The Ivory Rose
"Sono da sempre (Just like the wind)..."
Akin the touch of a lover, a mother, the heavenly host, a wind caressed his marble cheek, rippled through his hair, the color of moonbeams. It sighed over his throat in a most pleasurable motion. Scents followed its lead, spidering its path through the avenues of his sensations.
"Come il vento (I always been.)..." He offered up his attention to the breeze, streaming his own fingers over the trail as he drew a shuddering breath. Beautiful white pennants fluttered in that invisible hand, like scattered snowflakes under a winter's wrath. But this wind was no winter's wrath...rather it was the greetings of life.
"Transcinato verso l'alto in un cielo senza fine (Drifting up high in a sky that never ends.)..." Like liquid gold, his eyes lifted up to gaze into the clouds. Those ivory stratus also swayed, forming and reforming, so quickly changing...like a mortal's mind.
"Ce chi che mi giudica ogni giorno della mia vita? Beh, tutto guello che posso dare e il meglio di me (Is someone testing me everyday that I live? Well, the best in me is all I have to give.)..." Now those amber depths lowered to rest on the immaculately shaped rose in his hands. A rare pure white rose with a bouquet enough to send a man's mind into the throes of passion. Or remise...
Those eyes closed as he repeated the phrase, his heart in perfect unison to each note. Other sounds drifted in the air, of delight and tranquility. Though his eyelids severed his sensation to the physical sight of this world, he could repaint the image in his darkness with a sureness only paralleled by the white rose clasped in his hand.
Memories, fresh as waves on the beach, washed over his thoughts, into that silent blackness. His mother. His father. His heritage. His blood. His soul. His heart. In the seconds it takes to breathe, the entire scope of life flashed by.
But that was the past.
This was the present.
Another sigh, and Adrian Fahrenheit Tepes strode into his future.
The moment his pearly gloves pushed open the gold-rimmed wood doors, a cheer, nearly as loud as thunder, assaulted Adrian's ears. He was late, he knew. The bride usually came in last but Adrian found himself so caught up in staring at his mother's grave that he'd forgot the time. With a fluid motion and he tucked the flower in a chest pocket. His eyes, as liquid, crystal, and color of champagne, absorbed the crowd. Hundreds of multi-dressed individuals, seated on gold chairs, bid his entrance a greeting of gladness to the point that several rose to clap. He knew most of them, friends Richter and Annette Belmont, their twins, Marie and Alan, the village council, and many of the surrounding area's public.
Adrian flashed his most winning smile and received a few whistles for that. Rare it is that he flushes but at that glorious day and under such potent agreeable persecution he found his ears tinted a delicate pink. Up the petal-bedecked aisle he marched, well aware of two eyes, as green as deep ocean water, on him. To those, Adrian gazed up.
"Maria..." he murmured unintentionally in his customary cultured voice.
At the end of the corridor of white streamers and strewn flowers was she. A slender, proportioned body occupied the silken wedding gown flawlessly as pure gold hair was lifted in a crown of pearls and flowers. Each of his bride's luscious curves enhanced the dress's own beauty. Ribbons of silk and lace were wrapped around the bodice and the hem swept over violet carpet. The back was cross-stitched and the front's bosom comprised ruffles. Sleeves, ribonated with pearls, extended from her shoulders and up to her knuckles.
All in a word–beautiful.
His own garb, a stark black-and-white suit trimmed with gold and platinum was similar to Adrian's old outfits and he felt insufficient compared to this angel. Feeling another smile coming to his face, Adrian offered up a hand. Before his bride could receive it, however, one tiny hand snatched his and yanked it down. Collective gasps filled the wedding chamber. The priest looked positively scandalized and even his bride seemed annoyed. Startled, Adrian glanced mildly at his interrupter.
A young flower girl with caramel brown hair had his hand and was holding it to her chest. Immediately Adrian recognized her and grinned. With a movement as flawless as light on water, he knelt to her height. Voices continued to pervade the silence. He identified the sounds of little Marie's mother and father as they conversed worriedly. But he did not worry.
She gestured with a finger.
He leaned forward.
Curls dancing, the girl pecked him on the cheek and whispered, "Don't marry her. Marry me!"
From the sounds of shock, Adrian knew the proclamation had not reached his ears alone. It was a silly demand, of course, a eight year old asking to wed him but he found it flattering all the same. Adrian knew of his near-immortalized status and, though he did nothing to promote it, the populace of this village named him 'the golden warrior' or the 'the divine prince'. He'd preferred not to be idolized so but such was life.
But, then, saving the world from imminent destruction often brings such praise.
While the rest of the wedding guests and attendants fidgeted and muttered things of concern, he merely cleared his throat and announced, loud so all could hear, "My dear Marie, though fair you be, I am not the one for thee. Take heart, though, for I see love in your future as well." With that, he kissed the shiny hair and bid she return to her seat.
When Marie, crimson in happiness, bounced back into her seat near her parents, Richter and Annette, who both breathed a sigh of relief. Neither wanted the glorious day of their friends' to be ruined by their daughter's unpredictable nature. Richter, dressed uncomfortably in a black suit, mouthed a "Thank You".
Adrian's golden eyes gleamed and he nodded. He rose to his six-foot stature and took his bride's hand in his. She smiled. He smiled. For today was the day that both had waited for so long. It was a hard road, full of pain, suffering, self-doubt and now both could enjoy the fruits of their labor–love.
The priest, having gathered his decidedly-tarnished image like his gold robe, opened the bible and began the benediction. Had Adrian been his alterego Alucard, the half-human half-vampire, such a divine gesture would have had him on his knees in gruesome agony. But Alucard was dead. Adrian lived now, liberated of his cursed blood. Liberated of his cursed soul.
"Here we are gathered...(no, that's not right)...Gathered here we are...(hmm, still not right)...Ah, we are gathered here today to bless the union of this man and this woman in holy matrimony...(Ah, that's it)..."
As the skinny priest declared his befuddled consecration, Adrian gazed at his bride, Maria. A half-pleasant, half-painful constriction claimed his heart. He loved her so much. She was the light that shone in the darkness of his vampiric heritage, helped him sanctify his birthright as the son of the tyrant Dracula. More than difficult had been his struggle to understand his place in this world. And now he knew that place.
The golden warrior. The divine prince.
"Let us pray. Oh, our father that arth in heaven, haloed be thy name..."
As the hundreds of guests and the priest sank their heads in prayer, Adrian caught Maria's smiling eyes. He returned the smile. It was finally happening, they would finally be wed. Husband and wife. Their hearts beat as one.
Her love coursed through him like a spiced wine and he downed it gratefully. For years he'd denied himself emotions and love after the loss of his beloved mother. Into a madness of evil and despair he'd mired himself, giving birth to Alucard, prince of darkness. But with her and Richter's and Annette's help, Adrian had overcome to be named the immortal savior of the world.
From prince of darkness to prince of salvation. What a change a man can make!
"And, now, for the rings."
Alan, a fair-haired lad, promptly leapt up to present the gold wedding bands on a purple pillow. Adrian and Maria lifted up the rings and nodded their appreciation. He grinned and sat back down. With eyes solely for each other, both recited the marriage vows and placed a ring on the other's finger. The tension in the air was like a soft blanket–not at all threatening, just the anticipation of waiting for the match to spark flame.
With that portion of the wedding procedure done, Adrian straightened and waited for the next part. His thoughts were but absentminded, more on his love than on the ceremony. It was all formality, of course, and the Tepes found amusement in that. He'd rather a simple signing of paper but for Maria that wouldn't do. So, for her, this grandiose church had been prepared and half the village invited. Besides, the public wanted to see their 'sacred prince'. To that, Adrian couldn't help but sheepishly grin. He had no desire to be a role model but since the masses needed a hero to look up to, he assented.
The priest coughed uncomfortably over his next line. "If...any man...thinks these two should not be together...(oops, I forgot woman)...or woman...speak now or forever hold your peace." As if thinking none would dare oppose this ceremony, he hurriedly continued. But his next words died on his lips as a shadowy figure rose.
All eyes turned to the man.
The dark form did not cringe beneath the glares. Instead, he radiated a hatred so powerful it shattered the delicate beauty of the chapel. "Have you forgotten mother so soon, Alucard? Ah, but you would, for she was just a wrinkly old hag. And me? You murdered me as a child!"
Silence descended. Now the tension was a bow string about to break.
Adrian could not speak. He knew the voice! The realization lightninged down his form with sharp pain. Still, he struggled to bring life to words...but he was too late...for the man had marched out of the church and faded from view.
Long moments passed in which no one said anything. Maria watched with great concern at Adrian but the Tepes just stared ahead, unseeing. The dark memories that had retreated before his determination now reappeared with a vengeance.
Was it...him? HIM? Dear God...I feel so confused...
Coughing again, the priest muttered, "Maybe we should...ah, postpone, the wedding for a different date."
Some among the crowd agreed. If the couple were no longer up to continuing wasn't another day better? Others groaned in protest. Why let one ill-humored man ruin the celebration? Still others said nothing, either in too much shocked awe at the outburst or had some very multi-conflicted opinions.
"No," Adrian announced. His voice as sure as a steel dagger, he added, "I have waited too long and endured too much to delay at the whim of a upstart."
To this, they agreed verbally.
"Besides, I don't want to go through another ceremony wearing THIS again!" As Adrian hoped, that comment drew healthy laughter. The twins bounced up and down in their seats. Richter guffawed whole-heartedly while Annette chuckled. Maria cast the groom a mischievous smile. Even the priest seemed less ill-at-ease.
"Alright then. One last thing...(I hope I get this one right)...you may kiss the groom! Damn!" Now the priest looked utterly appalled
But Maria didn't mind. Flinging her arms around the golden prince, she planted a long passionate kiss on his lips. Adrian melted into the kiss after being taken aback briefly by the temerity. Cheers submerged the air. The awkwardness following the man's tactless remark faded.
Daises and grain greeted the couple at every step down the corridor as the women tossed petals and men threw rice. Like the joy that flooded them, it sailed into both blond manes, one of white gold and the other like the sun itself. Adrian and Maria held hands as they passed over the threshold of the chapel. Though familiarity of the voice still haunted his mind, he managed to thrust it aside.
As the crowds massed into coaches to take them to the reception, so, too, did the newly-wed pair load into a golden carriage lead by two white horses. Adrian bent over to kiss Maria and didn't notice the rose falling from his pocket.
Nor did he note the strange man reappearing momentarily, lift the flower in a hand and crush the petals. They fluttered to the ground like pieces of a shattered mirror...or heart.
Like the moonbeams his hair fluttered with the breeze. The orb of night cast a refreshing light and wind. Before Adrian had found that invisible touch pleasant. Once he would have welcomed it. But now it only brought him bitter pain.
The divine prince stood by the chamber window, arms rested on the sill, champagne eyes cast out to the sky. The day had been a blessed one, full of happiness and celebration, toasts to good health and fortune. Both he and Maria were exhausted by the time they'd managed to sneak away. Night graced them, as the new couple entered their room, in the manor at the center of town. Kissing and laughing, Adrian had carried her over the threshold, intent on making her, his.
That's when she promptly fell asleep.
Adrian grinned, half-turning to gaze at his sleeping beauty. Maria lay on the gold bedspread, angelic in her innocent snores. He didn't blame her for the bad timing. The whole wedding preparations would tire out anyone...even the fiery spirit of Maria.
If Richter ever found out he would never let me live it down...
Those thoughts, while amusing, still did not dispel the disturbing memories of the man with the malicious intent to ruin their happiness. Yes, the voice was definitely familiar. And yet, while he recognized it at the instant the man had spoken it seemed but a dream's passing comprehension and now it eluded him.
Adrian resumed his silent window side vigil. After having had settled his wife down on the bed, he had tore the old clothing off himself and donned a simple night robe. It was far more comfortable. Then, he had rested by his beloved and closed his eyes.
But rest would not come.
So, here he was, guarding the window pane, watching the stars spread beautiful illumination on the town and its lake. He could not sleep–not with knowing that inside his 'godly' exterior lay a dark and deadly secret.
Adrian crushed that thought from his mind. It was not technically a lie. He had not spoken any untruths. The Tepes merely hid something, denied the awful fact the light of words.
Dear God, please don't ever let Maria find out...I've hurt her enough...I love her so much...Don't let the dark truth ruin that...
Burying his face in two bare hands, Adrian melted beneath the darkness. Only the sounds of nighttime came to his ears, crickets chirping, wind whispering, waves lapping. But, then, a rustle of fabric...
He froze. Someone was behind him!
Adrian dodged the outstretched hands that threatened to snare him. When he spun to note his assailant, all the gold-haired man saw was a black-attired figure. It lunged at him again, and, a second time, Adrian evaded. Ducking steel, he kicked the figure senseless on the carpet.
The violence ended as soon as it started.
Breathing softly and flipping ivory-gold bangs aside, he dropped to a knee to examine the attacker. He could see nothing. The figure remained garbed in all black. Well, then, my friend, let take off your mask and discover your identity...
Carefully he drew away the dark hood and gazed into the face...Curls of flame hair, white skin, dark eyes, blood-red lips...Adrian gasped thinly. The Succubus!
"Ah, my beautiful Alucard, it's so good to see you! What? Not happy to see me? I'll change that!" Immediately, the demon woman clawed into his arms and dragged him over her. She pressed her lips to Adrian's with a kiss that is as intense as a icy bite.
Adrian struggled but found his body unresponsive and his nerves sluggish. It was then that he realized the Succubus must have poisoned her lips with some sort of sedative. Helpless as an infant, the divine prince sagged to the ground, partially over his assailant. Still, he fought, thinking horribly of what the demon woman might do to Maria.
Other shadowy forms crowded him now, two more, but he recognized only one. The chill of that figure on his left betrayed that one's personality–Death. The Succubus crawled, reluctantly, out from underneath him and rolled the Tepes on his back. She wrapped his arms and legs in barbed wire with the aid of Death. The third figure remained standing, watching impassively.
Even though remaining conscious was an effort, Adrian attempted to call out to him. If he was who Adrian thought him to be, perhaps the Tepes might find help. His voice soft as a breath, the divine prince whispered, "Trevor...please, stop this...help me...please..." Then his struggles aided him none.
Beneath the darkness he heard, "I'm sorry...Father."