Who knew infiltrating a castle to assassinate a princess could be so difficult?
Well, getting into the castle had been easy. Seduce a lonely guardsman watching a lonely and secluded entrance, get him to invite me inside, and kill him as soon as I’ve crossed the threshold.
It’s assassinating the princess that’s proving to be a tougher challenge than anticipated.
This damn place is like a maze, and it doesn’t help that I have to duck back into a shadowy corner every time I hear someone coming, and I have damn good hearing.
I hold my breath as another pair of guards passes my hiding spot, waiting until their footsteps disappear down the nearby staircase before I emerge and carry on with my task. It’s a dark and gruesome task I’ve been assigned, but I have to do it. Kill this girl, and I’ll be free. I don’t know if the Council has sent other “agents” on this assignment, but I do know what the only outcomes of my taking it entail; there is no way in which I fail to accomplish my task and survive. Either I’m slaughtered by guards before I reach the princess’ bedchamber, or the Council sends their hunters out to kill me for abandoning my contract.
So lost in my thoughts, I forget to check a corner before rounding it, only to realize there’s a knight further down the hall. As soon as I see them, I scramble back around the corner, peeking only my head toward the otherwise empty hallway.
The knight is facing perpendicular to the corridor, their back to the wall I’m looking along. Torchlight glints off their plate-mail, and I can see a scabbard dangling from their hip, complete with sword-hilt. Somehow, I get the feeling that there’s something special about this knight, but I’m not sure what; the other guards were armed, yes, but this one gives off the impression that they’re especially trained and could be especially deadly. At least, they would be… if I were human.
But my goal tonight isn’t to leave a path of destruction. I need to be stealthy, get to the princess, and get out. But this one knight is guarding the princess’ chambers. So I have to get by them somehow. I can hide in the shadows of the hallway to some extent, but I can’t get close without appearing suspicious, and I’d rather go as unnoticed as possible.
So it’s with that plan that I pull my cloak tighter around me and take flight as a small bat, leathery wings flapping hard as I ascend toward the ceiling. To appear natural, I keep my movements erratic, darting left, right, up, down as I flit along the corridor toward my goal. There’s a quiet clanking as the knight turns to me when I approach, but they ignore me once I land on the ceiling near a torch. I’m certainly visible if they turn this way, but I shouldn’t arouse any suspicion; there’s bugs in the hallway and many windows in the castle are open, I could be a normal bat that came in here in search of food. After a few minutes I take flight again, making a few performative swoops directly in the knight’s line of sight and even go so far as to catch a moth just a dozen centimeters in front of their face.
“Stupid flying fucking rats, disgusting,” I hear them whisper under their breath. Well, at least they bought my cover, even if I am the tiniest bit hurt by their attitude. I’m tempted to hiss, let them know I’m not a fan, but I have to be stealthy so I bite my tongue. They don’t even turn their head as I alight high on the wall next to the guarded doors, and I slowly begin to crawl down toward them. There’s a space between the wood and the top of the doorway, and I’m fairly certain my bat form can fit through that with no trouble.
Maybe a little trouble. It takes a few wriggles, but I do eventually make it into the princess’ chambers, where I slowly flap down to a plush-looking carpet under a round table. I’m careful not to make a sound as I go back to a humanoid form and creep slowly around the darkened chamber. Pale moonlight comes through a couple large windows along one wall, glinting off metals and trinkets, but the majority of the room is in shadows. A large canopy bed sits off to the side, and it’s in there I see my sleeping target.
Her hair is splayed out around her head, the blonde looking almost silver in the moonlight. She’s so still as I stalk towards her too, and if I couldn’t hear her heartbeat and smell the blood in her veins, I’d likely think she was already dead.
But she’s not.
And I’m here to fix that, I think to myself as I get closer with fangs bared. I’ve done this a few hundred times before, taking blood from a sleeping person, but this time is different. I don’t usually drink to kill, at least not all at once, plus there’s my own life on the line this time. As I get closer, I’m struck by just how pretty this princess is. Her blonde locks are wonderfully wavy and frame her face, and those lips take my mind to impure places. What I wouldn’t give to see that head between my legs, with the knowledge that those pretty eyes are looking up at me, begging for both my approval and my mercy.
I can’t, though. The princess’ disappearance would draw more attention than her death, and I just have no easy way to get her out of the castle without arousing suspicion.
Guess I’ll just have to stop at a brothel on my way out of town.
Back to the task at hand (or at fang?) I move aside one of the curtains and lean into the bed. The princess’ slow breaths are warm on my cheek as I hover over her neck and brush away a lock of hair that’s fallen in the way. Her pale, unblemished skin is so intoxicating to me, I almost don’t notice when my victim’s eyes open before I’ve bitten her.
In a half second, she’s pulled a sword from gods-know-where and pointed the tip to my neck, forcing me back and out of her bed. Not that a stab to the throat would kill me, but it’d still hurt like hell and greatly inconvenience me. She follows shortly after, her bare feet silent when they alight on the stone floor.
“Who are you, and what are you doing in my quarters?” she demands.
“My name isn’t relevant and frankly, I’m here to kill you. Nothing personal, I assure you,” I tell her, taking a step forward, and now it’s her turn to back up. She’s got that sword at my throat, and she’s still scared; what a cute little thing, so weak and helpless. In need of someone to take her and lead her into paradise. “It’s adorable how you think that tiny little blade can hurt me. You’re dealing with things you don’t underst– GAH son of a fuck!”
I’d taken a hand and tried to move her sword away, only for my hand to erupt in burning pain as soon as it made contact with the blade. A little slicing wouldn’t surprise me, but burning? That’s very unusual for a “normal” sword, and I know only one substance that can do something like this to vampires…
“Silver!? Why do you have a sword of fucking silver, who the fuck uses silver to make a sword!?!?” I hiss, barely able to contain my rage as there’s a crash behind me.
“Princess! I heard voices, are you alright?” a voice exclaims, and I whip my head around to see the knight from outside, brandishing a flaming torch in one hand and a colorful shield in the other. Great. Silver on one side and fire on the other. Two things that don’t mix well with vampires.
“Careful Mina, she’s not human!” the princess warns her knight, and I turn back to her with a snarl. My options are rapidly disappearing, and I’m starting to feel like a rat in a corner. “What are you? Changeling, werewolf, shapeshifter?”
“Don’t you think you might be a bit old to be taken by a changeling?” I shoot back, earning a glare from the twenty-something holding the sword. “I’m a fucking vampire, you dumb bitch.” A flash of my fangs, and her eyes widen.
“A… vampire?” she asks, sharing a glance with her knight. “I must admit, your kind is very adept at keeping to the shadows, I was starting to think you didn’t exist.” She advances on me with that blasted sword again and I take another couple steps back, eyes flicking from one threat to the other. The princess is blocking my access to the chamber’s windows, and her knight the chamber’s doors, so all my avenues of escape are inaccessible. The knight must have seen the gears turning in my head, because she’s next to speak.
“If we let you go, do you give your word to not harm the Princess?” she asks. “You can go free, your secret will be safe with us, and you won’t be tried for an attempt on the Princess’ life.”
“No. No, I can’t do that,” I don’t even take time to consider her offer before firing back, “if I leave this castle and she,” I point at the princess, “isn’t dead, I will be. Her death won’t be painful, but mine will.”
“Why? Who do you work for?” the princess demands. She thrusts her blade forward again and I narrowly sidestep, but my back hits a wall and panic really starts to set in.
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” I respond, though something about the calculating look in her eyes tells me she probably actually would. Her sword arm falters and I can see her thinking through something.
“Then…,” she begins slowly, “in the interest of protecting as much life as possible… we can’t let you leave.”
“So you’re going to kill me?” I ask. “Do you even know how to kill a vampire? A simple slash across the chest won’t do me in like a normal human.”
“Kill? Maybe not, but you certainly don’t seem to like silver. Or fire,” the princess retorts and I glare at her. “And who said anything about killing? No, follow me. Mina, take this, give me your torch.” The two exchanged their weapons by tossing them over my head, and while I was tempted to make a break for it in the meantime, the princess’ wording piqued my interest and I remained rooted to the spot. Did she really not wish to kill me? I was sent to assassinate her, why should she let me live?
I watch with curiosity as the princess walks over to a bookcase, careful to keep the fiery torch between me and her, and I’m loath to follow her until something hard is pressed against my back. Turning, I find the knight Mina behind me, gently trying to push me forward with that accursed blade. Thankfully my cloak is thick enough to protect my skin from the metal, but I still step away anyway, careful not to get too close to the princess and her torch.
I’m shocked as the princess starts to pull a book from one of the upper shelves but replaces it before it's removed, somehow causing the entire bookcase to slide to one side. In its place is a rectangular doorway, several feet taller than me and filled with inky darkness.
I balk as the princess steps through and down, her torch illuminating the top of a narrow spiral staircase, winding around a great column.
“What is this?” I hiss, wrapping my cloak tighter around myself when she turns back to face me. “Where are you taking me?”
“Somewhere you won’t be able to hurt me,” the princess begins, and I feel fear start to settle around my unbeating heart. Her voice is velvet covered steel as she continues, “but you’ll be safe from those who sent you. Now come along, I don’t particularly want to hurt you, but I’ll do what I must and Mina is exceptional with a blade. So come, if you’d rather not taste pure silver.”
“Fine,” I grumble and she turns back around, descending the stone steps once again. I don’t have time to grit my teeth in anger and silently curse her before I’m roughly shoved toward the door.
“You heard the Princess,” Mina tells me, “move.”
“Fuck you,” I spit back, but I step through anyway. “Suck my fucking cock.”
The knight follows me into the secret staircase and when her bulk takes almost the entire width, I start to realize how trapped I really am. Vampires don’t do well in cramped, tight spaces, and even worse underground. Or at least this one doesn’t, and which direction am I currently being led?
I don’t know how long we spend walking, and the spiral means I have no idea what direction I’m facing, much less how many revolutions we’ve made. It may have been hours since we left the princess’ chamber, or maybe only a handful of minutes. The walls are still made of stone bricks, but other than that I have no clue if we’re still in the castle or below ground.
“Are you sure you’re not trying to kill me?” I ask. My hand has mostly healed from the silver earlier but is still a bit tender, and my legs are starting to get sore. I can’t remember the last time I walked this much in one night, my bat form can take me much farther by flying. “My feet feel like anchors, and I haven’t been on a ship in a couple centuries.”
“I’m sure Mina wouldn’t mind carrying you if you want,” the princess offers without turning around or stopping. “She’s quite strong, and perhaps it’d be tactical to have you physically restrained, at least to some extent. Wouldn’t you agree, Mina?”
“Affirmative, milady,” the knight responds behind me, and while I have to admit being held sounds kind of nice, I’d rather not submit to my captors so readily.
“No, that’s fine, I’ll walk,” I begrudgingly tell them, and the three of us fall back into a tense silence.
Eventually it breaks, as all silences must.
“Wait, a couple cent– you mean to tell me you’ve been alive for over two hundred years?” the princess asks, rounding on me and holding the torch close –too close– to my face.
“What– no,” I stammer back, taking a step back and up to get away from the flame, only to run into the fucking knight. I’m outright lying now, I was on a ship before I came to this kingdom, and I’ve certainly lived more than 200 years, but I’m not going to tell these bitches that. The more they know about me, the more they can use against me. “It’s just a– a figure of speech, princess.”
“Oh. Okay…” she seems almost dejected by the news, but backs off anyway. “Let’s keep going, we’re almost there.”
Shortly after that we come to a landing dominated by a large wooden door, and briefly I think this is our destination, but I’m led past in silence. There’s an iron padlock on the door, and I have to wonder what this secret area of the castle actually is. A prison? Why would it have only one cell? And attached to the princess’ room of all places? That seems… dangerous.
“You know princess, you never answered my question earlier. What is this place?”
“This is a relic of a time and rulers long past,” she tells me. “The son of the man who had this castle created a hundred-some years grew impatient and angry with his father’s kind way of governing, and so decided to take matters into his own hands. He had many secret areas constructed all throughout the castle, including several dungeons and torture chambers to hold political dissidents and people he believe posed a threat to his future rule.”
As if on cue, our group arrives at the bottom of the stairwell and is faced with a large metal door, a golden key sitting inside the similarly golden padlock. In spite of this the princess opens the door with some effort, wincing at the sound of it screeching against the stone floor.
“This is one such dungeon,” she says with a smile before striding through the now-open doorway. Hesitant as I am, I’m forced to follow her as Mina pushes me forward with a gloved hand, and I shoot her a glare for the action. I can’t see her face beneath her helmet but I like to think she shows at least a little remorse, unlikely as that may be.
Once I cross the threshold I glance about the dungeon, unsurprised about what I see. I’m being led down a hallway with cells on either side, grids of iron bars separating the prisoners’ areas from the common area, each with a door off to one side. Many cells are either damaged or missing parts of their doors and I’m led past those, until the princess stops at one cell to my left and opens the door. I wince at the creak of the hinges and stop moving, looking at her expectantly. I took this job to get out of a cell, she can’t possibly think I’ll willingly agree to enter another one.
“In,” she simply commands, and my anger flares immediately.
“You can’t be serious!” I tell her, my whole body tensing. “Why would I ever agree to stay in a cell?? I’m a fucking person, not an animal to be kept in a cage! What sane person would let you treat them like– Get your fucking hands off me!” I shout, whirling around and wrenching Mina’s hand off my shoulder. I know my fangs can’t do much through her armor, but I hope she can at least feel the strength of my grip through her vambraces.
“Perhaps the same sane person who attempts to assassinate a princess and still expects to live when she’s caught,” the princess says from behind me, and her knight raises her silver blade to my throat. “In case it wasn’t clear, I’m. Not. Asking.”
“Let me put in terms you might understand better,” Mina adds in a stern tone, and I bare my fangs. “Either you go in the cell, or this sword goes in you. Get it now?” A tense silence passes as I mull over her words in my head.
“Fine,” I eventually concede, letting go of her forearm with a huff.
The princess holds the door to the cell open as I stalk through, glaring and baring my fangs when I pass her. No more than a second after I’ve crossed the threshold the door swings shut, and I turn to see the princess removing a key from the lock. I approach the bars as she steps back to her knight, wrapping my hands around the iron bars to test their strength.
“I wouldn’t advise attempting to escape, the cell’s enchanted to keep any living thing from exiting when the door is closed,” the princess says, handing off the torch once Mina sheathes the sword. It’s probably not true, I tell myself, she just doesn’t know the full extent of my abilities, but I act discouraged anyway. Maybe she’ll show some moment of weakness, and I can still escape and finish my task.
But one question lingers in my mind.
“Why?” I ask, cocking my head in confusion.
“Why am I down here?” I elaborate, “You offered to let me go, and I said I’d rather kill you. So why did you not kill me then?”
“Well frankly, I don’t want to die, and I’d imagine you don’t want to either,” the princess responds, “so I have to keep you away from myself, but the thing is, you have something I want. Information.” Her gaze fixates on me, staring deep into me with stormy grey eyes flickering in the torchlight. “I don’t know who sent you, but you seem afraid of them, and I can’t have them eliminating my source. So I have a vested interest in keeping you safe and alive, while still being unable to accomplish your goal. The only ones who know about this area are the three of us, so you can rest assured you won’t be found.”
“I– thank you, I guess?” I answer, still confused. What information could I possibly have that she might want?
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, the adrenaline is starting to wear off, and I must be getting back to bed, after that oh-so-rude interruption,” she says, gathering her skirts and setting off back down the way we came. “I’ll be back at some point tomorrow to begin questioning you, but for now I must bid you farewell. Good night!” Mina pauses for a moment to look at me before strolling after her, the distancing torch leaving me in almost pure darkness. Thankfully this doesn’t hinder me at all as I look around my cell, taking note of possible escape routes.
A roughly 5 by 10 meter room, the cell feels a bit big for one prisoner, but I’m certainly not one to complain. A plank of wood sticks out from one of the narrower walls to form a bench, but I get the feeling that if I were to lay on it, the rotting wood would crumble beneath my weight. High along the back wall reside three semi-circular windows, each with vertical bars spaced to prevent a normal human from escaping
But I’m not a normal human.
The cell feels much larger to my bat form, but I pay it no mind as I flap up to the ceiling and toward the windows. Toward freedom. Stars twinkle between the bars and I can smell the sea as I get closer. Never thought I’d be glad for fish-stink, I think as I dart forward, flattening my ears and pulling my wings against my body to slip through the iron.
Only to be stopped midair and thrown backwards by some unseen force.
My body hits the floor in a human form again and I groan, sprawled across the stones for a moment before scrambling to my feet. No. Nononononononono this can’t be! The princess wasn’t lying, I really am stuck in here.
I’ve traded one bloody cell for another, and I get the feeling I’ll have much less access to blood in this one.