended to be consumptive for the benefit of the hotel staff,
who fetched her fresh blood from the slaughterhouse every day. I did not exactly
forget that she was a predator and a murderer - how could I, when she daily consumed
a dish of rich, steaming blood? I simply chose to overlook the less palatable
aspects of her condition. No one is perfect, after all. A Christian will condemn
me for befriending an abomination, but I found the beautiful vourdalak
to be a more constant and loving companion than any church-going hypocrite of
my acquaintance. I forgave her sins because she was good to me, because no one
had ever paid me such delicate attentions, or regarded me with such affection.
What else could I do?
Time passed while Katka fed me, nursed me, and saw to my every comfort while
I recovered my strength. I told her my sorry tale at her prompting. Otherwise,
I knew virtually nothing about the Russian countess, except that she was, by her
own admission, more than four hundred years old. One would not have known it,
except for the look of ancient knowledge in her great black eyes. I'd seen that
expression before, looking back at me from some gilt-encrusted icon of the Madonna
in her Byzantine phase. Chills skittered down my spine whenever she gazed at me,
and I felt a heady rush surging through my veins. I, who had been so alone, was
lonely no longer.
One night after she had ordered an excellent meal of woodcock (for me) and
ox blood (for herself), Katka told me why I'd be chosen to be her companion. As
I recall, I was sitting up in bed, a softly knitted shawl around my shoulders,
dressed in my own servicable nightgown. Katka had paid my bill and retrieved my
trunk from the landlady; I never asked why one corner of the trunk was bashed
in, dappled with suspicious stains, and she never told. I'd fast decided that
in my unusual situation, ignorance was bliss, if I did not wish to be disconcerted
much of the time.
When our respective meals arrived, Katka said, "My Yelenuska was very pretty,
much as you are, Alice Russell." She put the porcelain dish to her lips, tipped
her head back and swallowed, throat working. Her dinner was gone in a trice. Far
from being disgusted by her habits, I found myself fascinated by how swiftly she
consumed her liquid diet.
"I am far from pretty," I replied in my most prim governess' voice. "You should
not utter such falsehoods." For some unknown reason - possibly to tweak my modesty
- Katka insisted on calling me attractive when I knew that I was not. My hair
was unruly and wispy, of a shade of carroty ginger that was pure social suicide.
At least I had been spared freckles, and my complexion was generally good. As
for my eyes - myopic and gray, hidden behind round spectacles. I looked nothing
like Katka, who positively oozed sophistication.
"It is true, lastochka." Katka touched my chin with her fingertip. She
was very tactile. I permitted the liberty, since it made her happy, and gave me
secret pleasure. "Yelenuska had hair like fire," she said, "and a temper to match.
You seem very meek and mild, but I think you're a tigress underneath." For a moment,
her pupils gleamed red, but she suppressed the full transformation. "I was in
the cemetery taking flowers to Yelenuska, as I do whenever I'm in London. She
is buried there, at the Church of St. Jude, where her mother and father also rest."
I wondered why a Russian couple were buried in a British cemetery. Katka must
have read the question in my face, for she said, "Ah, I called her Yelenuska.
She was very dear to me, and we were together a long time. But her true name was
Helena, which is Yelena in my tongue. She was English, like you."
Katka sighed, and continued, "I watched you fall against the fence. I watched
you struggle to the tomb. You showed such courage, such admirable strength that
I had to touch you, look into your eyes, feel your spirit. My only thought was
to grant you a merciful death, far swifter than the snow. But then I saw your
hair! Like a river of fire, like my lost Yelenuska... a sign from the gods! I
had to have you. And you are very pretty, Alice Russell. I have spoken,
thus it is so!" Katka made an imperious gesture and spoiled it by giggling like
I decided not to encourage her silliness. Instead, I indulged my own curiosity.
"How did you become... like that?" I asked, unable to bring myself to utter the
word. "Did it hurt? Are you still in pain?"
"A vourdalak?" Katka had no such difficulty. She shrugged. "It was a
long time ago, lastochka. The details are unimportant." Then she gave me
a look of such intensity that I blushed hotly. "I've had other companions, including
my dear Yelenuska, who never accepted me as I truly am. You're the first to ask
me such questions. You're the first to watch me drink blood, too. In the past,
I've hidden that part of myself because they found it disgusting. You do not.
There's no hiding from you, I think. I like that very much." Her smile was adorable.
My cheeks turned hotter.
It was not long before I was fully recovered. Katka insisted on providing me
with a new wardrobe, and for that purpose we took a hired carriage to Regent Street
in order to do some shopping. We went out at dusk; her skin, she told me, was
extremely sensitive to sunlight. I thought we'd be too late, but I learned that
an unlimited supply of money will keep a shopkeeper's door open at his customer's
convenience. Katka played the grande dame to perfection, at turns dazzling,
awe-inspiring and terrible to behold when her wrath descended upon a hapless assistant.
I found myself possessed of a far more extensive and expensive wardrobe than I
needed, but Katka was insistent. At least I avoided too many frills and furbelows,
choosing good plain fabrics and a minimum of fuss.
It was when we were leaving the last shop, walking back to our carriage, that
the incident occurred.
Two ruffians accosted us. They were armed with knives. I believe they wanted
more than money; I saw them leering at Katka, who remained cool and poised. When
one of them dared to touch her cheek, I was infuriated. I could not stand to see
her defiled, she who had been so kind to me. In my desire for immediate action,
I quite forgot what she was. Snatching a loosened cobblestone from the street,
I let fly and struck the rogue upon his shoulder. He winced, then roared with
rage and came at me. I staggered backwards, some vague thought of drawing them
away from Katka uppermost in my mind. It was a great misfortune when I caught
my heel and fell hard upon the pavement.
While I was rendered hors de combat, Katka was not. She fell upon the
man closest to me with the ferocity of a lioness, and buried her fangs deep in
his neck. The other ruffian was held still by her hand wrapped around his throat.
She picked him up so that his feet dangled several inches above the street, and
easily kept him there in a breath-taking demonstration of sheer power. Katka's
eyes were open and focused on me, the pupils as red as the blood she sucked from
her hapless victim. The other fellow kicked and choked until she squeezed hard,
snapping his spine as easily as a housewife wringing a rabbit's neck. He was cast
aside like so much trash. Katka finished draining the first man; she dropped his
empty corpse and hurried towards me.
"Are you wounded?" she asked, squatting down beside me and radiating anxiety.
She had not yet retracted her fangs, or forced the brow ridges to subside.
I was not frightened or digusted. To me, she seemed like some avenging goddess,
inhuman yet entirely worthy of worship. I shuddered, seized by an impulse to touch
her, and she mistook my reaction. "I'm sorry, lastochka," Katka said, turning
away. She looked so sad, my heart was breaking.
I stopped her by gripping her shoulder. "Don't," I said roughly, and pulled
her into an embrace. Katka did not resist. Indeed, she gathered me into her arms
with a sound suspiciously like a sob. My head was resting against her breast.
It took a moment before I realized that beneath my ear was silence. She had no
heartbeat, of course. This came as something of a shock.
Katka's breath was warm against my face; an illusion of life, since I knew
she had no need of air. She smelled of rusty iron and sweet floral perfume. I
clasped her tighter. I did not care if Katka was the walking dead. She was my
friend, she had saved me, and I loved her. We held each other for a long moment,
until the cold seeped through my coat. Katka pulled back and looked at me, still
in her vourdalak guise.
Filled with wonder, I touched the hard ridges on her brow. She opened her mouth,
allowed me to finger her razor-keen fangs. Snowflakes fell, fat and fuzzy and
wet. I didn't mind. Katka whispered something in Russian; it sounded like an endearment.
My heart thundered loud enough for the both of us. No one had ever loved me enough
to kill. Her lips touched mine. I clung to her like a drowning woman to a spar.
Starved for love my whole life, I had found it at last.
My desperation must have surprised her. It was though a great floodgate opened
inside me; feelings I didn't know existed were welling up and overflowing. Although
the night was cold, I was on fire. I kissed her feverishly, my lips wandering
over her cheeks, her chin, her throat. I murmured such endearments that I blush
to remember. Katka put on her human face and said, "You're shivering, lastochka.
We should go home."
Coming back to my senses was akin to falling from a great height, and bumping
back to ground inside my own skin. Katka gave me a shy smile, and I soared once
again. The hired carriage was gone, the driver fled at the first sign of trouble.
Somehow, we managed to find our packages and returned to the Savoy Hotel in a
In our room, in her bedchamber, her shyness was forgotten, and so was mine.
She became the vourdalak for me, only because I begged. She was beautiful
enough to make my breastbone ache. It was endearing, the way Katka was afraid
to let herself go. In the face of such reticence, I became the aggressor, teasing
unmercifully until she lost all restraint. Wild with desire, Katka put off her
furs, her satins and silks, and danced for me, the shadows of a fretted lamp shifting
across her pale skin. When her fangs slid into my throat, I cried for joy. She
did not take much blood, only a little - enough for me to experience an ecstasy
that made my bones sing, my muscles turn to water.
Afterwards, Katka was very soliticious, fetching me wine, fussing over the
few drops of crimson on the sheets. I made her come and lie beside me. Our unbound
hair mingled together, mink-brown and carroty ginger, shades of earth and fallen
leaves. I was fascinated by her body; one could trace every blue vein beneath
the near colorless surface.
Katka put on the bedside lamp. "My dearest Alice, there is something you must
know. I have an enemy, a very powerful enemy who has pursued me for many years.
Her name is Mariya Chaztolov; she's a ved'ma, a witch. She wants my blood."
"Why?" I asked in alarm.
"The blood of a vourdalak is a powerful mystical ingredient," Katka
said, propping herself up on an elbow and looking down at me. The lamp was behind
her, casting her face in deep shadow. "Very rare and very valuable. But there
is also a vendetta between us. When we first clashed, Mariya Chazlotov killed
my companion. In revenge, I killed her apprentice, who was also her niece. Over
the years, there have been many deaths, so many that there is nothing left except
hate. She began this war; I will finish it someday. You'll be safe, dearest Alice,
as long as you allow me to protect you."
I agreed, although privately I was determined to protect Katka, rather than
the other way around.
The climax came at a supper party given by Mrs. DeWinter, a socializing matron
who delighted in inviting titled persons to her little soirees. Countess Dargorad
and her cousin (me, of course) were happy to attend, since we had nothing better
to do and Katka was curious about Mrs. DeWinter's collection of Egyptian artifacts.
Katka wore one of her spectacular Worth evening gowns, the bodice covered almost
entirely with black opals, the whole trimmed with peacock feathers. I declined
such fancy fare, preferring peahen brown with a modest swag of gold braid.
The party was an excruciating affiar. Mrs. DeWinter was a very silly woman,
all teeth and no chin, who affected an irritating bray of laughter whenever something
struck her as funny, which was often. Her husband was a dull dog of a fellow who
grunted in response to everything, and hovered near the port decanter all evening.
Mrs. DeWinter's other guests made me despair for the future of Britain, if this
sorry lot was the best the nobility could do with their blue blood and inherited
wealth. The dubious Italian count was the jolliest one of the bunch. Katka watched
it all with amusement sparkling in her dark eyes. I could scarcely conceal my
As for Egyptian artifacts, a single motheaten mummy and some cracked, dusty
pots were the gems of Mrs. DeWinter's collection. She brayed like a donkey, her
guests ooh'd and ah'd, and I sneezed violently from the mummy dust. Katka let
out a ripple of laughter that put our hostess' awkward explosions to shame. We
left soon after and returned to the hotel. In the lobby, Katka asked me to light
one of the slim, black cigarettes which she preferred; I had to prevail upon the
concierge for a box of lucifers. Her hand upon mine as she steadied the flame
made me burn - blood, bone and flesh afire. She was bewitchingly beautiful...
and I could hardly wait to get her upstairs.
But Mariya was waiting for us in our room. Had I not distracted her, Katka
might have noticed. The vengeful ved'ma was hiding behind the door, and
she struck without warning. I received a bash to the back of my head that made
stars dance before my vision, then the lights dimmed until I was swallowed up
entirely by night and darkness and a silence that was broken only by my own drum-beat
pulse. When I awoke, my poor head was a throbbing mass of agony. Ropes were knotted
round my wrists and ankles. Katka and Mairya were not within my line of sight.
At least I was still in the hotel room. If I could escape, I'd raise the alarm.
Accordingly, I set to work, not caring how my flesh turned raw and bled. My love
was in the hands of her deadliest enemy. Terror for Katka lent me strength and
turned my will to adamantine. It was not very long before I twisted out of my
bonds and set off in search of the ved'ma and her victim.
I did not have to go far. Mariya had not left the hotel. Indeed, she had not
even bothered to leave our suite of rooms. I found her in Katka's bedchamber.
The scene which greeted my horror-stricken gaze will never be forgotten.
Everywhere I looked was red.
Mariya's hair was the vibrant color called Titian; it hung loose, down to her
knees. Her dress was crimson, as were the heels of her shoes. Katka's blood, dripping
into a glass container, was a dark cerise, like the juice of black cherries. The
burgundy-flocked wallpaper, the vermilion bedspread, the poppies in their vase
on the mantlepiece - all these things swam before my eyes, a sea of shocking red
in which Katka appeared to be floating. Her skin was so white, so delicate seeming,
she resembled a paper doll that had been abandoned on the bed.
Mariya turned towards me, having just registered my appearance. Katka's eyes
fluttered open. I took swift action. Eschewing the Marquis of Queensbury rules
- of which I was not certain anyway - I dealt Mariya a back-handed slap that left
me certain that my knuckles were broken. Mariya fell, and I turned to Katka, intending
to unbind her from the exsanguination engine, a clockwork spider of gears and
tubes and a great glass jar that was nearly full of her precious blood. The engine
was attached to her forearm by a steel rod that had been driven clean through
the flesh, in one side and out the other. Removing it would hurt her terribly,
yet I had no other choice. Unfortunately, there was some kind of lock on the rod,
and I had no key.
Katka was too weak for speech, but the expression in her eyes warned me. I
turned in time to block the knife blow that Mariya was aiming at my back. Instead,
the blade scored my collarbone, tore my dress at the shoulder. I shove the ved'ma
away. Katka's hand closed on my skirt. "The zagovar!" she whispered, barely
audible. "The charm!"
I saw it hanging about her neck - a bone amulet, intricately carved, on a cheap
metal chain. It rested against the bodice of her crimson dress. Mariya touched
the zagovar, and her tongue came out to taste the thin stream of blood
where my slap had broken her bottom lip open. She was extraordinarily pretty,
even though the side of her face had blackened from the impact of my sore knuckles.
There was a sneering look in her eyes that raked over me and left a burning trail
of disdain behind.
Mariya snorted, flipped the knife in her hand. "Come and get it, little girl,"
she said to me in the most offensive of tones.
I suppose she underestimated me. As a governess, I've been expected to provide
a civilizing influence on unruly, spoiled, unmannered children who have a natural
cruelty and monstrous imagination that would not put shame to Genghis Khan or
Vlad Tepes Drakul. I kept order in the schoolroom by dint of my wits, ruthless
self-confidence, excellent reflexes and unerring aim with a bitch twig where and
when it was required. I was not frightened of a witch. Furthermore, Katka was
dying. I needed no further impetus to do what needed to be done.
I rushed at Mariya, turned aside in the last moment to avoid her slashing knife,
and reached out to tear the necklace from her throat. She squealed with rage but
it was too late - I held the key in my possession. I caught up a lamp from the
bedside table and swept it in a wide arc, aimed at her face. I missed, but the
glass broke and spilled oil over her dress.
Mariya shrieked a multi-syllabic curse. I paused, expecting to be struck by
lightning or dragged down to Hell by a thousand leering devils. She was a ved'ma,
after all, and had somehow managed to overcome a powerful vampire - by magic,
I assumed. When nothing happened, I think we were both surprised. Our mutual immobility
did not last long.
She whipped a pistol from her pocket, and trained it on me.
And this is where I began my story, with the clicking of her crimson heels
and the mad glare in her eyes as Mariya stalked me at gunpoint.
I was fated to die. I could feel it in the air, the heavy beat of invisible
wings as the Angel of Death hovered in that red, red, room in the Savoy Hotel.
My hackles rose. Mariya came a step closer. I put my hand in the pocket of my
coat, and my fingers closed around the box of lucifers.
An audacious idea flickered through my mind. I took a deep breath.
"When I kill you," Mariya said, "I'll slice off your skin, cut off your head,
use your skull as a cup." She turned as I turned, followed me as I continued to
back away. "I'll nail your tongue to my doorpost, carve your bones for dice."
I had manuvered her to stand precisely where I wanted - in front of the window,
where the velvet drapes were still drawn back, and the glass panes reflected the
room in miniature. With my hand still in my pocket, I managed to extract one lucifer
match. The skirts of the ved'ma's dress and the ends of her long Titian
hair were soaked in lamp oil. I removed the lucifer, scratched my thumbnail on
it, and tossed the tiny fizzing fire at Mariya.
She went up in flames like a torch, with a whoop and a thump that scorched
I ran at her immediately, my head lowered to catch her in the belly and send
her tumbling backwards, straight through the window. The pistol barked once, then
flew from her hand. The woman's screams were nearly drowned out by the musical
shattering of glass. Cold wind burst into the room, along with a swirl of snow
and ice. The curtains billowed outward. Down below, Mariya's cries were cut off
abruptly by a soggy thud. The ved'ma was dead.
The skin of my face felt too tight, too hot, as did my scalp. My hair was on
fire. I smothered it with the curtain to put out the conflagration before I was
badly burned. The destruction was nearly total; brittle scraps of hair broke off
in my hands. What was left barely covered my head. There was no time to mourn
the loss. I had other, more important considerations. I staggered towards Katka.
As I neared the bed, my shoes slipped in some dark liquid that was pooled upon
the floor. It was Katka's blood; the glass jar had been broken by Mariya's bullet.
My throat and eyes burning with unshed tears, I used the bone zagovar
to unlock the exsanguination engine and remove it from her arm. I hurled the horrid
thing away, and sat on the edge of the bed. I had lost my spectacles in the tussle
with Mariya Chaztolov, but my lover's face was very clear to me.
Katka opened her eyes, those great black eyes that had mesmerized me from the
first. "Lastochka," she whispered.
I wanted to weep. I wanted to scream, to howl, to give vent to the terrible
grief that was rending me to shreds. I wanted to raise my fist to heaven and curse
the gods who had visited such damnation upon me. My poor Katka was almost gone.
The light was fading from her face, the porcelain glow turning dull as ash.
My soul shriveled at the thought of her death. I could not sit idly by and
watch. I would not! From somewhere, I heard the beating of invisible wings again,
and the answer came to me. The Angel of Death had not come on a fool's errand
after all. I was going to die, but I would be exchanging my life for Katka's.
The price seemed fair. I would not regret paying it.
It was but the work of a moment to bend down, find a piece of broken glass
in the sticky mess on the floor, and open the big vein in my arm. I held the bloody
wound to her mouth, my breath catching in sobs. Seconds passed, time stretched
to an eternity of suffering while I waited. Finally, I straightened my spine,
sniffed back tears.
"Take it," I said in a tone that meant business. In the schoolroom, refusal
would have meant instant and unpleasant reprisals. "Ekatherina Yelizaveta Ludmila
Iryna Korzo, you will drink this right now! Go on... drink!"
The ridges rose on her brow. Her nostrils flared. I saw the curved canines
emerge. Although I was expecting it, I still jumped when her mouth latched onto
my arm, and her fangs tore into me.
I was instantly smothered in a blizzard of pleasure, even as the keenest agony
I have ever known sliced through me. Shaken to pieces, I could only moan, helpless
to resist, enthralled by delight and delirium. My pulse hammered, then slowed,
the rhythm beginning to falter though sounding loud as a kettledrum in my ears.
I was giddy with ecstasy and exaltation, and drowning in pain. Darkness fell across
my vision like a veil. There was snow and ice in my veins. I was frozen to the
core, pinwheeling to the silent peace that comes with death. I fell headlong,
My last thought was for her... my beloved Katka. She would go on. I was satisfied.
And then nothing.
Until I awoke a day later in the St. Jude cemetery, buried under a mound of
frozen earth. I clawed my way out, shocked and shaking, and terribly, terribly
hungry. I have never known such clenching hunger, not even when I was on the verge
of starvation. Katka was there to welcome me, kiss my terror away, wrap me in
warm furs, supervise my first meal.
He was a police constable, and quite delicious.
Katka saved me, re-made me into her own image because she could not bear to
lose me. She did it because she knew I would not have protested the transformation,
not like her other companions. I have become a vourdalak, one of the walking
dead. I cannot complain. Some would say that my soul is damned to an eternity
of hellfire, but I do not care. You may keep your Heaven. I have found mine on
My darling Countess Dargorad, my sister, my friend, my lover... we will never
be apart. We sleep with our limbs wound about each other, drugged by the mingling
of our breaths. Love is sweet and drowsy, or wildly passionate. Since Mariya's
death, we've hunted in London, Paris, Venice, Moscow; the thrill of the chase
is equal to the thrill when she dances for me in the light of a fretted lamp,
her hair unbound, shadows on her skin. Katka and I will always be together. We
have eternity. I need nothing else to make me happy.
Except, perhaps, a meal.
You seem like a healthy sort. Would you care to join us for dinner?