Hello, lovely people!
Welcome to the final installment of 'The Immortal Coil Saga.' I hope you enjoy it!
Update: I wasn't happy with how the original draft was structured, so expect some changes.
WARNING: Contains some strong language.
A Frenchman's advice
2nd January 1992
Life for Hazel Lewis was peachy – well, not entirely: the Volturi demanded a lot from her family. Aro sent them hither and yon to keep an eye on talented immortals he coveted. It was why Julia currently travelled in secret to Cairo, and Michael trekked through Denali.
He frequently moaned. It should be the other way around! Aro knows Jools hates the heat, Hazel! He has no excuse not to know that.
It's a test of our loyalty, Mikey, Hazel thought bleakly.
And Aro may live to regret that decision – we may live to regret it, Mikey said. You should be with Julia, not stuck at home.
I agree, Hazel sighed. But who are we to question Master Aro?
As she patiently waited for work, Hazel prowled her home streets. She enjoyed the wild raves that sprang up around the city, like defiant weeds. The stink of human rebellion made Hazel deliciously nostalgic. Mikey had taken to this new grunge music like he had been waiting for it his whole life.
Maybe this decade won't be so tedious, after all, Hazel thought to herself. She adjusted her long, bleached wig in the mirror.
There was a rap at her front door. Hazel anticipated a package from Julia, so spun around to answer it.
The man standing on her doorstep was not the postman. A tall, thin man with elaborate facial hair waited, partially hidden from the sun. His proud bearing and tight trousers suggested he came from a time where a man's calves were expected to be admired.
He was also a blissfully married man, but Hazel could still enjoy the view.
As his eyes lit up, his curled moustache spread further across his face. "Zut," the man cried. "I did not believe I would find you again so easily, Hazel."
Hazel pretended to swoon against the doorframe. "Ooh, la, la, Antoine. Your accent makes anything erotic."
"Aha!" Leaping forward, Antoine Jean warmly embraced her. His curls tickled Hazel's cheeks as he kissed each one twice. "This hair! It's different. I like it. So much more feminine."
"Get off!" Chuckling, Hazel dodged Antoine's attempt to tug at her wig. "You rascal. What brings you so far from home? Where's Sabine?"
Antoine used the endearing French term for "other half." "Ma moité is keeping Anna company…" He bowed as Hazel let him in, dutifully sitting on the sofa at her insistence. "Ah, I did not know you had guests."
Puzzled, Hazel followed Antoine's gaze to her mannequin heads above her fireplace. "Ho, ho, so funny. But who is Anna, Antoine? Perchance, is she single?"
"Ah, Hazel…" Antoine clasped his hands together. It was a gesture reminiscent of Aro on the off chance he felt apologetic. "Our Masters are not happy with me."
"What?" Hazel landed beside Antoine on the sofa. "Nah, I don't believe you, swee'eart. You're Aro's best recruiter. You found us!"
By accident, Michael said reluctantly.
Julia agreed although she was less hesitant. Nothing but chance, and your carelessness, Hazel, she sneered. Michael laughed at how she mimicked the way Antoine dropped the first letter of their sister's name.
Hazel tried not to scowl. Shut up, both of you.
"La, what treasures you are." Antoine smiled at her, before his moustache drooped. "But Aro wants the one I found for him."
"For him, you say?" Hazel propped her head on her hand and waited.
Antoine played with his moustache as he spoke. "I found Anna before the Great War. Naturellement, I saw what she would become, but she was too young. I planned to wait." He sighed wistfully.
Hazel itched at her wig. "That special, eh?"
"More than I can say to you. But Anna was to be forced to marry a barbarian who treated his horse better than his women," Antoine spat.
Hazel nodded slowly. "Then I hoped you treated him in kind."
Antoine hissed in his mother tongue. "I did not even savour his blood." His moustache bristled. "Alors. Forgive me, but I must smoke."
"A terrible habit, mon ami," Hazel smirked. "One I will gladly join you in."
She dragged her ashtray closer across the coffee table. There was a small crack at the bottom of the dish; she would have to find a new one soon.
The pair smoked together in silence for a time. Antoine's choice was a smaller, more delicate cigar, and the smell made Hazel ache for her father. "So, what happened next, swee'eart?"
Antoine blew a cloud of smoke, frowning. "There were difficulties. My associate was – how do you say – fascinated by Anna. However, he did not want Anna to fulfil the destiny I had seen."
Hazel flicked ash into her tray. "I often ponder your ability, Antoine."
"You do?" He looked delighted.
"Hm. These destinies you see – are they set in stone, so to speak, or can they change?"
Antoine chewed at his moustache with his bottom teeth, deliberating a moment. "They come and go, some brighter than others, yes? Like photographics."
"And what of Anna's destiny, hm?"
Antoine sighed. "After what that has happened, I do not know if it will come to pass," he said. "She is hurt by guilt, and her powers are too strong."
Hazel blew more smoke. "So, train her."
"Ah, we have tried, Sabine and I." Tossing his magnificent head in frustration, Antoine pushed the remains of his cigarillo into the tray. "Alors, I must say our powers are too precious to lose."
Hazel raised her eyebrows. "Because she is so fantastical?"
"Yes." Antoine sighed. "Forgive me. It is not your burden, cherie. Where are your brother and sister? Are they here?"
"No, swee'eart." Hazel frowned, stubbing out her cigarette. "Does our Master not update you at all?"
"La…" Antoine looked almost weary now. "I have tried, but letters can be read by other eyes, you know. Tell me, is your Julia well?"
Define "well," Julia thought bitterly.
Hazel had to shrug, even though it shamed her. "Our Masters ask much from her."
Antoine nodded sympathetically. "Chelsea can help, yes?"
"No." Hazel breathed through her nose. She smiled when her old friend looked surprised. "Julia was having none of it. She called it coercive control, I don't know."
Antoine's lips pursed, his expression darkening. Hazel thought he was going to argue, until he said, "I must agree with Julia, cherie."
Then it was Hazel's turn to be surprised. "Shit, Antoine. That's dangerous – and you're Aro's favourite."
Antoine smiled wanly. "Oui, before I promised our Master –"
"Anna. I see. To what end?"
Antoine's mouth closed. He looked at Hazel for a long time. "You need a holiday, non?"
"Oh." Hazel let disappointment colour her voice. True to form, Antoine had slammed the door to his personal problems on her after ten minutes.
Yet her friend smiled, suddenly animated. "Prague is marvellous for tourists, cherie."
Sounds fun, Michael said.
Sounds like a distraction, Julia snorted, and Hazel had to concur.
Still, extinguishing her cigarette, she considered it. "It'll be a first for me. Why not, eh?"
"Bon." Satisfied, Antoine rubbed his hands together. "Je regrette, I must go. Sabine will worry, and Anna…" With a sigh, Antoine got to his feet and dusted down his trousers. "I'm sorry, cherie. May I ask you a strange question?"
"You know me, swee'eart," Hazel grinned, although she was sad to see him go so soon. "The stranger, the better."
Antoine nibbled his moustache. "Anna. She is sensitive, so I ask you," he said quietly. "Should I send her to Aro?"
"Swee'eart, you make the girl sound like a parcel," Hazel tsked. "Is Anna willing to go?"
Antoine amused her by shuffling his feet like a naughty schoolboy. "She knows nothing of my plan," he confessed. "I feared what it would do to her."
"There's your answer then." Hazel stood up. "Do whatever you have to do to make Anna comfortable before telling her. And, most likely, she needs a friend."
Antoine's shoulders slumped. "Yes, cherie. But I do not know where to begin."
"Who says you have to do anything? I assume Anna has a brain, the appropriate social skills…" At Antoine's glum expression, Hazel trailed off.
"It is more than that, Hazel," he said. "The friend will need to understand Anna. She is complicated."
"Hah! How like you to demean a woman so politely. Perhaps it's you who needs to understand her first." Hazel shook her head as Antoine sighed. "If she's nearby, I could go with you. Say hello?"
"No," Antoine said sharply. "Forgive me, Hazel, but I really must go."
"Oh, Antoine, no. I'm sorry, swee'eart." Hazel let him hug her and kiss both her cheeks. "I didn't mean to upset you."
"You haven't, cherie," Antoine said, squeezing her shoulders. He cupped her face with one hand. "But Sabine worries."
"Well, tell her I said hello, and her husband's a right bastard for not visiting me sooner." Hazel punched her mentor's arm, and they laughed.
Wonder where he'll go? Julia asked.
It would have been nice to see him properly, Michael said sadly.
Hazel followed Antoine to the door. "Take care, you old frog."
"It was good to see you, cherie," Antoine smiled. His moustache wilted. "When we meet again, you must tell me of your adventures in Prague."
"I'd like that," Hazel said. "Don't be a stranger, swee'eart."
"Never." Antoine's eyes twinkled roguishly. "Bon chance, Hazel."
It was the last time Hazel ever saw him.
8th January 1992
Hazel lit a cigarette, saluting the sun as it sank into the Vltava. She hadn't planned on spending the first evening of her impromptu holiday on a tranquil river cruise, but it helped to get her bearings. Her guidebook suggested taking a stroll along Charles Bridge – well, Hazel was no expert, but it was definitely a bridge. Imposing statues stood in uniform lines on both sides, providing many places to hide and spy.
The back of Hazel's neck prickled as she walked. Stopping to light another cigarette, her muscles tensed, but no one approached. Disappointed, Hazel wandered into Old Town Square, idly surveying its grand architecture. All the while, she contemplated her stalker.
The scent was not clear, though its sweet edge confirmed what Hazel suspected. I am not alone here.
She passed a church on the boundary of Old Town Square. With shattered windows and a collapsing spired roof, St. Vladislav Church cried vandalism and neglect. Her dear old mum would have sighed, lamenting loudly about how a place of worship could fall to such disrepair. Nevertheless, people moved in and out of the dilapidated building without fear or caution.
The incredible beauty of these people and their distinct lack of heartbeat told Hazel enough. She grinned. Antoine, you rascal.
Yet the longer Hazel looked, the more her vision swam. Finally, she crushed her cigarette with her boot and spun around to grab the man behind her.
He hadn't washed in months, maybe longer. Under matted hair, his skin had a ghoulish pallor in the streetlights. Hazel blinked, and there it was again, the blurring of her vision.
Mikey attempted to joke. Oh, I get it. Our sister's going blind,
Or it's a glamour, Julia said stonily. Maybe the church and the man are not what they appear.
Ooh. I prefer that idea, said Mikey.
"What is this place?" she asked in (terrible) Czech. "Can you tell me what this place is, sir?"
The man looked surprised to be addressed as such, not to mention being accosted by such a fierce woman.
Hazel tightened her grip on him. "Do you speak English?"
The man nodded quickly. His hair kept moving like undulating tentacles. "Please, let me go."
Hazel did, only to snatch his lapel. "The fuck is you following me for?"
He appeared to wear a crusty leather coat, but it felt strangely liquid, like silk. "You – You need somewhere to stay," the man gasped. His eyes flicked towards the church. "I can help you if you let go!"
Hazel loosened her grip. "Okay. No funny business, got it?"
"Yes, yes. I get it," the man exhaled. "You have never been here before."
His skin rippled.
"No, I haven't." Disgusted, Hazel bounced on the balls of her feet. "Your face. Stop it. It's giving me a headache."
"I'm sorry. I cannot help it." The man shrugged, gesturing her forward. "Follow me, please. The hotel is here." He pointed to the grim, broken church.
Hazel growled. "I said no funny business."
The man's eyes crinkled. "If I tell you the truth, you will not believe it."
"Assumptions will get you nowhere, swee'eart."
"My name is Radko, lady." He was still smiling. "I have given you my name. It is good manners to tell me yours."
"Hazel." Eyeballing the large cracks in the church's marble floor, she nodded ahead of her. "After you, Radko."
The church was incredibly crowded. White statues knelt in the pews like ghostly worshippers, which struck Hazel as fantastically macabre. Radko was whistling a cheerful, meandering tune. "Beautiful, is it?"
"It probably was once, hm." Hazel rubbed her eyes impatiently. "What happened here? Why is this place falling apart?"
Think, Julia said because Radko's mouth was fighting a laugh.
Hazel sighed. "Alright. Let me guess, none of this is real. The whole thing is a glamour, isn't it?"
Now, Radko guffawed. It made him look young and almost lovely. "Yes. Yes, it is." The people around him smiled, in on the joke.
"Finished?" Hazel said coolly.
Eyes sparkling, Radko raised his voice. "Iona, this one isn't fooled by your tricks."
Hazel folded her arms, until an ethereal, female voice answered. "Well, what a pity. Be patient, please…" She had a moment to acknowledge how pleasant they sounded before the world warped around her.
Most of the people loitering about stayed still. Others took brass-studded armchairs that materialised from where pews had once been. A small bar with plush red carpet sprang up in a corner. The white statues came to life. A red-haired, towering inferno of a man stepped out of his pew with three beautiful women. They quickly assembled themselves behind four reception desks.
The smallest of the three appraised Hazel eagerly from the centre pod. She leaned towards one of her colleagues. "What is it, Dana? A boy or a girl?"
"Hush, Christabel. Be professional," Dana whispered. She wore a blue suit with one of the sleeves pinned where her elbow should have been. It made her look ferocious and worth talking to.
Meanwhile, Christabel spoke with a voice ideal for bird impressions. "Welcome to the Hotel Bohemia. My name is Christabel; how may I help you today?"
The receptionist's smile was as warm as a rotting corpse, with bleak desires to match. Fire and death and –
"What kind of hotel is this?"
Christabel opened her pink-lipstick mouth, but that pleasant voice spoke first. "It is special for people like us."
It belonged to the third woman. Golden hair tumbled past her shoulder, and her name badge read Iona. "We have not seen your face before," she observed. "You are new." Iona smiled glowingly.
"Well, I suppose you want me to rent a room," Hazel blurted out, and Mikey and Julia exchanged a knowing look.
Apparently, our sister still has a weakness for blondes.
Hmm. Should we be worried?
Hazel booked herself a room for the week. All the while, she tried not to steal looks at Iona from beneath her lashes. She hated proving her siblings right in matters like this; her own predictability vaguely irked her.
But, every time Hazel looked Iona's way, those bright red eyes stared back at her, and Hazel's excitement was hot, sweet electricity.
"If you want," Iona cooed. "As a welcoming gift, you get the Guest's Special Treatment, free of charge."
"Oh? What's that, then?"
Iona's smile was slow and coy. "My glamour does more than disguise the hotel. Here's your key."
"Thank you," Hazel croaked. Taking the key, she caught the silver wink of a ring on the Iona's finger, and her heart crashed to her feet. Of course. She should have known.
Glancing away, Hazel watched the tall man with an auburn beard murmur to Radko in rapid Czech. "Where did you find him, Radko?"
"Outside, Marek." Radko grinned. "And with respect, I think he's she."
"Are you certain?" The bearded man – Marek – glanced sheepishly away when he saw Hazel looking at him. "We – We hope you enjoy your stay at our hotel."
"Thank you, Marek. I plan to." Hazel gently squeezed the key in her fist. The number 25 dangled from a bright green ribbon, and she was quietly pleased when Iona volunteered to show her to her room.
Marek tugged his ponytail, fixing Iona with a pointed look. "We have a busy night ahead of us."
Iona smiled calmly. "I know this. I made the bookings." She slipped out from behind the reception desk, brushing Marek's arm as if to reassure him.
"Yes," Marek said, visibly relaxing, sinking down into his seat. Hazel had known the same goofy look in dim memories, hazy with cannabis smoke.
Her husband, she scoffed. His nose was too large for his face, mismatched by a weak chin. She can do better.
Stop it, Julia warned.
Iona led the way up the vast staircase, following the curving banister stretched across the first floor. The carpet was thick, and red enough to make Hazel's mouth water.
"You come from England," Iona said over her shoulder. "I know this because you stoop.
"Yes. You English hate strange, foreign places. You shrink yourselves so we won't notice, but we do."
Hazel laughed. "And here I thought I was too tall."
"Hm." Iona turned away. "My Marek is frightened by you."
"Is he, now?" Hazel didn't know what else to say. She had visited many hotels as a Volturi envoy; none of the staff had ever been so familiar with their customers.
It quickly became clear Iona's behaviour wasn't exclusive to newcomers. Vampires of various creeds and colours roamed the corridors, and Iona smiled at them all, exchanging brief pleasantries with any who approached her.
"You seem popular," Hazel said.
"Yes," Iona answered without hesitation. "I offer them what they need, and I will do the same for you."
Hey! Julia snapped as Hazel smirked goofily. You saw the ring. She's taken.
Besides, Michael added. She's straight.
But even in Hazel's head, he didn't sound sure.
To be continued...