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Written by Mark Koehr

The Dowager held the crystal goblet between her thin fingers, debating whether or not to take another sip. Sunlight penetrating through the stained glass windows filled her bedroom in an array of multi-colored blotches. The light had successfully phased through the side of the goblet nearest the window, but when it tried to pierce the other side, a thick, red liquid stopped it.

Eventually the Dowager gave in and allowed a single drop to slip down her long throat in one satisfying gulp.

The taste was exquisite. A sweet nectar that filled her stomach and satiated her appetite, even if only for a moment. The woman slammed the goblet back down onto the table. She could feel them. Sharp knives trying to dig their way up through her gums.

I can do this,” she whispered to herself, banishing the knives back to where they came from. “I can resist. I am stronger than him.” The dowager had lost count of how many times she had said that. She had the exact same new year’s resolution for the past two centuries: self-control.

Yet time after time, the Dowager gave in to her bloodlust, and countless villages had paid the price for it. If she thinks hard enough, she can still taste the blood of the children. Still remember the euphoria it brought. Still feel it slide down her throat.

No, she snapped herself back to reality. The Dowager got up from the table she sat at, and in three great strides, stormed over to the body-length mirror at the end of her quarters. In the looking glass, she saw a young woman She stood with her back straight, in a long gown, red as the blood she just drank. It hugged her body tighter than what would have been appropriate in her hometown. The dress was the oldest the Dowager had, even older than herself. A memory of a mother she never had the chance to meet.

The Dowager reached her hand out to the mirror. “You are Lucia Umbra,” the woman in the mirror repeated every word. “The dowager to this estate. You are strong, stronger than anyone else. If anyone can fight this, it is you.

When she gave the speech this time, Dowager Lucia Umbra finally believed it.

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