Krul Tepes was surprised to discover that training a pet was not always as enjoyable as she expected.
On the other side of the one-way mirror, Mikaela lay crumpled on the bed. His lithe young body was curled in a fetal position, his arms wrapped around ribs that heaved with panting breaths. His head was tucked down against his chest, hiding his extraordinarily blue eyes, but Krul could see the tight clench of fangs between parted lips.
The boy had to be in agony. It was almost four days now since Krul had begun to deny him her blood.
Also crumpled, on the floor beside the bed, was the once neatly-folded uniform she had left with him. Her ultimatum was simple: he could drink from her veins again once he put the uniform on. After the surrender of consuming her blood in the first place, it seemed to her that the mere act of dressing as one of her subjects should have been insignificant, yet he balked once more. He chose instead to resist and suffer… as if putting on those garments would do more to make him a true vampire.
It would be a psychological step in the right direction, Krul granted; but Mika was nothing if not a challenge. Just getting him this far had taken months. He still had so much more to be taught, and it would all be so much easier if he would only accept his place. If he would appreciate that he had been raised up from the lowliness of his former fellow livestock, and made a superior being—at the hand of the Queen herself.
She wanted to be very good to him, if he would allow her to be. He was something special and rare… and after all the effort she was investing in his education, she felt a distinct thrill of pride at each victory in prying loose his misguided clinging to human weaknesses. When he was finally all hers, all vampire, the triumph would be sweet indeed—for him as much as for her.
Watching him through the glass, Krul thoughtfully tapped her pursed lips with a fingertip. It was hard to estimate his endurance at this stage, when his refusal to drink human blood meant he really wasn’t developing properly at all, but she was certain he would be damaged if he was deprived of nourishment for much longer. He was so dangerously stubborn, she might have to consider relenting, just this once…
Beyond the glass, Mika’s head turned. Hazy blue eyes focused toward the floor, staring at the heap of white-and-black fabric he had violently swept from the bed in defiance days earlier.
His trembling body slowly uncurled, like a flower opening to the sun, and Krul smiled.
Pushing himself to the edge of the narrow mattress, Mika sat up. His hands gripped his knees as he hunched over slightly, to shudder and take a few deep breaths. At last he raised his head, and glared down upon the discarded uniform.
Krul enjoyed the way Mikaela caught his lower lip between his fangs, restlessly worrying it with one sharp point. The gesture lent a delightful, unmistakable note of indecision to that burning glare of resentment.
It must have been for several minutes that Mika sat there, staring at the object of Krul’s ultimatum. Bitterness was the overriding emotion on his face, but the pain he felt was betrayed by his body: his heavy breaths, the tremors that occasionally slipped through him, the whiteness of his knuckles where his fingers tangled in the sheets. Perhaps he was finally questioning why he still chose to endure it, when the means of ending it lay right there in front of him.
With a violent movement, he suddenly flung himself to his feet, and lurched forward to stand over the pile of garments. He bent down, reaching out one hand, and after a long hesitation—almost as if he feared they would burn him—he gingerly picked them up. Indeed, he looked rather surprised when he wasn’t hurt by mere contact with the fabric.
Mika’s eyes wandered to the mirror through which Krul watched him; and although she knew he couldn’t see her, the Queen felt an inexplicable little thrill as their gazes seemed to meet.
The boy moved closer, approaching the dresser which the mirror was made to appear a part of. He stared into the glass, obviously studying his own reflection. His expression was one of dull self-loathing, eyes dark and lips twisted.
“Ah, Mika,” Krul sighed, resting her chin on one hand. “Why can’t you just embrace all I’ve given you?”
After a few moments, Mika closed his eyes, bowed his head. He took a deep breath… and then his trembling hands moved to the fastenings of the livestock clothing he still wore.
Some time ago, Krul had replaced his other changes of clothes with proper vampire uniforms, in the hopes that he would make the transition on his own without a fuss. His refusal left him with only the one set of livestock garments on his back, but he had continued to wear them. By now they were stained with errant drops of Krul’s blood from his feedings, and they even showed a little too much flesh where Mika was beginning to outgrow them. The fastidious Queen couldn’t imagine how he had tolerated them for so long. It displeased her to see him present himself before her in such an unkempt state, but she had remained patient, realizing it was merely part of the show of defiance he would soon learn was futile and foolish.
It was a pity that it took the more drastic measure of denying him blood, but at least the lesson was finally sinking in.
Mika turned away from the mirror. After a long moment, with hesitant, fumbling movements, he stripped himself of his former human coverings: he shrugged off the shirt, peeled down the cropped pants. With his skin bared, he shivered just a little—although Krul was unsure whether that was from the perceived shame of surrender, or because he was still more sensitive to the room’s cool air than a true vampire would be.
His hands flexed at his sides a few times, indecisive. Almost reluctantly he looked over his shoulder, and then he turned to face the mirror once more. When a fresh look of surprise flashed across his face, the expression this time betrayed just a little more amazement than disgust.
He placed both hands on his chest, running his quivering fingers down his torso; and Krul leaned to the edge of her seat, chewing her knuckles with eager enthrallment.
It had fascinated her to see his physical growth—a process no full-fledged vampire exhibited. At least it was a compensation for the annoyance of his refusal to be changed fully, and it made her think it might not be a bad thing if his body was allowed to grow to its full potential. He was markedly taller now than when she first turned him, his shoulders broader, his chest and abdomen sleeker and more defined. From the little Krul knew about young livestock, it seemed he was maturing more quickly than mortals of the same age did. Whereas drinking human blood would halt his aging forever, perhaps months of being nourished solely by the Queen’s blood had actually hastened the development of his remaining human biology.
Mika knew it, too. He knew his body looked older than it would if he were still mortal… and he knew it was far stronger than it ever would have become at any human age.
Bracing his hands on the dresser, he bowed his head. Another unreadable shudder passed through him, and then, he straightened abruptly.
As he reached for the pile of new clothes, his eyes carefully avoided the mirror.
With faltering movements, and with growing haste, Mika pulled on each separate article of the vampire uniform. His fingers stumbled over the shining gold buttons of the jacket, and the complicated fastenings of the cloak forced him to examine his reflection again, to ensure that what he was doing looked even close to the way it should. Last of all, he struggled into the thigh-high boots, and tugged the gloves onto his hands. When he was done, the belt and cloak sat a little crookedly at his waist and shoulders, and the fabric was wrinkled in places from its days spent on the floor; but all things considered, he had dressed himself well for his first attempt.
Afterward, he stared into his reflected image with a kind of haunted wonder, as if confronted by a stranger who simultaneously frightened and mesmerized him.
For her part, Krul felt a surge of delighted pride in the new progress of her pet. She stepped close to the mirror and drank in the sight of him as he should be: the svelte, elegant figure he cut when attired as his nature deserved. Even as a mere human boy, he had been a beautiful creature, and now the uniform only complemented his catlike grace. The gleam of gold ornaments served to brighten the paler gold of his hair, while the crisp white of the fabric made his blue eyes appear all the more glacial.
Then Mika denied her any further enjoyment of the view, turning his back to slump heavily against the edge of the dresser. He was shuddering again, shoulders hunched beneath the cloak. As he drew a trembling fist across his mouth, every nuance of his body language crying out with need, Krul realized it was her turn to reward him for obeying her at last.
She moved to the door that adjoined her room to Mika’s, and after unlocking it with an ornate key, she stepped through.
When the door opened, Mika jerked sharply upright, recoiling into a wary defensive posture. At the sight of Krul, his eyes widened. His lips parted, but no sound emerged, save for the unsteady flutter of a breath.
Krul said nothing. She merely sliced her wrist open with a talon; and at the scent of her blood, Mika lunged forward instantly, seizing her arm to sink his fangs viciously into the wound. Drops of scarlet spattered across the pristine whiteness of his new cloak, like a baptismal sprinkling, to bless his repentant act of submission.
The Queen did not mind the small sting of his urgent bite. She owed him this much for allowing him to hurt, even if it was an unpleasant choice she made for his own good.
As he drank from her veins in deep, desperate gulps, her only movement was to gently pull him backward a few steps, until she could sit on the edge of the bed. He knelt at her feet then, lips fastened on her skin, cradling her slender arm in both hands. In contrast to the harsh gouges left by his fangs, there was something almost delicate in his touch, the light pressure of his quivering fingers. For a few moments, again, he seemed like a kind of worshiper: eagerly accepting what his goddess offered, even as he feared to incur her wrath by appearing too demanding.
With her free hand, Krul petted his soft hair, while she murmured praises to him—just like the puppy he was.
“Good boy, Mika. That wasn’t so bad now, was it? You’ve pleased me very much.”
Sated at last, Mika raised his head to look up at her. Impossibly blue eyes met hers, glistening but tearless. His lower lip trembled beneath the thread of crimson that had trickled over it.
There was no gratitude in his expression, but neither was there resentment. There was only an overwhelming need.
Krul’s arm still rested upon Mika’s cupped hands. With an indulgent little smile, she lifted her fingers to stroke his flushed cheek; and even she was surprised when he almost turned his face toward her hand, almost nuzzled into her palm. He reddened even more when he realized that himself, but curiously, he did not quite pull away from her as she expected.
Feeling the peculiar tug of an unknown emotion in her chest, Krul bent forward and kissed the top of Mika’s head.
Yes, training a pet wasn’t easy… but the rewards were worth it.