IN 1347, in the year of our Lord, there went out a proclamation from the Lord God, He who is called Jehovah, and it was noised abroad to all the corners of the earth. It was said that the angel Gabriel stood atop the Mount of Olives and blew his trumpet, and lo, the Earth melted like wax.
At long last, the promised end of the world. Our kind had proliferated, had now spread abroad so far and so fast that God must needs purge the land of our presence. Or so the prophets said. Our number had become too great, and we were infecting the mortal innocents, affecting them with our iniquity. It was time to change the course of our most necessary evil, and by so doing, eradicate all evil from the face of the earth. The means by which He chose to destroy us was a disease you now know as plague. The instrument of this destruction was a woman named merely, Lilith.
My name is Dante, of the house of Salvatore, and I am, at the time of this telling, in this, your modern age, some six hundred and fifty years old. I am immortal, one of a small and peerless number that nightly roam the world. When I was first brought over into darkness, I was but a stripling youth, and so I have remained. Our kind do not age; despite the ravages of time, we remain the same as on the night that we first took that unholy cup.
I am forever twenty years of age. I still have a young man’s smooth, square face, framed with dark chestnut hair that flutters around my shoulders and large dark eyes, heavy-lidded, flecked with gold. Arched brows that lend my face a permanently quizzical expression, as if I were questioning the gods. A mouth that hints at a hidden sensuality, the lower lip not quite pendulous but poutish, petulant. Tall for then—the Middle Ages—not so very tall for now, these modern times, this twentieth century.
In life I was the kind of face and figure that could meld into the masses. I exist now in death, and my immortal nature is well hidden. I am a template upon which my milieu inevitably sets its mark.
I have a story to tell you, one which I think you will very much want to hear. Because it concerns the nature of existence, the integrity of betrayal, and the astounding wrath of the vengeful God Jehovah. Pray, place your hand in mine and follow. You very much believe, even as you resist me, that nothing is as tender as the night.
Florence, Italy (Firenze)
I HAVE heard the story told, in hushed whispers around the dining table, or in my master’s chambers, that the holy God Jehovah made Lilith from the dust of the earth, created her as He created Adam. And Lilith, unwilling to subjugate herself to him, resisted, uttered the secret name of God, (that which is not given men to know) and flew high into the air. She traveled to the Red Sea and there, in a frenzy of evil, created demons, the diabolic children of her blood-lust. This was the seed of her rebellion against Him.
This was the beginning of our kind, this aberrant subspecies of blood-drinkers that nightly roams the earth. We are bound with chains as ancient as the universe.
When I met Lilith, she was already immensely old, and I have no reason not to believe the stories. I believe that she is the First Eve, the immortal wife of Adam. I believe she is as much evil as I have ever known.
“DANTE!” The tinkling crash of broken crockery; a shattered plate skittered into pieces across the hard tiles of Ludmilla’s kitchen floor. “Clumsy oaf!”
Her hand cuffed me, briefly, a clever tap across the nape of my neck that nonetheless humiliated me. I bent to scrape up the broken fragments, brush them into a cloth to be taken away. I would never have dropped the tray except that I was in a frenzy of excitement, my whole body juddering with nervous anticipation.
“You’ve cut yourself! Ahhhh!” Ludmilla squatted in front of me, a huge shadow blocking out the morning light. “Little piece of it—” She brought my finger close to her face and picked the tiny shard away. Immediately the blood welled up and with it, the pain. “Here. Wrap it up.” She passed me a strip of linen and bound it twice around my finger. “You should be more careful.”
I had been careful, I had been exquisitely careful, but I was just so excited! The trader that my master entertained upstairs was not his normal sort of guest; this man was special, different. I sensed it. The entire household buzzed with unasked questions, humming like a beehive. We were each of us intensely curious about him.
“Now, need another tray for you to take.” Ludmilla bustled about, a large shape at the dim edges of my vision. I wasn’t listening to her. I was feeling the throb in my finger and wishing that she would hurry with the tray, so I could go in and see my master’s strange visitor. “Take this—grip it, boy!” She curled my fingers around the handles, squeezed my hands until they hurt. “Don’t drop it this time.” She scrutinized me with her small, dark eyes, lips pursed. “So you’ve seen him, then.”
“The trader!” She turned and pretended busyness with a basket of onions. “Cosimo says he has an extra eye, here.” She pressed her thumb against the center of her smooth round forehead. “And an extra finger on each hand.”
“Maestro Salvatore has an extra finger on each hand?” Mio Dio, this was news to me. How was it I hadn’t noticed?
“The trader!” Ludmilla glared at me with all the gravity of a disgruntled sow. “How is it you were raised at his side—” She jerked a thumb upward to indicate my master, in the rooms above us, “—and are so stupid?”
I pulled a face. “Cosimo talks nonsense.” Cosimo was the master of horses. “He has no extra fingers, nor eyes either.”
“Ahhhh!” She shoved me out the door. “Make haste with that, and don’t drop it!”
I went up with my tray of wine and sweetmeats, careful on the stairs, my mind quivering with anticipation. I was now finally old enough to serve my master properly, as a man, to wait on him and bring him wine. I was no longer relegated to the kitchen with Ludmilla. I was a respected servant, very nearly a counselor, with the master’s ear if I wanted it.
I pushed the door open furtively, peered around the corner. Salvatore was hunched over at his desk, gazing at a map.
“My Master.” I waited in the doorway, as Ludmilla had taught me, and allowed only my gaze to rove around the room. It was indeed glorious, but then, my master was a man of wealth and position, and much humility. That he conducted his business in this gilded salon was nothing to him; its gorgeous frescoes and vaulted, coffered ceilings escaped his attention as surely as if they were mere phantoms of the imagination.
“Ah, Dante! Come in, come in.” Salvatore looked up, smiling at me, and I was struck by how little he had changed since first he’d found me in the marketplace. And that was eons ago, ages since. I felt that I had come a great distance since then. “Dante, this is Ysin-Hui, the trade emissary from China. Ysin-Hui provides me with the spices and dyes I need, and in return, I supply him with oil from my groves. Here—” Salvatore uncorked one of several vials that stood in a row upon his desk, motioned me near, “—cinnamon, and cardamom.” The heady smells rose and mingled, a delicious perfume.
“I have never seen such things….” I touched a hesitant finger to the side of the glass bottle; I expected it to be warm to the touch. There was anise seed, attar of roses, yellow turmeric, and saffron, impossibly expensive and much more precious than gold. There were innumerable rows of tiny vials, filled with things I had never seen before. There was the dried head of a monkey in a velvet bag.
“Young, Dante, I am pleasured by our meeting.” He bowed to me, graciously, but I flushed hot and cold with embarrassment. My master’s other friends, wealthy Florentines, knew not to bow to me, as I was but a servant. “Would you like something to take along with you?” He pushed the velvet bag a little closer to the table’s edge. “Maestro Monkey, he smiles because he likes you.”
I glanced at the animal’s severed head with its thin dead lips, its fixed expression. The eyeballs had long since rotted and collapsed back into the hollow sockets, dried strips of crackling tissue that was plastered flat against the bone. My stomach lurched painfully, and I looked quickly away. “You are far too kind, Ser.”
“Dante is my servant, but he is much more to me than that.” Salvatore was speaking to the emissary, but I listened without seeming to. It was a trick I often employed, to apprise myself of the household business. “I found him in the market when he was but a child, and he has remained with me ever since. I expect that, because I am so very fond of him, I may need to purchase him a title.” Salvatore often showed me off this way, proud that I belonged to him. “I have thought of petitioning the Medici. They are rising rapidly in prominence….” He trailed off, smiling, and Ysin-Hui smiled also, and nodded, a courteous mirroring. His keen, dark eyes watched me as I went to stand by Salvatore’s side. “Ysin-Hui honors us, Dante.”
I bowed from the waist and nodded to the emissary. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Ser.” I employed the Tuscan honorific, since I had no idea how to greet him in his own tongue, but he seemed pleased with me, and smiled. In fact, he smiled more than anyone I had ever met. I looked carefully but could see no extra eye. His hands employed a mere five fingers each.
“Ysin-Hui will be staying with us for a few days, Dante, as he is a stranger in our city. Would you run and ask Ludmilla to make up his bedroom, please?”
I was being dismissed, but I didn’t mind. I had performed my duty, and I had seen what was in the little bottles and indeed the monkey’s head as well, and now, as was often the case, it was time to depart silently, as any worthy servant knows to do. “I will, Maestro.”
The truth was, a prolonged stretch of time in Salvatore’s presence made me uncomfortable. He often made much more of me than was appropriate, and his enthusiasm embarrassed me. His affection was an overwhelming thing, a nearly physical presence that enveloped me like a cloud, cloying, overpowering. I knew that his deep regard for me could smother me, without meaning to; he merely loved me far more than I could stand. I felt his hand descend upon my shoulder, and it burned me. I slid away from it, under the pretence of picking up my tray, and moved toward the door in guilty silence. I bobbed a bow and escaped, running down the back stairs until I reached the kitchen, out of breath.
When I was a child, he brought me sweetmeats from market every day, watched while I ate them, observed me with a frightening intensity that compelled me to swallow every one, until I made myself ill. He ordered clothing made for me, from the finest houses between here and Venice: cloaks and doublets, cut in the latest style, fashioned from the finest cloth, fine-woven hose of silken thread, leather boots dyed to match. When the other boys at my school made sport of me and beat me up, Salvatore hired tutors such as those employed by prominent fiorentino, so that I should be educated in his home, and not exposed to peril on my way to school. He boasted that I was tutored by such minds as those who created the erudition of the Medici, the Sforza.
He sat beside my bed at night until I fell asleep, even when I became so old that I no longer feared the darkness. Often I would be occupied in some task about the house, and I would look up to see him watching me, a curious expression on his face.
He supervised my activities himself, or if he was unable, sent a servant to go with me. I felt ridiculous, being followed about the town by Salvatore’s hulking guards, as if I were his firstborn son, instead of merely his servant. If I went into a shop, a tavern, or a church, his emissaries followed me. If I sought sport with a fellow or a maiden, it was certain I was being watched, under the guise of his protection. Salvatore’s presence followed me everywhere, he was with me every possible moment, as if he feared that I would vanish like a vision. When I knelt to say the Pater Noster at Mass on Sundays, Salvatore was there beside me, gazing into my face as if it held some kind of holy glow.
Salvatore loved me too much. It frightened me. There is love, and love again, and then the love becomes religion.
MY EARLIEST memory is of being in the marketplace. I can’t have been more than two. I don’t remember how I got there, of course; I merely remember sitting in the dust behind an applecart and crying as if my heart were broken.
The market seemed so very huge a place, and I, so all alone. And I was hungry, I remember it now: that peculiar, gnawing hunger that feels as if it would eat right through you. This lent vigor to my screaming and I continued until I was fairly hoarse from it. Still, no one came.
I first remember Salvatore as an elegant shadow falling over me, a huge pair of hands reaching down. I was lifted up, into the sunlight of late afternoon, the ground falling away from me. He seemed so very tall, but then, I was a tiny child. To me, he would have seemed so. Even now, hundreds of years after his demise, he still seems huge, a tall, elegant shadow. Perhaps I will always remember him this way, as my savior in the marketplace, lifting me out of the darkness and into the light. He thought I would always exist in light, my wise master. But then, he could not have anticipated Lilith, her ancient blood that condemned me to this immortal hell. Perhaps it is best that he does not know what his servant, his sometimes-son, has come to.
Tuscany in summer is a glorious place; there is an ethereal quality about the light not seen elsewhere, I’m certain you yourself have seen it in the paintings of the Renaissance: Da Vinci, Botticelli, and Andrea del Sarto. There is a quality of stillness, also, of eternal waiting, as if the landscape held its breath. It is a place as perfectly the same as it has ever been, unchanged by Time, untempered by Fortune and by Fate. The green hills with their dappled olive groves roll into the horizon as ever they did; tranquil streams meander thoughtfully, unhurried; the sky in daylight is still a stretch of blue serenity. It is above all else, a place of peace, and a certain creature comfort. There are times when, in my self-imposed exile, I search for some solace, and it is then that Salvatore’s villa establishes itself most strongly in my memory: a stately palazzo on the outskirts of Florence in which I was happy.
After he had found me, he installed me in his house under the care of a nurse—a washerwoman who had been with him as long as anyone could remember. She also cared for his only daughter, Sorcha, a plain and plump girl who cared little for anything besides prayers and holy books. It was whispered that she was bound for the convent. All I ever saw of her was her back, as it traveled hither and yon about the house. She was a fussy, petulant girl, much given to moods and rages; it was not unknown for her to scream the house down, when she was denied some trinket or bauble that her father might have brought from market. Her various attitudes changed as quickly as the wind. She spent most of her time closeted with her nurse and never went outside.
But I was as happy underneath his roof as I had been anywhere; indeed, I had no real recall of being either happy or otherwise, but then, I had been so very young when he found me. So perhaps my time under his roof is all the mortal memory I have, all the mortal memory I need. It is as if I was created the moment that he reached down to lift me into the light.
His house, with its myriad rooms and labyrinthine corridors, was a perfect place for a young boy, and I passed many a contented hour wandering there, devising imagined adventures in which I figured largely as the hero. In summer, there was the courtyard, lush with trees, cool and sheltered from the sunlight. If I climbed onto the topmost point of Salvatore’s tower, I could gaze out over his olive groves and his vineyards, rich acres of green stretching as far as I could see: this was Salvatore’s world, this was my world.
These olives had made him rich, and because of his wealth, I wanted for nothing. I was clothed in the same rich fabrics all in his household wore, I was fed and cared for as if I were his son, instead of the urchin that he had found at market. Like many a foundling who was forced to fall upon the kindness of strangers, I could never be sure of my place within the household, but with Salvatore di Tuscano, I was always sure of my place in his regard.
I was in service to him when Lilith came.
I had just passed my twentieth year, well into my majority, an adult now. You will remember that the span of time to make a life was much shorter then; at twenty I was as mature as ever I would be. I had reached the fullness of my height, my shoulders broad and strong, my muscles hardened from years of carrying and fetching, working with Salvatore’s cavaliere in the courtyard. I had hair underneath my arms and elsewhere on my body, and I was compelled now to shave my face every morning with a blade.
There was a commotion in the house at that time: Sorcha was twenty-five and still had not married, and Salvatore seemed intent that she should go into contemplation. She had always been a quiet girl, immersed in reading, the study of Scripture, not overly inclined to gaiety, and certainly not interested in being courted. Salvatore had her introduced to several of his patrons, their sons, and their sons’ cousins, but all for naught. Sorcha was not interested, she would not marry, and as the years passed, one upon the other, the time when she might wed dwindled down to nothing, and was gone. Salvatore considered sending her to the convent, but Sorcha wailed and wept, prevailed upon his mercies in the name of her dead mother, until Salvatore finally consented. Sorcha would remain here, would manage the affairs of the family after Salvatore had gone; since there was no son, I would assist her, as her chamberlain, and thus be assured of my livelihood for the remainder of my days.
Alas, it did not happen like that.
I WAS folding cloth for Ludmilla the night that I first saw her: a woman, tall and thin, with an unearthly countenance and eyes of blue that glittered. I shrank from her, my voice withered in my throat and died, and I knew nothing but this horrible, heart-pounding terror. Fear rose and filled my head, a wordless shriek, as she moved, one hand outstretched in front of her, the long nails gleaming in the dimness, eerily illuminated by my candle.
I knew she was something unholy. Yet I was powerless to flee; it was as if my feet had fallen off my legs.
“Dante….” Her lips moved to shape my name; she uttered it, a whisper like dried leaves, a murmur that died away like wind. She drifted, grew in height, hovered over me like some great, winged shadow. Her hair was long and tangled and reached nearly to the floor, a dark sheet, a shroud. Her mind pressed against me like a mouth, a great beckoning presence that insisted, that insinuated itself into my soul. And I sagged against the wall, drained of life, held pinioned by the terror I felt because of her. I was in a great, shrieking, mindless agony of fear, that horror that erupts when the mind can hold no other thought, no other impulse. As if from a distance, I heard the thudding cadence of my heart, the dark interior swishing of my blood as it slowed by degrees, like a timepiece running down.
I was suspended in death.
I felt her bend over me, felt the tendrils of her hair brush against my face, my neck. Fingers probed my face, my mouth, slipped into my nostrils, examined the insides of my ears. Fingers slipped into my opened shirt, sliced my nipple with a fingernail, a pain as keen as ecstasy. “You are mine. I have marked you for my own.”
My mouth opened, my lips shaping themselves into an oval, a supplication. Who are you?
“I have come to bring about the end of the world.” Mystery, Babylon the Great, Mother of Harlots.
Who are you?
“I am Lilith. The First Eve, the willful woman, the cast-off skin of evil. I am—” Leaning over me, her hair brushing my face, my blinded eyes, “—the very consort of God.”
There was a fluttering rush, as if from the beating of a great many wings, and her nails slid into my neck. She wrenched my head around, bared my throat and sank her fangs into me.
My body rose in her embrace, floating. Her lips fastened onto my skin with a powerful suction that seemed to pull my soul to her. And I was filled with light: varicolored, beautiful, it streamed out of her and into me, a spiral thread. I existed in a perfect space, and I was safe, and every cold and lonely thing inside me was erased, replaced with love and heat. She was draining me, and it was the best thing, because what else was there except this love, this perfect peace? Peace I give unto you, not as the world gives….
“Dante, drink it, darling.” A flood of liquid over me, against my face, my death-blinded eyes, dripping into my mouth. I was with my mother again, and I remembered what it was to be an infant, suckled at her breast and safe in her embrace, the milky smell of her. Oh, my mother…. Suckling at her breast and safe, and—
The slow thudding of my heart returned: gently at first, barely audible, a distant ticking like a watch. And then stronger, beating in my ears like the cadence of an enormous drum, pounding lustily and strong and alive!
The room resolved around me, and I saw that I was in her arms, my mouth at her breast, and I was pulling blood from her, as she had taken it from me.
“Enough, Dante.” She disengaged her nipple from my mouth, pressed her fingers against the flow of blood, smeared them on my lips. “New-made revenant, I bless you.”
I caught her fingers and sucked them, drew them deep inside my mouth and bucked against her, my whole being suddenly engorged with lust. I held her by her waist and rubbed myself against her hip, faster and faster, rubbing myself against the rough fabric of my hose, the silken fabric of her dress. Release hovered around the edges of my senses; I could feel it building underneath my skin, that telltale tickle in the brain, the soles of my feet: imminent now, building, building—
Bright stars danced behind my closed eyelids and I spent myself against her in long, tremulous bursts that left me weeping. She wrapped her hand around me and squeezed, and I shivered again, and ground myself against her.
The world was exquisitely painful, and jagged around the edges. If I opened my eyes, the candlelight would blind me.
THE Ancient Kiss manifests itself differently in us all, but for me, it was a horror from the start, an alternate reality that had stolen my own existence, replaced it with something that I did not recognize and could not navigate.
I awoke the morning after Lilith made me, lying on the floor of my chamber, half-blind from the beam of daylight that slid across the floor, my skin seared with the impending heat, the promise of the dawn. The sight of it nauseated me and seared my eyeballs; I feared to touch it because I knew it would burn the skin from my bones. I crawled into a cabinet and slid the door behind me, and there I stayed, unconscious, until the world had made its revolution into darkness.
When I awoke again, I crawled up from a nightmare. I was possessed of a hunger the likes of which I had never known: it throbbed along my very bones, it pulsed underneath my skin. Every fiber of my being screamed for nourishment, a hunger that was like the fever pitch of lust.
I crept down into the kitchen.
There was food here, I thought, yes, food. I would eat and then I would be appeased, the pain would stop. I was utterly demented, my need for nourishment possessed me: I was deaf and blind to all else and driven only by this. My gums ached furiously; the bones themselves seemed to change their shape.
I found a loaf of bread lying on a table, and I seized it greedily, tore into it with my teeth, stuffed it down my throat. This was food, it was good, it would help—my stomach recoiled around it, forced it back in a great, retching heave, a violent contraction, a revulsion that ripped its way up out of my chest. I vomited until I was empty, huddled on the floor and clutching my aching stomach, arms wrapped around my chest. “Oh God, it hurts….” My voice was loud, ringing in the stillness of the kitchen. I could hear rats running underneath the cupboards, the padding of their tiny feet upon the stones. Above me, I could hear Ludmilla, sewing: I could hear each tug and pull as she drew her thread, the hissing passage of the needle through the cloth. I could hear people sleeping, hearts beating in the distant rooms above the kitchen.
I was losing my mind! I clamped my hands to the sides of my head, squeezed my eyes shut. The room seemed to move; the whole house was breathing, I could hear them all, breathing like that. I could hear the shifting of the timbers as the house settled, the creaking of the stones. I could hear it, hear everything.
I found a pitcher and poured a little water, but I could not drink it—my stomach lurched as I passed the cup across my lips, and I knew that if I drank it, I would vomit as before. I was suddenly and violently afraid.
“I’m going to die,” I said. I would starve to death. Despite the abundance of Salvatore’s wealth around me, I would starve.
I wondered what I was supposed to eat, now that Lilith had changed me, now that her blood had passed into me. I wasn’t certain about what had happened, I only knew that I had changed. My body felt differently than it had the day before: lighter, but at the same time more inherently solid, as if it had been invested with some covert power. My blood hummed along my veins, throbbed underneath my skin; my skull felt full of light.
Ludmilla kept a glass against the door, just on the wall above the chopping table, and I went to it now, pulled it down and peered into it. I was curious to see how these myriad sensations had manifested themselves in me; I wondered if drinking Lilith’s blood had altered my essential structure. I held the mirror in my arms and tilted it until my face came into view.
I was changed!
I recoiled from the glass, flattened myself against the wall, desperately afraid of the apparition in the mirror. That wasn’t me, it couldn’t be me, and if it was, then Lilith had worked dark magic on me. I didn’t look like that, it wasn’t me!
My eyes, though still brown, were flecked with rich gold; the irises were deep and velvet, the whites as clear as marble. Something moved in the depth of my gaze, something animate; my eyes themselves were warm, glowing, enticing.
These were not the only changes.
My skin was pale as bone, and my face was unusually mobile, less able now than ever to disguise its expression. My hair tumbled about my shoulders, as darkly glossy as the mane of one of Salvatore’s finest mares. My lips, slightly parted, glistened with moisture; when I parted them to see my teeth, I noticed two tiny spikes emerging from my gums on either side. I was subtly altered, a metamorphosis so precise as to leave my features intact while perfecting every aspect of my being.
I was beautiful now. But still damnably hungry! And it was building by the second, this lust for nourishment, so that it had become quite exquisitely painful.
I thought about the woman Lilith, what she had done to me, how she had given me suck from her breast, how she had given me blood from her body, how she had taken mine in return.
My mind was working furiously. This thing I craved, could it be blood? Perhaps this was what I must now eat. Perhaps I could no longer tolerate Ludmilla’s cakes or her good, doughy loaves. Perhaps I could not take fruit, or sweetmeats, or wine.
I could feed as Lilith fed on me. The thought grew, gained shape, solidified.
Lilith had taken my blood. And I had taken hers. Then it was blood I needed. I would have to eat blood, drink it, something….
“I can’t do it.” Whispering, my voice was as loud as a normal person’s mumble: I heard a twitter in the hallway, in a moment I would be discovered. The hunger twanged my senses like an over-tightened lute string; in a moment I would snap—
“Well, Dante! What are you doing, hiding in Ludmilla’s kitchen?”
I spun guiltily, upset the mirror, and it fell before I could catch it, shattered into a million, silvery pieces.
It was Luigi, the groom’s son. “Mother of God!” He blessed himself hurriedly, hastened to ward off the bad luck that follows a broken mirror. He was thirteen, barely on the cusp of manhood, still superstitious and uncertain, still clinging to childhood ideas. I regarded him with a lofty contempt that was quite wonderful and new.
“Luigi… I don’t feel very well.” I pitched my voice low to beckon him closer, slid down the wall till I was sitting on the floor. The hunger pulsed in me like a living thing, and there was no whispering of conscience, not then. I was hungry, I would eat. It was as simple as all that. I had scarce thought outside of hunger; there was room for little else.
“Should I summon Ludmilla? Have her make a potion?” He came closer, he was kneeling in my vomit, and this amused me, somehow. I could smell him, and he smelled wonderful: his skin, his hair, his sweat, the dust of his day’s labor. I could hear blood beating in him, swishing through the tiny tubes of veins and arteries. I wanted to devour him whole, and I thought how easy it would be to break his soft, thin skin, so very like the skin of a plum or a grape. It would be like biting through a crust of sugar to the pulsing sweet heart of him. I thought about this quite intently. And I noticed that he was moving closer to me.
Come closer, yes, that’s it, like that…. I could draw him with just a thought, and now he was folding himself into my arms, and he was there in my embrace and oh! the sweetness of him, like a luscious candied thing, the rich blood smell of him, rising into my nostrils. I held him delicately, afraid that if I squeezed him he would shatter.
My gums ached, the shape of them was changing, from either side the spike descending, sliding down out of the bone. But I was clumsy with them yet, and I couldn’t pierce his skin, so I seized a shard of broken mirror and slashed his throat, groaned aloud as the blood streamed down into his hair. I sealed my lips over the wound, as the dark fountain of his life erupted into my throat. The hunger hissed a little less keenly, and a lambent desire rose to take its place, filled my belly with a heady languor like that left behind by wine, well-aged and red. I felt the way I did after I had pleasured myself, alone in my bedroom, after I had brought my own release: sated, warm, and safe.
I drank until I felt his essential being disengage, slip out of his body with a discrete click like the snapping of a bone. The death was a shock, a sudden, sucking pull that dragged at me with claws; I recoiled from him, cast his body from me. Perhaps I ought not to continue drinking until the death comes, I thought.
I crouched for a long time with my back against the wall and watched him, watched the slow process of mortal demise with some great interest. I could see things now that I had never seen before, and I could see more: all the varied shades of light and dark that move across the spectrum. I watched Luigi dying, saw the changing temperature of his skin as the life left him. I saw the varicolored, invisible gases rising from his flesh, the slow stiffening of the rigor mortis.
The body cools so quickly. Something I learned that Lilith never told me. I’m not sure why I’m telling you this now. But it does: cools, and stiffens, the limbs hardening, the face becoming waxen, like a doll. A thing. I leaned against the wall and regarded him this way, my arms clutched around my belly, the blood spreading its warmth through me. I pondered, idly, what to do with it, this empty shell. I supposed I ought to bury it, dispose of it somehow. There aren’t any rules for such things, you know. I wondered if the dogs might take it, should I leave it outside the villa gates….
Murder is a mortal sin, I thought idly. Murder. I have murdered him…. I rolled the word around in my mouth, sucked it back like blood. It had the shape of a small stone, rested easily on my tongue. It meant little to me, as did other supposed sins. Salvatore tried to civilize me, but I have never fully embraced the dogma of the Christ. I fear that my inherent sensuality precludes such a spiritual gesture, as I love pleasure far more than is proper.
I wondered if this was how Lilith felt after she had taken me. I wished that I could ask her, but she had long since left, and I was alone in my new state, with none to tell me otherwise. I tossed Luigi’s body into a stream behind the house.
I MADE my way back into the villa and up the stairs, intending to sleep in my old room. I knew now that the light could harm me, so it was vital that I shutter all the windows and bar the door.
A sound startled me, and I turned to see Ysin-Hui, Salvatore’s Chinese trader, coming up the stairs. He carried a pail and a linen towel, and looked as if he had been ill. His skin was as pale as wax, and in the dim light, I could see beads of sweat standing on his forehead.
“Are you unwell, Ser?” My voice boomed out in the stillness of the stairwell, rushing past my lips at unearthly volume. I clamped a hand over my mouth and smiled past my fingers. “May I aid you?” I whispered. I could smell his blood, it didn’t smell right. He hovered, creaking in front of me, his dark, almond eyes hazy, his gaze indistinct.
“I wish only rest.” He moved away and down into the hallway, walking with a certain hobbling gait, his arms held stiffly from his sides, as if his armpits hurt him.
I noticed that the linen towel was spattered with bright red blood.