by Nene Adams

copyright 2003

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 been interested.

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 of riches.

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 a schoolgirl.

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 hansom cab.

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 contempt.

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 did.

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 my eyebrows.

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, unresisting.

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 earth.

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?


Return to What's New

Return to the Academy