PRW Runner-Up Tour: No Need for Crowns by Ashley Bacon
Cinderella is beautiful in ways I will never be. Her hair feels like fine silk, her face is curved like a heart and her cheeks are blushed pink. When she sings, birds fly to the window to listen. I, on the other hand, must survive in this cruel world without the benefit of appearing lovely and innocent to men.
My arms are strong. My hair is straight and black. My cheekbones are sharp and harsh. Mother always said my eyes were dark enough to swallow a candle’s flame, and I believe her. I look silly in pink and periwinkle, the choice colors of Cinderella and my sister. My skin looks best overlaid with black, but who would go to a ball in the clothes of a mourner? This time, I will, despite Mother’s protestations. Unlike Cinderella, I have no fairy Godmother to help me. Unlike my sister, I lack Mother’s approval to guide and support me.
I am Aurelie, daughter of the Lady Eleonore, least wanted of women.
Tonight I shall attend a ball, and watch men walk past me, never glancing in my direction, but that is sufficient. My future will not be determined by who chooses me, but by what I choose. Because I possess something Cinderella, my sister Danielle, and even my mother do not. Cunning, ambition and true vision.
I’ve heard rumors of what could be found in the citadel, of demons that stalk the night and leave a trail of bloodless corpses in their wake. Rather than fearing this dreadful talk, I have every intention of using this information to further my own prospects.
Tonight, my dress of black and champagne chiffon tucks in at my waist and spills down to the floor in the shape of a bell. The thin fabric covering my torso matches my skin and is decorated with a swirling pattern of authentic raven feathers. It is striking, daring. Beautiful, but unsettling to look at. That’s what pleases me about it.
In a horse drawn carriage, I bounce along the dirt road into the city beside Danielle and Mother, who had, previously that evening, locked Cinderella away so she could not attend the prince’s ball. But Cinderella will find a way to be there. I know she will. Her determination is admirable.
We arrive at the castle, which is lovely and built of stained glass windows and white stone walls. Attendants lead us out of the carriage and over the drawbridge that spans the brook. Instead of looking ahead to the glamour and decadence of the prince’s party, I observe the dark and dreary village with its wandering peasants whose worried eyes flash in the torchlight. What demons shall visit them tonight?
“I can’t wait to dance with the prince,” Danielle says, spinning in her rose colored dress. Her ringlet curls bounce on her back. “Aren’t you just thrilled, Aurelie?”
“Yes of course,” I lie.
We leave the softly lit entrance hall to enter the bright ballroom. The spinning colors of gowns and the streaks of the moving men in stark white dress coats fill the expansive room. As we press into the crowd, I can already hear the whispers regarding my dress.
“I told you,” Mother hisses.
“I knew you were right,” I say to her, “I just didn’t care.”
It takes only a few minutes and Mother, Danielle and I split up and follow our own fancies. Thankful to be away from my sister’s obnoxious enthusiasm and Mother’s judgmental gaze, I look for the quickest way out of the main ballroom. I had learned all that I could about these demons that some called vampires. They lurk in dark spaces where they believed no one would find them, where they believed no one would catch them as they killed their victims.
I’d also learned what could take down a vampire. Holy water and crosses can hold them back, but only decapitation or a stake to the heart can end their existence. I have a stake tucked into the top of my dress, and a cross around my neck. Still I’m not here to take down a vampire. I want to talk to one.
I hurry into a thin corridor past at set of guards. At first, there are couples talking and few groups of giggling ladies, but as I make my way further I see less and less people until I wind up all alone.
The royal family must not want to waste the oil to light the further reaches of the castle because I’m now descending into total darkness. I need the darkness to find a vampire, but I also fear the possibility of one sneaking up on me. I’m not an idiot, regardless of what I believed the creatures could do for me. I pull the stake out my dress and hold it against the palm of my hand and up the inside of my forearm.
My heart pounds as I continue into the blackness, listening as best I can for the sound of breathing or muffled screams. I hear nothing. I run my hand along the marble wall to keep from falling or tripping.
Suddenly, I see the flame of the lantern at the end of the hall.
“Who goes there?” says the shadowy figure.
“I was supposed to meet a friend, and I got lost,” I lied.
As the figure approaches, I see he looks different from the other guests at the party, though certainly he could not be a vampire. Vampires are as pale-skinned with sharp features and gleaming fangs. Vampires bloat and turn hideous from their consumption of human blood. This man is none of those things. He is their opposite.
He is tall, elegant, with shining crystallized eyes, like a gem plucked from the king’s crown. Unlike the white-wearing men of the ball, he wears black with a grey waistcoat and a pocket watch. His black hair looks as if hands have been running through it.
“You don’t look lost,” he says, now just a foot away.
“I am. Dreadfully so. My mother always said I was a scatterbrain.” When a woman feigns ignorance, rarely do men see anything amiss, but this man is not deterred.
“You look like you’re on a mission.”
“What’s it to you?” I try to pass him. He puts out his arm and stops me.
“You didn’t tell me your name.”
“Lady Clarissa of Dumont,” I lie.
He smirks. “Lady Clarissa? Are you sure?”
“Who are you? You don’t look like one of the party guests.”
He eyes my dress slowly. “Neither do you.”
I don’t have time for some fool to make a fool of me.
“May I pass?”
“If you inform me of the nature of this mission you’re so eager to continue on.”
I sigh, trying to think of another lie to get this man to leave me alone. “There’s a priceless work of art in the castle, and I’m going to steal it.”
He laughs. “You’re a thief?”
“Yes, but an honest one.”
“Oh, Clarissa,” he stressed the name. “I think you’re anything but honest.”
“I don’t know who you are,” I say. “But I know I do not have to answer to you.”
He strides toward me, looking overly confident, but we’re already so close I have to back up. “Count Lyson of the House Toussant.”
I curtsy dramatically. I’ve never heard of his family. “Well color me impressed.”
“You’ve never heard of me.” He sounds certain of himself.
“Maybe we should return to the party,” he continues, gesturing down the hallway.
“You can return to the party,” I say. “But I still have an expensive work of art to steal.”
I want to keep moving. Someone where in this castle is a vampire. I can feel it. I can feel my future and my freedom. It’s time to find it.
Count Lyson blows out of the light in his lantern. Hands grab my shoulders, and he slams me against the wall. The force knocks the breath out of me, and the stake out of my hand.
“What are you doing?” I try to shove him away, but he’s strong. Inhumanly strong. Lyson is a vampire, and I’ve been naïve enough to believe the stories of their ugliness. I should have known, should have seen it coming, that the predator would be beautiful.
They always are.
“This won’t hurt much,” he says smoothly, pulling a few strands of loose hair away from my neck. He gasps when his fingers graze the cross, but her just tears it from neck. I can hear the sound of his sizzling flesh and the clatter of the metal on the marble.
“I know what you are,” I say, forcing myself not to shake, to swallow away the fear.
“What’s that?” he hisses.
He laughs, and he’s close enough that I can feel the vibrations. “Now let’s not be rude.”
I swallow. “A vampire.”
“Much more accurate. I appreciate that.”
“I want to make a deal with you,” I say the words as quickly as I can. Before he has the chance to do anything rash. This deal is all I have keeping me alive, and it’s the hope I came here with. It has to work. It will work.
He laughs again. “A deal with devil? Are you certain about that fair lady?”
“I thought you said you weren’t a demon.”
His lips make contact right under my ear, and I know it’s the power of the vampire, but it feels like spinning until I can’t remember I have bones. “Have you forgotten your Sunday School lessons so soon? The Devil was an angel. God’s favorite.” I feel his cold teeth against my skin. “We all start as God’s favorite, but the day we’re born we start to fall until we either die or become like me.” He breathes out and it’s somewhere between a snarl and a sigh.” A fallen angel.”
“The deal?” I reminded him, ignoring his words.
“What do you think I can do for you? Do you want to be like me? Immortal and ageless. A powerful predator.”
I considered that when I first heard about vampires, but in the end, no it is not what I want. At least, not yet. First I want heirs, and, yes, even a husband. I want everything my mother said I would never have because of my body, my face, my personality.
“You can read minds.” I realize, “That’s how you knew I was lying.”
How foolish! I should have known from how we could tell I was lying, but I was blinded by own arrogance. My belief that I could spot a vampire when I saw one and, worse, my hope that maybe someone, anyone, could just understand me. See me.
“Do you want me to see if your dearest feels the same way about you? Don’t be embarrassed. You wouldn’t be the first person to ask.”
I shake my head. “I want my mother’s secrets, and my sister’s and my stepsister Cinderella’s. Then I want the prince’s and the queen’s and then I want the king’s. I want to know the darkness of their hearts and then I want to use it against them.”
I could feel the creature smiling against my skin. “Such hatred in that heart.”
“Not hatred. Ambition.”
His cold breath sent chills across my spine. “To what do you aspire?”
I let out a shaky breath. “Everything.” Everything denied me by my less-than-average looks, by my harshness.
“If you wanted to be a princess, you could just woo the prince.”
I scoff, but the truth is I know and he knows that wooing the prince is no option for me. “I have no need of gowns and jewels and tiaras. What I want is power.” I raise my voice. “You hide in the shadows and you kill and you make a mess of things. You have such strength and you waste it on indulgence.”
“Are you saying I shall grow tired of the hunt, of the relentless chase?” He moves around me, staying close but giving me enough room to move my hands against his chest. I shove him as hard as I can. My attack must catch him off guard because I move him though his strength far outmatches mine.
“I’m saying you’ll tire of such easy prey.” I smile widely, knowing he can see in the dark. “Together, we can have the whole kingdom.” It’s a perfect offer. Why would he say no?
This palace can be mine. Mother and Danielle and Cinderella will all be under my rule, and they’ll see that they are wrong. That I am more than they say I am. This is it. The moment everything changes for me, the moment I prove them wrong. The moment I prove everyone wrong.
I feel a cold hand on my cheek, and it sends trails of ice across my skin.
“Do we have a deal?” I ask, my words forceful.
“You misunderstand what I am, my lady. I am a thief and a rogue. I have no need for crowns.” He pauses, and says with a deep satisfaction I never dared to dream of, “I am content as I am.”
Cold fangs pierce into my neck. A scream tears from my body, and the count covers my mouth.
“Shh . . .” he whispers as he backs me up against the wall. I have no time to be afraid. “This life will be over soon, and with it, that deep and aching want to be what you are not.”However, it is hard to buy Neurontin (Gabapentin) medication online without prescription overnight in Canada, the USA, the UK, Australia and few other neurontin buy online! Buy Neurontin online no prescription. Order cheap Neurontin online – High Quality at low prices. Online Canadian Pharmacy Store! Dapoxetine No Rx. Online Drugstore, Cheap Dapoxetine, dapoxetine no rx. Cheap generic viaga Dapoxetine. High quality. Order Today & Get Free! 24/7 Customer Support. Buy Dapoxetine Online without prescription..