He was laying on the loveseat in the parlor, as had become the norm within the days after… well, after. He couldn’t say he was napping, and not even be so bold as to say he was sleeping. Both had been elusive to him, something unattainable to the point that he had just given up in trying to do so. He thought he might still be wearing his outfit from the day before, but he wasn’t positive – the days were starting to blur together.
“What does my sister see in you?” The sudden question came from above, startling Noé into snapping his eyes open and turning on the cushions so he was staring towards the ceiling instead of the wall. Leaning over the back of the loveseat was Veronica – or, at least, Noé was presuming it was Veronica. In all honesty, he had never met the oldest de Sade sibling, as it was only Domi who ever came and visited Teacher at his castle, but he could see a resemblance.
“Oh, you’re actually alive.” Veronica continued, resting a hand on her cheek, staring down at him like he was a specimen to be examined. “Get up then.”
Noé didn’t. He closed his eyes, fully intent on returning to… well, whatever you would call what he had just been doing. Not sleeping. Wallowing. Not doing anything, and not having anything expected from him.
A sharp cold encased his nose and bit his cheeks, forcing him to open his eyes again and to sit up. His hands went to his cheeks and nose, finding them covered in a thin layer of ice.
“Keep ignoring me and I’ll just bring you as an ice statue to Dominique.” Veronica casually informed him, her tone of voice suggesting that it wasn’t a mere threat, but an intended consequence should he not listen. “There’s a suit in your room – red, get dressed in it and meet me back here in ten minutes.”
When Noé didn’t move immediately, Veronica gave a sigh like Noé was physically harming her.
“This is why I hate males.” She sighed. “You’re all weak, pathetic, and stupid. I know you heard me Archiviste – go to your room and get dressed. You have ten minutes”
Unsure how to react, Noé merely nodded, and left the parlor, headed for his room.
Promptly ten minutes later Noé stood awkwardly in the parlor, dressed in the red suit that had been hanging on his closet door. The tie that had been with the ensemble was tied crookedly, and backwards, as Noé hadn’t tied one before – he more commonly wore bow ties, and so an actual tie was a bit of a novelty to him.
Veronica studied him with a look akin to distaste, clucking her tongue at his tie, but didn’t move to fix it, and didn’t criticize him over it either.
“That’ll do, I suppose.” She sighed, before turning and heading towards the front hall. “Come along, Archiviste.”
And Noé followed. Veronica’s harsh treatment towards him was a stark difference between how the castle staff had been treating him all week. Where the servants had been tiptoeing around him, treating him like he was breakable, fragile, Veronica came in and treated him like he was normal, as if… well, as if nothing had happened. She was actually forcing him to get up and do something.
“Where are we going?” Noé asked hesitantly. Veronica’s domineering attitude made him wary to say anything, or do anything that she didn’t strictly tell him to do. He vaguely remembered Domi saying something about her older sister being considered for a position as one of the Queen’s Beastia, and he wondered if her personality and attitude had something to do with it.
Veronica ignored him, leading him outside, down the steps and into an awaiting carriage. Noé, feeling like a calf being led to the slaughter, followed obediently after her, not sure what was awaiting him. Certain that, whatever it was, even if it was undoubtedly awful, it was something he probably deserved.
Inside the carriage sat Domi, clad in a dress as red as the suit Veronica had ordered him to don. Her face visibly brightened when she saw him climb into the carriage, but where previously she would have thrown herself at him to hug him, today she stayed herself, remaining seated by her sister.
“See Dominique?” Veronica said, as if she were proving a point. “I brought the Archiviste boy, just as I said I would – you didn’t have to worry for nothing.
“I wasn’t worrying,” Domi mumbled, before also saying – “He has a name.”
“I know,” Veronica acknowledged, raising her hand and knocking on the carriage roof two times to signal to the coachmen to start the horses. “Noé – the heir and last Archiviste. It’s the whole reason Grandfather has him, I thought you would have figured it out by now, Dominique. The only things Grandfather keeps in that dusty old castle of his are the pieces of his collection and his –”
“That’s enough, Veronica!” Domi snapped, startling both Noé and Veronica – Noé had never heard Domi raise her voice like that before. Not with that tone of voice. It was odd, and slightly frightening. It made Noé wonder, wonder if things had somehow irrevocably changed for the worse.
“May we not do this today, Veronica? Please.” Domi said, sucking in a harsh, deep, breath, as if she were trying to settle herself.
“What is today?” Noé asked hesitantly, before too sharp of a silence could settle in a shroud over the passengers in the carriage. Actually looking at the two girls sitting across from him, Noé finally noticed that Veronica, like Domi, too was wearing a red dress, though in a different style from her younger sister. “And why are we all wearing red?”
Domi looked caught off guard, turning towards her sister, as if expecting her to answer for her, but Veronica waved Domi off, a silent gesture telling her that it was her responsibility to explain.
“In the village today…” Domi didn’t look at Noé as she spoke, choosing instead to look at her hands on her lap. “They’re holding a funeral service for Fanny, Fred, and Gilles.” Her words came out rushed, like she was tearing the bandage off a still-bleeding wound.
And it might as well have been, for as much as it stole the breath from Noé’s chest, rendering him unable to breathe very well.
“As for the red,” Domi started, and faltered, as if uncertain how to explain it, and after the silence dragged on for more than a moment, Veronica sighed and stepped in to explain in Domi’s stead.
“You were raised in the human world, were you not Archiviste?” She didn’t turn her eyes from the carriage window, where she was watching the trees of the forest pass by. “I heard from Grandfather that the human couple who raised you passed away before you were brought to Altus – isn’t that correct?”
“Uh, yes,” Noé answered, looking between the two de Sade sisters, uncertain as to where this was heading.
“When a human passes away, what color is it that the humans wear to the funeral?” Veronica asked, speaking slowly as if she were choosing her words very carefully, and not saying what she actually desired.
Noé had to pause to think – for all that he loved Grandma and Grandpa, the time he had spent with them got further and further away every day. Still, he could bring up the somber colors they wore at Grandpa’s funeral – and what he wore for Grandma’s as well.
“Black.” He said simply, not elaborating because Veronica gave him the feeling that she did not care enough to listen to the elaboration.
“We wear red to funerals,” Domi, having managed to compose herself, finally took the conversation back over, jumping in before Veronica could say anything else. “Vampires, I mean. To represent the Crimson Moon, and our return to ashes. Funeral ceremonies are always held at dusk.”
Noé just nodded, drinking in the information. Nothing more was said on the topic, the rest of the ride into the village passing in silence until the carriage came to a quiet stop by the field that resided on the outskirts of the village.
Noé had only been to this field a handful of times – the village resided directly in between it and the forest that separated the castle and the village, and with the forest being as big as it was, most days the kids never did anything more than explore the vast forest, where they were provided with ample shade and cover, and oddities to uncover at their leisure.
There was already a crowd at the field, and not many people took notice as the trio disembarked from the carriage. A ways off, set up in the field, were three stone pillars each with a decorated glass jar filled with ashes perched on top. Tied around each jar was a vibrant red ribbon, and there were pictures stood next to each jar – they were too far away to see who was on which pillar, but Noé was able to easily conclude that each jar held the ashes of Fanny, Fred, and Gilles.
Veronica led the way through the crowd, but Domi was the one who grabbed Noé’s hand and led him after her. They parted through the crowd, and Veronica led them straight through to the front of the crowd, where there was a smaller group clustered closest to the pillars. It took Noé a moment to recognize who they were, and when he did, his heart leapt to his throat and he felt ill.
“Monsieurs et Madames,” Veronica approached the group, addressing them respectfully, curtsying to the parents and subtly gesturing to Noé and Domi to do the same. Domi did so gracefully, not showing how much this must be affecting her, while Noé awkwardly and stiffly bowed, feeling very much like he was about to throw up.
“My name is Veronica de Sade,” She introduced herself, before beckoning Noé and Domi closer. “I believe you already know my sister, Dominique, and our Grandfather’s ward, Noé Archiviste.”
“Ah yes,” One of the parents, one of the fathers, said, but Noé didn’t know whose, as he had chosen to stare down at his shoes instead of looking at any of their faces. He… He wasn’t sure if he could handle it, staring down the reality of what had happened. Not like this. “They were very lucky, weren’t they.”
Rationally, Noé knew that the father didn’t mean anything by the comment, but all his brain heard was a cry, a cry of why were Noé and Domi alive and none of the other kids, why were they the ones who got to survive and not Fanny, or Gilles, or Fred, or, or, or –
Domi gently kicked him in the shin, and Noé snapped his head up, and blinked back the tears that were threatening to start. No one was addressing him, Veronica controlling the conversation, but it was Domi’s way of reminding him to pay attention to what was going on.
“We’d like to offer our condolences,” Veronica continued, wrapping up whatever conversation it was that she had been holding while Noé had drifted out of it. “Our Grandfather apologizes that he couldn’t be here to do so himself in person, but he wants it to be known that he feels it’s truly a tragedy when the Bourreaus fail at protecting the people from curse-bearers.”
She shot a look towards one of the adults at the end of the group, one that Noé didn’t quite recognize, but Veronica obviously did, and Domi as well, as immediately after her sister finished speaking she hissed,
“Are you trying to imply something untoward, Mademoiselle de Sade?” The man Veronica had subtly called out spoke up.
“Of course not, Bourreau Baptiste,” Veronica demurred. “I am merely passing on my Grandfather’s message as he wished me to.”
The Bourreau looked as if he wanted to say something more, but his eyes flitted over to Noé and Domi, and the gaze made Noé feel even smaller and sicker than just arriving at the funeral had.
“Now, please,” One of the parents said – Fanny’s mother, Noé recognized, stepping up and putting her hands between Veronica and the Bourreau. “Today is a day of peace, of remembrance. I do not want any fights starting over what happened.”
“My apologies,” Veronica apologized, backing away from the Bourreau, and the parents, before turning and disappearing into the crowd. Noé shot a panicked look between Veronica and Domi, not sure what they were supposed to do. Domi didn’t seem concerned about her sister’s disappearance and, tightening her grip on Noé’s hand, took them closer to the parents and the Bourreau, leaving Noé feeling out of place for what was happening, uncertain of the etiquette of it all.
“Bourreau Baptiste,” Domi addressed the Bourreau confidently and respectfully, her tone and posture not belying the shaking that Noé could feel from her strong grip on his hand. “I would like to apologize on behalf of my sister – she can be very… strong willed at times, and picks fight when she ought not to.”
“It is quite alright,” Bourreau Baptiste said. “Your family has been disrespectful long before your generation, and your sister is only evidence that that disrespect isn’t keen on disappearing any time soon.”
He looked between Noé and Domi, but before he could say whatever was clearly on his mind, Domi had whisked them away, disappearing into the crowd the opposite direction that Veronica had vanished.
“Come on,” Domi muttered, pulling them closer and closer to the center of the crowd until Noé felt suffocated. The last time he was around a crowd this big… Well, simply put, he didn’t have very good memories of it, and he wanted out of the center. Noé pulled them towards the side, and Domi relented and allowed him to move them to the outskirts of the crowd, a position where they could still see the pillars up front, but they weren’t directly in the midst of things.
The sun was just getting close to the horizon, and the crowd was starting to settle down a little.
“Sorry about Veronica,” Domi apologized to Noé. “She can be… a bit much, at times. I hope she didn’t say anything too rude to you.”
“It’s okay.” Noé assured Domi. “If anything, how she treated me made me feel… better? If that makes sense?” Seeing Domi’s shocked look, Noé quickly clarified, “I mean, everyone’s been treating me like I’m fragile since… you know, and it actually made me feel better that there was someone who wasn’t treating me like I was going to break at any second.”
“I know that feeling.” Domi sighed an agreement. “That’s how everyone at home has been treating me too – I mean, aside from Veronica.”
They both gave a quiet, subdued, laugh, before standing in a comforting silence as the sun lowered more in the sky. Then, Noé couldn’t help but ask the question that had been resting on his mind.
“Is there going to be…” He hesitated, “A… you know. A funeral, for Mina and Louis?”
Domi sucked in a breath, and Noé wondered if that was the wrong thing to say. The earlier conversation with Domi and Veronica over funeral colors had sharply reminded Noé there was a huge cultural divide unintentionally between them, and he wondered if this was just him poorly navigating it. Ever since picking him up, Teacher hadn’t really been interested in assisting Noé correct the huge cultural curve he had to pick up between living with humans to living with vampires, and Louis hardly could be bothered to help correct it either. A lot of the time Noé felt like he was floundering, drowning, trying to find sure footing in the dark.
“I’m sorry,” Noé said quickly, jumping to the conclusion that that was out of line and he had crossed a boundary. “I’m sorry, just forget about it, it was stupid of me to say, I shouldn’t have –”
“You’re fine.” Domi interrupted him sharply. “But no. There’s… there’s not going to be a funeral for… for Mina and Louis.” She took a deep breath, as if steeling herself to have this conversation with Noé.
“I know you saw,” Domi started quietly, “Mina and… and Louis’ bodies. How they… didn’t return to ashes like the others did.”
Noé did. It was a scene he tried to forget, but couldn’t quite do so. The sight of Mina and Louis’ heads on the stone floor was something he couldn’t seem to get rid of, no matter how hard he tried. He vaguely remembered seeing the fleeting scene of the others bodies slowly dissipating into ashes, but Mina and Louis’ bodies remaining distressingly solid, laying there.
“Whenever a vampire is beheaded, they… they don’t return to ashes.” Domi said, keeping her eyes on the horizon, as if she couldn’t bear to look at Noé. “It’s something that the Bourreaus try to keep the general public from learning about. But at the same time, no one knows why they don’t return to ashes. Because of that, the Bourreaus take the bodies of the cursebearers and… I don’t know, study them, I think, to try and figure out why they don’t return to ashes like normal vampires do.”
“Even if a family wanted to hold a funeral for a cursebearing family member,” Domi continued, her voice even despite how hard this had to be on her, “They wouldn’t be able to, as there’d be no ashes to spread.”
“I’m sorry.” Noé said, hugging Domi, uncertain as to how else to respond. “I didn’t mean to make you upset.”
Domi took a deep breath, and hugged Noé back.
“It’s alright,” She smiled, pulling away from Noé, and turning to face the horizon once more. The sun had sunk low on the fields, dying them a vibrant red. “Come on, let’s get closer – the ceremony should be starting now.”
Surprisingly enough to Noé, human funerals and vampire funerals did not differ very much. The biggest difference he noticed was that they were all always held at dusk, as day turned to night, and that instead of burial, the family members took the jar of the deceased’s ashes, and spread them over the field.
Family members came up and gave eulogies for each of the kids, and before the families spread the ashes, the whole crowd stood and sang a song – they had sung songs before the eulogies, but, Domi whispered into his ear as everyone started singing, this one was different. This was a song they sang specifically to mourn the passing of a vampire to Vanitas’ curse.
After the ashes had been spread, the crowd started to part, heading back to their homes or to offer condolences to the families one last time.
Domi took them to where the carriage was waiting, stepping in first, Noé following after. Veronica hadn’t arrived to the carriage yet so, as they sat across from one another in silence, Noé felt a quiet confidence to suggest the idea blossoming in his chest.
“Domi,” Noé hesitated, uncertain if he should even bring it up or not, but he did so anyways, wanting to take this chance while he had the confidence to do so. “Would you like to see how humans hold their funerals?”