It started on an evening like any other. I awoke to Jamie by my side.
“Nine suitors have arrived for you today, ma’am,” she said softly
“Nine?” I asked blearily “That can’t be right, I’ve only just turned sixteen.”
“Many men are interested in marrying the beautiful Princess Lydia of New York,” she said. She had her eyes fixed on the distance as she helped me out of the bed, her rough brown skin sliding against my smooth pale arms. She helped me into a soft red and black gown made of velvet that fell to my feet and twisted my black hair into curls. She helped me get my fake fangs into place, since my own weren’t quite prominent enough.
“How do I look?” I twirled slightly to show off my gown
“Like the most beautiful vampire in the world,” Jamie stifled a yawn
I leaned over and pressed a quick kiss to her cheek, but she recoiled from my touch. I had no time to press her for what was wrong, because my mother burst into my room with all the elegance and flourish of a true queen. It was shocking she had only been in this position for 16 years. My mother was the true most beautiful vampire in the world. With skin as pale as snow and hair as dark as the dead of night, my mother exemplified all the beautiful characteristics a vampire could possess. Even while she was human, she looked like a vampire: tall and foreboding and beautiful with a commanding personality to match. I inherited all of the beauty and none of the strength.
“Have you seen the cars of your suitors outside? They look rich and I’ve heard they’ve come from so far. Come to breakfast, I’m sure you’ll love to meet them,” She said, taking my arm and pulling my down the hall.
My recent birthday meant that the Estate was swarming with people. In addition to my nine suitors, the breakfast table was crowded with family and important colleagues of my father. I sat between my mother and Jamie. Next to my mother was my cousin Xaveria.
“You know,” my mother whispered to me, “Xaveria’s getting married to the Duke of New Orleans soon, and she only has a little territory in New England. If a simple lady can do so well in marriage, I’m sure you can, too.” She wore a pained expression on her face as she said this. It was times like these when I wondered how much my mother really cared about reigning as queen of New York. She never seemed especially happy to be married to my father. She was human when she met him during the Great Revolution. When vampires rose up to defeat the werewolves and humans in America, Old Bloodlines, families extending back to the beginning of vampirism, led the revolution, and in turn got their choice of territory. My father’s family claimed most of New England, and as the eldest, my father received New York. He also received free reign over the humans living in it.
Most humans were made into slaves, but he felt differently about my mother. The story goes (after a few glasses too many of wine and blood) that he saw her, and it was love at first sight. He said, “You’re far too pretty to be a slave. Let me make you my queen.”
My mother didn’t have a choice but to accept. Her family fought against vampires in the Revolution. She detested herself for being the very thing she hated most.
She never drank a drop of blood in her lifetime. She claimed it made her ill, but in truth, she was far more human than any vampires I had ever met at the Estate. I had heard of clans of vampires, people who didn’t belong to a Bloodline who didn’t drink blood. Drinking blood makes a vampire stronger than just eating normal food. However, I wouldn’t know. I had never had a drop of blood in my lifetime either; my mother had forbidden it.
Blood was served with breakfast, and everyone but my mother, Jamie, and I drank a glass. Even Xaveria, who was a human witch and who had no reason to drink blood accepted a glass. She shuddered as she took her first sip, but then continued to drink as if it were simply water.
The rusty smell of blood was foul in the air when my father called us to attention and raised his glass in a toast.
“To my beautiful daughter Lydia,” He said, and was greeted with loud agreement. “May she find love today with one of the men with us at this table!”
“Here, here,” the table murmured.
As he lowered his glass, it clinked against the small vial of werewolf poison he wore around his neck. Werewolf poison was extremely toxic to vampires and vice versa. I had never heard of anyone infected who did not die. Speculation as to why the king would wear a vial of something so awful was rampant. The most common theory was that it was meant to symbolize the werewolves he had conquered. This didn’t seem likely to me.
Every time I would do something he disapproved of, his hand would move to his neck and he would subconsciously finger the vial. It happened when I told him I didn’t want to marry as only a sixteen year old girl. It happened when I told him I wasn’t interested in being made a duchess in New Hampshire. When I told him I would keep Jamie as my favored lady-in-waiting.
“Why her? You can have anyone you want. She’s a good factory worker and a poor maid. Switch.” He began to leave, as if the argument was already over.
“I wouldn’t switch for anything. Jamie is my best friend.”
His hand immediately flew to the vial. “You’ve made a poor choice of friends.”
My mother was eying the vial in the same nervous manner I was. Had he threatened her with the poison to make her try and convince me to wed? Of all people, I was sure she wouldn’t want me to marry a husband I didn’t love.
We finished breakfast early, and Jamie was whisked off to work throughout the Estate while a suitor and I were ushered into a private chamber. The room was dark and the windows were open to let in the night. A welcoming fire burned in the fireplace. The couches were large, red, and plush. The room should have been hospitable, but it smelled like blood, dust, and un-use. I doubted I had ever been in it before. It was a courting chamber.
I sat gently on one side of the couch and folded my hands into my lap. While my suitor sat next to me, I kept my eyes focuses out the window.
“So, you’re the lovely Princess of New York,” he said brushing a strand of my hair behind my ear.
“I’m Prince Henry of San Francisco.” he started again. I continued staring forwards.
“I’ve traveled a long way to meet you,” a hint of desperation crawled into his voice.
Suddenly, he became angry. “I know you. I know your little mind tricks. Well, I know you want me. Everyone does.” He placed a hand on my thigh. “Be my wife, you stupid little succubus.”
I snarled, and swiped at him as I left the chamber.
My father had me locked in the chamber for the rest of the night as my suitors were rotated through.
While Lydia entertained her suitors, I was working the assembly line at the factory. There was a heavy hush that settled over the room. The only sounds were the soft mechanical whirrs of the machines and stifled yawns from the other human slaves. Echoing footsteps from the vampire forman haunted the silence.
The factory was usually alive with conversation, that night, we worked in empty silence. Many of us would normally spend the night sleeping or working at the Estate, but because of the increased number of vampires staying there, many of the working slaves had become meals. We were forced to work extra to make up for lost workers.
By the time dawn broke, my hands were raw. Every inch of my body was sore. The foreman glanced at me and noted something onto his clipboard, no doubt taking notice of my condition. I was only sixteen years old, and already I was having trouble working. No doubt I’d soon be killed in favor of a more efficient worker.
We stumbled off to our homes in a tired daze. The city’s extensive subway system still ran, but it was reserved for vampire and ghost passengers. Humans were forced to walk. Fortunately, the rising sun painted the city in a safe glow. The chances of being attacked in the light of day was low.
The power at my apartment complex was out again, so I climbed the stairs to my home. They were wooden and sank softly as I climbed. I could smell the mold and dust with each creaking step.
I shared my apartment with eleven other girls, but it was empty when I arrived. I fell unceremoniously onto my bed and fell asleep the second I landed, only to be awoken moments later by a call from my roommate.
“Lydia is sending for you,” she said curtly before hanging up.
I changed from my factory uniform to my Estate dress and fixed my short brown hair to look presentable. I trudged back through the living room, where three of my roommates gathered in conversation. They looked up as I passed but said nothing. They only worked at the factory and were jealous of the Estate workers. Given the option, I would quit and give them my job in an instant.
I walked back to the Estate and was sent up to Lydia’s bedchamber. She sat on her bed weeping quietly.
“Good morning, Miss Lydia,” I said
“Oh, Jamie,” she sobbed in response. “I don’t want to marry any of them!”
Did she really wake me to discuss her suitors? Did she somehow not realize that I hadn’t slept for a full day?
I began dusting her shelves. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“They’re all so awful, and I’m only sixteen! Why do I have to marry one of them?”
“Well, you don’t have to marry at all,” I said without looking up from my work.
“I do. If I don’t, my father would be furious!”
We sat in silence for a few moments, the only sounds in her room the sound of birdcalls and her pitiful sobs. It it were up to me, I would be gone by now. But I was stuck here, dusting Lydia’s spotless room the same way I do every day. It was torture. It was torture to be kept here where I had no friends, no family, no future. All I had was Lydia, a spoiled little vampire with the audacity to say, “Oh, Jamie, you’re my best friend. I love you.”
As if that could possibly be true. As if a favorite slave wasn’t still a slave.
“Jamie, what should I do?”
“Why don’t you leave?” I looked into her eyes quickly to see her reaction.
“I think I’ll leave,” she said.
She stood quickly and ran to her closet. In seconds, she had pulled a small suitcase from the top of her closet. She was a whirlwind of activity and packing. The speed and grace of vampires always astounded me.
“I’m leaving! I’ll join a clan. I know there are plenty out there,” she said, laughing
“Of course,” I muttered. “But, you realize it’s dangerous out there, right? Imagine the Princess of New York out on her own. No, it’s not safe at all. I’ll come with you. Don’t bother with clothes or food. Just bring money. We’ll find a clan by nightfall.”
I didn’t have the slightest idea of where to look for clans, and I was sure Lydia didn’t, either. We set out wearing the most “human” clothes Lydia owned as to not attract attention, and left the Estate at noon. I hadn’t made a plan for where were were going. By this point, I doubted there were any settlements of free humans living anywhere in America. Perhaps we could leave the continent, but travel would be difficult. We couldn’t possibly stay in the city; the entire population would be looking for Lydia the second they realized she was missing.
So, with no other options, I urged Lydia into the woods.
“But, don’t werewolves live in these woods? I’ve heard the Sisterhood is based out in these woods somewhere.” She cowered behind me.
“Those are just rumors,” I snapped. “Hurry up.”
It absolutely wasn’t just rumors, however. Humans went missing constantly while walking home at night, and sightings of werewolves were commonplace. Stories were told of werewolves who planned to take humans and turn them into wolf soldiers, or that one day the Sisterhood would come and liberate us all. It was unlikely, but if they really did wish to conquer the vampires and free the humans, the delivery of New York’s princess could be enough to spur them into action. If it meant freeing millions of humans, the life of one vampire, not even an innocent vampire, was a small price to pay.
These woods were enormous, and I was walking without any idea of where I was going. If this was the Sisterhood’s main base, I hoped it would be big enough for us to stumble upon or that someone would find us.
“Jamie, I’m scared,” Lydia whispered
“I’m hungry,” she added
“I’m tired,” she moaned as she dropped to sit on a fallen tree.
“Shut up and keep walking,” I was almost glad to be getting rid of her soon. She was dead weight, and if I was planning on traveling long distances with her, we would probably end up dying out in the wild.
As the sun dipped lower into the sky, the hoots of owls echoed throughout the woods. The crunches of leaves and scratch of branches swaying in the wind filled the air. They heard muffled footsteps.
It wasn’t moments later that we entered a small clearing and there was a sickening crunch beneath our feet. Hundreds of bones with rotting flesh still attached were strewn about the clearing.
“Do you think they’re human?” Lydia asked, turning a bone with her foot
I didn’t care to find out what creatures rested in this graveyard no meet those who had arranged it. Gagging at the scent of decay, I took Lydia’s hand and pulled her back in the direction we had come.
“Who’s there?” asked a commanding voice from the darkness of the trees behind us. “Announce yourself, friend or foe, for you are trespassing on the territory of the Sisterhood.”
“Friends; we’re humans,” Lydia said hastily
The speaker stepped into the light of the clearing. She was a werewolf and stood as a half-wolf, an anthropomorphic wolf with fiery auburn fur and harsh green eyes. As she stepped closer, her ears brushed against the low branches of the trees. Her many scars visible on her naked body flowed and ripped in the moonlight.
“We’re runaway slaves,” I added
The wolf’s suspicious scowl turned into a smile.
“So was I,” she said
In an action that should have been comforting, she transformed into her human form. Her body, which may have once been soft, was rough, dirty, tan, and calloused. Her red hair was matted and her eyes were wild. She stood as a human, but didn’t look like one. She looked feral.
“Come along, I’ll bring you to the camp.”
Our guide navigated the woods with ease. She led us down hidden trodden paths as we winded into the center of the forest. After a forty minute walk, we reached the camp.
It was a disorganized heap of tiny wooden houses, trailer homes, and tents. The area was full of young women and teenage girls, almost entirely in wolf of half-wolf form and all in the same state of dirt and war-scarred.
A small baby was cradled in his mother’s arms. As he sobbed, he transformed violently between human, half-wolf, and wolf. Annoyed, his mother handed him to one of the few men in the camp. He took the pup to sit with the other men, isolated from the rest of the pack.
“They’re the Omegas,” our guide said with a nod towards the men.
Two playing girls ran past laughing and crashed into us. Their faces grew grim and they immediately bowed their heads in fear of retribution. Distracted, our guide simply waved them away, and they darted off, laughing again. I couldn’t see any other puppies in the camp.
“You two are welcome in the Sisterhood as long as you wish to stay. My name is Meredith and I am a Beta at this camp. You must be tired. I’ll find a tent for you to sleep in.”
Our tent was nothing more than a sheet pitched using sticks covering a patch of grass. However, the overcrowding in the camp was obvious, and we were both far too tired to complain. Lydia immediately went into the tent to sleep.
“Meredith, could I speak with the Alpha? I have brought an important gift with me,” Thinking of my important gift trying to sleep, I lowered by voice. “but I would like to arrange terms before I deliver it.”
“She’s away on diplomatic conferences with the Brotherhood. However, I’m certain she’ll meet with you when she returns. Get some sleep; I’ll bring you food in a few hours.”
I thanked her and crawled into the tent with Lydia. As a vampire, her slowed heartbeat made her skin cold and the dew on the grass made her clammy, but I curled in next to her and fell into a deep sleep.