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[center As the night wore on, Ioann slept soundly. He hardly moved as he slept, head nestled still atop Eli’s chest. It was a rather peaceful night, after all the hubbub, and come the morning, all appeared to be back to normal. Ioann slept in for the first time in forever, and despite Marina’s attempts to wake him, he slept well into the morning.
Eli, at the very least, had managed to wake up and grab breakfast with everyone. It had been a very busy morning, with a full table and plenty of conversation to go around.
Ioann was the last to join, and right in the midst of their meal, hair still mussed and eyes hardly open. He had dreamt the strangest thing... that he had been elsewhere and it had all been so terrifying, yes wonderful. At least, some parts of it had been wonderful. And that man from last night had been there!
Why him, he wasn’t sure, but it certainly had been pleasant. Oddly, in his team he had gotten the sense that they had been acquainted. Like, get naked in a nanosecond acquainted, and oddly enough, that intimate familiarity - of someone you cared for deeply had left a strange ache in his chest.
It echoed of loss and regret, and most of all, sadness. He was sure it was to blame for his lack of interest in conversation. Luca, for one, had certainly caught on, and despite his strange state had still attempted to get a bit of conversation in nevertheless.
Eli glanced from face to face, taking in the conversation the ladies were having to play catch up. He wondered if the professor needed him that day for anything. Maybe he could find an excuse to spend some more time here.
“Any plans for the day?” Luca enquired suddenly, expertly butteringa slice of toast. Something about the way his hands moved gave one the impression he had either grown up with a strict sense of propriety, or that his level of grace surpassed typical human expectation.
In fact, the guy was kind of perfect, and it was hard for anyone to say what his age was anymore, being that he was ever the same.
Damned good genes if you asked Eli. Where was his connect to the fountain of youth?]
Eli pulled up the blankets over Ioann. Why'd he have the windows open, anyways? It was freezing out. He was just letting all the cold air in. "Well, how do I get invited?" he asked lightly. Ioann looked just about ready to pass out.
He climbed into bed as well and sighed out. "You're so damn lucky," he complained. One hand idly stroked Ioann's hair. It was super soft, for a man. Seemed unfair. Why'd Ioann get all the good things? "'S it natural?" He looked to Ioann, but the man's eyes were already shut. He slid his arm over the other man when he snuggled closer and closed his eyes. Might as well get some shut-eye too. And it was warm with Ioann here.
Forina smiled and took the nightgown. It was awfully old fashioned, but she didn't mind. It'd feel good to change her clothes for sleeping. "Thank you. You're being so kind. We really appreciate it."
As the two maids retreated, Forina stretched. In here, it all felt like some distant nightmare. Maybe she had just been drunk and fuzzy-minded. Maybe it was just all in her head. With a yawn, she headed to the bathroom to change, leaving Ana the main room.
When she returned, dressed for sleep, she threw herself onto the bed. "Let's sleep and forget all this nonsense," she declared, nestling into the pillows. "C'mere Ana, it's cold." She patted the space beside her and closed her eyes, and in no time, passed out.
[center He was... gone." Ioann blinked, searching all about himself before he moved to the window. No sign of him... The man shivered, pulling the window shut as best he could before moving slowly to the bed. He entire body felt like he was running through water.
He crawled in, wiggled out of his pants, and flopped comfortably, not in the least bit concerned about the fact that Eli would see him pantless. Granted, if he were sober, it'd be a different story.
"Mmm, sort of. But I'm not paying to stay here... I was invited."
By Luca, no less - a mystery he had yet to solve. He had no idea what the man's interest in his soul-searching was, but the offer had been so genuine, and oh-oh-generous, so how could he have said no?
Rolling over onto his side, he snuggled in closer to Eli, nesting his head atop his chest and quickly dozing off. It had been such a long night, it felt like. Time to sleep...
❀ ❀ ❀
Cristina had gone ahead to prepare a room for their friends, and as she changed out the bedclothes and put fresh towels and the like in the adjoining bathroom, she couldn't help but wonder at all of the strange occurrences recently. It all seemed too close in proximity to be sheer coincidence, but who knew.
Soon enough, she was returning to lead the girls back their room for the night, having also taken care to leave some nightclothes for them at the foot of the bed.
"I hope you two sleep well."
Marina had been hovering in the doorway and as she let Cristina pass she offered a smile. "Don't worry, it is safe here. We can all have a lovely breakfast in the morning and hopefully catch up." She chimed, winking at the pair before departing. The door was drawn shut behind her, and in the warm light of the room, Ana began to undress, eager to lay her head down for the night.
"Slumber party? Let's all share a bed!" Eli said with a wicked grin.
Forina rolled her eyes. "If you want to share, go share with Ioann," she grumbled. Honestly, Eli got insufferable when he got even a little buzzed. Though to be fair, he was kind of always like this. She shot a look at Ana, promising her wordlessly that she'd rather share a room than sleep alone. Just not aloud, because Eli was in a [i mood], and it was a little too exuberant for how stressed and worried she felt.
Eli pouted. "Fine, I will. Jealous, ladies? I'm gonna share the bed with that cute guy you were all hot over."
Forina mimed puking at Ana, who giggled. Eli grimaced and stomped out of the room. "Fine, fine, fine, be like that!" he snapped. Girls these days! So mean!
Casimir watched the man try to get closer to him. Like a frog in the bottom of a well, and him a crane come to devour. He found himself wanting to reach down, eyes tracing the shape of rosy lips. No--he pulled away physically, confused. He wasn't... men, no. Even women, he'd barely felt anything towards outside of Ionela. What? What was this... he touched his throat. This hunger.
Hunger. Yes. That was all it was. A starved body mistaking hunger for... for something else. He slid his hands down and caressed the man's neck, feeling the pulse of life there. "Look only at me," he whispered, dipping towards that pulse. One little nip, and this hunger would be relieved, this discomfort forgotten.
"Ioann!" Eli shouted, throwing the door open.
In the space between him shouting and opening the door, Casimir vanished, fleeing back out the window like a shot from a gun. Eli blinked, then rubbed his eyes. What? For a second, he'd thought he'd seen someone else in there. A pale man.
Must've been his nerves. The girls all babbling about some pale guy, and now he was stuck thinking about it. "Slumber party!" Eli continued, throwing himself into Ioann's bed. "Hey, are you like, loaded? Because your pad is sweet as fuck." The words were mumbled, sleepy. Despite everything it was late, and he wanted to sleep. Ioann should, too.
[center Awfully excited there, wasn't he? Luca's gaze followed Eli as he hurried off, returning to the two women after a small chuckle. So ridiculous. "All the same, did the two of you want separate rooms, or?" He didn't mind, personally. He wasn't sure how close they were or what their sleeping habits were like, but whatever made them the most comfortable was fine with him.
"Maybe together? Like a slumber party?" Ana felt silly the second the words had left her lips, but it was the best comparison she could think of. Forina nodded. So long as the bed was big enough, she had no qualms. It would be comforting to know someone was nearby, anyway, in case there were any spooks.
"Here, I'll find you two a room. Go ahead and finish your tea." Cristina rose just as Marina was re-entering the room, with news that Ioann had been successfully put to bed.
"I suspect he won't be awake by morning."
❀ ❀ ❀
Mesmerised by the white-haired stranger, Ioann could only gaze up at him, cheeks heating with the contact. Did... did he know him? Was he forgetting something... important? It felt so- as though the answer hovered at the edge of his conscious.
"I-- I'm Ioann." Ionela? Was that him?
Wait, what was he saying? He knew his name. Everything felt so fuzzy. "Who are [i you]? How am I to know why I'm familiar? You mean you don't work here?" Despite the fact that it probably should've alarmed him that this might be the case, he didn't feel to be in any danger. Which bid the question as to why.
Was this man even real? What if he were just dreaming?
Rising to the balls of his feet, Ioann got the very closest his height would allow, inspecting Casimir's features. He seemed to be struggling, in his inebriation, to place him.
"Stay the night? Hell yes," Eli agreed as he barged back into the room before the girls could even speak. This mansion was sweet as fuck. If they'd seen Ioann's room, they wouldn't be hesitating either!
"That's very considerate of you," Forina said, giving Eli an evil look. She'd caught the look Ana had shot her, and agreed. This was safer than going home to be alone in her apartment. "If--if you don't mind, I think we'll take you up on it?" The creep was a serous problem. She didn't want Ana to be alone tonight; she didn't really want to be alone tonight, either. If he was determined enough to track them down to a random bar, then he might follow them home. At least if they spent the night at the mansion, he wouldn't know where they lived. He might even get bored and give up, at that.
Casimir was almost overwhelmed by the scent as the man opened the windows. Something about it was so familiar. It reminded him of the warmth of the sun, of meadow flowers, of the delicate scent of morning glories before they hid away for the day. His face, too. For a second, he saw long, flowing hair, a small smile, rosy cheeks, pink lips, a twinkle hiding deep in dark blue eyes like the sun reflecting in a deep pool. "Ionela?" he breathed. And then the moment was over, and he was looking at an ordinary mortal man once more.
[i Come in]. A smile crept across Casimir's face, honest as a hungry wolf staring down the sheep pen. He climbed fluidly through the window and into the warmth of the house that had once been his. [i And soon will be again,] he decided. The smile deepened.
But first, the mystery before him. With a scent that sweet, his blood would taste delicious, but Casimir had always been the type to prolong his pleasure. "Who are you?" he whispered, lifting both hands to cup what could only be called a beautiful face. Soft strands of pink tickled across his palms. His chin felt so soft. Almost like a woman's, without even a prickle of beard. "Why do you seem so familiar?" His eyes bored into the man's brown eyes, searching for a sign of recognition. Casimir knew he looked different. His hair had been dark as a raven's wing, and now it was white as snow. His eyes had been black as onyx, and now they were the faded gold of topaz, of old parchment. But surely, if this mortal knew him, he would still recognize him somehow.
No. This was ridiculous. A mortal could not know him. How many centuries had passed? And yet, he did not move from where he stood. As though Ioann were the answer to all his questions, he continued to watch the man's face.
[center "No, not as yet. We prefer to deal with an incidents here ourselves, if we can. Especially being that the authorities can sometimes be a little careless here." And they had worked very hard to restore this place. Last thing they needed were coppers tromping about and making a mess of things. Then again, maybe that was a quickly assumption on his part. It had only happened [i once], but it had left quite the impression.
Ana frowned at the answer, but she was at least happy to be reassured that they were not the only ones who'd encountered this strange man. "We don't even know what he wants? It doesn't make sense for him to follow us." She insisted, as if somehow inserting logic would rectify everything.
Luca nodded in agreement, very much aware that she was correct, but not everyone operated on logic. If that were the case, the world would be far less dangerous.
"Well, you ladies are welcome to stay the night here if you'd be more comfortable. I'm happy to keep watch with Alexandru to ensure that nothing happens."
It didn't sound like too bad of an idea to Ana, but she didn't want to agree without considering Forina. They could always discuss and decide what was best.
❀ ❀ ❀
Lazing atop the bedclothes, Ioann seemed content to stay where he was, welcoming unconsciousness. Except, what-... what was that [i annoying] sound? He groaned, turning his back to it. When it persisted, he flopped back over, squinting at the large panes to see a figure beyond.
"Did you get locked out?" He queried, crawling across the bed. The floor was cold against his bare feet, and as he worked the window open, arms weak, he couldn't help but feel like the face was familiar to him. Where had he seen him before?
"Here... come in... it's dangerous in the window."
Forina glanced at Ana. Why not? These people seemed kind, and it wasn't like they needed legal evidence to convince them something creepy was going on. "So, we... the other day, we hit a man on a road near here," she started, and then it all came spilling out. All at once, the alcohol maybe getting to her a little more than she wanted to admit, the words came spilling out. Luca listened patiently, asking for clarification once or twice, but nodding solemnly all the while.
"So you think he might be the murderer, and he seems to be chasing you," he summarized the situation.
Forina nodded. She shot Ana a glance, and she nodded as well. "But the cops won't--i mean, it's a ridiculous story," Forina finished.
Luca nodded. "Yes, I can imagine... What did he look like?"
"Deathly pale, dark clothes, white hair," Ana said.
Luca's brows furrowed. "We saw a man like that yesterday," he commented. "He tried to break into our bathroom."
"What?" Forina exclaimed. "What the hell? Did you report it?"
His quarry had been left alone. The bats flew to the window and reformed into the shape of a man. Quietly, so that no one would hear but Ioann, Casimir taped on the window. [i Wake up and come over here,] he urged the man silently. [i Come let me in.] All he needed was one invitation, and he could bully his way in whenever he liked. Even better, the strange man was drunk. It would be easy to get his permission to enter the room. Easy to lure him into trouble. As long as that window opened and the man invited him in, he would be unstoppable.
[center Okay... she did have a point. There was nothing illegal about letting yourself into a public establishment, and if they brought up the other stuff, they were likely to doubted as psychologically sound. After all, shared delusions were a thing.
Ioann had long since been carted off to bed, and as he settled in, Marina took care to remove his shoes, setting them in the closet before she gestured for Eli to follow her.
He was still taking the room in, though, gobsmacked at the prospect of just who the hell Ioann actually was. No way he wasn't loaded, and if he was, then it was interesting - the way he carried himself. He was humble for a suspected trust fund baby.
Still, he wasn't a bad guy as far as he knew, so there was that.
Upon returning to the parlour, he found that the girls had already been given drinks, Luca perched nearby and inquiring as to what was going on.
"Begging your pardon, but it appears there's something more to this story."
"Well..." Ana looked to Forina, hesitating. Did they tell him? Would he think they were insane? She peered down at the tea Cristina had been kind enough to offer her and contemplated nervously.
Luca's expression was kind, patient. There was no rush, and naturally they didn't [i have] to tell him, but he was all ears if they were willing to clue him in.
Cristina had settled nearby, having also brought out a small tray of biscuits and the like just in case. They had been drinking, after all. She could smell it on them.
Forina sighed. "I don't know. Do you really think they'll take us seriously? We'll just sound like crazy idiots." She could see it already: [i Oh yes, officer, that ghost we hit the other night--he showed up at a bar. And then this creepy cloud chased us...] Yeah, that'd go over great. She shook her head. "Besides, even if they take us seriously, there's nothing illegal about showing up at a bar."
"Not as long as I planned it to be," Eli grumbled, carrying Ioann into the house. Honestly, Ioann was such a lightweight.
Stop in? Forina exchanged a glance with Ana. She wasn't so sure about this manor at night. It was creepy, and old, and it gave her the willies. But it was safer inside than outside, and they probably shouldn't break apart with a creeper on their tail. Marina's appearance settled it. "Marina," she replied, stepping into the house. She embraced the other woman. It'd been a while since she'd seen her. She could stop by and visit an old friend for a time. "I didn't know you were working here."
"Let's get Ioann to bed, and we can chat for a while, how's that sound?" Marina offered, leading the way into the parlor. "Eli, is it? This way." She guided Eli towards the bedroom with Ioann.
Eli stared around the bedroom. Whoa. This thing was bigger than his apartment. And the bed looked as sweet as it was huge. "Shit," he muttered. Ioann really had it good, didn't he? Rich kid.
He looked at Ioann. "C'mon, move a bit,' he said, urging Ioann to climb into bed himself. "Let's get to sleep, mkay?" He wanted to go back out with the girls and drink some more. They might not be his ideal ladies, but they weren't shabby either.
Back in the entryhall, Luca guided the guests to the parlor. Christina appeared from another hallway with some tea and drinks for the guests. "It's been a while since we've had to entertain so many guests," Luca said with a chuckle. "It's good to have a full house." He started to pour drinks for the girls with a smile.
[center As they arrived, Ioann had still been comfortable settled - at least up until he'd been moved. His immediate response was to nestle his face into the warmth of Eli's neck. Something that, despite their circumstances, made Ana smile a bit. Forina was clearly still on edge, and as Eli helped Ioann inside, she took the passenger seat to keep her company. Best that none of them were alone.
"I can't believe he really showed up like that. Should we call the cops?"
Not that it would do any good, but it was worth considering. They could give a description and hope they took them seriously this time.
Beyond the doors, Luca stood awaiting them, his expression curious. "Evening, long night?"
Ioann seemed to be in quite the state, which was unexpected. He'd taken him for someone a little more uptight who didn't really do this sort of thing, but he supposed everyone had flip side.
"Would you all like to stop in?" Friends of Ioann were welcome for certain. "Your companions there appear anxious." Very gently, he waved them forward, inviting them in with an amicable smile. It was meant to ease, if not quell their strange mood.
Ana looked to Forina, unsure. "Maybe we should? He might be able to help... besides, I'm honestly afraid for us to be separated. It doesn't feel safe to be out right now, so maybe a short while out here would give us time to lose that creeper."
It was a simple suggestion, but she had nothing more to offer in the way of solutions right now. "Maybe we can get another opinion on the situation, too?"
It was then that Marina appeared in the door, surprised to find who still remained in the car. "Ana!" It had been some time since she'd seen her. "How have you two been?" She peeked across the way at Forina, who offered a smile despite how on edge she felt.
The beast was getting away from him! In his frustration, Casimir almost didn't notice that the route it was taking was familiar. Much had changed in the years since he'd last seen it, but the streets were the same, and a few landmarks still stood. He hesitated a moment, then turned towards the estate. If he was wrong, he'd have to chase the strange man another night. If he was right... if he was right, then there'd be no more escaping from him.
Forina bit her lip and adjusted the mirror again. The strange cloud had vanished, but somehow, her nervousness remained. What if her instincts were right, after all? "An estate..." she muttered aloud, thoughtful. "It's probably the Lacramior Mansion, they take guests every now and again." She glanced at their new pink-haired friend. Who was he? It wasn't just anyone who could stay at an estate. What kind of money did he have?
In any case, the walls on that house were thick and sturdy. He'd be as safe there as anywhere. She turned the wheel towards the estate.
She'd only been there once before when she was a girl, and never at night. The charming, long driveway became ominous in the dark, the willowy trees that bowed over from either side almost like hands, trying to grab at them as they drove by. Forina found herself suppressing a shiver as they drove by the raven statues that guarded the gate, the stone birds somehow watchful, imposing.
Not wanting to expose Ioann to much of the night, she drove right up to the front door before she parked. "Is this home?" she asked the inebriated man, then let out a sigh. "Eli?"
"Yeah, yeah," the blonde replied, shaking his head. He shook Ioann's shoulder, then slid an arm around him and helped him upright. "C'mon, let's get inside."
In a tree in the front lawn, dozens of tiny black eyes watched in silence as Ioann was helped inside.
[center As they fled, Forina took care to head for the busier parts of the city, glancing every so often at the rear view to see if that man was anywhere to be found. Thankfully, no, but in the far distance she did see... [i something].
Squinting, she tried to discern what it could have been. It looked like a swarm or a flock or something. It was difficult to tell at night, but whatever it was, she knew they sure as hell wouldn't be sticking around to find out.
Eli had still yet to hear an proper explanation. What was she on about? A ghost? "Mind explaining what you're even talking about?"
"That guy we hit the other night, he was there in the tavern. Just-- showed up out of the blue." There was a muted perturbation in her tone. As though coincidence seemed the least plausible at this point, she could only assume that he had been searching for them.
Which begged the question, why? Clearly, he didn't want to get involved with the authorities, which already made him suspect, but for him to reappear that way made matters monumentally worse. What could the odds have been?
"Anyone have any suggestions on where to go?"
"Home, please." Ioann slurred drowsily from Ana's lap. He had managed to turn over so that his legs were draped across Eli's, and even in lieu of their situation, it was honestly pretty funny. What a lightweight. At least now they knew his limits.
"Where is he even staying?"
"Professor Imanov mentioned that he would be housed at some estate."
"What estate?" Forina eyed him curiously in the rear view, conscious that the strange cloud had still been well in pursuit. She stepped up the acceleration and gripped the wheel securely. Nobody was dying tonight on her watch.
"I forget who has ownership now. I know at one point it was housed and retained by two families, but neither of them live there now. I do know that there is staff. I did a tour a while back, but the name escapes me."
Too many people. He was caught up in the crowds, not used to being around so many people after so long in complete and utter solitude. His hunger overcame him for a moment and he hesitated, eyes following the pulse of life, the beat of blood that wove and danced around him. For a moment, he was caught up in that flow, swaying with the beat. In the next, he noticed that scent escaping away into the dead of the night, the distant smart of cool air as the back door opened. Casimir mastered himself and pushed past the crowd, out towards the night.
A hand gripped at his coat. "Aww, sweetie, so soon?" a woman in very little trilled. Casimir gave her a disgusted look and pushed away. A whore? No thank you. Her face distorted and she raised a hand to smack him, but he was gone before she could land the blow.
Years ago, he would have had her drawn and quartered, publicly, if possible, but those days had long since flown. Anger distorted his face. That damned warlock! If only he hadn't had to stick his stupid nose in, everything would still be perfect--
No, no. He heaved a deep breath as he burst out into the cool night air. No point in focusing on the past.
Another one of those metal beasts had swallowed up his quarry. The scent was dulled, but still fresh enough he could follow it clearly. He reached out for his magic, found it disappointingly low. What could he do? He didn't have the strength to follow them as a swarm of bats, and running after them was too... inelegant.
A heavily-perfumed woman whose perfume couldn't hide the scent of alcohol on her breath staggered out the back door, giggling to herself. She staggered towards him. Casimir caught her. She looked up at him and giggled.
He looked down at her. Feeding from her was beneath him. But then, so, usually, would that human slug from last night. He had no option. Casimir swept her into his embrace. She giggled again, sighed with pleasure, then slumped to the ground. He normally wouldn't treat a lady so roughly, but the woman was hardly a lady, and he had no time.
Magic flowed through him, and he became many. With a singular mind, the swarm of bats surged after the car. He would not leave his quarry behind today.
[center Humming gently at the sensation of being pet, Ioann was content to stay there with Forina, happy that she also seemed to enjoy his company. Plus, she truly was a beautiful woman. It was difficult [i not] to stare.
Except, none of that mattered in the next moment when she suddenly dragging him up from the table and hurried away. He stumbled after in confusion, glancing behind to catch Eli’s perplexity. He hurriedly shimmied his wallet out and tossed down a bill to close out their tab, having quickly grasped Ana by the hand to pursue them.
“Why did they run off? They’d better not be trying to ditch us?” Not that he would’ve minded a little alone time with her.
No, no, he had to be a good friend. After all, what would Ioann think of him if he abandoned him so soon? Besides, it looked like they were hurrying away from something— or some[i one]. He glimpsed the man heading in their direction and cut him off with Ana, pardoning them before hurrying off with her in tow to catch up.
Ioann had still bee practically spinning - in fact, everything was spinning - when Forina stuffed him into the car. He fell over, limp, too heavy to really do much other than sigh, but he was nudged out of the way to make room for Ana, and without discretion, had rested his head in her lap.
Were they going home?
“What’s going on?” Ana demanded, anxiety lacing each word.
“You remember our ghost? Well, he just showed up in there.” She hissed, turning over the engine and practically peeling away. Best to leave quickly so he didn’t see hat direction they were going in, right?
Ioann was clearly feeling the full effects of th wine, though, because he hardly responded. Everything felt like a dream. All of th details were hazy andout of focus, hovering just out of reach.
His limbs felt so strange, too, and he was awfully warm in his clothes.]
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