Chapter the Twelfth: Sanguine Baptism
"Power slips through one's fingers like sand. Best to melt the sand, change it into glass. Sculpt it. Then you can posses and be proud of it forever."
--Augustus, in a letter to Janus
Trent/Cellini found the hand waving about in front of his face a curiosity. It was moving so slowly. As the doors in front of Augustus opened, Trent lost his thoughts to that alien boy that was paradoxically himself. He noted that no watch stood at the door that was now opening, they had moved at Augustus’ slight gesture (a small wave, almost lazily, of his right hand) none the less.
Trent felt that he should run. Run now; avoid whatever fate waited behind those doors. For he felt certain that no good would come of this. But, much as this ominous feeling gripped him, he feared even more what the mysterious man would do if he fled. Augustus was power, arrogance, and hubris incarnate; it dripped off him. It rolled of his tongue with it‘s rich vocabulary. It resided in his sadistic gaze. Distractedly, Trent realized that this was the other reason he did not flee; he was dazzled by this power just as he had been enraptured by the concepts of his mentor.
As those doors loomed open, the sound of festivities emerged from them. “Come,” Augustus said simply.
Without a word, Trent began to follow the man into the party.
“Are you a vampire?” Sheri could not hold in the question any longer. She looked with trepidation across the table to Michelangelo, her Mikey. He was looking out the window with a slight smile on his face. Outside the restaurant (five stars, naturally), the city lights sparkled in the night rain.
After a second, he looked up. “You’ve barely touched your stake my dear. I assure you it’s quite good. I can smell it from here.”
“You know, I wasn’t aware of the word ‘vampire’ until about oh… sometime in the 19th century if I remember correctly. To put it succinctly, I am not the same being as the popular and sensationalized. I drink blood, yes. I love it. But…” he leaned closer, “I don’t really need it to survive. So no, not a vampire. Something so much more than a fairytale.”
“Then what are you?”
“I told you my dear, I am an angel. I have transcended humanity. I have ascended Jacob’s ladder.”
“But you drink blood.”
“Ah that. It bothers you, does it? Well, let me tell you, it’s not blood I consume.”
His brow furled a bit. “Take a bite of the meat, before it grows any colder.”
Sheri did as ordered.
“There’s a good lass. Now then. It is not blood. It is life. And it tastes heavenly to me; naturally so. I am an angel. My function … Now this shall fascinate you --keep eating, my dear-- Did you know that I produce no waste?”
“I digest blood, flesh, and not occasionally fine meals, as you have seen for yourself. But there is no waste. I am above such base bodily functions.”
“Then, what happens to all that… stuff?”
“I didn’t think about it, for hundreds of years. But along with the humans around me, soon I became more cognizant of the laws of this natural universe that we live in. ‘Matter can neither be created nor destroyed!’ this was the catechism of the new science that was slowly replacing religion. And yet, there I was, doing what they said was impossible on a daily basis. Nay, beyond that, my very existence was a physical impossibility. How was it that in a universe where everything was eventually brought to its knees by age and decay, the very stuff of entropy, that I had survived so long?”
A waiter came by. Michelangelo waved him off without a word. “Um, actually, I could use some water…” said Sheri.
“He knows. Your water will be brought, I assure you. So, there I was, in quite the conundrum and confused about my very role in the grand cosmic order. Was God dead, as Nietzsche said? Was I never to know my purpose? Had my faith been in vain? Was I a mere base monster such as those that the Slavs had been ranting about since time immemorial?”
The Slavic reference was lost to her, but still she grasped his plight. “Oh, Mikey… what happened?”
“I have existed for a long time. A long, confusing time. Many things happened, and I’ve seen so much. I’ve forgotten so much. But only in supreme works of art, which became rarer by the year, did I still see the spark of the divine. I was in despair. I railed against the world that had spawned me, grasping desperately at what was still beautiful, still sacred, in this world. Then, one fateful night, which I remember very clearly, I extinguished an artist that I found insufferably horrid, a foolish Parisian. His daughter was present for the event. I felt her eye upon me as I drank the man dry. Then, I stood before her, her father’s blood dripping from my face and chest. She looked up at me--oh but she was precious with those blue eyes, ivory skin, and blonde hair -- she looked at me with those wide eyes and said, rather simply, ‘Why?’”
At this point, the waiter brought Sheri a water. Neither she nor her Mikey looked up, and they both waited silently for him to leave.
“It was then that I realized my purpose. Why I was able to live, while others died. Why I consumed, but never had to return. ‘Why, my dear?’ I replied to that little girl. “Because I am entropy. I am death. I am the all consuming. I am here to purify the world, even to the point of destroying it. I am the angel of death, and I have passed judgment here.”
For a while, silence. And then Sheri found her breath again. “Wow. So, what happened next?”
“That…” he looked back out into the city. “Is a story for another time. I will regale you with the fate of that little girl, if you are good, at some point. In any case, I hope you grasp the importance of my epiphany. It was my rebirth… my… How I came to find my purpose. Sheri?”
“You have been looking for your own purpose, have you not? You have wondered, as you did your beautifully sad paintings, what it all meant. Am I wrong?”
“No… that’s exactly it.” Sheri looked down and blushed.
“I will help you find that purpose. I promise you.”
Sheri’s eyes watered with a sudden feeling of contentment. She knew then that Mikey was the best thing to ever enter her life. Maybe she should feel scared too, but he was so commanding; so… powerful. This was a man not to be denied. No, not a man, something else.
“Finish your steak. It’s time to resume painting.”
The revelers looked rich to Trent‘s naive, country-boy eyes (or rather those eyes of the body he inhabited). Beyond rich, actually. With their gold, their expensive fabrics, their servants, and their drunken rowdiness, they seemed the very picture of decadence. A woman approached Trent, her beauty underlied by a carnal confidence. “Hey, boy,” she said, “What’s your name?”
“He is not for you,” said Augustus in a tone that suggested he was all-too used to the inconvenience of waiving off amorous women. “Come Michelangelo.” Augustus drew Trent close and put a friendly arm around his slender shoulders. “I think it’s unavoidable.”
“You can feel it sometimes. Our presence causes ripples in reality. Back and forth through time, the genesis is echoing.”
Trent studied the older man. “I don’t understand.”
“Maybe someday you will. We are power, such as to shake the very pillars of--”
“Augustulus!” came a boisterous man’s voice.
Trent and Augustus turned to see a large, well muscled man with long tresses and a ginger beard. He was smiling like a devil.
“I will thank you not to call me that, Oberion.” said Augustus coolly.
“Oh, but I like Augustulus; it’s always been such a cute moniker.”
“Exactly why I don’t like it. Who knows how much that suffix cost me?”
Oberion was now before them. Well, I’d say things worked out, besides we both know the real reason why you bowed out of power. Beings like us have to stay in the shadows. It’s in our nature after all.” The large man turned to face Trent now. “Is this him then? Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio, the great, if controversial, genius?”
Augustus took a seat at a chair so large it seemed more like a throne. “Indeed,” he said as he stretched out a hand absentmindedly to take the cup of wine that a servant had rushed up to offer. “The pope’s favored. Rome’s greatest painter. Oh, how the Tetragraevists will be angry.” This was a term that Trent’s dream-self did not recognize. It didn’t sound like any artistic movement his master had told him of, perhaps it was a political group, they did seem to be talking of such things after all.
Oberion snorted. “That foolish group will always be behind us. But, does the boy have any idea?”
“Ask him.” Augustus said simply.
Oberion turned his attention and smile back to Trent. “I’ve seen the Calling of Saint Mathew. It’s a brilliant work. Your chiaro--whateveryoucallit--techniqe is sublime. I didn’t think humans were capable of experiencing the world so richly. Naturally, we wonder how someone of your prodigious talent feels about joining our faction. There was a time when we blackened the landscape with our presence, but many of us are missing these days.”
Trent cleared his throat. “I’m sorry… I don’t understand…”
“Actually,” said Augustus at this point. “I don’t think the boy is cut out for the politics of the night-childer and its many intrigues.”
Oberion turned back to Augustus. He could still make a good human shield, if nothing else. There are many uses for the turned. Even a pawn may be used strategically…”
The woman that had been so eager to talk to Trent bumped into him now; he turned to see that she was aggressively embracing a new man. He turned back to the obtuse conversation and tried to ignore her embarrassing proximity.
“Oberion, I only have one real design on the boy. He is to be a slap in the face of Gioto.” Augustus focused on Trent again. “He’s been sniffing around you, hasn’t he boy? That Gioto.”
Trent though Gioto sounded familiar, perhaps even a patron of his master. “Um, well…”
“I could practically smell the stench of the Teragraevists on him. They’re going to attempt to preserve him, like they do with every great artist. Make him think their way. Cause the very stagnation that they try to prevent. All because they cling to their foolish sentimentality. What‘s the point? We‘re dead.”
“Well,” Oberion pushed a man out of his seat and took it, “If you don’t intend to have him join our faction, how are you to keep him out of theirs? Will you kill him?”
“What?” Trent said with widening eyes. He tried to back up, but the woman was now behind him, making gross sounds with her partner.
Augustus continued, unconcerned with Trent‘s fear. “No, no. Even I think it would be a shame to destroy such talent . Besides, if we are the ones to turn him… well, they’ll never get over the humiliation. That‘s the idea. To be quite frank, I don‘t have much planned beyond that.”
Oberion sighed. “This is most unlike you. Usually you have such circuitous schemes…”
“Sometimes one must bind their enemy with many silken tethers. Like a spider.” Augustus smiled. “But enough of this; I wish to leave the city before light breaks. I hate the daytime.”
“We are creatures of darkness,” Oberion said sadly. “It’s so rare to have a good battle at night though…”
Augustus stood up. “Beings like us must conquer through subtler means. That is the way of things; in this world, the monsters rule under the cover of shadows, lest the humans grow dangerous and destroy us.”
“So, how’re you going to turn this boy then?” Oberion pointed to Trent.
“Well, for one thing I intend to cloud his memory. Such coercion of the mental facilities is well within my power.” Augustus stood up. “Hear me well boy, you will not remember what transpired this night. When you wake next, you will remember but one thing: ‘I am Michelangelo Merici de Caravaggio, and I am the greatest artist the world has ever known.’” Augustus approached Trent with unnaturally illuminated eyes. Trent felt himself becoming numb. Grayness started to creep around his vision.
“Can I watch?” asked Oberion eagerly.
Trent was fading fast, as if he had drunk some potent wine. The last thing he heard was Augustus’ incredulous reply, “You’re fascination with bloodletting never ends, does it, my friend? Pity your enemies.”