Being a Vampire is, broadly, like being ‘white’ or ‘black’. That is, it’s a huge umbrella term for a very large and diverse group of individuals, and almost uselessly vague. The only thing that identifies one of the undead as a vampire is feeding on blood. Kumiho, Vampyrs, Draugr, Strix, Were-Mosquitos, Leech-Men, Camazotz, there are a shocking variety of myths about creatures that feed on blood, usually risen corpses. So, where the hell does the generic vampire with its daylight allergy, superhuman strength and speed, and hypnotic mien come from? How did those start getting made?
And that’s where Vampires get interesting. See, while methods of making new vampires may vary (Fang Fen: Oftentimes gruesomely so; There is at least one vampire breed which reproduces through traumatic insemination.) (Atina: Please tell me that they don’t live in this country.) (Fang Fen: Just change your sheets if you ever get a bed-bug infestation. Trust me on this.) one thing is a standard. The new spawn starts out as a bog-standard ‘Vampire’. Supernaturally tough and strong, though not really much more than a really fit human would be. But that’s about it. They don’t get any fancy powers, or interesting quirks. They are, essentially, just a blood-sucking weak-as-shit undead. (Fang Fen: There are said to be certain minor tells, but these are close-kept secrets among the bloodlines. I do not know of any that are widely known.)
The only way for a vampire to become one of those specialty breeds I talked about is to be recognized by their maker in some way. Usually, this involves some education, reciting of bloodlines, that kind of thing. For some reason, knowing your blood’s past changes you. And this is why most undead are edgy about vampires. See, blood is important. Power gets passed on through blood. And vampires are the only undead who can pass their power on to those they create. The spawn of an ancient and powerful vampire, fully recognized, is perhaps half as their maker.
Now, considering that most Undead start out weak-as-shit and take a long time to get more powerful, this is a real game-changer. There were terrible and brutal wars fought over these things. There aren’t a lot of old vampires left, and most of the vampires in the world today are either insular and clannish, or the kind of generic vampire crap we’re talking about here. Some people think that if one of the generic small-fry lived long enough, they’d be able to start developing a new bloodline of Vampires, but nobody’s seen it happen yet. (Fang Fen: Nor are they likely to. Lady Ann Willing’s attitude towards vampires is typical of most powerful Undead. An unattached vampire is liable to be executed on the drop of a hat for crimes that would be cause for probation with others.)
Powers and weaknesses
Like I said, vampires actually don’t tend to be that interesting. They’re rarely old enough, if they’re not of a bloodline, to get any of the cool tricks that some of the older Undead can do. Stronger than a normal human, tougher than a normal human, but at the point of birth, not by much. Someone with a bit of training could kill one fairly easily with perfectly normal means. This means, though, that they also have relatively few weaknesses. Garlic works sometimes, Holy water always works but usually just acts as a nasty blister agent unless you get a lot on them or expose them to it for a while, and holy symbols can work if you really believe in them. (Alfred: I’ve suggested Atina flash her law degree at them, but apparently not even she believes in it.) (Atina: Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’d be better off with the cross.)
The funny thing is that to my knowledge, a wooden stake DOES work, and paralyzes them quite effectively, leaving them helpless. But of course, that’s not really all that much of a weakness. You pound a wooden steak through my heart, and I’d be dead as a door knob, whereas with them, it’s a non-lethal method of subduing them.
On the blood-drinking thing: It does, in fact, need to be human blood. Vampires tend to have a lot of ways around this, though. Ever found a cut on your body that wasn’t there before? Maybe you got grazed by a vampire, they licked up a little blood, and bam. They don’t need a lot of the stuff, maybe a pint a month for newborns, more if they’re old. Blood is potent as far as sources of life go. That means they can get away with small amounts, and it’s rare that they actually drink someone to death. The only times that should be a real danger is when they’re starving, or when they’ve just been made and have no blood in their body.
Alfred: When a vampire makes a pact with a Postmortologist (Atina: Or as I call them in my case files, Horses.) (Alfred: It’s not Voodoo.) the magic they grant is usually related to blood. It varies from vampire to vampire and wizard to wizard, but mostly, it tends to be thaumaturgical skill. Blood curses, seeing in bowls of blood, that kind of thing, although I have heard there was at least one wizard who became able to charm women incredibly effectively. (Atina: My god, the only explanation for that would have to be a blood oath with a vampire.) Typically, though, such wizards are not particularly powerful, for the aforementioned reasons of most vampires being terribly young. Most of them tend to be in a pre-existing relationship with someone who wound up turned into a vampire.
What the vampire gets out of the pact is usually blood. It usually starts with the wizard letting the vampire drink from them, but then it progresses towards more widespread activities. Hooking them up at bars, working at the Red Cross, those kinds of things. Ironically, Twilight did more to stamp out this breed of wizard than any inquisition ever could have; It’s the rare wizard who’s willing to admit to being into vampires nowadays. (Atina: Which just goes to show that there is truly nobody so nerdy that they can’t find a bigger dork to mock.)
Atina: Because of aforementioned bloody wars, vampires don’t have much in the way of a political presence. As far as I know, in fact, there are no major Vampire-led courts anywhere in the world. They tend to keep things under their hat wherever they go. The one notable exception to this is the Notte Nostra. (Alfred: Italian for ‘Our Night’.)(Atina: Fun fact, the Cosa Nostra is Italian for ‘Our thing’, which is actually pretty charming and witty as far as names for murderous criminal organizations go.)
The Notte Nostra is the closest thing to home most young vampires can hope for. There’s always room for bloodsuckers in the Notte Nostra. Much like the actual Mafia, only a full-blooded Strix, one of the Italian Vampires, can reach a level of real power there. Nonetheless, the Notte Nostra provide a safe haven for vampires. (Fang Fen: And, incidentally, are one of the reasons why I wish that Lady Willing were more open to accepting orphan vampires in the city. The Notte Nostra is an abomination, and we only provide them with more impetus to exist through our oppression of young vampires.) And the reason they still exist is… Well, I’ll let Fen write it in her words, she has a better handle on it than I do.
Fang Fen: Bluntly, it is convenient to have a group of insular outsiders who are not bound by the same laws as others, and who can travel. The Notte Nostra are a useful mercenary force, capable of killing, stealing, and otherwise settling power struggles throughout the Undead world. They function on the outskirts, providing shelter for those who are outside of the law, and providing work for those who break the law. They are scum, and they feed on our own hubris and pride. They are interested in destabilization, because when there is chaos, their services become more valuable, and they can hope to supplant the courts of the Undead.
Atina: Thanks, Fang Fen. As far as I know, the Notte Nostra tends to get credit for a lot more than they actually do, but their headquarters are in New Jersey, which as far as I’m concerned, explains everything about that state. They don’t apparently have any holdings in New York City itself, possibly because of competition from the lawyers for all the available blood. (Alfred: I don’t think these lawyer jokes are healthy for you, Atina. Self loathing and depression are serious issues for legal professionals.)
As mentioned before, vampires are weird. Most Undead grow extremely inflexible as they grow older. They’re the ultimate conservatives, steadily acquiring power as they grow older, and never giving it up. A young, powerful Undead is an oxymoron. But it is conceivable that a vampire could be newborn, and stronger than most of the Undead in the city, if properly recognized. Most of the time, this is counterbalanced by the extremely conservative, even snobby attitude most ancient vampires show. Still… (Fang Fen: Be glad they don’t. Tradition has us living in harmony with humanity, without causing them grief. Change is not always a good thing.)
I’ve never had a case involving vampires yet. Ironically, though, I’ve thought a lot about a vampire paternity suit. The largest issue that vampires tend to have is trying to find out who their maker is, and get them to acknowledge them. If I were to guess at the most likely case to drop into my lap related to vampires, it would be like something out of the Maury show. Figure out who a vampire’s parent is, do a DNA test- Or whatever the supernatural blood curse equivalent is- and forcing them to recognize them.
Fang Fen: This would never work, for a very simple reason. The court would actually have to have some interest in the younger vampire being recognized, and getting the infusion of power it would provide. No court would willingly provide so much power to someone who has not earned it through age and experience. There’s a seniority system at work, here. The desire to be instantly recognized as powerful, and surpass your elders and superiors out of sheer talent, is a folly of youth. Wisdom can only ever come from age. (Atina: Yeah, and yet so many people manage to get old without learning a thing.) (Fang Fen: You mock. But our system prevents radicals from taking hold. Only those with patience, guile, and the ability to go unnoticed by humans make it to old age and power. We must learn to live with humans, for we spend so much time at their mercy.)
Ghouls are strange, even by undead standards. First, they eat dead meat; the older, the better, generally. And it has to be human. Now, that sounds like the kind of thing that would lead to someone being a murderer, but keep in mind that in any given city, far more people are dying of heart attacks or natural causes than getting stabbed. A ghoul is downright spoiled for choice when it comes to food. However, there’s a rather important caveat to this. See, many types of undead are also made out of dead meat. And they tend to be very old.
You’re getting the picture here, right? Mind you, for insubstantial types like ghosts, ghouls are no big deal, although their corpse-desecrating ways can be disturbing. But it doesn’t stop there. Because ghouls, while normally little more than humans with odd dietary restrictions, are also capable of absorbing the power of others through eating their flesh. With a mortal, that means jack squat. With a powerful undead… Yeah. This makes many undead nervous. (Fang Fen: This is not, strictly speaking, a huge concern for most Undead. Ghouls do not grow more powerful as they grow older, the way most Undead do, and so most remain understated, respectable members of society. Humans can attain great power through murder as well, if done properly; And yet most do not.)
Ghouls are usually formed when someone dies of starvation. I’ve asked Fang Fen about the myths of the Wendigo and other related cannibalism curses, but she doesn’t believe in them. (Fang Fen: In the name; undead. To become one, you must first die. I suspect that myths of Wendigo are a simple misordering of events. A person dies, becomes the monster, and then gets the hunger for dead flesh, rather than vice versa. I certainly have never met any ghoul that professed the opposite order.)
Now, the really interesting thing here is that, in fact, ghouls tend to keep down the number of undead in an area. A corpse usually takes a while to rise as undead, and ghouls are naturally attracted to those corpses most. They’re kind of like the snails that you keep in an aquarium who feed on the goo that would normally grow on the walls. (Alfred: I cannot describe how grateful I am that I get to work with the Fae rather than the Undead.)(Fang Fen: Have you never met an Akaname?)(Alfred: No. What are they?)(Atina: You don’t study much outside of Western literature, do you, Alfred? Now stop crowding up the liner notes of my damn case files.)
Ghouls are mostly no different from the human they used to be. No stronger, no faster, no tougher. The one thing that’s really unusual about them is their saliva. Ghouls bites can be paralytic, or infectious, or necrotizing, or any number of things. From what I’ve heard, they start out just paralyzing the things that they lick or bite, but the older they get, the more power they gain. It’s not disease, though it might be mistaken for it. All of this would be goddamn terrifying, except that humans aren’t really very good at biting. Our mouths are awkwardly positioned for it, our jaws don’t open very wide or protrude very far. In other words, in a fight, it’s not too dangerous. (Fang Fen: I would warn you, however, not to kiss a ghoul, or allow it to perform oral sex upon you.) (Atina: Was… there a particular danger of that?) (Fang Fen: I’m told that among other things, their tongues are unusually long, and I’ve heard stories of ghouls saliva being aphrodisiacal. And they do brush their teeth after eating. Undead are rarely asexual, Atina.)
As far as weaknesses go, most ghouls don’t actually have much in the way of weaknesses, and are about as easy to kill as a normal human would be. The one thing about them is more of a revealing issue than anything else: Ghouls can’t eat non-human meat. It makes them violently ill. Most undead can eat meat, even if they don’t derive any nourishment from it. Now, I’m not saying that every vegetarian is secretly a ghoul, but if you know any morticians who also happen to be vegetarians, just keep an eye on them. Holy water doesn’t do much to them, unless they’re unusually powerful.
Alfred: Postmortologists don’t make many pacts with ghouls. Many undead are well-placed, or at least guaranteed to grow more powerful as they age. Ghouls cannot. In fact, I’m not entirely certain that most ghouls even can support a pact, although I knew one woman who claimed she’d gained a supernaturally skilled tongue from a pact with a ghoul, who proceeded to tie a cherry stem into a knot with her tongue. (Atina: That’s an old trick, Alfred. You tie a different cherry stem beforehand, put it in your mouth, and switch them out.)
An exception exists. Once, a visiting professor from the University of Melbourne claimed he had made a pact with a particularly old and powerful ghoul, one who fed regularly on other undead. (Fang Fen: Atina please find out when this professor visited and call me asap) This professor claimed that through this connection, he had gained the ability to take the shape of those who he had eaten from, and demonstrated it with bits of hair from volunteers. It was fairly impressive, though it easily could have been illusions of some kind, save for one incident later that night where he told one of the volunteers’ favorite in-jokes. The evening grew much tenser after that.
To my knowledge, there are a handful of ghouls in Binghamton. None of them are predators on any particularly meaningful Undead, although there are a few nasty rumors that Lady Ann Willing keeps one on retainer for the purpose of dealing with problems she can’t deal with herself. I mostly deal with the quiet types of ghouls, who live their lives peacefully and wouldn’t harm a fly. They’re pretty relaxed, all things considered.
Fang Fen: Even if Lady Ann Willing herself isn’t perfectly capable of handling any problems she may have without resorting to the services of a shadowy cannibal, she’s also not the kind of person. That said, however, there is one cannibalistic ghoul in town who arrived relatively recently. Arthur is a bit of a problem. He used to work in Birmingham as a personal enforcer for one of the courts there. He’s only about 50, but he’s a strong one, nearly as strong as me. I worry that he’s going to cause an incident while he’s here, but he’s kept his nose clean so far. He claims to be a vigilante, only out to kill Undead who have killed humans. I’m not inclined to believe him. (Atina: What’s he look like?)
In general, ghouls have little political power. They could technically apply to be on a night court, but it’d be a terribly foolish move, considering their lack of power for their age. They’d be the first target for assassination or intimidation, and they’d be lucky to get even a meager bribe. They don’t tend to hold important positions. They can, however, be very well-connected if they’re old, precisely because they’re too weak to be a threat.
Oh, this one’s good. Okay, you can already guess where most of these cases are going to come from. Like 90% of cemetery desecration or desecration of a corpse cases are likely to involve a ghoul. Most of them tend to work with cemeteries, or as morticians, or that kind of thing. See, the thing about a ghoul is they don’t have to bite off someone’s arm. They’re perfectly happy scooping out all of those healthy, high-in-nutrients organs and cooking them. I’ve actually known a few ghouls who were quite excellent cooks, though I’d recommend never asking them to share their meals. (Alfred: For God’s sakes, Atina, you’re talking about the bodies of the dead, would it kill you to show a little sensitivity?) (Atina: Okay, confessedly, Alfred has a point here. Ghosts don’t usually arrive JUST because someone ate their body, but it can make an already disturbed and angry ghost even more furious than they were before.)
The thing here is that most of them are very subtle, waiting until a body’s been buried a few weeks. Even the ones working in mortuaries tend to focus on the ones who are being buried, snacking on organs and stuff like that after finishing the autopsy and removal procedures. At most, they might nibble off a few toes or focus on the legs, which are usually out of view. They’re also big fans of cremated corpses, because they can just put a handful of whatever ashes into the urn while enjoying a nice meal that will last them a month.
Now, my client is a mortician- And I won’t tell you his name because of confidentiality, though if you were determined, you’d probably find him. He does great work, just know what you’re getting into if you hire him. Now, he’s got a cremation, and he gets peckish one night, decides ‘Hey, this guy’s not going anywhere.’ Has a big old meal. The next day, the family tells him they’ve changed their mind; They want to bury him, and they want a casket viewing. Well, the police get involved, he calls me, and we come in front of the judge.
There are different laws about corpses in every state. In New York, the relevant law is 145.26, aggravated cemetery desecration in the second degree. The thing is, the law only applied to opening a casket, crypt, or similar vessel that had been buried or interred in a cemetery. It said nothing about what the mortician did to the body before it was buried. They also tried him under the public health law related to opening graves, section 4218. But that law only protected body tissues against being sold, used in dissections, or for ‘malice and wantonness’. I was able to demonstrate that my client had a psychological issue compelling him to eat dead human flesh, proving a lack of malice or wantonness, and getting him off scott free! (Alfred: … Is that really something you’re celebrating?) (Atina: Well, the family sued him in civil court for negligent infliction of emotional distress and made two hundred thousand. I didn’t represent him for that one. So I like to think that everyone won.)
Yes, there are ghosts. I’ve even been told that there’s an afterlife by individuals who would know. Possibly even more than one. Reincarnation might be there, too. None of them have been very clear on how the afterlife works, though. (Alfred: Understand, experimental work with the afterlife is tricky. Remember that story I told you about the french scientist who, on learning he was to be beheaded, devised an experiment to try to figure out how long the human head remained conscious after beheading? Most wizards are not that dedicated.)
Ghosts are a lot simpler, though. Basically, there are two kinds of ghosts. I’ve heard a lot of different names for them, but I’ll describe them as ‘Echos’ and ‘Phantasms’, because it’s usefully descriptive and because that movie scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. And to understand the difference, I’m going to have to talk about the soul.
See, the ‘soul’ exists. Or at least something close enough to fit. There’s this concept, the ‘Monkeysphere'(Alfred: This is also known as ‘Dunbar’s number’.), that says that human beings are only able to maintain a stable social relationship with about 150 people at a time, cognitively. That’s how many ‘people’ you can care about. (Alfred: Technically, the number might be anywhere between 100 and 250.) Your connection to others, and others’ connections to you, is your ‘soul’. That’s what goes on to an afterlife, that’s what demons feed on, that’s apparently also connected in some unclear way to magical ability. (Alfred: I have read entire volumes on the subject. Some people’s ability to do magic is proportional to how well-developed their soul is, others inversely proportional. It’s fascinating, and drives the wizard community nuts. I, for example, grow stronger the more gregarious I am.)(Atina: So he has an excuse to be a philandering ass.)
An Echo is an impression of powerful emotional energy. It works a lot like an actual echo. (Alfred: You’d never make it in the world of higher education with names like those.) Someone who dies while feeling an extremely clear emotion leaves an imprint of themselves on that place. If they kept living, their emotions would ‘smear’ the echo, making it nonsensical and powerless. If other people moved in, the same would happen. So Echos tend to happen when someone dies in some extremely emotional way, somewhere lonely. They’re mostly harmless, and tend to be very weak. They freak people out, but that’s about it. (Alfred: Think of it like a radio signal, getting disturbed by other signals, until it becomes unrecognizable garba)(Atina: Don’t correct my metaphors in my own case files.)
A Phantasm, however, is when someone’s soul doesn’t go to the afterlife. The whole unfinished business thing, basically. These tend to be people who was very focused. You’ve heard of someone who put their heart and soul into their business? That’s basically what we’re talking about. Someone who was obsessed with politics, or their business, or their family, or whatever, becomes a phantasm until whatever they care about- their ‘institution’- is gone. Most of the old businesses in the world have at least one Phantasm who’s working alongside them. Old family lines. That kind of thing. They are also far more powerful than an Echo, and grow more so the longer that thing survives.
Ironically, the most notable power of ghosts is to influence humans. Echoes do most of the poltergeist stuff: twitching books, creating odd lights and sounds, giving people bad dreams, and so forth. That’s about the most that they can do. Their primary weakness is the simple fact that if a human is around, they gradually become more and more smeared until they fade away. They’re not even something that can be called human-like anymore; More like animals than anything else.
Phantasms are a bigger deal. Usually they have strong connections to a human institution. They’re capable of appearing to members of that institution, and their deep familiarity usually lets them educate and help new members of the institution into positions of power so they can remain in control. They’re generally benevolent towards the things they care about, but have a bad habit of being unable to let anyone else take the reins of power. The dead don’t retire. I understand that many corporate name changes have been instituted in an attempt to throw off a persistent phantasm, cutting off their connection to this world. They are also capable of some shocking displays of violence in defense of the things they love. Understandable, since it’s a form of self defense for them.
One of their strangest weaknesses is what I’d refer to as the ‘bloodline’. A Phantasm exists so long as someone descended from them still lives. This tends to make them a little obsessed with human procreation, and as such, they have extremely harsh views about abortions, birth control, and so forth. I know, right? You thought your parents were bad about you having kids, your great-great-great grandparents are a thousand times worse. If their bloodline dies out… Well, I don’t know. They disappear. Maybe they’re gone forever, maybe they just move on to the afterlife. (Fang Fen: I have heard of this. I choose to believe in reincarnation. No thing is meant to live forever; And neither is any thing meant to end forever. I died, and became anew.) (Alfred: The Fae say there is nothing new under the sun, only variations on past themes, and so nothing truly dies. But the same note struck in two different places will mean something entirely different, and a song that only one person knows might disappear forever when they die. A disquieting thought.)
Alfred: Echoes aren’t capable of making pacts, so far as anyone knows. They’re purely emotional beings, with no real capacity to plan. Some Postmortologists do train them and provide wards to keep them whole against emotional interference, using them as a kind of watchdog, watching and stopping any intruders. I personally would prefer a burglar alarm, but some people care more about grandiosity than practicality. (Atina: I cannot believe you have the balls to act as though you aren’t the biggest showboater in the world. You carry a sword around, Alfred.)(Alfred: Swords are extremely practical for their intended purpose.) (Atina: A knife, or a pistol, are practical. A sword is a Menacing charge waiting to happen.)
Phantasms, on the other hand, can make excellent patrons for a pact. They are often old, and powerful. Their price tends to be simple enough; aid in maintaining their institute. They prefer to choose individuals from their institution- descendants are a favorite. Their powers tend to be eclectic, but most relate in some way or another to their institutions, or to establishing places of power. Ghosts are homebodies, and wizards who make pacts with them are likewise, staying in one place and fortifying it till they are comfortable. Some of them create entire pocket worlds in their homes, though they usually get worked pretty hard by the Phantasm. A very rare few have even claimed to contact those the afterlife, though I do not know how reliable their information is.
One of the most powerful ghosts in Binghamton is Edwin Albert Link. He was a major aviation engineer, and developed a number of patents. one of the most famous was the Link Trainer, which was one of the first airplane simulators. They were mostly sideshow attractions until 1934, when the US Army Air bought several. The man died of cancer in the 1980s, and the field of the Greater Binghamton Airport is named after him. His ghost has a notable dedication to the Greater Binghamton Airport, where he spends much of his time. He’s an unusually flexible man for such an old ghost. He’s easily one of my favorite members of the spirit community, but he loathes the current state of the airplane industry. He has told me, and I quote, “They are pissing on the most noble endeavor that humanity has ever strove towards, and turning it into a dull chore!” There’s a reason I like him.
Fan Fen: Ah, Edwin. He was quite a charming young man, and makes a more charming ghost. He is not particularly supernaturally powerful, but his political connections afford him an unusual amount of sway, and he was quite old when he passed on; He is actually several years older than I. Though he lives some way outside of Binghamton itself, he remains heavily involved with the individuals there. He is a solid member of Binghamton’s undead community.
Okay. One of the big things about buying a house or a piece of property is the title search. You want to make sure the person selling you your new piece of property actually has the right to do so, and that the federal government hasn’t purchased the right to store nuclear waste on that piece of property, right? Well, for the more supernaturally conscious, the title search doesn’t just include government issues. They also want to make sure that their new lair isn’t the home of some crazy spook. And that’s where I come in, with the help of the Horses at Binghamton U. They like to keep an eye on any ghosts that happen to live in Binghamton, and make sure they’re not starting trouble.
Now, usually, this is a fairly simple process. If you know an Echo’s in your house, you can just ignore it till it fades away. I had a Fairy baron who wanted to buy a house, and I do the usual title search. The Horses go through the house, they don’t find anything. Two months later, I get a call from the fairy, enraged. While trying to clear a stand of Japanese Maples in the backyard, these tiny little trees, a ghost appears and nearly rips his head off before he manages to ward the damn thing off! He’s pissed beyond words, and I’m pissed at the Postmortologists, so we go there to try to figure out what’s happening.
Turns out that nearly a hundred years ago, an English botanist had owned the property, and had planted the stand of Japanese maples. Loved them, developed cultivars with them, and took care of them till the day he died. The fairy agreed to help to ensure that the maples were well taken care of, and I managed to avoid a malpractice curse. And an important lesson: Real estate always comes with a catch. Sometimes it’s termites, sometimes it’s an obsessive gardener spirit with a short fuse. (Alfred: They’ve been working on an ambient ghost detector. The last time I passed by, they had a large saucer of milk they were carrying around the lab, trying to figure out whether it was curdling in a specific location.) (Atina: I would love to see what their grant applications look like.)