Keeping Secrets

One of the big world-building issues any writer who uses vampires has to deal with is secrecy.  How do the vampires keep their secrets from an increasingly data-flooded and intrusive world?

Other writers have handled this in a number of different ways.  Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Mysteries (on which the HBO series True Blood is based) involve a culture of vampires that very recently “came out of the coffin,” and are trying to integrate their society into human society (or not integrate, depending on the vampire in question).  The opening credits to True Blood show a sign that says “God Hates Fangs,” a clear reference to a certain bigoted family from Westboro, Kansas, and to lingering human bigotry.

In Laurel K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series (the first six or so books of which I loved.  She sort of lost me when she made the switch from action horror with the sexual tension of an unresolved and unconsummated love triangle to explicit romance novels with fangs), the vampires were never secret.  After all, our ancestors believed in vampires, and we only lost that belief when rigorous investigation found little evidence for their existence.  In a world in which they did exist, people losing their belief is a little harder to swallow.

Yet, that is the approach I (and pretty much all vampire writers who keep vampires a secret) have taken.  How do we justify this?  Isn’t it as ridiculous as losing our faith in the existence of elephants or Vikings?  Well, not if the vampires, as they exist, are an ill-match for the legends and they have an organized enough society to intentionally pass into the realm of cryptozoology.  Granted, it’s a pretty big conspiracy, but not impossible, if the vampires are capable of restraint.

The vampire was rarely seen as a seductive figure until the 19th century, with Lord Ruthven, Carmilla, Varney the Vampire, and, ultimately, Dracula.  Orlok, the vampire from the movie Nosferatu, was closer to the older legends: the chewing dead, plague-spreading, violent, unholy beasts, subject to fear, revulsion, even pity, but never desire (Mark Collins’s Vampire Forensics: Uncovering the Origins of an Enduring Legend has a great deal of additional material on this, if you’re interested).

In my “Blood Oath” setting, there are two bloodlines of vampires, the ancient and bestial warg, whose origins predate recorded history, and the children of the Vampire Lords, who are strong, beautiful, and sometimes cruelly civilized.

The warg are believed by some to be the descendants of Cain and Lilith, of Cernunnos and Angrboda.  They are creatures of the wild, and when faced with the pollution and sickness of human civilization, a red-eyed madness overtakes them.  Sickness radiates off their twisted forms, spreading a legion of plagues.  Anything bitten by a mad warg sickens and dies – even another vampire.  The old beliefs about vampires – plague-bearers, chewing dead, monsters – arose from the sickened warg, while beliefs about werewolves came about from their healthy, rural cousins.

The first Vampire Lord, the Roman General Arcutrus, served Emperor Nero in life, then sold his soul to the outer darkness in exchange for 1,000 years of incredible power.  His offspring were, like him, beautiful, commanding, scheming, civilized murderers.  Over the next centuries, five more Vampire Lords arose, some men, some women, creating their own armies of fair-faced killers.  Eventually, Arcturus’s 1,000 years ran out, and the darkness reclaimed him and his inner circle.  But his thinner-blooded descendants survived, determined not to serve any Lord, ever again.

As Rome fell to the Goths, the warg and the Vampire Lords entered a shadow war that lasted a thousand years.  In the end, the warg were all but exterminated, leaving the beautiful killers to inherit the earth.  The Renaissance was dawning, and soon the Enlightenment would bring into question a wide range of superstitions which lacked evidence.  Since the warg formed the template of the vampire legends, and since they had been driven almost to extinction, those old legends seemed little more than fairy tales.

And so, with the vampires carefully covering their tracks, they managed to fade into legend.  But now, as surveillance and information sharing reach a critical level, that secret is threatened, not by a handful of rogue vampires or government agencies, but by the very nature of human civilization.  Of course, that leads to all kinds of potential for conflict, as different factions debate – or even fight – over how to live in a post-secrecy world.


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