Annabelle awoke to complete and impenetrable darkness, as she did every evening, although that was perfectly normal for a Vampire Lady of the Forsaken Coast. The Hematocrats, as they were affectionately known, did not hide from the sun in coffins, but in ornate inner sanctums hidden deep within their fortified castles.
As all slave societies do, the Hematocrats lived in eternal fear of a slave revolt, and went to great lengths to safeguard themselves from such an event. They built their castles in the Shadowed Mountains, which were perpetually and supernaturally overcast by dark clouds at all times, though the Hematocrats themselves still rarely dared to go outside in the day or even linger in rooms with windows. Each castle was accessible by only a single narrow path, and from their high watchtowers, the keen night vision of the Damned was capable of spotting advancing armies fumbling in the dark from miles away. Thrall Overseers were brutal, armed with occult weaponry, and richly rewarded. Castle servants and guards were all devout members of the Cult of the Nightborne, and their courtiers, while not vampires, were all undead revenants of some sort who had no need to fear ending up as midnight snacks themselves.
None of this was of any concern to Annabelle, however. Though she bore the title of Lady, she was no more than a consort to Lord Luciano, with no sovereign authority or responsibilities over his Thralldom. She had once been a mortal girl, living in poverty, nearly starving, and under the constant threat of becoming vampire food should she become unwilling or unable to do her Lord’s bidding. Too terrified to dare resist him, she instead dedicated herself fully to him as a member of the Nightborne Cult in the hopes of appeasing him and receiving his blessing.
It had worked, as he had taken a fancy to her and made her his consort after his previous bride had unsuccessfully tried to usurp his position. Now Annabelle was a pampered – if undead – princess who had never even needed to hunt for her own prey.
With a flick of her finger, Annabelle telekinetically lit all of the crimson candles within the sanctum of lacquered ebony, their warm glow reflecting off her porcelain white skin as she shrugged off the furs and rose from her slumber. She luxuriously stretched her lithe form before climbing onto Luciano’s muscular frame and lowering herself onto his blood-engorged organ. Her vampiric body could sense his pulsing, supernatural blood as she took him into herself, which had added an ecstatic new dimension to sex for her.
“Good Morning, Master,” she smiled as she swept back her raven black hair and bent down to kiss him. His response was little more than a pleased grunt. He was always horny when he first woke up, but groggy, which meant that Annabelle got to be on top.
Going to bed was a different matter, however, as he would ravish her until they had both collapsed from exhaustion.
As usual, when Luciano was satisfied with Annabelle, he gently pushed her off and went to open the chamber door as she laid there to collect herself. The door was, by design, too heavy for anyone but Luciano to open easily, and no mortal could force their way in without making enough of a racket to awaken the chamber’s occupants.
Annabelle, while superhumanly strong herself, didn’t know if she could open the door on her own, as she had never felt the need to try.
Luciano, however, was able to push it open with a single, one-handed shove. He then pulled upon a cord to ring a loud bell, and within seconds the chamber was flooded with satin-clad handmaidens to help them both prepare for court.
“Have we received any sacrifices for tonight’s court, Aubranna?” Annabelle asked hopefully as her maid combed her hair at her vanity.
“Yes, Mistress; a wagon arrived earlier with at least several prisoners. Both you and Master Luciano will be able to have your pick,” Aubranna smiled at her, showing no aversion to the casual question of whether or not her mistress would have the opportunity to commit murder that night.
Soon the Lord and Lady were dressed in their silk and velvet robes, and with their entourage of attendants, proceeded to their throne room.
Braziers of heavy cast iron hung on the walls of dark and ancient stone, kept lit day and night for the sake of the mortals who worked and lived there. Nearly every stone surface had been carved with a relief depicting hideous demons, triumphant victories over rebellious Thralls, or bloody and barbaric rituals. Tapestries, paintings, and statues portrayed similar themes as well, and there would have been no point in filling up the castle with such magnificent propaganda if their subjects couldn’t even see it properly.
When they reached the throne room, it was filled with silent, vigilant guards and pretentiously dressed, undead courtiers having lively and spirited conversations with one another. When the master of ceremonies banged his gong to announce the arrival of the Lord and Lady, everyone immediately stopped what they were doing and bowed in reverence to Luciano until he had taken his seat upon his tall, marble throne. Annabelle’s seat was much smaller and more feminine, but every bit as ostentatious as her Lord's. They weren't side-by-side either, being spaced far enough apart that each of them could have a handmaiden standing on either side of them, the result being that she was far enough off-center that no one could ever accidentally mistake her for being a coregent with her husband.
When both were seated, the gong was rung again, and court was in session. As usual, the courtiers apprised Luciano of happenings affecting his Thralldom, then bickered with each other over the best course of action until sycophantically nodding in acquiescence when their Lord declared his decision. None of them ever really spoke to Annabelle directly, which was fine with her. She was bored to tears by politics, and was grateful that Luciano never objected to her chatting quietly with her handmaidens during court.
The only thing that was of any interest to her at all was brought up by their Archmage, a charismatic old Lich by the name of Galachar. He was as ugly as his Lord and Lady were beautiful, with grey and withered skin, sparse white hair, and a complete absence of a nose, lips, or eyelids. None of that ever held him back or got him down though, and with his charm, wit, and a joie de vivre that many living people would envy, he had successfully carved out a powerful position for himself in Luciano’s court.
At the moment he was briefing his Lord on information he had received from some of his foreign correspondents. The Witches of Widdickire had recently lost the region of the Howling Woods to a Lycan revolt, greatly reducing their timber supplies and forestalling their attempts to build a war fleet and attempt an invasion. He began to suggest ways that Luciano and his allies could support the Lycan revolt to further destabilize the country and prevent an invasion indefinitely, when his Lord firmly rose his hand in a plea for silence.
“Galachar, while I appreciate your vigilance in safeguarding my Thralldom, this hardly seems like a matter that can be decided upon in one conversation, and my bride and I both thirst,” he announced, opening his mouth wide and letting his glistening fangs descend. Annabelle smiled at Galachar, letting her fangs descend as well. “I suggest we discuss this issue later in a special session and move on to tonight’s sacrifice.”
Galachar cleared his throat and nodded humbly.
“Of course, my Lord, as you wish. My apologies. You’re right, this isn’t the most pressing issue, and you’re vampires, so the blood-drinking thing is non-negotiable. Let’s make with the blood then, shall we?” Galachar said, eagerly clasping his hands together. “Guards! Guards! Bring forth the sacrifices!”
The master of ceremonies began to rhythmically beat the gong, and the courtiers all formed a large circle. The guards brought in a procession of chained prisoners, each of whom had been sentenced to death by their local Overseer. Though they had all been charged with heresy against their Lord, that was an extremely broad term that covered everything from actively trying to raise a revolt against him to falling behind in their quotas for reasons utterly beyond their control.
They had all been clad in pristine white robes, as if they were there for a baptism. While a couple of them shook in terror at their imminent, violent deaths, most appeared to be numb to their inevitable fate; too beaten and dejected to care or fight anymore.
Annabelle arose from her seat first and moved in to inspect them, as was her custom.
“You are all pathetic, and ungrateful,” she sneered as she circled around them, licking her fangs as she did so. “And worst of all, selfish. How dare you not offer yourselves freely to us! How dare you think you have any right or reason to survive! You are all mortal, and as such your deaths are inevitable and your lives meaningless. If you did not die tonight then you would at most live a paltry handful of years more before inevitably succumbing to any number of painful maladies, and within another paltry handful of years, you will be utterly forgotten. Regardless of exactly when it happens, this fate awaits you all, so I ask you; how then is it reasonable for you to delay it or immoral for us to hasten it?
“Since the dawn of your kind, you have known that your finite lives can only be given purpose and meaning through serving something eternal, something that will persist once you are dead and forgotten. Those mortals lucky enough to be held in Thralldom under a Hematocratic Lord are exorbitantly fortunate to have such an intimate relationship with their gods, to spend your lives in direct service to us. We grant you the privilege of dedicating your brief lives to us, lives that would otherwise be wasted searching for purpose when none is to be found.
"You have all failed to recognize this for the gift that it is, and have chosen either to squander it or forsake it altogether. For this insolence, this sacrilege, you have been offered to us as sacrifices, and we willingly accept. Take solace in the fact that while you may die tonight, my husband and I will live forever. Your ephemeral lives mean nothing, and our eternal lives mean everything, and your minuscule contribution in maintaining our lives is the greatest thing any mortal could ever hope to achieve.”
She lunged in for her first kill now, a girl who had been trembling constantly and looked like the only reason she wasn't weeping was that she had already wept herself to the point of dehydration. Annabelle had nothing but contempt for such weakness, and took great pride in her sacred duty as a predator to cull weakness and improve the fitness of her prey species.
The girl tried to scream as Annabelle’s fangs sunk into her neck, but her jaws clamped down with such force that she couldn’t even breathe. The blood gushed out of her punctured jugular and into Annabelle’s mouth with each racing heartbeat, with Annabelle hastily gulping down each mouthful as it was squirted down her throat. It took only a moment for the girl’s body to be completely exsanguinated, and just as the heart gave out, Annabelle let the pale and already cold corpse fall to the floor. One of the sacrifices attempted to flee, only for her bewitched manacles to send her writhing to the ground in pain, which was enough to douse anyone else’s hopes of escape.
Annabelle smiled serenely as she felt the blood’s warmth radiate outwards from inside of her, her teeth glistening a bright red in the evanescent torchlight. While the blood itself was necessary to maintain her physical body, it was much more vitally a ritual that sustained her connection to the primordial blood god that empowered her.
With his bride fully fed, it was now Lord Luciano’s turn to take his pick of the offerings. He was a full foot taller than she, and a hundred pounds heavier. He was unlikely to be satisfied by only one sacrifice, but still liked to start with the largest victim before him in the hopes of saving some for later.
He telekinetically brushed both the living and dead girl on the floor out of his path and grabbed hold of the second tallest and most robust man among the prisoners. He was bearded and balding, and despite the harsh conditions he would have endured recently, was still quite plump. He had likely been a merchant, or a cleric, or a bureaucrat; some privileged positioned that would have kept him both well-fed and sedentary.
While Annabelle preferred peasant girls, either for their ease of consumption or out of some self-loathing of her own past, Luciano thought it was important to regularly feed on mortals from higher up on the pecking order as well. He didn’t want them getting complacent, or forget that they were still merely food to him, just like everyone else.
Luciano’s fangs pierced the man’s neck and he began to greedily gulp down the precious sanguine humour. It was warm at first, which is exactly what Luciano had been expecting. But then it was hotter than usual, but he still didn’t stop drinking. It wasn’t until it started to burn that he actually dropped the man to the ground.
Everyone stared in confusion at first, then gasped in horror at the sight of smoke pouring out of his mouth.
“Master?” Annabelle whimpered, her voice laden with fear that she had not felt since she was a mortal. Before Luciano could respond, he fell to the ground. “Master!”
Annabelle rushed to his side, while Galachar grabbed the man he had been feeding from, who was now laughing hysterically.
“What the hell did you do?” he demanded.
“I’ve been drinking nothing but Holy Water that I consecrated myself for months!” he beamed, completely indifferent to his profusely bleeding neck injury. “Took care not to sin once all the while, too. My balls are as blue as sapphires, but there’s not a drop in me that’s not sanctified!”
Galachar released the man at once, furiously wiping off the corrosive blood that had spilled on to him. The man was seized by the mortal guards who, lacking any other clear instruction, took him to the dungeon.
“Annabelle, back away! Don’t get the blood on you!” Galachar warned, turning to see that a weeping Annabelle had already thrown the unconscious and possibly already dead Luciano over her shoulder and was rushing out of the throne room at her full superhuman speed. “Annabelle!”
Galachar, Annabelle’s handmaidens, and multiple guards and courtiers chased after her. When they caught up to her, they found her at the door to the inner sanctum. Weeping in despair and screaming in agony as her skin burned from the consecrated blood that Luciano had vomited on her, she pushed at the door with all her strength.
Slowly but surely, inch by inch, it budged open.
When it was just wide enough to squeeze through, Annabelle dashed inside and tossed Luciano upon the bed. He wheezed haltingly as he still fumed smoke from his burning insides; but, he wasn’t dead yet.
Annabelle pulled loose a seemingly random wooden plank from the wall and let it drop to the floor, reaching into a concealed compartment. She grabbed a small, square vial from within it and pulled out its cork with her teeth. Taking her husband’s head in her hand, she gently poured the contents of the vial down his throat as she incoherently pleaded for it to work.
She and everyone else in the room watched in excruciating anticipation as the smoke slowly died and Luciano’s wheezing turned into a hearty cough as he expelled the remaining remnants of Holy Water from his system.
Annabelle’s weeping turned into joyful sobs and ramblings as she wrapped her arms around him, and everyone else sighed in relief at their Lord’s recovery.
“My Lord, I accept full responsibility for this attempt on your life,” Galachar said as some of the handmaidens began cleaning the blood off of their Lord and Lady. "I'm responsible for screening and prepping procedures for sacrifices and making sure they're followed. He never should have gotten anywhere close to you and I'll make sure nothing like this ever happens again."
“It wasn’t your fault, Galachar,” Luciano coughed in a hoarse voice, pondering over the vial that Annabelle had given him. “Send a new Overseer to wherever he came from and tell them to put the old Overseer in a gibbet!”
“At once, my Lord!” Galachar nodded, immediately spinning around and fleeing the sanctum as quickly as his undead legs would carry him, just in case Annabelle felt differently about it not being his fault.
“The rest of you leave as well. I need to speak with Lady Annabelle in private for a moment,” he announced. All the guards and handmaidens obeyed without question, leaving Annabelle staring at her husband in confusion.
“Did I do something wrong, Master?” she asked softly.
“You knew that this was here, and what it was?” he asked with a raised eyebrow as he held up the vial.
“Yes,” she nodded. “It’s ichor from Moloch Incarnate, a single ounce of his primordial being given in exchange for a thousand ounces of virgin blood from seven sacrifices. I thought that it might neutralize the Holy Water and reinvigorate your healing ability. And it did, didn’t it?”
“It did,” Luciano nodded. “But why didn’t you drink it yourself?”
“What are you talking about? You were the one who was dying.”
“I mean before, as soon as you found it. Surely you realize what this is capable of? If you had drunk this, you would have gained at least centuries' worth of vampiric power, probably becoming even more powerful than I am. You could have let me die just now, and my castle, my Thralldom, everything, would have been yours.”
Annabelle stared quietly at him for a moment, looking both baffled and hurt by his questions.
“Master, I love you,” she said simply. “Do you really think those things are all I care about? That I would hurt you, or steal from you, or let you die when I could have saved you, just to take control of your chattel? I mean what I say to the sacrifices, you know, about mortal life being meaningless. You saved me from that. You chose me from all the girls in your convents to be your bride, granted me eternal life, and I love you for that. I swore to be yours forever. Not ‘for so long as our love shall last’, not ‘until death do us part’. Forever. I swore to love you forever. You said forever.”
She hung her head sadly, having nothing more to say. Luciano sighed guiltily, gently tilting her chin and meeting her gaze.
“Annabelle, beloved, I’m sorry. You’re right. You’ve never been anything other than a dutiful and loving wife, and have never given me any reason to doubt your loyalty,” he acknowledged. “You are, in fact, uncommonly and surprisingly loyal for one of our kind, and I guess sometimes I forget that. But I won’t forget tonight, or that you saved my life.”
He kissed her affectionately on the lips and swept back her hair.
“Thank you, Master,” she said through a warm smile as she caressed his hand. “And I guess it’s understandable that you’d be a little paranoid. Your last wife did try to kill you, after all.”
“That she did, and you are unquestionably more loving and devoted to me than she was,” Luciano assured her.
“Better in bed?”
“Well…” he teased. She grabbed a pillow and started beating him over the head with it, heedless of his laughing protests.
The prisoners squinted as the door to the dungeon creaked open, letting in a rare crack of light. As expected, the servant girls came down with buckets of water and broth, handing it out with a ladle to the enchained inmates. Though some were already too anemic to pay much notice of what was going on around them, those who still had enough presence of mind left to them took notice that Galachar had come down to visit them as well, along with the Lord and Lady of the castle.
“Stay out of spitting distance, your graces. I haven’t been able to do anything about his holy bodily fluids yet,” Galachar advised as he gestured to the would-be vampire slayer chained up on the wall furthest from them. The wound around his neck was wrapped in a cloth soaked in dried blood, but he otherwise appeared to be in good health. He slowly raised his head at the sound of Galachar’s voice, his expression darkening at the sight of Annabelle and Luciano smiling smugly at him.
“Son of a bitch,” he croaked. As expected, he spat at them, but the ball of sanctified saliva fell short of its mark. “Come over here and finish what you started you cowards.”
“No. You tried to make me a widow. You’re not getting a quick death,” Annabelle snarled at him. “Tell me, blue balls, have you realized what we keep these prisoners for? Did you perhaps ever before realize that the number of sacrifices was nowhere near enough to sustain the vampire population if we killed every night? This is our blood farm. We take no more than a pint or so from each of them at a time, and rotate the feedings so that they have enough time to replenish the blood volume, if not all the iron and other nutrients. Their health and quality of blood declines over time, of course, but it increases the total amount of blood we get from each sacrifice by more than tenfold.”
She snapped her fingers, and a pair of guards moved in to force a tube and funnel down his throat.
"We will be getting every drop of holy water out of you. We'll force-feed you water and diuretics until it's all flushed out, and then you get to be a blood bag for us like the rest of these miserable wretches! Your sacrifice, which could have been over for you in a moment, will now be stretched out over months and years of agonizing disease, torture, and deprivation!”
He tried to object, or curse her, or beg for mercy. No one knew what he was trying to say, as the hose made intelligible speech impossible. Annabelle smirked as the guards began pouring the icy cold water down his throat. Some of it gurgled back up as he struggled, but most of it he had no choice but to swallow if he still wanted to breathe.
“Be careful with him now, boys. I’m looking forward to having a failed slayer as a blood font,” she proclaimed as she tenderly took her husband by the hand and led him back up the dungeon steps. "Come now, Master. It's nearly dawn, and I can sense that the ichor has you even more amorous than usual."
Galachar moved to follow them, albeit with a lingering look of concern towards their newest prisoner.
“Try to collect as much of his urine as you can,” he added. “If it’s sterile and holy, I’ll likely be able to find some use for it.”
Written by The Vesper's Bell