• I saw the last of my guests to the door and closed it behind them with a smile.

    As I turned from the foyer, I glanced at the Louis XIV clock upon the mantelpiece of my fireplace, now dying down to mere embers. It was only 2:30 in the morning.

    I sighed as I surveyed the mess in my drawing room. I sighed that it was still so, so early. Korina had suggested to me that I hire servants, and certainly with living in Brescia something like that wouldn't have seemed so out of place, but I was reluctant to put that kind of trust in a human. This wasn't the mythical "old days"- you couldn't just throw infinite amounts of money at people and expect them not to talk or to gossip. People were smarter now. Besides, I enjoyed having something to do at the end of the night- menial tasks made me feel...human.

    As I grabbed a trash bag from the kitchen and began picking up the bits and pieces of old bottles, cartons, and cups, there was a knock on my door. Lost in my own little world of trash collecting, I didn't notice it at first (as there is much noise still to be had on the streets of my Italian home this time of night), but upon the second attempt it was a firm knock and instantly my ears pricked up to the sound of movements, chatter, and laughter that was apparently right outside my door.

    I wasn't expecting any more guests tonight.

    Granted, taking after the novel I had picked up, I had decided that my home was open to anyone looking for conversation, a warm fire, and a drink. Putting the last of what was outstanding upon my countertops into the bag, I tossed it into the kitchen and went to answer the door.

    I jerked open the large door quickly, hoping to catch the, admittedly unwelcome, inquirers off-guard only to be greeted by their inattentiveness in favour to their current topic of jovial conversation.

    "Can I help you?" I interrupted in cold, but polite Italian.

    The group, all men, gave another uproarious laugh at their talk before turning their attentions to me.

    "Cara mia," one of the men, middle aged, began in standard Italian. "We have been told that there is a great master living here who welcomes all who enter his palazzo at night for spirits and conversation. Is this the place?"

    I gave him an amused look. "Indeed, but I'm afraid there is no master here, only a mistress."

    The men seemed to be confused for a moment, looking down at the ground and at each other as if deep in questioning thought before their speaker seemed to grasp the meaning of my words.

    "Che....you, my dear girl, are the lady of this place?"

    "Indeed I am."

    Again, they looked amongst themselves, and this time seemed to discuss the miscalculation quietly. Any other night this would have amused me, but for some reason I wasn't in the mood for guests this evening. For the past month, my sleep had been full of mad dreams of the death of my Maker, as if I were seeing the very act through the eyes of a witness, although I knew the chances of such thoughts actually reaching me without intent were slim to none. Was it intentional, then? Was someone trying to tell me that Haarold had been subjugated and killed? Why? I had fought so hard to be free of him, so what difference did it make to me whether he lived or died? The only thing is that it preyed upon my sleeping mind in a way that was unsettling, and perhaps in the very back of my subconscious I was concerned....

    "Signorina," a voice broke in, disrupting my reverie. I returned my eyes upon them from where they had drifted off in thought.

    "Signorina," he continued. "Since we have made such a mistake and insulted you on your doorstep, we would not dream of imposing upon your hospitality this night. Please forgive our intrusion and have peaceful evening."

    They turned to leave in unison, this rag-tag group of men who had come into my yard and knocked upon my door, and I was moved with sincerity at their consideration for their mistake. Of course, mistaking me for a man didn't bother me in the slightest- what woman in their right mind would do what I did every night without fear for their wellbeing? They had no idea I was a vampire. I called them back, "Signore!" and with that, I invited them into my home.
    My cellar was bottomless, I like to think, and I brought up some of the best that I had for them. They were not rich, these men, as was evident from their clothing, all working class. Brescia housed many industrial factories, and there was no doubt that at least some of them were employed there.

    After supplying them with spirits, which they gladly and graciously accepted from my hands, I stoked the fire and took a seat on the outside of the ring that they had formed. There were seven of them, two of them just lads, and most of them men nearing the age of retirement. There was one man, however, whose face was wrapped in cloths and was indiscernible in neither age nor features. He sat quietly near the man who had been their speaker on my doorstep and his eyes, the only visible part, looked from man to man as they spoke.

    As they drank more and more wine, they began to slip into Bresà, the local dialect, and since I had only been in Italy for six years, I was still unfamiliar with it. Soon, their conversation was unintelligible to me, but the images from their minds that I was able to catch helped me keep aloft of the topics they discussed.

    "Our dear hostess," one of them piped up in the familiar, standard Italian, "Do we alienate you with our speech in the old language? We would not want to insult you again by leaving you out."

    "Not at all," I replied. "I can understand your Bresà quite well although I am unable to speak it myself," I lied with a perfect smile.

    The men laughed all around, and even the man with cloth about his face seemed to smile behind his disguise.

    "But you," I motioned towards the masked man, "Why do you hide your face so? It is warm here within my drawing room, is it not? There is no need for you to smother yourself behind your cloths."

    "Signorina," the speaker responded for him, "He was in a grave accident within the factories a long time ago. A small bit of oil spilled upon his face, scarring it to his displeasure, and although the rest of us don't mind, he still insists on covering himself to save the eyes of others."

    "This is unfortunate, Signore," I said, looking at the masked man. "Do the scars still trouble you?"

    "Not anymore, Signorina," he answered with a rough accent. "I simply do not wish to show this shameful face to my friends, although I do appreciate your concern."

    I nodded, satisfied, even though I thought his accent curious. Perhaps he was not natively from the area, although he spoke their Brescian tongue.

    The night dwindled on and the hours passed and soon all had had their fill and were preparing to leave. The sun would rise in two hours, so I thought their timing perfect. I showed them to the door, and again their speaker addressed me.

    "Signorina, thank you for this most pleasant evening. You have certainly lived up to your reputation of high hospitality, and we thank you for sharing with even us, humble workers, your lovely home."

    I smiled. "Not at all. Please, call again. My doors are always open in the evenings."

    They each bade farewell to me in turn, and finally the man whose face was wrapped in cloth was last, and to everyone's surprise he took my hand in his and brought it to where his lips would have been if not for his coverings and released my hand again. The men stood in a mild shock before laughing loudly in unison and patting their masked friend on the back for his daring. I smirked and waved them out the door, finally glad for the silence as I latched it shut for the final time that night.

    Quickly I cleaned. I wanted to waste no time on it tonight, and perhaps abusing my preternatural abilities, I hastily put the place to rights.

    I crept up to my bedroom, weary from the night's events, and pushed in the panel at the end of the hall that would open the hidden door and admit me to my resting place. There was a single window, small, covered with a heavy velvet curtain, and at the far-side of the room should anyone get smart and actually find a way to remove it. Of course, I had much safer places to reside, but every now and then, I yearned for the luxury of a bed and sheets, although god, if there even is a god, knows I don't really need it.

    I laid down and dimmed the lamp, the dark, slender posters of the bed appearing as guarding sentinels to me in my sweet exhaustion, and sleep, real sleep, took hold of me.

    Again there was the forest, the chase, and the clawed hands that reached up and dug, bloody, into the back of my Maker. He screamed in pain although I could hear no sound, and as the claws dug deeper into his back, it seemed to get a grip around his spinal column and jerk him, at a ridiculously fast speed known only to the very old of us, to a different landscape entirely, where a bonfire burned surrounded by shadows, when finally, with blood seeping from his back and the bone clearly showing in all its horrific glory, he was flung towards the fire and his hair singed and his skin began to blister and pop......

    I jolted awake, gasping for air as I struggled to discern where I was. My mind was in a whirl as I recognized the posters of my bed, my arrogant little window, and the sparse furniture present in my bedroom. A wave of emotion hit me, and I was no longer just afraid, but terrified, and it finally hit me that I was legitimately stricken over what I had seen. I didn't want Haarold to die. I didn't want him to die. I hated him, despised him, but the idea of him being gone, of seeing it like that....it killed me inside.

    I couldn't handle it. I broke down into sobs and quickly the blood ran from my eyes instead of tears, and the tissue box that I kept beside my bed out of principle finally got some use as I grabbed tissue after tissue to brush away the blood from my cheeks. I was still in my red evening gown, laced with wine colored ribbons over the flow of scarlet satin. I suppose I was lucky for that- at least any blood on it wouldn't make much of a difference.

    Suddenly I grew very, very still. Something was off, but in my panic, I failed to notice it right away. I stood up in a way that defied human physics and looked towards the corner by my window and saw the trickle of moonlight that shone through it. Someone was sitting in my chair.

    I growled deep in my throat as a warning, and still running off of the feeling of fright induced by my dream, I rushed towards the seated figure. With almost the same speed, the shadow stood up, and as I clenched my fists about its shoulders, it moved me back, and in the low light of the lamp I had lit, I saw it was the shrouded man from earlier that night.

    "What are you doing here?!" I bellowed at him. My face was a perfect expression of disbelief and horror that he had somehow managed to get in, clearly through my window. I always knew putting it in was going to cause me trouble. Unfortunately, there would be no sleeping here after this.

    He didn't answer me, and as I moved to physically throw him out of the window and down two stories to his death, I discovered I could not, and was pushed by him, roughly, again, backwards until the back of my knees hit the foot of my bed.

    "Who are you?" I sneered, and with all my might pushed back at him with success. He gave a terrible growl at my achievement, and suddenly his hands were at my waist and I was physically lifted- lifted!- and tossed onto my bed. With unearthly speed he was upon me, and for all my powers I could not dislodge him from on top of me. What in the seven hells was this man! I was helpless in his grasp, and the dream I had just had came rushing back to me. Yes, this man had to be vampire, and it must be true- my master is dead, and now they have come for me.

    How could I have been so stupid! The dreams had been a warning and now it was too late! This creature was on top of me, almost crushing me, and there was no escape. "NO!" I shouted, "I'll not let you get me, too!" and so I clawed at him, digging as best I could in my frantic state as his fingers ran down my body and I realized he was pulling at the ribbons that held my dress together.

    He was trying to undress me. This situation was getting more and more absurd as it continued. He had maneuvered himself in such a way so that I could no longer get good purchase to claw at his back, and now the sides of my dress had come loose and he was tucking his hands behind my back against my skin. Now, I would have thought of this as an attempt at rape, but those of my kind, I discovered, do not need sex. It is physically possible, yes, but we derive no pleasure from it, as drinking blood is much more enjoyable than that human act of procreation. So, if this man really was the murderer of my master, was this the final insult? To symbolically defile me before my execution, and to then have my spine ripped out before the final inferno takes hold of me, whether I like it or not?

    I screamed, knowing full well it wouldn't do me any good, and I began ripping into his shirt and scratched at his face. If I was lucky, I thought, perhaps I can gouge out his eye and save myself! One of his hands was now moving up my leg. I pulled away easily his lame disguise, and with his face revealed, everything stopped. The roving hands stopped. I stopped. I gasped. His head hung there, dark hair hanging in the low lamp light as its tips touched lightly my chest. I moved my hand and, grabbing a handful of his hair, slowly moved his head up to face me.

    Grey eyes still looked down. It was Haarold.

    "What?!" I breathed lamely, and suddenly his eyes snapped up to meet mine, and as if ignorant of our entire time, of all the hard decades, spent together, a near century, our lips met in a flurry of kisses that had never, ever taken hold of either one of us before. Suddenly there weren't just roving hands, but my dress was being ripped, torn from my body in impatience, and as if following some lead I did the same to him. The shirt I had already half done in my failed attack against my 'aggressor', and the simple pants of the peasant he was dressed as were disposed of just as easily.

    We were wrapped around each other, arms and legs entangled, hands feeling every inch and crevice of one another's bodies, and hurried, persistent kisses tracing along graceful flesh-covered bone when finally I realized he had penetrated me. There were no movements to encourage such an act, but teeth grazed skin and the sweet ache that arose from the exchange of blood was more profound than any base act. Slowly the harried touches turned into caresses and the kisses became more thoughtful and deep, and finally we just lay there, still conjoined, in silence, pressed against one another. We stayed like this for many minutes as our breathing returned to our not-quite-breathing that is customary to our kind, and I tucked my head against his chest, feeling and hearing that ever so familiar heart beat unique to my Maker. Unique and forever imprinted upon my psyche, as it was the only thing I could hear for hours as I was being turned by him those innumerable nights ago in the snowy woods of my genesis.

    Eventually, he removed himself from me, and rolling my body against his, he moved us both so that we could take cover beneath the bedding, and I was surprised that he remembered my irrational modesty and had now tried to account for it by this.

    The sight we made would have been laughable to anyone of our kind who would have been able to walk through the door just then: we were wrapped around each other as any mortal couple would have been before bed, with my head upon his chest and his chin upon my head, our arms around one another, in perfect stillness and contentedness just to be.

    Of course, I broke the silence.

    "How did you find me?"

    I could feel the strange vibration in his chest has he laughed. "Any woman living in the lap of luxury willing to open her home every night to complete strangers, especially men of low class, has to be more than just a woman."

    He glanced down at me with a dubious look and I frowned at him. "I'm entitled to do as I please."

    He nodded, "You're right, but you make it terribly obvious who you really are."

    "Your friends tonight didn't seem to notice anything suspicious," I quipped.

    "That's because they're mortal and poor," he said, almost as a matter-of-fact.

    Another pause ensued for quite some time, and I saw a breeze blow against my heavy velvet curtain, fighting against it to allow fresh air in when the window shouldn't have even been open to begin with.

    "Why are you here?" I asked, "And how did you find your way to that window?"

    "It doesn't take much for me to discover the purpose of an oddly placed window," he replied, "You should be more careful. It's in a terrible place."

    "Yes, I realize that, thanks." I sighed. Was he really going to start the lectures all over again after I just forgave him everything? Or, at least, what just transpired between us seemed to suggest that all was forgiven. I suppose time would have to tell there.

    "And I am here," he continued, "because I need your help."

    I frowned, and propped myself up on my elbow in order to look him in the face. He sighed.

    "What's the matter?" I asked.

    "I have someone after me. I'm still not quite sure who, but I have some names, and as much as I wanted to leave you to your self-imposed exile from me, I had no choice but to seek you out, and not just for my benefit, but for yours as well. I don't know what their intentions are and how far they're planning on going to get to me."

    "You came here, hid yourself from me, and tried to physically rape me just for that??" I gave him the full force of my annoyance with my expression, and he smirked.

    "Well," he said, "I didn't think you'd actually join in once you discovered it was me."

    He gave me an unusual smile, one I'd never seen before, and I frowned curiously at him. What was that expression? Was that actual care I saw there? No doubt I was imagining things. This was my Maker after all- the most heartless, pissy, king of self-righteous assholes that ever existed. Still, the memories of his touches from just moments ago came to mind, and suddenly I was blushing. His smile turned into an almost lecherous lop-sided grin, and I was suddenly furious with myself at letting him read my thoughts through my face.

    "It's because I thought you were dead!" I spat at him angrily.

    That caught him off-guard. "What?"

    "I thought you were dead!" I pronounced again.


    "I've been having these dreams," I admitted, as if my panic and fear from them were suddenly non-existant. Was it because the victim was now safe in my bed and unharmed? That sentiment would have to be reexamined later...

    Haarold's face became a study of seriousness. "What dreams?" I looked away. "Evangelista..."

    He brought his hands up and placed them firmly but gently on either side of my face. He turned my head so that I couldn't help but look at him, and I had no choice but to give in. I seemed to be not having a choice in a few things lately. That would have to change, I thought, mockingly.

    "Dreams," I began carefully, "About you being violently dragged off to your death."

    "Did you see their faces? These people who took me?"

    "No," I answered honestly. "No, all I saw was the hand that took you and your face."

    He nodded solemnly and removed his hands and placed them back around my lower waist beneath the sheets. I sighed and hung my head. "I don't know what any of it means now, though, since you're obviously alive and well," I admitted.

    He shook his head. "No, I think it's a clue. Remember how I said I needed your help? Maybe I was more correct in coming here than I thought."

    I pouted, which wasn't like me at all, but I suddenly felt very used at the moment. Haarold must have seen it, again I slipped up, and he raised my chin to level with his.

    "Look at me," he said quietly, and I did. The look in his eyes surprised me, as I had never seen such worry, care, lust- dare I call it 'love'?- there in all my 87 years as a blood drinker, and I was taken aback.

    "I'm sorry I took you by surprise," he began.

    "It's alright," I said.

    "But," he continued, raising my chin slightly, "I'm not sorry for what took place after the surprise," and he pulled my chin with his finger towards him and kissed me carefully upon the lips.

    For the rest of that evening, we laid there, entwined and sharing embraces until the sun rose up and froze our muscles and our minds into the deep sleep of death that takes hold of all of our kind every day, and not only were a million questions and curiosities floating around in my consciousness, but a very keen feeling that I had experienced in my dreams a premonition of my Maker's death, and with his reappearance, the very real threat that those horrors could easily become a reality.