**NOTE – Heavy trigger warnings apply. Contains content, images, themes and concepts that may distress, trigger or offend. Reader discretion is advised.
Part IV – The Unforgiven (2015)
Part V - Progeny (2016)
Part VI - Seven Devils (2017)
Part VII - Welcome to the Dollhouse (2018)
Part VIII - The Illusion of Class (2019)
Part IX - Wonderground (2020)
Dramatis Personae Jasper Black / Belladonna Black / Baelian Black (N. Ristovski) Bella Jade Black / Betsy (‘Bella De Jac’) Betty Dream-Black (‘Betty Blood’) Bethany Belladonna Black (‘Pippy Scream’) Jett Balthazar Black (‘Raven’) Kerryx Black (K. Whittle) ‘Red’ Emily Gabrielle (‘Jasper Jewel’) ‘Violet’ (E. Lyall) Dunstan Kreutz (R. Crockett) Dorian Bond (I. Hutchinson) Jack Lad / Joel Archibald Black (P. Moder) Raoul (R.Kaye) May Bea Sunshine (N. Scarlet) Grigori Katorga (A. Grant) Claudia Lyra Monére ('Luna Madness') Asinoe Hardcourt-Mirror ('Chastity De Vice') Reinhard Wilhelm Steiner (M. Jones) Scarlett Ophelia Michaels ('Ophelia Black') ‘Amaranth’ Kayla Katorga (J. Coath) Guest performers and supporting cast Peachey Dream (A. Lydon) Dexter Black III (D.Black) Mr Nick (N. Brocklehurst)
The Underground RPG Synopsis II/II - Fifty Shades of Black (Oct 2013 to Dec 2013)
~October (Part One)~
The early morning of the first of October dawned cold and grey for the Black Family, particularly Bella Jade Black, who had spent the better part of the days prior researching everything that she could about her husband’s time at Oakleaf and the relevance of the ‘Belladonna’ creature that seemed to plague his mind. After poring through endless therapy notes, pulling countless strings and begging numerous favours, Bella was finally allowed access to some of Oakleaf’s ‘old files’ – though many of them had been destroyed in a suspicious fire in the months after Jerald Black’s death – and the horrifying truth was finally revealed
The worn documents confirmed that Jerald Black has admitted his son Jasper Baelian Black to the Oakleaf facility and the adjoining Braidleigh Manor in 1996 for ‘treatment and management of acute psychosis.’ The notes were sketchy but seemed to suggest that 14 year old Jasper had insisted he be called Belladonna Black for most of the two years of his incarceration, for all intents and purposes speaking and behaving like a young girl right up until forced electro-shock therapy in late 1998 ‘brought him to his senses.’ Further discussions with Jasper’s psychiatrists confirmed that her husband did indeed suffered from Dissociative Identity Disorder and this ‘Belladonna’ was just another personality fracture his mind had created in order to deal with the trauma of his past, though she seemed to have remained dormant since Jasper’s treatment at Braidleaigh those many years ago.
At least until now.
Breaking the news to Jasper was anything but easy, though he did not seem overly surprised by the revelations. Sullenly he admitted to Bella that he’d been hearing ‘her’ voice in his head for weeks, constantly whispering in his subconscious and telling him to ‘go to sleep.’ Initially he’d thought that it had been hallucinations brought on by his medication and alcohol, “but I tried stopping both and it only made it worse,” he added wearily. Bella asked him if anyone else knew about the ‘voices’ and Jasper told her that he’d only told Dorian. “But Grigori…I think he knows something…I think he knows a lot more than something.” Nodding her agreement, Bella suggested that they schedule a meeting with Grigori after the following Funday to find out what, if anything, Katorga could tell them.
Unfortunately, the meeting would never come. That very night at the Underground, Grigori antagonised Jasper incessantly, seemingly hellbent on getting a rise out of him. “Thanks for the phone call last night…” he whispered to the confused young man, tipping his hat and chuckling at Jasper before offering him a toast. When one of the fantasy notes Jasper read aloud onstage (signed Sleeping Beauty) mentioned the Katorga heir and a clandestine phone call in the dead of night, Grigori could barely contain his pleasure…but it was not until the end of the evening that the real fireworks began. Moving to casually stand by his less-than-gracious host, Grigori watched Jasper flap about the Night Garden arguing with Bella, Jack Lad and the newly returned Bethany, who was rather put out that her father had hired a new PA “without asking me about it…and you shouldn’t have sex with her because you’re her boss and you belong to me.” Shaking his head, Jasper had lamented the fact that every woman in his life seemed out to get him, hurling himself down on the daybed in annoyance.
“Sounds like something your father would say…aren’t you just the true Black heir?” Grigori murmured, smirking when Jasper’s blue eyes narrowed on him.
“The difference is that he wouldn’t have let it stop him…” the young man retorted, shooting Amaranth a glare and telling her that her brother was obviously drunk and “trying to pick a fight with me. Clearly he’s forgotten his place is beneath you…go have sex with him or something would you?”
Laughing bitterly and staring down at Jasper, Grigori declared that he had no idea why so many people loved him, when it was so obvious to Katorga that Jasper would only destroy them all in the end.
“You know it…you can feel it,” he added as Jasper stared up at him in silence, “You’re like a drowning man dragging everyone who tries to save your down into death along with you.” Something in Jasper’s face changed as the Russian spoke, his eyes darkening and turning icy cold as he sat up. Without a word he tilted his head, lips quirking as he studied Grigori intently. “Look at you, you still won’t do what’s needed,” the Russian went on, “You only think about yourself…”
Blinking, Jasper rose from the bed, sauntering over to a small writing desk and plucking up a shiny and rather sharp looking letter opener, his eyes never leaving Katorga.
“Perhaps I just trust them to make their own choices,” he finally responded. Grigori sneered at him.
“You were never the strong one, were you?” he muttered, “You’re nothing but bought time, Jasper Black…and not worth the cost of her life…”
Lunging at Grigori quite suddenly and brandishing the letter opener like a knife, Jasper snarled and went for the jugular, narrowly missing Katorga and instead being set upon by Jack Lad, who dragged him off and away from the Russian. Bella sprang forward to snatch the weapon from her husband’s hand as Amaranth moved to subdue him, whirling on Grigori as the Russian threatened to “put that fucking thing through your eye, Jasper, if you ever touch me again.”
“You need to leave right now, Grigori Katorga,” Bella hissed at him, “And be grateful that I don’t kill you outright.”
Bellowing that Grigori was a traitor to him and his family (to which Grigori angrily retorted “I’m not YOURS, Black!” as he stormed out of the Underground), Jasper was taken to his private quarters with Bethany and Bella in tow, the latter trying to calm her husband as best she could as he railed at her.
“Follow him, Bella…” Jasper hissed, dangerously cold eyes fixing on her, “Find out what he knows…use Jett if you must, get it out of him any way you have to…and that goes for his bitch of a sister Amaranth as well.” Shocked, Bella murmured that she was not going to let Jett hurt either of them. “It’s our FAMILY,” Jasper insisted, “We protect them no matter what the sacrifice. Family is all, Bella. If you have to have Jett kill them both to protect us, you bloody well get it done.”
Stomping her foot, Bethany shook her head at her father, insisting that Amaranth was not to blame.
“It was HIM,” she spat, “THAT man…that Katorga…not our Amaranth. HE’s the one.”
Hurling a glass at the wall, Jasper shouted that he didn’t give a fuck about the details, “just do what I fucking tell you!” Realising that they would not get anywhere, and wary of the sudden violent change in his demeanour, the two women left Jasper alone to stew, Bella seeing about calming the remaining guests and doing some damage control. She was surprised when Violet approached her with a letter from Grigori, which he’d given her as he’d been escorted from the premises. The letter outlined his relationship with Belladonna, whom he claimed to love, and apologised for any upset his behaviour might cause between their families. It was clear to the Queen of the Underground that Grigori’s behaviour had been premeditated, and that he’d provoked Jasper on purpose. Gritting her teeth, she thanked and dismissed Violet before returning to her quarters to draft a reply, summoning Katorga to a meeting with the Family in the week that followed ‘once we have all calmed down enough to not kill each other.’ Amaranth was placed on forced temporary leave until the situation could be resolved, for her own safety as well as theirs.
Obviously less than amenable to placing himself at the mercy of the Black Family, Grigori was loathe to reply to his summons until he received a letter penned by Belladonna’s hand, urging him to play the contrite servant until such a time as their plans could come to fruition. Begrudgingly, Katorga agreed, declaring his undying love for the girl and promising to do as she asked.
“What would YOU do to recapture that feeling of first love?” he mused to the Undergroupies and anyone who would listen, “Would you watch this world burn?”
~October (Part Two)~
It was the following Funday that Grigori was called to account and forced to ‘stand trial’ before the Family, Jett Black having unceremoniously fetched him from the Katorga estate on his way into the Underground. Stalking in carrying an overnight bag, Jett near-collided with Jasper and Bethany as they strode arm-in-arm to the stage during the ceremonial ‘family walk,’ the wayward pair stopping in their tracks as Jett threw them a disgusted look. “Did you collect our package?” Jasper asked him pointedly, ignoring Jett’s cold gaze on their entwined arms. Perking a brow and meeting his brother’s gaze for a long moment, Jett’s deadpan stare gave nothing away as he stalked past them both and into the rear of the Underground. Scowling, Jasper kissed Bethany’s hand and deposited her beside her mother before beginning the show.
Grigori was forced to wait outside until Black was finished, Violet ushering him within during a break in the onstage entertainment. He was guided to a solitary table behind a chained barrier, Jack Lad’s comrade Reinhard Steiner standing guard by Katorga’s seat and serving as unofficial jailor until the Black Family was ready to deal with him. Fans, Groupies and Family were given strict instructions not to interact with the disgraced man for the bulk of the evening, a command that most tried to usurp any moment they saw the opportunity, with the exception of course of Dorian Bond- who sat brooding in a corner and watching Jasper in silence. Though the obvious disregard for his Family’s wishes clearly upset Jasper, he uncharacteristically said nothing about it, merely watching the giggling Undergroupies trying to sneak the ‘prisoner’ drinks and covert notes as if it were all a fun game. Bethany Black seemed to be the only one outwardly put out by their behaviour, her angry scowl as she stood before Grigori’s prison and attempted to stop them giving them brief pause at least. Exasperated with their defiance, she finally stormed over to Jasper, angrily asking him why ‘THEY’ weren’t listening.
Jasper sighed, explaining to Bethany that their subjects were a fickle lot with no real respect for the Family.
“We’re a joke to them, they think it’s all a stupid game and they can do whatever they want…we’re just here to entertain them,” he told his daughter, sipping his bourbon thoughtfully.
“Well, show them they’re wrong!” Bethany demanded, “Daddy…you’re the King of the Underground…make them obey!” Jasper smiled at his daughter sadly, shaking his head.
“I’m not the King of anything, Bethany, I’m falling apart and they know it…they don’t care about us, especially not me. They’ll do what they want. Everyone will always do whatever the fuck they want…even you.”
Blinking, Bethany stared at her father, confusion creasing her forehead. For a long moment she just watched him, as if sizing him up, then turned on her heel and stomped back to Steiner’s side, insisting that he do a better job at guarding Katorga “because my DADDY said so!” Scowling as Steiner chuckled in amusement at her, she reached over to snatch up Grigori’s hat (a Family heirloom given to him by his grandfather, Alexei Katorga), running to deposit it in Jasper’s hands with a hopeful smile. Closing his eyes, Jasper drew Bethany onto his lap, kissing her forehead as the young girl wrapped her arms around him, whispering in his ear that she didn’t care what the others thought, he was someone special to her “and you’ll always be my King.”
As the evening’s Underground entertainment came to a close, Jasper and the rest of the Black’s gathered in the Night Garden, the weary-looking billionaire depositing Grigori’s hat on the head of Dorian as he passed with barely a second glance. Dorian seemed surprised by the sudden attention, staring after Jasper as he moved to take a seat on the dais before the gathering crowd. Bethany and Jett moved to stand by his left, Bella and Violet flanking his right alongside Amaranth (who had been ordered to attend via a summons delivered to her from the Family lawyers) while Betty stood in the shadows guarding the champagne and her sanity. Just as the clock chimed midnight Grigori Katorga joined the ranks, stepping out from the crowd to stand before Jasper in silence. Tilting his head, Jasper eyed him for a long moment before sharply telling him to sit. Gritting his teeth, Grigori sat.
“Do you know why you’re here, Katorga?” Jasper asked slowly, blue eyes blazing as he stared at the man before him. Grigori nodded, but said nothing. Pressing his lips in a grim line, the King of the Underground shook his head, brows furrowing.
“Would you care to explain to my Family what exactly it is you are hoping to achieve with your behaviour? You come into my world, MY home…you pledge allegiance to us…you swear to protect the one’s that I love…and now we find you are sleeping with the enemy, so to speak. Explain yourself…”
“I love her,” Grigori interjected, glowering at Jasper as he cut him off, surprise flickering through the latter’s cobalt hues before the ice crept in once more.
“You love her…” he echoed, gritting his teeth and shaking his head, a glance at Jett and Bethany showing that they were also none too impressed with Katorga’s response. Licking his lips, Jasper went on.
“I assume you’re talking about…Belladonna,” he seemed to struggle with her name, his features registering something akin to nausea for a moment, “Where did you meet her?”
“In a madhouse,” came Grigori’s reply. “Near Oakleaf.”
“And you love her.”
“Yes, I do.”
“More than you love my Family?” Jasper looked strangely hurt. Grigori blinked in surprise, his gaze flickering to Bethany, then Bella, Jett and Betty.
“I only ask because they are the ones who will suffer, if you get what you want…” Jasper went on, “I just want to be sure you understand this. If you manage to help her…” he bowed his head and closed his eyes, his breath catching. For a long moment there was nothing but silence in the Night Garden as they waited for their King to go on.
“If I do as she asks …if I sleep…” he continued finally, “Then who is going to look after them, Katorga…you?”
Frowning, Grigori didn’t reply, merely watching Jasper as he gave a choked laugh, a pale hand rising to brush errant locks. When he met Katorga’s eyes again, Jasper’s were glazed with tears.
“I’m tired,” he said softly, “I’m so tired…you can’t even imagine…”
Grigori’s gaze lowered, his jaw tightening.
“I’m not going to stop you, you do whatever you like,” he continued, “I won’t rant and rail and threaten you anymore…I’m not going to fight you, or her…” Bella made a small sound as he spoke, a hand rising to her lips as her husband glanced at her, “If this is what you want, and I hope you’re sure that it is, then you can bear the burden of your own choices Katorga…you can answer to my wife, and my daughter…you can face the rest of our friends, look them in the eyes and tell them why your love was so much more important than our world, our home…our Family.”
A solitary tear escaped those wide blue eyes as Jasper stared at Grigori, and he smiled sadly, “You don’t think I’m worthy of this life, and you’re probably right…but what makes you so sure she is? You may find in the end that she’s not what you remember her to be Katorga…are you willing to take that risk?”
Holding Jasper’s gaze, Grigori said nothing, though his expression was pained. Laughing bitterly, Jasper looked to his Family, asking them if they had anything to say. Jett and Bethany shook their heads, throwing silent daggers at the Russian, Betty pretended to be thoroughly absorbed in her alcohol and Bella refused to meet Jasper’s eyes. Glancing at Amaranth, Jasper scowled.
“Did your sister know that you were in love with her?” he asked flatly.
“No, she found out when you did,” Grigori replied firmly, “I never told her.”
“But she knew…her…too, is that correct?”
Throwing his sister an apologetic look, Grigori nodded. Amaranth looked away.
Swallowing hard and letting his eyes slide closed, Jasper shook his head, telling Grigori to get out of his sight “and take your sister and the rest of this fucking rabble with you.”
Katorga’s lips parted to offer a reply but then thought better of it, rising to collect his hat from Dorian’s head, gesturing to Amaranth to follow as he left the Night Garden with many of the Groupies in tow. One by one the Family headed to the bar, Bethany calling for her father but getting no response – any protests at being ignored dying on her lips as Jett ushered her and Betty away. Left alone, Bella stood staring at Jasper, who avoided looking at her.
“Say it if you’re gonna say it,” he said to his shoes.
“So that’s it then…you’re just going to give up and let her win?” Bella finally demanded. Jasper offered the ghost of a smile and shrugged.
“She’s already won, Bella…” he murmured, “She and Jerald both.”
A sigh fell from her lips as she moved to crouch before her husband, hands coming up to cup his face.
“Your father only wins if you let him, Jasper…you don’t have to live in his shadow anymore. You can choose to be stronger….”
Closing his eyes and holding up a hand to silence her, the weary young man shook his head. Pursing her lips and blinking back tears, Bella sniffed and nodded, leaning in to kiss his cheek before she rose and walked away.
“You know where I am,” she called to him, heading for her private quarters.
Reaching for a nearby bottle of bourbon, Jasper slid to the floor and began to drink, resting his head against the daybed and staring bleary-eyed at the starry sky through the Night Garden’s glass ceiling.
“So, that was pretty tense,” came Dorian’s voice, the young man’s footsteps echoing on the stones as he made his way to Jasper’s side, hurling himself unceremoniously to the floor beside his friend. Jasper frowned.
“Why are you here? Word on the street was you were never coming back…” he murmured, taking another swig from the bottle. Dorian snatched it from his hand and took a sip.
“Yeah, well, whatever. You were an ass.”
Jasper smirked, perking a brow.
“Was I just?” “You were in fact, yes.”
Turning to gaze at Dorian, Jasper made a face then snatched the bottle back.
“Did I hurt your feelings?”
Jasper took a deep drink, then offered the bourbon to his friend once more.
“Then I apologise,” he said, “I didn’t mean it.”
“You got voices in your head, I get it,” Dorian shrugged.
“…sure…so why’d you come back?”
Wrinkling his nose, Dorian drank in silence, then began picking at the bottle’s label as he pondered the question. After a moment Jasper nudged him expectantly.
“Oh I don’t know…”
“Actually I think you do,” Jasper countered, trying and failing to take his bourbon back. Holding it at arm’s length, Dorian smirked.
“You know you don’t actually know everything, right?”
“Lies. I do too.”
Drawing his knees up, Jasper wrapped his arms about them, resting his chin delicately on the perch as he gazed at Dorian. Midway to drinking, the young man paused with a suddenly awed expression.
“Your eyes are really luminous in this light, you know that?” Dorian told him. Jasper blinked once, twice, saying nothing but offering a tiny smile. Looking away, Dorian took another swig before placing the bottle between them.
“So, I guess…” “Mmhm?”
Dorian sighed, “I’m falling in love with you…and I don’t want you to go away.”
Jasper blinked again, a glimmer of warmth dancing through those ‘luminous’ blue eyes before something of a scowl painted his features.
“What do you mean ‘falling’? I fell for you ages ago, that’s not fair…” he pouted, snatching up the bourbon and downing a mouthful.
“Okay, you can stop being an insecure girl at any time,” Dorian rolled his eyes and Jasper laughed, choking on bourbon.
“I’ve been trying to avoid it,” he spluttered, “Much to Katorga’s dismay…”
“Jasper…” Grigori’s voice interrupted them, echoing across the Night Garden. Both he and Dorian looked up, studying Katorga in silence as the Russian waved a hand, seemingly lost for words. And then…
“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”
When Jasper didn’t reply, Grigori nodded solemnly, tipping his hat and lowering his eyes as he turned to walk away. Curling his lip, Dorian called after him.
“You’re sorry? It’s a bit of a pathetic thing to say really…” Dorian snarled, “I’m sorry. I’m going to destroy your world and your family, but oh, I’m sorry…” Raising a hand, Jasper placed it on Dorian’s arm, shaking his head when his friend looked at him in surprise.
“Where the fuck does he get the nerve to apologise to you…like he cares?” Dorian asked bitterly. Jasper merely shrugged and the two men drank in silence for a good long while, passing the bottle between them. Finally, Jasper tilted his head and smiled.
“So I need a date for Bethany and Nick’s wedding ceremony next week,” he said slowly, tilting the bourbon bottle at Dorian, who took it with a frown.
“I thought you had a wife now?” “I do have a wife now, but she’s maid of honour and I need a date while she’s busy.”
“Oh how romantic.”
“Isn’t it just?” “Uh huh,” Dorian narrowed his eyes, “So what do I get in return for providing this service?” he asked.
Jasper’s lips curved into a smirk and he batted his eyes coyly.
“That depends on what you want, Mr Bond,” he crooned.
Pondering a moment, Dorian threw Jasper a boyish grin.
“I want to sit in the balcony with you and throw ice at the bride.”
Jasper’s eyes lit up like a delighted child and he laughed, watching Dorian down the last of the bourbon.
“I can arrange that,” he sniggered, “But Bella will kill me…”
“No way, Bethany will kill you way before then, but I figure you owe her. And we’re out of bourbon,” waving the bottle at Jasper, Dorian winked.
“So we are, you should go fetch some,” Jasper countered, laying his head back against the daybed and closing his eyes. Dorian rolled the bottle away, muttering something about not being a servant.
“Pity,” Jasper murmured back, “You’d look good on your knees.”
“So would you, I bet,” Bond threw back, shuffling closer to the drunken playboy and reaching for his hand. Jasper twitched, curling his fingers around Dorian’s.
“Oh you have no idea,” he said softly.
The two men fell into silence again as Jasper moved to rest his head on Dorian’s shoulder, sitting quietly and listening to the sounds of the Underground all around them. After a while, Dorian squeezed Jasper’s hand, his features creasing in perplexion.
“Stay,” he whispered to Jasper, who opened his eyes and gazed up from Dorian’s shoulder.
“I’ll try,” he murmured back.
~October (Part Three)~
In the days before Bethany and Nick’s wedding, a letter was delivered to Grigori from Bella Jade, clearly outlining her views on the entire matter with Belladonna and giving Katorga a very serious choice about his future with the family. Amaranth was finally questioned about her involvement in the matter, after many tears and apologies revealing that she had first met Belladonna at Braidleigh Manor, where Jasper had been sent for treatment after the disintegration of Jerald’s Fundays.
“She was my friend,” Kayla Katorga told the Queen of the Underground, “She went in there without anyone in the world to care for her, I tried my best to make her feel wanted…” She also revealed that Belladonna had made her promise to look after Jasper just prior to the electro-shock therapy that jolted him out of his slumber, as “she was terrified he wouldn’t be ready for life outside of the asylum.” Amaranth swore that she had no idea about Grigori’s feelings for Belladonna, they had only met once or twice when he’d accompanied her during volunteer work at the sanatorium. “I didn’t even think he remembered her name…”
Meanwhile, Dunstan Kreutz had returned for the upcoming nuptials (and more specifically to see how Jasper was faring). Deeply concerned to hear that he seemed to be regressing into Belladonna, Dunstan met his long-time friend for ‘a friendly chat over drinks’ within the Underground, questioning Jasper about his mental state and what he planned to do about the situation…none too impressed with the response of ‘nothing’ that he got.
“What do you mean nothing?” Dunstan demanded, “I didn’t liberate you from that hellhole so you could just put yourself back there! For fuck’s sake Black!” Waving away his concerns, Jasper suddenly became very serious, his eyes widening as he gestured Kreutz closer.
“I need you to do something for me,” he murmured, placing a hand on Dunstan’s shoulder. His friend nodded.
“Always, what’s the deal?”
“A package,” Jasper told him, “It’s going to be delivered very soon and I want you to take care of it for me.”
Brows lofted and Dunstan nodded, asking where the contents were going and what the risk factor was.
“Pretty high, it’s human cargo,” came the response, “And I don’t know where it’s going.” Confused, Dunstan frowned.
“What does that even mean?”
Jasper tilted his head and licked his lips, trying to find the words. When no immediate response was forthcoming, Kreutz shook his head.
“Oh fuck me, what have you done now?”
“Well…” blue eyes skittered away as Bethany flounced by, calling for water from the bar ‘because I have a condition.’ Blinking, Dunstan followed Jasper’s gaze, staring at Bethany for a long moment before realisation dawned on his face.
“Jasper Baelian Black!” he blurted, “What the actual fuck? Jesus, are you…”
“Shhh,” punching him in the arm, Jasper shushed him, “Keep you bloody voice down.”
“…are you fucking serious?” Dunstan whispered as Bethany glanced over, “Do you screw up your life on purpose?”
“It was an accident!” Jasper countered, shaking his head.
“Well I should fucking hope so!”
“Look, when they’re born I need you to take them…”
“Them? You mean there’s more than one!?” Dunstan seemed about to burst into laughter or tears, or both.
Pantomiming ‘wtf’ at his friend, Dunstan face-palmed, fingers massaging his temples.
“I should have fucking left you at Braidleigh,” came the muffled reply. Wrinkling his nose, Jasper shrugged.
“Coulda, shoulda, woulda…you didn’t and now here we are…”
“Oh no way are you going to blame this on me…” Dunstan’s words trailed off as Jasper placed his fingers on his friend’s lips, wide eyes suddenly solemn.
“Will you help me?” he asked, “You’re the only one I can trust with this. Tell me I can trust you.”
Eying Jasper for a long moment, Dunstan exhaled loudly.
“You will fucking owe me forever, you got that?”
“Oh I am very much aware of it.”
In hushed tones Jasper explained that he needed Dunstan to remove Bethany’s children from the hospital when they were born, taking them out of the country as quickly as possible and seeing that they were adopted into good homes.
“Bella will give you the details for financing,” he added. Dunstan stared at him for a long moment before asking if Bethany knew what would be happening.
“More or less…” the King of the Underground replied, just as Bethany sauntered over, demanding to know what they were whispering about and ‘how dare you tell secrets without me.’ Smirking at her, Jasper rose to draw her into his arms, whirling her about in an impromptu dance that had her giggling, then smacking his arm when he told her that she was getting fat and heavy.
“That’s because of your…um…Mr Nick’s babies,” she insisted, throwing Dunstan a coy smile, “Mr Nick and I are having babies.”
“Yes I heard,” Dunstan nodded to her, throwing Jasper a sideways glare, “Congratulations.”
“Yes, thank you,” Bethany grinned, “We are very lucky. We plan to have more once they’re born…”
“Okayyyy, time to get to bed, you have a big few days coming up,” Jasper interjected, “Say goodnight to Dunstan.”
“Goodniiiiiiiiight!” Bethany sing-songed as Jasper hooked an arm around her, giving Dunstan a pointed nod before dragging his daughter away. Dunstan watched them go, shaking his head and ordering another drink.
“Make it a double.”
In true Black Family fashion, the ‘Wedding of Convenience’ (as it had been dubbed by May Bea Sunshine), went off with a bang. Dressed in finery befitting of a shotgun bride, Bethany Black was a vision in black lace and tulle (“I can’t wear white because I’m not a virgin” she loudly explained to her guests, giving Jasper a smile). Jasper himself gave his daughter away, staggering up the aisle already horrendously drunk and near flinging Bethany at a rather nauseous-looking Mr Nick, announcing that she was “your problem now” before making his way into the balcony to join Dorian. Across the room, Betty and her sister Peachey Dream made eyes at the groom as Amaranth tried to shush their tipsy tittering, while Bella and Violet stood close by to ensure that Mr Nick kept his end of the bargain, and that Grigori Katorga gave Jasper a wide berth. Jett Black had declined to attend, claiming that he had business in Europe, though royal watchers whispered that he was less than pleased with the impromptu union and would have nothing to do with it. Dunstan, strangely, was also absent.
The ceremony itself was clumsy at best, Dorian and Jasper sniggered endlessly and catcalled from the balcony, throwing ice and hitting everyone but the bride and groom. Bella threw them occasional cold stares, looking inwardly pleased with the sabotage of Bethany’s ‘big moment.’ When Nick was asked if he was prepared to be wedded to the Princess of the Underground ‘for better or worse,’ Bethany chimed in with “he does…my Daddy gave him money because he made me pregnant. Nick…not my Daddy. My Daddy didn’t make me pregnant. That would be weird.” Begrudgingly, Nick nodded, ignoring the shower of ice that rained down from behind him as they were pronounced husband and wife, awkwardly dodging Bethany’s pursed lips and the official wedding kiss.
After that, there was nothing much to do but drink…Jasper and Bella sauntering over to the newlyweds to give them their best.
“How are you feeling, Bethany?” Jasper asked pointedly, giving her an even stare. Bethany gazed at him for a moment before offering a plastic smile.
“I’m very…happy, Daddy,” she said forcefully, glancing at Nick, “Yes…that’s it. Both of us are…happy. We’re happy.”
Blinking, Bella perked a brow at Jasper and gave her sister a tight smile in return.
“Well, that’s good.”
“Isn’t it just?” Jasper smirked, leaning in to kiss Bethany’s cheek, “Because all I want in the world is for you to be…happy, Bethany Black.”
Halfway through the night, Jasper took to the stage. Summoning the guests and Mr Nick, he offered the man his personal congratulations.
“Though if you call me Dad I WILL kill you,” he chuckled, slapping Nick on the back before giving him a chair, “And since my daughter was so generous with a surprise gift at MY wedding celebrations, I thought I would return the favour.”
Forcing Nick onto the seat, Jasper sidestepped as music began to play. As if from nowhere, Betty and Peachey appeared in skimpy costumes, sashaying about the groom and taking turns peeling articles of their clothing off for his benefit. Enraged, Bethany made a beeline for the stage to rescue her new husband, only to be accosted by Jasper, who clamped a hand on her wrist and yanked her into his embrace, wrapping his arms about her and forcing her to watch the comical farce unfold.
“From me to you, baby doll,” he murmured in her ear, tightening his grip when she struggled.
Onstage, Betty and Peachey had acquired the top layer of the wedding cake and were rubbing it all over their mostly nude forms. As one they pressed the cake into Mr Nick’s face, covering him in cream and proceeding to lick it off. It wasn’t long, of course, before sibling rivalry set in and the two women began to compete for a taste of the groom, shoving each other around the stage and slipping about on discarded cream. Bethany shouted insults at them, demanding that her husband “get off the stage right now!” It was a command that Nick happily obliged, hurling himself out of harm’s way and towards the bar as Betty and Peachey began to wrestle. Shrieking and tearing at each other’s clothing, the women rolled about hurling abuse at each other, until Betty’s flailing limbs caught Peachey in the face and split her lip.
Seeing the blood, Betty froze, suddenly beginning to cry. She grabbed for her sister, who fell into her embrace and also started to weep. The women kissed and clung to each other, drunkenly declaring their undying sisterly love and rocking back and forth together. After a few moments Jasper released his daughter and navigated the mess of cream cake to come to their rescue, helping both Betty and Peachey off the stage and guiding them to the Family’s private bathrooms to help them ‘clean up.’ On the way, the three passed by Grigori, who’d picked up a cloth in order to assist his sister with the mess.
“Put that fucking cloth down,” Jasper hissed at him, blue eyes blazing, “If you’re going to be Belladonna’s King of the Underground…you’d better stop acting like a bloody Russian peasant.”
Stunned, Grigori dropped the cloth, watching Black usher the Dream girls away. “Don’t you even think about it” came Bella’s icy voice from behind him. Turning, Katorga met the Queen’s cold stare in silence.
“You stay away from my husband, Grigori Katorga…” Bella warned him, squaring her shoulders, “If I see you go near him at all tonight it will be the last thing you do.”
Later, in the Night Garden, as Jasper lay sprawled on the daybed sandwiched between Betty and Peachey (who took turns attentively feeding him whipped cream from a can) and Bella sat conversing with Violet and Amaranth, Bethany stormed in, shoving past Dorian and the other guests and demanding that her father ‘explain himself.’
“Ohhhh go away, you have a husband now, go annoy him before I do…” Betty drunkenly chided, waving a hand at her daughter. Peachey slapped at Betty, telling her to be nice to her ‘niece’ and the juvenile insult that followed saw them fighting anew, Jasper skilfully sliding out from between them as they began to wrestle again. Giving his daughter a coy smile, Jasper asked her what the problem was.
“You’ve been obsessed with Mr Nick since you were 8 years old, and now you have him…and your babies, what more can I give you?” he asked, almost toppling over in intoxication.
Stomping her foot, Bethany insisted that he didn’t love her, that he didn’t care about their babies and that he was obviously just glad to be rid of her.
In moments Jasper’s hands had clamped about Bethany’s arms, shoving her back a few steps as he towered over her, ignoring Bella’s call of warning from the balcony.
“Don’t you dare…don’t you fucking DARE tell me that I don’t love you, Bethany Black…” he snarled, eyes blazing, “Do you have any idea what I’ve sacrificed for you…what my WIFE has sacrificed?”
Shocked, Bethany started to form a reply, but Jasper would have none of it. Shaking her, he forced her back another step with the sudden grace and precision of a lion manoeuvring its prey, all signs of intoxication gone.
“I could have killed you, little girl…I could have dragged you by the hair to the doctors and made them rid you of the fucking abominations inside you…I could have cut them out of you myself…” he hissed, “you’re alive right now because I fucking allowed it…don’t you EVER presume to tell me…
“Bethany, I think it’s time you and Mr Nick retired,” Bella interrupted, sashaying gracefully past Jasper and facing her sister with a frozen smile, “All this excitement isn’t good for your condition…”
Pouting and shaking her head at Bella, her eyes filling with tears, Bethany backed away from them both, her lip quivering.
“I just want you to love me, Daddy,” she whined at Jasper before turning and running from the Night Garden, leaving Nick behind at the bar as she disappeared out the front door.
Jasper had near-collapsed the moment that Bethany had retreated, Dorian sweeping in to catch him and help Bella move him to a nearby chair. Features creasing in concern, Bella asked Dorian to watch her husband as she checked after Bethany and had Violet fetch him some water, her cool hand brushing back Jasper’s hair as he blinked blearily at her in confusion.
“You know you drink too much,” Dorian told him, holding Jasper up as he almost toppled forward, “For someone so classy you’re a mess sometimes.”
“Illusion…” Jasper murmured, shaking his head, “…is everything.”
“Uh huh. So how about we get out of here and go on a trip somewhere?” Dorian suggested, “You and me.”
Blinking, Jasper eyed his friend and asked where he wanted to go, chuckling drunkenly when Bond suggested Vegas.
“Always…Vegas,” he murmured, bringing a hand to his face, “Why is it always Vegas?”
Dorian reminded Jasper that he had once promised to show him the roller-coasters there and Jasper nodded, waving a hand at him.
“Sure, Mr Bond…I’ll take you…to Vegas.”
“Great, let’s go…” Dorian declared, dragging Jasper to his feet as Bella returned with some water.
“Go where?” she asked, taking her husband’s chin in her hand and trying to make him drink.
“We’re going to…Vegas,” he told her, hiccupping and taking a dutiful sip. Gazing at him for a moment, Bella offered a tight smile.
“Is that so?” she asked, “And when is this happening?”
“Now, actually,” Dorian responded, “We were just about to call a cab.”
Bella’s smile widened further, her eyes becoming icy cold as she turned to Dorian.
“My husband is not going anywhere tonight but home to sleep this off”
“You know, I don’t like your attitude,” Dorian replied, shaking his head. Jasper sniggered and almost fell over, Bella’s smile faded completely as she steadied him.
“I’m not interested in what you do and don’t like Mr Bond,” she told him sharply, “If my husband wants to go to Vegas or to Hell and back with you then that’s his choice, but right now he is in no state to travel, so you’ll have to wait.”
“Morning!” Jasper declared, punching Dorian in the arm, “We’ll go in the morning! Bella…go buy tickets!”
“Darling…” his wife began, “Don’t you think you should…”
“Go to Vegas,” Jasper countered, his voice rising slightly, “And away from Bethany.”
Sighing, Bella closed her eyes, finally nodding and telling Jasper that if he insisted on going with Dorian then she would be sending Violet to accompany them and to make sure that ‘nothing untoward’ happened. Protests from both men were silenced by a raised hand, the Queen of the Underground having clearly spoken. Releasing Jasper, who crumpled once again into his seat, Bella pulled Dorian aside, her expression cold and stern.
“Go home, Mr Bond,” she ordered him, “One of our cars will be by in the morning to take you to the airport…and Dorian…” Bella added as the young man turned to leave, “Be sure to protect yourself…bad things tend to happen in Vegas with Jasper, and Violet is not there for YOUR defence, should something go wrong.” Frowning but taking the hint, Dorian nodded, throwing a glance at Jasper as he left. Turning to her husband, who seemed to have passed out in his chair, Bella watched him sadly for a moment before calling for Violet and going to make arrangements.
It was Amaranth who finally approached the unconscious playboy, tentatively brushing his hair back and pressing a cool hand against his face.
“I’m not talking to you, go away,” Jasper murmured, his eyes still closed. Shaking her head, Amaranth told him that Bella had asked her to keep an eye on him until she returned, and that was what she planned to do.
“Like you promised Belladonna?” Jasper countered, his eyes snapping open to glare at her. Bowing her head, Amaranth could only nod.
“How could you do this to me?” the young man insisted, hurt filling his features, “All this time, you lied to me…” “She was my friend, Jasper…and she loved you more than life. She begged me to look after you and that’s what I’ve done…”
“You call this looking after me? Lying to me and letting her…letting her kill me?”
Amaranth’s wide eyes filled with tears as she shook her head, insisting that he was wrong, that “B would never, ever hurt you…”
“B? What, you’re on nickname basis now? What the fuck is she doing then, if not trying to ruin my fucking life..?”
Biting her lip, Amaranth met Jasper’s gaze.
“Saving you,” she whispered.
Jasper stared at her, his forehead creased in perplexion as a heaving sigh fell from his lips. After a moment he swallowed hard and spoke again.
“Then I need you to do something for me,” he murmured, “If you want to prove your loyalty to me…and this isn’t a request.”
Sniffling, Amaranth stared at Jasper, waiting for him to go on.
“Bethany’s children,” he said flatly, “They’re to be removed from her when they’re born. It’s already been arranged with Dunstan and Bella. You’re going to accompany him to the airport and take one of them off his hands. You’re going to make it disappear.”
With wide eyes Amaranth shook her head, lips parting to offer a protest that never came. Jasper reached out to place his hands on her shoulders, fingers curling tightly around them.
“There is no choice here Amaranth, if you want to redeem yourself then you do this,” he told her, rolling his eyes when her tears spilled over, “You promised to look after me. Well, this is what I need.”
“But…I don’t…” Amaranth stammered, “Bethany’s to know nothing of them?”
“Nothing, none of us will know a damn thing. Dunstan has people waiting in a destination Bella and I aren’t privy to, I suggest you secure yourself the same…it’s IMPORTANT Amaranth,” he added, tightening his grip, “Do you understand?”
The distraught woman shook her head.
“You’re asking me to take away your children, of course I don’t understand,” she whispered, “Why? You never saw Bethany until she was grown, you never see Julian now, you all but got rid of Red to avoid him…and now this…why…why don’t you want your babies, Jasper? Don’t you love them?”
Jasper shook his head, telling her that she spoke of things that she didn’t understand. Taking his face in her hands, Amaranth insisted that he explain it to her.
“Make me understand,” she demanded, “You make me understand Jasper Black or I will not do a damn thing to help you.”
Staring at her, Jasper’s face fell, his breath catching.
“I can’t,” he whispered.
“Can’t what?” Amaranth pressed, “Can’t be a father? Is that what you think?” “It’s what I KNOW,” those sharp blue eyes fixed on her, misting over, “I’ll hurt them.” “No, I don’t believe that,” Amaranth tightened her grip on him, “You’re a good man, I know you are…you would never…” “Impregnate my own daughter, like my father did?” Jasper laughed bitterly, “Look at what I’ve done, Amaranth…look at what kind of father I am…if I can do that to Bethany…”
“That’s not the same,” she insisted, “I know what she did to you, that wasn’t your fault…and you would never hurt your babies.” “Wouldn’t I? How do you know what I’m capable of? I’m a Black, do you even know what that means? Do you know what it meant to my father?”
“Family is ALL, Amaranth…what the fuck do you think that is?” “I don’t believe you, Jasper, you’re not your father.” “But I COULD be,” pulling back, Jasper stared at the woman before him, fingers digging into her shoulders, “Don’t you understand that I could be? And how would I know, until it was done…and what then?”
Gritting her teeth, Amaranth glared at Jasper and declared that she would never let him.
“You listen to me, it would never happen. There would be a bullet in your head before your came close,” she told him. Biting his lip, Jasper’s hands suddenly rose to twist in Amaranth’s hair sharply.
“Promise me,” he stammered, “You fucking promise me…”
Pressing her head against his, Amaranth fixed her gaze on Jasper’s.
“I promise you,” she said, “I will pull the damn trigger myself.”
When Jasper burst into tears, Amaranth wrapped her arms around him, holding him as he cried and rocking him back and forth like a child, crooning words of comfort until he passed out.
Twelve hours later, Jasper was on a plane to Vegas with Dorian Bond. Not long afterwards, Bethany Black was discovered by a gardener laying unconscious in the bushes outside the Black Family manor, paramedics stating that she seemed to have fallen while climbing through Jasper’s second storey bedroom window.
Half an hour after being admitted to hospital – before any of her family arrived – Bethany’s twins were declared stillborn.
~October ASYLUM 2013~
News of the death of their children left both father and daughter utterly distraught, Jasper rushing back from Vegas and to Bethany’s bedside the moment that he received Bella’s call. Insisting on staying by her, Jasper passed the time sharing bourbon, tears and valium with Bethany, clutching her hand while she slept and periodically passing out face-planted in her lap. The Princess of the Underground was mostly uninjured by her fall, at least physically…though she had succumbed to a deep melancholy that seemed to age her overnight, her wide haunted eyes staring blankly at all and any who tried to communicate with her. She spoke only to Jasper, in hushed and weary tones, about things that no one else could hear and neither he nor Bethany would share.
Four days after Bethany’s wedding night, the tiny bodies of Virginia Elizabeth and Silas Dominic Black were put in the ground. Neither Jasper nor Bethany attended the funeral, the latter not well enough and the former refusing to leave her in the hospital alone. Dorian Bond was placed on suicide watch outside their room, dutifully guarding both father and daughter as the Family conducted the funeral ceremony and burial service.
As All Hallow’s Eve drew closer the members of the Black Family called their nearest and dearest to them, inviting all to a controversial Halloween gathering in an attempt to alleviate the cloud of sorrow that had fallen over the entire household. May Bea Sunshine accused the Black’s of being insensitive and uncaring of their loss, drumming up sympathy for the ‘poor dead children…who were most likely better off that way.’ A visit to her offices by Jett Black and the Family lawyers saw her retracting her comments.
When Bethany was released from hospital Jasper appointed himself her personal shadow, following her everywhere and acquiescing to every whim and demand. At any other time, the heiress of the Black Family might have considered his tireless devotion a personal win, but now she barely noticed that he was there. Finally, feeling utterly shattered and helpless, unable to bear Bethany’s distant indifference and Bella’s smothering concern for his mental state, Jasper left the Underground and headed to Oakleaf, leaving word that he would be back for the Halloween gathering that night. Upon arrival at the retreat, he demanded all and any files pertaining to his incarceration at Braidleigh Manor and, armed with two bottles of bourbon and a bottle of Xanax, he locked himself in a private room and began to read.
The receptionist at Oakleaf had been adamant that she would only speak to Bella Jade Black, drawing the Queen of the Underground away from the Halloween gathering and into her private quarters. Her husband had been discovered asleep amongst the files he’d been reading at Oakleaf only hours earlier, she said, and had staggered out of the facility and driven away before they could get a doctor to check his condition properly.
“He looked worse for wear, though he was mostly lucid,” the woman told Bella, “I was going to call to be sure he’d made it home safely…but as I was cleaning up the room I found them. He’d consumed two whole bottles of bourbon…and, pardon me Mrs Black, but we discovered an empty bottle of Xanax and a handful of Triazolam pills strewn across the floor…I’m a bit worried that he may have taken…”
Bella heard no more of the receptionist’s words, she’d already dropped the phone and was shouting for Violet.
“Find my husband, now!”
Back within the Underground, Jasper was sitting and chatting with Ms Mirror, watching Dorian try to drunkenly coax the maudlin Bethany into an argument about some inane topic or another. Amaranth sat close by holding Harvey, frowning as she watched the young billionaire’s lashes fluttering, his head lolling as he tried to focus on Asinoe’s words.
“Are you already drunk, dear one?” she called to him, smirking as Jasper threw her a wink and waved her concerns away with his hand. For a moment, at least, for all at once Asinoe was shrieking and calling to her, bellowing for Amaranth to ‘get his pills, now!’ as Jasper began to convulse and shudder uncontrollably.
Crumpling in his chair, Jasper stared at Asinoe, eyes wide as he reached out for her. For the briefest moment his eyes sparked with something intensely focused, lips curling as if he would offer some kind of sneering reprimand…and then another wave of convulsions sent him reeling forwards, almost falling headfirst into Asinoe’s lap. Bethany and Dorian both turned to stare as Amaranth struggled past them, clutching a bottle of Jasper’s prescription medication and a glass of water.
“Here, dearest, take a pill…” Amaranth’s words trailed off as Jasper lurched at her, a pale hand snatching out to take the bottle from her, tipping it into his mouth and swallowing before his shocked companions could do anything to stop him. Errant pills scattered like marbles across the floor, clattering loudly and crunching underfoot as he tried to take a step, then another, the third seeing him topple to one side and straight into Dorian’s waiting arms. The young man caught him clumsily, calling for Asinoe and Amaranth to assist.
“Daddy!” Bethany called, shaking off Jack Lad as he tried to prevent her from getting in the way, “What’s going on?”
Dragging the semi-conscious Jasper into the Night Garden, they deposited him onto the daybed just as Bella burst in, pushing them all away as she rushed to her husband’s side.
“Jasper Black, what have you done?” she demanded, her cool hand moving to brush his hair back from his clammy forehead, “Jasper!”
Struggling to maintain consciousness, Jasper moaned, a hand moving to his coat pocket. Biting her lip, Bella dug into it, drawing out an empty Triazolam bottle.
“Did you take ALL of this?” she asked him, cursing when he nodded and whispered an apology, “God damnit. Okay, darling, I’m going to get the car…we’re taking you to the hospital right now…” Turning, Bella was surprised to feel Dorian’s hand on her arm.
“He needs an ambulance,” the young man insisted. Bella shook her head.
“He’s taken too much, he’ll be dead before they get here…stay with him…” pulling out of Dorian’s grasp, she was off and running again.
Moaning, Jasper called out for his wife, bleary eyes staring at nothing. Jack Lad approached, handing Amaranth a wet cloth and gesturing to Jasper. Snatching it from her hand, Dorian pressed it against his friend’s forehead, his face crumpling as Jasper began to shiver and moan, his hand reaching out and he called for Bella again. Amaranth entwined her fingers with his, whispering that his wife would be right back as she tucked Harvey under his arm.
“Hey…” Dorian whispered in his ear, “I asked you to stay…” Dutifully, Bond mopped the man’s brow, lovingly brushing his hair back and pressing his forehead against Jasper’s, “You’re the most beautiful amazing human being I’ve ever known, Black, unforgettable…” he said softly, kissing Jasper’s face and laying his head on the pillow beside him. Jasper merely moaned in response, vacant eyes staring at Dorian.
All around the Night Garden the Groupies and fans sat, holding silent vigil as they awaited Bella’s return. Bethany stormed in and demanded to know what was going on, shoving past Asinoe and Amaranth to climb onto the bed and grab hold of her father’s lapels.
“Daddy, you’re always drunk…get up this instant!”
“He’s dying Bethany,” Amaranth choked, bringing a hand to her lips.
“What? That’s stupid. I forbid you to die!” Bethany shouted at her father, climbing onto his lap and shaking him. Jasper moaned, his eyes fluttering as he stared up at her and tried to mouth an apology. Bethany shook her head, her face falling.
“Don’t you leave me here without you…” she whispered as Amaranth pulled her away, trying to reason with her. Bethany began to shout at her, arguments and protests dying on her lips as Jasper cried out again, his eyes sliding closed as his body arched.
“If you have anything to say to your father, say it now…” Dorian told her sharply, and Bethany stared at him before letting her eyes fall back onto Jasper.
“Daddy, I love you…” she called, but Jasper was already unconscious. Ushering most of the spectators away, Amaranth escorted Bethany from the Night Garden – only Dorian, Asinoe and a handful of others remaining by the time Bella returned. With their help, she deposited him in the front seat of her Aston Martin, shouting at him to stay awake as she threw herself behind the wheel and screeched off, careening towards the highway.
Jasper stopped breathing two minutes from the hospital. Paramedics were already awaiting them in the parking lot, dragging him out of the passenger seat and onto the cold asphalt, fending off a distraught Bella as they tried to resuscitate him.
Despite their best efforts, Jasper Baelian Black was pronounced dead five minutes later. He still had Harvey clutched in his hand.
~November (Part One)~
Just as quickly as word of Jasper’s death spread like wildfire through the community, whispers began on the rumour mill about a hoax, a cover-up – all manner of conspiracy theories about the events leading up to and after that fateful All Hallow’s Eve night. The Black Family Inc remained tight-lipped about it all for the first three days, something of a cone of silence falling over them as they saw to and dealt with matters in their own inimitable fashion. But by the fourth day the news was out and none could stop its viral spread.
Jasper Black was alive.
Details of course were sketchy, though sources claimed that it had been through Bella’s tireless devotion and coercion and blackmail of hospital staff that the ‘miracle’ had come about. “She just refused to accept his death, she had paramedics working on him for a good half hour after his arrival at the hospital…eventually his body must have figured out that she wasn’t going to let him go in peace, Jasper had no choice but to fight on” wrote May Bea Sunshine in a late edition online blog that turned out to be the last thing she would ever write. Twenty four hours after the announcement of Jasper’s ‘return from the grave,’ the media world was rocked by a tragedy of its own.
Discovered by a colleague in the wee hours of morning, May appeared to have been brutally murdered – her apartment torn apart and her body horrifically mangled – the apparent victim of a violent sexual assault.
Commiserations came from all over the country – from political figures to entertainment royalty – the most surprising (and biting) of these belonging to the Black Family, who offered their condolences on the loss of “an astute and obviously obsessively hard-working treasure of Australian journalism.” The underlying cynicism of the statement was not lost on royal watchers or May Bea’s colleagues, who naturally began to suspect that perhaps the family knew more about May’s demise and who was responsible than they were letting on. Cursory investigations into the possibility of Black Family involvement in the tragedy of course lead nowhere, Jasper’s hospitalization providing the perfect alibi for each and every relative, friend and colleague (though some argued that his attempted suicide also provided something of a concrete motive). Regardless, as was usually the case with law enforcement and those ‘in the money’, the problem disappeared long before it was considered a possible reality.
Shockingly and despite the situation, the family elected to continue hosting Underground events and festivities while its King convalesced in hospital, Bella Jade claiming that it was what Jasper would have wanted and it was a good opportunity for the rest of the Family to “stretch their creative muscles and force themselves to take a more active part in the world that my husband created.”
Though many fans and frenemies were dubious about the ability of the Underground crew to steer their ship to port without their (however inebriated and volatile) Captain, Groupies and naysayers nonetheless flocked to the adult playground to see just how Bella and her companions would cope on their own.
The first Underground gathering without Jasper Black was set to be a rather depressing affair – even those who claimed to despise the controversial playboy could not help but acknowledge the intoxicatingly vivacious and addictive nature of his personality, particularly when at play on the stage. The famed ‘Family Walk’ procession at the beginning of the festivities was almost dreaded now…for who wanted to see an almost-widow forced to keep up appearances by dragging her wayward flock through the motions in honour of a suicidal spouse?
Yet walk they did, with Bella Jade Black at the helm…resplendent in black lace and diamonds. Shoulders squared, that ‘ice maiden’ gleam in her eyes, the Queen of the Underground raised her chin and strode through the room in an impressive display of leadership. At least, that’s what it would have been, to those not quick enough to catch the tremble of her lips and the flicker of sorrow in her eyes. But even the most idiotic and self-absorbed of onlookers could not miss the spectacle that came in her wake…a sight that shook every Underground attendant to the core.
Grigori Alec Katorga followed close behind the Queen, his expression solemn but his eyes glimmering with an untold emotion…and on his arm, lace gloved fingers curled around it delicately, was the most frightening creature to tread the Underground’s boards. She had Jasper’s face, his lips, his cheekbones and the delicate curve of his jaw…but her eyes were dead, reptilian…devoid of colour and life and framed in long lashes that brushed her brow bones when she blinked – which was hardly ever. Dark hair, drawn from her face by ostentatious ebony ribbons, spilled over her shoulders and down her back and she was clad neck to ankle in black velvet, painfully high spiked heels seeing her tower a good two inches above her companion. Her mouth pursed in an almost childlike pout as she followed Bella step for step, keeping in perfect time with her footfalls, those grey eyes fixed on the back of her head in obvious contempt.
When the Queen of the Underground took the stage, Grigori drew his partner to one side, bowing and kissing her gloved hand before gesturing to the chair he had pulled out especially for her. The woman took it graciously, offering Katorga a catlike smile as she perched delicately on her seat, lace-clad fingers curling about the champagne glass that sat waiting for her upon the table. And then she watched, and waited.
She was introduced to the room for all intents and purposes as the Family’s ‘cousin’ Belladonna Black, a visiting relative that had come to town to support them in their time of need…but none within that room had any illusions about who and what she was. For most of the evening, every soul in the Underground was united with one purpose…to avoid her and her penetrating stare at all costs.
There were of course the occasional casualties. Asinoe Mirror made the mistake of speaking to the stoic creature during an interval, opting for the head-on approach.
“Belladonna, it’s a pleasure to meet you…I like your shoes, are they Louis Vuitton?” Ms Mirror queried, falling into silence as the woman stared up at her with a bored expression for a long moment before excusing herself and walking away. Grigori tried his best not to laugh, shaking his head at Asinoe, who shot him a glare and planted herself on the seat beside him, taking up Belladonna’s champagne and downing it in one gulp.
“Shut up,” she muttered at Katorga.
Jack Lad encountered Belladonna in the Night Garden, his sleazy sneer greeting her as she sashayed past him.
“Belladonna Black,” he crooned, “Long time no see.”
Tilting her head, the woman eyed Jack, lips curving into a lascivious smile as she closed the gap between them; a movement that seemed to make him suddenly uncomfortable, for he subtly retreated a step as she advanced.
“Jack Lad…” she replied, her tongue caressing each letter of his name, “Still chasing the boy, are we?”
A scowl painted Jack’s features for the briefest moment before he shrugged.
“Maybe I’m here to see you…” he said, which made her giggle.
“Oh I very much doubt that, Jack…we both know where your real taste lies…” Off she glided, heading towards the stage with a small object clutched in her hand, those dead eyes fixed upon the mostly-nude figure that danced elegantly upon it.
Bella Jade swung her lace fans like blades as she moved to the music, ignoring Belladonna as she came to stand at arm’s length from the stage, staring up at the Queen with an amused smirk. Ever-so-slowly, she leant forward and placed the item she carried at Bella’s feet, fingers moving to pluck up a discarded glove in the same movement. Turning on her heel, Belladonna stalked to the Groupies table, raising the glove high before their eyes before hurling it at their feet in disgust and returning to Grigori’s side by the bar. Bella, meanwhile, had lowered her gaze to the offering…the tiniest flicker of pain washing over her face when she recognised it as one of Jasper’s toy cars. Gritting her teeth, the Queen of the Underground kicked the car from the stage, sending it skittering across the floor and beneath Jack Lad’s table before finishing her performance and stalking off the stage to her private quarters.
Stepping onto the stage in Bella’s wake, Belladonna eyed the gathering with suddenly intense scrutiny, those colourless eyes drinking them in and, clearly finding them wanting, spitting them out again moments later.