The deep dungeons were cold and damp, the stones were worn and cracked. The corridors looked abandoned, but the sound of clinking chains occasionally interrupted the silence.
Like clockwork every day, the light but loud footsteps of high heels against stone broke the peaceful lull of the dungeons.
A charming girl with silky silver hair that reached her knees strode through the corridors with a lady’s grace. Her ruby red eyes with slitted pupils glowed in the dim orange torchlight that burned on the walls. As she walked, the pointy tips of her ears peeked through her swaying hair and the leathery wings that sprouted from her waist fluttered idly.
The girl stopped before the only occupied prison cells, and with a wave of her hands, the lock clanked open. The door swung inwards, revealing an emaciated man chained to the walls. Long blonde hair hung down his head, hiding his face. The hair may have once been beautiful, but it was now matted and messy.
Shackles around his hands, feet, and neck forced him to remain standing.
Layers of iron wrought with powerful enchantments wrapped around his body, binding his movements.
The chained man opened his eyes at the creak, but did nothing more. Only one person who visited him so often, and he had better things to do than waste his energy looking at her.
Shut away deep in the dungeons, the passage of time was unmarked. Carmen didn’t know how long he'd been imprisoned, but he had not eaten or drank since he first woke up in his cell. Every bit of energy was precious if he wished to stay alive long enough to take revenge.
The girl stepped up to him, her tiny feet entering his vision.
“My, my—you’re still alive. Holy knights sure are durable.” The girl’s voice was lilting and seductive, every word hiding the hint of sweet laughter. “Or perhaps it’s because it’s you?”
Carmen sighed. “Leave. My answer remains the same, vampire.”
“Fufu. It’s been seven days, yet I still stand here before you, alive and well. What happened to your promise of breaking free and killing me?” she teased. “Please give up, because no matter how long you take, you’ll never break free. You’ll waste away here. Such a sad death for one who used to be valiant as you, is it not?”
Carmen ignored her and instead continued to focus on the myriad of entangled enchantments that held him in place.
The vampire noble watched him in silence, before she stepped forward, forcing him to lift his head with a finger under his chin. With just that light touch, he was powerless before her. Her face appeared before him.
She was smiling, her tiny fangs peeking out from under her lips. “Unfortunately, I will not be leaving today until I receive an answer I like,” she said.
“I suppose you’ll be waiting a long time,” Carmen said, looking away. Even if she wants to force him to look at her, he won’t, just to spite her.
“Now, now,” the vampire said, as if she was chiding a child, “don’t be so hasty. Since it’s the last day, let’s have a nice, long talk so you won’t have any more regrets.”
“There’s nothing to talk about.”
But even as he put up a front of resistance and indifference, Carmen’s blood chilled. Last day? Were the demons going to execute him at last? He was not afraid of death, but he still had not taken revenge for his subordinates yet.
He remembered that fateful day when his ragged army managed to slaughter their way into the heart of demon territory. There, they faced their greatest challenge yet: a swarm of bats and a single vampire with nightmarish strength that crushed all of them but him with ease.
He was the only survivor. With his enemy right before him, he was helpless against her, unable to lift a single finger in defiance.
An apology was all he could offer to his fallen comrades.
“Why do you look so sad?” the vampire asked. This time, she didn’t move his head, but shifted her body so that her face moved into his vision. When he turned his head away again, her face followed him back and forth as frustration welled up within him until he gave up, defeated.
The vampire laughed, showing her small fangs in full before she blushed in embarrassment and covered her mouth. “Pardon my manners. But, ahem… it seems that you are tired of playing? Answer my question and I’ll consider stopping.”
She paused, an exaggerated expression of epiphany crossing her face. “Wait, let me guess… Is it about your precious subordinates?”
Carmen just glared at her, not bothering to grace her with an answer. She didn’t seem to mind either. A hint of something playful, yet perverse crossed her smile. “Don’t look at me like that. That reminds me, you’ve never said my name. It was always ‘vampire.’ I want you to say my name.”
“Rot, vampire,” Carmen growled and spat at her.
The vampire spun away gracefully, dodging the ball of spittle. She finished with a flourish and curtsied, full of elegance. “Please?”
When Carmen stared straight ahead, showed no signs of minding her, her smile grew. “What if… I told you that your subordinates aren’t dead?”
“—What?!” Carmen’s head snapped up at the words. “W—what do you mean?!”
His subordinates weren’t dead? But the last thing he saw was mountains of dismembered corpses with their blood sucked dry, and enough bats to cover the sky. He had been the last one standing, and when he fell…
Instead of answering him, the vampire licked her lips like a predator eyeing her prey. “What is my name?”
Carmen gritted his teeth and choked out a name. He spat out every syllable as if it was the foulest, most profane thing he had ever said. “Victoria…”
“Fufu, well done—,” the vampire Victoria said, but Carmen interrupted her.
“There, I’ve said your name,” he growled. “Tell me about my subordinates! What’s happened to them?!”
He had no time for her games.
“How impatient. However, a promise is a promise. They are fine, in a sense,” Victoria said. “Perhaps you’ll even see them someday, depending on your behavior. Will you join us, for the sake of your subordinates?”
Unlike before, Carmen hesitated. He had been the one to lead the army to their deaths, even if it was at the command of his archbishop. As the commander, he was responsible for his troops. If sacrificing himself would save his comrades and subordinates to go free, he would offer himself up without hesitation… if the ones he was submitting to weren’t demons.
Betraying the Church was one of the only things he won’t do.
He uttered a silent apology to his subordinates and looked up at Victoria. “I refuse.”
The vampire tilted her head, her movement childlike and pure, full of curiosity. Carmen gritted his teeth at her innocuous display. He would not go easy on her even if she looked like a child, if only he could break free.
Her head then tilted the other way, as if something she couldn’t comprehend troubled her. “Why?” she asked. “What do you insist on following your Church?”
“You wouldn’t understand, demon.”
“Oh my. And here I was, so sincere and willing to hear you out. Isn’t it the way of your church to convert believers when possible?” Victoria pouted. “The chance of converting a demon doesn’t come often, you know?”
“As if you’re sincere! Our beliefs are incompatible with your existence!”
Victoria sighed. “What a sad child.”
What a thing, coming from a demon with such a child-like appearance. Carmen scoffed at the hypocrisy, but said nothing. Nothing he said seemed to bother the vampire, so he might as well save his words.
But despite his silence, the vampire didn’t seem to want to leave him alone.
Instead, she reached up and caressed his cheek. Her tiny soft hands and icy fingers slid over his skin, raising goosebumps wherever it touched despite him doing his best to ignore it. It felt… good.
Carmen felt ill at the thought, revolted by himself. How could he think such things? His sanity was wearing away.
“No! Get your disgusting hands off of me!” he shouted, twisting, trying to get away from those bewitching hands.
Victoria backed away once again, giggling.
But soon, her cheerful smile disappeared, replaced by her usual calm and faint smile. “You call me disgusting, but to us, whom you call demons, humans are the truly disgusting ones—brimming with hypocrisy and evil.”
“Shut up! Shut up!”
Nobody riled him up as much as this demon did. Carmen had hated no one as much as he hated her. Her personality, her appearance, her voice. Resent. Despise. Loath. There were not enough words in the world to describe his hate toward her.
She was the one that took everything away from him. Every day, she came to rob him of the last thing he had left: his beliefs and conviction. She asked him to turn his back on his faith.
He will never let her succeed.
“Things are never as they seem with you humans,” Victoria said, continuing as if she hadn’t heard him.
Her voice grated upon his ears, but the shackles didn’t allow his hands to reach far enough to cover his ears. He didn’t have enough magic to block out the sound either. He could only strain against his chains.
Under his sudden burst of strength, the chains slackened and tensed. Over and over the chains rattled, each time seemingly about to break from the incredible force exerted by a holy knight, but holding by the slimmest of margins each time.
But Carmen knew the fragility of the chains was a mere illusion, or he wouldn’t still be here.
It did not stop him from trying to grab the vampire and crush her beneath him. She sullied his memories of his comrades and sullied his beliefs. She was unforgivable.
“You might as well save your strength,” Victoria said. “You wanted to kill me, didn’t you? I’ll offer you a chance soon enough.”
The dark iron shackles bit into the skin on his neck, wrist, and feet, but he did not stop. Even if he had to saw off his arms, it will not stop him from trying to beat her to death with his stump before he bled out.
Duty before life. Since the Church picked him up as an orphan from a village destroyed in a demon attack, he had lived by that creed.
His duty to spread the gospel of the Church.
His duty to eradicate the stain that is demonkind from the world.
His duty to himself to live by his personal tenets.
“What a waste of blood,” the vampire muttered. She sighed. “Unfortunately, it seems you will not allow me to talk with you any longer. Our time together came to an end earlier than planned.”
The way she was so nonchalant about everything infuriated Carmen. Yet, she remained out of his reach.
“Did you know vampires reproduce? There are three ways. First, we drain someone of their blood until they die,” she said, lifting one finger, slim and tipped with a dainty red nail. “This is reproduction through feeding, our most common way of reproducing. This method produces inferior, mindless thralls, barely fit to be called vampires. They must evolve to become greater.”
“Second, we can reproduce as you do: through intercourse,” she continued, lifting a second finger. “It is our second most common way of reproducing. This method creates normal vampires of no real notability.”
“Third… can you guess?” Victoria asked.
Carmen ignored her. Blood dripped onto the floor, splashing against the rough stone surface. He gritted his teeth against the pain.
“No? I will tell you. This method, or more like a ritual, is called the Inheritance of Blood. Elegant, is it not?” Victoria licked the tip of her fangs, as if preparing for something. “However, although this method produces greater vampires of around the same level of strength as the vampire conducting the ritual, it leaves them weakened.”
Victoria stepped closer. “Now then, since you are about to become a member of vampire nobility, it wouldn’t be proper for you to remain in this shoddy place, would it?”
With a wave of her hands, the dungeon faded away. Carmen pitched forward, collapsing onto his knees, his eyes wide in shock at the sudden change in scenery.
What was happening? Bewildered, that was the only thought flying through his mind.
Where were the chains and shackles he had been struggling so hard against? Did his efforts mean nothing?
Victoria’s giggle cut through his confusion. “You wanted to kill me, right? Here is your chance. If you can remain conscious after this, I will be at your mercy. Do your best, O Noble Knight!”
At the same time as he raised his head, he saw a blur and Victoria appeared before him faster than he could react.
Red eyes like flame rubies grew larger until they filled his sight and mind.
Soft hands cupped his face, cold against his skin, caressing.
Silky lips pushed against his own, sucking the strength from his body.
There was a moment of pain on his tongue and Carmen felt himself growing weaker, colder. The blood drained from him.
Something warm flowed into his mouth, sweet and never ending.
Part of him rejected it, but sweetness was an unstoppable tide that washed over him.
“No…” Carmen gasped out, but the darkness crept in from the edges of his vision without mercy. As the darkness swallowed him, the pure, song-like voice sounded next to his ear once more, full of laughter.
“Experience the truth for yourself, Camilla. And when you are done, come back home.”