VIVIENNE WAS on her way back to the party when she discovered that the door from the ballroom was locked. She calmly took a side stairwell down to the basement. From a window, she could see fireworks exploding in the sky. They reminded her of Lady Thorne’s crystal chandeliers, dangling brilliantly from the trees, dancing in the fall breeze. The stairway was growing ever darker now. She could barely see the next step. She reached out with her hand and held it against the wall for support. With her other hand, she had to hold up the silky fabric of the dress to keep herself from tripping.
And then she felt it. Her fingers came away from the wall with a warm, wet substance. Vivienne shook her hand free of it. It must be mildew, she told herself. It was an ancient basement after all. As she continued to descend into the darkness an awful thought came to her. What if she had been locked in the tower on purpose? What if that wet feeling wasn’t moss or dew? What if she had been trapped here for a reason? Could it have been blood?
Without even knowing it, her feet started to pick up speed. She started to flee down into the darkness, toward whatever destination laid at the end of the stairwell. Perhaps, in her sudden panic her mind was playing tricks on her. Vivienne became aware of footsteps pounding down the stairs behind her.
She banged into a wooden surface. Grappling in the darkness, her hand found a doorknob. Vivienne turned it desperately and it opened into a bright corridor. She was breathing hard as she shut the door behind her. Suddenly, she felt very foolish. Vivienne was standing in an art gallery of sorts. The walls were lined with paintings of nymphs bathing in lily strewn lakes.
In one of the rooms nearby she heard a girl giggling. There were two half-empty flasks of champagne sitting by a door. Vivienne glimpsed inside to see a room filled with marble statues. At the center, sitting on a bench were a couple who could have been a pair of statues come to life. The beautiful girl giggled again. The girl turned her head while her handsome partner kissed her neck. Vivienne suddenly took a step as she recognized the girl. It was Wisteria. Her picturesque male companion was none other than the rakish Prince Mercury.
Vivienne walked away from the room, past a couple of elderly ladies who were sipping on champagne, absorbed in a painting. Vivienne went past them, she could hear a crowd just behind the next door. She decided that before she rejoined the party she should at least smooth out her dress and attempt to brush a few strands of hair out of her face. She ducked into a dark corner of a sparsely populated room to do so when she noticed a man, dressed in black, standing at the far corner.
Vivienne couldn’t help herself, she approached him. As she approached, she smiled to herself. She recognized him. She always had a way of finding him.
“Blake?” she asked. He didn’t turn at the sound of her voice. She remembered hearing from the maids that on the night of his mother’s party he had hid in a closet in his grandfather’s old study. He was standing in front of a painting of a greek god holding a staff and a lantern.
“Are you enjoying yourself?” he asked with a coy note to his voice. “In our version of the underworld?”
“You’re clearly not,” Vivienne retorted. “Hiding again? Still can’t stand the sight of happy people?”
“They say that you can’t really judge a life until its ended,” Blake said, gesturing to the painting. She noticed that there were skulls in the river in the painting. Perhaps it was the river Styx. “I ask myself everyday if having all this was worth dying for.” His voice grew soft as he finally peeked at her from the corner of his eyes. “If it was worth losing you for.”
“And what makes you think you ever had me to begin with?” Vivienne asked. She meant for it to be a joke but he didn’t laugh. “Allison,” Vivienne finally found the courage to say. “What happened to her? How did she become Lady Maglania?
“She’s a host to a parasite.” Blak had a sinister look to his face that Vivienne didn’t like at all. “Lady Maglania is using her body. The princess’ own body is useless to her so she places her consciousness in a new girl every couple of years until she grows tired and moves on. I’m surprised you haven’t figured it out. You haven’t been brought to enjoy our splendid parties or to enjoy our lavish riches. You’re here to keep us from dying.” Blake crossed his arms over his chest and stared back at the painting. “Allison’s your friend isn’t she? She probably told me I’m a monster. It’s possible she’s not be wrong.”
“She said you drank from her, is that true?”
“I did,” Blake said, absently as though it wasn’t important. “It was many years ago, and it was one time, by accident. I didn’t know she was your friend. I don’t usually drink human blood.”
“Do you want to drink my blood?” Vivienne asked in a disgusted voice.
“Do I want to?” Blake asked with a disquieting smirk on his face. “I want quite a few things. For one, I wanted you to leave with me but I didn’t take you by force did I?” When she didn’t reply he continued to look away from her. “There’s no blood I would rather have in the world than yours, Vivienne. The smell of it, the very thought of it, is irresistible to me. But, I will never take anything from you that you will not freely give me.”
“Stop it,” Vivienne said. “Stop pretending like you’re still him. You’re not. You’re a monster. Allison told me you would try to convince me otherwise.”
“Like who? Like myself?” Blake asked with a chuckle. “Who else would you prefer me to be?”
“Blake, is there a way for me to save her?” Vivienne asked in all seriousness as she reached out and took his arm. He looked down at her hand and seemed to soften ever so slightly.
“What makes you think she wants to be saved?”
“Allison and I, we just want to go home,” Vivienne stated with every ounce of confidence she had left. “If you were ever my friend you would help me.”
“If you honestly want to go home, I will help you,” Blake finally said. “But if you leave, you can never come back. As for your friend, why don’t you let her make her own decisions?” Blake reached out and gently took her hand in his. He held her hand in his for a moment and seemed lost in his own thoughts. “Vivienne,” he asked, softly, in a whisper. “Do you honestly believe in your heart that I’m a monster?”
Before she could answer, he sighed and turned to walk away. At the entrance to the room he gestured into the hallway. “Are you coming?” he asked. “I’m not the type to wait.”
Vivienne took a step towards him and then she hesitated. Sallen, Calbert, she couldn’t just leave them without saying a single word. Sallen was probably happy here in Coral City even thought she was bound to Jaker. Calbert would be disappointed if she disappeared but better to leave him earlier rather than later.
“I have to go and tell them first,” Vivienne stammered. “I can’t leave just like that.”
Blake nodded and turned to walk away. It happened all of the sudden. Maybe it was her terror at being locked in the tower. Or maybe it was her sense of loss that she might never find the Allison that she had remembered. In a split second, Vivienne crossed the room and wrapped her arms around him. It felt so natural to hold him as though she was holding a beloved memory or a part of herself that she had lost.
“Blake, I want to go home,” she choked out. Tears came to her eyes at the idea of home. She just wanted to back to her little house and to enjoy her modest birthday party. Standing there, holding him, she realized he was the only one who understood. She didn’t want to let go. She wanted to close her eyes and pretend that they were still children playing in a attic. She pressed her face into his shoulder and took a deep breath. Even after all this time, he still smelled like the mystery of an ancient mansion and its secret garden. Slowly, Blake wrapped his arms around her too. They were strong and hard, like stone. “Come with me,” Vivienne begged.
“Viv,” he whispered. “If only I could go with you.” For a second they simply stared at each other. His eyes seemed to flutter closed. He leaned in closer but she instinctively drew back. Was he trying to kiss her? Vivienne wasn’t sure but whatever was happening, it stopped. The moment had been broken. He took a step back and gestured for her to leave. They had drawn the curious eyes of more than a couple of patrons in the room. “Come find me when you’ve made your decision.”
Vivienne nodded. “Blake,” she whispered. The words seemed to linger in the air forever. She expected him to lose his patience at her hesitation but he simply stared back and waited. His green eyes seemed to glow with a unnatural light. She wasn’t sure why, but everything about him seemed familiar to her. Perhaps, they had seen each other time and time again, once upon a dream. “I feel like there’s so much I want to say to you but I don’t know where to start.”
“Then start,” Blake said. He squeezed her hand before he turned to leave. “You know how to find me.”Vivienne looked down at her hand and realized he had slipped her the cameo necklace.
The moment Vivienne stepped out of the gallery into the party, she felt as though a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She had taken the first step to getting home. She smiled to herself and prepared to search for Calbert’s tall bulky form when she stopped dead in her tracks. She met the eyes of a woman with a tuft of hair covered her right eye. The woman stood up and approached Vivienne. A gust of wind unsettled her hair and Vivienne caught the sight of a scar.
Vivienne turned around and ran through the only doorway she could find, back into the gallery. Vivienne wasn’t sure where she was going. She ran into the room where she found Blake and slammed the door behind her. There was no lock on the door. She ran across the room and threw open the door Blake had disappeared behind. The hallway it led into was empty. Darn, she thought to herself. She had been praying that Blake were still here. Like a scenario from a nightmare, she tried the knob of each door in the hallway, hoping to find help behind one of them. The old ladies that had been admiring the artwork were gone. She finally came to the last door in the hall, the one where she had seen Wisteria and her lover behind. The door was still ajar. Vivienne glanced inside, praying that she would find Wisteria there.
She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw a man leaning against one of the marble lions. It was Blake. Vivienne was about to call out his name when she heard a scream. Wisteria was backing away from him, her neck ripped open and her arteries exposed. Vivienne felt all the blood in her veins run cold at the sight. Blake walked over and stabbed her in the chest with what looked like a black knife. He stood up over her limp body and started to walk away. Vivienne backed up and hid behind the door, barely able to catch her breath. He had murdered Wisteria. All for what? Had he been angry that she hadn’t gone with him? Or was it because he was drinking Wisteria’s blood?
As she was pondering those questions, a hand reached out and grabbed her by the neck. Vivienne turned to find herself face to face with the one-eyed demon woman. She opened her mouth to scream but the woman placed her hand over Vivienne’s mouth. The demon woman glanced about, checking to make sure the hall was empty before she bared her fangs. She stretched Vivienne’s neck out and came in for the kill.
Vivienne couldn’t scream. It was all she could do to squeeze the cameo necklace in her palm. Blake, Vivienne thought, I guess you won’t have the pleasure of killing me tonight.
Even as she thought those words, the door next to her burst open with a unholy gust of wind. It was so strong it knocked the demon woman across the room. Vivienne fell behind the door and laid there, out of sight. She heard the demon woman screaming at the top of her lungs, once twice and then there was silence. Vivienne heard the sound of heavy panting nearby then then the sound of flesh being ripped to pieces. Blood seeped under the door beside her. Vivienne peered out from a crack in the door to see a pair of black, hairy, clawed feet walk back through the doorway. The scream died in her throat as she backed up and hid behind the door.