“No, really, what are you fighting for? Do you even know anymore?”
“I don’t expect someone like you to understand…”
“Like me? What makes you so special? Do you think because you supposedly suffered more than I did, than most of the others did, that somehow this makes you superior? Do you even know what you believe in..? I don’t think you do…”
Blue eyes snapped closed, nimble fingers moving to pinch the bridge of his nose, pale digits massaging the space between it and his eyes. Around the room, the stench of decadence and debauchery – booze mixed with cigar smoke and pheromones – permeated the exotic incense and waxy aroma of candles. The mood was light, almost jovial in the midst of the latest gathering, clearly the Black Family’s nearest and dearest felt the need to let their hair down after the months they had spent hiding away in the shadows. The constant threat of Vernon Lytton’s ‘retribution’ against those who had destroyed his little party in Rome that June had weighed heavily on all of them…so much so that they had not dared risk too much exposure in the months that followed, choosing instead to scatter to the far reaches of the world…leaving only the dedicated few to hold the fort while they were gone.
“Do you think you can protect them from us? Do you think you’re that strong, that smart? How can you know me when you don’t know yourself?”
Not that you would have known it now, laughing and carrying on as they were…the whole damned lot together again for the first time in what seemed forever…even his hoity toity Highness Jett had made the effort to stop in on his way through to Berlin. ‘To make sure you haven’t completely fucked things up,’ he’d told his brother, dark hues barely betraying the uneasy affection they shared.
Baelian, for his part, had played the child and pouted, punched Jett in the arm and made some vague and crass retort about having to ‘fuck things you won’t’ and they left it at that. It was their way, few words and fewer conversations…they said what they needed to in a glance, a smirk, a glare.
~I’m glad you’re still alive~
-God knows why-
~Fuck off, Jasper~
-Whatever you say. I’m glad you’re glad, Jett-
~You’re my brother~
~Oh shut up~
He’d come and gone, as per usual – leaving his wife Betty to her brother-in-law’s booze and valium. The Dream Queen swanned about the guests, her champagne glass never empty, her high pitched and almost jarring laughter a constant reminder of the thinly veiled illusion of normalcy that they all clung to, like the fine threads of a spider’s web, binding them together.
“Do you think they actually thank you for reminding them of the past? Do you think they want that burden? They don’t carry it for themselves, Jasper Baelian Black, they carry it for you…”
He was chewing on his lip…his father would have broken his jaw for that one…one just didn’t do such childish things in public, things that betrayed any kind of inner angst or turmoil. Jerald Black despised any public displays of weakness and had never exhibited any if he could help it.
-Ah, but he’s not our father now, is he?-
Baelian’s nose wrinkled and he pushed the thought from his mind, turning his attention to the rowdy gathering once more. He could hear Bella’s musical voice lilting in conversation somewhere in the next room. She’d wandered over once or twice, concern creasing the milky skin of her forehead to find him sitting alone in the study in the dark. He’d acknowledged her with an even stare, nodding curtly to her mouthed ‘are you alright?’, the cool hand she’d brushed against his cheek seized by his own mere seconds after contact, fingers squeezing perhaps a little too tight around hers as he’d murmured ‘I’m fine.’
He wasn’t fine…they both knew it, but Bella Jade Black was wise enough to leave him be. Baelian told when Baelian wanted to tell…and that was hardly ever. Pulling her hand from his, she’d leant over and given him a daring peck on the forehead, whispering that she loved him before returning to her role as hostess.
Alina hadn’t been nearly as gracious.
‘Bayyyyy-lee-annnnnn,’ she’d almost whined, the petulant child he’d known oh so well coming to the fore as she toed at him with a high heel, poking, prodding, being thoroughly bloody annoying because she knew she could.
‘Oh for fuck’s sake, what???’ he’d snapped at her finally, his breath near catching at the devilish look she offered when their eyes met, further reprimand dying on his lips. That look…those fucking eyes…
He knew exactly ‘what.’
But even she, the great Goddess of his nightmares, poison in his veins and purveyor of his most depraved and violent fantasies, couldn’t rouse him from his brooding solitude. Finally she too had given up, moving instead to torture Grigori with wanton stares and snide comments laced equally with venom and nectar.
It would have infuriated and amused him, had he not been in such a mood.
‘Look at you, martyring yourself for this so-called cause. They don’t care about it nearly as much as they say they do…and you kill yourself for it day after day…why?’
Hands moved to his face, palms pressing into his cheeks, fingers massaging his temples as he tried to knead the voice from his mind. That goddamned pathetic, whiny, wheezing voice and its stupid lies.
-But they’re not lies, you know they’re not-
His thoughts turned to Lyra, his chest constricting at the notion of her there, with that thing. Poor, delicate little Lyra Monére and her fragile mind at the mercy of Professor Kreutz and the madman Vernon Lytton. That she had gone willingly to them was bad enough…that she’d returned a second time was damn near heartbreaking.
“You know as well as I do that it’s release they crave. An end to the nightmare…an end to always being the victim. What can you give them but a constant reminder of how they were betrayed, how they failed…how they were beaten down? Do you think, if offered an alternative, that they will choose YOUR cause over their own happiness?”
Oh but he chose his words well, the silver-tongued imp, schooled no doubt by the eloquent yet soulless Professor Kreutz, who’d obviously armed his ‘protégé’ with the perfect ammunition against them all. Who better to plant the seeds of doubt and dissent, than the one who had raped their minds since they were barely 7 years old? If there was a weakness to be found in any of them, Kreutz had them all under lock and key within his memory.
-We never stood a chance-
He’d known, of course, the moment he’d laid eyes on Vernon and his entourage in Rome, that they were out of their league…that this was a battle that they could not win easily, if at all. He didn’t need mind-fucking and monarch imprinting to tell him that. The others, they thought it was so simple…find them, kill them…end of story. Steiner had declared less than tactfully more than once that ‘a few well placed explosives and some artillery can end this right now.’
Not entirely his fault, of course…Steiner wasn’t one to overthink the complexities of the human mind, much less bother himself with the why and wherefores of days long past and monsters dead in their graves. His methods may have been somewhat mercenary…but they were effective. And sometimes that’s what mattered.
But not this time.
‘How will you explain it to them, this need to know yourself? When all is said and done and you have to face yourself in the mirror, Katorga, how will you react to what you see? Do you think your father would be proud?’
Baelian’s head fell back against the leather settee, hands clenching, nails digging into his palms as he flinched at the memory…at the name. He didn’t remember if it had been Vernon, or perhaps the Professor mocking him in that Southern drawl. He’d been so doped up on whatever fucking drug they’d given him that he barely remembered anything of his little ‘adventure’ around the world.
‘You were groomed for more than this self-pitying martyrdom…you know you were. We all were. You’ve brought them all together…for what? For a circle-jerk pity party? I think not.’
He wasn’t even sure that they were memories…they could just as easily have been the voices in his own head. They spoke to him sometimes, the voices… gnawing at his subconscious, whispering inner truths and lies that he’d rather not hear.
‘Fuck off will you..?’
Great. Now he was talking to himself again. Time for the meds and the vodka, clearly.
‘All I’m saying is that you’ve already won…you’ve achieved your great goal…they’re all dead, more or less. So what are you still fighting for? Why are you railing at windmills like they’re dragons instead of enjoying the fruits of your labour? Don’t you think you’ve earned it by now?’</em>
Vernon Lytton. Fucking parasite. He should have bashed his brains in completely that night in Rome…he never should have left to help that kid…he should’ve stayed and gotten the job done.
‘Should have, could have, would have Black…but you didn’t. And you know why? Because you NEED me. You need me to help you with your new world order.’
That had made him laugh…he almost laughed now to remember it.
‘What…the fuck would you know about it?’
‘Plenty. You think I’ve dragged you here to kill you? You think I want to be in your place? Gods no, I’m not an idiot, despite what your precious Alina always called me…I see your potential, just like your father and Jerald and Marcus did. I’m just the messenger…you, my friend, you’re gonna take this whole game to the next level. I know you will…you’ve just gotta get over yourself.’
Someone shrieked in the library…perhaps it was Betty, or maybe one of the family extendeds that had somehow wormed their way into the folds. He could see Lux sprawled on the chaise, sleeping with his mouth open…and Grigori and Scarlett standing over him debating some nefarious prank or another. Nearby, Alina and Bella stood conversing in hushed tones, the both of them pretending not to be watching him through the doorway. He rolled his eyes and looked away.
-Oh poor you, the burden of being so loved-
‘How does it feel, Nikolai, to know that grandfather loved you best?’
‘Fuck you, Katorga.’
Bloody Grigori and his incessant need to ‘know’ his grandfather’s history was certainly not helping matters as of late. They’d argued about it in the cabin in Siberia, Baelian damn near throttling him before consoling himself with vodka and the threat of ‘I’m gonna fucking bury this bottle in your throat when I’m done drinking, Katorga.’
‘You’ll see…one by one they will start to entertain the idea that the old way wasn’t altogether bad…if somewhat grotesquely executed. Once by one they are going to start urging you to be what you were born to be...’
Rising from the settee suddenly, Baelian stalked over to the door, leaning against the frame and watching the revellers cavorting with his family. Alina tried to meet his gaze but he ignored her, cobalt hues instead falling on Bella, who stared back in silence.
‘They don’t follow you to save a bunch of children no one cares about…they follow you because they love you. You could drag them all into hell and they would go willingly…they’ve already killed for you, they’ve sacrificed for you…’
Bella’s lips quirked into a smile that he did not return, those piercing eyes moving instead to Grigori…Alina…Fuschia…Scarlett…
‘You knock up your own daughter, you keep a harem filled with your own family…you’ve broken every earthly and spiritual law most can think of…and still they call you their King. You’re a monster just like me…just like them. You think because you give them pretty smiles and tears they don’t know what you are? They don’t care…’
Someone handed him a drink…he didn’t even bother to thank them or even acknowledge their presence, his lips pressed together in a grim line as he stood in silence.
‘…they look to you for what’s right and what’s wrong. They’re waiting for you to give them permission to be bad. The rules of lesser beings don’t apply to your kind, Nikolai Katorga. You’re the elite…the Funday treasures. You were special before you were born. Is it so wrong to want to reap the rewards you have paid for in blood and tears? Aren’t you tired of being the good one all the time?’
His eyes slid partly closed as he pressed the glass to his lips, the shock of sweet liquid that washed over his palette making him shudder. Not his usual fare…a brow lofted as he glanced at the contents.
-Red red wiiiiiiiiiiiine-
Baelian blinked once, twice, fingers curling tighter about the delicate glass as he pondered shattering it against the wall for a long moment. Then, thinking better of it, he downed the rest of the drink in two gulps.
‘You’ve got a ways to go, of course…these things don’t happen overnight, but eventually you will come to see things my way. Our way. And the second you open that door…the moment that you put down that ridiculous burden you’re carrying…you just wait and see what happens...you’ll finally be free.’
‘A gift…from Master Lytton…’ came the low voice beside him. Baelian’s eyes slid sideways to study the young blonde maid in his shadow, her small hands clutching a wine bottle – ready to pour. He could feel Scarlett’s eyes upon them across the way…she didn’t recognise the pretty bit of fluff any more than he did…it was only a matter of moments before she sounded the alarm. Tilting his head, Baelian threw the flame haired beauty a look that said ‘wait’ before turning his attention to the blonde and holding out his glass. Her gaze didn’t leave his as she poured, her hands trembling somewhat but not wasting a drop…and when he drank Baelian kept those terrifying eyes fixed on her.
Naturally she looked away first.
-A gift indeed-
When he finished the wine Baelian turned on his heel, tossing the glass over his shoulder – not batting an eyelash as it shattered - and heading towards Bella and Alina. Scarlett crossed his path halfway there and he reached out to seize her arm, drawing her in close and gesturing to the maid.
‘Get whatever information you can out of her, I don’t care how…and Scarlett…’
He paused to glance back at the now frightened looking diminutive woman across the way before giving Scarlett a sly smile.
‘When you’re done, if there’s anything left, send it to Vernon with a letter of thanks for the wine.’
All characters and story lines remain the property of N.Ristovski and the Underground. All character writings within the Underground are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014. Natalie Ristovski.