The more things change, the more they stay the same
|I smiled sympathetically at the ragged man with yellow fangs. "Mr. Erikkson, based on your history we regretfully cannot allow any more credits on your account."
Eyes brimming with crimson tears, he pleaded with words of desperation. "Look man j-just give me a small advance! All I'm asking for is a tiny bit, just a mouthful to dull this hunger."
Placing his hands on the glass between us, I grimaced at the sight.
There was... a grotesque nature to their proportions. Grayness bloomed on his cursed skin, a sickness that corrupted body and mind. Claws bulged painfully from oozing fingertips.
I winced and curled my hands subconsciously.
He shivered, continuing to beg for help. "They're gonna kill me, man! If I can just stop the symptoms for a day or two... Please, a few drops just to get by..." Frayed pupils burned with dying hope as darkness slowly swallowed the color from his eyes.
Swallowing, I watched him rapidly devolve.
Twitching, his head twisted in several directions as he stared at the vampires in line around him. Limbs lengthened as his back twisted and hunched. Whatever remained of Johan Erikkson was quickly consumed by the ravenous monster within.
"Please..." He cried out as I silently pressed a hidden button.
Johan began to sniff as he wept, layers of cartilage fanning out from his inflamed snout. Skin flaps hung from emaciated arms as bones jutted, stretching loose flesh into wings. His tearful face contorted in a hiss of pain, black eyes wide with agony.
A woman screamed. "He's feral! SECURITY!"
The bank customers backed away from the creature as it began the final transformation. Ears sloughed off a balding head as Johan Erikkson scratched away the final remnants of his humanity.
I sighed in relief as four burly guards surrounded the screeching beast. Nobody knew for certain if the latest safety glass could hold the force of a wild moroi.
Clad in riot gear and wearing smoked visors, they grimly faced the late Mr. Erikkson as he finished ripping off his clothes. It froze, head snapping as it watched each of the armored opponents approaching. They moved slowly, forming a square around the creature.
Cautiously, one of the security guards sprayed a canister of blood on the floor before the moroi.
Malformed nostrils flared, sniffing the puddle.
"Come on... You know you want it..." The guard muttered, watching the creature salivate profusely. Sticking out an impossibly long tongue, the bat-like monstrosity lapped up the scarlet fluid.
I watched in amazement as the four-man crew moved with tactical precision.
The pair behind the moroi unfurled a silver net, tossing it over the distracted monster while the other two focused UV flashlights on it. Squealing, the fiend struggled against the metal as it grew weakened. Once the violent thrashing slowed, each squad member grasped a corner of the netting and pulled. The trap tightened around the squirming victim, sealing its fate.
While dragging their captive out of the building, the four guards smiled and waved to the murmuring crowd as the spectators applauded their bravery.
I didn't share in the enthusiasm. Now it was business as usual, everyone pretending they hadn’t just seen one of their own dragged out like a sack of meat. Out of sight, out of mind.
An unpleasant taste lingered in my mouth. Didn't they realize that we are all a few pints away from that primal thirst? Nobody seems to care until it happens to them.
My inner turmoil was disturbed by someone tapping on my shoulder.
I turned in my chair to see my supervisor. The deep scowl on his face told me plenty, but surprisingly I wasn't the cause of his foul mood.
"Mina wants to see you."
Suddenly, facing a raging moroi was almost preferable. Almost.
* * * * *
The elevator ride lasted an eternity.
I nervously licked at my fangs, accidentally slicing my tongue. Although the wound healed fairly quickly, a phantom sensation of pain lingered for a few minutes. It was one small part of humanity that remained. A reminder of our mortality.
With a ding, the gilded doors opened, revealing a lavishly decorated suite I remembered only too well. Clenching my jaw, I stepped onto the plush carpet.
Her name was engraved on a marble plaque next to the office doors, 'Wilhelmina Harker, Chief Operating Officer.'
I hesitated before opening that portal to hell, but I didn't have to.
Stumbling out of the doors, a rugged human male tottered unsteadily as he headed towards the elevator. His neck cuff monitor blinked a dangerous red. He mumbled some greeting in passing, a deathly pallor haunting his features.
Pity welled up inside me. She was overly fond of draining her pets; I suspected she enjoyed feeling heartbeats fluttering in her grasp.
Gritting my fangs, I entered the lioness's den.
Mina was daintily dabbing her mouth with a lace handkerchief. Upon seeing me, she smiled wickedly. Those amethyst eyes glowed, deeply intoxicated by the essence of life.
"My dear Max... You've been a naughty boy."
I shuddered when her alluring voice breathed my name.
Licking sensuous lips, she turned the monitor to show me the offense. It was a short clip, camera feed from the main floor. Front and center, I was the star of the drama that played out minutes earlier. There was no way she could have known unless...
Crossing my arms, I sighed. "Have you been observing me this whole time?"
A devilish grin flashed on Mina's face, slowly fading into a pout at my unamused expression. "Oh come now, Maxie. You know how I love to watch you work."
Patience wearing thin, I decided to cut to the chase. "Am I getting reprimanded for following company procedure? His account was frozen an-"
Mina vanished from her seat and instantly appeared before me, placing a finger on my lips. "Shhhh...." She silenced my protests and pushed me into a chair.
"Do you know what separates us from the feral moroi?" Mina slowly circled me, running her hands across my tense shoulders.
"Our rationality?" I knew where this was going but I was forced to play along.
She stood behind me and whispered in my ear. "Such a clever boy." Her soft breath was warm, full of the vigor she consumed greedily.
Sauntering over to her massive desk, Mina poured a glass of sanguine liquor from a crystal decanter. I eyed the rich liquid, my throat suddenly feeling very dry.
"Yes," She continued. "Logic is something those animals lose. They will even feed on each other, given enough time."
I watched her slender throat swallow, savoring the drink with relish. My parched tongue longed to taste the thick blood, but I struggled against the urge. Mina knew exactly what she was doing and reveled in it.
"Oh? Are you thirsty, Max?" She put a hand to her reddened lips, faking astonishment.
Forcing a smile, I shook my head. "No, I earn plenty at my new position, thank you." It was a lie and she knew it.
We were all starving down there, barely scraping enough credits to feed. The executives could afford to spend their wealth lavishly; stories of affluent businessmen swimming in pools of blood were common.
Mina dipped a finger in the glass and slowly licked it. "Where was I? Oh yes, the moroi..."
She placed the half-empty drink on her desk and swaggered over to the window, hips swaying. I ignored her, my attention was continually drawn to the tumbler. Hunger gnawed at my belly.
"Isn't it curious how humans were once the apex predator? Of course, until we crept out of the shadows and sank our teeth into their world. But now, the biggest threat to vampirekind is ourselves."
Turning, Mina transfixed me with her powerful gaze. "Tell me, why didn't you call security the instant you saw signs of a feral?"
My dead heart sank into my shoes as the ugly side of her reared its head. I stared at the floor and stammered out an answer. "W-well he looked fairly normal until he started to chang-"
Mina vanished and appeared within a split second, hands gripping my throat tenaciously as purple eyes flared. "That's not good enough, Max." Venom dripped from each syllable as she hissed.
If I wasn't already lifeless, I would have suffocated in her vice-like grip.
Choking out my response, I shied away from her hideous grimace. "I've... never seen... one... up close... Mina... it was an accident-"
Loosening her hold on my neck, she smiled. It was jarring, seeing that instant transition from demonic to angelic.
"That was all you had to say, darling." Dusting off my rumpled suit, Mina sat in my lap and beamed at me.
I rubbed my tender throat, eyeing her warily. "Can I go back to work now?"
She huffed, storming across the room and walking up the wall. "You are so cold to me Maxie, and after everything that we've been through." Glaring from the ceiling, she crossed her arms and turned her nose down at me.
"All we've been through...? I was your blood bag ever since I was a boy!" I snarled, rising from my seat.
She rolled her eyes. "So? Countless humans would have begged for the special treatment I gave you. I made you strigoi. "
Mina always threw that in my face, the fact she gave me the power to create other vampires. Drinking her elder blood granted me powers that normal moroi didn’t possess.
“I would never force anyone into this cursed existence.” I spat, my dead heart beating in fury. The smell of blood was so tantalizing. I longed to empty the decanter and gorge myself on that thick, rich sustenance.
This was becoming unbearable. Mina brought out the worst in me, toying with my emotions like a cat playing with its prey.
She paced the ceiling thoughtfully, cat-like in her movements. “Oh is that how you see it? Things wouldn’t be quite so bad if you had a few pets under your thumb.”
I shook my head, trying to force my hunger down. “Having power over others never interested me.” My hands twitched towards the tumbler, visualizing myself licking out every last drop of blood. Her lipstick left a taunting smile on the glass.
Above me, Mina watched my actions with delight.
"You must be parched, poor thing. Drink up and come join me on the ceiling.” She purred with desire.
Deliberately, I slowly reached for the drink. My nostrils flared at the succulent aroma, closing my eyes I inhaled deeply. AB negative, the most expensive vintage. I could work for a few hundred years and still never afford a cask of this quality.
I opened my mouth and sighed longingly.
Then I flung the glass against the wall. It shattered, exploding into a spray of crystal fragments and crimson droplets.
Mina shrieked, hissing like a hellcat as she levitated down from the ceiling. “That was my best crystal!” She wailed before turning her attention on me.
I felt myself shrink back, her amethyst gaze piercing me like a wooden stake. “I tried to play nice, but you test the limits of my generosity.” Mina grimaced, trying to hold back the ugly hatred that threatened to spill out from her black heart.
“Lick it up,” She said calmly. “Clean up the mess and I’ll forget your disobedience.”
“Mina, I’m sorry-” I started before the vampiress dropped the pleasantries and twisted her exquisite face into a mask of dark fury.
“LICK. IT. UP.” She snarled, raw power pulsing in those words. The sheer force of it brought me to my knees, helpless against the unbreakable bond that a maestru or ‘maker’ held. I bowed my head and obeyed.
Crawling on all fours, I passed Mina as she seethed, compelling me to slurp up the bloody shards of crystal from the plush carpet and swallow those agonizing mouthfuls.
The splinters sliced open my mouth and throat but the sanguine flavor softened the pain. I moaned in torturous ecstasy, relishing the savory taste of my hemoglobin mixing with the AB negative.
Mina observed me coolly. She didn’t allow me to stop until each piece was eaten and every drop was lapped up from the floor and wall. I winced as the last fragments of crystal settled in my gullet.
Despite suffering through excruciating punishment, I felt… amazing.
I could feel the power surging through my body, liquid life sharpening senses, closing wounds and granting new strength. Finally, she permitted me to rise. I stood before her meekly, awaiting her next command.
"That’s a good boy.” Mina caressed my cheek, gently wiping away some scarlet fluid. “I could never let the ravages of time devour your handsome face." She embraced me, inhaling my scent.
Her lips brushed my ear, cold breath wafting on my neck. “Don’t ever think about defying me again.”
I was powerless against my maker, filled with an endless rage I could never unleash. Bitterly, I endured her lustful kisses.
In life, I was a victim of her insatiable appetites. Now in death, I was cursed to be her plaything for all eternity.
I thought humans were cruel to one another, but their petty selfishness paled in comparison to the gleeful savagery of vampires. We are all monsters, hopelessly trying to fill the gaping void within us.
After Mina tired of me, I slunk back down where I belonged. But how could I focus on work after being debased like that? I was in no mood to suffer any more humiliation.
So once the opportunity presented itself I vanished from my post and slipped away.
It was a relief to leave Cruor Banking and step into the eternal twilight of Penumbra City. Before me, stretched out glittering rows of densely packed skyscrapers, bright neon billboards flashing advertisements, electric cars humming quietly as they passed.
I looked up at the massive dome surrounding the metropolis. Solar panels covered every inch of the structure, doubling as both power source and shield from deadly UV rays. Thanks to the efforts of the greatest scientific minds, strigoi and moroi alike could roam freely within the shadows of Penumbra.
But without the constant threat of sunlight, vampires began to multiply faster than ever. Blood was in tight control and the feral problem was getting worse.
“Blood packs! Get your blood packs! Take the edge off your thirst for a few credits!” A hustler called out, waving a colorful sign proclaiming CHEAP BLOOD. He was confronted by a shabby woman, screaming that she’d been cheated. “This is pigs’ blood! I want my credits back!”
Baring a set of broken fangs, she hissed at the peddler. He responded in kind, matching her aggression. A small crowd began to form, bystanders eagerly sticking around to see how things would play out.
I moved on, not waiting for things to turn ugly. The screeching faded into the distance, melding into the sounds of the city. Horns beeped, music thumped, denizens shouted. Everyone was always irritated about something, angry at the world, at someone else, even themselves.
Being perpetually hungry had a way of making you bitter.
The only thing left to do was finding some way to disconnect from reality before it drove you to do something crazy. No wonder so many turned to drugs.
“Hey man, you have any marrow?” A sunken-eyed vampire shivered beneath a streetlamp. I shook my head and moved on, trying not to make eye contact. Just ignore the problem and it will go away, right? Isn't that what we all do?
Except it doesn't always work that way.
He followed, shadowing my steps doggedly. "I know you've got some, don't hold out on me." I denied that I was holding anything of the sort. "You think I'm dumb enough to carry a Class 1 substance around? That's a death sentence."
This did nothing to shake his interest in me, so I leaped onto the street light and from there it was a short distance to the rooftops. If I wanted to be dramatic, I could have turned into a cloud of bats but that required more focus than it was worth.
He watched these feats enviously, letting loose a string of curses after me. I left him in the streets below, continuing my long trek home.
Though my body buzzed with exuberance, my mind didn't match the feeling of elation. I was sick of being a parasite, greedily feeding on the dwindling vestiges of humanity. It wasn't so long ago that I forgot how it felt, having my vitality sapped each day.
We were all treated like cattle, milked for our blood. The unlucky ones got blood born pathogens from unclean feeders, filthy vampires that neglected basic hygiene and didn't brush their fangs very often.
I remembered seeing bite marks on my mother, her constant state of anemia, that hollow look she had in those last days when they visited her more and more often.
It wasn't long after she passed that they came for me with their needles, testing the quality of my blood cells. I was a prized specimen, a type O. Once I was old enough, Mina purchased me from an auction house, her amethyst eyes glowing greedily.
I passed by the smokestacks, grimly watching the ashes of former vampires drifting down on the poorest districts. Here, feral moroi were rounded up and incinerated in an ultraviolet reactor. The politicians justified this by saying it was too dangerous to have them roaming the streets.
Not only would the creatures eviscerate anything in sight, but they were a massive threat to the limited amount of humans. A feral would go to great lengths to track down and devour a 'warmblood'.
That was how my mother died.
I watched the grey ashes filter down on the slums before turning my back on the sight. They could all burn in that concrete hell. I wouldn't be losing any sleep over it.
Old newspapers and empty plasma bags tumbled in the foul-smelling breeze. The shantytown always reeked of ammonia and rotten flesh. One was the byproduct the moroi expelled and the other...
Peeking over the edge, I witnessed two ferals feeding on a dead dog. That explained the smell at least.
The bat-like creatures hissed as a third entered the alley. It towered over them, spreading its leathery wings and snarling viciously at the pair. The smaller two drew back reluctantly, letting the intruder feast on the corpse.
Moving noiselessly, I flitted over the gap between the rooftops. Although I was humming with strength, a wild moroi was always unpleasant to deal with. Best to avoid them.
A silent shadow, I sped over the buildings as though I was racing the wind itself. Soon the apartment I resided in was beneath me. Darting down the sooty brick wall, I swooped into the open window.
Home again, home again, jiggety-jig.
Peeling paint, mysterious stains, ragged carpet, filthy linoleum, a broken couch... I took it all in, feeling existential dread creep into my mind. Collapsing onto the couch, I sighed and rubbed my face.
What was the point of it all? Grinding out a meager wage, only to come home to your little piece of hell and watching TV until it was time to start all over again? I didn't want any of this. Each day I just went through the motions, doing whatever my maestru compelled me to.
I shuddered, remembering the horrible feeling of being forced against my will.
The dark thoughts returned, clouding my thoughts. I did my best to ignore them, switching on the TV.
"This is VNN, news that you can trust. Today we are joined by supermodel Liz Bathory." A reporter smiled brightly, gesturing to a stunning woman beside him. "I understand you enjoy soaking in the blood of virgins, is this true?"
She nodded gracefully, stroking her glossy hair. "But of course, it's the only way to get a youthful appearance." They both laughed politely, making me feel sick.
I couldn't watch anymore of this garbage.
Turning off the mindless drivel left me alone with my thoughts again. It wouldn't be long before I was back at Cruor Bank, a groveling worm under Mina's stilettos. What was I even working towards? Better living quarters? A car? My own warmblood?
The thought of owning a human filled me with such revulsion. Even though my body craved blood, I never stopped hating myself for it.
If Mina didn't force me to drink, compelling me to return to work each day... I shuddered at the thought of becoming a mindless feral. No, I could never become something that would harm others.
Still, something had to be done.
Nothing brought me enjoyment in this cruel and selfish world. There was no comfort to be had in materialism, no desire to find a partner, no drive to have power over others.
There was one thing that I always wanted to do, something my mother would tell me stories of when I was young.
I left my grungy apartment and headed for the edge of Penumbra City. Moroi hung from light posts, sleeping restlessly as I quietly passed. Warning signs informed me that I was nearing the city limits and that it would be unsafe to proceed. I ignored them.
"Have you ever seen a sunrise?" My mother asked, clasping me in her arms. I shook my curls, waiting for her reply. "It's one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. Aside from you, of course." She tickled me until I squealed.
"What does it look like, mama?" I looked up at her weary smile.
"Like all the colors in the world."
There were several cracks in the dome, large enough for someone to slip through. I pushed aside some paneling and left Penumbra City behind.
I looked up into the twilight sky. Several stars twinkled down at me as the horizon began to brighten. It was a glorious sight.
"I'm coming to see you, mama." I whispered, turning towards the east and greeting a brand new day.