Thirteen onehosts for thirteen clans. A project that just popped into my head and I'd be really glad if you all would read and review. Any comments appreciated. :)

The Innocent

"There is no aphrodisiac like innocence."- Jean Baudrillard

The first time he laid his eyes upon her was in spring.

May was creeping closer to its death. The nighttime air, sharpened by its usual chill, was filled with the aroma of flowers carried on the back of the western wind. Even though the rays of the sun had long since parted with the city, the heart of Paris was as brimming with life as ever. The spacious parks had emptied-out and the, seemingly never-ending, boulevards of the city were populated mostly by people heading headfirst towards the nearest watering hole.

Behind the golden-lit windows of clubs and inns, cafés and houses of lesser repute, the denizens of this city lived their lives with naught a care in the world.

It was the natural order of things. As long as there was wine to be spilled, it mattered not whether one was prince or pauper. The fiery taste was excellently adept at washing away any care- if only while the evening lasted. The taverns' walls may as well have been bastions and ramparts. The outside world's ills had no place whatsoever in those little realms of joy. And, by the same school of thought, those afflicted by such ills weren't welcome either.

Paris had no spare glitz and glitter for all too many of her unfortunate children. The unwanted were treated with a mix between apathy at best and disdain at worst. They were the greyed-out loners living on the fringes, beneath ornate bridges and on painted benches. They were more than any one man could count- not that anyone wanted to, lest they'd be forced to acknowledge their existence. With scarcely an effort, the rest of the city's own- clad in reds and greens and goldens- pushed the unfortunates further and further away. Loving mother to some and wicked step-mother to many, Paris- as any great city of its age- heartlessly tried to sweep under the rug those who threatened to dim her glow. Still, the Children of the City endured. They always did- be it because of resourcefulness or precisely because being the undesired meant they knew intimately each and every one of the city's whims.

He lived in that all too common gap between the classes- beggar to some and duke to many. The ones above him pursed their lips every time they caught a glimpse of his aged coat's fluttering fringes. The less fortunate caressed it with calloused hands and admired the patchwork palette of silks and velvets which adorned it. Be it looks of scorn or jealousy, he took them all in stride. The man had stopped being a boy quite a few winters ago- but that child-like glimmer of hope and curiosity stubbornly refused to leave his eyes. He called himself an artist, annoyed at how the rest of the world seemed hell-bent on brushing him off as merely a 'painter'.

As if his creations were nothing more than fanciful sketches and doodles!

Still, there was no place for animosity in the Artist's heart. Such feelings- like many others- to him were fleeting at best. The flames of youth renewed as quick as they devoured and so the man spent his life living each day as if it would have been his last. He had shared his dry bread with that band of rascals living under Sena's bridge- and he had dined on the same table as counts and barons all the same. He had shared the warmth of a blind musician's hearth and had spent nights huddled safely next to the roaring fireplace in a spacious well-lit tavern.

A favored, albeit often mistreated, child of the city- he knew all of her moods. Caring and mean, welcoming and distant; he thought there was nothing left that the city could surprise him with.

On that night, under the serene light of the full moon enveloping the city, the Artist was rushing towards one of the wealthier locales. If someone had bothered to spare a glance in his direction, they would have noticed nothing but a blur of faded colors, dashing under the flickering glimmer of the lampposts. He was out of breath, the hazel curls framing his face- in disarray. A trio of paintings were clutched under his arm, held at an awkward angle, and threatened to slip away with each and every step he took. The Artist dared stop and rest only when his eyes, the deep color of evergreen woods, finally came upon the tavern's door.

Like an ocean warmed by the summer's sun, light and music poured over him when he pushed it open. All too busy with the ongoing festivities, few spared a glimpse for the newcomer. The Artist closed the door behind him, his breath still noticeably quickened, and headed straight towards one large table in the back. It didn't take much time for anyone to notice that the usual clientele of that particular establishment was noticeably well-off. The wine filling the glasses was older than the oldest man alive and not measly chickens, but roasted lambs took central place at most tables.

The only reason he had been allowed to flaunt his trade there was because he knew the owner- a bastard of some count or baron- from when the Artist had still been a palace doctor's son. Said Owner was at the helm of the table he was headed to, deeply immersed in a heated discussion with a portly, mustachioed man seated next to him. The Marquis indeed looked astonishingly like a walrus, but the Artist's would have shaken the hand of any other animal willing to pay him enough for his paintings just as eagerly. The other occupant of the table- the Marquis' wife- contrasted sharply with her husband. She was lean and almost… leathery- the very image of youth gone by and wasted.

There wasn't much bargaining to be had. The Owner- knowing full well he would get a cut- had negotiated a meaty enough price. But it was at precisely that moment when paintings and money were changing hands, when he saw her.

He mistook her for a ghost at first, the spirit of some princess who had no place in this mundane and boring world.

She wore a simple white dress- and yet her image could somehow put crowned queens, with all their jewelry and ballroom dresses, to shame. Her figure was lithe, dainty, almost… faerie. Elfin? The Artist would have only mumbled had anyone asked him to describe the girl before him. He had doubts if girl was even the right thing to call her. As his eyes drifted over the curves of her dress and whatever ivory skin it dared reveal, he realized the fairytale princess was at that particular age of a barely blossomed flower.

And it was exactly a spring bouquet of flowers, neatly tucked in a dainty handbasket, she was offering from table to table. With moonlight dancing in her hair and blue eyes aglow like stars, the Flowergirl had stolen the Artist's heart without him even realizing it.

She was gone as suddenly as she had appeared, hidden behind the living walls of the tavern's rowdy crowd. The indignant 'harrumph' of the Marquise was what brought him out of his stupor and back into reality. The Artist chose to ignore how dazed his friend and newest benefactor looked as well.

He found himself visiting that particular tavern more and more afterwards. The Flowergirl turned out to be a regular as well- every first and fourth day of the week she would visit to sell her sweet-smelling stock. Her baskets ended up empty in minutes more often than not. It was no mystery why grown men always seemed to have spare money for flowers. The Artist hadn't missed the looks they gave her. Akin to the slimy tentacles of a sea monster, their eyes darted all over the petite body of his fated siren. The rich bought lavenders and roses but it was painfully clear which particular flower they really wanted to possess.

Some nights, when he too threw his money away just to be able to see that innocent smile dancing on her ruby lips, the Artist wondered if he was any different at all.

Soon enough came the summer, bringing alone copious amounts of oppressive heat. The Artist was quickly finding himself more and more frustrated. The only thing his brush wanted to paint was his muse. But no matter how many tireless days or sleepless nights he spent working on canvas after canvas, they all inevitably ended up torn apart and thrown away. Paintings he would have deemed masterpieces mere months ago now looked like nothing but trash in his eyes. No amount of work on his part could allow him to portray her truly.

It was as if something was missing- some vital, all too important part always seemed to slip away. He had no idea what it was. The images seemed so clear in his mind, sometimes he was sure he could touch her if he just so wished. But every time the Artist tried breathing them to life, the magic fell apart like a sandcastle crumbling under its own weight. The Artist finally started to realize how hopelessly in love he really was.

And the intensity of it, that searing blaze in his heart, boggled his mind.

He was no stranger to women- be it giggling handmaidens or bored noblewomen- but never before had he felt so utterly… lost without someone.

One night, once again in that glamorous tavern, the Artist was sulking at his usual table and hoping to find a buyer for the last of his paintings left. It was funny- and sad- how hunger seemed to be able to be on par with any other feeling sometime. The Flowergirl crept closer, azure eyes full of child-like curiosity.

"It's beautiful," was the only thing she said before returning to her routine rounds around the building.

It took him three whole days without leaving his stifling rented room to finish the painting of his beloved. The frenzy subsided only when he could finally examine it truly and caress his creation with trembling hands.

The sapphire eyes staring into the forest-green of his own rooted him in place. Like waterfalls of liquid gold, the tresses of her hair cascaded down her body as his muse lied on her side. A crimson sheet, the same vibrant color as her slightly-parted ruby lips, covered her naked for form the waist down. Only her midsection was visible to the eyes of the beholder, colored ivory- akin to virgin snow. The Artist, still breathless, knew then and there that no greatest creation would ever spring to life from under his brush.

And so he hid the painting, that maddeningly enticing image of his beloved, away from prying eyes.

Days died and nights slipped past. Time didn't wait for no one, be it kings or their subjects, and soon enough autumn arrived. The vibrant greens adorning the treecrowns were substituted for royal reds and honey golds. The patchwork blanket of fall, so similar to his own weathered coat, soon reigned supreme across the city. Alas, the welcomed change of scenery was accompanied by a dreadful pang of chill, the bane of any unfortunate soul left to spend the night on the Parisian streets. The Artist didn't need anyone cluing him in on why exactly his beloved's visits had become so few and far between. Fear gripped his heart every time he saw how lifeless a bounty she had barely managed to gather.

The ever-present threat of cold and winter threatened to deny him his only muse's presence.

His little Flowergirl would disappear from his life, just as suddenly as she had barged into it. Lost and scared, the madness threatening to overcome him fully, the Artist had sought advice from a friend. But the Owner did nothing but laugh, offer a strong drink and whisper wicked tales of how the girl in white had long since started selling more than her usual spring-scented stock.

"Some richer folks have already tasted the fruit you are so keenly after, my friend," the nobleman's bastard had said.

Curses were uttered and glasses broken. Wine and blood mixed when the Artist's fist found their way to his longtime friend's face. Their owner, in turn, soon found himself lying flatly on the cold, hard pavement- noticeably worse for wear after the residents of the tavern had retaliated to their host's mutilation. Rivulets of tears and rain mixed on their way down the Artist's contorted face.

He took to wandering the watering holes of the city. From one end of Paris to the other, there was nary a tavern or inn he hadn't spent a night sulking in some corner, a half-empty glass of piss-poor wine in hand. Winter came and went without the Artist even noticing it. Whether the world was dead to him or it was the other way around, he neither knew nor cared. Only the newest patches added to his mantle of colors faded and nearly lost showed he paid any heed to reality at all. For months the Artist hadn't even caught a single glimpse of his beloved.

The thought that someone could even dare think a girl as pure as her could stoop down to the level of a common whore sickened him. The thought that there indeed may be a grain of truth in those wretched rumors made him want to howl and rip and tear until every street in Paris ran red with blood. Whose, he didn't even know. But not hers.

Never hers.

He was close to giving up- be it on her or on his own life. The Artist made no difference between the two anymore. But then, on one moonless night in the beginning of May, he saw her again. It was in a noisy, hellhole of a dump- but then again, he saw the whole world like that those days. The inn he was currently staying was often filled to the brim with soldiers and guards and other of their brutish ilk.

He hadn't even noticed her at first, all too busy drinking the last of his money away. But the familiar murmur sweeping across the crowd and the less than purer looks glistening in the drunken eyes of those around him brought his attention to reality- and her- once again. She hadn't changed at all, still seemingly stuck between being a woman and being a child. The strands of her hair fluttered behind her like the trails of fallen stars as she went from table to table, a basket full of flowers clutched in hand. Their eyes met- if only for a second- and suddenly she had moved on, now giggling at the shallow jokes of a guard captain who looked ready to buy all her stock right then and there.

The scorching heat of the nearby fireplace hit the Artist in the chest- or maybe it was all the blood rushing in his heart as it threatened to burst into pieces. The Artist was yet again breathless after meeting her, indeed. But this time… this time it was for a million different reasons altogether. A million… or maybe merely one.

The night went by slowly, the hours trickling away like poison dripping down his throat. The Flowergirl was busy talking with the Captain, her eyes aglow with child-like curiosity as she listened to his obviously overblown tales of glory. The Captain droned on and on, his beady little eyes darting all across the woman's body, soaking in each and every enticing detail. And the Artist stared daggers in the Captain's back, the glass in his hand creaking faintly as he clutched it.

Wine eventually mixed with blood. The glass had finally ended up shattered, the sound of its demise drowned by the hollers and cat-calls of the Captain's posse when their leader took the Flowergirl's hand and led her up the stairs.

He was faintly aware of the innkeeper shouting in his direction, cheeks red with fury. His mind had seemingly left his body, following after the girl of his dreams- a stray limping sadly after a one-time owner. The shards dug deeper into the Artist's hand when he clutched the wooden railing. One leg moved after the other on instinct and each and every step of his seemed to bring forth a deafening groan from the smoke-stained oak beneath him. The strength of his senses fluctuated between heartbeats.

He was deaf and blind and so utterly, utterly lost.

But, at last, he could see and hear and finally- finally- knew what to do.

The Artist had no trouble finding the right room. The door had been left slightly ajar, a mistake of someone's lust-hazed mind. Her moans turned the contents of his veins in ice- cold enough it actually felt like burning. Golden hair spilled like sunlight down greyed-out pillows, bluest eyes unblinking. The rest of her remained hidden behind the wide back of the Captain, a monster stealing kisses from a captured princess.

The soldier, all too busy with the laces of his capture's dress, didn't notice the Artist sneaking in. There was a sword on the ground- the Captain's own, hastily discarded in his amorous pursuits. The weapon felt foreign to the Artist's untrained hands. It wasn't heavy, nor was it light. Candlelight caught on a silver pommel, a glistening blade escaping its scabbard with nary a sound. Some would have called it beautiful no doubt. But to the Artist, that lump of metal would never be extension of his arm like a brush did.

His eyes met hers. There was recognition sparkling between emerald and sapphire, an eerie sense of conclusion. It was all to end right there, in a dingy room inside a dingier inn. It was all to finally begin, a phoenix rising from a soon-to-be sacrifice's ashes. But what was to end and what to begin, the Artist had no way of knowing.

The Captain finally turned around, following the Flowergirl's gaze. There was surprise in his eyes, but even as they recognized his own weapon in the intruder's hand, there was no fear. Only anger- even annoyance- and the all too recognizable desire to put an end to a fool who wanted to steal his possession. The fact that he could relate to his victim angered the Artist even more.

A single move of his arm- one surefire stroke across a human canvas- and his opponent was no more. Blood now marred his face as well as his vision. The rainbow-colored set of patches on his coat was rapidly reddening, but he didn't mind- or care. He had eyes only for his dream, his love and mistress. The Artist's mind threatened to shatter. He was torn in two between rivaling desires strong enough to drive him mad.

A part of him wanted to wipe the blood staining her face and dress and hair, take her somewhere far away and lock her inside a stone-walled castle, away from any who could harm her.

Another part wanted to just pin her down on the bed, tear the blood-soaked dress apart and take what he so dearly wanted, finally have his little fairy princess for himself.

To him, her innocence was her greatest beauty. He was scared to even touch her- because then he knew there would be no stopping himself, no way to hold back whatever beast was urging him onwards. The Artist was painfully aware of the cruelty of such fate. It was akin to an enchanted painting, the most beautiful one ever made, cursed to be ruined the moment someone laid eyes upon it to enjoy it.

The Artist never learned which path he would have followed, had fate left him to choose alone. The Flowergirl, seemingly tired of waiting, pushed herself up and cupped his face. Her hands were cold, almost unnaturally so. Her breath was even colder, making the hairs on the back of his neck bristle. But her kiss was sweet- like cinnamon and palace garden apples, tastes of a childhood forgotten long ago. It was as if something broke inside of him. The beast was let loose, his hands clawing at her dress until it lay in pieces. Her skin was milk under moonlight, a sharp contrast to her now blood-soaked lips. The Artist was dimly aware of her hands making short work of his own clothes, too lost in the feeling of her body against his and the cold lips exploring his bloodstained face.

She arched her back as he took her, golden hair tossed back, breasts heaving with each and every thrust. Nothing else existed in his mind back then. Only two bodies intertwined in a heated embrace, kisses painting red and her nails digging raw into his back. He knew- or at least a tiny part of him did- he was ruining all he had ever dreamed and cared for. But it didn't matter anymore. This was bliss- pure, unaltered bliss- and he would have sooner died than let it end.

"A kiss for a reward," she whispered in his ear, words lost between moans. "Is only fitting, is it not?"

He had half a mind to ask or laugh, to follow through that screaming instinct and flee. But her fangs were on his neck in an instant and his blood was now hers, rivulets trailing down her naked body. Pain and pleasure mixed and mingled. The Artist was halfway aware he was dying- and that only made him want her more, increased his desire to enjoy this heaven until his final breath and journey to hell. And he did.

All until the darkness took him.

Her blood on his lips tasted bitter, like trust betrayed and washed out innocence.