Where there’s a will, there’s a way…
All is not lost, the unconquerable will, and study of revenge, immortal hate, and the courage never to submit or yield.
― John Milton, Paradise Lost
Vlad stood up. He felt worse than usual, as if this time drinking from a sim without permission was harder.
Because you did something awful. Because you feel guilty, his conscience whispered.
But Vlad shook his head. He wasn’t going to argue with himself. The real problem was that there was something else vibrating in the air and making him feel off…a low frequency hum. He narrowed his eyes and flicked on the light switch, testing his suspicions.
The bathroom was suddenly very bright. Too bright.
Vlad roared in fury. Decades ago, Caleb had given the house a small makeover. It was the ’30s and though they would outlive the market crash, most of the Windenburg vampires had become very sullen—Caleb included. It was a small dalliance that Vlad allowed because there was no electricity flowing to Straud Manor.
Or at least, there was not supposed to be electricity flowing to Straud Manor.
Vlad stalked from the restroom through the livingroom and down to the basement where he found William and Caleb sitting comfortably in two chairs.
Caleb had the good sense to look guilty and immediately jumped up pretending to examine the bookcases for dust.
William, however, continued lounging as if he had not shoved Vlad’s pipe organ out of the way and installed a giant flatscreen on the wall in its place.
“For all of the gold bars you hoard, I would’ve thought you could afford at least one more carpet for this drafty basement,” William teased, his lilting accent making the sentence sound almost musical.
Vlad looked around. It didn’t look much different from the records room that the monks had kept at the abbey near the castle, but this was how he preferred it. In fact, he wished the whole house looked like this.
“Carpet? And miss hearing the footsteps of an enemy? Like one shoving a large piece of furniture out of the way? Wasn’t it you who taught me that trick?”
William snorted. “And that’s the one piece of advice you choose to follow?”
Vlad tried to clasp onto the anger that was slowly burning away in William’s presence. This is what you need. Home. Comfort. Friends, his conscience sang. But a king did not have friends or comfort.
Still, Vlad itched to sit down and banter with someone who truly knew him. A king needed to confer with his council, right? That’s all this was: conferring. Vlad gave William half a smile and took a seat.
When he was a boy, William had taught Vlad how to swing a sword, what berries were poisonous, and, when he got older, how to woo a romantic interest. He loved giving advice. Or, as his husband used to say: William loved hearing himself give advice. He was Vlad’s most trusted advisor.
Friend, his conscience corrected.
William had fought with him and, in the woods of Forgotten Hollow, he had died with him too. Just that thought made Vlad feel forlorn, but he quickly covered it with a scowl. “What in sages’ name is a television doing down here? And, for that matter, what is electricity doing in my home—“
William stood up. “You need a good workout. Spar with me.”
“Sims don’t pull out swords for a fight anymore,” Vlad insisted, “And besides, you are changing the subject.”
Why was he resisting? He did need to do something with all of this dark energy swirling inside of him.
“I’m sure if they come back in fashion, you’ll be first in line to use them. Come on. What’s it been? 300 years? You’re due to beat me again.”
Vlad growled. Of course William would bring that up. Of course he would use that against him. In all these centuries, Vlad had only beaten William three times. Three times! And William hinted that at least one time was because he let Vlad win.
“Fortune doesn’t favor the smug,” Vlad said, his upper lip curling.
But William just laughed. “I tell you what, you win and I’ll get the power to the house shut off immediately.”
“And if you win?” Vlad asked, his arms folded. Here he was negotiating about rules in his own house. This curse was worse than he thought.
William gave him a crooked smile. “We’ll see. A king grants favors at his discretion, does he not?”
After changing, they headed around to the side of the manor. William opened an old wooden cabinet packed to the brim with weapons. As Vlad recalled, they had built it when he turned 18. He was eager for such an important rite of passage. His younger sister had already begun drawing up plans for her own war cabinet and Vlad had been determined not to be bested by a younger sibling.
Over the centuries, it had been patched and rebuilt until now it stood creaking in the corner, barely holding together against the elements. Usually, William took him to task for being so careless about his weapons storage, but today he simply selected two swords.
For a man so large he should not be so graceful and yet, William moved like a leaf floating on the wind. That must’ve been what his father saw. Vlad was too young to understand what was happening, but every year King Josef would ride into the village and choose the strongest and fastest teenagers. They were taken from their families, brought back to the castle and trained for the Royal Guard.
“On your guard!” William shouted, interrupting Vlad’s thoughts. He leaned forward adopting a wide stance and they began to circle each other.
“Caleb tells me that the witches have no cure, despite your attempts at persuasion,” William began, striking out to hit Vlad’s right flank. But Vlad was ready. He swung his sword, blocking William easily.
His conscience prickled. True.
“A small setback. There will be another way,” Vlad said instead. He dove forward, intending to slash William right down the middle but his sword sliced through nothing.
In mere seconds, William had made a movement so small and so quick, mortal eyes would have missed it.
Hell, Vlad’s vampire eyes nearly missed it.
“So you don’t accept it?” William teased now that he was just out of reach.
Vlad tried not to give away how frustrated he was, but it still came out like a growl. “Of course not. Why would I?”
“Because maybe you’ve grown tired of who you used to be,” William replied, leaping back on his feet. He had Vlad on the defense now.
“Does a leopard change his spots? I prefer myself exactly the way I used to be.” Vlad sneered. He quickly pulled his sword back, guarding himself from William’s next move.
That isn’t quite right, is it? his conscience tutted. Vlad slashed forward but William was ready for him.
“This is always your mistake, Vladislaus. Since you were a boy, what have I told you? It’s not always about attacking first. Now, you have no way out,” he explained, the patience in his voice returning Vlad to a time when William was teacher and Vlad: the eager student.
Their blades clanged as they locked, the sound reverberating through Vlad’s body. Sword fighting as vampires was different. It was a wonder they hadn’t broken the blades with both of them now going at full strength. Vlad gritted his teeth and held his ground. “There is always a way out. You taught me that.”
“I wasn’t talking about life,” William huffed. “I was talking about sneaking out of a lover’s room!”
“You always did seem to find your way into Tobias’s room and yet the head of the Royal Guard never caught you two. How did you get out?” Vlad asked as they continued to hold each other off.
Suddenly, William slid back and let his sword drop. “I climbed out the window,” he replied, his grin wicked.
Vlad laughed and spun, intending to regain his balance when he heard William’s sword whistling in the air high above him.
Sword fighting as vampires was indeed different.
Vlad turned just fast enough to see that William had leapt into the air and was bringing his sword down over top of Vlad’s head.
Vlad swung out wildly, but as William landed and brought his sword down, it was clear that he had won.
“I did get caught once,” William said, as he climbed to his feet. “I fell asleep in Tobias’s bed and was running late for morning drills. I put on my full armor to climb out the window and my culross got caught on a tree.”
He reached down to help Vlad up. “Your mother, the Queen, found me hanging there when she was out for her morning walk and oh, the lecture she gave me!”
His admission broke the tension. They both began to laugh. Nodding in unspoken agreement, they started gathering supplies for a fire. It was an old tradition, one they had kept from their days on the march when King Josef sent them out to conquer distant and foreign lands. It was an easier tradition as vampires, given their supernatural strength and speed. William pulled two old stumps out of the ground with ease while Vlad gathered firewood and laid out a set of heavy stones.
They reminisced about everything from the time Vlad stole away to the cellar of a noble in Champs Les Sims and got rip-roaring drunk on his collection of nectar, to the time William and Tobias tried to hide a dog they were training from King Josef’s advisors.
Vlad laughed and wiped tears from his eyes, “…but you insisted that dog could fetch on command! Lord and Lady Sibley spent weeks trying but the mutt wouldn’t bring them so much as a boot!”
William chuckled and shook his head. “Tobias was convinced that dog would buy us enough favor with the Sibleys that we would be dismissed from royal service and get a cushy job doing personal protection.”
His tone turned wistful, “He had all these plans for building a wee cottage on the edge of their property, growing vegetables, running off the occasional bandit. It would have been a good life.”
Vlad always wondered how William could speak of losing Tobias and maintain his composure. How could he even think of his husband—his one true love—gone and buried for centuries?
How did it not kill him?
Vlad tried to give order to his memories, to consider William’s loss without thinking of his own. When they were first turned, it had been…difficult. They camped in the woods, sleeping in caves by day and hunting llama-herders and farmers at night to keep from starving. Vlad understood his…mistakes…but William had taken on vampirism nearly effortlessly.
He saw Tobias, could have turned him at anytime, but William chose not to. Why?
William pulled Vlad out of his reverie. “You went out hunting with Anastasia.”
It wasn’t a question. William knew and he didn’t approve. He had never approved of Miss Hell.
Vlad kept his tone light. “I don’t think she’d appreciate the cavalier use of her first name.”
No one called Miss Hell by her first name, not even Vlad. It unleashed something terrible in her. He asked her about it once and she gave him a look that was so bereft, so unhinged in its grief, that it took his breath away.
“Anastasia is dead and buried,” she told him, and never said anything more about it.
He knew she was from a small village in Glimmerbrook but she never told him how she was turned or by whom. And Vlad, despite all of his considerable efforts, had never been able to discover the answer.
William would not be deterred. “It makes you sick, feeding without permission. And yet, you terrorized those sims tonight. To what end?”
“It didn’t bother me,” Vlad sniffed.
Lie, his conscience hissed.
“Even Caleb could hear you hurling your guts out for hours and he’s not yet 300. Why not embrace this change? Toss Bloodvein and Anastasia out. Many would stand with you, and the rest I would gladly help get in line.” William gave him a gleeful smile as he said the last part.
Vlad shook his head. “They are important allies. And I have no desire to remain in this state.”
Lie. Lie. Lie, his conscience repeated. But his conscience was wrong. He didn’t want to change. Had absolutely no interest in it.
“Is this about Atorn and Kaylynn?” William’s voice was low, nearly a whisper.
Vlad’s throat closed up. At one time they had been everything to him. They had been…the rest of the words died in his brain. Sometimes he couldn’t bear the thought of it—a wife and a son dead and buried for ages now. Like Tobias. Like his mother. Like his sister.
“Absolutely not. This about a king needing his strength.” But the words sounded hollow even to Vlad’s ears.
“Vladislaus, brutality is—“
“Part of the job,” Vlad finished, cutting him off. “Brutality is what saved our lives. A kind king is a dead king.”
And he knew then that he was shouting, showing weakness. Protesting too much, his conscience added.
“Your father certainly thought that and look where he ended up,” William challenged.
If it were anyone else, Vlad might have ended them. William’s insinuation was an insult. His father had people thrown into a pond of sharks for less. Vlad bought loyalty so that it was his to discard when it no longer suited him. For situations like this.
But he didn’t buy William’s loyalty. He earned it long ago and for whatever reason, he could not bring himself to toss it away.
He meant to make his voice cold, but instead it came out haunted. “You’re right. A king grants favors at his discretion. Get rid of the television.”
He got up and walked towards the front of the house. William’s words were already doing their work, skittering through his conscience. Vlad paused. “And the electricity.”
He dressed again, drawing his long gray coat around him as if it were some sort of talisman. Downstairs, he found Caleb dressed in street clothes, enjoying the TV. He was so engrossed in what was on the screen that he didn’t even notice Vlad come in.
“This is exactly how our enemies will overtake you.”
Caleb started. “Holy llamas! What is wrong with you?”
“Holy llamas? Caleb! Have you forgotten that you’re a supernatural and not a sim? Have you lost…lost…” Vlad trailed off.
A commercial for some inane TV show called the Unparalleled Windenburg Baking Show was playing. Some man in a garish suit paraded around a serene country kitchen. Mortals frantically whipped batter in bowls and glanced at the clock while socializing and being overly friendly.
But it wasn’t the contest that caught Vlad’s attention, it was the prize. To anyone else’s eyes it looked like some ugly owl sculpture.
To Vlad, it looked like the sages hadn’t done such a great job at removing powerful magic items from this realm after all.
He tilted his head, examining the screen, trying to remember the story about the sculpture. He didn’t even look at Caleb.
“Get out,” he said simply.
A few hours later…
Vlad turned a page in another book. It was the tenth one he had looked through. The dining room table was covered in papers, random notes, and piles of heavy tomes he demanded Caleb bring upstairs. He had been at his research for what felt like days. There were no windows in the room but Vlad was sure the sun had come up and gone back down again multiple times.
“This isn’t working!” Vlad yelled to no one in particular.
He turned the page. The entry didn’t look quite right, but he couldn’t be sure it wasn’t what he was looking for. He made a note and in doing so, broke the end off of yet another quill.
He sighed. He had learned to write with a quill and ink at the age of five. It was his grandfather who taught him. King Connas Straud had happily stepped down to let his eldest son rule and was delighted to spend time with his grandchildren.
Vlad’s father had not been so kind.
“Does no one produce a proper writing instrument anymore?” Vlad shouted, again, to no one in particular.
He looked down at the broken quill. Was it the manufacturers or had he simply forgotten what a light touch they required? It was important for Vlad to remember who he was—to keep traditions alive. Every day he was met with another example of those things fading away—of change wiping the slate clean of everything he ever felt mattered in the world.
He reached for another book: The Elder-most Manuscript of Myths and Creatures. It was one of the oldest in his collection. The spine was brittle with age and cracked alarmingly as he opened it. Inside, he could see that bookworms had made a meal of the vellum: tiny holes dotted each page. The book had been the abbey’s proudest possession.
It was one of the things he saved before he set the place on fire.
His conscience barely prickled at the thought. By the time Vlad returned to Windenburg, the monks had become a greedy and heretical bunch, sacrificing the poor in the town square in hopes of warding off vampires and other “evil” creatures. The fire had been his gift to the townspeople…after he fleeced the monks for every treasure they owned, of course.
He carefully began to look through book, running through story after story. Just as he was preparing to give up, an entry caught his eye: “The Owl of Undoing, mystical secret as told to Nicolai Flamellius.” or, as they wrote it in Vlad’s day: “The bird of the night of undoing, mystical secret as toldeth to Nicolai Flamellius.”
He laid a hand on the page gently, his touch almost reverent. He could nearly recall the story without reading it—something about a petty feud between gods and goddesses leading to the Fates constructing the feathers for the Owl of Undoing out of the same threads they used to weave the outcomes and probabilities of the world. He knew the trick about the feathers:
The Fates wove the threads backwards so the feathers could not create states, conditions, or natural laws, only undo them.
But Vlad wasn’t worried about that. He didn’t need the feathers to do something, only to undo something.
There were rules, of course. They were laid out in the addendum which, for some reason, was written in ye olde simlish rather than just olde simlish. Admittedly, his ye olde simlish was rusty, but he could make out a few words: tapestries, powers, feathers, replacement, lifespan and B’Ollathirnon (some long forgotten god of death or agriculture or some such activity).
No matter, he could send Caleb and William to find a translator and then he’d make a plan to secure the item.
Vlad sat back and for the first time in five months, truly smiled.
A little perseverance had gone a long way. Vladislaus Straud finally found the key to ending his curse.
Sitting & Talking Pose Collection by Ratboysims