The specter of death has always followed Christophe, riding behind him at a slow gait on a pale horse, but that’s the way of his otherwise normal-seeming family.
It’s been his way since he awakened on his sixth birthday, the dawn for St. Valentine. The annual tradition was his father’s apple and cheese rösti accompanied by fleischkäse with all the Apfelschorle he could want.
Christophe runs downstairs on this day. Six is an important age — practically a man. In the future, he will look back on this day and note the smell in the air was not butter and melting cheese, but coppery, stale, acrid.
A day made to celebrate love, including the love of his parents that brought him into being, is forever eclipsed by the moment he entered the kitchen to find red pools covering the tile like ponds, red splatters on the walls, and his father lying with open, unseeing eyes and a missing throat. A man, tall and lithe with waist-length silver hair walked towards the back door. When Chris began to cry, he stopped at the sound. He turned, and his eyes were an electric blue that reflected light like a cat’s. His features were indescribably beautiful with skin like freshwater pearls and cheekbones sharp as tacks.
He could have been the king of the fey.
Blood rimmed his mouth, and his canine teeth were far, far too long. He touched his lips with an index finger, lost in thought, and then he plucked the blue rose in his boutonniere. Crouching, he lay the bloom at Christophe’s feet. “I’m sure I’ll see you again, little one,” he said in Christophe’s native French. “I’m quite certain of it.”
This was also the day where Christophe learned what anger is. Not the kind that causes a person to scream or shatter an heirloom, but the sort that consumes the kind parts of a soft heart, the kind that turns a person’s future into ashes with a snap of its fingers.
This is the day when his Grandpere hands him a crossbow sized for his boyish arms, hangs up the targets, and his formal education begins. His aim is a mess until he receives a pair of golden spectacles, which quickly makes aim straight and true. When he’s mastered this art, then he is given knives tipped in the purest silver. He reads diaries from his ancestors going back untold centuries that always describe the silver-haired demon who feeds on the blood of innocents.
The diaries end abruptly with no description of how the feud ends.
Christophe knows just the same.
Grandpere rolls tobacco cigarettes for them a decade later to the day, and they smoke. “I’m too old,” he says seemingly out of nowhere. “Your Papa was too kind, too soft. He never had the stomach for the family business.” He flicks ash off his cherry. “You do not have that deficiency.”
Christophe recalls a day that should have celebrated his family; instead, it became the death of his innocence. He stopped being a boy that morning, instead becoming a tool to end a menace that has outstayed its welcome.
He is seventeen today, having almost forgotten the occasion, and his Grandpere hands him a lacquered box. Inside it lie two handguns, one a gleaming white and the other a deep obsidian. The ammunition is tipped with the same silver as the knives he keeps strapped to his wrists below long-sleeves.
Chris opens the ivory gun; there’s one bullet in its chamber. The ebony gun has a single bullet in its chamber as well.
There is talk of war, of the Germans invading their neighbors, of a delusional despot striking down those he deems inferior solely by accident of birth. Human monsters may inflict a cruel, lingering damage of their own, but Chris only has his sights on the one who shred apart his family.
No matter where he hides, Chris will shred him .
The journals come with Chris, along with his weapons and a small rucksack for spare clothing. Trappings and trifles are unnecessary as he boards the train to Leningrad with a fond hug and likely final farewell to his Grandpere. He rereads the documentation of his family’s occupation under the high-pressure mercury lamps in his car, memorizing the information gathered since the 17th Century.
When Leningrad was Sankt Piter-Burkh, a young prince lost a crucial battle while defending his city. In the madness of his grief, he drank the blood from his enemy’s jugular, using the remainder to write a pact with the Morningstar. He transformed into a plague, the Devil’s Terran Lieutenant. Crosses and Holy Water burn him, but silver bullets or wooden projectiles to his heart followed by a beheading are the only way he will end, much like all of the rest of his kin.
Civilians will report on occasion blacking out and awakening anemic with no recollection of acquiring the wounds on their necks. The bottom-feeding chauves-souris primarily hide within the shadows. Many prefer to be left alone. They only wish to survive in peace with their kind, choosing to feed on rats or buying the blood of animals sold at a butcher’s counter.
There is no distinction as far as Chris is concerned. All vermin require an exterminator.
The Voyevoda Chris seeks was, in life, Victor Nikiforov. He now has many names and aliases, though Chris is unsure of how he travels. These creatures are vulnerable to the sun and exposed by the silver coating of a mirror. The last proven sighting was his sixth birthday, when he awoke to the prince having sent his Grandpere a warning.
Rumors, always rumors, of a beautiful man whose tongue matches his silver hair leaving carnage and ash in his wake. There are more cold cases than there are warm leads, and in exchange for some money, information, and a place to rest, Chris cleans the cities.
The chauves-souris infest a bordello, and Chris cuts off the madam’s head, weakening the women in her thrall. They’re easily picked off from there. It’s like what one must do with roaches; send poison back to the nest and they all fall down. He repeats everywhere he goes, an equivalent exchange of goods for a service.
Every boat ride, every voyage by train or horse, he finds that his demon is one step ahead, like he cannot help but always place second to Nikiforov. He sees almost all of the East over the next several years. At age 24, Chris finds his way to an oppressively humid city in the Italy of the East, more commonly known as Prathet Thai.
Fascism has grown at an alarming rate, and in direct proportion, the vampires have emboldened themselves. They are open, brazen, and while this can make Chris’s occupation simpler to carry out, a photograph of the Foreign Minister’s elongated fangs causes Chris to pause.
Piercing in its cheer, a voice brings Chris out of his contemplation. The speaker is a boy of no more than twenty who brightens with puzzlement in his gray eyes before he snaps his fingers. “Hello?” he tries in somewhat halting English, before he attempts again in French, Japanese, and then Russian.
He wears tattered red clothing that, perhaps once, was finery. In spite of the stifling humidity, a yellow and gold scarf sits loosely tied around his throat. He weighs too little and his skin is a bit too dry for such a humid climate, unless he is dehydrated. He’s an urchin, how does he have the means for such an education? “Hello,” Chris replies in English.
A radio in the local language interrupts a big band piece Chris recognizes as the “Anvil Chorus.” War efforts to boost morale, popular American singers traveling to cheer on their troops as humanity descends into chaos.
The boy takes in Chris’s lost expression. His own is pinched. “The Empire is sending more soldiers for passage to Burma,” he translates. He gives Chris a wan smile. “More and more, the Empire comes, and less and less they actually pass through.”
Bangkok has an unofficial curfew, and only the chauves-souris and their helpers ignore it. People are consumed like livestock: not bled enough to die yet not permitted to drink from their torturers so they may join their ranks. Survival and nothing more, desperate hopes that the new unholy nobility will grant them favors or titles in exchange.
There’s something about this in conjunction with the comments about The Empire that Chris can see a thin thread connecting, but not why or how.
An urchin sells the paper two meters away, and Chris gives the kid a Bhat for a paper. He can’t read the writing, but pictures need no translation. Their Minister of Defense seems to have struck some kind of deal with the Emperor of Japan. Though, it’s hard to say as the photograph of them is oddly out of focus and blurred. It’s a recent art, so perhaps the lighting was…
The flash reflects off the Emperor’s spectacles, the only clear part of him captured. The film is too grainy and blurred over his features and skin, his white robes the only thing with any definition.
There’s a figure at a respectful two steps behind the bespectacled, long-haired Emperor. His clothing is well-tailored and so Western it’s horridly out of place among the others in the still frame. There’s a rose in his buttonhole, and his pale hair is cropped short in back with fringe draping down his forehead. His face didn’t photograph as anything except pure white, even considering the rest of the picture is so poor.
I’m sure I’ll see you again, little one.
“The Emperor’s Consort,” the boy says. “I heard he won’t make any choices or meet with the Diet unless that man’s present to weigh in. My sources are pretty reliable, so — “
The Japanese Empire sending representatives and soldiers through Prathet Thai while vampires rise within both governments, the haves allowing themselves to be turned while the have nots claw on the ground for scraps — it’s disgusting, even more than when they slithered in darkness unnamed.
His companion’s scarf slips, and there’s the familiar pair of mottled, bruised punctures. They look as they’ve been reopened more than once, as there are spots that appear misaligned. Chris narrows his eyes at the marks, and the boy notices.
He is chillingly, suddenly somber.
“My family opposed the occupation,” he says as he unties it before putting it back into place. “They did not survive, but I have to. Somehow.”
“Can you help me with passage to the Empire?” Chris asks. “If you do, I can repay you by ending this Hell.”
No less serious, the gray in his eyes light with hope. “Whatever you need, I will find.”
He travels by boat to the land of the Rising Sun, granted passage at the eleventh hour due to his friend’s still-good name, Chulanont. The voyage passes in too many sunsets and sunrises with no calendar to gauge the time. He’s tired. Twenty years have built to this, and his primary emotion is weariness.
The silver pocket watch he carries houses a daguerreotype of his father holding him on his fifth birthday. His curls were bright gold and his eyes were like meadows of reborn grass in the Alps during Spring.
His goal, his only purpose is closing in, and Chris closes the watch, placing it in his pocket. He stands at the front of the ship staring into the sky. The stars twinkle above, and his destination looms like a city of dust and bone.
A man of similar age to his late Papa stands close with kind eyes behind red spectacles. His scalp is completely hairless, and he smokes a pipe, the tobacco smoke sweet and peppery as it wafts into the ether. Chris rolls a cigarette, lighting the cherry and lifting it in a silent salute.
They do not speak, the waves crashing against the hull the only noise against the backdrop of the the clear, darkened sky. Lovers court and children play, rounding out the background radiation. They’re three days from the port, then he travels to the Palace where he will finally know peace thanks to the head of his father’s murderer.
The Giacomettis have spent their entire lineage fighting the Silver Demon. Chris is the final brick in the wall.
The man watches a pair of children tag each other, speaking in a language Chris has come to call Tagalog over the decks. After a puff on his pipe, his companion gives him a smile. “Do you remember being that carefree?”
Chris stubs out his cigarette. He watches the boys, each six years old, and he shakes his head. “No, I don’t.”
He excuses himself, swinging by the galley for a bottle of rum to stow in his cabin.
Everything always ends. Soon, this will end, too.
Audience with the Imperial Diet is nigh-impossible. In the weeks of his voyage, the Empire has secured the Southern part of the Asian continent in some bid to spite Britannia. India is now claimed, the Raj trading enslavement of one regime for another seemingly without consideration. A similar story to Prathet Thai: the well-to-do now wear fangs and have traded orchestrated famines for the blood of the downtrodden with the same results.
Chris is one man. This war is never-ending. Even when he exacts the vengeance that fuels him, he will ultimately lose. The chauves-souris gain in number each passing day like the Plague victims of years long past.
That is a worry for when he kills Nikiforov, not before.
Chris disguises himself as a servant, which is no longer odd thanks to the thrall the Silver Demon encages the Emperor within. The best gossip in any household staff is spoken in the laundry or the kitchens, and Chris bides his time doing the wash of the Chrysanthemum Throne, careful to listen instead of speak.
What he learns is the Emperor is quiet and known to be anxious before addressing crowds. His politics were conservative but not colonialist until his consort appeared, causing a sudden swing to militaristic might making right.
Japan’s navy was the third largest when a freak tragedy caused his early ascencion. Now, it eclipses even the Americans. Japan’s economy was in the top ten, but now it is top four and rising.
Certainly an immortal being can master political strategy and military tactics, as he would have had quite a bit of time over the centuries to learn.
The Emperor’s given name is Yuuhito, but his consort calls him Yuuri. “Yuuri” goes nowhere without Nikiforov behind him like an oddly-bright shadow. They spend their leisure time in their chambers, Nikiforov no doubt using his royal body to feed from as well as for more carnal pleasures. When this is not the case, they spend the evenings on horseback. Nikiforov’s courtship gift was a pure white steed with a silver-braided mane such as his own former hairstyle.
Not only can Chris exact his revenge, but he will cripple this fascist chaos. He will free souls like bright Phichit Chulanont, who could still smile so gently in spite of all he’s been dealt.
The Diet is scheduled for a meeting during tea, and they will depart after. There is time in between before Nikiforov and the Emperor will convene with several Admirals. The airplanes in service of the Empire are allegedly being deployed to make a direct attack upon the Americas.
Now or never, or perhaps forever and always — the semantics do not matter. Chris is out of time to plan.
Sometimes, a rampage is the simplest solution made all the better for its lack of elegance.
The last of the Diet exits, and Chris slips into the doors behind them. Neither Nikiforov nor the Emperor notice, so occupied as they are with kissing of all things. Emperor “Yuuri’s” back is to Chris, Nikiforov’s pale hand almost the same shade of pure white as the silk of his kimono. Nikiforov’s left eye to opens at the sound of the door closing, and Chris draws Ebony and Ivory, the safeties coming off with a loud click.
He’s saved them for today. He plans to shoot Nikiforov’s femoral arteries, let him suffer and fade. Only when he begs, will he collect his skull and his death as prizes.
Nikiforov breaks the kiss with a genuine, bright smile. “I knew I would see you again, little one,” he says in French just like twenty years ago. He hasn’t aged a day, his appearance wholly identical minus his hair. “You’ve grown to be more like your grandfather in his youth than your Papa, I think. It suits you.”
“Yuuri” stares at Chris for what feels like a score of years. His facial expression is assessing as he adjusts his blue spectacles. Today he wears his hair styled like the famed ladies in the red lantern district downtown. His under kimono is a crimson like blood, and his obi is ebony with silver threads and delicate, glittering pieces of quartz embroidered into the silk. “Yuuri” resembles a porcelain doll down to his flat affect and unnatural stillness of posture.
“It ends now,” Chris says. Ebony and Ivory have full clips and chambers.
“Do you know what they say about revenge, little one?” Nikiforov asks. “Should you embark on a chase down its path, be sure to dig two graves.”
“Why, because I’ve poisoned my own soul in the process?” Chris retorts. “You’d know. You soil everything you encounter. So ruthless and narcissistic, you’ve even ensnared a head of state to spread the virus of your kind.”
At this, “Yuuri’s” expression twitches. His lips purse ever slightly, his eyes narrow just so. “Ensnared?” he repeats in English.
“Majesty,” Chris says. “Back away from this Demon. Once I’ve killed him, you’ll be free, and this nightmare warmongering will end when your head has cleared.”
Nikiforov raises an eyebrow. “I do believe you are missing some vital information.”
“I don’t believe I am,” Chris counters.
With a poise that defies description, the Emperor removes his spectacles, and Nikiforov takes them, placing them within his breast pocket with a surprisingly tender touch. A white wind fills the room, and Chris’s arm is yanked by the wrist to the ceiling. Ebony discharges upwards through porcelain tile as Ivory clatters to into a gilded shoji screen about ten meters to the left. Chris is forced to kneel, eye-to-eye with the Emperor whose eyes glow the same saturnine blue as Nikiforov’s did the morning that altered all of their destinies
Every photograph of “Yuuri” always comes out blurry. Just like the chauvres-souris , he does not photograph clearly, Chris realizes too late.
The epiphany proceeds a searing pain in his throat.
Chris tries to scream but cannot, instead gurgling a hot, coppery liquid that rises in his windpipe.
Blood erupts from the gaping hole that has replaced his throat as he falls, spasming into a puddle of his own life essence. He manages to aim his eyes to his assailant, and with elongated fangs and his elegant chin dripping Chris’s blood, “Yuuri” looms like a feral dog upon completing a successful kill.
Nikiforov gently cleans “Yuuri’s” chin with one dark sleeve. “That was imprudent. He’s Swiss. They won’t stay neutral should this come to their attention.”
“I welcome it,” the Emperor says. “Let all who think our love is false meet a similar fate. I told you I want the world kneeling at your feet. If it has to burn in the process, so be it.”
“It’s meant to fall at yours, anata ,” Nikiforov says.
The world dims to nothingness, and the last thing Chris sees is these rancid champions exchanging another kiss.