“Welcome to Sanctuary,” said the unicorn.
“Oh. Er. Yes. Thanks very much,” Justine replied.
She was currently seated at a small, white wrought-iron table in what could only be described as the most picturesque garden she had ever seen. There were blossoming flowers everywhere, and butterflies, and a little stream whose quiet babbling was punctuated by vibrant birdsong. It was not what she had been expecting when she was directed to the Waiting Room. She awkwardly picked up the cup of tea the unicorn had just set upon the table before her. The china rattled as she took a sip. It was good.
“Like it?” the unicorn asked.
Justine nodded as she replaced the cup. “Yes. It’s quite good.”
“Oh, good,” the unicorn smiled, “I was so worried that they had steeped it for far too long. Pixies. I swear, they have the attention spans of goldfish; they forget about anything at the drop of a hat.”
“Oh. Yeah,” Justine laughed nervously and fidgeted in her seat.
“Have some more tea, dearie, it’ll calm your nerves,” the unicorn said as it nudged the cup closer to Justine.
Like this place, the unicorn was not at all what Justine had expected. She had always pictured unicorns as great big white horses, something like a Clydesdale, with flowing white manes and huge spiraling horns. This creature was much smaller, more deer-like, and of a creamy color. The horn was still a spiral, but it was long and thin and far more delicate-looking than Justine would have thought practical for a protrusion on an animal’s head.
“Is it really that obvious?” she asked the creature, and she felt her cheeks flushing with embarrassment.
“As a long-tailed cat in a room full of rockers,” it replied with a sage nod, “But you needn’t worry, dearie. He really is a very nice man. You know, I believe he’s met with some of your kind before.”
“And? Were they accepted?”
“Well, I think some of them were. Although we have had to kill one or two, if memory serves. Oh!” it added when it saw the look on Justine’s face, “But they were right rotters! Not like you at all, dearie!”
“I see,” Justine said low as she stared deep into her teacup.
The unicorn shifted uncomfortably.
“Well, it shouldn’t be long now,” it told her, “You just let me know if you need anything else, dearie.”
Then it scampered off, and Justine was alone.
She didn’t want to die. Of course she didn’t. But if she wasn’t accepted into Sanctuary, did she really want to go back to her life on the outside? Back to all of the horror and the guilt? If she was rejected, maybe it would be better if they did just kill her. After all, she was a monster.
Exactly. They’ll never accept you, so why are you even bothering?
She continued to stare into the teacup, but there weren’t any answers there. She took another sip. It really was very good tea.
Someone approached, and Justine turned expecting to see the unicorn again, but instead there was a beautiful woman coming towards her. She looked to be an elf, or maybe some sort of High Fey, and she was tall and slim and fair in every sense of the word. She was, quite simply, everything that Justine was not. She smiled a smile that was entirely without warmth, and she said, “The Wizard will see you now.”
Without a word Justine rose and fell into step behind the elven woman as she led her out of the garden. The woman was wearing a very nice white skirt suit and carrying an expensive-looking clip board, so Justine assumed that she was some sort of assistant or secretary.
“Is there anything I should know before meeting him?” Justine ventured.
“You should know,” the elf replied without looking at her, “that evil is not tolerated here in Sanctuary. That goes for evil deeds and creatures of an inherently evil nature. The punishment for such things is death, swiftly delivered.”
Justine swallowed. She didn’t trust herself to say anything, so she said nothing instead. They were headed towards a small cottage at the far side of the garden that was as perfectly picturesque as the rest of the… room? Could you even really call it a room? Once through the door of the cottage Justine suddenly found herself in the harsh fluorescent illumination of a corporate hallway. It was a very nice hallway with pretty paintings and leather furniture along the walls and potted plants with those big, broad leaves that were actually real instead of silk. At the end of the hall was a fancy wooden door with a brass plaque that simply read: THE WIZARD.
“I guess this really is the kind of place where you should expect the unexpected,” Justine said. Behind her she could still hear the birds chirping away.
“This way please,” the secretary told her, as though Justine hadn’t spoken at all.
Justine set her jaw and followed. If she was indeed marching to her doom, then she would at least face it with the dignity and grace her kind was known for. The elf woman opened the fancy door for her, and Justine caught the barest hint of disdain in those clear blue eyes before it was quickly hidden behind a neutral mask.
Justine felt her spine straighten. She raised her chin, thrust out her ample chest, and squashed a sudden urge to rip the woman’s throat out. How dare this woman, elven or otherwise, treat her in this manner when she knew Justine not at all? No matter what sort of creature she was, was not the point, indeed the entire mission, of Sanctuary to provide a safe haven for supernatural beings? As such she was well within her rights to appeal for a place within its boundaries. She looked the elven woman straight in the eyes, mustered a swagger, and marched through the doorway with her head held high.
On the other side of the fancy door she found a rather modest office. It was not terribly large; comfortable, but not spacious. Against the wall to the left there were bookshelves full of books from every age; ancient grimoires sat next to comedic paperbacks, and piles of arcane scrolls were wedged atop hardcover first editions of classic literature. There was a plant in one corner that kept furling and unfurling its long, tendrilous leaves. The center of the room held a very nice oak desk that had a long, coiling dragon carved on the front of it, and each corner was carved to look like a small tree. Seated behind the desk was a man who looked to be in his sixties. He sported a grey beard, neatly trimmed, and receding grey hair over intense blue eyes. He was wearing a very nice black suit that flattered his trim figure, and he was playing some sort of noisy game on his smartphone.
“Oh, sorry,” he said as she came in, and he put the phone away, “I’ll finish that level later. Please, have a seat.”
He gestured across the desk to the two chairs that faced it, and began rifling through some papers in a drawer. Justine took a seat, the leather creaking as she sat down. They were probably very expensive; only very expensive chairs were ever this tastefully uncomfortable.
“Thank you for taking the time to see me, Mr. Wizard, sir,” Justine said.
“Oh, please don’t call me that,” he replied, making a face, “Do you know how old that makes me feel? Woof. Now you are… Justine! Aha! I have your application right here.”
He pulled out a sheaf of papers and began to page through them. A small sketch of her was paper-clipped to the front.
“My application?” she asked, “I don’t remember filling out an application.”
“Oh. You didn’t,” he replied without offering any further explanation.
Justine soundlessly opened and closed her mouth a few times, then she smiled and shook her head as she chuckled quietly to herself. The wizard cocked an eyebrow at her.
“Something funny?” he asked, a smile touching his own lips.
“I’m sorry,” Justine replied, “It’s just that… Well, this wasn’t what I was expecting.”
“Oh, you get used to it after a while,” he said as he leafed through the final pages of her application, “Well, it looks like everything is in order here, so let’s move on to the interview. It’s very simple; I just have one question for you: why should I let a vampire such as yourself into Sanctuary?”
He folded his hands and looked at Justine expectantly. The question was simple and straightforward, and had been asked without hint of any intended spite or prejudice. So why did she suddenly feel such a rush of anger? Perhaps because there was prejudice in the question, even if the Wizard had not intended for there to be. She was being discriminated against because of what she was: a vampire. Justine tried to swallow her anger and force herself to be calm with some success.
“You say that like being a vampire counts against me,” she said.
“Well, to be completely truthful, it does. This would be a lot more straightforward if it was just a matter of racism, but surely you understand that it’s not that simple. Vampires are predators: you feed on humans. That’s a fact. And there are a lot of vampires out there that are very happy with what they are and enjoy killing people. Now, I created Sanctuary as a haven where supernatural beings could be protected, so I need to be very careful before I go and let a potentially dangerous predator in. Now, I’m not saying that you’re like that. Maybe you’re not. That’s what this interview is for. But there have been times in the past that I have accepted vampires into Sanctuary, and I ended up having to put them down because all they were really looking for was asylum. Now I’m a little more cautious. So, I want you to tell me why you’re different. Why should I let you in?”
Justine gazed down at her hands in her lap. Her fingers dug into the black fabric of the dress she wore, and she could feel the nails pressing into the skin underneath. She forced her fingers to straighten, and she laid her palms flat. So that was how it would be.
“Then maybe you shouldn’t,” she told him, “because I was like that, when I was younger. When I was first turned, I loved to feed; I loved the thrill of the hunt. It was like a game: drawing them in, getting them to trust me, and then taking their lives slowly, watching it ebb away as I fed and fed on their blood. And the rush,” she shuddered, “Nothing comes close; no drink or drug or sexual pleasure can match the feeling of another’s lifeblood singing through your cold, dead veins. So maybe I’m not a good fit for your little wildlife preserve. Maybe you should just put me down, too.”
“Is that what you want?” he asked, “Is that why you came here?”
“No. Of course not. I came here because I can’t stand it anymore. I don’t want to go back, but I can’t change what I am.”
That’s right, you can’t.
“What do you mean you ‘can’t stand it anymore’?” the Wizard asked.
“Feeding. I can’t take it. I hate it. The pleasure I get can never outweigh the horrible guilt I feel, the pain of my sins.”
But it feels so good.
“So what’s changed?” the Wizard was asking as he took a sip of coffee. Had he always had a mug of coffee?
“Everything,” Justine replied, “We’re all changing. Surely you’ve noticed? It’s their world now. The humans. I’ve watched it happen over the years. I mean, I’m not that old, as far as vampires go. I’m barely out of my first century. But even so I have seen the rise of science, exploration, technology. They’ve all done their part to fight back the shadows, and now we creatures of the darkness have precious few places to hide anymore. And since we couldn’t keep hiding in the darkness we needed to integrate ourselves into human society. But the fact is, we can’t stay hidden in plain sight forever. They’re becoming more and more aware of us, and what’s more, they’re accepting us. Just take a look at their literature over the past fifty years. Vampires have gone from mysterious monsters to tragic and yet noble figures.”
“Are you telling me that those books-,” the Wizard began. His coffee mug was gone.
“It’s not just ‘those books,’” Justine cut in, “Look at any recent piece of media about vampires. We’ve become sympathetic. And as the humans’ perceptions of us are changing, we are changing to fit those perceptions. I have seen a vampire face full daylight to protect a woman he loved. Loved. How is it that we can feel love? We who have no beating hearts? And yet it’s true. We’re changing, we’re feeling, we’re becoming something that we’ve never been before. That is why I can no longer enjoy feeding. That is why I am so wracked with guilt. I can’t bear the pain I inflict on others anymore.”
“If what you’re saying is true,” said the Wizard, “if you really are changing and being accepted into human society, then why come here? Why leave behind that change and acceptance? What are you running from?”
It was a good question. There were creatures out there that would kill to have the kind of tolerance that vampires enjoyed within human society. No one saw a bridge troll as sexy. But there was a part of her that hated it, that longed for an ancient woodland on a moonless night and sweat and blood and fear. It was a part of her that felt primordial, as the night itself, something deep and thirsty.
That is your true self, your essence. You are a vampire, you cannot change that.
“I’m afraid,” she finally admitted, “I’m afraid of losing myself. I’m afraid that we’ll keep changing until eventually vampires will become something so different from what we began as that we’re going to lose something… integral. My last prey was a young man, a sad boy who felt like an outcast. People like that have always been the easiest for me to manipulate. But when it came time for me to feed on him, he welcomed me with open arms. He wanted me to feed on him, begged me to turn him… and I couldn’t. I couldn’t bring myself to do that to him. It was the first time in over a hundred years that I have ever been unable to feed on someone, and it was then that I knew that I had become something else.”
Something weak. You should have killed him.
“I see,” the Wizard said, and Justine suddenly became aware that he was gazing intently at a notepad and writing furiously.
“Are you… taking notes?” she asked.
“Yep,” he replied without stopping or even looking up, “This is all really very fascinating.”
Again Justine felt that deep, cold anger, and she suddenly envisioned herself leaping across the desk, sinking her fangs into this man’s neck, bleeding him dry and watching all of that power come to naught. She took a deep breath and swallowed. He’d certainly kill her before she could even touch him, and besides, that wasn’t what she wanted to be anymore.
But you can’t escape it.
“Very well,” she said, forcing the thoughts from her mind, “At any rate, I think I’ve made my case. When can I expect your answer?”
He placed his notepad and pencil upon the desk next to her application.
“Immediately,” he replied, “I’ve made up my mind already.”
Justine felt her gut tighten. If she’d had a heartbeat, she imagined it would be racing.
“Justine,” the Wizard said to her, “I’m afraid I cannot let you into Sanctuary.”
She felt as though someone had pulled the chair out from under her. So that was it, she was going to die.
You can probably at least do some damage before you go. Maybe you can even take him with you.
No. That wasn’t how she wanted her life to end. She didn’t want to be ‘put down’ like some cornered animal. Or a monster. She would face her end with equanimity, like a civilized creature. After all, she had already died once. Death held no surprises for her.
Then the Wizard said, “I’m sorry, but you’re just not ready yet.”
Justine’s dark eyes snapped up to meet the Wizard’s own cool gaze.
“’Yet?’” she echoed.
“It seems to me that something very interesting is happening to your kind, and I would be curious to see it go a little further. You’re reconnecting with humans, and in doing so you are rediscovering your humanity. You’re not losing yourself, Justine, you’re finding yourself. You should explore your feelings. Explore your capacity for love. Love is a wonderful thing, a powerful thing. Love can break boundaries. It can beat overwhelming odds. Love can create miracles. Just look at all of the curses and evil enchantments that have been broken by the power of love. Have you really thought about what the real reason was that you couldn’t bring yourself to feed on that young man? Once you’ve done that, then maybe you’ll be ready.”
For a moment Justine just sat in stunned silence.
“Then you’re not going to kill me?” she finally said, her voice barely above a whisper.
“No, I’m not.”
“I just poured my heart out to you,” she said slowly, “And you’re just going to brush that aside so I can become some sort of… pet science project?”
He gave her a look.
“That’s putting it a bit harshly,” he said, “But that’s not what this is. It’s much bigger than that. This could potentially lead to peaceful coexistence between vampires and humans.”
“I did not come here for your academic interest!” she fairly shouted. Her fangs itched.
“His name is Marcus,” the Wizard said to her, eyes locked upon her own, “He is tall. His hair is long and dark. You think that he has the most amazing eyes. And he is still alive. That is why you came here.”
The words were a cold shock. The torrent of dark emotions that had been stirring within her died away, slinking back into some cold, shadowy corner or her being. She hadn’t seen Marcus since that day. She couldn’t bear to, even though she felt such longing. Now she began to think, maybe it wasn’t just his blood she was longing for.
“But, I don’t want to go back,” she told the Wizard, “I can’t go back to my old life. I could hurt someone. I could hurt him.”
“Well, what kind of wizard would I be if I didn’t give you a gift?” he said.
Then he opened one of the drawers of his desk and handed Justine a small velvet pouch. Inside was a necklace with a blood red stone pendant.
“It’ll help to curb your thirst,” he explained.
He suddenly looked at his watch and stood up. Justine automatically rose to her feet as well.
“Oh, I have another meeting to go to. Hey, I’m really sorry things didn’t work out today, but you’re always welcome to apply again at a later date,” he moved around the desk and shook her hand, “It was very nice meeting you, Justine. Anya will show you back out to the front.”
And he disappeared. There was a pop as the space he had occupied was suddenly vacated.
For a moment Justine just stood there staring at the little bag in her hand. There was indeed something soothing about it.
You cannot change what you are.
But what I am can change.
She turned and opened the fancy door of the Wizard’s office.
The world suddenly felt full of possibilities.