The singing took such a blessed long time. In the end, she settled down and closed ice-blue eyes, satisfied, for the moment, that there were no aggressive presences nearby, nor anything that wished her charge harm in the vicinity by the scents and sounds that all but assaulted her. Rough hands woke her sometime in the hours before midnight, scratching her ears, and she thought to snap at them, but the man retreated back into the speakeasy before she could awaken enough to give him the warning. She was no man's pet, and petted by no man, the pianist who lived downstairs notwithstanding.
The music that spilled from the back of the house was hardly soothing, the kind of lively jazz that was meant to keep the alcohol flowing and patrons dancing well into the small hours of the night. Well past the witching hour, she might add, eyes slitted and staring into the speakeasy. The witchling ought know better than sneak out during what was even in the most calm of eras a portentous time, much less sneak out so near the working of the ritual, when magic was already gathering and spooling in the earth and air and water, aware, in the way such a primitive force could be aware, that it would soon be called upon. All manner of creatures would be drawn to her, and most of them less pleasant than her King. Even Sveta herself posed a threat, though the young, foolish witchling thought her not to.
She rose, shaking off the grime where it clung to her. Enough. Sitting still on a full belly did not sit well with her, and with such seditious thoughts swirling in her head, unto distraction, she would be unable to do her duty. Giving one last look around--the bond she shared with the girl assuring her that all was well, though some strange trepidation filtered through--she took off at a run, a white blur sprinting through the backstreets. From the shadows, creatures fled before her, some mundane, some less so, and she snapped at them in passing. She had no interest in pursuing them right now, aside from for pleasure. Now, she needed the distraction of speed, of the chase, so that maybe she could forget her transgression.
Tonight would be a wonderful night to find her brother again.
Sometimes she almost missed those fights. Evenly matched, force against force, blows traded but neither side clearly superior over the other. The blood, the sweat, eyes narrowed and chest heaving, claws or blades wet once more; the scent of earth torn asunder, the thunder of his hooves, the howl that welled up from deep inside her. The instinct to fight and kill, never stronger than when she faced that which opposed her diametrically. Strong enough to block out all rational thought. Strong enough that she felt no pain and no hunger but the pain of missing a blow, but the hunger to see his blood spilled.
But it had been a long time since they had been evenly matched, a long time since she had taken ascendance. And now he was slave to a human, which was embarrassing past measure; or would have been, if she considered him family. Or anything but... but a glorified punching bag, she supposed, snorting. Her paws slowed. Claws clacked on asphalt, and she turned around. She had come far enough. It was time to return.
When she smelled the smoke, what had been a leisurely trot became a head-down, desperate sprint, passerby knocked aside as she shouldered through. She felt the girl's fear some time later, almost a disturbing time later; and then she was upon the girl. Circling, head down, ears set flat against her head, she sniffed. A foreign scent. Magic, but none that she knew of. Magic laced with the girl's, but not of the girl. And Matilda stared straight ahead, barely responding to her at all.
She nosed at the girl's chest and licked her cheeks, lapping up tears. The speakeasy was full of the sound of the dying and the crackle of flames, the scent of a creature she had never scented before strong on the girl and in the wind, and once she would have been driven to rescue them and slay that creature; but they were caught in some strange magic that she knew not how to break, and she was no longer with the Church, but with the King, and her charge was not all the Church's sheep, but this lone lost lamb. And this...she drew a deep breath, filling her chest with the burnt flavor of the wind. This reeked of the King's handiwork.
It was another moment before she noticed the little box open in Matilda's hands, empty. Sveta snorted. So her King's gift was not a gift at all, but a curse, a spell; hardly a surprise. "Would it have killed him to buy pearls for a lovely girl?" she said, the deeper voice of the wolf gravelly, unused; she didn't much like speaking in this form, but it seemed necessary. She did not like the idea of being a woman before Matilda, with the girl in such a vulnerable state, and their relationship at a questionable place. Sveta nosed at Matilda until the girl climbed onto her back, or until she had the girl situated there herself, then trotted off, slowly. "To where shall we go?" she asked. The girl needed comfort. Clearly. Comfort she felt ill-equipped to offer. She would do better in other hands, be they those of her coven, or those of her King.
The lily smelled of dew and nectar, the silken corolla curling against the inner corner of her mouth as it twitched nervously. Puckered brow and frowning lips at a pout, the live band regaled the swanky with jazzy flourishes and the robust callings of popular blues rifts. The lights are bright- the bite of black sequins gathering across her hips and shoulders uncomfortable- the noise of overlapping conversation ebbing around as a river parts for sarsens. Everything is heightened. Unbearably so. Pinches the bridge of her nose to alleviate the throbbing in her temples, the aching jolting through her jaw.
The premonition rolls through her-it is immutable and formless. The intensity gives pause. In the shadows of stage-left, gold threads of light appear. A low, burning nimbus in the base of fifty bellies. Flickering faintly to the rhythm of sighing lungs. With a pluck, she could pry, pilfer, [i extinguish]. Only-[i this is against our creed,] she justifies-something ageless and wicked answers back-[i this is our right.]
The rambunctious ditty comes to a final, melodramatic end, breaking the vision; the curtains come down and the members sag with relief, quenching thirsts with equal measures of water and a shared flask of whiskey. There will be five minutes of intermission-only enough pause to adjust and tune instruments for the next set.
They weren’t her usual accompaniment. Henry Paw was a fat, solemn man. The baritone of his voice eliciting tears from fig leaves; most often, his ill-temperament was softened by harsh moonshine. He sweated heavily, grunted between each take, had the face of a disgruntled pitbull but he was talented in the way suffering can be beautiful.
The saxophonist is lean and dark-skinned, dressed in bright attire and trilby, handsome with his sharp features and good-humored as he guffaws loudly at his bandmates. The drummer is of husky-build, in all black, with his head turned towards his shoes and an apathetic air as he sucks on a cigar. The male beside the former is his sibling-in a second-hand lavender button down-roughly elbowing and inclining his head towards the darkened wings that Matilda twiddled tetchily.
“Wassamatta?” The phrases is lazily condensed to a word, eyeing her curiously. “First gig?”
[b “No,”] she mutters tightly, finding no relief: stomach twisting in knots and throat abnormally parched. To the right of the stage exit, laughter and clattering dishes grates at her imprudent grapple of calming frayed nerves. Like malicious children, the underscore of restless spirits gather into a unified voice. Taunting her: [b [i Heretic, heretic, heretic.]] [b “Feeling…hot.”]
He nods, passing an uncertain look to his peers, before offering the flask in her direction. “Make you hotta but help wit dem nerves.”
The thought is half-considered before she is greedily sucking down. The alcohol is harsh and turns her stomach, but it quiets the shroud of disdain bearing down on her. Sheepishly she returns it empty, feeling waves of heat oscillating through limbs to core to groin.
“Dem [i some] nerves,” he said with a cackle and knee-slap. “Drank’n like a dawg. You gon get sick?” A terse shake of the head has him whistling and turning to face her fully. “Say, wasyoname lil canary?”
“Leave ha alone,” grumbles the drummer, “you jus focus on singin’ and ignor ‘im. He git stupid wen he sees a pretty gurl.”
The perfunctory smile dies mid-tug - a wringing of hands – and she is barely functioning. It makes no matter. The whiskey warmth is a fleeting comfort. The world tilts as she plays a passionless performance. The lights, the voices, the eyes-it is all a void behind closed lids.
The upbeat swing of the accompaniment customarily lifted her troubled spirits, allowing a girl to be lost in the melodious tones as potent as magic. Tilda would gather the dress hem around her thighs and kick a shapely calf out, hips and shoulders gyrating to the rhythm of her husky octaves-oft times, a taken gentleman would sway drunkenly at curtain line, eyeing her wantonly, whilst she’d impishly swat grappling hands away.
In high spirits, an assortment of prohibited liquors are sloshes off rims-wetting the floor in an amalgamation of pungent odors.
As the night wanes towards midnight and the revelry plateaus, Matilda’s world begins to tear asunder. The threads flicker to life-ignited by the great flame of passion. Combusting stars snaking across lustered floor, winking as they swing closer-offering themselves by name.
Her crones halt abruptly; but her ears have fallen deaf. In the midst of the glitzy sea, the apparition of the King-broad shouldered and skin as dark as dusk lounging on the horizon-appears. [i Treasure,] he murmurs voicelessly, [i come to me.]
She feels the mounting inevitable, rolling warm and thick as boiling treacle. The inst her gaze falls away and arrives at her feet, the coffer gawps back as though waiting forever. Countless eyes watch-in a mild confusion that begins to reveal itself as horror-as the lid creaks open without assistance.
[i And so Pandora is reunited with her box,] the voice sighs again, gleefully. [i to set upon the world all horrors within creation.]
In the depths, she found nil.
With a blink, the girl finds herself oddly aware minutes passed. As the veil between sleep and wakefulness is punctuated by a groggy return of senses, as is her return to the present.
There is no sudden start. No stimulus imprinted in the short-term. No knowledge of losing herself to the void.
The memory of a flame’s warmth comes to mind. She [i feels] fire, it’s wildness, it’s carelessness, it’s freedom, as it spreads. There is no sense of direction. Only a singular purpose. Only hunger.
Then the screams. Accentuated by the acoustics. Flesh, fabric, hair-all ignited. Everything on fire without discrimination. The smell-[i Oh, god] she cries, reminiscent of the child she very much is.
A rolling bolide lurches towards the stage and ignites the heavy curtains raised above head. Panicking patrons are congesting the exit, trampling those unfortunate to fall underfoot, only to find its doors sealed by an unnatural force. The keen wails grow more desperate at this discovery. Men throw themselves in droves, a reckless abandon that yields no favorable result. The women have shed fur shoulder wraps and begun extinguishing the flames curling closest.
In the growing smog, the apparition lingers-watching the chaos indifferently. As she calls to the knoll of power buzzing lazily in veins, a trelis of threadlight gathers above the collapsing clienteles, drawing her countermeasures from the wards to itself. Changing her course, her inexperienced eyes seek the framework of the spell. There is no concentration of an aura, no incantations that come to mind, no flayed weaving to undo its strength.
Drawing upon its energy bursts blood vessels in her right eye. Blood dribbles from a nostril. The burn, the metallic tastes inspires her to begin a bloodmagic sigil only to find her limbs paralyzed.
The coffer bellows a hellish thunder, spurting winged creatures from its depths.
1. They are humanoid harbingers with desiccated skin pulled over sharp, angular features and leathery apparatuses like that of Chiroptera. Composed of long, thin bones and open chest cavities, they are bald and smooth except for the patch of hair that conceals malformed genitals. How many emerge she does not know. Only that they descend like rabid dogs. Her chest grows heavy and her head light. A creature glides towards her, gnarled hands formed into three talons as it reaches; dark cholera and glowing blue irises float her vision, its thin maw parting for three sets of tiny, serrated teeth.
Grasped by her hair, it yanks her forward and begins to snuffling through the open olfactory crater. Finding something dissatisfying of her, it relinquishes its hold and grasps her by the shoulders with a screech. The leathery skin smells acutely of sulfur and brimstone. Matilda vaguely notes the absence of fear in the cosset of its arms as it carries her from the slaughter.
The loading entrance opens with a violent force, ripping it from the hinges. It returns to its mandate after depositing her on the damp alley floor, the coffer almost weightless in her grasp.
This is how she is found, blessedly numb from shock to process her failings-as she stares into the flames, seeing each soul being stolen like mother of pearls from oyster beds, remorseful tears slicing through the soot on her cheeks.
[b OOC //] Any questions, concerns, suggestions, please feel free to ask. I didn't want to GM Sveta into the bar unless you felt it necessary. Thank you again for your patience. ♥
The girl was gone. She knew it before she looked; the scent had faded. No fluttering, youthful heart beat just on the edge of her hearing, no lungs heaved in slow, sleepy rhythm; she was alone. The faintest sound of piano music drifted through the room, delicate and yet busy, provoking her to thought. A fugue, and a new one at that. It sounded like one of Bach's; you could tell the composers apart by their tendencies, after a while, and she'd been living in this apartment since before the pianist had taken up residence. What was the pianist planning? A recital? Or was this mere practice?
No, she was getting distracted. Unusual, for her. She stood and strode into the bedroom, following an odd scent she couldn't quite place, and found--was that [i tar], in the bedsheets? Her lips pressed together tightly, displeased. That was the difficulty with having a young witch over, she supposed; it wasn't only blood you had to clean up on a bad night. She picked up the postcard and read it quickly; an apology, and a promise. Well, she supposed she could trust the witchling to be safe on her route. It was one she'd taken a hundred times before without injury. She didn't like that Matilda had taken off without her supervision, but after her transgression--she pressed a hand to her forehead, ashamed at the memories that sprang back to her forethoughts--after her transgression, such a little misbehavior seemed hardly worth the trouble of worrying over it. And that the girl had apologized at all, promised such an ordinary thing after something so exceptionally uncalled for--well, at least she held no grudge against Sveta. Or else it was little enough that she didn't feel the need to flee and break off all contact.
And of course she knew that Matilda was fine, thanks to the spell. It was convenient, but that only made her more concerned about it. No magic came without a price. The more convenient, the more useful, the bigger the price. That she hadn't stumbled upon this one's yet made it all the more worrying, though for the life of her she couldn't figure out what it could be.
The air stirred, bringing the sweet scent of Matilda fresh to her nose, and she breathed deeply. The youthful softness of those lips...the youthful eagerness, the sweetness of untarnished witch's blood...she ran a finger over her lips, distracted, then grimaced at herself. Honestly! And how old was she now? Less than a fledgling, Matilda was a mere babe compared to her! And she had thought those lecherous old nobles were bad, in the days when it was allowable to marry twelve-year-old children--here she was, dozens of times this child's age, and desiring her. Though not so much Matilda's romance as her being. Her blood and loyalty. If she could have the girl in thrall...
Now she understood her master's obsession. No wonder. The child was irresistible. Were she not bound by his oath, she would have devoured the girl in a heartbeat, foregone her own laws and swallowed the young witch whole. In a sharp movement, as though trying to distract her thoughts, she yanked the sheets off the bed and balled them up, tar inside; they were as good as lost. No cleaning tar out of cotton. She'd have to buy a new set.
The pianist had switched songs; now it was Mozart. She recognized this one from her days in the Church. Powerful, joyous...for a second, she closed her eyes and listened, just enjoying the music. She missed it sometimes, the noisome organ, the hymns, all the shuffling sounds of worship.
But that Church had turned her away, and now she had a new King.
Putting the tar-soaked sheets with her trash, she padded down the stairs as the wolf. It would be easier to resist temptation in this form, where things were so much simpler. The pianist had stopped, was taking a smoke break when she passed, and he squatted down and gestured her close. She ignored him, and he stepped out to scratch behind her ears anyways. Despite herself, the wolf enjoyed it, and her tail wagged just a little.
"Where's your mistress, huh? I always see you walking yourself. Does she not have time for you, pretty?" the pianist asked, grinning. The wolf regarded him with icy eyes and tilted her head, then began to walk again, past him. "Watch out for the dog-catcher," the pianist advised, chuckling, and Sveta tossed her head royally. She'd like to meet the dog-catcher who could catch her!
Out on the streets, it was an exercise in simplicity itself to follow the girl's scent, especially with the taste of her still fresh on Sveta's tongue. That she was now full had done nothing to assuage her memory of how sweet Matilda's blood had been, and that disturbed her--worse, it piqued her interest, aroused her curiosity. What a terrible thing, to be the subject of a predator's curiosity...and the child in her youth thought it sport. Ah, youth! Youth and its many certain untruths! She did not miss it.
A great many scents lingered near her destination: cigarette smoke hung thick, mingling with thicker perfume, sex and sweat and sick and blood mixed in even proportions. A den of flesh, like many she had avoided, like many she had had to pick her careful way through since being abandoned by the Church. Hardly an occupation for the King's bride, even if it was not quite a brothel. And yet Matilda insisted upon this life, upon denying her King to attend to such matters? This Sveta could not understand. Would not understand. But such was her prudish nature speaking.
Delicately picking out a clean spot, Sveta laid by the back door and waited, blue eyes luminous in the darkness, white fur glowing under the silvery light of the moon. From here, she wouldn't disturb Matlida, but all the same she would be able to act, if difficulty arose. Her ears perked and flicked towards the door, tracking the softest notes of her charge's voice, nose full of her sweet cinnamon scent. Like a loyal dog waiting patiently for its master to take it home, she set her head on her forepaws and waited, ears only betraying her alertness.
It is nearly six in the evening. The sun sets across the steel frames of skyscrapers, painting the horizon in hues of rose and lavender. It is, though, becoming quickly overshadowed by the overhang of thick, dark clouds. A storm was nearly upon the city, thunder crashing violently, even in the distance. In these late days, the magic within in her hums with strengthening life, growing more and more comfortable in the childish body to which it was borne. Her eyes are glossy and preoccupied even as they volley over the faces passing by. None are dedicated to memory, might be naught but blank spaces. The interiors of her mind were bright and impressionable; they grow dark and lonely, unfamiliar and filled with ageless longing.
Had it always existed, she wonders, buried deep and awaiting the courage to discover it? Or had it arrived more recently when the old, native magic had been called upon to drench her with its protection? Her feet pit and pat on the concrete, drumming out an absent rhythm, foolishly naive to not be alert in her trek. The girl's mind grows numb, ceases to stretch with fear but reflects. This disconnect with the world grows more intimate. It promises no pain. It promises no deceit.
The good memories are overshadowed. The girl broods upon the calculated fabrications, the stigma of her birth. Camille must have been terrified in the cave, watching the addled and young being savagely dismembered as their screams rebounded off its earthly walls. But the feeling of teeth ripping into her flesh, into her womb as they carved her baby from her, that brought forth a desperation only the unforgiving love of a mother could harbor. She can understand her mother's words: [i The price for your life was a piece of my soul. I did what any mother would –should – have.] Reading the after thoughts will never be enough to truly understand the woman Matilda would never know by her heart, only by her actions, and only as Morgana had been willing to crucify her memory. The covens all called her a traitor! An unmarked grave had symbolically represented her. All of it was a lie! She endured years of being ostracized and only now recognizes how it has festered slowly, ruining her when it all came unraveling.
By laws of Witchkind, discovering her suckling at her mother’s breast whilst the remainder of her breaths were heaved and offered to her child, she should have been cut open from one slit to another, her bones dusted in salt and burned. It may never truly known to her what occurred that night, but Morgana had broken a more than the commandment of the Mother. It created a distrust among even themselves. Divided they were no more powerful than a lost squadron of inept mages. Except her.
She rubs her thumb across the birthmark as though to scrub it away. Its brand has robbed her of identity. Of normalcy. Of acceptance.
[i I thought it were only mortal men that make monsters of what they fear.] Is there not more similarities harbored between the Specter, the Heretic, and the Anchor than the stories that have been told of each’s abomination? Than the fearlessness in which they crossed the plane between the body and soul? Only Matilda would triumph where they had faltered and achieve transcendence.
High-gloss floors bounce overhead lights into the eyes of guests, illuminating the interior like that of a diamond. There is an excitement in the glamorized crowd, a peal of girlish glee that drips from the lips of young girls on the arms of married men. A girl here with alabaster skin accents it with swatches of rose or black sequin dresses or curtains of gold trimmings, and coifs flaxen mane with a silver bandeau to match the swanky heels. With every twist of her hips and throw of bangles, she reflects the glare of light as she squeals and play a game of guessing pedigree amongst her peers. These girls are facsimiles of one another and easily impressed.
The men are no different. In finely made high-waisted jackets with cocktail cuffs turnbacking the sleeves and cuffed trousers, they cut an elegant figure as they stroll O’Malley’s floors in a refined hunt. The shine of leather Oxfords was as sure as a knife ready at the throat, as was the slick parting of their hair. A man here stands amongst others his age and in the midst of conversation, removes a tin from his breast pocket and dolls out cigars that he cuts himself. With every chuckle, they would in succession, let their eye wonder over this girl and that, securing his hold upon her knickers by efficaciously flirting with the fickle lady Poker.
Here, every laced garment and tucked tie, is the summation of pawns in the rich’s game. It is a game in which the salacious appear the most amiable, and one in which a girl, ought to take care with. Even if her veins buzz with the most intoxicating of vices and she has battered the unruly kinks of hair into something fashionable, Matilda never enters through the front door. The eyes here are of animals in the midst of conquest, and to these, she has learned to cast illusions without magic.
Bulbs border the vanity -and it lights her skin. Warms it to hues of tawny. It is only when exposed to the light that her chin is not pointed towards feet, that she is not made inferior to her dainty counterparts.
“Dey don’t have hips like dat GUH-rl,” says Maudie- with skin like coals and shoulder-length hair twisted in locs-a former nightwalker hailing from New Jer-SHEY. She came at 18 when the conservative hold of Catholic doctrines began dissolving and seduced many a suitors until she came upon Earl Lyon. He was of no noble blood and came into his wealth illicitly, of which, there was no qualms to be made by his newest beau. Now, she gathers the fine skirts of her dress, and toss her legs to and from. “Dey ain’t got de rhythm or de sass or de magic of de black – but OH GUH-rl, when dey see you, how dey wish.”
Grateful for the good-nature of the woman, she tucks away a smile and resumes the tasks of pinning her hair. With a tut of her tongue, Maudie swats her hands away and lets the curls freely frame her face. “No good hidin’ yourself,” she incites, her chocolate eyes swimming with mirth. “Let’em see wat you got. Who you are.”
[b “But they do,”] she says, and then in an afterthought, calls her, [b “maman.”] as she fusses like a doting mother.
She hums unconstructively in the back of her throat and begins sorting through Matilda’s bag for some ornament. Only, her finger stroke fine wood and raised gold, and she pulls the box from the interior where it remained forgotten. Eyes as wide as a child’s, she turns it to and fro, expressing her approval at such a lovely chest. “Wat’s dis?”
[b “A .. a gift,”] Matilda explains tersely. [b “Unwanted, but…”] With a sigh, she removes it from her friend’s grip, and sets it on the counter.
“But wat oder dan someone wants you? You’re fit for a king.”
Meeting Maudie’s gaze in the mirror, the girl’s lips part in protest but falls silent as Maudie spoke prophecy.
The sky would darken in hardly an hour. The wind stirs harder in the knotted grasses on Mama Hosanna’s property. The blades tickle the bare skin of her ankles. Warmth still rises from the cobblestone path, like the tarred road of her nightmare. Tar still congeals in the tight spaces between toenails. The house is dark, its grounds silent except for the violent walls of wind.
She is hardly three steps down the path when the glass door opens. “Matilda,” Mama called over the whistling wind. The frosted glass rips from her meager grip and cracks down the middle, spidering her image into malformed reflection. The first fat drop of rain come spiraling from overhung clouds and implodes between them; and from its sacrifice is birthed an unearthly torrent, a whip of wind that carries the signature of powerful magic.
[i Matilda,] the ghostly call comes like it had from her dreams. Unfurling, ever unfurling the scruples of the Covens with each successful vice it twines her in.
A crackle of lightning splits the bough of the Ash tree- barely misses the store but takes the siding of the gutter as a casualty. The burst of thunder is like the belly of a starved beast.
Mama Hosanna mutters, her eyes drawn into a squint. Sheets of rain obscure the fogged pants panting from large lips. To the elder, her concern is focused solely upon the look that has shrouded her face, a second overlay that rebels beneath her gaze. Unseen goes the shade from the afternoon, flitting in between jumping shadows. “Come inside, child!’ The Islander screams.
But the shade moves across broken ground like oil on water. It is slick and devilish, obedient to the master who desires the witchling –Oh, even as the scent of her burns it! Traveling faster than Hosanna’s voice, it tugs at Matilda’s ankle and pulls her out of the fabric of existence.
Blinking awake, the soothsayer clutches at her chest, barely able to bite back the scream welling in her throat. Fright makes the copper strands of her graying hair gather in sweaty clumps. Unsure of whether the vision had been merely a dream, or an omen, she quickly ambled out of bed and gathered her candles.
“By Elegba,” she prays softly as it lights each wick. “May there be mercy.”
//OOC: I don't mind. I've got another fight scene to write, after all. :P
That something was [i not] fine with the warrior was obvious, but he wasn't a worshipper, and his woes were likely unrelated to children besides; outside of his realm, then, and thus Nezha was uninterested. So he tipped his head simply in response and followed the warrior out of the hospital, dismissing his spear with a wave of his hand. "Will we return with the quarry?" he asked, indicating the rakshasa, meaning [i to the hut.] He couldn't imagine that Pavlov meant to carry the asura along as they hunted the other monsters, and it would have been impractical to bring the urn he used to contain the monsters along as they fought--the danger that it would break was too great. Though it might hold only one monster now, therefore causing no great cataclysm were it to be broken, he would be more greatly inconvenienced by the fact that he would no longer own an urn of sealing, and therefore would have to return to his father with his head bowed--bah! The very thought disgusted him.
"I can't very well imagine you might fight and restrain it," he continued conversationally. "Oh! Or did you bring along that safe?"
The safe. To contain an asura, even a lesser one such as a rakshasa? It was enough to make him laugh. But he did not know the ways of Western magicians. Maybe it was spelled in some way he could not detect.
"Where to next?" he asked lightly.
There was a breath before the first man met him. He was armed. By all rights, the advantage was him. But as tiny as he was, it was the man who had the advantage of reach, and despite all his vampiric strength, the man overpowered him. Even so, he managed to parry the first blow, swatting the man's fist aside with the flat of the sword. The second man lunged at him, and he leaped into the air, kicking down. At last an advantage to being small; with the force of his kick concentrated into his smaller foot, he felt the man's skull crack satisfyingly.
The first man screamed as though he'd been the one kicked as the second slumped to the floor. Lech spun in midair and brought his sword into play, but the unfamiliar blade was heavier and more unwieldy than he'd expected. The first man swatted it out of his hand before he'd landed, knocking Lech's good arm back and out of play for a second. The disadvantages of having leaped were kicking in; now he was in midair, his path was up to fate. There'd be no dodging. And the man knew it.
He snapped his leg out and kicked with all his might. Lech moved faster than a human could've seen and blocked; the blow landed soundly on Lech's guard, but for all his guard, Lech was still sent flying through the thin wall of the hut and out into the blinding light of day. Now he was the one screaming, a high-pitched, bloody shriek. The sun--the sun--the sun! Burning, baking, deadly! Mindlessly, he fled into the shade of the hut, only to be met with another kick. This time he spun and ran blindly into the forest. The trees provided some little protection, but before the almighty sun they were nothing. His eyes sopped tears, bled; the sclera and iris bubbled, boiling over, and then they burst entirely with wet pops, leaving him blind, white gunk rolling down his face in gobbets.
He heard laughter behind him, the loping steps of pursuit, and redoubled his pace. Suddenly water was splashing around him, and he dove into it, relieved--doubly so, that this was a still lake and not some source of running water. The deeper he sunk, the less effect the sun had, murky, muddy water filtering it to nothing; in the depths of the muck, he was safe, only the least light piercing through.
And then he sensed motion around him, felt it in the eddies and rushes of the water, and his heart sank as he realized what he'd done. Before [i kelpies,] he'd rushed into [i water.] He might as well have knelt and offered his neck.
As though that weren't enough, Pavlov's curse restricted on his heart, closing like a vise around his chest. He coughed and cringed, releasing his last breath of air, and then the kelpies were upon him.
The next few minutes were difficult for him to remember. He was battered, beaten over and over by fists that felt more like battering rams than physical entities. They tore limbs, ripped fingers, gouged at his body. Had the weapons been silver, he would've been dead a thousand times over. But his body resisted, settling slowly into the muck as it was ripped apart, until there was no longer any way to protest or fight back, and then they twisted and pulled and twisted, and his head came free of his body.
Then he thought he might be dead for certain. There was only darkness, floating darkness of an indeterminable sort without a ray of light. Empty, but peaceful. Painless. He no longer felt hunger. The aches and pains were gone, every last hurt erased. Nothing existed in the world but him, and even that began to fade before he knew it. This...this would be the end. He had taken more damage than his body could possibly repair.
He found he didn't mind. No longer was he anyone's thrall or servant. No longer did he have to worry about where to sleep, where to hunt, where to hide away from the sun. It...was peaceful.
In the murk at the bottom of Nezha's lake, Sedonaih held a head--dark-haired, tiny. Solemnly, he gazed into its serene face until empty eye sockets fluttered shut, until lips that connected to no lungs sighed out a breath that held no air. He took it up into the air, tucking it under his shirt so that the sunlight would not further ruin it, and walked back to the hut, placing it gently behind the open door, neck down, face staring emptily at the back of the door. He gestured to his companions, to the kelpies who'd been waiting in the lake, casting one sorrowful glance at their fallen brother before he led them away, leaving their brother's body behind. Their work here was done. The message had been left. Their brother would serve to tell the hunter who to watch for--to let him know [i who] dared threaten his servant. And the hunter would shiver in fear.
A leg sweeps across the ground in a practice, self-contained arch; it is calculating of brass momentum and though he is low, his hands do not support his weight so they are free to grapple. The hunter’s body is several seconds more sluggish than if he were well-rested and properly nourished but this does not debilitate the sharp movement he makes to adjust himself accordingly. Pavlov is well aware of his limitations: of which side he favored in defense and offense, of the blind spots that where a staggering attack would greatly reduce his effectiveness. Being a hunter required the ability to function on instinct and improvisation when preparation failed to account for the variable. With a shift of his weight, he avoids the follow-through of the attack by a hair and careens through the air, his knee connecting with protracted teeth. The left canine shatters beneath the force. The collision of the force sends his skull knocking against the horizontal edge of the desk. Pavlov hooks the barbed choker beneath the Rakshasa’s chin and swings his weight to the other side, subduing him by closing his respirations.
Using his foot as an anchor, he hooks it beneath the edge of the bottom drawer and pulls tight. The wild bucking forces the skin to tear on the serrated wire. Wisely, the doctor raises a hand in surrender when his inhales turns into gargles.
“Gentleman,” he chokes in half-formed syllables. The vermillion of his lips gain a cyan shade. Pavlov adjusts the incline a degree and crosses his fists at the wrist. “Surely we can discuss-discuss your concerns like civilized men.” His bloodied lips gleam with the slick of his potent saliva, his swollen tongue squandering in his mouth like a gripping fish.
Ignoring the deferment of negotiations, he nods towards Nezda without removing his eyes from Porvo and angles the garrote as to force this Rakshaka to submit on his knees, defeated. A displeased hiss rumbles from his throat, and he clamps his mouth so that the blood drains from thin lips. Blood turns the front color of his Oxford collar a deep maroon. No matter how sternly he looked upon the deity or hissed curses in an archaic language, the hunter had him at a great disadvantage.
“Y’know,” the doctor swung his pale cornflower’d eyes upward as the incorporeal Chinaman advanced upon him, a gleam of malice making them like marbles, “I bet your mother tasted [i delectable].”
Pavlov is careful to not react, not at first. Saliva drips in the cavern of his mouth in fat glops, his stomach turning inside out as he witnesses the walls of the room get swallowed into the swathe of a dark, starry-night. Crickets chirp to the erratic hoots of witnessing owls, albino wardens clustering on barren branches. He vividly remembers peering at the cratered moon at the end of his fat finger, the jejune observation of how [i bright] was overshadowed by a greater phenomenon. His elated cry drowned by the pitched screech of the final predator, whose wing span was much greater than his arms outstretched and the fur embellishing his face looked like a crown of decomposed leaves.
[i Yes, my love,] his mother had replied without shame, twining her fingers with his. Strands of unruly curls tickled the skin beneath his jaw when she bent behind him and pressed her cheek against his. He’d never witnessed a kinder smile. [i They will watch over us as we sleep.]
Only, as the hunter is forced to relieve the memory, they’d witnessed a massacre. Gritting his teeth, he curled his hands into coiled fists and peering down, he saw a cut of blood pooling into his palm. Recalling what’s lead him to this moment, he turns his gaze upon his mother once more, his frown deepening as the edges of the illusion are bled by reality and the laughter of his mother is halted before it ever fully forms.
Slammed back into his body, his teeth rattle beneath the force of his rage and sets the appendage of his tongue in the path to be wounded. Blood spills into his mouth, much darker than a human’s, with the tang of something half-alive. Again, he is reminded of the terrible past, of how closely it looms within the present as if settled into his bones, of how despite the sacrifice of his heritage, he wouldn’t quite escape it. The Rakshaka hisses and twists it’s talon fingers towards Pavlov’s eyes, but Nezha utilized the opportunity to shove the brass tads through his grotesquely twisted lips and watched how it adversely affected him.
Opaque warts clustered along the rubbery skin of his neck, to which his nails clawed and ruptured, a sickly bile colored that discharged into gray. The smell is unusual and forced Pavlov to remove himself so closely. Porvo slumped forward with a gurgle, turning bloodshot eyes upward over his shoulder with a last rasp. “You should ask your rodent.”
A moment passes; his eyes see the crumpled form of his mother stretched unceremoniously out across the grass, with slender fingers drowning in the creeping flood of her cooling blood. The halo it stains beneath her is not much in comparison to the quarts that filled the belly of the cackling kudlaks. There is no nausea as the trauma forces him to revisit it anew but his eyes revisit every shadowed face in apt attention. There are flashes of blonde hair and ivory teeth, blood wasting across chins and malicious lips, but beneath the dark coals of soulless eyes, there is the gravity of familiarity. The hair is shorter, though as thick and dark, and perhaps he is more uncertain of his echelon in the world but it is forgotten as he revels in the blood of his wheezing mother. The hunter blinks and flinches from the thought suddenly, nothing of the exterior changed – only the interior. Had the deity said something? Had tidal waves of awareness began wetting his feet? Perched on the edge of an epiphany, he’d carried through the motions of kneeling besides the Rakshaka to bind its wrists, struggling to regain lost ground. Despite this, he couldn’t focus.
He turned his ear just slight to Nezha, who kept his distance as if observing something secular. [b “Did you say something?”]
“I asked if you were alright, hunter.”
Pavlov nodded and with a forcible effort, hoisted the unconscious Porvo over his shoulder, saying nothing more as they crept their way out of the hospital.
[b OOC:] Didn't intend to godmod Nezha. I can change it if you want.
Sveta did not usually dream, but after having exhausted her venom and fed fully for the first time in days, dreams were all but inevitable. Eyes twitching under closed eyelids, she laid otherwise completely still upon the divan. As often seemed the case in the rare situations she dreamed, she dreamed of the past. She wasn't sure whether it was a trait of vampires--many others she'd met described the same experience--or simply a side effect of having been alive so long, with so many memories and so little time to linger. But asleep, neither thought came to her. She was caught up in the dream.
A high roost, perched in the rafters of the cathedral, tucked into a dark and dusty corner that offered both protection from the sun and a hiding spot from the priests. With the kind of half-awareness that came from being in a dream, she remembered that the sun had irritated her worse when she was younger, felt more painful on her delicate skin. With the naivete of youth, she had thought her perch unknown to the priests, unknown to her handler; she had long since realized that they had known about the perch, and that many conversations she thought she'd been cleverly eavesdropping had been orchestrated especially for her ears. The one below was one of the same.
"They've found him," the handler said, in a low whisper that her ears had had no trouble picking up, even from her high place in the rafters. She liked him. They went on hunts together, which was fun, and he even bought her little presents, hairbrushes and bows, that none of the other handlers had ever bothered to do. He was a fair-haired thing with some barbarian blood in him, perpetually red-nosed with sun-burn in the summer. They commiserated about the sun, him and her; he understood the pain she felt on a warm, sunny day. "Took him in on another charge, of all things. Thank God that he cooperated, that they caught him during the day so he was weakened."
"Him?" the priest replied, casting a nervous glance upwards as though scanning the rafters. And he was, she supposed, in hindsight; checking to make sure she was there. At the time, she had held perfectly still, and his rheumy old eyes had glided over her. He was less pleasant, constantly sickly with a hard, strict nature besides, and he disliked her on concept, disagreeing that the Church should be involved with such creatures at all, despite the local traditions. She disliked him in return, and sometimes brought back presents from her hunts and presented them to his crisp, clean bedsheets.
"Lech," the handler replied. "Sveta's... brother."
Dust fell from the rafters as Sveta startled. Brother? She had--a brother?
Rheumy eyes gazed upwards, but the rafter had been vacated. Sveta was gone, simple black dress made of the same material as the nuns' habits fluttering behind her. A brother. And he would be here, in the dungeons, if he was--like her, and they had found him. She hurried through the shadows, disappearing whenever someone passed by, as she'd long been bidden to. Her limbs were lanky with youth yet, appearance somewhere between childhood and womanhood though it was nearly fifty years since she'd been born. Parishioners told tales of how the cathedral was haunted by the spirit of a white-haired girl--tales of her. Once she reached adulthood, the priests assured her it would be less difficult, but she was not so sure.
A brother. She knew what that meant. He would be a blood-drinker, same as her--a vampire. One of those she hunted. But all the same, she wanted to meet him. Maybe he would be like her, a good vampire. A kresnik. He was her brother, after all! Perhaps they would go hunting together, once this little issue--whatever he'd been arrested for--was resolved.
The dungeons were mostly empty--usually they were. Officially, they didn't exist; buried deep in the crypt under the cathedral, most parishioners never wandered far enough to find them. They mostly held her quarry, the vampires she caught but didn't immediately feed from. She couldn't solely feed from other vampires. There just wasn't enough of them. But whenever she could, they would have her drink their blood, rather than human. That they let her drink human blood at all was apparently a concession that had been made before her time; that was what the handler was for, when he wasn't accompanying her on hunts. For feeding, and for her to fall in love with, but that wouldn't happen for another half-century, another half-dozen handlers. For now, she was too young for love, her head filled instead with the hunt, adrenaline and bloodlust.
She crept past moldy bones and linen-wrapped bodies, moving with surety among the corpse-lined path. This crypt, quiet, dark, beneath the earth, was more home to her than the sun-filled cathedral. The dark was lit only by the nearly-closed lantern she held, but it was more than enough. The path was familiar; she could have taken it with her eyes closed.
To her surprise, when she rounded the last corner to the dungeon, she found not a boy awaiting her, but rather a colt, black as the crypt they stood in, all knobby legs and shaggy coat. It peered at her, midnight-ink eyes glistening in the thin light of the lantern, and she stared back. Something welled up in her, something she'd never felt before--and not love or kinship, but anger, low and smouldering, the deep-felt fury of an old grudge. This was her brother, she knew it instinctively--and she knew that she hated him with all her heart.
But--a horse couldn't be her brother! That was ridiculous! Unless he could--like her--
The horse shivered, muscles jerking and twitching, bones shrinking and shifting; forelegs became arms, hooves hands or feet, hindlegs human legs, clad in cheap trousers. A boy about her age was crouched before her, the same black eyes staring, layers of dark clothes draped over his body. He laughed and stood, pushing back black, stringy hair.
"Thought I might fool a normal into letting me go, if they saw a horse, but what the hell kind of normal wanders through a crypt? Good to see another vampire, though. Won't you let me free? I'm starving."
She looked at him askance. Didn't he feel it, this rage? This kinship of hatred? But those dark eyes showed only mirth and hope, and a glittering flicker of something that set her teeth on edge, though she couldn't say quite what it was.
She supposed, had she not [i known,] she wouldn't have suspected they were related. He was dark where she was pale, black where she was white; there was some similarity in the curve of their cheeks, in the high cheekbones, the shape of their eyes, but that was it.
He put his hands on the bars and shook them, but released them quickly, hands burned black. As though to show her, he held up his palms, revealing what she'd seen many times before. "Silver. And enchanted, too; doesn't matter if I touch them bare-handed or not. You'll need to get a key."
"Why should I help you?" Sveta asked, and the vehemence of her voice surprised even her. "You're in there for a reason, aren't you?"
He rolled his eyes. "Do they need a reason? I'm a vampire, that's good enough."
She stared him down until he shifted uncomfortably, eyes cast aside. "Okay, so I stole, too. But what am I supposed to do? No one's gonna employ us, and we ain't all lucky enough ta be born into nobility."
"You're not like me." It wasn't a question. This thing was her brother, but it was not of her kind. It was like all the rest--monstrous, terrible, a scourge to be vanquished. It was not...her kin.
"Yeah, well, excuse me for being poor," he snapped. His eyes met hers, and this time he paused and leaned closer. "Your eyes..."
This time, it was Sveta's turn to snap. "What?"
He flinched back. "Nothing, jeez. You gonna let me out or what?"
She snapped the lantern shut as a reply, cutting off the only light in the crypt. "You deserve whatever they give you, thief."
A string of lurid and imaginative curses was her only reply, as she turned and let her instincts guide her out of the crypt. She was shaking, she realized, shaking with suppressed rage. She had wanted to tear him limb from limb; even now, she only desired to turn back and rend him to pieces. Her breath grew short, and it was difficult, nigh impossible, to continue to peaceably walk away--but she did it, forced herself to go. The sound of the cursing faded into silence.
Wakefulness interceded into her dream, granting some awareness of the truth, of what had passed between now and then. She had returned the next night, she remembered, unable to hold herself back any longer--only to find the cage rent asunder, the boy gone. It would be years yet before they met in battle--but mere years, as opposed to decades. It might as well have been weeks, months. She won the first fight--she remembered that much. But after that...
Through the haze of dream and memory, she realized that she had awakened for a reason, that some sense had alerted her to a change in her room. She shook off the memory and sat up slowly, feeling her age in her bones today. The more recent memory of what had passed earlier in the day hit her all at once, and she bowed her head in shame and embarrassment. She shouldn't have pushed her hunger. Shouldn't have--oh, but it was too late for regrets. All she could do now was hope Matilda didn't run when she saw her.
Matilda. She had brought the girl here. She sat up sharply, pushing her ruffled hair back into order as she moved. "Matilda?" she asked, blinking away sleep to look around her room.
[i There are voices that speak in a legion of languages, a cacophony of bemoaning that caress the visceral ridges of her mind. It slithers through the heavy dark into the hair follicles and deep down until it can embed itself into every nucleus of cells. Some are inciting and pithing, as gentle as a mother’s poisoned coo whilst others were boisterous and difficult, gnawing its presence into bones when ignored. Suspending in the haze of her own body, there is no escape when they are carried in and within her.]
[b Heretic,] they wheeze. On this, they settle upon a singular voice that grates like gravel across flayed nerves. [b Heretic.]
[i There is fog, suddenly. Her suspension comes to an end as a force angles until feet return to the ground. When it parts, there is an island in the far distance and the weight of the damned inside her like wet rot. [i Daughter,] a voice chimes. The body turns instinctively seeking its origin as frequency. Across the trek, there are skulls blackened by tar, pungent steam filtering through eye sockets into olfactory senses. It is difficult for the lungs to draw in air and so they cough and choke and rattle in its cage, until knees are skimmed and her footsteps curtail to a quiet halt. Even through the violent spasms that rock the her frame, she hears the call of her name.]
[i A storm quakes in the distant. There is naught to be seen but fog and darkness until a vein of lightning touches down, behind her and the landscape is revealed. Facing forward, with heads dropped to feet, are bodies in various states of decay – plump and thin, skin hangs of the exposed bones. Thousands of vertebra turn to face her and the gnarled, half-formed facial bones are unsightly specters of nightmares. A pause: they grin and the sky opens up, torrents of bloodflow flooding the sweltering bone road.]
[i [b Matilda,] her name unfurls inside her, [b run.]]
[i Each corpse turns its head. Crackles of laughter echo behind her but she doesn’t dare glance over shoulder, not with the voices of the already dead are screeching in octaves of fear that mortal ears cannot hear. Even over the erratic pounding of heartbeat, there is some hellish creature with its snout nearly upon her and she can feel the warmth of its breath against the nape of neck as her heels slick across and fly from beneath.]
[i She disappears into the mist, trekking lost with only the sporadic syllable of [b Ma], [b Til] [b Da] to gain course. Soon, she finds that there is no fog and there is no island. The body parts the barrier and spirals down and down until she is facing a sea of diamonds glistening in its black shroud. This is familiar.]
[i The ground beneath splits open, plates sliding across one another until its jagged land is plateaued. The moon bleeds before absolving itself of existence and blinks into the dark of the sky. The flesh on her skin feels as though it is melting from bones in painful layers, torrents and torrents of power submerging her beneath its deluges.]
[i Through the whipping wind and legion of voices joining her ardent invocation, Matilda can see herself, enamored by the power mounting through her veins. She cannot recall a reason that would inspired the elated spread of a smile across her face, what dark seduction allows her to give into the heady intoxication of stripping souls from their bodies. There is little time to consider it before a dagger is spinning through the maelstrom, hitting home and burying its hilt in her sternum.]
[i Her words halt mid-breathed, and the haughty octaves are reduced to shocked gasping. Her eyes swing around wildly, accusing each and every shadow for the betrayal; from the ground, with the smell of the forest and its wet dew mingled in her tears, her eyes find the splintered sapphires, watching her reservedly from the dark umbrage beyond the Circle.]
[i There are strangled cries, emerging from the bursting blood bubbles running down the corners of her mouth. She is aware this is her, weeping like a child on the forest floor. The pain is flashes of heat in all the numbness her body befalls to. Fingers twitch minutely, grasping for grass not yet slick with blood, but finds no footing. All essence of her wafts into the King, the golden aura of power clashing minutely, being devoured by his own. [b “Please,”] she simpers, begs.]]
[i His eyes are closed, lost in the euphoria of soul rejoining body. He breaths a word: [b [+red Glorious]] and it quite nearly is. At last, her soft and derisible wheezes are silenced, and Elegba-with her glorious crown of braids and leopard pall- pulls into the yawning void of the After.]
Fat tears have soaked the softness of the pillow by the time her eyes open. Warm, buttery sunlight falls across silken sheets. Pink like cotton candy, the thought brings to mind the memory of riding Morgana’s shoulders at the state fair. It had been a large function with carnival games, a miniature animal farm and the enticing smell of freshly baked pastries, and when night fell, the lanterns notched to the seated end of the swaying benches of the Ferris Wheel glowed across the bay. The days seemed so simple before magic had manifested itself, but then, if she were truly an Anchor, neither existing on this plane or another… As she slides from between the sheets, the stark memory of the nightmare brings itself into full focus when it skims skinned knees and tar sloshes from around her ankles.
The gnashing teeth, the hollowed out eyes that smoldered away the façade to discover the truth of her. A return there would be treacherous. In the depths of her soul, she were sure they would pick the skin from her bones, inch by inch for time.
Looking around, the bedroom was modest but comfortable. The windows had heavy curtains drawn, which pitched her in a murky, half-shadowed world that felt too much like the hotlands. White walls devoid of portraits absorbed the light, which, as the minutes crept by, incrementally adopted a sienna hue. Sunset would be upon them in a few hours and she had yet accomplish her task. Just beyond a dresser and drawing table, it seemed there was a small bathing room where she could refresh herself.
Eventually, she stumbles down the hallway and emerges into the living room. Sveta stretches across a divan, the slow fade of fresh feeding giving her a rubicund complexion. The play of shadows and light on silver hair has a way of drawing her attention like an easily distracted child; she is allotted a quiet moment to reflect upon her dream and the wild fever that commanded she be consumed whole by the vampire. How reckless it was to try the restraints of her hunger and mercy, and not minutes after being attacked by some Shade and learning of the fate of her mother.
[i Consumed.] What was once a caution tale for fledging witches had become a numbing truth. Serving the balance met adhering to the laws that governed it, for the protection of all humans in their domain but for themselves. Magic was volatile when wielded egotistically. It complied to the whims of the witch’s will. Her mother broke all the laws when she parted the Ether and birthed Matilda whilst abdominal magic course through her veins. All ancestral magic inherited through the Copphavieli line had been offered to supplement her daughter’s life, while she channeled the darkest invocations to anchor her soul to the physical plane. Fighting through the inevitability of her own death, three types of magic would have been required to do such a ungodly feat. How then had she enough stretch to be sheathed from the weight of her own magic to become a Specter?
[i I overheard you asking about your mother, Camille – I am hoping to caution you from following her path.]
My God, had Sveta not been bound by neither her King nor a vow… Matilda might indeed be lost, all too eager to please the vampire. Even now, in the low humming of the magic that tethered them, she’d like nothing more than to curl up on her lap and have those nails brush through snarled curls. Finding a pen, she scratches some gracious platitude across the back of a Parisian postcard and promises to be safe in her short commute to work. And yet, she lingers, readily recalling how Sveta’s had stilled when kiss – how rejection had not been immediate and fanned the low embers of hope in the pits of her stomach – of the Shade lingering over her shoulder as if struggling to communicate [i something], the expanding scope of her powers and the danger that followed with her.
[i Heretic,] the voices sigh again, reminding Matilda of her enterprise.
The images kept flashing through his head as the mortal warrior bought himself tobacco at a store, each repetition bringing an almost physical stab of pain with it. The girl, the child, dragged away, and him helpless to stop it. No--not helpless. He could have stepped in, intervened, but he had been forced by that terrible monster known as politics to stay his hand. It was not fair. It was--
It was his choice. He had chosen not to intervene. He had allowed mere politics to hold sway over him! Once, he had spat in the face of politics, charged fearlessly to meet the adversary without a whit of thought for the consequences. And he had succeeded! He had rescued his friends, slayed the monster--
And been executed for his efforts. He could not ignore the terrible, immaterial weight of authority. He had learned that lesson. Now, more than ever, he had to be aware of that. The Emperor was testing him. His father was testing him. He had to walk a narrow line.
Nezha sighed out a long, slow breath, full of weariness. He felt as though he had been chained, compressed in a tiny room and left worthless. This was awful. It could not last. Something would have to give.
He only feared that the something was him.
The building Pavlov lead him to was impressive and huge, but so full of malicious intent that the air itself was heavy. He cast Pavlov a glance as they trekked inside, but the warrior seemed to only be aware of how awful the refuse they walked in was. "This place is evil," he hissed through air that was heavy with an entirely physical entity; his mouth felt dirty simply from having been opened in such a disgusting place. "No surprise a rakshasa lives here."
The inside was more disturbing. In of itself, there was nothing wrong; the walls were sterile, impersonal, the fixtures bland but not terrible. But the cries, the things he heard, the darkness that coiled around each room, spreading its maliciousness upon itself until it was a nearly palpable fog that hung low in the air--it was nearly enough to drive a god mad.
"What is this place?" he whispered, disgusted. "What is done to these people?"
The whisper was for Pavlov's benefit. None of these nurses could hear him, and those in the rooms seemed to be of the kind who would be disregarded, even if they reported seeing him.
For a time, they had to move softly, Nezha again indulging the warrior and creeping beside him. Then it was a sprint to the rakshasa's office, warrior padding lightly alongside him. "Will not this woman notice, when you kill him before her?" he asked, confused but not unduly bothered by the idea. He, after all, would not be spotted. Though it seemed odd to him that someone would have walked all the way here rather than have written a letter to arrange a meeting. If she were here, why not meet now?
The telephone was yet a foreign invention to him, something he had not experienced, only heard rumor of. That the woman was not inside never crossed his mind.
He gave the warrior a harsh look at the next suggestion. "I cannot make myself invisible to those of my same nature," he began, but then the door flew open, and there was no more time. The rakshasa was facing them, mouth to an odd black device; he looked unassuming enough, but only for a second. Then their true aspects were revealed to one another, though the mortal Pavlov would have noticed no change; only for an instant, they saw each other as they truly were, but it was more than long enough. The rakshasa snarled and leaped, flying an impossible distance for his weak-looking form, and bore down on the warrior; Nezha shoved Pavlov aside, summoned his spear with a flick of his wrist, and slammed the blade through the rakshasa's midriff. It screamed and pushed the shaft backwards, then flew off the spear to float before them, mortal form melting away to reveal the terrible creature beneath. It was barely perturbed by his thrust, only angered.
"Is there another plan?" he asked lightly, in the moment before they began in earnest. Hallway through his words, the rakshasa sprung forward again, claws wide. He raised his spear to meet it, only to discover that he'd fallen for its feint; it landed, rolled, and lashed out with a heavily-muscled leg for Pavlov.
Lech shied away from the light; the reflected sunshine from the bare floor was enough that he felt himself weakening, though it was not powerful enough to burn. A giant of a man hulked in the doorway, joined by another, then another; all three had blue skin. Webs stretched between the fingers that clenched the doorframe and their teeth, gritted, were sharp.
"I thought you guys stuck to Minch," he called, raising his sword. He recognized them: storm kelpies, and all around bad news. They were ship-wreckers, drowners, and poets, and he wasn't sure which was the worst. And on top of all that, they didn't turn into horses or sexy women. There was literally no good side to them.
"Times change," the leader intoned. Then he stopped short. "Child, what role have you here? You are not the one who took my daughter."
Lech shrugged. "I'm just the sap unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time." Here, with Pavlov...a thousand times over, it was true.
The man's brow furrowed. "You speak with a prescience above your years. You are no child, are you?"
Lech shrugged, but before he could speak, one of the flanking men chimed in. "I recognize him, Seonaidh. He has made himself younger by some dark art, but the scent is the same. He is the kudlak Lech Mstivoj. A lesser blooddrinker of little import."
"I'm standing right here, you know," Lech muttered. Of little import? He had once led armies across the plains and conquered city after city, country after country. He was no lesser blooddrinker, whatever that even meant.
The third man sniffed loudly. "I smell the scent that took Jinny. It lingers in the air, upon the parasite."
Lech's eyes narrowed. The sword and the antiquated phrasing had him feeling like old times again. He would [i not] stand idly by while they so abused him. "Come into my...Come into this house and insult me? I should duel you, by all rights!"
The leader--Seonaidh--raised his hand. "The hunter is out. No need for such unpleasantries. We will take our leave."
Lech lowered his sword by an inch. "Really?" he asked incredulously.
The storm kelpie's eyes glittered. "But of course we must leave a message. Otherwise, it would not be polite." With a gesture of a single finger, he sent both flunkies charging at Lech.
Pavlov said nothing of the man who slipped into the alley, and knew nothing of what Nezha witnessed in between the billowing winds of clashing forces -for him, it had only been a display of color and smoke. He did, however, venture into the general store long enough to purchase a brand of cigarettes that would congest his lungs before he’d savor the burning tobacco. Keeping to the outside of the sidewalk, he angled himself down-wind so not to disturb the deity. Sometime between the third and fourth glorious drag, felt some semblance of himself again.
From what he knew of Rakshasa, they were enormous creatures with fangs and sharp, claw finger nails and fierce in battle. In text, they were depicted as mean, growling beasts with an insatiable appetite for flesh. Those of a significant age were said to possess flaming red eyes and hair, and drunk blood from the skull of their first kill. There was some rumor they wielded the ability to fly and cast illusions, so they might assume any harmless form, or size. Appearances were meant to deceive and this quarry favored subtly over his bloodthirsty kin. Centuries of an ever mutable world would have forced him to adapt his methods of survival.
Lester Porvo, is reedy with thin, penny-colored hair and a staid mien. His teeth was uneven in his photography and his eyes small and beady from the wire-rimmed glasses perched upon his bulbous nose. His occupation as a sanatorium doctor profited him well; those bond to the terminal wing were rarely checked upon, except for his nurses, who had been compelled to silence and indifference. Like a child in a candy-store, he went from one bemoaning patient to another, slicing off an underside of thigh or a shoulder to sample. Within weeks, only the pancreas, gallbladder and limbic remains were laid to rest, presumably to be devoured by the ghoul seeking refuge in the vast, underground sepulcher on site.
Originally constructed as a manor for John Rockefeller, the construction came to an abrupt end when his abruptly left for his estate in Westchester County. The unfinished brick monument loomed for half a year more, before the ambitious architect Bonne Burnham convinced beginning visionary Mark Ratner to undertake the task; at the edge of the property, he built “Heavewood” which served as the dormitory for nurses and staff housing. The home itself contained an administrative building, treatment rooms, and the kitchen which served as the central hub for the pavilion buildings. The terminal wing was separate, with a two-mile tunnel at the end of a steep hill, used in the transport of the deceased. This was the point of entry for the two men.
Refulgent with the scent of water-rotted wood, decomposition, and feces, Pavlov curses darkly as they trek through shin-high expenditure that didn’t drain properly. Eventually, the dark tunnel broke into the tributary for the kitchen and they came upon the steel door. It yawned uninvitingly when they entered. Considering the advancement of medication, fewer and fewer patients were incoming and those who were involuntary interned required constant attention. Short-staffed by the shift to politics and industry, they crept inside unnoticed. Of course, for Nezha, his existence was a dubious thing, having the clout to conceal himself at will. Could this enchantment be extended to others as well? They were kidnapping an esteemed doctor and he hadn’t formulated a thorough plan on how to extract him from the facility.
“Please! Please!” The cries of the infirm echo in its halls.
“there is no escape, there is no escape, thereisnoescape”
“Mama. Is that you?” A child's voice in a state of confusion.
There are rooms with televisions that play to no one. There are voices that speak in an octave above a whisper and those who speak in multiple tongues. The hospital perturbingly evocated the comparison to a mental institution. They crept through the storage rooms and waited on bated breaths while chattering nurses complained at the chemical burns they’ve suffered.
The Talbot Hospice wing holds twenty-nine rooms: six which are reminiscent of a home with a complete, private bath, a ham radio at the bedside, and a meditation chapel for bereavement support. Porvo’s office is located at the far end embellished by stained-glass window in the image of the Virgin Mary.
Pavlov squinted down the hall and made for a full, padded sprint upon seeing all the rooms closed. There were no windows to observe its inhabitant. The doctor's name appeared in gilded text beside the door. The Hunter presses his ear against the door and cycled his breath, so he could listen inside.
[i "Come, your husband has just entered his last moments,"] a voice hissed. [i "If you leave tonight, you'll arrive in due time."] The tone is placid but it leaves behind a subliminal knowledge of his influence over others. The measure of reason does not distract from the command it is. The wife on the other ends acquiesces and he chuckles. [i "Your burden will soon be relieved and won't it be wonderful that you mustn't suffer through his decline like the [b pitiful] thing he is. I know your type Mrs. Brandt. Be here at nine sharp."]
In turn, Pavlov quietly relayed this information to Nezha. He scheduled an engagement tomorrow, and though he doubts he will be missed, this gives police probable cause to sniff around. The Kelpie he took, Jinny, worked in the department. They'll investigate deeper than normal. [i Well,] he sighed, [i it couldn't be helped.] Her just have to trust Sveta to make good on her word and keep him out of the humdrum.
[b "Make yourself invisible,"] Pavlov said, his hand on the doorknob, [b "I'm going to catch him by surprise with a garotte. Incapacitate him with the brass powder by shoving it in his mouth."] With a bracing breath, he twisted to test whether it was locked. It went freely.
The girl was almost too willing, too placid. She had nearly forgotten what it was like to use her venom; her own preferences demanded that she did not, and only rarely did she resort to it. Matilda arced eagerly beneath the bite, and when noises issued from her mouth, they were pleasure or jealousy, not fear. Even when she fed from the boy, swallowing his life down in hot red gulps, Matilda did not protest, but--growled, the sound sensual and desperate. Sveta had to wonder if the lesson had not taught the girl the opposite of what she had intended, if the girl did not long more for her bite, now, knowing the ecstasy--helpless, but ecstasy all the same--that came with it. She would have to be careful now, exceedingly so.
And careful not only with the girl. Her coven would not look well on this; even Morgana would condemn her for it, if she discovered. There was no proof she did not feed from Matilda, after all, and vampire venom was well-known among the witching communities as addictive; well-known, as so many vampires had addicted witches to it, so that they could taste their sweet blood without a fight. Even if she made the argument that she had not fed, that she was only teaching the girl a lesson, she doubted they would treat her kindly.
But she had known this when she made her choice.
The girl's answer is not entirely satisfactory. Under the influence of the venom, it could not possibly be, since she was compelled to agree, but despite that, she still managed to sound--not rebellious, but near enough. Sveta cocked a silver eyebrow, curious.
And then her attention was taken up by two scents, two scents that, in the heat of the girl's advances, in the desperate thrall of hunger, she had not noticed. The hunter, Pavlov, and the middleman, Nezha. She smiled bitterly. And what would they think of her after this? Certainly nothing they hadn't thought before. Nezha's distaste for undead was all but legendary, and the hunter--well, he was a hunter. Prejudiced against all creatures.
But she wanted to meet neither in a dark alley, a victim at her feet and the King's prospect high on her venom.
She made a dissatisfied sound in her throat, then turned back towards Matilda. "Sleep," she ordered gently, and caught the girl before she could fall. Cradling the girl's limp weight in her arms as though she were a mere babe, she sprinted away from the scents, moving faster than a human could hope to catch.
Her sprint is a short one, and ends with a leap three stories upward and through a window, curtains fluttering past. Her apartment is as she left it; furnished only sparsely, a couch and a large easy chair set before a modest fireplace, a simple, almost rustic kitchen, wooden dining room table set with four chairs, mostly for decoration. Her bed is queen-size, the sheets a pale pink; the couch and easy chair are cream, the floor hardwood, the walls white. She set Matilda down in her bed and pulled the covers over her, then retreated to her living room and laid down on the couch. While the girl slept off the venom, she would catch a few hours' sleep. Then, fed and rested, she would face whatever troubles she had brought upon herself.
[i How naïve.]
The taunt is a sharp cackle in the occipital lobe, spreading like a cancer though each hemisphere. Only, it is her temple striking and pain has her uneven steps spiraling. A hand grabs hair closest to the scalp, yanking so that every swallow becomes torturously erotic. Sveta’s breath caress her earlobe, the only sound that penetrates the static quiet, that accompanies her on excited wheezes.
“I will ruin you,” in the promise, the small curls that compose her sideburns are disturbed, and brush her skin. The sensation is equivalent to being dragged along hot coals –and she groans in response. “I will transgress upon everything you thought could not be transgressed. I will violate you in ways that you could not imagine in nightmares. And then I will drain you dry and kill you. And. You. Will. Beg. Me. For. It.”
Trapped between the wall and Sveta, she could not see the horrific presentation of the hunger – ever-lurking, ever-monstrous. The slow draw of fingers on the top of thighs has her squirming, a half-draw gasp that is graceless and telling. [i No,] she wants to beg – for she has not trespassed into the temptations of the flesh, and her skin burns at each slow touch – for the introduction into her undoing, but no vocal words can be formed.
“I have been your pet dog. But no longer. Now, you will be mine.”
Teeth slid into her neck like butter melts beneath a tepid knife. It embeds sharp daggers at the junction and bruises the curve of her shoulder. Every muscle fiber contracts at the invasion before she relaxes minutely, her resistance dissipating as easily as her voice. Her head sleepily rests in the cradle of Sveta’s hand, her own arms, which are crushed against the wall, are limp and lifeless. Venom is carried dutifully through every capillary and vein, and some small sound is caught in her throat.
She attempts to swallow, but finds her tongue has become fat in her mouth. Her finger twitches on its own accord, but otherwise, the command over her weight or even how heavy her lids felt over her eyes was gone. Consciousness was gone, she knew only sensation – the malleability of herself, like clay in hands, the feel of a mouth on her, on her skin.
Suspended in the prison of her own mind, her body arcs willingly against Sveta’s merciless assault. The bricks are rough against her cheek, biting into the flush skin. Hyper-sensitive to touch, the girl’s body shivers, single-mindedly seeking out pleasure.
Only, the world shifted. She is demanded of – “Sit. And watch.” Clumsily, she does such, her bottom hitting the ground like a toddler after its first steps. Indeed, she does watch – the blackness of eyes framed by silver lashes, the elongated length of fangs still ruddied by [i her] blood –and this gives her pleasure in a measure that is deep and vast.
A boy joins. His complexion nearly matches hers. His feet follow a tune Matilda knows, [i feels], when he draws closer and closer. His hunger is present, his tongue snaking out as if to [i taste]. Pale arms encircle him, draw him close. Some half-growl spills from Matilda’s lips in resentment. Jealous spears her amiable thoughts, becomes formless, falls away.
Greedy suckles fill the silence. Even Matilda has forgotten how to breath. Then, the breaths start again, to the tempo of Sveta’s own, - her doe eyes wide and staring and so very intent. When he falls like stale laundry to the ground and there is the distinct crack of a rib, her eyes do not spare him a glance – not, until her hands are upon his chest.
Distantly, she is aware that this is meant to be a lesson, a peek in a cert future if she continues so careless. Impassively, she looks carefully at the length of his body, at the rest in his hands and the sporadic twitches of his rapture. Her eyes travel to his face, where his eyes are beholding only Sveta, and the ties that hold her in wariness, fall away from her like a man who has abandoned religion.
[i My daughter, look at you.] A shuddered breath leaves her lungs. [i You will be magnificent.]
“Up.” Her knees dimple, and invert. She stands, motionless as her crumbled skirt and hair is corrected, leans into her touch when her hand rests on the cheek. “If I told you to mount him, you would. And you would enjoy it, until the venom wore off. If I told you to cut your own wrists, you would, and paint with your lifeblood as you bled out, should I order it. If I drained you dry, you would writhe in ecstasy until you dropped dead--and you would think, until the very last, that you could trust me, that I could control the hunger. And there are a million things worse I could visit upon you, things I have not done since men were drawn and quartered in the streets. I am a predator, girl, and I am not to be trifled with. My hunger is fire. If you stoke it again, I cannot guarantee you will not be burned. And as your protector, that would be unacceptable.” Her eyes narrow, her soften voice commanding. “Do. Not. Provoke me. Do you understand?”
Rather a mechanic nod, a half-aware nod, Matilda quietly stares back. It is in this, perhaps, that the vision begins to pull together. There will be no requiem for this spinning world, no immortalizes of its lamb; there would be its abject combustion as it whimpers quietly into the good night, and her –in the midst of it.
The direct question frees her tongue. [b “I understand,”] she responds automatically, in a tone that does not suggest deference but rather its opposite.
“Wouldn’t know the first thing about a shrine,” Pavlov said, “how to build it, or where. But I am willing to do so.”
Nezha shrugged. He hadn't expected the warrior to know, this far from the homeland. "Something simple will be plenty. A wooden...box, for lack of a better word, or even a carved stone or figure. I can show you how, if you like."
He wrinkled his nose slightly at the assurance that it was no fearsome dragon, but subsided. Of course there wouldn't be a fearsome, terrible dragon within walking distance of a city. The city wouldn't survive it, and the stronger dragons were, in his experience, solidarity creatures. Solitary creatures with powerful family bonds, but solitary all the same.
"Sure about your request? A shrine won't help pay for food."
Nezha fixed dark eyes on the taller man. "I am immortal, warrior Pavlov. Physical sustenance is something I enjoy, but not something I require." It wasn't exactly true. He felt hunger and thirst, the same as any other human, but he could ignore it for centuries with no ill effects--except, perhaps, to his sanity. He shifted his eyes away and looked over the crowd, gazing passively at the gathered humanity. His eyes rested longer on the children than the adults, and a gentle smile touched his face. When he turned back to Pavlov, it had been banished. "Besides, to those who do not have an intimate relationship with magic and the supernatural such as yourself, I am...immaterial. Invisible. If I desired the slop you people sell as good tea, I could walk inside and take it, and no one would be any the wiser."
It was how he'd been feeding himself, mostly. Nothing that would hurt anyone, but potatoes would disappear from the ground, loaves of bread would be one slice less, the milk jug would grow lower without anyone touching it. He felt like a thieving, lesser spirit doing it, like the nurarihiyon of the island, but it was very hard to ignore the pangs of hunger. Even so, he wasn't about to take the King's money. To do so, even through the hunter, would corroborate him as working with the King, which his Emperor had expressly forbid--and it was not as though his reputation in the Emperor's court was exactly sterling. He could not touch that money, not without risking his very status on the court; and his father would be glad of the excuse to finally be rid of him.
A shrine would fix that problem as well, to some degree; if anyone here respected the old traditions and gave him a food offering there, it would be his duty to eat it.
He could have told this all to the hunter, but his pride wouldn't allow it for a moment.
And then his gaze settled on silver hair and dark flesh, on a witch with lips pressed tightly against an undead, against those of the King's enforcer. He swallowed, emotions rioting, and felt his power well up despite himself. That was a child--a child by days, but a child still--being [i violated] by the King's pet undead! His fingers twitched, aching to close on the shaft of his spear and wrench it through the wretched thing's unbeating heart, and it was only with great effort that he looked away. He could not strike the King's enforcer, not without violating his orders. But--his lips curled into a mirthless smile--oh, but the King would hear of this!
He tugged hard at Pavlov's sleeve, face turned away so that it was only in his peripherals that he saw the two disengage. "Let's move," he said, and he was unable to keep the anger out of his voice. He couldn't do this. Couldn't watch helplessly again as a child was taken by a monster. He had to be away from here, or he--he wouldn't be able to control himself any longer.
Lech reached up on his tip-toes and just snagged the edge of the curtain. Sunlight seared against his fingertips like the edge of a hot skillet, but he gritted his teeth and yanked it shut. The curtain was heavy, thick, and it blocked out the sunlight with ease. Now the only sunlight came from the doorframe.
Task completed, he sucked on his fingers until they hurt no more, then walked over to where a big sword hung on one wall. It was a wide-bladed affair unlike any he'd seen before, and it was out of the reach of children like him; he leaped up, grabbed the handle, then kicked off the wall and spun back to land on his feet. The balance of the thing was strange; he swung it a few times, spinning through the forms of the ancient and all but eradicated school of swordplay he'd learned. Slowly, he started to get the feel of the sword; he smiled. It had been too long since he'd had a good swordfight. The age of knights had been the best for him; then he could wear a suit of sun-blocking metal and walk a battlefield in broad daylight, with no one any more the wiser. Now, wars were fought from an impartial distance, without much use for swords, and they held little interest for him.
Between his suddenly-downsized body and the new sword, he nearly cut himself a dozen times just practicing the basic forms. At last he rested, sword-point in the hut's floor. The familiar forms had done something to calm his frustration and helpless anger, and without Pavlov around to goad him or alternatively for him to insult, he almost felt relaxed for the first time in days.
A shadow interrupted the sunlight that leaked around the hut's door, and a second later, someone knocked. Lech froze. Was someone looking for Nezha? Should he call out, tell them the prejudiced girly-man was out?
"I seek the one who took my daughter," a low voice rumbled, and Lech raised his sword at the door. "I hear you in there, creature."
"He's out," Lech replied, broadening his stance, such as it was, for a fight. The one who took his daughter? Had Nezha kidnapped--no, wait, Pavlov had. Pavlov had kidnapped the kelpie, right? Which meant--nothing good, anyways.
There was a heavy sigh, and then the door slammed open.
Dark clouds were beginning to roll in, obscuring the streams of sun. Swollen with rain, it would not be long before they’d rupture and drown the city in a hellish torrent. Weather was not a phenomenon that Pavlov allowed to dictate his tasks, though it did make hunting more cumbersome when his visual acuity has been reduced. In truth, he could have returned to the Circle, a shoddy village tucked to the southwest on the border of New Jersey and New York and requested the services of any willing participant – but he recognized that, even in the tact among hunters, it would be more difficult to insert himself in the unfolding events. Nezha was an unknown variable – his skills, his allegiance, his ambitions, all concealed beneath his impassive face – but he had faculty, which could be readily disclosed as innocuous information.
“I care not for money. Though, if you could build a shrine in my name? It would not need to be large.” The request is far simpler than he anticipated but he is uncertain of its repercussions. Shrines were places of holy worships for deities, a touchstone in which power can be amassed quickly and quietly. The King was already stretching his influence to gather international support, a recent gesture that implied a coming – though, of what, or who, he certainly could not elicit from Sveta or her brother. Only Nezha would know of what [i could] be. If he agreed, would he be acting against the King or his own interests?
The tread must be light.
The hunter drew short in this broad steps, mulling the thought over.[b “Wouldn’t know the first thing about a shrine,”] Pavlov spoke truthfully, [b “how to build it, or where. But I am willing to do so.”]
“I am worshipped in India. I have fought Rakshasa – or Rasetu – before.” He weighs the brass powder, tasting its metallic contents, presumably to determine the purity of its amalgam. “Though, I am afraid I know a different breed of Vetala. Those I am familiar with are corpsetakers, possessors. But I enjoy fresh quarry. Salamander is another word for dragon in your language, is it not?”
Pavlov nods amicably, feeling the first wave of exhaustion settling in his muscles. How long had it been since he had a decent night sleep in an actual [i bed], not a desk or any other flat surface he’s toppled over for a few restless hours? Or had a hot meal that wasn’t bitten down in a rush and discarded? He is hard planes and corded muscles, used to pushing himself in stringent conditions, but the power of the binding rune had depleted his reserves – and now, it shows in his slowed strides, in his long pauses. [b “Yes,”] he mutters quietly, [b “though, it appears more of a lizard than anything too fearsome. Lucky us, a silver blade will injury the Vetala, corpsetakers or not.”]
They emerge from the thicket of forest, where at its edge, a park has been paved. Its central location was most ideal for parents who owned and worked in the stories that littered downtown, and could observe their children at play whilst at lunch. Animated peals of laughter dance through the air, the children oblivious to the creeping squall. Distantly, the thunder rolls.
“I am still with you, warrior,” he said more eagerly still. “Lead on.”
Pavlov and he meandered the sidewalk, nodding in greeting to the scurrying secretaries and officers. Pleasantly, he gestured towards the local apothecary which carried poisonous plant derivatives and the butcher’s for his carnivorous captives. Tucked between a jewelry and furniture store is a café that imports the more exotic teas and coffee beans, though, he warned the Chinaman that it was pricy. [b “Sure about your request?”] the hunter questioned once the smell of Oolong oozed from its open door, mixing with the decadent cinnamon rolls baking across the street. [b “A shrine won’t help you pay for food.”]
As the air is charged before a storm, so to, is it in the presence of powerful magic. A tempest of it unfurls, an deep crimson that ambulated from block to block - drawing curious inhabits to peek from open shop doors, from the studios above retailers. Only there is nothing to be seen, only an infusion of color that plumped the ground and swirled, obscuring inhabitants from view. Had they been closer: once, twice, he would have caught the glimpse of fine silver hair, or of rich dark skin and floral print.
Nezha stops first. Brows knitted together, his dark eyes seem to swallow the sclera entirely. The Adam’s apple of his throat bobs. A man of dark complexion walks into the mouth of the alleyway. The event might have been readily discarded, had the binds of the rune not allowed his sensed to be heighted in proxy: the eager sound of the man's heart became sluggish and excuriatingly slow.
Pavlov is already crossing the street, when he hears the second heartbeat.
Touch. Touch after touch. She is still, absolutely so, because to move would be to kill the girl, kill her here in broad daylight for all the world to see, and to hell with the consequences. Fingers brush at her face, her hair. It is agony, pure agony. Agony without ecstasy, because she must resist. What this girl is doing--what she has done--it is teasing, begging the predator to strike. Frustration buillt, desperate need to sink her teeth into willing flesh: why hold back? The girl [i wants] it. Sveta [i wanted] it. Wanted it desperately.
It wasn't hunger any longer. Hunger was far too weak a word to describe what she felt. It was famine in her stomach, a drought in her throat, death upon her teeth. And still Matilda fed it, stoking flames she could not possibly understand with every brush of flesh.
When she spoke it was seduction, the sweet taste of her breath upon the air like an orchard of temptation.
“I do know. If you feed on another, you might kill them. You won't with me. I trust you.”
She would have laughed, were not every ounce of her being at war with itself. [i She knows!] But hardly. Rather, the opposite was true. With anyone else, the old restraints would hold strong. Only with this girl were they shredded, shredded by the very enchantments meant to protect her. Witches! Ever prideful. They put too much faith in their magic, thinking it be-all, end-all. But were it not for Morgana's working, she would have been able easily to resist the girl's eager temptation. The girl enchanted is a force of nature. She would seduce Matilda? Ha! Not when the girl's mere touch reduced her to a mewling fledgling, unable to control her lust.
And it is witch's blood. It would be sweet, like a fine dessert wine, this one tempered and alive with youth. She had tasted such before--God knew there was plenty at hand during the Inquisition, during the American witch trials--and she had never forgotten it. Tempered the longing, yes, repressed it alongside every other urge, but another touch and it was undone.
And then plump lips are pressed to hers, delicate, chaste. It is the chasteness that nearly ruins her, this girl full of love and life and longing and yet who respects her distance, in this small way, after a thousand disrespects.
Gravity held them together. A small black hole existed behind Sveta's lips, and it cried desperately to meet with this girl and devour her. Her fingers dug into her palms, nails punching through flesh, but it was not until she smelled her own dark-rotten blood that she found the will to pull away.
Sveta gasped, trying to re-center herself, then snarled. It was a feral sound, one that belonged to the wolf but issued from the mouth of the woman. Her hand snapped shut on Matilda's wrist, iron; her fingers bit into soft flesh, bruising the girl's wrist. She dragged the girl away, away from crowded streets and prying eyes and--inexplicably, for she didn't sense his presence--the lingering scent of her brother. Her ears are shut to the girl's words, hunger pounding dark with each best of Matilda's heart. A dark alley offered her refuge, and she dragged Matilda inside and threw her roughly against rough brick. Not rough enough to break skin, but rough enough to hurt.
She gives the girl no chance to protest or act of her own will. One hand yanked her hair, tilting her head back, revealing long, graceful neck. The other played across a belly still taut with youth, inching lower almost playfully, teasing.
The girl needed to be taught a lesson.
"I will ruin you," she promised, hissing through clenched teeth, mouth nearly touching Matilda's ear. "I will transgress upon everything you thought could not be transgressed. I will violate you in ways that you could not imagine in nightmares. And then I will drain you dry and kill you. And. You. Will. Beg. Me. For. It."
Eyes black, teeth extended. She steeled herself, then yanked the skirt up, running fingers up a coffee-colored thigh. She wanted to scare the girl. Frighten her off. Not from the King, no--but from presuming that she knew. That she could understand. From thinking the world was a kind place. From--hurting herself. From hurting Sveta in this way, where she had long thought she had grown immune to such temptations.
"I have been your pet dog. But no longer. Now, you will be mine."
She bit, sinking canines into the girl's neck. A few drops of blood welled up; she shivered at the taste. It was all she had imagined and more. Oh, what she had forgotten, in the years without witch blood! And this had the fresh-nectar bouquet of virginity to it yet. Every impulse screamed to drain it dry, to drink until she was drunk on it.
Instead, she injected the girl with venom.
Her venom was not an easy ride. She knew what it would evoke in the girl. A gentle numbing agent would be the first to take effect, making the bite painless, wrapping Matilda in a warm blanket of non-sensation, every little hurt softened to naught. Her will would be weakened, inhibitions released. It was a powerful aphrodisiac; painfully so, in high doses, and she had given Matilda all she had. And the girl would find herself almost paralyzed. Not physically, no, but psychically. She would want nothing but to obey Sveta's orders, would be unable to even imagine disobedience. At Sveta's whim, she would stand or sit, run, scream; it was not thralldom, but for as long as the venom was in effect, it might as well have been. It was a subtle poison for a subtle prey, the kind of venom that could be addictive: thrilling, seductive--and terrifying.
She drew back, an effort of will equal to that which had moved mountains, and gazed imperially, impartially at the girl. "Sit," she ordered, in the tone of one who knows she will be obeyed. "And watch."
It was a moment's effort to find prey, in her current state of mind; a handsome young man, dark of skin and thick of lashes, whom Matilda might find attractive. He followed her without asking, enraptured by her eyes, and she led him into the alley, before Matilda. She had only the dregs of her venom left for him, but it was all she needed. He shuddered as she bit, and she lapped noisily at his lifeblood, keeping her eyes on Matilda the whole time, as they lightened from black to pale, sapphire blue once more. Normally she made no sound when she fed, but today she was making a point.
She released him, and he fell limply to the floor. Alive, but barely; spent, weak, unable to do anything but twitch in rapture. She knelt and ran a hand over his chest, and his body responded eagerly, visibly. When she pulled her hand away, he moaned weakly.
"Up," she demanded of Matilda, hunger now abated until even the fresh puncture wounds on her neck were no temptation. She fussed at the girl's neck, wrapping the wounds with fabric torn from the bottom of her own skirt, then pulled back and smiled. Her hands fluttered over the girl, adjusting her dress, primping her hair. One at last rested against the girl's cheek, a familiar gesture.
"If I told you to mount him," she said gently, "you would. And you would enjoy it, until the venom wore off. If I told you to cut your own wrists, you would, and paint with your lifeblood as you bled out, should I order it. If I drained you dry, you would writhe in ecstasy until you dropped dead--and you would think, until the very last, that you could trust me, that I could control the hunger. And there are a million things worse I could visit upon you, things I have not done since men were drawn and quartered in the streets. I am a predator, girl, and I am not to be trifled with. My hunger is fire. If you stoke it again, I cannot guarantee you will not be burned. And as your protector, that would be unacceptable." Her voice turned harsh. "Do. Not. Provoke me. Do you understand?"
All posts are either in parody or to be taken as literature. This is a roleplay site. Sexual content is forbidden.