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And Ghostly Glories

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June 29th, 1899

My dearest Marie,

Please forgive this intrusion of words, Marie. I had to write to you. My soul cries out, and, now as ever, only you can bring me solace. I am lost, Marie, caught in a tumult of passion and despair. I have such need of you in this moment as I have never had need of you before. My torment is complete. I beg of you to comfort me, to offer some salvation in the midst of this despair.

I do not speak plainly, I know that. Believe me, I am sorry. My mind is undone, my soul in chaos. I find it difficult to describe what has happened, yet I know I must. I write to you in such disarray, but I must not fail to explain myself along the way. I beg of you to bear with me, dearheart. I am no longer in my right mind, and I beg your patience and your understanding in this moment.

I wrote to you a little while ago to say that I had business with the Nosferatu. You do remember that, don't you? You remember my distaste. Those foul creatures, thronging our river banks and our sewers, lingering in our graveyards and concealing themselves among the criminals in our slums. It was a foul duty that was demanded of me, but unfortunately it was a necessary one. Low as they are, there are times when one is obliged to have dealings with them, and, thanks to my recent mishap with our Prince, that misfortune fell to me. I know, I know. It was no one's fault but my own, to have committed such a grievous faux pas. The shame shall be mine for many long nights to come, I assure you. But it shall be more than shame now, Marie. It shall be something so very much worse.

They set me a trial. The Nosferatu, those filthy things, as though they have any right to debase their betters so. Nonetheless, their warrens are impenetrable. By their grace alone does one enter. Commissioned by my Prince, had I any choice but to follow through, to subject myself to whatever trial they might command? No. No, I had not. I admit, in my arrogance, I thought I knew what it was I would endure. I expected to suffer through filth, through rats, through the throngs of the diseased and the criminal to find passage to them. And they did demand that of me. I have walked through filth, Marie, and I most fervently hope that it shall be a long, long time ere I must do so again.

That was not their trial, however. That was not the punishment they set to humble me. It was worse, my love. It was so much worse. I can barely find the words to describe it to you.

They have caverns down there, you know. In the earth, under the ground. Not just the great passageways of the sewers, but tunnels, meeting halls, dormitories. There is near enough an entire city down there, streets and pavements and hollowed halls, a dark mirror of our city above them. It is a squalid place, cramped and clogged with filth, but it has a rude sort of majesty for all that. Perhaps I would not think so had I not seen what I have seen, but I ... I did, Marie. I saw, and I heard, as they wished me to see and to hear, and now I find my thoughts infected. I find myself possessed of some strange, involuntary admiration. I cannot help it. I am humbled, and I cannot find myself otherwise. I am lost. I beg of you to help me.

It was a performance. This thing they demanded of me, it was to attend a performance in their city. Their messenger came to me. Such a creature, in my own home, among my things ... you understand my horror, of course, but I suppose it was not the salient point, not even then. He did not stay long, at least, only long enough to give me instruction. In order to meet with their Primogen, I must first attend a command performance by some of their greatest artists. I, who have toured the greatest opera houses in Europe. They wished a review, he said, as payment for my passage. I must admit, my love, I near laughed in their faces. Gauche, I know, but how could one help it? They are Nosferatu. Perhaps some of them might possess some rude artistry, but to imagine that I, of all people, would be impressed ...

I had no choice, however. I could not hope to be honest, not if I wished to fulfil my duties afterwards, so I steeled myself to offer pleasant falsities, and consoled myself with the knowledge that I would not be the first artist to bend to political necessity and offer up an unduly flattering review. I agreed to their demand, concealing the extent of my incredulity, and resigned myself to a thoroughly unpleasant evening.

And it was unpleasant, at first. To reach their subterranean metropolis, I was forced to travel through some of the worst parts of this city, to brave my way through crowds and cutpurses, and then to clamber through noisome passages and wade through knee-deep filth. My senses revolted. I nearly couldn't continue. It was unbearable, Marie, nothing more nor less than utterly disgusting. My stomach failed me, even if my nerves did not. Yet I prevailed, in the end. I survived their noisome gauntlet, and safely reached those somewhat more wholesome areas of their domain.

And then. Oh, then. Then all surety was taken from me, my love. Then all was lost.

They have made a chamber down there. An amphitheatre, a concert hall. A cathedral. I do not use that word lightly, Marie. It is a great, vaulted space, shrouded in darkness, with only the small stars of candelabras to offer some faint hope of light. Rivulets of water run down the walls and the steps and across the floor. It is noisome stuff, of course, the smell of it foul, but the rivulets cast reflections from the candlelight, creating a dancing, ghostly illumination. And then, there is their sound. The chime and susurrus of water, the echoes of that vast space. When I arrived in that place I was seething, nauseated, infuriated, but when we walked out into the centre of the vault, my guide and I, I found my turmoil unwillingly stilled. I found myself caught and silenced, as one always is when entering a holy space. Had I walked into Notre Dame herself, I could not have been more thoroughly quieted.

I fell still, my love. I stood in that dark, quiet space, the soil of sewer water on my shoes and my handkerchief limp in my hand, and I felt a stillness creep over me, the soft echoes and the ghostly light stealing away my movement. I barely registered my guide drifting away from me, a sneering grin on his evil face. I paid it little mind. I had not the presence to pay it more.

And then. Then. From the stillness and the silence, there came voices. Oh, Marie. There came such voices.

They came softly. One by one. A woman's first. A low, sweet chime, a gentle glory. She sang the first notes, invisible, her voice echoing in the vastness of that seemingly empty space. And then another, and another. Women, men. Voices building on voices, echoes building on echoes. Invisible, intangible, a choir of angels hidden amongst the darkness and the ghostlights, the soft playing of the water the instrument of their song. The sound rose, swelled, glories to a forgotten god floating among the pillars and the vaults of a lost cathedral, long since buried and damned.

It was ... it was beyond description, Marie. The sound of it, the sensation. The great choirs of Europe could not have done better. I was lost to it instantly, drowned inside the swell of it, my thoughts shattered and silenced by that song. I could not move, I could not speak. I could not even think. Had my guide stepped forward from the shadows then, a knife in his hand, he might have slaughtered me a thousand times and I could not have raised a hand to stop him. Not so long as that sound rose and gloried about me still. I was entranced, enslaved. Its glory was beyond sublime.

I cannot tell you how long the performance lasted. Truly, I cannot. It might have been hours, it might have been years. It might have been all eternity. It is the curse of our kind, that beauty can strike us senseless, but I defy any creature, mortal, immortal or otherwise, not to have been stricken then. While their voices sang out in that shrouded darkness, there was nothing for me but exquisite, unreasoning glory. I saw them emerge as their song continued. I saw them drop their shrouds of invisibility and emerge in their hideous glory one by one by one. I saw that. It meant nothing to me. It mattered not at all. From those grotesques came the voices of angels, and, subsumed by their song, I could not greet their monstrous faces with aught but a distant sort of joy. I was entranced, Marie. I was enthralled.

I wept when it was done. When the song fell silent, when the last echoes of it faded away into the shadows and the chiming of the water. Alone, unmanned, surrounded by their judgement, I could not help but weep. I am not ashamed of that. Even then, even helpless beneath their stares, I was not ashamed. What man could endure such beauty and not be compelled to weep? In the midst of our damnation, how could we witness such echoes of forgotten glory and fail to shed a tear? It could not be done.

And perhaps it is odd, I think, perhaps it was strange, but they did not disturb me from my tears. They did not mock or seize upon me. They made no attempt to drive home my shame. They only watched. They only waited until all my tears had run dry.

She came to me then. Their Primogen. Hers had been the opening voice, that low, sweet sound in the silence. Perhaps I should have expected that. Who else but their leader could command her people to such glory? She came to me through the shadows and the rippled lights in the water. I stood humbled in front of her, the stains of my tears still on my cheeks. She reached out with a grey, clawed hand, and dashed the remnants gently from beneath my eyes.

"So," she said to me. "So even the most lordly may be humbled. Have we pleased you, my pretty lord? Have we matched those beautiful children whose voices fill your surface halls?"

And what could I say? How could I answer? I do not know, Marie, if it was only the juxtaposition, the stark contrast of the profane and the divine all at once, but in all my life or unlife, no song has ever struck me so profoundly. No single performance has ever cleft my soul so neatly in two. I do not say this lightly. I cannot say this lightly. They are the antithesis of all that is beautiful in this world, they are filthy and brutish and cruel, they are nothing I would ever willingly credit with glory, but that song. That place. Those voices, lifted together in the embrace of that hollow, echoing cathedral. Even now, even this very moment, the memory of it batters and uplifts my heart all at once. Can you understand the grip it has upon my soul? You, Marie, who knows me so well. Can you understand how I am chained by it?

She knew it, too. I could not find words to offer her, but my silence spoke for me as well or better than any of them. She knew the hold she had upon me. She knew how very greatly her people and her song had struck me low.

"Yes," she said, her palm still cupped about my cheek, the horror of her face pale before me. "I see that we have. You cannot believe it, can you? You cannot bear it. But you cannot deny it either." Her hand tightened. Not enough to hurt, but enough to remind. "And you will remember it, won't you. You will remember what you heard here. You will remember what you will never hear again, save that you somehow earn our favour. But you would not stoop that low. You would not crawl through shame and filth for one moment of flawed beauty. You could not. Could you."

They were not questions. Not one, not a single one of them. They were challenges instead. I knew. Of course I knew. Her claws rested lightly on my cheek. But the hall still rang with the echoes of their music. My soul still lay in pieces at her feet. I was unwise, Marie. I was blind and heart-torn and foolish. I answered her. I said, I stammered, that I might. I might come. I might crawl. To hear that sound again, I might suffer all the filth in the world.

What is this damnation of ours anyway, save an endless crawl through filth to find some star of beauty hidden among it? What are we for, if not to endure the ravages of fate to witness and safeguard some finer thing? Isn't it worth it, Marie? Wouldn't it be? Even her. Even them. Wouldn't it be worth enduring their cruelty to know that that song did not fall emptily into silence?

I beg you, Marie, you must persuade me. You must comfort me, you must tell me truth, you must salvage my soul from this torment. I know I was unwise. The moment I won free to stand once more in my own home, my haven, once more among my things, I knew I had been foolish. Yet that song sings within me still. Yet I cannot forget. I cannot forget it, Marie. I cannot let it go. She has me still. Her claws on my cheek, her hold upon my heart even now. If she called me now I would answer, and without even her blood to excuse it. How can such things be? I was damned already, but surely this is some greater damnation still?

Her name is Miriam, you know. 'Sea of sorrow'. Is that not perfect? Is that not wonderfully, beautifully apt? Damn her. Once, twice, a thousand times. Damn them all. How can such horror hide such beauty? How cruel a thing to turn against me!

And yet. Yet, for all that. Would that you could have heard it, Marie. Would that you could have heard that song. Her cruelty I would not wish upon anyone, nor could I hope for you to endure that hideous trek into their keep, but the song itself ... yes, I wish you could have known that. That cathedral, that hollow, ghostly space, and that music rising and climbing and echoing within it. The darkness and the water and the song. The hidden glories in the shadows and the silence. I would show you that. If it could only be bought less than ruinously, I would gladly show you that.

Write to me, Marie. I beg you. Or visit, if you can be spared. I am heart-torn, my love. I am possessed of bright and ruinous despair. Come to me, please. You alone can guide me when I am lost, and never have I been so lost as I am now. I am undone, my love, another's hand upon my heart. I wander the night unmoored. Send me your strength, I beg you. Impart upon me your courage, for I have desperate need. I am yours, beloved, forever and always. As you raised me once from death, save me now from captivity. Come to me, dearheart. Please.

Yours eternally, in unlife as in death,

Jonathan Donoghue