“Well, last night was certainly informative, wouldn’t you say Mina?” Madeleine asks, meeting her guard’s eyes in the mirror. They’ve been dancing around the subject since leaving the secret dungeon, but Madeleine is curious about her partner’s opinions.
“Informative? About what, Your Highness?” the knight responds, casting her gaze aside. She knows exactly what the princess is referring to, she has to, but for some reason continues to play coy.
“About Valeria. The vampire,” Madeleine clarifies. She winces as the hairbrush finds a particularly tough tangle in her hair, her attention shifting from Mina’s reflection to her own. This was her least favorite part of her morning routine, but it had to be done regardless. “I already know your life story.”
“Oh. Right. That.” Mina’s curt tone makes the princess turn around, actually face the other woman instead of just watching through the mirror. The questioning look is clear on her face, to which Mina says “I just don’t understand why you show such humanity to something so in-human. It’s already tried to kill you twice, why risk letting it try again?”
“Because she was human once, and I’d like to appeal to whatever remains of that in her. Time hasn’t been kind to her; she’s cynical and skeptical and paranoid, and we haven’t exactly been treating her like someone who has something we want, which she does. Hell, she died when she was 11 years old! How do you of all people hear that about a person and not want to help her?” Madeleine asks, and Mina sighs.
“Why do I get the feeling that you’re going back down there today?”
“After breakfast,” the princess says, smiling. “Maybe it’s how late we were up last night, but I’m starving.”
*CLANG* *CLANG* *CLANG* *CLANGCLANGCLANG*
The next evening I don’t wake with the setting of the sun like I normally do, instead I’m roused by the incessant clanging of metal on metal. So I’m already pissed off from that when I open my eyes, only to be blinded into shutting them again. Apparently it’s not even evening yet, because this seems like actual (if indirect) daylight.
“Gah, what fucking time is it?” I growl. I keep my eyes shut as I curl up in a ball, but I know the princess and her goddess-damned bodyguard are outside my cell; who else could have made the awful noise that woke me up?
“Oh, good, you’re awake,” the princess says. Sounds like she’s at her desk, but I can hear her knight’s heartbeat off to the side. “You weren’t breathing so we weren’t sure you were still alive. Or undead? Whatever, we thought you’d died again. And to answer your question, it’s half past noon. I know we kept you up for a while last night, but you were asleep awfully late so I thought we should wake you.”
“Suck my cock, princess,” I tell her. I don’t need sight to flip her off, and I’m briefly amused by the idea of someone in the fetal position, but their only protruding limb is giving someone the finger. “Vampires are nocturnal, dumbass. We roam at night and sleep during the day. So if you could keep my daily interrogations after sundown and before sunrise, that’d be much appreciated.” The princess sighs and I have to smile. If I can’t kill her, the very least I can do is inconvenience her (it’s fun, too).
“Fine, we’ll come back later,” she huffs. “But only after you answer one question. You were awake after sunrise yesterday, what was different then?”
“Had to make sure I wouldn’t die in my sleep,” I say with a shrug, though I’m not sure she can see it. It also doesn’t give away my weakness to sunlight, maybe I think they’ll enter my cell and try to cut off my head or something. “You’ve seen how hard it is to wake me.”
“It also attacked you again and tried to escape,” the knight points out. “I would call that sufficient motivation for a creature to stay up past its bedtime.” I wish I could flip specifically her off more, for all this depersonifying bullshit. I may not be explicitly human, but I’m still a sentient being!
“Oh fuck off, racist bitch.”
“That’s enough out of both of you,” the princess interrupts. “Valeria, I don’t know if you saw but I brought you some food; it’s in your cell for when you want it.” Blood? They brought me blood? But I don’t smell anything other than what’s my captors’ veins, maybe it’s in something sealed? Whatever, I’ll get to it tonight when I can actually see. “I must apologize for waking you, I don’t wish to keep you awake when you needn’t be so we’ll return after dusk. Have a good… day, I suppose?”
I’m so struck by her apparent sincerity, I don’t say anything as two pairs of footsteps disappear down the corridor. Why is she being so kind to me? As much as I like to think I do, I’m really not sure I deserve this kind of treatment, what with trying to kill her and all. Maybe she realizes I’m less likely to give her information she wants if I’m grouchy and sleep-deprived. Or she’s trying to lure me into a false sense of security so she can betray and kill me later. But what if she actually just feels bad about keeping me here? I can see how she might consider doing so a ‘necessary evil’, and wants to make my stay here better.
But she hasn’t explicitly apologized for my position down here, so does she really care that much?
Thoughts like these rattle through my head until I end up drifting back to sleep.
It turns out that the princess did not bring me any blood. When I wake up that evening (for real this time), I discover a tray sitting just inside my cell with a meager amount of food on it. There’s an apple and two rolls on a plate, plus a metal goblet and pitcher of water. Normal food doesn’t really do much for me anymore, blood is the only thing I absolutely need to sustain myself, but eating passes the time so I dig in anyway.
I’m halfway through the second roll when my captors decide to grace me with their presence.
“I’m glad to see you eating,” the princess says as she slides into the chair behind her desk. “I was worried you’d be too paranoid and think it was poisoned.” Well shit. That never crossed my mind. Oh goddess, did I just risk my life so I wouldn’t be bored??? What the fuck is wrong with me? Maybe I’m not cut out for life on my own. My shock must be evident on my face, because the bodyguard snorts.
“Fmp oph,” I mumble through a mouthful of roll, and both women cringe.
“Well, with that little sidebar out of the way…” the princess starts, organizing some papers on her desk before turning her gaze to me. “Tonight I’d like to learn more about vampires in general, if that’s alright with you?” I don’t know why she asks that, I’m pretty much just at her mercy. We can talk about whatever she wants, not much I can do about it.
“Fine by me, but I dunno why you’re asking. I can’t exactly leave, can I?” I ask in return, after swallowing the rest of the roll.
“No, but if it makes you uncomfortable or such, we can discuss something else,” she responds. “Like, say, who hired you? I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m not going to torture you for information. I’d like it to be given freely, and I’m even willing to make certain accommodations if they’ll expedite the process.” I open my mouth, but before any sound comes out she shuts me down with “No, letting you out of that cell is not one of them. As an example, I would’ve brought you more food this morning, what you got was only what I could swipe from breakfast. Understand?”
“Fine, fine, I hear you,” I say. I lean back against the wall and the princess visibly relaxes. “Ask your stupid questions, and I’ll answer them as best I can.”
“Excellent. Now. Do all vampires have red eyes?” she asks. “I can’t recall ever meeting a human with them, but I’m wondering if it’s a byproduct of becoming a vampire, or some rare condition present in humans that I’ve just never seen? Which is entirely possible I suppose but– I’m getting carried away. Vampires have red eyes, yes or no?”
“I mean, every vampire I’ve ever met has had red eyes of some shade,” I say, “but my eyes aren’t red so take that with a grain of salt.” The scratching of the princess’ writing stops abruptly, and I look up to see her staring intently at me.
“You– you’re not serious, are you?” she asks.
“I am! What’re you talking about?”
“You have red eyes,” the knight bluntly tells me. “Just bright red, like if an apple fucked a tomato.”
“Alright, that’s a bit crass,” the princess tells the other woman before turning back to me. “But yes, your eyes are red.”
“No they’re not!” I insist. “Last I checked, my eyes were blue, and I don’t know how or when they could’ve changed.”
“Well, when was the last time you checked?”
“I dunno, a few days before I was Turned, maybe?” I guess, “Seeing your reflection isn’t really something you pay attention to or remember, ya know?”
“You mean you haven’t looked in a mirror in 300 years??” the princess sounds incredulous. It’s not that big of a deal, it’s like she doesn’t know anything about– oh wait.
“Listen princess,” I say, “it wouldn’t be that surprising if you knew a certain fact about vampires; we don’t have reflections.” Her jaw drops, and I nod in satisfaction. “So it’s not really for lack of trying that I haven’t seen what color my eyes are or whatever the fuck, it’s that I physically can’t. Mirror, still water, polished steel, it doesn’t matter, I’m just. Not. There.”
“That’s… interesting,” the princess says, hastily jotting something down. “Do you have any idea how or why that happens? I’ve never heard of anything like that, any creature with that sort of simultaneous selective camouflage before. Although does that even really count as camouflage, if it’s involuntary? And does your body try to blend in with what’s behind you, or is it just completely see-through? Oh, I have so many questions.”
“Yeah, well I don’t have answers for all of them,” I respond sharply, “Like what the fuck even is ‘camoo flahj’?”
“Alright, yes, we can experiment later,” she sighs. “Let’s cover the basics tonight. Black hair?”
“What about it?”
“Do all vampires have black hair?” she clarifies. “And that includes graying with age, although admittedly I don’t know if that’s even possible for your kind. Or are there blonde vampires, brunettes, redheads as well?”
“Hm? Nah, I’ve always had black hair, even when I was human. And I know– knew a couple friends that are– were blond or brown-haired,” I say. The princess looks up at me again, but I can’t read the expression on her face.
“The past tense there,” she asks, “is that because their hair changed with age, or…”
“No, they died.” I let out a sigh and lean my head against the wall. “Or rather, they were killed.” Fuck. Almost 70 years later and I still miss them. Even him.
“I see… Once again, I must say I’m sorry for your loss,” the princess says, but her quill scratches across her paper once again anyway. “I suppose 300 years is a long time, I shouldn’t really be surprised you’ve lost many people close to you… But it still can’t be easy, so let’s move on. How susceptible are vampires to magic?”
“Why do you wanna know?” I snarl. “Gonna have your court sorcerer come down here and burn me to a crisp? No thank you.”
“If I wanted you dead, I’d kill you myself,” the princess intones, and I look over to see a flame thicker than a candle nestled in her palm. Well fuck. They really expected me to kill her? Even with my superior strength, speed, and healing, she has me pretty outmatched. Or maybe that’s why they sent me; they expected me to die trying. “Honestly, how many times do I have to say I don’t want to hurt you before you understand I’m serious?”
“I don’t know, why don’t you ask me when you haven’t locked me in an enchanted cell?” I ask back, and she extinguishes her flame before burying her face in her hands.
“Yes, for my protection!” she insists. She sounds frustrated, and I realize a dilemma rapidly approaching. Pissing her off until she storms away and leaves me alone sounds more than a little enticing, but if I do that, I’ll be alone. For the rest of the night. In this tiny cell with nothing to do. Maybe for the sake of my sanity I should let her stick around. “Now will you please just answer the damn question?”
“Well it probably depends on the magic,” I guess. “Spells that physically affect me? I’d guess probably about the same as humans. I dunno, I’ve never been hit with one, same with mental ones. Although I’d imagine we’re a bit more resistant to those.”
“By mental, you mean like love or truth charms?” the princess asks. She sounds almost relieved when I slowly nod, but she pauses. “Wait. What makes you think you’re more resistant?” Fuck, I shouldn’t have said that. I can’t let them know about my enthrallment power, that’s my secret weapon! But what’s a reasonable excuse for resisting those??? Something something already dead, so not as strongly affected? Would death even alter someone’s mind like that? Although I guess it doesn’t need to be necessarily true, I just need her to believe it.
“Well, I’m dead, aren’t I?” I say. “Your mind is alive, whereas mine has to be reanimated before it can be changed, obviously that’s going to require more magical energy, right?” I don’t think she buys it, but she nods anyway and my unbeating heart flutters a bit.
“I suppose that makes sense,” she muses, writing something on her stupid parchment. “And before you ask, I won’t be using a truth charm on you. I want this to be a voluntary exchange of information… and I’m awful at casting them, but mainly the former.” Wow, a royal being humble? Never thought I’d see the day.
“Can vampires use magic, though?” the princess’ bodyguard asks, and I have to admit I’d forgotten she’s here. “You specifically seem unable too, but what about your kind in general?”
“A bit crude, but yes Mina, in essence that was going to be my next question,” the princess says, nodding to her knight before turning back to me. “Well? Can you?”
“I myself can’t, you’re right about that,” I grumble, with a glare at the knight for asking so bluntly. “Some vampires can, some can’t, it’s not some hard and fast rule, like an ability given to us when we Turn. It’s just based on our time as a human.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“The way it was explained to me,” I begin, “almost three hundred years ago, is to think of magic like an apple tree. Using magic is like picking an apple from said tree. Now, imagine a person standing in a field; on the other side of the field is an apple tree. If the person wants to use magic, they cross over to the tree and pick an apple. But becoming a vampire puts a giant canyon between the person and the tree. If they never got an apple before Turning, they no longer can. But if they did, if they had any magic before being Turned, they can plant the seeds of those apples on their side and grow their own tree, pick an apple whenever they want. Does that make sense?”
“It does, yes. Thank you,” the princess hums as she writes more. “I don’t suppose you know why it’s like that, do you?” She looks up just long enough to see me shake my head no. “Ah, I suspected as much, it’s alright. If you became a vampire when you were, what, 11? I imagine you had to learn a lot of things the hard way.”
I can’t tell if her saying that is meant to be pitiful toward me or just callous, so I don’t say anything as I pull my knees up to my chest. It’s honestly surprising how much my contact with other people can still be so alienating and lonely. Despite being only a few feet away, the princess is so vastly different from me. Sure she’s a tenth my age, but she has more power in her pitiful lifespan than I probably ever will. She’s actual royalty, beloved by dozens if not hundreds of people, and I’m condemned to spend the rest of my miserable, unfulfilling life in the literal shadows.
And even that assumes I make it out of this cell somehow.
“I’m sorry, I know this must be uncomfortable,” the princess offers, clearly misunderstanding what’s going through my head. “I have just a couple more questions and then we’ll leave you be for the night. Okay?”
“Fine. Ask away.”
“The process of becoming a vampire from a human, you always refer to it like it’s some monumental event or ceremony. Turning, I think you call it,” she asks, “what’s actually involved in that? Is it like a ‘stabbed in the heart with a ritual knife on an altar’ type of deal, or…?”
“No, it’s a lot simpler than that,” I tell her. “I won’t tell you about my Turning, but I’ll tell you the basics. All that happens is you drink a vampire’s blood and then you die. Goddess knows how it happens, but when you wake up from that, you’re a vampire.”
“Wh– that’s it??” The princess is incredulous, and even her bodyguard seems surprised, though she doesn’t say anything. “Actually I don’t know why I’m surprised it’s so simple, there’s still a lot to unpack in those few steps. Are you saying that you die from ingesting the blood, or is it safe to drink it, although I don’t know why you would? And if it is safe, does it matter how you die? If you burn to death, do you still Turn?”
“Nah, blood’s safe, but you have to die while it’s still in your system,” I say, running my nails along one arm. “Otherwise you’re just drinking a dead person’s blood to drink a dead person’s blood. And for the most part it doesn’t matter how you die, as long as it’s not a way that would also kill a vampire.”
“Such as…?” the knight asks, and I shoot her a glare. Surprisingly I’m not the only one who does so.
“Don’t push her, Mina,” the princess warns. “We don’t need that information right now.” Aha. They do want me to tell them how to kill me. Bastards. My dirty look doesn’t disappear when the princess turns back to me, only lessening in intensity. “But what about the vampire whose blood is consumed? Are there any stipulations or conditions regarding that, or could it just be from anyone?”
“I mean, physically, it can be from anyone,” I say, thinking back. How did it go back then? “But in certain like groups, or societies, of vampires, the lower-leveled members may not be allowed to Turn someone, because of the ‘bond’ or whatever between the Turned vampire and the one whose blood they consumed.”
“What bond?” It’s the only time I’ve heard any urgency in the princess’ voice, though I’m not exactly sure why. What does she think can happen because of this?
“I don’t know, I’ve never Turned anyone,” I assure her. I don’t know exactly why I want her to calm down, but I do anyway. “The way it’s been described to me, it’s sort of like some kind of loyalty? Like you can’t bring yourself to directly harm them, and maybe sometimes there’s like some obedience kinda bullshit? Like I said, I don’t know, my blood’s never been used to Turn someone.”
“But what about the person who Turned you? Wouldn’t you know about the other side from when you were Turned?” She seems more relaxed asking this, but still a bit apprehensive.
“No,” I say simply. “The man who Turned me died barely a week after doing so, like died died. Plus that shit was over three hundred years ago; I’m not gonna remember how I felt about the guy, and even if I did, who knows how accurate my memory would be? I was a kid, I was emotional!” But good riddance. Thank the goddess I can say that as much as I want now. Fuck him.
“I suppose that makes sense,” the princess muses. “I don’t know if that’s necessarily a good thing or a bad thing, so I’m just… not going to comment on it.” She spends a few more minutes writing, before setting aside her quill and capping the inkwell. “That’s all the questions I have for you tonight, so we’ll be taking our leave now.”
She’s already slid out of her chair and moved to leave when I call out, but she turns back at the sound of my voice. “Hm?”
“Last night,” I begin, “you said you like to know the name of who you’re talking to. What’s… what’s yours?”
“You mean you came to kill her without knowing her name?” the knight asks, but I ignore her and the princess doesn’t react.
“Very well,” she says, seemingly standing a little taller, as if trying to be more imposing. It doesn’t work; it just makes her look like a bigger prick. “You are speaking to Princess Madeleine Argorias of Cascalone, and this is my loyal guard Mina Westenra. It’s a… pleasure to make your acquaintance.” She grabs the skirt of her dress and gives a small curtsy, turning and continuing to walk away, her heels clacking on the stone floor. The knight, Mina, fixes me with a withering glare before following.
At least now I know who’s keeping me in this cell.
Madeleine and Mina. When I get out of here, your blood is going to taste delicious.