The ballroom was eclectic; white walls and dark furniture. The room had a modern feel to it, but the music was from a time long past. That time when I still used to dance. The dance floor swayed and undulated with well-dressed kindred. The men wore dark suits, some modern, some from the beginning of this century. The women wore skirts down to the knee, some had flowers in their hair. Vivian, a Tremere I recognised among the dancers, had bobbed her hair and was wearing a dress with a low-waistline; I remembered having dresses just like that. Samantha, the Sheriff’s girlfriend was even more agonising to look at; her dark dress with the neat sleeves down to her elbows was straight out of the early 1940s. My rotten heart raged in my chest. All I could think was:
“I was once prettier than you!”
I rushed out of the ballroom again and pressed my face against the cold glass of the hall window. I would have liked to bang my head against the wall. Pain. Blissful punishment for my foolish thoughts. But I didn’t want to spook Paul and the other ghouls who were waiting on us here. I would have to settle for mild discomfort.
The Sheriff walked into the hall and he seemed to be looking for someone. Then he approached Paul and laid a hand on the pretty boy’s shoulder.
“I heard about your sister, son.” Hawkshaw sounded friendly, he must be in an exceptionally good mood. “I’m very sorry about the whole thing. Let me know if there’s anything you need from me, okay?” And the Sheriff strolled off again. Paul stood there, quite shocked by this sudden display of concern and sympathy. “Where did that come from?” Was the question clearly legible on his face.
There was only one thing that worked better to make me forget my own stupidity than pain. And that was inflicting pain in others. I turned to Paul and nodded to the Sheriff.
“I told you there were things that could be done for your sister, didn’t I?” I said with a wink.
Paul gasped. “What? You mean… You asked the Sheriff to…” The disbelief in his eyes grew. There was a glimmer of hope there.
False hope. I had heard through the grapevine that his mistress had received evidence that Paul’s sister was horribly killed, but she hadn’t shown him that evidence, to spare him the pain. Her death must have been pretty gruesome if even Hawkshaw sympathised. I decided that the hope needed to be inflated. The more hope, the more painfully his heart would break when he found out the truth eventually.
I smiled mysteriously and said: “It’s not too late to try to save her, Paul.”
He shook his head and repeated himself. “Belle, I thank you for going through such trouble just for me, but a man in my position cannot afford to disregard the orders of his mistress.”
“Look around.” I said pointing after the Sheriff. “You have powerful friends. I’m certain something can be done for your poor sister. All you have to do is say the word.”
A new guest came in and Paul rushed over to take his coat. As he welcomed the man, Paul hesitantly nodded to me, and I smiled and moved towards the ballroom once again.
I skulked up to bar, trying to ignore the dancing dresses. Charles’ gloved hand touched me on the arm and he offered me a glass of vitae.
“You’re not looking chipper, gorgeous.”
I leaned heavily on the bar and hung my head. “I wonder what I’m doing here, Charles.”
The gas mask nodded and a garbled growl came out from under it. “You know why we are here. Why we are what we are.” His black eyes gazed at me through the glass of the mask. “We are the blemish on their beauty, the blood stain on their wedding dress, the reminder that we are monsters, all of us, no matter what we pretend to be to mortals or each other at parties like this.”
I grabbed his armoured arm and gave him a warm look. “Thank you. I really needed to hear that.”
“Anytime, gorgeous.” And he was off again to bring drinks to an impatient Brujah.
Someone screamed. Samael shuddered and fell to the floor, foaming at the mouth. I had heard that he had visions sometimes but I had never seen it. Fellow Malkavians rushed in to hover over him as he slowly recovered and I decided to go over to ask him about it when the rush had died down. I found him again later in the hall where he was emptying his pockets. I watched as his heavy wooden rosary and a number of papers and booklets fell to the floor. He carelessly tossed his bible down next to the pile and let out a relieved sigh.
“What’s going on?” I asked casually as I approached.
“God has spoken to me.” There was a grin on his face, an expression I didn’t quite understand, it was grim and rapturous at the same time.
I tried not to frown. “God?”
He motioned to the pile of junk. “This is meaningless. I know the truth now.”
I swallowed, a little afraid to ask the question, but I decided to do it anyway. “And what is the truth?”
He looked at me. “Do you really want to know? Are you here to listen to what I have to say or are you here to tell me that I am mad?”
I smiled at him, as earnestly as I could. “I want to hear what you have to say, Samael. Tell me what you saw.”
His eyes stared into the distance as he started to speak, his voice hushed and breathless. “I saw the face of a man. A prophet, God said to me. God has told me many times that the end is coming. The end of our way of life. An end to the Camarilla perhaps. Or the end of the world. That I do not know. But now, God tells me that there is hope. He offers us redemption. This prophet can save us. Forgive our sins.” He turned and stared at me. “If we can forgive ourselves.”
I flinched and moved back. I don’t know what powers Samael posessed but his words got to me. Even though I hadn’t believed in God for well over sixty years, even though I was a monster that defied everything the church had ever taught us, I believed him. Redemption. Hope. A way out of this wretched unlife. An end to my suffering and the suffering I inflicted on others. Salvation. I had to believe it.
Samael spent the next hour or so preaching about his visions to everyone at the elysium, and though some kindred dismissed him as a madman, many came to meet him in the hall where he told us to follow him. He would lead us to the prophet. Ralph handed me his laptop to hold while he put on his parka.
“Do you believe him?” I asked.
“I was never a religious man, Belle.” Ralph grinned as he took his laptop back from me. “But I found some posts on Hunternet that suggest this prophet might be a Hunter. I thought it might be safe to check it out and see for myself. Though I have no idea how he might have communicated with Samael.”
The seer lead us to an abandoned hotel called Forestview in the centre of the city. Before entering, he stressed that the only way to forgiveness would be to forgive ourselves. There would be no redemption for those who did not truly regret what they had done. I clenched my jaw and a tear formed in the corner of my eye. My brittle fingernails dug into the palms of my hands. I regretted everything. My very existence. All my deeds when I was still alive as well as everything after I had been embraced. I had known only misery for decades, despite the empty joy my fellow Nosferatu had taught me to get from misinformation and subterfuge. No matter how mad Samael was, I desperately wanted him to be right.
The lobby of the abandoned hotel was a mess. Broken lamps and rotten furniture. Tables and chairs had been pushed over and rearranged to form a strange sort of shrine by the far wall. There was a table full of strange items. The wall was covered with photos and newspaper cuttings, with text scribbled over them in black marker pen. Most pictures were portraits with familiar faces, their real names and sometimes date of birth written on them. An old sepia picture of a twelve-year-old boy scout who clearly bore Hawkshaw’s features. A more recent picture of an altar boy with Samael’s speaking blue eyes. This prophet seemed to know an awful lot about us.
The Sheriff pointed at a picture of a boy with an old computer. “Ralph! Is your name really Benjamin? Bwahahaha!”
The reactions of the kindred varied greatly. Most couldn’t resist but smile at some of the photos, simply because it’s hard not to laugh at the absurdity that even the coldest killer among us had once been an innocent child. But others were genuinely worried. How did this mortal know so much about us? And what was he going to do with this information? Ralph was feverishly checking the dates and facts that the prophet seemed to have amassed while Charles was nervously eyeing the kindred and their reactions.
Samael grabbed my hand. “There is something of yours here, Belle.” He lead me to the table. It was littered with booklets, jewellry, someone’s dogtags from the army, a handkerchief with initials, a pair of glasses, all labelled with little white tags with a name on them. And there it was, just as I remembered it. The tag said Belle, nothing else. The pearls were slightly yellowed and there were traces of a stain on the top. But the copper had been polished since. I stiffened as my fingers caressed the powder box, as they pressed the little button on the front to open it. The powderpuff was pink and intact, there was still some powder left under it. The little mirror was smudged with it. My reflection looked back at me from the shiny surface and I saw old memories unfold in my own eyes.
Sirens echoed outside. The bedroom door was busted open. Daddy had my coat in his hand.
“We have to get to the shelter.”
I was fiddling to get the curlers out of my hair. “I can’t go outside looking like this, Daddy.”
He grabbed my arm. “You look gorgeous as always, love. But that’s a real air raid outside.” He helped me into my coat and took me to the stairs. Suddenly I remembered something.
“My powder box is still in my room.” I started to go back up again.
Daddy put his arm around me and dragged me down the stairs. “You really don’t need your make up, love.”
Halfway down I managed to wrench myself free and went upstairs again. His hand grabbed my leg and clenched around my ankle. He pulled me back down.
“Daddy stop it! You’re hurting me!” I cried.
“Get going to the shelter then!” He roared.
“Let me go!” I screamed over the din of the sirens. There was another noise in the air. The roar of engines. Daddy’s arm lifted up to strike me, but he stopped short when he saw the tears in my eyes. “Daddy, no!” I had broken him. Again.
His arm slumped next to his body and he helped me get back up. “Go get your things. Hurry.”
I stepped back into my room as Daddy waited at the top of the stairs. My hand just clutched my powder box when rumbling and explosions could be heard nearby. There was screaming and the distict sound of horrors hurtling through the air. The floor shook and smoke stung my nose. I fell over and screamed. “Daddy!” Walls crumbled and dull pain made everything go black.
A blackened hand touched my arm. “Are you still alive?” A voice croaked.
I stirred and backed away from the hand, until I hit my head against and pile of bricks. “Get away from me!”
Relieved laughter. “She seems quite lively.”
I looked around. Debris everywhere. Nothing left of our beautiful house but debris. I shivered and started to cry. “It hurts,” I moaned without meaning anything in particular. The whole situation. “Where is Daddy?”
The dirty hand was from a Home Guard. His grimy soot-stained face looked at me. “Your father is under here somewhere?” He started to dig in the rubble again.
I crawled away from the ruined building, my legs quivering. I slipped and fell face-first on the pavement. Only then did I notice the powder box still in my hand.
A cold presence approached and laid a hand on me. “Be still girl. They’re looking for you father.”
I scampered up until I could sit and glanced at him. A rain coat obscured his silhouette and he wore an air raid warden’s flat helmet. The hand motioning towards our ruined house where men were moving the planks of the ceiling and the stairs was covered with a leather glove.
I was afraid to look. I opened the powder box and started to smooth my hair and clean the dirt from my face.
The men suddenly stopped their rummaging through the rubble and one of them bent down. After a moment, he shook his head to the others. The cold man turned to me.
“Your father is gone.” His voice was dead calm.
I didn’t know what to feel, what to think. I felt no tears. I couldn’t think. I started to apply powder to my face, first over the bruises, then on my pale cheeks. The familiar motions soothed me.
He stared at me and though I tried not to look, I saw that his face was deformed and ashen-coloured. “Didn’t you hear me, girl? Your father is dead.”
I reached into the pocket of my coat and retrieved a kohl pencil. I started to do my eyes.
He rose to his feet and lifted me up by my shoulder. “I’ll teach you, Belle!”
The powder box fell from my hands and clattered on the floor.
No way the prophet could know this. No way he could have found that powder box. No way I could ever be forgiven for being so stupid. For being so callous. No way.
“No fucking way!”
I ran. I hadn’t been so scared ever since the night of that air raid. I didn’t stop until I was back underground again. Far away from anyone who could ask about the powder box. Anyone who could find out what I had done.
So here I am. Alone with the soothing sound of dripping water. I went from a stupid, self-centered princess straight to becoming a manipulative monster who kills for food. Tell me Samael, is there redemption? Even for me?