Writings: Familar

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Kissmate and I watched Vampires vs. The Bronx this week on Netflix and it was lovely and creative and wonderful. Very highly recommend. But one scene got my brain churning; there's the fun cliché of the extremely-old and ostensibly-competent master vampire abusively dressing down their human familiar in a way that practically screams "you might as well betray me, because I'm never going to turn you like you wanted!"

I don't blame VTB for engaging in a fun cliché that dates back to Blade at the very least, to be clear! I love me some fun cliché. But it got me thinking: Yes, this is a fast and easy way to characterize vampires as evil, but we need some subversions of this trope. Someone can be evil without being an ineffective manager who cultivates betrayal. I wanna see a vampire who carefully vets their familiars, turns the ones who are a good fit for the master and their children, and offers severance packages to the rejects they decide not to turn. That seems like it would make for a stronger coven that can collectively survive any threat: survival of the fittest through diversity, cooperative, and loyalty.

Plus, when you offer generous severance packages to your "failed" familiars, you avoid a situation where you've hired a bunch of humans, told them all your weaknesses, given them the keys to your safe house, and then told them they'd better kill you before you kill them. That's a recipe for getting your safe house burned down at high noon!

I wanted to write two scenes. One scene is that of a rejected familiar being offered other options so that he doesn't default to betrayal as the only remaining choice left to him. The second involves a captured human offering a vampire their help to "overthrow" the vampire's sire, only to be informed that the sire has cultivated loyalty from his children by being respectful and competent and a good leader. Sure, he's evil but that doesn't make him bad at managing his people!


"Master? Can we, uh, that is- Do you have a moment to talk? With me?" John shifted his weight nervously from foot to foot while desperately wishing he could loosen his necktie. It felt too tight, like he couldn't breathe, though he knew it was just nerves. Ten years of performance reviews in the corporate world before he'd changed jobs, so you'd think he'd be used to this sort of thing by now. But usually the stakes weren't quite so dire: immediate death vs. eternal life.

"I have many moments." The vampire's favorite joke, John knew. "I can surely spare one for you. What's on your mind, John? Sit down. Would you like to close the door?"

"Uh, yes! Thank you." John had already been lunging for the comforting embrace of the visitor's seat in front of the huge mahogany desk and now had to reverse direction to get the door. The polished wood felt warm in his hands, but maybe he was just clammy. He wondered how he smelled to his employer, all nerves and sweat and anxiety. He hoped the scent wasn't appealing enough to arouse the vampire's hunger.

"What did you want to talk about?" His master settled into the ornate chair behind the desk, steepling his fingers and looking pleasantly at John. He was all smiles now, but John knew how rapidly that could change if the vampire were crossed. He cleared his throat.

"Well, sir, I've been with you as your personal assistant--" his employer preferred that term to the more commonly used 'familiar' that the rest of the community applied to John, "--for five years now. Five years next Tuesday, to be precise. We said, er, that is to say- You said you would evaluate my application at that time. To receive the gift, sir."

"Has it been five years already? Time is such a funny thing," the vampire mused. John knew those five years meant little to his master, just a drop in the bucket of his thousand-years lifespan, but it meant the world to himself. His face in the mirror had begun to show wrinkles around the eyes and he now had more silver hairs than otherwise. He dyed religiously, of course, and expected to get a little work done with a plastic surgeon soon, but time was his enemy now.

He wondered if he should say more but knew from experience that his master preferred not to be interrupted when he lapsed into thought. The vampire relished a good conversational pause to work through his decisions. John, who was a doer first and a thinker second--an asset in his old life, back in his corporate days!--found these long silences torturous. Still, he couldn't deny he preferred his slow and thoughtful master over his impulsive peers; John had witnessed other familiars bled out and slain on the spot for the smallest and pettiest of mistakes, worse even than interrupting.

"John, I want to be honest with you." That sort of beginning never boded well but John forced his smile to remain steady. "You've done good work for me and I have no complaints with your performance. But I have a policy of only turning vampires who have a certain--" he searched for a word, seeming disappointed by the offerings available in English and eventually settling upon, "--camaraderie with myself and my children. After five years working with you, I just do not believe you are a good match. I do not intend to settle the eternal gift on you, John. I am sorry."

John blinked at his master, feeling the blood drain from his face. His master went on. "Now, I understand this is a disappointment in your plans. Let me outline your options." His steepled fingers curled inwards so he could tick each finger off as he spoke. "One, you can accept that you will live and die as a human. You can leave my employ with a generous severance package and return to the workforce, or you can continue on here as an assistant until such time as you wish to retire. I take good care of my employees and there's no reason you shouldn't live a life of comfortable luxury. Two, you can continue to reach for eternal life in the employ of another vampire. I can write a personal letter of recommendation for you and you can seek placement as a familiar elsewhere." His master hesitated before adding, "I would advise you to choose wisely, but the choice is yours if you want it."

Silence followed while John tried not to squirm in his seat. Eventually he decided this was not one of his master's pauses after all, but rather it was his turn to speak. "That's... it? I either continue working for you forever, without receiving your gift, or I leave? After everything I've done? All this time I've given you? I'm just supposed to go?"

His master's smile was tinged with sadness, but it was hard to look past the pointy teeth in order to see the sorrow. "Well, no. The third option is that I can kill you now if you find my decision impossible to accept. I would prefer not to, of course, but sometimes the old ways are still useful. Take your time before you answer. There is no rush."


Cali was beginning very much to regret volunteering for this assignment. Rafe had wanted the job but Cali just had to open her big mouth and insist their mistress give it to her instead. Breaking into a rival vampire's coven-house seemed like her chance to shoot the moon: yes, it was risky and dangerous, but once she recovered the trinket her mistress was after then Cali would be free to ask for her heart's desire. Maybe several heart's desires, even.

And that was the crackerjack thinking that led to her being chained up in this shitty dungeon. Well, technically it was more of an apartment building's basement laundry, but there was the faint coppery scent of blood under all the usual smells of detergent and building mold. You couldn't work for long as a vampire's familiar without becoming intimately attuned to the presence of blood. How many outfits had Cali been forced to throw away because her mistress got a little too carried away disciplining one of her other familiars? Too many.

"Psst. Hey. Hey!" She rattled her chains at the vampire guard posted by the door. The woman was leaning with her back to the wall and her eyes closed, but Cali knew they didn't sleep. Her hair was tied back in a thick braid that fell forward over one shoulder and a tattered packet of cigarettes peeked out of the breast pocket of her shirt. "Hey, you!"

"Hey you, yourself," the vampire replied in a casual drawl, not opening her eyes. "Whatdya want now?"

"I want to be let go," Cali demanded, annoyed at having to repeat herself. "I don't think you heard me when you were dragging me down here and chaining me up--" she slammed full throttle into her Want To Speak To The Manager tone and prayed this would work, "--but I am a familiar. Detaining me or causing me harm is an assault on the rights of my mistress. You have no standing and--"

"--and if we were on neutral ground that would mean something, Princess." The woman cut her off, sounding bored. "But we aren't so it doesn't. Breaking into a coven-house isn't something a vampire can just do without repercussions. If your mistress told you otherwise, that's your problem."

She hadn't, but Cali didn't feel like that admission was helpful to her case at this time. Hesitating, she tried another tone. "Well... maybe I need a new mistress. One who can take better care of me. I don't suppose you--"

"Not in the market."

"Oh, but you should be!" Cali enthused, determined not to be put off. "Or, even better: you could sire me. How many children have you made? I could be your first, what do you think?" She held up her wrists in offer, trying to ignore the heaviness of the chains pulling against her. "The two of us, working together? You wouldn't have to be pushed around by your master any longer. I could help you with him."

The vampire opened her eyes now--Cali could see the faint glow across the dim basement--but instead of the desire Cali hoped to awaken in those depths, she only saw exasperation. "Honey, you are barking up the entirely wrong tree. Didn't your mistress tell you anything about us?"

Sighing, she left her post by the door and walked over to squat eye-level with the restrained human. "I worked for Magus for ten years before he turned me. Knew him for five years before that. That's fifteen years he vetted me to make sure we worked well together. And we do. He treats me with respect, listens to my suggestions, and never forgets my Christmas bonus, even during that one lean decade when we had to live off pigs. But come Christmas morning there was a milkman in my stocking, red ribbon and everything. After all that, you think I'm looking for help to overthrow him? Honey, you can't buy the kind of loyalty I have for the man."

Tsking her disapproval, she checked Cali's restraints over before standing again. "Now, it's just possible that he'll go easy on you for this because you are a familiar and maybe didn't know any better and additionally you seem kinda not very smart. Or maybe he won't." She shrugged and took her place by the door again. "If you want my advice, it'd be to settle in and get some patience. The end always comes sooner than you want it to."


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