(Note to Dichotomy Readers: Nightfall is a side project we've been working on for a while now. We are not abandoning Dichotomy. Dichotomy continues to be our first priority, but working on Nightfall gives us a needed break from time to time when Dichotomy is melting our brains (by "our" I mean "Rebecca's"). It also won't be a multi-book epic, it's just a sort of novella. There is also a departure from Dichotomy in that this is a femmeslash story taking place in the 1800s on good ol' planet Earth. Also? Vampires.)
Rebecca and Cassiopeia
Fading Madness Productions
Part One: Strange as the Thing I Know Not
I knew the moment I saw her.
Don't misunderstand. Although I'm an utter and hopeless romantic, I don't believe in love at first sight. After all, there's nothing romantic about thinking that seeing someone makes you love them. That's lust; and lust, while delightful in its own way, isn't on the same par with true, ever after love. So I didn't know the moment I saw Adrien that I was going to love her. I knew, as she stood in the crowd and watched me take an elaborate bow, that she was . . . different. That I wanted to, and needed to, know her. But I wasn't in love with her.
That's just ridiculous.
The performance had been excellent (I don't believe in false modesty, either). Chicago's theatre district was growing fast in 1893. I was 24 years old, hourglass shaped, red-haired, and wearing the popular dress of the day, complete with cleavage and corset. I was allowed the cleavage because I had the borderline-scandalous job of actress (and because I have quite a good bit of it). The part I was playing that night could have been written for me: Beatrice in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. I always receive accolades for playing the Bard's more temperamental women; my father would have said this is due to the fact that I have to do very little in the way of acting. He would have a point. When I stepped forward to take my curtsy, the audience rose as one to applaud. At that time, before my entire life took on the shape of Adrien, standing before an audience as they gave in to their delight at a performance was the best feeling in the world. I glowed with the feeling of it.
It is not easy to see the audience from a stage. Of course it's harder now, with modern lightning techniques, but even when I was a young human woman, I had to challenge myself to see into the darkened theatre at the smiling patrons. Only this night I felt my gaze drawn unerringly to the one person wasn't clapping, but who instead studied the stage with dark, thoughtful eyes.
Studied me, and my body tightened in response as the faint shiver of otherness flowed through me.
She stood in the sixth row, on the end, largely hidden in shadow. At first I didn't know she was a woman; in an age of full skirts and ruffled sleeves, she wore a sleekly fitted men's suit. It nipped in at the waist, clearly outlining a natural slender curve that so many men of the age tried to fake. Men have never attracted me, nor have suits or women who dressed like men; but this woman was perfect. Tall. Slim. Fair. Dark eyes, high cheekbones, sleek black hair falling in gentle curls around her face. She wore a suit, but didn't appear in any way masculine. I winked at her, gave another small curtsy. One slim eyebrow rose and I blew a kiss as the curtain closed.
Then I ran, all dignity forgotten.
Luckily, I've never been terribly concerned with dignity.
Anyone who lived in the last decade of the 19th century knows that clothes were no simple matter. So, just know that when I say it took me five minutes to rush out the backdoor in my own dress, red curls trailing along my bare shoulders, it's something impressive. I knew she'd be waiting. I could still sense it, her otherness, which I hadn't felt since I'd left my childhood in New Orleans' French Quarter.
"You didn't like the performance?" I asked as I approached her. She was leaning against the red brick wall, and I saw for the first time that her eyes were gold, and assessing. I lifted my hands to pin some of my recalcitrant curls from my face. I hadn't taken the time for one of the elaborate upsweeps I'm so fond of.
She studied me, and I shivered while I smiled in return. It might be just my memories taking on my current feelings, but I recall the chest of my dress seeming to tighten as my body rose to her. "No," she said, and I knew I'd surprised her. I just wasn't sure how. "It was excellent." Her voice sounded low-pitched, and colored at the edges with an accent I couldn't place: a soft, sexy burr.
"You didn't seem very impressed."
"Not much impresses me." She stepped away from the wall. The October air held a bite of cold in it, but she wore no coat or cloak over her men's suit. "But the performance was most enjoyable."
I smiled at her, and her mouth barely turned at the ends in response. Adrien has a lovely mouth. "What did you like about it?"
I wondered what she was. The night clung to her, and I sensed the darkness slipping around and inside her. I wondered why the entire audience hadn't been enraptured by her presence; I didn't know then that not all mortals could sense the night's creatures as I could. "Would you like to walk me home?" It was a bold question, not appropriate in any way. Dangerous, even if I hadn't known the night flowed in her blood somehow. I've never been a coward. I've also never been so drawn to anyone as I was to Adrien, that first night. As I am to Adrien now. "Or I could walk you home."
She smiled, and it would have looked condescending on anyone else. She just looked pleased. "I doubt you could walk me home, but I'll accompany you." She stepped out of the little back alley that the back of the theatre fed into and turned to look at me. One thin hand rose as she motioned to the Chicago streets. "Shall we?"
I beamed at her and hurried to her side. I lived only a couple of miles away, and despite the dangers of being a woman alone, I rarely cared to waste money on a carriage. Especially in autumn weather, which is a personal favorite of mine. "Where are you from?" I asked, ever curious. "Your voice is beautiful." I was jealous; my voice, though low enough to serve me well on stage, still clung to the vestiges of my Cajun upbringing. Most people though I was French when they first met me. Her's sounded husky, feminine in a rich way. "Ireland?"
I pouted. "It was worth a try." She didn't sound English to me, though. Scottish, perhaps?
She chuckled. I was in the lead, taking her toward my small apartment, but she stayed easily in step beside me, never faltering. "Rather, I have a house in Manchester." She looked thoughtful a moment, not at all stoic as I would have expected. "I have one in Italy and Scotland as well. I've also spent a great deal of time in Greece, so I might buy one there."
Money. I wouldn't mind some of that. I perked up at the mention of Scotland. "Scotland? You live here? I would very much like to see Scotland!" This is what is known in modern times as a "serious understatement." One of the reasons I always walked home was because I was desperate to see Scotland. Hidden deep in my second drawer, the one where I kept boring spare handkerchiefs and the like, was a small wooden box filled with bills that would one day pay my way to Scotland, when there were enough of them.
"I travel a lot," she said unnecessarily.
"I can tell," I answered with a grin. I'm good at grinning and smiles. All those warm fuzzy expressions come naturally to me. When she smiled back, it looked as if such an expression felt unfamiliar, but still faintly warm. We walked in comfortable silence for a couple of minutes. The darkness that clung to her shifted around us, adding another bite to the delicious autumn night air.
"You look like you belong there."
"There?" I asked, confused at the sudden return of conversation.
"In Scotland." She stopped and so did I, so that she could study me. I'm neither tall nor short, and she was only a couple of inches taller than me. I liked that. "Red hair. Fair skin."
"My family's Scottish," I said. "Well, historically. We've been in New Orleans for three generations, now. But we were Scottish before then." I'm good at sneaking interesting personal information into a conversation if I want to. I just don't usually want to. People aren't trustworthy.
I already knew Adrien wasn't a mere "person."
We chatted then, about the play. She told me about Shakespeare (speaking in the first person, but I was used to such theatrics in my line of work), and I explained about blackmailing the owner into giving me the part of Beatrice. He'd actually wanted me to play the insipid Hero, which earned a soft chuckle from my companion that warmed me to the toes and curled happily in my belly. We both knew I wasn't a woman born for the role of Hero. We were walking slowly, and only a mile had passed when I finally asked, "May I ask your name?"
"Adrien." She didn't offer a last name. I didn't ask for one.
Adrien took a moment to consider that, then blessed me with another of those small, toothless smiles. "Thank you."
"I'd tell you my name," I said, "but since it was on the marquee, I guess that's not much of a mystery." Which was fine. I've never been very good at being a woman of mystery, even after I joined Adrien. She does it instinctively; I'm instinctively a bubbly airhead, as people might say today. Adapting my language to the times is easy, as long as it's not something utterly asinine, such as randomly calling things "gay" or referring to a movie as "da bomb." I have my standards.
"No, not a mystery," she agreed. "But certainly unusual. I've never met anyone named 'Draeca' before."
I grinned at her, perfectly comfortable with flashing my teeth when the time called for it. I have excellent teeth. "Draeca is my middle name. My full name is Rosalind Draeca Galbraith. My parents were fascinated with Middle and Old English."
"I would think you'd go by Rosalind, being a Shakespearian actress."
I warmed even more to her when she knew that Rosalind was a Shakespearian name. I had been raised on the plays, like bedtime stories. Where others heard the Brothers Grimm, I had been raised on British history, Chaucer, Beawulf in the original Old English, and of course Shakespeare. "I haven't gone by my middle name since I left New Orleans."
I don't think my tone gave anything away. Despite the horror of the events that had led to my fleeing the beautiful city of my birth, I'm not the sort of person to wallow in self-pity. I had started a new life as a successful actress in a city that, though it lacked the mysticism and warmth of Louisiana, had gained some of my affection nonetheless. It lacked the artifice of New York City, or the newness of the West. It would do until I saved enough to move to Edinburgh. Yet Adrien stopped, and studied me thoutgtfully. Despite my open nature, I actually don't appreciate being studied with such alarming interest; but I allowed Adrien. She felt ancient, like the cities I longed to see and the plays I loved to read. I wondered if she tasted like New Orleans. "I see," she said, then turned to look up into the canopy of the tree we had come to a stop under.
"It's another mile or so to my house," I offered. "I hope you wore good shoes." I tended to hide sturdy men's boots under my long skirts; there had to be a use for all those layers.
"I'll be fine." She started walking again, unerringly, as if she knew where I lived, though I know she didn't. "How old are you?"
I took a few long strides, the sort my grandmother detested for being unladylike, to catch up. "I thought you were never supposed to ask a lady that question," I teased, just to see how this gorgeous, mysterious, dark woman would react to teasing. One dark eyebrow rose, the edge of her mouth curving upward again. I laughed, pleased that she hadn't taken offense, and answered, "I'm 24."
"If you were truly offended," she said, her low voice rich with humor, "you wouldn't have answered." She was right. If I'd really been offended she would have known it. I'm also not good at hiding my emotions when I'm angry or piqued. Her voice softened, and I had to strain to hear it over the sounds of our feet clacking along the wooden sidewalk. "Twenty-four. So young."
"Young?" I stepped a bit closer to her and slipped my arm through hers, fully prepared to make a comment I already knew wasn't true. "How old are you Miss Adrien? You can't be that much older than me."
She didn't miss a step, and her voice didn't change as she answered, "Five-hundred and twenty-three."
I didn't correct her by pointing out that numbers do not, in fact, have the word "and" in them. Somehow, correcting the speech of someone five centuries old seemed a bit pretentious. "That is pretty old," I agreed, not rising to the bait. I'd known she wasn't human. I assumed, incorrectly, that most people would have sensed the dark and age around her. "But you don't look it." She looked, perhaps, a bit older than I was; her face unblemished, no hints of lines around the golden eyes. The incredible inky blackness of her hair and the inhuman gold in her eyes made her seem immortal, not old. "How can you be so old?"
I rolled my eyes. Voodoo? No, I thought not. I'd known my share of practitioners of the Arts when I was a child, but none of them were gorgeous and five centuries old. They tended to be bent old women in mounds of mismatched cloth, who moved with a grace that belied their age, but who knew they weren't long for this world (a bit stereotypical perhaps, but the only practitioner I knew was a bizarrely eccentric grandmere who lived next door to my family when I was growing up). "Magic," I said, then shrugged it off. I decided I liked that she didn't tell me. Having no mystery myself, I appreciate it in others. Reminded me, once again, of home and warmth and age. "I see. You're very mysterious, you know."
"Am I?" Amused again, and I warmed to it with no small amount of pride. It isn't everyone who can make a stoic ancient smile. "I didn't know."
I flashed her another from my arsenal of genuine smiles, and earned yet another in return. I was quickly losing count of her smiles, and I knew she felt surprise at that. "You are." I watched her face as we walked, then nodded. "And I think you do know. You can't tell people you're over five hundred years old and not be mysterious."
"Mysterious," she told me, drawing to a stop and turning to face me, "is in my nature."
"Then you do know that you are-" I began, leaning in toward her. I'm not a tramp or a trollop; in fact, the sum total of my romantic dalliances is two, but I loved the way she felt. If she had invited me back to her house, any of them, at that moment, I would have followed to her bed and lain bare before her. Sacrifice is something you learn about as a child of New Orleans as well.
However, I didn't have the opportunity to see if she was planning to accost the pretty mortal, because in that moment, we were attacked.