The king is dead. Long live the king.
“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven…”
― John Milton, Paradise Lost
Though he was loathe to admit it, five months ago, Vladislaus Straud—he who had crushed his enemies with sword and fang, seized Forgotten Hollow and led the Windenburg vampires out of darkness, a vampire so deadly that others of his kind called him “The Reaper,” called him King—had made a mistake.
The skin on the back of his neck prickled at the thought, encouraging him to dig deeper, to perhaps consider a more expansive definition of the word “mistake.”
Had he really made just one?
Vlad growled, tossed off his covers and sat on the edge of the bed. He hated this prickling feeling. For the last five months it had been winding itself through his body wreaking havoc on his nervous system—on his mind—forcing him to second guess himself, to think about doing things differently.
If there was one thing that Vladislaus Straud hated, it was doing things differently.
He got up and began to pace the room.
Five months ago he had an…altercation with the new head of the Windenburg Witches. They took issue with vampires feeding indiscriminately throughout the city, and had made their displeasure known in a very public way. The ashes of three vampires who had been left to burn in the sun were found outside of Pan Europa nightclub, along with a cease and desist note from the coven.
They had sent a cease and desist note to him! Vladislaus Straud!
Like they didn’t know who or what he was! Vlad stopped pacing. A slightly hysterical laugh bubbled up.
He had answered the coven leader’s show of power in kind and that was how they ended up in this…this…dispute. He still remembered her exact words: You, Vladislaus Straud, shall be cursed all the days of your life to know the truth of what you have done. A tricky incantation. Complex spell work. It meant that for the first time in his long life, he was experiencing guilt, struggling with his conscience.
It was excruciating.
A knock sounded at the door. “Sir, I have your dry-cleaning here,” Caleb called from the other side.
Caleb had been with Vlad as a valet since 1759. Back then, he was the penniless son of a former aristocrat who had died with debts a mile long. He and his younger sister were eking out a desperate living in Magnolia Promenade. Lilith Vatore was happy wearing patched wool skirts and taking in their neighbors’ washing, but Caleb wanted something more. And Vlad had given him an…opportunity.
Death sentence, his conscience whispered. Vlad winced. “Thank you, Caleb, you may enter.”
Caleb strolled through the door with a set of freshly pressed dress shirts and placed them on the bureau. He looked calm, unassuming, perhaps even a little bit silly with his haircut. No one suspected Caleb Vatore of having a thought in his head.
It was exactly what Vlad had been betting on once he found out how the elder Vatore had used his son to stay on top of so many card games. A king needed a good spy.
And so? Vlad’s conscience asked.
And so first he made Caleb a valet, and then he made him a monster.
Caleb asked him a question but Vlad couldn’t hear it. Guilt was seizing control of his insides. For centuries, he had employed Caleb without a second thought about his origins. Now, when he looked at him, he could only see his deep betrayal of someone who he trusted and depended on. The feeling went beyond words. He doubled over, clutching at his stomach, searching for a way to relieve the ache.
“Sir?” Caleb asked.
“I…I…I’m starving,” Vlad said by way of explanation, though there was no real reason for the lie. Caleb knew about the curse. “Have you gotten an answer from the witches?”
Caleb waited patiently, probably cataloging every possible entry and exit in the room and using his vampire hearing to sweep for listening devices. “I’m sure I don’t know anything about that sort of thing, sir.”
Vlad gritted his teeth. “You don’t know? You didn’t do anything I asked of you? Talk to the witches? Get me a cure?” He sped over to Caleb, invading his personal space: a threat to any vampire.
Caleb did not so much as blink.
So now Caleb is the enemy? his conscience asked. Vlad knew he was letting his temper fly out of control. Caleb was simply following protocol, one they set up centuries ago when they realized that in order for him to be a true spy, he had to keep up the charade in front of others. Caleb would not break character without a signal from Vlad that they were in safe company.
Vlad stepped back, took a steadying breath and finally spoke the code word Caleb was waiting for. “Investiture.”
Caleb’s entire countenance changed immediately. He flopped into the armchair next to Vlad’s bed, looking every bit the aristocratic brat.
“She really did a number on you. There isn’t a witch this side of SimNation interested in undoing her spell work,” Caleb said, humor at the edges of his voice.
Vlad snarled in frustration. He had only sought to impress upon the witch that this was his kingdom and his rules. He negotiated at his leisure. As his father used to say, a king needed to make his presence known every once and awhile. And so, he had Vlad Bloodvein round up members of the coven so they could…have the chance to reconsider their position.
“I have been generous enough to allow that this was a…misunderstanding. No witch was permanently harmed,” Vlad replied testily.
But his mouth burned at the lie.
Bloodvein was haphazard in who he snatched.
Miss Hell took great delight in terrorizing them
and Vlad had…
His conscience prickled. Had what?
He swallowed down the thought.
“No witch was harmed? It was a bad idea. Too far,” Caleb pointed at him angrily. “I told you that. William told you that. My contacts said the witch community was already on edge and you had to go and push them—“
Vlad resented having William brought up. His enforcer had known him longer than anyone else. Back in 1485, William was already a knight in the royal guard when Vlad was just a boy prince and he never let Vlad forget it. He was jolly, good-natured, shrewd and feared Vlad not at all.
“Insurrection should be crushed.” Vlad said in response.
“It’s not insurrection if you’re not their King. And even if you were, it’s 2019—“ Caleb began.
Vlad cut him off, his tone incredulous. “The same year that witch sent me a cease and desist letter! Me!”
“Because the witches were on edge and you were pushing them too far!” Caleb shouted.
“How was I to know that the witches were so close to the edge when my secrets master wasn’t sharing secrets?” Vlad hissed.
Caleb leapt out of the chair. “For sage’s sake Vlad, he was only a kid!”
And there it was.
Vlad stumbled back, dropping to his knees and covering his face in his hands. A roaring sound filled his ears.
His conscience demanded the truth. And the truth was that Bloodvein had been haphazard in who he snatched, but Vlad could smell that there were sims among the witches.
“All the better,” he had told them, convinced that the witches would back down.
Miss Hell had taken great delight in terrorizing them, but Vlad had divined pure pleasure.
He had starved himself for the occasion and drained a sim before he even had a chance to speak. It was a frenzy.
He didn’t notice the boy until it was too late. Until he turned from his prey.
Until the boy was so frightened that he stepped backwards over the edge of the cliff and for the first time in history:
Vlad would never forget the sound the boy made: a choked grunt of fear and surprise.
It was then that the witch cursed him.
And for a moment, Vladislaus Straud, vampire king, had welcomed it.
Caleb walked over to him. “The witches won’t help you. They will not…”
He softened his tone. “They cannot undo it. Even if they wanted to. You will have to find a way to live with this.”
Vlad stood up. No one else knew that curse had taken save for William and Caleb, but that wouldn’t last forever and then enemies would be at his door. It was unacceptable. The roaring in his ears continued but he hardened his resolve.
“I’ll wear the black suit today,” Vlad said.
Caleb was clearly exasperated as he helped Vlad dress. “Are you listening at all? You’re going to have to figure this out. It’s the 21st century Vlad. Go to therapy. Get a hobby. This is your life now.”
Vlad tilted his head, giving Caleb a ghost of a smile. Caleb spent too much time out amongst sims. He forgot that he wasn’t one. Vlad had forgotten once too, but never again.
Caleb sighed, and handed Vlad his suit jacket. “I’m getting the furniture polished so I can stop by and have a chat with the gnomes. They’re hiding something out in the hills by the Shrieking Llama. I know you hate to be wrong, but acceptance really is the only way. You might be surprised to find how many vampires will stand with you in partnership, rather than fear.”
Vlad slipped on his suit jacket and crossed to the window, looking down at the stretch of Forgotten Hollow.
When he was a boy, this was all woods and darkness. As a mortal, he had cleared the trees with his own hand. As a vampire he had waged a war against the very interlopers that changed him. And when he was done, he paved the streets on top of their bones and set his home—his castle—at the top of the hill.
It was not done by partnership, it was done by fear.
By now, Vlad’s conscience was sending sharp spikes cascading up and down his back but he clamped down it with an emotion that always seemed to bury everything in its path: anger.
There would be another way. This was not how Vladislaus Straud would go out.
His smile was dark as he let his vampire form takeover. Caleb took a step back.
“If I were you Caleb, I would not presume to tell me what my life is.”
He flashed his fangs, “I may not be their king, but I am yours.”
Ancient Ruins, Formerly Straud Castle
Later that night, Vlad walked through the ruins.
Once upon a time, it had been a castle and the whole village of Windenburg hovered around it. His father, King Josef had expanded and built onto the original structure when he was flush with cash after making war in Shang Simla.
Vlad remembered when the turrets had guards and the walls in the throne room held tapestries and stained glass windows. He recalled how his father and mother stood on the dais and received visitors from near and far.
Now, all that was left was crumbling walls and scattered bits of the original stone floor.
Sims visited the site to see history.
Vlad came to see his memories.
Memories of family, of friends…of a mortal life.
But it was all dust now. They were all dust.
He wandered over to a broken pillar. His great-great-grandfather had them imported from the land of Tredony to please his lover, Lord Lucas, in hopes that he would agree to marriage. By the time Vlad was a boy, Tredony was already gone, it’s people absorbed into what was now Brindleton Bay.
He used to chase his sister around that pillar, threatening to pull her hair.
He turned away, walking over to the broken section of wall.
Today’s scholars referred to his father as the “Villain” King, thinking they had some new modern interpretation of his actions. But Vlad had been to many a feast in this throne room with a scheming batch of nobles who hated his father, calling him “fiend” behind his back and plotting to overthrow him.
They weren’t wrong. Vlad’s father had been a blight on this land. He was the reason that Vlad had been turned into a vampire and lost everything.
He was also the reason that Vlad had survived. His lessons in brutality gave Vlad his own kingdom. And that was the problem with this curse. In 544 years, what hadn’t he done to get to where he was now? If he was to experience this level of guilt for every act, it would surely kill him.
Vlad kept walking, heading back to what used to be the farthest wall of the original building.
The village used to celebrate the end of summer with a week of singing, dancing, and drinking. The fall harvest was grueling work and shorter days meant less time out of doors. On the last day, his mother would take him to the wishing well just outside of the castle and encourage him to ask for anything he wanted.
It was long gone now, the Sages would never let something with so much mystical power outside of the Magic Realm. At least not anymore. But still, Vlad stood on the spot and closed his eyes. He could almost see the well. Almost hear his mother’s voice. He could smell the wet stone, recall the smooth feel of it under his hands.
In 1485, he had wished for silly things like a pony or a wooden sword to match William’s. But today, there were more important things to wish for. This could not be his life.
He would never survive if he had a heart.
“I wish my life were different,” Vlad whispered out loud.
And then, just inside his head: I wish I could go back to normal.
Are you sure? His conscience asked.
For the second time that day, Vlad sank to his knees. He looked toward the ruins as if they held the answers.
I used some great poses to make this chapter work! See the links below.
Bed Couple 008 by MOC
One Shoe for Men & Pose Pack by S:imdako
[Sad Poses 1] Choudu a_sitUps_start_x by Chouda Sims
Stair Falling Poses by JoanneBernice
Silent Running by JoanneBernice