He parades her mother around like a goddamn show dog—give us a little twirl, won’t you dear? Ivory and lace floats and dances, embroidered pearls glimmer in the candlelight, and Wanda averts her gaze. Their guests are enamored, commenting on her mother’s gentle beauty, the braids threaded through a traditional Kislevian headdress. It recalls the Slavic influences of old, a stitched crown of frozen forget-me-nots and careful crochet.

She looks like she belongs.

 Wanda sees the way their eyes drift over to her, traveling across the rich sepia brown of her skin to the secret caverns of her dark eyes. It doesn’t matter whether she dons the most luxurious Kislevian fashion, or if the dialect comes native to her foreign tongue, they will not see the blood that runs through her veins.

For some, even Kislevian by blood isn’t enough.

Vallen Kysley has a wolfish grin as he guides her mother about the room, his fingers on her like strings on a marionette. He stands a regal imposing figure, wearing a high collar black coat with intricate fractals graven in silver and red along the seams. It’s almost possible to forget that he’s not quite human but then his eyes catch the light and the metallic bronze ignites like a sunlit glass of whiskey. 

Wanda wonders why her mother smiles as if holding a secret behind her jaws when all Wanda wants to do is disappear from the room. Hide from these Upyri with their feral grins and glowing eyes, just waiting for a chance to sink their teeth into flesh. The festivity moves to the dining table and Wanda forces herself to stay put—at least until after dinner.

Bosko Furlan wastes no time beating around the bush. “Where did you say you are from?” he asks, bringing stubby sausage fingers into a steeple formation, elbows on the table. “That is a Halloryn accent I hear, isn’t it Danika?”

Wanda balls her hands into fists beneath the table. She stares at her bowl of rich sauerkraut meat stew without seeing it. She hears the pop of a bottle uncorked and the glug of thick liquid poured into glasses. She wishes her mother would call Bosko out—what was this, an interrogation?

But her mother only smiles. “It is, my parents moved to Halloryn when I was very young.”

“And they were—?” Bosko prompts.

“Kislevian. My mother hailed from Czarny and my father was born and raised in Velika Noc.”

“And you returned home the moment you were able.” Vallen slips his arm around Danika’s waist and presses his lips against her neck. Wanda tries to ignore the way her mother drifts into the gesture, offering him skin. She wants to bite across the table that they returned only because Dad wanted too. He had voiced his dreams of living among the snowy mountains first.

Did he dream of dying here too, she wonders.

“You got out just in time then,” Bosko says with a dark chuckle. “Have you seen the state of things in Halloryn these days? The food shortage in Valdor has gotten worse they say, and now there’s a pilgrimage headed north that’s five thousand strong, at least! Halloryn doesn’t know where to put all of them, let alone feed them.”

His wife Fialia ignites the end of an Opera length cigarette holder and takes a long draught. “So much for Great President Ameniande,” she says as she blows ruby red smoke into the air. “It’s his fault for cutting farm subsidies. I’m not surprised to see him in the midst of another political nightmare. His family has been double-dealing under the table ever since they bribed their way into power three generations ago.”

“Humans have little to no foresight,” Vallen says as his lip curls into a sneer. “Selfish, blind creatures. It’s a miracle they haven’t extinguished themselves.”

Her mother gives a self-deprecating smile. “Not for lack of trying,” and Wanda stares at her, a fire building in her throat.

“You need never count yourself among their ranks again, my dear Danika.” Vallen takes her hand and brushes his lips across her knuckles. “It won’t be long now, my love.”

“If only all would follow such wisdom.” Bosko and Fialia both lift their wine glasses.

Vallen lifts his, and Wand tries and fails to convince herself it’s merely wine as the deep red liquid traces bloody tears down the rim. The metallic sheen in his eyes brightens. “Now, if Halloryn had a spark of intellect about them, they would throw all of them back to Valdor where they belong.”

 “Vallen,” Fialia admonishes, though there’s a tease in the gesture. “What do you expect? They’re starving, can hardly blame the poor dears. What lengths would you go to satisfy your hunger?” Her gaze ignites silver as she lifts her glass.

Vallen flashes her a sharp smile, all teeth and no warmth behind his gaze. “I specified if they had a spark of intellect, dear Fialia. What do you think these humans bring with them? Desperation, crime—they’re vagabonds who will steal everything that they can from the working class. If they wish to retain some semblance of structure, they will tell the Valdorans to solve their problems and reinforce the border.” He pauses to take a sip and draws his tongue over his lips. “Compassion is a noble act, but it does not provide longevity. The addition of all those messy variables—the stress and unrest that will follow are not so easy to predict. Hence, the status quo. We look after our own and everyone else should do the same—I hear we have strengthened our security in this time of crises.”

The others hum and Wanda entertains the possibility they just don’t want to disagree with the host until she looks up and sees the tacit understanding written on their faces. Not Danika, though. Her mother has a far away vacant look; half listening and sinking into the touch of Vallen beside her as if no one else in the room existed.

The fire erupts in her veins. Wanda drops her fork in disgust with a clink of metal on wood. As eyes swivel in her direction she wishes for a moment that she too had a glass of viscous crimson to hide behind. “I suppose that means we’re gone, din’ it?” she remarks, dropping into the heaviest Halloryn accent she can muster. “Ma, we best go pack our shit now before the Kislev officials get ’ere. Dun worry about pops though, I gotcha covered.”

“Whatever do you mean—” but Fialia trails off as she met Wanda’s eyes.

“I’m sure ya don’t want daddy-dearest clogging up that snowy cemetery. It’s just better if he were back home, ain’t it?”

In the punctured silence her mother looks at her, finally, as if she had forgotten her daughter was in attendance this night. Vallen’s lip curls and he speaks with a chortle on his breath, “Now, Wanda, I know things have been difficult for you since your father’s passing, but there’s no reason to lump him together with these miscreants. I’ll have you know, I welcome any who wish to enter through the proper channels.”

He came to Halloryn as a child refugee,” she spits right back at him. “You know, from Valdor?” She enjoys the way they all fidget at her words. “He waited at the border for six months before they finally let him in.”

“Honey, he was fleeing political persecution, you know that,” her mother whispers across the table. “They would’ve killed him if he hadn’t left.”

Wanda does not whisper back. “I’m pretty sure starving kills people, mom.”

“Jeremy Shylock was different.” The smile had fallen from Vallen’s face entirely now. “He came into this country legally. He was nothing like these—” he gestures as if unable to find a word that quite encapsulates them. “Others who slither inside and act like they own the place.”

“You mean like you and your friends here?”

“Wanda!” Her mother gasps at her, but Wanda has come too far to let that stop her.

“Oh nah, if you wanna talk about the immigration crisis and how it’s impacting society then let’s talk about it,” Wanda snarls. She refuses to look away from those bronze eyes and goes on in defiance. “Or, are you gonna sit there with a straight face and tell me that Upyri don’t exist in Halloryn, sir Ambassador?”

“Now see here—” Bosko tries, as a flush climbs up his neck.

“Just a matter of expanding your hunting range?” Wanda interrupts with a sneer. She relishes it when Bosko fails to come up with a response and gapes back at her. So she goes on, “You’re all just hypocrites! Everyone and their uncle knows the Vampire myths in Europa are your fault, basically signed your fucking name.”

“Language!” Her mother shoots a feeble glance towards Vallen. “I’m so—so sorry about this, she’s not usually like this—Wanda! Go to your room!”

“No.”

Wanda tries not to flinch at the sound of his voice. She thinks she can feel it resonate in her chest as he continues, “So, is that what you think, dear Wanda? And what would you do instead, regarding the immigration crisis?”

She wills herself not to lose her nerve. “It’s not a crisis. It’s an opportunity.” She takes a deep breath and plunges on, “If Halloryn can’t take the refugees, Kislev should. Upyri aside, the human population has been steadily shrinking for a few years now and the agriculture sector is beginning to choke. There aren’t enough bodies to work the fields, not to mention that I’m sure your kind wouldn’t mind a few extra blood bags running around, or did I not have an entire lesson at school about blood-type shortages?”

Fialia scoffs in disgust as if the mere idea of dining on one of these newcomers was repulsive. Wanda ignores her.

“Besides immigrants don’t just take jobs. It’s employers who take advantage of their desperation and turn humans into moneymaking machines. If the regulations in place ensured equal opportunity and proper benefits, everyone would have the same chance. You’re just scared they’ll be better at the job than you and if you’re that insecure maybe it’s time to take a good look at why. Or is it because you know how you’ve oppressed them and fear what happens if the tables are turned?”

Smack—

Vallen slaps her across the face, a movement so fast and violent that Wanda tastes blood. “Mind your tongue, human,” he hushes in vicious tones. “I see you still have yet to learn how to have a polite conversation regarding difficult topics.”

Wanda spits blood onto the tablecloth. Three pairs of metallic eyes glow in the dim like predators reflecting lucidum tapetum in the twilight. She rises, kicks back her chair, finished. She wipes her lip and hisses, in a perfect Kislevian accent—all sharpness and winter frost— “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”

And she leaves, swept back to her room chased by metal eyes.

About this Piece

This was commissioned by a friend who goes by Random on my Discord. They provided the following prompt: Alienation; being a foreign immigrant within an original fantasy. This is inspired by one of the novels I am working on.