Antoinette had a propensity for exaggeration. Tonight, however, she had not. Rain dripped from the over-elongated archways as though some god had reached down from above and pulled them toward him, only to grow bored and release them halfway. Backlit by the moon, as the castle was, I thought myself about to walk beneath the angular backplates of some leviathan of myth, or dinosaur of ill-repute.
The whoosh of a bat distracted my overactive mind and returned me to the task at hand, my commission. I cracked my neck, shook the water from my hat and cloak — a pointless exercise if ever there was one — and continued on my way.
The courtyard loomed up into the night in varying states of disrepair. Once magnificent, the Van Arnfeldts had allowed the place to diminish in the same way as they, badly. Loose brickwork lay smashed to pieces all over the cobbled ground, the lichens having taken over the more moist corners and left the rest to rot. How could Antoinette live in such a place_I mused? Then remembered, she did not.
I approached the oak-panelled door, ran my gloved fingers across several deep gashes, then pulled myself together and knocked. If my knuckles made any sound within it was lost to the thunderclap without.
The rain came down heavier, as if sensing my unease, seeking to douse it out of me like a drowning rat. So distracted was I that I neither heard nor noticed the door open only the words, “Bonjour Monsieur,” as they split the evening air.
Antoinette stood in the cobwebbed doorway in stark contrast to the world about her; she was exquisite, and my resolve weakened. Her perfumes, something metallic, if I was not mistaken, exuded from every inch of her, the affect quite overwhelming.
“I see you have arrived,” she purred.
“I have,” I agreed.
“I should’ve known you’d choose this most awful of evenings to fulfil your duty.”
“I make no apologies for the weather, Madame, for whatever the clouds bring it is always a good night to die.”
“Ah, ever to the point.”
“In my line of work, the point _is the job.” I inadvertently fingered the heft of my blade. It did not go unnoticed, although Antoinette never batted an eye.
“Shall we get on with it?” she said, her impatience evident.
“Madame,” I nodded.
She led me indoors to a gloaming equal to, if not worse than, the malevolent conditions outside. At least it was dry, no thanks to the pathetic excuse for a fire that burned like a wetted match in the extravagant fireplace.
“I like what you’ve done with the place,” I quipped.
“I’ve done nothing with it,” a bristled reply.
I gathered that enough chit-chat and walked the rest of the way in silence. Through corridor after dark corridor we strode, me with my boots clip-clopping the way, she silent as the grave.
When Antoinette turned down a staircase decorated with stone gargoyles of a grotesque and upsetting nature, I paused.
“Bored,” I lied, and set off again at a trot. It made no difference, for no matter how many steps I took in one stride, she took more.
When we emerged into the dankest mausoleum I had ever had the misfortune of frequenting, she sighed.
“Regrets?” I asked.
“Non, Monsieur, the dead do not have regrets. They only regret not being able to have them.”
Whilst I pondered her words, she drew open the lid of an obsidian coffin carved from a single slab of stone and hauled herself inside.
I’d had quite enough of the place by then, so decided to get on with it. I drew my sword, hung it above her cold, dead heart and awaited her settling.
She looked sad then, if a demon might. Her black eyes swallowed the light of the single candle that flickered on a small table, a rivulet of smudged kohl running away beneath across her porcelain cheek.
“Are you ready?” I asked.
About to take the plunge regardless of her answer, I readied my arms for what must be done. “May God take mercy on your soul, Antoinette Van Arnfeldt.” That was enough of an epitaph, and I thrust down with all my might just as the candle extinguished.
It is hard to judge time in absolute night. I might have stood there a second, an hour, or a day. But it wasn’t until I felt the fingers around my throat that I realised, for me, time was over.
“I’ve had a change of heart, Monsieur. I think I’ll take yours, instead.”
Death came in infernal increments beneath those gothic towers. A vampire hunter had become the hunted, an uneasy alliance broken. All I had to show for a life of paid murder was an eternity with those I’d condemned to death, and they, an eternity with me.