A Life Beyond
“So, you deign us with your presence?” The voice, sharp and to the point rattled around the hollows of her mind.
Varonia opened heavy eyes to the leering face of Calatan. He loomed above her like an elongated raven intent on feasting on her carcass.
Instinct drove her to recoil; she could not. Varonia looked left then right, up then down, but in whichever direction she gazed, her limbs remained restrained. Thick shackles of some peculiar metal bound her to a frame of the same, her vermilion robes cascading over the thing to pool as blood on a granite floor.
“I’ll slit you from ear to ear, you inane and salacious grub.”
“Tut-tut, my queen, that is no way to speak to your lover.”
“Have you heard the term ex?”
“Now, now, no need to be hasty,” Calatan chuckled, a dirty sound like gravel in a metal bucket.
“You’ll pay for this,” Varonia whispered in more calculated tones.
“Oh, but I already have.”
Calatan touched his chest and then withdrew his hand twice as quick.
His gesture did not go unnoticed.
“Get her up,” he said.
Varonia found herself tilted on a central axis, so she no longer looked up at a roof of undignified black, but to walls of brilliant white adorned with image after image of Calatan in various heroic poses. The paint smelt fresh, the pictures new. There was no legacy in their false appraisals.
Varonia twisted to see who turned her, but Calatan’s servants remained unseen.
“Has anyone ever said you have issues?”
“Only you, my dear, but you never were shy of informing others of their foibles.”
“That is because a queen must exude confidence and strength.”
“Really, I thought it was because she was full of it.”
“Full of what?”
“Oh, my apologies, it’s a human term.” Calatan rubbed his eyes as though bored.
“Yes, dear, human. You must remember them, you were one once.”
“You forget, Calatan, I was never human.”
Calatan sniffed but did not deem to answer. Instead, he signalled to those who’d moved Varonia to do so again.
The vampire queen found herself angled a fraction further before being pushed on squeaky wheels out of the room. Her manipulator and his cronies trundled her along an endless passage that looked oddly familiar though not in presentation. They took corner after corner, Varonia’s long hair swishing from this side to the next in a way that helped settle the queen’s whirring mind. In fact, by closing her eyes, she could almost predict the turns before they even came.
It was because of this uncanny knack of navigation that she knew they would stop and stop they did. But unlike in her home where that particular passage would open out onto a world of death and stale memory, her new one did not.
“Open your eyes, queeny.”
“I prefer Your Majesty.”
“I’m sure you do,” Calatan chuckled.
Varonia opened her eyes to azure skies peppered by white cloud. There was no sun — she thanked some forgotten God — to be seen, but plenty of golden light. When her warders clicked her back to a vertical position, her eyes realigned to something all too familiar.
“The city walls!” she gasped. “But this cannot be.”
“But it is,” Calatan replied.
The indisputable flowing glass of her own time met her disbelieving gaze.
“Step forward and let your queen see you,” said Calatan to whoever had moved her.
The clip-clop of feet moved from rear to front.
“Ooh, well done,” said Calatan. “You did that without even seeing their teeth.”
“Some things are irrefutable.”
“True, true. Then again,” he added. “Come here, my good man.”
One of the two stepped to Calatan’s side. There, he stood wide-eyed and silent.
“Do you enjoy magic tricks?”
“Magic?” Varonia rolled the word around her mouth. “What is magic?”
Calatan took hold of one end of his cape and hung it before the man like a curtain. The result was not in hiding the body behind it, but rather revealing it. There, fluttering in white transparency behind the black shawl was a ghost.
Just for effect — Calatan was ever the showman — he lowered and raised his cape several times. Each, in turn, revealed first man, then ghost.
“How?” was all the queen could muster.
“Allow me to show you something else first.”
With that, Calatan shot forward, grabbed the frame Varonia was strapped to and leapt into the air. As birds they rose, so high did he propel them, until, with a crash of talon in stone, he thrust his free hand into the palace walls and held his prize over an uninterrupted vista.
“Humanity!” gasped Varonia, then chastised herself for her secondary lack of elocution.
And there was, millions of them. As a herd of stumbling, brainless fools, they barged against the city walls leaving smudges of blood and tissue in their wake. The line of them extended into forever. Over fields of green and hills the same to mountains of ice-tipped height, and she presumed ever on, they mustered. The line of humanity was infinite.
“Does that include you?”
Calatan snorted a response and dropped back to the palace courtyard.
“So we are in a world reversed, the same yet not.”
“Very good, queeny.”
Varonia ignored the insult.
“But yes, you assume correctly. Within reason this is still our earth. Imagine looking through a mirror to another reflection, another reality where all was better than home. This is that reality. One I have learnt to breach. And it only took to the last of us to find out how. Not a moment too soon,” he added to an accompanying exhalation.
“Are they alive?” Varonia asked. “Truly alive?”
“No. More’s the pity. They contain blood, are made of flesh and bone, but both are insipid to the bite.”
“So this is not about food.”
“No, my dear, this is about a life beyond death. One might say I sought the AfterDeath we have been denied. Not anymore, though, at least, not for me.”