Risingshadow has the honour of publishing a guest short story by Bruce Woods, the author of Royal Blood.
This story is told by the protagonist of Royal Blood, Miss Paulette Monot.
(Click here to read another story.)
About Royal Blood:
Historical and fictional characters come together and change the future of Africa forever. Renowned actress Lady Ellen Terry, detective Sherlock Holmes, financier Cecil Rhodes, hunter/naturalist Frederick Courtney Selous, King Lobengula, and a mysterious, undead adventuress named Paulette Monot become chess pieces in the Great Game, which takes the form of Africa's First Matabele War.
A Personal Bestiary by Bruce Woods
It is unlikely that anyone will ever read this. In fact, if you are perusing these pages, and you’re not one of the Kin (“vampires” to the uninitiated), it is almost certain that there’s either been some sort of terrible mistake or that I (Miss Paulette Monot) have decided to take a mortal lover.
The latter is perhaps more likely.
No, the goal of this exercise is not publication, but rather to help me to organize my thoughts by chaining them, word by word, to the iron rings of print upon a page (The latter is merely figurative at the moment, as I am recording these thoughts on my Tessier-Ashpool Listening Device for later transcription.). It has occurred to me that, given the unspecified span of years that lie ahead of me, there might come a day when the existence of the Kin is more widely known among the warm; or (perhaps more likely, though the thought does little more than amuse me at the moment) that I might take a human inamorata into my confidence because I am moved to consider him or her more than a temporary source of pleasure or sustenance, to be used and discarded with memory impaired.
Indeed, those who do not think us the mere inflammations of an overactive imagination are all too likely to be influenced by those very imaginings, in the form of folktales and the fantastic literature of the day. Thus a man or woman who might suspect our existence is equally likely to be burdened by any number of misconceptions which, though admittedly colorful, would hinder any sort of meaningful meeting of the minds.
Thus this effort to disabuse misinformation and demystify mythology. It is my aim to clarify the common misconceptions concerning my Kind in general and myself in particular. I will not, of course, tell all; for a woman without secrets is like a day without hope, and something to be endured rather than experienced.
To begin with perhaps the most pointed revelation; we are not one and all bloodthirsty killers. Oh we are bloodthirsty to be sure, but few are the Kin who leave a trail of corpses behind them. This would be an unsustainable use of a finite resource, and such activity would almost certainly lead to censure from above, a form of discipline that is almost invariably terminal.
It is a poor example of the Kin who cannot produce some degree of Enchantment with his or her naked eyes. Even I, a relative neophyte as I write this, have learned the simple tricks of capturing the will of my intendeds and manipulating their memories. We are, it would be fair to say, responsible for many of your lost hours and weekends. If you awaken weak and feeling poorly, with a span of time fleeing your grasping mind like the winding sheets of a vanishing dream, it may indeed be to drink or drug that you owe your condition. On the other hand, though, you might have provided food and pleasure to a creature who does not wish to be remembered.
If that is the case, you should know that your “monster” was, as I am, a creation of biology and not a thing of magic. I leave it to the scientists among us (Kin and warm) to eventually parse out the mechanisms of Kindred transformation, but make no mistake about it, I am as much a thing of flesh as you are. Oh, I might be cooler to the touch (even in my most intimate areas), but I can no more transform myself into a cloud of mist or a colony of bats than a cat can become a canary.
My flesh is also subject to the myriad indignities that haunt all things of meat. It can be cut or pierced, bludgeoned or broken. It can, however, also more readily and rapidly heal itself of such injuries (unless the head be separated from the body), and grants me speed and strength quite out of line with my feminine (and even frail) appearance. My senses are likewise enhanced; I can see in the dark far better than a mortal, and discern another of my Kind by virtue of the grace of his or her movement. The faculties of scent and hearing are also more finely developed in our Kind than among the warm. And the sense of touch? Oh my, if I were to feed from you it might allow you to experience some fraction of the pleasures I find in both taking nourishment or in the more plebeian forms of lovemaking, but of course you would not remember.
Anyone who has seen me, dressed and primped for the town, would surely know that my physical form is not invisible to mirrors, nor I assure you are the Kind immune to the little capture that is the science of photography. The only caveat to this is that those parts of me that would grow in a mortal, my hair and nails specifically, are frozen at the length they enjoyed at the time of my making. Thus it would be futile for me to cut my locks in order to attempt to present myself as masculine; they would grow back in a thrice. There are wigs and hats, however, that can be put into service should such subterfuge beckon.
The question of age seems to be among the most titillating to those who believe in us, since we remain in appearance the person that we were at the moment of our transformation. I have often wondered, should I ever reveal myself to a mortal lover, whether he or she would be horrified at my span of years or quietly disappointed that I am not a creature of greater antiquity. I have heard mortals of a certain age maintain that they wake every morning thinking they are in their early twenties until they chance to look into a mirror. Suffice to say I don’t share that daily disillusionment.
Agelessness is not, of course, without its disadvantages. And it is true that more of our number likely fall to ennui than ever succumb to decapitation. (And don’t get me started on stakes. Whether made of wood or silver or the sharpened thighbone of the true Christ, they can do no more than make a hole, which begins to heal as soon as they are withdrawn. Of course if they are not or cannot be removed, well, that is another matter entirely)
Even a welcomed life that is without illness or degeneration must eventually pall, though, and thus the older amongst the Kin continually seek to reignite their interest with new passions and preoccupations. This is the reason, I presume (being far from such a hoary state myself) for the preponderance of polyglots amongst our elders, and the number of those immersed in the deepest rats’ nests of philosophy.
There are also some few who, waking to a vampiric world, are quite overwhelmed by sensation and end themselves. This is not overly common, and is usually the fault of the Kin responsible for the transformation of such an inappropriate recipient. I consider this similar to the tragedy of still-birth among the living, for his or her first days in the world clearly function as the womb of the newly-made Kin.
An attentive reader (if anyone were ever to read this) or listener (if I am even now whispering these words, my breath strangely chill, into your willing ear) would have noticed that I use both genders when referring to matters romantic. I am tempted to claim eldritch wisdom, and maintain that the passage of ages has taught me to be so catholic in my tastes. The truth is, however, that I was so even before my making. I have always been greedy for pleasure, and never saw the wisdom of halving my opportunities for such joy in order to serve an arbitrary societal prohibition. So if I am even now pouring this verbal hemlock into the shell of your ear, be aware that, should he or she be comely, I would as willingly do so to your brother or sister as to you.
Should that be the case, you might be reassured to know that, even if our lovemaking included the refined pleasure of my feeding, you will not as a result become as I am. In order to make another like me I would have to drain my lover to the point of death and, just as the blood-starved heart stuttered toward a final stopping, inoculate him or her with the gift of my own essence.
This is a process carefully controlled by the Kin. In fact, the creation of another willy-nilly is our strongest prohibition. It is only our small numbers that protect us from discovery, and such misbegotten offspring are generally summarily eliminated for the greater good. (I am an exception to this rule, my making both accidental and unasked for, and only owe my survival to the intercession of Lady Ellen Terry and the wealth to which she led me; which even among the Kin serves as a megaphone to amplify one’s voice when pleading a cause.)
Finally, though perhaps this does not need to be said, I do subsist upon human blood, and though I would never turn down the opportunity to feed upon the criminal classes, I do not pretend to limit myself to such prey. There are members of the Kin who do maintain this sort of self-righteous Epicureanism, even as there are those who claim to exist upon a diet of animal blood (which will sustain one but lacks in both flavor and satisfaction). Such affectations are to our Kind as vegetarianism and veganism are among mortals; generally accepted as morally superior but more often professed than actually practiced.
So there it is, certainly not everything one might need to know about the Kin, but just as assuredly everything I would wish to communicate. Should you indeed be hearing this from me, know yourself to be fortunate indeed, and savor whatever time we have together. For as surely as I must believe that I love you at the moment, it is just as certain that I will eventually grow bored, and this knowledge (which cannot be shared without risking charges of madness) will be your only keepsake.