Vlad’s favorite answer.
“Which way I fly is hell; myself am hell; And in the lowest deep a lower deep, Still threat’ning to devour me, opens wide, To which the hell I suffer seems a heaven.”
― John Milton, Paradise Lost
“Did you see her?” Vlad demanded.
“See who?” William prodded, dragging out the end of the last word.
“The girl! She didn’t leave the cookies!” Vlad sucked in a breath as he considered more of the facts. “If she ever even had them…Damn it all! She never even had cookies!”
“There is no girl here,” William said slowly, approaching Vlad as if he were feral cat, “But we do have the information you requested. Would you like to talk about that?”
Vlad hissed. He was not a child and he wasn’t crazy. The girl must’ve slipped around the side of the house, cut through the woods. But it was dangerous in the woods. His eyes darted back and forth as he began to consider all the possible horrors she could face picking her way through the shadows of the mountains. Perhaps it was good he kept this form, he could travel faster in his true form. Maybe even cut her off at the pass. And once he did locate her, and tried not to ring her neck for being so careless—
William broke into his thoughts. “…I said, the translation says the owl was the cause of a fight between the gods. Elmira, Goddess of the Hunt, wanted to use it to make her followers—“
“Yes, yes, I know that,” Vlad waved a hand dismissively. “The Goddess Elmira has a statue of some bird. Blah, blah. The feathers can only be used to undo states. Etc, etc. I sent you out so you could find new information, not repeat to me what I already know!”
William ran a hand over his head. “Well, I think you missed at least a few important facts—“
“No William, don’t bother,” Caleb interjected. “King Vladislaus is in one of his moods.”
That smirk! Vlad blinked slowly as he registered his offense. Moods? Caleb was the one who had been in a terrible mood as of late. Vlad clenched his fists. Once upon a time, Caleb would deliver bad news over a stiff drink followed by a session of plotting revenge. Even though he had been so young, it was Caleb who took over battle operations when William fled to Selvadorada. Yes, they had clashed over the last 200 or so years, but this disdain Caleb had was new.
Maybe he was the one who needed to spar now.
“Mood? You must have me confused with one of your precious sims, or, sages help us, your witch friends,” Vlad snarled, a dark energy rolling off of him.
“O-kay, well, this is about to go poorly. I don’t think you lot are in a place to have this conversation so let’s take a breath and—” William started.
“Oh rest assured, sire, I would never confuse you with a witch. Not ever. That would be an insult to the witches!”
Caleb sneered the word sire. Sneered it! Vlad felt his blood beginning to boil. This sparring match was going to be good.
Don’t do this, his conscience warned.
But all Vlad could think about was how much Caleb needed this for his own good. How long had it been since he had taught a lesson in humility?
“I love it when you call me sire,” Vlad smiled. “It reminds me of your place.”
“Are you mad? Vladislaus!” William tried again. But Vlad was past letting the vampire deescalate the situation. He flicked a hiss in Caleb’s direction and let some of the dark energy thrumming through him curl tendrils around Caleb’s neck.
“William Redding is not the only vampire who’s not afraid of you!” Caleb shouted.
“Oh really? That’s new,” Vlad said, picking at his nails as if the entire conversation bored him. This is a mistake, his conscience promised. Already, the anxiety had begun to crawl up his back, bringing sharp pangs of uncertainty.
Vlad pressed on. “I suppose you’ll be wanting a challenge then? A spar? Who knows? Maybe you’ll even beat me.”
“There is no maybe about it,” Caleb glowered as he rushed to change into his dark form and attack. William heaved a sigh and hung his head but it barely registered on Vlad’s radar.
“Come on then,” Vlad leered, and welcomed the onslaught.
Vlad watched as Caleb struggled to get up, their clash of teeth and limbs over. Somewhere inside his head, a whirring sound began. Sick waves of regret replaced the anger that had fueled him so strongly just moments ago.
He lowered himself back down to the ground. He was so angry with Caleb. Not just for being snide, but for daring to leave his side, for daring to…change.
He realized it then. This wasn’t a sparring match, it was an attack.
Repair the damage, he thought frantically, as he reached down to help Caleb up. But Caleb pushed his hand away.
He clambered to his feet, his face at first stricken, then disgusted. William called them both idiots but Caleb just shook his head. “Goading me into a match I can’t win just so you can get what you want? Now, where have I seen that before?”
The answer was burned in Vlad’s memory. His conscience repeated the story even if he could not.
264 years ago it was a rainy night. First he had chased down Lilith.
Then he chased down Caleb.
All you have to do is win this game and I’ll save your sister. Who knows, maybe you’ll even beat me?
He had taunted Caleb with those words, but hadn’t been a game. It had been an attack.
“But for once there is a match that even you can’t throw!” Caleb spat. “You know what we learned today? All your plotting has been a waste of time. The owl of undoing must be earned or freely given.”
Caleb began to laugh, “Did you hear that oh great and mighty king? Earned, not stolen. Freely given, not handed over out of fear. And as much as I would love to see the King of the Windenburg Vampires laid low by competing in a mortal baking contest, I don’t think it’s bloody likely. So, you lose.”
Vlad reared back and flashed his fangs at those words. Lose? He couldn’t lose. Not after he had come so far.
Caleb brushed himself off and gave Vlad a look not unlike the little girl had earlier:
This isn’t over motherfucker.
He didn’t wait for Caleb to make another statement, he turned into a mist and disappeared.
Vlad reappeared in front of the Windenburg Museum. Earned or freely given? What possible workaround existed for spell such as that? Vlad turned the problem over in his mind as he walked past a young vampire. The sorry creature was staring accusingly at the sky and glancing down at his hands. To anyone else, he might seem fresh off an encounter with a bubble blower but Vlad knew better.
One of the first powers that young vampires set about trying to earn was walking in daylight. After years, maybe even decades of skulking around in the dark, they imagined themselves stepping out into golden sunlight and feeling the warmth of it against their skin. They imagined, foolishly, that the Universe—that magic—would allow them supernatural strength and immortality and take nothing in exchange.
It was the Universe’s greatest trick.
A vampire could walk in the sun, but just as they couldn’t feel the cold, neither could they feel the heat. All that sacrifice and they could see the sun, but never feel it.
Vlad had shrugged this off when he first experienced it, so focused was he on obtaining as many powers as possible in a short period of time. Walking in sunlight was a means to an end…a means to…
Say it, his conscience demanded.
“Kaylnn,” he whispered. And walked up the stairs.
He swept in through the front doors of the museum. He was a member and a high level donor so he paid no admission. That in itself was ridiculous, most of their treasured items came from his collection. He had, point in fact, commissioned the construction of the building in 1873. It was to be his repository.
He had chosen the marble columns.
Designed the archways.
Approved the layout.
Hung on its walls.
Of course, no one knew that. To them, he was just one of the family Straud, who looked uncannily like a long lost ancestor.
Thinking of Kaylnn, he travelled up to the sculpture room. There, on a marble pedestal, was a wooden statue of a dog.
Earned or freely given. He had carved it himself when he was courting Kaylnn. It was a gift, to ward off evil and protect her from vampires. In those days, Windenburg was deeply superstitious. They believed in vampires, witches, fairies and friendly gnomes. They told stories of ancient gods with enormous power steering the fates of the universe from their perch in another realm.
Only a few of those things turned out to be real.
And anyways, it wasn’t the statue that protected Kaylnn. It was Vlad, sitting outside the window of her cottage every night, sword in hand, keeping a watch on the woods.
He had loved her once, hadn’t he?
Five centuries ago, he would have done anything for her…had done everything for her. He had been made a vampire, yes, but he spent his every waking moment studying and getting control of his power, with one goal: learn the ultimate vampire cure and then return to Kaylnn and Atorn.
And he nearly succeeded too, except he hadn’t counted on time.
Earned or freely given. Vampires were gifted immortality which gave them a surplus of time, but unlike a few powerful witches or the mythical gods his kinsman used to believe in, they could not manipulate it.
He had changed everything for Kaylnn and in the end it was for naught. Two decades to him was nothing, but to her, it was a significant portion of her life. He showed up to find his boy was now a young man and Kaylnn was remarried, with a whole other brood of children. It wasn’t just that they betrayed his memory. No, like Caleb, they had changed.
He stopped at a sketch of the Windenburg Abbey, reconstructed after the fire he set in 1527. Now, it was a library on the University of Britechester’s campus.
Nothing stayed the same.
He could not seem to stop change, no matter how hard he tried. He wasn’t stupid, he knew that little things would creep in: clothing, transportation and, Vlad thought with a shudder, technology. But he should have been able to keep his own life from changing, and by extension, the creatures within it. Creatures like Caleb and William.
He disappeared and reappeared in the portrait gallery. A young couple that had been gazing at paintings yelped in surprise.
He hissed and clawed at them. They screamed and quickly scrambled out of the gallery, leaving Vlad to his own devices.
The feeling of being feared and abandoned was awful.
And imminently satisfying.
He glanced around the painting gallery. If the witch sought to punish him by making him feel guilt, then she had greatly underestimated him.
Vladislaus Straud had endured all sorts of pain over his lifetime, this was no different.
He stopped at the bust of a particularly beautiful young woman.
It was displayed next to a painting of the palace that bore her name: Princess Cordelia. Vlad remembered her fondly. She had a penchant for jewels, lively music, and pirates.
When his treasury was in need of a boost, Vlad had gladly seduced her. She was so enamored that she planned to marry him. The jewels had been a gift, to her future husband.
But it wasn’t just the jewels. By the time he was done, he had members of her staff carrying trunks of gold bars and priceless statues out of the tower treasure room.
Had she been heartbroken? Vlad couldn’t remember. She ended up marrying some pirate or three? Her diaries were somewhere on the University of Britechester campus. They probably contained some vague mention of an unnamed villain who bankrupted the kingdom…
He stared at the bust thoughtfully. That was it wasn’t it?
The Owl of Undoing must be earned or freely given. He didn’t need to compete in some absurd mortal baking contest, he just needed to find someone who was competing and would ultimately win. He’d spend a few weeks seducing them, and they’d hand the object right over.
And he wouldn’t just set himself right. No, he’d get his whole life back. He’d undo whatever change had come to Caleb and William.
And he’d still have a whole bird’s worth of feathers, right? He could unmake every change that had plagued him since he first set foot in the woods of Forgotten Hollow at his father’s behest.
Television, witches…even death.
Atorn and Kaylnn…
Vlad wasn’t a fan of cell phones, but for this occasion he would make an exception. He dialed William. “Have Caleb pack the suitcases and make travel arrangements. We’re going to San Myshuno.”
Vlad looked at the wooden statue again on his way out. A copy of it was now for sale at the front desk.
But what if you find love again? What if you change your mind? his conscience tried.
The thought disturbed him for a moment. But then he snorted. Vladislaus Straud had been in love exactly once, and everything else over the last five centuries had been for gain or entertainment. His heart was in no more danger now, in 2019, then it had been breaking in 1527. He smiled to himself on his way out of the museum.
Maybe, once he had returned to his old self he’d set the old abbey on fire again.
Just for old time’s sake.
Credit where credit is due! I could not have pulled this chapter off without some amazing builds and poses (because lordt knows I did not have time to build an entire museum).
Musee de Windenburg by djeebee76 (original by Bruxel-Reign)
Emotions 4 by SimmerBerlin
Mad About You by SimmerBerlin