Tomorrow was October 1st! Of course, spooky season already started for her, but now it’d be in full swing. Witches putting hexes on you, ghosts possessing you, vampires, more vampires, just ALL THE VAMPI–
“The party is starting, please come with me.”
By the time they turned the chair around she already had a dazed, blank expression, lost in the hypnotic control brought back from the trigger they’d implanted months ago.
It was time to begin. They were ready to pick up the rest of the guests now.
The party is starting.
You giggle, looking at the open drawer full of shiny, sparkly click clacks. All different colors, different shapes, side count, like a hoard of candied jewels. Maybe you should buy some more.
You turn at a small clatter. A pair of dark dice, glittering like real gems, sit on a table, each showing a roll of 20.
‘Go ahead, your roll.’
Did you think that? It wasn’t audible, it was as if a voice bypassed your ears and went straight to your brain.
You’re holding two dice.
You roll the dice on the table.
“Aww, snake eyes.” That was audible. A pair of spindly arms are around you, one holding down your arm and another around your neck, sharp hands holding into your skin.
“I know snake eyes are your friend’s theme, but let’s roll with it.”
You look up into the pale, sunken eyes of a squid, dark head bulging, mouth surrounded by stirring tentacles. The tentacles curl up, almost like a smile.
“And yes, roll with it is certainly a pun.”
You start to speak. “Am–” A tentacle taps your mouth and you shut it.
The tentacle doesn’t even need to apply pressure.
“Now, now, you failed the roll, you’ve lost speaking privileges. Of course”–the tentacle squeezes between your lips and you open for it to enter–“that doesn’t mean your mouth must be closed.”
Should you be letting this happen?
As soon as you saw this being you couldn’t get them off your mind. Your mind is running in circles, and it’s around this… are they a mindflayer? You glance at their cloak, the curled ends swaying as if in a breeze where there was none.
“Now, which facial orifice do you prefer?”
“The mouth is rather far from the brain,” they say.
You shiver as two tentacles slip over your ears and tickle them. “The ears are classic passageways to the brain.”
A tentacle slides over your forehead and hovers over your eyes. “The eyes are direct paths, if obstructed ones.”
A tentacle tips against your nose, pushing you to lean back and look up directly at them. “But the nose is fun to enter and prod around in, do you think?”
The tentacle in your mouth recedes and lowers to caress your neck before it pulls on your collar.
“Or, perhaps, your collar?”
As they pull your collar they trace spirals in your hair with a hooked finger. With each pull you slide in the direction they tug; somewhere along the way the talk of holes left a hole in your mind for them to fill up. You don’t care what they do to you as long as they do it.
“The collar really is just a hole, after all,” they say. “A hole for your head, usually, but a symbolic slip through the hole and…” They chuckle. “But perhaps the easiest hole to enter through is the gaping one left open through your dreams.” They lift your chin with a tentacle.
“And I don’t mean symbolic, this time.”
They open the hatch they traced on the top of your head, the light of sparkling dreams trickling out. A few tentacles slip in, running through your thoughts like flipping through a photo album.
“Ah, so many friends. Delectable friends.”
“Friends you’d like to see!”
They pull you closer and hold out a hand with a flourish. “Just picture it! A big party, your friends–” They glance at you. “You’re not picturing it. No, I know you’re not. Listen, your head is literally open, I can see you’re not picturing it!”
“Okay, hold on.” The mindflayer reaches into the hatch on your head. You feel a grip over your mind and you can’t tell where you are, you’re everywhere, flying throughout your life, until you blank further as the mindflayer lifts your brain out of your head.
They squeeze your brain like a remote control.
“Ah, now you’re picturing it! The party! The festivities! Your friends! Dazed, blank, hypnotized into mindless”–they mumble something, it could be bliss, it could be mist, it could be twist; you’re too dazed to consider it anyway.
“One friend is already waiting for you, so why should we wait?” They return your brain to your head and shut the hatch; for a moment that seems to bring your senses back, but only long enough to watch their arms shift into tentacles as the ones on their face whirl.
Their face tentacles whirl faster into a spiral as they reach their new tentacle arms into your ears, squirming their way in. Their eyes glow as a mask is suddenly over your face, pumping gas. Inhale deep, let the gas flow through your synapses, let the gas dull your nerves.
Despite your full ears you hear their voice clearer than you ever heard your own thoughts.
“And your host for this party, one whose name was stolen for cheap use, but will start a reckoning on that soon enough…
You both disappear from the room in a flash of shadow.
“Yes, it was quite fun, I wholeheartedly agree.”
Darmenzi leaned to the side, sitting at a wide table covered in cakes and sweets and punch and confetti.
“A mind game, you say? A wonderful assessment, but wouldn’t you say they’re all mind games in a way?”
Here Darmenzi sat in their base form, the white chameleon-esque body they had stolen long ago, a grin plastered on their scaly face as they watched their guests. Their curled tail tapped an occasional rhythm, a light tap that nevertheless drowned out pounding from another room.
Every other guest sat half-slumped in their chair, mouths open in a dazed stare into empty space, as empty as their minds, as empty as Darmenzi’s heart, were they to actually have one. They leaned to the second guest, the mindflayer story of whom they’d just finished telling.
“Now, dear, you’ve hardly touched your tea, I’m afraid it’s gone cold.” They looked at the first guest, whom they’d once approached with a snake arm. “No, no, my dear, no need to get up, I’ll pour her another cup. Anyone else need topped off, so to speak?”
“You simply must try one of the iced cookies, as well,” they said; one floated to a guest. “Granted, I’m not sure which drug the icing is made of, but 50/50 chance you won’t expire from them.” They poured fresh tea for the second guest. “There you go, little one.”
They turned to the first guest. “Oh, I hear you have a kitten now, isn’t that right? How’s the little scamp adjusting to the new home? Splendid! Yes, so sorry I couldn’t bring them along to pet at the party, but I was on a tight schedule I’m afraid.”
“Warp time and space? Well, yes, of course I can, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be on a tight schedule.”
The guests continued to say nothing during all of this.
“On the subject of a tight schedule, once I had picked up the dreamer I knew I needed more, two guests weren’t enough.”
“So, I checked the open hypno season list. Getting the necessary permits was quite the hassle, let me tell you, but it was quite worth it, as you can tell, or perhaps not given your current states.” Darmenzi chuckled.
“Anyway, I had my next target. I was off to catch a cryptid.”
Today had been a whirlwind of emotions, to say the least, and as blank and empty as this sterile white room was it did nothing to tamp it down.
You reach slowly out from center of the room you were left to sit on, but you feel suction at the barrier and pull away.
You can’t see this barrier, but a machine sits in the ceiling above you with a circle of glittering material around you. If you look away from the barrier, then pull your head up and behind you until you are looking at it, you can see a glow.
You couldn’t do that before today.
You woke up feeling rather in pieces today, but honestly that’s fairly normal. It wasn’t until you looked at your hand and just saw stripes that you really realized something was different. You looked like floating void stripes between empty space.
You were the Stripey Cryptid.
Confusion gave way to excitement sooner than you would admit to most people. You weren’t human anymore, but who wanted to be when you could change shape? Your stripes transformed into the shape of a kitten, a bun, a flying jellyfish friend.. you even managed a little LEGO person!
Once you had the hang of it you slipped through the crack under your window and out into the world. You flew in the form of a sparrow and fluttered as a cloud of butterflies. You headed for the forest, where you could finally be free, free of your human worries and concerns.
The sudden armored cars and soldiers blocking your path to the forest was a concern you never had as a human, but you weren’t worried. You’re the Stripey Cryptid, you can transform out of any dangerous situation. You’re an enigma, a mystery that can’t be caught.
Their weird ray guns that should have had way more blinking lights for a ray gun said different, though. You shouldn’t have been able to be hit, but when that beam hit you you lost control! You fluttered to the ground like mere shreds of paper.
What happened? Why was this?
Was this the government? Military? Did someone tip them off to something strange? How were you suddenly caught?
You were collected into a sealed bag like scraps and tossed in a vehicle. Eventually they dumped you in this room, after which you could move and reform.
You can’t tell how much time passed, but you wish you could talk to someone. You wish you could talk to your friends.
Would you be able to do that as Stripey?
Would you have internet access out in the forest?
The door before you slides open and a scientist in a lab coat enters.
You watch them as they write something on a clipboard. A clipboard? They have all this advanced technology and they’re using a clipboard?
They put the clipboard under their arm and you stare at what they pull out from behind them.
A stuffed animal. Just like your bun at home.
They reach forward and place the bun through the barrier, far enough you wouldn’t have to touch the weird suctiony barrier. You reach out slowly to take the stuffed animal and hold it close. You hug your stripes over it, a calm washing over you not felt all day.
You glance up when the scientist says your name. Do they think you were kidnapped by Stripey and are trying to learn where you are?
“We know what happened,” the scientist says. “We know you were transformed.”
You stare at them. How do they know that? How did you become Stripey?
The scientist smiles, a warm, disarming smile–that looked sinister for a second at first.
“We can bring you back to normal,” the scientist says. “Make you human again. You’ll lose the power of this cryptid, but you can return to society. You can be with your friends, then.”
“The choice is up to you,” the scientist says. “Remain a cryptid, or see your friends.”
You stare at the stuffed animal. You could take an opportunity of a lifetime, and lose the rest of your opportunities.
“I’ve prepared a small presentation to help you decide.”
You look at a screen opening on the wall, what appears to be stripes representative of you flashing across the screen. The image zooms out and–
You stare at it.
Wait, that’s a spiral.
Are they trying to hypnotize you?
Because it already wwwoooorrrkedd…
You only get brief flashes of what happens next. Led into a laboratory, wired hooked to your body, threads…
Most of the time your mind is lost in a spiral, but you distinctly feel threads pulling on you at one point as if sewing your stripes together. Pulling you like a puppet.
Pulling you to a machine to sit in, pulling you to a vat of liquid to suspend in… a squishy helmet over your head, cables tied under your chin like tentacles.
Eventually you’re vaguely aware you’re human again, but you’re not really having human thoughts anymore.
You’re just thinking what the good scientist tells you to.
The good scientist with the crystal-ended staff.
After all, you’re a good experiment, you need to do what the scientist says.
Eventually they place a visor over your head, and the scene of a party appears to you.
A quiet tea party, although the cups and cookies and balloons and stuffed animals are all rather big for you.
“Now then, let’s make sure you’re ready for the party.”
You sit in the chair and stare ahead, brain too drizzled in spirals to send any message to your body to move.
“Ah, too dazed to move? Don’t worry, Darmenzi’s party will accommodate all guests.”
Strings pull at your wrists and lift your hands to the tea. The strings flip, twist, and tie over you, but you hold and stir the tea in the simulation with perfect precision.
“Excellent, now, look into your tea, little one.” You look into the teacup, the tea rippling into a spiral. Darmenzi’s face appears grinning as your mind is dunked into the tea like a biscuit, soaking it in hypnotic control.
“You’re ready to join your friends at the party.”
Darmenzi laughed at the party with their guests. “It was a brilliant series of events to bring you your invitation, wasn’t it?” Darmenzi whipped several strings in their hand and sent their guests’ heads nodding. “Thank you, you’re all too kind. I, of course, am not.”
The knocking from outside continued.
Darmenzi grinned. “I hope you enjoyed your time as a cryptid, because I assure you I will never do it again.” They laughed as if it’s a joke.
“Ah, thank you, I am an excellent storyteller, but don’t sell yourself short. You’re an excellent story.”
“Oh, not at all, truly I am an absolute monster,” Darmenzi said. “I know you all find this lovely, but I promise you I have nothing but the worst of intentions in mind. So kind of you to say, though. More tea?”
Darmenzi chuckled. “Oh, now that compliment I can take, thank you.”
“I must say, I would love to learn more about you all, hear all your life stories,” Darmenzi said. “But I did my research beforehand. I already learned all about you. After all–”
The knocking outside stopped.
“Oh? Did Mxstress of nothing finally give up?”
Louder thuds followed.
Darmenzi shook their head and chuckled. “No, still trying, ever harder. Perhaps if they’d thought not to send a minion to do a mxstress’ job?” They looked at one of the guests. “What does their minion think? Ah, that’s right… nothing, anymore.”
He shoved the door shut panting and turned the key, shut the latch, locked the doorknob, pulled down the iron bars, and hooked the chain to keep the door locked shut.
“You were cutting it close, Grandad.” Em looked out the window at the darkening dusk.
Grandad coughed and grinned. “Hah, sorry to worry you. Those shopkeeps really lower their bartering when it gets close to evening, though.” He placed a basket of produce on the table. “Besides, I’m an old man. It’s fresh blood they prefer.”
“They still have tricks,” Em said.
“What if they enthralled you to invite them into our home?”
Grandad stared at the table before looking at Em. “Can they do that? Isn’t that inviting themselves in at that point?”
“I don’t know,” Em said. “But I wouldn’t put it past them to try it. Find loopholes in their rules.”
Grandad coughed, and Em put a hand on his shoulder. “Go ahead and sit down, Grandad. Sam and I can put the groceries away.” Grandad nodded, and Em called for Sam.
As the old man took a rest a young lady in a bright, breezy dress skipped in, her hair curling under her chin.
“Hi, Grandad!” Sam gave him a kiss on the head before helping her parent put away the food. She grinned.
“Grandad was really late today, wasn’t he?” she said. “What if he’d met a vampire?”
“You don’t have to go smiling about it,” Em said, though they smirked. Sam was contagious.
“Heh, sorry, but it’d be interesting. Grandad can take care of himself, I’m sure. But I’ve never even gotten to see a vampire.”
Em’s face darkened.
“Be glad you haven’t, and hope you never will. They’re dangerous, deadly, and duplicitous. Deceitful.”
“Technically, yes,” Em said. “They can delight, and charm, and ultimately entrance you. If you ever encounter one, get inside somewhere so they can’t get to you.”
“They can only enter if invited, right?”
“Yes.” Em shook their head. “But they can be tricky about it.”
“It’s why people got rid of their phones when the vampires began to spread. They’d call people, and by answering would take that as being invited into the home. Televisions wiped out a huge amount of the populace that way.”
Sam placed a hand on her chin. “Hmm…”
“If vampires can only enter when invited,” Sam said, “why does Grandad lock the door so much?”
“Oh, he’s just paranoid,” Em said. “Nobody robs houses these days, especially not at night. He’s from a different time.”
“Has a vampire ever… joined human society? Called off blood?”
Em faced Sam head-on. “Listen, Sam. Don’t think about vampires so much. All you need to concern yourself with them is how to avoid being taken and–”
Sam zoned out as she saw a dark figure out the window. She couldn’t quite see their face, but they appeared to be watching them…
“Oh, sorry, Em!” Sam said. “Ignore a vampire, don’t let them in. Got it.”
Em smiled and ruffled Sam’s hair. “I’m sure you do.”
Sam looked out the window again, but the figure was gone.
The evening passed without incident… and Sam was alone in her room later that night…
What would it be like to find oneself facing a vampire? To look into their eyes and fall? Is a vampire bending someone to their will like how a vampire’s will is bent to its rules? Is the inability to enter uninvited, the inclination to count, is that a similar feeling?
How does it feel to fly and float with such grace? Does it hurt to change form into a bat? Can they even feel pain like a human does? Why do they need to feast on blood? Do they eat and drink it like humans do food or do they need it for their veins?
Are they bloodless beings who need blood from others to–
Sam’s whirling thoughts were interrupted at a tap on her window. When she turned to look she saw a dark figure, floating with a trailing, curling dress and hair flowing like a waterfall.
Red like a waterfall of blood.
“Good evening, young lady,” the figure said. Sam stared at her red eyes, far deeper than hers would ever be. And the figure had quite visible fangs as well.
“You’re a vampire!” Sam said.
The figure chuckled. “Sorry, I’m not up on human manners, is that how you greet each other?”
“You’re a human!” the figure said.
Sam shook her head. “Sorry, I just never met a vampire before. I never thought I would.”
“Why ever not?” the vampire asked. “A charming young lady like you should have vampires knocking on your window every night.”
Sam blushed. She looked away.
She frowned. “You’re being sarcastic, aren’t you?”
“Of course, silly girl,” the vampire said. “But it really would be rude not to introduce ourselves. My name is Syra.”
“M-My name’s…” She looked up. “You can’t use names against humans, can you?”
Syra grinned. “Perhaps.”
Sam crossed her arms. “I’m not going to risk it. I’m not going to get tricked by a vampire, so you can just go away.”
Syra floated closer until she was at the window, arms stretched to the windowsill.
“I could, but then you wouldn’t get to feel my cool hand caress your cheek.”
Sam felt her cheeks grow warm at the thought of Syra’s cool skin. She looked away. “I can manage.”
“You wouldn’t get to feel how gentle my embrace can be, look close at just how deep my eyes go… If I left, you’d never experience weightlessness if I lifted you into the air.”
“You’d be unable to experience the tingle as a kiss your neck, my fangs so near, just one prick, what might it feel like, just to experience it once, locked in my hold as I take you and–”
Sam covered her ears. “No! No, I won’t! I’m not going to invite you in!”
“You already have.”
Sam opened her eyes wide at Syra’s voice in her head.
“You’ve been thinking about vampires all evening. You’ve hardly spared a thought for anything else. You’ve invited me right into that silly little head of yours.”
Sam’s eyes drooped.
“You can’t resist the allure, not once you’ve invited me in. You’ve left the door of your mind wide open, a hand flicking for me to come, to enter your mind, and satisfy your curiosity, satisfy your desire, and satisfy my hunger.”
Sam lazily turned to the window, leaning forward.
She stared into Syra’s glowing eyes, so deeper and vaster than her own, so easy to get lost in.
“You just can’t stop thinking about me now, can you?” Syra said. “No, you can’t.” She shook her head, and Sam shook her head with her.
Syra nodded, and Sam nodded with her. “But it feels so good to think about me, doesn’t it? It’s nice to become an obsessive little thrall to me.”
Syra traced a circle along the window. “Now, don’t you think it’s time you stop being rude, hmm?”
Syra’s thoughts swallowed up Sam’s.
“Yes,” Sam mumbled, “please, come in, won’t you?”
“Happily, dear girl.”
Syra was at Sam’s side as if there were no window there, one arm around her neck and the other holding down her arms.
“Isn’t it nice to have company over?” Syra whispered into Sam’s ear.
“And I’m the nicest company you could hope for,” Syra said. She trailed her fingers along Sam’s neck before caressing her cheek.
The silly girl smiled–such nice company…
“Have you prepared a little meal for your guest, my pet?” Syra asked.
“Uh…” Sam couldn’t think; had she?
“You have prepared a little meal for me, my pet,” Syra said.
“Yeah… prepared meal… for you…”
“Ah, how lovely,” Syra said, tilting Sam’s chin and adjusting her neck. “A little taste…” Syra lowered her mouth against Sam’s neck. “But the rest I think I’ll take to go.”
She sat in the back room, staring at the yarn, focused on her knitting. She tried not to think of the personage in the front speaking with her father.
The tall, dark, imposing figure. Master of the area.
One of the lords was visiting today.
Angela hated the lords. She thought very few didn’t, and those who liked them were under their direct control. They controlled the lands, herded the people, kept them under their thumbs. None of them let the people be their best selves.
She knew they knew people hated them, too.
Hated them, feared them. The lords lived on that fear. They lived on weakening people.
It was a fear that trickled down into the people.
They were the only ones she feared more than her father.
She thought her heart might stop when she was asked to enter a room with both of them.
Angela entered, her ratty hood over her head and tied close, her faded dress hanging and threadbare. Yet her hair flowed like twin streams down her body, her eyes bright and strong. She was pale, though, especially compared to her tall father.
Not compared to the lord, though.
“Here she is, my pride and joy,” her father said. He adjusted his suit, his only clean clothing for when the lords visited. Everything else had stains that would never come out.
As for the lord…
Angela expected dark, greedy eyes, an unholy angular body like an incomplete spider.
Instead they looked like any person, only cleaner, better groomed–not forced to till the land, living in a castle built off the backs of the people. But their eyes were bright, and looked upon Angela like she was a cherished book.
She looked down, unable to look at the lord long.
“Ah, yes, my eldest daughter,” her father said. “I don’t know what I would do without her.”
Find a puppy to kick, she supposed. She would never say this out loud, especially with the lord here. Her father probably needed something to beat, and she was most able to take the blows.
“A good help around the house, Mr. Turner?” the lord asked.
Angela had expected a voice like screeching bats or an empty coffin, but no, it was ordinary, if slightly chipper. They sounded like a schoolteacher who enjoyed their job.
“Indeed,” her father said.
“A fine cook, good washer, strong worker. I keep my family in line, Lord Corine. Something I’m sure you understand.”
“I keep them busy to make sure our home runs smoothly and soundly.”
“And what say you, dear girl?” the lord asked.
Angela froze up.
“Now, now,” her father said, “shouldn’t a child be seen and not–”
“How old did you say she was?” the lord asked. “She is an adult.” They looked at Angela. “I assume he didn’t lie about that?”
“N-No, sir, I am,” Angela said.
“I’d like to hear her opinion of you,” the lord said.
Angela glanced at her father. She saw something in his eyes for a second darker than anything she’d seen from the lord so far. She could only imagine the darkness the lord could have in comparison.
“I love my father, my lord,” she said, not looking up. “He’s done so much.”
“He always treats me kindly, has given me a lovely home, and has taught me so much.”
“Excellent,” the lord said, reaching into their pocket as if fishing for a comb. Out came a handful of rubies they placed on the table. “I’ll take her.”
Angela and her father stared open-mouthed.
“R-Really?” Angela’s father asked. “You mean you wish to… purchase her?” He stared at the rubies with the greedy eyes she’d expected the lord to have.
“You might think it that way,” the lord said. “Hire may be more accurate a term. I could use another hand in castle upkeep.”
“Someone to keep the place organized, clean the rooms…” They grinned and their eyes grew dark, looking over Angela like her father looked over the rubies. “Someone to help make the food, of course. Keep my chambers warm.” They licked their lips. “Do whatever I command.”
“No!” Angela shouted. “I mean, no, I’m sorry, I couldn’t possibly leave my father–”
A statement that had always been true despite her wishes, but now that she had a way out she hoped it would remain true.
“Quiet, girl!” her father said. “This lord is giving us a kindness!”
He turned to the lord. “Just these rubies, then? She’ll work at your castle in the day, come home at night? Any payment beyond that?”
“Oh, of course I’ll send you more gems, Mr. Turner,” the lord said. “But your daughter would remain at my castle as a… permanent resident.”
“In return I’ll give you ownership of the surrounding lands, have the current residents work under you.” Their grin grew deeper and darker. “All I ask is that you give your daughter to me. Give me her fate. You’ll never see her again, but you’ll be a very wealthy man.”
Angela’s father extended his hand. “You have a deal, my lord.”
The lord’s dark expression opened to a solemn cloudy. They leaned an elbow on the table and looked at Angela.
“Do you believe this guy? Your own father’s selling you out to a vampire. You wanna get out of here?”
Angela and her father stared. The lord scooped up the rubies.
“Mr. Turner, I’m afraid I cannot condone selling out your own child this way. Our dealings are finished here.”
“Wha–But you were the one buying her!”
The lord planted their hands on the table. “Are you talking back to your lord, Mr. Turner?”
Angela’s father muttered and looked down. “Sorry, my lord.”
The lord looked at Angela. Her father glared at her–she would be beaten for sure for this.
“Would you like to go, my dear?”
Angela nodded at the soft words of the lord.
“Thank you, my lord.” She turned to go but the lord held her arm.
“I mean from this house.” She turned to the lord, their eyes open and protective.
“Angela, don’t you dare–”
Her father spoke no more as the lord turned to him.
“I believe I was asking the lady, Mr. Turner.”
Her father stared at the lord before backing away as if their legs were operated by an outside force. The lord looked back at Angela.
“I’ll take you away from this. I can see the pain in your eyes. The abuse you receive.”
“I’m not like the other vampires that control these lands. The other ones would hold your mind in a vise and make you come, but I won’t. You can stay if you want. But I’m sure you’re aware you’re in complete control of your thoughts. It’s up to you.”
Angela still hated the lords.
But she hated her father, too.
One should protect her, the other should threaten her. Instead the protector hated her, and the threatener offered kindness.
There was very little for her in this life.
What did she have to lose?
“I am removing my protection from your home, Mr. Turner,” the lord said, leading Angela out of the house. Her father could only mutter unbelieving responses. “If you’re lucky, the other lords will not notice. Otherwise, well, I’m not sure what they might do to your home.”
As they approached the lord’s stagecoach Angela asked them to wait.
“Please don’t remove your protection from my father. I… I know he isn’t good, but he’s still my family. I don’t want him to be hurt.”
The lord looked at her as if she babbled nonsense.
The lord looked in at the home where Angela’s father shouted and pulled his hair.
The man turned to the lord.
“Your daughter loves you very much. I will keep my protection over your home. If you ever have another chance, I suggest you do better with it.”
That was the last he saw of them.
As for Angela and the lord–Lord Corine had one more stop before returning to the castle. Another resident of the village a few streets away. Lord Corine invited her in as their guest. She met the dirty, pudgy man of the house, Mr. James.
Angela sat in a chair away from the table, watching Lord Corine and Mr. James discuss–the weather, the crops, the family, life, and then, like with her father, Lord Corine asked about Mr. James’ daughter.
Angela saw Mr. James’ daughter, a beautiful young lady.
She was strong and muddy, like she’d been working in a garden, but she had a smile on her face above and beyond anything Angela had ever felt.
Lord Corine asked about her, learned about her, and when satisfied, pulled out the handful of rubies again.
“I’ll take her.”
“T-Take her?” Mr. James asked.
“To the castle,” Lord Corine said. “I need someone, like the lady accompanying me, to help with the castle upkeep. I’ll pay you generously, as you can see.”
Mr. James looked at the rubies. Angela’s heart twisted at what was going through his mind.
Was she right to leave? Did Lord Corine trick her? Did he make her see her father as worse than he was?
Mr. James squinted at the rubies and shook his head. “N…No, my lord, I–I mean, I’m sorry, but… my daughter means the world to me.”
Lord Corine leaned into Mr. James’ space.
“Are you denying your lord, Mr. James?”
Mr. James breathed heavily.
“P-Please, my lord, don’t make me give up my daughter.” Tears dripped out his eyes. “Anything else, 100% of the crops I grow, my house, me–take me, but spare my daughter, I beg of you.”
Lord Corine removed a handkerchief from their pocket and wiped Mr. James’ tears before shaking his hand.
“You’re a good man, Mr. James.”
Lord Corine laughed. “You’re a brave man, too.” He gestured to the rubies. “My gift to you. Family is important. Very important.”
Angela saw a cloud over Lord Corine’s face for a moment.
The lord stood up, lifting Mr. James to stand as well.
“A gift of rubies to set you up, and a promise–a true promise, Mr. James–that you shall not owe tribute to another lord for the rest of your days.”
Lord Corine smiled. “No more debt to a lord, Mr. James. I am granting your home to you to own for the remainder of your life.”
“Oh, dear, my lord,” Mr. James said. “Your kindness is great!”
“Not as great as yours. Just know–and your daughter must know this,” Lord Corine said…
“This lasts only until the time of your death. The house returns to me once you are gone, which I hope will not be for a long time, my friend.” They patted Mr. James on the back. “And I am sure your daughter will take to heart your kindness and will get the same bounty.”
Mr. James’ thanks and praise seemed endless, but eventually Lord Corine and Angela were back on the coach heading to the castle.
“I do, you know,” the lord said.
Angela looked away from the scenery. “What?”
“Enjoy it. I do enjoy tricking folks with the claim of purchasing.”
“Human reactions are so interesting. It’s rarely the same from person to person.”
Angela looked back out to the dismal scenery. “I knew the lords could read minds.”
“Oh, yes, but that wasn’t a mind read, I could see you thinking that on your face plain as night.”
“Plain as night?”
“Well, to a vampire, night is just as plain as how clear it is you’re full of questions you’re too afraid to ask.”
Angela tried not to look at Lord Corine again. She didn’t know what to think. She feared the lords all her life. They did terrible things.
But Lord Corine was as cordial as an old friend. She pursed her lips.
“Are you going to drink my blood?”
She grew cold as the lord hovered next to her.
“Do you want me to?”
Angela gasped. “No!”
Lord Corine sat at the other end of the coach as if they never moved. “Then I won’t.”
“Then… who do you feed off?” Angela asked.
“It depends on what I feel like,” Lord Corine said. “The ones who let me do so freely have the sweetest taste, but if I’m in the mood for something spicier, it’s the wicked ones who think they’re better than others who put up a fight.”
“So you take it,” Angela said.
“I take and I give. It’s the nature of the world.”
“Then why didn’t you extend that family’s freedom past the father’s death?”
Lord Corine shook his head. “Bad idea. Believe me, I know. I’m a vampire. We live far too long.”
“Mr. James is a good man. I’m sure his daughter is a good woman. But what of their progeny? Wealth can change people, but what if it starts from square one? Inheritence is dangerous that way. But vampires? Well, we live forever. No one ever inherits anything.”
“You’re saying humans can’t lead themselves.”
“But the lords–” Angela mumbled. “Most of the lords are terrible. They don’t purchase people, they steal them away.”
“Power corrupts,” Lord Corine said. “It’s rare to find one where that’s not true.”
“But vampires, humans, we’re all the same. Your father had nothing; he was still bad. The only difference is how much more we vampires can tilt the scales. More power, longer lifespan–we can rule as angels or rule as demons. Humans can only rule as humans.”
“I’ve seen villages with human rulers,” Lord Corine said. “A good person leads, has a child they fawn over, and that makes the child a selfish leader. Each following ruler is more selfish than the last. Eventually they’re like the worst vampires, but always starting over.”
Angela didn’t feel like she was about to live the rest of her life with an angel, or a demon.
In that moment, Lord Corine seemed more tired than the oldest human she knew.
Watching human generations run in circles, repeating mistakes…
She considered, perhaps…
Living that long and watching civilization stagnate…
That could be scarier than any lord she had ever seen.
She would be a blip in the lord’s life. Everyone they’ve known but fellow vampires, only so brief.
A new vampire, trying to keep their goodness, watching the cycles of history, unable to stay close to most people for very long in their time frame…
Could someone keep their generosity towards humans for so long?