“Katherine let her eyes close as Giovanni drew one of her bloody fingers into his mouth and began to suck it clean. Her lips parted, upper and lower fangs extending much like a snake to show startling white against the natural crimson of her mouth.”
~ Faerie Rising
Immortal sensualists and ardent politicians, vampires are the power brokers of the preternatural world and the true inventors of the long game. For centuries they have played, using both preternaturals and humans as living game pieces – first the election of a Pope, then a senator’s scandalous fall – with one ultimate goal in mind.
For though some younger eyes may see the humans as placid sheep, mindlessly waiting to be culled, those vampires who have lived through darker centuries know that if the sheep see the wolves in their midst, the nature of the flock can change dangerously, and not all the sheep are blind. So they play the game to ensure they live in a world where a human who claims his neighbor is a shape-shifter will be mocked, rather than rescued. To ensure their kind can continue to hide in plain sight.
Our vampires are immortal in the sense that they will live indefinitely until they are killed, and yes, they are alive, not undead. They are very difficult to kill – a wooden stake through the heart will only result in an angry vampire and a dead amateur Van Helsing. They are not vulnerable to holy objects, or silver, or garlic, or any of the other superstitions and fictions that have been spread around over the centuries, often by vampires themselves, to help them hide. They are nocturnal hunters but do not fear the sun, though they are admittedly not at their best in full sunlight. Sunglasses are truly the vampire’s friend, and they only glitter under trance music and a club’s strobe lights while wearing the correct body products.
Indeed, the greatest threat to a vampire is another vampire. Total destruction or removal of the head or the heart is the only way to ensure death. So while vampires have not been slow to adopt firearms, they still adhere to the old ways of killing. Within their Courts they gave the original meaning to “cutthroat” politics, as a single misstep can result in death. At the top of these constantly shifting towers of factions and alliances rule the Vampire Kings. Any vampire, regardless of gender, with enough power, cunning and ambition may rise to become a King and rule over a Court composed of not only vampires but also those shape-shifting “therian” and humans who serve them. But at this level the only path to power is through the death of a sitting King – the vampire who would walk it does so at their dire peril, for the King they would murder has walked it before them, knows its twists and bends, and lays in wait for all who would so much as set a foot upon it. There is no law among vampires against preemptive retaliation.
But, individually, the most powerful of the vampires are not the Kings at all. They are the queens. Of the many, many female vampires made in the world, only a tiny percentage rise as a powerful breeding queen – at the time of Faerie Rising they only number thirty-one. Male vampires may on rare occasion father half-breed children on human women, but these Dhampyr are weak creatures to be pitied in the Courts, who share their fathers’ need for blood and their mothers’ mortalities. A common female vampire is utterly sterile. Queens, on the other hand, are not only extremely powerful vampires, they will also go into heat every few centuries during their lifetimes, attracting male vampires for miles around and only accepting the most powerful to mate. These choices are political ones, made decades, sometimes centuries in advance. Queens maintain their own small Courts autonomous from the Kings’ Courts, though they usually choose a King to support and maintain them on the understanding that when her heat comes on her the King of her choice will be the one to sire her prince, a huge mark of prestige for any vampire. Attracting and keeping a queen is a great show of power among the Kings, as queens have full autonomy and can choose to leave for any reason, at any time. Queens always bear sons. No one knows why this is, though it is a common subject of debate among the queens themselves. A prince is always powerful, and will eventually grow to become a King in his own right, should he survive long enough. Again, Kings see nothing wrong with preemptive retaliation, and princes who are not their own sons are threats on the horizon. So a queen will choose her prince’s father most carefully, with her son’s future survival in mind.
In a life of politics and pain, where death may find them around any corner if they chose the wrong friends, for vampires their basic survival is the ultimate pleasure. A vampire must feed on living blood. Since they can eat regular food, “dead” blood such as one might find in a fictional blood donation bag is not only of no more nutritional value than any bloody rare meat, the anti-coagulants that are added taste foul. No vampire would drink blood from a plastic bag. They are predators, as well as sensualists. Their very nature desires warm flesh between their teeth, a writhing body trapped in the steel coils of their powerful arms. They want the hunt.
But not the kill.
Vampires kill for politics, for survival, sometimes for pleasure, but generally they do not kill to eat. While it is possible to kill by other means during a feed, a single, regular vampire cannot drink enough blood to drain a human body to the point of death. The stomach is only so big. A powerful vampire can get close – this is part of how vampires are made – but does not need to do so. Vampires are above all things stealth hunters. When they feed among the flock, they erase their tracks. So the vampire who leaves a trail of bodies will soon be hunted themselves.
Vampires hunt the most dangerous of prey, but they have three powerful weapons at their disposal. The first are their pheromones, designed to attract both potential mates and potential prey, for to vampires feeding and sex are intimately intertwined. When they are attracted to someone, they will “scent,” and the more powerful the attraction, the more powerful the vampire, the more powerful the pheromones will become. When vampires do this with each other it can cycle back and forth. When it involves prey the pheromones are difficult to resist, and nearly impossible if they prey is not aware of them. The second weapon is the nature of the adult vampire’s bite. Nearly painless and highly erotic, an unsuspecting victim is usually unaware they have been bitten at all, lost in the waves of pleasure as the vampire feeds from them. Again, the more powerful the vampire, the greater the effect they have. For the vampire, the bite is a two-way street, and they receive just as much pleasure from biting as does their victim. It is for this reason that even though vampires cannot gain from feeding on each other, they still bite during sex. But, for the survival of the vampire’s secret, the third weapon is the most important. Their tongues secrete a healing enzyme, so that when they stroke and lick a bite mark after feeding the small holes made by their fangs heal closed, leaving behind only a large hickey. They only take a pint or less of blood from a victim, leaving them slightly light-headed perhaps, but no more so than would the sexual encounter they just had. And the vampire leaves, fed and with a potential future meal left alive behind.
The vampire is truly the most urban of the preternaturals, the ultimate wolves among the sheep, needing to hide within a large prey population – and also a large population of potential recruits. Those who they would choose to join their ranks are selected most carefully, for eternity is a very long time to regret. They stalk their potentials, getting into their lives, their circles of friends, before making a final decision. That choice is always the vampire’s – they will never open their world, part the veil for anyone not already among their ranks. Most new vampires discover this hidden existence on the day they awaken to it, desperate for their first blood feed.
On that first morning of forever, what would you do?