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The Pale Web Revised: Book III

Discussion in 'Tales from the Crypt' started by Count Vashra, Dec 3, 2017.

  1. Count Vashra

    Count Vashra Lord of Shadows True Blood

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2013
    Messages:
    1,532
    The second full story in the revised Pale Web series. Whilst Lucinia is settling into her new accommodation, she and Annabella receive an invitation to a noble ball. However, the hosts are not all they seem...

    One

    Lucinia Hadris thought she had woken. The young vampire gazed about the room with sea-blue eyes. It was the basement of the house, with a number of coffins, included one inhabited by her friend and host, Annabella Castellan, and a painting of a beautiful young girl with blonde hair and a bright yellow dress. The floor was hard wood.
    Then she noticed Shadow-of-Doubt. The mind-warden, an exact copy of herself - crimson hair, pale skin, strong arms - wearing black clothes. Her mental companion smiled. "Good day, Hadris. You thought you were awake?" Shadow shook her head. "I can send you back if you like."
    Lucinia smiled. She wasn't sure what Shadow was, but loved her dearly. "I am fine. What did you want to discuss?"
    Shadow frowned. "Are you sure it was necessary to reveal me? I am sure I could have hidden."
    "I doubt it. Annabella is very powerful."
    Shadow looked offended. "You doubt my ability to hide?" she demanded angrily."Even you cannot hide forever," Lucinia pointed out. "We discussed this," she added, frustrated. "Why question me again?"
    "I just wanted to make sure you were certain."
    "Well, I am," Lucinia said firmly.
    Shadow nodded. "I suppose you are. And we could be in a worse position. You are certainly not ready to wander alone. But are you sure you can live with a Lahmian? You will hate everything she does."
    "I am not going on missions!" Lucinia protested.
    Shadow bared her fangs. It was her job to make Lucinia uncomfortable. "She is Lahmian. She will use you however she can. And do you not hate being deceived?"
    An image of a monastery suddenly flashed into Lucinia's mind. She growled. "I will not be deceived again." That deception had almost killed her forever, ruined her life, and driven her here. It would never
    happen again.
    Shadow cocked a brow. "As long as you are certain."

    Lucinia stretched to the breaking dusk as Annabella climbed out of the coffin beside her. The Lahmian was tall and slim, with long blonde hair and midnight eyes and dress. Her uncovered arms were long and delicate.
    "Hello, child," she purred affectionately. "How was your first night here? I suppose you are not used to coffins." The tone suggested 'You poor girl.'
    Lucinia smiled. "I have never slept better in life or death." That was the complete, honest truth. The coffin was far better than any bed, and certainly better than the ground.
    Annabella nodded. "I'm not surprised. And Shadow?"
    Lucinia passed on greetings.
    "That is good to hear. Now, how do you normally start the day?" Annabella coughed gently. "I mean, night?"
    "Weapons training," Lucinia replied instantly, all traces of sleep banished.
    Annabella looked her up and down, amused. "Surely after changing."
    Lucinia stammered. "Well, naturally."
    "Do that, and I shall be outside in a moment."

    Annabella's home was a modest two storey house in the city, made of red brick and with large windows.A back garden extended a good distance away from it. The grass felt good under Lucinia's bare feet.
    "I do prefer to work at home without shoes. They can be...restrictive," Annabella commented.
    "I completely agree."
    As do I, Hadris. Please refrain from shoes in the future.
    Lucinia laughed. "Shadow wants me to never wear shoes again."
    Annabella's black eyes twinkled. "I can see your thoughts are near identical."
    "Before we start, may I ask one question."
    Annabella held a finger up. "One, child."
    "Who is the girl in the basement? She is so beautiful."
    A shadow flickered across Annabella's face "Someone very dear to me," she answered bluntly. "Start."
    This will be interesting to find out, Shadow mused. Secrets already! Hadris you - oh, I apologise.
    "Stay quiet!"
    Lucinia snapped mentally.
    She suspected the lapse in concentration would have made no difference, no matter how annoyed about it she was, however. Annabella was blindingly fast. That was to be expected from such a pure-blooded Lahmain but the Blood Dragon was still caught off balance and quickly found her red clothing dirty from repeated groundings.
    This was a surprise, Shadow said in a tone suggesting the opposite. You're not going to defeat a strong high-blooded Lahmian.
    Luicnia was too exhausted to retort.
    "Oh, child, there is no use lunging after where I am going. Try to predict where I will go," Annabella advised, pulling Lucinia up.
    It was good advice, but helped little. Eventually, Annabella gave Lucinia mercy. "Now, I know you Blood Dragons prefer to drink from vanquished foes, but I like to collect blood so I can drink it when I need to. Would you like some?"
    Stored blood sounded disgusting and dishonourable. "No, thank you."
    Annabella smiled. "Are you sure? I shall have some." She went inside, and returned with two glasses, both filled to overflowing with crimson life force. Lucinia's internal beast stirred, and she felt her fangs extending. It did not help when Annabella put one glass next to her lips, and drank from the other.
    Free blood. Why refuse?
    "It is not my way."
    Lucinia controlled herself and retracted her fangs. "I can't," she protested weakly.
    Annabella sighed happily. "Ah, now that is blood. It is a shame you shall miss a pleasure in life." She drained the glass Lucinia had pushed away. "Never mind."

    Several weeks later, Lucinia and Annabella were reading inside when there was a knock at the door. Annabella answered, and returned with a letter. She smiled as a cat before a mouse. "Child, have you ever been to a ball."
    Lucinia gagged. "Never."
    "Well, that is unfortunate. I have been invited to one, and I should like to introduce you."
    What did I tell you, hadris?
    "What do you mean, introduce me?" Lucinia demanded. "I thought I was just a guest here until circumstances changed."
    Annabella's face turned quite serious. "Lucinia, you are most welcome here, and I love your company. But if you are to remain here, I expect a societal return." She stroked Lucinia's hair. "I don't expect you to intrigue with me. Just...join me at functions, please." Her smile was irresistible as much as pleading, and, unsure if she were enchanted, Lucinia felt compelled to accept.
    You've neevr been to a ball in your life! Shadow couldn't help laughing
    "Shush!" Lucinia said forcefullly, face colouring.
    Annabella raised an eyebrow.
    "It's Shadow being her usual self."
    Annabella smiled. "I love her more every day."
    "Very well, Annabella. Who is it?"
     
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2017
  2. Count Vashra

    Count Vashra Lord of Shadows True Blood

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2013
    Messages:
    1,532
    Two

    Annabella coughed politely, and flicked her gaze to Lucinia's mouth. Lucinia felt her mouth and felt blood. She had recently been feeding, at a suggestion by Annabella that they should look as healthy as possible.
    "You look so like a monstrous man-eater," Annabella teased.
    Embarrassed (which was a surprise, but other people's views on her somewhat untidy feeding style weren't he problem - Lucinia wiped away the blood. Naturally, Annabella had returned home from her feeding perfectly clean.
    She's Lahmian. She might be covered in blood and just hiding it, Shadow consoled Lucinia. Althoguh I agree you are unreasonably messy.
    "You try ripping someone;s throat out on the field of battle!"
    Lucinia snapped.
    "You have that 'stop annoying me, Shadow!' look about you," Annabella observed, looking purely amused.
    "Oh, don't comment," Lucinia protested.

    Annabella's next 'suggestion' (read: order) was that they should dress up for the ball. She herself was apparently quite fit for society in a simple sleeveless black dress and well-combed blonde hair, with perhaps some illusory magic, but Lucinai required a full makeover.
    "Are you sure, Annabella?w" she asked desperately, sea-blue eyes wide with horror..
    "Yes, I'm sure." Annabella smiled. "You must impress our host." She touched Lucinia's crimson hair. "Not that you don't impress me, but, well..."
    Shadow sighed happily. It will be a new experience, Hadris.
    "She says it will be anew experience."
    "And she is right. Now, will you bath yourself, or must I help you? it is a most necessary part of being presentable, child."
    Lucinia threw her hands up in surrender. "Yes, Annabella, I'll go."

    After much experimentation, protest, and teasing from Shadow, Lucinia was deemed properly equipped to impress high society. Her hair was brushed, her skin wet clean, and her rough and-ready warrior clothes switched out for ornate livery, red, gold and blue.
    "It is a shame no mirror will show you," Annabella mused. "But, my child, you are quite adorable."
    "And this is from 800 years' experience pretending to be some noble or other, I suppose?"
    Annabella folded her arms. "It's rude to be sarcastic to your host."
    Lucinai copied the gesture. "Oh, really? Maybe you could give Shadow some hints on proper guest etiquette." It was rude, but Lucinia felt her situation demanded some response. She was a Blood Dragon knight, not some courtier!
    I only do my duty as your inner critic. And yo really think you of all people can be convincing at a ball?
    I"t wasn't my idea,"
    Lucinia hissed internally.
    You could have rejected.
    "And it is very rude to carry on two conversations at once," Annabella continued. "Do tell me what Shadow is bothering you about."
    Lucinia dutifully passed on Shadow's criticism.
    Annabella relaxed her arms with a twinkle of her midnight eyes. "Well, yes. Of course you are a knight. But yes, you may decline if you wish."
    "After all this? I would hate to have done everything for nothing. " Lucinia shook her head. "I've gone too far."
    Do you know how to behave in high society?
    "A fair point for my child," Annabella agreed when Lucinia passed this on. "I'll teach you what i have time for, and you'll just have to let your inexperience excuse the rest." She smiled. "I'm sure you'll have great fun."
    Lucinia muttered something in reply.
    "And it's rude to mutter."
    Fortunately for the young Lucinia, the time of arrival was scheduled for after dark. Even so, she looked nervously at the setting sun. She would have to ask Annabella to give ehr sun training.

    Gellar Mansion impressed Lucinia greatly. It consisted of several storeys, a large surrounding wall, extensive garden to front and back, and golden animals painted across the front wall to suggest dancing.
    "Why is your home not like this again?" Lucinia asked jealously.
    "I believe in modesty, child. And besides, do you know how many servants it must take to run this? The cost?" An din a low whisper, "The chance of discovery?"
    Lucinia nodded. "But Shadow wants the dancing animals at least, and I fully agree."
    Annabella ruffled Lucinia's hair. "Your wish is granted, children. But why should you suddenly be a decorator, Lucinia's?"
    "It just seems wrong someone alive for at most a century should do better than someone just under 1,000 years old."
    "Stop it, child. You make me older than I am!" Annabella laughed. "But you have a point. I just don't see the need. Now, shall we go inside?"

    The inside was just as grand as the outside. An over-dressed doorman led the two vampires to the main hall, which was painted in many beautiful colours and had stained glass windows showing proud family history. Guests already arrived had assembled around the central table, which was overflowing with mortal food and drink.
    "Uh, what do we do at feeding time?"
    I sense ancient power here. Be careful, Shadow warned.
    Lucinia looked at Annabella. The Lahmian nodded. "I can sense it too, though I'm not sure of what kind."

    At that point a young woman, simply dressed in dark blue and with curls of dark hair, approached. She was around Lucinia's height, but slim-built like Annabella.
    She smiled, brown eyes warm. "Hello. Are you here at Father's invitation?"
    Annabella smiled warmly. "Yes, my lady. I am Annabella Castellan. This is my handmaiden, Lucinia Hadris."
    I sense magic in her.
    "I'll be careful,"
    Lucinia promised.
    "Hello, then, and welcome to Gellar Mansion. Father is entertaining guests for now, but, well, I have some free reign, so, if you don't mind special favour..." She laughed. "Oh, I'm sorry. So sorry. My name's Claudia."
    "A pleasure to meet you, Claudia," Annabella replied.
    "Hello," Lucinia greeted.
    "That crimson hair is so...amusing," Claudia said, hands clasped together in front of her.
    "I..thank you," Lucinia said, somewhat confused.
    There was a mental shrug from Shadow.
    "Now, as I was saying, if you don't mind putting yourself on a pedestal - but you're noble, so you must, how stupid of me! - I'd like to show you about." Claudia wrung her hands.
    "That would be excellent, wouldn't it, Lucinia?" Annabella replied eagerly.
    "Yes, it would," Lucinia agreed.
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2017
  3. Count Vashra

    Count Vashra Lord of Shadows True Blood

    Joined:
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    Three

    After the tour of Gellar Mansion, Claudia sent Annabella down to the main hall and took Lucinia to a balcony overlooking it.
    The young host's daughter smiled tentatively. "So, how do you like Father's house?"
    Lucinia clapped her shoulder. "Stop being so nervous. You might be infectious."
    "You must understand it is quite something to present one's house for inspection," Claudia replied. "But I shall try."
    "Thank you. Yes, I do like your house. I never expected I'd care for interior design, but you've done so very well with this place." The mansion was a twisting labyrinth she could imagine getting lost in for hours.
    Hadris, you know she's a sorcerer. Do try not to get too friendly with her.
    Lucinia accepted the warning.
    "Ah, Annabella is talking to Father right now," Claudia said, pointing excitedly at an older, balding man in red silk.
    "They seem to be getting on fine," Lucinia observed. Annabella was smiling and laughing and gesturing as she did when she was happy. Claudia's father looked equally happy.
    "Lord Gellar," Claudia said.
    "Thank you. Is Lady Gellar...?"
    Claudia shook her head, and tears bubbled in her eyes. "Mother is no longer...no longer with us." She hugged Lucinia and buried herself in her.
    The sympathy ploy. Well done, Claudia, well done, Shadow muttered.
    Ignoring her, Lucinia put her arms around Claudia and stroked her raven curls gently. She hated seeing someone like this, and understood only too well the pain of losing a parent. "I'm so sorry. I'm sure she's watching from Morr's realm even now."
    "I'm sure. Please, Lucinia, tell me how you came into Annabella's employ."
    Not the truth, I hope.
    "Don't worry, I won't."
    Lying made her uncomfortable, but Lucinia' didn't want to reveal the truth, either. "I was betrothed to someone she was very fond of. When he died, she offered to take me in as a servant. We are very close."
    Claudia pulled away. "That's very nice of her." She smiled and brushed a loose strand of hair from Lucinia's eyes. "I should like to think we shall be great companions."
    Lucinia nodded. "I also."
    "It's time for you to meet my father."

    "Ah, hello Lucinia." Annabella grinned and briefly embraced her with more strength than her form suggested. "Lord Gellar was just telling me that Claudia is a talented illusionist." Her midnight eyes glowed with excitement. "Like myself!"
    "Greetings," Lord Gellar said. He sounded jovial and welcoming, and looked the part.
    "Greetings, Lord Gellar," Lucinia replied.
    Claudia laughed. "Oh, Father, you do me too much credit. I am an apprentice really."
    "Self-taught, you must admit."
    "Well, yes..."
    Uh, Hadris, do watch out for self-taught mages. They don't know what they're doing most of the time.
    "I imagine so."
    In the real world, "I imagine you are quite the student, Claudia."
    Claudia wrung her hands. "I suppose I could make that table disappear."
    "Please do," Annabella begged.
    Lord Gellar spoke up. "Greetings, honourable guests. There is something I should tell you. My dearest Claudia is an illusionist. I have asked her to perform a trick."
    Lucinia leaned into Annabella. "You have a turn afterwards. Vanish us, get away from here, and don't reveal us until we're ready."
    Annabella raised an eyebrow.
    "It's Shadow. She's really concerned."
    Annabella nodded. "I'm not comfortable around self-taught sorcerers."
    Claudia spoke a few words, snapped hre fingers, and the table vanished, to gasps, followed by applause. When she was ready, she returned the table to view.
    "Very good," Lucinia said proudly. Concerned or not, she was impressed.
    "I should like a turn," Annabella said.
    When they were invisible, Lucinia led Annabella to a room outside.
    "Alright, child, Shadow. I have been testing her magic, trying to find out what it is. She's no vampire, but then she doesn't seem to control one of the Eight Winds either."
    Magic normal humans use, Shadow explained before Lucinia could look too confused.
    "Then what is she?"
    Unless she's a hidden elf, which I find unlikely, there is only one possibility. She is a Chaos sorceress. As in, evil gods that feed on emotion, screaming fanatics...
    "That's not good, I suppose." Lucinia put a hand on her mouth and coughed. "Oh, please forgive me, Annabella. Sometimes I forget Shadow, and not myself, was talking." She repeated what Shadow had said.
    Annabella's eyes widened for a fraction of a second. Lucinia didn't want to know what could scare her.
    "Listen, child. This is very, very serious. Chaos sorcerers are extremely dangerous, even young, self-taught ones. She might seem nervous, but that's probably a front." Her face darkened and she brushed Lucinia's cheek. "Go home. Let em deal with this."
    She's right, Hadris. You can't fight a sorcerer. Shadow sounded desperate and afraid.
    "I...I can't. Not with Annabella about to face her. I won't let my best friend fight someone alone, no matter how dangerous they are." The idea scared her, but she wouldn't hide. And she hated magic, didn't she?
    Hadris, please, Shadow begged.
    "No, child," Annabella said gently. "This is not your fight. Even with Shadow's help, I don't think you'd do more than be someone for me to have to protect."
    Lucinia looked into those pleading midnight eyes, even as waves of desperation welled up from Shadow. She hugged Annabella and touched her golden hair. "Defeat her for me, will you?"
    Annabella smiled and squeezed Lucinia. "I promise. And, Shadow, I can't hug you, but know that I appreciate you looking out for Lucinia."
    "Actually, she feels whatever I feel. So you are hugging her."
    Annabella laughed. "I don't know what your relationship is like, but I'm glad you have such a friend."
    Lucinia swallowed, touched. "Thank you. But...I can't just leave now. That would be rude, and if she knows about Shadow, suspicious." Lucinia hadn't wanted to intrigue, but now she was involved in something, well...She could remonstrate with herself later, besides.
    Annabella nodded. "Exactly what I was about to suggest. Wait until everyone's asleep. I don't know what her plan is, but it can't be ready yet."
     
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2017 at 7:22 PM
  4. Count Vashra

    Count Vashra Lord of Shadows True Blood

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2013
    Messages:
    1,532
    Four

    At midnight, Lucinia woke on the hard wooden floor in her bedroom. A bed was available, but she did not like to use it, preferring coffins or the ground.
    It seemed as if everyone would be asleep now, so she pulled on her clothes and sword, and put her head around the door.
    This is a sorceress who wants you both for something. Are you sure she will let you go?
    "I appreciate the warning, but you know I cannot stay here. And besides, I am being very careful."
    Lucinia tmoved across to Annabella's bedroom, and gently knocked. The Lahmian opened the door and put a vanishing illusion on her.
    "I hope that is enough," she whispered earnestly. "I wish you the best of luck."
    Lucinia smiled. "You perform excellent magic." She had every confidence in Annabella.
    The Blood Dragon sneaked down the stairs and tip-toed through the house. Every second was a risk of something going wrong, but so far she seemed to have avoided detection.
    The grand hall looked so much emptier now, and Lucinia looked about for any sign of detection. She had half expected Claudia to be waiting down here, but the sorceress was mercifully absent. She made her way to the door.
    You do know you don't breathe.
    Lucinia stopped holding her breath. "I'm nervous, Shadow. Aren't you?"
    I am
    , her companion admitted.

    The night sky, so full of stars, was a great relief when Lucinia stumbled out. It was just her and Shadow, in the dead - ha! - calm of the dark. No lights shone from Gellar Mansion's windows. No birds chirped. She had gotten out, free. Now all that remained was to return to the carriage and make her way home, then listen to an entertaining story about a duel of wizardry.
    Or you could walk home, Shadow mused. Carriages are noisy.
    "Good idea," Lucinia agreed. She preferred walking.
    As they walked, Lucinia found a question bubbling in her mind. It seemed insensitive, but she had to ask. "Shadow, do you have any new ideas on what you are?" Lucinia could feel the squirm, and winced. "I am so sorry. You do not have to answer."
    It is alright, Shadow said soothingly. I do not have any new knowledge. However, I was thinking about the Necrarchs, who took some of your blood.
    Lucinia bared her fangs "I am going to skin them." That was unusually vicious from her she knew, but they had hurt her, and by extension Shadow.
    I would, too. But before you do anything like that, do you not think they went to a lot of effort to get one vampire's blood sample?
    Lucinia nodded. "Agreed. And they could have done it far more covertly."
    I think they wanted me.
    Lucinia halted, shocked. How dare they! "What makes you think that?"
    I have been uncertain, but now, with less opportunity ton exert my power and more to consolidate my presence in your mind, I have noticed something of myself missing.
    Lucinia's eyes widened. Then her gaze hardened and focused on the moon, and she folded her arms. "I promise you, Shadow-of-Doubt, we are going to solve this.
    I know you will. Warmth flowed through her mind.

    As Lucinia came within sight of home, a chill washed over her.
    Wraith, Hadris. Run!
    Startled by the urgency and fear in the normally collected Shadow, Lucinia turned around and started running. "What is a wraith?" she demanded.
    A necromancer whose spirit lingers on. Their art saved their essence, but not their body or mind.
    Lucinia was too disturbed to answer that, and ran harder. As she ran, however, green mist swirled before her, and began to coalesce into something vaguely human-shaped.
    Oh, Hadris. I have enjoyed our time together.
    "Can you not protect me?" Lucinia asked in fear and confusion, eyes flickering about as the mist formed.
    I will try, but this is powerful.
    "That is all I ask, Shadow."
    A misty, green human figure appeared, laughter issuing through an image of a skull. It barred Lucnia's path, and followed her if she tried to move, but did not attack. Her heart pounded and her fangs extended in terrified reflex.
    This is strange. They normally attack.
    Lucinia Hadris and Shadow-of-Doubt. It was no question. The voice was inside Lucinia's head, like Shadow's but quite disturbing.
    "What do you want?" trembling lips demanded.
    This form ants nothing but to be freed, which I shall arrange soon enough. I am Khazakas, speaking through it.
    "Go away!"
    You shall be quite safe in a moment, hatchling. He was clearly enjoying this.
    "How do you know where I am?"
    The master has his methods. When you see the Lahmian again, tell her young Rachelle is progressing quite well in the arts of necromancy.
    The wraith disappeared, leaving Lucinia clutching herself from unnatural chill only somewhat alleviated by Shadow.
    Well, we can only wait to deliver the message. It must be a trap, too, given who it is
    "But if it is something to do with one of Annabella's companions, she needs to know."
    Agreed.
    Lucinia went inside, downed an entire glass of blood, closed the curtains against soon-arriving dawn and, nerves catching up to her, collapsed on a couch.

    In a dream of the house, Lucinia sat beside Shadow on the couch. She reached over and hugged her companion. "Are you alright?"
    Yes. Are you?
    "Scared, but I will manage. I do hope Annabella deals with Claudia soon."
    Shadow leaned back. How do you feel about missing out on this adventure?
    "Quite relieved." Lucinia shook herself. "I do not want to fight a sorceress."
    Are you sure? Shadow shook her head. Probably for the best. You are in no condition. do try to get a good night's sleep. Shadow grinned. Never thought I would say that.
    Lucinia laughed. "Good night to you, too." She hoped she would not upset her rthym much more.
     
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2017 at 8:32 PM

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