What are You Doing in This Castle?
a piece of fiction by The Overlord Bear
beta-read by TheOtherGabby
cover illustration by The Overlord Bear
Summary: A young man named John Jacks has a strange encounter with a vampire noblewoman.
Even though I kicked the cover of her crowbarred black coffin open and pointed my shotgun with garlic-and-holy-water buckshot at her cross-armed and sleeping form, I couldn’t help staring at her inhuman beauty.
She was pale, yes, but it was a shining and unblemished sort of pale. Her lips looked like they were painted with rouge, but the blood red color of her lips seemed like an apple from that tree in Eden. Her black hair was, for some reason, not grown past her neck, but it made her already well-proportioned face look smarter and more daring. Her figure wasn’t that of a buxom seductress, but it wasn’t that of a fragile doll either, for her slender figure under her practical yet revealing gown looked as if it were toned enough to pin me and make me her slave anytime she wanted, and the way she put her arms in front of her body – diagonal and parallel – made her look like she was desperate for a companion for her certainly cold body living a paradox in her stuffed-up coffin.
But should it be called “beauty” if it were inhuman? Should it still be called “beauty” if it were a lie?
Yes, I was blinking out the distractions that had invaded my mind, trying not to think about whether it was me or the vampire noblewoman who caused them, but by the time I lifted up my shotgun and aimed at her again…
“What are you doing in this castle?”
…she was asking me that question, her half-opened amber eyes piercing me with a look I could not ascertain along with her tone, for – and yes, I would admit it now that I found myself caught and likely to lose my precious human life soon – her straightened, neutral lips and her high yet smooth voice called to my desire for mature guidance and my curiosity for romantic intimacy.
Indeed, if my mentor were to find me like this, I would let her scold me as much as she wanted after rescuing me from this vampire’s wiles…but this was my first mission, a mission where my teachers and superiors gave me their trust in my supposedly grown independence as a test.
And so, with my pride, I believed that no one would come to lift me out of this pitfall I fell into, for I had been an overeager young man who thought that he could do better and more practical than those hackneyed heroes of fiction.
Was this among what those failed vampire hunters thought before they were killed by their bloodsucking targets?
With all that, I closed my eyes, waiting for this unholy yet tempting being’s breath and fangs to take me…
“Okay…really, what are you doing?”
I opened my eyes again and blinked.
Her voice now sounded more confused and annoyed.
And indeed, her lips were now shaped more like a frown, while one eyebrow of hers was raised higher than the other. Her arms were now crossed in front of her as well, looking like she would rather defend herself than pounce upon me.
“If you’re gonna kill me, then you’re welcome to do so.”
“B-But aren’t you E-Elizabeth Artur, t-that same vampire who k-killed the hunters before me, h-hunters who tried to kill you but f-failed?” I couldn’t help asking, for I had grown up learning of them while having to watch my fellow citizens cry, scream, and curse because of them.
“Oh,” she then responded, looking up as if going into thought, “Well, I did kill them, but I didn’t really kill them by sucking their blood and turning them into vampires.” And then her frown pulled further down. “I swear, being like this is not a fate I’d like to bestow upon them,” and then her eyes widened after a blink, “Wait a second, didn’t you get my letters to your town? Why are you still after me, then?”
That casual speech of hers, fortunately, was enough to spark my anger and my concentration into what I was supposed to do here today in this dim, lamp-lit room of Castle Artur.
“Y-You vile beast!” I then declared, pulling the trigger immediately.
And as expected, she screamed, her lying face and body beginning to melt into its true composition as a corpse that should not be moving anymore.
Still, to my surprise, she jumped and skittered out of the way of my next pumped shot, moving like a four-limbed spider across the floor and walls of stone.
“STOP SHOOTING ME, YOU FOOL!” she screamed as I continued to pump, aim, and fire at her. “YOU REALLY DON’T WANT ME TO GO DESPERATE AND GET A BITE OUT OF YOU! YOUR ANCESTORS OR WHATEVER HAD SOME ACCIDENTS AND SUICIDES AFTER ENTERING MY CASTLE, YOU KNOW, BUT IT SEEMS LIKE NONE OF YOU ARE BELIEVING ME AND MY LETTERS!”
By the time she finished her shouting rant or something, I had run out of buckshots.
Good thing I had extra shells stored in a belt pou – “Whoa!”
Okay, she caught me, she is on top of me, and I am very much horrified by her glaring and melting face and her sharp and bared fangs.
“I was waiting for a mature and handsome man to take my unlife away from me,” her hoarse voice delivered, “But I had to deal with ugly men, pushy women, self-deprecating liars, and worst of all, FOOLISH YOUTHS!”
I felt flecks of spittle landing on my face as she shouted that last part, but contrary to the actually exaggerated speculations of my fellow townspeople, her bodily fluids did not melt living human skin.
Still, there was the problem of her bared fangs and her literally sizzling form.
“P-Please don’t eat me…” was my feeble response to the terrifying being on top of me as I closed my eyes again.
But I opened my eyes again when I felt her release me, and then I heard the air whoosh as she jumped back and across the room, unleashing a scream to the ceiling as she jumped into her coffin, kicking my heavy-duty crowbar (which she actually kept up, now that I’ve noticed it keeping the cover up) out and letting the cover drop with a crash.
There was a muffled yet still spine-chilling yell that came from the closed coffin, though…but silence reigned after that.
Meanwhile, I decided to run back home, fear and confusion stirring me up.
“What are you doing here again, foolish boy?”
I did go back to my town, but I slowed my pace as I neared the gates to my town. I then lied to my fellow townspeople, telling a half-true version of my encounter with Lady Elizabeth. I told them of how she tempted me upon opening her coffin, as if she were waiting for me, and then I told them about how I shot her the moment I heard her snarl.
The townspeople easily believed it, too, especially since, as far as they remembered, they knew me as the one with the fastest reaction time in my town. Even my mentor believed me, and after hearing her sigh of relief, I had a feeling that, if she had a choice, she would rather believe me lying about actually doing my first vampire hunt well than finding out that I messed up and almost got killed by the creature I was supposed to kill.
Still, my friends, especially my one feisty female friend, held doubts and suspicions when they noticed the minutely revealed details of my hidden fear (read: a subtle sort of one-two-three stutter that only focused ears can recognize), but they let me go and do whatever I wanted, all while the rest of the town celebrated me as their hero who defeated the cruel vampire who once lived in the castle on the outskirts of the town.
Still, not a lot of people wanted to go visit the supposedly liberated place. Superstition still kept us away from it, and among those superstitions is my assumed invincibility in such supposedly liberated places.
I couldn’t help worrying for my town because of that, but I didn’t like causing a racket, so I just rolled with it and indulged my personal curiosity after doing some more mundane hunting quests. Not much supernatural trouble, after all, and if there were, then it would be the sort that our local priests were more equipped for.
Anyway, I paid a visit to Lady Elizabeth, and when she asked me that question, she was drinking steaming blood from a teacup. Right beside her was its larger fellow porcelain container, which was being heated over a stone pot of coal and small flames. A dead pig was lying by her feet as well, its insides likely torn out by the vampire noblewoman’s long and sharp nails.
And yes, even her fingernails added to her tempting appearance. Perhaps that’s the sinful magic of vampires at work, then, making even out-of-place features stir the carnal desires of mortals whose senses come upon them.
“The struggles of a vampire, indeed…” I then heard her say, likely to herself, which then brought me out of my introspection. “Long ago, people, especially the foolish youths I was once a part of, all loved the night.”
I didn’t know what to say now that I was facing her anomalous presence again, so I kept silent as she looked at me, as if she were waiting for a question that was likely to come out from a curious youth like me.
Still, regardless of the surprising silence, she continued.
“In the night, they could do things their neighbors didn’t want to see them doing. Cloaked shadows took what they wanted but wasn’t actually theirs to take and have, cold iron tried to justify their existences by shattering another, and naive hearts saw no difference between the words ‘love’ and ‘lust.'”
One blink after that, and her slightly taller form was right in front of me, an index finger under my chin as she gave me a breathtaking gaze that I did not want to decipher any further than my actually fragile heart could handle.
“I wanted to stay that way…” she whispered, sending shivers up my spine as she also put a little grip on my chin, “…but I only kept on seeing further destruction…further sadness…and yet…I fear death.”
And then I noticed that my eyes could blink away, away from the amber gaze that could actually keep my eyes open longer than they actually could before the usual blinking happened again.
When I stopped doing a quick succession of blinks and looked at the inhuman woman again, she was back to sipping her teacup of steaming pig blood, no sound other than a light sway of the musty air in the underground room where her coffin was.
“So again,” she continued after a sip, “What are you doing in this castle?”
The glowing of her eyes had me breaking the seeming stiffness of my jaw, and I replied:
At that, she laughed, and then she took another sip from her teacup, followed by refilling it with the teapot beside her. The odd way her fingers gripped the handle of the larger porcelain container looked like how the typical young noblewoman gripped things, but what made it odd were her long fingernails, crossing each other without intruding on what she aimed to do.
“If you’re looking for immortality,” she then said, “Then I believe that you should look for the priests. The truly virtuous ones, in particular.”
“B-But why are you telling me that?” I quickly asked back, as it was strange for a vampire like her to even give me such a piece of advice. And I did know that some of the clergy in my town were suspicious figures, but… “W-Wouldn’t slaying you contribute to reaching the salvation promised by God, though?”
She laughed louder at that.
“You are young, indeed…” she followed up, wearing a worn-out smile. “I wouldn’t call myself a faithful person, but I am certain that true salvation comes at a very heavy cost…much heavier than what I had to pay to become like this. You can kill me, but would you kill a fellow sinner and deprive their chances for atonement, all for your own benefit?”
At that, I felt as if I was entering territory more dangerous than I thought. The thought of killing someone who still had vestiges of humanity, although they had formed contracts with the Devil, was now in question, and it hurt to admit that, even silently.
“You should go home and reflect, John Jacks,” she told me. “And live your everyday life as a hunter as well. Maybe you should woo that lady friend of yours hiding a short distance behind you, too.”
At that, I turned to look behind me, widened eyes and dropped jaw at Cath, my feisty female friend with a garlic-and-holy-water-loaded shotgun of her own, peeking out of a niche in the lamp-lit room.
“Stop tempting my friend, you heathen!” Cath then shouted, her long, frilly dress and long, ribboned hair clearly trembling as she stepped forward with a shotgun pointed at the woman past me.
I wouldn’t tell her about it out loud right now, but she looked lovelier right now, especially with her not stuttering even while trembling like that.
“I’ll be taking a cloak with me, worry not,” Lady Elizabeth said with a light smile, a toss of her teacup, and a kick to the pig as she stood up and practically vanished with a light sway of the musty air, only to reappear with a hooded cloak over her form. “Of course, if you are willing to quietly bring me to your local virtuous priest for the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.”
“B-But wait, a-aren’t you – ” I tried to question, but…
“And just because I have little faith does not mean I cannot try to increase it, boy,” Lady Elizabeth added. “Now how shall this go, then?”
Personally, I was ready to believe her, but I was uncertain about Cath, who was giving alternating glares to the both of us.
“I am wary of your lady friend and her gun there,” the vampire noblewoman calmly admitted, “But perhaps I can call that a test of my faith as well. Still, I do not want to force myself upon you, so again, how shall this go?”
And then there was silence.
“L-L-Lead the way, Cath,” I stuttered after that silence.
At that, Cath let out a rough and throaty sigh that was bordering on being a groan, but she still lowered her gun with one hand while pulling me along with the other.
Following that was a very surprising silence.
Author’s Note: Certain popular vampire (+ werewolf) stories have me wondering about how serious they are. I’d rather read something like Kuya Soju’s Sana’y Tumibok Muli or better, yo.
Also, I did a little extension here compared to the version I had Gabby read. So yeah, I wonder how it is to you now, Gabby?
As for the cover illustration…I find it clean and fancy?
Anyway, honest constructive feedback is highly encouraged and will be highly appreciated.