Bianca danced, moving from partner to partner as a butterfly would move between flowers. She knew well that wealth, beauty and availability combined to make her the belle of the ball, a fact that she revelled in. Other women watched with jealousy, particularly when their husbands approached her also. She feigned innocent obliviousness in such cases, as befitted a young, unmarried lady. No-one need know that she was fully aware of these men's polygamous intentions. She would never, ever acquiesce to them, but the thrill of been near enough to touch the forbidden was a welcome repose from normalcy.
Two watching women caught her eye, both extraordinarily beautiful. It was not their beauty, however, that caught her attention so much as the fact that their youthful, feminine faces were void of envy. They were unique in a time and place where even her dearest female friends could not quite conceal their hostility. And why did that caramel-haired one look so familiar? She callously dismissed her current dance partner, pointedly ignoring his hurt demeanour, and drifted over to the women instead. She could have easily made a more tactful retreat, but the repetitiveness with which she had been doing so all night had started to get on her nerves. Besides, that suitor was a particularly irritating one.
Perhaps she should become a nun. At least then she would not be constantly hounded by her family's desire to find her a husband.
She dismissed the idea even more quickly than it had come. After all, a life devoted to God would be boring, she was sure. So many rules, especially for the women. Besides, that path would close the doors to any possibility of a Happily Ever After with her own personal Prince Charming.
Although she was beginning to doubt that such a man even existed.
"Good evening," she said with a curtsy. "I am Lady Bianca. Who are you?"
The caramel-haired, the familiar-looking one laughed. "There's no need to be so formal, Bianca. It doesn't suit you."
Six-year-old Bianca stuffed a fist into her mouth to keep from giggling. They'll never find me up here, she thought gleefully as she peered down from the rafters at her frantic nursemaid plus entourage. It seemed that close to half the household staff had been pulled into the search for their missing 'young Mistress'. Like a flock of sheep they milled anxiously, exiting the room just as they had entered it: together. And then, just when she thought she was clear…
"Why don't you come down? You might fall, and that just wouldn't do, now would it?"
Bianca almost did fall down from surprise. "I won't fall," she said with all a child's stubborn certainty. "Who're you?"
"I am Ursula." Lady Ursula was very pretty, she thought, with her glittery gown and symmetrical face. Perhaps she was the guest Papa had been talking about? She asked, and the Lady smiled.
"Yes. My dear cousin, Count Dracula, was unable to make it, so I came instead. And I'm so very glad I did."
"Why? Because I got to meet you, Princess!" She grinned playfully, and held out her arms. "Come, jump down into my arms, sweetie. I won't let you fall!" The Lady's playfulness appealed to the child, who grinned and giggled happily, and then tumbled from her lofty perch, freefalling through air. The Lady caught her, just as she had promised.
They talked for ages, Lady Ursula weaving enchanting stories to which little Bianca listened with rapt attention. "… and then the Beast…"
"Demon!" shrieked the nursemaid, brandishing a crucifix. "Leave the child! His Lordship and Her Ladyship may be fooled, but the servants know you!" Lady Ursula shrank back, spitting with anger, and Bianca cried out with confusion.
"I intend the child no harm," hissed Ursula, but the nursemaid payed her no heed, instead continuing to advance on the Lady, who made to flee.
"Don't go!" cried Bianca, and the women stopped.
"You will see me again, I promise," said Lady Ursula gently. "As one of us, if you so wish it, little Princess." And she left them, the child confused but oddly reassured, and the nursemaid wide-eyed with fear and dawning dread.
"Lady Ursula?" asked Bianca. "But no… that can't be right. You don't look a day older… You look younger if anything." Her brow creased.
"I have aged well, haven't I?" Ursula smiled. "Do you remember what the nursemaid said, 'little Princess'?"
"You really are her!" Bianca joyfully proclaimed, and flung her arms around the other woman. Her utter lack of decorum drew many stares and whispers to which both Ursula and her companion responded with derisive glares that quickly had the onlookers turning away with pinkish cheeks. Bianca drew back, oblivious to this interaction, and glanced at Ursula's dark-haired companion. "Who's your friend?"
"I'm Delilah," said the dark-haired one, and then turned her gaze upon Ursula. "So she's the one. Are you quite sure, Ursula?"
"Huh?" said Bianca. "Sure about what?" She frowned. "And what about the nursema… Oh. You're really a demon?" She felt strangely calm about the idea; after all, a human could just as easily be a monster as any demon.
"Of sorts," Ursula replied quietly, amusement in her eyes. "We're vampires."
Bianca stared, her bright blue eyes wide and glittering. "V-vampires? Like the Prince that lost his bride in that tale you told me? Of all the tales you told me, that one was my favourite…"
The dark-haired woman, Delilah, stared at her bemusedly. "You're so calm," she whispered in an awed voice. "Humans never react this calmly to our truth."
"I told you she was special," said Lady Ursula in a tone of smug superiority. "So what do you think, little Princess? Will you become one of us, a childe of the Prince from the tale?"
"You mean he's real?" Now Bianca sounded just as awed as had Delilah mere moments before. "He really, truly exists?"
A single tear trickled from the corner of one of Bianca's eyes and trailed its way down her cheek, glinting under the ballroom's bright lighting as though a liquid crystal. "He must be so sad. To have loved so deeply and to have lost her so suddenly…" She sighed compassionately. "But… his childe? You mean… he'll turn me into one of you? A-a vampire?"
"That's what we're offering," said Lady Ursula with an odd half-smile. "Now, sweet Bianca, it is time for you to make your choice."
The blonde human closed her eyes. Almost without thought, one pale, manicured hand brushed against the thin gold chain that hung around her neck, absently tracing it to the angel-formed pendant below her collarbone. At her deathbed, Mama had bequeathed it to her. "He is Zadkiel," she had said. "He is the angel of mercy and forgiveness. When a sinner is truly sorry, he forgives even the most appalling atrocities." And then her heart, that life-driving lump of flesh, had stopped beating.
This offer of Lady Ursula's was certainly very tempting. She would stay young and beautiful forever… And should not forever be long enough to find that elusive Prince Charming? And what a splendid adventure it would surely be; from this stuffy boring life in all-too-garish light, to that unexplored never-boring world of darkness that fuels nightmares, at the sides of Lady Ursula and her friend Delilah, and of the Prince from that enchanting seductive tale. Lady Ursula would become her big sister…
But would even Zadkiel forgive her for that?
"Very well. I'll do it." For what does forgiveness matter when I will live forever?
The very next night, Bianca banqueted upon the lifeblood of her very own family. Deaf to all their pleading and begging, all she knew was drunken thirst and anger – no, rage – over the gilded cage of obligatory marriage to a dull, pompous nobleman in which they would have trapped her. Ursula watched with awed disbelief, and Delilah seemed shocked as well. "She will regret this, mark my words," muttered that dark-haired one.
The Count, the Impaler Prince, smiled. "A wonderful choice, Ursula," he said. "Perhaps I should allow you to choose all my future fledglings."
"No," Ursula shuddered, shaking her head vehemently. "Never again. Still I hold great affection for this child, but… Never again, Count… Master..."
The Count approached the voluptuous blonde in her once-white gown stained red with blood and gore. He extended his hand to her, something in his eyes that was somehow savage, gentle and ironic all at once, and Bianca placed her hand in his, her eyes almost as savagely insane as his had been when, in his human warlord days, he had impaled an entire three enemy divisions.
"Welcome to the family, Bianca."