Renzo pulled himself out of sleep. Something wasn’t right. His room was pitch black and he couldn’t even see past the edge of his bed, but still, he knew there was somebody else in the room with him. It was finally time, he had been waiting for this for so long. He knew he still needed to be careful, but he couldn’t help smiling to himself as he sat up in his bed.
“Renzo Lanese,” came a female voice to his right. It was dark and powerful, just as he knew it would be. He still couldn’t see the person it was attached to, but he felt awed in her presence nonetheless.
“Y-yes,” he said. He was surprised at how shaky his voice was. He had done many things, met with kings and queens. At one point in time he met with the Pope to help rid the Christian world of its greatest menace. None of that excited or, truth be told, scared him as much as this. A clandestine meeting in the middle of the night. He didn’t even know who this was, or who he was even going to meet with, but he was sure it would be one of the most important things he has ever done.
The voice drew closer. “Come with me.” It drew away again and his bedroom door opened, spilling faint light in and causing the silhouette of a woman, cloaked and hooded, to form. She motioned him to follow and he did as he was told, it wouldn’t be prudent to hesitate or ask questions. Not tonight. He followed her through his house. The occasional oil lamp still burned low, but there wasn’t another soul in sight, the servants must have already gone to bed for the night. That was for the best, he wanted to avoid unnecessary questions if he could. The less people who saw him out at this late hour, the better.
The woman, for her part, moved quickly through his house. He struggled to keep up, his old legs not being as strong as they once were. That was the thing, no matter how much wealth one amasses, or how much power one commands, time makes a slave of everybody. Except, maybe, not anymore. Not after tonight.
Many years ago, when he was still commanding the Inquisition, he had made a request. He had used many of his contacts to get this request out secretly without any of the Inquisition or the nobility knowing. It was at great cost that he put a bounty on immortality. If any scientist or alchemist were to discover the secret of immortality, it would be his. He would pay more than any other requester, no matter what he had to do to pay it. He was sure he’d have to do quite a lot, as there were rumours of Royalty making the same offer. Alas, the discovery never came, and he had since retired to his manor to while away his receding years.
Then, several months ago, he received a letter. The secret had been discovered! It, of course, was going to cost him dearly, but that didn’t matter. Even if it cost more that he was able to give now, after he received his immortality, he would have quite a long time to square his debt, one way or another.
The woman led him out his front door. That was a surprise. Perhaps she didn’t know about the more discreet entrances the manor offered. He opened his mouth to speak, but she blew through the door, leaving him to hurry after.
On the front lawn, barely visible in the moonless night, was a black carriage pulled by a pair of black horses. At least they looked black against the gray stone of the driveway.
She opened the carriage door. “Get in,” she said and stood to the side.
Renzo peered into the dark carriage. Perhaps this wasn’t such a good idea after all. “Do you mean to take me through the front gate?” He asked by way of stalling.
“Yes, is that a problem?” The woman responded.
He felt some relief at that idea. Still, he couldn’t help himself. “Is that wise?” He heard himself ask.
The woman nodded, the hood bobbing back and forth. He thought he caught a patch of pale skin in those dark folds. “Is it your neighbors you’re worried about? As far as they’re concerned, you’ve just had another late night caller. You are known to have those on occasion, after all.”
That was true enough, but it did little to quiet his fears as he stepped into the carriage. The woman followed him in and closed the door. Once again, he was enveloped in darkness. The driver whipped the horses and started off toward the front gate.
He sat there, alone, with what was quite possibly a beautiful, young woman. His younger self would have seized this opportunity without a moment’s hesitation, but something told him that would be unwise. Besides, he did not feel much lust this night. He felt anticipation, but mostly, he felt fear.
“Are you afraid?” The woman asked from beside him.
He hesitated for a moment. Did she know his thoughts? “I am,” he finally admitted.
“Good,” she replied. “It’s natural to be afraid, it means you are still human.”
“Should I be?” He asked, her answer doing nothing to ease his fears.
The woman didn’t turn to him. “I do not know your heart, or what you should be afraid of.”
That was less than satisfying. “Will you really get me the secret to immortali-”
She clapped a hand over his mouth. “Do not speak of such things. There are ears everywhere.” Her hand eased away from his face. “Now, stay silent until we get to where we are going.”
The rest of the ride was agonizing. The woman in black didn’t speak, didn’t move any longer. He couldn’t see her, dressed as she was, within the deep shadows of the carriage. He had begun to wonder if perhaps this wasn’t quite real. Then, nearly two hours after they had set off, the cart slowed and she spoke again.
“We have arrived,” she announced, still not moving.
“Oh good,” he said under his breath.
The cart moved into some kind of outbuilding, he could hear the wheels against wood now. He had thought it couldn’t be any darker than when he got into the cart, but the darkness had deepened now. His eyes conjured images and colors swam across a black canvas. The cart slowed and finally stopped. He felt a shift and almost fell as his door opened.
“Come with me,” the woman said. She was outside of the carriage now. When had she left it? He ungracefully exited the carriage. A hand touched his. It was cold. “Follow,” she commanded and he was pulled forward.
He had been afraid before, but now there was a ball of lead in his stomach, threatening to burn its way out. His old legs burned as he struggled to keep up, but the woman’s pull was insistent, his legs be damned.
His curiosity got the better of him, despite the ball of lead in his stomach. “Where are we going?” he asked between gasping breaths.
The woman didn’t even slow. “Hush man. We are soon there,” she responded in the same even tones she had used all night.
She let go and he was finally allowed some respite. He was taking his first lung full of air when the total darkness was transformed into a brightness akin to midday. He threw his hands over his face as what was blinding darkness became blinding light. When he was able to hazard a glance, he saw a raised platform upon which sat six young women. Truth be told, it looked almost like a judges bench. Above the women was a giant pentacle, elegantly carved and painted. The woman who brought him here lowered her hood and took her place next to the others, making seven. Realization dawned on him then.
“No,” he whispered. He was almost to tears.
“Renzo Lanese,” boomed the woman in the center, so loud he could feel it. “You stand accused of mass murder. How do you plead?”
“What? I don’t-”
“Do I have to spell it out for you?” she boomed, already showing annoyance. “My name is Gwynneth White, and these,” she gestured around the room, which he now saw was filled with a few dozen women. “Are the daughters of the witches you failed to burn.”
A second realization came to him. A sad irony, really. He wouldn’t be needing that immortality formula anymore.