The door creaks loudly as Madeleine pushes it open, a handkerchief over the lower half of her face. Dust swirls across the floor as she and Mina cross the threshold, the latter easing the door closed behind them.
“Are you sure about this, Princess?” she asked. “You haven’t been in your mother’s study for almost half a decade, what makes you think there’s something in here that can help us with the… prisoner?” She chose her words carefully, but the princess paid no mind as she ran a finger along the books on a shelf, eyeing the titles.
“Because Mother knew all sorts of things about all sorts of night-creatures and monsters,” Madeleine explains as she finishes one shelf and moves to the one below it. “Werewolves, changelings, succu- and incubi, even the sirens and mermaids of the southern seas. She knew they were all real, including vampires, because she’d seen them and researched them. She told me all about them when I was little, how they differed from the stories, but I dismissed it as a mother entertaining her daughter. At least, until I had a ‘wolf for a suitor.”
“He seemed so nice, that prince,” Mina laments, waving dust away from her face as the princess pulls a thick book from the shelf and brushes it off.
“He was. But I didn’t want to give birth to a litter of were-babies, so we broke it off. Plus he was just so hairy, even when he wasn’t a wolf.” Madeleine grins as she reads the title of the book in her hands, before setting it on a nearby desk (also dust-covered). “He took it well, I hope he did find a nice werewolf girl and settled down somewhere. Thankfully Mother wasn’t too ‘I Told You So’ when I told her about his affliction.”
She takes a seat in an old chair behind the desk, and takes a moment to examine the book. It’s exactly how she remembers it; a black, leather-bound book that it looks like could have been sold as a diary at some point, but has been stuffed with extra pages until it’s near bursting at the seams. Gold lettering emblazoned on the cover reads “Tabula Monstra”, and there’s a leather strap holding the thing closed.
Mina watches over her shoulder as she opens the book and begins to flip through the pages. She passes entries for werewolves, gargoyles, stone colossuses, and a handful of other creatures, each entry consisting of an intricate image and detailed description, handwritten in a scrawl Madeleine recognizes as the late Queen’s. Finally, she comes to a page toward the end of the book titled “Vampires”, but is dismayed by what she sees. Underneath the heading there’s no more than a couple sentences, and nothing else.
“Though I have spent near a year in this region, I have yet to see an actual vampire, or at least one I am aware of. Locals have many stories about the bloodsucking creatures, and I’ve seen evidence of their existence, but details are often contradictory, so any claims are hard to verify.”
“Well Mina, looks like we’re on our own for this.”
The sun has set by the time the princess returns to my cell, though I’m less glad of the company than I am that no direct sunlight entered my cell throughout the day. That fact may change with the seasons, but for now, I’m safe. For now.
There’s a lot of grunting and quiet cursing from the end of the hallway after the dungeon door opens, and I stick my head between the bars of my cell to see the knight trying to maneuver a large wooden piece of furniture through the narrow doorway. I can’t see her, but I can only assume the princess is carrying the other end of the furniture. There’s a large flat area, maybe a table? A desk? Whatever it is, it looks heavy, and unwieldy.
“You know, if you two let me out of here, I can help carry that. I’m stronger than I look, I promise!” I call down to them, and even from this distance I can see the evil glare the knight sends my way.
“You shut your fanged whore mouth, bloodsucker!” she snaps, so I shrug and withdraw my head. I offered my help, and they don’t want it. I’ve done all I can, I think with a smile as I sink onto the bench (that’s surprisingly sturdy).
“Mina!” the princess shouts, and I snicker at the scolding in her tone. “Don’t be so rude, we’re here to get answers from her!”
“With all due respect, Your Highness, you’re here to get answers. I’m here to ensure she doesn’t complete her assignment.”
I don’t know if the princess has a response in mind because there’s an excited gasp and the sound of shuffling feet, and eventually both women come into view, carrying a large wooden desk between them. It looks heavy, and that thought is only confirmed by the sound it makes when they set it down across from my cell. The wood is dark and sounds dense as the princess opens a drawer and removes several sheets of parchment, an inkwell, and a quill. I snicker again as she moves to take a seat, only to realize that no chair has been brought down with the desk and she has nowhere to sit.
“Mina, would you–”
“Of course princess,” the woman says before she can finish, nodding her head and walking out of view. The princess watches her go, and I’m overtaken by a strange moment of confidence.
“You care for her,” I say, presenting it as a fact. The wistful look on her face, the longing in her eyes, it’s all easy to recognize.
“I do,” she responds, turning to face me. “I do care for her. More often than not, hers is the first face I see in the morning and the last one at night; it’d be hard for me not to feel for her. She was there for me in my darkest moments, has helped me become a better woman and a better ruler, I wish I could let people know how much I owe to her.”
“Are you afraid of your father finding out you’re in love with a woman?” I ask. I don’t know why I’m trying to delve so deep into her relationship with her bodyguard, but honestly I’m not complaining. The more time we spend talking about her, the less we spend talking about me, and the longer I put off her killing me. “Attraction to both men and women is actually far from uncommon among vampires, you know? I myself have taken more than a handful of female lovers.”
“No, I’m afraid of him finding out I love the person I’m constantly in the presence of,” she laughs. “All the time we spend together, alone, in my chambers or other secluded places. Goddess, I would never see her again! If Father even thought she might have ‘deflowered’ his beloved daughter, she’d be in the dungeon faster than you could say ‘sex’.” She sighs and stares off into the distance for a second before seemingly realizing something. “I’m sorry, hang on, what did you just say?”
“I just asked if your father doesn’t like that you’re attracted to women,” I backpedal, suddenly regretting what I’d said earlier. I want her to know as little about me as possible, to stay my execution.
“I see…” the princess says with narrowed eyes. It’s clear she doesn’t believe me, but there’s not much she can do about it. “You know, Mina probably wouldn’t like me talking to you like this. She would say you’d use some sort of vampire magic to control me, convince me to unlock your cell so you can get out and kill me.”
“Would that I could, princess,” I say, not bothering to hide the twinge of defeat in my voice. It’s not that I’m disappointed I can’t do that, I totally can, it’s just that I’m not the one who thought of it. I’m over 300 years old, and here’s this 20-year-old princess who’s never met a vampire in her entire life and knows my abilities better than I do. Some people are too smart for their own good. I feel the power well up behind my eyes as I stare at the princess, daring her to meet my gaze. “But I can’t, and I’m trapped in this cell. Since I can’t do anything to you out there, surely it couldn’t hurt for you to get closer to the bars, could it? To get a better look at this… elusive creature. Wouldn’t that help you learn about me?”
“I.. I suppose it couldn’t…” the princess murmurs. My grin widens as her eyes glaze over, and I stand as she starts to slowly move toward the bars of my cell. Perhaps my future doesn’t entail being in a cell.
“Thaaaaaat’s it, princess,” I coo, “come to me… You know, we could have had some fun together, but you had to go and put me in a–”
She’s just out of my reach when her stupid fucking bodyguard calls from down the hall, and I watch with disappointment and anger as she shakes herself from the trance and turns to follow the voice. Guess I’m a bit rusty, although that only makes sense if I haven’t been able to exercise that ability in decades.
“Princess, are you okay?” the knight asks, rushing to her ward and placing an ornate wooden chair near the desk. Her hands find the princess’ shoulders, and I roll my eyes at the displayed emotion. “I saw you moving toward the monster’s cell, what happened?”
“I– Thank you, Mina, I’m fine,” the princess says, “I don’t know why, but I thought it might be a good idea to get a closer look at her, see if there are any less-obvious physical differences between her and a normal human.” She turns to me and I look away in annoyance. “I suppose I didn’t think that through well enough.”
“Do you think anything through?” I scoff, “I tried to kill you, and instead of killing me in return, you locked me in a cell, unbeknownst to anyone else in the castle! Isn’t that a bit of a liability, leaving an adversary where there’s the possibility she might strike again?”
“Well my father has taught me that one must keep their friends close, and their enemies closer,” the princess retorts. “And I’ve told you before, I want information, and you can’t give me that if you’re dead. Understand?”
“What kind of information?” I ask, leaning against the back wall and crossing my arms. “Cuz if you wanna know about your ancestors, I’m afraid you’re Shit Outta Luck.”
“No, none of that. No, I’m much more interested in learning about vampires.” As she spoke, the princess rounded the desk and took a seat in the new chair, before uncorking the ink bottle and fixing me with an icy stare. So I was right. She doesn’t know how to kill me, so she’s going to interrogate me until she does, at which point I’m as good as dead. More so than I already am at least. “So. Tell me about yourself.”
“Like what?” I snap at her. “How many people I’ve killed? The last time I stole a child from the cradle? Suck my fucking cock, you royal piece of shit.”
“You watch your tone when speaking to Her Highness,” the knight threatens, but she’s ignored by both of us.
“Well, you can start by telling us your name,” the princess drawls. “I don’t know about you, but I prefer knowing the name of the person I’m talking to.” I have to admit, I’m more than mildly taken aback by how blasé she is about this. She wants to know my name? Why? Although, what harm could she do with it? It’s not like there’s some written record of my entire life and afterlife or anything, I can’t think of any way her knowing my name could be used against me.
“My– my name’s Valeria,” I stammer out, more than a little surprised. Her highness scribbles something on the paper in front of her before looking back up at me expectantly. “What?”
“Valeria what?” she asks. “What’s your family name?”
“I don’t have one. I’m just Valeria,” I tell her. There’s a bit of anger in my voice, how dare she try to say she knows more about me than me. “My family wasn’t any kind of nobility or anything, you realize; they were peasants from a small mountain village, and that was when they were alive. They’re all dead now, anyway.” Not that they would even know me by this name…
“I see. I must say it is a very pretty name, although I’m sorry for your loss…” the princess trails off as she scrawls out notes on her parchment. Is she writing a fucking biography about me? I wonder, I thought she would want to learn about vampires in general, not just this one. “And you are how old?”
“27” is the first number that pops into my head and out of my mouth, even though it’s not right. Not that I really want to lie about my age, or that I think the princess knowing how old I really am would somehow put me at some kind of disadvantage, it’s just I gotta be consistent. I already told her earlier I’m not 200 years old or whatever, and how would I look if I went back on that now? The key to lying big is consistency, it’s a lot harder to keep track of everything if you make up a different story every time you get asked a question.
“Bullshit.” Guess I’m not as good a liar as I thought.
“‘Bullshit’? What do you mean ‘bullshit’?? Are you trying to suggest I don’t know my own goddess-damned age???”
“Oh I don’t doubt you do know your age,” the princess says, resting her chin on one hand and staring at me. “I just think you’re lying to me. You may be young compared to other vampires, but there’s no way you’re actually 27.”
“And what’s your evidence?” I’m straight bluffing now, hoping she won’t call me on it. “This’ll be mighty embarrassing for you if I am actually 27.”
“Well for starters, you don’t look 27. You could pass for maybe 23 at the oldest, but close to 30? Impossible. Then there’s the things you’ve said. When you asked what kind of information I want from you, you suggested my ancestors. While you did say you don’t know anything about them, and on that I believe you, why even bring them up unless you were their contemporary? And last night, that comment you made about not being on a ship for 200 years. You brushed it off as a figure of speech when I pressed you on it, but you hesitated first, which makes me think you’re probably lying… which is also what I would likely do in your position. Honestly, with the limited amount of information I have, I’d probably put you around… 150 years old? Maybe a tad more?”
There’s a smirk on her face that grows the longer she talks, which would be absolutely infuriating if it weren’t so damn attractive…Actually it’s still pretty annoying. I like my girls with a little feistiness, but this is just ridiculous. I’m supposed to be the one in control! It’s humiliating to be trapped in a cage, at the mercy of some human princess less than a tenth my age! Both her and her fucking knight are staring at me, and I can just feel the smug superiority radiating off each of them. One would be bad enough, but two of them? Even if I somehow make it out of here alive, I fear my dignity has already died in this very cell.
“Well? How far off am I?” the princess asks teasingly, and I bring my knees up in front of my face on my “bed”.
“Three hundred…” I mumble, not wanting to acknowledge the stupid look on her face.
“I’m sorry, could you repeat that?” she asks, sounding completely genuine. “Did you say… 300 years? You’re 450 years old???”
“I‘m 313 years old,” I clarify, still not looking at her. “At least, if I counted right. The days tend to sort of blend together sometimes.”
“Wow… Three hundred and thirteen. I’m not sure Father’s family records even go that far back.” The princess shares a bewildered look with her knight and I almost scoff. They really think that’s significant? They’d probably faint if they knew how old some of the vampires I’ve met are. “Have you always been a vampire then? Were you born as one?”
“You really don’t know anything about my kind, do you, princess?” I ask, a smile playing at my lips now instead of hers. “Nobody’s born a vampire. It’s impossible.”
“Why not? You seem human enough, so I assume reproduction occurs the same it does for us, via sex. At least, sex between certain members of the… species?”
“Hmm, not quite,” I tell her, relaxing from my position. Finally, I get to show off my superiority, I know something she does not. “Vampire women are sterile, you see. Vampires are creatures of the Un-Dead, we can’t support the creation of life inside us. Even if someone were to become a vampire after already being pregnant, the child would be stillborn. Put simply, a person can’t have an afterlife without first having a life for it to come after.”
“Oh, fascinating,” the princess says, frantically scribbling some notes. “But I notice you specified vampire women, is it different for the men?”
“Oh, of course. They can sire as many of the little bastards as they want, so long as the mother’s human. Because why would things be equal for men and women in this hellscape of a world?” My comment earns grimaces from both the knight and princess, and at the very least I feel the tiniest bit of kinship with them. We’re all women who’ve had to fight and struggle to be recognized in patriarchal society.
“I see…” the princess hums as she reviews her notes. “And those offspring of vampire fathers with human mothers. What becomes of them? Are they full human, or some hybrid being?”
“I believe they’re typically hybrids called half-fangs, but to be perfectly honest I don’t know much about them,” I admit. “Never really pertained to me, y’know?”
“With you being a fully fledged vampire and all, yes,” the princess nods, taking a few more notes. “So if you weren’t born one, then that must mean you were human up until some point, right? When did that change occur?”
“I died when I was just 11 years old,” I say, and she stops writing for a moment but doesn’t look up at me. I don’t think she expected me to have been Turned so young. Hell, in the three centuries since I’ve never met a member of my kind that was Turned younger than 17. But thinking about my Turning brings up bad memories, and I certainly don’t need those when I spend a great deal of time trapped and alone. “And before you ask, no, I don’t want to talk about it.” With a huff, I turn my back to the cell bars and face the wall. If I end up crying, I don’t want them to see it.
“I– Tha– That’s understandable, I imagine your own death can be… quite traumatic,” the princess says, and there’s the scraping of wood against stone a second later as she pushes her chair back and stands. “I think… I think that’s quite enough for tonight, then; I’ll be back tomorrow, but that’s all for now. Mina?” I say nothing and two pairs of footsteps fade with distance, ending in the *clang* of the dungeon door.
I am once again left with nothing but my thoughts.