Hello, dear readers! I am so happy with all the reviews I got on my last update, I cannot be thankful enough for your kind responses! I posted a review in which I thank all my reviewers, for I don't know if the new rule that forbade thanking you in the chapter is still valid, or not. Enjoy the chapter!
The carriage abruptly made its way through the countryside, leaving villages behind, getting closer to the darkness and the upcoming ball with every step of the cursed black horses that Igor flogged so enthusiastically. The Sun died its temporary death behind the mountains on the West coast of the Danube, making all shine in dark orange, giving part of it's glory to the undeserving world. As orange slowly faded into red, Agnes opened her eyes, slowly waking from her dreamless sleep.
„Blood will be shed tonight..." was her first thought as she looked at the cavalcade of coloured clouds in the distance. The dim lights of the many gas lamps of Budapest were barely visible on the Northern horizon at the time of sunset, and by the time the first houses of the suburbs were glaring at the elegant carriage, the graceful crescent of the Moon was already high, looking down threateningly, that she might fall and cut the throat of those who didn't have fun that night. Igor made the horses walk in a courtly manner as they were manoeuvring along the cobbled streets toward the heart of the city, the damned rider in a hood getting occasional greetings from fellow-riders, but refusing to answer any. The black carriage would slide along the streets, at times, narrow, other times wide, without gaining any particular attention; the people of the city that was vibrating with life and unlife, were not surprised by peculiar people coming to visit, bringing their peculiar habits with them. Though the proprietor of the carriage was more than a visitor there, Agnes heard Dracula refer to Budapest as his city more than once. She glared out the carriage window to the streets and her eyes met a row of villas passing by slowly, built in old and new styles, with fancy, but at this time of the year, barren gardens. The angel saw people clad in posh style on the other sides the arched windows, heard their laughs, the tinkling sound of glasses, and it occurred to her that she never before thought of what Dracula's ball would be like. Then Igor turned the horses left, and they found themselves at one end of a grand road. Agnes read the street sign.
„Andrássy Avenue. So we're here finally."
The avenue was lit by gas lamps on either side, whose light was dimmed by the fog slowly crawling from the direction of the Batthyány Gardens' lake nearby. A row of villas built of finer grandeur than the outer ones welcomed the newly arrived travellers; some served as private homes furnished exquisitely, while others as international embassies or hotels that welcomed guests from all around the world. Crowds of people were taking their evening walks along the picturesque road, as the weather was considerably warm compared to the season, and the sky already put her night-black dress trimmed with stars on. The elite longing for a touch of beauty were either preparing for Dracula's ball, or walking along Andrássy Avenue. The steady rhythm of elegant villas was suddenly broken by an octagonal square, the crossing of Teréz Boulevard. Agnes let her eyes wander in the direction of the Western Train Station, as she smelled smoke being brought by the wind. She loved travelling by trains, her second choice if Midnight was not available. The distant whistle of a starting train woke her from the daydream as they moved back into among the houses again. They were all built in neo-renaissance or neo-baroque styles, with their windows looking at Agnes, greeting her amiably. Distinguished shop windows charmed her, the wealth that showed on all people and their homes, stunned her. High trees stood reaching toward the skies, giving a friendly feeling in winter, and shade over the summer. The buildings turned more magnificent with each passing meter; statues of gods and goddesses held torches, supported balconies on their shoulders, danced on window sills, arched windows decorated with carvings let the light escape from inside. A large building broke the elegant monotony of houses, and there stood the Opera House on one side, facing the Ballet Institute on the other. Agnes could not take her eyes off the Opera; the white marble glimmered in the ochre lustre of the gas lamps of Budapest, on top of crooked iron lampposts, standing by the bellyband sphinxes guarding statues of writers and playwrights and the entrance. Above the balcony in front of the windows with tympanums, hung a placard: 'Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: The Magic Flute.' Agnes' lips curved to a smile when she remembered seeing that in London, what an evening it was. At the end of Andrássy Avenue, St. Stephen's Basilica towered above them, and Igor was very eager to avoid even the shadow of such a holy place. The rows of sculptured saints were looking at Igor with disdainful eyes, and cast sorrowful glances at Agnes. The latter had an odd fascination for churches; she admired their splendid architecture and embellishment, despite the fact that she did not believe in the one, whose glory all was created for. The high dome of the basilica kept watching the soulless rider and the passenger captivated between darkness and light, until they disappeared in the narrow streets leading to the Danube. Agnes was not exactly sure where Dracula's residence might be, since this part of Pest was not for the palaces of the aristocracy. All became clear when they reached a circus, and saw the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, that has been embracing the Danube for almost a decade now. Last time she visited Budapest, it was left half finished because of the war. But then it stood in front of her in its full glory, the two grand arches connected by chains thick enough to strangle giants with them, lit by hundreds of gas lamps, all reflected on the dark waters of the Danube. The lions lying on both sides in front of the arch, guardians of the passage to Buda, presented a growl of stone to all who passed. And they were deadly in deed; their creator drowned himself into the river for omitting to put tongues in the stone creatures' mouths.
„ The Rose Mountain of Buda, the elite quarter. That is where his palace will stand. I should have known" Agnes quietly thought to herself as her eyes traced the inky surface of the river. She tried drowning herself in it once, near its mouth in Romania, but the Danube just spat her out, like the cork of fine French champagne. But as the passing gas lamps blurred her vision of the water, she felt she had emotions in her heart...emotions for which she would gladly die, and even risk living. The aura of the city, which surely had to something with Dracula's presence, toyed with Agnes' senses, in a way more enjoyable than disturbing.
Dracula was lying on one of the many stone balconies' balustrade, staring at the night sky, with one leg and arm lolling towards the abyss beneath him. Inside the castle, preparations were still not finished, the chatter and the steps of the servants made a quiet and steady noise, an ideal background for musing. The count turned his head towards Pest, and felt a strange breeze coming from the direction of the Chain Bridge.
„ Ah, she is getting closer...The slave-ring has served well." Dracula smiled to himself, and paid a quiet note to how he was connected to his „vampire-angel" as he thought of her lately. He looked at the night sky, and wondered what she would be like, if turned. How she would moan when he sank his fangs into the powdery white flesh of her neck, the look on her face as she takes her last breath, the last beat of her angel-heart giving its place to the deathly stillness of a vampire's heart, what colour her eyes would fade into as she lusts for blood, or him...and he would be able to see the world through her eyes. No sense of guilt tortured Dracula at turning an angel to a vampire, he even found it diverting. He will laugh in the face of God as he drinks her blood.
„And I would taste her tonight..."
The count's fingers played with a single white rose he took from the decorated walls, as the cool wind played with a loose strand of his hair, as his lips would play on Agnes' skin a few hours later. The sound of a carriage approaching hit his sensitive ears, and he glared into the darkness covering the side of the mountain, like a thick blanket. The lights of Pest on the Eastern flat bank of the Danube looked as if the starry sky had been pulled down and laid upon the plains. But even the lively lights could not dim the lynx eyed count's sight. The carriage with its precious passenger was approaching in a steady pace. On his skin, he felt every breath the angel took in the warm darkness of the carriage, as if she were standing right next to him. Dracula knew the all-consuming emptiness would be partly filled as soon as Agnes arrived. That was the one thing he was sure to miss, aside from the warmth, once she was no longer in possession of her soul.
Agnes could not take her eyes off the imposing building standing in the wind that blew at the top of the mountain they were quickly getting closer to. The horses never slowed down, not even the steep road could fatigue them. The trees sleeping their winter dreams on the side of the road, danced in the wind, leaning towards the Danube, then towards the mountain, reached in the direction of the carriage menacingly. Agnes could not wait to get out of the carriage as they finally reached the stoned yard guarded by the high stone fence of the castle. Two pointed towers with soaring pinnacles welcomed the visitor who dared to enter this aerie of the undead, many lancet windows, rose windows and stone balconies ennobled the facade. The main portal's old oak doors were deep-set under multiple pointed arches, decorated with stone carvings.
„ Like a Gothic cathedral...how odd." ran through Agnes' mind as the carriage stopped right in front of the steps leading to the doors. This time she didn't wait for Igor to come and open the door, she just got out by herself as quickly as possible; her mind may have been fresh from the sleep but her feet were almost totally numb after sitting for a whole day again. Agnes stretched her arms and legs, and looked around. She saw Igor climb down from the dickey-seat, but nobody else was there.
„ And just where is Vladislaus?" she thought out loud.
„ How nice of you to be looking for Me. Welcome to my city, dear love." a voice said in the twilight. Agnes gave a scream of surprise and popped around clenching her fists instinctively. There stood Dracula facing her, wearing his usual devilishly luring smile. Agnes rolled her eyes and took a deep breath.
„ If it were not you, I would swear you have just fallen from above. But keep on doing this, and I will accidentally punch you in the stomach once." she said sarcastically with arms entwined, and played with the punching thought for a while.
„ That, my dear is not that far from the truth as you would expect. She how much we have in common? But is that the way you greet the people who have been kind to you?"
„Kind? Hmm..." Agnes thought to herself „Except for this ring-thing he has been kind to me actually...somewhat."
„I just saved your life last night again, remember?" Dracula said, as he began walking around Agnes in a circle, with so light steps only a vampire was able to take.
„ That would not have happened if..."she began fiercely, but decided to change the subject instead „ Why are we arguing here anyway? You brought me here all the way from Transylvania to quarrel over what happened last night?" Agnes asked with furrowed eyebrows.
„ No, that was not the reason. Though I have to admit, I enjoy your little shots of trying to anger me. That is only the cream on top of the cake." The count paused for a while. „ Said is, when you actually succeed" He hissed, but then returned to his charming manners. „And do not try to deny that you find amusement in it as well..." Dracula was in front of Agnes once more, but much closer this time. He took her hand, and placed it on his cheek, indulging in the soft and warm touch. He never forgot her outburst of passion from last night, and Agnes could not forget the small wound on her lip.
„ So cold, and so hot, two at the same time..." A storm was raging inside Agnes just by a single touch of the count's hands, and knowing it was a foolish thing to do, she looked into Dracula's eyes, wanting to know all. By the time the count spun her around, gently swept her hair from her neck, and with eyes closed, placed his chin upon her shoulder, the angel knew that he wanted, and felt that she would give her blood, her love, her body, her soul. Dracula allowed himself a pleased smile, and as several lulling minutes passed, an intense whisper stroked Agnes' ear.
„ I brought you here to dance with me." With that, he spun Agnes out of his embrace, their only contact remained their hands, and the rings.
„ How come he always catch me off guard?..." All the rest Agnes wanted to say, was still stuck in her throat. She may have been fearless in battle, but she grew slightly afraid of the feeling that she wanted Dracula to drain her of life. But despite her silence, Dracula knew that the love-game they played, would soon bring its fruits to both of them.
„ So, then what are you waiting for?" Agnes asked, wearing a tempting look on her face. She let go of the count's hand and set off towards the doors of the castle, only to be pulled back by Dracula as she tried to pass him.
„ Then come with me." The count said, and gestured for Agnes to turn around.
„ If I have to get back to that carriage, my.." But she was surprised once again, and not for the last time that evening. A landau gracefully wheeled from behind the black carriage that was just leaving the scene, and stopped right in front of them. Carved of ebony, seats of the softest black felt, the whip, to Agnes' surprise, he was human, wearing black clothes. The four magnificent white horses were in prefect contrast both with the landau, and the night. Full of energy, they were neighing and snorting impatiently as Dracula took Agnes' bag, climbed onto the landau, and turning back, held out his hand fro Agnes. The latter took it without any hesitation this time; she was in the mood for this never-ending adventure. They comfortably seated themselves opposite each other, and the landau set off towards the gates, down the mountain, in the direction of Pest. Dracula kept his gaze on Agnes' face most of the time, reading her thoughts occasionally. As for Agnes, mostly she lost herself under the count's hypnotic glare, at other times she kept turning her head into every direction, just as the thoughts were flying in her head. She knew what she had to decide on that night; choose love, and the damnation that walks hand in hand with it, feast on the blood of the living for eternity, or run away, never look back, and keep running for the rest of her life from Dracula, and from herself...
As the landau was wearing the stones away in the streets of Buda, a silent rider arrived in Budapest. Fatigued, but still flared, Nikolai Valerious rode towards the heart of the city, trying to find a shop where he could buy a costume and mask for Dracula's masquerade ball. He wanted the count's demise at any cost, and his only hope rested in the sword that hung from his leather belt. He took it from among the family relics before he left, led by the idea that he had been cherishing for several months, keeping it secret. The sword itself was centuries old, heavy, and the blade was even eaten by rust at places. The sword with which the Left Hand of God killed Dracula, as the legend says.
„ I hope it would bring me luck to when I'm in need of it.." Nikolai quietly said to himself, as he slipped down from his horse on Andrássy Avenue in front of a clothes shop, and hearing the clock of the nearby basilica strike six, noted he still has an hour to get ready for the ball.
Well, so much for now, I am hoping you liked Budapest. It looks very much the way I describe it even today, one of my favourite places in the world! Don't forget to read my review in which I thank all of you! Please let me know what you think, and review, all reviews are much appreciated! And thank you for reading!