This follows on from Sunset in Sapphire City.
The moon is bright tonight, the sky cloudless, and being only March there’s a definite chill in the air, softened by the warmth of the room behind us. This balcony looks west to the distant sea over the outskirts of Sapphire City – now almost completely dark – and along the vale of the meandering River Phire. So still is the air tonight that the water is a perfect mirror in places, so that looking down we see up, the river a great crack in the shallow Earth through which we see infinite space, starlit and beautiful.
Eve is in a pensive mood tonight. We kissed tonight, and danced for hours, and generally convinced everyone, even my sister, that we were a couple, two young women in love, a bun in the oven already. I enjoyed the dancing, but I am glad to be away from the questions and judgement and pressure, even the temptation to cast aside all the lies and expose Eve for what she really is. Instead I have bound myself closer to her, my harsh Mistress.
I do not love Eve – at least not in the sense of being ‘in love’ with her. Maybe I love her in the way a pet loves its owner, if that makes any sense. She looks after me, feeds me, punishes me for my disobedience, and we play together sometimes, sex games and theatre plays – if there’s a difference. Even the lashing of her crop and her mouth pressed to my bloody flesh is something I accept and forgive.
‘What’s it like to be a vampire?’ I ask.
She is quiet for a long time, and I decide not to push it, but then she answers. ‘Lonely.’
Dominique described Eve as lonely. I suppose being the only female vampire in the world, with the only other surviving vampire being an anachronistic monster, is not a happy fate. ‘Can you be turned back to a human?’
She laughs gently. ‘That’s essentially what the virus does. But it leaves you with a human body far too ravaged by vampirism to sustain life.’
I’ve never really thought of the virus as a cure rather than as a weapon. ‘If you had the choice to no longer be a vampire – to just be a human again – would you go for it?’
‘I don’t know. Maybe. But it feels like a strange way to commit suicide. Instead of a swift, painless death, there are years of growing old and infirm and probably a long, painful death. Or not. Who knows.’ Eve sighs. ‘It’s just a dream. A fantasy.’
‘If you had the chance to be human again to do one thing, what would it be?’
‘I would stand naked on a hilltop,’ she says theatrically, ‘and watch the sun climb into the sky, and I would stay there all day, bathing in its warmth, watching it fall again into the cradle of the night.’
‘Do you mind me asking questions, Mistress?’ I ask, suddenly aware that I am bombarding her with them.
Eve gives me a friendly smile. ‘Not here. Not tonight. Ask away.’
I nod my gratitude. ‘Where do you come from?’
‘The names I grew up with mean very little now. I was born far away, across the western ocean, in a city that was an oasis in a vast desert, and where mankind built great monuments to its own corrupt soul. But I came to London to study medicine, and to Paris to hunt vampires, and I stayed here to watch those once-grand cities fall to ruins. Sapphire City was born from the ashes of those two ancient civilisations.’
Even I have heard of London and Paris. ‘From what you’ve witnessed yourself, do the history books have it right?’
‘The facts are mostly right, but the picture they paint is incomplete, and the interpretation is often very wrong. There is a tendency to paint men as aggressive, unfeeling monsters who forced women into a state of permanent slavery, vulnerable to all kinds of abuse.’
This sends a shiver through me. ‘Rikhart said that is the natural order.’
Eve snorts in contempt. ‘Rikhart, and all his vampire mates, were the worst of the worst. They didn’t care about humans at all, except as things to play with and torment for fun, and women were the lowest of the low as far as they were concerned. But it is a mistake to imagine women as powerless, blameless victims of the male patriarchy. We like to think that a great evil died when men were no more, but women are no less human than men.’
‘If you could change the past so that you were never infected by Rikhart’s blood, and never became a vampire, would you do it?’
‘And never set off the chain of events that led to the eradication of vampires and the extinction of men?’ She laughs. ‘I have no regrets.’
‘Do you have to drink fresh human blood?’ I ask hesitantly. ‘Can you drink animal blood instead? Or get blood from the hospital?’
She turns and studies me with her startling hazel-blue eyes, and I feel the flush of embarrassment warming my cheeks. ‘Far better to ask whether I need to drink blood at all. After all, I eat and drink like a human. Isn’t that enough sustenance? And yet, the need for fresh human blood is undeniable.’ Her expression is avid, her lust for me, for my blood, is almost palpable; my heart pounds urgently in response. Eve has left me alone lately, but there is no one else here for her to call on to assuage her hunger.
She closes her eyes, breathing deeply for a minute, and when she opens them again she looks away, out over the city and river. I dare to continue. ‘You told me once that pain and pleasure sweeten the blood. What about fear? Is the last blood from a dying person sweeter due to their fear of death?’
Eve gasps and looks at me wide-eyed. ‘Is this the sort of thing you girls talk about while I sleep?’
‘No,’ I say. ‘This is the sort of question that troubles me when I’m lying awake and unable to sleep, haunted by the memory of Sasha’s death.’
‘Ahh, Sasha,’ she says, looking away again. ‘I wish I could say I didn’t enjoy that, but the sad truth is that there is something deeply satisfying about killing a human, and you’re quite right that the blood is sweetest at that moment of ultimate victory. But to pursue that ecstasy, and to revel in that profound knowledge of my superiority, would make me as much a monster as Rikhart.’
‘What was your first feed like? What was your first kill like?’
Eve chuckles. Her eyes, fierce again, flicker towards me briefly. ‘Carolyn, Carolyn, are you trying to provoke me? I’m beginning to regret my indulgence.’ She falls silent for a few seconds. ‘I resisted for as long as I could, and that was my error. I didn’t want to drink blood, but hunger for it grew into an obsession. I shut myself away from the world, coming out from my laboratory only when absolutely necessary, and then in the dead of night.
‘I was sick of the sun by then anyway, preferring the night. I tried substitutes – I tried animal blood, I tried blood from the hospital, but the taste was revolting and they did nothing to ease the thirst that was slowly consuming my every thought.
‘Until one night I encountered a young man, a policeman. He was lean, fit, beautiful, and all I could think about was how good his blood would taste. I leapt on him and tore into his neck, and the flow of his blood into my mouth triggered a shock of pleasure that I can only describe as a hundred whole-body orgasms rolled into one moment of ultimate bliss. I wrapped my arms and legs around him and sucked his blood into me, convulsing with waves of pure sexual ecstasy.
‘And then he was dead, and I felt bloated, too full of blood, too full of him, and my post-orgasmic bliss mutated into a horror and self-loathing so absolute that all I can remember is choking on tears while I vomited blood into the gutter. I think I may even have tried to kill myself.’
She sighs wearily. ‘No more questions, please, Carolyn. They hurt too much.’
But I still haven’t asked the most important question. ‘Is it possible some vampire-related genes can be passed down through human bloodlines?’
‘I guess we’re going to find out,’ she says.