Maladicta had never been the best at being a vampire. She was often shouted at for her lack of proper manners: speaking out of turn, putting her elbows on the table, and worst of all, slouching. She was a perpetual sloucher for nearly her whole life. It wasn’t Proper. Nor was her tendency towards dry wit, which astounded the other vampires in her life. Many, if not all, of her jokes landed like someone diving into a lake that’s frozen over. But that in no way stopped her from her commentary, even if it was only in service to amuse herself. She thought, if you can’t make yourself laugh then what’s the point in being immortal, eh?
Family relationships only got more strained as she decided to abstain from the one thing that all vampires had in common. Brainwashed, they called her. And, yes, maybe the Temperance League had approached and done their usual pitch about ethics and all that, but she wasn’t far from reaching that conclusion on her own time. Thing is, however much you liked blood, obtaining it caused too much prickling at your conscience. And if you have a vampire’s years ahead of you, you don’t need too many things like that to think about.
The day she first encountered the league, she already began proudly donning the black ribbon, to her family’s chagrin. She hadn’t fully given up on blood yet, that took weaning off, but she knew she was on the right track.
And once the cravings had officially been transferred over to the heavenly beans, Maladicta found a whole new world of opportunity opened up. When she saw a person of mortal disposition walking down the street, it no longer held the effect of dangling a tempting piece of meat in front of a lion. Sure, if she was made more explicitly aware of the fact that humans were sacks of delic-- no, unethical blood, then she had a harder time. But for the most part, she began to see them as friends, not food.
Although now she was essentially human, in the non-blood-drinking department at least, she found she wasn’t particularly well understood by humanity either. Despite bearing every badge the Temperance League had bestowed upon her, humans still gave her a wide berth, called her a bloody blood-sucker when they thought she was out of earshot. It almost made her want to-- no, she wouldn’t let her abstinence get thrown away by some intolerant bastards.
Things came to a head when she had received her two years badge. Two years and not one drop. When she returned to her family manor, badge proudly on display, she arrived to find the least fun kind of surprise party there is. Her vampiric friends and family were gathered in the sitting room, stony-faced, the lot of them. Each one with teacups full of… best not to think about that.
“Come, sit,” urged Lilith, “Don’t vorry, you’re not in trouble.”
Oh I am definitely in trouble, Maladicta thought. She took a step back, “I think I ought to--”
With the speed only a vampire could achieve, Lilith nodded to Vlad, who took off to shut the door behind Maladicta and stand guard. She was trapped in a Very Serious Conversation in which she would no doubt be chewed out. Two years of passive-aggression had been building up to this moment. Without anything else to do (the windows looked bolted shut, along with any other door out of the sitting room), she relented and sat in the chair provided.
“Sit up properly,” snapped Antediluvian, “Are you not proud of being a vampire?”
Automatically, Maladicta straightened out, then sank back into the chair with an air of defiance, “I have had it up to my fangs with you guys--”
“Ve are vorried about you, Maladicta,” Lilith said while picking up the leg bone that had been sitting on the side table, “Vhich is vhy ve have gathered to… discuss things. Just to make things easier, allow me to introduce the talking tibia.”
“Where’s its mouth?”
She ignored Maladicta, “Vhoever is holding the talking tibia gets to speak, and everyvun else has to listen. And by everyvun, I mean you.”
“I’ve listened to enough of this--”
“Ah, ah, Maladicta. Do you have the talking tibia? No? Then you cannot be speaking,” she held onto the bleached bit of bone as though it were her Nobel Prize for revolutionizing conflict resolution, “First things first, ve are all your family. Ve all love you. But ve feel your anti-blood phase needs to come to an end. It is simply not healthy to go for so long vithout sustenance, and you got so sick vhen you first gave it up.”
“The league says that--”
Lilith waggled the tibia threateningly.
“Give that to me,” Damien grabbed for the bone, “The league is anti-vampiric nonsense propaganda. How could abstaining from blood ever be healthy? All it’s going to do is make you snap when you run out of coffee.”
“I won’t run out of--”
“It’s not natural,” he went on, “We drink blood and that’s that. How do you think we feel when you talk about your League meetings?”
Desdemona took the tibia next, “Yeah, it makes us feel awful when you talk about avoiding blood and all that. Like we’re evil or something because we still do it. You’re putting human’s feelings over ours.”
“Remember, try to use ‘I feel’ statements,” Lilith whispered.
Maladicta said, “So we’re allowed to whisper?”
“Ah, so the rules don’t apply to you.”
“I feel you’re putting human’s feelings over ours,” said Desdemona, “and I feel that makes me feel awful.”
Antediluvian was next and began speaking in an ancient language that even the other older vampires weren’t around for. He cleared his throat, “Sorry, old habit. Vhat I meant to say vas you’re a disgrace to--” at a harsh stare from Lilith, he corrected himself, “I FEEL you’re a disgrace to our kind. And I FEEL you need to sit up straight. I FEEL right now. I FEEL or else.”
“‘I feel’ makes it sound so much less aggressive, eh guys?”
For a moment, it looked as though he thought the tibia was meant to be used as a club. Lilith quickly snatched it away, “Vladmir, do you vant to speak?”
Vlad strutted over, “Da,” he paused for a moment, shifting from foot to foot as though a great speech were formulating underneath the surface. And then he spoke, “Old ways are best.”
The tibia was handed back to Lilith for the closing statement, “So you see, ve all care about you--”
“Am I allowed to speak yet--?”
“Ve all care about you vhich is vhy ve vill be putting a stop to this nonsense starting now.”
Maladicta finally sat up straight, “What do you mean?”
“No more coffee,” said Vlad.
“No more coffee…”
“Back to blood,” said Desdemona.
“Back to b-- bl--”
“She can’t even say it anymore!” cried out Damien, “It’s not natural. It’s not right.”
Maladicta shot to her feet, “I don’t want to!”
“Who do you think you are fooling?” chided Antediluvian, “You are a vampire, and you vill alvays be a vampire until the day a vooden stake meets your heart. Act like vhat you are.”
As she paced around the room of the manor that she’d been locked in, she wondered why it was so un-vampire-like to drink coffee. It wasn’t, really!
According to the leaders at her meetings, hundreds of thousands of vampires were now living without a single drop of the b-word. Though with the day’s events, it was difficult for her to feel like that was true. The League’s progressive message ran deep in big cities like Ankh-Morpork, but vampires from more scantily-populated areas like Borogravia were slower on the uptake. Oh, how she wished to travel far away from here.
Maladicta noticed her hands were trembling slightly. It had been a whole day since her last cup. It would be a while before the withdrawal began to fully kick her around, but the process was already giving her a few nudges. Saying, hey Mal, go get some coffee right now. She already felt a slight pull towards the corner of the room where a cup of blood had been placed for her benefit. The smell of it was both sweetly enticing and slightly nauseating.
Even when she’d been dependent on blood, she never really enjoyed it. Well, that was a lie, she did enjoy it, but she hated the lead up to it. If you were a male vampire you got to go around with a swagger down dark alleyways, find beautiful women whose blood probably tasted fantastic. If you were a female vampire, you had to put up with being slobbered at by horrible men, and sucking the life out of them didn’t fully make up for what you had to endure to get to that point. Plus you had to wear constricting, velvety, neckline-plunging, corset-and-underwire-bearing clothes like the ones that Maladicta had on at that moment. Outfits that tried to wring out as much femininity as possible from her slouchy, sarcastic self.
In the distance, she heard the drums and chants of the Ins-and-Outs recruiting party making their way into town (although completely avoiding the vampire manor for obvious reasons). She could faintly hear all the step right ups and for the glory of Borogravias, which didn’t seem to have as much enthusiasm as they did the last time they came round. Because who would be stupid enough to enlist after the last batch of soldiers returned from far away lands?
At that moment, a flight of fancy passed through her head and got stuck there. What if…
No, Maladicta shook her head, it wouldn’t work. Maybe vampires in the military would be acceptable somewhere else. Hell, maybe female vampires too. But here? No way.
On the other hand, from the sounds of it, no one seemed too keen on joining up. They couldn’t afford to be too picky, could they? If she put a confident swagger in her step, if she spoke authoritatively enough, if she stood up straight…
First things first, she had to get out of this room and away from the stench of what filled that cup in the corner. She picked it up, hand trembling to fight back the urge to chug the teacup’s contents.
This would be the selling point: she carefully dipped her pinkie into the thick, red drink and dabbed it on the corner of her mouth. It took all her efforts and frantic mental chanting of notonedropnotonedrop in order to stop herself from licking the blood away. Now that it was so close to her, the rest of the cup looked more tempting than ever before.
She dumped it out in a potted plant.
“Ahh!” she sighed loudly, “I didn’t realize how much I missed that!”
“You drank?” Vlad’s voice came muffled through the locked door.
“I am as unreformed as the rest of you! No more coffee for me!”
She heard the slide of the bolted door unlocking, then Vlad poked his head through, “Really?”
He examined the empty cup in her hand and the drip that tickled her chin as it rolled further down. She continued chanting in her head to beat back the tide of vampire instinct.
The door swung open and within the next few minutes, she was swept into a celebration. She let out a sigh of relief when Lilith removed the blood with her thumb, “Vell done, sveetheart. Ve are so proud!”
“Yeah,” Maladicta said with a sinking feeling in her stomach, “Thanks.” That confirmed for her that she had to run away. They would never accept her as she is.
The whole manor stayed up far too late in the day celebrating. Maladicta had to dodge many drops of blood being spattered every which way from the vampires drunk on alcohol and whatever else. Eventually, they fell asleep, and stayed asleep even as the sun set. Maladicta crept out of the house with her shiny coffee maker all packed. There was also a bag of beans hauled away that night: enough to caffeinate an army of one, with that one being Maladicta.
In the pitch black, she made her way to the center of town. The local inn was still awake but was perhaps the only place. She steered clear of it. Instead, she broke into the tailor’s, and after dropping a few coins on the counter, she found some clothes that looked nice.
There, she ran into her first problem. No matter how she presented herself, her chest would give her sex away. After digging around the shop’s supplies, Maladicta found some breathable fabric, which she cut into strips.
She bound it around her chest tightly until she was as flat-chested as the rest of them. When her shirt was tugged over the top, she found her shoulders naturally went back in a rather nice posture. Huh.
There was no time to examine any deeper significance in that. She took up the scissors again and began to carefully snip at her hair, finding that the waves became tighter curls as the length decreased. She liked the feel of that.
She examined her look as best as she could. Without being able to use a mirror, it was difficult to assess whether she really passed or not. She would only be able to tell when she walked up to them and asked to enlist. With any hope, the recruiters might be more focused on the black ribbon which she carefully pinned to her shirt than any feminine traits that might remain.
Besides, confidence was key. And Maladict certainly felt confident in this outfit and with the sword that she had swiped from over the fireplace at home. Maladict, she-- no, he liked the sound of that. He liked the sound of he too. It wasn’t a perfect fit, but it was a hell of a lot better than before.
He made himself a cup of coffee and watched through the window as the recruiters drank the night away at The Duchess. He would follow them down to the next town where nobody knew him, and he would join up there. From then on… the world was for his taking. So long as he had his coffee maker by his side, he would be able to see more than this sleepy town, more than these provincial townsfolk. Who knows, maybe he would be able to meet somebody who would accept him for all he is: dead and living, vampire and coffee-lover, an ethical monster, and someone who resided the space between a feminine boy and a masculine girl.