Fashion was a 24/7 business, which meant no rest for the wicked.
Blaine Lycanos knew that better than anyone. Sitting on a too small gilt chair in one of the front rows arranged on either side of Paris Spring-Summer Fashion Week’s closing show catwalk in the Louvre Carrousel, he impatiently tapped the toe of one of his Hermes Oxfords.
Leggy models paraded out of the gaping mouth of a skull-shaped carriage adorned with horned skull jewellery, tribal masks, and tight animal print corsets like an endless train of vomit. Overhead, a neon sign flashed DEAD INSIDE.
He knew the feeling. Massaging the All-Seeing Eye tattoo on the back of his neck, he attempted to stifle his yawns. He hated sitting through this pretentious bullshit and was choking for a cigarette.
He was almost home free until one of the newer models tripped and landed flat on her face.
Fuck, he thought dismally.
A chorus of “ooooooh’s” rang out in the audience of exquisitely dressed men and women, and photographers raced to get the best close-up of the fall. The girl’s dainty ankle was twisted at an unnatural angle and she couldn’t stand, so the other models were catwalking over her like she was fashion roadkill.
This wasn’t how Blaine wanted Tybalt’s Ready-to-Wear and accessories campaign to be remembered. Not after his company, Diable Rouge Modelling and Fashion Inc., had worked so hard to promote the new designer.
Cursing under his breath, he forced his way through the horde of nosy onlookers to get to the embarrassingly hysterical model. But a member of the audience beat him to it, scooping her into his muscular arms and carrying her off the runway to the sound of whooping and cheering.
Blaine swiftly ushered them to the foyer, away from the cameras. The less evidence of this literal slip-up, the better. He called emergency services while the girl continued to wail. Though now, to his exasperation, it seemed to be because he wasn’t the one carrying her. She couldn’t take her mascara-bleeding eyes off him.
Unperturbed by her blatant rudeness, the Good Samaritan holding her gingerly placed her on a chair and offered to stay by her side until the ambulance arrived. Blaine grunted in agreement. He was eager to get away, but the invigorating smell of the man’s aftershave as they shook hands made him hesitate. The subtle undercurrent of apples was jolting- like having flavoured vodka poured into his eyes. Cracking his neck from side to side, he shook off the feeling and returned to the show.
Despite the drama, it was an unadulterated success. Blaine retook his seat next to Werner Castell, Diable Rouge’s refined CEO, mechanically joining the adulation as Tybalt was given a standing ovation for his PFW debut.
The Congolese designer took to the stage and the clapping and whistling grew louder. Dressed in a fitted leopard print jumpsuit of his own design with his hair dyed to match, he was a far cry from the refugee they’d taken under their wing.
Because he was soft-spoken and feminine as a teen, his family had branded him possessed by evil spirits. As a result, he was tortured and frequently starved in a hostile attempt to eradicate the kindoki within him. When Blaine and Werner discovered him many years later, they renamed him to metaphorically cleanse him of the past, but mostly for publicity.
Vogue recently hailed Tybalt’s urban jungle style as the hottest thing in Paris street fashion, and he was rapidly becoming a household name. It helped that Skylar Black, former Diable Rouge model and current mistress to the French Premier Ministre, was papped sporting one of his royal blue and black zebra print bodycon dresses like a sophisticated clothes horse. She owed Blaine a favour.
And now he owed her one, because within forty-eight hours the €300 dress had sold out.
It was a dream come true for Tybalt, who bowed humbly before his audience, eyes shining gratefully. Stunning supermodel Amara Hania, who’d just featured in his runway show, strode back on stage to hand him an elaborate bouquet of flowers, kissing him on both cheeks as his tears began to flow.
The crowd went absolutely wild and Werner sprang off his seat in his enthusiasm to join them both.
Tybalt gesticulated to Blaine as well, but no way was he going up there. Shaking his head, he waved them to carry on. He despised the limelight and almost felt bad for the designer. If only he knew the true cost of his fame. Clearly you can put a price on someone’s soul.
But Werner wasn’t taking no for an answer, and took it upon himself to loop his arm into Blaine’s and escort him.
Suppressing an irate growl, Blaine forced what he hoped looked like a genuine smile across his face and complied.
But Satan on a spit fork, was it hard. He hated the way people looked at him. It was pathetic how easily they were seduced by the lie. By the crass theatricality of it all.
After a thousand lights flashed in his eyes, he slinked backstage in relief. But by now it was too late for obscurity. A group of quirkily dressed fashion journalists intercepted him, eagerly shoving their bedecked smartphones in his face.
“What’s your name?” One demanded.
“What’s your relationship with Tybalt?” Chimed in another.
“What do you do?”
“Who are you?”
Irked as he was, Blaine merely shrugged. “I’m nobody.”
But his lack of cooperation only made him more appealing. There was a collective sigh and it took a gargantuan effort for him not to roll his eyes. Such was the burden of his beauty, his cross to bear.
Dressed in a sleek tailor-made Dior suit and white shirt, despite his wolfish demeanour he was dazzling to behold. The way he was slouching made it difficult to tell, but he was tall and muscular with enough strength to kill a man with his bare hands. His skin was the colour of fresh caramel and his eyes, framed by thick, romantic lashes, were the colour of drowning. His luxuriant hair was black as midnight and his full lips hinted at a sardonic smile, as if he knew something no one else did.
He also exuded an intrinsic sexiness because it was apparent he didn’t give a fuck what anybody else thought of him. He wouldn’t have been out of place on the catwalk himself.
But to those in the know, he wasn’t just a pretty face.
The models began strutting backstage in a flurry of spots and stripes, but Werner was nowhere to be seen. Typical. He was probably hitting on some shiny, new thing.
But the rush was a good excuse for Blaine to take his leave from the journalists.
“Ladies and gentlemen, forgive me,” he said, feigning regret, “but I’m needed elsewhere.”
And with that, he turned on his heel and bolted away from the groans of disappointment. Keeping his head lowered, he weaved his way to the Carrousel’s inverted pyramid skylight where everybody was congregating.
He looked around impatiently, searching for someone. Several people he didn’t know sidled over and congratulated him on Tybalt’s success. It was obvious they didn’t know who he was. They simply recognised him from being on stage earlier.
People needed little excuse to take a closer look- like he was some exotic caged beast.
Switching on the charm, he thanked them all but didn’t concern himself with introductions. If he didn’t know them, they weren’t worth knowing.
Flashing his winning smile, he kept conversation to a bare minimum while scouring the gallery.
To his relief, he finally located who he was looking for in the maddening crowd. After mumbling some excuse, he forced his way through a throng of bodies to get to yet another smaller stone pyramid, where his best friend was leaning against one of the slopes and rolling a joint.
From a distance, they looked enough alike to be brothers.
“Leito,” Blaine whispered.
Detecting his voice easily despite the din and distance between them, Leito’s head swivelled in Blaine’s direction with unnatural alacrity and he waved him over. His cheery grin caught the light and glinted like the metallic stud in his eyebrow.
He was conversing with convivial ease to an entourage of immaculately dressed actors, clearly in no hurry to move. But Blaine had met his small talk quota for the day, so he pretended to bump into someone he knew on his way over.
"Oui, c’était magnifique!" He exclaimed in flawless French, grabbing some random man by the shoulders. “Thank you so much for coming!”
The confusion contorting the random’s face was laughable. “Hey guy. You must’ve mistaken me for someone else. I’m just a lighting tech.”
But Blaine ignored him and shook his hand with exaggerated enthusiasm, following-up with a tirade of positive generic French statements for good measure.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Leito shaking his head with incredulity as he made his way over to them. “I’ll take it from here,” he assured the technician who, looking even more baffled than before, left them to it.
“Nice,” Leito snorted, his onyx eyes glowering. “Must you insist on always being a dick?”
Blaine adjusted his shirt collar with a smug smirk. “God made me this way. Besides, you know I can’t stand actors. Talking to them is too much like work, and as of now I’m officially off duty.”
“Duly noted.” Leito tucked the joint behind one of his ears for safe-keeping. “So I guess this means you won’t be attending the afterparty tonight?”
Eyes fixated on the joint, Blaine gave his friend a lopsided grin. “Are we going to smoke that shit or what?”
Leito’s nostrils flared. “You’re unbelievable.”
They proceeded to squeeze through a herd of people packed into the Louvre like cattle to get outside.
“If I was human, this’d be my idea of Hell,” Blaine muttered under his breath, desperate to escape.
When they were finally obscured in the shadows of the museum’s giant glass pyramid entrance, Leito sparked up. “Remember the glory days when we used to party every night?” He reminisced with a nostalgic sigh.
Blaine snorted. They were hardly what he would’ve termed the glory days. By then he’d well and truly realised humans had garnered enough momentum to destroy themselves and his work here was done. But he didn’t want to offend Leito. “They got old. And so did I.”
“Bullshit. You’re eternally twenty-seven. What’s up with you these days?”
Massaging the back of his neck, Blaine stared so hard at the ground, his vision blurred. “Do you ever feel like you’re switched off? Like you’re going through the motions but you’re not really there?”
Leito exhaled several jaunty smoke rings. “No.”
“Well, I do... Sometimes I get through a full day feeling absolutely nothing.”
His friend passed him the joint. “You’ll feel something after some of this Inferno Haze. I guarantee it.”
Blaine inhaled deeply and welcomed the plunge into giddy lightheadedness. Leito was right. At least it was something. He was stupid for trying to talk about his feelings when he barely had any. He’d mastered the art of numbness.
After two more of Leito’s notoriously strong joints, Blaine succeeded in forgetting himself. Even the afterparty idea was starting to seem less repugnant. He supposed he ought to show face. There wouldn’t even be anything to celebrate if it weren’t for him.
Despite his youthful appearance, he’d founded the world’s most famous modelling agency and fashion enterprise decades ago. His job title on the books, Chief Advisor to the CEO, was only a cover in the same way Blaine Lycanos was merely this season’s nom de guerre. Everything about him was a carefully constructed fiction.
The truth was, he wasn’t what he seemed and neither was anything else.
Blaine was a demon. One of many on earth assigned the task of engineering a fake world around the human race in order to blind them from the spiritual truth and manipulate them into making a practice of sinning. His role in this vast conspiracy was to nurture self-loathing and unrealistic perceptions of beauty through fashion so humans forgot they were made in God’s image.
Diable Rouge was responsible for promoting the most beautiful faces in the world. The most celebrated of these were of darkling origin, demo-human hybrids genetically modified and raised to excel in various industries. They were the master race, a glorious mix of human and celestial genetics, the all-natural embodiment of elegance and beauty humanity aspired to.
Simply put, if all the world was a stage, darklings were the players and humans were the audience.
Blaine’s franchise owned every darkling model in the industry along with an impressive collection of the best looking mortals. Human fashion designers were another brand specialty, although they had no idea what was really going on.
And even if they had an inkling, it was difficult to believe satanic symbolism was being incorporated into trends to brainwash the masses, no matter how glaring the evidence. Sense and reason convinced them otherwise.
But sense and reason were human inventions. They had no place in the realm of angels and demons.
Blaine was testament to that because, with a bit more goading and smoke, he was persuaded to accompany Leito to the afterparty.
He clearly had no sense.