Quick warning for the chapter! There is depictions of vampire deaths lovingly screenshotted, and a slight depiction of non-consent in being turned.
Byron could admit to himself when he first called upon Lady Catherine it had been for selfish reasons. The Driscoll estate had stood empty for years until its long lost heir had swept back in to reclaim it, and he had been first in line to greet the enigma of a woman that was Lady Catherine. Calling her strange did not do her justice. She was beautiful , soft-spoken, but forceful in personality. He’d come with every intention of wooing her, and felt wooed instead.
The last few weeks had been spent in her embrace. The empty house normally felt cold and empty, but their nights spent stretched across her bed, fingers entwined, skin pressed against skin, he felt life had been breathed in it again. Usually he tired of his conquests as soon as he’d gotten what he came for, but there was something about Lady Catherine that kept him there.
She pulled away from him, gazing at him with her strange yellow eyes. They entranced him. She entranced him.
“My love,” she murmured in her gentle voice. It sent shivers through his skin. “I’m afraid I’ve not been completely honest with you.”
“Honesty has little place in the bedroom,” he said.
Her lips quirked up in her gentle smile. “I think this may be important. I’ve grown quite fond of you in our short time together.”
“And I you.” He ran his hand down the silk fabric that covered her thigh. Her skin was cool to touch. She was like water, soft and gentle, and he wished to dive into her.
“I have cared for other men before,” she admitted, brushing back a strand of dark hair from his face. “And I keep the things I care for. I am about to reveal something about myself and offer a treasured thing.”
He nervously pulled away. “I don’t catch your meaning.”
“Please, my love.” She kissed his cheek as he stood. “Allow me to show you.”
She stepped away from him, hiding her face. He leaned forward and watched as she let out a desperate shiver that shook her whole form. Her fingers twitched and rose up to cover her face, and after a moment she composed herself. She turned.
The face that greeted him was unlike any he’d ever seen. Scars cracked the skin across her cheek, and her eyes seemed to melt away. The strange yellow was replaced by a bright and startling blue. She opened her mouth, revealing a row of strange fangs. He started up.
“It’s much to take in,” she said, the low purr to her voice still enticing. Her fingers stretched out, caressing his cheek and bringing him closer to her. “I’ve represented myself unfairly, I know. I was the heir to the Driscoll family many years ago, until I died and was resurrected again. Since then I’ve fed on blood and the company of others. But never alone. I’ve never liked being alone.”
“I don’t understand,” Byron said, but her hands slid across his skin. His mind clouded with desire.
“I offer you two things, my love,” she said. “Myself, as I am. Forever. The pair of us as eternal lovers. The bliss we’ve felt for the past few weeks, satisfying each other, until the end of time.”
“And the other thing?” His voice shook. Even as she stared him down with her monstrous expression, he could not fight his desire. His arm reached around her waist, kneading the skin beneath her robe.
“Immortality.” She breathed out the word. “Life everlasting. Sustained by the blood of others, at the cost of sunshine and warm days, but filled with strength and long nights and time enough for anything. Young and beautiful, as we are now. Never for fear of what’s to come.”
He longed to embrace her. His head was dizzy. Her words drummed into his heartbeat as the glint of her teeth caught his eye.
“Tell me you love me,” she whispered.
“I–” He never had before. He spent nights in the beds of many women, all in various stages of enamored. Some appreciated the passion of a single night, while others begged him to stay. This was the first time he felt he couldn’t pull away. “I do. I love you.”
“Tell me you’ll spend eternity with me.” Her fingers threaded into his hair, and she gave a gentle pull.
“I will,” he said.
A grin stretched across her face, and she forced his head back, exposing his neck. Her teeth bared.
“My love,” she murmured, and that was all he remembered before she sank her teeth in.
He wanted to say there was pleasure, or there was pain, but his head felt drunk and clouded. She embraced him, and he squeezed her tight as his blood rushed forward. Her grip was needy and desperate and did not give him room to move. He was trapped beneath her.
She pulled away and brought her wrist to her lips, piercing the tender flesh there. She offered it to him, pinpricks of blood rising to the surface.
“You must drink, love,” she said breathlessly. “To be with me forever, we must share communion.”
Every inch of him hesitated as he took her delicate wrist in her hand. The pale flesh burned against the color red that bled against her skin. A part of him told him no, this was insane, he barely even knew the woman he’d resigned to pledge his life to. The drunken feeling was worsened by the blood loss, and her piercing eyes stared him down until he could not refuse. Immortality was only a moment away.
She cried out as he took the flesh against his lips and drank from the rivers that poured from her skin. And when he pulled away, she grabbed him close, kissing her bloodied lips to his, dragging him to the bed as he gasped at the strange taste on his tongue. It mixed with the coppery lipstick she now wore. She stretched her bloodied hand across his shirt, pulling at it to undress him. An eternity together, that’s what she promised. Who was he to refuse?
Sunlight stretched across the Victorian estate that sat miles away from anyone living. The twisted empty trees offered no shade at all, no reprieve from the encroaching rays of light, and Lady Catherine cried out as the sun brushed against her skin. Embers burned from her pale white skin. It did not take long for it to char as she burst into flames.
Fear overtook her. She screamed, howled, beat her fists against her blackened skin.
She reached one final hand out to anyone that would help her, her eyes pleading as the fire consumed her entirely.
With one final exhale, she collapsed against the ground.
Not a one of the onlookers moved. The morning sun threatened the panes of glass, but they remained safely inside. Straud nodded at the piles of ash the fresh breeze began to scatter across the yard, satisfied.
“Another bad apple put to rest,” he said, clapping his hands together. “Refreshments?”
Most of the gathered turned away, but Mizuki looked to Straud.
“Was this necessary?” she asked in a quiet voice.
Straud’s lip curled at the suggestion. “Catherine Driscoll has left a string of dead and a multitude of changed lovers that I am having to clean up. What else would you have me do?”
“You ‘clear the ranks’ every time you get a whiff of dissent, Vladislaud. You decimate our numbers to keep order. You kill to control.”
His eyes narrowed. “I suppose you’re right. But I have to question what your punishment would be for the Lady Catherine.”
Her fingers curled together as he brushed past her, leaving the party to its means. With a shake of her head, she stormed away.
It was less a wake than a parlor game to the other guests. Life and death meant little to the undead, even those that feared the sun’s rays. Lady Catherine was gone, but they were not.
It spiked an anger in Lilith as she glanced over the other guests. Laughing. Joking. Drinking red wine or its approximate. She turned to her brother.
“Imagine if we could have done something,” she said. “Reformed her. If she didn’t need to drink the blood of the living…”
Caleb placed a hand on her arm. “What would you say to Straud?”
“I don’t know.” She let out a breath. “It’s unfair, though. How have we given him absolute power over us?”
“He’s strongest, facing him one on one.” He nodded to where Lady Catherine’s latest beau remained alone. “Luckily we will have numbers.”
Byron had gone to the window, where he watched the crumbled remains of the woman who had turned him. His chest was tight, his throat dry, and he could not express exactly what he felt. What was it, to be relieved and mournful at the same time? His thoughts were interrupted as the pair approached him.
“Byron, right?” Caleb offered him a smile in greeting. “We’re sorry for your loss.”
He glanced over the Vatore siblings. He didn’t know many names, but theirs had been passed around those who rejected things like dilapidated mansions and empty crypts. He spent his evenings in bars, flirting and chatting until someone was willing to take his hand and be led into the night. Their names were often whispered, with the suggestion that trouble followed. His eyes drew to the door that the Grand Master had retreated behind, and to the other guests at the party. This was a room filled with predators.
“Not a loss at all,” he said, adopting a smile. “The charges brought against Lady Catherine were all true. Now mankind is safe from her terror.”
“‘Mankind’ is the proper word for it.” Lilith crossed her arms. “You’re, what, her seventh lover she turned? I’m amazed Straud didn’t act sooner.”
“Lilith,” her brother said in a low voice.
“Caleb.” She glanced at Byron. “You didn’t like her methods.”
“Killing’s so gauche, isn’t it?” He grinned at her. They were both attractive, but he liked the fire stoked in her eyes. “Buy them a drink, I say. Give them a kiss and a nip, and no one is worse off for it.”
“We avoid any blood,” she said proudly. “At all.”
Ah, Byron realized quickly. One of those types.
“We don’t think any of us should kill,” Caleb said. “There’s never been any reason to. But we don’t believe we should have to hunt either. Straud would rather us be animals than the civilized folks we once were.”
Byron’s smile dimmed. “You should say it a little less like you’re selling something.”
“We are blessed to live in a time of scientific advancement,” Lilith said. “We’re not evangelizing, we’re stating facts. There’s no need to drink blood at all.”
“You’ll have to excuse me for not seeing the difference,” he said. “Am I right in thinking you came here to watch a vampire be torn apart by the sun so that you could see your new type of thinking? ‘What if vampires didn’t kill?’ It’s novel, I’ll tell you that.”
He was delighted to see Lilith curl her hands into fists and her eyes narrow. “We’ve all had an eternity to better ourselves, but people like Straud don’t want that. He thinks if we submit to our base instincts, he has all the more reason to keep our nature a secret, and all the more power over us.”
“Conspiracy as well.” He passed his smile to Caleb. “You’ll now ask me to join your club, I imagine.”
“Not a club,” he said. “But we are hoping to gather some like-minded people–”
“I am uninterested.” Byron gave them each a nod. “If you want me to buy you a drink sometime, please, come find me, but politics are not my forte, and I’d rather not be the next one facing the sun.”
He strode away from them before they could offer a response. There were too many people here, all of them staring at him, and he pushed open the doors to another room. Before him, a tall grey cloaked figure poured drinks. Straud stood straight as he entered, giving him a disapproving look.
“Master Thornley,” he said, his genteel voice brimming with class and upbringing. “You fared well through my presentation.”
“Illuminating, sir.” Byron glanced for an escape, but there was no leaving the conversation until Straud allowed it.
“I was worried Lady Catherine’s influence might rub off on you. But you’ve no intention of following in her footsteps.”
“I’d like to be very far away from her footsteps, actually,” he said. “As far as I can manage.”
“Good.” The Grand Master moved closer to him, his grey face like stone.
“I mean this, Master Thornley,” Straud said, words dropping like leaden shoes. “Not a word of misconduct from you. I have separated the chaff from the wheat, but do not think I won’t burn the fields to find you again if I must. We live quiet lives, or we do not live at all.”
Byron backed away, raising his hands in a gesture of good will. “I understand completely. You won’t hear a thing from me again.”
“Good,” Straud said. “Then I suggest you make your plans.”
Byron could not have fled any faster. Disappearing, at least, was what he was good at. And with luck, he’d never fast the Master again.
Byron raised a fist to the door. He was never very good at keeping promises, but he suspected this one was life or death.
The door pulled back, and for a moment he considered fleeing to the hills, getting far away from this part of the world, and hoping the Master could never unearth him.
He stepped inside.